Part 2 out of 3
Madison, passed a bright little shop in the window of which
taffy-white and gold-- was being wound endlessly and
fascinatingly about a double-jointed machine. She went in and
bought a sackful, and wandered on down the street, munching.
She had supper at one of those white-tiled sarcophagi that
emblazon Chicago's downtown side streets. It had been her
original intention to dine in state in the rose-and-gold dining
room of her hotel. She had even thought daringly of lobster.
But at the last moment she recoiled from the idea of dining alone
in that wilderness of tables so obviously meant for two.
After her supper she went to a picture show. She was amazed to
find there, instead of the accustomed orchestra, a pipe organ
that panted and throbbed and rumbled over lugubrious classics.
The picture was about a faithless wife. Terry left in the middle
She awoke next morning at seven, as usual, started up wildly,
looked around, and dropped back. Nothing to get up for. The
knowledge did not fill her with a rush of relief. She would have
her breakfast in bed. She telephoned for it, languidly. But
when it came she got up and ate it from the table, after all.
That morning she found a fairly comfortable room, more within her
means, on the North Side in the boardinghouse district. She
unpacked and hung up her clothes and drifted downtown again,
idly. It was noon when she came to the corner of State and
Madison Streets. It was a maelstrom that caught her up, and
buffeted her about, and tossed her helplessly this way and that.
The thousands jostled Terry, and knocked her hat awry, and dug
her with unheeding elbows, and stepped on her feet.
"Say, look here!" she said once futilely. They did not stop to
listen. State and Madison has no time for Terrys from Wetona.
It goes its way, pell-mell. If it saw Terry at all it saw her
only as a prettyish person, in the wrong kind of suit and hat,
with a bewildered, resentful look on her face.
Terry drifted on down the west side of State Street, with the
hurrying crowd. State and Monroe. A sound came to Terry's ears.
A sound familiar, beloved. To her ear, harassed with the roar
and crash, with the shrill scream of the whistle of the policeman
at the crossing, with the hiss of feet shuffling on cement, it
was a celestial strain. She looked up, toward the sound. A
great second-story window opened wide to the street. In it a
girl at a piano, and a man, red-faced, singing through a
megaphone. And on a flaring red and green sign:
BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S MUSIC HOUSE!
COME IN! HEAR BERNIE GOTTSCHALK'S LATEST HIT!
THE HEART-THROB SONG THAT HAS GOT 'EM ALL!
THE SONG THAT MADE THE SQUAREHEADS CRAWL!
"I COME FROM PARIS, ILLINOIS, BUT OH! YOU PARIS, FRANCE!
I USED TO WEAR BLUE OVERALLS BUT NOW IT'S KHAKI PANTS."
COME IN! COME IN!
She followed the sound of the music. Around the corner. Up a
little flight of stairs. She entered the realm of Euterpe;
Euterpe with her hair frizzed; Euterpe with her flowing white
robe replaced by soiled white shoes; Euterpe abandoning her flute
for jazz. She sat at the piano, a red- haired young lady whose
familiarity with the piano had bred contempt. Nothing else could
have accounted for her treatment of it. Her fingers, tipped with
sharp-pointed and glistening nails, clawed the keys with a
dreadful mechanical motion. There were stacks of music sheets on
counters and shelves and dangling from overhead wires. The girl
at the piano never ceased playing. She played mostly by request.
A prospective purchaser would mumble something in the ear of one
of the clerks. The fat man with the megaphone would bawl out,
"Hicky Boola, Miss Ryan!" And Miss Ryan would oblige. She
made a hideous rattle and crash and clatter of sound.
Terry joined the crowds about the counter. The girl at the piano
was not looking at the keys. Her head was screwed around over
her left shoulder and as she played she was holding forth
animatedly to a girl friend who had evidently dropped in from
some store or office during the lunch hour. Now and again the
fat man paused in his vocal efforts to reprimand her for her
slackness. She paid no heed. There was something gruesome,
uncanny, about the way her fingers went their own way over the
defenseless keys. Her conversation with the frowzy little girl
"Wha'd he say?" (Over her shoulder.)
"Oh, he laffed."
"Well, didja go?"
"Me! Well, whutya think I yam, anyway?"
"I woulda took a chanst."
The fat man rebelled.
"Look here! Get busy! What are you paid for? Talkin' or
The person at the piano, openly reproved thus before her friend,
lifted her uninspired hands from the keys and spake. When she
had finished she rose.
"But you can't leave now," the megaphone man argued. "Right
in the rush hour."
"I'm gone," said the girl. The fat man looked about,
helplessly. He gazed at the abandoned piano, as though it must
go on of its own accord. Then at the crowd.
"Where's Miss Schwimmer?" he demanded of a clerk.
"Out to lunch."
Terry pushed her way to the edge of the counter and leaned over.
"I can play for you," she said.
The man looked at her. "Sight?"
Terry went around to the other side of the counter, took off her
hat and coat, rubbed her hands together briskly, sat down, and
began to play. The crowd edged closer.
It is a curious study, this noonday crowd that gathers to sate
its music hunger on the scraps vouchsafed it by Bernie
Gottschalk's Music House. Loose-lipped, slope-shouldered young
men with bad complexions and slender hands. Girls whose clothes
are an unconscious satire on present-day fashions. On their
faces, as they listen to the music, is a look of peace and
dreaming. They stand about, smiling a wistful half smile. The
music seems to satisfy a something within them. Faces dull, eyes
lusterless, they listen in a sort of trance.
Terry played on. She played as Terry Sheehan used to play. She
played as no music hack at Bernie Gottschalk's had ever played
before. The crowd swayed a little to the sound of it. Some kept
time with little jerks of the shoulder--the little hitching
movement of the dancer whose blood is filled with the fever of
syncopation. Even the crowd flowing down State Street must have
caught the rhythm of it, for the room soon filled.
At two o'clock the crowd began to thin. Business would be slack,
now, until five, when it would again pick up until closing time
at six. The fat vocalist put down his megaphone, wiped his
forehead, and regarded Terry with a warm blue eye. He had just
finished singing "I've Wandered Far from Dear Old Mother's
Knee." (Bernie Gottschalk Inc. Chicago. New York. You can't
get bit with a Gottschalk hit. 15 cents each.)
"Girlie," he said, emphatically, "you sure--can--play!" He
came over to her at the piano and put a stubby hand on her
shoulder. "Yessir! Those little fingers----"
Terry just turned her head to look down her nose at the moist
hand resting on her shoulder. "Those little fingers are going
to meet your face if you don't move on."
"Who gave you your job?" demanded the fat man.
"Nobody. I picked it myself. You can have it if you want it."
"Can't you take a joke?"
As the crowd dwindled she played less feverishly, but there was
nothing slipshod about her performance. The chubby songster
found time to proffer brief explanations in asides. "They want
the patriotic stuff. It used to be all that Hawaiian dope, and
Wild Irish Rose stuff, and songs about wanting to go back to
every place from Dixie to Duluth. But now seems it's all these
here flag wavers. Honestly, I'm so sick of 'em I got a notion to
enlist to get away from it."
Terry eyed him with withering briefness. "A little training
wouldn't ruin your figure."
She had never objected to Orville's embonpoint. But then,
Orville was a different sort of fat man; pink-cheeked, springy,
At four o'clock, as she was in the chorus of "Isn't There
Another Joan of Arc?" a melting masculine voice from the other
side of the counter said "Pardon me. What's that you're
Terry told him. She did not look up. "I wouldn't have known
it. Played like that--a second `Marseillaise.' If the
words----What are the words? Let me see a----"
"Show the gentleman a `Joan,'" Terry commanded briefly, over
her shoulder. The fat man laughed a wheezy laugh. Terry glanced
around, still playing, and encountered the gaze of two melting
masculine eyes that matched the melting masculine voice. The
songster waved a hand uniting Terry and the eyes in informal
"Mr. Leon Sammett, the gentleman who sings the Gottschalk songs
wherever songs are heard. And Mrs.--that is--and Mrs.
Terry turned. A sleek, swarthy world-old young man with the
fashionable concave torso, and alarmingly convex bone-rimmed
glasses. Through them his darkly luminous gaze glowed upon
Terry. To escape their warmth she sent her own gaze past him to
encounter the arctic stare of the large blonde who had been
included so lamely in the introduction. And at that the
frigidity of that stare softened, melted, dissolved.
"Why, Terry Sheehan! What in the world!"
Terry's eyes bored beneath the layers of flabby fat. "It's--why,
it's Ruby Watson, isn't it? Eccentric Song and Dance----"
She glanced at the concave young man and faltered. He was not
Jim, of the Bijou days. From him her eyes leaped back to the
fur-bedecked splendor of the woman. The plump face went so
painfully red that the make-up stood out on it, a distinct layer,
like thin ice covering flowing water. As she surveyed that bulk
Terry realized that while Ruby might still claim eccentricity,
her song-and-dance days were over. "That's ancient history, m'
dear. I haven't been working for three years. What're you doing
in this joint? I'd heard you'd done well for yourself. That you
"I am. That is I--well, I am. I----"
At that the dark young man leaned over and patted Terry's hand
that lay on the counter. He smiled. His own hand was incredibly
slender, long, and tapering.
"That's all right," he assured her, and smiled. "You two
girls can have a reunion later. What I want to know is can you
play by ear?"
He leaned far over the counter. "I knew it the minute I heard
you play. You've got the touch. Now listen. See if you can get
this, and fake the bass."
He fixed his somber and hypnotic eyes on Terry. His mouth
screwed up into a whistle. The tune--a tawdry but haunting
little melody--came through his lips. Terry turned back to the
piano. "Of course you know you flatted every note," she said.
This time it was the blonde who laughed, and the man who
flushed. Terry cocked her head just a little to one side, like a
knowing bird, looked up into space beyond the piano top, and
played the lilting little melody with charm and fidelity. The
dark young man followed her with a wagging of the head and little
jerks of both outspread hands. His expression was beatific,
enraptured. He hummed a little under his breath and anyone who
was music-wise would have known that he was just a half beat
behind her all the way.
When she had finished he sighed deeply, ecstatically. He bent
his lean frame over the counter and, despite his swart coloring,
seemed to glitter upon her--his eyes, his teeth, his very
"Something led me here. I never come up on Tuesdays. But
"You was going to complain," put in his lady, heavily, "about
that Teddy Sykes at the Palace Gardens singing the same songs
this week that you been boosting at the Inn."
He put up a vibrant, peremptory hand. "Bah! What does that
matter now! What does anything matter now! Listen
"Pl-Sheehan. Terry Sheehan."
He gazed off a moment into space. "Hm. `Leon Sammett in Songs.
Miss Terry Sheehan at the Piano.' That doesn't sound bad. Now
listen, Miss Sheehan. I'm singing down at the University Inn.
The Gottschalk song hits. I guess you know my work. But I want
to talk to you, private. It's something to your interest. I go
on down at the Inn at six. Will you come and have a little
something with Ruby and me? Now?"
"Now?" faltered Terry, somewhat helplessly. Things seemed to
be moving rather swiftly for her, accustomed as she was to the
peaceful routine of the past four years.
"Get your hat. It's your life chance. Wait till you see your
name in two- foot electrics over the front of every big-time
house in the country. You've got music in you. Tie to me and
you're made." He turned to the woman beside him. "Isn't that
"Sure. Look at ME!" One would not have thought there could be
so much subtle vindictiveness in a fat blonde.
Sammett whipped out a watch. "Just three quarters of an hour.
Come on, girlie."
His conversation had been conducted in an urgent undertone, with
side glances at the fat man with the megaphone. Terry approached
"I'm leaving now," she said.
"Oh, no, you're not. Six o'clock is your quitting time."
In which he touched the Irish in Terry. "Any time I quit is my
quitting time. She went in quest of hat and coat much as the
girl had done whose place she had taken early in the day. The
fat man followed her, protesting. Terry, putting on her hat,
tried to ignore him. But he laid one plump hand on her arm and
kept it there, though she tried to shake him off.
"Now, listen to me. That boy wouldn't mind grinding his heel on
your face if he thought it would bring him up a step. I know'm.
See that walking stick he's carrying? Well, compared to the
yellow stripe that's in him, that cane is a Lead pencil. He's a
song tout, that's all he is." Then, more feverishly, as Terry
tried to pull away: "Wait a minute. You're a decent girl. I
want to--Why, he can't even sing a note without you give it to
him first. He can put a song over, yes. But how? By flashing
that toothy grin of his and talking every word of it. Don't
But Terry freed herself with a final jerk and whipped around the
counter. The two, who had been talking together in an undertone,
turned to welcome her. "We've got a half-hour. Come on. It's
just over to Clark and up a block or so."
The University Inn, that gloriously intercollegiate institution
which welcomes any graduate of any school of experience, was
situated in the basement, down a flight of stairs. Into the
unwonted quiet that reigns during the hour of low potentiality,
between five and six, the three went, and seated themselves at a
table in an obscure corner. A waiter brought them things in
little glasses, though no order had been given. The woman who
had been Ruby Watson was so silent as to be almost wordless. But
the man talked rapidly. He talked well, too. The same quality
that enabled him, voiceless though he was, to boost a song to
success was making his plea sound plausible in Terry's ears now.
"I've got to go and make up in a few minutes. So get this. I'm
not going to stick down in this basement eating house forever.
I've got too much talent. If I only had a voice--I mean a singing
voice. But I haven't. But then, neither had Georgie Cohan, and
I can't see that it wrecked his life any. Now listen. I've got a
song. It's my own. That bit you played for me up at
Gottschalk's is part of the chorus. But it's the words that'll
go big. They're great. It's an aviation song, see? Airplane
stuff. They're yelling that it's the airyoplanes that're going
to win this war. Well, I'll help 'em. This song is going to put
the aviator where he belongs. It's going to be the big song of
the war. It's going to make `Tipperary' sound like a Moody and
Sankey hymn. It's the----"
Ruby lifted her heavy-lidded eyes and sent him a meaning look.
"Get down to business, Leon. I'll tell her how good you are
while you're making up."
He shot her a malignant glance, but took her advice. "Now what
I've been looking for for years is somebody who has got the music
knack to give me the accompaniment just a quarter of a jump ahead
of my voice, see? I can follow like a lamb, but I've got to have
that feeler first. It's more than a knack. It's a gift. And
you've got it. I know it when I see it. I want to get away from
this night-club thing. There's nothing in it for a man of my
talent. I'm gunning for bigger game. But they won't sign me
without a tryout. And when they hear my voice they---- Well, if
me and you work together we can fool 'em. The song's great. And
my make-up's one of these aviation costumes to go with the song,
see? Pants tight in the knee and baggy on the hips. And a coat
with one of those full-skirt whaddyoucall- 'ems----"
"Peplums," put in Ruby, placidly.
"Sure. And the girls'll be wild about it. And the words!" He
began to sing, gratingly off key:
Put on your sky clothes,
Put on your fly clothes,
And take a trip with me.
We'll sail so high
Up in the sky
We'll drop a bomb from Mercury.
"Why, that's awfully cute!" exclaimed Terry. Until now her
opinion of Mr. Sammett's talents had not been on a level with
"Yeah, but wait till you hear the second verse. That's only
part of the chorus. You see, he's supposed to be talking to a
French girl. He says:
`I'll parlez-vous in Francais plain
You'll answer, "Cher Americain,"
We'll both . . .'"
The six-o'clock lights blazed up suddenly. A sad-looking group
of men trailed in and made for a corner where certain bulky,
shapeless bundles were soon revealed as those glittering and
tortuous instruments which go to make a jazz band.
"You better go, Lee. The crowd comes in awful early now, with
all these buyers in town."
Both hands on the table, he half rose, reluctantly, still
talking. "I've got three other songs. They make Gottschalk's
stuff look sick. All I want's a chance. What I want you to do
is accompaniment. On the stage, see? Grand piano. And a swell
set. I haven't quite made up my mind to it. But a kind of an
army camp room, see? And maybe you dressed as Liberty. Anyway,
it'll be new, and a knockout. If only we can get away with the
voice thing. Say, if Eddie Foy, all those years never had
The band opened with a terrifying clash of cymbal and thump of
drum. "Back at the end of my first turn," he said as he Red.
Terry followed his lithe, electric figure. She turned to meet
the heavy-lidded gaze of the woman seated opposite. She relaxed,
then, and sat back with a little sigh. "Well! If he talks that
way to the managers I don't see----"
Ruby laughed a mirthless little laugh. "Talk doesn't get it
over with the managers, honey. You've got to deliver."
"Well, but he's--that song is a good one. I don't say it's as
good as he thinks it is, but it's good."
"Yes," admitted the woman, grudgingly, "it's good."
The woman beckoned a waiter; he nodded and vanished, and
reappeared with a glass that was twin to the one she had just
emptied. "Does he look like he knew French? Or could make a
"But didn't he? Doesn't he?"
"The words were written by a little French girl who used to
skate down here last winter, when the craze was on. She was
stuck on a Chicago kid who went over to fly for the French."
"But the music?"
"There was a Russian girl who used to dance in the cabaret and
Terry's head came up with a characteristic little jerk. "I
don't believe it!"
"Better." She gazed at Terry with the drowsy look that was so
different from the quick, clear glance of the Ruby Watson who
used to dance so nimbly in the old Bijou days. "What'd you and
your husband quarrel about, Terry?"
Terry was furious to feel herself flushing. "Oh, nothing. He
just--I--it was---- Say, how did you know we'd quarreled?"
And suddenly all the fat woman's apathy dropped from her like a
garment and some of the old sparkle and animation illumined her
heavy face. She pushed her glass aside and leaned forward on her
folded arms, so that her face was close to Terry's.
"Terry Sheehan, I know you've quarreled, and I know just what it
was about. Oh, I don't mean the very thing it was about; but the
kind of thing. I'm going to do something for you, Terry, that I
wouldn't take the trouble to do for most women. But I guess I
ain't had all the softness knocked out of me yet, though it's a
wonder. And I guess I remember too plain the decent kid you was
in the old days. What was the name of that little small-time
house me and Jim used to play? Bijou, that's it; Bijou."
The band struck up a new tune. Leon Sammett--slim, sleek, lithe
in his evening clothes--appeared with a little fair girl in pink
chiffon. The woman reached across the table and put one pudgy,
jeweled hand on Terry's arm. "He'll be through in ten minutes.
Now listen to me. I left Jim four years ago, and there hasn't
been a minute since then, day or night, when I wouldn't have
crawled back to him on my hands and knees if I could. But I
couldn't. He wouldn't have me now. How could he? How do I know
you've quarreled? I can see it in your eyes. They look just the
way mine have felt for four years, that's how. I met up with
this boy, and there wasn't anybody to do the turn for me that I'm
trying to do for you. Now get this. I left Jim because when he
ate corn on the cob he always closed his eyes and it drove me
wild. Don't laugh."
"I'm not laughing," said Terry.
"Women are like that. One night--we was playing Fond du Lac; I
remember just as plain--we was eating supper before the show and
Jim reached for one of those big yellow ears, and buttered and
salted it, and me kind of hanging on to the edge of the table
with my nails. Seemed to me if he shut his eyes when he put his
teeth into that ear of corn I'd scream. And he did. And I
screamed. And that's all."
Terry sat staring at her with a wide-eyed stare, like a
sleepwalker. Then she wet her lips slowly. "But that's almost
"Kid, go on back home. I don't know whether it's too late or
not, but go anyway. If you've lost him I suppose it ain't any
more than you deserve; but I hope to God you don't get your
deserts this time. He's almost through. If he sees you going he
can't quit in the middle of his song to stop you. He'll know I
put you wise, and he'll prob'ly half kill me for it. But it's
worth it. You get."
And Terry--dazed, shaking, but grateful--fled. Down the noisy
aisle, up the stairs, to the street. Back to her rooming house.
Out again, with her suitcase, and into the right railroad station
somehow, at last. Not another Wetona train until midnight. She
shrank into a remote corner of the waiting room and there she
huddled until midnight, watching the entrances like a child who
is fearful of ghosts in the night.
The hands of the station clock seemed fixed and immovable. The
hour between eleven and twelve was endless. She was on the
train. It was almost morning. It was morning. Dawn was
breaking. She was home! She had the house key clutched tightly
in her hand long before she turned Schroeder's corner. Suppose
he had come home! Suppose he had jumped a town and come home
ahead of his schedule. They had quarreled once before, and he
had done that.
Up the front steps. Into the house. Not a sound. She stood
there a moment in the early-morning half-light. She peered into
the dining room. The table, with its breakfast debris, was as
she had left it. In the kitchen the coffeepot stood on the gas
stove. She was home. She was safe. She ran up the stairs, got
out of her clothes and into gingham morning things. She flung
open windows everywhere. Downstairs once more she plunged into
an orgy of cleaning. Dishes, table, stove, floor, rugs. She
washed, scoured, swabbed, polished. By eight o'clock she had
done the work that would ordinarily have taken until noon. The
house was shining, orderly, and redolent of soapsuds.
During all this time she had been listening, listening, with her
subconscious ear. Listening for something she had refused to
name definitely in her mind, but listening, just the same;
And then, at eight o'clock, it came. The rattle of a key in the
lock. The boom of the front door. Firm footsteps.
He did not go to meet her, and she did not go to meet him. They
came together and were in each other's arms. She was weeping.
"Now, now, old girl. What's there to cry about? Don't, honey;
don't. It's all right." She raised her head then, to look at
him. How fresh and rosy and big he seemed, after that little
sallow restaurant rat.
"How did you get here? How did you happen----?"
"Jumped all the way from Ashland. Couldn't get a sleeper, so I
sat up all night. I had to come back and square things with you,
Terry. My mind just wasn't on my work. I kept thinking how I'd
talked--how I'd talked----"
"Oh, Orville, don't! I can't bear---- Have you had your
"Why, no. The train was an hour late. You know that Ashland
But she was out of his arms and making for the kitchen. "You go
and clean up. I'll have hot biscuits and everything in no time.
You poor boy. No breakfast!"
She made good her promise. It could not have been more than half
an hour later when he was buttering his third feathery,
golden-brown biscuit. But she had eaten nothing. She watched
him, and listened, and again her eyes were somber, but for a
different reason. He broke open his egg. His elbow came up just
a fraction of an inch. Then he remembered, and flushed like a
schoolboy, and brought it down again, carefully. And at that she
gave a tremulous cry, and rushed around the table to him.
"Oh, Orville!" She took the offending elbow in her two arms,
and bent and kissed the rough coat sleeve.
"Why, Terry! Don't, honey. Don't!"
"Oh, Orville, listen----"
"I'm listening, Terry."
"I've got something to tell you. There's something you've got
"Yes, I know it, Terry. I knew you'd out with it, pretty soon,
if I just waited."
She lifted an amazed face from his shoulder then, and stared at
him. "But how could you know? You couldn't! How could you?"
He patted her shoulder then, gently. "I can always tell. When
you have something on your mind you always take up a spoon of
coffee, and look at it, and kind of joggle it back and forth in
the spoon, and then dribble it back into the cup again, without
once tasting it. It used to get me nervous, when we were first
married, watching you. But now I know it just means you're
worried about something, and I wait, and pretty soon----"
"Oh, Orville!" she cried then. "Oh, Orville!"
"Now, Terry. Just spill it, hon. Just spill it to Daddy. And
you'll feel better."
Farmer in the Dell
Old Ben Westerveld was taking it easy. Every muscle taut, every
nerve tense, his keen eyes vainly straining to pierce the
blackness of the stuffy room--there lay Ben Westerveld in bed,
taking it easy. And it was hard. Hard. He wanted to get up.
He wanted so intensely to get up that the mere effort of lying
there made him ache all over. His toes were curled with the
effort. His fingers were clenched with it. His breath came
short, and his thighs felt cramped. Nerves. But old Ben
Westerveld didn't know that. What should a retired and
well-to-do farmer of fifty-eight know of nerves, especially when
he has moved to the city and is taking it easy?
If only he knew what time it was. Here in Chicago you couldn't
tell whether it was four o'clock or seven unless you looked at
your watch. To do that it was necessary to turn on the light.
And to turn on the light meant that he would turn on, too, a
flood of querulous protest from his wife, Bella, who lay asleep
When for forty-five years of your life you have risen at
four-thirty daily, it is difficult to learn to loll. To do it
successfully, you must be a natural- born loller to begin with
and revert. Bella Westerveld was and had. So there she lay,
asleep. Old Ben wasn't and hadn't. So there he lay, terribly
wide- awake, wondering what made his heart thump so fast when he
was lying so still. If it had been light, you could have seen
the lines of strained resignation in the sagging muscles of his
They had lived in the city for almost a year, but it was the same
every morning. He would open his eyes, start up with one hand
already reaching for the limp, drab work-worn garments that used
to drape the chair by his bed. Then he would remember and sink
back while a great wave of depression swept over him. Nothing to
get up for. Store clothes on the chair by the bed. He was
taking it easy.
Back home on the farm in southern Illinois he had known the hour
the instant his eyes opened. Here the flat next door was so
close that the bed- room was in twilight even at midday. On the
farm he could tell by the feeling--an intangible thing, but
infallible. He could gauge the very quality of the blackness
that comes just before dawn. The crowing of the cocks, the
stamping of the cattle, the twittering of the birds in the old
elm whose branches were etched eerily against his window in the
ghostly light --these things he had never needed. He had known.
But here in the un- sylvan section of Chicago which bears the
bosky name of Englewood, the very darkness had a strange quality.
A hundred unfamiliar noises misled him. There were no cocks, no
cattle, no elm. Above all, there was no instinctive feeling.
Once, when they first came to the city, he had risen at
twelve-thirty, thinking it was morning, and had gone clumping
about the flat, waking up everyone and loosing from his wife's
lips a stream of acid vituperation that seared even his
case-hardened sensibilities. The people sleeping in the bedroom
of the flat next door must have heard her.
"You big rube! Getting up in the middle of the night and
stomping around like cattle. You'd better build a shed in the
back yard and sleep there if you're so dumb you can't tell night
Even after thirty-three years of marriage he had never ceased to
be appalled at the coarseness of her mind and speech--she who had
seemed so mild and fragile and exquisite when he married her. He
had crept back to bed shamefacedly. He could hear the couple in
the bedroom of the flat just across the little court grumbling
and then laughing a little, grudgingly, and yet with
appreciation. That bedroom, too, had still the power to appall
him. Its nearness, its forced intimacy, were daily shocks to him
whose most immediate neighbor, back on the farm, had been a
quarter of a mile away. The sound of a shoe dropped on the
hardwood floor, the rush of water in the bathroom, the murmur of
nocturnal confidences, the fretful cry of a child in the night,
all startled and distressed him whose ear had found music in the
roar of the thresher and had been soothed by the rattle of the
tractor and the hoarse hoot of the steamboat whistle at the
landing. His farm's edge had been marked by the Mississippi
rolling grandly by.
Since they had moved into town, he had found only one city sound
that he really welcomed--the rattle and clink that marked the
milkman's matutinal visit. The milkman came at six, and he was
the good fairy who released Ben Westerveld from durance vile--or
had until the winter months made his coming later and later, so
that he became worse than useless as a timepiece. But now it was
late March, and mild. The milkman's coming would soon again mark
old Ben's rising hour. Before he had begun to take it easy, six
o'clock had seen the entire mechanism of his busy little world
humming smoothly and sweetly, the whole set in motion by his own
big work-callused hands. Those hands puzzled him now. He often
looked at them curiously and in a detached sort of way, as if
they belonged to someone else. So white they were, and smooth
and soft, with long, pliant nails that never broke off from rough
work as they used to. Of late there were little splotches of
brown on the backs of his hands and around the thumbs.
"Guess it's my liver," he decided, rubbing the spots
thoughtfully. "She gets kind of sluggish from me not doing
anything. Maybe a little spring tonic wouldn't go bad. Tone me
He got a little bottle of reddish-brown mixture from the druggist
on Halstead Street near Sixty-third. A genial gendeman, the
druggist, white- coated and dapper, stepping affably about the
fragrant-smelling store. The reddish-brown mixture had toned old
Ben up surprisingly--while it lasted. He had two bottles of it.
But on discontinuing it he slumped back into his old apathy.
Ben Westerveld, in his store clothes, his clean blue shirt, his
incongruous hat, ambling aimlessly about Chicago's teeming,
gritty streets, was a tragedy. Those big, capable hands, now
dangling so limply from inert wrists, had wrested a living from
the soil; those strangely unfaded blue eyes had the keenness of
vision which comes from scanning great stretches of earth and
sky; the stocky, square-shouldered body suggested power
unutilized. All these spelled tragedy. Worse than
For almost half a century this man had combated the elements,
head set, eyes wary, shoulders squared. He had fought wind and
sun, rain and drought, scourge and flood. He had risen before
dawn and slept before sunset. In the process he had taken on
something of the color and the rugged immutability of the fields
and hills and trees among which he toiled. Something of their
dignity, too, though your town dweller might fail to see it
beneath the drab exterior. He had about him none of the
highlights and sharp points of the city man. He seemed to blend
in with the background of nature so as to be almost
undistinguishable from it, as were the furred and feathered
creatures. This farmer differed from the city man as a hillock
differs from an artificial golf bunker, though form and substance
are the same.
Ben Westerveld didn't know he was a tragedy. Your farmer is not
given to introspection. For that matter, anyone knows that a
farmer in town is a comedy. Vaudeville, burlesque, the Sunday
supplement, the comic papers, have marked him a fair target for
ridicule. Perhaps one should know him in his overalled,
stubble-bearded days, with the rich black loam of the Mississippi
bottomlands clinging to his boots.
At twenty-five, given a tasseled cap, doublet and hose, and a
long, slim pipe, Ben Westerveld would have been the prototype of
one of those rollicking, lusty young mynheers that laugh out at
you from a Frans Hals canvas. A roguish fellow with a merry eye;
red-cheeked, vigorous. A serious mouth, though, and great
sweetness of expression. As he grew older, the seriousness crept
up and up and almost entirely obliterated the roguishness. By
the time the life of ease claimed him, even the ghost of that
ruddy wight of boyhood had vanished.
The Westerveld ancestry was as Dutch as the name. It had been
hundreds of years since the first Westervelds came to America,
and they had married and intermarried until the original Holland
strain had almost entirely disappeared. They had drifted to
southern Illinois by one of those slow processes of migration and
had settled in Calhoun County, then almost a wilderness, but
magnificent with its rolling hills, majestic rivers, and
gold-and-purple distances. But to the practical Westerveld mind,
hills and rivers and purple haze existed only in their relation
to crops and weather. Ben, though, had a way of turning his face
up to the sky sometimes, and it was not to scan the heavens for
clouds. You saw him leaning on the plow handle to watch the
whirring flight of a partridge across the meadow. He liked
farming. Even the drudgery of it never made him grumble. He was
a natural farmer as men are natural mechanics or musicians or
salesmen. Things grew for him. He seemed instinctively to know
facts about the kin ship of soil and seed that other men had to
learn from books or experience. It grew to be a saying in that
section that "Ben Westerveld could grow a crop on rock."
At picnics and neighborhood frolics Ben could throw farther and
run faster and pull harder than any of the other farmer boys who
took part in the rough games. And he could pick up a girl with
one hand and hold her at arm's length while she shrieked with
pretended fear and real ecstasy. The girls all liked Ben. There
was that almost primitive strength which appealed to the untamed
in them as his gentleness appealed to their softer side. He
liked the girls, too, and could have had his pick of them. He
teased them all, took them buggy riding, beaued them about to
neighbor- hood parties. But by the time he was twenty-five the
thing had narrowed down to the Byers girl on the farm adjoining
Westerveld's. There was what the neighbors called an
understanding, though perhaps he had never actually asked the
Byers girl to marry him. You saw him going down the road toward
the Byers place four nights out of the seven. He had a quick,
light step at variance with his sturdy build, and very different
from the heavy, slouching gait of the work-weary farmer. He had
a habit of carrying in his hand a little twig or switch cut from
a tree. This he would twirl blithely as he walked along. The
switch and the twirl represented just so much energy and animal
spirits. He never so much as flicked a dandelion head with it.
An inarticulate sort of thing, that courtship.
"How do, Ben."
"Thought you might like to walk a piece down the road. They got
a calf at Aug Tietjens' with five legs."
"I heard. I'd just as lief walk a little piece. I'm kind of
beat, though. We've got the threshers day after tomorrow. We've
been cooking up."
Beneath Ben's bonhomie and roguishness there was much shyness.
The two would plod along the road together in a sort of blissful
agony of embarrassment. The neighbors were right in their
surmise that there was no definite understanding between them.
But the thing was settled in the minds of both. Once Ben had
said: "Pop says I can have the north eighty on easy payments
Emma Byers had flushed up brightly, but had answered equably:
"That's a fine piece. Your pop is an awful good man."
The stolid exteriors of these two hid much that was fine and
forceful. Emma Byers' thoughtful forehead and intelligent eyes
would have revealed that in her. Her mother was dead. She kept
house for her father and brother. She was known as "that smart
Byers girl." Her butter and eggs and garden stuff brought
higher prices at Commercial, twelve miles away, than did any
other's in the district. She was not a pretty girl, according to
the local standards, but there was about her, even at twenty-two,
a clear- headedness and a restful serenity that promised well for
Ben Westerveld's future happiness.
But Ben Westerveld's future was not to lie in Emma Byers' capable
hands. He knew that as soon as he saw Bella Huckins. Bella
Huckins was the daughter of old "Red Front" Huckins, who ran
the saloon of that cheerful name in Commercial. Bella had
elected to teach school, not from any bent toward learning but
because teaching appealed to her as being a rather elegant
occupation. The Huckins family was not elegant. In that day a
year or two of teaching in a country school took the place of the
present-day normal-school diploma. Bella had an eye on St.
Louis, forty miles from the town of Commercial. So she used the
country school as a step toward her ultimate goal, though she
hated the country and dreaded her apprenticeship.
"I'll get a beau," she said, "who'll take me driving and
around. And Saturdays and Sundays I can come to town."
The first time Ben Westerveld saw her she was coming down the
road toward him in her tight-fitting black alpaca dress. The
sunset was behind her. Her hair was very golden. In a day of
tiny waists hers could have been spanned by Ben Westerveld's two
hands. He discovered that later. Just now he thought he had
never seen anything so fairylike and dainty, though he did not
put it that way. Ben was not glib of thought or speech.
He knew at once this was the new schoolteacher. He had heard of
her coming, though at the time the conversation had interested
him not at all. Bella knew who he was, too. She had learned the
name and history of every eligible young man in the district two
days after her arrival. That was due partly to her own bold
curiosity and partly to the fact that she was boarding with the
Widow Becker, the most notorious gossip in the county. In
Bella's mental list of the neighborhood swains Ben Westerveld
already occupied a position at the top of the column.
He felt his face redden as they approached each other. To hide
his embarrassment he swung his little hickory switch gaily and
called to his dog Dunder, who was nosing about by the roadside.
Dunder bounded forward, spied the newcomer, and leaped toward her
playfully and with natural canine curiosity.
Bella screamed. She screamed and ran to Ben and clung to him,
clasping her hands about his arm. Ben lifted the hickory switch
in his free hand and struck Dunder a sharp cut with it. It was
the first time in his life that he had done such a thing. If he
had had a sane moment from that time until the day he married
Bella Huckins, he never would have forgotten the dumb hurt in
Dunder's stricken eyes and shrinking, quivering body.
Bella screamed again, still clinging to him. Ben was saying:
"He won't hurt you. He won't hurt you," meanwhile patting her
shoulder reassuringly. He looked down at her pale face. She was
so slight, so childlike, so apparently different from the sturdy
country girls. From--well, from the girls he knew. Her
helplessness, her utter femininity, appealed to all that was
masculine in him. Bella, the experienced, clinging to him, felt
herself swept from head to foot by a queer electric tingling that
was very pleasant but that still had in it something of the
sensation of a wholesale bumping of one's crazy bone. If she had
been anything but a stupid little flirt, she would have realized
that here was a specimen of the virile male with which she could
not trifle. She glanced up at him now, smiling faintly. "My, I
was scared!" She stepped away from him a little--very little.
"Aw, he wouldn't hurt a flea."
But Bella looked over her shoulder fearfully to where Dunder
stood by the roadside, regarding Ben with a look of uncertainty.
He still thought that perhaps this was a new game. Not a game
that he cared for, but still one to be played if his master
fancied it. Ben stooped, picked up a stone, and threw it at
Dunder, striking him in the flank.
"Go on home!" he commanded sternly. "Go home!" He started
toward the dog with a well-feigned gesture of menace. Dunder,
with a low howl, put his tail between his legs and loped off
home, a disillusioned dog.
Bella stood looking up at Ben. Ben looked down at her. "You're
the new teacher, ain't you?"
"Yes. I guess you must think I'm a fool, going on like a baby
about that dog."
"Most girls would be scared of him if they didn't know he
wouldn't hurt nobody. He's pretty big."
He paused a moment, awkwardly. "My name's Ben Westerveld."
"Pleased to meet you," said Bella. "Which way was you going?
There's a dog down at Tietjens' that's enough to scare anybody.
He looks like a pony, he's so big."
"I forgot something at the school this afternoon, and I was
walking over to get it." Which was a lie. "I hope it won't
get dark before I get there. You were going the other way,
"Oh, I wasn't going no place in particular. I'll be pleased to
keep you company down to the school and back." He was surprised
at his own sudden masterfulness.
They set off together, chatting as freely as if they had known
one another for years. Ben had been on his way to the Byers
farm, as usual. The Byers farm and Emma Byers passed out of his
mind as completely as if they had been whisked away on a magic
Bella Huckins had never meant to marry him. She hated farm life.
She was contemptuous of farmer folk. She loathed cooking and
drudgery. The Huckinses lived above the saloon in Commercial and
Mrs. Huckins was always boiling ham and tongue and cooking pigs'
feet and shredding cabbage for slaw, all these edibles being
destined for the free-lunch counter downstairs. Bella had early
made up her mind that there should be no boiling and stewing and
frying in her life. Whenever she could find an excuse she
loitered about the saloon. There she found life and talk and
color. Old Red Front Huckins used to chase her away, but she
always turned up again, somehow, with a dish for the lunch
counter or with an armful of clean towels.
Ben Westerveld never said clearly to himself, "I want to marry
Bella." He never dared meet the thought. He intended honestly
to marry Emma Byers. But this thing was too strong for him. As
for Bella, she laughed at him, but she was scared, too. They
both fought the thing, she selfishly, he unselfishly, for the
Byers girl, with her clear, calm eyes and her dependable ways,
was heavy on his heart. Ben's appeal for Bella was merely that
of the magnetic male. She never once thought of his finer
qualities. Her appeal for him was that of the frail and alluring
woman. But in the end they married. The neighborhood was rocked
Usually in a courtship it is the male who assumes the bright
colors of pretense in order to attract a mate. But Ben
Westerveld had been too honest to be anything but himself. He
was so honest and fundamentally truthful that he refused at first
to allow himself to believe that this slovenly shrew was the
fragile and exquisite creature he had married. He had the habit
of personal cleanliness, had Ben, in a day when tubbing was a
ceremony in an environment that made bodily nicety difficult. He
discovered that Bella almost never washed and that her appearance
of fragrant immaculateness, when dressed, was due to a natural
clearness of skin and eye, and to the way her blond hair swept
away in a clean line from her forehead. For the rest, she was a
slattern, with a vocabulary of invective that would have been a
credit to any of the habitues of old Red Front Huckins' bar.
They had three children, a girl and two boys. Ben Westerveld
prospered in spite of his wife. As the years went on he added
eighty acres here, eighty acres there, until his land swept down
to the very banks of the Mississippi. There is no doubt that she
hindered him greatly, but he was too expert a farmer to fail. At
threshing time the crew looked forward to working for Ben, the
farmer, and dreaded the meals prepared by Bella, his wife. She
was notoriously the worst cook and housekeeper in the county.
And all through the years, in trouble and in happiness, her
plaint was the same-- "If I'd thought I was going to stick down
on a farm all my life, slavin' for a pack of menfolks day and
night, I'd rather have died. Might as well be dead as rottin'
Her schoolteacher English had early reverted. Her speech was as
slovenly as her dress. She grew stout, too, and unwieldy, and
her skin coarsened from lack of care and from overeating. And in
her children's ears she continually dinned a hatred of farm life
and farming. "You can get away from it," she counseled her
daughter, Minnie. "Don't you be a rube like your pa," she
cautioned John, the older boy. And they profited by her ad-
vice. Minnie went to work in Commercial when she was seventeen,
an overdeveloped girl with an inordinate love of cheap finery.
At twenty, she married an artisan, a surly fellow with roving
tendencies. They moved from town to town. He never stuck long
at one job. John, the older boy, was as much his mother's son as
Minnie was her mother's daughter. Restless, dissatisfied,
emptyheaded, he was the despair of his father. He drove the farm
horses as if they were racers, lashing them up hill and down
dale. He was forever lounging off to the village or wheedling
his mother for money to take him to Commercial. It was before
the day of the ubiquitous automobile. Given one of those present
adjuncts to farm life, John would have ended his career much
earlier. As it was, they found him lying by the roadside at dawn
one morning after the horses had trotted into the yard with the
wreck of the buggy bumping the road behind them. He had stolen
the horses out of the barn after the help was asleep, had led
them stealthily down the road, and then had whirled off to a
rendezvous of his own in town. The fall from the buggy might not
have hurt him, but evidently he had been dragged almost a mile
before his battered body became somehow disentangled from the
splintered wood and the reins.
That horror might have served to bring Ben Westerveld and his
wife together, but it did not. It only increased her bitterness
and her hatred of the locality and the life.
"I hope you're good an' satisfied now," she repeated in endless
reproach. "I hope you're good an' satisfied. You was bound
you'd make a farmer out of him, an' now you finished the job.
You better try your hand at Dike now for a change."
Dike was young Ben, sixteen; and old Ben had no need to try his
hand at him. Young Ben was a born farmer, as was his father. He
had come honestly by his nickname. In face, figure, expression,
and manner he was a five-hundred-year throwback to his Holland
ancestors. Apple-cheeked, stocky, merry of eye, and somewhat
phlegmatic. When, at school, they had come to the story of the
Dutch boy who saved his town from flood by thrusting his finger
into the hole in the dike and holding it there until help came,
the class, after one look at the accompanying picture in the
reader, dubbed young Ben "Dike" Westerveld. And Dike he
Between Dike and his father there was a strong but unspoken
feeling. The boy was cropwise, as his father had been at his
age. On Sundays you might see the two walking about the farm,
looking at the pigs--great black fellows worth almost their
weight in silver; eying the stock; speculating on the winter
wheat showing dark green in April, with rich patches that were
almost black. Young Dike smoked a solemn and judicious pipe,
spat expertly, and voiced the opinion that the winter wheat was a
fine prospect Ben Westerveld, listening tolerantly to the boy's
opinions, felt a great surge of joy that he did not show. Here,
at last, was compensation for all the misery and sordidness and
bitter disappointment of his married life.
That married life had endured now for more than thirty years.
Ben Westerveld still walked with a light, quick step--for his
years. The stocky, broad-shouldered figure was a little
shrunken. He was as neat and clean at fifty-five as he had been
at twenty-five-a habit that, on a farm, is fraught with
difficulties. The community knew and respected him. He was a
man of standing. When he drove into town on a bright winter
morning, in his big sheepskin coat and his shaggy cap and his
great boots, and entered the First National Bank, even Shumway,
the cashier, would look up from his desk to say:
"Hello, Westerveld! Hello! Well, how goes it?"
When Shumway greeted a farmer in that way you knew that there
were no unpaid notes to his discredit.
All about Ben Westerveld stretched the fruit of his toil; the
work of his hands. Orchards, fields, cattle, barns, silos. All
these things were dependent on him for their future
well-being--on him and on Dike after him. His days were full and
running over. Much of the work was drudgery; most of it was
backbreaking and laborious. But it was his place. It was his
reason for being. And he felt that the reason was good, though
he never put that thought into words, mental or spoken. He only
knew that he was part of the great scheme of things and that he
was functioning ably. If he had expressed himself at all, he
might have said:
"Well, I got my work cut out for me, and I do it, and do it
There was a tractor, now, of course; and a sturdy, middle-class
automobile in which Bella lolled red-faced when they drove into
As Ben Westerveld had prospered, his shrewish wife had reaped her
benefits. Ben was not the selfish type of farmer who insists on
twentieth- century farm implements and medieval household
equipment. He had added a bedroom here, a cool summer kitchen
there, an icehouse, a commodious porch, a washing machine, even a
bathroom. But Bella remained unplacated. Her face was set
toward the city. And slowly, surely, the effect of thirty years
of nagging was beginning to tell on Ben Westerveld. He was the
finer metal, but she was the heavier, the coarser. She beat him
and molded him as iron beats upon gold.
Minnie was living in Chicago now--a good-natured creature, but
slack like her mother. Her surly husband was still talking of
his rights and crying down with the rich. They had two children.
Minnie wrote of them, and of the delights of city life. Movies
every night. Halsted Street just around the corner. The big
stores. State Street. The el took you downtown in no time.
Something going on all the while. Bella Westerveld, after one of
those letters, was more than a chronic shrew; she became a
When Ben Westerveld decided to concentrate on hogs and wheat he
didn't dream that a world would be clamoring for hogs and wheat
for four long years. When the time came, he had them, and sold
them fabulously. But wheat and hogs and markets became
negligible things on the day that Dike, with seven other farm
boys from the district, left for the nearest training camp that
was to fit them for France and war.
Bella made the real fuss, wailing and mouthing and going into
hysterics. Old Ben took it like a stoic. He drove the boy to
town that day. When the train pulled out, you might have seen,
if you had looked close, how the veins and cords swelled in the
lean brown neck above the clean blue shirt. But that was all. As
the weeks went on, the quick, light step began to lag a little.
He had lost more than a son; his right-hand helper was gone.
There were no farm helpers to be had. Old Ben couldn't do it
all. A touch of rheumatism that winter half crippled him for
eight weeks. Bella's voice seemed never to stop its plaint.
"There ain't no sense in you trying to make out alone. Next
thing you'll die on me, and then I'll have the whole shebang on
my hands." At that he eyed her dumbly from his chair by the
stove. His resistance was wearing down. He knew it. He wasn't
dying. He knew that, too. But something in him was. Something
that had resisted her all these years. Something that had made
him master and superior in spite of everything.
In those days of illness, as he sat by the stove, the memory of
Emma Byers came to him often. She had left that district
twenty-eight years ago, and had married, and lived in Chicago
somewhere, he had heard, and was prosperous. He wasted no time
in idle regrets. He had been a fool, and he paid the price of
fools. Bella, slamming noisily about the room, never suspected
the presence in the untidy place of a third person--a sturdy girl
of twenty-two or -three, very wholesome to look at, and with
honest, intelligent eyes and a serene brow.
"It'll get worse an' worse all the time," Bella's whine went
on. "Everybody says the war'll last prob'ly for years an'
years. You can't make out alone. Everything's goin' to rack and
ruin. You could rent out the farm for a year, on trial. The
Burdickers'd take it, and glad. They got those three strappin'
louts that's all flat-footed or slab-sided or cross-eyed or
somethin', and no good for the army. Let them run it on shares.
Maybe they'll even buy, if things turn out. Maybe Dike'll never
But at the look on his face then, and at the low growl of
unaccustomed rage that broke from him, even she ceased her
They moved to Chicago in the early spring. The look that had
been on Ben Westerveld's face when he drove Dike to the train
that carried him to camp was stamped there again--indelibly this
time, it seemed. Calhoun County in the spring has much the
beauty of California. There is a peculiar golden light about it,
and the hills are a purplish haze. Ben Westerveld, walking down
his path to the gate, was more poignantly dramatic than any
figure in a rural play. He did not turn to look back, though, as
they do in a play. He dared not.
They rented a flat in Englewood, Chicago, a block from Minnie's.
Bella was almost amiable these days. She took to city life as
though the past thirty years had never been. White kid shoes,
delicatessen stores, the movies, the haggling with peddlers, the
crowds, the crashing noise, the cramped, unnatural mode of
living--necessitated by a four-room flat--all these urban
adjuncts seemed as natural to her as though she had been bred in
the midst of them.
She and Minnie used to spend whole days in useless shopping.
Theirs was a respectable neighborhood of well-paid artisans,
bookkeepers, and small shopkeepers. The women did their own
housework in drab garments and soiled boudoir caps that hid a
multitude of unkempt heads. They seemed to find a great deal of
time for amiable, empty gabbling From seven to four you might see
a pair of boudoir caps leaning from opposite bedroom windows,
conversing across back porches, pausing in the task of sweeping
front steps, standing at a street corner, laden with grocery
bundles. Minnie wasted hours in what she called "running over
to Ma's for a minute." The two quarreled a great deal, being so
nearly of a nature. But the very qualities that combated each
other seemed, by some strange chemical process, to bring them
together as well.
"I'm going downtown today to do a little shopping," Minnie
would say. "Do you want to come along, Ma?"
"What you got to get?"
"Oh, I thought I'd look at a couple little dresses for
"When I was your age I made every stitch you wore."
"Yeh, I bet they looked like it, too. This ain't the farm. I
got all I can do to tend to the house, without sewing."
"I did it. I did the housework and the sewin' and cookin', an'
"A swell lot of housekeepin' you did. You don't need to tell
The bickering grew to a quarrel. But in the end they took the
downtown el together. You saw them, flushed of face, with
twitching fingers, indulging in a sort of orgy of dime spending
in the five-and-ten-cent store on the wrong side of State Street.
They pawed over bolts of cheap lace and bits of stuff in the
stifling air of the crowded place. They would buy a sack of
salted peanuts from the great mound in the glass case, or a bag
of the greasy pink candy piled in profusion on the counter, and
this they would munch as they went.
They came home late, fagged and irritable, and supplemented their
hurried dinner with hastily bought food from the near-by
Thus ran the life of ease for Ben Westerveld, retired farmer.
And so now he lay impatiently in bed, rubbing a nervous
forefinger over the edge of the sheet and saying to himself that,
well, here was another day. What day was it? L'see now.
Yesterday was--yesterday. A little feeling of panic came over
him. He couldn't remember what yesterday had been. He counted
back laboriously and decided that today must be Thursday. Not
that it made any difference.
They had lived in the city almost a year now. But the city had
not digested Ben. He was a leathery morsel that could not be
assimilated. There he stuck in Chicago's crop, contributing
nothing, gaining nothing. A rube in a comic collar ambling
aimlessly about Halsted Street or State downtown. You saw him
conversing hungrily with the gritty and taciturn Swede who was
janitor for the block of red-brick flats. Ben used to follow him
around pathetically, engaging him in the talk of the day. Ben
knew no men except the surly Gus, Minnie's husband. Gus, the
firebrand, thought Ben hardly worthy of his contempt. If Ben
thought, sometimes, of the respect with which he had always been
greeted when he clumped down the main street of Commercial--if he
thought of how the farmers for miles around had come to him for
expert advice and opinion--he said nothing.
Sometimes the janitor graciously allowed Ben to attend to the
furnace of the building in which he lived. He took out ashes,
shoveled coal. He tinkered and rattled and shook things. You
heard him shoveling and scraping down there, and smelled the
acrid odor of his pipe. It gave him something to do. He would
emerge sooty and almost happy.
"You been monkeying with that furnace again!" Bella would
scold. "If you want something to do, why don't you plant a
garden in the back yard and grow something? You was crazy about
it on the farm."
His face flushed a slow, dull red at that. He could not explain
to her that he lost no dignity in his own eyes in fussing about
an inadequate little furnace, but that self-respect would not
allow him to stoop to gardening-- he who had reigned over six
hundred acres of bountiful soil.
On winter afternoons you saw him sometimes at the movies, whiling
away one of his many idle hours in the dim, close-smelling
atmosphere of the place. Tokyo and Rome and Gallipoli came to
him. He saw beautiful tiger-women twining fair, false arms about
the stalwart but yielding forms of young men with cleft chins.
He was only mildly interested. He talked to anyone who would
talk to him, though he was naturally a shy man. He talked to the
barber, the grocer, the druggist, the streetcar conductor, the
milkman, the iceman. But the price of wheat did not interest
these gentlemen. They did not know that the price of wheat was
the most vital topic of conversation in the world.
"Well, now," he would say, "you take this year's wheat crop,
with about 917,000,000 bushels of wheat harvested, why, that's
what's going to win the war! Yes, sirree! No wheat, no winning,
that's what I say."
"Ya-as, it is!" the city men would scoff. But the queer part
of it is that Farmer Ben was right.
Minnie got into the habit of using him as a sort of nursemaid.
It gave her many hours of freedom for gadding and gossiping.
"Pa, will you look after Pearlie for a little while this
morning? I got to run downtown to match something and she gets
so tired and mean-acting if I take her along. Ma's going with
He loved the feel of Pearlie's small, velvet-soft hand in his big
fist. He called her "little feller," and fed her forbidden
dainties. His big brown fingers were miraculously deft at
buttoning and unbuttoning her tiny garments, and wiping her soft
lips, and performing a hundred tender offices. He was playing a
sort of game with himself, pretending this was Dike become a baby
again. Once the pair managed to get over to Lincoln Park, where
they spent a glorious day looking at the animals, eating popcorn,
and riding on the miniature railway.
They returned, tired, dusty, and happy, to a double tirade.
Bella engaged in a great deal of what she called worrying about
Dike. Ben spoke of him seldom, but the boy was always present in
his thoughts. They had written him of their move, but he had not
seemed to get the impression of its permanence. His letters
indicated that he thought they were visiting Minnie, or taking a
vacation in the city. Dike's letters were few. Ben treasured
them, and read and reread them. When the Armistice news came,
and with it the possibility of Dike's return, Ben tried to fancy
him fitting into the life of the city. And his whole being
revolted at the thought.
He saw the pimply-faced, sallow youths standing at the corner of
Halsted and Sixty-third, spitting languidly and handling their
limp cigarettes with an amazing labial dexterity. Their
conversation was low-voiced, sinister, and terse, and their eyes
narrowed as they watched the overdressed, scarlet-lipped girls go
by. A great fear clutched at Ben Westerveld's heart.
The lack of exercise and manual labor began to tell on Ben. He
did not grow fat from idleness. Instead his skin seemed to sag
and hang on his frame, like a garment grown too large for him.
He walked a great deal. Perhaps that had something to do with
it. He tramped miles of city pave- ments. He was a very lonely
man. And then, one day, quite by accident, he came upon South
Water Street. Came upon it, stared at it as a water-crazed
traveler in a desert gazes upon the spring in the oasis, and
drank from it, thirstily, gratefully.
South Water Street feeds Chicago. Into that close-packed
thoroughfare come daily the fruits and vegetables that will
supply a million tables. Ben had heard of it, vaguely, but had
never attempted to find it. Now he stumbled upon it and,
standing there, felt at home in Chicago for the first time in
more than a year. He saw ruddy men walking about in overalls and
carrying whips in their hands--wagon whips, actually. He hadn't
seen men like that since he had left the farm. The sight of them
sent a great pang of homesickness through him. His hand reached
out and he ran an accustomed finger over the potatoes in a barrel
on the walk. His fingers lingered and gripped them, and passed
over them lovingly.
At the contact something within him that had been tight and
hungry seemed to relax, satisfied. It was his nerves, feeding on
those familiar things for which they had been starving.
He walked up one side and down the other. Crates of lettuce,
bins of onions, barrels of apples. Such vegetables! The
radishes were scarlet globes. Each carrot was a spear of pure
orange. The green and purple of fancy asparagus held his expert
eye. The cauliflower was like a great bouquet, fit for a bride;
the cabbages glowed like jade.
And the men! He hadn't dreamed there were men like that in this
big, shiny-shod, stiffly laundered, white-collared city. Here
were rufous men in overalls--worn, shabby, easy-looking overalls
and old blue shirts, and mashed hats worn at a careless angle.
Men, jovial, good-natured, with clear eyes, and having about them
some of the revivifying freshness and wholesomeness of the
products they handled.
Ben Westerveld breathed in the strong, pungent smell of onions
and garlic and of the earth that seemed to cling to the
vegetables, washed clean though they were. He breathed deeply,
gratefully, and felt strangely at peace.
It was a busy street. A hundred times he had to step quickly to
avoid a hand truck, or dray, or laden wagon. And yet the busy
men found time to greet him friendlily. "H'are you!" they said
genially. "H'are you this morning!"
He was marketwise enough to know that some of these busy people
were commission men, and some grocers, and some buyers, stewards,
clerks. It was a womanless thoroughfare. At the busiest
business corner, though, in front of the largest commission house
on the street, he saw a woman. Evidently she was transacting
business, too, for he saw the men bringing boxes of berries and
vegetables for her inspection. A woman in a plain blue skirt and
a small black hat.
A funny job for a woman. What weren't they mixing into nowadays!
He turned sidewise in the narrow, crowded space in order to pass
her little group. And one of the men--a red-cheeked,
merry-looking young fellow in a white apron--laughed and said:
"Well, Emma, you win. When it comes to driving a bargain with
you, I quit. It can't be did!"
Even then he didn't know her. He did not dream that this
straight, slim, tailored, white-haired woman, bargaining so
shrewdly with these men, was the Emma Byers of the old days. But
he stopped there a moment, in frank curiosity, and the woman
looked up. She looked up, and he knew those intelligent eyes and
that serene brow. He had carried the picture of them in his mind
for more than thirty years, so it was not so surprising.
He did not hesitate. He might have if he had thought a moment,
but he acted automatically. He stood before her. "You're Emma
Byers, ain't you?"
She did not know him at first. Small blame to her, so completely
had the roguish, vigorous boy vanished in this sallow, sad-eyed
old man. Then: "Why, Ben!" she said quietly. And there was
pity in her voice, though she did not mean to have it there. She
put out one hand--that capable, reassuring hand--and gripped his
and held it a moment. It was queer and significant that it
should be his hand that lay within hers.
"Well, what in all get-out are you doing around here, Emma?"
He tried to be jovial and easy. She turned to the aproned man
with whom she had been dealing and smiled.
"What am I doing here, Joe?"
Joe grinned, waggishly. "Nothin'; only beatin' every man on the
street at his own game, and makin' so much money that----"
But she stopped him there. "I guess I'll do my own
explaining." She turned to Ben again. "And what are you doing
here in Chicago?"
Ben passed a faltering hand across his chin. "Me? Well,
I'm--we're living here, I s'pose. Livin' here."
She glanced at him sharply. "Left the farm, Ben?"
"Wait a minute." She concluded her business with Joe; finished
it briskly and to her own satisfaction. With her bright brown
eyes and her alert manner and her quick little movements she made
you think of a wren--a businesslike little wren--a very early
wren that is highly versed in the worm-catching way.
At her next utterance he was startled but game.
"Have you had your lunch?"
"Why, no; I----"
"I've been down here since seven, and I'm starved. Let's go and
have a bite at the little Greek restaurant around the corner. A
cup of coffee and a sandwich, anyway."
Seated at the bare little table, she surveyed him with those
intelligent, understanding, kindly eyes, and he felt the years
slip from him. They were walking down the country road together,
and she was listening quietly and advising him.
She interrogated him gently. But something of his old
masterfulness came back to him. "No, I want to know about you
first. I can't get the rights of it, you being here on South
Water, tradin' and all."
So she told him briefly. She was in the commission business.
Successful. She bought, too, for such hotels as the Blackstone
and the Congress, and for half a dozen big restaurants. She gave
him bare facts, but he was shrewd enough and sufficiently versed
in business to know that here was a woman of established
"But how does it happen you're keepin' it up, Emma, all this
time? Why, you must be anyway--it ain't that you look
it--but----" He floundered, stopped.
She laughed. "That's all right, Ben. I couldn't fool you on
that. And I'm working because it keeps me happy. I want to work
till I die. My children keep telling me to stop, but I know
better than that. I'm not going to rust out. I want to wear
out." Then, at an unspoken question in his eyes: "He's dead.
These twenty years. It was hard at first, when the children were
small. But I knew garden stuff if I didn't know anything else.
It came natural to me. That's all."
So then she got his story from him bit by bit. He spoke of the
farm and of Dike, and there was a great pride in his voice. He
spoke of Bella, and the son who had been killed, and of Minnie.
And the words came falteringly. He was trying to hide something,
and he was not made for deception. When he had finished:
"Now, listen, Ben. You go back to your farm."
"I can't. She--I can't."
She leaned forward, earnestly. "You go back to the farm."
He turned up his palms with a little gesture of defeat. "I
"You can't stay here. It's killing you. It's poisoning you.
Did you ever hear of toxins? That means poisons, and you're
poisoning yourself. You'll die of it. You've got another twenty
years of work in you. What's ailing you? You go back to your
wheat and your apples and your hogs. There isn't a bigger job in
the world than that."
For a moment his face took on a glow from the warmth of her own
inspiring personality. But it died again. When they rose to go,
his shoulders drooped again, his muscles sagged. At the doorway
he paused a moment, awkward in farewell. He blushed a little,
"Emma--I always wanted to tell you. God knows it was luck for
you the way it turned out--but I always wanted to----"
She took his hand again in her firm grip at that, and her kindly,
bright brown eyes were on him. "I never held it against you,
Ben. I had to live a long time to understand it. But I never
held a grudge. It just wasn't to be, I suppose. But listen to
me, Ben. You do as I tell you. You go back to your wheat and
your apples and your hogs. There isn't a bigger man-size job in
the world. It's where you belong."
Unconsciously his shoulders straightened again. Again they
sagged. And so they parted, the two.
He must have walked almost all the long way home, through miles
and miles of city streets. He must have lost his way, too, for
when he looked up at a corner street sign it was an unfamiliar
So he floundered about, asked his way, was misdirected. He took
the right streetcar at last and got off at his own corner at
seven o'clock, or later. He was in for a scolding, he knew.
But when he came to his own doorway he knew that even his
tardiness could not justify the bedlam of sound that came from
within. High-pitched voices. Bella's above all the rest, of
course, but there was Minnie's too, and Gus's growl, and
Pearlie's treble, and the boy Ed's and----
At the other voice his hand trembled so that the knob rattled in
the door, and he could not turn it. But finally he did turn it,
and stumbled in, breathing hard. And that other voice was
He must have just arrived. The flurry of explanation was still
in progress. Dike's knapsack was still on his back, and his
canteen at his hip, his helmet slung over his shoulder. A brown,
hard, glowing Dike, strangely tall and handsome and older, too.
All this Ben saw in less than one electric second. Then he had
the boy's two shoulders in his hands, and Dike was saying,
Of the roomful, Dike and old Ben were the only quiet ones. The
others were taking up the explanation and going over it again and
again, and marveling, and asking questions.
"He come in to--what's that place, Dike?--Hoboken--yesterday
only. An' he sent a dispatch to the farm. Can't you read our
letters, Dike, that you didn't know we was here now? And then
he's only got an hour more. They got to go to Camp Grant to be,
now, demobilized. He came out to Minnie's on a chance. Ain't he
But Dike and his father were looking at each other quietly. Then
Dike spoke. His speech was not phlegmatic, as of old. He had a
new clipped way of uttering his words:
"Say, Pop, you ought to see the way the Frenchies farm! They
got about an acre each, and, say, they use every inch of it. If
they's a little dirt blows into the crotch of a tree, they plant
a crop in there. I never seen nothin' like it. Say, we waste
enough stuff over here to keep that whole country in food for a
hundred years. Yessir. And tools! Outta the ark, believe me.
If they ever saw our tractor, they'd think it was the Germans
comin' back. But they're smart at that. I picked up a lot of
new ideas over there. And you ought to see the old
birds--womenfolks and men about eighty years old-- runnin'
everything on the farm. They had to. I learned somethin' off
them about farmin'."
"Forget the farm," said Minnie.
"Yeh," echoed Gus, "forget the farm stuff. I can get you a
job here out at the works for four-fifty a day, and six when you
learn it right."
Dike looked from one to the other, alarm and unbelief on his
face. "What d'you mean, a job? Who wants a job! What you
Bella laughed jovially. "F'r heaven's sakes, Dike, wake up!
We're livin' here. This is our place. We ain't rubes no more."
Dike turned to his father. A little stunned look crept into his
face. A stricken, pitiful look. There was something about it
that suddenly made old Ben think of Pearlie when she had been
slapped by her quick- tempered mother.
"But I been countin' on the farm," he said miserably. "I just
been livin' on the idea of comin' back to it. Why, I---- The
streets here, they're all narrow and choked up. I been countin'
on the farm. I want to go back and be a farmer. I want----"
And then Ben Westerveld spoke. A new Ben Westerveld--the old Ben
Westerveld. Ben Westerveld, the farmer, the monarch over six
hundred acres of bounteous bottomland.
"That's all right, Dike," he said. "You're going back. So'm
I. I've got another twenty years of work in me. We're going
back to the farm."
Bella turned on him, a wildcat. "We ain't! Not me! We ain't!
I'm not agoin' back to the farm."
But Ben Westerveld was master again in his own house. "You're
goin' back, Bella," he said quietly, "an' things are goin' to
be different. You're goin' to run the house the way I say, or
I'll know why. If you can't do it, I'll get them in that can.
An' me and Dike, we're goin' back to our wheat and our apples and
our hogs. Yessir! There ain't a bigger man-size job in the
Un Morso doo Pang
When you are twenty you do not patronize sunsets unless you are
unhappy, in love, or both. Tessie Golden was both. Six months
ago a sunset had wrung from her only a casual tribute, such as:
"My! Look how red the sky is!" delivered as unemotionally as a
Tessie Golden sat on the top step of the back porch now, a slim,
inert heap in a cotton house coat and scuffed slippers. Her head
was propped wearily against the porch post. Her hands were limp
in her lap. Her face was turned toward the west, where shone
that mingling of orange and rose known as salmon pink. But no
answering radiance in the girl's face met the glow in the
Saturday night, after supper in Chippewa, Wisconsin, Tessie
Golden of the presunset era would have been calling from her
bedroom to the kitchen: "Ma, what'd you do with my pink
And from the kitchen: "It's in your second bureau drawer. The
collar was kind of mussed from Wednesday night, and I give it a
little pressing while my iron was on."
At seven-thirty Tessie would have emerged from her bedroom in the
pink blouse that might have been considered alarmingly frank as
to texture and precariously low as to neck had Tessie herself not
been so reassuringly unopulent; a black taffeta skirt, very
brief; a hat with a good deal of French blue about it; fragile
high-heeled pumps with bows.
As she passed through the sitting room on her way out, her mother
would appear in the doorway, dishtowel in hand. Her pride in
this slim young thing and her love of her she concealed with a
thin layer of carping criticism.
"Runnin' downtown again, I s'pose." A keen eye on the swishing
Tessie, the quick-tongued, would toss the wave of shining hair
that lay against either glowing cheek. "Oh, my, no! I just
thought I'd dress up in case Angie Hatton drove past in her auto
and picked me up for a little ride. So's not to keep her
Angie Hatton was Old Man Hatton's daughter. Anyone in the Fox
River Valley could have told you who Old Man Hatton was. You saw
his name at the top of every letterhead of any importance in
Chippewa, from the Pulp and Paper Mill to the First National
Bank, and including the watch factory, the canning works, and the
Mid-Western Land Company. Knowing this, you were able to
appreciate Tessie's sarcasm. Angie Hatton was as unaware of
Tessie's existence as only a young woman could be whose family
residence was in Chippewa, Wisconsin, but who wintered in Italy,
summered in the mountains, and bought (so the town said) her very
hairpins in New York. When Angie Hatton came home from the East
the town used to stroll past on Mondays to view the washing on
the Hatton line. Angie's underwear, flirting so audaciously with
the sunshine and zephyrs, was of silk and crepe de Chine and
satin--materials that we had always thought of heretofore as
intended exclusively for party dresses and wedding gowns. Of
course, two years later they were showing practically the same
thing at Megan's dry-goods store. But that was always the way
with Angie Hatton. Even those of us who went to Chicago to shop
never quite caught up with her.
Delivered of this ironic thrust, Tessie would walk toward the
screen door with a little flaunting sway of the hips. Her
mother's eyes, following the slim figure, had a sort of grudging
love in them. A spare, caustic, wiry little woman, Tessie's
mother. Tessie resembled her as a water color may resemble a
blurred charcoal sketch. Tessie's wide mouth curved into humor
lines. She was the cutup of the escapement department at the
watch factory; the older woman's lips sagged at the corners.
Tessie was buoyant and colorful with youth. The other was
shrunken and faded with years and labor. As the girl minced
across the room in her absurdly high-heeled shoes, the older
woman thought: My, but she's pretty! But she said aloud: "I
should think you'd stay home once in a while and not be runnin'
the streets every night."
"Time enough to be sittin' home when I'm old like you."
And yet between these two there was love, and even understanding.
But in families such as Tessie's, demonstration is a thing to be
ashamed of; affection a thing to conceal. Tessie's father was
janitor of the Chippewa High School. A powerful man, slightly
crippled by rheumatism, loquacious, lively, fond of his family,
proud of his neat gray frame house and his new cement sidewalk
and his carefully tended yard and garden patch. In all her life
Tessie had never seen a caress exchanged between her parents.
Nowadays Ma Golden had little occasion for finding fault with
Tessie's evening diversion. She no longer had cause to say,
"Always gaddin' downtown, or over to Cora's or somewhere, like
you didn't have a home to stay in. You ain't been in a evening
this week, only when you washed your hair."
Tessie had developed a fondness for sunsets viewed from the back
porch --she who had thought nothing of dancing until three and
rising at half- past six to go to work.
Stepping about in the kitchen after supper, her mother would eye
the limp, relaxed figure on the back porch with a little pang at
her heart. She would come to the screen door, or even out to the
porch on some errand or other--to empty the coffee grounds, to
turn the row of half-ripe tomatoes reddening on the porch
railing, to flap and hang up a damp tea towel.
"Ain't you goin' out, Tess?"
"What you want to lop around here for? Such a grant evening.
Why don't you put on your things and run downtown, or over to
Cora's or somewhere, hm?"
"What for! What does anybody go out for!"
"I don't know."
If they could have talked it over together, these two, the girl
might have found relief. But the family shyness of their class
was too strong upon them. Once Mrs. Golden had said, in an
effort at sympathy, "Person'd think Chuck Mory was the only one
who'd gone to war an' the last fella left in the world."
A grim flash of the old humor lifted the corners of the wide
mouth. "He is. Who's there left? Stumpy Gans, up at the
railroad crossing? Or maybe Fatty Weiman, driving the garbage.
Guess I'll doll up this evening and see if I can't make a hit
with one of them."
She relapsed into bitter silence. The bottom had dropped out of
Tessie Golden's world.
In order to understand the Tessie of today one would have to know
the Tessie of six months ago--Tessie the impudent, the
life-loving. Tessie Golden could say things to the
escapement-room foreman that anyone else would have been fired
for. Her wide mouth was capable of glorious insolences.
Whenever you heard shrieks of laughter from the girls' washroom
at noon you knew that Tessie was holding forth to an admiring
group. She was a born mimic; audacious, agile, and with the gift
of burlesque. The autumn that Angie Hatton came home from Europe
wearing the first tight skirt that Chippewa had ever seen, Tessie
gave an imitation of that advanced young woman's progress down
Grand Avenue in this restricting garment. The thing was cruel in
its fidelity, though containing just enough exaggeration to make
it artistic. She followed it up by imitating the stricken look
on the face of Mattie Haynes, cloak-and-suit buyer at Megan's,
who, having just returned from the East with what she considered
the most fashionable of the new fall styles, now beheld Angie
Hatton in the garb that was the last echo of the last cry in
Paris modes--and no model in Mattie's newly selected stock bore
even the remotest resemblance to it.
You would know from this that Tessie was not a particularly deft
worker. Her big-knuckled fingers were cleverer at turning out a
blouse or retrimming a hat. Hers were what are known as handy
hands, but not sensitive. It takes a light and facile set of
fingers to fit pallet and arbor and fork together: close work and
tedious. Seated on low benches along the tables, their chins
almost level with the table top, the girls worked with pincers
and flame, screwing together the three tiny parts of the watch's
anatomy that were their particular specialty. Each wore a
jeweler's glass in one eye. Tessie had worked at the watch
factory for three years, and the pressure of the glass on the eye
socket had given her the slightly hollow- eyed appearance
peculiar to experienced watchmakers. It was not unbecoming,
though, and lent her, somehow, a spiritual look which made her
impudence all the more piquant.
Tessie wasn't always witty, really. But she had achieved a
reputation for wit which insured applause for even her feebler
efforts. Nap Ballou, the foreman, never left the escapement room
without a little shiver of nervous apprehension--a feeling
justified by the ripple of suppressed laughter that went up and
down the long tables. He knew that Tessie Golden, like a naughty
schoolgirl when teacher's back is turned, had directed one of her
sure shafts at him.
Ballou, his face darkling, could easily have punished her.
Tessie knew it. But he never did, or would. She knew that, too.
Her very insolence and audacity saved her.
"Someday," Ballou would warn her, "you'll get too gay, and
then you'll find yourself looking for a job."
"Go on--fire me," retorted Tessie, "and I'll meet you in
Lancaster"--a form of wit appreciated only by watchmakers. For
there is a certain type of watch hand who is as peripatetic as
the old-time printer. Restless, ne'er-do- well, spendthrift, he
wanders from factory to factory through the chain of watchmaking
towns: Springfield, Trenton, Waltham, Lancaster, Waterbury,
Chippewa. Usually expert, always unreliable, certainly fond of
drink, Nap Ballou was typical of his kind. The steady worker had
a mingled admiration and contempt for him. He, in turn, regarded
the other as a stick-in-the-mud. Nap wore his cap on one side of
his curly head, and drank so evenly and steadily as never to be
quite drunk and never strictly sober. He had slender, sensitive
fingers like an artist's or a woman's, and he knew the parts of
that intricate mechanism known as a watch from the jewel to the
finishing room. It was said he had a wife or two. He was forty-
six, good-looking in a dissolute sort of way, possessing the
charm of the wanderer, generous with his money. It was known
that Tessie's barbs were permitted to prick him without
retaliation because Tessie herself appealed to his errant fancy.
When the other girls teased her about this obvious state of
affairs, something fine and contemptuous welled up in her.
"Him! Why, say, he ought to work in a pickle factory instead of
a watchworks. All he needs is a little dill and a handful of
grape leaves to make him good eatin' as a relish."
And she thought of Chuck Mory, perched on the high seat of the
American Express truck, hatless, sunburned, stockily muscular,
clattering down Winnebago Street on his way to the depot and the
Something about the clear simplicity and uprightness of the firm
little figure appealed to Nap Ballou. He used to regard her
curiously with a long, hard gaze before which she would grow
uncomfortable. "Think you'll know me next time you see me?"
But there was an uneasy feeling beneath her flip exterior. Not
that there was anything of the beautiful, persecuted factory girl
and villainous foreman about the situation. Tessie worked at
watchmaking because it was light, pleasant, and well paid. She
could have found another job for the asking. Her money went for
shoes and blouses and lingerie and silk stockings. She was
forever buying a vivid necktie for her father and dressing up her
protesting mother in gay colors that went ill with the drab,
wrinkled face. "If it wasn't for me, you'd go round looking
like one of those Polack women down by the tracks," Tessie would
scold. "It's a wonder you don't wear a shawl!"
That was the Tessie of six months ago, gay, carefree, holding the
reins of her life in her own two capable hands. Three nights a
week, and Sunday, she saw Chuck Mory. When she went downtown on
Saturday night it was frankly to meet Chuck, who was waiting for
her on Schroeder's drugstore corner. He knew it, and she knew
it. Yet they always went through a little ceremony. She and
Cora, turning into Grand from Winnebago Street, would make for
the post office. Then down the length of Grand with a leaping
glance at Schroeder's corner before they reached it. Yes, there
they were, very clean-shaven, clean-shirted, slick-looking.
Tessie would have known Chuck's blond head among a thousand. An
air of studied hauteur and indifference as they approached the
corner. Heads turned the other way. A low whistle from the
"Oh, how do!"
Both greetings done with careful surprise. Then on down the
street. On the way back you took the inside of the walk, and
your hauteur was now stony to the point of insult. Schroeder's
corner simply did not exist. On as far as Megan's, which you
entered and inspected, up one brightly lighted aisle and down the
next. At the dress-goods counter there was a neat little stack
of pamphlets entitled "In the World of Fashion." You took one
and sauntered out leisurely. Down Winnebago Street now, homeward
bound, talking animatedly and seemingly unconscious of quick
footsteps sounding nearer and nearer. Just past the Burke House,
where the residential district began, and where the trees cast
their kindly shadows: "Can I see you home?" A hand slipped
through her arm; a little tingling thrill.
"Oh, why, how do, Chuck! Hello, Scotty. Sure, if you're going
At every turn Chuck left her side and dashed around behind her in
order to place himself at her right again, according to the rigid
rule of Chippewa etiquette. He took her arm only at street
crossings until they reached the tracks, which perilous spot
seemed to justify him in retaining his hold throughout the
remainder of the stroll. Usually they lost Cora and Scotty
without having been conscious of their loss.
Their talk? The girls and boys that each knew; the day's
happenings at factory and express office; next Wednesday night's
dance up in the Chute; and always the possibility of Chuck's
leaving the truck and assuming the managership of the office.
"Don't let this go any further, see? But I heard it straight
that old Benke is going to be transferred to Fond du Lac. And if
he is, why, I step in, see? Benke's got a girl in Fondy, and
he's been pluggin' to get there. Gee, maybe I won't be glad when
he does!" A little silence. "Will you be glad, Tess? Hm?"
Tess felt herself glowing and shivering as the big hand closed
more tightly on her arm. "Me? Why, sure I'll be pleased to see
you get a job that's coming to you by rights, and that'll get you
better pay, and all."
But she knew what he meant, and he knew she knew.
No more of that now. Chuck--gone. Scotty--gone. All the boys
at the watchworks, all the fellows in the neighborhood--gone. At
first she hadn't minded. It was exciting. You kidded them at
first: "Well, believe me, Chuck, if you shoot the way you play
ball, you're a gone goon already."
"All you got to do, Scotty, is to stick that face of yours up
over the top of the trench and the Germans'll die of fright and
save you wasting bullets."
There was a great knitting of socks and sweaters and caps.
Tessie's big- knuckled, capable fingers made you dizzy, they flew
so fast. Chuck was outfitted as for a polar expedition. Tess
took half a day off to bid him good-by. They marched down Grand
Avenue, that first lot of them, in their everyday suits and hats,
with their shiny yellow suitcases and their pasteboard boxes in
their hands, sheepish, red-faced, awkward. In their eyes,
though, a certain look. And so off for Camp Sherman, their young
heads sticking out of the car windows in clusters--black, yellow,
brown, red. But for each woman on the depot platform there was
just one head. Tessie saw a blurred blond one with a misty halo
around it. A great shouting and waving of handkerchiefs: