Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Charles Franks, David Widger
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE TALE OF WARBLE PETTICOAT
THIRD IMPRESSION PTOMAINE STREET
THE TALE OF WARBLE PETTICOAT
CAROLYN WELLS [BLANK PAGE] TO ROBERTA WOLF BUEHLER MY BELOVED FRIEND
FOREWORD TO A FOOLISH BOOK
A certain Poet once opined
That life is earnest, life is real;
But some are of a different mind,
And turn to hear the Cap-bells peal.
Oft in this Vale of Smiles I've found
Foolishness makes the world go round.
And lots of those who've passed before us,
Denounced all foolishness and fun,
Not so the gay and blithesome Horace;
And Shakespeare's Jaques, somewhat hotly,
Declared the only wear is Motley!
We mortals, fools are said to be;
And doesn't this seem rather nice?
I learn, on good authority,
That Fools inhabit Paradise!
Honored by kings they've always been;
And--you know where Fools may rush in.
And so, with confidence unshaken,
In Cap and Bells, I strike the trail.
I know just how, because I've taken
A Correspondence Course by mail.
I find the Foolish life's less trouble
Than Higher, Strenuous or Double.
Dear Reader, small the boon I ask,--
Your gentle smile, to egg my wit on;
Lest people deem my earnest task
Not worth the paper it is writ on.
Well, at white paper's present worth,
That _would_ be rather high-priced mirth!
I hope you think my lines are bright,
I hope you trow my jests are clever;
If you approve of what I write
Then you and I are friends forever.
But if you say my stuff is rotten,
You are forgiven and forgotten.
Though, as the old hymn runs, I may not
Sing like the angels, speak like Paul;
Though on a golden lyre I play not,
As David played before King Saul;
Yet I consider this production
A gem of verbalesque construction.
So, what your calling, or your bent,
If clergy or if laity,
Fall into line. I'll be content
And plume me on my gayety,
If of the human file and rank
I can make nine-tenths smile,--and thank.
[Blank Page] PTOMAINE STREET
On a Pittsburgh block, where three generations ago might have been heard
Indian war-whoops--yes, and the next generation wore hoops, too--a girl
child stood, in evident relief, far below the murky gray of the Pittsburgh
She couldn't see an Indian, not even a cigar store one, and she wouldn't
have noticed him anyway, for she was shaking with laughter.
A breeze, which had hurried across from New York for the purpose, blew her
hat off, but she recked not, and only tautened her hair ribbon with an
involuntary jerk just in time to prevent that going too.
A girl on a Pittsburgh block; bibulous, plastic, young; drinking the air in
great gulps, as she would later drink life.
It is Warble Mildew, expelled from Public School, and carolling with
She had only attended for four weeks and they had been altogether wasted.
In her class there were several better girls, many brighter, one prettier,
but none fatter. The schoolgirls marveled at the fatness of her legs when,
skirts well tucked up, they all waded in the brook. Every cell of her body
was plump and she had dimples in her wrists.
And cheeks, like:
A satin pincushion pink,
Before rude pins have touched it.
Her eyes were of the lagoon blue found in picture postcards of Venice and
her hair was a curly yellow brush-heap. Sunning over with curls--you know,
sort of ringolets.
In fact, Warble was not unlike one of those Kewpie things, only she was
* * * * *
That's the way things were to come to Warble all her life. Fate laid on in
broad strokes--in great splashes--in slathers.
Expelled! And she had scarce dared hope for such a thing.
* * * * *
To sound the humor of Warble.
She hated school. Books, restraint, routine, scratching slate pencils, gum
under desks, smells--all the set up palette of the schoolroom was not to
her a happy vehicle of self-expression.
Often, in hope of being sent home, she had let a rosy tongue-tip protrude
from screwed up red lips at teacher, but it had gone unpunished.
Now, rocking in triumphant, glorious mirth, her plump shoulders hunched in
very ecstasy, the child was on the peak!
Expelled! Oh, gee!
And all because she had put a caterpillar down Pearl Jane Tuttle's back.
One little, measly caterpillar.
Pearl Jane had sat right in front of her.
A loose neckband round a scrawny neck.
And when Pearl Jane wiggled, a space of neck between two thin, tight black
pigtails--a consequent safe-deposit that was fairly crying out to have
something dropped down it.
A caterpillar mooching along the schoolroom aisle--clearly sent by
Helpless in the grip of an irresistible subconscious complex, Warble scoops
up the caterpillar and in an instant has fed him into the gaping maw at the
back of that loose gingham neckband.
* * * * *
That, then, is why Warble stood in such evident relief on the Pittsburgh
Expelled! The world was hers!
It had always been hers, to be sure, but it was now getting bigger and more
hers every minute.
The very first day she went to school, a little boy said to her:
"Do you like me?"
"No," said Warble.
The little boy gave her all his candy and his red balloon.
So you see, she had a way--and got away with it.
* * * * *
Warble was an orphan. She had a paprika-seasoned sister, married to a
chiropodist, in Oshkosh. But for all that, she planned to earn her own
And she had an ambition. At present beyond her grasp, yet so sure was she
of its ultimate attainment, that she shaped her entire cosmic consciousness
toward that end. Her ambition was not unique, perhaps not unattainable. It
had been achieved by others with seemingly little effort and less skill;
and though as yet, merely a radiant hope, Warble was determined that some
day she would gain her goal.
Her ambition was to get married. Her sister had; her mother had; she
politely assumed her grandmother had.
Often she imagined herself the heroine of delightful scenes she watched
at the cinema. She loved the slow unwinding of the story on the screen, but
when engaged with her imagination she hurried it on in haste to reach the
* * * * *
It was at no one's advice, but because of her own inner yearnings that
Warble took a job as waitress in a Bairns' Restaurant.
She reveled in the white tiles, the white gloss paint, the eternal
clearing-up and the clatter of flatware. She loved the flatware--it always
made her think of a wedding--sometimes of her own.
She adored the white-capped King Alfred baking his cakes in the window, but
merely as a fixture, as she adored the mute stacks of clean plates and the
piles of pathetic little serviettes.
In a more intimate and personal way she adored the pork and beans, the
ham and eggs, the corned beef and cabbage, and--importantly--the gentle,
easy-going puddings and cup custards. These things delighted her soul and
dimpled her body.
She was proud of her fellow-waitresses, proud of their aspirations (the
same as her own).
Having exceptional opportunity, Warble learned much of culinary art and
architecture, at least she became grounded in elementary alimentary
She had little notebooks filled with rules for Parisian pastry, Hindu
recipes for curry; foreign dishes with modern American improvements.
Joyously she learned to make custard pie. This, as the tumultous future
proved, was indicative.
Only the little smiling gods of circumstance, wickedly winking at one
another, knew that when Warble whipped cream and beat eggs, she laid the
corner stone of a waiting Destiny, known as yet but to the blinking stars
above the murky Pittsburgh sky.
She was extravagant as to shoes and diet; and, on the whole, she felt that
she was living.
She was not mistaken.
She went to dances, but though sometimes she toddled a bit, mostly she sat
out or tucked in.
During her three years as a waitress several customers looked at her with
interest though without much principle.
The president of a well-known bank, the proprietor of a folding-bed
concern, a retired plumber, a Divinity student and a ticket-chopper.
None of these made her bat an eyelash.
For months no male came up for air. Then, the restaurant door swung back on
its noiseless check and spring, and in walked Big Bill Petticoat.
The Petticoats were one of the oldest and pride-fullest of New England
families. So that settles the status of the Petticoats. A couple of them
came over in the _Mayflower_, with the highboys and cradles and things, and
they founded the branch of Connecticut Petticoats--than which, of course,
there is nothing more so.
Of course, the Petticoats were not in the very upper circles of society,
not in the Dress Circle, so to speak, but they formed a very necessary
foundation, they stood for propriety and decency, and the Petticoats were
stiff enough to stand alone.
Another fine old New England family, the Cottons.
Intermarriage linked the two, and the Cotton-Petticoats crowded all
other ancient and honorable names off the map of Connecticut and nodded
condescendingly to the Saltonwells and Hallistalls. Abbotts and Cabots
tried to patronize them, but the plain unruffled Cotton-Petticoats held
their peace and their position.
The present scion, Dr. Petticoat, was called Big Bill, not because of his
name or stature, but because of the size of his bills. He presented them
quarterly, and though his medicine was optional--the patient could take
it or leave it--the bills had to be paid.
Wherefore Dr. Petticoat was at the head of his profession financially. Also
by reputation and achievement, for he had the big idea.
He was a specialist, and, better yet, a specialist in Ptomaine Poisoning.
Rigidly did he adhere to his chosen line, never swerving to right or left.
People might die on one side of him from water on the brain and on the
other side from water on the palate, not a prescription could they get out
of Big Bill Petticoat unless they could put up unmistakable symptoms of
And he was famous. People brought their ptomaines to him from the far
places, his patients included the idlest rich, the bloatedest aristocrats,
the most profitable of the profiteers. His Big Bill system worked well, and
he was rich beyond the most Freudian dreams of avarice.
As to appearance, Petticoat was very pretty, with that fresh rosy beauty
that is so attractive. His walnut hair was fine and silky, but a permanent
wave made it fuzz forth in a bushy crinkle that was distractingly lovely.
His tweezed eyebrows were arched to a perfect span and his finger nails
showed a piano polish.
His features were cold-chiseled and his coloring was exquisite. In
fact, his coloring was too good to be true, and no wonder, for it came out
of a very modern and up-to-date six-cylinder makeup box.
His lips looked as if they were used to giving orders in restaurants, and
he wore clothes which you could never quite forget.
Warble edged toward the stranger, and murmured nothing in particular, but
somehow he drifted into the last and only vacant seat at her table.
She whisked him a 2 x 2 napkin, dumped a clatter of flatware at him, and
stood, awaiting his order.
The pause becoming lengthy, she murmured with her engaging smile, "Whatcha
want to eat?"
"Pleased to eat you," he responded, looking at her as though she was an
Small wonder, for Warble was so peachy and creamy, so sweet and delectable
that she was a far more appetizing sight than most viands are. She smiled
again--engagingly this time, too.
Thus in the Painted Vale of Huneker, Vamp and Victim beguiled the hours.
Thus, and not in treacled cadences, intrigued Mariar and Sir Thomas in the
"Do you like it here?" asked the doctor.
"Yop. But sometimes I feel wasted--"
"You don't look wasted--" "No--" after a hasty glance in the wall mirror.
"Don't you get sick of the sight of food?"
"Here, oh, no! I don't know any lovelier sight than our kitchens--yes, yes,
sir, I'll get your pied frotatoes at oneth."
When Warble was a bit frustrated or embarrassed, she often inverted her
initials and lisped. It was one of her ways.
The other clients at her table had no intention of being neglected while
their Pickfordian waitress smiled engagingly on a newcomer.
It was the iceman who had hollered. He seemed to be merely a red-faced
inanimate object, that worked by strange and compound levers.
Next him was a hat-check girl, a queenly person who communed with something
set in the lid of her vanity case, and fed on chicken a la king.
Then there was a newsboy, whose all-observant eyes darted about everywhere,
the while he absorbed baked beans and ketchup.
An old maid shopper. She merely brooded over her worn and pencil-scored
memorandum, and muttered of fringe and buttons as she spilled tea on her
samples of Navy blue foulard.
A blind man. Of no interest save that he had a calm and gentle demeanor
and was the only one who didn't spill things. His face wore a grieved but
resigned look, as if something had died in his scrambled eggs. The iceman,
who had the hard, set jaw of a prize fighter was successfully eating steak,
and he welcomed the incoming fried potatoes, as one greets a new instalment
of a serial.
It was a fat and pink and lovely Warble who at last trotted back with
The great specialist had an unbridled passion for pie, and throwing
restraint to the winds he had ordered three kinds. The wedges
Warble brought were the very widest she could wheedle from the head
pie-cutter--and Warble was some wheedler, especially when she coaxed
prettily for a big pieth of cuthtard.
Petticoat looked at her again as she came, pie-laden.
Her cap was a bit askew, but her eyes weren't. In her white linen dress and
apron and white cap, her little pink face looked to Petticoat's appraising
glance like a postage stamp on an expanse of white linen envelope.
Little did he think, as he took his custard pie that he was about to put
his foot in it. Yet he did.
"May I see you again sometime?" he said, ignoring the hat-check girl's
ogling and the iceman's cold stare.
Warble made a face at him. It was one of her ways.
"What's your address?" he asked. "You can ask the Boss--if you really want
"Want to know! Say, you waitress!"
Of the love-making of Warble and Big Bill Petticoat there is nothing to be
reported which may not be read in any Satevepost serial, which may not be
heard at any summer resort, in any winter garden. They were zoology and
history. Their speech was free silver and their silence was golden.
It was a non-stop courtship. All the plump beauty of youth and all the
assured complacence of a well-to-do married man kept them up in the air.
Petticoat wasn't a married man, but he had their technique.
They took a walk, and followed a roundabout way. Then they sat on a bank,
and his arm followed a roundabout way.
She seemed more young and tender than ever, in a simple white muslin frock
and blue sash. Her broad-leafed hat was decked with a few pink roses, and
roll-top white socks added a good deal to the picture.
Petticoat was charmed.
"Golly, but I love you, Warble!" he cried.
She did not answer, but she touched the upper edge of the wallet in his
breast pocket with an exploring gesture.
"You think I'm too darn aesthetic! Well, you're not, and so we ought to
mate. We're complementary to one another, like air and sunshine or light
"Or pork and beans, or pie and cheese."
"Yes, or like stout and porter--I'll be the porter, oh--what's the use of
talking? Let my lips talk to you!"
He kissed her cheek, imprinting thereon a Cupid's bow, by reason of his own
addiction to the lipstick.
Warble rubbed it off with the back of her hand, and said, "Oh,
She wondered if she ought to have said thank you, but it was only a
drifting thought and she turned the other cheek. Then she smiled her
engaging smile and they were engaged.
Later in the game, she said, with pretty diffidence, "I would like to thee
Butterfly Thenter." And she blushed like the inside of those pink meat
"I knew it!" and Petticoat produced a pile of Sunday Picture Supplements.
Her cheek nested in his permanent wave, Warble studied the pictures.
They were the last word in artistic architecture. Truly, Butterfly Center,
where Petticoat lived, was a veritable Utopia, Arcadia, Spotless Town and
Happy Valley all rolled into one. Broad streets, arching trees, sublimated
houses, glorified shops--it seemed to Warble like a flitter-work Christmas
card from the drug-store.
"How'd you like to scoot up there with me in a fast aeroplane?" he jollied
"It might be--a lark--" she dubioused.
"But here's the picture!" and proudly he exhibited a full length view of
his own home.
"Ptomaine Haul," he exploited, proudly. "Built every inch of it from the
busy little ptomaines. Coral insects nothing on that, eh? And here's the
sort of people I practice on. Old Leathersham, now--he has a corking
chateau--French Renaissance. And Mrs. Charity Givens--she has a Georgian
shack. And, oh, yes, here's Iva Payne. She's one of my most profitable
patients--sick all the time."
Warble studied the pictures.
"What expensive people," she said, "dear--so dear."
"Yes, great people. You'd love 'em. They're just layin' for you. Come on,
Warble, will you?"
"Yop," she murmured, from his coat pocket, "Sweet, so sweet."
Among the rolling stock of a great railroad, a moving mass of steel. A soft
sludge as it came noiselessly to rest beneath the glazed chintz awnings of
the Butterfly Center station.
A faint scent of chypre from Petticoat's cigarette as he alit.
From his private train, which had slithered across the intervening spaces
and slid into its moorings as butter slides from a hot plate.
It is September, cool, green and well-sprinkled.
The obviously important man was followed by a yellow-topped, rose-cheeked
girl, whose eyes were all blue and a yard wide as she looked about.
They were Dr. Big Bill Petticoat and his bride, Warble.
They had been married and had spent their honeymoon in riotous loving.
It had been transforming. Warble had been frightened to discover how hungry
she could be even on a wedding trip.
Bill had mused to himself; what's the difference between an optimist and a
pessimist? One honeymoon. And now they had reached their home town. People
were not altogether new to Warble. She had seen them before. But these were
her own people, to bathe and encourage and adorn--and, they didn't seem to
They distressed her. They were so smart. She had always held that there is
no style in America, no chic effects out of Paris.
But here on the terrace of the simple little hewn stone station were hordes
of men and women who seemed to be, mentally, morally and physically,
"Isn't there any way of waking them up?" she begged of Petticoat, grabbing
his arm and shaking him.
"These guys? Wake 'em up? What for? They're happy."
"But they're so smug--no, that isn't what I mean. They're so
"Look here, Warble, you want to get over your fool idea that because a
woman is slender she isn't adorable. These folks are up to date, snuff and
"I know, that's what's biting me. Life seems so hard for them."
"Oh, they don't mind it. Now you must meet the bunch. They're all down here
to meet their husbands or something just as good. Now you behave yourself."
She had a grip on herself. She was ready to kiss and be friends with them
all. But she was scared at the rackety pack who ballyhooed like Coney
Island and surged down upon her like a Niagara Falls.
She had the impression that all the men had soft voices, large, embracing
arms, gimlet eyes and bored, impersonal smiles. She knew they were taking
her in. Their pleasant hoots and yells of greeting overcame her.
"Oh, pleathe--pleathe," she lisped.
In her fresh frilled dimity and soft sash of baby-blue Surah, her rolled
white socks disclosing but a few tantalizing inches of seashell-pink calf,
Warble stood, eyes cast down, a pretty, foolish thing,
As soft as young,
As gay as soft,
and, to a man, the male population of Butterfly Center fell for her.
Not so the remainder of the citizens.
One of the men was yelling at Petticoat:
"Hop into my car, Bill, Don't see yours--I'll tote the bride-person you've
got there--with joy and gladness." Warble looked at the yeller.
"Can't quite place me, chick, can you?" he grinned at her. "Well I'm only
old Goldwin Leathersham--no use for me in the world but to spend money.
Want me to spend some on you? Here's my old thing--step up here, Marigold,
and be introduced. She's really nicer than she looks, Mrs. Petticoat."
"Indeed I'm not," Marigold Leathersham cried gaily, "I couldn't be--nobody
She came running--a beautiful, slim young woman, with a wealth of expensive
looking gold hair, white and gold teeth that broke into a lavish smile. Her
voice was rich and though she looked above, away from and through Warble,
yet she saw her.
"So glad to welcome you, you pretty baby," she chirruped. "You're going to
love us all, aren't you?"
"Yop," said Warble, and smiled her engaging smile.
"You bet she'll love us," declared Leathersham, "she'll make the world go
round! Hello, Little One," he turned to pat the cheek of a white-haired,
red-faced old lady, who hawk-eyed and hawk-nosed, stood by, listening in.
This, Mrs. Petticoat, is our Lady Bountiful, Mrs. Charity Givens--noted for
her generosity. She ostentatiously heads all Donation Lists, and she's
going to start a rest cure where your husband's unsuccessful cases may die
in peace. And here's one of the cases. Hello, Iva Payne!"
"Hello," languidly responded a girl like a long pale lily--a Burne-Jones
type, who sometimes carried around a small stained-glass window to rest her
"Are you really Bill's wife?" she asked, a little disinterestedly, of
"Yop," said Warble, and made a face at her.
"How quaint," said Iva.
"Whoopee, Baby! Here we are," and Petticoat rescued his bride from the
middle of a crowd and yanked her toward his car.
The car was a museum piece, and as Warble caromed into its cushions she
felt that her lines had fallen in pleasant places.
That was the way Fate came to Warble. In big fat chunks, in slathers.
Unexpected, sudden, inescapable--that's Fate all over.
"I shall like Mr. Leathersham--I shall call him Goldie. They're all
nice and friendly--the men. But this town! Oh, my Heavens! This Jewel
Casket--this Treasure Table! I can't live through it! This Floating Island
of a Tipsy Charlotte!" Her husband nudged her. "You look like you had a
pain," he said; "Scared? I don't expect you to fit in at first. You have to
get eased into things. It's different from Pittsburgh. But you'll come to
like it--love is so free here, and the smartest people on earth."
She winked at him. "I love you for your misunderstanding. I'm just
dog-tired. And too many chocolates. Give me a rest, dear. I'm all in from
She laid her feet in his lap and snuggled into the corner of the
She was ready for her new home, beautiful, celebrated Ptomaine Haul.
Petticoat told her that his mother had been living with him, but had fled
incontinently on hearing a description of Warble.
The bride chuckled and smiled engagingly as the car slithered round a
corner and stopped under the _porte cochere_ of a great house set in the
midst of a landscape.
Neo-Colonial, of a purity unsurpassed by the Colonists themselves.
A park stretching in front; gardens at the back; steps up to a great porch,
and a front door copied from the Frary house in Old Deerfield.
A great hall--at its back twin halves of a perfect staircase. To the right,
a charming morning room, where Petticoat led his bride.
"You like it? It's not inharmonious. I left it as it is--in case you care
to rebuild or redecorate."
"It's a sweet home--" she was touched by his indifference. "So artistic."
Petticoat winced, but he was a polite chap, and he only said, carelessly,
"Yes, home is where the art is," and let it go at that.
In the hall and the great library she was conscious of vastness and
magnificent distances, but, she thought, if necessary, I can use roller
As she followed Petticoat and the current shift of servants upstairs, she
quavered to herself like the fat little gods of the hearth.
She took her husband into her arms, and felt that at last she had realized
her one time dreams of the moving pictures, ay, even to the final close-up.
What mattered, so long as she could paw at the satin back of his shirt, and
admire his rich and expensive clothing.
"Dear--so dear--" she murmured.
"The Leathershams are giving a ball for us to-night," Petticoat said,
casually, as he powdered his nose in the recesses of his triplicate mirror.
"Oh, I don't mean a dance--I mean--er--well, what you'd call a sociable, I
"Oh, ain't we got fun!"
"And, I say, Warble, I've got to chase a patient now; can you hike about a
bit by yourself?"
"Course I can. Who's your patient?"
"Avery Goodman--the rector of St. Judas' church. He will eat terrapin made
out of--you know what. And so, he's all tied up in knots with ptomaine
poisoning and I've got to straighten him out. It means a lot to us, you
"I know; skittle."
Left alone, Warble proceeded systematically to examine the interior of
Ptomaine Haul. She gazed about her own bedroom and a small part of
its exquisite beauty dawned upon her. It was an exact copy of Marie
Antoinette's and the delicately carved furniture and pale blue upholstery
and hangings harmonized with the painted domed ceiling and paneled walls.
The dressing table bore beautiful appointments of ivory, as solid as
Warble's own dome and from the Cupid-held canopy over the bed to the
embroidered satin foot-cushions, it was top hole.
The scent was of French powders, perfumes and essences and sachets, such as
Warble had not smelled since before the war.
"Can you beat it," she groaned. "How can I live with doodads like this?"
She saw the furniture as a circle of hungry restaurant customers ready to
eat her up. She kicked the dozen lace pillows off the head of the bed.
"No utility anywhere," she cried. "Everything futile, inutile, brutal! I
hate it! I hate it! Why did I ever--"
And then she remembered she was a Petticoat now, a lace, frilled
Petticoat--not one of those that Oliver Herford so pathetically dubbed "the
short and simple flannels of the poor."
Yes, she was now a Petticoat--one of the aristocratic Cotton-Petticoats,
washable, to be sure, but a dressy Frenchy Petticoat, and as such she must
take her place on the family clothesline.
She drifted from oriel window to casement, and on to a great becurtained
and becushioned bay, and looked out on the outlook.
She saw gardens like the Tuileries and Tuilerums, soft, shining pools,
little skittering fountains, marble Cupids and gay-tinted flowers. This was
the scene for her to look down upon and live up to.
"I mustn't! I mustn't! I'm nervous this afternoon! Am I sick?...... Good
Lord, I hope it isn't that! Not now! I'd hate it--I'd be scared to death!
Some day--but, please, kind Fate, not now! I don't want to go down now with
ptomaine poisoning! Not till after I've had my dinner! I'm going out for a
When Warble had plodded along for six hours, she had pretty well done up
Ptomaine Street, which took its name from her husband's own residence, was
a wide, leafy avenue with a double row of fine old trees on each side. They
were Lebbek trees, and the whole arrangement was patterned after the avenue
which Josephine built for Napoleon, out to the Mena House.
She passed the homes of the most respectable citizens. Often they were set
back from the road, and the box hedges or tall iron fences prevented
her from seeing the houses. But she saw enough and sped on to the more
interesting business and shopping section of Butterfly Center.
She passed Ariel Inn, the hotel being like a Swiss Chalet, perched on some
convenient rocks that rose to a height above street level. A few fairly
nimble chamois were leaping over these rocks and Warble heard a fairy-like
chime of bells as afternoon tea was announced.
A man in an artist's smock sauntered across the street. A palette on one
thumb, he scratched his chin with the other. A hearse, its long box filled
with somebody, crawled down the block. A dainty Sedan with a woman's
idle face at its window wafted by. From a Greek Temple came the sound of
Interpretative Dancing, and the applause of perfunctory hands.
She wanted to elope. Her own ideas of utility, efficiency, and economy were
being shattered--broken in pieces like a potter's vessel. Her sense of
proportion, her instinct for relative values, her abhorrence of waste
motion, her inborn system and method, all were swept away as a thief in
the night. Could she reform this giddy whirl? Could she bring chaos out of
cosmos? Was her own ego sufficient to egg her on in her chosen work?
She haed her doots.
She maundered down the street on one side--back on the other.
Dudie's Drug-store was like unto a Turkish Mosque. Minaret and pinnaret,
battlement and shuttle-door, it was a perfect drug-store, nobly planned.
The long flight of steps leading up to its ptortal was a masterpiece in the
Inside, the Soda Pagoda was a joy of temple bells and soft, sweet drinks,
while at the prescription counter, the line formed on the right, to get Dr.
Petticoat's prescriptions filled for their ptomaines.
A Moldavian Incense Shop was the barber's; a half-timbered house sold
English-built clothes; a brick affair of Georgian influences and splendid
lines, housed the hardware needed by the Butterflies, and the milliner's
was a replica of the pyramid of Cestus.
The bank was the Vatican, with Swiss guards in the doorway.
Perpetual waste motion! In all the town not one building that connoted to
Warble the apotheosis of efficiency shown by the King Alfred tossing cakes
in the window of Bairns' Restaurant. Not a dozen buildings that even
suggested use in addition to their beauty.
And the street was cluttered with trees in tubs, window boxes, sudden
little fountains or statues; gilded wicker birdcages on tall poles--songs
Arbors, covered with pink Dorothy Perkinses, here and there by the
curbside. And, worst of all, people sitting idle in the arbors. Idle!
She wouldn't have cared so much, if the people had been busy--even one of
them. She fought herself. "I must be wrong. It can't be as silly as it
looks! It can't!"
She went home and found Petticoat waiting for her.
"Like the burg, eh? Great stuff, what? Not an eyesore inside the city wall.
Good work, I'll megaphone."
Warble sat down in an easy-going chair--so easy, it slid across the room
with her, and collided with a life-sized Chinese lady of yellow stone.
"Yes," Warble responded, "it's very uninteresting."
Goldwin Leathersham was a great Captain of Industry. In fact, he put the
dust in industry, or, at least, he took it out of it. He got it, anyway.
His home was an Aladdin's Palace, with a slight influence of Solomon's
Temple. Gold was his keynote, and he was never off the key.
When our Petticoats arrived at the party, they were met by gold-laced
footmen, who whisked them into shape and passed them along.
Warble found herself in a white and gold salon, so vast, that she felt like
a goldfish out of water. The place looked as if Joseph Urban had designed
it after he had died and gone to Golconda. Whatever wasn't white was gold,
and the other way round. The gold piano had only white keys, and the
draperies were cloth of gold with bullion fringe. All real, too--no rolled
or plated stuff.
A huge coat-of-arms in a gold frame announced that Mr. Leathersham was
descended from the Gold Digger Indians, a noble ancestry indeed; and it was
no secret that his wife had played in "The Gold-diggers," during its second
Marigold Leathersham was a charming hostess, and greeted Warble with a
shriek of welcome. "You duck," she cried; "how heavenly of you to dress so
Warble was simply attired in a white pussy-willow silk underslip. In her
haste and excitement she had forgotten to add the gown meant to go over
it, and as she wore no jewels save the chased gold lingerie clasps at her
shoulders, the result was a simplicity as charming as it was unintentional.
And so she made a hit.
That was the way things came to Warble; a hit--a social success--and all
because she forgot to put on her frock.
She mingled with the glittering throng of gilded youth, of golden lads
and girls, of gilt-edged married people, and found herself in the arms of
Goldwin Leathersham, her host.
"Here comes the bride," he shouted, as he piloted her about and introduced
everybody to her.
"This demure little beauty," he said, "is Daisy Snow. Note her sweet, pure
face and wide-eyed, innocent gaze."
"It is all so new--so wonderful--" Miss Snow breathed, "I'm a debutante,
you know, and I have scarcely butterflied out of my chrysalis yet. How
splendid the Leathershams are. He has a heart of gold. Oh, he is such
a good man, he says his life motto is the Golden Rule." "And Mrs.
Leathersham?" asked Warble.
"Marigold? Oh, yes, she's as good as gold, too. We're firm friends."
Warble was agog to mingle, so she moved on.
Le Grand Paynter, a celebrated Cubic artist, fascinated her with his
flowing locks, flowing tie and marvelous flow of conversation. He asked to
paint her as a Semi-nude Descending a Ladder, but she only said she must
refer him to her Petticoat.
Freeman Scattergood, the well-known philanthropist was chatting with Mrs.
Charity Givens, who was the champion Subscription List Header. Many had
tried to oust her from this enviable position but without success. Near
them stood Avery Goodman, the rector, and he was deeply engaged in a
flirtation with Miss May Young, one of his choir girls.
Manley Knight, a returned soldier, was resplendent with a Croix de Guerre,
a Hot Cross Bun and many other Noughts and Crosses.
Warble fingered them in her light way.
"Isn't he splendid!" babbled Daisy Snow the _ingenue_; "Oh, how wonderful
to offer one's life for glory! You can fairly see the heroism bubble out of
"How you admire him!" said Warble.
"Yes, but he doesn't care for me."
"Not specially," admitted Manley Knight. "Yes," Daisy said. "He thinks me
too ignorant and unsophisticated--and I am. Now, there's Lotta Munn, the
heiress--she's more in his line. But Ernest Swayne is devoted to Lotta. I
think it will be a real love match--like the Trues."
"The Trues?" asked Warble, politely.
"Yes," and she glanced toward a very devoted looking pair sitting apart
from the rest, on a small divan. "They're wonderful! Herman True is the
most marvelous husband you ever saw. He never speaks to anyone but his
wife. And she's just the same. She was Faith Loveman, you know. And they've
been married two years and are still honeymoon lovers! Ah, what a fate!"
Daisy sighed, a sweet little-girly sigh, and blushed like a slice of cold
But this Who's Whosing was interrupted by a footman with a tray of
Daisy Snow refused, of course, as became a debutante so did Judge
Drinkwater, who stood near by, frowning upon the scene, he being a
A sickly looking lady next to him achieved several, and Warble asked Daisy
who she might be.
"Oh, that's Iva Payne--you met her, you know. She's very delicate, a
semi-invalid, under the care of specialists all the time. I don't exactly
know what her malady is, but it's something very interesting to the
doctors. There's scarcely anything she can eat--I believe she brings her
own specially prepared food to parties.
"She seems to relish the cock-a-whoops all right," Warble commented.
"I understand the doctors prescribe stimulants for her--she is not at all
strong. They give her artificial strength, she says."
"Yes, she seems to be strong for 'em. Don't you take any?"
"Oh no! I'm a debutante. And mother says she wants to be with me when I
take my first cocktail and smoke my first cigarette."
"Dear girl, Daisy, so fresh and unspoiled! Her mother is one of a
This from Manley Knight, who constituted himself Daisy's proxy in the
matter of cocktails and drank all that would have been Daisy's had her
Goldwin Leathersham seemed to be acting as proxy for some debutante
also, for he seemed to feel pretty bobbish, but Warble was only slightly
interested in the whole matter.
She rolled her Wedgwooden eyes about, hoping the horde would be herded
toward the dining-room. But no such luck.
Instead they drifted in the opposite direction and, swept along with the
crowd, Warble found herself in one of a serried series of gilt chairs,
facing a platform as large as a theater stage.
An erudite looking man who appeared on the platform received tumultous
"Who is he?" Warble whispered to her neighbor, who chanced to be Avery
Goodman, "an impersonator?"
"Lord, no; it's Wunstone, the great scientist--rants on Fourth Avenue
dimensions, or something like that."
In a tone of forceful mildness the speaker began: "It must be conceded
that, other things being equal, and granting the investiture of all
insensate communication, that a psychic moment may or may not, in
accordance with what under no circumstances could be termed irrelevancy,
become warily regarded as a coherent symbol by one obviously of a trenchant
humor. But, however, in proof of a smouldering discretion, no feature
is entitled to less exorbitant honor than the unquenchable demand of
"Though, of course, other things being equal, and granting the investiture
of all insensate communication, no feature is entitled, in accordance with
what under no circumstances could be termed irrelevancy, to become warily
regarded as a coherent symbol. And doubtless in proof of a smouldering
discretion, and in accordance with one obviously of a trenchant humor,
it may or may not be warily regarded.
"Though it cannot be denied that the true relevancy of thought to psychic
action is largely dependent on the ever increasing forces of disregarded
symbolisms. And this again proves the pantheistic power of doubt,
considered for the moment and for the subtle purposes of our argument as
faith. For, granting that two and two are six, the corollary reasoning
must be that no premise is or may be capable of such conclusion as will
render it sublunary to its agreed parallel.
"But this view is ultra and should be adopted with caution.
"We are therefore forced to the conclusion that pure altruism is
impossible in connection with neo-psychology."
There was more, but it was at that point that Warble went to sleep.
She was awakened later by the high notes of a celebrated Metropolitan
soprano, who had consented to exchange a few of her liquid notes for
Goldwin Leathersham's yellow-backed ones.
Tired, hungry and sleepy, Warble fidgeted in her little gilt chair, but
the music went inexorably on.
It was followed by the appearance of a Neo Poet.
This man wore eccentric dress of some sort, and as he waited for the
applause to melt away, he stood, absent-mindedly picking crumbs out of his
By subtle hint of auto-suggestion this made Warble hungrier than ever and
she looked around for Petticoat. But he was busy flirting with Daisy Snow,
and it was not Warble's way to cut in.
In hollow tones the performer read extracts, excerpts and exceptions from
the works of Amy Lynn, Carl Sandpiper and Padriac, the Colyumist, and
Warble went back to sleep.
There was more, but no merrier, and when at last the platform was cleared
for the last time, the guests were refreshed by the passing of a small
glass of punch and a wafer to each.
Then they went, with a flutter of silk stockings and twinkling slipper
buckles, and a medley of shrieked goodbys.
Warble and Petticoat reached home.
"Howja like 'em?" he asked.
"I'm so hungry," she wailed.
"Oh, Warble, you ought to be more careful about eating in public. It isn't
done. Watch Iva Payne--she doesn't."
"Oh, Bill--" Warble began to cry. "I want to go back to the restaurant--"
"No, no--now, Cream Puff, I didn't mean to lambaste you. But they're a
Warble let two tears rest, glistening, in her lower eyelashes, rolled up
her eyes, pulled down the corners of her hibiscus flower mouth, and waited
to be kissed.
* * * * *
Up in Bill's bedroom. Gray silken walls, smoked pearl furniture,
a built-in English bed, with gray draperies.
Through a cloth of silver portiere, a bathroom done in gray rough stone.
Oxidized silver plumbing exposure.
No pictures on the walls, save one--a barbaric Russian panel by
At the windows, layers of gauze, chiffon, silk--all gray.
A great circular divan was somewhere about, and as he sank down upon it
and drew her with him into its engulfing down, he patched up the quarrel.
"They took to you," he said, "you went like hot cakes!"
It was an unfortunate allusion, and Warble, smiling with an engaging
smile, wheedled, "Pleathe, pleathe--"
"No," Petticoat said, inexorably, "if you eat all the time you'll get to
look like that soprano. Howja like that?"
"Do you care if I'm fat, Bill?"
"Me? Why, I wouldn't care if you were as big as a house. You're my--well,
you're my soulmate."
"Oh, I'm so had and glappy! It's sweet to be yours. You must excuse my
appetite--you're the only husband I have. My own Pill Betticoat!"
He kissed her in his eccentric fashion, and with her plump arms about his
neck, she forgot all about Ptomaine Street.
Warble's own maid was named Beer.
A French thing--so slim she seemed nothing but a spine, but supplied with
slender, talkative arms and a pair of delicate silk legs that displayed
more or less of themselves as the daily hint from Paris reported skirts
going up or down as the case might be.
A scant black costume and a touch of white apron completed the picture,
and Warble played with her as a child with a new doll.
Beer wanted to patronize Warble, tried to do so, but found it impossible.
Her patronage rolled off of Mrs. Bill Petticoat like hard sauce off a hot
"Do you get enough to eat, Beer?" her mistress asked her.
"Wee, maddum," the maid replied, in her pretty War French. "I eat but a
"Well, don't drop to pieces, that's all," warned Warble. As to personal
care and adornment the hitherto neglected education of Warble Petticoat
was in Beer's hands. And she handed it out with unstinted lavishness.
That was the way things came to Warble; in slathers--in big fat chunks. In
avalanches and rushing torrents.
Beer engineered all her new wardrobe, and received sealed proposals for
Beer taught her the mysteries of the toilette table, and once initiated
into this entrancing art, Warble let herself go in the matter of cosmetics
and make-ups, and could scarce wait for Beer's afternoon out, to dabble
about by herself.
Beer taught her how to wear jewelry, and directed what pieces she should
ask Petticoat for next.
Altogether, Warble was trying out things--but carefully, as a good
housewife tries out lard.
And she was not yet certain as to the results. Environment has to reckon,
now and then with heredity.
Warble, at soul, all for utility, economy, diligence and efficiency,
transplated to Butterfly Center, with its keynote of careless idleness,
waste motion and extravagance.
One must win out. Had she a Dempsey of a heredity against a Carpentier of
an environment? Or was it the other way round?
She planned to reform Butterfly Center, to do away with the street
statues, the useless patches of flowers; tear down and rebuild the
ridiculous classic architecture of many of the shops and substitute good
solid livable houses for the castles and chateaux, the barracks and
bungalows that adorned the residence section.
These reforms she meant to bring about shortly, but first, she must begin
with her home.
In her pride of being a Petticoat she loved every detail of Ptomaine Haul.
Yet she knew it did not express herself, it was not the keynote of her own
What to do.
She sat in her boudoir, its mauve walls and gold Japanese screens
backgrounding her plump prettiness, as she lolled on a gold brocade
She glanced out at the peacocks strutting in the Italian garden and
listened to the rooks cawing in the cypresses between the marble urns on
the terrace steps.
It was a big proposition to change all that. To turn the bird sticks into
pruning hooks and the bird baths into plowshares.
Could she do it?
She went out into the hall and looked over the rail of the great rotunda.
Rugs hung from the rail, as it might be a Turkish Monday.
Below, she could see the lake in the front hall, also she could glimpse
the armored bronze Petticoats guarding the entrance that led to the
corridor that led to the hall leading into the dining-room.
It was well nigh hopeless.
Warble sighed. Then she rang for Beer and ordered some French pastry and a
cup of chocolate.
Revived and revivified, Warble decided on a mad dash for reform.
Ordering Beer to dress her quickly, she did all she could to help, and
soon, in a daring combination of canary, black and coral, she was on her
way to the shops.
She achieved what is known as a utility box, and which is compounded of
matting and a few bamboo strips.
This she caused to be set up in her boudoir.
No oral observations, but the next day an antique Florentine chest, carved
by Dante, replaced the box.
"Just as utile," Bill remarked, "and a lot more expensive. Kiss me."
That is the way the Petticoats of this world decree, and that is the way
the Warbles submit.
That Thursday afternoon she was in love with her husband. She toddled into
his room to talk to him. She was in pastel chiffon boudoir jambieres
picked out with rosebuds. She sat, cross-legged, on one of his gray satin
floor pillows and looked up at him.
Petticoat was just going out and he sat before the mirror, earnestly
adjusting a hair net over his permanent.
"Hello, _Fruit Mousse_," he said, half absent-mindedly, as he went on
Big Bill Petticoat was far from being effeminate. He was found of
aesthetics and anaesthetics, and his chief interests in life were beauty
and his big bills.
"What's the use of beauty, if a thing isn't useful?" Warble would ask, and
Petticoat would reply, "What's the use of use, anyway? There's no use in
having anything that isn't beautiful."
And as the house was under Petticoat rule, Big Bill won out.
"You must have a party, Warble," Petticoat said, as he fitted a long, slim
cigarette into a long, slim holder.
"I'd rather have a baby," and she looked up at him inquiringly.
"Honest, Warbie, I can't afford it. I've lots of money, but we take a lot
of keeping ourselves, and to keep a baby means almost a whole extra
establishment. Let's wait till I've saved up a bit, or we have a windfall.
Leathersham owes me a small fortune for his cook's ptomaine cases--she's
always getting poisoned with her imported canned things--but Goldie's slow
pay, and too, I want to make a few improvements on the place. I'm thinking
of bringing over a Moorish Courtyard intact--nice, eh?"
"What's it good for?" demanded Warble. "We've done our courting, and
anyway--look here, Bill, there's only three things I can do. Have a baby--"
"Cut it out, Warb; I haven't the means just now. And it might be twins."
"That's so. Well, the second thing is to reform this town. It's going to
the dogs--to little, silly Pekes and Poms. I can save it, and correct its
ways and put it on a sound utilitarian basis."
"Don't believe you could do that."
"Can do. But the third trick is to flop over to their side and be like the
town people myself."
Petticoat laughed outright.
"Nixy on that, Warble, my duck. You'd have to reduce."
"I speck I should. Well, then the reform act for mine. I've got to do
something, Pet, to keep amused and interested."
"That's what I said. Have a party."
"I will. And it will be part of the reform. These people are too highbrow.
Too soulful. Too artistic--" "Warble! How many times have I told you
_never_ to use that word! Now, look here, if you want to play at
reforming, go ahead, nobody will interfere with you. But where'll you get
time? You spend most of your waking hours in slumber, and the rest,
eating. You're a sweet, lovely, cuddly thing, but if you keep on, some day
you'll find you can't get your kimono together."
"Then I'll wear two. But, Bill, I'm not so big, you know."
Warble up, and parading the room with a martial air.
"You're a perfect Bellona!" Petticoat said, smiling at her.
"A Bologna! Oh, you horrid thing! But that reminds me I haven't had
sausage lately. I must speak to cook. Now, about my party."
"Have a good one while you're about it. I might import a Spanish Ballet--"
"You might do nothing of the sort! This is to be my party, and I shall run
it to suit myself."
"All right, Tutti Frutti; you have no subtlety or poetry in your soul--
indeed, I doubt if you have a soul--but you're a dear and a sweet--"
"Bill, I've an idea! Build bureaus right down to the floor and then collar
buttons can't roll under them!" "Fine idea! Better patent it. Must go.
"Wait a minute. Mrs. Holm Boddy is coming to see me to-day. What's she
"Oh, she's a hen-minded Hetty with cabriole legs. Don't bother with her
much. They're lower case people--tin pergola and pebble garden sort. And
early Victorian bathrooms. You won't like her--freeze her out."
"All righty. Say--Billy dear--has you any choclums?"
"Not for little gourmands," he took her in his arms. "I say, Warbie, you
promised to cut out sweets. Look here."
He led her to the picture gallery where his simpering or frowning
ancestors looked down in painted disapproval.
They were all slender--wasp-waisted ladies, long lean men. Not a fatty in
Big Bill said nothing, his painted morals adorned their own tale.
"I don't care!" Warble exploded, angrily. "If you don't give me enough to
eat, I'll leave your bed and board and put a notice in the paper. And you
needn't flaunt your Petticoats in my face! I don't care _that_ for them!"
She snapped a dimpled pink thumb and forefinger at the whole exhibit, made
a face at the skinniest one of all, and then sneaked casually into Bill's
"Nice, nice," she cooed, patting his mastoid process. "Run along now, and
I'll plan my party."
* * * * *
"That Boddy woman," remarked Beer, as she dressed Warble; "she is a pest--
a pill! Wait, Maddum, I beg you! I've only rouged one of your cheeks!"
"That's enough," said Warble, inattentively, and she danced down stairs to
freeze out her caller.
"I've been meaning to come for some time," Mrs. Holm Boddy said, "but I
thought I'd give you a chance to get a little used to your new grandeur.
Quite a change for you, isn't it?"
"No," said Warble, "it's rather a come down. I've always been very grand.
Tell me about yourself."
"Oh, I'm the old-fashioned wife and mother. Devoted to my home, and my
family. I deplore the modern tendency to neglect one's own fireside."
"Yes, I should think you'd be happier there than anywhere else."
Warble gazed at her guest. She was a tall, angular woman, so gaunt that
her bones rattled. Warble wondered if Bill would really like her to be
"Oh, I am. My dear husband, my darling children--you ought to have a
lot of children, Mrs. Petticoat."
"Yes, I shall, when we can afford it. My husband isn't very well off just
now, you see."
"You live very extravagantly. Look at those rugs, now. Rugs cost
"Don't you have any?"
"Oh, no. We don't waste money that way."
"No, carpets. More homey, you know. Nice Brussels in the parlor--real Body
Brussels--Bigelow--and in the bedrooms, Ingrain. Oh, the hominess of a
new-laid Ingrain carpet, with lots of fresh straw under it! You acquainted
with Avery Goodman, the Rector?"
"I've met him."
"Splendid man-spiritual-minded and all that. Fine preacher, too. Very
soulful. I often sob right through his sermons. Better go hear him."
"My husband is a busy man--we haven't time for church."
"No, spose not. Doctors are kept on the jump. Specially specialists. And I
know your husband is busy. Say, is there any truth in the report that he
pays the grocers and delicatessen men to get--you know--doubtful canned
goods, and not too fresh sea foods and all that--so there'll be more
ptomaine cases?" "What a good idea!" Warble cried. "I had not heard of it,
but if Bill does that he's more efficient than I thought him!"
"I spose he's terribly in love with you?"
"Bill? Oh, yes. We adore each other."
"I didn't know. The Petticoats are all so thin--"
"Yes, a change is always pleasant." Warble gave her engaging smile.
"Maybe. That Daisy Snow now--she's so pretty _and_ slender. Dr. Petticoat
seems mighty fond of her."
"Well, you know what doctors are. Nice to everybody, of course. There's no
telling who'll have ptomaine poisoning next."
"Oh, yes, you can always tell that. It's sure to be Iva Payne. She's awful
attractive, too. You must be worried about your man, Mrs. Petticoat."
"I do worry a lot. It keeps my flesh down. Tell me more to worry about."
"Well, there's Lotta Munn, of course. I suppose you haven't a fortune of
"Oh, yes; I'm enormously rich in my own right."
"You are! Why, where did your husband get you?"
"He got me out of a mail catalogue." Warble made a face at her. "Must you
go, Mrs. Boddy?" she rose. "I won't ask you to come again, as I know how
you love your own home and fireside. Goodby."
Though Mrs. Holm Boddy put up a strong resistance, Warble pushed her out
of the front door and slammed it after her.
"That woman has left finger marks on my nice clean soul," she said, as she
went down to see the cook about the sausage.
She had reached the peak of excitement in a confident decision that her
party should be a success.
In the morning she interviewed the cook.
"You can spread yourself on the feast, Francois," she said, "have any old
menu you like so long as it's edible and enough of it. But especially I
want you to make for me one hundred custard pies."
The French chef looked puzzled. He was an expensive chef and part of his
duty was to look puzzled at any plain-named dish.
"But, Madame, I do not know ze custard pie. Is it a creme pate?"
"No, it isn't a krame puttay, nor creamed potatoes, but cus-tard pie--see?
_Pie_! Oh, don't stand there looking like a whitewashed clown! Get out of
my way, I'll make them myself!"
Flinging on one of the chef's jackets and aprons, Warble flew at the job
and with a battalion of helpers breaking eggs and skimming cream, she
herself tossed the flour and shortening together for the crust.
Efficiency scored and in an incredibly short space of time eight dozen
custard pies were cooling their heels in the pantry windows.
"Not to be served with the supper," Warble warned the butler, "when I want
them brought in I'll tell you."
Beer dressed Warble for the party, Petticoat standing by and advising.
The gown was a few wisps of henna-colored chiffon which fitfully blew,
half concealed, half disclosed a scant slip of jade green satin.
Flesh-colored stockings, Petticoat decreed, and henna slippers with carved
"Now, her hair--" he mused, leaning on his folded arms over the back of a
He walked slowly round Warble.
"Oh, wopse it up anyway," he said, "and tangle some jade beads in it.
She'll stand that."
His orders were carried out and Beer clasped her hands in silent ecstasy
at the result of the combined efforts of herself and her master.
"Some day, Warble," Bill said, "I'll teach you how to dress becomingly."
"And I'll teach you how to undress becomingly," said Beer, not wanting to
be outclassed in her own game.
Warble waved Petticoat out of the room, dismissed Beer with a simple "Get
out!" and then quickly flung off the clothes she wore and hopped into a
little frock of white organdie and cherries.
She wadded some hair over each ear, piled up the rest in a moppy coil and
crowned it with a wreath of cherries.
The party came.
"Good Heavens!" Warble thought, as she looked at the smart, bored crowd,
"have I got to bring these hifalutin creatures down to earth? I don't know
that I can make them laugh, but I'll give them a jolt!"
Her cherries bobbing, two long-stemmed ones held between her teeth, she
flew around like a hen with its head off.
"You see," she explained, "it's a Mack Sennett party, everybody puts
things down everybody's back. Like this--and here are the things."
From a tray brought by a footman, Warble selected a fuzzy caterpillar and
turning quickly dropped it down inside the soft collar of Trymie
Icanspoon, a poet, who _would_ dress as he pleased.
He went into amusing spasms and everybody took something from the tray.
There were cold raw oysters, bits of ice, thistles, cooked spaghetti and
plain granulated sugar. They had to put them down the backs of the men
only, because the fashionably dressed ladies hadn't any backs to put them
down. You can't put an oyster down two crossed strings of pearls.
It caused great hilarity to see the Reverend Goodman standing on his head,
trying to lose a red-hot silver dollar; and Daisy Snow, whose debutante
frock was available for the purpose, wriggled beneath the tickling
crawling of a large but harmless spider.
Warble was almost in hysterics over the funny antics of Goldwin
Leathersham down whose loose and ample collar she had herself poured a
glass of water on two seidlitz powders.
"Next," she cried, clapping her hands, "we'll have an artistic game. Here
Lackeys and minions brought in pails of kalsomine, of various tints, some
of pale pastel shades, others of deep rich hues. One was given to each
guest, and each was provided with a beautiful new whitewash brush.
"Now," Warble explained, her blue eyes dimpling with delight, "you each
make a splash on the wall--a big, hit-or-miss splash. Then we each try to
evolve a lovely picture by few bold strokes."
This was great fun.
Manley Knight, with a mighty splash of color that landed on a Fragonard
panel, had quite a good start for a "Storm at Sea." He worked it up with
fine technique and you would have been surprised at the result.
Iva Payne took a splash from several different pails thereby achieving a
Cubist landscape. It was entitled "High Tide off the Three-mile Limit,"
and was a startling success.
Daisy Snow, timid little dear, made but a tiny daub and worked it up
"That," she said, "is a miniature of Big Bill."
All in all, it was gay sport, and even Mrs. Charity Givens took part,
though she protested she was no artist and couldn't even draw a straight
The next performance was a contest between Adam Goodsport and Avery
Bets were made on the two contestants before the betters knew what the
scrap was to be.
"It's a character sketch," Warble explained. "Mr. Goodsport tries to
blacken Mr. Goodman's character, while the Rector tries to whiten Mr.
Avery Goodman was then presented with a bag of flour and Adam Goodsport
was handed a bag of soot.
They went at it hand over fist, and in a few moments the blacking and
whiting process was so complete that both were pronounced perfect
transformations and all bets were off.
Faces, hands and clothes were alike befloured and besooted, until Goodman
was a veritable Blackamoor while Adam Goodsport looked like a Marcelline.
A few eyebrows indicated a suspicion that Big Bill Petticoat's bride was a
Little Mischief, but nobody said anything about it.
"If I can only reform them," Warble thought to herself, "if I can only
make them like and enjoy this innocent fun instead of wearing their poor
brains out over capitalled Art and Literature."
"Now," she said, briskly, "we're going to play a game I learned in
Shanghai. All take off your shoes and stockings. No one excused--come on--
off with them."
Beer and a few other maids came in to assist the ladies, the men were
properly valeted, and the barefooted crowd sat waiting further orders.
Daisy Snow made a remark about being a maiden with reluctant feet, but
nobody noticed it.
Several seemed rather relieved than otherwise at the condition imposed
"Now," said Warble, but before she could go further, Adam Goodsport butted
"Oh, please, Mrs. Petticoat--oh, please! Such an opportunity! May never
occur again! Oh, can't I--may I not--oh, dear lady, do say yes--"
"Lordy, what do you want to do? Speak out, man!"
"Why, you see, I am a solist--like a palmist you know--but as to feet. I
studied solistry in Asia Minor and I know it from the ground up. Oh,
please, Mrs. Petticoat, let me read your sole!"
"Do," cried Warble, "love to have you."
She plumped herself into a pillowed divan, and held her little pink feet
straight out in front of her.
Goodsport, sitting on a cushion at her feet, took one and scrutinized the
"The Solar system," he began, "is interesting in the extreme. It was
invented by Solon, though Platoe also theorized on the immortality of the
sole. His ideas, however have been discarded by modern footmen.
"Locke, is his treatise On the Human Understanding, discusses the subject
fully and with many footnotes, and old Samuel Foote himself cast
footlights on the subject."
"Now, looky here," Warble objected, "I won't have a lecture in my house! I
object to anything of an intellectural nature."
"This has nothing to do with the intellect," Adam assured her. "Quite the
reverse, now, you listen. It's really interesting. The palmist may claim
to read the true character from the lines of the hand, but it is only by
solistry that the real sole is laid bare and the character of a subject in
any walk of life is exposed. The lines of the sole are greatly indicative
of character, for all traits must draw the line somewhere. Now, Mrs.
Petticoat, this line extending from the Mount of Trilby to the outer side
of the sole is the life line. If that appears to be broken it indicates
future death. If more pronounced on one sole than the other, it implies
that the subject has one foot in the grave. You haven't, don't be alarmed.
Here is the headline, straight and continuous, showing a long and level
"Ouch," remarked Warble, "you tickle. Try somebody else," and she drew her
feet under her.
"Me," exclaimed Daisy Snow, coming over and holding out her dainty right
"H'm," said Goodsport. "This line running from the Mount of Cinderella to
the heel is the clothes line and denotes love of dress. This line crossing
it is the fish line and shows you are incapable of telling the truth."
Daisy flounced away, mad, and Mrs. Charity Givens, with some trepidation,
offered her ample and generous foot for dissection.
"A thorough, broad understanding and a friendly footing toward all,"
declared the solist, "and no danger of misunderstanding. However, your
broken headline indicates pugnacity."
"Nothing of the sort!" she snapped at him, and waddled away.
Goldwin Leathersham, greatly interested, insisted on having his pedal
"Mount of Atalanta highly prominent," said Goodsport, "that means you are
a runner, either for office or for pleasure. Here is a line meeting--that
indicates a railroad man. H'm. A well-developed football shows you have
been to college. You seem to be inclined to solemates--"
But Leathersham had taken to his heels.
"Please," said Iva Payne, gracefully offering her long psychic foot for
"Ah, the poetic foot!" the soloist exclaimed. "There are two kinds of
poetic feet--the Iambic and the Trochaic. You have one of each. In poetic
feet the heels are often found in French forms. But poets are a footloose
class and are often found with lame and halting feet. You don't seem to be
"Never said I was," retorted Iva, shortly, and Warble said, "Stop this
nonsense, it makes too much kicking. Now we're going to play the game I
learned in Buda Pesth."
She led them to the picture gallery which had been prepared for the game
by having many sheets of fly-paper placed on the floor, sticky side up.
"It's Fly-paper Tag," she said.
It _was_ Fly-paper Tag--she was quite right.
"You're it!" screamed Mrs. Givens as she pushed the minister over onto a
sheet of fly-paper.
"It yourself," shrieked Leathersham adroitly shoving a sheet where he saw
Mrs. Givens would light next.
* * * * *
Warble was certain she was a great reformer.
Yet would these reformed people stay reformed?
True, they were now in the spirit of her party, Mack Sennett himself
couldn't have asked a better interpretation of his own vital principles.
But had they come to realize that this after all was the real thing, the
* * * * *
They were a stuck-up lot. The fly-paper had intrigued them all. Not only
were they all half-soled with it but the merry wags had decorated the
ladies' bare backs and the men's coated backs, until all looked like
sandwich men or peripatetic ragpickers.
Trymie Icanspoon crowned Mrs. Charity Givens with a fresh sheet of
tanglefoot and Warble hilariously made a foolscap of another for the
Rector's bald head. Judge Drinkwater folded Daisy Snow's two little hands
together, then wrapped them tightly in fly-paper, and shook with laughter
to see her futile attempts to get free.
"Naughty man!" she cried, "to make poor little me so helpless!" With a
spring she flung her entangled hands over the Judge's head, and hung round
his neck like a pretty little millstone.
Warble relaxed, and found that she was shockingly tired and very hungry.
But she was the stuff of which true reformers are made and Martin Luther
had nothing on her.
Then Beer came tripping in with a pile of varicolored garments which she
held up to view.
"These," Warble announced, "are the real Mack Sennett costumes. They are
one-piece bathing suits, I got them from an importer of contraband goods.
You are to put them on in place of your clothes. And please forget that
you are Butterflies and turn into bathing beauties and champion swimmers."
While they were shyly getting into the suits, she donned her own, a little
scalloped apron effect, with cross-strapped sandals, and a silk bandanna
knotted round her head.
She glanced about and saw Big Bill Petticoat beaming with proud glee at
his wife's social success, and looking lovely himself in a black satin
one-piece, with jet shoulder straps.
For a second Warble could see only Petticoat's pink cheeks and perfected
eyebrows. Then she shook off the spell and keyed up.
"We're going to have an obstacle race," she announced, "all over the
house. You must follow me, wherever I go. I shall lead you a dance! And
then I shall come last to the lake in the front hall, and whoever is
nearest me there, will be rewarded."
Yet even as she spoke, she overheard Trymie whispering to Iva Payne, "Yes,
I believe that the new art era into which we are now slipping, will
worship beauty for itself alone, and that art, sublimated by--"
She turned away, sick at heart.
Why bother, her tortured soul cried out. Yet the irrepressible impulse of
reform egged her on and it was a perfectly good egg.
She flew past Petticoat, only pausing to shout, "Like it all, my tramp?
Yes, it _is_ an expensive party."
Then she led her followers a mad race. Sliding down banisters, squeezing
into dumb waiters; crawling under beds and out the other side; jumping in
and out again of bathtubs full of perfumed water. Out of windows, in at
scuttles. Through booby-traps of half-open doors, on the lintel of which
were perched pans full of live crabs or little boxes of mice.
On rushed the horde, Mrs. Givens panting from over exertion, Goldie
Leathersham limping because of a crab hanging to his great toe.
On they went, and at last, as Warble drew up at the lake in the hall, she
was closely followed by Trymie Icanspoon, and true to her promise she
rewarded him by pushing him into the lake. It was but a shallow pool, he
couldn't drown, but the fun of it was, Warble had caused the water to be
drained off and the tank filled with mayonnaise.
Wherefore Trymie's soft plop into the oily depths was of a ludicrous
Then the guests were allowed to resume their own clothes and supper was
Conversation turned to art matters, and Leathersham who was a collector of
many various rarities asked Petticoat how his new collection was
progressing. The collection was one of early American Pieplates.
"Doing well," Big Bill answered. "I have just achieved a yellow earthen
John Adams, that is authentic and very rare. Except for my Barbara
Frietchie tin one, it is perhaps the gem of my collection."
"Good!" Leathersham exclaimed, interestedly, "may I see it?" Petticoat
summoned a lackey and two minions and sent them to his curio room to fetch
the plates. But they returned with the startling announcement that all the
pieplate collection had disappeared!
"Heavens and earth!" Petticoat cried. "Lock the doors, search the pockets!
Why, that collection is worth millions!"
"What's the matter?" Warble inquired, seeing the hullaballoo. "Oh," as she
was told, "I used those plates, dear. I was making a lot of pies and our
pieplates gave out."
"Making a lot of pies?" Petticoat repeated, wonderingly, while Marigold
Leathersharn murmured, "How quaint!" in a supercilious way.
"Yes," went on Warble, unperturbed. "Want to see 'em?"
They did, and all went to look at the eight dozen custard pies in the
"Whoopee!" shouted Petticoat, "here's where I take the helm! Cut out the
rest of the formal supper, and let's have a pie eating contest."
It warmed the cockles of Warble's heart to see how they all fell in with
this suggestion. Could it be? Was she really having some effect on their
terrible aestheticism at last?
Absorbed in her thoughts, she ate her pies and when the contest was over
the prize was awarded to Warble Petticoat. "Oh," she cried, astounded. "I
wasn't in the game at all! The hostess never should be. I was just eating
what I wanted."
"You're a dear," Marigold Leathersham said to her. "I'm going to love you.
How your husband must adore you, you pretty thing."
"Yes, he does." Warble stated. "At least, he says so."
"He's a truthful man," Marigold declared, "you'd know that just to look at
him. There's something in his face just now--"
"It's pie," said Warble, "he's very fond of it."
To Warble's great delight there were enough pies left for her final
"Folks," she said, "this is a Mack Sennett party, and it wouldn't be
complete without throwing custard pies. So we will choose sides."
Judge Drinkwater and Goldwin Leathersham were made captains and they chose
The party being thus divided, they bombarded each other with custard pies
after the manner of certain comedians, till there wasn't a round of
Then Iva Payne said she felt sick and wanted to go home and of course just
for that they all had to go.
"The nicest party ever!" they chorused at parting. "So novel and _naive_--
so quite entirely out of the ordinary."
As the last pied guest disappeared she turned wearily to her Petticoat.
"I tell you, Warb," he said, "you are sure one corker! You put 'em to
sleep all right! Now you've shown 'em how, you bet they won't go on having
their stupid highbrow intellectural old gatherings. Hop along to bed,
little tired Lollipop."
His long lithe arms gathered her forcefully to him, and her irritation at
his strength was lost in her admiration of his grace and skill in
* * * * *
From _The Butterfly Centerpiece_:
The Mack Sennett party at the home of Dr. Bill Petticoat was a hundred per
cent success. Little Lady Petticoat is nobody's fool. She knows that a
lucky punch is her only chance. A short, swift hook, straight from the
shoulder. The pretty Warble is a perpetual promise of joy, yet she shows
symptoms of curvature of the soul--and it is, so far, a toss-up whether
she will have her passport _vised_ or be given the gate.
* * * * *
The week after, the Leathershams gave a party. The gilt-chaired audience
listened to Sable Caviaro the new Russian violinist and Slubber D.
Gullion, who discoursed on the Current Trend of Current Bolshe Vikings.
The refreshing episode consisted of champagne and Saratoga chips.
The Restless Sexteen was the record altitude of Butterfly Center. It was
the elect and select of the intellect; it was the whole show--the very
Wholly of Whollies. To belong to it was canonization. Though some of its
members also belonged to the Toddletopsis Club, it meant their leading a
The Restless Sexteen were mostly young married women with their husbands
as nonresident members.
They studied higher psychology and broader psychopathy. The wrestled with
and threw Einstein and let themselves dream again with Freud.
Psychoanalysis was their washpot, and over the fourth dimension did they
cast their shoes.
Their afternoon digest was held at Faith Loveman's and Warble went.
The Loveman home was an abstract bungalow, which showed rather plainly the
iron hand in the velvet glove influence of the Japanese.
The large light hall had a built-in abstract table, and on this was an
enormous bronze plaque which held a thin layer of water on which rested
Faith's devotion to the Doctrine of Elimination allowed nothing else in
the hall, but in the living room there were three whole pieces of
furniture besides, of course, the caterer's gilt chairs brought in to hold
the restless sex as they tried to rest from their restlessness.
Faith Loveman looked curiously at Warble.
"You can't be very restless," she observed, "you'd be thinner."
Warble smiled engagingly.
"I do want to be thinner," she conciliated, "how can I?"
And, somehow, that started them all off. They restlessly gave advice,
recommended certain exercises, uncertain drugs and most unattractive
They told their own experiences, extolled or berated their masseuses,
scribbled addresses of corsetieres for one another, and in their interest
and restless excitement they forgot all about Warble and she wanted to go
But she had her mission to perform, and she waited until they restlessly
changed the subject.
They discussed current plays and seemed to get out of them far more than
the author ever put in. They talked of a picture exhibit at the Gauguin
Galleries, but this was as Choctaw to Warble; not a word could she
"Are you of the cognoscenti?" asked Faith Loveman of Warble. "I know all
about art but I don't know what I like," she returned, blushing prettily.
"Oh, we'll teach you that. That's what this club is for, to help us to
find ourselves, to give our restlessness an outlet to express the ego in
our cosmos and illumine the dark patches of our souls. We're riding the
pace that kills, living at the tension that snaps, blowing the bubble that
breaks. We need an outlet--a vent--you understand?"
"Yop," said Warble, "your soul pressure is too high."
"But we want it high--we love it high--we're restless--we're keyed up,
taut-strung, and hungry for soul food."
"I s'pose that's the only kind you have at these meetings."
Faith Loveman stared so hard that Warble made a face at her and went home.
* * * * *
"It was my fault. I might have known restless people wouldn't eat. And I
knew I couldn't bite on their restless sex problems. A big one seems to be
how to get thin and how to stay so. They were all ready to drop the high
sign babble for that! But all women are. They took it up again.
"Can I reform them? Or shall I be sucked in, like Italians eat spaghetti,
and my personality absorbed by the Butterflies, till I forswear all I
stand for--all my utilitarian ideals shattered, all my prosaic hopes
dashed, all my common sense wrenched from me, and my poor little brain-pan
filled with the soul-mash of these high-strung sexaphones?"
She ignored Beer's offer to undress her, she ran upstairs to an
unfrequented bathroom, and flinging off her clothes, she got into the tub
and wept in terror, her body a round pink blob in the briny water.
But, thought the poor child, it's the most sensible place to cry.
When Petticoat came home she said:
"Honeybunch, let me in on your professional secrets. Tell me more about
your most interesting cases. It might make me restless."
"Nothing much to tell. Life just one ptomaine after another. Cases all
alike except for the primal cause."
"Well, tell me something. Where've you been just now?"
"Over to Iva's. She had 'em again. Ripe olives. Getting better. Where you
"To the Restless Sexteen Club."
"I don't get it. They talk about things that aren't there. But I think I
could make them see--"
"Oh, cut it out, Warble. You'd dust books so hard, you'd dust off the gilt
edges. They're deep-sea thinkers, that bunch--let 'em alone. What'd they
"About a book called 'Painted Shawls' or something, and about Thyco-
Serapy, and about a play called 'The Housebroke Heart.' Take me to see it,
will you, Bill?"
"You wouldn't like it. You'd prefer the movies."