Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Charlie Kirschner
and PG Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: "HER BLOOD WAS POUNDING AND HER VOICE WAS IN FLIGHT"]
A Story of an American Girl
BY FANNIE HURST
Oh, the little more and how much it is:
And the little less, and what worlds away.
When Lilly Becker eked out with one hand that most indomitable of
pianoforte selections, Rubinstein's "Melody in F," her young mind had a
habit of transcending itself into some such illusory realm as this:
Springtime seen lacily through a phantasmagoria of song. A very floral
sward. Fountains that tossed up coloratura bubbles of sheerest aria and
a sort of Greek frieze of youth attitudinized toward herself.
This frieze was almost invariably composed of Estelle Foote, a
successful rival in a class candidacy for the sponge-and-basin
monitorship; Sydney Prothero, infallible of spitball aim; Miss Lare with
her spectacles very low on her nose and a powdering of chalk dust down
her black alpaca; Flora Kemble with infinitely fewer friendship bangles
on her silver link bracelet; Roy Kemble, kissing her yellow, rather than
yanking her brown, braids.
And then suddenly, apropos of nothing except the sweet ache of Lilly's
little soul, the second movement would freeze itself into a proscenium
arch of music, herself, like a stalagmite, its slim center.
At this point, "Melody in F" veils itself in a mist of arpeggios, and
Mrs. Becker, who invariably, during the after-school practice hour, sat
upstairs with Mrs. Kemble in her sunny second-story back, would call
down through the purposely opened floor register.
"Lilly, not so fast on that part."
Were it not that the salient spots, the platform places in experience,
are floored over in little more or less identical mosaics of all the
commonplace day by days, Lilly Becker, at the rented-by-the-month piano
in her parents' back parlor in Mrs. Schum's boarding house, her two
chestnut braids rather precociously long and thick down her back, her
mother rocking rhythmically overhead, were spurious to this narrative.
Yet how much more potently than by the mere exposition of it and because
you have looked in on the nine-year-old chemistry of a vocal and blond
dream in the dreaming, are you to know the Lilly of seventeen, who
secretly and unsuccessfully washed her hair in a solution of peroxide,
and at eighteen, through the patent device of a megaphone inserted
through a plate-glass window, was singing to--But anon.
There was a game Lilly used to play on the front stairs of Mrs.
Schum's boarding house, winter evenings after dinner. She and
Lester Eli, who, at seventeen, was to drown in a pleasure canoe; Snow
Horton--clandestinely present--daughter of a neighborhood dentist and
forbidden to play with the "boarding-house children"; Flora and Roy
Kemble, twins; and little Harry Calvert, who would creep up like a dirty
little white mouse from the basement kitchen.
"Can't carry cranky cats!"
"No fair, Snow; that doesn't make sense."
"Your turn, Roy."
"No fair. Nothing begins with 'Z.'"
LILLY: "Does so. Z! Z--zounds--zippy--zingorella--zoe! Zoe!"
By similar strain of alliterative classification, Mrs. Schum's boarding
house might have been indexed as Middle West, middle class, medium
price, and meager of meal.
Poor, callous-footed Mrs. Schum, with her spotted bombazine bosom and
her loosely anchored knob of gray hair! She was the color of cold dish
water at that horrid moment when the grease begins to float, her hands
were corroded with it, and her smile somehow could catch you by the
heartstrings, which smiles have no right to do. How patiently and how
drearily she padded through these early years of Lilly's existence.
There were rubber insets in her shoes which sagged so that her ankles
seemed actually to touch the floor from the climbing upstairs and
downstairs on her missionary treadmill of the cracked slop jar; the fly
in the milk; the too-tepid shaving water; the bathroom monopoly; the
infant cacophony of midnight colic; salt on the sleety sidewalk, the
pasted handkerchief against a front window pane; ice water. Towels.
And how saucily after school would Lilly plant herself down in the
subterranean depths of the kitchen.
"Mrs. Schum, mamma says to give me a piece of bread and butter."
With her worried eyes Mrs. Schum would smile and invariably hand out a
thick slice, thinly buttered.
"More butter, mamma said."
"That's plenty, dearie; too much isn't good for little girls'
Scalloping the air with it before little Harry's meek eyes: "You can't
have any. You don't pay board. We do!"
"My Mamma-Annie she paid board once. Uh-huh! my Mamma-Annie she's an
angel in heaven and you aren't. Uh-huh!" This from little Harry, who was
far too pale and wore furiously stained blouses.
"But your mamma-Annie's dead now. You can't be a real live angel without
being dead first, and I'd rather be me."
"Lilly, aren't you ashamed? You run on now, or I'll tell your mamma.
Poor little Harry can't help it he's an orphan with only his old gramaw
to look after him. You a great big girl with your mother and father to
do for you. It's not nice to be against Harry."
"Well, what was I saying so much, Mrs. Schum? Can I help it he says
she's an angel? Here, Harry, you can have it. Mamma's got a whole basket
of apples in the closet and a dozen oranges. Honest, take it, I'm
He would mouth into it, round eyes gazing at her above the rim of crust.
There were times again when Lilly would bare her teeth and crunch them
in a paroxysm of rage and tyranny over little Harry. She would delight
in making herself terrible to him, pinch and tower over the huddle of
him with her hands hooked inward like talons. His meekness hurt her to
frenzy, and because she was ashamed of tears she clawed.
"Oh, you! You! You just make me feel like--I don't know what."
"Ouch! Lilly, you pinch!"
"Well, then, don't always hold your head off to one side like somebody
was going to hit you. I hate it. It makes me feel like wanting to
"You aren't such a goody-goody. You steal. You stole some balls of twine
my papa brought home from his factory. Mamma says you got it behind
"I haven't anything behind my ears."
"Oh, silly! Everything isn't there just because you say it's there. If I
close my eyes just a little eeny, I can see birds and fountains and a
beautiful stage, and me with my hair all gold, and a blue satin train
that kicks back when I walk, and all the music in the world winding
around me like--like everything--like smoke. But it isn't truly there,
silly, except inside of me."
"I'm going to be the beautifulest singer in the world some day, with a
voice that goes as high as anything, and be on the stage, and you can't
even be on it with me."
"'N' I'm going to work in a butcher shop and give gramaw all the meat
she wants without even putting it down in the book."
"And I won't ever have to touch the meat if it's got blood on."
"Fraidy, scared of a little blood." Then with not a great deal of
relevance, "I could have the yellowest hair in the world if I
"Oh, by just wanting to."
"Your mamma's calling you."
"Lil-ly, come practice."
"I'm coming." To Harry, "I can do something you can't do."
"Hop up six stairs on one foot."
Ankle cupped in her hand, brown braids bobbing, she would thus essay
two, three, even four steps of staggering ascent, collapsing then
against the banister.
"Told you so."
"Well, I nearly did."
"Oh, you _nearly_ do everything."
"I can't help it if my foot isn't strong enough to hold me."
"Lil-ly, don't let me have to call you again."
"I'm coming, mamma." And then for a final tantalizing gleam of her
little self across the banister, "Last tag."
One wall of the Becker back parlor was darkly composed of walnut folding
doors dividing it from the front-parlor bachelor apartment of Mr.
Hazzard, city salesman for the J.D. Nichols Fancy Grocery Supply
Company, his own horse and buggy furnished by the firm.
It was Mrs. Becker's habit during his day-long absence, in fact just as
soon as her acute ear detected the scraping departure of his tin-tired
wheels from the curb, to fling back these folding doors for the rush of
daylight and sense of space, often venturing in beside the front window
with a bit of sewing and pottering ever so discreetly at the sample
packages of fine teas, jars of perfectly conserved asparagus, peas, and
olives spread out on his mantelpiece and fingering, again ever so
discreetly, the neatly ripped stack of letters on the dresser. Once, and
despite Mrs. Becker's frantic swoop to save it, a piece of pressed
flower fell out from one of these envelopes in the handling, crumbling
to bits as it fluttered to the floor.
Next morning the folding doors refused to part to touch, an eye to the
keyhole discovering it clogged with key. Then Lilly began music lessons
and the newly rented upright piano was drawn up against these doors.
Never were fingers more recalcitrant at musical chores. The Bach
"Inventions" were weary digital gyrations against the slow-moving hands
of the alarm clock perched directly in her line of vision. Czerny, too,
was punctuated with quick little forays between notes, into a paper bag
of "baby pretzels" at the treble end of the piano, often as not lopping
over on the keyboard.
But with the plunge into brilliant but faulty execution of one of her
"pieces," her little face would flood over and tighten up into the
glyptic immobility of a cameo and her toes curl as they pressed
"The Storm King" of the Parlor Pianoforte Series was a favorite. Dashing
her quickly memorized way through it, she would follow closely the brief
printed synopsis on the cover page ... _suddenly the clouds gather, a
bird carols, a faint rumble is heard in the distance (it is important
that the student practice this base tremolo with left hand only), the
rush of approaching wind mingles with the nearing roll of thunder,
accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning_....
The red would run up into Lilly's face and her hands churn the white
keys into a curdled froth of dissonance.
"Lil-ly, not so fast. Play 'Selections from Faust' now, slowly, and
count, the way Miss Lee said you should."
Another favorite was the just published "Narcissus" of Nevin. Its
cross-hand movement was a phillipic to her ever-ready-to-ferment fancy.
Head back and gaze into the scroll-and-silk front of the piano, the
melody would again, like a curve of gold, shape itself into the lovely
form of a proscenium arch.
"Lilly, that is beautiful. Play the tune part over again."
The tingling that would actually gooseflesh her would die down as
surely as a ringing crystal tumbler, had she closed her warm little
hand over it.
"Mamma," her voice directed upward toward the open register, "can I--may
I go out on my tricycle?"
"I've only ten minutes yet, mamma. I'll make them up to-morrow."
"No, I don't intend to pay Miss Lee fifty cents a lesson so you can go
out and ride on your tricycle. You bothered me for the lessons, so now
you practice. Work on 'Narcissus' so you can play it for your father
"Oh, mom, please."
"I don't care. Go! Only put on your hat and don't let me see you riding
around on Taylor Avenue."
The St. Louis of Lilly's little girlhood, sprung so thrivingly from the
left bank of the Mississippi and builded on the dead mounds of a dead
past, was even then inexplicably turning its back to its fine river
frontage; stretching in the form of a great adolescent giant, prone,
legs flung to the west and full of growing pains, arms outstretched and
curving downward in a great north-and-south yawn.
Taylor Avenue (then almost the city's edge, and which now is a girdle
worn high about its gigantic middle) petered out into violently muddy
and unmade streets and great patches of unimproved vacant lots that in
winter were gaunt with husks.
A pantechnicon procession of the more daring, shot with the growing
pains, was grading and building into the vast clayey seas west of
Kings-highway, but for the most part St. Louis contained herself
gregariously enough within her limits, content in those years when the
country rang hollowly to the cracked ring of free silver to huddle under
the same blanket with her smoke-belching industries.
A picture postcard of a brewery, piled high like a castle and with
stables of Augean collosity, rose from the south tip of the city to the
sour-malt supremacy of the world; boots, shoes, tobacco, and street cars
bringing up by a nose, Eads Bridge, across the strong breast of the
Mississippi, flinging roads of commerce westward ho.
For one rapidly transitional moment street-car traffic in St. Louis
stood in three simultaneous stages of its lepidopterous development: a
caterpillar horse-car system crawled north and south along Jefferson
Avenue, glass coin box and the backward glance of the driver, in lieu of
conductor. A cable-car system ready to burst its chrysalis purred the
length of Olive Street, and a first electric car, brightly painted, and
with a proud antenna of trolley, had already whizzed out
When Lilly was twelve years old her walk to school was across quite an
intricacy of electric-car tracks, and on rainy days, out of a small fund
of children's car tickets laid by in Mrs. Becker's glove box for just
that contingency, she would ride to and from school, changing cars with
a drilled precision at Vandaventer and Finney Avenues.
For the first few of these adventures Mrs. Becker wrote tiny notes, to
be handed out by Lilly along with her street-car ticket:
Conductor, please let this little girl off at Jefferson Avenue: she
wants to change cars for the Pope School.
One day by some mischievous mischance Mrs. Schum's board receipt found
its way into Lilly's little pocketbook:
Received of Mrs. Ben Becker, forty-five dollars for one month's board
"Aw," said the conductor, thrusting it back at her, "ask your mamma to
tell her troubles to a policeman, little girl."
From that day Lilly rebelled.
"Guess I can find my way to school without having to carry a note like a
"But, Lilly, you might get mixed up."
"Don't sass me that way or I'll tell your father when he comes home
A never quite bursting cloud which hung over the entire of Lilly's
girlhood was this ever-impending threat which even in its rare execution
brought forth no more than a mild and rather sad rebuke from a mild and
rather sad father, and yet which was certain to quell any rising
"I notice you never get sassy or ugly to your father, Lilly. I do all
the stinting and make all the sacrifices and your father gets all
"Mamma, how can you say that!"
"Because it's a fact. To him it is always, 'Yes, sir, no, sir.' I'm
going to tell him a few things when he comes home to-night of what I go
through with all day in his absence. Elocution lessons! Just you ask him
for them yourself."
"Oh, mamma, you promised!"
"Well, I will, but I oughtn't."
Every evening until long after Lilly's dresses had descended to her shoe
tops and until the ritual came to have a distinctly ridiculous aspect,
there took place the one pleasantry in which Lilly and her father
About fifteen minutes before seven, three staccato rings would come at
the front-door bell. At her sewing or what not, Mrs. Becker would glance
up with birdlike quickness.
"That's papa!" And Lilly, almost invariably curled over a book, would
jump up and take stand tensely against the wall so that when the room
door opened it would swing back, concealing her.
In the frame of that open doorway Mrs. Becker and her husband would
kiss, the unexcited matrimonial peck of the taken-for-granted which
is as sane to the taste as egg, and as flat, and then the
night-in-and-night-out question that for Lilly, rigid there behind the
door, never failed to thrill through her in little darts.
"Where is Lilly, Carrie?"
MRS. BECKER (assuming an immediate mask of vacuity): "Why, I don't know,
Ben. She was here a minute ago."
"Well, well, well!" looking under the bed, under the little cot drawn
across its baseboard and into a V of a back space created by a
catacorner bureau. "Well, well, well! What could have happened to her?"
At this juncture Lilly, fairly titillating, would burst out and before
his carefully averted glance fling wide her arms in self-revelation.
"Here I am, papa!"
"Well, I'll declare, so she is!" lifting her by the armpits for a kiss.
"Well, well, well!"
"Papa, I got ninety in arithmetic. I'd have got a hundred, but I got the
wrong common denominator."
"That's right, Lilly. Keep up well in your studies. Remember, knowledge
"Get your father's velveteen coat, Lilly."
"Papa, Ella McBride kisses boys."
"Then don't ever let me hear of your associating with her. The little
girl that doesn't keep her own self-respect cannot expect others to
"And you ought to see, papa, she always rides her tricycle down past
Eddie Posner's house on Delmar just to show herself off to him."
"Lilly, go wash your hands for supper. How is business, Ben?"
"Nothing extra, Carrie."
"Oh, I get so tired hearing a poor mouth. Sometimes I could just scream
for wanting to do things we are not in a position to do. Go
housekeeping, for instance, have a little home of my own--"
"Now, now, little woman," at the invariable business of flecking his
neat gray business suit with a whisk broom, "you got up on the wrong
side of bed this morning. Lilly, suppose you shine papa's spectacles
"There is the supper bell. Quick, Ben and Lilly, before the Kembles."
The dining room, directly over the basement kitchen, jutted in an ell
off the rear of the house so that from the back parlor it was not
difficult to precede the immediate overhead response to that bell. A
black-faced genii of the bowl and weal, in a very dubiously white-duck
coat thrust on hurriedly over clothing reminiscent of the day's window
washing and furnace cinders, held attitude in among the small tables
that littered the room. There were four. A long table seating ten and
punctuated by two sets of cruets, two plates of bread, and two
white-china water pitchers; Mr. Hazzard's tiny square of individual
table, a perpetual bottle of brown medicine beside his place. The
Kembles also enjoyed segregation from the mother table, the family
invariably straggling in one by one. For the Beckers was reserved the
slight bulge of bay window that looked out upon the Suburban street-car
tracks and a battalion of unpainted woodsheds. A red geranium, potted
and wrapped around in green crêpe tissue paper, sprouted center table, a
small bottle of jam and two condiments lending further distinction. A
napkin with self-invented fasteners dangled from Mr. Becker's chair, and
beside Lilly's place a sterling silver and privately owned knife and
To Mr. Becker, the negro race was largely and genetically christened
Gawge, to be addressed solely in native patois.
"Evenin', Mistah Beckah."
"George, are you going to take good care of my husband to-night? That
piece of steak you served him yesterday wasn't fit to eat."
"Law now, Mis' Beckah, kin I help it if de best de kitchen has ain't
none too good?"
"Don't tell me! I saw the piece you brought Mr. Kemble."
"Now, Carrie ..."
"What have we to-night, George?"
"Fried steak, lamb, or corn'-beef hash."
"Bring us steak, and if it isn't tender, tell Mrs. Schum for me that
right back downstairs it goes! A little piece of lamb on the side in
case Miss Lilly don't like the steak, and bring up a dish of those sweet
pickles. You know, under the tray the way you always do. There's a pair
of Mr. Becker's old shoes, good as new, waiting to be given away."
"Miss Lilly loves pickles. George, do as I say."
"Law! Mistah Beckah, I knows Mis' Beckah and her ways. Law! I doan take
"I wish if you want extras, Carrie, you would buy them. It is a darn
shame to make yourself so small before the other boarders."
"I haven't as much money as you have, Ben Becker. I'm not ashamed to ask
for my money's worth. Lilly, haven't I told you not to talk on your
fingers at meals?"
This form of digital communication between the children of the boarding
house seemed to break out in its most virulent form at dinner. In spite
of a sharp consensus of parental disapproval, there was a continual
flashing of code between Lilly, the Kemble twins, and Lester Eli at the
"Ben, will you speak to Lilly? She won't mind me."
"Yes, sir," immediately subsiding to a contemplation of the geranium.
Poker played for penny stakes was a favorite after-dinner pastime. A
group including Mrs. Eli, the Kembles, and Mr. Hazzard would gather in
the Becker back parlor, Mrs. Becker, relieved of corsets and in a
dark-blue foulard teagown shotted all over with tiny pink rosebuds,
presiding over a folding table with a glass bowl of the "baby pretzels"
in its center.
The children meanwhile would forgather on the front hall stairs, the
peaked flare of an olive of gaslight that burned through a red glass
globe with warts blown into it, bathing the little group in a sort of
greasy fluid. Roy and Flora Kemble, Snow Horton, Lester Eli, and Stanley
Beinenstock, racked with bronchitis and lending an odor of creosote,
Lilly, and even Harry in his poor outlandish blouse.
"Snow, tell us a story; you're the oldest."
Snow was full of lore; would invoke inspiration with a very wide and
very blue gaze up to the ceiling, her thin hands clasping her thin neck.
"Once upon a time--once upon a time there was the most beautiful girl
in all the world and her name was--"
"Aw, give us one about boys."
LILLY: "You shut up, Roy Kemble. I guess Snow can tell a girl story if
she wants to. Go on, Snow, 'once upon a time there was the most
beautiful girl in all the world' and she had honey-colored curls and--"
"I didn't say she had honey-colored curls. Honey! Who ever heard of a
girl having honey curls?"
"Well, she had."
"--and her name was--was--Gladys."
"Oh no, Snow, call her--"
"I think Gladys is just a beautiful name for a girl," ventured Flora
Kemble on this occasion. "I like Elsie, too. I think Elsie Dinsmore is
my favorite name."
"Elsie Dinsmore!" flared Lilly. "Girls aren't pokey like her any more."
Thus diverted, there ensued a quick confetti of flung opinions.
"Minn is a pretty name."
"That's because you're stuck on Minnie Duganne in your class. Oh-oh, Roy
is stuck on Minnie Duganne!"
"Arabella--I just love that name. Don't you, Lilly?"
"If I was a girl, I would be named Mamma-Annie."
"Shut up, Harry; and, say, you better take back that can opener. You
stole it off Mr. Hazzard's dresser."
"What is your favorite name, Lilly?"
Her eyes on the warts blown into the glass globe, hugging her knees in
their sturdy ribbed stockings, her smooth brown hair enhancing her clean
kind of prettiness, Lilly gazed up roundly.
"I choose," she said, mouthing grandiloquently, her little pink tongue
waving like a clapper--"I choose--choose--ah--Zoe!"
"That isn't a name!"
"Who ever heard of a girl named Zoe! You never did yourself."
"I know I never did, Roy Kemble, but just the same I think it is the
most beautiful name in the world. It isn't so much what it really means;
names don't have to mean anything--it's what it feels like it means. To
me the name Zoe feels like it means--means--"
CHORUS: "She don't know what it means. She don't know what it means."
"She means doe! The doe in the zoo at Forest Park. Hauh-hauh--her
favorite name is Doe."
"Zoe," repeated Lilly, her eyes in a trance and lakes of reflected
vision. "Zoe--it means--it means something--something full of life.
Life--free--to me Zoe means free! Life!"
When Lilly was fourteen she graduated from grade school, second in her
"It's an outrage," said Mrs. Becker. "Miss Lare always did pick on the
"I'd rather have been last than second," said Lilly, trying to keep firm
a lip that would tremble.
"Never mind, Lilly, you'll have the prettiest graduation dress of them
all. I've got Katy Stutz engaged for three days in the house. A girl
don't have to be so smart."
"I'd rather have the valedictory address than--clothes," still very
uncertain of lip.
"Of course. That is because for a child you certainly have crazy ideas.
Why don't you nag your father a little with what you've been nagging me
"I--Not now, mamma."
"Why not now? All I've got to say about it is, if he is willing, I am."
"What is it?"
"Tell him, Lilly."
"I--You see, papa, I thought if only you would let me begin vocal
lessons, now that I am going to High School. Not real singing, papa--I'm
too young for that--but just the foundation for voice."
"She wants to study with Max Rinehardt, Ben. I say it can't do any harm
for the child to learn parlor singing. I think I can manage it at a
dollar and a half a lesson. The elocution I say 'No' to. We don't need
any play-acting in the family."
"Why--er--I'm surprised, Lilly, that you should have your heart set on
that kind of thing. Seems to me a young girl could find something more
worth while than that. Singers never amount to much."
"Oh, papa, it's what I want most in the world."
"Let her have them. A little parlor singing helps any girl with the
young men. I notice you courted me from the choir. If she waits for
encouragement from you, her accomplishments won't amount to a row
"You see, papa, I'm going to take the commercial course at High and
learn stenography and typewriting, so it will just balance my
"Well, little woman, whatever you say."
"You know what I say."
"Don't you think she is a bit too young?"
Mimetically: "No, I don't think she's a bit too young. The sooner you
wake up to the fact that your daughter is growing up, the better. She's
a graduate already from grammar school."
"Papa, I'm on the graduating program."
"For what, daughter?"
"A piano solo. 'Alice,' with variations."
"Well, Carrie, if that is the way you feel about it--if you think those
kind of lessons are good for her--"
"That is the way I feel about it."
These little acid places occurring somewhere in almost every day hardly
corroded into Lilly's accustomed consciousness. If they etched their way
at all into Mr. Becker's patient kind of equanimity, the utter quietude
of his personality, which could efface itself behind a newspaper for two
or even three hours at a time, never revealed it. His was the stolidity
of an oak, tickled rather than assailed by a bright-eyed woodpecker.
"Little woman" he liked to call her in his nearest approach of
endearment, although it must have been her petite quickness rather than
a diminutive quality that earned the appellation. Even when he had wooed
her in Granite City, Missouri, and she had sung down at the quiet-faced
youth from a choir loft, she was after the then prevalent form of
hourglass girlish loveliness. Now she was rather enormous of bust,
proudly so, and wore her waist pulled in so that her hips sprang out
roundly. A common gesture was to place her hands on her hips, press
down, and breathe sharply inward, thus holding herself for the moment
from the steel walls of her corsets. Their removal immediately after
dinner was a ritual to be anticipated during the day. She would sit in
her underbodice, unhooked of them, sunk softly into herself, her hands
stroking her tortured jacket of ribs and her breath flowing deeper.
"I don't believe I'd pull in quite so tight, Carrie, if I were you. It
will tell on your health some day."
"You don't catch me with a sloppy figure. I don't give a row of pins for
the woman without some curve to her."
To Mrs. Becker a row of pins was the basest coinage of any realm. It ran
through her speech in pricking idiom.
She was piquant enough of face, quick-eyed, and with little pointy
features enhanced by a psyche worn as emphatically as an exclamation
point on the very top of her head. On eucher or matinée days her bangs,
at the application of a curling iron, were worn frizzed, but usually
they were pinned back beneath the psyche in straight brown wisps.
As she grew older, Lilly came more and more to resemble her father in a
certain tight knit of figure, length of limb, and quiet gray eyes that
could fill blackly with pupil and in the smooth, straight, always
gleaming brown hair growing cleanly and with the merest of widows' peaks
off her forehead.
At fourteen she stood shoulder to shoulder with her mother, and their
gloves and shirt waists were interchangeable. One really distinguishing
loveliness was her complexion. The skin flowed over her body with the
cool fleshliness of a pink rose petal. There was a natural shimmer to
it, a dewiness and a pollen of youth that enveloped her like a caress.
"Looks more like her father, if she looks like either of them," Mrs.
Schum was fond of saying, "and she has his easy disposition. But there
is a child who runs deep. If she was mine I'd educate her to be
something. Ah me, if only my Annie hadn't lost her head and married, she
had the makings, too."
As a matter of fact, Lilly's resemblance to her parents stopped
abruptly. Her first year in High School, a course in natural science
revealed to her the term "botanical sport."
"That's what I am," she determined, with youth's immediate application
of cosmos to self, "a botanical sport." A spontaneous variation from the
normal type. "Papa, I learned to-day that I'm a sport."
MRS. BECKER: "A what? That _is_ a genteel expression for a young girl to
apply to herself! That High School does you more harm than good."
"But, mamma, it's a term used in botany. A term from Darwin."
"Darwin! That's a fine thing to teach children in school--that they come
from monkeys! No wonder children haven't any respect for their parents
"Well, just the same it is in the biology. We're on frogs now. You ought
to see the way frogs get born!"
"In my day children weren't taught such stuff. I'm surprised, Ben, it's
Across the biology of life, as if to shut out the loathsome facts of an
abattoir, a curtain of dreadful portent was drawn before Lilly's
"When baby came," was Mrs. Becker's insinuation for the naked and
impolite fact of birth.
In a vague, inchoate sort of way, Lilly at sixteen was visualizing
nature procreant as an abominable woman creature standing shank deep in
spongy swampland and from behind that portentous curtain moaning in the
agonized key of Mrs. Kemble.
About this time Mrs. Kemble's third child was within a few weeks of
"Mamma, what makes Mrs. Kemble look so funny!"
"Hush, Lilly. Don't you ever let me hear you talk like that again.
Little girls shouldn't ask such questions."
One night shortly after, a cry that tore like a gash through the
sleeping boarding house roused Lilly to a sitting posture on her little
cot drawn across the baseboard of her parents' bed.
"Mamma! Papa! What was that?"
There were immediate voices and running up and down stairs and more
cries that beat the air and Mrs. Becker already up and clamoring into
"Sh-h-h, Lilly! Go back to sleep. It is nothing but Mrs. Kemble not
feeling very well. I'll run upstairs a minute, Ben. See that Lilly goes
back to sleep."
Until the break of day Lilly lay tense there on her little cot, toes
curled in, and still her mother did not return. Time and time again the
moans rose to shrieks of dreadful supplication that set her to trembling
so that her cot rattled against the baseboard.
"Kill me! God! Put me out of it! Please! I can't suffer any more! Kill
me, God! Kill me!"
"Papa, I--I'm scared."
"Go to sleep, Lilly," said her father from the pool of darkness, his
voice rather thin and sick. "Go to sleep now, like a good girl."
In a little area of quiet that ensued, she did drop healthily off,
wakening to the warmth of sunshine, her father already departed, her
mother rocking and sewing beside the window.
"Mamma, why didn't you wake me? I'll be late to school."
"You won't if you hurry and--and, Lilly, what do you think?"
"The stork brought Flora and Roy the dearest little baby sister last
night. They're going to call her Evelyn. That's why Roy and Flora went
to spend the week with their Aunt Emma, so they wouldn't frighten the
stork away when he flew in with it. In a few days you can go up and see
it. Isn't that nice, Lilly?"
Still tousled with sleep, but the red rising up out of the yoke of her
nightgown, Lilly answered, with averted face, "Yes, mamma."
This episode marked the beginning of what was to be a three years'
"Ben, we must go housekeeping. It's an outrage to board, with a girl
Lilly's age. Not as much as a parlor for her to bring her friends, and a
great big girl like her without a room to herself! It's not even
"Well, Carrie, I'm willing."
"I know, until the time comes. I don't forget so easily the way you
sighed all night in your sleep that time I came near renting the house
on Delmar Avenue. Where is the money coming from! The minute that old
business down there earns a penny, right back into it go the earnings,
instead of drawing out a few dollars for the comfort of his family, like
any other man would."
"There is not another woman in the world would stand for it but me. A
woman that could enjoy a little home of her own as much as I! What do I
get out of it, I'd like to know! Stint. Stint. Stint. Shove it all back
into that old rope-and-twine business down there that doesn't show a
cent of capital when you take stock except in rope, rope, rope, until
I'd like to hang myself with some of it."
"Now, little woman, you got up on the wrong side of bed this morning.
Just hold your horses. These are tight times, I admit, but we have
"I've heard that since I'm married. Health! Suppose we have got our
health. We can't thank the business for that."
"Lilly, your mother certainly got up on the wrong side of bed this
morning, didn't she?"
"Well, it's right discouraging, if you ask me."
"You're all right, little woman."
"Yes, I know," trying not to smile, "I'm all right when it don't cost
nothing and when it comes to the dirty work of trying to make two
"You're certainly a splendid manager. No one can take that away from
"Well, I wish you would both appreciate it a little more."
"We do appreciate it, don't we, Lilly?"
Her second year in High School, Lilly was kept out for five weeks by an
attack of typhoid fever.
An aversion for physical shortcoming, from her mother's occasional
headaches to the mortally afflicted Mr. Hazzard with the great chronic
sore crisscrossed with court plaster at the end of one of his eyes,
amounted in Lilly to something actually Indian.
"Oh, mamma, if I had a headache, I wouldn't always be talking about it.
People aren't interested."
"I'm going to tell your father when he comes home to-night what a
sympathetic daughter I have. If ever I fall sick the City Hospital will
be the place for me. When I see the way that Flora Kemble carries her
mother around and the way my own daughter sympathizes with me. If I
don't tell your father this night!"
It was this queer little congenital urge that kept Lilly on her feet for
two weeks after the malady had hold of her. With a stoicism that taxed
her cruelly, she would march smilingly off to school, a bombardment of
pains shooting through her head, her hands and tongue dry, a ball and
chain of inertia dragging at her ankles.
"Lilly, what is the matter? Why don't you eat your bread and butter
after school? Has Mrs. Schum said anything?"
"No, no, mamma. I'm not hungry, that's all."
"Funny. Open the closet. There is a basket of oranges behind your
father's overcoat, and a bag of baby pretzels, too."
"Goodness! mamma, if I was hungry, I'd eat."
"Don't you feel well, Lilly?"
"Of course I feel well, mamma. Why shouldn't I?"
But next day, at her after-school hour of practice, a small discordant
crash broke suddenly in upon "Chaminade's Scarf Dance" and Mrs. Becker's
rhythmic rocking above. Lilly had fainted, with her head in her arms and
face down among the keys.
Followed two weeks that crowded up the little back parlor with anxiety,
the tension of two doctors in consultation, and a sense of hysteria that
was always just a scratch beneath the surface of Mrs. Becker. She would
break suddenly into loud and unexpected fits of crying, crushing her
palms up against her mouth; would waken from a light doze beside the
bed, on the shriek of a nightmare, and have literally to be dragged from
the room. She harassed the doctors with questions that only the course
of the disease could answer.
The crisis came in the watches of the night, Lilly very straight and
very white and light of breathing in the center of her parents' bed, her
glossy hair in a thick plait over each shoulder, her fine white and
developed chest hardly rising.
"O God! help me to live this night! Ben! Ben!"
"Carrie, you're only making yourself sick and not helping the child."
"My baby! My beautiful snow-white baby! The best child that ever lived!
Help me to live this night!"
"Carrie, little woman, if only you won't take on so. There's every
reason to hope for the best. The doctor assured us."
"How long before we know? Go get Doctor Allison over. Ask Roy Kemble to
run over to Horton's and telephone for Doctor Birch. I want them
here. My baby!"
"Carrie, Carrie, haven't they told you time and time again there is
nothing they can do now? Don't antagonize Doctor Birch by calling him
over here again to-night. Everything is being done for the child. Now
all we can do is to sit and wait and hope for the best."
"You don't care! You're made of iron. At a time like this you stop to
consider the doctors' feelings. Mine don't count. My baby. Get well,
Lilly. Mamma's been cross at times, but never again. We'll do everything
to make you happy. You can read your eyes out and mamma won't turn out
the light on you. Mamma will buy you books and a box of paints and a
little bird's-eye-maple room all your own. Lilly, mamma's baby. We're
going housekeeping--your own piano--your own room. Aren't we, Ben?
"You can take your choice, baby, of all the things you want to be. Mamma
won't oppose any more, or papa. Opera singing if you want it. You come
by it naturally from my choir voice. Whatever you say, baby. Even an
actress and all the elocution and singing lessons you--"
"Oh, you don't care! You're only her father. What does a father know?
You don't care."
Against this age-old indictment of paternity, and absolutely without
precedent, the patient, the iron-gray head of Mr. Becker fell forward, a
fearful and silent storm of sobs beating against his repression.
Full of dumfounded hysteria, walking on her knees around the bed edge to
him, Mrs. Becker drew down his head into the wreath of her arms, kissing
into it, mingling her tears with his, and tasting their anguish.
"My darling! Ben--please, darling! I say a lot of things I don't mean.
You are my husband--and my life. Ben--don't! I can't stand it! Ben!"
At six o'clock Lilly opened her eyes. They were clear and cool and the
petal-like quality was out on her skin.
"Sweet Alice," she said, "oh, Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt," a bit of dream
floating up with her like seaweed to the surface of consciousness.
She had been reading _Trilby_, surreptitiously filched from Mrs.
Kemble's stack of novels.
"In your own room, sweetheart, and your own mother and father beside
"I thought--Sweet Alice--"
"The fever is gone now, Lilly. You won't have any of those thoughts any
more. Go to sleep now, papa's girl."
"I must have been singing--'Faust'--what makes you and papa--so
"We're not, Lilly. Nothing makes us angry any more."
She was too tired to smile.
"I kept dreaming, mamma, that my hair was two big honey-colored braids
all wound up with pearls, like Marguerite's picture in _Stories of
"Go to sleep, Lilly, like a good child. Our girl has got too much sense
to fill her head up with such nonsense."
"No, no, papa, I won't have common sense. I want to ride up to meet the
sun, like the princess in--"
"She wants to what? Are you sure her fever is gone, Carrie?"
"Nonsense! It is stuff she reads in her fairy tales. Yes, darling,
anything you want."
"You know, mamma--pearls--in my hair--"
"Yes, yes, darling. Sh-h-h!"
"We're middle-class, aren't we?"
"What does she mean?"
"Middle-class people, I mean. You know."
"Why, yes, dear, we're middle-class. I guess that is what you'd call it.
What an idea!"
"Yes, yes. How, baby? The doctor will be here any--"
"You don't know what I mean. No matter what I say, you don't know what I
mean. Isn't that terrible?"
"Help you to get well, that's what mamma and papa are going to do."
"No, no, no! Help me--out--up!"
Presently Lilly fell asleep. To her watching parents her light and
regular breathing took on the meter of a Doxology.
Center High School, the city's only at a time when half a million souls
beat up like sea around it, a model and modern institution that was
presently and paradoxically to become architectural paragon for what to
avoid in future high-school buildings, was again within street-car
distance, except on usually bland days, when Lilly and Flora Kemble
would walk home through Vandaventer Place, the first of those short,
private thoroughfares of pretentious homes that were presently to run
through the warp of the city like threads of gold.
On these homeward walks Flora and Lilly, who referred to each other as
"my chum," were fond of peripatetically exchanging the views, the
consciousness, and the sweetness of sixteen.
"If you had your choice, Lilly, what house would you select for yours in
"I don't want to live in between stone gates with 'No Thoroughfare'
stuck on each end."
"You're the funniest girl! What do you mean, 'No thoroughfare'? Don't
you want to be exclusive and private?"
"Yes, but a person can be private somewhere high--high--not just stuck
between gates like everybody else. Sappho always sat on a balcony that
overlooked the Aegean Sea."
"Maybe she did, and she jumped off, too, but I'm not talking to-day's
Greek history lesson. I'm talking about regular folks. Between the gates
of Vandaventer Place would be good enough for me. Wouldn't I just love
to be mistress over one of these houses and give parties with an awning
stretched out over the sidewalk!"
"What did you get in algebra, Flora?"
"B plus. And you?"
"Lilly Becker, that is the fifth B minus you've had in succession. I'm
going to call you Lilly Minus."
"If she hadn't sprung that old oral exam on us--"
"Oh, if ifs and ands were pots and pans!"
Flora, rather freckly, elbowy, and far too tall, was none the less about
to be pretty. She was frailly fair, like her mother, and could already
throw her blue eyes about their balls, in the Esperanto of coquetry. She
had a treacherous little faculty of appearing never to study and yet
maintaining an excellent grade of scholarship.
"You get me to do all sorts of things with you, Flora, and then you
sneak off and study on the quiet and leave me to flunk because I
promised you I wouldn't study, either."
"Why, Lilly Becker, I never studied one minute for that algebra quiz."
"You did so! When I went downstairs to write in my Friendship Book, like
you said you were going to do, you worked your algebra instead. Roy
"Well, if I was as pretty as you, Lilly, I wouldn't ever care if I got
my lessons or not," said Flora, to palliate.
"Flora Kemble, I'm not pretty!"
"You are, too. Everybody says your complexion is like peaches and
cream, and look at mine, all freckles."
"Complexion, huh! If I had your yellow hair, you could have all my
"Boys hate freckles because so many of them have them themselves."
"Always boys. Honestly, you're boy-crazy, Flora."
"Well, I like that. Can I help it if I got an invitation and you didn't?
You sat right next to him in English and I sat two whole seats away."
A cloud no larger and smudgier than a high-school boy's hand had dropped
its first shadow between them. Eugene Bankhead, son of the credit man
for Slocum-Hines, the city's largest wholesale hardware firm, had
suddenly, out of this clear sky, invited Flora to the Thanksgiving Day
football game between Center High and an exclusive local academy. A new
estate felt, rather than spoken, quickened the eye and authority of
Flora. A sense of it rode on the air waves between them.
"I hate boys."
"How do you know? You've never seen any except my brother and
"Papa says if a girl begins to run around with boys too soon it makes
her so forward that by the time she's eighteen she's too old
"That's old-fogy talk."
"You mean it's old fogy for girls to let boys jam everything else out of
their heads. I'd like to see the boy that could make me forget my--my
"If Eugene had asked you instead of me you wouldn't be saying that."
"Anyway, I hate snips. I like men--real men."
"Oh, I know. You're stuck on Lindsley!"
A violent splash of red and a highly superlative denial of word and
manner laid hold of Lilly.
"Why, Flora Kemble!"
"Look at her blushing. Oh, what I know about you!"
"You fibber. I think he's the limit. I never saw a fellow so stuck on
"Oh, I know! I know now why you carry home twice as many books as you
used to since he got charge of the library."
"I'm reading the _Lady of the Lake_ and you know it. That's why I
stopped in to-night."
"I know why you're always writing compositions since you have him in
English. Lilly's stuck on Lindsley."
Tears were rare with Lilly, but a tremor waved her voice.
"I think you're horrid, Flora Kemble. Anyway, he's more worth while
being stuck on than Eugene Bankhead. He's just--just middle-class. His
future is to work in Slocum-Hines's hardware store, like his father."
"Well, that's more of a man's job than sitting around in a schoolroom
doing lady's work. Papa says Eugene's father is a five-thousand-a-year
man. Eugene has all the spending money he wants and they have a
conservatory in their house."
"Well, I'd rather be Lindsley than Eugene; besides, he's a kid hardly
out of short trousers."
"Silly, you don't think it's Eugene I'm stuck on, do you? His brother
Vincent is a big man down at Slocum-Hines's, too, and a catch. I'm going
to meet him some day. Lindsley! Ugh! I like a little sponduliks thrown
in with a fellow. Lindsley's elbows shine."
For the most part the Board of Education drew upon the offspring of its
own system for teaching talent, occasionally letting in an artery of new
blood. Lilly's second year in High School such an infusion took place in
the form of one H. Horace Lindsley, the young master of arts, his degree
rather heavy upon him, dawning blondly and behind high-power pince-nez
upon the English department.
Sweet sixteen capitulated to English literature. The double wave of Mr.
Lindsley's hair, the intellectual rush of very long, white teeth to the
front, somehow mitigating for the sins of a curriculum that could
present Gorboduc, and _Friar Bacon_ and _Friar Bungay_, to young minds
illy furrowed for such seed.
Notwithstanding the literary odor with which Mr. Lindsley sprayed
himself as he sprayed his handkerchief with a domestic scent called
"Sesame and Lilies," his neoclassic determination to write the American
_Iliad_ must have died painlessly when his iambically disposed feet
ventured too deeply into the quagmire of pedagogy, from which he was not
to emerge. But for the first time in her life Lilly was hearing her name
pronounced by one who rolled it under his tongue like a lollypop. He
rolled all names quite so, but in her beatitude she was only conscious
of her own as it candied. Besides, his eyes, through the pince-nez, had
a gimlet, goosefleshing quality; he recited "Straits of Dover" to a
class of young women with rapt adenoidal expression when he should have
been inoculating them with the bitter serum of Burke's Conciliation
Speech, and walked to school of wintry mornings without an overcoat;
skates and the _Areopagitica_ under his arm.
It was undeniable that at this stage Lilly had veered unaccountably to
authorship, her after-school practice hour gouged into by a suddenly
"Papa, I know my ambition!"
Mr. Becker let fall his newspaper to his knee, glancing up over the rim
of his reading glasses.
"What's it now, daughter?"
"I want to be a writer. You know, an author of stories. My English
teacher says I have talent. I get A minus on all my essays, and to-day
he wrote on the edge of one, 'Quite a literary touch.'"
MRS. BECKER (who rocked as she darned): "The trouble with you, Lilly, is
that you have it too good. You don't know what you want."
"You don't care if I am a writer, do you, papa?"
"Last week it was the stage, and last month the opera, and now it's
writing. What next, I wonder?"
"Your mother's right. There's no stability to this art business, Lilly.
They're a loose lot that never come to a good end."
"Well, just the same," cried Lilly, hot with a sense of futility and
rebellion, "your own father was the next thing to an actor. Preaching is
kin to acting."
"Don't you ever let me hear you talk like that again. Your grandfather
was a God-fearing, not a play-acting man." Attacking this subject, a
little furrow would invariably appear between Mr. Becker's fine gray
eyes and his lips express bitter intolerance for a world that translated
itself to him solely in terms of pink tights.
Not that the odor of religion lay any too heavily on Lilly's youth.
Sunday school was not enforced, Sabbath ethics were observed loosely, if
at all, but a yearly membership in the Garrison Avenue Rock Church was
maintained, not without remonstrance from Mrs. Becker.
"I don't see why we belong. If I want to attend church on Easter Sunday
or a Christmas, I don't have to pay dues all year for it. A person can
pray just as well at home as in church if he's inclined that way."
"Our child doesn't need to be raised like a heathen just because we
aren't as regular as we might be about churchgoing. Besides, when
trouble comes we don't want to be buried like heathens, either."
"In England, papa, writers get buried in Westminster Abbey. If I lived
in England, that would be my ambition."
"The child has ambitions even about funerals. I bought you goods for a
navy-blue poplin to-day, Lilly. Gentle's had a sale."
"Oh, mamma, can you get Katy Stutz to come in time to make it for
auditorium next Friday? Mr. Lindsley may call on me to read my essay
"That Mr. Lindsley makes me sick. You're a changed child since he's come
to that school. Mrs. Foote said the same thing of Estelle at the euchre
yesterday. All the girls want new dresses and to be in his classes."
"Why, mamma!" coloring up.
"Oh, run over to Pirney's and buy me a postal card. I'll write Katy
Stutz to take Mrs. Foote's days away from her and give them to me."
By small briberies employed without sense of compromise, Mrs. Becker had
a way with those who served her. Katy Stutz, an old soul as lean and as
green as a cotton umbrella, had sewed at minimum wage through fourteen
years of keeping Lilly daintily and a bit too pretentiously clad.
Willie, Mrs. Schum's old negro cook, who wore her feet wrapped in gunny
sacking, and every odd and end that came down in the day's waste
baskets, from empty spools to nubs of pencil, stored away in the kink of
her hair, would somehow invariably send up the giblets along with the
Beckers' Sunday allotment of chicken. Mr. Keebil, too, an old Southern
relic, his head covered with suds of gray astrakhan and a laugh like the
up and down of rusty bedsprings, for ten years had presided over the
hirsute destinies of Lilly and her mother. Bi-monthly he arrived on his
shampooing mission, often making a day's tour throughout the
"Mr. Keebil, don't you do the Kembles' heads first to-day. That's the
way with you people. I get you all your customers and then you neglect
me for them."
"Law! Mrs. Beckah, how cum you think that? Don't I give you and Miss
Lilly shampoos for two bits when I chawges Mrs. Kemble three heads for
"Yes, but what about the underwear and socks of Mr. Becker's that you
"I allas say I 'ain't got no bettah friend than Mrs. Beckah. That was
certainly a fine suit you done give me las' time, except for the
buttons cut off."
"You should consider yourself lucky to get a head like Miss Lilly's to
take care of at any price. Just look at it--like spun silk."
He would fluff out the really beautiful cascade of smooth and highly
electric hair, his brown hands, so strangely light pink of palm, full of
pride in their task.
"Law! Miss Lilly, if you ain't going to grow up the pick of them all."
"Ouch! Mr. Keebil, you hurt!" cried Lilly, ever tender of scalp.
Nor was Mrs. Becker above a bit of persiflage.
"Mr. Keebil, I hear it is something scandalous the way you and Willie
are setting up to each other."
The old shoulders would shake, the face crinkle into a raisin, and the
little spade of gray beard heave to the springy laughter.
"Law! Mrs. Beckah. if you ain't the greatest one to joke."
"Joke nothing. It's a fine match. A good upstanding church member like
you and a fine-looking woman like Willie."
Lilly would turn a quirking but disapproving eye upon her mother.
"Mamma, haven't you anything better to do?"
"Law! Miss Lilly, me and your ma we understand each other. Me and your
papa we know she will have her little joke but the heart is there.
That's what counts on the Lord's Judgment Day--the heart."
Lilly's poplin frock was completed for the Friday auditorium exercises.
Her two braids, now consolidated into one hempy rope, lay against her
back, finishing without completement of hair ribbon into a cylinder of
brushed-around-the-finger curl. It was a little mannerism of hers, not
entirely unconscious, to fling the heavy coil of hair over one shoulder.
It enhanced her face, somehow, the fall of shining plait down over her
young bosom. Contrary to her choking expectation, she was not called
upon to read, but to sit on the platform in an honorable-mention row
Flora Kemble read a B-plus paper, largely and in immaculate vertical
penmanship, entitled "Friendship," Lilly, the tourniquet twist at her
heart, sitting by. Her name was read later among the honorable five,
true to manner, Mr. Lindsley seeming to caress it with his tongue.
"Miss Halpern. Mr. Prothero. Miss Foote. Miss Deidesheimer. Miss
From where she sat Lilly could see the slightly protuberant shine to his
teeth, the intellectual ride of glasses along his thin nose, the long,
nervous hand with a little-finger fraternity ring.
Her own hands were very cold, her cheeks very pink. She had a pressing
behind the eyes of a not-to-be-endured impulse of wanting to cry. His
reading of her name was a hot javelin through the pit of her being.
After the exercises and as school was in dismissal she saw him hurrying
out of a side door with a tennis racket. It seemed suddenly intolerable
that walk home through Vandaventer Place to her boarding-house world.
Flora's perceptions were small and quick.
"Why, Lilly, your cheeks are as red as anything and you're getting a
fever blister. Somebody kissed you!"
Her hand flew to her mouth almost guiltily, as if to the feel of lips
"Why--Oh, you horrid girl!"
"It was Lind! Lind!"
"Lindsley, of course," dipping with laughter.
"Flora Kemble, I'll never speak to you again. You're stuck on him
yourself and trying to put it on to me."
"Me stuck on him, the way his teeth stick out! No poor school-teacher
"You're boy-crazy. I'm not."
But that night for the first time in her life Lilly lay through a
sleepless hour, staring up into the darkness. The blanket irked her and
she plunged it off, burrowing one cheek and then the other into her
pillow in search of cool spots. Her mother puffed out slowly into the
silence, her father a bit more sonorous and full of rumblings.
Lilly felt herself wound up tightly and needing to be run down. She was
taut as a spring. After a while she took to plucking out from the
darkness words of sedative quality.
"Dove," she repeated softly to herself, and very, very slowly. "Dove.
Beautiful, quiet dove. Saint. Cathedral. Peace. Dell."
But when she finally did drop off to sleep a smile of protuberant teeth
was out like a rainbow across her darkness.
Latitudinally speaking, there are about two kinds of Americans--those
who live west of Syracuse, and those who do not. An imaginary line
separates the tropic of candescence, fast trains, naval reviews, broad
a's, Broadway, Beacon Street, Independence Square, and Tammany Hall from
the cancer of craps, silver dollars, lynchings, alfalfa, toothpicks,
detachable cuffs, napkin rings, and boll weevils.
It is more than probable that Horace Lindsley's and Lilly Becker's
lineage were loamy with about the same magnesia of the soil. Generations
of each of them had tilled into the more or less contiguous dirt of
Lilly's progenitors had bartered in low Dutch; Horace Lindsley's in high
German, which, after all, is more a matter of geography than altitudes.
An oval daguerreotype of a great-grandmother at the harpsichord had hung
in Carrie Becker's (_née_ Ploag) home in Granite City.
A Lindsley had once presented an emperor with a hand-illuminated version
of the King James Bible, wrought out of peasant patience. Horace
Lindsley's mother belonged to a New England suffrage society when ladies
still wore silk mitts, and had dared to open a private kindergarten in
her back parlor after marriage.
It was this tincture of culture running like a light bluing through
Lindsley's heritage that began to set in motion the little sleeping
molecules of Lilly's class consciousness.
"Middle class," came to be a term employed always with lips that curled.
There were, then, actually men creatures outside the English "Fireside
Novels" she was allowed to devour without interruption by parents to
whom books were largely objects with which a room was cluttered up, who
wore spats, did play tennis in white flannels, turned down the page at a
favorite passage of poetry, eschewed suspenders for belts, were
guiltless of sleeve garters, and attended Saturday-afternoon symphony
concerts, in Lindsley's case, almost a lone male, debonaire and
unabashed in a garden of women.
At Lilly's urgent instance she and her mother often attended these
subscription concerts, seats for single performances obtainable (in a
commendable zeal to promote local music) in exchange for a newspaper
coupon and twenty-five cents.
Mrs. Becker frankly yawned through them, nictitating, as it were, during
the long narrative passages of the symphony or occupied with the
personnel of the audience.
"Look, Lilly," whispering behind her unopened program, "that's a pretty
idea over there on that red-haired girl. See the way the baby ribbon is
run through the sleeves. Do you want a dress like that?"
"Sh-h-h-h, mamma! No; it's too fussy!"
"Why don't they play something with a tune to it? I wouldn't give a row
of pins for music without any air at all."
"Sh-h-h-h, mamma. There isn't much tune to classical music."
"I wish the first violinist would play a solo. 'Warum,' like last time.
I've some baby ribbon just like that, Lilly. I picked it up on sale in
Gentle's basement bins--"
"Mamma, don't stare so."
"Don't criticize everything I do."
At one of these concerts Lilly shot out her hand suddenly, closing it
over her mother's wrist.
"Mamma, there's Lindsley. See, down there in the fourth row."
"My English teacher. See, polishing his eyeglasses."
Mrs. Becker sat straight, chin out like an antenna.
"Is that him?"
"Yes, that's he."
"I don't see anything so wonderful about him. He needs a haircut."
"Oh, mamma, you think all men have to wear their hair short and ugly
like papa and Uncle Buck. In the East men look like that."
"The idea! A man calls himself a man coming to a matinée like this. Your
papa ought to know that you have a sissy like him on your mind. Such a
looking thing! Ugh!"
These recurring intimations could sting Lilly almost to tears.
"Oh, mamma, that's just the--the meanest thing to say. Can't I show you
my English teacher without having him on my mind?"
"I never could stand a man whose teeth stick out. He looks like a
"Papa's teeth stick out."
"Yes, but just one, and his mustache hides that. I only hope for you,
Lilly, that some day you get a man as good as your father."
"How did papa propose to you, mamma? What did he say?"
Even Mrs. Becker could flush, quite prettily, too, her lids dropping at
this not infrequent query of Lilly's.
"It's not nice for young girls to ask such questions."
"Go on, mamma, what did he say?"
"I don't remember."
The overture broke in upon them then, a brilliantly noisy one from
Tschaikowsky that bathed them in a vichy of excited surf.
Settling with her head snuggled against her fur tippet, the back of her
neck against the chair top, Lilly could feel herself recede, as it were,
into a sort of anagogical half consciousness, laved and carried along on
currents of melody that were as sensually delicious as a warm bath. Her
awareness of Lindsley on a diagonal from her so that she could see his
profile hook into the music-scented dimness, ran under her skin like a
The proscenium arch curved again into her consciousness, herself its
center and vocal beyond the powers of the human organ.
The slamming up of chairs and mussy shuffling into wraps recalled her.
It was indescribably sad, this swimming up to reality. The buttoning of
her little tippet. The smell of damp umbrellas. Then the jamming down
the aisle toward the late and rainy afternoon. At the door they were
suddenly crushed up against Horace Lindsley, his coat collar turned up
about his ears.
"Miss Becker," he said, by way of greeting, nodding and showing his
Her heart became a little elevator dropping in sheer descent.
"Oh--how--do--you--do?" They were pushed shoulder to shoulder, and, to
Lilly's agony, her mother's voice lifted itself in loud concern.
"For pity's sake, look at that downpour, will you? I hope your father
has the good sense to wear his rubbers. Ouch! Don't knock me
"Mamma--please. Mr. Lindsley, I want you to meet my mother."
"Pleased to meet you. Lilly certainly has talked of her English teacher
"She is a very interesting little student, Mrs. Becker. Quite a quality
to her work."
"Well, I am certainly pleased to hear that. She's our only one, you
"Lilly has a tendency to let her imagination run away with her. A good
fault if she controls it."
"That's what her father and I always tell her. The child has too many
talents to settle down to any one. She gets her music from my side of
the house, but she quits practicing to write and she quits writing to
practice. It's not that we want our little girl ever to make her own
living, but her father and I believe in a girl being prepared, even if
she never has to use it. That's why we are having her take the
commercial course. We don't pretend to be swells, but at least we plan
to do as well for our child as the next."
LILLY (in her agony): "Come, mamma."
"I wish you could read the poem she wrote last night, Mr. Lindsley. Not
that I give a row of pins for poetry, as a rule, but I told her she
ought to take this one to school."
"Please, mamma, please!"
"If I do say it myself, it was grand. Mr. Hazzard, quite an educated
gentleman who boards where we do, thought so, too. Lilly, why don't you
show Mr. Lindsley that poem? He's authority."
"Mamma, if only you won't talk about it."
"You must bring it to class, Miss Becker."
"No, no! I've--I've torn it up."
"I don't remember all of it, but everybody considered it a grand thought
for such a young girl; it goes--"
"Mamma! Mamma--not here--now!"
"I would not have the restless soul
That sees not beauty everywhere.
I see it glint on ocean waves,
Dance through a youth's or maiden's hair."
"Mamma, they're pushing so! Good night, Mr. Lindsley. Mamma, come!"
Outside in the wet dusk they boarded an electric car, Lilly and her
mother crammed on a rear platform of the wet overcoats, leaking
umbrellas, and wet-smelling mackintoshes of dinner-bound St. Louis.
"He's a right nice young man, intelligent--but if ever a person looked
like a horse! You see, he agrees with your papa and me. You don't apply
yourself to any one thing."
Lilly turned her inflamed, quivering face upon her mother, trying to
speak through a violent aching of tonsils.
"Oh," she cried, "how could you? I'll never look him in the face again!
Oh--oh--how could you?"
"Are you crazy? How could I what?"
"The poem. The--the glint in--his hair. He'll think it was his hair I
meant. Oh! Oh!"
The ready ire which could flame up in Mrs. Becker leaped out then.
"If you are ashamed of your mother, maybe you had better not be seen
out with her again. All I am good for is to stint and manage to get you
"No, n-no, mamma, I didn't mean that, dear."
"For a horse-face like him I won't be made little."
"Sh-h-h-h, dear! The whole street car doesn't need to hear."
"I wouldn't give a row of pins for ten like him."
"Mamma, the way you--talked."
"The way I talked, what? I suppose hereafter when I go out with my
educated daughter I will have to wear a muzzle."
"I--Oh, it wasn't what you said, mamma; it was--the way you said it."
"The way I said it? That's a rich one. If I don't tell your father! My
own child is ashamed of her mother. Well, let me tell you I--"
"No, mamma, you don't understand. Take that word 'swells,' for instance.
Oh, I know I've used it myself, but all of a sudden, to-day, it--it
sounded so ordinary."
"For a hundred-dollar-a-month school-teacher that your papa has to pay
taxes to support, I'm not afraid of my p's and q's."
"And, mamma," suddenly and acutely sensitive to pleonasm, "you begin
every sentence with 'say' and you say 'certainly' so often."
"If I don't have a talk with your father when he comes home this night!
That's the thanks I get for sitting through a concert with you when I
might have been enjoying myself at my euchre club. Just get those
high-tone notions out of your head. We're simple people, not swells.
You're a changed child these days."
It was true. An ineffable ache, a darting neuralgia of spirit, too
cunning and quick for diagnosis, was shooting through Lilly her last two
years at High School.
That Horace Lindsley, who was hardly to indent her life and whose
interest in the clean-eyed girl was little more than a leaf upon his
consciousness, and whose feet were already feeling the tug of the
quicksands of mediocrity which were to suck him out of her reckoning,
should have been the innocent source of this neurosis, is hardly
Lilly, with the mysterious tenacity of a crannied flower, was pulling
from her soil toward the light. And light in all its chiaroscuras rules
the _se leve, couche_, complexion, and humors of the world. Lindsley
was a ray.
And so her adolescence came in suddenly, almost stormlike, uprooting
little forests of sapling traditions.
At sixteen she still slept on the cot drawn across the bed end and rode
her bicycle up and down the sidewalks, holding her skirts down against
the wind, but also she had ransacked the boarding-house shelves and High
School library, reading her uncensored way through _Lady Audrey's
Secret, Canterbury Tales, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Plain
Facts About Life, Arabian Nights, Golden Treasury, Childe Harold, To
Have and to Hold, Tales from Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, Old
Curiosity Shop, Diary of Marie Baschkertcheff, Pride and Prejudice,
Vanity Fair, Les Misérables, Stories of the Operas_, and a red volume
rescued from propping up the hall hatrack, _Great Lovers_.
Within that same year Katy Stutz twice lowered her skirt hems.
"Mamma, I think it is terrible I haven't a room to myself."
The entire surface of Mrs. Becker seemed to coat over with sensitiveness
to this frequently discussed issue.
"Why," her lips writhing with an excoriating brand of self-pity, "who am
I that I should want a home for my daughter, now that she is grown? Mr.
Kemble can treat his wife like a queen, but me--why, I'm mud under my
The Kemble family, on a wave of putative prosperity, had eight months
since gone to housekeeping in a rather pretentious rock-fronted house on
one of the many newly graded streets west of Kingshighway. Every Friday
night Lilly slept with Flora, the two side by side in Flora's pretty new
bird's-eye-maple bed, exchanging unextinguishable confidences well
through nights wakeful with their dreams.
"Flora has her own parlor to practice in, and here I can't even sing a
little without the entire boarding house rapping on the wall."
"It's a shame. Watch me talk to your father to-night."
"Mamma, can't I please take elocution?"
"I should say not. Aren't piano and voice sufficient? The idea! I
wouldn't give a row of pins for all the elocution in the world. Reciting
is out of date."
"Mamma, it isn't. Mr. Lindsley says the modern woman of culture should
cultivate her speaking voice the same as she learns to use her singing
voice. Please, mamma; only a dollar a lesson."
"Oh, I don't care! Goodness knows where the money is coming from, with
flax twine where it is; but anything for peace."
And so when Lilly graduated from High School, third in her class, and
again slightly to the rear of Estelle Foote, who read the valedictory,
she was executing excitedly, if sloppily, "The Turkish Patrol," was
singing in an abominably trained but elastic enough soprano, the "Jewel
Song" from "Faust," and "Jocelyn," a lullaby, and at a private recital
of the Alden School of Dramatic Expression had recited "A Set of
Turquoise" to incidental music.
Mrs. Schum's boarding house, to the man, turned out to Lilly's High
School graduation, Katy Stutz and Willie standing in the wings and all
unwittingly visible from the house. A German-silver manicure set,
handsomely embossed, bore the somewhat cryptic card, "To Lilly Becker,
as she stands on the threshold of life, from her friends in the house."
There were a Honiton-lace fan with mother-of-pearl sticks, with the best
wishes of her mother's euchre club, and from her parents a tiny diamond
ring set high in gold facets, "To Lilly, from her parents, June, 1901,"
engraved in the hoop.
That night, still in her white organdie frock, with its whirligig design
of too much Valenciennes lace, her hair worn high and revealing an
unsuspectedly white nape of neck, Lilly regarded her parents across a
little table-display of gifts.
"I feel so queer," she said, looking off through the chocolate-ochre
wall paper, the reaction already set in. "So sort of--finished.
Nothing to do."
MR. BECKER: "That was certainly a fine speech the president of the Board
of Education made. You've something now that no one can take away from
you. Knowledge is power."
"Two girls in our class are going to the University of Missouri, papa.
That's what I'd like to do--go to college."
"Don't spoil a good thing by trying to overdo it, Lilly. It is as bad
for a young girl to permit herself to be educated into one of those
bold, unwomanly woman's-rights girls as it is for her to be frivolous
and empty-headed. When women get too smart they get unattractive."
"But, papa, girls are beginning more and more to go to college, and all
women will be--suffrage--some day."
"Not womanly girls, Lilly."
"I always said that High School would be her ruination."
"I didn't learn it there, mamma. I always wanted to be something--"
"Well, you're a finished stenographer, aren't you? Why not go down to
your father's office a couple of mornings a week?"
"I don't mean stenography. I hated learning it. I mean
Suddenly Mrs. Becker, quiet at the business of wrapping away some of the
gifts, glanced up, two round spots of color on her cheeks.
"You _are_ going to do something, Lilly. Have a home and entertain in it
like other girls."
"I've a piece of news for you and your father. If I waited for him to
take the initiative I'd wait until the crack of doom."
"What is it, little woman?"
"I signed a lease yesterday for one of those yellow-brick houses--seven
rooms, bath, furnace heat, and privilege of buying. Twenty-eight
dollars, out on Page Avenue near Union. We move in two weeks
There followed one of those years which come and go even in the small
affairs of small men, when for Ben Becker swift waters flowed under the
bridge. He was just that, a small man, prided himself upon it and was
frequent in his boast: "I'm a small man, Carrie. I don't hope to make a
big or showy success of it. Just a comfortable and unassuming living is
about all I expect to get out of it, and that's a pretty good deal."
The Spanish-American War, something of musical comedy in its setting,
had run its brief malarial engagement, netting Ben Becker, in one order
of hemp rope alone, a cleanly realized profit of forty-two
On a new and gradually attained bank credit the B. T. Becker Hemp, Rope,
and Twine Company bought out the about-to-be-insolvent Mound City Flax
Twine Company, the consolidated interests moving into a two-story brick
building on South Seventh Street.
The firm took on the subtle and psychological proportions that go with
incorporation, however unassuming, capitalizing at fifteen thousand
dollars, B. T. Becker, president; Jerry Hensel, trusted foreman of
years, vice president and holder of ten shares; Carrie Becker, secretary
and treasurer and, to propitiate the law, holder of one share.
The little house on Page Avenue, too new for wall paper, still exuding
the indescribable cold, white smell of mortar in the drying, was none
the less---and with the flexible personality of houses--taking on the
print of the family. A mission dining-room set, ordered wholesale
through the machinations of one of Mrs. Becker's euchre friends,
arriving from Grand Rapids two months late, completed a careful and
thrifty period of housefurnishing. There were an upright piano, still
rented, but, like the house, payments to apply to a possible future
purchase, in the square of "reception hall"; a double brass bedstead in
the second-story front; and tucked away in the back of the tiny house,
overlooking, through sheerest of dimity curtains, a rolling ocean of
empty lots, the German-silver manicure set spread out on the dressing
table, Lilly's bird's-eye-maple bedroom come true.
Followed even then a long and uneasy period of adjustment. The up and
down stairs tugged at the rear muscles of Mrs. Becker's legs, compelling
evening foot baths. Mr. Becker chafed under the twenty minutes
additional street-car ride, eating his dinner by gaslight even in
August. The bed making and her allotment of the upstairs work irked
Lilly, even though Willie's stepniece, Georgia, came to help out once a
week, and evenings the little house could seem very still and
But after the arrival of the mahogany-and-velours parlor set, the music
cabinet, and the hanging of crispy lace curtains, Lilly standing on the
ladder, her mother steadying from below, and finally the laying of a
well-padded strip of stair carpet to eat in the hollow noises of new
tenancy, the house began to settle, so to speak.
Something latent, something congenital, even malignant, however, had
developed in Mrs. Becker. She took a fierce kind of joy, not untinged
with the mongrel emotion of self-pity, in scrubbing, on hands and knees,
the entire flight of back stairs at the black six-o'clock hour of wintry
mornings, her voice tickling up like a feather duster to Lilly's
reluctantly awakening senses.
"Lil-ly! Get up! I've done a day's work already. If I was a girl I
wouldn't want to sleep while my mother slaves."
But let Lilly so much as venture down into the wintry gaslight of the
bacon-fragrant kitchen, proffering her drowsy aid, a new flow, still in
the key of termagency, would greet her.
"Go right back to bed, Lilly. You want to catch your death of cold?"
"But, mamma, you fuss so. I'd rather help than listen. Here, let me stir
"Go back to bed, I say. I don't intend to have you spoil your hands with
kitchen work. Maybe some day your father will feel in a position to give
his wife a permanent servant girl like any other woman has."
"Mamma, he's always begging you to get one,"
"I know. Talk is cheap. Did you hear what I said, Lilly? Stop that
stirring and go back to bed! I'll bring up your breakfast after a while.
I'll fix your sandwiches for the sewing circle this afternoon."
"Oh, mamma, I just hate that circle! I wish to goodness you would let me
"I have a grateful daughter, I have. Any other child with your