Part 4 out of 8
"Ballman is a great voice builder, but he doesn't concern himself with
the future of his pupils. He's a dear old fogy with a single-track
"What did he used to say of your sister?"
"Nothing much except that he used to call her his wonder-child and shut
up like a clam when we tried to discuss her future with him. What you
need now, if you're ever really going to get anywhere, is an audition."
"One of the big opera directors to hear you. It's not easy to arrange at
the Metropolitan. Ballman has no pull. It takes a man like Auchinloss or
Trieste or one of the big guns."
"If only I could get started, Miss Neugass, on the right track!"
"I'll tell you what I'll do. When Auchinloss comes this winter I'll have
him hear you. That may pave the way to something. He's the prince of
them all. His judgment never fails. He's only stamped his approval on
five or six, but he's never missed. They say he heard Paula Anchutz
singing her baby to sleep one night as he happened to pass her cottage,
and he rang her door bell."
"Auchinloss discovered Paula Anchutz!"
"He decided her greatness after a few bars. Some day I'll read you
Millie's letter home about her audition in Vienna. After about six bars
of the 'Jewel Song' he leaped up over the footlights, screamed at her,
kissed her, drew up a chair, and began to plan out the entire campaign
of her future, so rapidly that the poor child said everything was
swinging in circles before her."
Her eyes two flaming orbits, Lilly sat staring, her lips slightly open.
"And that was the beginning."
"Yes, that was the beginning of--everything," said Miss Neugass, with a
twist on her lips.
"Oh, I--Even to hear it thrills me so that I--Thrills me so! But what,
Miss Neugass--what if he hadn't--"
"That is where you must make up your mind to take your medicine. There's
an article about him in this month's _Musical Gazette_. If he thinks
you've the stuff great singers are made of, it's a repetition of his
scene with Millie every time. But this article goes on to say, if he
rubs his hands together and says, 'Very nice,' and walks off, that means
he thinks you will probably make a better bookkeeper or baby dandler
than you will a prima donna. Millie used to write that around the opera
house in Vienna, when Auchinloss started rubbing his hands together
after an audition, everybody used to have the smelling salts ready."
"Miss Neugass--you've heard me practice. Tell me the truth! Do you think
my ambition is bigger than my voice? Tell me as you would your sister."
The veil of a pause hung between them, Miss Neugass unfolding her legs
and letting them hang over the side of the bed, as if she would flee
"Why, I'm no critic, Miss Parlow. All I inherit is some of my father's
natural musical instinct."
"You're evading me, like Ballman does! Tell me! You may save me as you
saved yourself. Am I chasing a phantom?"
"I swear to you I don't know. I like your voice. I think it has a
beautiful rich quality. I agree with Ballman, it has fine timbre."
"Timbre--I'm tired hearing that--"
"That counts in voice almost as much as range."
"No, no, don't evade. You think it lacks range?"
"I don't know. It lacks something--as if--well, if you'll pardon my
saying it, as if it didn't reach as far as your temperament could
"That's it exactly! I feel that about myself in everything--almost as
if--as if it would take another generation of me to complete me--if--if
you get what I mean."
"There is something in that."
"I know what you think in your heart. I'm a vaudeville product with a
"I'm not capable of judging."
"You judged your sister."
"Ah, but Millie's voice there was no mistaking. Her talent needed
hardly to be developed. It opened naturally, like a rose. Nine voices
out of ten have to be drilled for like precious ore. Just you study on.
I'll have Auchinloss hear you when he comes over."
"You're sure, Miss Neugass, they're coming?"
"That's what the papers keep saying. She's to sing three operas in
January, with Auchinloss conducting. We're expecting daily to hear from
my sister, verifying it."
"You don't know--exactly?"
"If only--You don't think it will be this side of January? You see,
after January my--my plans may be uncertain."
"I understand. He's to conduct his own symphony in December, to be
played the first time in this country, somewhere around Christmas in
Boston, I think."
"Will you be wanting this room then?"
Miss Neugass swung her face with its considerable dip of nose toward
"You don't think this place will hold Millie any more? You don't think,
for instance, the great Du Gass could receive the reporters--here!"
"But, after all, it's her home."
A levelness of expression came down over the face of Miss Neugass, as if
a shade had been lowered across it, her voice, too, leveled of any
"Of course," she said, "you know about my sister and--Auchinloss."
"Oh, I realize everybody knows--that is, everybody except my parents."
"That's because you don't belong yet! Wait until you've worked your way
in a bit. I've known it long enough. Two years."
"She was a baby when she left, Miss Parlow. Even if there had been the
money to send me along with her, we wouldn't have felt the need of it. I
could have staked my life on that child. Not that I'm blaming her, only
I--God! I could have staked my life."
"Already married. She wrote me the whole story two years ago. It's an
old one. So old it's got barnacles. I sometimes wonder it came to me
with the terrible shock it did. She was so young--too young to get ahead
so quickly even with her gifts. He has a son almost her age. He's forty
and she's twenty. The wife in an insane asylum somewhere outside of
Paris. Our Millie! I don't think I even realize it yet. Beauty and the
Beast they call them in Milan."
"That baby. The whole world before her. It was all with her or nothing,
she wrote, and she chose all. She sang six leading roles that first
year. It made her. I--I don't blame her, somehow--that baby. It's him I
hate. Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to hold back, when I lay hands on
him, from--killing. But I won't. I'll grin and bear it just as if her
beautiful little white self were no more to me than an alabaster vase
after it's cracked."
"And your parents?"
"That's all she writes of, now that she thinks she is coming, to keep it
from them! I wake up nights in a cold sweat over it. Wringing wet with
the fear of my job."
"Your mother and sweet little old father!"
"That's it; they're like two babes in the woods morally. They don't know
any gradation except black and white. Virtue and sin. A woman is good or
a woman is rotten bad. She falls or she doesn't."
"Oh, I know the relentlessness of that single-track code of right and
"My stepmother, good soul that she is, would take the last stitch off
her back for what she calls honest need, but I've seen her slam the door
in the face of one of our neighbor girls in trouble who's come to my
father begging for help--medicine. That's what I'm up against, Miss
Parlow, keeping from those two old people what their daughter--is."
"Oh, my dear, my dear!"
"I don't know why I'm airing my troubles here. God knows you are bottled
up enough about yours, if you have any, but I thought surely you knew.
Everyone does. Is it any wonder that my sister's home-coming is a
nightmare to me? She doesn't want to come; I can read between the lines
of her letter she's fighting it. But you see, Auchinloss is a great man.
He's been invited to conduct his own symphony at its American _première_
and naturally has taken this opportunity to bring about her American
debut. You can imagine my parents' pride."
"I can see it. Why, your father can't keep his face straight--he's
always sort of smiling, slyly, to himself."
"Their daughter, Millie du Gass, coming home with an opera triumph back
of her in every European city, the great Auchinloss himself coming to
conduct for her American debut. That is the kind of homecoming they're
looking forward to and the kind I must make possible for them. My
mother, who screams out every girl in trouble who dares to come into the
drug store for help!"
When Lilly bade Alma Neugass good night, they kissed, a dark bony hand
lingering on each of Lilly's shoulders.
"You've your decision before you yet, Miss Parlow, and you're young and
pretty, too. Much as I love that little sister of mine, and can't find
it in my heart to blame her, I know that somewhere there are women big
enough not to have to pay the price. You--there's something about
you--something so, if you'll permit me to say it, so boyish--so
clean--so wholesome. You should be big enough not to have to pay
"If only I felt that your sister--cared. That is so horrible--the
beauty-and-the-beast part. To place personal ambition above her
body--the body that holds her soul! Ugh!"
"She sent his picture. He's hairy like an ape. My. little white
sister--he's--hairy, I tell you, like an ape."
"I think I would have to want something--love something--enough to tear
out my very heart for it before I could pay her price. Nothing on earth,
Miss Neugass, can be so hideous--as that! I--I imagine it's flying in
the face of the first law of nature--nothing so hideous as giving of
Tears were racking the worn form of Miss Neugass, Lilly wrapping her in
arms that soothed.
"You musn't," she said; "you've your big job ahead of you."
Through the left wall came a sharp trilogy of raps.
"All right, ma. Coming!" cried Miss Neugass, starting up instantly, her
voice lifted and absolutely without tremor.
That night Lilly dreamed the whole of her marriage. Her father with his
face distorted by lather before his shaving mirror. The Leffingwell Rock
Church. Little Evelyn Kemble placing the white-satin cushion. Herself
and Albert finally locking the door of their new little home that
It was then she awoke with a scream.
About a week later an advertisement in a morning paper caught Lilly's
WANTED:--Refined young woman of good appearance and soprano voice, to
sing in music store. Must be able to accompany self. Apply between
twelve and six. Broadway Melody Shop, 1432 Broadway.
A recurring and dragging sense of lassitude was over her these mornings,
so that it was all she could do to drag herself through two hours of
practice in the parlor, scrupulously given over by Mrs. Neugass, who
moved constantly and audibly about the kitchen.
Her lessons, one every Tuesday morning, with Leopold Ballman, were
tiresome unmusical periods of diaphragm exercises and an entire tearing
down and reconstruction process of the previous methods taught her. It
was tedious, standing before the long gold-and-black pier glass in the
front parlor, watching the tendinous rise and fall of her lower thorax
when her forbidden arias were on top of the piano and a cabinet of
Millie du Gass's sheet music bulged there at her disposal.
The old disturbing ache would climb up to the back of her neck, and her
half-baked power of concentration falter at the arid monotony of,
There were about five months between Lilly and the hour of her supreme
travail. They might have been five years, while she paused suspended,
as it were, in this state of abeyance that hung between the hot August
day of her leave-taking of home and that chimeric hour ahead which
depended like a stalactite, stabbing space.
Her most tangible concern was a money one. The breaking of another
one-hundred-dollar bill was imminent and it frightened her. She reduced
her vocal lessons, at three dollars the hour, to one every other week,
finally discontinuing entirely, and took to haunting the agencies daily,
leaving her address where no initial charges were required and scanning
incessantly the want advertisements under Amusements.
She applied one Monday morning at the Broadway Melody Shop, a mere aisle
wedged between a theater and a _rôtisserie_, a megaphone inserted
through a hole cut in the plate-glass frontage that was violently
plastered over with furiously colored copies of what purported to be the
latest song hits: "If I Could Be Molasses to Your Griddle Cakes."
"Snuggle Up, Snookums." "Honey, Does You Love Me?" "Cakin' the Walk."
"It's Twilight on the Tiber." "Tu-Lips for Mine!"
A sort of managerial salesman in a number-thirteen-and-a-half collar and
a part that ran through his varnished-looking hair bisecting the back of
his head like a poodle's, and a soft, pimply jowl that had never borne
beard, stuck up a random sheet of music on the piano, so placed that its
tones carried straight through the megaphone to the sidewalk.
She played and sang it off easily, her tones jaunty and staccato and her
desire to please quivering through them. He stood beside her, the angle
of his body so that the sharp bone of his hip pressed against her.
"Rag up," he said once, insinuating the movement with a slight wriggle
that ran through his apparently rigid body. She quickened her speed,
leaning forward to read more surely:
"Uh-uh! my ba-a-aaby,
You drive me cra-azy,
Uh-uh! quit shovin',
I'm only lov--in'."
The words running along to a stuttering syncopation that filled her with
self-disgust as she sang them. But she finished with quite a flourish,
swinging around on the stool to face him.
"You need ragging up, kiddo. You've the speed of a funeral march."
"A little practice is what I need," she said, half hoping to obtain.
"I'll try you at fifteen a week. Eleven to six Tuesday, Thursday, and
Friday. The other evenings we close at eleven; fifty cents extra for
supper money. You on?"
"Slick, ain't you? Who peeled you to-day, Miss Bermuda Onion? Aw,
touchy! No harm meant. You're too big to suit me; I like 'em squab size.
Rag up a bit between now and to-morrow, Miss Onion."
For five weeks in the little slit of store that was foul with tired and
devitalized air, and concealed behind a screen that shut off the
megaphone device, Lilly sang through an eight and sometimes a
twelve-hour day, her voice drifting out to the sidewalk with a remote
To her relief she quickly learned that Mr. Alphonse
Rook--"Phonzie"--spent the greater part of his time at the office of the
Manhattan Music Publishing Company, under which auspices the Broadway
Melody Shop operated.
He was replaced by a salesgirl of such superlative dress and manner that
her long jet earrings were like exclamations at the audacity of her
personality. An habitual counter line-up of Broadway mental brevities in
the form of young men with bamboo sticks and eyes with perpetual ogles
in them, would while away the syncopated hours with her, occasionally
Lilly emerging from behind her screen to "come up for air," as Miss
Gertrude Kirk put it.
She was "Gert" to the boys, and from the propinquity of that sliver of
store and the natural loquacity of Miss Kirk, which would have
overflowed a much more generous area, Lilly was to learn much of life as
it is lived on that bias which is cut against the warp and woof of
society. Miss Kirk had twice been up in night court. Her mother
alternated under three aliases and was best known on the night boat that
plied between New York and Albany. Occasionally this mother visited upon
her daughter, her laughter hitting through the store like cymbals. She
had the sagging flesh of an old fowl and cheeks that had not been
cleansed of rouge long enough for the pores to breathe in and keep the
flesh alive. To Lilly she was as terrible as a plucked hen on a
butcher's block, with her head dyed to a vicious cock's-comb red and the
wattles of loose skin beneath her chin.
In fact, she was familiarly known around the shop as "old bird," and on
one occasion had invited Lilly for a Sunday excursion "up to Albany."
"Lay off, ma," said her daughter. "Fer Gossake, can't you take a
Miss Kirk's tongue was as nimble as her fingers. She used them both
lightly. Would tear the flounce off her too lacy petticoat to bind up a
messenger boy's cut finger, and no scarf-pin that came within three feet
of her was immune from her quick touch. The only hour that ever struck
for her was sex o'clock. The unmentionable lay mentioned in her
discourse so frequently that to Lilly the Broadway Melody Shop became a
slimy-sided vat, horrible with small-necked young men with flexible
canes and Gertrude Kirk's slit-eyed stare of calculation.
"I don't know what you're trying to put over, Lilly-of-the-valley;
you're one too many for me. But I'd stake my life on one thing."
"You got a caul over your face."
"Caul. Sort of veil some get born with. I know a girl carried hers
around in a little wooden box for luck. Well, you got that white-veil
kind of look that would blacklist you for the Vestal Virgin Sextet. I
can pick 'em every time. You look to me like--say, I got a little mud
puddle of my own to play in without wetting my feet in yours."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," said Lilly, crashing
out the opening bars of "Oh, Willie, I love you when you're silly."
"No?" said Miss Kirk, the slit-eyed stare of terrible sophistication
narrowing down to two blade edges.
That night Lilly eyed herself in all the plate-glass windows as she
walked to the car. She was straight as a lance, but before she went to
bed she readjusted the gathers of her skirt band, pushing them forward.
One evening, because she saw it in the window of one of the Amsterdam
Avenue petty shops, she bought, furtively, a baby dress with a little
nursery legend embroidered on the yoke. She stole home with the package
up under her coat, like a thief. Once in her room, she laid it out on
the bed. It was as tiny as the French apron of the French maid who opens
the play, and as sheer. She wanted suddenly to finger it, and did,
laying her cheek to it with a rushing sense of sweetness, and then
suddenly, on wild lashing tears of her resentment and terror, her hands
tightening into and wringing it. Dragging the suitcase out from beneath
her bed, she crammed in the little garment, and finally, strapping down
the lid again, laid her head against it, silently screaming her despair.
Strangely enough, that very night, long after the street noises had
thinned and she had heard Isaac Neugass, creeping up from the drug
store, drag the bolt across the apartment door, Lilly sat suddenly up in
bed out of a hot tossing period of light doze. She was often crying
unconsciously into her sleep these nights, so that her eyes were
tear-bitten and dilated into the darkness. The night bell that connected
from the drug store was gouging the silence with a long-sustained
grilling. Soft-soled feet were already padding down the hallway past her
door, a bolt withdrawn, then voices.
The grunty tones of Mr. Neugass and a woman's fast soprano that rose and
rent the silence like the tear of silk. More feet down the hallway; sobs
that were filled with coughing; Mrs. Neugass, pitched high in the key of
termagency; the faint, expostulatory voice of Alma Neugass; and finally
one throat-torn sob that grated like a buzz saw against the night and
the banging, reverberating slam of a door.
Barefooted, trembling in the chill, Lilly peered out into the hallway,
the grotesque procession returning down its length. Mr. Neugass bent to
his tired angle, nightshirt striking him midships as it were, the two
dim white women creeping after.
"What has happened?"
"It's nodding, Miss Parlow. It's a shame for decent beoble they should
have to listen. Wash your ears out of it, Alma, and go back to bed."
But instead, to Lilly's importuning arm, Miss Neugass slid into her
room, closing the door softly behind her, standing there shivering in
the blue kind of darkness.
"It's the old story," she said--"some girl in a fix and trying to get pa
to help her. It makes me sick, positively sick."
"Every once in a while some poor creature comes begging pa to break the
law and help her. It gets him wild. Any girl who doesn't want her child
is a monster and every girl in trouble a vicious sinner. This poor
little thing didn't look seventeen; I couldn't quite understand her. A
Pole, I think. Something about the beach at Coney Island. A man she'd
never seen before or since. My mother in her righteousness! Her
terrible, untempted righteousness. Her easy righteousness. The law in
its righteousness. It can be just as wrong and horrible to have children
as it can be sublime. What right has that little underbred girl to bring
an illegitimate life into the world? The law doesn't provide for the
illegitimate child. Why should it provide for its birth? What right had
my father to withhold his help? ... There are worse crimes than taking
human life; one of them is to give life under such conditions."
"You mean, Alma, there's a way not to--a way out?"
"Why, you poor baby! Of course there is if you see to it in time. That
is, during the first few weeks."
"Oh, five or six at the outside. Go back to bed, girl; you'll catch your
death. O Lordy! such is life!" And went out.
For the third time in her life, Lilly fainted that night, standing
shivering in her nightdress for a second after Miss Neugass had left. In
a room barely wide enough to contain her length she dropped softly
against the bed, and, her fall broken, slid the remaining distance to
After a while the chill air from the open window revived her and she
crept shudderingly into bed.
Two weeks before Christmas such a gale of house-cleaning swept through
the Neugass apartment that the scoured smell of pine-wood floors and the
scrubbed taste of damp matting lurked at the very threshold.
Then one Sunday morning Mlle. Millie du Gass and maid, also Felix G.
Auchinloss, were registered at the Waldorf.
All that day there wound into Lilly's room the aroma of fowl simmering
in their juices, the quick hither and thither of feet down the hallway,
and later the whirring of an ice-cream freezer and the quick
fork-and-china click of egg whites in the beating. For days she had
hardly glimpsed the family, except as they passed her on excited little
comings and goings, and always package-laden. A strip of new hall carpet
appeared, Miss Neugass nailing it down one night, calling out short,
excited orders through a mouthful of tacks. The piano had been tuned.
A sense of delicacy kept Lilly to her room that bright cold Sunday. She
did her breathing exercises; washed out some handkerchiefs and
stockings; tightened the buttons on a pretty new brown coat with a touch
of modish stone-martin fur at the collar which she had purchased, not
without qualms, for twenty-seven dollars and a half, at an
Then for two long immobile hours she sat with her cheeks crumpled into
her palms, staring out across the sun-washed roofs and roofs.
At noon she took in a bottle of milk from the window sill, thawed it,
slid a hatpin along the wrapping of a new tin of biscuit. She alternated
between bites and sips, sitting on the bed edge, her gaze into the
design of the wall paper.
At home they must be sitting down to dinner, her father adjusting his
napkin by the patent fasteners and tilting back his head for the
invariable preamble of throwing the contents of his water tumbler down
at a gulp. Her mother in the hebdomadal polka-dotted foulard, her bangs
frizzed. Albert gnawing close to the drumstick, jaws working.
As a matter of fact, just that scene was at just that moment in its
enactment, and in all the fullness of her intuition she now knew it as
unerringly as if it had flowed in replica to her through time and space,
etching itself in dry point into her consciousness.
How often and with uncanny fidelity to fact her retroactive state of
mind had guided her step by step over the site of the domestic disaster.
Her parents' home, reaching around like an amoeba, inclosing Albert in
living walls. The slow readjustment, dumfounded rage, and despair
simmering gradually to bitterness and hardening finally to despair. The
soft, sensitive ground of their sorrow constantly spongy with the
wellsprings of grief beneath, but the surface bubbles showing less and
less, and ultimately a hard dryness setting in. Her heart would hurt as
tangibly as if the surface of her body were red with a wound from it,
yet, sitting there at her milk and biscuit, her gaze into the monotonous
repetition of wall-paper design, the thought of that Sunday dinner out
there, with its invariable roast chicken, bread stuffing, candied sweet
potatoes, and lemon-meringue pie; the Sunday-afternoon lethargy; the
hypothenuse of her father asleep in his chair, the newspaper over his
face; Albert, the celluloid toothpick moving along his lips, puttering
around at favorite locks and bells; the mere visualization was such a
fillip to her present that she lay back on the bed, stretching her arms
and legs like a great, luxurious cat, her lips curved to a smile.
At five o'clock, as she lazed there, Alma Neugass burst in without the
usual scrupulously observed preamble of a knock. There were two round
spots of color out on her long cheeks, and her white cotton shirt waist,
always bearing the imprint of sleeve protectors, was replaced by a
dark-blue silk of candy-stripe plaid, with a standing collar of lace
that fell in a jabot down the front, held there by an ivory hand of a
brooch. There was something of the mausoleum about poor Alma, the grim
skeleton of her everyday personality finding but icy warmth beneath the
ivory, lace, and the seldom-warn black broadcloth skirt that was pinned
over two inches at the waistline to hold it up.
"Did you think I'd forgotten you? I haven't--but it's been such a rush."
She sat down on a chair edge, pressing a bony hand to her brow.
"You poor thing, you're dead tired."
"They're here, you know. Docked this morning, almost twenty-four hours
ahead of schedule. They--they would have come up immediately, but
customs detained them three hours. They are at the hotel now and won't
be up until supper. It's all so confusing. The reporters and
photographers on their trail. He won't let anyone at her until she's
rested. I talked to him over the telephone. His voice is--hairy."
"I've never seen you look so nice, Miss Neugass."
"If I stop to think, I'll scream."
"Then you mustn't stop, dear."
"You should see my father; he can't sit still. I never realized how
little and--old he's getting until I put his black suit on him. He's so
full of pride he--Oh, what a mockery--for him to dare to come
"Miss Neugass--this is not the time. Not now."
A cocaine sort of courage seemed to lock her face back into its rather
"You're right," she said. "I'm acting like a fool," and rose. "What I
came in to say, get into that little pink dress of yours about
nine-thirty and I may be able to manage it for you to-night. Two minutes
of his time may mean everything to you and nothing to him."
Lilly flashed to her feet.
"Keep your head. Sing the 'Jewel Song.' It's always a good, showy
standby. Let go--the way I heard you practice the other Sunday
morning--and forget that it's Auchinloss or anyone else listening
"No, no, not to-night, Miss Neugass. I--I'm not prepared. It's too
"It's as good as any other time. Besides, to-night we have him here, and
there is no telling when we will again. This isn't what you would call
the ideal headquarters for a pair of celebrities. I suppose, if the
truth is known, Millie dreads bringing him here at all. Besides, they
leave to-morrow for Boston, and with the line-up of entertainments the
newspapers say are planned for them, there is no telling when we will
get him alone again."
"I'm not in voice these days. It's all roughened up since I'm singing
downtown. I--oh, I'm not ready to-night, Miss Neugass."
"Nonsense! Don't ask Opportunity to wait outside when he knocks. He may
move on and not return."
"I--I'm so frightened. I've such--such odds against me--right now. What
if he only rubs his hands and says, 'very nice'? What if--"
"That's where you'll have to swallow your medicine. After all, even the
great Auchinloss represents only one man's opinion."
"But his judgment has proved itself--time and time again."
"That's why you have the chance to-night that comes once in a lifetime.
It was just before midnight, after a four-hour period of waiting in the
pink mull dress, when came the summons which brought Lilly into the
presence of Felix Auchinloss.
Cramped from the long period of taut waiting, she was so dry of throat
that in spite of constantly sipped water she could only gulp her reply
to Miss Neugass's knock and eagerly inserted head.
"Quick! He'll hear you now before they leave." She followed her, without
a word, down the hallway and into a front parlor brilliant with the
full-flare gas jets, a bisque angel in the attitude of swinging dangling
from the chandelier, and, swimming in the dance, a circle of faces.
"Miss Parlow, this is my sister, Millie du Gass."
A Greek chorus could have swayed to the epiphany in Millie's voice.
With her short bush of curls, little aquiline profile true to her
father's, tilted upward, as if sniffing the aerial scent, her slender
figure Parisienne to outlandishness, the stream of Millie's ancestry
flowed through the tropics of her very exotic personality. She was the
magnolia on the family tree, the bloom on a century plant that was heavy
with its first bud. Even at this time, slightly before her
internationalism as a song bird was to carry her name to the remote
places of the earth, a little patina of sophistication had set in,
glazing her over and her speech, which carried the whir of three
"And this is Doctor Auchinloss. I've told him about you and your
eagerness for a foothold. He's going to give you a little home-made
audition. Will you hear Miss Parlow now, Doctor Auchinloss?"
The face of Felix Auchinloss, also to become familiar through subsequent
years of American dictatorship, seemed by the hirsute vagary of a black
beard joining up _via_ sideburns with a Pompadour of sooty black, to
peer through a porthole. It did just that. A face in window looking out
with very quick perceptions which ruffled it not at all, upon a world
that came to him chiefly through two channels, his supernaturally
attuned hearing and his palate.
He could detect a slurred note of the sixteenth violin in the crash of a
ninety-piece ensemble of orchestration, and one-eighth-of-a-second
miscalculation of his two-minute egg could embroil a breakfast table. A
creature of elbows and knees, such as a chimpanzee is, the backs of his
hands were hairy, but the eye seldom strayed from his face. It knew its
Huxley, that face, its Hegel and its Kant. It loved the smoothness of
young girls' bodies. It was attuned to the music of the spheres. It
could hold in leash the outrageous temperaments that responded to his
baton and look with impassivity, even cruelty, upon torture. Mostly the
torture of women. Also it could brighten out of its imperturbability at
the steaming sight of a dish of _sauerbraten_.
There had been no _sauerbraten_ on Mrs. Neugass's festive board, rather
fowl, in a white glue of gravy and great creamy dumplings, and under
three helpings and the steady pour of an extra lager the great
Auchinloss had expanded and expounded.
His glance, still warmed, took in Lilly at a sweep finding resting place
at the swell of her bosom.
There was something about Lilly as she stood thereof the winglike
smoothness of a little wild duck, wet from a skim across water. A slick
and pale kind of beauty which ordinarily held little appeal for him
except that her bosom was very white. Very, very white, he thought.
"Zoprano?" he asked, his gaze still beneath her chin.
"Om-m-m-m!" After the manner of having his doubts.
"You accompany her, Felix," said Miss du Gass, not unkindly and actually
with an intensive kind of eagerness, as if for the diverting of
He seated himself at the piano, his great knees at a wide stride, hands
riding down the keyboard in an avalanche of improvised octaves.
In black silk that stood away from her, Mrs. Neugass sat by, not
releasing hold of Millie's hand, her eyes as if they could never finish
their feast of her. Her timidity forbade her much that she would say,
and so she sat smilingly silent and held the little ring-littered hand,
stroked it and lay it to her cheek. To Lilly, who had never seen her out
of the cotton-stuff uniform of housewife, it seemed to her that
something of her Old Testament beauty had died beneath the bunchy jetted
taffeta that brought out in her the look of peasant--her husband in
camphoric broadcloth suffering the same demotion.
"Now doan' get egcited," said Mr. Neugass, himself shaken of voice.
"Remember it is home folks."
"She's all right, pa, if you don't make her nervous," said Miss Neugass,
seating herself stiffly on a stiff chair, her face, as the evening wore
on, cold of its flush, and tired rings coming out beneath her eyes.
"What do you prefer to sing?" asked Millie du Gass, again, kindly.
"The 'Jewel Song.'"
On her words the opening bars crashed out, and, to Lilly's
consternation, far too rapidly, so that she ran with her breath, as it
were, for the opening notes, lifting to it nicely, however, and, by
miracle, quite at her truest.
The state of her invariable vocal exultation began to mount, her
consciousness of scene to recede, and, anticipating her coloratura
climax, she started to climb, building for warble. Her blood was
pounding and her voice in flight. Up went her chin. It was then Felix
Auchinloss swung on the stool, snipping off the song like a thread, his
face in its window, full of a new impassivity, and this time his eyes
off somewhere behind Lilly's left ear.
"That is verra nize," he said, moving restlessly about the room as if to
throw off an irksome moment, and then winding his hands and winding
them, "a pretty voice as far as it goes, and verra, verra nize."
There was a silence that seemed to wait, and Millie du Gass, her laugh
like glass beads falling from a snapped chain:
"You must come down to the hotel, dear, some day, where I've a concert
grand. This darling old tin pan! You should have seen, Felix, the way
pops used to make me practice on it, rapping me over the knuckles. You
old darling pops!"
"Papa's baby-la," he said, pinching her cheek.
"If you will excuse me now, please, I--won't, intrude any longer."
"Good night, dear; it was just lovely. Good night," joined in
everybody, too kindly.
Walking out of that room, Lilly was conscious suddenly of passing
through a prolonged stare, especially from Mrs. Neugass, who leaned
forward slightly in her chair--a stare that prompted her somehow to
quicken her departure almost to a run.
* * * * *
Out of a night that had flowed around her in a bitter sort of blackness
that fairly threatened to drown her, she floated up toward morning to an
exhausted doze, her face tear-lashed and her breathing sucked in sobbily
as she slept.
It was out of this that she awoke suddenly to a bombardment of knocks at
"Come!" she cried, sitting up rather alarmedly in bed, and holding the
blanket over her chest. She was lovely and disheveled with sleep, her
whiteness whiter because of the most delicately darkened oyster shells
beneath her eyes.
It was Mrs. Neugass. She was pleasantly shapeless again in cotton stuff,
her bosom bulging down and over the jerked-in apron strings.
"Wait, I'll get up and close the window, Mrs. Neugass!"
"You doan' need to," she said, slamming down the window herself, opening
the floor register, and seating herself rigidly on the chair that faced
the bed. "I want a little talk with you, blease."
"Why, yes, Mrs. Neugass!" A wave of memory and a sense of physical
misery swept over Lilly so that it was difficult for her to force the
smile. But she did, sitting up in bed and hugging her knees with bare
With nervousness patent in every move, Mrs. Neugass sat forward,
pleating and unpleating a little section of her apron.
"I guess you know it, Miss Lilly, that with all the honors we got by our
daughter, we're still blain, respegtable beoble."
"For fifteen years in one business in one neighborhood we've such a
standing that from three blocks around they come to my husband he should
keep their savings. My girls--I can say it on a bible--more than
anything around them was always respegtability."
"If I'm mistaken, Miss Luella, and blease God I should be, then excuse
me for a foolish old woman, but is--is everything all right with you,
"Mrs. Neugass, I--What do you mean?"
"I took you in for a student, a girl alone from her home town, but not
once since you're with us--I can't help it I got eyes--so much as a
postal card. All right, I said time and time again to my husband, she
don't have friends to come and call on her, because she's a stranger in
New York. Neither did my Millie have so many friends, I guess, the first
few weeks in Munich. But no letters--not a line! I know _goys_ ain't so
strong on family ties, but once in a while a letter--"
"I don't quite see where the matter of my correspondence can be of
interest to you, Mrs. Neugass."
"No, but it is of interest to me if everything is all right with you. If
everything is over and above-board, as the saying is, Miss Luella!"
There was a throb to the silence, as she sat upright there in bed, that
seemed to shape itself about her, like a trap. She buried her face
suddenly into her hands.
Then Mrs. Neugass rose, edging around the back of her chair as if to get
clear of even propinquity.
"I'm right?" she cried, hoarsely and rather coarsely. "I'm right, then?
I took into my home a bad girl?"
Out of bed, her feet hastily into slippers and fumbling into her kimono
so that the flow of her hair went down inside it, Lilly approached Mrs.
Neugass, her gesture toward her and entreating.
"Mrs. Neugass, you're horribly wrong in what you suspect. You must
listen to me--"
"You can exblain nothing to me except to get your clothes packed. How it
goes to show you never can tell beoble from looks. Even my husband, who
never gets deceived in human nature, 'She's a refined, intelligent girl
to have around,' he says. My stepdaughter! A girl I am as careful with
as if she was still eighteen, should go out of her way to get you before
Auchinloss! No wonder he says it you are limited and that you fall just
short of fine talent. You don't deserve it no better. Ain't you ashamed?
You bad girl, you! I'm only sorry for the mother you say you got--your
"Mrs. Neugass, this is outrageous! You haven't the right to speak to me
like this! It was wrong, I admit, to--to deceive you. But I had my
reasons--you wouldn't have taken me in. I'm not what--what you think
"I don't care what you are and what you ain't. I only want you to pack
your bags and go."
"I won't go until you've heard me out!"
"We're respegtable beoble!"
"Oh, I know, Mrs. Neugass, your kind of respectability. I was reared on
it. It's the cruelest respectability in the world. It has no outlook
except through the narrow little bars of the small decencies you have
erected about yourselves."
"That fine talk don't save a girl's skin when she's in such a fix like
"I've more claims to your precious kind of respectability than you--than
"I don't _think_ no more. I know! I don't say it's the nicest thing I
should have looked once through your things. Even then I must have felt
it in my bones. That little dress with the nursery rhyme on the
yoke--how it was I didn't get suspicious then? All of a sudden last
night, though--even while you was singing, it come over me, all these
weeks I must have been blind."
"I tell you I'm a married woman. I was married last July in the
Leffingwell Rock Church in St.--in a city I don't care to name. I
suppose that constitutes me a moral woman in your world of cautious
morality. But in my eyes I'm a moral leper. Not because I did not marry,
but because I did. Married for every reason in the world except love. No
marriage ceremony in the world can condone the immorality of that!
Society may, but God doesn't. From your point of view, then, I'm a
respectable woman. From mine, I'm rotten."
"I don't know what it is you're talking aboud. If you are what you say
you are, what does it mean living around in decent beoble's houses in a
condition like yours? It's an insult to my daughters you should be here.
The right kind of a married woman don't live around New York in such a
way like you. There is something very crooked in the woodpile."
"If that is what bothers you, won't you please, dear Mrs. Neugass, sit
down and let me tell you the whole story? I need you--"
"The whole story, Miss--Mrs. Parlow--or whatever it is you call
yourself--ain't what bothers me. All I want is you should go while my
husband is down in his store and my daughter in her position. I am
ashamed they should know. I'm lucky yet I saved myself from having a
disgrace in the house a few weeks from now."
"Oh, Mrs. Neugass, be careful! You may have cause some day to--"
"A singer she wants to be! Is it any wonder, miss, you got no luck? A
girl like you don't deserve it. I'm sorry enough for your poor mother.
Married or no married, I want you should leave here. Quick, you bad
girl, you! I'll wait outside till you go."
So Lilly was subjected to the bitter, the unspeakably vulgar humiliation
of gathering her belongings like any culprit servant girl, cramming
them, blind with tears and frenzy, into the suitcase and valise, tears
scalding down and rolling over her hands as she dressed.
As she staggered finally down the hallway, the two bags grating the
walls and her hat awry from haste, Mrs. Neugass stood at the door,
holding it open.
"Here," she said, "is your rent back for four days--"
"Don't you dare, Mrs. Neugass, to offer me that! Only let me out,
please, from this outrageous predicament."
"You got righd. It is a outrageous predicament. Ach! shame on you! Such
a fine, clean-looking girl like you. Indeed, you don't got to ask to be
let out twice."
Thirty minutes later, and because her wildly beating brain could figure
out no alternative, Lilly sat on a bench in the waiting room of the
Grand Central Station, bags at her feet, trying to subdue her state of
Eleven o'clock moved around largely on the station clock. She was due at
the Broadway Melody Shop. Still she sat on, the palpitating surface of
her gradually slowing its throb. The reverberating terminal, then at the
excavating state of its gigantic reconstruction, rang to the crash of
steel with the fantastic echo of tunnel and of blasting. Its constant
conglomerate of footfalls reduced to the common denominator of a
gigantic shuffle, it swelled toward the noonday schedule, with more and
more rapid comings and goings. A light snow was announcing itself in
little white powderings across overcoat shoulders and in the crevices
The new brown coat enveloped her warmly enough, but she shivered as she
sat, at the same time committing the paradox of unbuttoning and flinging
its double-breastedness away from the beating of her very being. After a
while she gave over her bags to the obliging eye of a shawled Polish
girl on the bench beside her and crossed to the Information Bureau. A
clerk gave her precedence over two men.
Yes, there was a St. Louis train out at two-five. Another at six.
She returned and sat in the midst of a third bustling hour. A young
woman with an infant, and a whole archipelago of luggage surrounding
her, finally replaced the Polish girl. She was as fadely and straggily
pretty as a doll that has been left lying on the lawn throughout a night
of heavy dews. Every so often the tiny head would spring back from the
soft fount of her breasts, a cry rising thin and spiral as smoke.
"Sh-h-h, baby! He won't eat," she said, plaintively. "It's just
terrible; we've tried everything and he won't eat."
Lilly put out her hand toward the small ball of head, but withdrew it.
"Poor little baby!"
"My sister's gone to the matron to get him some barley water before he
gets on the train. There is a grand matron here at the station. I left
him with her all morning while we shopped, and he never whimpered. The
barley water was her idea. He won't eat. It's terrible. He 'ain't gained
in six weeks. The doctor says we've just got to keep trying until we hit
a formula that agrees with him."
"Formula? How funny! Sounds like chemistry."
The young mother cast a commiserating eye.
"I'd hate to tell you what it sounds like about two P.X. I've been on a
visit to my mother in Brooklyn, but he yelled so of nights the whole
flat was kicking. You ain't, by any chance, taking the two-five St.
Louis Limited, are you? Brazil, Indiana, is mine."
"Ever been there?"
"I've passed through."
"Some dump, believe me. I keep saying to him, 'Keep me out here much
longer, Fred, and you'll have to ship me home in a wooden kimono.'"
"Coffin. Get me?"
"Then Brazil isn't your home?"
"By transplanting, yes. I never married out there, believe me. We was
both born and raised right here on the little long and narrow island,
till he got a better job out there with the telephone company. Believe
me, I'll take my little old fifteen a week in New York to thirty a week
out there, bungalow setting thrown in. Bunk-a-low, I call it."
"But isn't it better for the baby?"
"That's right, too. I always say to my twin, I say, 'Myrt, if you don't
think I got harder hours than when I worked next to you in the Five and
Ten, and no pay day, neither, just trade with me one day and take care
of the kid and the bunk-a-low.' I always say to Fred, I say, 'If you
think you're dog tired, fasten a speedometer on my ankle and read it
when you come home nights and see who's taken the most steps.' It's
hell, anyways, when they won't eat and you can't hit the right formula."
"You wouldn't give 'em up after you got 'em, but believe me it's a wise
girl will think twice before she has 'em. A girl gains a lot by
marrying--maybe. But believe me, she gives up a lot--sure."
"But you married the right man."
"Yeh; but Nature is a trickster. How you going to know where her
intentions leave off her and your own begin? Fred and me ran off.
Regular love affair. I suppose I am one of them that picked right; right
as a girl with my disposition could ever pick. If I hadn't, believe me,
eight hours for me behind the counter in preference to eating the rest
of my breakfasts across from the wrong face. Sh-h-h, Freddie baby! Can't
you see my back is breaking? Sh-h-h! Auntie Myrt's gone to nice matron
for barley water. For the love of Mike, sh-h-h! or mamma'll spank."
The twin fluttered up then, a vivid italicized prototype, on slim tall
heels that clicked and a very small red hat set just at the angle of
sauciness. They moved off together after a bickering over luggage, the
slim silhouette with the chin sharply flung up and the accentuated
sway-back figure of the little mother, her skirt sagging over run-down
heels, and, for want of a free hand, blowing up the loose strands of
hair from out her eyes.
For a time Lilly sat quite intently, her gaze on a small sign that hung
at right angles from an open doorway, "MATRON." After a while she
gathered up her luggage and walked over, entering a little room fitted
up with the efficient and institutional unprivacy of public service. On
a couch, her face to the wall, a woman in a traveling duster lay
stretched, hat and all, in an attitude of exhaustion, a young girl with
a wayward fling of posture, sitting sullen in a corner, her very pointed
and heeled shoes toeing in. A three-year-old child with a large tag
pinned across his little dress played with railroad-owned blocks; the
matron, a sort of stout Lachesis, with a string of keys at her belt,
gray with years and the rather sweet tiredness of service, sorted towels
at a rack. It was to her that Lilly spun out a ready tale, reddening as
she talked, but stanch to it.
"I'm from Indianapolis. I want a quiet place for the next few months.
Two, to be exact."
Sweeping her with a look. "Are you in any kind of difficulty?"
"No--not that! I've left my husband. We agreed to separate. I want a few
weeks of quiet until--afterward, and then I can arrange to start out
on my own."
"You're too nice a girl to--"
"I'm not asking anything. I am not the kind you are evidently accustomed
to deal with here. It is simply that I'm strange."
"Have you no friends?"
"None with whom I desire to communicate."
"Well," doubtfully, "there is the Nonsectarian Home for Indigent Girls
and the Hanna Larchmont Lying-in Hospital--"
"Oh," cried Lilly, with a sting of color to her cheeks, "you don't
understand! I have funds. I tell you it is just that I am strange. I
want a medium-priced place to live for the next few weeks, where it
won't be embarrassing."
The matron unlocked a drawer.
"I have a few addresses here of private rooming houses in the Hanna
Larchmont Lying-in Hospital and Bellevue districts, if that is what you
want. Personally inspected places that can be recommended for their
cleanliness and respectability."
"That is exactly what I need."
"You will find no questions asked so long as you conduct yourself
quietly, and of course you are expected to make your plans for leaving
well in advance of any emergency. There are several private sanitariums
in the neighborhood."
"Here are three addresses. The first is in East Seventeenth Street, just
in back of the Hanna Larchmont. It's a very nice place run by an old
Irishwoman who has a lace-curtain establishment in the basement. Here
are two others on the same block, in case she has rented her room."
"I'll go there at once," said Lilly, taking the memorandum.
"If I were you I should go back home to friends. It is too bad that a
girl like you should find herself in this position. Won't you let me
"Thank you"--lifting her bags again--"you have helped me a great deal."
That night Lilly slept in a small back room, two flights up, over a
lace-curtain-cleaning establishment. It was cruder and rougher than
anything she had yet encountered; a white-pine table with a washbowl and
a toothbrush mug, and a black iron bed that at first glance had sent
darting through her a sinking sense of institution. But it was clean,
and a sparse Irish landlady with a moist pink presence that steamed hot
suds had left her without question and one week's advance payment tucked
into her bosom.
Before going to bed, after she had looked under it and turned out the
gas jet, she went over to her single window, opening it wide to the bite
of a winter's night and shooting up the shade. Her view was again of
roofs and roofs and chimney pots, dirtier, this time, and dingier, and
marching against the sky line, like a dark herd of buffalo, a long range
of buildings, blackened of bricks.
It was the Hanna Larchmont Lying-in Hospital seen from the rear.
When Lilly returned to the Broadway Melody Shop that morning following,
there was already a voice driving with such nasal power into the
sidewalk din that she hardly needed to enter to learn of her successful
There was an entirely new hauteur incasing Miss Kirk, who upon her
entrance wound into an attitude.
"I was ill."
"I guess the place is filled. Oh, it's all right!"
"Better go over to the office and see Phonzie about it. All I know is
they sent over a pair of lungs that can stop traffic when they let out.
Forty copies of 'Cinderella Ella' just like hot cakes the first time she
telephones it out to 'em! Hauls in a netful every time she opens her
mouth, and, some mouth! 'Phonzie,' I telephones over to him this
morning, 'thank God she's screened from the public or somebody would buy
her for codfish balls.'"
"Do you think there might be something over at the office for me? I've
had some training for desk work, too."
"Don't know. I always told you to put some nose into your voice. Let
out, that's what they want in this business. You never came out enough
from behind your tonsils. The refined stuff through a megaphone has
about as much chance as a violet in the six-o'clock rush. In other
words, dearie," finished Miss Kirk, her rather close-set eyes focusing
upon the tip of Lilly's nose, "I think you're fired. Canned, so to
speak. Replaced, as it were."
Lilly laughed, forcing her head high to deny disconcertment.
"Well, anyway, that saves me the trouble of resigning."
"Yes," said Miss Kirk, her gaze suddenly long and full of portent, "I
wouldn't be surprised."
To Lilly's heated consciousness the grilling quality in that gaze was so
unmistakable that it plunged into her like an arrow. She walked out,
stinging with it.
Hurrying toward the music-publishing office, she caught suddenly her
reflection in the plate-glass window of a shop devoted to Broadway's
intense interpretation of the prevalent in modes. She stood, in the very
act of motion, regarding this snapshot of herself. Then she entered,
emerging presently in a full-length dark-blue cape with gilt buttons and
little pipings of red along the edge. It was neither so warm nor so
durable as the brown coat, and cost her the rather sickening sensation
of breaking into a hundred-dollar bill for twelve dollars and
But it was immensely becoming, this flowing wrap, enveloping her like a
wimple, her face rising out of it as clear as a nun's. Nevertheless, it
was her realization of need for it that quite suddenly ended her quest.
She turned for home, stopping at the Public Library for one of her
frequent perusals of the St. Louis newspapers. She read quickly, her eye
skimming the obituary, personal, and social columns. For a week there
had daily appeared a little insertion which invariably caused her a
twist of heart:
To Sublet: Furnished. Seven rooms and bath. Brand new from top to
bottom. Every convenience. Will sell furnishings if desired. Spacious
front lawn. Poultry yard. 5199 Page Avenue. Apply 5198 Page Avenue.
Then one day it disappeared and something lifted from Lilly's heart.
This time, as she opened the St. Louis paper of just one week previous,
a small oval photograph leaped at her from a row of them, choking her as
if it had clutched at her throat.
In a full-page advertisement, Slocum-Hines Hardware Company announced to
its many friends a twenty-fifth anniversary, the entire sheet bordered
in small oval photographs of the personnel of valued employees.
"Albert Penny, first-assistant buyer." Regarding it, her consciousness
of his promotion was secondary to a feeling that straight lines joining
the four corners of Albert's face would have produced almost a perfect
rectangle. A little farther on was Vincent Bankhead, buyer, and on a
lower row, Ralph Sluder, with whom she had graduated from grade school.
Strangely enough, in this very edition the name of Horace Lindsley
sprang out at her from the tiniest of type in the marriage-license
column. Horace Lindsley, 3345 Bell Avenue. Carol Ingomar Devine, 3899
Westminster Place. The name of the bride was associated in Lilly's mind
with the society columns of the Sunday _Post-Dispatch_. A hundred little
pointed darts shot through her, and even now the old sinking but
delicious sensation of too sudden descent in an elevator.
That night she went to bed with a toothache, a biting little spark of
pain that toward morning became a raging flame rushing against the
entire inside of her cheek. She could not trace its source, every tooth
seeming to stampede.
All of the day following she lay with her face buried into her pillow,
abandoning herself utterly to creature discomfort. Toward evening she
ventured down as far as Fourteenth Street for a bowl of milk and toast,
but the pain raged on, tightening her throat against food, and she crept
back to the haven of her cheek to Mrs. McMurtrie's scorched pillow slip.
After another two nights of local application and the rather futile
business of holding warm water in the sag of her cheek, she found out,
at the direction of Mrs. McMurtrie, a neighborhood dentist who occupied
a suite of rooms over a corner drug store, the large grinning picture of
a boy, with a delighted hiatus of missing front tooth, painted on each
window and giltly inscribed, "It Didn't Hurt a Bit."
It is inconceivable, except that under duress of great pain Lilly could
have engaged services so obviously quasi professional, but she was past
that perception by now, her nerves from brow to shoulder crackling like
Examination by a dentist with gray pointed side whiskers that flared and
brushed her cheek unpleasantly, revealed a pair of abscesses gathering
within the gum, and for weeks of mornings she lay back to the agony of
steel incisions, for the remainder of the day stretching out on her iron
bedstead, face to wall.
Then for a few days a premature spring came out teasingly. The East
Seventeenth Street block, with its rows of houses, going down none too
debonairly, from gentility to senility, showing a bud here and there.
There even remained one private residence with a polished door bell and
name plate and a little cluster of crocuses in an iron jardinière set
out in a front yard about the dimension of an army blanket.
Crocuses, whose cold, moist smell, with all the pungency of associations
an odor can arouse, somehow suggested, to Lilly, Taylor Avenue and
little Harry Calvert. She did not remember it, but Harry had once stolen
two satiny red ones for her from a Taylor Avenue flower bed and been
soundly cuffed by a housewife.
A block away, Gramercy Park, a rectangle of the Knickerbocker New York
of the woodcut, red-brick sidewalk, salon parlor, and crystal
chandelier, was already lacy with the first leafwork of spring. Several
times, when the sun lay warmest, Lilly ventured into its Old World
sobriety, strolling around the tall grill fence that inclosed the park.
It was locked against the public, nursemaids from surrounding homes and
a few old ladies stiff with gentility holding keys. Children from the
raggedy fringe of Third Avenue played without awareness, against the
outside of the iron palings, too young, and, anyway, too imprisoned in
class, to resent one more monopoly even of God's sunshine and the brown,
warm earth already swollen with life about to be.
It seemed to Lilly that almost any of these mild days Washington Irving,
in pot hat and lace in his sleeves, might come strolling this pompous
Square. She bought a manhandled copy of Volume I of Knickerbocker's
_History of New York_ off a secondhand bookstall one day, and read it
sitting on the sun-drenched stoop of one of the old houses whose eyeless
stare and boarded windows bespoke one absent family. Off this same stall
she also purchased a volume of Wordsworth's poems, feeling a vague, a
procreative, and who shall say mistaken need for beauty. Over and over
she read, milking each phrase dry:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting and cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory, do we come from God who is our home.
She read of daffodils as if she would steep her soul in the sun of their
yellowness, bought some one morning and propped them in the
She practiced her shorthand, too, these days, in a blank book bought for
the purpose, sometimes an hour--even two or three--until the sun receded
off the stoop.
Then for a week it rained, and from the patch of back yard, two stories
beneath her window, began to mount the moist smell of living earth.
Beside this open window, after the harrowing mornings of dentistry, with
a soft rain falling from a sky swift and low with clouds, she wrote, her
pencil dabbing constantly at the well of her tongue, a short story of
some six thousand words composed out of the fabric of an idea that
suddenly presented itself. She copied it in her most painstaking
handwriting, on one side of foolscap, and sent it, with return postage,
to a popular magazine.
She was venturing out less and less, preparing over a portable oil stove
her own breakfast, and very often her own lunch and dinner. She tried to
sew, too, cutting up one of the sheerest and prettiest of her nightgowns
into a litter of small garments, but almost immediately her hands would
fall idle and the great waves of terror begin to surge.
Certain inevitable decisions crept closer. She decided against the
Hanna Larchmont Hospital, its very foyer awakening in her such a
sickening sense of public institution that she ventured no farther, but
engaged a tiny room in a private sanitarium in Nineteenth Street, at
twenty dollars a week, and the privilege of boarding on two or three
weeks after her discharge.
Her bag of three new one-hundred-dollar bills still hung in all its
reassuring entirety from the little pink ribbon about her neck, but the
confronting dentist's bill of twenty-five dollars, and the slow but acid
process of daily expenditure eating into the thirty or forty dollars
left in her purse, lay uncomfortably against her consciousness.
By a series of constantly repeated calculations, particularly if the
short story should bring in even a check large enough to cover the
dentistry, Lilly planned to span the weeks of her narrowing interval
with the three bills intact, but pretty shortly the first piece of mail
she had received in New York arrived in a long, bulky envelope:
MY DEAR MISS PARLOW,--Thank you for submitting the accompanying
manuscript. It does not quite get across in this office, but it is near
enough to our standard for us to want to see anything more you may care
to submit.--THE EDITOR.
That night Lilly cried again all through her sleep, presenting herself
next morning at the dentist's with heavy, rimmed eyes. It was her final
visit, and before mounting the chair she laid down her carefully
counted-out payment, five five-dollar bills, in a little pile on the
Doctor Hotchkiss, with the offshoot of white whiskers from each jowl,
and who was fond of pinching her cheek as she lay under his touch,
moistened his fingers and counted.
"The charges are fifty dollars," he said.
She was immediately startled.
"Why, Doctor Hotchkiss, you said twenty-five!"
"Fifty, with the bridgework, my dear young woman," he said, the words
swimming in the oil of his suavity.
"You said twenty-five."
"You misunderstood, my dear young woman. Twenty-five would not pay for
the amount of gold I used. Fifty is what I said. Fifty dollars," his
She looked her despair.
"I--It's not honorable. I asked you distinctly. What if I haven't it to
"That is not my business," he replied, his entire manner roughening up.
"You have forty dollars' worth of my gold in your mouth and the law
provides for receiving goods you can't pay for. You've got it, all
right, and if you haven't, from the look of you, there is some one
behind you who has."
She colored so furiously that her eyes smarted to tears as she reached
down into her blouse for the little chamois bag.
"Give me fifty dollars," she said, cramming the five five-dollar bills
back into her purse, holding a crisp new hundred-dollar bill out to him,
her voice as fluttering as a broken wing; "but nothing--nothing will
ever convince me that you have not taken advantage of me."
He counted her fifty dollars off his own roll, all the more suave.
"You will find you have made a mistake, my dear young woman. This is a
strictly one-price office. Now I will take out that temporary filling
and finish you up."
She was loath to mount the chair, except that the nerve was jumping
again. For half an hour she lay under his touch; finally, as he fumbled
to untie the bib-like towel about her neck, his lips descended so close
to her cheek that she could feel their cold, liver-colored caress touch
her finally in a kiss. She sprang to her feet, jerking the towel away
from her neck and rubbing it across the defiled spot.
"How dare you! You cheat! You miserable creature! How dare you! You come
near me and I'll call the police. Let me out of here! Out!"
She ran from the place with her hat in her hand, across the street, and
up two flights to her room. Panting and drenched with perspiration, all
day she lay on the little iron bed, her face to the wall, shuddering.
"O God, where are you driving me? What are you driving me on for? Where?
Why? What does it mean?"
At dusk, with a sense of weakness entirely new to her, she rose to
undress, resting after each discarded piece of clothing.
She could hear Mrs. McMurtrie passing through the outer hall, a tin
bucket, on one of its frequent errands to Joe's place across the street,
grating against the wall. The room took on a deeper and soupy color of
twilight, the great pachyderm of the Hanna Larchmont Hospital casting
Suddenly, one of those boltlike perceptions that can spring out
apparently from space, Lilly clapped her hands to her throat, her
breast, the back of her neck. Her bag, the little chamois bag, and the
pink ribbon at her neck were gone! She shook through her clothing in a
frenzy of haste; she tore each piece inside out; slapped her hands over
the washstand; flung back her mattress, plunging her fingers into every
imaginable crevice. Dragged out the bed; jerked up the tacks from the
carpet, turning back the corners; felt along the dark, narrow halls and
down two flights on her hands and knees; shook out her clothing again.
The hair came down over her shoulders and her reasoning seemed to go.
That hand fumbling to untie that bib-towel. Those pointed whiskers
approaching her cheek. The little pink bow at her neck. Those liverlike
lips. That soft, boneless hand at the back of her neck had jerked out
the bag! O God! that soft, slimy kiss and the little jerk of the bow at
the back of her neck! and fell down with a screaming that brought Mrs.
At noon of the next day Lilly Penny lay in the public ward of the Hanna
Larchmont Lying-in Hospital, a premature mother by some weeks.
Lilly Penny, whose trousseau had included twelve of the sheerest batiste
ones, in a coarse, unbleached nightdress not her own and the least
gentle to her flesh she had ever known.
There was a row of her of which she was the whitest; wan women, big-eyed
with pain, who had gone down into the canons of death that there
might be life.
She had a slow, vagarious notion that all of the cots were tilted, so
that they appeared each on a cross, these mothers. It was sad to lie
there in that etheric world, yet somehow pleasant. The frieze on the
auditorium of the St. Louis Center High School was unaccountably before
her. It was still sown with lilies, but with babies' heads for calyxes.
Her mother, her teeth set with effort, was scrubbing something. A window
sill? Who was calling? Mamma--Flora. You wouldn't give 'em up after you
got 'em, but: it's a wise girl that'll think twice. She felt so white.
Never, in fact, had she enjoyed such a sense of her whiteness. She held
up her arm to regard the column of it, and wanted to laugh, but it was
easier to cry.
They brought her child. Hers, Lilly Becker Penny's. A huge tray of them,
like a vender's street-corner offering of spring flowers. Tiny human
blooms with a tag at each wrist. Incredible!
"Three guesses," said the nurse, through a smile, and held out the human
bouquet toward her. She could scarcely breathe. She wanted to scream, to
draw up the sheet over her head. To suffocate. Herself, external to
herself, was breathing out there--off somewhere in that tray. She tried
to pull up the covers over her head. A hand would draw them away. There
was a black one in that row of little pink nubs of humanity! Heads like
hard-boiled eggs not quite cooked through. No! No! No!
Suddenly Lilly raised to her elbow. The second from the end! The big
head. The full-blown spring-tight curls! The color of honey. The blue
eyes that were almost ready to turn gray. The tag on the wrist. Number
two. The tag of her own unbleached gown? Number two!
"Give me!" cried Lilly, on a sudden mounting note that left a little
resonance like a plucked violin string.
"Right the first time," cried the nurse, lifting the second from the
end, "and a little beauty she is."
That little living ball of head in the crotch of her arm! She leaned
forward to the flameless heat of it, her lips moving and wanting
"What is it, dear?" asked the nurse.
She moved them again, but still silently.
The nurse bent lower, her ear to the pillow.
"Now what is it, dear? Say it again."
This time through the veil of a whisper she could hear quite clearly:
There were vagrant little streams of water, released by thaw, hurrying
along against the curbs of Second Avenue, the absolutely impeccable
spring day that Lilly Penny walked out of the Hanna Larchmont Hospital
into the warm scented bath of its sunshine, a blanketed bundle in the
crook of her arm that mysteriously seemed to animate the nap of the
wool, lifting it and suggesting the little life it enfolded.
She felt strangely light and giddy that life could have gone clattering
on outside those dim weeks of hers inside the walls.
She had gone down in a dark, a fantastic hiatus in her scheme of things,
and it was incredible that out here were street cars still clanging for
right of way, pedestrians weaving in and out the great tapestry of a
city day, factory whistles splitting asunder with terrific cleavage the
fore--from the afternoon. There was a hurdy-gurdy rattling tinnily
through the morning that must have played on uninterruptedly through
this strange demise of hers.
School children, the air raucous with them, sped home for luncheon
through streets that already smelled of sun on asphalt. She had never
really noticed them before. That little fat girl with the braids. How
pretty to loop them up that way behind each ear with bright red bows.
She pressed against the little warm life at her bosom. She felt throaty
with laughter, and the tears of a delicious weakness that made her ache
to lie down somewhere in this sun, close to the soft bearing earth whose
secret she knew now, and open this bundle. Hers! It was the first moment
of her actual ownership. Reality was reclaiming her from that unreal
realm of doctors and nurses and the dozy detached period of her
She wanted to run with her living loot to some quiet corner and open it
up. There was a little square of park with a municipal-laid-out bed of
tulips across the street, but its benches were crowded with humanity,
like sparrows sunning themselves on a wire, and the winding of its
asphalt paths swift with the hurry of all the strangely uninterrupted
She hurried toward Seventeenth Street--could have run, in fact, such a
resurgence of the old vitality was upon her. Before one of the private
houses a rheumatic-looking oleander was in the supremest moment of its
full bloom. It lit up the old street as if a bride had donned her veil
there. Outside the cleaning establishment were two stretchers of lace
curtains sunning themselves against the wall.
Lilly hurried up the stoop and pulled out the bell that rang dimly in
one of those subterranean retreats peculiar to landladies.
Mrs. McMurtrie herself opened the door, as usual her great hands
steaming and swollen with suds.
"Well?" she said, her arm immediately flung up to the virago's akimbo
and her foot sliding in between the door.
In an agony of anxiety over possible exclusion, Lilly's words came so
fast they hardly allowed for the coherence of spacing.
"How do you do, Mrs. McMurtrie? I've returned and I'm fine. I'm so
sorry about that--that night and the trouble I must have caused you.
Thank you for sending my bag after me. It's a girl. She's the best
little thing, Mrs. McMurtrie. Doesn't cry at all. I'll only be wanting
her with me for a few days until I can get her placed somewhere near me,
so I can spend evenings and Sundays with her. I've such plans! I'm ready
to take a position again and forge right ahead. If I might have the old
room, Mrs. McMurtrie, I promise you that you won't know she's in the
house these few days. It won't mean one thing in the way of extras for
you, but I'm willing to pay more. Nothing except a little alcohol stove,
and if your little girl could watch her for an hour or two once in a
while, when I'm out, I'll pay her, too. Gladly. My bag is at the
hospital. I'll send for it--"
"Be saving your breath," cried Mrs. McMurtrie, flinging her gesture
upward with a cluck of the fingers. "I wouldn't give that for your yarn!
You're a hussy, from the looks of the whole business, and I've a mind to
be suing the railroad station for the sending of you to me. You
mentioned the husband of your own free will. Your husband! Faith, and
not so much as a relation turning up to be with you in your trouble.
Husband! You'd better be going and telling that to the Home for Indigent
Girls. Your husband! Bah!"
To a door slammed full in her face Lilly stood there for a stunned
instant, hugging at her bundle. She would have liked to crumple up, to
have felt the earth open and drag her down to a merciful oblivion, but
after a while she turned and walked down those steps, fumbling with her
free hand for an address she had applied for at the hospital information
desk, against possible emergency.
The slip of paper read Nineteenth Street, almost in a straight line
from where she stood. It was a morose, lean building, only two windows
wide and five stories high, with a porcelain sign above the bell,
"ROOMS." A wrinkled pod of a woman opened the door.
"I'm looking for a room for myself alone except for a few days until I
get my baby placed--"
"Nothing," answered on the click of a closed door.
With her lips almost ludicrously lifted to stimulate the crescent of a
smile, Lilly descended. There were passers-by and one or two of them
turned for another glance, and more than ever she kept the smile
Then she instituted a campaign down one side and up the other of two
blocks of Nineteenth Street. Finally there came a whimper from the
depths of the blanket, and a light and coughy little cry against and
into her heart.
She stood on the corner, arguing with herself for a clear brain, the
easy fatigue of weakness beginning to descend and a queer unsteadiness
of limb setting in.
"Don't lose your head, Lilly," she admonished of self. "There is a way,
only you haven't yet struck it. Don't let your brain feel trapped. Keep
cool. Quiet. Dove. Peace. Cathedral. Sweet and low. Sweet and low.
Neugass. No. Gertrude Kirk. No, no! If only Mrs. McMurtrie--Indigent
However, after a while she did turn back through toward Second Avenue,
her feet quickened with a destination she could not bring herself to
admit, and so she loitered, inquiring at three more front doors which
had now come to have an angry scowl for her as she mounted their
Between a Home for Lithuanian Aged and a Swedish bakery and lunch room
that she had more than once frequented, a black-and-gold sign spanned
what at one time had been the noncommittal front of a stately
residence--"Nonsectarian Home for Indigent Girls."
Ascending these steps, she could feel the glance of every passer-by
boring into the very back of her head, awls crawling through and through
her. She tried to drag her hat down over her eyes. Her black velvet
sailor, modish enough when new, had suffered somewhat in the hurried
packing off of her things after her. The buckram rim, misshapen from too
close quarters, flared rather outlandishly off her face, so that after
she had pulled the bell she stood with her back to the sidewalk, while
the sign above seared into her.
Induced by the warmth of the day and the bundle of blanket she carried,
a pox of perspiration had burst out on her face, but the little
whimperings against her heart had died down so that she dared not risk
the jolt of reaching for her handkerchief.
She was admitted finally into one of the large salon parlors that had
lost its beauty as a woman can lose hers. Stripped of the jewels of
crystal chandeliers, long mirrors, and glittering floors, it remained
now a gaunt strip of room, divided by a low fence and swinging gate into
office and waiting room.
There were long windows that looked out upon the polyglot of Second
Avenue, which even then, over a not quite abandoned elegance, was
donning its Joseph's coat of seventeen nationalities and dining,
bartering, and gesticulating in as many languages.
On a strip of bench between the windows Lilly sat and waited.
The movement of the room coagulated about the figure of a woman seated
at a desk on the office side of the partition. Girls, to Lilly it seemed
a whole phantasmagoria of identical ones with short hair and eyes none
too young, passed in and out of the little swinging gate. Suddenly it
struck her, with such a wrench that she almost cried out, that here was
no illusion. They were uniformed, these girls. In dark-blue cotton
stuff, with three rows of white tape running around the skirt hem and
white bone buttons up the back. Through the doorway one of them was
washing down a flight of stairs, raising a cold, soap-and-lye smell.
Another, with a splay smile that was terrible as a wound, wiped in and
out among the spokes of the banisters, her face as without muscle as a
squeezed orange, and smiling without knowing that it smiled.
Sitting there with her bundle closer and closer to her heart, Lilly
closed her eyes to that smile.
Above all, she knew that she needed to keep clear, and yet across the
swept horizon she tried to create, silhouettes of thought such as these
would move, fantastic as cloud shapes.
"Who am I?" And then, with her old untrained probing after reality: "How
do I know I am not dreaming? Where am I going? What is it I want? How
terrible! Me, Lilly Becker. This place is like the poorhouse at home,
that time the High School sociology class visited it. Zoe, are you real?
Mine alone! Not his. Mine. You must be the miracle and show me the way,
Zoe. You shall be me plus everything that I am not. To have missed the
ecstasy of you is not to have lived. If Auchinloss could hear me now.
Who knows? I may, yet. What if I am like Joan of Arc, heeding a vision,
only I don't know which way the vision is pointing. Funny. Oh, but I'm
going to clear the way for you, Zoe. No Chinese shoes for your little
feet or your little brain. Free--to choose--to be! That's the way I'll
rear my daughter. My daughter! Queer I never think of him, her father.
Zoe--what if you don't want to be saved from what I'm saving you. The
fatness--the sedentary spirit of--out there. But you are me plus
everything that I am not. You will want to be saved. You will."
It was out of this limbo that Lilly was finally summoned, through the
little swing door to an empty chair beside the desk.
She thought she had never beheld such eyes as were turned upon her
through polished eyeglasses with the complement of a wide black-ribbon
guard. They were the color of slate and cleaned for impression. The
eight cases that had preceded Lilly were gone from them just as the
eight cases to follow would erase one by one.
"Sit down," she said. Then, "Girl or boy?"
"Zoe. Oh, you mean my name? Let me explain. You must understand that I
am not--indigent. I am looking for a room. I've just come out of the
hospital with my little one, and you have no idea how difficult it is to
find lodging where there is a child."
"What is your name?"
"I--I must beg of you not to--to take an attitude toward--"
"If you want me to help you, my dear, you must trust me. What is your
"Lilly. Your files won't help you. I'm not on record--that way. Lilly
Parlow for professional reasons, but I want her christened by her full
"What is your family name?"
"Your last address?"
"Where did you sleep last night?"
"I told you. Hanna Larchmont Hospital. I received my discharge to-day."
"Is the father of your child your lawful husband?"
"Where is he?"
"Out West--where I came from."
"D-d-denver, I think."
"Why are you here and he there?"
"Oh, you mustn't question me like this! I left him of my own free will,
after I found I had made a mistake. I am not asking anything of you. I
can pay. I want a room for me and my baby, for a few days until I get
her placed. I can make certain arrangements for her and take up my
"What is your work?"
"I am a singer."
"Where are your friends?"
"I have none."
"You are quite sure that this man whom you call your husband--"
"I won't be talked to in that tone."
"Of course, you realize that you are a highly specialized case."
"Do these institutions merely function as machines? Is no provision made
for the exception? Rent me a room for me and my baby. I will pay you in
advance. See, I have five five-dollar bills in my purse. I must have a
place to sleep and I won't leave here unless you forcibly eject me. I
must have my luggage; it is still at the hospital."
"How is it they did not help you there to make further provision for--"
"I didn't explain. It seemed inconceivable that I could not find
"I see," said Lilly's interrogator, with the air of seeing not at all.
"Your case does not come under our kind of jurisdiction. Our girls are
unfortunate mothers who are cared for here until such time as
arrangements can be made to place the child. But no girl is entitled to
our nursery and infirmary service for more than four consecutive weeks,
and then, as I said, only in the event of unfortunate motherhood."
"Can only the unmarried mother be unfortunate?"
"I hardly care to discuss with you the wisdom of our policies."
"But you must," cried Lilly, now thoroughly beside herself. "What about
the girl who would rather fight out her own destiny than live through
the miserable and immoral--yes, immoral--process of a marriage that she
realizes has been a mistake? Is there no provision for the woman who
hasn't a man-made grievance against society? Who simply wants her
one-hundred-per-cent-right to live? Women are coming to demand it more
and more, that right! I venture to say that ten years from now they will
be voting themselves that right. Now we're like a lot of half-hatched
chickens pecking through the shell. I've pecked through! My daughter may
live to see them all pecked through."
"Really, I can't see--"
"To-day a woman on her own with a child has only one meaning. I've been
treated like a leper. Suppose, for argument, my child hadn't had a
legitimate father. All the more reason a hand should have been held out
to us. But I'm not asking anything. A night's lodging, madam, for which
I can pay. Here it is in advance. I'm not going to leave!"
The child was whimpering now lustily and wanting to lift its little body
from the long confinement of wrappings. There were tears and anger and a
brilliant sort of challenge in Lilly's voice and in her glance that
seemed to dart and glance off the starchy shirt waist of the figure
behind the desk. She sat clicking her pencil against her teeth, eyes
averted, as if to galvanize herself against a personality that dared to
intrude itself through a "case."
She openly regarded her work, this Miss Letitia Scullen, who was one day
to lay down her life valiantly enough at the altar of typhus in
war-stricken Rumania, as an exact science. Indigency, like typhus, was a
pandemic which must ultimately respond to an antitoxin. It was as if her
forty-seven charges were sick, and she reading the blood test of
indigency, prescribing in toto.
"If you are what you say you are, then you are not entitled to the
benefits of this home. Our girls here receive absolutely collective
treatment along lines worked out for their general needs. Your case is
an isolated one. You are not in need."
"But please, please, please, is there no need except that covered by
vice? Can you not conceive of a plight being all the worse because there
is no provision for it?"
"It is unthinkable that a woman like you, of evident refinement and
education, should find herself in the predicament you describe."
"Then thank God for being a rebel, if it will make you ponder on what is
new, untried, and not according to formula. There are only two kinds of
women you social workers recognize. The sheltered ones and the
unfortunates. What about the woman who is neither, but merely out on her
own? I try to meet life as an individual and not as a woman. What
happens? Doors slam in my face. I can't buy a night's lodging for the
child in my arms. It sounds like a thirty-cent melodrama. And now you,
whose life study is life--I tell you I won't be turned off. You must
take me in."
"It's very irregular."
"We don't accept paying inmates. You may make the institution a present
if you so desire. I'll put you up in the infirmary--it happens to be
empty; and you may have the use of the nursery equipment adjoining, and
there is a practical nurse in the house. Understand that this is
entirely outside the regulations of the institution and I must ask you
to make different arrangements as soon as possible."
"Thank you," said Lilly, ashamed to be grateful and the tears pressing
against her eyeballs. "Oh, my dear, thank you! Thank you!"
And so it came about that in a room of five white cots and three barred
windows, with the aid of a practical nurse and a tiny gas stove on a tin
mat, Lilly prepared her daughter for the night.
In her bag, lugged over from the hospital by one of the uniformed girls,
was the little layout, parting gift of the institution, including a
machine-stitched flannelet nightdress that Lilly could have wept over
as she fastened the thick button at the throat.
Still, with the chapped-faced nurse moving about the bare, ugly room on
her everlasting mission of efficiency, diluting the formula to just the
proportion required, rubbing the little bud of a body with coarse
cornstarch, the sense of ownership did not descend upon Lilly.
She wanted to feel this new estate of hers. In all the three and a half
weeks there had never been a moment of privacy, to give reality to this
pink-and-blue-and-yellow bloom that had somehow flowered from the tree
of her being.
She wanted the quiet to reconcile this new, this terrible, this
throat-throbbing sweetness with the Medean fury which had flung her, a
shuddering, choking mass upon that rooming-house floor. She wanted to
feel again and again the quick, ecstatic brash that could race in a wave
over her when she held this warm rose of life to her breast.
At just before nine there was a wordless round of inspection from the
white starched shirt waist surmounted with the spectacles and the
black-ribbon guard, a final look-in from the nurse whose face was
Swedishly blond and pink from chapping, a bottle of milk placed in the
small refrigerator, and the little bundle on the pillow covered with an
extra thickness of murky blanket.
At nine o'clock the lights went out just as Lilly had slid into her own
gown. She tiptoed to the door, barefooted, locking it and thereby
violating a rule of the institution. There must have been a moon
somewhere behind housetops, because through the three shadeless windows
a sort of gleam whitely powdered the silence.
She was suddenly full of fear there in the darkness and the aloneness,
and ran over to the cot for the miracle of that soft body to her flesh.
She lifted it from the nest of coarse pillow, even in sleep the tendril
of a little finger closing about hers.
There were crisscross shadows on the floor, cast there by the iron bars
at the windows. Her child lay asleep in an institutional garb of
charity. The father of that child, ignorant of its very existence, was
at that moment, and at a distance of one thousand miles, adjusting a new
rubber stopper to the bathtub in the home he shared with his
On one of the empty cots the rather silly silhouette of Lilly's hat, its
buckram rim sadly broken, persisted through the gloom. Her shoes, in a
little attitude of waiting beside a chair, lopped slightly of a
tipsiness induced by run-over heels. In the jumble of changing hands the
black valise of her underwear, handkerchiefs, and baby garments had
disappeared, so her little washed-out chemise, quite dainty, hung drying
over a table edge.
Outside the Home for Indigent Girls a city that took absolutely no
reckoning of Lilly wove its pattern toward another to-morrow.
She was alone with the first realization of her child, in a moment that
might have shaped itself to crush her. She felt a throbbing that seemed
to make a rush for her throat. She sat down on the bed, leaning over
until her body formed a sort of cave about the child. She had a sense of
the power to strangle both their lives out there in that strange
darkness. An old fear leaned out at her.
"Am I mad?"
More and more the sense of wanting to strangle flowed over her.
A cry leaped up under her pressure, startled, and with a stab of pain in
She swooped the little squirming burden up under her chin; she buried
her head into the warm froth of curls, the light wind of her laughter
suddenly sweeping the room.
"Mother's darling! Twiddle-de-darling. Moonlit flake! Beautifulest.
Zoeist flower in the world. Mine alone! Alone mine! Oodle-de-dums.
* * * * *
There followed for Lilly a week of scars, each exactly as deep as the
day was long.
First, the heartbreaking business of giving over her child to the
chappy-faced nurse and a rear room of nursery hung in the odors of
formaldehyde and lined up into a ward of white iron cribs, each screened
in with a clothes horse of little flannel garments of a thickness that
wrung Lilly's heart.
There were now two additional occupants--a poor, top-heavy infant with a
fourteen-year-old mother, father unknown, and the teething baby of one
of the blue-uniformed inmates whose routine allowed her periods of the