Part 5 out of 8
day to nurstle her child.
That was the wrench that began each day. To abandon the pink-and-white
bloom that slept all night without crying in the cove of her arm, to the
grayness of a nursery that should have been pink and white and sweetly
fragrant with powders and puffs and the rosy kind of tufted coverlets
with scent between them that her mother had once sewn over with bowknots
for the Kemble baby.
She was guilty of extravagances that ate menacingly into the four
remaining five-dollar bills. Against the protests of the practical
nurse she promptly discarded the long muslin swaddling dress, whose
superfluous length wound around the little feet, purchasing three short
and sheer ones, also a doll-size toilet set painted in little clumps of
forget-me-nots. The hair brush had a thick, soft nap which would spin
out her child's curls into a cloud of gold. They really were the color,
these curls, of a jar of strained honey seen through sunlight. It was as
if she could never tire of feeling them wind to her finger.
The nurse she kept placated with tips in outlandish proportion to her
funds, and often a memory of that dip of lip curving terrifyingly across
her consciousness would scurry homeward to this gray-and-black abode of
theirs, which only contained them on a tolerance that day after day
seared deeply into her being.
Slowly but surely her none too immaculately shod feet ceased their
pilgrimages to the agencies. She did apply one sultry morning in answer
to an advertisement for a "refined indoor entertainer, city work," only
to find the usual fee exhortation thinly backed by promises. For the
most part she marked off at her breakfast table in the adjoining Swedish
lunch room, under the newspaper heading, "Help Wanted, Female," the
demands for stenographers, companions, hat models, and, on one occasion,
for a cashier's vacancy in a Madison Avenue florist's.
A persistent streak of circumstances seemed to prohibit her success.
Upon three occasions it happened that she waited all morning in a line,
only to see the applicant directly in front of her chosen for the
position. At the florist's shop, bond was required. A lawyer in the
Flatiron Building asked her to type a specimen letter for him, and laid
heavy lips on the curl at the nape of her neck as she bent to his
dictation. R.L. Ginsburg, of the Ginsburg-Flatow Millinery Company,
engaged her services, and kissed her squarely on the lips to seal
The straight line of those lips had undeniably softened. She walked
about with them usually moist and slightly open, and the arch of her
brows very high. She had softened ineffably, like a ripened fruit; was
more liable to the backward glance of the passer-by.
During these days that were lifting now, each its frankly lashing tail
of terror, there were smiles all along the way for Lilly--old faces
smiling at and young faces with her, often to the assuagement of the
tightening knot of terror at her heart.
With her trick of mind that could close itself against any concern
beyond her immediate future, her one burning desire was for a
competency, to be earned preferably at stenography, since that would
leave her evenings free, and which would tide her over these first weeks
of difficult readjustment. To find and afford for this amazing liability
of hers the kind of temporary asylum that would set her free for the
scheming out of her new cosmos.
She found out, at the instance of the practical nurse, a sort of
semi-private institution on Columbus Avenue, but a trip through the
wards and nurseries sickened her. There was a score of little blue
gingham dresses, dingy fabrics that seemed to darken childhood, flapping
on a rear clothes line, and one two-year-old child lay asleep on a step,
his little white frock, with black anchors printed into it, furiously
smeared, and one hand clutching a sticky gingersnap.
She did not even inquire further, but got out quickly, trembling.
The proprietor of the Swedish bakery gave her an address of a Mrs.
Landman, a practical nurse who might consent to board the infant of an
employed parent. So on the very day of the lawyer's encounter there was
another sickening journey to what proved to be a tenement in West
Fifty-third Street. The newel post to the entrance was defaced with
obscene handwriting, the hallways were like cellars, and there was a
sign in the window, "Madam Landman, Midwife."
She did not linger to ring the bell, but worked her way downtown again,
toward the lawyer's office _via_ the florist's establishment, always
with an eye to minimum car fare.
That night she lay awake the night through. Another bed in the infirmary
was occupied. One of the girls had spilled scalding tea along her arm,
and all night to her groanings Lilly lay staring into the darkness, her
child so in the cove of her arm that its slight breathing fanned
It was one of those long, calculating nights full of alternatives no
sooner contrived than rejected. Only one state of surety came
crystalline out of it.
There was no going back.
Twice she rose and, with much of her old revulsion curiously gone,
greased the scalded arm by the puny aid of a night light that flowed in
from the hall when the door was opened.
At five o'clock her child began a lusty paean to the dawn. She heated
the milk and held the warm bottle tilted until it was emptied with the
strong, deep draughts that delighted her. There was distinctly more gold
out day by day in the ringlets, and the eyes were turning gray and
could fill blackly with pupil.
After that Lilly sat in her nightdress beside the window, her eagerness
for the day allayed to an extent by her rising sense of panic. She tried
to lay her despair. Unthinkable that this new day, dawning so pinkly
over chimney pots, would not prove itself a friend in her great need. By
eight-thirty, at the instance of a newspaper advertisement, she was the
first applicant at the Acme Publishing Company, East Twenty-third
Street, a narrow five-story building with ground-floor offices and a
tremor through it from the champ of presses.
She obtained this time from a woman who accepted her lack of reference
She, too, asked her to compose a specimen letter acknowledging receipt
of a translator's manuscript. She accomplished it with a glibness that
brought a flush to her cheek and a smile to the face of her employer.
Lilly thought she had never beheld such spick-and-span efficiency as
this woman's. The smooth white hair arranged with a conservative eye to
the prevailing mode. The clean, untired skin and rather large, able
hands. She made mental note of the crisp organdie collar and cuffs, and
was suddenly conscious that her shoes were too short of vamp, and her
heels run down because they were too high. A revulsion of taste flowed
over Lilly; she hated suddenly the rather tawdry cape piped in red, and
mentally retailored herself with a new feeling for simplicity.
Her sinkage of heart at the proffered eight dollars a week was followed
by a quick resurgence of vitality at the prospect of the
advancement held out.
Her predecessor was being promoted to first reader!
_The Paradise Trail_, a best seller of the moment, had been written in
those same offices during spare moments of one of the proof readers.
The Acme Publishing Company printed paperback editions of translations
from the more highly papriked of current French novels. The instinct to
write rose in Lilly, the quick flame of her faddism easily aroused. Here
was nothing more than a stroke of fate. A long-laid plan for a novel
lifted, an entire panorama of resolutions dramatizing themselves.
The easy hours from nine to four. Long evenings at work beside the crib.
A _nom de plume_, of course--Ann something. Ann Netherland. But eight
dollars! Her heart tightened.
She had obtained, the day previous, at a Lexington Avenue Children's
Hospital she chanced to pass, the address of an institution at Spuyten
Duyvil said to be conducted for the children of professional parents,
and conducted by Minnie Dupree, an old stock actress remembered by the
generation preceding Lilly's for the heavier Shakespearean roles. Her
mind leaped to this. Yes, she would return at two o'clock, ready to
begin work, and went out into a day warm with sunshine.
A quick resolve formed itself. She inquired at some length in a corner
drug store, finally taking a train for Spuyten Duyvil, and fifteen
minutes later descended to a little station upon the edge of a park that
was brilliant with new green.
More inquiry, the disdaining of a cab, and a twenty minutes' walk along
curving asphalt walks with houses far enough back to lose their
identities among trees. A sense of summer and hope swept her.
The Dupree place was an old homestead of painted gray brick and ugly
with the millwork and gable bulging wall and tower of American
architecture in most horrific mood, but a smooth green lawn fell
plushily away from it on four sides and it was all Lilly could do to
keep from running up the walk. Her child in the sweet air of this fine
old spot! Out of her eight dollars a week she could manage four, even
five if need be! Her embarrassment was only temporary. Any arrears
incurred she could make up later if only it could be arranged.
There were long, cool halls, a sun-flooded kindergarten, an open-air
playroom on the roof, and a white-enameled nursery with a row of
ducklings waddling across the walls, and Mrs. Dupree herself, who
stopped at each stair landing for ready and copious explanation.
She was very corseted, very mannered, and quick to attitudinize. A
flight of framed photographs of her followed the staircase upward step
by step, in which she registered at a considerably younger period such
staple states as Anger, Meditation, Humiliation, Vengeance, Love.
She was still a commanding figure with copper-colored hair that for ten
years had wanted to turn gray, a face of furiously combated wrinkles,
and eyes deep with black or blackened lashes.
She was the declamatory kind of Lady Macbeth who had stepped into the
role flatly on a No. 7 last, rather than from a Juliette who had
fattened into the part; that congenial stateliness now thrown completely
out of plumb by a violent limp, which, resulting from a railway
accident, threw out her entire left leg as she walked.
All the velvet was unconsciously out in Lilly's voice coping with the
Dupree extravagance of manner.
"Do you accept them as young as four weeks, Mrs. Dupree?"
"Bless you, dearie, the three weeks' duckie darling of Cissie de Veaux
is our youngest at present."
"The comic-opera Cissie de Veaux?"
"Why, honey child, Cissie tells it on herself, she never would have had
those ducky twins of hers five years ago if she hadn't known there was a
Minnie Dupree Infantary. That is our aim, here, you know. To give the
child of superior professional parents the most superior environment
that money can buy."
"Elaine Bringhouse, daughter of Harold Bringhouse. Ever seen him in
'Hamlet'? Before your time, I guess! Poor Harold in his day was the best
all-around Hamlet in the country. Cry! I wish you could have seen that
child's father cry on Elaine's fifth birthday. We don't keep them over
five years of age here, you know. Bless her! she's in a road company of
'Little Miss Muffet' now. Yes, indeedy, dearie, that's a book of
testimonials there on that table from my children's parents. I take it
you're a professional, dearie?"
"Oh yes--yes. Concert and--vaudeville."
"I'm a retired member of the profession myself. A little before your
time, bless you, but ask anyone who remembers the Manhattan Stock
Company about Minnie Dupree. Why, I played Lady Macbeth opposite Claude
Melrose when he was making thirty dollars a week in Fredericksburg
Stock. Did he use my cutting of the banquet scene all those years after
he struck Broadway? He did. Did he give credit where credit was due? He
did not. Oh, my dear, I could tell you tales! The dirt I've had spun me
in my day. Maybe Minnie Dupree never saw Broadway, but dirt! If there is
so much as a speck on my name, God strike me dead. You voice, dearie?"
"Ah, voice! Ask anyone who knew me in the Manhattan Stock if they
remember Minnie Dupree in 'The Silver Lute.' Donald Deland as fine a
Macbeth as ever strode the boards! That's his picture there as Iago.
I'll show you his little grandchild up in the nursery. 'Min,' he used to
say, 'if you'll throw over Edward Dupree, I'll give you a year's voice
training at the academy and put you up against Melba.' Ah, my dear, I
hope yours is a happy one."
"I threw away a career for the caprice of a man who cast me off like an
old glove. Be careful, dearie. Here in the Infantary we never ask
questions of parents, believing it the right of everyone to work it out
her own way, but look twice before you leap in this life, dearie. I
could tell you tales! The dirt I've been spun!"
"Oh, Mrs. Dupree, what a sunny, lovely nursery! How happy I would be if
my little girl could come to you here."
"My people want the best, dearie, and I give it to them. I've put the
last ten years of my life, since the accident, dearie, to making this
home one the profession can be proud of. My nurses and doctors are the
best. We only accept them from two weeks of age to five years, but look
over that album of testimonials--"
"Oh, this bright, lovely nursery is sufficient--"
"Look, at that one! Ever see such a flower? God love it, that's Esther
Deland. Her mother's playing Canada. And this is little Sidonia
Vavasour--mother out in one of the highest-priced sketches in
vaudeville. Know it? 'The Snake.' Every morning that God sends comes her
good-morning telegram to this little mite, just as regular as
"I hope, Mrs. Dupree, it isn't going to be too expensive."
"Our service divides itself into three classifications, Mrs. ----?"
"Not Alonzo Penny of the old Trenton Stock?"
"No. You were saying, Mrs. Dupree, three classifications?"
"Yes, I'll give you a booklet, dearie. The rates vary according to age.
Up to one, then one to three, and three to five. We've our own cows,
"How much did you say, Mrs. Dupree, up to one year?"
"Six hundred dollars a year, in quarterly advance payments."
They were down again in the wide, cool hallway, little kindergarten
voices of children shrilling through from one of the playrooms.
A white nurse passed them, tilting a white perambulator down a flight of
white stone stairs.
"Six hundred dollars a year. That--that would make one hundred and fifty
dollars--in advance," said Lilly, trying to keep the muscles of her face
"No hurry, dearie. Think it over. It just happens we have a bed on the
infant floor right now, so I'd make up my mind right quickly if I were
you. Think it over. You know best."
Out on the sun-swept lawn, the white perambulator and the white nurse
just ahead, Lilly broke into a run. Tears were beating up against her
throat and there was a knot of sobs behind her breathing. She wanted to
throw herself on the warm slope of terrace and kick into it. That vision
of that large bone button at the throat of that little muslin nightgown
somehow became the symbol of all her misery!
After a while she dropped down on a little grassy knoll just off the
curving sidewalk, and leaned her head against a tree, large tears, since
there was no one to see them, rolling unheeded down her cheeks toward an
inverted crescent of bitterly disappointed mouth.
The sun at her back must have acted as a sedative, because, after a
while of crying there tiredly, she started up out of a light doze, all
her perceptions startled, and began immediately to run back toward the
station. Within view of it she met a pedestrian, inquiring of him the
time. Ten minutes before two! This set her to running again, so that she
fairly flopped with a little collapse on a station bench. A train was
just pulling out. There was another at two-twenty.
It was ten minutes past three when she burst into the outer offices of
the Acme Publishing Company, her lips trembling with a prepared apology
she had hardly the breath for.
An office boy brought her out an immediate message. Her place had been
filled at five minutes past three.
All the way down Second Avenue she was inclined somehow to laugh. She
found herself finally in the Swedish bakery and lunch room, ordering,
without appetite, but with a growing sense of need of food, a dish of
rice pudding and a cup of coffee. She broke into the only remaining bill
in her pocket, leaving a five-cent tip beside her saucer, and pouring,
with quite a little jangling, one dollar and eighty-five cents back into
In the hallway of the Home she encountered Miss Scullen, hurrying with a
sheaf of papers in her hand.
"Oh yes, Lilly, I want to speak to you."
"Have you made different arrangements? You know it is highly irregular
your remaining on."
"I am expecting to take a position and get baby placed any day now, Miss
Scullen. I've just returned from Spuyten Duyvil, where I have something
very good in view. If you could see your way clear to let things run on
a few days longer, Miss Scullen?"
"Not beyond next Tuesday evening. It is very irregular and I've a board
of directors' meeting Wednesday."
"Yes, Miss Scullen, not beyond Tuesday evening."
When Lilly entered the infirmary the smell of iodine smote her queerly
and with an unnamable terror. Her child lay sleeping on a pillow hedged
in with a chair, and, bending over, the aroma struck her squarely and
with a close pungency. There was a great yellow stain on the little
forehead, a welt rising and purpling through it. Even the honey-colored
curls were stained with a great blotch of the vicious greeny yellow, one
little eyelid swelling.
With a cry somewhere from the primordial depths of her, Lilly snatched
up the pillow, rushing with it and its burden to the door, kicking it
open in a gale of terror, her voice tearing down the hallway.
"Help! For God's sake--quick--help!"
The nurse came rushing with a stack of sheets in her arms, and in an
instant the corridor was a runway of blue-clad girls, ready, even eager
for stampede, and finally Miss Scullen herself pushing through.
"My baby! What has happened to her! Quick--my child!"
With immediate realization of the situation, the nurse pushed her
red-elbowed way through the tightening congestion, her voice strident
above the dreaded hum of panic.
"Get back to your room. It is nothing. The child fell off the bed and
bumped its head. Get back, every one of you. I painted the bruise with
iodine. It's nothing but a bumped head. Back, I say!"
There was a blur before Lilly's eyes that waved like a red flag, and her
voice shot up to a shriek.
"You've hurt her terribly! You! Devil! Pig! How dared you! You've
pinched her! too. I know now what those little blue marks are from. Her
head! Her little eye! I could kill you! Devil! Pig! You let her fall! I
could kill you!"
Through the snarl of the corridor Miss Scullen emerged, her lips very
thin and her voice a steady sedative to the rising murmur.
"You get your things and get out! Leave the child, if you want, until
you find a place, but you get your things. You thankless, ungrateful
girl. You were taken in here on sufferance and against my better
judgment. This is the reward which comes from placing myself liable to
censure from my board of directors. Girls, go back to your rooms at once
and forget this wayward girl's disgraceful scene. Now you go!"
"Indeed I'll go! But leave my baby here? Not likely! Why, what's one
baby's brain more or less to you? One case more or less for your filing
cabinet, that's all. If I were one of these poor girls and found myself
stuck in one of these places that screams out their indigence above the
very doorway, dresses them in the blue calico of indigence, and then
seals and stamps indigence all over them, I'd show you what real
indigence is, once you insisted upon stamping me with it. But you're not
going to make an indigent out of my baby. No, you're not! No! No! No!"
She was presently marching down the street with her head high, her eyes
black with iris, a bag in one hand and the bundle of her child clutched
under her chin.
She did not heed where she was going, but as she tramped she was saying
audibly over and over again:
"My baby. My baby. My baby."
She was not afraid. The blood was rocking in her veins like a sea, and
she was raging with an anxiety that mounted as the heliotrope dusk,
turping out sky lines, began to blow in like fog through the narrowness
of the cross streets.
But neither was she alone. That was the miracle of her state. That
peculiar living magnetism was through the blanket she carried and in a
current along her arm. A lusty little storm of crying rose once, quite
suddenly, and she kissed down into the pink little mouth that was full
of the breath of life--her life.
There were three bottles of still warm milk in her bag. She fumbled for
one, kneeling right there on the sidewalk, jerking out the stopper with
her teeth and fitting on the rubber nipple. The little lips closed over
it with the pull and strong insuck of breath which never failed to
She was sobering, though, slowly and surely into a state of panic. At
Broadway the swirl of the dinner-bound was already tightening. Lights
began to pop out in the tall, narrow office and loft buildings of the
She boarded an uptown car, counting, and truly enough, upon the chivalry
of the mob toward her burden, for obtaining an immediate seat. At West
Fifty-third Street she alighted into a day gone two shades darker. A
stiffening breeze blew in from the river, whipping up the odor of
garbage from curbs. A group of dirty children were building a bonfire
of some of these slops and bits of flying paper, lending a certain
vicious redness to the scene.
She thought suddenly of Page Avenue at this hour of pinkish mist. The
little patch of front porch with the green chairs and tan-linen covers.
"O God, what have I done!"
The window with the midwife's sign was dark and there was a little
coagulation of bareheaded women on the steps. They parted to give her
passage, their babel immediately resuming after her.
The hot, sour smells of the hallway smothered her, but she fumbled for
the bell, plunging her hand into the damp, clinging gauze of a cobweb
that sent her back shuddering. What proved to be Mrs. Landman herself
opened the door upon a rushing smell of hops and a cookery and a glimpse
of violently disordered interior. It was not so much the furiously
stained figure that sent Lilly a step backward, but a black flap tied
over one eye and knotted at the back of her head struck her as so
unutterably sinister that without a word she turned and, with her head
charging the way for her, ran out through the hallway, through the group
on the stoop, and the entire length of the block, catching a downtown
surface car that stopped for her after it had started.
She was palpitating with the kind of fear that gave her a sense of
fleeing through a dark corridor with some one at her heels, and so rode
on until her breath caught up and she could relax into a grateful sort
At Forty-second Street, on a sudden impulse, she left the car, hurrying
into Grand Central Station. In its undress of semicompletion, the swirl
of home-going commuters caught her, so that she was swept down a
temporary runway and shunted finally into the waiting room. At its far
end the "Matron" sign still hung at right angles. She hurried to it, and
to her relief was met by a new face above the gray-and-white uniform,
rather little and old and framed kindly in white. There was a small boy
asleep on the couch this time, and the usual frowsily tired traveling
public relaxed against various of the chairs.
"I want to leave my baby here until I get in touch with friends who have
failed to meet me."
A quick suspicion of foundling crossed the old face.
"We don't take the responsibility of infants."
"But this is urgent. I must locate my friends in Brooklyn. I cannot find
them in the telephone book and evidently they have not received my
"We don't do it."
Then Lilly went gallantly down to her last handful of change, all but a
"She's the best little thing. Sleeps the night through. I've two bottles
of prepared food here in my bag. Her next feeding time is at ten and her
next at six--"
"We don't keep infants for nothing like that long, madam. I go off duty
at seven and--"
"I haven't any intention of leaving her that long, just until I get in
touch with my friends."
With the mound of change ingratiated into the old palm and the little
bundle transferred to arms more or less reluctantly held out for it,
Lilly lifted back a corner of the blanket.
"Wait until nice lady sees mother's beautiful, then she'll be glad to
watch over her."
Mysteriously, it seemed to Lilly, there was nothing of the button nose
so peculiar to infants about her child. Its was tipped with character;
so, too, the little mouth in the firm way it had of closing.
"Say, but ain't she a beauty!" capitulated the matron.
"Isn't she! Isn't she!"
"Look at them curls. You ought to enter her in a show, ma'am."
"You will see to her carefully until I return, won't you? She sleeps
that way always, sweetly and deeply."
"Why, I'll sit and rock her myself this very minute."
When Lilly went out into the darkness there were the ten cents in her
bag and the blurry outline of things she finally laid to hunger. She
walked downward for some blocks, finally entering a Third Avenue lunch
room and ordering a ten-cent bowl of beef stew. She took it from a
tablespoon like a thick soup, its warmth flowing through her and
dissipating a chilly discomfort. But her face still felt rather drawn,
and, regarding herself in the pink net-draped mirror, she took to
rubbing her cheeks, an old, schoolgirl device against pallor. She was
quite becomingly large-eyed from the deadly aching tiredness that lay
over her, but otherwise the old whiteness of her skin flowed unmarred
and intact, also that unadorned look of nun to her face where the hair
left it so cleanly.
Beside her at one of the marble-topped tables a great, hefty motorman in
uniform kept finding out her knee and pressing it.
"Stop it," she said, "or I'll call the proprietor."
He drew surlily back, draining his thick cup of coffee and shambling
out, chewing a toothpick. At the door he looked back with his lips
pulled down, mouthing a filthy epithet at her.
After a while she followed, almost slunk, with a sense of no tip left
beneath the saucer, her pace swinging into the indefinable tempo of
destination, but more and more indeterminate as she approached
She kept close to Third Avenue, something reassuring in the sidewalk
gabble, the air of cheap carnival, the white arc lights over open fruit
stands, and the percussive roar of Elevated trains. Presently even Third
Avenue would withdraw to over its shops, the sidewalks fall quiet and
darken, pedestrians become sinister. She shivered against that lateness;
stood for a period outside a bird store, watching a pair of Japanese
mice chase their little eternities in a wheel cage. At Twenty-third
Street a youth with a prison complexion, a cap pulled down and a sweater
pulled up, sauntered out of a pool room, matching his pace with hers,
and at once easily colloquial.
Her eyebrows shot up. She could smell, feel, and taste the cheap beer on
his breath, and anger rather than fear possessed her.
"Cat got your tongue, sweetness? Where you goin'? Lonesome?"
After a while he fell back, flecked off as it were like a burr clutching
for a metal surface.
It was her conviction, many times put to test, that such situations lay
within her shaping, and that man took his cue from the yea or nay of
At the sight of a crowd tightening about a street corner she edged her
way in. The iron plug to a corner sewer had been removed, a policeman
and the shirt-sleeved figure of a man prone on the ground, red-faced and
arms inserted their length.
"What is it?" asked Lilly, tiptoeing.
"A feller's gold watch rolled down."
"Who'll go down on a rope?" called out the owner.
"I will," cried Lilly.
The crowd turned its face to her.
"I will, for a hundred and fifty dollars--now--here!"
In the derision and boo that went up she escaped, hurrying this time and
The Union Square Family Theater showed the lighted but quiet front of a
performance in progress.
At the stage entrance the old doorman with his look of sea dog
recognized her, admitting her with a nod. The titter of music came back
through the wings and quick, loud thumps of a tumbling act in progress.
The smell of grease paint, like the flop of a cold, wet hand to her
face, smote her with a familiarity out of all proportion to her limited
experience in the theater.
She wound, unchallenged, up the short spiral staircase.
Through an open doorway of an office that had been refurnished in large
mahogany desk, filing case, and a stack of sectional bookcases, Robert
Visigoth sat tilted on a swivel chair, his hands locked at the back of
his head, gaze and cigar toward the ceiling.
She stood in the doorway a second, watching his perceptions dawn.
"Hel-lo!" he said, finally, uncrossing a knee grown slightly corpulent
and his rather small eyes crinkling to slits. "Hel-lo!"
She was arch and laughed back.
"A bad penny, you see."
He swung a chair toward her without rising.
"Turned up, didn't you? Good."
She seated herself, with that coquetry of hers which she could force on
occasion, feeling his glance as it ran over her dawning shabbiness as
searingly as a flame. It darted on downward to her feet, and because
that very day the leather in her right shoe had cracked, showing a grin
of white lining, she wound that foot up around the chair rung.
"I took sick--that time," she explained, fatuously.
He lifted her hand, bending back each finger to match his words.
"You are a naughty girl. Why did you run away?"
She sat swallowing through obvious gulps, but increasingly determined to
"Please--don't," trying to withdraw her hand.
"Come now," he said through a half smile and watching her redden almost
to purple, "you don't hate me that badly or you wouldn't be back here."
"I know I don't."
"Good! Now we're getting on."
"I need something, Mr. Visigoth--terribly."
"We're not using that song specialty any more," he said, kindly.
"I've given up that sort of thing, too, Mr. Visigoth. I'm a stenographer
"Smartest thing you ever did."
"I--I'm in a little difficulty right now--a money one. That's why I
thought if you--Could you use me in the office? I know stenography and
typewriting. I--It would be a godsend, Mr. Visigoth. I dislike having to
put it so strongly--but my present difficulty is serious--very."
"What's troubling you?"
"I must have an office position. I want my evenings free and I cannot
be situated so that I might have to go on the road at any time."
"Why, I--I thought--assumed that you knew I was married from the
beginning. I--We aren't together, though; haven't been--"
"It's just that I'm temporarily embarrassed."
"That was a pretty rough way you left me in the lurch. Those actions
don't get a girl very far in this business."
"It was sickness."
He leaned forward to pat her hand, his lids somehow seeming to thicken.
"You're a queer little duck," he said, "but I like you. Always have."
"Then you will, Mr. Visigoth?"
"Well, let's not bother about that now."
"There is quite a change taking place in these offices. My brother is
coming from Chicago to take charge of the booking end and I am going out
there after he comes on, and I'll see if he can use you. Let us talk
about you now."
"No. No. I haven't made you understand. That isn't all. I'm in immediate
need. So immediate! I need as much as--as a hundred and fifty--two
hundred--here, now, to-night!"
"It is so difficult to explain, but if you would. If you could! I will
work it out for you, beginning tomorrow morning. To the last penny. Two
hundred dollars advance on any salary you may see fit to pay me, if you
would! I'm not afraid to start small. Within a week I'll prove my value
to you--that's how I'll slave for advancement. Just two hundred dollars
advance on my salary--one hundred and fifty if--"
"Well, well, well," he said, stropping up and down the back of her hand,
"that does put a different face on things, doesn't it? I just don't know
what to say."
"Say yes. It is only my predicament gives me the courage to ask. But I
need money, Mr. Visigoth. Need it. Need it. Now--to-night! I'll pay it
back in service. I--"
"Come now," he said, his eyes crinkling again. "You don't mean that,
Lilly. I'm a man and you're a woman. I don't want your money."
"I'll go any length for yours."
He leaned forward at that and kissed down into her lips so deeply that
her neck was strained backward to hurting. She sprang to her feet,
wiping her hand across her mouth until her lips dragged, but trying
"That's what I want to do--hurt, hurt," kissing down into and crushing
her lips again and again.
"Oh! oh! oh!" she moaned rather than cried, pummeling at his chest.
"Devil," he said, jerking her back to him until the breath jumped from
"I--I hate you!"
"I'm not what you think I am. I hate you. I hate--sex. I--"
"I don't care what I think you are. I only know that I want to be the
one to wake you up to the knowledge that sex is life and life is sex.
Ice maid. I don't care what you are. I know that I like you. I know
that I like your lips. Give me."
"Quick, then," she said, trying not to shudder.
* * * * *
She squirmed from him finally, pushing against him with all her
"Ugh. How I--I--hate--"
"Gad! how I like your lips!"
"Let me go now."
He looked down at her through slits of eyes.
"To the last cent, you said."
"Come, then," he said. "I live alone."
"Please," she said, her palm pat against her mouth and looking at him
with streaming eyes. "Please--not that--"
For answer he kissed her again so brutally that she sat down, moaning
"You're a woman of the world, Lilly. You don't want anything for
nothing. Life wouldn't balance up that way."
"Yes, yes, I'm going to give you a position, too. Fifteen a week to
start with, to show you I mean well by you. You beautiful
"I'm not what you think--"
"All right, I know. Never again after to-night, so help me God! This
isn't my kind of thing any more than it is yours. Any position you want
in this office to-morrow morning and me off to Chicago for permanent
headquarters next month. I'm good pay. Are you? Now? To-night?"
"My hundred and fifty--"
"Yes--I'm good pay--now--to-night!"
With a flaying intensity that kept her teeth unconsciously ground
together so that when she relaxed their pressure the gums fairly sang,
Lilly took up her work in the office of the newly incorporated Universal
The clerical department occupied a large unfinished room, obviously
makeshift, that had previously been used for the storage of stage
properties. There were two flat-topped desks, placed so that their
swivel chairs faced across a considerable expanse of surface, two
bookkeepers' perches also rigged up to meet the exigencies of run-away
affairs, and her own little table with its brand-new typewriting
Yet Lilly never entered the rather cold breath of this atmosphere
without a sense of haven. It was as if she had turned the key on those
areas that lay outside of the immediate present. She could take the
dictation of a letter to the printers, or a manufacturer of slot
machines for opera glasses, or to a ventriloquist guilty of disorderly
conduct behind the scenes, with the whole of her concentration brought
to bear upon her pencil point until very often it snapped under the
nervousness of her pressure.
Then Robert Visigoth, who dictated with his ten fingertips together to
form a little chapel, would invariably wedge a pleasantry into her
tightly maintained attitude, but there was a freshly sharpened pencil
always at hand in the little patch of shirt-waist pocket, so that even
this slight schism was seldom accomplished.
Her work consisted of some correspondence, mimeographing of programs for
distribution to orchestra leaders, scene shifters, printers, bookkeeping
and publicity department. Quite a bit of communication by wire, letter,
and telephone with the Chicago office, and upon one very recent occasion
she had been summoned down to the auditorium together with a Mrs. Ida
Blair, one of the bookkeepers, for the try-out performance of a sketch,
with the request for a written opinion on its box-office value.
Lilly alone had sent in a negative report--"Too sophisticated and not
sufficient emotional appeal for vaudeville." On the strength of several
opposing yeas, the playlet was booked, and removed after the second
performance--a little secret feather which Lilly wore jauntily on a
little secret cap.
In these eight weeks a quiescence that was like a hand to the
reverberating parchment of a drum had come over her. It was, in fact, as
if the whole throbbing orchestration of her universe had stopped as it
sometimes can seem to upon the motion-picture screen, leaving the action
to click on quietly without the excitation of music.
She had taken, at the instance of Mrs. Blair, a room in an Eleventh
Street house. The odor of Bohemia, which is the odor of poverty through
cigarette smoke, lay on the hallways. There were frequent all-night
revelries reverberated down from the skylight room on the top floor, and
one evening a passing group had beat a can-can of invitation on her
doorway; but she could lock and bolt herself into her room, a box, it is
true, at two dollars and a half a week, but it boasted half curtains of
yellow scrim, a couch-bed with a moth-eaten but gay wool cover, and a
small square of table with a reading lamp attached by a tube to the
She found herself during the routine of her business day looking forward
to these long, quiet evenings beside the tiny table. There had been
eight unbroken weeks of them, and each Sunday a fresh little mound of
sheer garments to be carried out to Spuyten Duyvil. Her old inaptitude
with the needle, by no means overcome, hampered her so that her stitches
were often wandering gypsy trails to be ripped over and over, and then
her fingers leaving little prick stains to be washed out.
She had grown thinner, so much so that a slight jaw line had come out,
but the shells were gone from beneath her eyes and it pleased her, when
she brushed out her hair before going to bed, to see that its
electricity, which had departed for a while, was out in it again, so
that it would snap and stand out horizontally from her head. The little
spark of a smile was constantly over her face like a mirage before her
lips and her eyes and seeming to hover on the very peak of her brows
when she arched them.
She liked to stand before her wavy mirror, folding the completed
garments and looking back at herself. Newly freed, probably by the great
Auchinloss and her daughter between them, from the bondage of an idea,
she felt corporeally lighter, and was. The toothache of her being had
ceased its neuralgic stabbings.
It was not unusual for her to stand before this mirror before climbing
into bed, her mouth bunched to mimetics.
"Zoe, come to mother. _Mother!_ Daughter, they're shouting for you! Let
me hold your flowers, darling; they'll smother you!... You mean the one
with the yellow curls, madam? The valedictorian? That's my daughter!"
All the spots would come out in her eyes, like little "niggers" in a
pair of diamonds, and more often than not she would fall asleep then
with a crescent moon of a smile lying deeply into her face.
One day, after these weeks of minute fidelity to routine, she was
startled somewhat by a request from Robert Visigoth, in the form of a
note sent over to her desk, to remain after six to take some dictation.
The big temporary-looking office with its absence of partitions and
staring lack of privacy had become a paradoxical source of security to
her. In all the eight weeks, three of which, it is true, he had spent in
Chicago, she had not once encountered Robert Visigoth alone. She had
subconsciously developed the habit of peering down the dark stairs that
led to the stage door before descending them, and on one or two
occasions, when they chanced to pass, had flattened herself rather
unduly against the wall. Her comings and goings, whether by maneuver or
not, were seldom alone. She and this Mrs. Blair, a sparse, umbrella of a
woman with a very bitter kind of widowhood, had formed the noonday habit
of taking a dairy lunch of milk and cereal at a near-by White Kitchen
and of departing evenings for there, too, since it spelled strong, hot,
simple foods and a very superior kind of cleanliness.
It was with a distinct sinkage, well laid over with office
imperturbability, that she showed Mrs. Blair the note, saw her stab into
her greenish-black bird's nest of a hat and depart alone. Then the
office boy; the publicity man, whistling; a clerk or two, and finally a
sixteen-year-old girl who pasted clippings into scrap books.
The pleasantly cool summer day had thickened up rather suddenly into the
beginnings of dusk, the electric sign down over the theater throwing up
a sudden glow through the windows. She sat before her machine, shorthand
book in lap, her attitude quiet enough except that her hands, as they
clasped each other, showed whitish at the nails, and she would not
swerve her gaze by the fraction of an inch, even with the consciousness
of a presence behind her.
It was Visigoth at her shoulder, the male aroma of him, a mixture of
cigar smoke, bay rum, and freshly washed hands, and the feel of his
rough-serge suit very close.
She rose, withholding herself stiffly from his nearness, marveling, as
always, at this power of hers to endure him so casually.
"Letters?" she asked.
He placed a knee on the chair rung, tilting it toward him, and leaning
across the back at her.
"You funny, funny girl," he said, regarding her intently through the
She met his stare in a challenging sort of silence.
"My, what big eyes you have!"
"Please," she said, retreating from the look in his, her weight against
the table until it slid.
"Please what?" he rather mimicked, advancing the exact distance of her
withdrawal, the smile out on his never quite dry lips.
The corpulency which was one day to envelop him like suet was already
giving him the appearance of ten years his senior. He had upon occasion
been mistaken for the father of his younger brother, and some of
Lilly's acute distaste for him, across the slight enough chasm of the
seven or eight years between them, was already that of youth for
"Shall I take those letters now--Mr. Visigoth?"
"I would rather take you--to dinner."
"I might have known," she said, rather tiredly.
"That you would not keep your word."
"I have though, for eight weeks."
"I thought your promise meant--"
"Ah no. I never broke a promise in my life, but even I cannot be
expected to keep one indefinitely with a girl like you within eyeshot."
"That can be easily corrected."
"Come now, I'm giving you your chance here to make good."
"Well then, let me take it."
"My dear girl, never expect the best of us to be more than human."
"I suppose, then, this is to be the regulation,
theatrical-manager-dangers-of-a-big-city kind of scene."
"Come now," he said, his voice plushy with the right to intimacy. "We
understand each other--Lilly."
She stood silent, flaming her humiliation.
"And I like you for it. If there is one thing to my mind less
interesting than another, it is the untempted kind of woman who--"
"I never pretended to you, Mr. Visigoth, that I was what you are pleased
"No? But how much more redeeming if you had been."
"Nothing can ever redeem that--night--except--"
"Oh, I don't know--maybe--except--God."
"You funny, funny girl!" he repeated. "I like you."
"I know your kind of liking. You like me for the kind of thing you would
protect your wife or your daughter from with all the fury of your little
"I haven't a wife, I haven't a daughter, and I like you."
"No, but you will have presently. Your kind always does and you'll be
the ideal family man who telephones home from the office three times a
day to see if the baby has taken her cough medicine regularly, and
you'll knock the man down that brushes your wife too closely in a crowd,
and because of your attitude toward all but your own women you'll
suspect every man who even approaches your daughter. In the eyes of the
world you're entitled to your wild oats. That's what I am, a wild oat to
be sown at your pleasure. If you haven't any letters, Mr. Visigoth, I'm
"No," he said, closing his hand over hers. "Don't."
"You force me."
"Nonsense! Haven't I promised to let you be, Lilly? I've respected that
promise to the letter, as I always respect a promise. The past is dead,
it died with that night. I swear it over again."
"Dead, with your reminding me with every word you utter--every look."
"Nonsense, I tell you! I've treated you like everyone else in this
office. Made things easy for you. Helped you."
"And I've tried to justify my position in your office. To hold it by
sheer merit so that this--this wouldn't--couldn't happen. And now
you--your daring to keep me here like this shows me I've failed."
"You haven't. You've raised the efficiency of the office forty per cent.
I'm turning you over to my brother as a prize. I've got you in mind for
the booking end of the business. That's what I think of you."
"Oh, Mr. Visigoth, if you knew--if you knew what that would mean to me.
I'll give you my best! Let me go on proving to you that I want to stay
here to make good on my merits--as man to man!"
"I wish to God I could figure you out."
"I made it clear--that night--"
"But I flattered myself at least that--"
"You hadn't that right. Ours was a cold business deal. So much for so
much! I never for a moment pretended otherwise. I was in need. Terrible
need. I didn't think when I came to you that you would do business on
any other terms than you did."
"I envy the fellow that awakens you."
"Oh, I've been awakened! Awakened to the fact that a woman out in the
world has to fight through a barrier of yourselves that you men erect.
But I'm not afraid of your barrier. In the last analysis I know, that I
have the situation in hand. Every woman has. It is a matter of whether
she will or she won't! I had an alternative--that night. Could have
taken it, but wouldn't. Would do the same over again. A man invariably
takes his cue. You took yours. Even a street masher takes his cue from
the look in her eyes whether he will or won't follow up."
"Right, but public sentiment is all on the woman's side."
"It's worth more to me to know that the situation was in my own hands
than it is to play the sensational role of more sinned against
Dryly, "Doubtless, from your point of view."
"Now look here. I need this position here more desperately than I ever
needed anything in my life. It means the success or failure of something
that I've staked every card on, of a fight that nobody in the world
would understand--possibly not even myself. But that doesn't change the
fact that the situation again is mine. I am in a position now to demand
fairer terms than I was--then. I return to work to-morrow only on those
terms, Mr. Visigoth."
The veil of light from the sign fell upon her in the rigidity of her
pose and pallor. For some reason she was hugging one of the book-shaped
letter files, all the black out in her eyes.
He sat down, straddling the chair, his arms across the back and his chin
down upon them.
"Who are you?" he said, regarding her with the intense squint of one in
need of glasses.
She felt her power over the moment, and with her old slant for it began
"I'm the grist being ground between yesterday and to-day. Sometimes I
think I must be some sort of an unfinished symphony which it will take
another generation to complete. I am a river and I long to be a sea. I
must be the grape between the vine of my family and the wine of my
progeny. That's it, I'm the grape fermenting!"
Then she felt absurd and looked absurd and stood there with the quick
fizzing spurt of exultation died down into a state of bathos.
"Let me stay on here on my terms, Mr. Visigoth," she finished with a
sort of broken-wing lameness of voice.
"The terms you have been generous enough not to violate up to now. I've
the most glorious reason for wanting to make good that a girl--a woman
could have. I don't think the career stuff, as you once called it, is
rankling any more. I'm suddenly glad and quiet about my job. Let me stay
on. Let me make myself indispensable to this growing, interesting
enterprise of yours. Why, even watching the letters grow in numbers and
importance, and using the little individuality in handling them that you
are beginning to allow me, is a game worth playing! I'm like a bad girl
who has been spanked by life and is all chastened and ready to be good.
If you are the clever business man I think you are, you'll let me stay,
Mr. Visigoth, on my terms."
There was a shine to her there in the half light, probably because her
eyes were wide and the muscles of her face lifted so that her teeth
showed, but not in a smile.
"I played the game on your terms, Mr. Visigoth; now meet me on mine."
"Put your cards on the table, then; no fine flights of speech either.
Who are you?"
"I told you from the first I am a married woman, with nothing to be said
against my husband except that he was part of a condition that was
intolerable to me."
"Where is he?"
"Stage ambition, eh?"
"Yes or--I don't know. Too many ambitions of all kinds crawling over me
like a terrible itch, for God knows what. Fermenting. The grape
fermenting! But I'm quiet now. So quiet that sometimes I think I
wouldn't change it for even the--the singing wine of fulfillment. I
don't think I can make you understand. I seem to have been stretching
all these years for--for something my arm isn't quite long enough to
touch, and now my child--my little girl--"
"You have a child?"
"A little girl."
He looked at her across a long silence.
"Good God!" he said, and then again, "Good God."
"Yes," she said, watching belated comprehensions flood up into his face,
"that was it."
"You mean you had on your hands that night a--"
"Yes, a three-and-a-half-weeks-old one."
"You were broke?"
"Good God! You--poor--"
"I'm not pleading for your sympathy, Mr. Visigoth. Only a square deal.
Will you give it?"
He walked over to his desk, turning on a green-shaded bulb, the clip
back in his voice and manner.
"That will be all for this evening, Mrs. Parlow--"
"Mrs. Penny," he said, picking up a random sheaf of papers and not
meeting her eyes. "I want you to go over to Newark Monday afternoon and
bring back a report on an act over there; and, by the way, you are to
begin your new week in the booking department at twenty dollars."
She wanted to speak and her lips did move, but the tears anticipated
her, and, blink as she would, they sprang, magnifying her glance, and
besides, there were footsteps coming up the flight of stairs that led
from the stage entrance, and a young, a lean, a honed silhouette rather
suddenly in the doorway, the right side borne down by the pull of a
"R.J?" Peering into the gloom.
"Good Lord!" from the figure at the desk, leaning forward on the palm of
his hand. "That you, Bruce?"
They met center, gripping hands.
"When did you get in, youngster? Didn't expect you for another couple of
"Just now. Took a chance on finding you here."
"Another five minutes and you wouldn't have."
"So these are the new diggings?"
"There is your desk."
He deposited his hat on the flat top indicated, his silhouette cutting
vigorously into the dimness, particularly the rather heavy double wave
to his hair causing Lilly to grope with a vague sense of having seen him
before. It was merely a rather remote resemblance to the remote Horace
Lindsley, but not for days did she stumble across this realization.
She knew, instinctively, even while she marveled at his youth and the
merest and most lightninglike resemblance to his brother, that here was
Bruce Visigoth, and what she did not know was that a certain throaty
resonance to his voice had a tendency to gooseflesh her and that quite
suddenly her eyes were very hot and her hands very cold.
"Well, R.J.," he was saying, and she noticed that his head came up with
a fine kind of young defiance, as if a pair of invisible Mercury wings
flowed with the sleek nap of his hair, "I'm for taking a chance on the
Buffalo lease. I stopped over yesterday and the little theater looks
good to me."
It was then Lilly began noiselessly to move toward the door.
"Oh--here--Mrs. Penny. My brother, Mrs. Penny. Sort of secretary on the
booking department, and a darn good one."
"How do you do, Mrs. Penny? Mighty pleased," he said, through the
resonance that had a little aftermath of a ting to it.
Her five fingers rather trailed along the palm of his hand as he slowly
"Thank you, Mr. Visigoth," she said, smiling up at him with her
eyebrows, pressing down her sailor hat, and hurrying toward the
Outside, the darkness had the quality of cool water to her face. The
palm of her right hand and the tips of her fingers were tingling as if
they had been kissed.
She could have run before the wind.
From now on for many a month to come, the curve of Lilly's life would
have shown a running festoon; six days whose uneventful continuity was
bearable because they were looped up by the rosette of the Sundays at
When Zoe was two years old this hebdomadal consciousness was already
borne upon her. Into her earliest vocabulary, as haphazard as if the
words had been dished up out of the alphabet of a vermicelli soup, crept
the word "Sunday," mysteriously boiled down to "Nunk," the first time
her mother heard it, the pride seeming to crowd around her heart, fairly
As if the luster of this girl child could be any brighter, yet here was
the new shine of the mental beginning to radiate through. Nunk!
Was there any limit to this ecstasy of possession? It ran through her
days like a song.
It meant that while the home-going six-o'clock rush at Union Square,
which of face is the composite immobility of a dead Chinaman, would
presently cram into street cars and then deploy out into the
inhospitable cubbyholes of the most hospitable city in the world, Lilly,
even in her weariness, could be deterred by the lure of a curb vender
and a jumping toy dog. There was never a time or a weather that she
could pass, without pause, Westheim's Art Needlework Shop on Broadway
and its array of linen-lawn dainties, and, remarkably enough, the
purchase of the toy dog or a five-cent peppermint cane could send her
home with an actual physical refreshment as if she had slept off, rather
than cast off, fatigue.
She would line up during the week, Monday's toy dog, Tuesday's
peppermint cane, Wednesday's cap rosettes (fashioned out of five yards
of baby ribbon at one cent the yard), and so on to Saturday's climax of
bootines, and on one occasion a large circular wooden arrangement, a
sort of first aid to the first step, which she carried out herself,
standing with it on the train platform.
With her three months' running start, paid in advance and duly receipted
by Mrs. Dupree, Lilly's weekly expenditures, by the nicest calculation,
reduced themselves thus:
Room rent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$2.50
Car fare (one round trip to Spuyten Duyvil). . . . . . . . . .60
Breakfast (gas-jet boiled egg, an apple, three biscuits from
a tin, and coffee) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50
Lunch (milk, cereal, sandwich) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.50
Dinner (lamb or beef stew, green vegetable, pie, coffee.
Tip) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.50
Laundry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75
There were already forty-two dollars and sixty-eight cents hoarded in a
little biscuit tin in the depths of her valise, and out of it had come a
gift for Mrs. Dupree, a rather interesting relic of an old silver
thimble wrought in cunning filigree which she had bought in two payments
of seventy-five cents each, and largely by eliminating the pie for a
month, from a rapidly diminishing keep-chest of Ida Blair's.
A friendship had sprung up here, which, born out of the merest
propinquity, had sent down strong roots into the common ground
One or two nights they had attended the theater together, on orchestra
passes given out to them by one or the other of the Visigoths.
One Wednesday evening they saw the "School for Scandal" presented at the
Academy of Music, and once, just before the permanent departure of R.J.
for Chicago, he had tossed negligently across the desk a single balcony
ticket for Eames in "Faust."
"Here is something ought to keep one of you busy this rainy evening."
Ensued a highly feminine parley.
"Mrs. Blair, you take the ticket. Really, I'm too tired and I've some
sewing to do."
"Nonsense! You're musical and I'm not. Besides, it will do you a world
"I don't know," said Lilly, her lips giving a sensitive quiver. "I've
put it so out of my mind that it might only tantalize."
But in the end she did attend, seating herself, for the first time in
her life, in the F-minor, the perfumed twilight of the Metropolitan
Opera House, just as the velvet curtains swished sibilantly apart.
Day was breaking, and in all the passion and churchiness of Gounod, the
student calls for death, the echoes of human happiness rustling through
the background like the scything sound of harvesting.
Lilly could scarcely breathe for the poignancy of sensation. She was all
throat. Faust's opening greeting to the dawn, his challenge to
happiness, pierced her. She sat forward on her chair, anticipating the
lyrical vision of Marguerite, her hands clasped over the handle of her
wet umbrella, and her knees crowded up unconsciously about its dampness.
She bought the libretto, humming down into it between acts and leaping
ahead to verify her memory of the score.
Poor Lilly, it is doubtful if she was by endowment more than a lovely
melomaniac doomed never to emerge from her musical primaries. A mere
tonal accord could assail her nostrils like a perfume set to music. And
yet her quick ear, though, was not exact. Her capacity for fine vocal
distinctions in her own singing had been distinctly limited, and a note
landing just this side of itself could drop down into her state of
ecstatic coma with hardly a plop. She had neither capacity for
exactitude nor tireless fidelity to tone. It made her neck ache. She had
never graduated from musical sensation to cerebration; a theme washed
her over with all the voluptuous abandon of a Henner sea siren letting
the water tickling up the beach to roll over her lightly.
There was unrest in the balcony because Faust was singing through
laryngitis and a cloud of fog in his throat. A critic who wrote in terms
of elliptical rhythms and tonal arabesques tiptoed out for a smoke. One
of those sympathetic fits of coughing swept the house. But Lilly sat
hunched in her habitual beatific attitude against the chair back, the
old opera flowing back to her in association that caught her at
"Lilly, play that over, the left hand alone."
"Oh, mamma, mamma!"
That blue challis wrapper shotted with pink rosebuds.
"Lilly, play that over."
Eames down there flinging up the "Jewel Song" like a curve of gold. Her
She half rose to her feet.
Down in front!
She sat again, but a sudden, an inexplicable sense of wanting to plunge
from the height of the balcony seized her. It had been so long since the
old neuralgic stabbings of spirit. She wanted to jump and had a
ludicrous vision of herself landing down in the cream of white shoulders
and crashing through the U of one of those immaculate shirt fronts. She
could have torn and scratched the indestructibility of her failure and
wanted suddenly and terribly to wrap those pearl-twined taffy braids
around the rising throat of Marguerite as she sprayed the auditorium
with the "Jewel Song," a great fire hose of liquid music finding out
In the deep-napped velvet of this melodious darkness Lilly rose
suddenly, pushing her way out through knee-impeded aisles and a string
An usher helped her to find a door. She ran down several flights and
into a side street. A slant of rain met her and she charged into it with
bent head and umbrella. Bubbles with a tap of sleet in them exploded
like little torpedoes on the sidewalks, curbs were rushing water, and
Broadway was as black and oily-looking as a foundry. She tried to
visualize it as she had seen it that first morning from her window at
the Hudson Hotel, pink with sun.
The picture would not conjure, and finally, because her shoes were full
of bubbles and her damp skirt clung and hindered walking, she boarded a
street car and sat looking out of the water-lashed windows, her throat
full of little moans like the song of a kettle just about to boil.
When she reached home there was an envelope beneath her door. It
contained a snapshot picture of herself and Zoe taken by Mrs. Dupree
one Sunday afternoon. Still wet, she sat down with it on the bed edge.
Against a background of shrub and stone steps Lilly was little more than
a blur, but Zoe, with five little fingers dug into her cheek, leaped
from the picture, all her dimples out.
The mood induced by the opera fell off like a cloak, a warm, easy tear
splashing right down on the adorable little face. She wiped it off ever
so painstakingly, holding the little print up to the gas to dry.
Then she stood it up on the table so she could gaze down and smile while
she undressed, and even placed it on the floor as she leaned down to
unlace her shoes. She climbed into bed with it under her pillow, but
rose in the darkness to transfer it, against crumpling, beneath
She went to sleep right off with a little smile on her lips, as if the
picture had kissed it there, but it was many a day, sixteen years, in
fact, before she could be induced to enter the Metropolitan Opera House
again, and then only in the most crowded hour of her life.
Quite a friendship was thriving between Lilly and Mrs. Blair. The older
woman had opened the door to her upon that family skeleton, one of
which, by the way, lurks in the cupboards of most of us--the unproduced
play! This one, a sketch called "The Web," read by Lilly and even placed
by her with a written word of appreciation on Robert Visigoth's desk.
He carried it with him to Chicago, mailing it back one day without
"Just the same, there is a corking idea there. You ought to develop it
into a long play, Mrs. Blair."
"I will some day," she replied, with a cryptic something in her voice
that Lilly was only to understand a year later.
One spring evening, that year later, as she and Mrs. Blair sat in her
small room beside the open window that looked out over the twilighted
rear of housetops, Lilly was induced to sing, quietly, almost under her
breath, sitting there on the floor with her hands clasped about her
knees, her invariable shirt waist and dark-blue skirt discarded for a
pleasant sense of negligée in a pink cotton-crêpe kimono, her hair
flowing with the swift sort of rush peculiar to it.
They had just completed, as a relief from the nightly round of lunch
rooms, a wood-alcohol meal of canned baked beans, cheese, crackers, and
tinned sweet cakes. Even Mrs. Blair, at an age when the years are at
the throat of a woman, shriveling it, had opened her blouse at the neck,
revealing an unsuspected survival of its whiteness.
Lilly sang "Jocelyn," a lullaby dimmed in her memory by the mist of
years and full of inaccuracies. She had last sung it at Flora Kemble's.
It lay on the twilight after she had finished.
"How pretty! Why don't you let one of the Visigoths hear you? It might
lead to something."
"Robert V. has heard me."
"Well, I don't pretend to be a judge of music, but considering your
youth and looks and when I see the kind of thing that does get across--"
"I know. I used to feel that way about it, too--hot, rebellious--but,
somehow, not any more. Strange that it should have taken my child to
show me. I realized it last winter when I heard Eames. I simply hadn't
it to give, except in desire. Why, her voice--it seemed to climb up
around an invisible spiral staircase to the stars; and that wasn't all!
There was something so richly colored through it--like the candy stripe
through a crystal. I know now--and I'm glad I know--that my ambition was
bigger than my talent."
"I suppose that is what you thought about me, too, when you read my
"No, no. I admit I did think it amateurish, but there is an idea in 'The
Web.' Almost as if you had lived it yourself and had written it in
blood. Besides, you know the secret of concentration; it shows in your
work at the office. I couldn't stick night after night over one of those
trial balances of yours. I'd throw it over. I've never in my life really
worked for anything. Even as a child I used to cheat myself--move the
clock; hadn't that sublime capacity for grind. That was part of the
lack. How clear it all seems now!"
"The cruelest clarity in the world is wisdom after the event."
"Oh, but I wouldn't have one thing different! It simply wasn't in me to
want badly enough, and therefore I didn't attain. But I know--I know,
Mrs. Blair, that there is a logic running somewhere through it all.
Nothing has been in vain. I'm out on a highroad now with open running
ahead. I'm going to rear her into a superwoman. She is my song, Zoe!
There is logic, I tell you, Mrs. Blair--straight through the apparent
mix-up. Off somewhere in Corsica a vine is putting down roots that there
may be wine in somebody's glass some day. The vine. The grape.
"The vine. The grape. The wine."
"Don't you understand now a little better, Mrs. Blair, why this poor
little fermenting grape couldn't stay on the vine?"
"You've told me so little, dear."
"More than I've ever told a living soul. There's one thought I love to
carry about with me about Zoe. She was born out of captivity. No Chinese
shoes for her little mind or her little soul or body. I'm vague about it
now, just as I'm half crystallized about everything. But this time my
will to do is unlimited and unfaltering! Her whole life is going to be a
growth toward fulfillment of self. I want life to dawn upon her in great
truths, not in ugly shocks and realizations. She is a plant and I am her
trellis toward the light. Do you see? Do you? I may be as wrong as you
think I am, Mrs. Blair--terribly, irrevocably wrong--but I wouldn't take
her back there into that--that--sedentary fatness--I wouldn't--"
A musing sort of silence had fallen into a gloom that was thickening
"The more I see of your case, Lilly, the less I understand it. To think
of anyone in this world of suffering deliberately bringing it upon
herself. Why, my dear, it isn't any of my business, but when I think of
those parents of yours out there, comprehending nothing, and that poor
bewildered husband of yours, I could cry for them."
"Do you think I don't, Mrs. Blair, whole nightfuls of tears? Why,
yesterday at the Library in my home paper I saw a little local notice of
my mother's euchre club meeting at our house--it was a knife,
somehow--the pain of it--"
"I'm not saying so much about the husband, only, God knows why a woman
should throw away a life-time of protection just because a man chews
with his temples and--"
"Surely you haven't taken that literally! I only tried to symbolize for
you that the unimportant mannerisms that may even delight in one person
can become monstrosities in another. Oh, I haven't made you
"Yes, dear child, you have made me understand this much. What a fine
sense of satire the power behind the throne of the world must have. Take
me--that first little two-by-four home of mine over in a back street of
Newark. Talk to me of freedom! I married to get away from it. Somebody
who cared whether I came or went. Somebody who cared enough to want to
"Ah yes, but--"
"We had a little house on Dayton Street; must have been a hundred years
old, with funny little leaded panes and a staircase rising out of the
parlor to a queer old box of a bedroom with slant walls. We painted the
floors ourselves and Lon did the doors in burntwood. He had a feeling
for the artistic, Lon had. That was the way we met--that was--the
"He was a police sergeant then, and I was bookkeeping for the time for
Metz Producing Company. Lon used to drop in once in a while for passes.
Then he got to waiting for me evenings with little pencil drawings of
all the funny things that had happened to him during the day. I was
strong for him to get off the force and take up art, but even then, now
that I look back on it, I can see that Lon was fed up on propositions
that it was driving him half mad to resist. That in itself should have
put me on my guard, but it didn't. I don't know why I'm telling you
"Oh, I must have known in a way that Lon was drinking in his effort to
keep his eyes shut to the bribe money that could have come his way. He
never came home to me under the influence, but toward--the end--his eyes
began to glassen up. I was all for getting his beat changed. You see, it
took him down into the gang and red-light districts. More than that, I
had my heart set on seeing him off the force altogether. I wanted to
keep my position for a year or two after we were married and send him to
Paris to study art. I've some cartoons in my trunk. That boy would have
made good as--Well, it didn't happen. I blame myself. Marriage made a
great baby of me, Lilly. You see, I'd never been coddled in my life--all
those years of struggle on my own. Well I just turned soft and he loved
to baby me. Why, when I went back to bookkeeping I had to learn it all
over like a beginner--that's how wrapped up I became in that little
home of ours!"
"How long, Mrs. Blair, did you live in it?"
"Fourteen months and five days. It was a tiny place and we didn't have
much to spend at first, but what I had I managed to good advantage. Lon
hated makeshift. He couldn't get the fun out of simplicity that I could.
He wanted to dress me up. He wanted a big house. Big. Everything big.
That was his undoing. That's what they called him in the Ring, I learned
later, 'Gentleman Lon.' And I never knew there was a Ring! Never knew
the filthy inside workings of the graft game existed. That's the way he
protected me from everything ugly--from poverty. Me, that had never been
protected from either. O God! if he'd only been truthful with me those
last few months. I--I can't talk about it--I--"
"Then don't, dear Mrs. Blair, I didn't mean to--"
"He began bringing home more money than was natural, but he always
explained it--a tip from a bucket shop on his beat--extra duty. If I had
been right strong those days I might have suspected. Once he walked the
floor all night, said it was a toothache, my poor boy! and let me fix a
hot-water bottle for him. Then two men came one evening and there was
some loud talk down in the parlor and I heard words like 'squeal' and
'gangsters.' He told me when he came upstairs that one of them was
Eckstein. But how was I to know who Eckstein was? Didn't, until I heard
it was he who had been--shot. I--You see, the captain had closed in on
Eckstein's place because of a personal grudge, and Eckstein came
running to Lon to save him. Threatened to squeal on Lon--on the whole
business--if he didn't. Lon was hot-headed--got frightened--lost his
head. O God! I don't know what--never will know--"
"That evening he stayed home and helped me fix up the nursery. Yes, I
was expecting in the spring. That's why he was so for keeping things
from me. We painted the woodwork white and gave a couple of coats to a
little brown crib I had picked up second hand. He was for buying an
enameled one on casters--he loved the best. Next night--next
night--he--didn't come home--and at eight o'clock the following morning
the extras were on the street--about the killing. Even then I didn't tie
up--Lon and Eckstein. O God! God! how could I--"
"Tie up what? Who?"
"He was a cat's-paw, Lilly. Never believe otherwise. My boy was caught
and trapped in the filthy cesspool of politics. There are men in this
city--men whom I named at the trial, all the good it did me, living and
prospering for doing worse than my boy died for. You wouldn't know of my
boy, Lilly; you were too young then. The whole country knew him, eleven
years ago. Lon Elaine. It's easier Blair; no questions asked. It was the
beginning of a cleanup that my boy blazed the way for. He went to the
gallows, Lilly--my boy--"
"He died a gunman. Thank God his child was born dead. But he lies in my
heart, Lilly like a saint washed clean. He sinned for love, and because
stronger forces than he wanted him for a tool. May every man on his jury
live to carry that truth to his grave. He killed in self-defense and he
sinned for love. I'll exonerate him in a play, yet! I will! I'll tell
them! I'll tell them!"
Told without hysteria, her tale had almost a droning quality on the
twilight. She was grim in her tragedy, and her lips were as twisted and
dried as paint tubes, yet Lilly crept closer, laying her cheek rather
timidly against the corduroyed one.
"Ida Blair," she said. "I see now. 'The Web'! Oh--Ida Blair."
They fell silent, the two of them, dry-eyed, cheek to cheek, drowning
back into a long twilight that finally blackened.
"I don't know why I've told you all this. It's been ten years since I've
talked it. But your telling me that you threw it all over--that little
home out there, and a man that was driving down deeply the stakes of his
home--threw it over because the black spot from his collar button made
you feel hysterical--Oh, I tell you there is a grin through the scheme
of things. A laugh. What old man Metz used to call a belly laugh."
Chin cupped in hand, Lilly stared out into a back yard that was filled
with the tulle of winding mist, the lighted rear windows of the houses
opposite blurry, as if seen through tears.
"Just the same," she said, her lips in the straight line peculiar to
this not infrequent reiteration, "I'd do the same if I had it to do
"How do you know that some day your child is not going to turn upon you
with the bitterest reproaches?"
"She won't; she's too much like me. That is why it is going to be
something sublime to have the rearing of her. It is going to be like
living my life over again the way I once dreamed it. I know even now
what she wants, before she puckers up her little lips for it. Of course,
you are right--he--they have the right to know. But take the shine off
that creature? Clip the wings of her spirit? Fatten her little soul back
there in that sluggish environment? She'd hate it as I hated! Oh you
must have seen for yourself that Sunday I took you out there. The little
live stars in her eyes. The plunge and rear to her little body. Never!
She's mine! We two! Out on the open road!"
"I shouldn't want the responsibility of rearing my child in a paid
institution if I had better to offer."
"I haven't better! I've proved to myself, Mrs. Blair, to what limit I
would go to--to save her from back there. Proved it--horribly! No--no,
she's mine. No, not even mine. She belongs to herself. As soon as her
little brain is ready to take it in, she shall decide; but until
"Lilly--Lilly--a father ignorant of his child!"
"They'd suck us back, I tell you! Self-preservation even against family
is a first law of life! Owls eat their young! So can human beings feed
on the thing they love. It's not these first years would matter. But
ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. They would hitch her vision, not to
a star, but to a--a tin dipper. You don't understand. You know it seems
to me, Mrs. Blair, that most people, women, anyhow, are like great big
houses with only half the rooms in use. The mentality closed up and
musty from disuse because they have never found or made the keys. I want
my child to live roundly--in all her mental rooms. What is the use
closing off any part of a house that was meant for light and sunshine? I
want her to know the world she lives in from attic to cellar. The good
from the bad, so that, knowing the bad, she can love more the good. The
right to live!"
"You're for woman's rights. You're one of those suffragists."
"I guess I am if woman's rights mean more breadth, more beauty, more
realization of our latent selves. Oh, I don't know what I mean. That's
been my curse."
In the darkness Mrs. Blair put up a hand to the sheen of Lilly's flowing
"You poor child! You funny girl. You need--"
"The right man to sweep you off your feet."
"I knew you were going to say that. No, you're wrong. I'm not
essentially a man's woman, Mrs. Blair. Sex isn't even as big a part of
my life as it is of most women's. I can't flirt. I haven't an ounce of
coquetry in me. I think I almost hate--"
"You mean you hate what your experience has been. The right man for you,
dear, a man with enough of the materialist to hold you in check and
enough of youth and vision and ideals to soar with you. No, no, you
don't hate him, Lilly."
"Oh, I've seen it flash between the two of you. I've watched it being
silently born. Lilly child, look at me!"
"Why, Mrs. Blair! Why--Mrs. Blair! I've never seen him outside of office
hours in my life. I never laid eyes on him until he walked in that night
from Chicago. Why, I--I'm a married woman! He's younger--than I--a year!
He knows there is Zoe. He sent her up a little hobbyhorse from the
property room. Why, Mrs. Blair--of course if you look at me
She was suddenly in the older woman's arms, a passionate, a peony red
flooding her face and waving down her words. She was all for further
resistance, but her denial had taken on an archness for which she
Besides, it was suddenly delicious to huddle there, tingling in the
There were a quality of voice, of eye, and a fine, upstanding rush of
sooty black hair which he tried to japan down with a pair of swift
military brushes, in the way of woman's safest judgment of
By the quieter kinetics of his own sex, he was a man's man. He
commingled easily in his clubs, a university, a Mask and Wig, a Long
Island Canoe, and the Gramercy. Preceding his brother in this last and
later proposing him.
The resemblance between the two was neither of form nor of feature.
Rather, it was fleeting as a wing; in fact, was just that. There was
something in the batting of the eye, a slant of lid, that showed the
mysterious corpuscles of the same blood asserting themselves. Yet it was
more the likeness of father and son; the older man shorter, wider of
thigh, and with none of that fleet, rather sensitive lift of head,
partly because his neck was shorter and not upflung as if so sensitive
to the very rush of air that the flanges of the nostrils quivered.
There was a more nervous organization to Bruce that gave him something
of the startled look of wild horse, particularly with the laid-back
Mercury wing effect to his hair.
In anger Robert had a répertoire of oaths that stained the air like the
trail of a wounded shark, his pupils receding to points and his mouth
pulling to an oblique.
Bruce, if anything, whitened and quieted. He had once, with hardly more
than a lightning lunge, broken a truck driver's wrist in an office
altercation over some manhandled scenery, and gone home rather sick
because the fellow's opened cheek had bled down over his desk.
His office manner was clipped, brisk, and highly impersonal. He
cultivated a little mustache to enhance that manner, yet the two
sixteen-year-old girls who pasted clippings into scrap books spitted
their curls for him, and, since his advent, even Ida Blair had discarded
her eye shade.
In moments of high pressure he stuttered slightly, grinding and whirring
over a sibilant like a stalled tire. Upon one occasion that was to be
memorable Lilly sat between the brothers, notebook in lap, her head bent
to dodge the fusillade of high words passing over it.
It was her third year in a firm that had not slipped a cog. She had
likened its growth to her child's--fine--sturdy--normal. There were
seven theaters now, lying at points between New York and Denver, a
quickening nervous system of them with New York its ganglia. An eighth
had just been acquired, through which transaction she had endured with a
vicarious anxiety that amazed her. There had been arduous after office
hours of deed, mortgage, and bill of sale, and to growing demands had
invested herself with power of notary public, proclaiming the same in a
neat sign above her desk.
It was the day of the consummation of this last deal, a Bronx Family
Theater, in fact, that occurred between the brothers one of those
bloodless chasms no wider than a sword blade, but hilt-deep.
After a morning series of conferences with two representatives of
Philadelphia capital and the vice president of a Surety Guarantee
Company, Lilly in her new capacity thumping down on document after
document that slid beneath her punch, the transfer was completed, and,
bursting out into the corridor, rather hoyendish with elation, she drew
up shortly to avoid collision with Robert Visigoth, himself still warm
with the occasion.
"Well," he said, slapping the side pockets of his waistcoat, "we pulled
it off, didn't we?" The possibility of an evening train back to Chicago
and of a big deal creditably accomplished quickening his well-being.
"Indeed we did!" she replied, heartily.
More and more, on these intermittent visits of his, the icy edge of her
self-consciousness was beginning to thaw. Probably because the years had
done their sebaceous worst with him. Somehow he had receded behind the
dumpling of himself.
"Have you seen this one of Rufus II, Mrs. Penny? I want to show you a
picture of a youngster with some kick to him. Look at those legs,
He had married, three years previous, a Miss Hindle Higginbothom, the
only child of a Chicago leaf-lard magnate of household-word kind of
fame, and brother-in-law to his father's one-time law partner, O.J.
For three years now, as if caught in a suet destiny, he had lived in the
Lake Shore mansion of his father-in-law, making the Western city his
official headquarters for as long as seven and eight-month periods.
Ten, the year his first child was born.
Often his wife accompanied him on his trips to New York. She was an
enormous girl, looking ten years her senior, but with that fat kind of
prettiness which asserts itself so often in clear skin and
Her capitulation to matrimony, rather than to Robert Visigoth, was
complete. She was one of those inevitable mothers with little broody
household ways that no immense wealth could dissipate. The first year
there were twins. One of them died, but annually thereafter, until there
were six, she presented a chuckling grandfather with a literal heir.
Literal, because on each such nativity old Rufus Higginbothom, who had
found it easier to make millions than to learn to write, signed his
famous "X" to a five-hundred-thousand-dollar check of greeting to the
Robert Visigoth carried photographs of his babies and wife in a leather
pocket portfolio, referring to it constantly and with a great show of
casualness, "Oh, by the way, have I ever shown you--"
Lilly returned this to him now, with a rush of amused pleasure at the
bouncing rotundities of his newest born.
"He's a darling!"
"He was a little croupy before I left and I'm taking that six-three for
Chicago, Mrs. Penny, and I wonder if you would do something for me. I'm
caught empty-handed. Would you take a cab down to Ryan and Steger's (the
wife says they are the best for stouts) and select me a couple of right
nobby waists for her? Get the best, and you know pretty much about size.
The largest--you know. A few pairs of black silk stockings, extra
quality and extra size, would be nice, too. It would save me
"I'll do my best."
"Well, that will be a darn sight better than the wife's when it comes
to clothes. She gets them tubby. Pick out something slick--on the order
of what you've got on."
"Why, this is only a two-dollar blouse!"
He flipped her a one-hundred-dollar bill.
"Don't come back with any change."
Late in the afternoon of this day which had transmitted its tremor of
large transaction throughout the offices, long since partitioned off
into ground-glass cells and softened with sound-eating rugs, Lilly was
summoned to the office of R.J., carrying with her the box containing her
purchases. Bruce was there, too, pacing between windows.
He met her up with an immediate inquiry.
"Mrs. Penny, did you go up to see that 'June Blossom' sketch last
"Yes. I'm writing my report on it."
Constantly now requests like this were tossed in the form of a pair of
tickets on her desk.
"Sweet, clean, and obvious."
He nodded in a short corroborative manner he had, drawing up alongside
"Take a telegram, please. 'Mr. Sam Sadler, People's Theater, Cleveland,
Ohio. Book _June Blossom_ for week of nineteenth.' And now if you'll
sign and stamp this mortgage after my brother and I sign."
The box proved cumbersome, so before she took up pen she held it out to
"The blouses," she said. "There is a blue and a maroon. I hope Mrs.
Visigoth is going to like them. And here is the change."
"That's mighty fine," he said, smiling until a second chin appeared. "A
trinket or two up his sleeve gives a fellow a right to ring his own
He reached then, fumbling at the hasps of his alligator bag which stood
by, opening it out and stooping to insert the package.
Simultaneously, as the mouth of that valise yawned, the two men leaped