Part 6 out of 8
forward so that their heads came together resoundingly and absurdly, but
not before the bag had exposed its surface articles: a pair of
tortoise-shell military brushes, a packet of documents, and a precious
silver and lapis-lazuli box about the dimensions of a playing card, the
kind usually dedicated to such elusive addenda as stamps, collar
buttons, or sewing box in a lady's overnight bag.
From where she sat, shorthand book open, pencil poised, Lilly had
observed it quite casually, although it was some time before she could
co-ordinate it with what ensued.
Suddenly there was the flash of the two men to their feet, R.J., an
ox-blood surging into his face, kicking shut the valise, his brother
whitening and quivering.
"Why did you lie about that box!"
"What do you mean?" said Robert, through his teeth, his color so livid
that teeth and eyeballs seemed to whiten.
His voice like the splitting of silk, Bruce plunged down a pointing
forefinger toward the bag.
"Open that up," he said.
"The hell I will."
With one swift stroke from the lighter and lither of them, the bag was
on its side, spilling its contents of tortoise-shell hair brushes and
the silver box, Bruce standing above it, tightening of jaw and knuckles.
"Liar!" he cried. "Liar!"
To Lilly it seemed that out of these years of apparently placid
relationship, with something avuncular, even of father and son in it,
here were suddenly and terribly Cain and Abel, elemental with an itch
for each other's throat.
"Say that again, by God! and you'll regret it."
"Liar! Liar!" he reiterated over and over, standing and towering over
the spilling bag. "Why did you lie to me about that box? Three years ago
I asked you for it. The spring after her death. Just before the auction.
Wasn't it sufficient that I let you and Pauline settle her personal
effects between you? Only that little box--somehow I wanted it. Father
gave it to her the first Christmas of their marriage. She always kept it
on her table. You were welcome to all the rest between you. All I asked
for was that little box of mother's. And to think that yesterday, the
anniversary of her death, I mentioned it again. Liar! Liar! Lost! Never
been found among her effects! Bah! Liar! It's a little thing, a trinket
that she loved, but I wanted it. You hear, I wanted that trinket. She
used to keep jelly beans in it for me when I came in from school. It's
little--the littlest thing that ever happened between us, but it's the
meanest, and God knows in my dealings with you all my life there have
been enough of the little meannesses to contend with. But you have won
your last mean little advantage outside this office. You and I can play
the cards in business, particularly when we play them six hundred miles
apart and where it is a case of man to man out on the mat. But outside
this office we play quits! There aren't going to be any more nasty
little personal issues with you, because there aren't going to be any
at all. You're a liar and a hundred per cent bigger one over that little
trinket of a box than if the stakes had been bigger. You hate to give,
unless it's so much for so much. Your sense of fairness is vile! It's
penny mean! Liar!"
With a lowering of head Robert lunged then, his lips dragged to an
oblique, threads of red cut in his eyeballs.
"Eat those words or, by God! I'll ram them down your throat."
"The hell I will."
They were crowded against the door, their breathing flowing against each
other's face, gestures uplifted.
Her eyes black and her notebook crushed up to her, Lilly's voice rang
out like the crack of a whip, springing them apart. There were a
whiteness and a sense of emptiness upon her and she wanted to crumple up
rather sickly and cry, as if the blows had been diverted to her.
They were suddenly and quiveringly themselves again, the panther laid.
"You'll rue this," said Robert, walking back with some uncertainty of
step to his desk, his eyes still slits.
Bruce lifted the box rather tenderly, even with the greeny pallor of his
rage still out and his features straining for composure.
"I'll have it valued and send you a check--"
"Damn you!" With snarl-shaped lips the older brother lunged again, this
time their bodies meeting and swaying for clutch.
The use of his given name, the curdled quality to her voice, had their
way. There was a moment of blank staring between the two men, of Bruce
placing the box gently on the desk and walking out without slamming the
door, and Robert sinking down into the swivel chair, trying to bring the
oblique pull of his lips back to straight.
"Get out," he said, without looking at her.
She did, tiptoeing and fighting down the sense of sickness.
And thus, out of a bauble of silver and lapis lazuli, was reared a tower
of silence between these brothers as high as fifteen years is long.
Large affairs for their joint unraveling lay ahead, dramatic in their
magnitude. The Union Square Family Theater was very presently to become
first a tawdry, then a discarded link in the glittering chain of
playhouses that was to gird the country.
Toward this end R.J. and Bruce Visigoth steered, with an impeccable
oneness of purpose, the destinies of an enterprise audacious in its
concept and ultimately to be spectacular in its fulfillment.
But outside the sharply defined inclosures of their business lives, the
brothers went down into a wordless vale of fifteen years of
estrangement, not in enmity, but rather as a hatpin, plunged through the
heart, can kill, bloodlessly.
When Lilly put on her hat outside in the now darkening and deserted
offices, it seemed to her that the roar of men's passions was a gale
through the silence. Quite irrelevantly she was clutched with a terror
of catastrophe. The possibility of fire! Only last week there had been a
devastating one in a children's hospital out in Columbus, Ohio. She beat
down these flames of fear. Yet what strange and horrible passions lay
just a scratch beneath the surface of the day-by-days. A little girl
aged four had once been found battered and dead beside a farm hand's
dinner pail in St. Louis County! Suddenly all the faces she could
conjure began to form staring circles around her--the Visigoths. Minnie
Dupree. Ida Blair. Auchinloss. Phonzie. Phonzie!
She decided to walk fast and long and ran downstairs out into the little
areaway that ran like an alley from stage entrance to sidewalk. A newly
installed nickelodeon, adjoining, was already lighted, throwing out a
hard white shine and tinned music at the instance of five cents in the
slot. In the glaring pallor Bruce Visigoth was suddenly at her side, his
felt hat bunched up in his hand and his hair wet-looking, as if drenched
"I couldn't let you go without apologizing, Mrs. Penny."
She smiled with lips that would pull to the nervous impulse to cry.
"The idea!" she said, feeling the words tawdry and provincial as they
"It was my fault for permitting it to happen in the presence of a third
"Those things cannot always be avoided," again biting down into her
tongue for its banality.
"Will you forget it as if it had never occurred?"
She turned her gaze, that could be so singularly clear, full upon him.
"It is already forgotten."
Strangely enough and with unspoken accord they took to walking then at a
clip that was almost a rush and created quite a wind in their faces. It
was their first meeting out of office and here they were half running
through a cool and winey half darkness and utterly without destination.
She stopped abruptly at West Fourteenth Street, beyond the thunder of
the Sixth Avenue Elevated and where the sky line began to dip down
toward the piers.
"Good night," she said, throwing back her head to look up at him from
under the low brim of sailor.
He whipped off his resiliently soft hat, hugging it under one arm.
"Of course," he said, "of course," mopping at his forehead and so
unstrung that she could have laughed. "I'm sorry. I beg your pardon. Is
this where you live?"
They were before a greasily lighted taxidermist's window of mounted
raccoon, fox terrior with legs curled for running, and an owl on
"No," she said, eying the owl, "I don't live here," and were both off
into a gale of laughter that swept down the barriers of self-restraint.
"We've both been walking it off," she said, easily. "Here is where I
turn for home."
He caught her hand.
"D-don't go. I'd be so grateful--so grateful if you'd have dinner with
"Nonsense!" she said, amazed at her fluency of manner. "You're a bit
unstrung, that's all. Look in at your club or a show."
"All right," she said, suddenly, on a little click of teeth. "I'll
"You're a brick," he cried, releasing her hand with a grateful pressure.
She was excited out of all proportions to the event, flushing up with a
sense of adventure and crowded moment.
He began to scan for a cab.
"Not a bit of it," bringing one down with a cane. "We're out on a
"No buts," helping her in and climbing in after. "Waldorf."
"I'm too shirtwaisted."
"Nothing of the kind. You're as trim as a dime. I like those waists you
wear. They make you look smooth--shining. That's it, you've a shine
The odor of another drive in an open cab through this same snarl of
traffic was winding about her like mist. That doctor's outer office with
its row of thoughtful chairs. Rembrandt's "Night-Watch." That frenzied
moment of finding the lock! The run up two flights. She sat forward on
the slippery leather seat.
"I--I shouldn't have come."
"If you're serious, of course I'll take you home. But I can't tell you
how much I want you not to feel that way."
She sat back again.
"I'm behaving like a shop girl."
They both laughed again and complete thaw set in.
He selected one of the lesser dining rooms where the formality of
evening clothes was still the rule, but here and there a couple like
themselves, in street attire. It was her first New York meal that was
not read off a badly thumbed menu and eaten off thick-lipped china. A
stringed orchestra played the Duo of Parsifal and Kundry, which was
enough to set the blood rocking in her veins and some of its bombastic
maternal passion to dye her face.
He ordered a man's dinner: Clear soup with croûtons. Long oysters on the
half shell. A thick steak with potatoes deliciously concocted beneath a
crust of cheese. Light wine. Ices in long glasses as slender as the neck
of a crane. Turkish coffee brewed at the table over alcohol.
She sighed out finally, warm with well-being: "I didn't realize how
deadly tired I was of just--grub. You see, it's the first time I've
dined at a first-class place since I'm in New York."
"You don't mean that."
She nodded, smiling.
"I think I'm as surprised as you are. It's just one of the things that
never occurred to me."
He regarded her for a long moment and without smile.
"You queer, queer girl."
"If anyone tells me that again, I'll begin to believe it is my
"No epitaph is inevitable. It is what you write it."
She leaned her chin into the cup of her palm.
"Do you think that?"
"Yes, and therefore yours should embody courage and dauntless idealism
and love of truth."
She looked off through the atmosphere that was talcy with soft odors and
the warm perfume of bare shoulders.
"Love of truth," she said, her eyes lit, "would be enough."
"Love of you, would be an epitaph to my liking."
She was afraid he could see the little beating at her throat and wanted
to be facetious. Poor Lilly, to whom persiflage came none too readily.
"Now, you're making sport of me."
"Probably it is a case of laugh that I may not weep."
"Even tears can be idle."
"I suppose I am to surmise over the quality of yours?"
"Well, you have had me guessing for three years. Mrs. Penny. Lilly! I
can't say the other, it--won't s-say itself."
She asked her question with a cessation of her entire being, as if her
heart had missed a beat.
"Oh yes. I know how you threw over the professional end of it for what
you decided you could do better. I thought that pretty plucky; so many
of us mistake inflated judgment for genius and stubbornness for
perseverance, when that same perseverance applied to the job within
one's capacity may lead to fine fulfillment."
"It's good to hear you say that."
"But that is about all I do know--Lilly--except, of course, that there
is a youngster and somewhere in the background a husband whom I would
like to meet out some dark night when I happen to be wearing my favorite
pair of brass knuckles."
Something nameless and shapeless had lifted; there was a gavotte to her
"My husband was--is a good man."
"But not a wise one if he couldn't hold a creature like you."
"And my child! You talk about shine! Of course I know it is only her
hair and eyes and now her little teeth, but sometimes it seems to me
there is an actual iridescence to her. Just as real as the gold circlets
the Italians loved to paint about heads they adored."
"Your head is--"
"You see, the fuzz of her curls gives that effect. Those new
stereopticon views that move, that we used on the bills last week, show
it--that aura off the hair. Even the nurses and Mrs. Dupree have
remarked Zoe's. She's really the show child of the place, you know."
"No. She's only like me about the eyes, and like--him--in the honey
color of her hair. Hers is as brilliant and curly as mine is dull and
smooth. And she's so big. So golden and burstingly big. I can't look at
her without fairly gasping, 'can this be mine'!"
"And to think a man let you go, once he had you captured."
"He didn't let go. I went. I can never hear him referred to slightingly
without feeling myself a rotter not to explain. My husband was so
terribly all he should have been, Mr. Visigoth. As decent and
God-fearing a man as ever--chewed his beefsteak with his temples."
He threw back his head for one of his sustained laughs.
"It's horrid of me to belittle him. Let me explain further."
"Lord! you don't need to. I know everything about him there is to know.
A fine, hefty truck horse trying to do teamwork with a red-nostriled
"I--I think that's it--I've never been able to get it across to anyone
"He was just cast wrong. That's all there is to be said against the
"I understand. In a way I'm in a similar position with my own brother.
Only, I've stuck it out because it was my mother's great wish to see us
get on together. After what you have observed these years, particularly
to-day, none of this can be particularly new to you."
"I've noticed, of course, you--you're different."
"It is the little things about Robert I cannot swallow. Never could. He
is the better business man and keeps my head out of the clouds, but many
a time I've wanted to duck these years of apprenticeship and produce the
things I believe in. I will some day, but that is another story. Robert
has vision. His sense of land and theater values is unfailing. He--"
"Well, so is your vision just as unfailing in your work. The chain
didn't even begin to form before you took over the booking end."
"He has fine traits, too. Big ones. His word is his bond. He has
business foresight and integrity, but somehow it is his little
meannesses. I remember once in my father's house he took a thrashing for
something outrageous he was not guilty of, because he had promised some
youngster across the way he would shield him, come what might, and
somehow I thought it pretty fine of him. But another time he let me take
a thrashing for something he had done and stood by without opening his
mouth. It is those indescribable smallnesses in his make-up. Once when I
was in favor of branching out and producing a legitimate three-act play
which I happened to run across--a rare thing from the French--he--well,
I won't go into it--but this thing--to-night--that bauble of my
mother's--it--it's the climax of a lifetime of such flea bites--a trifle
hardly worth the mentioning, and yet--it's the most utter--the most
There was a half crash of his clenched hand among the silver and a rise
of suffusing red up out of the white of his soft collar.
"I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to let you in for any more of it. I'm
sorry. And after you were gracious enough to come alone, too. Come, here
is to making this little party a gay one."
He held up his glass. "Here's to the shining child."
"Oh!" she cried, and drank quickly.
"Not much. It burns."
"You should see your eyes."
"You should see hers."
"Do you know what I should have done in your husband's place?"
"Harnessed you, too, but to a moonbeam."
"I once knew a man to whom I never spoke ten words in all my life, and
yet I always imagined he might have talked to me like that--not
literally--not in terms of tin dippers."
"Of what, you queer, queer girl?"
"Now I know of whom you remind me! An old school-teacher I once had.
"I would never have let you slip my harness through."
"And have deprived the Amusement Enterprise Company of my austere
"You've been invaluable. Ninety per cent of your judgments have been
ninety-nine per cent there!"
"Luck nonsense! Judgment isn't horseshoe-shaped."
"I love it! Feeling the public pulse for what it wants. The psychology
of your vaudeville audience is as elementary as a primer and as
intricate as life. It is a bloodhound when it comes to detecting the
false from the true. Take that little sketch, 'Trapped,' you sent me out
to see last week. A more sophisticated audience might have mistaken its
brittle epigrammatic quality for brilliancy and its flippancy for
cleverness. But not your ten-twenty-thirty's. In real life a husband
doesn't psychanalyze his wife's lover. He horsewhips him. And that
lovely blank-verse fantasy that you attempted on your own. That is the
sort of thing you are going to stand for some day in the theater. I
loved your wanting it. But right now, while you are on your way up to
the goal, is where I come in. Sort of mediator between your ideals and
the box office. Of course you loved the fantasy. So did I, and I loved
your wanting to do it. But it took vaudeville just one performance to
decide that it wasn't ready for that kind of mysticism."
"And you forty minutes."
"You would never have backed it even over my O.K."
"Then you don't realize how far your O.K. goes with me."
"What is this," she smiled, "a mutual-admiration fête?"
"I don't know," suddenly leaning toward her, reddening. "I can only
speak for myself. Lilly--you're wonderful--"
She chose to be casual, most effectively, too.
"Indeed it is mutual. I need hardly to tell you what association with
your office has meant to me. The romance of an organization like yours.
The thrill of seeing it triple proportions in these few years. The fine
stimulating something that comes with the acquisition of each new
Amusement Enterprise Theater. The chats we have had over plays, play
writing, producing. Your own fine aim. Oh, it has made bearable even the
monotony of the secretarial end of it!"
"I am afraid your secretarial services are about to be dispensed with."
She placed a quick hand to her heart.
"What do you mean?"
He flecked his cigar, laughing over at her.
"You're delicious. What could I mean except that you have outgrown your
"I mean that I am going to officially place you in charge of the booking
department at--well, your own idea of salary."
"I--I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything."
"You can't know--"
"I do know."
"You see, she is almost four now, and beautifully cared for, but, now
that her little mind is beginning to unfold--I--Oh, to be able to afford
a place of my own--next year--when she has outgrown Mrs. Dupree's. You
see, I've never really had her. I've such plans for the day when I can
have her rearing all to myself. I want life to unfold so naturally to
her. Like a flower. That's why I am so terribly jealous of every day we
spend apart. That's why you--you cannot know what it means to have you
tell me that I've made good. It means that the time is nearing for me to
have her with me, to--to--Well, you cannot--cannot know!"
She sat back, feeling foolish because her eyes were filling and trying
to smile back the tears.
He reached over to place his palms over her hand.
"How rightly named you are! 'Lilly.' One of those big, milky-spathed,
calla lilies. Calla Lilly."
"We'll be going now," she said, feeling for her jacket.
They rode down to Eleventh Street in a cab, almost silently, and as she
sat looking out, unsmiling, she could feel his gaze burn her profile.
He left her at the stoop, standing bareheaded.
"You've saved me from an evening of horrors."
"You're not angry--Calla Lilly?"
"Of course not."
"How soon again?"
And somehow the word was like a plummet deep into the years ahead.
One hot Saturday afternoon, at least a twelvemonth later, as Lilly was
rushing down from the children's department of one of Broadway's
gigantic cut-rate department stores, she stopped so abruptly that she
created a little throwback in the sidewalk jam.
Her miracle was broken. Her first impulse even now was to dart back, but
the tow of the crowd was strong, and, besides, she was suddenly eye to
eye with an exceedingly thin youth with a very long neck rising far
above a high collar, a pasty and slightly pimpled face evidently slow to
beard, and a soft hat pulled down over meek light-blue eyes, himself
even more inclined to push on than she.
It was her first encounter since her clean cleavage from a strangely
remote dream phase of her existence. For the first three years she had
carried about a fear of some such meeting, a passer-by brushing her
shoulders or a sense of presence at her back sending a shock through
her. Once she had hurriedly left a Subway train because of a fancied
likeness to Roy Kemble in a young fellow across the aisle. Even now
there were days when fancied resemblances seem to people the crowds.
"Why, Harry Calvert!"
"Hello," he said in the tempo of no great surprise, but purpling up into
his lightish hair. "I know you. You're Lilly Becker."
"Harry, I cannot believe my eyes! I haven't seen you since you were in
knickers. And to think we remembered each other! Come here a minute out
of the crowd. I want to talk to you."
He followed her with some reluctance and a great sheepishness out of
Broadway into quieter Thirty-fourth Street, twirling his hat, his
"You look fine, Lilly."
"What are you doing here, Harry? How is your grandma? St. Louis?"
She could have embraced, cried over him, the loneliness of years seeming
to rush to a head.
"Gramaw and I live here."
"Harry, not really!"
"Nearly two years, now."
"'Way out near Tremont Avenue."
"And you, Harry, what do you do?"
"I was window dresser for a gents' furnishing store up to a few weeks
ago, but it--it changed hands. I'm out of a job right now."
"Harry, do you ever hear from--home?"
"No, Miss Lilly, we never see anyone from there. You're the first."
"I'll tell you what. I'm going home with you. Take me out with you to
visit your grandma. I haven't seen her in years--it's been so long
He was wringing his hat now and shifting.
"It's a long way out, Lilly. It's hardly built up out there at all."
"I don't care. I'll buy some pastries on the way and we will make a
party of it. Does she still keep boarders?"
"Poor, dear Mrs. Schum, fancy her living here!"
They rode out on a surface car, changing twice and jammed face to face
on a rear platform, a brilliant pink out in her face.
"Harry, I just cannot realize it. You a full-fledged man!"
"What is that yellow on your fingers? Not from smoking?"
"I used to a lot, but not now."
"Is your grandmother just as wrapped up in you as ever, Harry? Poor
"Yes, she is. You sure look fine, Lilly. You're pretty!"
"And what in the world brought you to New York and what ever became of
Mr. Hazzard and--"
"Oh, gramaw read in the paper once that he died of that sore on his
"And old Willie and Mr. Keebil and Snow Horton--ever see any of them,
"No; you see it is nearly two years since--"
"I have a little daughter--almost five years old!"
"Gramaw followed up in the papers when you were married. Flora Kemble
and Roy, they're both married, too."
"Harry, didn't you ever hear anything about--well, about my marriage?"
"Yes, there was something about it. I forget. You live in New York?"
"Yes, and, Harry, don't say anything when we get to your home. Just let
me walk in and surprise her."
More and more she noticed his indoor whiteness and the eyelids which
would twitch nervously.
"Do you keep well, Harry?"
There was quite a walk from the car, across a viaduct, down a flight of
steps, and into a steep new street of flimsy-looking apartment houses of
the dawning era of vertical homes. But the Harlem River, neat as a
canal, flowed within easy view and there was something very scoured
about the expression of the just graded street of occasional vacant
lots, showing the first break in the continuity of city brick that
Lilly's tired eyes had encountered.
"Why, Harry, I've never been away out here before! How nice and clean!"
"Here we are."
They entered one of the tan-brick buildings, "El Dorado" writ in elegant
gilt script across the transom. Then up three flights of clean, new,
fireproof stairs, Harry inserting his key into one of the two doors that
faced the landing.
"Sh-h-h, Harry! Tell her it is just a friend."
Old odors laden with memory rushed to meet her; that pungency which,
unaccountably enough, reeks of the cold boiled potato, and which old
upholsteries, windowless hallways, and frequent meat stews can generate.
There was a blob of low-pressure gaslight in the hallway, a weak and
watery eye burning from a side bracket into the odor so poignant with
association. Tony Eli drowned at eighteen. Her father peering behind the
dresser. "Where's Lilly?" "Here I am!" Herself hugging up her knees in
their stout ribbed stockings, her round gaze on the red-glass globe with
the warts blown into it.
There it was, that same glass globe around the puny light; and the
hatrack--the one with the seat that opened for rubbers and school bags.
"Gramaw, come out. Here is some one."
A long cooking fork in her hand, and a puff of steam hissing out after
her, Mrs. Schum peered into the hallway. She was strangely smaller,
Lilly thought, as if the flesh were beginning to wither off the rack of
"Mrs. Schum! Dear Mrs. Schum!"
"Come out, gramaw. It's no one to be afraid of."
"Harry!" Her voice came cracking out like a shot. "Harry, are you in
"Who is hounding you? If you are here about my grandson, madam, they are
all the time trying to get the best of my boy. He hasn't broken parole
since old Judge Delahanty down in the Twenty-third Street Court--"
"Mrs. Schum! Dear Mrs. Schum! Don't you know me? Please! Think, dearie,
the little girl out in St. Louis who used to plague you for bread
The old face loosened, the eyes peering through spectacles held across
the nose with a bit of twine.
"Right the first time, gramaw!"
"Bless my heart! Bless my soul! Let me sit down. I'm right weak. Little
They embraced there in a hallway hardly wide enough to contain them.
These two, who ordinarily might have met again, after such a span of
years, in the mildest of reunions, here in each other's arms, hungrily,
heartbeat to heartbeat.
"Lilly, Lilly, come in here and let me look at you. Light up the front
room, Harry. Well, I declare! Let me sit down. I'm right weak-kneed.
Law! pretty is no name! Well, I declare!"
In the little front room of chromos, folding bed with desk attachment,
a bisque knickknack or two, they were finally knee to knee, Lilly's hat
tossed aside, her hands clasping the old veiny ones.
"Begin at the beginning, Mrs. Schum. Everything. First, tell me, dear,
how long since you have heard of my folks?"
"Harry, you go out in the kitchen and keep the things warm until gramaw
comes out to dish up. Set the table with a cloth on, and run over to the
delicatessen for a bit of cold cuts. He's a right smart help to me,
Lilly. Not like some boys, too proud to help. And now--now--let me
see--why, it's two years since I met your mother downtown in St. Louis
before I had any idea of coming here."
"How did she look?"
"Splendid. She was with one of her euchre friends, so I didn't have the
chance for an old-time chat, but she made me promise to come and see
her, and 'pon my word, just as young and pretty as you please, with a
fine face veil and a purple feather boa and shopping out of the Busy Bee
bins just the way she used to do."
"Indeed she did! Buying some menfolk stuff. Wool socks, I think she
said, for your father, was it, who is subject to colds in the head--"
"No, those weren't for papa. Oh, Mrs. Schum, it's so good to hear of her
first hand like this! What--what did she say about me?"
"Told me about you off here studying opera, and your husband was making
his home with them. I--I took it from what she said you were none too
happy with him, but I had no idea of your being here still! Aren't
things well with you, Lilly? I always said you reminded me of my Annie,
and she would have turned out something big if she had lived. I expect
it of you, too, Lilly."
"She put up a bold front with me, I will say that, never letting on that
there had been trouble. And then just before I left--we came away mighty
"Yes, came to sew for a family I had boarding with me, and she said she
heard you had left him for good and that your parents took sides with
your husband and had him in their home, occupying your very room, and
that your mother was as fussy over him as she ever was over you, babying
him to death. Lilly, Lilly, what is wrong with you?"
"And my father, Mrs. Schum?"
"Fine. Mary says he's a bit whiter, but not a whit changed. He's done
well in the rope business, hasn't he? Although I always say it was your
mother's practical ways got him on his feet, and from what I understand
that young man you married has given him many a lift. They've gone in
business together, haven't they? They tell me, Lilly, there is not a
steadier or more advancing young man than yours. Ah me, the ways of
young ones are strange I guess you haven't heard about Harry, either?"
"He's a good boy, Harry is, Lilly, but I've been through trouble with
him. That's the reason for our being here. You see, Lilly, him being a
poor orphan all his life, they're all against him. The little fellow
never had the right raising, knocking around with all those nigger
servants, and me with never the time to do for him."
"Oh, Mrs. Schum, how can you! Why, there wasn't any of the youngsters
in the boarding house had a sweeter influence over him than Harry."
"No, no. It was all my fault. I was too pressed trying to make ends
meet. I should have given up that big house years ago for a few roomers
like now. He got in bad ways, Lilly. Not noisy and with gangs like some
rough boys would. But quiet--solitary-like. I never knew him to hang
around with that gang of boys that used to loaf over at Pirney's drug
store or anything like that, but after the Kembles and you folks left,
Harry got to stealing, Lilly. Little things. The child never took
anything more than a bit of lead pipe from Quinn's empty house across
the street, and once a little silver trinket from a milliner I had up in
the third floor front--"
"He used to do little things like that when he was a child, don't you
"It's his father in him, Lilly. Maybe you don't know it, but that's what
killed my Annie, that same streak which was the ruination of a fine,
educated man like his father. But Harry's got too much of his mother in
him to be all bad; he--"
"Of course he has, dear."
"To get back to our coming East, Lilly. One night he--Harry brought me
home a brooch, Lilly. A right pretty gold one with a garnet in. It used
to hurt him that I never had any finery. He wouldn't take anything to
buy drink and bad times for himself like other boys, but he'd steal
something to bring home to his old grandmother. All that night, Lilly,
down there in the basement kitchen, I was nearly crazy trying to get out
of him where he got that brooch. The next day they was after him, for it
and some--nickel-plated facets from out of the washroom where he was
working. They hushed it up. Old Judge Mayer, you remember his sister
used to board with me. But the next time there was a little
trouble--this time a--a little finger ring--not even all gold. I--we--we
had to sell out and come here--where we could be swallowed up."
"Oh, Harry, Harry, how could he!"
"Wasn't his fault. It wasn't the place for him out there any more with
everybody against a poor orphan. I've cut him off, Lilly, from his bad
ways out there. You're the first I've seen or heard of since we left,
and I don't want you to even write it to your folks that we're here.
There's the little matter of that ring--not even all gold--and--some
lead pipe--forgotten, now--please God, but they might want him back for
it--that's how down on him they are. He's a good boy, Harry is, Lilly,
with respect for his grandmother. He's had a slip up or two, but the
best of us have that, haven't we?"
"It's to be expected. A boy can't shake off his inheritance overnight,
can he? Can he?"
"No, I suppose not, dear."
"Don't let on, Lilly. He's sensitive. We'll win yet, Harry and me will.
The world hasn't taken much stock of a poor little basement orphan, but
with the kind of mother he had, his grandmother will live yet to see the
day that it does take account of him. Harry's right smart with draping
and decorating around the house, and if I do say it, when he dresses a
window the traffic stops. He's a great one for reading and following up
the magazines, too. Smart. I'd stake my all on a boy that has got it in
him to treat his grandmother with the gentleness he does. And children!
There is not one on the street he can pass for love of them. A boy like
that cannot be all bad, can he, Lilly?"
Her eyes magnified with the glaze of tears so that one blink would have
overflowed them, Lilly laid her lips to the veiny old hand, her voice
down into the lap of blue-checkered apron.
"We mothers--Mrs. Schum--God, how we love to suffer to them!"
Her face in the tired old lap, the little room seeming to crowd up with
voice, Lilly talked on then, until the little clock inset into a china
plate ticked out an hour, and in the kitchen, Harry, with all his old
capacity for meekness, lay asleep with his head in his arms and the
little dinner cloying on the stove.
"I'm afraid my old brain don't take it all in, Lilly. You mean your
mother--father--none of them--know?"
"It isn't for you to understand, dear. The mere telling of it has
somehow eased things. We are bits of seaweed, dear Mrs. Schum, tossed up
on the same shores. You and your fugitive from environment. Me and mine.
If your secret is to be mine, mine must be yours."
"God have mercy on you, Lilly, wherever it is your ways are leading
"He has had, Mrs. Schum."
"I don't know. I don't know. You know best, I guess, what is in your
"I do. It's this. Why can't you take--us?"
"I want her with me. She is getting big enough for the kind of training
I have all mapped out for her. And now you--it's nothing short of
destiny led me to you. I could put her in day school. Can take her
myself in the mornings, say, and you, dear Mrs. Schum, are to call for
her? I can pay, I can help you and you can help me. Later we may take a
larger place with extra room. Mrs. Schum, don't you see, we've been
"Why, Lilly--I believe--I do."
It was after ten o'clock when, over a belated little meal, they ceased
their planning. Eleven, when Harry finally walked with her across the
viaduct to the street car. Stars were out. Thick white ones. She skipped
a little, ran a little, and stood a moment at the parapet, looking down
at the lights which followed the narrow course of the river. She felt
suddenly wild for bauble. Her flesh, which never particularly craved the
lay of fine fabric, felt cheated. She wanted to wind her body to its
utmost flexuosity, bare her throat to the wind, and fling out a gesture
the width of Vegas to Capella.
At the corner she took Harry's face between her hands, kissing him
soundly on the lips.
"Good night, Harry, and God bless you for letting me find you."
Long after that kiss, ever so lightly bestowed, lay burning against his
lips and she had boarded the street car, he stood looking after, with
his very light-blue eyes.
When Zoe Penny was still in knee frocks she graduated, first in her
class, from the public grade school. It was a period of great stress for
Lilly, of happy shopping and the sweet anxieties of ribbon and frock,
and there were always two high circles of color out on her cheeks, and
from time to time she would force herself to sit down, uncurl her
fingers of their tensity, as Ida Blair had taught her, and thus,
starting in at the hands, try to relax.
After two or three moves from the makeshift of the Tremont Avenue
apartment, they were finally installed in an old brownstone walk-up
house in West Ninety-third Street, a stone's throw removed from an
avenue of Elevated structure and petty shops, but with a quiet enough,
if gloomy, dignity. One of those tunnel dwellings, the light from the
front room and kitchen gradually petering out into a middle room of
almost absolute darkness.
Lilly and her daughter occupied what corresponded to the parlor, a room
of white woodwork, flimsy white mantelpiece, and gilded radiator; one of
the vertical layers and layers of just such city parlors. Two narrow
front windows looked down into Ninety-third Street and there were closed
white folding doors with again a rented piano against them. A pretty
screen of Japanese paper with a sprig of wistaria across it shut off a
bureau with a layout of much juvenile claptrap of hair ribbons, side
combs, and the worthless treasures of childhood. Between the windows a
"lady's" desk with hinged writing slab, really Lilly's, but mostly the
dangling place for a pair of Zoe's roller skates and its pigeonholes
bulging with her daughter's somewhat extraneous matter. But there were a
two-tone brown rug, and yellow silk curtains saved the room from the
iniquitous Nottingham and Axminster school of interior defamation. The
walls, too, were tempered of their whiteness by brown prints of the
"Coliseum by Night," "The Age of Innocence," and Watt's "Hope,"
blindfolded, atop the world.
These pictures had been shopped one Saturday afternoon at the cut-rate
department store and were largely Zoe's choice, happily corroborated
"Remarkable selections for a miss," said the clerk.
"Do you really think so?" cried Lilly, herself turning away from an
inclination toward the more chromatic and immediately exhilarated out of
a state of fatigue.
"Zoe, you're wonderful!"
"You're wonderful, too, Lilly."
There had been scarcely any baby talk.
At three, it was "Zoe, are you happy to see mother this week-end?"
And then one day out of the pellucid sky of babyhood, in answer to this
invariable query, it was:
"Yes, Lilly," so suddenly that something seemed to catch at her
heartbeat, but after a pang she let it stand.
Let Lilly's Zoe dawn upon you through this rather typical conversation
between them, the night before the graduation from grade school:
"Lilly, am I beautiful?"
"Why, yes, Zoe, so long as you remain fine and unspoiled by it. That is
the rarest kind of loveliness--inner beauty."
"I don't mean that kind. Am I pretty--for boys to look at?"
"You are pretty enough as little girls go, if that is what you mean."
"Is it wrong to have beaus?"
"That all depends. Why?"
"Oh, I just wanted to know."
"A boy in my class, Gerald Prang, says he is my beau."
"Ethel Watts has one. They kiss."
"Is it horrid for me and Ethel to kiss?"
"No, Zoe, you know it isn't."
"Would it be horrid for me and Gerald--Gerald and I--to kiss?"
"Listen, Zoe, a new word. The most beautiful and the most horrible thing
in the world can be sex."
"Yes, dear. We haven't used the term in our talks--yet."
"Isn't it nice?"
"That lies with you."
"Then what is sex?"
"Zoe, the world of human beings is divided into two great classes, isn't
it? Boys and girls."
"Oh, I know! It's me and Gerald."
"In a way, yes, but--"
"If me and Ethel kiss, it isn't sex, but if me and Gerald kiss, it is."
"If only you wouldn't keep your mind running ahead. I want to be so
sure you are going to understand. That's what our botany and physiology
study has been for. To prepare you to understand. Now take the kingdom
of flowers, a rose, for instance--"
"Begin with us, Lilly. I don't want to hear any botany."
"Storks cannot bring babies, can they?"
"No. No. Who put such silly nonsense into your head? Don't let that
stupid fable hide from you the beautiful truth of birth. That is an
absurd story, Zoe, invented by those to whom the most sublime fact in
the world seems nasty. Babies are born, dear--out of lo--out of the
union of the sexes."
"Lilly, you are all trembling."
She took her daughter's face between her hands, her eyes probing and
yearning down into the brilliantly blue ones.
"It is because I want to keep life clean and beautiful for you. Nothing
that is natural is ugly, Zoe. It's only when we make something dark and
shameful of nature's methods that we are apt to misunderstand and
"Did you err, Lilly?"
"Zoe! Zoe! why will you refer to him that way? Yes, I erred out of
ignorance, the kind I want to save you from. In my case your father had
to pay for the ignorance of a girl who married him without knowing what
marriage meant. Ignorance!"
"How funny to hear that--word."
"Zoe! Zoe! Have I made it clear to you about him? How good--how
kind--how wronged by me?"
"You are always so afraid I won't understand that. Why shouldn't I?"
"Because it is hard, dear, for you to grasp it all--especially its
effect upon you. Some day you will understand how gradually I have tried
to prepare your mind to judge me. Even this little graduation to-morrow
is a milestone and makes me want to talk to you just a wee bit plainer.
Zoe, I--Zoe, does--does--"
"Does it ever make you unhappy among the other children to be questioned
"Do you ever feel that you would like to see him?".
"Because he is dull. He would spoil things for us."
"But doesn't it ever seem terrible to you, Zoe, that I haven't given you
the opportunity to judge him for yourself? If the day ever
comes--to-day, tomorrow, next year--that you want your father, you
understand, dear, don't you, that I will be the first to--"
"I tell you No! No! Why do you always keep telling me that? No! No! It's
better his not knowing there is a me! He makes me feel all suffocated up
the way he did you. I couldn't stand it. I want to be what I want
"Oh, want it badly enough then, Zoe; want it badly enough!"
"The greatest singer in the world! That's what I want to be, and stand
on a stage with all the music there is around me as if I was in the
middle of an ocean of it. Lilly, will you take me to another matinée to
see Bernhardt? She makes me feel what I want to be. Just--just her being
what she--is makes me--want to be what I--am."
"You funny muddled youngster! Why, you didn't understand either what she
said or what the play was about."
"I didn't need to. It was her voice. Something she says with her voice
that I feel inside of me, only I can't say it. I wanted to cry. Isn't it
queer, Lilly, to feel so happy you want to cry? Oh, I've learned a new
one--only my voice won't say it the way I feel it. It's in our school
Wordsworth. Something inside of me cries all the time I'm saying it:
"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.
"Oh, Lilly--Lilly--I love that!--trailing clouds of glory--"
"You recited it beautifully, darling. See, you've made me cry."
"And I--I love you, Lilly. Hold me tight. I love you."
"Lilly, will you be--angry if I ask you something?"
"Why--do you cry in the night sometimes?"
"Why, Zoe! Do I?"
"You know you do. I can feel you crying, and sometimes when I touch your
"Why, child--that's just my way. At night--things can be so real--so
terribly real. It is something you cannot understand yet."
"Do I make you sad?"
"No! No! No! My light, my life."
"Why, child--you talk nonsense! Don't speak of him as Bruce."
"I hate calling him Mr. Visigoth. It sounds--meek. I won't be meek! Are
you sure, Lilly, it isn't him--he?"
"Why, child, in Heaven's name should it be?"
"He looks at you so, Lilly. Maybe he makes you cry the way Bernhardt
makes me cry. By what he doesn't say. Saturday afternoons when I call
for you--he looks at you so when you're not looking."
"Why shouldn't he? We've worked together for all these years."
"You and he, when you stand up together you look so--so--_right_."
"Zoe, you are talking nonsense."
"But you're all red, aren't you?"
"Was it sex to say that?"
"Are you glad he is coming to-night?"
"Mr. Visigoth and I have business together, Zoe. We cannot sit around in
public places and discuss matters. I'm reading Mrs. Blair's play to him.
Go to bed now, dear."
"Mayn't I stay up?"
Her child looked up at her, chin cupped in her small hand and crystals
of light out in her eyes.
"Please, Lilly--why do you cry?"
"Why, darling, I don't cry because of anything you are quite ready to
understand. You know that, don't you, dear? There is nothing mother
won't talk over with you as soon as you are ready to take it all in.
That is part of her scheme for keeping life beautiful and free of rude
shocks for you."
"But I do understand--Lilly."
Long after her child slept that night Lilly sat beside her. She loved
the willful way the curls flung across the pillow. She leaned to the
full deep-chested breathing; leaned to kiss the lips which, slightly
parted, were perfect with the pollen of vitality.
She drew the screen finally about the little davenport, fussing at the
room, straightening it into a sort of formality with a woman's intuition
for this chair one-half inch closer to the hearth and that picture ever
so slightly straighter. The sheer frock she hung up in a closet,
covering it with a shroud of tissue paper, wadding her daughter's
none-too-carefully flung stockings into her shoes and tiptoeing to place
them beside the davenport. They were strong, ribbed stockings, still
warm and full of curves. She stroked over each. Once she paused at the
mantelpiece mirror, drawing back her lip from the even whiteness of her
teeth, perusing her points rather absent-mindedly.
Time had handled Lilly with a caress. At past thirty she was herself at
twenty, with even more youth, because at twenty she had looked herself
almost ten years hence. She had rounded out a bit, but not fatly. If
stouter at all, it was only in the slightly deeper look to the
cream-colored skin. There were two lines across her forehead, but they
had been there at eighteen and were quite obviously the result of
tilting her eyebrows so that the flesh folded; and besides, they
relieved her clearness, these horizontal traceries, of utter limpidity.
She had drifted, not all unconsciously, into a certain picturesque
uniformity of dress and could smile now over the large, cart-wheel hats,
coarse embroideries, and short-vamp shoes; neither was she often above
mentally contrasting herself in her annual seventy-five dollar suit of
dark-blue serge, natty sailor hat, and impeccable blouse, with a certain
coffee-colored linen with its slashings of coffee-dipped embroidery, and
the blouse that twirled with yards and yards of cotton Valenciennes.
There was still something of the look of the nun to Lilly, but a bit too
pinkly, as if she had dressed the part for Act One, but wore the ballet
skirts for Act Two underneath.
Her reaction asserted itself in her child. At thirteen Zoe wore straight
frocks of navy-blue alpaca with wide patent-leather belts and deep Eton
collars. They were mistaken sometimes, and, strangely enough, to Lilly's
invariable chagrin, for sisters, and Lilly, in her refutation, could be
At nine o'clock, to the staccato of three rings, she admitted Bruce
Visigoth, leading him down the tube of hallway. It annoyed her
unspeakably that Harry Calvert, collarless, poked out his head from a
doorway as they passed, and she was suddenly conscious of the smell of
stew. She had meant to burn an incense stick.
But she walked with that free, Hellenic stride of hers, without apology
and ahead of him.
"This is our room. Zoe is asleep there behind that screen. Won't you sit
He placed his hat and a light bamboo stick across the center table,
obviously oppressed with a sense of close quarters.
"Tell you what! Suppose we taxi over to Claremont. It's mild enough to
sit out on the terrace."
She met him with her levelest gaze.
"Aren't you going to be comfortable here?"
"Of course I am. There you go, getting sensitive right off. Only it is
a warmish evening, and why keep the sun-child awake?"
"Zoe can sleep," she said, with the barely perceptible arch to her
brows, "even through the fire of your presence."
"Good!" he said, seating himself in great good nature and trying not to
be quizzical. "So this is where you live."
He was frankly curious, his gaze humorous, but traveling over details,
his head upflung and the scenting movement to his nostrils. He had not
changed in weight, but in compactness and as if the house of his being
had settled with a fine kind of firmness. He was a bit squarer of jaw
and shoulder and ever so prematurely, and to the enormous fancy of
women, inclined to a hoar frost of gray at the temples.
She seated herself across the little square of table.
"You don't seem to care for us here."
"Certainly I do, only--only--"
"Only--well, hanged if I make you out, lady. This place--it just isn't
"Nonsense! I don't count. I'm just a sort of a means to an end, anyway."
"Oh, nothing," she said, and laughed.
"I like it."
She looked her most serio-comic disapproval and held up a forefinger
with a warning little waggle to it.
"Please," she said, with an inlay of something deeper in her voice,
"don't begin by spoiling things."
"Rather not," he said. "I'm going to live up to your letter of the law."
Except for the frequent conferences now in the new Forty-second Street
offices that commanded a view of two rivers and a vast battledoor and
shuttlecock of the city, it was the first time in all those years that
stretched from the night at the Waldorf that they had sat thus
tête-à-tête. The day of the move she had ridden up from the old Union
Square offices with him, a stack of files in her lap. Once, too, on a
Saturday, the day of Zoe's invariable luncheon downtown and subsequent
opera matinee, he had strolled by what seemed mischievous chance into
the tea room where they were dining, but the occasion had hardly been a
success. There had been a great deal of badinage between him and Zoe,
but Lilly had finished her meal almost in silence. The day following, a
toy piano of complete range and really excellent workmanship had
arrived. She returned it without showing it to Zoe. These incidents lay
between them now.
"So this is where you live," he repeated, as if his long curiosity could
not find satiety in fact.
"That I have an abode seems to amaze you."
"It does. You're such a detached sort. You rise so above the mundane
things that clutter up life, that it is pretty much of a shock to
realize that you use tooth powder and carry a latchkey. It's hard to
reconcile Chopin and George Sand probably to those famous raw-meat
sandwiches they loved to eat at midnight. Well, that's about the way I
feel about you--hemmed in by--dull reality such as this."
"I like raw-meat sandwiches," she said.
She took up a sheaf of manuscript.
"If it doesn't bore you too much, I'm going to read it straight
"Oh, I forgot; the play, of course."
She looked up at him as if over spectacles.
"You say it has been the rounds?"
"Yes. Peddled in every office in New York. Kline and Alshuler kept it
two years. Forensi paid her two hundred and fifty dollars advance on it
and then let his option lapse. For another year there was some talk of
Comstock and Comstock doing it, and then finally Hy Wolff got hold of it
and the very month he died paid her a second two hundred and fifty to
renew his option on it. I've always felt that if Ida had kept after Hy
Wolff he would have produced it. He had faith in it, but somehow just
didn't seem to get to it. You see, Ida hasn't any gumption--not the kind
of aggressiveness the game demands. That is why in fifteen years you
scarcely know she is in your office. That is why I plunged in and tried
to rewrite 'The Web' with her. It's a big story, sweated out of her own
agony. She may never write another. Probably won't. My little part in it
has merely been to help her co-ordinate--round up the jumble of her
ideas, so to speak. There is a big play somewhere in this story. I know
you didn't like it as a sketch--I didn't, either. A short play cannot
contain this drama. But out of a clear sky it occurred to me that you
might see it as a three-act play. Oh, I know it isn't the kind of thing
you've your mind's eye on, but why not take that step over into the
legitimate _via_ a big popular success? It may pave the way to bigger,
finer things. Who knows--Ida Blair--'The Web'--may mean the beginning of
your dream come true."
His mouth had straightened and thinned.
"You're right there. Ultimately I'll get into the other. If my brother
knew as much about the booking end as he does the realty, I'd have gone
over long ago. That is the most the success of the Amusement Enterprise
can mean to me--to afford some day the legitimate as a plaything. It
costs money to educate the public to better things. It's been profitable
playing down to its taste--some day it is going to enable me to afford
to be sufficiently altruistic to foot the bills for serving up the best.
It costs to educate.",
"Fine! And it is only a question of time until you are ready for that
inspiring fray. Meanwhile, why not help foot those bills with a little
side flier in 'The Web'?"
"You are a little opportunist, aren't you?".
"I know 'The Web' isn't art. But it is a cross section of reality with
the veins exposed and the sap of life running through them. Mrs. Blair,
poor dear, can't write. God knows I can't. That is why the play has been
through years of lying around in every office in New York. But the idea
is there. You see, it is everything she has lived through. You know
"There is a scene when he comes screaming out of the room after having
been through the third degree, half blind from the terrible lights and
the terrible circle of terrible eyes, that isn't writing at all. It's
life--a raw, palpitating picture of a social abuse that can touch the
public as a reform measure can never hope to. Then the character of the
boy--a delinquent. We've one right here in this apartment. One of those
sweet, shy, half-frightened boys as gentle as a girl. The kind that
tells the neighborhood children Peter Pan and reads his grandmother to
sleep. I would trust him anywhere with Zoe, and yet there's the streak!
The criminal, congenital streak through him that is as pathological as
measles. Only we handle it under the heading of criminology. It's like
taking an earache to the chiropodist. The boy is a thief. It's through
him like a rotten spot, but instead of curing him the law wants to
punish him. It's like spanking a child for having the measles. But to
get back--Mrs. Blair has him in this play--just as if she had lifted him
out of this apartment. She wrote him from the life, too. A young fellow
who used to be on her husband's beat. It may not be fine writing, but
'The Web' has the throb of reality through it, and it is my opinion that
one pulsebeat of life is worth all your chastity of form."
"We're one on that? Good! Well, here is your opportunity to solder the
first link into the legitimate. Keep it in mind while I am reading Ida
Blair's play and remember I am not talking Ida Blair or Lilly Penny to
you. I'm talking this play just as I would talk an act to you. Because I
believe in it."
He seemed to look at her through her words, a smile out in his eyes.
"You're not listening."
"I am," he said, "but your hair looks like it is painted on, the way it
comes down to that smooth little peak in front. Jove! it's pretty."
She looked off, wanting not to color.
"Come," he said, "I apologize. Read. I'm as predisposed as I can be
toward anything conceived by that little dormouse of a person in
"That's the trouble. You men are too often satisfied with a surface
inventory. The vault of heart sometimes yields up rare treasures."
"How like you to say that."
And so, with her head bent so that the light burnished its smoothness,
she read him "The Web" through two uninterrupted hours, her voice
throbbing into the quiet. In the third act, when a half-crazed victim of
the third degree is led out in shuddering and horrible invocation, she
sprang to her feet for an instant, her gesture decrying its fullest arc.
She was like Iphigenia praying for death, he thought.
Later, when the shades of the prison house begin to dawn upon the
stunned consciousness of the woman, there were tears in her voice and on
her lashes, and one fell to the back of her hand, which she wiped off
against her skirt, like a child.
At eleven o'clock she finished, regarding him brilliantly through her
He had wanted to smoke, but thrust the case back into his pocket,
sitting tilted, his hands locked at the back of his head and gazing at
the line of the picture molding. Her lips parted as the paused held.
He uncrossed his knees, straightening.
"Then it did grip you?"
"Yes, but I can see why it gathered dust as it went the rounds. From the
average commercial manager's point of view there is a question about
that seamy kind of thing getting over with the playgoer. He wants to be
entertained, not harrowed. That's pretty raw stuff. Except for the
little woman and the poor delinquent youngster, it is an
out-and-out--what shall I say?--an out-and-out crook play, to coin
"Exactly. It is a section of life about which your average playgoer
knows little or nothing and yet one for which he nourishes a tremendous
"I know, but the idea is bigger than the writing is crude. If I had the
money I would take a chance on producing it to-morrow. It has social and
sociological value, and at the same time is corking-good entertainment.
I read the police-inspector scene to my little girl just to see what she
would get out of it. 'Why,' she cried, 'a man would confess to anything
with that white light on him and those big policemen's eyes on him.
That's not fair! That shouldn't be allowed. Isn't there a way to stop
it?' That from a thirteen-year-old! It's one of those man-made abuses
that if we women ever get the vote we'll go after! Don't answer me on
this play now, Mr. Visigoth. Take it to your hotel. Read it over again.
Talk it over with your brother when he comes next week. How's that? No
"Good. The play is on the docket for the evening. Now let us get the
taste of the underworld out of our mouths. How would the Claremont
"I'd rather not."
"Well, I suppose that amounts to my _congé?_"
She smiled with her brows arched.
"It is after eleven."
He was incessantly feeling for his cigarette case and then with a
certain unease refraining.
"You may," she said, "one, before you go."
He held the case to her. She took one gingerly, accepting the light more
"I don't like them," she said, exhaling with the violence of the
"Because it is a stupid convention which says that a man may and a woman
may not. Why should it be a matter of course for you and, in most cases,
a matter of comment and even vulgarity for me?"
"Usage isn't a reason. It's Time's trick for applying the brake to
He lit up gratefully, waving out the match and hesitating for a spot to
dispose of it. She reached across the table, palm up. "Give me."
He caught her hand.
She jerked back with a little clicky catch of breath.
"Lilly, you're maddening! Lilly, can't you see what I haven't the words
to tell you? For years--since that night at the Waldorf--I--I have been
living for this moment. I realized it to-night as you read that play.
Lilly, is what is between us insurmountable?"
She jerked back her head, her irises at their trick of growing.
"You don't know what you are saying!"
"I do know what I am saying. I know that you are the most delectable
woman in the world--and for me."
She held out his hat and cane.
"My little girl is asleep. Hadn't you better go?"
"That's not fair," he said, taking the hat and cane, but flushing up
"I know it isn't. But what is there I can say to you?"
"You can talk it out. Man to man."
"Sit down," she said, clasping her hands and regarding him through
swimming and revealing eyes.
"Now--what is there to say--Bruce--between you and me?"
"Where is he?"
"Are matters unchanged?"
"I love you, Lilly."
"And I have a husband and a thirteen-year-old child, making of the
triangle a rectangle."
"You have held me off on that dagger point now for ten years. Good God!
women don't martyrize themselves to a past these days. What are you
doing with your life? Sacrificing it on the altar of the old burned-out
husk of a marriage? Canonizing a mistake!"
"It is the one thing I am able to do for him in some little reparation!"
"No, it is more than mock heroic to save him that precious shred of his
respectability. That is about all I have left him to cherish. There are
some human beings you simply cannot conceive of in certain situations.
Albert Penny and divorce are irreconcilable. Tear his heart out if you
will, but hands off his respectability. It may sound absurd in the face
of the enormity of what I have done to him, but it is a great solace to
me to be able to sacrifice that much to him and to drag him through my
life like a ball and chain. Somehow it seems that I ought to
"Stuff and nonsense! You made your mistake and you had the courage to
tear away from it by the roots. Unless those roots have a drag?"
"No. No drag! And yet I sometimes think my revolt has been a half
madness. You cannot know the sheer folly, the crazy kind of tenacity
that has driven me on through all these years! And for what? This
mediocrity? Or is it that I am an instrument clearing the way for her?
Zoe! Is there a divinity shapes our end, rough hew them how we will?
Listen to something incredible. Do you know that Zoe's father doesn't
know that he is a father?"
"Yes, jealous truth going fiction one better."
"You mean to say you have fought this out alone?"
"He doesn't know. Neither do my parents. They would suck her down. Dwarf
her with their terrible kind of love. She belongs to herself. She's a
beautiful thing God has loaned me to rear into a rose, but the world is
her garden in which to bloom and expand."
"In all these years they don't know your whereabouts?"
"Oh yes! I write home every Christmas. Just a line that I am well and
happy. Occasionally I pick up notes of them in the St. Louis newspapers.
I keep them pretty well under glass. It's all so dreamlike--I've always
been obsessed with that consciousness. How faint can be the line between
the dream and reality."
He drew her toward him by the hands, their faces lit, quivering, close.
"Lilly, Lilly, let us not stop just short of happiness."
"All my life I have done that."
"I cannot put you out of my heart now that I have put you in."
"No. No. No." But his embrace had already shaped itself, and, springing
back from it and her own singing of the flesh, she crowded up against
the wistaria-painted screen, shielding it.
"How dared you--here--in this--room! With her!"
"Go, please! Go, please!"
"You mean that?"
"You know I do."
He bent low in the attitude of kissing her hand, but without touching
"Forget everything I've said, Lilly, and forgive. We'll go back to the
old. Good night, Lilly! Mrs. Penny."
He must have departed on the balls of his feet, because presently
through the roaring of the silence she heard the door slam without
having been conscious of his passage down the hallway; and then, after a
second, Harry Calvert tiptoeing to her open door to look in with his
She sprang forward, throwing herself against the door as she locked it.
"Don't," she cried through it--"don't you ever dare do that again,
Harry! Walk on your heels. You frighten me when you sneak like
Then she undressed, crying, tears rolling down to her high white chest
and finally on to the crispiness of her plain nightgown. Crept to bed
finally, into a darkness as sleek as a black cat's flank, silently, to
save the sag of mattress, her body curving to the curve of her child's.
Once from the inky pool of that long night Zoe's hand crept up, finding
out her mother's cheek.
"Lilly," floating up for a drowsy second to the surface of
consciousness--"Lilly--you're crying. Are--you sad--again?"
The year that Zoe entered High School, 1914, out of an international sky
of fairly pellucid blue, the thunderclap of world war burst in fury.
It was strange, though, even after the subsequent plunge of her country
to the Allied flank, and the menacing and shifting tides of affairs
creeping closer and closer to the edge of everyday life, how little the
complexion of Lilly's routine was changed.
True, her national consciousness flared suddenly from lethargy to blaze.
The evening after the sinking of the _Lusitania_, she attended a mass
meeting in Astor Place with Zoe and Mrs. Blair, beating out an
umbrella-and-floor tom-tom for redress, love of country suddenly a lump
in her throat.
The day the Rainbow Division swept up Fifth Avenue in farewell, she
could see the rank and file from the roof of the Forty-second Street
office building, as if the avenue were running a clayey stream, and she
was torn between the ache and the thanksgiving of having no one to give.
But, for the most part, war kept its talons off Lilly. Twice, and as if
his exemption from the draft lay heavily, Harry Calvert had tried to
enlist, his grandmother, with a zeal that was hardly accountable,
exerting every effort toward that end.
It was almost as if war had revived her somewhat fainting faith in
Harry's ultimate justification.
But he was underweight and still in a weakened condition from an
operation for an adenoidal complaint. This last he had undergone before
the war and at Lilly's urgent instance. She had read, in the mass of
books on child hygiene, psychology, and physiology she was constantly
accumulating, the debilitative effects that adenoidal breathing might
exercise upon an entire constitution and mentality.
Poor Harry, and his cancerous predilection for the kind of thievery that
almost invariably stacked up to not even petty larceny! He could
withstand a jewel chest, but not a tool chest. Would steal the robe from
an automobile, provided it was not a luxurious one. Once, when his
grandmother at great difficulty had procured for him a clerkship, he
confiscated the nickel-plated faucets out of the wash room, barely
escaping prosecution. Only the utter triviality of his thievery and the
fight in Mrs. Schum saved him from the law. She was as indomitable in
her protection of him as the granite flesh of rocks.
Quiet, sensitive, with rather a girlish face, slow to beard and quick to
quiver, Harry was invariably liked during the period he held a position,
but month to month saw him from a clerkship in a real-estate office to
window decorator for a retail paper-flower concern, salesman in the
novelty and stationery department of a bookstore, and once in the
children's book section of a department store.
He was rarely apprehended, usually abandoning his position, with his
absurd loot already under cover, and the loss leaking out later, if
Invariably, as if by way of confession, he brought home to his
grandmother the proceeds from these petty sales, effected by who knows
what device, dropping down into her lap, almost sadly and with a
shrinkage from what was sure to follow, either the few dollars or the
bauble of a bit of jewelry.
She would cry up at him and wring her poor hands, and then he would go
off into his little room adjoining the kitchen, originally intended as
maid's room, and sit with his head down in his hands, back rounded, and
all his throat-constricting capacity for meekness out in his attitude.
And, presently, her sobs subsided, Mrs. Schum would creep in after him,
and behind that closed door there was no telling what long hours of
pleading and abjuration took place. But, next morning, in her little
black bonnet, the rust out in her black dress and the "want ad." sheet
cockily enough beneath her arm, Mrs. Schum would set out with him to
combat, by the decency of her presence, some of the difficulties of
seeking a new position with only one or two time-and thumb-worn
His grandmother's and Lilly's possessions were sacred to him, but every
morning, after the two roomers had departed, Mrs. Schum would tiptoe
after, locking their doors and inserting the keys in her
"I like to keep things locked," she explained to Lilly one day, upon
being intercepted. "You can never tell when a sneak thief will break
into these apartment houses that haven't hall service. I've even heard
of them entering through the fire escape."
"Of course, dear," said Lilly, through heartache for her.
There was an indescribable sweetness in Harry's attitude toward Zoe.
There had been countless long evenings of her little girlhood when no
waiting beside her bedside was too tedious--sometimes during three and
four evenings a week of Lilly's enforced absence in the pursuit of
vaudeville novelties. He was tireless and faithful as a watchdog,
keeping awake by whittling at something no more fantastic than a
clothespin. There were hundreds of them scattered about the house. It
was the sole form his idleness took. He painted heads and eyes on
them--cleverly, too--for Zoe, but as she grew older she began to disdain
them, bullying him in much the fashion her mother had before her.
"I can hop up four steps on one foot," Lilly, with a little catch at her
heart, chanced to overhear on one occasion.
"No, you can't," said Harry, smilingly and a little teasingly.
Catching at her ankle and flinging her curls, she made an unstaggering
and easy ascent of not four, but eight.
"There!" she cried, slapping Harry boldly and resoundingly on the cheek.
"Don't you ever dare say I cannot do what I know I can do."
It left the red print of her little hand, and it was literally as if, as
he looked away from her, he had turned the other cheek.
Almost immediately she caught his hand, placing her warm face to its
"Harry, I'm a devil! I'm sorry. You know I don't mean to be a devil.
Harry! Are you angry? You're not! Please! Be nice, Harry--tell me a
"Once upon a time--" he began, his light-blue eyes almost with the
patient look of the blind.
A little later, there occurred an infinitesimal but telling incident
which served to dissipate whatever growing qualms may have disturbed
Lilly over the rearing of her child in this atmosphere of petty crime.
One evening, while Harry was performing his willing chore of carrying
out for his grandmother the little dinner prepared by Mrs. Schum and
partaken of by Lilly and Zoe at a small card table opened up beside the
window of their room, Zoe announced, with a certain high-handedness with
which Lilly was more and more hard pressed to cope:
"I want my dresses longer. That big red-headed boy in the white jacket
said to me when I went into the drug store over on Columbus Avenue
to-day for some licorice drops: 'That's right. Wear 'em short; you've
got the stems.'"
"What a vulgar, horrid remark!"
"Well, I want my dresses longer."
Lilly regarded her daughter with concern troubling up her eyes.
"Don't ever go into that store again, Zoe. I've a mind to stop in there
myself and talk to the proprietor."
Later that same evening, Harry, with a purpling eye and an opened lip
which he tried vainly to smuggle past his grandmother, crept into his
room. But she was too quick for him, and at her high cry of shock Lilly
rushed into the hallway. There was an utterly alien and vibrating note
of anger in Harry's voice.
"For God's sake, gramaw, be quiet! It's nothing. Had a row with that
red-headed clerk down at the drug store. Took the freshness out of him
for a while."
Lilly tiptoed back to her room. All through a fitful night she woke in
little starts, kissing into the bare white arm of her child as if she
could not have done with the assurance of her safe proximity.
It was less than a month later, and over a year after the adenoidal
operation, that Harry returned home one evening from the real-estate
office with nine dollars and forty cents in his pocket from the proceeds
of the nickel-plated wash-room faucets and several liquid-soap
* * * * *
About eight months after Ida Blair's play had lain gathering mold in the
lower drawer of Bruce Visigoth's desk, he sent for Lilly.
Their office relationship since the stuffy June evening over the reading
of the manuscript had been resumed, with invisible joindure. Together
they continued in biweekly conferences to compile the endless cycle of
programs that moved like a chain along the cogs of city to city. There
were nine Enterprise Amusement Theaters now, the newest red-headed pin
on the circuit map as far west as Tulsa, their booking route as yet
independent of any of the larger and recent vaudeville mergers.
It was an office boast and pleasantry that Lilly could recite offhand
through the current program of any of the nine theaters, leaping glibly
from motion picture, to acrobat, and sister acts.
This was hardly true, but her touch at the steering wheel of her
department was sensitive and sure. She could substitute for a
quarantined team of jumping Arabs in Springfield, Illinois, with hardly
more than a sleight of hand through her card index and a telegram or
two. She knew that Memphis would not stand for a pickaninny act, and
that the same was sure fire in Trenton, and was familiar with every
house manager by long-distance-telephone voice. The department was more
and more the well-oiled engine under a light steering hand that Lilly
wielded well and wisely.
Her judgment of the incoming reports of the various house managers, or
a try-out act, although technically subject to Bruce Visigoth's
signature, went usually unchallenged. She virtually was her department,
particularly as the realty aspect of the enterprise came more and more
to assume the proportions of big business. Within her little office of
mahogany appointments she worked with an allotment of stenographers and
clerks. She had an assistant, too; at least, she confiscated him from
the press department--one Leon Greenberg, a young night student from New