Part 7 out of 8
York University, with an enormous profile rendered positively
carnivorous of thrust by his struggle up from First Street and Avenue A,
which is mire with a pull to it.
Her own capacity was unnamed. She was probably still down on the books
as stenographer, although at fifty dollars a week now, and it was six
years since she had taken a letter.
It was a gray day in cold and tardy spring when Bruce Visigoth sent for
her--one of those heavy afternoons that darken up at four o'clock and
press thick as gravy against the windows. He was seated at his desk,
hands laced at the back of his head and one foot propped on an open
drawer, his male stenographer typing at the remote corner of a wide and
rather luxuriously appointed office. Except for the green cone of light
over him, the room was plushy with dusk.
"About that play--" he began.
"What play?" she said, seating herself in the entirely easy business
manner she had with him.
Her strong white hand out from its immaculate linen cuff lay unnervously
on the glass top of his desk, but the fingers now began to lift
"I talked it over with my brother before he returned to Chicago
yesterday. Thought the firm might be interested."
"He doesn't see it."
He bent a sliver of ivory paper knife almost double.
"I should have taken this matter up some time ago, but the sudden death
of my sister Pauline's husband, Doctor Enlow--"
"Mrs. Blair understands that."
"Well," she said, looking off and resolutely keeping her smile, "I guess
it means 'The Web' must resume its journey again."
"No, it doesn't."
"It means that I am going to produce it on my own."
She slid to the edge of the chair, her hand closing over the desk edge.
"Isn't that what you want?"
"Well, that is my reason."
"You mean you don't see it, either?"
"But you do."
"No 'buts.' She goes into rehearsal for a spring try-out in Baltimore,
Stamford, or any of the dog towns. I'm giving the manuscript to Forbes
to read this week. He's the man to direct that type of thing. I'm going
to throw in ten or twenty thousand on your judgment."
"You're serious?" He held out his lean hand. "Ill send for Ida Blair."
She did, biting back excitement.
"I don't know how to talk to that little woman. She depresses me. This
is your venture and mine."
"But her play! Its production will mean her resurrection. Her monument
to a memory. Her protest. A chance to get her on her feet. An
opportunity for a home, a background, a reason for living to a woman who
has lost every reason. It's her play and her chance."
"And it is our venture."
"I'm not afraid."
"Are we partners, then?"
"If I had the money, yes, to my limit."
"I don't mean that."
"All right; go your limit."
"My limit? How far would six one-hundred-dollar municipal bonds and--"
"Good. I'll sell you six per cent of a twenty-thousand-dollar venture
for the six hundred."
"Six--percent--twenty--thousand--Why, that's not a man-to-man
proposition! You're treating me like a child."
"All right, then; three per cent for the six hundred."
"Done! But no nonsense. If I lose, I lose. Man to man."
"'Man to man,'" he said, clasping her hand and drinking down deep into
And so, when she hurried out to the high ledge to which Ida Blair's
figure had somehow shaped itself as the years went on, she stood for a
moment to steady the hand she placed on that shoulder.
"Ida!" The older woman raised her eyes of the peculiarly washed quality
of gray that has faded from repeated scaldings in hot water. "Mr.
Visigoth wants you in his office, dear--now."
She kept her voice out of quaver, but it had a singing quality like a
plucked violin string.
As Lilly's months went, the one that followed was abloom with events. In
her vague, untutored way she was already reaching out, through her
daughter, toward a subject about which she knew nothing, but, in an
inchoate way, felt a great deal.
The New York State fight for woman's suffrage had not yet reached its
victorious culmination, and, reading announcement of a great parade up
Fifth Avenue for a Saturday afternoon, she took Zoe.
The smell of spring was dancingly out. Shop windows bloomed with the
millinery of May. Open street cars, open skies, and openwork shirt
waists had arrived.
They climbed the flank of an omnibus and rode down to the Washington
Arch in a midair snapping with bunting.
It was on one of those irresistible afternoons--radiant with the
sun-washed geometry of three architectural renaissances, a
monastic-fronted fur emporium, a Parthenon of a library, a
Doric-columned bank--that Lilly and Zoe lumbered their omnibus way
through the daily carnival of the most rococo avenue in the world.
There was the flare of a sea gull to Zoe--no containing her. Little
snatches of song bubbled. She was a freshet of delight.
"Look at that tray of violets, Lilly! I must have a bunch."
"Zoe, don't lean over so far!"
"See the yellow satin in that shop window, Lilly! I'd love to wind it
round me. It's like sun!"
"See those jams of women in white, Zoe, waiting to form into line!"
"I'd love to march!"
"Oh, I don't know, there--there's something sort of onward about it."
"Exactly! Onward! Forward! March!"
With a precocity that never ceased to amuse and delight Lilly, Zoe,
while only half understanding the content of an occasion, could somehow
imbibe its essence. She leaned now over the rail of the omnibus, the
cross-town streets, as they jogged past, already colloid masses of women
waiting to fall into line.
"Isn't it queer, Lilly, that after all these centuries and centuries
women are just beginning to--what did that woman on the program call it
down at Cooper Union hall the other night--function in the government?
Why has it taken them so long to ask for their half in the say-so
"Any great movement, Zoe, must have very slow beginnings. Think for what
ages man lived without Christianity!"
"Yes; but look how long it has been here."
"Reckoning in geology, Zoe, and compared with the age of mountains and
oceans, two thousand years isn't long."
"I think it is."
They alighted at the Washington Arch, jamming their way into the tight
battalion of spectators already lining both sides of lower Fifth Avenue.
The head of the parade was already forming, a slim young leader holding
in her white mount with difficulty.
"Lilly, she looks like our picture of Jeanne d'Arc when she sees the
"She is heeding a vision, Zoe--of to-morrow."
"I feel so--so thrilled, Lilly. Do you?"
"Yes," said Lilly, for some reason breathing hard. "Oh, I do!"
There was a break of music, and all about them women darting into line,
sudden banners floating out, and the white horse prancing in the
archway, for all the world as if spun at a tangent off the narrative
frieze of the arch.
At the Eighth Street curb, where they stood, five hundred women, with
standards lifted, stiffened suddenly into formation, a deputy from their
ranks, a buyer, by the way, for the largest cloak-and-suit house in the
world, calling short, quick orders and distributing American flags.
The air was rent with silk and brass; a simoom of rapture raced over
Zoe. She danced on the balls of her feet. It was then that a deputy,
with a face that recalled newspaper reproductions of it, spied her.
"Here, little girl! You! Oh, lovely! Could you manage this banner, dear,
and lead this section? Miss, is this lovely child your sister? Do let
"She's my daughter."
"Come; you may fall in line right behind her. Do you mind if I unpin
your sister's curls? Oh, she's lovely--"
"I said she's my _daughter!_"
"Here, right in front, dear--my--oh, what a find!"
And so, with her somewhat bewildered parent in the ranks behind her, her
little black frock wrapped in a purple-and-yellow banner, head up, eyes
stars, Zoe Penny led the largest district of Greater New York up Fifth
Avenue, a constant and running line of applause following her lead.
She was youth sonnetized. Cameras clicked after her, and, with the
martial music tickling her blood, her head went higher still, like a
stag's. To her mother, following after, it seemed that the loudest of
all must be music within her own heart, and so she marched on, sprayed,
as it were, by the wave of constant applause as it broke over Zoe and
died down at the rank and file.
It was dusk when they reached Fifty-ninth Street, and in the jam of
disbanding and quite a little demonstration over Zoe by the section she
had distinguished, they worked their way out finally toward the
cross-town street car, hand in hand, like two ecstatic, rather
bewildered babes in the wood.
At a touch upon her shoulder Lilly turned, spun, rather, under high
tension, to encounter the well-bred hesitancy of an exceedingly slender
woman, a very small head set on the stem of a long, gracile neck,
something hauntingly familiar in the somewhat heart-shaped face and the
far-apart eyes that were considerably younger than the white hair which
"I beg your pardon"--in a voice perfectly rounded of edges--"but my
husband is so enchanted with the little girl that we are taking the
liberty of asking to meet her. Won't you permit me to present my
husband, Gedney Daab? You have heard of him, I presume."
Lilly had. The "Dolorosa" above her desk was a print from a Gedney Daab.
He stepped forward then, lanky and rugged, with a great shock of
upstanding gray hair, with the path of his fingers through it and his
features with no scheme at all. Just very delightfully irregular, he
jutted out of any crowd.
"Zoe, Mr. and Mrs. Daab want to meet you."
She lifted her clean gaze, dropped a courtesy, and held out her hand
with the short, curved gesture of childhood.
"Hello!" he said, the timbre of real youth in his voice, which childhood
is so quick to detect from the silly enameling of tone coated on by
grown-ups for the occasion. "I want to paint you, youngster."
"Oh, Lilly, what fun!"
"Then she is your sister?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Daab; she is my daughter."
"But the name--"
"It's our way together."
"Do you think I'm pretty?"
Gedney Daab looked down at her ardent artlessness without a burst of
"Oh, as little girls go."
"Zoe knows God has merely given her a fair urn of a body, Mr. Daab,
which she, in turn, must fill with beauty of mind and spirit."
"You are the Dolorosa, aren't you?" continued Zoe, turning to Mrs. Daab.
"The sad one with the tears that don't show, from crying on the
inside of you."
It was not until then that this dawned upon Lilly. Those eyes of the
Dolorosa, bleeding tears, were Mrs. Daab's.
"You'll have to paint me as glad--won't you?--glad all over clear from
"Yes, Sunlight; I rather think I will."
"Will you permit my husband and me to take you home, Mrs.--"
"Oh, please, Lilly!"
"We live rather far up from here--Ninety-first Street, West."
"And we live at Park Hill; so you see we hardly regard that as far."
They were presently riding through the Park, Zoe facing the three of
them in the soft gray interior of the Daab limousine. She was
"I've been in a taxi three times and a hansom once. But I prefer this. I
shall have my own some day--only, purple upholstery instead of
gray--sort of wine color--"
"An early eye to effect, I see, young miss."
"I'm the class beauty," she explained. "I didn't care to be that at
first--Lilly says it is just a lovely accident and might happen to
anyone else. She wanted me to be class president; so I decided to
"You will observe that my daughter is not chiefly notable for her
"You come to my studio, little lady, and I am going to paint you just as
golden and radiantly innocent as you are."
"What is 'radiantly innocent'?"
"Good Lord! I don't know any definition of it except--you."
"Zoe has no innocence in one sense, Mr. Daab. Her real innocence lies in
the fact that life has no ugly secrets from her. She knows the beautiful
from the ugly, and why it is so. I think that is what Mr. Daab means by
'radiant innocence,' Zoe.' Fearless knowledge of truth."
He whistled softly in the gloom.
"Extraordinary!" said Mrs. Daab. "And you are one of us--aren't you,
"For suffrage? Oh yes; and I am going to be a real one when I grow up."
"What else are you going to be?"
"You said that as if you meant it."
"I do. I've already heard nine operas. I am allowed to be anything I
want so long as I get to the biggest--the very biggest!"
"Are you studying?"
"I've had piano lessons for five years."
"I'm looking about now for a vocal teacher for her. She may be too
young, but at least I want her voice tried. I--we think she has quite an
"Have you tried Trieste?"
"Oh, I haven't dared contemplate anyone so inaccessible as he."
Mrs. Daab turned her head.
"Gedney," she said, "couldn't you give her a note to Trieste?"
"Good!" he said, feeling for a card and scrawling across its face. "This
will pass you directly to his nibs."
"You couldn't have granted us a bigger favor," said Lilly, feeling her
"Then you grant me one. Bring your little girl to my Fifty-ninth Street
studio. I want to paint her."
"Indeed I will!"
"Saturday afternoon is our only time."
"Fine. To-day two weeks?"
They Were at Ninety-first Street now, and he saw them up to their door.
"Good-by," he said. "You're a great youngster, and you've picked a great
little mother for yourself. Mrs. Daab and I want you both at the
Up in their room, they embraced, Zoe's arms tight about her mother's
"It's begun, Lilly, to be wonderful!"
* * * * *
The Saturday afternoon following, in a brownstone house in West
Forty-sixth Street that was more like a museum of the storied loot of
many lands, Trieste himself opened the pair of Florentine doors,
originally unhinged from a campanile outside of Rome, of his very
private studio, without appointment, to the magic of Gedney Daab's
He had a head, Lilly decided, like the one of Praxiteles in the St.
Louis Museum of Fine Arts--only, the bust implied young hair, and
Trieste's curls were full of gray and the lines of his face were slashed
deeply. He listened, while Lilly talked her brief preamble, as he
invariably did, with his eyes closed and finger tips touching. Finally,
he opened them, regarding Lilly from under swollen, rather
"You should sing," he said, his acquired language grating slightly
against the native one.
"You are young," he said, running his eyes down her body, "and fine and
big and strong."
She rose as if to throw off the crowding stress of the moment.
"Once," she said; "but that is all over now. My little girl--"
"You have temperament--let me hear," he said, reaching out to the piano
and striking out a bold C. "Sing the scale."
"Please!" she cried, the situation an agony to her. "Not me. My
"Why, Lilly!" said Zoe, regarding her mother with wide, unaffected eyes.
"Sing the scale, dear."
"Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do"--through a crimson flush.
He seemed to lose interest then, turning to Zoe.
"Let me hear you," he said.
"Shall I sing 'Jocelyn' or 'How Like a Bird'?"
"Schubert, then, Zoe."
In her straight frock, with its wide patent-leather belt and flat white
collar, the cascade of her hair down over it, Zoe held the center of the
vast studio, singing straight into her mother's eyes.
It seemed to Lilly, at the sound of that voice, not yet cleared of
childish treble, but as ready to rise as a lark, that every ounce of her
blood must be gushing against her throat; so, after it was finished, she
sat on quite dumbly, staring at the manner in which Trieste remained
sitting with his eyes closed.
"Lyric soprano," he said, finally. "Fine! Big! God-given!"
"_Maestro_--you mean that?"
"Heigh-ho!" he said on a sigh, walking over and placing his hand on
Zoe's curls. "I make up my mind I am seeck of this business. I wait only
for this war to live my day quietly in Capri, where I have my _casa_,
and now a new nightingale flies in at my window. Twice now. Ten years
ago comes Carrienta out of just such a clear sky, and once more, when I
am again sure that one voice is only more unmusical than the rest,
Standing there, Lilly was fighting an impulse to faint. She remembered,
with terror, previous sensations, and fought off the vertigo, biting
down into her lips. She wanted to smile, but her mouth felt numb, as if
it dragged instead of lifted.
"You--you make us very happy--_maestro_."
"Some day," cried Zoe, still thrilling from her effort, "I will sing
until my high C hits the sky!"
'I think you will, _bella mia_, if you have in you the power to work for
"Art is the most cruel paymaster in the world. It exacts full
recompense, toil, and heartache before it deals out a first payment
"I'll pay! I'll pay for what I want, and most of all I want to sing!"
She trilled up a brace of scales for him then, and there were minute
questions of health and habits, and, finally, in a waiting pause, Lilly
found word to ask the question against which her lips stiffened.
Something strange happened then, his well-known acumen immediately
asserting itself. It was as if he had slipped into another personality.
"Fifteen dollars a lesson. She must have three a week and her school
work and other studies should be reduced."
"Lilly--we're too poor for that!"
"I--I'm afraid my little girl is right, _maestro_. I--I couldn't even
pay that for all three. I'm employed myself, you see."
"Oh," he said, and walked off to the window, dilly-dallying on his
heels and looking out.
Finally he turned, with a gesture of dismissal.
"I have never before, except Carrienta, done such a thing. It must be a
secret between us. My belief is that art should be as well paid as any
life work, whether it is dentistry or lawmaking or storekeeping. But
your child here--they do not come so every day. In ten years, with
hundreds of pupils each year, she is the greatest since Carrienta. But I
must have first right to her. You hear, first right! I will teach her
free of charge. Leave your name and address with my secretary as you go
out. Send her Monday at four. Loose clothing. Not even corset waists.
Good afternoon. Good-by--Zoe"--placing his hands on her curls as if for
In the room adjoining, under whisper of a very soft pedal, some one,
probably a waiting pupil, was playing the indomitable pianoforte
composition, "Melody in F." Staring at her daughter, an old conceit of
Lilly's girlhood came flowing back. It seemed to her that a proscenium
arch of music was forming over Zoe and that her voice, a high-flung
scarf of melody, was winding itself reverently round a star.
* * * * *
That afternoon, Bruce Visigoth again asked Lilly to marry him.
Taking advantage of the quiet of a Saturday afternoon half holiday, she
had returned to the office to clear her desk of an accumulation of
In spite of herself, an extraordinary depression, low as storm clouds,
was gathering over the excitation whipped up by Trieste's acceptance
The tight squeeze of a lump was gathering in her throat. Finally she
laid her cheek to the desk and cried a little pool of her unaccountable
melancholy on to the glassed surface.
Bruce Visigoth found her so, although, at his entrance, she sprang from
the mound of her misery, violently simulating affairs at a lower drawer.
"Hello!" he cried, then, eying her crumpled cheek and the lane of tears:
"Ah, I say now! Come, come; this won't do. What's up?"
She rubbed her bare hand furiously across the ravages of her sharp
"Nothing. I--I guess I'm blue," she said, in a half laugh. "Something
wonderful has happened to Zoe, and I--it's made me so happy, I'm blue.
That's it--so--happy--I'm blue."
"What is the wonderful thing?"
She told him.
It was then he caught her hands.
"Lilly, marry me! Make it possible! Don't let the years lead you into a
blind alley. You are bound inevitably to lose a child like Zoe--to life.
That's why you are so unaccountably blue, Lilly; the writing is on
"No!" she cried, plunging past him, her hat in hand and her throat now a
cave of the winds for her unreleased sobs. "The years have brought me,
Zoe. She is my fulfillment. You can't frighten me--life cannot take her
from me. I'm not afraid--only, I can't bear anything to-night, least of
all from you--"
"Lilly, you're not--"
"Let me go! I'm all right--only tired--that's all.
She was presently on her homeward way, walking swiftly, almost, it would
seem, a little madly, through a May evening that hung as thinly as one
thickness of a veil.
At Seventy-second Street she veered suddenly and rather unaccountably
to Riverside Drive and down into a ledge of park that dips like a
terrace to the Hudson River.
An asphalt walk led in festoons from high parky nooks that sheltered
couples, down to the water-slapped edge of docks, where the tidey surf
had a thick, inarticulate lisp, as if what it had to say might only be
comprehended from the under side.
At one of the lowermost curves of the walk, the width of a brace of
railroad tracks between, a coal dock jutted out into the river. Across
these forbidden tracks, indeed, as if they did not exist,
At the last inch of dock, so that the water licked up at her shoes,
Lilly stood poised. Not, it is true, with the diver's blade thrust of
arms, but rather the unskilled, the indeterminate movement of one
vaguely prompted from the unfathomable places of the heart.
It was upon that move that something, a terrifying restraint, laid hold
of Lilly's jangling nerve ends.
"Hey there! None o' that to-night!"
A dockman's hand, hairy as an Airedale, had her by the arm, and
somewhere at her brow, cooling it, the fine hand of Bruce Visigoth,
pressing her against him, and at that touch Lilly's hysteria shot up
like a geyser.
"Don't!" she screamed, and would have struggled for the edge except for
the two firm hands now pressing her arms to her sides.
"Lilly, for God's sake, get hold of yourself!"
"Let me go! Let me go!"
"Aw no; we don't leggo. It's a good stroke we both happened to spy you
at the same minute. There's nothin' gives strength like a spell of the
craziness. You'd 'a' jumped me alone, sure!"
"No! No! It wasn't that--God, not that! Tell me, Bruce, it
"Of course it wasn't, Lilly."
"That's what they all say once they git their senses jerked back. Come
in here and pull yourself together, girl, or I'll call an ambulance or a
patrol, suiting your pleasure."
"Let me go, you! I won't stand it. I must have been mad! Bruce, you tell
him, please--it wasn't--that!"
"You're wrong, old man. Here--take this for your trouble, but this young
woman is my sister. We walked out here together."
Quieted suddenly to the merest timbre of insolence, the old man shambled
"Sure!" he said, far too knowingly. "Sure!" And faded shaggily,
impudently into darkness.
Bruce Visigoth took Lilly home in a taxicab. At her door she broke her
"You understand, Bruce, it wasn't anything--like that. It must have been
nerves--tiredness--but nothing, Bruce, that you think it was. That old
man was wrong. You must understand--for her sake--it wasn't that."
"Of course it wasn't, Lilly." His voice drained off, as if from
But for years, like a wound whose jagged lips were slow to close, the
memory of this night lay palpitating between them.
"The Web" was tried out in Baltimore the following April, Zoe, Ida
Blair, and Bruce Visigoth traveling down on the same train with the
company. It cost Lilly a pang for Zoe to miss the two days of school and
a vocal, a French, and a piano lesson, but the theater attracted Zoe
like the blithesome little moth she was. The duties of her High School
combined with the unrelenting tutelage of Treiste molded her young days
pretty rigidly to form, but more than once, during the rehearsals of
"The Web," Lilly, seated in the black maw of the auditorium, would turn
suddenly to the feel of her daughter's gaze burning like sun through
glass into the darkness. The company adopted her as a pet. The director
babied her. Once, as the afternoon rehearsal was disbanding, she crept
up through a box to the stage. The footlights were dark, but she came
down quite freely toward them, seeming to feel their mock blaze, and
sang a snatch or two from the tenderest _Lieder_ ever written, bits of
Schubert and Hugo Wolf, the company gathering in the wings to listen
The incident, slight as it was, brought the scratch of tears to Lilly's
eyes and the pull of half hysteria to her lips. What if, after all, an
incredible fulfillment was gathering about her like a vast dawn? "O
And so, to the unending delight and amusement of Bruce, Zoe went along
to Baltimore, Lilly pinching a little over the expense and pressing out
ribbons and girlish accessories up to the last minute.
With Ida Blair, who had sunk back against years the colorlessness of
cold dish water, herself more colorless, it was as if she had fired her
one and only shot and run retreating behind the explosion.
Already her name had been linked with a co-author on programs and
three-sheets, because a collaborator, a professional mender of plays,
had been called in at the last moment to riddle the drama's somber story
with a few "laughs." A character policeman, a comedy jury foreman, and a
subplot of love story between the character policeman and an Irish cook
had been "written in." The last act entirely revised, a happy ending
substituted, and the theme of the story extricated like a jumping nerve.
It was the heroic treatment administered by experts to save what looked
like unmistakable demise after the first Baltimore performance, and all
the while Ida Blair sat mutely by, trying to probe through the actuality
of her play or what was left of it, actually in the acting.
"The Steel Trap," as it was renamed, played to indifferent reviews and
receipts the remainder of the Baltimore engagement, and lost money in
Washington, but to the director, Bruce Visigoth, and certainly to Lilly,
looked a potential property.
So after two weeks the play was removed, revamped, recast, still another
play diagnostician called in, and under his surgery the third and fourth
acts combined, and the original role of love story made to predominate
what sociological note the play still contained. After an October tryout
in Stamford and a New York opening of still doubtful reception, when the
production hung between life and death and all the well-known
exigencies of oxygen were applied in the form of "papering" the house
with two weeks of free tickets, press-agenting, _et al._, the public
decided to like it.
"Who Did It?" as it was re-renamed, settled down to a run of forty-three
New York weeks, and along the Rialto the source of its authorship leaked
out and became curbstone, and finally newspaper, patter.
At the end of six months Ida Blair had resigned her bookkeepership,
erected a small but perfect plinth of blue granite in a certain hillside
cemetery, purchased a story-and-a-half bungalow in the heart of two Long
Island acres, and was raising leghorns and educating a niece
For the forty-three metropolitan weeks, not to mention stock, foreign,
motion pictures, and road incomes that were to accrue later, Lilly was
receiving her share, never less than one hundred and twenty-five dollars
a week and often considerably more.
It was a windfall pure and simple. The years of petty pickering suddenly
seemed more horrid to her in retrospect than she had ever realized they
were in the living. It was hateful to have reckoned in car fares and to
so often have appeared to do the niggardly thing before the unspoken
reproach of her child.
That same winter a cashier's note with her weekly check announced a
thirty-three and a third per cent advance in salary. Life had suddenly
quickened its tempo. She was passing through one of those eras when
events, long crouched, seem to spring simultaneously.
* * * * *
In April, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany. Daily
life, even to the indirectly touched, took on a new throb. Fourteen men
employees of the Amusement Enterprise Company enlisted the first week.
A service flag went up. Bruce Visigoth, outside the draft limit,
immediately enrolled on a service committee, spending two days out of
every week in Washington. Vaudeville ranks sagged suddenly and for a
brief moment the gray-haired actor came back into his own. Office
tension tightened. A nervousness set in. A telephone ringing could set
Lilly's nerves to quivering and the telephone not ringing fill her with
a nameless sort of anxiety.
More and more, too, it seemed to her, with the emotions always just a
scratch beneath the surface those war times, that the agony of pretense
between her and Bruce Visigoth could not endure. That he had applied for
a commission in active service Lilly knew, but merely from
correspondence. There had been no talk about it. She awoke nights, heavy
with a dread she could not name.
Only the violent conjuring of her child and a vision of Albert Penny
carried her rebellion past these bad places. Their frequent enforced
conferences; the chance touching of their fingers, only to fly too
instantly apart; the impeccable masks of indifference and elaborate
casualness of manner; the forbidden singing through her entire being as
he walked into the office and the imperturbability of the manner she
must present to him. To contemplate a future futile with such dreary
repetition became almost more than she could bear, and bitter with that
salt were the lonely tears she cried at night.
Even the occasional appearance of Robert Visigoth came more and more to
be a sort of biting irritant to a gangrenous spot she thought long since
He had grown enormously fat and Rufus G. Higginbothom, dying, had
enhanced that glutted look by bequeathing to his only daughter, Hindle,
without stipulation, a leaf-lard fortune of some seventeen
When his daughter, Pauline, was thirteen, he brought her to New York on
one of his frequent fliers, parading the fat, freckled, and frightened
youngster from one department to another.
"How much do you think she weighs?" he was fond of interrogating, with
his small parental eyes full of pride. "Hundred and thirty-six for
thirteen years. Not bad, eh?"
With about the sickest sensation she was ever to know, Lilly saw him
this day lead his daughter past her open door, his face averted and the
roll of fat at the back of his neck redly conscious.
It was after this incident that a half plan, long dormant, lifted its
head. Every day in her comings and goings through the wide fireproof
corridors of the Forty-second Street building a sign on a ground-glass
door waved at her like a flag:
MISS NELLIE TERRY
She had little doubt of her ability to launch out into a scheme of this
sort for herself and liked to incubate the idea in the back of her head,
going so far as to inspect a tiny office on the fifteenth floor,
mentally furnishing it up, and visualizing her name in neat black
letters on her own ground-glass door.
She did broach the subject to Zoe one evening, who, with her head
wrapped in a brilliant fez improvised out of an old cushion top, stood
before the mirror, attitudinizing her part in school entertainment.
"No! Don't go into anything tin horn like that! I hate for you to keep
playing _second fiddle._"
In the pause that followed, hardly perceptible enough to hold the drop
of a pin, Zoe flashed toward her mother, the colossal ego of her youth
somehow penetrated for the moment.
"Why, Lilly--I--I mean--You know what I mean--"
"Of course I know what you mean, dear. Second fiddle!"
And so what with Zoe's growing demands and Lilly's rooted fear of any
jeopardy to them, time marched on rather imperceptibly, except that
Lilly thinned and whitened a bit, slendering down, as it were, to more
and more sisterly proportions as her daughter shot up to meet her. They
were shoulder to shoulder now, if the truth were known, Zoe a little in
Meanwhile, Zoe was growing restive of the somewhat irksome limitations
of the Ninety-first Street apartment. She complained that the room was
oppressive for her long hours of study and practice. Visits to the Daab
studio, faithful in effect to a Doge's palace and where she was more and
more a favorite, and also to the pretentious homes of one or two school
companions, had an upsetting effect upon her. The long, gloomy neck of
hallway depressed her and she voiced bitterly a secret aversion of
Lilly's for the single bathroom with the ugly wooden floor and shallow
bathtub. "Dump" she called the little flat, her brilliant blue gaze
"I can't have the girls and boys visit me in this little two-by-four,
dear. It's a dump!"
And so early in the run of "Who Did It?" the little group moved again.
This time to a strictly modern, pretentious apartment in West End
Avenue, whose upper apartments boasted a river view and three baths and
rented as high as four and five thousand dollars a year.
For twelve hundred Lilly obtained the ground-floor rear, no view, but
five fairly large rooms and two capacious baths. And since such a house
takes its tone from its highest-priced tenants, they enjoyed with them
the uniformed hall service, the ornate entrance _de luxe_ and foyer
In lieu of maid, Harry again occupied those quarters, his grandmother
sleeping on a davenport in the sitting-dining-room. There were no
roomers, Lilly carrying the resultant deficit.
She and Zoe again shared what corresponded to the parlor, this time a
fairly large room, with alcove curtained off for sleeping quarters. They
furnished it themselves, quite charmingly, too, and with a consensus of
taste except where Lilly gave way to Zoe's really superior intuition.
There were plain écru walls, not papered, but, at Zoe's instance,
painted and roughened up with a process called "stippling." The two-tone
brown rug. An overstuffed couch of generous proportions and upholstered
in a nicely woven imitation of Flemish tapestry. Along the back of this
piece, which occupied virtually the center of the room, was a long,
narrow table the exact length of the couch, with a pair of Italian
polychrome candlesticks, gift of Gedney Daab, at either end.
A piece of old red brocade hung over the fireplace, covering the ugly
mirror, and facing it a brown-rep fireside chair, coarse tan fishnet
curtains, a pair of huge black-velvet floor cushions with orange-colored
balls in each center, bespeaking a new art era which was dawning as
colorfully and as formlessly as a pricked egg yolk.
An upright piano was stacked with music, and, in spite of Lilly's
argument for them, no pictures on the walls, only a brilliant panel
portrait of Zoe, signed Gedney Daab, her young form in faint profile
against a background of cloth of gold, the face up-flung to a flow of
sunlight that crossed the picture in a churchy ray.
"If we cannot have originals or etchings, we won't have any. I hate
"But, Zoe, dear--a few good prints. 'The Age of Innocence'--"
She kissed her mother on the mouth with all the outrageous patronage of
"You're a darling, Lilly, but they just aren't doing it that way any
So there were no pictures.
At the time of this move, Harry had been holding the position of clerk
at the cigar, magazine, and book concession of one of the newest and
noisiest of Broadway's terrific commercial hotels.
The hours were difficult, from noon to midnight, but within the
seventeen months he had advanced from fifteen to twenty-five dollars a
week. A new, a surprising spruceness had laid hold of him. He took to
exceedingly tall small collars and vivid neckwear, his suit very narrow
and making him look less than ever his years.
Mrs. Schum, too, had taken on some of that well-being, and, though she
complained constantly of a sciatic twist in her side, something had
lifted from off her. Her patter about the house, in the slippers with
the rubber insets, was lighter; she discarded the old jet-edged dolman
with the humps on the shoulders and the slits for the arms, for a decent
full-length black coat with a stitched braid border and self-covered
buttons, gift of her grandson. There had been a present for Lilly, too,
a light-blue, drugstore-purchased celluloid toilet set.
He no longer sat idle in his room, his light eyes futile with staring at
space or his head down tiredly in his hands. Something had indeed come
"After all," said Lilly, always readily buoyed, "the operation did
Sometimes, since his mornings were free, he rode down to the office with
Lilly, eagerly insistent to pay her car fare and cram a return Subway
ticket into the warm pink aperture of flesh where her glove clasped.
Once he bought her a little spray of heather off a vender's tray.
"Harry, you mustn't spend on me this way. You must begin to save your
money for that right girl when she comes along."
Never quick with retort, he stood watching her dart into the foyer of
the Forty-second Street building, a sudden silence shaping around him
that had in it the little noises of birds singing. "Right girl," he kept
repeating after her, or something like that, and remained there
loitering for twenty minutes after her presence had fluttered through
the revolving doors and into the elevator.
And then suddenly a quick succession of events set in.
One night Lilly and Zoe, returning from a Boston Symphony concert for
which they held first-balcony season seats, found Harry trying to pour
brandy between the clenched lips of Mrs. Schum, who lay rigid on the
hall floor where she had fallen, her head bleeding from a sharp contact
with the door.
Her poor face with the shriveled bags of flesh seemed suddenly shrunk,
and, holding the flask against her teeth, Harry's hands were trembling
so that the liquid poured in a thin stream off the edge of her mouth.
After half an hour of desperate and unavailing use of home remedies,
Lilly sent for a doctor, one in the building, who came down in
At twelve o'clock that night Mrs. Schum, without regaining
consciousness, was rushed to the Saint Genevieve Hospital in East
Seventy-eighth Street, for an emergency operation that had to do with a
growth in her side.
It was Lilly's first contact with the casualty of sudden illness. In the
little anteroom of the hospital, her hand in Harry's, she sat the
remainder of the night through. He was constantly wiping away the tears
from his light eyes and looking away to gulp. She reassured him where
she could, tightening her hold of his hand.
"Don't--let them hurt her."
"They aren't hurting her, Harry dear. She can't feel at all under the
"But they won't know. Gramaw won't let them know. Tell them, Lilly,
she's that way--not to hurt her--please."
At dawn milk wagons began to clatter through streets no grayer than
Harry's face. But at six o'clock Mrs. Schum was reported "as well as
could be expected" and the operation apparently a success.
They rode home through the early morning, Lilly insisting upon a taxicab
and Harry lying back, quite frankly spent, against her arm. Her vitality
was unquenchable, mounted, in fact, under stress. Untired, she brewed
him hot coffee, forced him to drink it and lie down; tidied up the
little flat there at six-thirty o'clock in the morning, with a
hit-and-a-miss it is true, but allaying all signs of confusion; fluted
an Eton collar for Zoe and packed her off to school; and at half after
eight, just out of a cold and invigorating shower, was combing out the
fine electric rush of her hair, a pink Turkish bathrobe, the color of
her firm, cool skin, wrapped tightly about her and caught in by a cord
at her waist line.
Suddenly through the mirror she saw the door open, and before she could
call out, Harry stood in the center of the room, his eyes running quite
unmistakably over the contour of her sheathed body.
It was the first time he had ever violated the slightest nicety, and,
outraged even in her pity for him, her hand flew up, drawing the robe
closer at her breast.
"Don't come in!" she cried, retreating up against the dresser and
turning her shoulder with the hair flowing over it toward him. "How
dared you come in here without knocking! Go!"
He was crying, not seeming to know it, because he continued, even as she
stood blazing at him, to stand staring through the rain of tears.
"Harry, you're forgetting yourself. You mustn't give way. Your
grandmother is over the worst now--"
Suddenly he was on his knees, his back round and shaken with sobs.
"Lilly--Lilly--can't you see?"
"See what? Is anything wrong? Harry," she cried, stooping to shake him
by the shoulder, "has anything happened again? Are you in trouble?"
He would not rise, following her, to her horror, by walking on his
knees, pressing and pressing the hem of her garments, and before she
realized it burning his kisses down into it. She fought him off, tearing
from his grasp and staggering back against the wall.
"Harry--you're in trouble again."
He caught her bare arm, pressing his lips into the yielding flesh.
"Lilly, I can't hold back any longer. I love you. I'm all alone. With
gramaw here I could hold back--somehow--but now--Lilly--Lilly--I
She could only stare, her mouth fallen open and the rim of her eyes
"It's been so long to--hold back--so long. Since that first day at the
street car--you kissed me--and now with gramaw gone--Lilly--"
She jerked him up from his knees this time, holding him firmly, even
absurdly, by the coat lapels, shaking him.
"Harry, you've gone mad!"
"I love you, Lilly. All these years. I'm all alone now and--"
Her glance shot to the egress of the door, but, seeing that he
anticipated her, she did not dart, but held herself back from him, her
hands in an X across her breast.
"Harry," she said, trying to keep out of her voice a rising sense of
fear, "you're not well You don't know what you are saying or doing."
"You treat me like a child, but I'm a man. Your age! You hear--a man
with a man's feelings for a woman--for you--Lilly. You're my--be my--"
"You get out," she cried, her terror bursting out like a flame. "Get out
or I'll call Mr. Alquist."
She referred to the superintendent of the apartment building, although
she knew him to be well out of hearing. It is probable that Harry knew,
too, because he had her by the elbows, pressing them in against her body
and her hair flowing across his face.
"Lilly, Lilly, Lilly!" he kept repeating, breathing so heavily it
sickened her to hear and feel it, and all the time fumbling with his
free hand down into his waistcoat pocket, bringing up a bit of tissue
paper which he tore at with his teeth, revealing the icy flash of a
great oval diamond ring set up high in platinum. "It's yours, Lilly. I
want to cover you with them. I want you to blaze with them--"
He pressed it on her finger, pushing it down the entire length, danced
her hand before her, catching her to him finally and crushing her and
the flow of her hair to him, kissing so fiercely down that red marks
came out against her whiteness, and when her cry finally rose to a
shriek let go of her, staggering back, his face, never quite clean of
pimples, suddenly fat-looking and with a lionlike thickening up of
His incoherence was horrible and she began to sob at him through
"You go! You get out! You stole that ring! You're a thief! You stole
that ring!" she cried, thrusting it with a sudden quick hand down the V
of his waistcoat. "Get out! Get out! Your grandmother--your--" Then,
because words failed and her knees threatened to give way, she snatched
up a book from the table, standing quivering and in the attitude
He did go then, as if the book had actually struck, making a detour of
her and his knees quite bent as he walked.
She finished her dressing in quick, fuddled movements, voice out in her
breathing, buttoning up wrong and tearing open again in the grip of a
A panicky need to gain the outdoors seized her; air to sweep and somehow
to cleanse her.
Before she was quite dressed, her belt not yet adjusted, in fact, the
bell rang in three titters and a prolonged grill. She stood arrested,
for some reason beginning all over her trembling. When Harry did not
answer she went out herself, opening the door to a mere slit. A foot was
pushed immediately in, crowding her back against the wall. Two men
walked in, without removing derby hats, and at sight of them the
nameless terror pinned her there in silence.
"Harry Calvert live here?"
She stood with her answer locked in her throat, conscious, on the
moment, of Harry appearing in the kitchen doorway behind her. She
wanted, for the same nameless reason, to motion him back, to shriek out
a warning, to throw herself against his presence. To herself in quick
"O God, make him go back!"
"Yes," replied Harry from where he stood.
"Warrant for your arrest. Charged with entering the apartment of Mrs. J.
King at Hotel Admiral and stealing one four-carat diamond ring valued
at five thousand dollars. More evidence than we know what to do with.
You better come quietly."
"Harry, deny it! They've made a mistake! You haven't the right to come
here at a time like this. There is sickness. His grandmother is dying at
a hospital. You've made a mistake. Take me. I'll appear for him. I'll
give his bail. All you want. Deny it, Harry. Harry!"
For answer a sharp explosion rang suddenly into the narrow hallway,
banging and reverberating against the walls, crowding faces out behind
an immediate purplish smoke.
"Harry! Harry! My God! Harry!"
He crumpled up quietly, one shoulder in the lead and his left leg
bending under him, straightening out then, with half a writhe to
"No! No! Help him! God! No! No! No!"
But yes. Harry had shot himself, very truly, too, through the heart.
There followed black weeks, with Mrs. Schum lying there on the edge of
death, yet reluctant to go, Lilly's days an intricate pattern of
hospital, office, and home.
She was more tired than she knew and for days after the tragedy went
about with a springy little sob just behind her throat, which was
perpetually taut from holding back tears.
The effect upon Zoe was telling. She whose solicitude for her mother had
never been any too noteworthy and who with all the unthinking blitheness
of an unthinking childhood had taken much for granted, developed,
suddenly, a new consciousness.
She would literally drag Lilly away from the pressing board.
"Don't, Lilly. I'm old enough to iron out my own ribbons." Or: "Don't
polish my shoes, Lilly. It's outrageous!"
"But, Zoe, I would rather you put the time on practicing or reading."
"I can do both."
One Saturday morning she was even awakened to an aroma of coffee, her
daughter standing attendant at the bedside with a tray of steaming
"Stay in bed this morning, Lilly. You look fagged. Let me take a message
down to Visi for you. Oh, Lilly, do! I'll wear my new red tam."
"Nonsense! I'm going down as usual."
"But, Lilly, I want him to see me in it."
Probably Lilly regarded her daughter a second longer than the occasion
warranted, because Zoe broke away from the gaze somewhat redly.
"Faugh! I hate him. He reminds me of a wild horse. But I'll show him
some day that I'm on earth. I'm as full of my own ideals as he is
"Of course you are, dear; but why so angry?"
Then Lilly rose, smiling as she dressed.
The household was not easy of readjustment until finally were procured
the services of one of the charwomen from the Bronx Theater, who
prepared the meals and could flute Zoe's collars to the utmost delicacy.
At this time Zoe was an advanced junior in High School, president of her
class, although the hawklike tutelage of Cleofant Trieste had delayed
graduation for a year, slowing down her curriculum to meet his demands
of harmony, languages, rhythmic dancing, and sports. She had a long,
sure swimming stroke that could carry her again her length, rode with
the fine fluid movement of a young body at one with her mount, and
because of her five hours a week at gymnasium excelled in the rather
uncommon sport of handball.
She no longer wore her hair in its great avalanche of curls down her
back; they were caught in now with an amber barrette. Nights Lilly loved
to brush them out until they flared to a dust of gold about her head.
There was no light too dull for this hair to catch. It sprang out in
radiance against any background.
"When you sing Marguerite, Zoe, you won't need a wig."
"Ah, but when I sing Electra--Thaïs--the real me--no namby-pamby
Marguerite--no pearls--that's how I feel about Thaïs--as if she were a
great opal full of fire. Hair," flopping her head backward with a bounce
of curls, "is hot--it restricts. These curls--they are all hot and
crawly around my neck, holding me."
"Poor Harry! You remember how he used to love to take you out walking to
show off your curls?"
"Lilly, is Mrs. Schum going to get well?"
"I don't know. It frightens me. I cannot bear to look ahead for her,
"If she gets well she'll have to know, won't she, that Harry didn't go
"Yes, and somehow--I couldn't stand her knowing that."
"She'll know it some day, anyhow."
"Yes, but then maybe where it will be easier for her to understand."
On her own responsibility Lilly had employed this subterfuge with Mrs.
Schum. Slowly as she came clutching back at consciousness, the name of
her grandson more and more on her twisted lips, Lilly whispered it down
to her, closing her hand over the tired old bony one.
"Listen, dear Mrs. Schum, I've--news for you."
"They're all against him--"
"No, no, dear. While you've been so ill, what we had hoped for has
happened. Harry's been accepted, dear--he's enlisted."
She crinkled her brow, trying to understand.
"They wouldn't take him. He wanted to fight for his country. They were
all against him--"
"No, no, dear. It's all different now. Since our country is at war Harry
has been accepted. The boys were rushed overnight to training camp.
Thousands of them. He came weeks ago to tell you good-by, but you were
too ill to know. He's on a transport now, dear, sailing to fight for his
country. Aren't you proud? Aren't we all proud?"
The poor hands began to tremble, feeling their way up along Lilly's arm.
"Harry's gone--to war?"
She seemed to speak then, through a pale transparent sleep, into which a
new contentment pressed lightly.
"Harry's gone. Annie, he's a soldier. He's so gentle with me, Annie, a
meek child, like you were. Never any back talk or a harsh word. Whatever
wrong he did was forced on him by those working against him. They were
all against him. His Mamma-Annie knows. She bore him and I raised him.
Fight, Harry! The streak from your father can't keep you down. Show
them, Harry, show them. Whatever wrong my boy did was forced on him by
those working against him--"
"That's all past now, dear."
"He liked you, Lilly. He'd have gone through fire for you. You were
always good to my soldier boy. I was forever finding old bits of things
that you had thrown away among his belongings. Don't tell him I told
you. Old pencils and old gloves. He was a great one for gathering up
things for keepsakes after you had thrown them away. Gloves--found some
old ones of yours under his pillow one morning. Not taking things, you
understand, but just pulled out of the rubbish heap for remembrance."
"I do understand, dear."
And so the weeks of her illness and of Lilly's deception dragged on.
There were holes in the fabric of the story, obvious to any but Mrs.
Schum's tired consciousness, and a too sudden inquiry could throw Lilly
off her guard, but there was a flag with one shining service star
glowing above the narrow bed, and evenings straight from the office
Lilly would hasten to the hospital with fruits that could only be looked
at, and newspapers to be unfurled and read.
"Is his name in the papers yet?"
"I--You see, dear, the transport has just reached the other side."
"My boy will show them--"
The kindly spirit of the deception had fallen over the entire corridor.
A maternity case in the room adjoining sent in a silk flag with
hand-embroidered stars. The head nurse, herself on the eve of sailing
for service, had shopped the flag with the one bright star. The doctor,
fathering the lie, called her "captain" and saluted her upon entering
the room with a flash of palm and a click of heels.
She could smile at this, but with lips as blue and shriveled as drowned
One night after she had dozed off and wandered into some phantasmagoria
where she seemed to fancy herself seated in the bow of a boat with her
daughter, she opened her eyes suddenly, reaching out for Lilly's hand.
"Lilly, your poor mother. Do you ever think of her?"
"Yes, yes, I do, dear."
"You remember, Lilly, how she used to rush down right from the breakfast
table to the bargain bins for those pink and blue mill-ends she used to
dress you so pretty in. My! wasn't she one for Valenciennes lace,
though! Wouldn't she just dress Zoe up, though--"
"She was a good woman in her way, Lilly, even with all her fussing and
nagging. My! how she did used to nag! I understood her. The ketchup. She
was a great one for condiments and would have them all over the other
boarders. Ketchup and the best cut of the meat for you and your father.
There was just no pleasing her. But I understood her--she's a good
"Indeed, mamma is good!"
"It's not that I don't glory in you, Lilly, and your having a wonder
child. You know I've always gloried in you. You've a head on you I
always say that's going to carry you beyond us all, but don't you ever
feel, Lilly, that maybe your doings have been wayward?"
"I do. I do."
"Your mother. Your father, as patient and as fine a man as breathed.
Your husband, I don't know him, but life is so short. So terribly short.
So full of pain and regrets for what can't be undone. That's why I
cannot go and leave my boy behind--to suffer alone. I want him to go
first. He's not strong. What is life, except doing for those we love?
Don't you ever feel that about them out there, Lilly? Life is so
short--such a struggle--alone--"
"Dear Mrs. Schum, you--you--you're right."
"Ah, I know---the young man in the box with you at 'The Web' that night
it opened. Your boss. I know! He likes you, that young man does, Lilly.
It's easy to see it in his eyes for you. That's why it's dangerous.
Harry likes you, too--but not that way, I think. He saves your old
gloves. That's always struck me as funny. They're all against him. The
fire escapes; that's why I lock the doors. You hear--the fire escapes.
Poor Lilly! just a little too much ambition and not quite enough talent
to reach. I used to predict for you all the things that are cropping out
in your child. Zoe is to be the one, Lilly. Not you--or Harry--or
Mamma-Annie--Zoe! Funny his saving your gloves--"
These were the times that Lilly would sit there crying, old musty
memories rising around her like kicked-up dust. There were whole
evenings when her mother's name was constantly on the not always
coherent lips, and to Lilly the old sense of the unreality of her
universe, or was it herself, laid somewhat, by the busy years, would
come surging again. Where were the visions for which she had climbed,
spike-shod, up that loving wall of living flesh back there? How long
since her last dream of self had vanished? Zoe was her answer.
One evening when Lilly arrived home from the hospital she found Zoe
squatting in bed, her face naughtily screwed into a little grimalkin
knot, elbows pressed into her sides, palms up, and all attitudinized to
emulate a Chinese god. Holding this pose for a full minute after Lilly
had entered the room, she began to bounce in hilarity up and down on the
mattress, probably to allay her own sense of inner unease.
For the full round of the minute Lilly stared, her glance widening and
darkening. Something had happened to Zoe. Something horrid.
"Don't you love it, Lilly? Don't stand there like you're frozen.
Everybody loves it. All the models down at Daab's are wearing it this
way. Thaïs does. Jeanne d'Arc does. Don't look at me that way."
Zoe had bobbed her hair. It hung quite straight, and in an outstanding
shock, because of its thickness, just below her ears. Franz Hals would
have loved the rectilinear contour of her. She was saucy. She was
abbreviated. She was naughty; and liked to flop her head about for the
soft throw of her hair.
Her mother dropped rather than sat on a chair edge, trying to keep down
the storm of anger that had her by the throat and eyeballs.
"Your curls! All gone! Your beautiful hair! What have you done? You
wicked girl! You--wicked--girl--you!"
It was the first time in all the largesse of her youth that such a tone
had assailed Zoe. The very seventeenness of her revolted; she dropped
"Why, Lilly--you--you're talking like other--mothers."
But the spank in Lilly's hand was suddenly singing against her palm and
there was a rush of her not so forbearing forefathers to the very front.
"You horrid girl! How dared you? Don't come near me! Your beautiful hair
that I've never been too tired to brush for hours! To have realized
those gorgeous curls in you and for--for this! You horrid, selfish
All during this, her naughtiness fallen from her like a cloak, Zoe sat
regarding her parent, her lower lip less and less steady. She might have
been stunned, trying to keep her equilibrium by a series of rapid little
blinks, Lilly meanwhile sunk into a heap and crying down into her hands.
"Don't talk to me."
"But, Lilly--you--you've always wanted me to be true to myself."
"You're not true to yourself. You're true to a pose, a silly fad that
you've picked up around the Daab studio."
"You always said if I wanted to be a circus rider I could, just so I was
better than all the other circus riders. Well, I wanted to have my hair
bobbed and I bobbed it bobbiest."
"Your comparison is stupid. You know it is. You've never taken a step
before without talking it over with me. You know perfectly well I should
not have interfered. I should have tried to make you see the folly of
cutting off your beautiful curls, but if you had still insisted, off
they might have come just the same. I think it is that as much as the
loss of the curls. Your privilege has become a license. You've made
everything seem ridiculous--me--you."
"Then you've made me so. If you want me to be like other girls you
should have reared me like other girls. Have other girls' fathers who
don't know they are on earth? Have other girls' mothers who--"
As if the words had been live coals scuttling off her lips before she
knew, Zoe sat back, staring at her mother's stare, scalding tears
"Lilly, forgive me. I--I wish I could cut my tongue out. I didn't mean
it that way; you know I didn't. If you don't forgive me I can't stand
it," the stabbing consciousness of that impulsively flung reproach
already through her like a hurting wound.
"You are right, Zoe, I--"
"I didn't mean one word, Lilly darling, not one eeny word. It's just
that all of a sudden it seemed to me to be the freest, gladdest thing in
the world to cut off my hair. That's it, free! Haven't you ever had
that feeling, darling? Free! I wouldn't have done it, Lilly, if I had
known how it would hurt. Lilly--darling--mother. If I've hurt you I want
to just die. My own dear--Lilly--"
Her voice caught on the crest of a sob and she was at her mother's feet,
seeking out her lap, tears rushing down over her incoherence.
"I'll grow it back again for you, Lilly. I'll make it up to you,
sweetheart. I didn't mean that--what I said about fathers or--or other
girls--you know I didn't. I'm bad. Terrible."
In some alarm, Lilly placed her hand on the shorn head, shuddering in
spite of herself as if the ends were bleeding.
"Sh-h-h, Zoe! It upset me, dear, that's all--the shock of seeing you
sitting up in bed there--with it off."
"I'll make it up to you, Lilly. In so many ways. Soon. It's settled,
dear, that Auchinloss is coming to America in the fall to conduct.
Trieste is going to arrange my audition for September. He promised
to-day I'd be ready. Think, Lilly, my audition so soon. I'll have the
wig made out of my own hair, dear, for Marguerite. Don't feel badly,
Lilly; the wig will look--"
"I don't any more, Zoe. It was just the shock--"
"I know it was silly, dear, but it will grow quickly and I just had that
feeling to be free--you see, dear--"
"I do see, dear, I do. Zoe, look at me. Doesn't it ever come over you,
on the eve of so much, dear--that perhaps you do need his--your
"Now just because I said _that_. I tell you I'm a devil. I didn't mean
it--not one word--"
"I know you didn't. It cropped out unconsciously. You're not to blame.
He's a good man, Zoe, your father, and his steady hand might do much
where I--may have failed."
"If you talk that way I can't stand it. You tell me so often he's a good
man, I wonder if he really is--"
"You're getting beyond me, Zoe. I wonder if the day isn't inevitable
when you are going to break out more and more into unconscious
"Oh, I don't only mean what you said just now. But it's on my mind more
and more, now that you are old enough to decide for yourself. You cannot
be sucked back any more into a life you would not tolerate. You can
choose. That is what I have been waiting for. Doesn't the ache ever come
over you, Zoe, to see your father? Just a natural instinctive ache, if
nothing else--your grandparents--"
"No! No! No! I hate it all as you hated it. If you want to punish me
terribly--for saying something I didn't mean--just talk them to me. I
want wideness, must have it! Room! I--I could say it in music better
than in words. Some day I shall compose a song that says it for
me--the--the way I feel it. Don't stop now saving me from them. Wait.
Wait, Lilly, until I sing. Trieste understands even better than you. I'm
the surprise he keeps hinting about to everyone. I'm going to bowl them
over at my audition. Lilly--have I ever failed you? Have I ever come in
second for you? No, and I never will. You won't ever be sorry, Lilly--on
my account. You won't even care that I've cut off my hair. Lilly dear,
do you believe me? I'm always going to come in first for you. First!"
"I do, dear, I do."
And of course in the end they sobbed together, and lay far into the
dawn, cheek to cheek, until finally Zoe dropped off to sleep and Lilly
lay wide-eyed beside her, the perfume of her child's soft breathing
against her cheek.
The next morning in the reading room of the Public Library a notice
catapulted itself at Lilly from the second page of the St. Louis
L.H. Hines, president, and Albert Penny, vice president of Slocum-Hines
Hardware Company, leave shortly for Washington, where they have been
called to give expert advice upon installing American Canteen Service.
The day that followed seemed to Lilly vague with a sort of fog. A
disturbing something lay against her consciousness and one of her
unquiet nights was filled with the unaccountable crying. But morning
invariably brought back reality and her workaday could envelop her
busily, even happily.
Meanwhile, war, like a spreading wing, had blackened against the
international sky. Somme, Vimy Ridge, Aisne had been bled, and more than
ever the streets that led toward the embarkation points were the color
of khaki, women frequently running alongside, crying and laughing
Some of this war hysteria, of which she was really no integral part,
had, however, hold of Lilly. Her throat ached with it. Her state cropped
out in her work. One afternoon she traveled to Newark for the purpose of
seeing a Japanese sleight-of-hand act, and came away without sufficient
impression of any kind to pass judgment.
Bruce Visigoth eyed her closely.
"You're tired," he said, commenting upon her failure to turn in the
report. "You need a rest."
"No," she said, "it's just--a little of everything--I guess--then Harry
Calvert--that was a shock, you see, and now his grandmother. I'm with
her at the hospital every evening--and then this war--this futile
He could never, with her, keep his tone as level as his manner.
"Lilly," he burst out, "drop it all for a couple of weeks. You and the
youngster come out to the place in Tarrytown. There are some things I
want to talk over with you. I'm working now to obtain the rights to that
little beauty from the Spanish you gave me to read. I'm going to produce
after this war mess slows down. It is the exquisite kind of thing I'd
expect you to find."
"I didn't. Zoe read it to me one evening. She was the one to see its
"It's spring, Lilly, and I want you to see the place. My sister Pauline
moved in last week. I want you to be our first guest. It's
It was his first mention to her of the recent purchase of a
one-hundred-acre estate at Tarrytown, although in her capacity of notary
public she had officiated at the drawing up of certain papers and deed.
Blue prints of plans had passed through her hands. That he had furnished
it she knew, too, from the magnitude of breath-taking bills from
decorators and dealers exclusive antique. It had piqued her more than
she would admit, his failure to solicit even her advice or opinion.
There was a framed photograph of plans on his desk in the office which
her eyes studiously avoided. Furtively and with the edge of her gaze,
she knew the house to be a low-length with Tudor peaks to it that gave
her a nostalgia for pools of green quiet and the leafy whisperings of
English countrysides she had never seen.
"I want you out at the place, Lilly, more than I can say. Please come.
The way things are clouding up, there is no telling how soon they'll let
me over for active service. Lilly?"
She shook her head.
"I can't. Zoe graduates next month, and--"
"Good Lord! the youngster!"
"Well, I'll be hanged. The sun-kid. Bring her out too, Lilly."
"Trieste is very strict with her. She is preparing for her audition in
September, and even if it could be managed, there is poor Mrs. Schum,
His eagerness would not endure obstacle.
"Bring her out, too. How's that, Lilly? I'll send a limousine full of
pillows for her. It will take Pauline's mind off her loneliness, having
some one to mother. We'll put her up in a sun room with a view of pine
woods and Hudson River that cannot be surpassed. It's spring--Lilly--"
"Poor Mrs. Schum!" she replied, her smile tired and twisted. "I'm afraid
her next journey will be a longer one than that."
"Poor soul! Does she still think that boy of hers is fighting?"
"Surely there is no wrong in saving her from the horror of the truth."
"You dear girl, of course, no. It's only that--somehow don't you think
that before she passed on she ought to know that he's gone on
before--even if you have to tell her that he died--gloriously?"
"I've thought of that," she said, looking away, "thought and thought of
"Lilly," he cried, reaching for her two hands She drew them back quickly
and walked out.
That evening when she presented herself at the hospital the nurse met
her outside the door with her finger to her lips.
"She is sinking, but conscious."
Confronted with her emergency, Lilly stood before that closed door,
beating all over with her silent little prayer:
"O God, help me! Help me, help her!"
Mrs. Schum was quite conscious.
"Lilly," she said, reaching out a thin old hand that was covered with
veins as round as cables, "I've been waiting."
"Here I am, dear."
"I think I'm done, Lilly. I--dream so much--of God."
"Why, you're better, dear!"
"No. I'm going. I wanted so to wait for my boy. The doctor, can't he
help me to wait, Lilly? Ask him to help me to wait. I keep thinking he's
over there somewhere--Harry--funny isn't it? Over there waiting. You've
heard no news, Lilly?"
In this moment more propitious than she dared hope Lilly leaned over.
"Yes, dear, there is news."
"Harry?" she said quickly and sharply, lifting her head.
"Yes, dear--Harry--is--over there--waiting."
"His Mamma-Annie's boy--they were all against him. He can't stay back
here alone--he needs me, doctor--help me to wait for him--"
"Listen, dear--Harry's gone."
"Why--over there--just as your intuition told you."
She pulled at the sheet with fingers as fleshless as the feet of a bird,
moving her lips, vainly at first, and suddenly jerked herself up with a
strength no doctor would have conceded her.
"He's dead, Lilly. My boy's dead. Please--please--it is so--isn't it? My
"I knew it. Oh, Annie, you're the mother of a soldier. God wouldn't let
me leave him back here--alone. I wouldn't have left him. There wasn't
any good ahead for him. That's why I wanted him to die like a soldier.
Before he should come to the bad places ahead. I can go so easy now. I'm
done. God fixed it for me--Lilly."
She held the racked old form to her, kissed away tears that the washed
old eyes could hardly yield, made a couch of her arms, and held her
close so that their heartbeats met.
"Lilly, I feel so easy. I never felt so easy."
"Lie quietly, dear."
"Life can be hard, Lilly. And now--war. Make it easier for yourself.
Don't let him out there--go over there--anywhere--reproaching. Your
parents--your child--it's his as much as yours, Lilly. If I had gone
first, my boy would have reproached. There is nothing so terrible,
Lilly--as eyes that reproach--eyes--Lilly--don't."
She drifted off then in the placidity of a sleep from which she was not
* * * * *
Lilly walked home that early morning following. Her direction lay in a
straight line through Central Park. Spring was out in firstlings of
every kind. The baby nap of new grass. Trees ready to quiver into leaf.
The sun came up from behind a sky line of skyscrapers, and as she was
crossing the Mall a fountain rained up a first joyous geyser, some
sparrows immediately plunging for a bath.
She sat down on a bench there in the lovely quiet, quite lax, and,
because of its pressure, her natty little blue sailor in her lap. The
air was like cool water and she closed her tired eyes to it.
Finally children began to trot past on their way to school. She heard
their shouts and watched them. A father passed with his little girl by
the hand and carrying her sheaf of books. A boy in knickerbockers lunged
furiously on roller skates. Another drove his ball under her bench and
she smiled as she drew aside to let him drive. A private in khaki threw
her a flirtatious glance. The sun found her finally.
Then Lilly followed one of her curious and absolutely irrepressible
impulses, one that must have been smoldering who knows how long.
She completed her walk through the Park. At Seventy-second Street, where
she emerged, a family hotel, one of those _de luxe_ mausoleums to family
life, reared showily. Without pause she turned in there, finding out the
telegraph desk; wrote her message largely and flowingly, leaning over
while the operator read out the words to her:
Mr. Albert Penny, 5198 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. Won't you
include New York in your visit to Washington and if possible bring
parents. Try to. Lilly Penny, 2348 West End Avenue.
Hearing that telegram repeated, the pencil marking time word by word, it
seemed to Lilly that each one of them was released with the spring of an
arrow from its bow, and that the operator recoiled, stunned, from the
impact of the message.
"Well," she said, leaning farther over the desk, and for some reason
shaping the word to a breathless question.
"Fifty-one cents," said the girl, through the inimitable laconism of gum
Six hours later there was a reply folded in Lilly's purse:
We leave to-day for Washington. Arrive New York next Sunday 2.03 _via_
Pennsylvania. Albert Penny.
An incredible state of calm set in. She had the sensation of each
intervening day a shelf of terrace down which she was walking into a
deepening sea. Dreams ill-flavored as Orestes' filled her nights, and
how tired she was must have sopped into her pillow, but her capacity for
the present lessened her dread and made more bearable the fluent and
fateful passing of the time.
There were the details of the poor little funeral to be arranged. Lilly,
who had never known death, was suddenly face to face with it again, at a
time, too, when the incipient beginnings of pandemic that was later to
scourge the country was reaping its first harvest; a strange malady
carried on the stinking winds of war, shooting up in spouty little
flames, that, no sooner laid, found new dry rot to feed upon. Spanish
influenza, it was called, for no more visible reason than that it
probably had its beginnings in Germany or India.
On the Wednesday of Mrs. Schum's funeral five of the Amusement
Enterprise office force were home with it, one little telephone
operator, who occasionally laid the surreptitious offering of an orange
or a carnation on Lilly's desk, succumbing.
It was amazing how light the imprint of Harry and his grandmother. Of
effects there were practically none. A few tired-looking old dresses of
Mrs. Schum's. Eleven dollars and some odd change in a tin box behind a
clock. Harry's pinch-back suit with the slanting pockets. A
daguerreotype or two. The inevitable stack of modest enough but unpaid
bills. Odds. Ends. And in a wooden soap box shoved beneath Harry's cot,
old door bells, faucets, bits of pipe, glass door knobs, and, laid
reverently apart, a stack of Lilly's discarded gloves, placed to
simulate the print of the hand.
For days, Zoe, who had taken the tired willingness of Mrs. Schum so for
granted, cried herself bitterly into a state that threatened to take the
form of a fever, and then to the strophe and antistrophe of her young
grief, becoming self-conscious, burst, with not particularly precocious
rhyme, reason, or meter, into the following, which was printed in her
"Teach me to live, O God,
If sorrow be to live,
Then let me know
All pain that it can give."
"Teach me to live, O God,
To know the gold from dross,
To live, dear God, to live.
I care not what it cost."
And Lilly, the dear mother dust in her eyes, had the page framed beneath
a faded photograph of Mrs. Schum, taken when her lips and breast
To attune Zoe to the coming of her family was no small matter. She was
outrageously rebellious, flagrantly irreverent, and for every outburst
Lilly bled her sense of blame.
"You've made a farce of everything, Lilly. You've fought for a
principle and, with it won, turned maudlin. What is the idea? To drag me
back there to join the sewing circle and the local society for the
prevention of spinsterhood to maidens?"
"You are not funny at all. You know you are clear of that kind of thing.
You're like an arrow on its way to its goal. Straight and sure. Nothing
can deflect you. That's why I dared."
"Realizations can come, Zoe, even to a selfishness as great as mine has
"Sacrifice is not always beautiful. It can be silly and futile."
"Yes, and bring rewards to neither side. Half the people who are
sacrificed for become tearful tyrants, and those who do the sacrificing
sour and meek, or holy with righteousness."
"You are reciting the kind of thing you hear down at Daab's."
"I'm reciting you."
"You darling boomerang!"
"I suppose now you are sorry you didn't stay at home in your canary cage
to no one's particular advantage and your own terrific disadvantage. Now
that you have reared me into the kind of human being you set out to be,
you renig. Do you want to throw me back into that bowl with the greased
sides that you managed to climb out of? Not much."
This from Zoe, mixed metaphor and all, who at seventeen kept _Doll's
House_, Freud, _Anna Karenina_, and Ellen Key on the table beside
"Theories go down, Zoe, before life--and death."
She sat haughtily young, and without tolerance, her profile averted and
trying to keep the quiver off her lips.
"Just when I'm ready to graduate and preparing for my audition--to have
"Zoe--Zoe--don't make it harder--"
"I'm a dog, Lilly--forgive me."
"The entire abominable condition is my fault--"
"Then thank God for the abominable condition. I love you and everything
"Then be sweet to them for my sake. Your grandmother, she's going to be
unlike anyone you have ever known. She's a great one to pick up the
bread crumbs of life with a great ado. That's been her existence,
dear--little things. And your grandfather, Zoe, he's so gentle. Somehow
I imagine he is even gentler now. You remember I used to tell you how
we'd play at hide and seek long after I was grown. Oh, Zoe, be sweet!"
"I will, dear."
"And--your father. Whatever his attitude may be, remember the fault lies
in me--not him."
"Trust me, Lilly, if only he doesn't drop dead when he sees me!"
Between them the little drama was carefully rehearsed.
"Visi would pay big money for this act."
"You'll be your own natural sweet self, Zoe? No posing?"
"Don't worry. I suppose if the truth is known I'll have an aggravated
case of stage fright."
"They'll know--everything, Zoe, before I let them see you. Just be
simple, dear--and please--no dramatics!"
"It's all too dramatic for dramatics," she replied, cryptically.
It was finally decided that Lilly was to meet the train alone, settle
the trio at the Hotel Astor, and arrive at the apartment in time for a
dinner prepared by a cook and waitress especially brought in for
"Break the news in a public place, Lilly--the hotel lobby or a
taxi---and avoid family fireworks."
"My news can't be broken."
At four o'clock the morning of the arrival, Lilly was up, moving with
the aimlessness of great nervousness about the apartment. At that same
hour Mrs. Becker was emerging backward from her sleeper, kimono-clad,
and bulging through the curtains into the dark aisle.
"Carrie," her husband whispered after her, jutting his head out with a
turtle's dart, "it's only three o'clock, Eastern time. Why are you
"Because I want to," she said, plowing on.
Once in the dressing room, she fell to crying as she staggered and