Part 8 out of 8
dressed, apparently because each object, as she took it up, fell from
And yet the meeting occurred, as dreaded and anticipated moments often
do, damply, and as a heavily loaded bomb, for one reason or another, can
go off with a cat cough.
To the observer, what happened that early afternoon was simply a very
trim and very tailored young woman, her boyishness of attire somewhat
accentuated because her swift clean-cutness was so obviously its
inspiration, greeting, in the marble vastness of Grand Central Terminal,
a trio of what was plainly a pair of travel-stained parents and
perhaps an uncle.
Standing there peering between the grillwork as the train slid in
through the greasy gloom, watching the run of "red caps" and the slow
disgorging of passengers, Lilly saw it all in waves of movement, waves
of heat, waves of gaseous unreality.
Then she spied them. Her mother in the old, familiar vanguard, her
father with that bulge to his back from which the gray coat hung
loosely, Albert struggling to save his luggage from the fiery piracy of
a "red cap."
Her first sense was of fatness, their incredible, caravaning,
lumbaginous fatness! There was a new chin to her mother. Gone was the
old pulled-in waistline, but the old love of finery was out on her hat
in ostrich plumes, a boa of marabou lending further elegance. And her
father! He was somehow behind himself, slanting out from neck to quite a
bulge of abdomen, then receding again to legs that caught her throat
with a sense of their being too thin to sustain him. The fringe of hair
that showed beneath his slouch hat was quite white, too, and with that
same clutch at her throat she saw that it was thin as a baby's can
It is doubtful if she would have known Penny. He was himself in
sebaceous italics. The old stolidity of stature was there, but hardly
the solidity. Like Mrs. Becker, he had chubbied up, so to speak, until
he looked shorter. And Albert was bald. It showed out under the rear of
his derby, like a well-scrubbed visage awaiting some deft hand to sketch
in the features, as poor Harry had done it to the clothespins. His
Scandinavian blondness was quite gone; there was just a fringe of tan
hair left and his jowls hung a bit, of skin not quite filled
All this in a telegraphic flash as she stood there waiting, and at the
sight of her father, on his too thin legs, dragging his cane slightly so
that it scraped, and in the other hand a sagging old black valise that
she remembered, all the tightness at her throat relaxed suddenly, the
tears coming so easily that she could smile through them.
The dragging of that cane, it hurt her poignantly, as little vagrant
They spied her out even as she spied them, and, bodybeat to bodybeat,
she and her mother met, shaking to silent sobs and twisting hearts. Then
her father, pressing the coldly smelling mustache to her lips and
lifting her in the old way by the armpits, so that the instant closed
over her like a swoon.
With Albert it was strangely easier; there was a pause as wide as a hair
while he stood there blinking, and weighted with his unsurrendered
"Albert," she said, finding the word at last.
At that moment, a "red cap," wild for fee, made for one of the brand-new
"Let go," he cried, in small anger. "That is a
six-dollar-and-ninety-eight-cent bag you are jerking."
Then he brought his gaze back to Lilly, his Adam's apple above the gray
necktie throbbing so that it seemed to her his entire body must
reverberate to the pistonlike process.
"Well," he said. "Well, well," the words dropping down into the dry well
of a gulp.
But somehow after the episode of the luggage, everything was easier, for
Lilly at least. She could smile now.
Very presently they were actually in a taxicab together, the talk of
the moment echoing against the silence of unspoken words taking shape
"Papa!" she said, finally, from the little folding seat opposite him,
stroking his hands and steadying herself with them against the throw of
the cab. "Oh, papa, papa!"
He smiled back through crinkles that were new to her, patting her in
turn and looking off.
Mrs. Becker fell to crying, pressing her handkerchief up against her
eyes and trying to lift her veil above the tears.
"After all these years," she kept repeating. "Years. Years."
"Now, now, Carrie--you promised."
"What hotel?" asked Penny, one of the bags across his knees and one
weather eye for the other on the driver's seat.
"The Astor; that is one of the best. I've your rooms all arranged for.
My--my place is too small."
"A less expensive would do, wouldn't it, mother?" addressing himself,
without once meeting Lilly's eye, to his mother-in-law.
"You're my guests," she said, trying to smile down old aversions. "This
is my party."
"Years--" sobbed Mrs. Becker. "She looks the same, but I'm a stranger to
my own child. Ben, we're strangers."
They were all suddenly in tears, Mr. Becker laying a clumsy hand to his
"Carrie, you promised--"
"Can't help it--can't help it," her lips bubbling. "I'm bursting with
it. All these years. I can't hold in. What mother could?"
Only their arrival at the hotel stemmed the rising tide, but, once up
in their aerial suite of rooms, the last bell hop tipped out, then broke
the storm wave, flaying them all.
"Lilly--Lilly let me look at you. Baby--are you my baby--are you mine?
"Feel my heart. Ben--tell her--what I've suffered--"
"Carrie--now--now--what is past is past; we must look to the present
"Papa dear--you look so changed and yet so--natural--"
There was an air of indescribable prosperity that rose off Mr. Becker,
in the nondescript but excellent quality of the gray suiting, the
polished, square-toed, custom-made shoes, the little linen string of
necktie, one for each day, the kind, despite family suasion, he had
always worn. But it was difficult for him to speak now because he was
always blinking and looking off.
"You've given us a great sorrow to bear, Lilly," he said, in a tone of
rehearsed reproach. "We tried to be thankful for our health
"There he goes on health again at a time like this. I'm a broken woman.
Years! Years of explaining lies to the community. Years of holding up
our heads over an opera singer that nobody ever hears about and that
never came home to her folks. Years of feeling them laugh behind our
backs--your father and husband trying to hold up their heads in business
under the lie. What have I ever done, I've asked myself all these
years--to deserve it? I've never harmed anyone. I've--"
"Where do you live? How do you live? A stranger to my own child. Worse
than a stranger!"
"I've a well-paid position with a producing firm, mamma, and I live
nicely. You shall see, dear."
"Producing? Producing what? Trouble? A position! For that she threw away
her life. Her big talk of prima donna, and we find her in a position.
The girl that was going to set the world on fire. That's why we looked
our eyes out all these years for her name in the paper, only to find her
in a position! Ben, what have we ever done to deserve it? Albert, I'm
her mother, but my heart bleeds for you--"
He was tugging at his bag straps, industriously keeping his head
averted, but the red up in his ears.
"Mother," he said, "did you pack my throat atomizer?"
She licked up at the taste of her tears.
"It's wrapped in between your socks. You're standing in a draught,
Albert; close that window. You heard that man in the train about the
epidemic of colds that is starting all over the country. O my God! I'm
just so upset. And now that it has happened everything is so different.
I could tear out my tongue for what I want to say and I can't say
anything--not so much your father and I--at least we had Albert to help
make it up to us. We know what a son he has been, don't we, Ben, but to
think of him, the upstandingest boy that ever wore shoe leather--him
having to suffer for it--"
"Carrie, Carrie, it's time to go over all that later. Let's get our
bearings. Lilly, you've not changed except for the bones kind of
"I don't like you in those shirt waists. Too mannish. The lace I used to
dress that child in! The way I used to love to poke in the
bins--sacrificed for her. These years--years. Lilly--tell me you've been
a good girl--that your sinning has only been against us--child that I
They were locked in embrace again, Mrs. Becker blown hot and cold by the
ever-shifting clouds of her emotions, the two men standing by in a state
of helplessness that was always in inverse proportion to the lavalike
eruptions from the crater of her nerves.
"Mother, father and I will leave you alone for a while and you have your
talk together first--"
"No! She's your wife. You have yours first! It's about time you were
coming into some of your rights!"
Such a fiery redness was out in Albert's ears that against the lights
they were of the translucency of red-hot iron, and even through her pity
for his _malaise_, her old poignant distaste of him would not be laid.
She wanted him to lunge somehow with that bull-like head of his with the
bashedin squareness to its top, but since nothing like that happened,
she sprang up instead, grasping her mother's hand.
"Not now," she cried. "I want to tell you all something first, and then
I want to take you--to my place--to see where--the way I live--"
"Yes," said Mrs. Becker, rising with a crinkling of nose and drawing her
marabout boa about her, "I want to see the way you live--first. Guests
of hers at a hotel like this. A position, she tells me.
Lilly--Lilly--for God's sake tell me you've been a good girl--"
"Carrie!" At the sound of rare thunder in her husband's voice she did
subside then. Later she began.
"Nice rooms. Nicer than in Chicago that time. Albert, let me give you a
clean handkerchief out of the valise.... No, you don't know where they
are. Don't like that shirt waist. Too mannish. Don't worry about those
pillows, Albert. I brought your little one along. Glass tops. That's
nice, isn't it? How would you like one for your chiffonier at home,
Albert? Quit whittling toothpicks on the floor, Ben--Oh dear! if
somebody don't say something, I'll scream--"
"Come, mamma--papa--Albert. I want to take you--home, and while we drive
up there I want to talk to you."
But once within the cab and with her mother's constant runnel of talk
and its threat of hysteria, courage failed Lilly, so she sat back,
holding herself against rising panic and her mind refusing to hook
tentacles into the situation toward which they were speeding.
"You look mighty well, Lilly," her father would repeat, gently; "not
much changed, but a little more settled--in the bones--"
"Who does your darning and mending?"
"I do, mamma. See, this is Broadway, papa. We're just rounding the
famous Columbus Circle."
"I don't see much difference between this and St. Louis. Do you, Ben?
Just stores and stores like there are on Olive Street. Oh, look! There
is one of the Ryan Cut Price Drug Stores, just like we have at home.
Look at the crowds around that thing--what's that? 'Subway,' it says--"
"Lilly, Lilly, it makes me tremble when I think of you in this great
"Why, papa, I never was so safe."
"It's not decent, that's what it's not."
"Stop cutting me off every time I open my mouth."
"How far is it?" asked Albert, speaking for the first time.
"Why, I guess it ought to take about ten minutes from here," replied
Lilly, grateful for the question and trying to meet his averted glance.
He withdrew quite a disk of silver watch, reading it carefully.
"We're already on the way seven and a quarter minutes," he said.
"Albert," she began, "there is something I want to--ought to--tell
"Albert, close that window next to you."
"I--don't quite know--how to begin--"
"Close it all the way, Albert, you're still in a draught."
Suddenly Lilly sat back, silent holding her father's hand the rest of
But no sooner were the three of them safely into the little front room
than, without even seating them, she rushed out to forestall Zoe.
But too late. That young lady herself had already appeared between the
curtains of the alcove. She had done the outlandish, the outrageous, the
An old red rep portière wound tightly around her body to below the
armpits, and held there by skillfully adjusted bands of black velvet, a
fillet of the same so low that it touched her eyebrows secured about her
boxed and brilliantly blond hair, she held the half-profile pose of a
Carmencita, a pair of ten-cent-store black earrings dangling and her
upflung gesture one of defiance, mischief with an unmistakable dash of
In a silence that shaped itself to a grin, Lilly, caught midstep as it
were, stood regarding her daughter. She wanted to scream, to throw back
her head and shout her hysteria, to spank her daughter bodily there
across her knees, and more than that she wanted to laugh! Enormous
laughter, to allay her sense of madness.
Instead she found voice, which, when it came, was not her own, for
"Albert," she said, "this is your daughter--Zoe."
"Ben," whispered Mrs. Becker, out of a fantastic cave of silence and
rising suddenly from her chair to plant herself on the overstuffed
divan, where there was more horizontal room--"Ben, I think I'm going
And she did.
Yet within a week Mrs. Becker, through all the fog of her bewilderment,
was embroidering seed pearls on her granddaughter's white
Forty years of dogged loyalty to the white string ties, fresh every day,
had gone down before seventeen's mandate; and to Ben Becker's
unspeakable sheepishness, he had appeared one evening in an impeccable
dark-blue knitted cravat, his collar, of cut heretofore easily inclusive
of chin, snugger to his neck, and flowing out to slight points.
"So you let her bamboozle you into something I couldn't accomplish in
thirty-eight years," was Mrs. Becker's sole comment through a mouthful
of seed pearls.
"Nonsense! The child has ideas. These collars don't dig in."
"Humph! She's had you around her little finger from the start."
"Now, Carrie, why do you say that?"
"Because it's true," trying not to smile.
An immediate _entente cordiale_ had shaped itself around Zoe and her
grandfather. She named him with her usual fantastic aptitude.
"Dapple-dear," she would have it, and could not explain the choice. It
must have been some such remote analogy as his likeness to an old
dapple-gray family horse, patient flanked and thoroughly imperturbable
to the fleck of the whip.
Her grandmother she promptly christened "Tippy," also for a reason she
could not or would not divulge. But one evening, to her secret
amusement, Lilly found a sheet of paper in the litter of the desk,
jotted all over with Zoe's joyous scrawl, "Zantippe," in every case the
first syllable crossed out.
All but Albert. She addressed him quite studiedly, "Father," her teeth
coming down in a little bite over her lower lip, her use of the term
never failing to elicit the rush of red to his ears.
He seemed tranced, falling into all plans, just so they included the
presence of his mother-in-law, without comment. To her proverbial apron
strings he kept firm hold, literally not permitting her out of his
sight. Even when he addressed Lilly or his daughter his gaze was
straight for Mrs. Becker, and the flags of her moral support that he
must have had the eyes to see waving for him in her glance.
The impending interview began to take on the proportions of a delayed
tooth-pulling. Repeatedly Lilly had cleared the way for it; just as
repeatedly he had fled to cover. A week passed.
Meanwhile something disquieting happened. It developed in further
correspondence from Washington on the matter of canteen equipment, that
there was some thought of sending Albert to France. An increased
stolidity was his sole reaction, but there was no doubt that the
prospect of an impending ocean trip weighed heavily.
The submarine situation, at a time when the seas were sown with the
menace of sudden death, was of greatest and worrying concern to him.
No new device was overlooked. His room at the hotel was littered with
rubber suits, guaranteed to keep the body floating upright for thirteen
hours. Adjustable cork life savers. Patent propellers. Wings.
There was talk, in the face of the impending contingency, of applying
for a commission. Albert in olive drab! To Lilly he would not conjure.
But meanwhile, to the slow champings of a huge governmental machine in
travail, there was little to do but wait, and in the interim not a day
that he and Mrs. Becker failed to follow up this or that newest device
against bone-cracking seas.
"Albert, there must be a way out! Don't tell me there are not plenty of
men who could help install canteen service. Let them send Vincent
Bankhead. He's younger. You leave it to me if they decide to send you.
I'll find you a way out. It's done every day."
"Wait until I'm called, mother; then there's time to act."
But his eyes were worried.
One day when the strain of holding together the precarious threads of
the situation was becoming almost more than she could bear, and the end
of the ten-day vacation period she was allowing herself from the office
was at hand, Lilly spread three matinée tickets out on the table of a
tea room where the five of them were lunching.
"Zoe, you and your grandparents are going to the Hippodrome this
afternoon. Albert and I will take a walk or a drive and meet you at the
"Mother, you come, too."
"No, Albert, Lilly's right. I want this thing settled. I want something
decided or I'll go mad. My husband has got me muzzled; I'm afraid to
open my mouth; but if I don't know something soon, I'll go crazy. Why
are we here? When are we all going back? I don't like it here. I can't
stand the noise. My servant girl is out there eating me out of house and
home. I didn't even lock the grocery closet; that is the state of
excitement I left home in. Something has got to be settled. The minute I
open my mouth to talk about what is in the back of all our heads,
everybody shushes me up. Now you two go and talk it out. I want to go
home. I want us all to go home. I'm a wreck. I--"
"Oh, I'll shut up! Next time you travel with me, get me a muzzle. All
I'm good for is to bear the brunt of everything. You've dribbled my head
full of enough these last seventeen years to drive any woman but me
crazy. But with her, it's a soft mouth. I'll shut up, but for God's sake
settle things. I'm going crazy. I can't stand it."
The look of one trapped settled over Albert,
"I think I'd rather walk," he said; "those cabs are reckless and the
meters run up so."
"Don't curl up your lips so, Lilly, over a little economy. Albert's
right. What good does it do you to earn, the way you spend? Your husband
has forty thousand dollars to show, and what have you to show? Taxicab
rides don't draw any interest. Don't be so ready to curl up your lips."
"Why, mamma, you imagine things!" And to Albert, "Of course, let's
For two hours, then, oftentimes stopping to face each other, they paced
the wind-swept rectangle of the reservoir in Central Park, spring out in
the air, but quite a tear of breeze across their high place.
He was sullen, casuistic, and impenetrable as a sea wall under a
dashing, and the thought came to her that had he presented any other
surface it would have been easier.
"Well, Albert," she began, facing him there in the wide afternoon light,
"what is there that we two can say to each other?"
"Words," he said, stodgy in his bitterness, "mean nothing against
"You're right. And yet--I want you to know, Albert--before you go
"Don't be too sure you'll be rid of me that way."
"Or before you go back home--that she is yours as much as mine and--"
"Generous," he said, dryly.
She could have beaten her head with a sense of futility.
"You've been a bad woman with a streak of devil in you. Tried to ruin my
life, but I didn't let you. No, siree! I've worked things out. I've
gotten on. I'm big in my way--in my business--in my home."
"Albert, I love to hear you say that!"
"You! You don't love anything or anybody outside yourself."
"Why? Because I took my chance to save myself from everything I--I
hated! Not you--not they--but everything it stands for out there. Does
self-preservation imply only selfishness?"
"Whatever it implies," he answered, stung to dark red by his effort for
quick retort, "you're selfish--rotten selfish. But you haven't kept me
down. I've gotten up these eighteen years--and you--you--Bah!"
"You've been happy, Albert? Tell me you have."
"Happy! I'm not a hog for happiness. You to inquire about my happiness!
Lots you care! I've had my share of contentment. Contented as a man can
be in a community where he has kept up a farce for seventeen years that
his wife is off with his consent studying opera. But I've kept my
name--kept it in spite of you. I don't know what's been what with you.
Guess if the truth is known, I'm afraid to think what's what!"
"Oh, I don't put anything past you. I don't even know if that girl is
mine. For all I know you're a--"
"Bah! I don't put anything past you!"
She faced his words as if they were blows, letting them rain.
"You're lying, Albert," she said, evenly. "She's yours and you know it."
"I've kept _my_ name! Kept it and tried to make it up to your parents,
who deserved better than you!"
She quivered and the red that sprang out in her face was almost purple,
and yet by her silence bared her chest for more, as if grateful for the
sting of the lash.
"Bah! Don't be afraid. I don't want to know anything, but I'm not the
booby I may seem to you. When a woman has lived around this way for all
these years, in with a gang of show folks--Bah! I don't want to
know." And spat.
"She's yours, Albert, and you know it. You know it!"
"Yes, I guess she is, from the look of her, not that I put anything past
you. But that's your business. You're nothing to me. I'm cured of you.
You couldn't make me suffer the way they do in books. I've kept my name,
so if it's divorce you have on your brain, you might as well get it out,
"I've kept my name, whatever you've done to yours. Your life is your
business. But the girl. That's where I have a right or two coming
She was prepared for just this, but somehow when it came it was a full
moment before she could answer, for the rush of fear that choked her.
"That's for--for Zoe to decide."
"That's for _me_ to decide. She goes to a decent, respectable home where
she belongs. You're not fit to raise her. Look at what you made of her.
A fine specimen. A short-haired freak with all your crazy ideas thriving
in her head. You've ruined your life, but you didn't succeed in ruining
mine and you won't ruin hers. You and your stage-struck notions that
never got you anywhere. She's going home where she belongs!"
She could hardly breathe for keeping down the rising tide of her terror,
but her eyes were always cold for him.
"Your daughter has a lyric-soprano voice, and however little that may
mean to you she is going to delight the world with it some day. One of
the great masters of the world has made her his protégée. She is
preparing for her audition--her hearing--in the fall, and it is even
possible she may be singing in grand opera next season. You cannot--"
"I'll see her dead first. You were an opera bird, too. I'll see her dead
first before I let her make a zero mark out of her life as her crazy
mother did before her."
"Albert, can't you see! Zoe's the wine. You, mamma--papa--the vine. I
don't count. I--I'm sort of the grape--that fermented--you see! She's
me--plus. Her arm is long enough to touch what she wants. Mine wasn't. I
saw it, but I couldn't reach. I was one generation too underdone. You
cannot have Zoe. I cannot. She doesn't belong to you or me. She belongs
to life. She's not mine. She is only my success; she--"
"Why in God's name did you get me on here? You don't expect to see me
stand by and countenance your craziness?"
"Why! Why! I've asked it ever since the moment I sent the wire. Why! I
had to do it somehow--a fear of--something--war--life--death--but you
shall not have her. Not unless she decides it that way. No. Never!"
"I'm a slow thinker! And slower to act. That's been my trouble. But this
time the bit is between my teeth. I've a family now and family
obligations. Don't be so sure yet that I'm on my way overseas. There is
a way around every situation if you look for it hard enough. My place is
here now. Home! My daughter goes home!"
She could see in profile the heavy jaw clamp upward, and more and more
that wooden stodginess became terrible to her. In a flash-back she could
see those seventeen years of beefsteak suppers; his temples at-their
trick of working. Seventeen years all cluttered up with bed casters,
bathtub stoppers, and poultry wiring. That party back there at Flora's.
The lotto and tiddledywinks tables laid out. Page Avenue on a summer's
day with the venders hawking down it--ap-ples--twenty cents a
She closed over his wrists with a little predatory grip.
"Albert, don't do that! Don't take her back. She'll claw you like a wild
eagle in a cage--out there. She belongs to the world. In the fall she
sings for Auchinloss. It may lead to anything! Albert--you ask why I
sent for you. Let her be. Let her stay here with Mrs. Blair--a friend--a
dear--good friend of mine. Her education--Take me, Albert. Take _me_
At her hand on his wrist something raced over him like the lick of a
flame; he pressed against her with the entire length of his body and his
lips were moist.
"Lilly," he said, very darkly red and trying to clasp her about the
waist, "I'll take you! I oughtn't, but I will. Come back, Lilly, and
make it up to me for all these years. Being near you makes me forget
everything except that--you are near me. I've missed you all these
years--I guess--but never so much as this minute. You've gotten so
handsome with the years. Something--Come home, Lilly--make it up to me.
Give me--your--your lips!"
She kept retreating before the dark red and the moist lips which he wet
more and more with his tongue.
"Will you leave her be--then--Albert? Here?"
"Lilly--your lips--give me."
"Will you, Albert--leave her here--Zoe?"
She could feel the scald of his breathing.
"Yes--if you come."
"Yes, Lilly. Your lips--let me."
Suddenly he had her to him, there in the light darkness of the deserted
square of reservoir, kissing her so that his mouth smeared over
toward her ear.
She was not quick enough entirely to avert her face, and in the embrace
his Adam's apple was against her throat so that she could feel it beat,
and with her nails biting into her palm to keep her from screaming, she
was shrieking over and over to herself at his nearness: "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!"
Albert did not sail.
A certain depression seemed to settle over him the evening following,
after they had dined at a Broadway restaurant and were spending the
interim before theater in the lobby of the Hotel Astor, where Mrs.
Becker never tired of observing and commenting upon the transient swirl
"Look at that tight skirt, will you! It's a shame for any
self-respecting woman to have to look at, much less wear it."
"Tippy dear, not so loud."
"Look at that low-cut back, will you! And white hair, too. I wouldn't
live in this town if you gave it to me! Sixty cents for string beans the
menu read to-night. I can buy a bushel at home for that. If I had been
alone I know what I would have done. Walked out. It's only for
millionaires here. The rest have to live in back rooms so they can put
everything on their backs. You should thank your stars you have a home
to go to, Lilly, instead of you and Zoe crying over each other all day.
If I had my say she would go, too. Education! St. Louis education is
good enough for anybody. Ben, I want you to look! If I was to ask you to
buy me a chiffon cape like that you would drop in your tracks."
"Now, old lady, do I ever refuse you anything?"
"No, because I never ask for anything."
"I think we had better be going," said Lilly, leaning forward to tilt
Zoe's hat farther down over her face. "I don't want you to miss the
There was to be a box for "Who Did It?" and a visit behind scenes
"I want to get a look-in on what goes on behind there," specified Mrs.
Becker through a sniff. "Fine mess!"
From where he sat with crossed knees and his nicely polished shoes far
out so that passers-by were forced to a small detour, Albert looked
suddenly across at his mother-in-law, rather scaredly white.
"Mother," he said, "I've got a pain in my chest."
On the instant her rosiness blanched.
"Albert, one of your colds coming on? They never start on your chest.
It's influenza; the papers are full of it. They say next winter we're
going to have it in a terrible epidemic. Albert, what hurts?"
He inserted two fingers into the front pleat of his shirt.
"It hurts here," he said.
"Albert," cried Mrs. Becker, instantly taken with panic, "let me feel if
you have any fever!"
"Now, now, Carrie, don't create a scene here in the lobby. You've nursed
him through enough colds not to be alarmed."
"But, Ben, in his chest! It's a symptom, I tell you; the papers are full
"Nonsense, Carrie! It's probably a little indigestion. You will insist
upon those table d'hôtes. On the way to the theater we'll stop in at a
"Theater! Don't even mention the word. Come upstairs, Albert. Luckily I
put a pair of your flannelette pajamas in the trunk. Ben, you rush over
to the drug store for some camphorated oil. Albert, do you feel achy?"
Lilly laid out a quietly firm hand on his arm.
"Mamma, please let Albert get a word in."
"I know that boy like a book. He looks feverish."
"Albert," said Lilly, holding to the sedative quality in her voice, "do
you feel ill?"
"I've a pain in my chest," he persisted, doggedly and with the drawn
look about his mouth whitening.
They put him to bed. By nine o'clock a slight flush lay on Albert's
cheek and he kept feeling of his brow.
"I think I have fever," he said once, always in scared white manner.
"Look in the paper and see if dry lips is one of the symptoms."
Then Zoe was dispatched home and the house physician called in, Mrs.
Becker, as usual, tempestuous with instantaneous hysteria and conjuring
to Lilly another sick room from out the hinterland of her childhood.
"Doctor, is it the Spanish influenza? Has he fever? He's always subject
to colds, Doctor. He's not as strong as he looks. I've sat up many a
night with his quincy sore throats. Many is the time, before we got the
auto, that I rode down for him in the street car with his rubbers, if a
rain came up. Doctor, do you think it could be that Spanish influenza? O
God! if he should take sick away from home! Our doctor at home
understands his system. My boy--my son--"
With a frozen sense of her alienism, Lilly sat, as it were, outside the
situation, proffering herself almost with a sense of intrusion.
The doctor would not pronounce, but left with instructions and the
promise of a midnight return. Into that Mrs. Becker read darkly.
"He's a sick man or one of these busy New York doctors wouldn't be
returning again to-night. My boy is a sick man."
Meanwhile Albert had fallen into a light sleep. They sat beside his
bedside watching his lips puff out, sometimes in bubbles.
The silence of midnight descended over the transient formality of the
Undoubtedly Albert had a fever which seemed to be rising. He moistened
his lips now constantly and threw himself about beneath the coverings,
and then Mrs. Becker, not to be restrained, would lean forward to brush
backward from his brow, as if there were hair.
At midnight the doctor returned and at one o'clock Albert was removed to
Murray Hill Hospital.
He was ill three days, slipping off almost from the beginning into a
state of coma from which he did not emerge.
With a celerity that was presently to race it through the country, this
strange malady laid low its victim with what might have been pneumonia,
except for certain complications that baffled and alarmed an already
thoroughly aroused medical world.
The second day a sort of dark rash broke out over Albert's chest, so
that his nurses entered the room in gauze masks, and finally, in spite
of Lilly's protestations and Mrs. Becker's most violent hysterics, no
admittance to the sick room was granted them.
And now comes a tide in the affairs of Lilly Penny which, being too true
life, is not sufficiently true to fiction.
On the day that was to have been Zoe's formal graduation from High
School, so that the pearl-embroidered slippers were never worn and her
diploma brought home to her by a classmate, Albert Penny died, with no
more furor than he had lived.
Stupor enveloped Lilly. She moved through days incredibly crowded with
detail, and yet, somehow, so withdrawn into the very nub of herself that
it was the shell of her seemed to compete with the passing time.
Certainly it was this shell of her followed Albert in that strangest of
little processions, to his cremation.
There had been an effort to travel west with the remains, but quarantine
conditions forbade, and it was just as well so.
Four times on that ride through a warm summer rain to the crematory Mrs.
Becker went off into light faints, sobbing herself back into
consciousness. It frightened Lilly to look at her father; his face had
dropped into hollows and the roundness of his back was suddenly a
decided hump. And he had fallen into a silence. A sort of hollow urn of
it that not even the outbursts of his wife could rouse to his usual
soothing chirpings. He merely sat stroking her hand and staring into a
silence which he seemed to see.
A very quiet and very frightened Zoe had been packed off to Ida Blair's,
through it all Lilly's stupor persisting.
Mrs. Becker's state became cause for concern. Once back at the hotel,
with Albert's room locked off, and once more thrown open to the
impersonal feet of transiency, she would only moan and wind her hands
and go off into the light states of unconsciousness.
"I haven't my son any more! Why did we come? It might not have happened
at home. Our daughter wronged him, but, thank God, we tried to make it
up to him. My boy. He was so steady--so careful. I can't realize he's
gone--without me. The way he used to come home. Never a habit--evening
after evening his newspaper and bed. Thank God, I don't think he ever
missed her going as he might have. It hurt at first. He wanted to resign
his Bible class, and that day we broke up the house--he kept twitching
with his eyes. You remember, Ben. And that bed caster. Funny to have
twitched over that. It seems he brought it home the night she left--it
came over him all of a sudden, it wouldn't ever have to be fitted in.
That's it! O God! all these years without knowing his own child. He was
so steady--a good boy if God ever grew one. Ben, Ben, how can we go home
without him? How can we go home without our boy?"
"Carrie, it is God's will."
"It is nobody's will. God couldn't will it that way. Just as he had got
a little happiness in his way. To think he was willing to take her back.
I don't care for myself, we're on in years, Ben--we're done--and now
we've lost our--all--nothing to live for--"
"Mamma, mamma, don't talk that way. Let me try to make up to you for--"
"I can't face going home. He was my life, that boy. He made up for what
we suffered through our own. He was a son to us. I can't face going home
without him. Albert--where are you? Albert!"
"Mamma, mamma, won't you let me try to make up, dear, for what I have
"Albert--can't you hear me--Albert--"
"Carrie, we've got our daughter back. Isn't that something to be--"
"I want my son, I tell you."
"Mamma darling, you're killing me. Let me make it up to you--even a
"No, no; you're not a daughter to me. I want my son. Our way was his
"Mamma, please--take me home in his place. I'll make it up to you. Let
me go back, dear, in Albert's place. I want to pay up--to you. I'm
finished--here, dear. I'm ready--ready--"
Suddenly Mrs. Becker seemed to experience one of her cyclonic shifts.
Tears came raining down her face, her sobbing cleft with great racking
gulps. Then she dropped to her knees beside her daughter, and, before
Lilly could prevent, reached up to drag down her face against her own
"Don't leave us, Lilly. Don't ever. Come home with us. We're getting
old, Lilly. Don't ever leave us, me and papa. Promise me,
"Of course I promise, mamma darling. Of course I promise."
For a full week after Albert's strangely curtailed obsequies, a gray
blanket of woolly humidity hung with July unseemliness over the city in
a clinging fog that feathered the throat.
The morning that Lilly returned to the office electric lights were
burning and electric fans were whirring into it.
The unassailed normality of the machine whose functioning depended upon
its parts! How easily even the most component of those parts could be
replaced! The rows of stenographers, in her but two weeks' absence, new
faces among them, outlined against windows of space and East River. The
hinged little mahogany gates swinging to their goings and comings. Her
own office with its glazed pane of door glass and outlook over city
roofs and tug-specked band of river.
It was as if the tide of life were once more licking at her feet. She
hung up her hat, patting at her hair in the little square of mirror
above the stationary washstand, looking back at herself out of eyes a
bit dreggy with tiredness, but her skin so deep in its whiteness that it
was almost as if its creamy quality had congealed of mere richness.
She rubbed her cheeks to pinken and quicken them, and rang for an office
boy, turning her back on the pile of letters and her reports on the desk
and her eagerness to be at them.
"Ask Mr. Bruce Visigoth if he can see me."
The message came back on the instant. He could.
She turned the knob to his office door so slowly that she saved the
slightest squeak, and stood there with her silhouette against the ground
glass for a long moment. When she did enter, from the center of the room
where he had been watching her silhouette against the pane, Bruce
advanced to meet her.
He took her hand and on the instant she felt her eyes fill, burningly.
He was in summer and office negligée, an unlined blue-serge coat, a
white-silk shirt which lay lightly to his body flexuosity, and above the
soft collar he had taken on enough outdoor tan to make his smile whiter.
She could have bitten her lips for their trembling, and tried to smile
with her tortured eyes.
"Lilly," he said, topping her hand with his, "why didn't you let me know
sooner? Your letter an hour ago came out of a clear sky. You see, I
didn't even know he--he was here."
"It was all so--so quick!"
"Jove! I don't seem to take it in yet."
"Nor I," she said, quiescently and letting him lead her to a chair.
"He--You see, he was only ill three days."
"There doesn't seem much for me to say, does there, Lilly?"
"No," she said, "that's it, there's nothing to say."
"I can't bear to think of your having been exposed to it."
"That was the least. He died--afraid. That is so terrible to me,
somehow. I wouldn't mind all of the horrible rest if only he hadn't
died--afraid. I wonder if you know what I mean. He lived so--so meekly
to have died--that way. Afraid."
"Yes," he said, "I think I do know." He wanted to keep his gaze away
from her and to keep it cool, but somehow each time their eyes met a
flame leaped up out of embers, a fiery new consciousness that
"He and--and my parents--you see, they--Well, I told you everything in
"Are your parents returning home?"
"Yes. That's what I've come to say. You see--they--we--we've decided to
remain here two months. Until September--up in my little apartment, all
of us. In September Zoe is to have her audition with Auchinloss. So much
depends on that. We've such hopes, her teacher and I. She's pure lyric
soprano. We think grand-opera brand. And now with the war on, more and
more the American girl is getting her chance. That's why my parents have
finally consented to wait here with me until then. After that, Zoe is to
stay with Ida Blair and we three--my parents and I--are going
home--together. That is what I have come to tell you. I'll be giving up
my work with you in--September. I'm going home--with them."
He regarded her, his flush going down perceptibly.
"No," she said, trying to smile. "I suppose it's about the most solemn
job I have left to do in life--going home."
"Why, you--you can't go back there."
"I can," she said, her voice held calm.
"I--we can't let you go."
"Why? Zoe--my big job's done."
"Lilly, I tell you we need you here more than ever. My brother arrives
this morning from Seattle. We've completed the cross-country chain. I'm
free now to branch out. I'm counting on you. I'm full of an idea for
that community opera scheme and I'm ready to do the play from the
Russian on your say-so. Lilly--you cannot go now--"
"I can--must," she said, scraping back her chair. "You must work out your
dreams--alone--with some one else. I--must--go." And then withdrawing
from what she saw: "No! No! Bruce! No! No!"
But just the same they were in each other's arms with the
irresistibility of tide for moon and moon for tide. Press him back with
her palms as she would when his lips found hers, it was as if something
etheric had flowed into her brain. She wanted to resist him and instead
her hands met in a clasp about his neck. "No, no." And yet as he kissed
her eyelids and down against the satinness of her hair, it seemed to her
that toward this moment all the poor blind years had been directed.
She tried to shake off her enchantment.
"I want to."
"So this--this is it?"
"I want to kiss those stars out of your eyes. I want to wind you in
"Bruce, I think I must be mad. Crazily--deliciously mad."
"Me too. I'm as deliciously, as crazily mad as any young Leander. I want
to swim a thousand Hellesponts for you. I want--"
"No--no--no, Bruce, you don't understand--my love--"
"I do understand. That I have you now to love and adore, to marry--"
The door opened then, quite abruptly. It was Robert Visigoth. He had a
straw hat in one hand and an alligator traveling bag in the other. The
latter he set down rather abruptly.
So instantaneous was their springing apart and so ready the mind to
believe what the heart denied, that it was almost conceivable that he
had not seen. There was not even a pause, and through the perfunctory
greetings of these two men of strangest relation, Lilly found herself
somehow back at her desk, little prickles out all over her body and
particularly against her face, like the bite of sleet, something like
this running behind her lips:
"Please, God, don't let him tell. He promised! Please! God, I'll never
give in again. Bruce--my darling--don't let him tell you. He promised he
wouldn't. Don't tell him, Robert. Bruce, don't let him. Please,
God--don't let him."
After a while, burning with the fever in her blood, she plunged, for the
sedative of it, into the work before her. The first of a stack of
reports on her desk was from the Adelphi Theater, Akron, Ohio.
"Three Melodious Sisters." 12 minutes. Well received. Wardrobe worn.
"Whistling Bicyclers." 14 minutes. Skillful. Comedy weak.
"Please, God--don't let him--"
"Shenck and Bent." 9 minutes. 3 laughs.
"Sylvia King & Co." 9 minutes. Weak patter but finished strong.
"Musical Gypsies." 10 minutes. Fair. Good opening number.
"Please, God, don't let him tell."
After what might have been minutes or hours, then, the door opened and
without preamble Robert Visigoth walked in, and in the wide-kneed
fashion forced upon him by corpulency seated himself beside her desk.
"How long has this thing been going on?" he said, looking at her from
under beetling brows that had grown bushy with the years. Time had done
just that to Robert Visigoth. Beetled him. His years overhung him. He
carried them massively. It was not so much that he had lost his
waistline, but he had settled into himself. That was it! Robert Visigoth
had settled rather appallingly into himself.
For a second Lilly's eyes moved from the two fifty-cent cigars
protruding from his waistcoat pocket to a lodge button at his lapel, and
then, finally trapped, met his.
"How long? I said."
"You've told him?" she asked, leaning forward to hear through the
buzzing in her ears.
"Whether I do or not depends upon you."
She tried not to let him see how the room was rocking around and around,
how suddenly the buzzing had lifted until she felt light-headed. She
could have shouted, danced, wept, or fainted her relief. Nothing
mattered, not even the squatty person sitting there with little diabetic
puffs beneath his eyes.
"How long has this thing been going on?" he repeated, his voice a rising
"Are you your brother's keeper?"
"From your kind, yes."
"There has been nothing between us."
"That's a lie."
Through the scorch of her humiliation it was a second before she could
command her lips.
"I swear to God."
"Bah!" he almost spat out, "after what I walked in on!"
"Yes," she said, biting off the words with a clip, "after what you
walked in on."
He leaned forward with a thrust of face that was unpleasantly close.
"All I have to say is, hands off there."
"There has been nothing between us. I tell you it's true."
"I'm not concerned whether it is or not. What has been has been. But
now, hands off. You can't land my brother. I heard the word. Marry. The
cheek--you--my brother! You must be crazy."
"You're wrong. You're wrong," she managed to insist, her throat rising
and falling like a sea.
"My eyes aren't wrong. They saw what I stumbled in on."
"I know. I know. It's difficult--impossible to explain away an--an
occurrence like that. How well I know the futility of trying to convince
your kind of man that there are more than two kinds of women in the
world. Good and bad. The woman you marry and the woman you ruin. I'm
bad. Have it your way. Bad. Bad. Bad. But for what was your sin as much
as mine you are free in your man-made society to go your way, fulfilling
your life, and then you dare to come here and sit judgment on my
fulfilling mine. When are women going to venture from _behind_ the
man-made throne to sit beside, and make you men move over?"
"I'm not here to discuss the double code with you. I don't know and
don't care how you have lived since. It is not my business. For sixteen
years you have given this firm fine satisfaction for which we, in turn,
have tried to express our appreciation. You know that. We know that.
Your morals are none of my business except when they touch me! A man's a
man. I don't know how you've lived. For my part, I think you've gone
pretty straight, but that doesn't change matters. I know what I know,
and a man's a man. What are you going to do about it? You know, too,
that there is no love lost between me and my brother in the little
things. We go our ways. But when it comes to the big--he's my brother.
Blood. Get me? Whatever I am can't change me here inside. He's my
"You're right. I wouldn't. I couldn't. I must have been mad--this
morning. I--somehow--it got all beyond me in a moment. I swear to you
for the first time! Do you think I'd muss up one hour of his life? Even
if I dared? Even if you were to come to me, on your knees, begging me
to--to--marry him? To begin with, I'm older--only a year in time, it's
true, but he--he's just beginning. I'm beginning over. What is my life
compared to his? He's on the brink of a thousand realizations. And
I--oh, I'm not whining. I'd do it all over again, loathing you as you
must know I loathed you--that night. But my child got her chance. You
sold it to me and I paid for it in the basest coin of the realm. But I'd
do it again--knowing what I know now, I'd do it again. You hear! Do
"That's past now--"
"No. For you, yes, but I'm still paying. Paying at this moment with
my--my heart's blood. But if I hadn't done it--gone with you--something
would have been lost that night that was worth every cent I paid.
They'd have got her back. I don't care. I've won. I've won if
She was on her feet now, her eyes, like blue wells that were filling
with ink, plunging beyond his with a Testament defiance that seemed to
shout, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
"Yes, I love him. You can't take that from me. That is why he is so safe
from me. I love him too much for him to know. And yet I think--I
believe--I know that even if he did know, in the end it
"You must be crazy. Once let your idealist wake up and there is no more
dreaming for him."
"He mustn't ever wake up--for his sake! Promise. Promise me that you
won't ever wake him!"
"Whether I do or not is up to you."
"What do you want?" she said, tiredly.
"I suppose the black and white of it is that you must quit."
"That is easy. I'm resigning anyway the fifteenth of September to go
West to live."
He took on the half-conciliatory graciousness of one who has gained his
advantage with unsuspected ease.
"I'd give a great deal not to have had this happen, but, after all, a
man is a man and life is life."
She let her gaze bore into his like gimlets burning for center.
"I think you've explained that before."
He began to back out before her immobility.
"I am remaining East two months. I hope your resignation will allow us
that much time to attempt to fill your place."
"I leave that to you. It can be either immediate or take effect in
"By all means the latter. Will you--can you believe me when I say if
there is anything I can do--letters--an opening with a Western firm--"
"Please," she said, turning him a shoulder in high distaste.
"I have your word--then?"
"My word," she said, looking past his hand toward the door.
He backed out in the somewhat ludicrous crab fashion and then she sat
down, swinging around on her swivel chair toward the desk. The stack of
reports lay facing her. She caught up the next in order.
People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For the next half hour she must have sat there trying to co-ordinate out
of chaos by staring at the heading and repeating over and over again:
"_People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma. People's Playhouse. Tulsa,
* * * * *
Whistles were blasting through the noonday fog when Bruce finally and
without preamble burst into her office.
It struck her even on the gale of his entrance how young he was that his
hair should show the nervous plowing of five fingers, and how sensitive
his profile and ready to flare at the nostrils. His tie, too, burnt
orange, from a soft collar and badly knotted! She wanted to jerk up his
chin and putter at remaking the four-in-hand.
She sat regarding him over the top of People's Playhouse, Tulsa,
"Sweetheart, let us call it a day. I want to drive you out to Tarrytown
"Don't," she said, frowning.
"Don't what?" Her immobility an ineffectual stop to his exuberance.
"Come now," wanting to draw her from her chair by the two hands,
swinging them wide and then together; "don't let his nibs bouncing in
that way throw a damper. We were too quick for him, anyway. Don't
believe he saw a thing. And what if he did? He's going to know it
anyhow, and pretty quick, too. I want to shout it from the housetops, I
want to megaphone it up to the stars. Lilly--Lilly-mine! Sweetheart!"
She crowded back into the chair.
"How dared you!"
He fell back with his gesture still wide.
"Why--what? Dared what? Oh, come now, sweetheart, I could wager he
didn't see, and suppose he did? We've nothing to conceal. I'm for
telling him to-day!"
"No. No. No. You played unfair. You took me--unawares. You misunderstood
me horribly--most horribly."
"Why, you--you _boy!_ What has happened cannot make any difference
between you and me. It was outrageous of you--silly _boy_ you--to--to
take advantage. After all that has passed--all these years--it is
unthinkable that you didn't understand. Why, you--you _boy!_"
She saw his jaw fall and the sense of his ridiculousness set in.
"What has merely been absurd all along you have suddenly made
intolerant. You make more imperative my resignation. You must
understand--Mr. Visigoth--under what conditions I will consent to remain
here these few weeks."
The words were so stilted that she had the sensation of throwing metal
disks on a stone floor and waiting for their tinny clatter. She could
see the high red drain out of his face and then rush up again as if he
had been slapped.
"Lilly, for God's sake, you--you cannot be serious!"
"No mock heroics--please."
His ears tipped with flame; he straightened back from her.
"No more mock heroics," he said, in a voice suddenly quieted down like
vichy gone stale. "Forgive an old--fool--a young--fool--and forget it.
Thank you for jerking me up."
He raised her limp hand, bowing over it until his lips hovered but did
"My solemn word on it this time--no more--mock--heroics." And still
Lilly, on the click of the door after him, could not clear her brain of
the running threnody of nonsense:
People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma. People's Playhouse. Tulsa,
Time flies or does not, according to the eyes of the beholder. As the
days began to lengthen into the longest spokes of the cycle, and parlors
and magazines to don summer covers, it seemed to Lilly that somewhere an
interim too subtle for mortal eyes must have occurred, because suddenly
there came a very torrid day in September, the fourteenth, to be exact,
when the little apartment in West End Avenue stood denuded, stripped to
a few huddled trunks, and Zoe's dressing table, chair, piano, and desk
ready to be carted out to the little sea-view room that awaited her in
Ida Blair's Long Island bungalow.
They were a group diverse of emotion and perilous to one another's
nerves this last morning.
MRS. BECKER: "I think I'd better write my girl another postal to be sure
and have supper ready when we get home Thursday night. There is some
canned salmon in the grocery closet, I forgot to mention, and she can
borrow a few potatoes from the Shriners for frying, until I get a chance
to lay in supplies when I get home. Poor Albert! How he loved creamed
salmon and fried potatoes! Ben, help me to realize what has happened.
O God, I--"
MR. BECKER: "Now, Carrie."
MRS. BECKER: "The Shriners are nice neighbors, Lilly. They are the only
ones besides us on the block who stuck after the street began to go
down. You'll like Edna Shriner. You remember her? Pock-marked. She used
to be in your dancing-school class. She never married, but how she keeps
that little home for her old father! Kitchen floor! You could eat off
it. And as handy a body with the needle as ever lived. Her French knots.
The guest-towels that girl has French-knotted."
LILLY (to herself): "Salmon and fried potatoes. Page Avenue. Shriners.
ZOE: "Lilly, feel my heart, how it beats."
It was as if Lilly could not take her eyes from off her daughter.
"Remember what Triest said, dearest, let your nerves be so many violin
strings, tightening but not quivering."
"It's your going, Lilly--I--I can't seem quite to grasp it. You will
come back to me soon--in two months--one--I couldn't stand it longer!"
"Yes, and, Zoe, you will write every day. Every little single thing.
Your work--your life--your friends--every tiny success--"
"Lilly, Lilly--don't go! It's madness. Stay, darling. I feel like a
pig--all that money--his fortune. If you are not entitled to touch it,
I am not--"
"You are his child and the only wrong you ever did him was through me."
"Lilly--don't go, darling--"
"Zoe, don't tear me to pieces."
"I'll work, darling, as I've never worked before."
"Zoe, Zoe, go straight to your mark."
"I--I can't realize it, Lilly. To-day! He's going to hear me
to-day--this very afternoon. I--I feel as nervous at the prospect of
singing before you as before him. I--I think I'm the luckiest girl in
the world. Lilly, sometimes I--I--think life has--has sort of cleared
the way for me to walk in its lovely places--you have cleared the way.
But what--what if he doesn't think I've the voice _maestro_ thinks I
have? I couldn't stand that, Lilly--the way you stood it."
"But he will," said Lilly, a memory shaping itself. "Remember your power
begins where mine left off. You heard Du Gass the year before she died,
but you were too young to remember. Your voice is so much--so
infinitely bigger, Zoe, and your knowledge and defiance of life and of
the Auchinlosses--makes me so unafraid for you--"
"Kiss me, Lilly. I'm frightened--not of Auchinloss--or life--but
of--Oh, I don't know--frightened of silliness, I guess."
"But you're trembling."
At eleven Lilly went down to her office. Leon Greenberg already had her
desk. It was largely a matter now of sliding in the new prop before
sliding out the old.
There were several farewell offerings from various of the older girls.
The immemorial trifles that women exchange. A bottle of eau de cologne.
The inevitable six handkerchiefs. A silver bodkin for running ribbon
through lingerie. And from the booking department, a silk umbrella
suitably engraved. She cried a little.
By noon the top of her desk was bare and the drawers empty.
She sat looking out over the waves of roofs of a city that had beaten
her back at every turn, lashed her, and yet with the mysterious
counterflow of oceans had carried her out a foot for every ten it
flung her back.
She felt full of sobs, but quiet. Strangely quiet, as if the champing
machinery of her life had stopped suddenly, leaving an hiatus that made
her heart ache of passivity.
At two o'clock, by appointment, came Zoe ... like a blaze of light. Her
eyes with her mother's trick of iris, full of inner glow, and her blond
hair so daringly boxed, set off with a droop of tam-o'-shanter.
There had been a new frock of heavy white crepe with a wide white hat
for this occasion. Instead, with last-moment decision, she had come in
one of the straight blue frocks, the wide patent-leather belt, a knot of
orange and blue ribbon, representing her active membership in a local
canteen service, at her throat. She came glowing through the daring
simplicity, flamboyantly and to the nth power of Lilly's slower
personality, her mother's child.
"Hurry, darling, I've a taxi waiting. We're to meet _maestro_ at the
"Zoe, I'm glad you wore this instead. Did your grandmother feel badly
that you didn't wear the one she gave you?"
"I wasn't myself in it. No--room."
In the corridor, going out, Bruce stepped suddenly out of his office
into their path.
Zoe's hand had shot out.
"Hello, you!" she said.
He looked at her through a slow smile.
"Well, I'll be hanged! The youngster! Good Lord! What have they done!
Who elongated you? Where are the knee dresses and the corkscrews?"
She withdrew a highly haughty hand.
"You poor, misguided Rip Van Winkle. When did you return from the
"When did it happen?" he asked Lilly, trying to keep his eyes from
It was the first time in this last brace of weeks that there had been
more than the merest perfunctory word between them, and she tried to
thaw her cold lips into a smile.
"You forget that you haven't seen her since last Christmas. Six inches
more of skirt and a few hairpins did it."
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he kept reiterating. "Zoe grown up!"
"Is it true you are going to try for the aviation? Ida Blair says you
"Looks that way."
"You're too old."
"Well, then, I'll have to come down to earth. You and your mother have
different ideas regarding my age. I'm rather dizzy about it this minute,
myself. Either time is putting one over on me or you have caught up. By
Jove! that's it! You've caught up! You're immense!"
She was suddenly, and to Lilly's amazement, a creature of flashes and
quirks, of self and sex consciousness.
"Don't like to be--immense!"
"Don't go. Let me look at you."
"Come with us. Dare you."
"I'm singing this afternoon for Auchinloss. My audition at the Opera
"The deuce you say!"
"I've a cab waiting," she said, challenging him with a flash of eyes to
"Wait," he said, darting into his office.
"Zoe, how dared you?"
"Lilly--he's thrilling! I want him along; I feel keyed up now. The way I
want to feel! Edgy!"
Before her persistently cold lips would reply he rejoined them and
presently they were all three in the cab.
His contemplation of Zoe became a stare.
"So the little Zoe grew up."
"I'm eighteen. You used to be old enough to be my father. Not any more.
Now you are old enough to be my--anything."
"Good Lord!" he said. "Fact."
Suddenly her nervousness came flowing back over her.
"Lilly, look at me every second while I'm singing, darling. You too,"
leaning toward him and placing cold fingers on each of their wrists.
"Delightful and easy task."
She made him a _moue_, prettily pouty.
"You'll be sorry, when I'm famous, that you didn't take me seriously."
"How can I take you at all when you've taken me off my feet?"
"You've never heard me sing, have you?"
"I'm going to be all alone now, you know," she said, looking at him with
her brilliant eyes filling.
"More's the pity," he said, feeling rather than seeing the downward
brush of Lilly's lashes.
"I'll be out at Ida Blair's until--for a while."
"May I come out and play with you, now that you are caught up and I can
With the stopping of the cab such a javelin of nervousness shot through
Lilly that it was as if it had pierced her heart.
A lovely pallor was out over Zoe, enlarging the dark pools of her eyes.
"Sit out in the house, center aisle, and look at me, dears--so I can
feel you there--"
To the magic of a bit of cardboard Lilly and Bruce were in the vast
fantastic hinterland of the Opera House, and, stumbling through various
degrees of blackness, were presently down in the colossal maw of the
auditorium, finding out seats in the great pit of darkness.
They sat in silence, except that for Lilly the beating of her heart
seemed to record like a clapper against her brain.
"Don't be nervous," he said once.
"I'm not," she lied.
There was a bunch light on the stage, a dirty backdrop of Corinthian
pillars and esplanade and no wings, one or two stage hands moving about,
and finally a concert grand piano dragged down.
Suddenly Lilly recognized Auchinloss. He was standing just outside the
pool of light that flowed over the piano, the unforgetable outline of
his shaggy head, joined by two little peninsulas of sideburns to the
heavy spade of beard, gray now and not the sooty black she remembered.
The odor of that little room up on Amsterdam Avenue came winding back.
Millie du Gass, the supreme soprano of two continents--dead now, of
heartbreak, some said; Alma, in her plaid-silk waist and the
bookkeeper's curve to her back. That walk across the parlor floor--
"There's Auchinloss now," said Bruce.
She did not reply, but sat with her handkerchief against her mouth and
There were three auditions.
A high-bosomed young woman with a powerful mezzo soprano that pulled her
mouth to a rhomboid sang Santuzza's famous aria from "Cavalleria
Rusticana," stopping suddenly to some unseen signal.
"Fine, strong voice of resonant tin," said Visigoth, under his breath.
A throaty young tenor sang "Ride, Ride, Pagliacci," through to the sob,
anticipating it with a violent throw of body.
Then Trieste took the piano, running downward an avalanche of quick
chords, the sepia-outlined head of Auchinloss gone meanwhile from the
stage and down somewhere in the sea of dimness that rolled through the
auditorium. Lilly could see his profile etched into the twilight.
Very suddenly Zoe was downstage, and through the cymbals hitting into
Lilly's consciousness the voice finally came through to her, flowing so
easily on the beautiful, the tried old theme of Michaela's aria that she
had the feeling of great bolts of every color ribbon, winding about and
not even half un-flung as they struck the topmost places.
How true her flight!
With each fluty mount how like a bird, the line of her throat, as her
chin went up, throbbing slightly of its warbling, and from where she
stood her gaze seeming to plumb them out.
She sang through without interruption, so that when she had finished,
the timbre lay like a singing wire on the silence.
Somewhere between the ecstasy of the elbow that pressed against hers,
and the ecstasy of her child's voice still trilling on the black
silence, Lilly was conscious of movement. The gray silhouette marching
down the aisle of gloom. A group up about the piano. Another chord
struck out. Zoe's voice skipping upward in grace notes.
Vague, indeterminate passings of figures through a fluid of unreality,
like submarine life behind glass.
Then somehow they were out again into the gloom of wings and then on to
the white, incredible humdrum of the side street, standing there beside
the little door marked "Private," Bruce at her side, rather quivery at
the flanges and mopping constantly at the damp rim of his hair.
"Lilly, you've won!"
She felt sillily inclined to laugh.
"I seem to have, don't I?" she said, turning her face under pretense of
adjusting her hat, but really for fear that even a smile would induce
the threatening laughter which she knew, once let go, would slip up
beyond her control.
"She's a flute. She's a lark. She's a dream. I--I don't believe I seem
to take it in."
Later, Zoe joined them, an air of assumed composure belied by the
flaming brilliancy of her eyes and cheeks.
"Why didn't you come up afterward?" she said, forcing a commonplace,
and to Bruce, "Hail a cab, Pretty-please."
He did, helping them in and poking his head in after.
"Anywhere. Let it be the Park for a while, Lilly?"
"Is three a crowd?"
For answer she drew him in by the sleeve and on the jouncing off of the
cab was in her mother's arms, covering her cheeks with close-pressed,
audible kisses, and, after the inexplicable manner of women, both of
"He--he didn't say much, Lilly. Kissed my hands. Told me to live
beautifully and work endlessly. Asked me if I loved poetry and painting
and sunrises and spring--a lot of stuff about the awakening of spring.
And kissed my hands again. I'm going back to-morrow. They're discussing
things now--he and _maestro_--something about a five-year contract--but
a great deal of red tape first--board meeting. I'm to be a secret until
next season, _maestro_ cried--and Auchinloss--Lilly, you need never be
afraid for me--you hear--you hear--never! We measured each other--he
called me wonder-child. Me--Zoe. Lilly--it's happened ... and you--did
it. Lilly, kiss me."
"You darling. You're like a queen. All the little lives that go into the
making of your cloth of gold, yet each proud to be ever so humble a
party to it!"
"Lilly, you're sad! On _my_ day you're sad."
"Glad! You're the meaning of everything. The road had to lead somewhere.
Everything is so clear now. You're the lovely meaning, Zoe, behind all
the circumstances that went to weave you."
Only half plumbed, Zoe sprang from her mood, flashing with all the
amazing coquetry that was so new to Lilly, around toward Bruce.
"On the very day I've found you I've lost you."
"Nonsense!" she cried. "Don't forget the awakening of spring." And
buried her face against her mother because she had been outrageous.
"Skylark, when I become more coherent I'll tell you how wonderful you
"Zoe dear, hadn't we better drive home?"
"Lark. Lark. I cannot go home now, Lilly. Let's have a lark!"
Suddenly Bruce caught her by the dancing hands.
"We'll dine at Sherry's, dance at the Bilt--"
"Lovely! Lovely! I've never been to either!"
"No, no, Zoe. Please! Your grandparents at home. Besides, it's war
"Nonsense! Laugh while we may. Next month this time I'll probably be in
the thick of it myself. Let's laugh to-day. Vote her down, Zoe!"
"Your grandparents, Zoe, they don't even know the news yet--"
"Lilly, this once. Tippy and Dapples aren't going to be thrilled. They
think the whole business rather low, anyway. Besides--there's time--it's
"Not Sherry's, then, Zoe--a quieter--"
"Immense! I have it! Tarrytown. An opportunity to show you the place
before you go. We'll drop this taxi and pick up my car at the garage.
How's that, dinner at Tarrytown? Perfect, I'll say."
"What a duck of an idea! Oh, la, la, la, la!"
And so, quite dumbly, Lilly acquiesced and by easy shift to the
tan-upholstered car that ironed out all jolts, and a stiff breeze from
the Hudson whirring softly against their faces, they were whirling out
along quiet stretches, dusk coming down like a veil.
Seated between them, Zoe fell to singing, trilling highly and softly,
her head bared to the wind, her tam-o'-shanter on Bruce's lap, and Lilly
sitting silently by with lids down against hot eyeballs, and fighting a
sense of cross grain.
Presently lights began to come out along the river, like the gold eyes
"How cool your fingers are, Zoe. Like the petals of something."
"Lilly, naughty man is holding back one of my hands on me."
"That wasn't for you. That was a sigh."
"But I stole it."
Silence again and they turned off a macadamized road that was
prematurely dark with trees and into a lariat of driveway that elicited
from Zoe a squeal of enthrallment.
Even to Lilly, though she had figured in its purchase, there was
something startling in the vast classic whiteness and formal Italian
chastity of the house as they flanked it, drawing up under a
porte-cochère of Corinthian columns. Through a double row of cypresses
turning black, that inclosed a sunken garden, Dante and Virgil might
have moved, and yet, Lilly, aching with the analogy which could not
conjure, could only call up rather foolishly the three-color magazine
advertisement of a low-streamline motor car, drawn up before just such
Three sheer and cunningly landscaped terraces dropped down from what was
actually the rear of the house, but which overhung the river, so that,
stepping out of the car, an unsuspected, breath-taking panorama of river
wound itself, at that moment the Albany boat moving upstream,
ZOE (out at a bound): "Oh! Oh! Oh! Isolde's garden. Tristan, where are
"I want to kiss a star--that luscious one up there."
"Let me be proxy."
"Lilly, chastise him!"
She smiled at him with her tortured eyes.
"Like it?" he said, smiling back at her with something impersonal in his
eyes that deadened her. "All this formality is hardly my choice; it's
They were met by Pauline--known to Zoe and her mother through
perfunctory office meetings. She was exceedingly petite, rather
appealingly so in her widowhood, and of her younger brother's rather
Spanish darkness, except for a graying coiffure worn high and
There were seventeen years between them and yet her shoulders were
deeply white, and rose, quite unwithered, out of a jetted evening gown;
and her profile, also with the heat lightning of a scarcely perceptible
nervous quiver to it, entirely without the sag of tired flesh.
A certain petulance lent to her exceedingly well-bred diction quite a
charm, and she was playful and adoring enough to pinch each cheek of her
brother's as she tiptoed to kiss him.
"Nice boy to bring home charming people and save me from the boredom of
dining alone. How's my handsome brother? Naughty boy! It's the first
time you've looked yourself in weeks. They work him too hard down there,
Mrs. Penny. I tell my fat brother he's become little more than an
ornamental gargoyle. It's too sordid for this boy, and now you running
away from him just when I had hoped the time was ripe for him to dabble
in some of the things he's set his heart on. The kind of plays he reads
all night until I have to turn his lights out. Shame on you for
Her twitter, from topical bough to topical bough, hardly demanded reply.
She exclaimed over Zoe, admiring her extravagantly, insisted upon
kissing away a purely imaginary look of headache from her brother's
brow, and led the way quite tinily regal, her running line of
In a soft boudoir of French grays, French doors, cerulean blues, and a
litter of every extravagant requisite of the toilet, Lilly faced herself
in a cunningly triplicated mirror.
"We're not dressed. We shouldn't have come," trying to ride down her
sense of misery.
"I'm dressed in all the cloth of gold you have woven for me," quoth Zoe,
in mock grandiloquence, still pitched to her exultant key and in all
her youthful capacity for it, full of self.
There were enamel-backed brushes with deep bristles that plowed her hair
out into dust of gold, and a finely wrought amber comb which she ran
through the fluff, striking an attitude.
"She walks in splendor like the night--"
"Zoe, you're losing your head."
"Splendor! This is me. Marble--terraces--rugs that slide--only I
want peacocks--that strut--and tails that open like fans
"Silly darling--nobody--the world--life."
There was no restraining her. She smoothed her mother's hair only to
kiss it awry again. She fluffed a fragrant cloud of powder along her
neck. Trilled at a drowsy canary in a wicker cage. Stretched herself in
the conscious pose of a Récamier on the lacy mound of a chaise-longue,
and finally followed her mother into the drawing-room, entirely at ease
in the straight blue frock.
It was a room almost the width of the house, with a balcony at one end
hung in a shah's silk prayer rug, and a stone fireplace, out of the
Davanziti palace, opposite. Three sets of leaded doors opened out on to
a flagged parapet that overlooked the Hudson and beyond the deep purple
of perfect September.
They met in a little group at one of these doors, and Lilly noticed
gratefully that Mrs. Enlow had thrown a net wrap over the formality of
her evening gown and that Bruce had merely changed to flannels.
He smiled at her with that impersonal sort of kindness which could cause
such a gush of blood to her heart, and spread himself in a playful
salaam before Zoe.
She held out her hand to be kissed, which he did five times, finger by
"These terraces," said Lilly, trying not to be heavy, "are like the
setting for an Aegean romance."
He smiled back at her again through the new film across his eyes.
"Write it and I'll produce it."
"Close the doors, Dicky; it's growing chilly," said Mrs. Enlow.
"Yes," said Lilly, shivering a bit, "chilly."
"And I'm burning, Dicky, Tickey Tavey," cried Zoe, applying the name
audaciously. "How can anyone be chilly on such a night as this?"
"Come, Princess, and I'll show you some stars."
"Don't wander too far before dinner, children. Mrs. Penny and I will sit
indoors. Only youth can risk swollen joints."
"Yes," said Lilly, feeling herself rather terrifiedly past the fiercer
rush of life, "only youth."
They sat on a great overstuffed divan that faced the parapet, lighted
softly at each end by the first lamps of evening.
"Why, you poor child, you're shivering of chill! It's the damp. Let me
get you a wrap."
In the thickening silence Lilly sat alone looking out through the glass
doors. Bruce and Zoe were silhouetted out there against a fathomless
evening sky that was brilliantly pointed with a few big stars. But they
were not gazing out. Her face was up to his like a flower about to be
plucked, and, looking down into it, his whole body seemed to sway to its
Suddenly the ache in Lilly's heart was laid. With all of her old
capacity for the incongruous, but without any of her usual pump of
terror, she thought suddenly of her father, two nights hence, sitting
down to the creamed salmon and fried potatoes on Page Avenue, hanging
his napkin with the patent fasteners about his neck. Edna Shriner
must teach her that French-knot stitch for Zoe's gowns--in
With her gaze on those two etched and eloquent profiles, a piercing
sense of achievement seemed to flow with a warm rush of blood, curing
her of chill.
Her heart beat high with what even might have been fulfillment.