voice. “Oh, Mother!”
And in that moment Molly Brandeis knew. Emil Bauer introduced them, floridly. Molly Brandeis held out her hand, and her keen brown eyes looked straight and long into the gifted Russian’s pale blue ones. According to all rules he should have started a dramatic speech, beginning with “Madame!” hand on heart. But Schabelitz the great had sprung from Schabelitz the peasant boy, and in the process he had managed, somehow, to retain the simplicity which was his charm. Still, there was something queer and foreign in the way he bent over Mrs. Brandeis’s hand. We do not bow like that in Winnebago.
“Mrs. Brandeis, I am honored to meet you.”
“And I to meet you,” replied the shopkeeper in the black sateen apron.
“I have just had the pleasure of hearing your son play,” began Schabelitz.
“Mr. Bauer called me out of my economics class at school, Mother, and said that—-“
“Theodore!” Theodore subsided.
“He is only a boy,” went on Schabelitz, and put one hand on Theodore’s shoulder. “A very gifted boy. I hear hundreds. Oh, how I suffer, sometimes, to listen to their devilish scraping! To-day, my friend Bauer met me with that old plea, `You must hear this pupil play. He has genius.’ `Bah! Genius!’ I said, and I swore at him a little, for he is my friend, Bauer. But I went with him to his studio– Bauer, that is a remarkably fine place you have there, above that drug store; a room of exceptional proportions. And those rugs, let me tell you—-“
“Never mind the rugs, Schabelitz. Mrs. Brandeis here—-“
“Oh, yes, yes! Well, dear lady, this boy of yours will be a great violinist if he is willing to work, and work, and work. He has what you in America call the spark. To make it a flame he must work, always work. You must send him to Dresden, under Auer.”
“Dresden!” echoed Molly Brandeis faintly, and put one hand on the table that held the fancy cups and saucers, and they jingled a little.
“A year, perhaps, first, in New York with Wolfsohn.”
Wolfsohn! New York! Dresden! It was too much even for Molly Brandeis’ well-balanced brain. She was conscious of feeling a little dizzy. At that moment Pearl approached apologetically. “Pardon me, Mis’ Brandeis, but Mrs. Trost wants to know if you’ll send the boiler special this afternoon. She wants it for the washing early to-morrow morning.”
That served to steady her.
“Tell Mrs. Trost I’ll send it before six to-night.” Her eyes rested on Theodore’s face, flushed now, and glowing. Then she turned and faced Schabelitz squarely. “Perhaps you do not know that this store is our support. I earn a living here for myself and my two children. You see what it is– just a novelty and notion store in a country town. I speak of this because it is the important thing. I have known for a long time that Theodore’s playing was not the playing of the average boy, musically gifted. So what you tell me does not altogether surprise me. But when you say Dresden–well, from Brandeis’ Bazaar in Winnebago, Wisconsin, to Auer, in Dresden, Germany, is a long journey for one afternoon.”
“But of course you must have time to think it over. It must be brought about, somehow.”
“Somehow—-” Mrs. Brandeis stared straight ahead, and you could almost hear that indomitable will of hers working, crashing over obstacles, plowing through difficulties. Theodore watched her, breathless, as though expecting an immediate solution. His mother’s eyes met his own intent ones, and at that her mobile mouth quirked in a sudden smile. “You look as if you expected pearls to pop out of my mouth, son. And, by the way, if you’re going to a concert this evening don’t you think it would be a good idea to squander an hour on study this afternoon? You may be a musical prodigy, but geometry’s geometry.”
“Oh, Mother! Please!”
“I want to talk to Mr. Schabelitz and Mr. Bauer, alone.” She patted his shoulder, and the last pat ended in a gentle push. “Run along.”
“I’ll work, Mother. You know perfectly well I’ll work.” But he looked so startlingly like his father as he said it that Mrs. Brandeis felt a clutching at her heart.
Theodore out of the way, they seemed to find very little to discuss, after all. Schabelitz was so quietly certain, Bauer so triumphantly proud.
Said Schabelitz, “Wolfsohn, of course, receives ten dollars a lesson ordinarily.”
“But a pupil like Theodore is in the nature of an investment,” Bauer hastened to explain. “An advertisement. After hearing him play, and after what Schabelitz here will have to say for him, Wolfsohn will certainly give Theodore lessons for nothing, or next to nothing. You remember” — proudly– “I offered to teach him without charge, but you would not have it.”
Schabelitz smote his friend sharply on the shoulder “The true musician! Oh, Bauer, Bauer! That you should bury yourself in this—-“
But Bauer stopped him with a gesture. “Mrs. Brandeis is a busy woman. And as she says, this thing needs thinking over.”
“After all,” said Mrs. Brandeis, “there isn’t much to think about. I know just where I stand. It’s a case of mathematics, that’s all. This business of mine is just beginning to pay. From now on I shall be able to save something every year. It might be enough to cover his musical education. It would mean that Fanny–my daughter– and I would have to give up everything. For myself, I should be only too happy, too proud. But it doesn’t seem fair to her. After all, a girl—-“
“It isn’t fair,” broke in Schabelitz. “It isn’t fair. But that is the way of genius. It never is fair. It takes, and takes, and takes. I know. My mother could tell you, if she were alive. She sold the little farm, and my sisters gave up their dowries, and with them their hopes of marriage, and they lived on bread and cabbage. That was not to pay for my lessons. They never could have done that. It was only to send me to Moscow. We were very poor. They must have starved. I have come to know, since, that it was not worth it. That nothing could be worth it.”
“But it was worth it. Your mother would do it all over again, if she had the chance. That’s what we’re for.”
Bauer pulled out his watch and uttered a horrified exclamation. “Himmel! Four o’clock! And I have a pupil at four.” He turned hastily to Mrs. Brandeis. “I am giving a little supper in my studio after the concert to-night.”
“Oh, Gott!” groaned Schabelitz.
“It is in honor of Schabelitz here. You see how overcome he is. Will you let me bring Theodore back with me after the concert? There will be some music, and perhaps he will play for us.”
Schabelitz bent again in his queer little foreign bow. “And you, of course, will honor us, Mrs. Brandeis.” He had never lived in Winnebago.
“Oh, certainly,” Bauer hastened to say. He had.
“I!” Molly Brandeis looked down at her apron, and stroked it with her fingers. Then she looked up with a little smile that was not so pleasant as her smile usually was. There had flashed across her quick mind a picture of Mrs. G. Manville Smith. Mrs. G. Manville Smith, in an evening gown whose decolletage was discussed from the Haley House to Gerretson’s department store next morning, was always a guest at Bauer’s studio affairs. “Thank you, but it is impossible. And Theodore is only a schoolboy. Just now he needs, more than anything else in the world, nine hours of sleep every night. There will be plenty of time for studio suppers later. When a boy’s voice is changing, and he doesn’t know what to do with his hands and feet, he is better off at home.”
“God! These mothers!” exclaimed Schabelitz. “What do they not know!”
“I suppose you are right.” Bauer was both rueful and relieved. It would have been fine to show off Theodore as his pupil and Schabelitz’s protege. But Mrs. Brandeis? No, that would never do. “Well, I must go. We will talk about this again, Mrs. Brandeis. In two weeks Schabelitz will pass through Winnebago again on his way back to Chicago. Meanwhile he will write Wolfsohn. I also. So! Come, Schabelitz!”
He turned to see that gentleman strolling off in the direction of the notion counter behind which his expert eye had caught a glimpse of Sadie in her white shirtwaist and her trim skirt. Sadie always knew what they were wearing on State Street, Chicago, half an hour after Mrs. Brandeis returned from one of her buying trips. Shirtwaists had just come in, and with them those neat leather belts with a buckle, and about the throat they were wearing folds of white satin ribbon, smooth and high and tight, the two ends tied pertly at the back. Sadie would never be the saleswoman that Pearl was, but her unfailing good nature and her cheery self-confidence made her an asset in the store. Besides, she was pretty. Mrs. Brandeis knew the value of a pretty clerk.
At the approach of this stranger Sadie leaned coyly against the stocking rack and patted her paper sleevelets that were secured at wrist and elbow with elastic bands. Her method was sure death to traveling men. She prepared now to try it on the world-famous virtuoso. The ease with which she succeeded surprised even Sadie, accustomed though she was to conquest.
“Come, come, Schabelitz!” said Bauer again. “I must get along.”
“Then go, my friend. Go along and make your preparations for that studio supper. The only interesting woman in Winnebago–” he bowed to Mrs. Brandeis– “will not be there. I know them, these small-town society women, with their imitation city ways. And bony! Always! I am enjoying myself. I shall stay here.”
And he did stay. Sadie, talking it over afterward with Pearl and Aloysius, put it thus:
“They say he’s the grandest violin player in the world. Not that I care much for the violin, myself. Kind of squeaky, I always think. But it just goes to show they’re all alike. Ain’t it the truth? I jollied him just like I did Sam Bloom, of Ganz & Pick, Novelties, an hour before. He laughed just where Sam did. And they both handed me a line of talk about my hair and eyes, only Sam said I was a doll, and this Schabelitz, or whatever his name is, said I was as alluring as a Lorelei. I guess he thought he had me there, but I didn’t go through the seventh reader for nothing. `If you think I’m flattered,’ I said to him, `you’re mistaken. She was the mess who used to sit out on a rock with her back hair down, combing away and singing like mad, and keeping an eye out for sailors up and down the river. If I had to work that hard to get some attention,’ I said, `I’d give up the struggle, and settle down with a cat and a teakettle.’ At that he just threw back his head and roared. And when Mrs. Brandeis came up he said something about the wit of these American women. `Work is a great sharpener of wit– and wits,’ Mrs. Brandeis said to him. `Pearl, did Aloysius send Eddie out with that boiler, special?’ And she didn’t pay any more attention to him, or make any more fuss over him, than she would to a traveler with a line of samples she wasn’t interested in. I guess that’s why he had such a good time.”
Sadie was right. That was the reason. Fanny, coming into the store half an hour later, saw this man who had swayed thousands with his music, down on his hands and knees in the toy section at the rear of Brandeis’ Bazaar. He and Sadie and Aloysius were winding up toy bears, and clowns, and engines, and carriages, and sending them madly racing across the floor. Sometimes their careening career was threatened with disaster in the form of a clump of brooms or a stack of galvanized pails. But Schabelitz would scramble forward with a shout and rescue them just before the crash came, and set them deftly off again in the opposite direction.
“This I must have for my boy in New York.” He held up a miniature hook and ladder. “And this windmill that whirls so busily. My Leo is seven, and his head is full of engines, and motors, and things that run on wheels. He cares no more for music, the little savage, than the son of a bricklayer.”
“Who is that man?” Fanny whispered, staring at him.
“Schabelitz! Not the–“
“But he’s playing on the floor like–like a little boy! And laughing! Why, Mother, he’s just like anybody else, only nicer.”
If Fanny had been more than fourteen her mother might have told her that all really great people are like that, finding joy in simple things. I think that is the secret of their genius–the child in them that keeps their viewpoint fresh, and that makes us children again when we listen to them. It is the Schabelitzes of this world who can shout over a toy engine that would bore a Bauer to death.
Fanny stood looking at him thoughtfully. She knew all about him. Theodore’s talk of the past week had accomplished that. Fanny knew that here was a man who did one thing better than any one else in the world. She thrilled to that thought. She adored the quality in people that caused them to excel. Schabelitz had got hold of a jack-in-the-box, and each time the absurd head popped out, with its grin and its squawk, he laughed like a boy. Fanny, standing behind the wrapping counter, and leaning on it with her elbows the better to see this great man, smiled too, as her flexible spirit and her mobile mind caught his mood. She did not know she was smiling. Neither did she know why she suddenly frowned in the intensity of her concentration, reached up for one of the pencils on the desk next the wrapping counter, and bent over the topmost sheet of yellow wrapping paper that lay spread out before her. Her tongue-tip curled excitedly at one corner of her mouth. Her head was cocked to one side.
She was rapidly sketching a crude and startling likeness of Levine Schabelitz as he stood there with the ridiculous toy in his hand. It was a trick she often amused herself with at school. She had drawn her school-teacher one day as she had looked when gazing up into the eyes of the visiting superintendent, who was a married man. Quite innocently and unconsciously she had caught the adoring look in the eyes of Miss McCook, the teacher, and that lady, happening upon the sketch later, had dealt with Fanny in a manner seemingly unwarranted. In the same way it was not only the exterior likeness of the man which she was catching now–the pompadour that stood stiffly perpendicular like a brush; the square, yellow peasant teeth; the strong, slender hands and wrists; the stocky figure; the high cheek bones; the square- toed, foreign-looking shoes and the trousers too wide at the instep to have been cut by an American tailor. She caught and transmitted to paper, in some uncanny way, the simplicity of the man who was grinning at the jack-in-the- box that smirked back at him. Behind the veneer of poise and polish born of success and adulation she had caught a glimpse of the Russian peasant boy delighted with the crude toy in his hand. And she put it down eagerly, wetting her pencil between her lips, shading here, erasing there.
Mrs. Brandeis, bustling up to the desk for a customer’s change, and with a fancy dish to be wrapped, in her hand, glanced over Fanny’s shoulder. She leaned closer. “Why, Fanny, you witch!”
Fanny gave a little crow of delight and tossed her head in a way that switched her short curls back from where they had fallen over her shoulders. “It’s like him, isn’t it?”
“It looks more like him than he does himself.” With which Molly Brandeis unconsciously defined the art of cartooning.
Fanny looked down at it, a smile curving her lips. Mrs. Brandeis, dish in hand, counted her change expertly from the till below the desk, and reached for the sheet of wrapping paper just beneath that on which Fanny had made her drawing. At that moment Schabelitz, glancing up, saw her, and came forward, smiling, the jack-in-the-box still in his hand.
“Dear lady, I hope I have not entirely disorganized your shop. I have had a most glorious time. Would you believe it, this jack-in-the-box looks exactly–but exactly– like my manager, Weber, when the box-office receipts are good. He grins just–“
And then his eye fell on the drawing that Fanny was trying to cover with one brown paw. “Hello! What’s this?” Then he looked at Fanny. Then he grasped her wrist in his fingers of steel and looked at the sketch that grinned back at him impishly. “Well, I’m damned!” exploded Schabelitz in amusement, and surprise, and appreciation. And did not apologize. “And who is this young lady with the sense of humor?”
“This is my little girl, Fanny.”
He looked down at the rough sketch again, with its clean-cut satire, and up again at the little girl in the school coat and the faded red tam o’ shanter, who was looking at him shyly, and defiantly, and provokingly, all at once.
“Your little girl Fanny, h’m? The one who is to give up everything that the boy Theodore may become a great violinist.” He bent again over the crude, effective cartoon, then put a forefinger gently under the child’s chin and tipped her glowing face up to the light. “I am not so sure now that it will work. As for its being fair! Why, no! No!”
Fanny waited for her mother that evening, and they walked home together. Their step and swing were very much alike, now that Fanny’s legs were growing longer. She was at the backfisch age.
“What did he mean, Mother, when he said that about Theodore being a great violinist, and its not being fair? What isn’t fair? And how did he happen to be in the store, anyway? He bought a heap of toys, didn’t he? I suppose he’s awfully rich.”
“To-night, when Theodore’s at the concert, I’ll tell you what he meant, and all about it.”
“I’d love to hear him play, wouldn’t you? I’d just love to.”
Over Molly Brandeis’s face there came a curious look. “You could hear him, Fanny, in Theodore’s place. Theodore would have to stay home if I told him to.”
Fanny’s eyes and mouth grew round with horror. “Theodore stay home! Why Mrs.–Molly–Brandeis!” Then she broke into a little relieved laugh. “But you’re just fooling, of course.”
“No, I’m not. If you really want to go I’ll tell Theodore to give up his ticket to his sister.”
“Well, my goodness! I guess I’m not a pig. I wouldn’t have Theodore stay home, not for a million dollars.”
“I knew you wouldn’t,” said Molly Brandeis as they swung down Norris Street. And she told Fanny briefly of what Schabelitz had said about Theodore.
It was typical of Theodore that he ate his usual supper that night. He may have got his excitement vicariously from Fanny. She was thrilled enough for two. Her food lay almost untouched on her plate. She chattered incessantly. When Theodore began to eat his second baked apple with cream, her outraged feelings voiced their protest.
“But, Theodore, I don’t see how you can!”
“Eat like that. When you’re going to hear him play. And after what he said, and everything.”
“Well, is that any reason why I should starve to death?”
“But I don’t see how you can,” repeated Fanny helplessly, and looked at her mother. Mrs. Brandeis reached for the cream pitcher and poured a little more cream over Theodore’s baked apple. Even as she did it her eyes met Fanny’s, and in them was a certain sly amusement, a little gleam of fun, a look that said, “Neither do I.” Fanny sat back, satisfied. Here, at least, was some one who understood.
At half past seven Theodore, looking very brushed and sleek, went off to meet Emil Bauer. Mrs. Brandeis had looked him over, and had said, “Your nails!” and sent him back to the bathroom, and she had resisted the desire to kiss him because Theodore disliked demonstration. “He hated to be pawed over,” was the way he put it. After he had gone, Mrs. Brandeis went into the dining-room where Fanny was sitting. Mattie had cleared the table, and Fanny was busy over a book and a tablet, by the light of the lamp that they always used for studying. It was one of the rare occasions when she had brought home a school lesson. It was arithmetic, and Fanny loathed arithmetic. She had no head for mathematics. The set of problems were eighth-grade horrors, in which A is digging a well 20 feet deep and 9 feet wide; or in which A and B are papering two rooms, or building two fences, or plastering a wall. If A does his room in 9 1/2 days, the room being 12 feet high, 20 feet long, and 15 1/2 feet wide, how long will it take B to do a room 14 feet high, 11 3/4 feet, etc.
Fanny hated the indefatigable A and B with a bitter personal hatred. And as for that occasional person named C, who complicated matters still more–!
Sometimes Mrs. Brandeis helped to disentangle Fanny from the mazes of her wall paper problems, or dragged her up from the bottom of the well when it seemed that she was down there for eternity unless a friendly hand rescued her. As a rule she insisted that Fanny crack her own mathematical nuts. She said it was good mental training, not to speak of the moral side of it. But to-night she bent her quick mind upon the problems that were puzzling her little daughter, and cleared them up in no time.
When Fanny had folded her arithmetic papers neatly inside her book and leaned back with a relieved sigh Molly Brandeis bent forward in the lamplight and began to talk very soberly. Fanny, red-cheeked and bright-eyed from her recent mental struggles, listened interestedly, then intently, then absorbedly. She attempted to interrupt, sometimes, with an occasional, “But, Mother, how–” but Mrs. Brandeis shook her head and went on. She told Fanny a few things about her early married life–things that made Fanny look at her with new eyes. She had always thought of her mother as her mother, in the way a fourteen-year-old girl does. It never occurred to her that this mother person, who was so capable, so confident, so worldly-wise, had once been a very young bride, with her life before her, and her hopes stepping high, and her love keeping time with her hopes. Fanny heard, fascinated, the story of this girl who had married against the advice of her family and her friends.
Molly Brandeis talked curtly and briefly, and her very brevity and lack of embroidering details made the story stand out with stark realism. It was such a story of courage, and pride, and indomitable will, and sheer pluck as can only be found among the seemingly commonplace.
“And so,” she finished, “I used to wonder, sometimes, whether it was worth while to keep on, and what it was all for. And now I know. Theodore is going to make up for everything. Only we’ll have to help him, first. It’s going to be hard on you, Fanchen. I’m talking to you as if you were eighteen, instead of fourteen. But I want you to understand. That isn’t fair to you either–my expecting you to understand. Only I don’t want you to hate me too much when you’re a woman, and I’m gone, and you’ll remember–“
“Why, Mother, what in the world are you talking about? Hate you!”
“For what I took from you to give to him, Fanny. You don’t understand now. Things must be made easy for Theodore. It will mean that you and I will have to scrimp and save. Not now and then, but all the time. It will mean that we can’t go to the theater, even occasionally, or to lectures, or concerts. It will mean that your clothes won’t be as pretty or as new as the other girls’ clothes. You’ll sit on the front porch evenings, and watch them go by, and you’ll want to go too.”
“As if I cared.”
“But you will care. I know. I know. It’s easy enough to talk about sacrifice in a burst of feeling; but it’s the everyday, shriveling grind that’s hard. You’ll want clothes, and books, and beaux, and education, and you ought to have them. They’re your right. You ought to have them!” Suddenly Molly Brandeis’ arms were folded on the table, and her head came down on her arms and she was crying, quietly, horribly, as a man cries. Fanny stared at her a moment in unbelief. She had not seen her mother cry since the day of Ferdinand Brandeis’ death. She scrambled out of her chair and thrust her head down next her mother’s, so that her hot, smooth cheek touched the wet, cold one. “Mother, don’t! Don’t Molly dearie. I can’t bear it. I’m going to cry too. Do you think I care for old dresses and things? I should say not. It’s going to be fun going without things. It’ll be like having a secret or something. Now stop, and let’s talk about it.”
Molly Brandeis wiped her eyes, and sat up, and smiled. It was a watery and wavering smile, but it showed that she was mistress of herself again.
“No,” she said, “we just won’t talk about it any more. I’m tired, that’s what’s the matter with me, and I haven’t sense enough to know it. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to put on my kimono, and you’ll make some fudge. Will you? We’ll have a party, all by ourselves, and if Mattie scolds about the milk to-morrow you just tell her I said you could. And I think there are some walnut meats in the third cocoa can on the shelf in the pantry. Use ’em all.”
Theodore came home at twelve o’clock that night. He had gone to Bauer’s studio party after all. It was the first time he had deliberately disobeyed his mother in a really big thing. Mrs. Brandeis and Fanny had nibbled fudge all evening (it had turned out deliciously velvety) and had gone to bed at their usual time. At half past ten Mrs. Brandeis had wakened with the instinctive feeling that Theodore was not in the house. She lay there, wide awake, staring into the darkness until eleven. Then she got up and went into his room, though she knew he was not there. She was not worried as to his whereabouts or his well-being. That same instinctive feeling told her where he was. She was very angry, and a little terrified at the significance of his act. She went back to bed again, and she felt the blood pounding in her head. Molly Brandeis had a temper, and it was surging now, and beating against the barriers of her self-control.
She told herself, as she lay there, that she must deal with him coolly and firmly, though she wanted to spank him. The time for spankings was past. Some one was coming down the street with a quick, light step. She sat up in bed, listening. The steps passed the house, went on. A half hour passed. Some one turned the corner, whistling blithely. But, no, he would not be whistling, she told herself. He would sneak in, quietly. It was a little after twelve when she heard the front door open (Winnebago rarely locked its doors). She was surprised to feel her heart beating rapidly. He was trying to be quiet, and was making a great deal of noise about it. His shoes and the squeaky fifth stair alone would have convicted him. The imp of perversity in Molly Brandeis made her smile, angry as she was, at the thought of how furious he must be at that stair.
“Theodore!” she called quietly, just as he was tip-toeing past her room.
“Come in here. And turn on the light.”
He switched on the light and stood there in the doorway. Molly Brandeis, sitting up in bed in the chilly room, with her covers about her, was conscious of a little sick feeling, not at what he had done, but that a son of hers should ever wear the sullen, defiant, hang-dog look that disfigured Theodore’s face now.
A pause. “Yes.”
“I just stopped in there for a minute after the concert. I didn’t mean to stay. And then Bauer introduced me around to everybody. And then they asked me to play, and–“
“And you played badly.”
“Well, I didn’t have my own violin.”
“No football game Saturday. And no pocket money this week. Go to bed.”
He went, breathing hard, and muttering a little under his breath. At breakfast next morning Fanny plied him with questions and was furious at his cool uncommunicativeness.
“Was it wonderful, Theodore? Did he play–oh–like an angel?”
“Played all right. Except the `Swan’ thing. Maybe he thought it was too easy, or something, but I thought he murdered it. Pass the toast, unless you want it all.”
It was not until the following autumn that Theodore went to New York. The thing that had seemed so impossible was arranged. He was to live in Brooklyn with a distant cousin of Ferdinand Brandeis, on a business basis, and he was to come into New York three times a week for his lessons. Mrs. Brandeis took him as far as Chicago, treated him to an extravagant dinner, put him on the train and with difficulty stifled the impulse to tell all the other passengers in the car to look after her Theodore. He looked incredibly grown up and at ease in his new suit and the hat that they had wisely bought in Chicago. She did not cry at all (in the train), and she kissed him only twice, and no man can ask more than that of any mother.
Molly Brandeis went back to Winnebago and the store with her shoulders a little more consciously squared, her jaw a little more firmly set. There was something almost terrible about her concentrativeness. Together she and Fanny began a life of self-denial of which only a woman could be capable. They saved in ways that only a woman’s mind could devise; petty ways, that included cream and ice, and clothes, and candy. It was rather fun at first. When that wore off it had become a habit. Mrs. Brandeis made two resolutions regarding Fanny. One was that she should have at least a high school education, and graduate. The other that she should help in the business of the store as little as possible. To the first Fanny acceded gladly. To the second she objected.
“But why? If you can work, why can’t I? I could help you a lot on Saturdays and at Christmas time, and after school.”
“I don’t want you to,” Mrs. Brandeis had replied, almost fiercely. “I’m giving my life to it. That’s enough. I don’t want you to know about buying and selling. I don’t want you to know a bill of lading from a sales slip when you see it. I don’t want you to know whether f. o. b. is a wireless signal or a branch of the Masons.” At which Fanny grinned. No one appreciated her mother’s humor more than she.
“But I do know already. The other day when that fat man was selling you those go-carts I heard him say. `F. o. b. Buffalo,’ and I asked Aloysius what it meant and he told me.”
It was inevitable that Fanny Brandeis should come to know these things, for the little household revolved about the store on Elm Street. By the time she was eighteen and had graduated from the Winnebago high school, she knew so many things that the average girl of eighteen did not know, and was ignorant of so many things that the average girl of eighteen did know, that Winnebago was almost justified in thinking her queer. She had had a joyous time at school, in spite of algebra and geometry and physics. She took the part of the heroine in the senior class play given at the Winnebago opera house, and at the last rehearsal electrified those present by announcing that if Albert Finkbein (who played the dashing Southern hero) didn’t kiss her properly when the curtain went down on the first act, just as he was going into battle, she’d rather he didn’t kiss her at all.
“He just makes it ridiculous,” she protested. “He sort of gives a peck two inches from my nose, and then giggles. Everybody will laugh, and it’ll spoil everything.”
With the rather startled elocution teacher backing her she rehearsed the bashful Albert in that kiss until she had achieved the effect of realism that she thought the scene demanded. But when, on the school sleighing parties and hay rides the boy next her slipped a wooden and uncertain arm about her waist while they all were singing “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,” and “Good Night Ladies,” and “Merrily We Roll Along,” she sat up stiffly and unyieldingly until the arm, discouraged, withdrew to its normal position. Which two instances are quoted as being of a piece with what Winnebago termed her queerness.
Not that Fanny Brandeis went beauless through school. On the contrary, she always had some one to carry her books, and to take her to the school parties and home from the Friday night debating society meetings. Her first love affair turned out disastrously. She was twelve, and she chose as the object of her affections a bullet-headed boy named Simpson. One morning, as the last bell rang and they were taking their seats, Fanny passed his desk and gave his coarse and stubbly hair a tweak. It was really a love tweak, and intended to be playful, but she probably put more fervor into it than she knew. It brought the tears of pain to his eyes, and he turned and called her the name at which she shrank back, horrified. Her shock and unbelief must have been stamped on her face, for the boy, still smarting, had snarled, “Ya-as, I mean it,
It was strange how she remembered that incident years after she had forgotten important happenings in her life. Clarence Heyl, whose very existence you will have failed to remember, used to hover about her uncertainly, always looking as if he would like to walk home with her, but never summoning the courage to do it. They were graduated from the grammar school together, and Clarence solemnly read a graduation essay entitled “Where is the Horse?” Automobiles were just beginning to flash plentifully up and down Elm Street. Clarence had always been what Winnebago termed sickly, in spite of his mother’s noodle soup, and coddling. He was sent West, to Colorado, or to a ranch in Wyoming, Fanny was not quite sure which, perhaps because she was not interested. He had come over one afternoon to bid her good- by, and had dangled about the front porch until she went into the house and shut the door.
When she was sixteen there was a blond German boy whose taciturnity attracted her volubility and vivacity. She mistook his stolidness for depth, and it was a long time before she realized that his silence was not due to the weight of his thoughts but to the fact that he had nothing to say. In her last year at high school she found herself singled out for the attentions of Harmon Kent, who was the Beau Nash of the Winnebago high school. His clothes were made by Schwartze, the tailor, when all the other boys of his age got theirs at the spring and fall sales of the Golden Eagle Clothing Store. It was always nip and tuck between his semester standings and his track team and football possibilities. The faculty refused to allow flunkers to take part in athletics.
He was one of those boys who have definite charm, and manner, and poise at seventeen, and who crib their exams off their cuffs. He was always at the head of any social plans in the school, and at the dances he rushed about wearing in his coat lapel a ribbon marked Floor Committee. The teachers all knew he was a bluff, but his engaging manner carried him through. When he went away to the state university he made Fanny solemnly promise to write; to come down to Madison for the football games; to be sure to remember about the Junior prom. He wrote once–a badly spelled scrawl–and she answered. But he was the sort of person who must be present to be felt. He could not project his personality. When he came home for the Christmas holidays Fanny was helping in the store. He dropped in one afternoon when she was selling whisky glasses to Mike Hearn of the Farmers’ Rest Hotel.
They did not write at all during the following semester, and when he came back for the long summer vacation they met on the street one day and exchanged a few rather forced pleasantries. It suddenly dawned on Fanny that he was patronizing her much as the scion of an aristocratic line banters the housemaid whom he meets on the stairs. She bit an imaginary apron corner, and bobbed a curtsy right there on Elm Street, in front of the Courier office and walked off, leaving him staring. It was shortly after this that she began a queer line of reading for a girl–lives of Disraeli, Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Mozart–distinguished Jews who had found their religion a handicap.
The year of her graduation she did a thing for which Winnebago felt itself justified in calling her different. Each member of the graduating class was allowed to choose a theme for a thesis. Fanny Brandeis called hers “A Piece of Paper.” On Winnebago’s Fox River were located a number of the largest and most important paper mills in the country. There were mills in which paper was made of wood fiber, and others in which paper was made of rags. You could smell the sulphur as soon as you crossed the bridge that led to the Flats. Sometimes, when the wind was right, the pungent odor of it spread all over the town. Strangers sniffed it and made a wry face, but the natives liked it.
The mills themselves were great ugly brick buildings, their windows festooned with dust webs. Some of them boasted high detached tower-like structures where a secret acid process went on. In the early days the mills had employed many workers, but newly invented machinery had come to take the place of hand labor. The rag-rooms alone still employed hundreds of girls who picked, sorted, dusted over the great suction bins. The rooms in which they worked were gray with dust. They wore caps over their hair to protect it from the motes that you could see spinning and swirling in the watery sunlight that occasionally found its way through the gray- filmed window panes. It never seemed to occur to them that the dust cap so carefully pulled down about their heads did not afford protection for their lungs. They were pale girls, the rag-room girls, with a peculiarly gray-white pallor.
Fanny Brandeis had once been through the Winnebago Paper Company’s mill and she had watched, fascinated, while a pair of soiled and greasy old blue overalls were dusted and cleaned, and put through this acid vat, and that acid tub, growing whiter and more pulpy with each process until it was fed into a great crushing roller that pressed the moisture out of it, flattened it to the proper thinness and spewed it out at last, miraculously, in the form of rolls of crisp, white paper.
On the first day of the Easter vacation Fanny Brandeis walked down to the office of the Winnebago Paper Company’s mill and applied at the superintendent’s office for a job. She got it. They were generally shorthanded in the rag- room. When Mrs. Brandeis heard of it there followed one of the few stormy scenes between mother and daughter.
“Why did you do it?” demanded Mrs. Brandeis.
“I had to, to get it right.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. You could have visited the mill a dozen times.”
Fanny twisted the fingers of her left hand in the fingers of her right as was her way when she was terribly in earnest, and rather excited.
“But I don’t want to write about the paper business as a process.”
“Well, then, what do you want?”
“I want to write about the overalls on some railroad engineer, perhaps; or the blue calico wrapper that belonged, maybe, to a scrub woman. And how they came to be spotted, or faded, or torn, and finally all worn out. And how the rag man got them, and the mill, and how the girls sorted them. And the room in which they do it. And the bins. And the machinery. Oh, it’s the most fascinating, and–and sort of relentless machinery. And the acid burns on the hands of the men at the vats. And their shoes. And then the paper, so white. And the way we tear it up, or crumple it, and throw it in the waste basket. Just a piece of paper, don’t you see what I mean? Just a piece of paper, and yet all that–” she stopped and frowned a little, and grew inarticulate, and gave it up with a final, “Don’t you see what I mean, Mother? Don’t you see what I mean?”
Molly Brandeis looked at her daughter in a startled way, like one who, walking tranquilly along an accustomed path, finds himself confronting a new and hitherto unsuspected vista, formed by a peculiar arrangement of clouds, perhaps, or light, or foliage, or all three blended. “I see what you mean,” she said. “But I wish you wouldn’t do it. I–I wish you didn’t feel that you wanted to do it.”
“But how can I make it real if I don’t?”
“You can’t,” said Molly Brandeis. “That’s just it. You can’t, ever.”
Fanny got up before six every morning of that Easter vacation, and went to the mill, lunch box in hand. She came home at night dead-tired. She did not take the street car to and from the mill, as she might have, because she said the other girls in the rag-room walked, some of them from the very edge of town. Mrs. Brandeis said that she was carrying things too far, but Fanny stuck it out for the two weeks, at the end of which period she spent an entire Sunday in a hair-washing, face-steaming, and manicuring bee. She wrote her paper from notes she had taken, and turned it in at the office of the high school principal with the feeling that it was not at all what she had meant it to be. A week later Professor Henning called her into his office. The essay lay on his desk.
“I’ve read your thesis,” he began, and stopped, and cleared his throat. He was not an eloquent man. “Where did you get your information, Miss Brandeis?”
“I got it at the mill.”
“From one of the employees?”
“Oh, no. I worked there, in the rag-room.”
Professor Henning gave a little startled exclamation that he turned hastily into a cough. “I thought that perhaps the editor of the Courier might like to see it–it being local. And interesting.”
He brought it down to the office of the little paper himself, and promised to call for it again in an hour or two, when Lem Davis should have read it. Lem Davis did read it, and snorted, and scuffled with his feet in the drift of papers under his desk, which was a way he had when enraged.
“Read it!” he echoed, at Professor Henning’s question. “Read it! Yes, I read it. And let me tell you it’s socialism of the rankest kind, that’s what! It’s anarchism, that’s what! Who’s this girl? Mrs. Brandeis’s daughter–of the Bazaar? Let me tell you I’d go over there and tell her what I think of the way she’s bringing up that girl–if she wasn’t an advertiser. `A Piece of Paper’! Hell!” And to show his contempt for what he had read he wadded together a great mass of exchanges that littered his desk and hurled them, a crumpled heap, to the floor, and then spat tobacco juice upon them.
“I’m sorry,” said Professor Henning, and rose; but at the door he turned and said something highly unprofessorial. “It’s a darn fine piece of writing.” And slammed the door. At supper that night he told Mrs. Henning about it. Mrs. Henning was a practical woman, as the wife of a small-town high school principal must needs be. “But don’t you know,” she said, “that Roscoe Moore, who is president of the Outagamie Pulp Mill and the Winnebago Paper Company, practically owns the Courier?”
Professor Henning passed a hand over his hair, ruefully, like a school boy. “No, Martha, I didn’t know. If I knew those things, dear, I suppose we wouldn’t be eating sausage for supper to-night.” There was a little silence between them. Then he looked up. “Some day I’m going to brag about having been that Brandeis girl’s teacher.”
Fanny was in the store a great deal now. After she finished high school they sent Mattie away and Fanny took over the housekeeping duties, but it was not her milieu. Not that she didn’t do it well. She put a perfect fury of energy and care into the preparation of a pot roast. After she had iced a cake she enhanced it with cunning arabesques of jelly. The house shone as it never had, even under Mattie’s honest regime. But it was like hitching a high-power engine to a butter churn. There were periods of maddening restlessness. At such times she would set about cleaning the cellar, perhaps. It was a three-roomed cellar, brick- floored, cool, and having about it that indefinable cellar smell which is of mold, and coal, and potatoes, and onions, and kindling wood, and dill pickles and ashes.
Other girls of Fanny’s age, at such times, cleaned out their bureau drawers and read forbidden novels. Fanny armed herself with the third best broom, the dust-pan, and an old bushel basket. She swept up chips, scraped up ashes, scoured the preserve shelves, washed the windows, cleaned the vegetable bins, and got gritty, and scarlet-cheeked and streaked with soot. It was a wonderful safety valve, that cellar. A pity it was that the house had no attic.
Then there were long, lazy summer afternoons when there was nothing to do but read. And dream. And watch the town go by to supper. I think that is why our great men and women so often have sprung from small towns, or villages. They have had time to dream in their adolescence. No cars to catch, no matinees, no city streets, none of the teeming, empty, energy-consuming occupations of the city child. Little that is competitive, much that is unconsciously absorbed at the most impressionable period, long evenings for reading, long afternoons in the fields or woods. With the cloth laid, and the bread cut and covered with a napkin, and the sauce in the glass bowl, and the cookies on a blue plate, and the potatoes doing very, very slowly, and the kettle steaming with a Peerybingle cheerfulness, Fanny would stroll out to the front porch again to watch for the familiar figure to appear around the corner of Norris Street. She would wear her blue-and-white checked gingham apron deftly twisted over one hip, and tucked in, in deference to the passers-by. And the town would go by–Hen Cody’s drays, rattling and thundering; the high school boys thudding down the road, dog-tired and sweaty in their football suits, or their track pants and jersies, on their way from the athletic field to the school shower baths; Mrs. Mosher flying home, her skirts billowing behind her, after a protracted afternoon at whist; little Ernie Trost with a napkin-covered peach basket carefully balanced in his hand, waiting for the six-fifteen interurban to round the corner near the switch, so that he could hand up his father’s supper; Rudie Mass, the butcher, with a moist little packet of meat in his hand, and lurching ever so slightly, and looking about defiantly. Oh, Fanny probably never realized how much she saw and absorbed, sitting there on Brandeis’ front porch, watching Winnebago go by to supper.
At Christmas time she helped in the store, afternoons and evenings. Then, one Christmas, Mrs. Brandeis was ill for three weeks with grippe. They had to have a helper in the house. When Mrs. Brandeis was able to come back to the store Sadie left to marry, not one of her traveling-men victims, but a steady person, in the paper-hanging way, whose suit had long been considered hopeless. After that Fanny took her place. She developed a surprising knack at selling. Yet it was not so surprising, perhaps, when one considered her teacher. She learned as only a woman can learn who is brought into daily contact with the outside world. It was not only contact: it was the relation of buyer and seller. She learned to judge people because she had to. How else could one gauge their tastes, temperaments, and pocketbooks? They passed in and out of Brandeis’ Bazaar, day after day, in an endless and varied procession–traveling men, school children, housewives, farmers, worried hostesses, newly married couples bent on house furnishing, business men.
She learned that it was the girls from the paper mills who bought the expensive plates–the ones with the red roses and green leaves hand-painted in great smears and costing two dollars and a half, while the golf club crowd selected for a gift or prize one of the little white plates with the faded- looking blue sprig pattern, costing thirty-nine cents. One day, after she had spent endless time and patience over the sale of a nondescript little plate to one of Winnebago’s socially elect, she stared wrathfully after the retreating back of the trying customer.
“Did you see that? I spent an hour with her. One hour! I showed her everything from the imported Limoges bowls to the Sevres cups and saucers, and all she bought was that miserable little bonbon dish with the cornflower pattern. Cat!”
Mrs. Brandeis spoke from the depths of her wisdom.
“Fanny, I didn’t miss much that went on during that hour, and I was dying to come over and take her away from you, but I didn’t because I knew you needed the lesson, and I knew that that McNulty woman never spends more than twenty-five cents, anyway. But I want to tell you now that it isn’t only a matter of plates. It’s a matter of understanding folks. When you’ve learned whom to show the expensive hand-painted things to, and when to suggest quietly the little, vague things, with what you call the faded look, why, you’ve learned just about all there is to know of human nature. Don’t expect it, at your age.”
Molly Brandeis had never lost her trick of chatting with customers, or listening to them, whenever she had a moment’s time. People used to drop in, and perch themselves on one of the stools near the big glowing base burner and talk to Mrs. Brandeis. It was incredible, the secrets they revealed of business, and love and disgrace; of hopes and aspirations, and troubles, and happiness. The farmer women used to fascinate Fanny by their very drabness. Mrs. Brandeis had a long and loyal following of these women. It was before the day when every farmhouse boasted an automobile, a telephone, and a phonograph.
A worn and dreary lot, these farmer women, living a skimmed milk existence, putting their youth, and health, and looks into the soil. They used often to sit back near the stove in winter, or in a cool corner near the front of the store in summer, and reveal, bit by bit, the sordid, tragic details of their starved existence. Fanny was often shocked when they told their age–twenty-five, twenty-eight, thirty, but old and withered from drudgery, and child-bearing, and coarse, unwholesome food. Ignorant women, and terribly lonely, with the dumb, lack-luster eyes that bespeak monotony. When they smiled they showed blue-white, glassily perfect false teeth that flashed incongruously in the ruin of their wrinkled, sallow, weather-beaten faces. Mrs. Brandeis would question them gently.
Children? Ten. Living? Four. Doctor? Never had one in the house. Why? He didn’t believe in them. No proper kitchen utensils, none of the devices that lighten the deadeningly monotonous drudgery of housework. Everything went to make his work easier–new harrows, plows, tractors, wind mills, reapers, barns, silos. The story would come out, bit by bit, as the woman sat there, a worn, unlovely figure, her hands–toil-blackened, seamed, calloused, unlovelier than any woman’s hands were ever meant to be– lying in unaccustomed idleness in her lap.
Fanny learned, too, that the woman with the shawl, and with her money tied in a corner of her handkerchief, was more likely to buy the six-dollar doll, with the blue satin dress, and the real hair and eye-lashes, while the Winnebago East End society woman haggled over the forty-nine cent kind, which she dressed herself.
I think their loyalty to Mrs. Brandeis might be explained by her honesty and her sympathy. She was so square with them. When Minnie Mahler, out Centerville way, got married, she knew there would be no redundancy of water sets, hanging lamps, or pickle dishes.
“I thought like I’d get her a chamber set,” Minnie’s aunt would confide to Mrs. Brandeis.
“Is this for Minnie Mahler, of Centerville?”
“Yes; she gets married Sunday.”
“I sold a chamber set for that wedding yesterday. And a set of dishes. But I don’t think she’s got a parlor lamp. At least I haven’t sold one. Why don’t you get her that? If she doesn’t like it she can change it. Now there’s that blue one with the pink roses.”
And Minnie’s aunt would end by buying the lamp.
Fanny learned that the mill girls liked the bright-colored and expensive wares, and why; she learned that the woman with the “fascinator” (tragic misnomer!) over her head wanted the finest sled for her boy. She learned to keep her temper. She learned to suggest without seeming to suggest. She learned to do surprisingly well all those things that her mother did so surprisingly well–surprisingly because both the women secretly hated the business of buying and selling. Once, on the Fourth of July, when there was a stand outside the store laden with all sorts of fireworks, Fanny came down to find Aloysius and the boy Eddie absent on other work, and Mrs. Brandeis momentarily in charge. The sight sickened her, then infuriated her.
“Come in,” she said, between her teeth. “That isn’t your work.”
“Somebody had to be there. Pearl’s at dinner. And Aloysius and Eddie were–“
“Then leave it alone. We’re not starving–yet. I won’t have you selling fireworks like that–on the street. I won’t have it! I won’t have it!”
The store was paying, now. Not magnificently, but well enough. Most of the money went to Theodore, in Dresden. He was progressing, though not so meteorically as Bauer and Schabelitz had predicted. But that sort of thing took time, Mrs. Brandeis argued. Fanny often found her mother looking at her these days with a questioning sadness in her eyes. Once she suggested that Fanny join the class in drawing at the Winnebago university–a small fresh-water college. Fanny did try it for a few months, but the work was not what she wanted; they did fruit pictures and vases, with a book, on a table; or a clump of very pink and very white flowers. Fanny quit in disgust and boredom. Besides, they were busy at the store, and needed her.
There came often to Winnebago a woman whom Fanny Brandeis admired intensely. She was a traveling saleswoman, successful, magnetic, and very much alive. Her name was Mrs. Emma McChesney, and between her and Mrs. Brandeis there existed a warm friendship. She always took dinner with Mrs. Brandeis and Fanny, and they made a special effort to give her all those delectable home-cooked dishes denied her in her endless round of hotels.
“Noodle soup!” she used to say, almost lyrically.
“With real hand-made, egg noodles! You don’t know what it means. You haven’t been eating vermicelli soup all through Illinois and Wisconsin.”
“We’ve made a dessert, though, that–“
“Molly Brandeis, don’t you dare to tell me what you’ve got for dessert. I couldn’t stand it. But, oh, suppose, SUPPOSE it’s homemade strawberry shortcake!”
Which it more than likely was.
Fanny Brandeis used to think that she would dress exactly as Mrs. McChesney dressed, if she too were a successful business woman earning a man-size salary. Mrs. McChesney was a blue serge sort of woman–and her blue serge never was shiny in the back. Her collar, or jabot, or tie, or cuffs, or whatever relieving bit of white she wore, was always of the freshest and crispest. Her hats were apt to be small and full of what is known as “line.” She usually would try to arrange her schedule so as to spend a Sunday in Winnebago, and the three alert, humor-loving women, grown wise and tolerant from much contact with human beings, would have a delightful day together.
“Molly,” Mrs. McChesney would say, when they were comfortably settled in the living-room, or on the front porch, “with your shrewdness, and experience, and brains, you ought to be one of those five or ten thousand a year buyers. You know how to sell goods and handle people. And you know values. That’s all there is to the whole game of business. I don’t advise you to go on the road. Heaven knows I wouldn’t advise my dearest enemy to do that, much less a friend. But you could do bigger things, and get bigger results. You know most of the big wholesalers, and retailers too. Why don’t you speak to them about a department position? Or let me nose around a bit for you.”
Molly Brandeis shook her head, though her expressive eyes were eager and interested. “Don’t you think I’ve thought of that, Emma? A thousand times? But I’m–I’m afraid. There’s too much at stake. Suppose I couldn’t succeed? There’s Theodore. His whole future is dependent on me for the next few years. And there’s Fanny here. No, I guess I’m too old. And I’m sure of the business here, small as it is.”
Emma McChesney glanced at the girl. “I’m thinking that Fanny has the making of a pretty capable business woman herself.”
Fanny drew in her breath sharply, and her face sparkled into sudden life, as always when she was tremendously interested.
“Do you know what I’d do if I were in Mother’s place? I’d take a great, big running jump for it and land! I’d take a chance. What is there for her in this town? Nothing! She’s been giving things up all her life, and what has it brought her?”
“It has brought me a comfortable living, and the love of my two children, and the respect of my townspeople.”
“Respect? Why shouldn’t they respect you? You’re the smartest woman in Winnebago, and the hardest working.”
Emma McChesney frowned a little, in thought. “What do you two girls do for recreation?”
“I’m afraid we have too little of that, Emma. I know Fanny has. I’m so dog-tired at the end of the day. All I want is to take my hairpins out and go to bed.”
“Oh, I read. I’m free to pick my book friends, at least.”
“Now, just what do you mean by that, child? It sounds a little bitter.”
“I was thinking of what Chesterfield said in one of his Letters to His Son. `Choose always to be in the society of those above you,’ he wrote. I guess he lived in Winnebago, Wisconsin. I’m a working woman, and a Jew, and we haven’t any money or social position. And unless she’s a Becky Sharp any small town girl with all those handicaps might as well choose a certain constellation of stars in the sky to wear as a breastpin, as try to choose the friends she really wants.”
From Molly Brandeis to Emma McChesney there flashed a look that said, “You see?” And from Emma McChesney to Molly Brandeis another that said, “Yes; and it’s your fault.”
“Look here, Fanny, don’t you see any boys–men?”
“No. There aren’t any. Those who have any sense and initiative leave to go to Milwaukee, or Chicago, or New York. Those that stay marry the banker’s lovely daughter.”
Emma McChesney laughed at that, and Molly Brandeis too, and Fanny joined them a bit ruefully. Then quite suddenly, there came into her face a melting, softening look that made it almost lovely. She crossed swiftly over to where her mother sat, and put a hand on either cheek (grown thinner of late) and kissed the tip of her nose. “We don’t care– really. Do we Mother? We’re poor wurkin’ girruls. But gosh! Ain’t we proud? Mother, your mistake was in not doing as Ruth did.”
“In the Bible. Remember when What’s-his-name, her husband, died? Did she go back to her home town? No, she didn’t. She’d lived there all her life, and she knew better. She said to Naomi, her mother-in-law, `Whither thou goest I will go.’ And she went. And when they got to Bethlehem, Ruth looked around, knowingly, until she saw Boaz, the catch of the town. So she went to work in his fields, gleaning, and she gleaned away, trying to look just as girlish, and dreamy, and unconscious, but watching him out of the corner of her eye all the time. Presently Boaz came along, looking over the crops, and he saw her. `Who’s the new damsel?’ he asked. `The peach?'”
“Fanny Brandeis, aren’t you ashamed?”
“But, Mother, that’s what it says in the Bible, actually. `Whose damsel is this?’ They told him it was Ruth, the dashing widow. After that it was all off with the Bethlehem girls. Boaz paid no more attention to them than if they had never existed. He married Ruth, and she led society. Just a little careful scheming, that’s all.”
“I should say you have been reading, Fanny Brandeis,” said Emma McChesney. She was smiling, but her eyes were serious. “Now listen to me, child. The very next time a traveling man in a brown suit and a red necktie asks you to take dinner with him at the Haley House–even one of those roast pork, queen-fritter-with-rum-sauce, Roman punch Sunday dinners–I want you to accept.”
“Even if he wears an Elks’ pin, and a Masonic charm, and a diamond ring and a brown derby?”
“Even if he shows you the letters from his girl in Manistee,” said Mrs. McChesney solemnly. “You’ve been seeing too much of Fanny Brandeis.”
Theodore had been gone six years. His letters, all too brief, were events in the lives of the two women. They read and reread them. Fanny unconsciously embellished them with fascinating details made up out of her own imagination.
“They’re really triumphs of stupidity and dullness,” she said one day in disgust, after one of Theodore’s long- awaited letters had proved particularly dry and sparse. “Just think of it! Dresden, Munich, Leipsic, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt! And from his letters you would never know he had left Winnebago. I don’t believe he actually sees anything of these cities–their people, and the queer houses, and the streets. I suppose a new city means nothing to him but another platform, another audience, another piano, all intended as a background for his violin. He could travel all over the world and it wouldn’t touch him once. He’s got his mental fingers crossed all the time.”
Theodore had begun to play in concert with some success, but he wrote that there was no real money in it yet. He was not well enough known. It took time. He would have to get a name in Europe before he could attempt an American tour. Just now every one was mad over Greinert. He was drawing immense audiences. He sent them a photograph at which they gasped, and then laughed, surprisedly. He looked so awfully German, so different, somehow.
“It’s the way his hair is clipped, I suppose,” said Fanny. “High, like that, on the temples. And look at his clothes! That tie! And his pants! And that awful collar! Why, his very features look German, don’t they? I suppose it’s the effect of that haberdashery.”
A month after the photograph, came a letter announcing his marriage. Fanny’s quick eye, leaping ahead from line to line, took in the facts that her mind seemed unable to grasp. Her name was Olga Stumpf. (In the midst of her horror some imp in Fanny’s brain said that her hands would be red, and thick, with a name like that.) An orphan. She sang. One of the Vienna concert halls, but so different from the other girls. And he was so happy. And he hated to ask them for it, but if they could cable a hundred or so. That would help. And here was her picture.
And there was her picture. One of the so-called vivacious type of Viennese of the lower class, smiling a conscious smile, her hair elaborately waved and dressed, her figure high-busted, narrow-waisted; earrings, chains, bracelets. You knew that she used a heavy scent. She was older than Theodore. Or perhaps it was the earrings.
They cabled the hundred.
After the first shock of it Molly Brandeis found excuses for him. “He must have been awfully lonely, Fanny. Often. And perhaps it will steady him, and make him more ambitious. He’ll probably work all the harder now.”
“No, he won’t. But you will. And I will. I didn’t mind working for Theodore, and scrimping, and never having any of the things I wanted, from blouses to music. But I won’t work and deny myself to keep a great, thick, cheap, German barmaid, or whatever she is in comfort. I won’t!”
But she did. And quite suddenly Molly Brandeis, of the straight, firm figure and the bright, alert eye, and the buoyant humor, seemed to lose some of those electric qualities. It was an almost imperceptible letting down. You have seen a fine race horse suddenly break and lose his stride in the midst of the field, and pull up and try to gain it again, and go bravely on, his stride and form still there, but his spirit broken? That was Molly Brandeis.
Fanny did much of the buying now. She bought quickly and shrewdly, like her mother. She even went to the Haley House to buy, when necessary, and Winnebagoans, passing the hotel, would see her slim, erect figure in one of the sample-rooms with its white-covered tables laden with china, or glassware, or Christmas goods, or whatever that particular salesman happened to carry. They lifted their eye-brows at first, but, somehow, it was impossible to associate this girl with the blithe, shirt-sleeved, cigar-smoking traveling men who followed her about the sample-room, order book in hand.
As time went on she introduced some new features into the business, and did away with various old ones. The overflowing benches outside the store were curbed, and finally disappeared altogether. Fanny took charge of the window displays, and often came back to the store at night to spend the evening at work with Aloysius. They would tack a piece of muslin around the window to keep off the gaze of passers-by, and together evolve a window that more than made up for the absent show benches.
This, I suppose, is no time to stop for a description of Fanny Brandeis. And yet the impulse to do so is irresistible. Personally, I like to know about the hair, and eyes, and mouth of the person whose life I am following. How did she look when she said that? What sort of expression did she wear when this happened? Perhaps the thing that Fanny Brandeis said about herself one day, when she was having one of her talks with Emma McChesney, who was on her fall trip for the Featherbloom Petticoat Company, might help.
“No ballroom would ever be hushed into admiring awe when I entered,” she said. “No waiter would ever drop his tray, dazzled, and no diners in a restaurant would stop to gaze at me, their forks poised halfway, their eyes blinded by my beauty. I could tramp up and down between the tables for hours, and no one would know I was there. I’m one of a million women who look their best in a tailor suit and a hat with a line. Not that I ever had either. But I have my points, only they’re blunted just now.”
Still, that bit of description doesn’t do, after all. Because she had distinct charm, and some beauty. She was not what is known as the Jewish type, in spite of her coloring. The hair that used to curl, waved now. In a day when coiffures were a bird’s-nest of puffs and curls and pompadour, she wore her hair straight back from her forehead and wound in a coil at the neck. Her face in repose was apt to be rather lifeless, and almost heavy. But when she talked, it flashed into sudden life, and you found yourself watching her mouth, fascinated. It was the key to her whole character, that mouth. Mobile, humorous, sensitive, the sensuousness of the lower lip corrected by the firmness of the upper. She had large, square teeth, very regular, and of the yellow-white tone that bespeaks health. She used to make many of her own clothes, and she always trimmed her hats. Mrs. Brandeis used to bring home material and styles from her Chicago buying trips, and Fanny’s quick mind adapted them. She managed, somehow, to look miraculously well dressed.
The Christmas following Theodore’s marriage was the most successful one in the history of Brandeis’ Bazaar. And it bred in Fanny Brandeis a lifelong hatred of the holiday season. In years after she always tried to get away from the city at Christmas time. The two women did the work of four men. They had a big stock on hand. Mrs. Brandeis was everywhere at once. She got an enormous amount of work out of her clerks, and they did not resent it. It is a gift that all born leaders have. She herself never sat down, and the clerks unconsciously followed her example. She never complained of weariness, she never lost her temper, she never lost patience with a customer, even the tight-fisted farmer type who doled their money out with that reluctance found only in those who have wrung it from the soil.
In the midst of the rush she managed, somehow, never to fail to grasp the humor of a situation. A farmer woman came in for a doll’s head, which she chose with incredible deliberation and pains. As it was being wrapped she explained that it was for her little girl, Minnie. She had promised the head this year. Next Christmas they would buy a body for it. Molly Brandeis’s quick sympathy went out to the little girl who was to lavish her mother-love on a doll’s head for a whole year. She saw the head, in ghastly decapitation, staring stiffly out from the cushions of the chill and funereal parlor sofa, and the small Minnie peering in to feast her eyes upon its blond and waxen beauty.
“Here,” she had said, “take this, and sew it on the head, so Minnie’ll have something she can hold, at least.” And she had wrapped a pink cambric, sawdust-stuffed body in with the head.
It was a snowy and picturesque Christmas, and intensely cold, with the hard, dry, cutting cold of Wisconsin. Near the door the little store was freezing. Every time the door opened it let in a blast. Near the big glowing stove it was very hot.
The aisles were packed so that sometimes it was almost impossible to wedge one’s way through. The china plates, stacked high, fairly melted away, as did the dolls piled on the counters. Mrs. Brandeis imported her china and dolls, and no store in Winnebago, not even Gerretson’s big department store, could touch them for value.
The two women scarcely stopped to eat in the last ten days of the holiday rush. Often Annie, the girl who had taken Mattie’s place in the household, would bring down their supper, hot and hot, and they would eat it quickly up in the little gallery where they kept the sleds, and doll buggies, and drums. At night (the store was open until ten or eleven at Christmas time) they would trudge home through the snow, so numb with weariness that they hardly minded the cold. The icy wind cut their foreheads like a knife, and made the temples ache. The snow, hard and resilient, squeaked beneath their heels. They would open the front door and stagger in, blinking. The house seemed so weirdly quiet and peaceful after the rush and clamor of the store.
“Don’t you want a sandwich, Mother, with a glass of beer?”
“I’m too tired to eat it, Fanny. I just want to get to bed.”
Fanny grew to hate the stock phrases that met her with each customer. “I want something for a little boy about ten. He’s really got everything.” Or, “I’m looking for a present for a lady friend. Do you think a plate would be nice?” She began to loathe them–these satiated little boys, these unknown friends, for whom she must rack her brains.
They cleared a snug little fortune that Christmas. On Christmas Eve they smiled wanly at each other, like two comrades who have fought and bled together, and won. When they left the store it was nearly midnight. Belated shoppers, bundle-laden, carrying holly wreaths, with strange handles, and painted heads, and sticks protruding from lumpy brown paper burdens, were hurrying home.
They stumbled home, too spent to talk. Fanny, groping for the keyhole, stubbed her toe against a wooden box between the storm door and the inner door. It had evidently been left there by the expressman or a delivery boy. It was a very heavy box.
“A Christmas present!” Fanny exclaimed. “Do you think it is? But it must be.” She looked at the address, “Miss Fanny Brandeis.” She went to the kitchen for a crowbar, and came back, still in her hat and coat. She pried open the box expertly, tore away the wrappings, and disclosed a gleaming leather-bound set of Balzac, and beneath that, incongruously enough, Mark Twain.
“Why!” exclaimed Fanny, sitting down on the floor rather heavily. Then her eye fell upon a card tossed aside in the hurry of unpacking. She picked it up, read it hastily. “Merry Christmas to the best daughter in the world. From her Mother.”
Mrs. Brandeis had taken off her wraps and was standing over the sitting-room register, rubbing her numbed hands and smiling a little.
“Why, Mother!” Fanny scrambled to her feet. “You darling! In all that rush and work, to take time to think of me! Why–” Her arms were around her mother’s shoulders. She was pressing her glowing cheek against the pale, cold one. And they both wept a little, from emotion, and weariness, and relief, and enjoyed it, as women sometimes do.
Fanny made her mother stay in bed next morning, a thing that Mrs. Brandeis took to most ungracefully. After the holiday rush and strain she invariably had a severe cold, the protest of the body she had over-driven and under-nourished for two or three weeks. As a patient she was as trying and fractious as a man, tossing about, threatening to get up, demanding hot-water bags, cold compresses, alcohol rubs. She fretted about the business, and imagined that things were at a stand-still during her absence.
Fanny herself rose early. Her healthy young body, after a night’s sleep, was already recuperating from the month’s strain. She had planned a real Christmas dinner, to banish the memory of the hasty and unpalatable lunches they had had to gulp during the rush. There was to be a turkey, and Fanny had warned Annie not to touch it. She wanted to stuff it and roast it herself. She spent the morning in the kitchen, aside from an occasional tip-toeing visit to her mother’s room. At eleven she found her mother up, and no amount of coaxing would induce her to go back to bed. She had read the papers and she said she felt rested already.
The turkey came out a delicate golden-brown, and deliciously crackly. Fanny, looking up over a drumstick, noticed, with a shock, that her mother’s eyes looked strangely sunken, and her skin, around the jaws and just under the chin, where her loose wrapper revealed her throat, was queerly yellow and shriveled. She had eaten almost nothing.
“Mother, you’re not eating a thing! You really must eat a little.”
Mrs. Brandeis began a pretense of using knife and fork, but gave it up finally and sat back, smiling rather wanly. “I guess I’m tireder than I thought I was, dear. I think I’ve got a cold coming on, too. I’ll lie down again after dinner, and by to-morrow I’ll be as chipper as a sparrow. The turkey’s wonderful, isn’t it? I’ll have some, cold, for supper.”
After dinner the house felt very warm and stuffy. It was crisply cold and sunny outdoors. The snow was piled high except on the sidewalks, where it had been neatly shoveled away by the mufflered Winnebago sons and fathers. There was no man in the Brandeis household, and Aloysius had been too busy to perform the chores usually considered his work about the house. The snow lay in drifts upon the sidewalk in front of the Brandeis house, except where passing feet had trampled it a bit.
“I’m going to shovel the walk,” Fanny announced suddenly. “Way around to the woodshed. Where are those old mittens of mine? Annie, where’s the snow shovel? Sure I am. Why not?”
She shoveled and scraped and pounded, bending rhythmically to the work, lifting each heaping shovelful with her strong young arms, tossing it to the side, digging in again, and under. An occasional neighbor passed by, or a friend, and she waved at them, gayly, and tossed back their badinage. “Merry Christmas!” she called, again and again, in reply to a passing acquaintance. “Same to you!”
At two o’clock Bella Weinberg telephoned to say that a little party of them were going to the river to skate. The ice was wonderful. Oh, come on! Fanny skated very well. But she hesitated. Mrs. Brandeis, dozing on the couch, sensed what was going on in her daughter’s mind, and roused herself with something of her old asperity.
“Don’t be foolish, child. Run along! You don’t intend to sit here and gaze upon your sleeping beauty of a mother all afternoon, do you? Well, then!”
So Fanny changed her clothes, got her skates, and ran out into the snap and sparkle of the day. The winter darkness had settled down before she returned, all glowing and rosy, and bright-eyed. Her blood was racing through her body. Her lips were parted. The drudgery of the past three weeks seemed to have been blotted out by this one radiant afternoon.
The house was dark when she entered. It seemed very quiet, and close, and depressing after the sparkle and rush of the afternoon on the river. “Mother! Mother dear! Still sleeping?”
Mrs. Brandeis stirred, sighed, awoke. Fanny flicked on the light. Her mother was huddled in a kimono on the sofa. She sat up rather dazedly now, and stared at Fanny.
“Why–what time is it? What? Have I been sleeping all afternoon? Your mother’s getting old.”
She yawned, and in the midst of it caught her breath with a little cry of pain.
“What is it? What’s the matter?”
Molly Brandeis pressed a hand to her breast. “A stitch, I guess. It’s this miserable cold coming on. Is there any asperin in the house? I’ll dose myself after supper, and take a hot foot bath and go to bed. I’m dead.”
She ate less for supper than she had for dinner. She hardly tasted the cup of tea that Fanny insisted on making for her. She swayed a little as she sat, and her lids came down over her eyes, flutteringly, as if the weight of them was too great to keep up. At seven she was up-stairs, in bed, sleeping, and breathing heavily.
At eleven, or thereabouts, Fanny woke up with a start. She sat up in bed, wide-eyed, peering into the darkness and listening. Some one was talking in a high, queer voice, a voice like her mother’s, and yet unlike. She ran, shivering with the cold, into her mother’s bedroom. She switched on the light. Mrs. Brandeis was lying on the pillow, her eyes almost closed, except for a terrifying slit of white that showed between the lids. Her head was tossing to and fro on the pillow. She was talking, sometimes clearly, and sometimes mumblingly.
“One gross cups and saucers . . . and now what do you think you’d like for a second prize . . . in the basement, Aloysius . . . the trains . . . I’ll see that they get there to-day . . . yours of the tenth at hand . . .”
“Mother! Mother! Molly dear!” She shook her gently, then almost roughly. The voice ceased. The eyes remained the same. “Oh, God!” She ran to the back of the house. “Annie! Annie, get up! Mother’s sick. She’s out of her head. I’m going to ‘phone for the doctor. Go in with her.”
She got the doctor at last. She tried to keep her voice under control, and thought, with a certain pride, that she was succeeding. She ran up-stairs again. The voice had begun again, but it seemed thicker now. She got into her clothes, shaking with cold and terror, and yet thinking very clearly, as she always did in a crisis. She put clean towels in the bathroom, pushed the table up to the bed, got a glass of water, straightened the covers, put away the clothes that the tired woman had left about the room. Doctor Hertz came. He went through the usual preliminaries, listened, tapped, counted, straightened up at last.
“Fresh air,” he said. “Cold air. All the windows open.” They rigged up a device of screens and sheets to protect the bed from the drafts. Fanny obeyed orders silently, like a soldier. But her eyes went from the face on the pillow to that of the man bent over the bed. Something vague, cold, clammy, seemed to be closing itself around her heart. It was like an icy hand, squeezing there. There had suddenly sprung up that indefinable atmosphere of the sick-room–a sick-room in which a fight is being waged. Bottles on the table, glasses, a spoon, a paper shade over the electric light globe.
“What is it?” said Fanny, at last. “Grip?–grip?”
Doctor Hertz hesitated a moment. “Pneumonia.”
Fanny’s hands grasped the footboard tightly. “Do you think we’d better have a nurse?”
The nurse seemed to be there, somehow, miraculously. And the morning came. And in the kitchen Annie went about her work, a little more quietly than usual. And yesterday seemed far away. It was afternoon; it was twilight. Doctor Hertz had been there for hours. The last time he brought another doctor with him–Thorn. Mrs. Brandeis was not talking now. But she was breathing. It filled the room, that breathing; it filled the house. Fanny took her mother’s hand, that hand with the work-hardened palm and the broken nails. It was very cold. She looked down at it. The nails were blue. She began to rub it. She looked up into the faces of the two men. She picked up the other hand–snatched at it. “Look here!” she said. “Look here!” And then she stood up. The vague, clammy thing that had been wound about her heart suddenly relaxed. And at that something icy hot rushed all over her body and shook her. She came around to the foot of the bed, and gripped it with her two hands. Her chin was thrust forward, and her eyes were bright and staring. She looked very much like her mother, just then. It was a fighting face. A desperate face.
“Look here,” she began, and was surprised to find that she was only whispering. She wet her lips and smiled, and tried again, forming the words carefully with her lips. “Look here. She’s dying–isn’t she? Isn’t she! She’s dying, isn’t she?”
Doctor Hertz pursed his lips. The nurse came over to her, and put a hand on her shoulder. Fanny shook her off.
“Answer me. I’ve got a right to know. Look at this!” She reached forward and picked up that inert, cold, strangely shriveled blue hand again.
“My dear child–I’m afraid so.”
There came from Fanny’s throat a moan that began high, and poignant, and quavering, and ended in a shiver that seemed to die in her heart. The room was still again, except for the breathing, and even that was less raucous.
Fanny stared at the woman on the bed–at the long, finely- shaped head, with the black hair wadded up so carelessly now; at the long, straight, clever nose; the full, generous mouth. There flooded her whole being a great, blinding rage. What had she had of life? she demanded fiercely. What? What? Her teeth came together grindingly. She breathed heavily through her nostrils, as if she had been running. And suddenly she began to pray, not with the sounding, unctions thees and thous of the Church and Bible; not elegantly or eloquently, with well-rounded phrases, as the righteous pray, but threateningly, hoarsely, as a desperate woman prays. It was not a prayer so much as a cry of defiance—a challenge.
“Look here, God!” and there was nothing profane as she said it. “Look here, God! She’s done her part. It’s up to You now. Don’t You let her die! Look at her. Look at her!” She choked and shook herself angrily, and went on. “Is that fair? That’s a rotten trick to play on a woman that gave what she gave! What did she ever have of life? Nothing! That little miserable, dirty store, and those little miserable, dirty people. You give her a chance, d’You hear? You give her a chance, God, or I’ll—-“
Her voice broke in a thin, cracked quaver. The nurse turned her around, suddenly and sharply, and led her from the room.
“You can come down now. They’re all here, I guess. Doctor Thalmann’s going to begin.” Fanny, huddled in a chair in her bedroom, looked up into the plump, kindly face of the woman who was bending over her. Then she stood up, docilely, and walked toward the stairs with a heavy, stumbling step.
“I’d put down my veil if I were you,” said the neighbor woman. And reached up for the black folds that draped Fanny’s hat. Fanny’s fingers reached for them too, fumblingly. “I’d forgotten about it,” she said. The heavy crape fell about her shoulders, mercifully hiding the swollen, discolored face. She went down the stairs. There was a little stir, a swaying toward her, a sibilant murmur of sympathy from the crowded sitting-room as she passed through to the parlor where Rabbi Thalmann stood waiting, prayer book in hand, in front of that which was covered with flowers. Fanny sat down. A feeling of unreality was strong upon her. Doctor Thalmann cleared his throat and opened the book.
After all, it was not Rabbi Thalmann’s funeral sermon that testified to Mrs. Brandeis’s standing in the community. It was the character of the gathering that listened to what he had to say. Each had his own opinion of Molly Brandeis, and needed no final eulogy to confirm it. Father Fitzpatrick was there, tall, handsome, ruddy, the two wings of white showing at the temples making him look more than ever like a leading man. He had been of those who had sat in what he called Mrs. Brandeis’s confessional, there in the quiet little store. The two had talked of things theological and things earthy. His wit, quick though it was, was no match for hers, but they both had a humor sense and a drama sense, and one day they discovered, queerly enough, that they worshiped the same God. Any one of these things is basis enough for a friendship. Besides, Molly Brandeis could tell an Irish story inimitably. And you should have heard Father Fitzpatrick do the one about Ikey and the nickel. No, I think the Catholic priest, seeming to listen with such respectful attention, really heard very little of what Rabbi Thalmann had to say.
Herman Walthers was there, he of the First National Bank of Winnebago, whose visits had once brought such terror to Molly Brandeis. Augustus G. Gerretson was there, and three of his department heads. Emil Bauer sat just behind him. In a corner was Sadie, the erstwhile coquette, very subdued now, and months behind the fashions in everything but baby clothes. Hen Cody, who had done all of Molly Brandeis’s draying, sat, in unaccustomed black, next to Mayor A. J. Dawes. Temple Emmanu-el was there, almost a unit. The officers of Temple Emanu-el Ladies’ Aid Society sat in a row. They had never honored Molly Brandeis with office in the society–she who could have managed its business, politics and social activities with one hand tied behind her, and both her bright eyes shut. In the kitchen and on the porch and in the hallway stood certain obscure people– women whose finger tips stuck out of their cotton gloves, and whose skirts dipped ludicrously in the back. Only Molly Brandeis could have identified them for you. Mrs. Brosch, the butter and egg woman, hovered in the dining-room doorway. She had brought a pound of butter. It was her contribution to the funeral baked meats. She had deposited it furtively on the kitchen table. Birdie Callahan, head waitress at the Haley House, found a seat just next to the elegant Mrs. Morehouse, who led the Golf Club crowd. A haughty young lady in the dining-room, Birdie Callahan, in her stiffly starched white, but beneath the icy crust of her hauteur was a molten mass of good humor and friendliness. She and Molly Brandeis had had much in common.
But no one–not even Fanny Brandeis–ever knew who sent the great cluster of American Beauty roses that had come all the way from Milwaukee. There had been no card, so who could have guessed that they came from Blanche Devine. Blanche Devine, of the white powder, and the minks, and the diamonds, and the high-heeled shoes, and the plumes, lived in the house with the closed shutters, near the freight depot. She often came into Brandeis’ Bazaar. Molly Brandeis had never allowed Sadie, or Pearl, or Fanny or Aloysius to wait on her. She had attended to her herself. And one day, for some reason, Blanche Devine found herself telling Molly Brandeis how she had come to be Blanche Devine, and it was a moving and terrible story. And now her cardless flowers, a great, scarlet sheaf of them, lay next the chaste white roses that had been sent by the Temple Emanu-el Ladies’ Aid. Truly, death is a great leveler.
In a vague way Fanny seemed to realize that all these people were there. I think she must even have found a certain grim comfort in their presence. Hers had not been the dry-eyed grief of the strong, such as you read about. She had wept, night and day, hopelessly, inconsolably, torturing herself with remorseful questions. If she had not gone skating, might she not have seen how ill her mother was? Why hadn’t she insisted on the doctor when her mother refused to eat the Christmas dinner? Blind and selfish, she told herself; blind and selfish. Her face was swollen and distorted now, and she was thankful for the black veil that shielded her. Winnebago was scandalized to see that she wore no other black. Mrs. Brandeis had never wanted Fanny to wear it; she hadn’t enough color, she said. So now she was dressed in her winter suit of blue, and her hat with the pert blue quill. And the little rabbi’s voice went on and on, and Fanny knew that it could not be true. What had all this dust-to-dust talk to do with any one as vital, and electric, and constructive as Molly Brandeis. In the midst of the service there was a sharp cry, and a little stir, and the sound of stifled sobbing. It was Aloysius the merry, Aloysius the faithful, whose Irish heart was quite broken. Fanny ground her teeth together in an effort at self- control.
And so to the end, and out past the little hushed, respectful group on the porch, to the Jewish cemetery on the state road. The snow of Christmas week was quite virgin there, except for that one spot where the sexton and his men had been at work. Then back at a smart jog trot through the early dusk of the winter afternoon, the carriage wheels creaking upon the hard, dry snow. And Fanny Brandeis said to herself (she must have been a little light-headed from hunger and weeping):
“Now I’ll know whether it’s true or not. When I go into the house. If she’s there she’ll say, `Well Fanchen! Hungry? Oh, but my little girl’s hands are cold! Come here to the register and warm them.’ O God, let her be there! Let her be there!”
But she wasn’t. The house had been set to rights by brisk and unaccustomed hands. There was a bustle and stir in the dining-room, and from the kitchen came the appetizing odors of cooking food. Fanny went up to a chair that was out of its place, and shoved it back against the wall where it belonged. She straightened a rug, carried the waste basket from the desk to the spot near the living-room table where it had always served to hide the shabby, worn place in the rug. Fanny went up-stairs, past The Room that was once more just a comfortable, old fashioned bedroom, instead of a mysterious and awful chamber; bathed her face, tidied her hair, came down-stairs again, ate and drank things hot and revivifying. The house was full of kindly women.
Fanny found herself clinging to them–clinging desperately to these ample, broad-bosomed, soothing women whom she had scarcely known before. They were always there, those women, and their husbands too; kindly, awkward men, who patted her shoulder, and who spoke of Molly Brandeis with that sincerity of admiration such as men usually give only to men. People were constantly popping in at the back door with napkin-covered trays, and dishes and baskets. A wonderful and beautiful thing, that homely small-town sympathy that knows the value of physical comfort in time of spiritual anguish.
Two days after the funeral Fanny Brandeis went back to the store, much as her mother had done many years before, after her husband’s death. She looked about at the bright, well- stocked shelves and tables with a new eye–a speculative eye. The Christmas season was over. January was the time for inventory and for replenishment. Mrs. Brandeis had always gone to Chicago the second week in January for the spring stock. But something was forming in Fanny Brandeis’s mind–a resolve that grew so rapidly as to take her breath away. Her brain felt strangely clear and keen after the crashing storm of grief that had shaken her during the past week.
“What are you going to do now?” people had asked her, curious and interested. “Is Theodore coming back?”
“I don’t know–yet.” In answer to the first. And, “No. Why should he? He has his work.”
“But he could be of such help to you.”
“I’ll help myself,” said Fanny Brandeis, and smiled a curious smile that had in it more of bitterness and less of mirth than any smile has a right to have.
Mrs. Brandeis had left a will, far-sighted business woman that she was. It was a terse, clear-headed document, that gave “to Fanny Brandeis, my daughter,” the six-thousand- dollar insurance, the stock, good-will and fixtures of Brandeis’ Bazaar, the house furnishings, the few pieces of