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Ptomaine Street by Carolyn Wells

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* * * * *

Four days later, Daisy Snow called and gave Warble a jolt or two.

"Huh, sizing me up, are they?" Warble sniffed. "Looking at me through the
footle, distorted little microscope of their own silly scrubby little
souls! Pooh, they couldn't, one of them, make a decent puff paste!"

"But we can get cooks to do that. The Intelligentsia seek for the rare
essence of thought, for colored words and perfumed cadences--"

"There, there, Daisy, don't try me too far! What did Lotta Munn say about

"Oh, she didn't say much. Just that you're too stout and you haven't any
ideals and you don't know a picture from a hole in the wall, and she
thinks a man like Dr. Petticoat is wasted on you."

"Huh, she used to like Bill herself, didn't she?" "Does yet. She's
poisoned nearly as often as Iva Payne is."

"H'm; anybody else after Bill?"

"Only May Young."

"And you."

"Oh, me! I'm just a debutante. I'm not after anybody yet."

"Well, you keep off my Petticoat preserves! That Big Bill person is mine--
and I won't stand for any nonsense about that."

"My goodness, Warble, I didn't know you had so much spunk. Lotta says you
haven't any."

"She'll find out! Go on, what else did the cats say?"

"They made fun of your party--"

"Oh, my party! That I tried to make so nice and gay and festive!"

"They thought those bathing suits were--er--rather bizarre--"

"I _didn't_ get them out of the Bazar! I thought it all up myself. And
they made fun of it! Go home, Daisy Snow, I've got to reflect."

* * * * *

Like a very small, very spanked child, she crawled upstairs on her hands
and knees.

It was not her father she wanted now, but an old Petticoat ancestor, dead
these two hundred years. Petticoat was dawdling on a _chaise longue_,
absorbed in a small mirror, and wondering whether one more hair out of
each eyebrow would strengthen the arch from a purely architectural

"What's the trouble?" Warble asked, "broken down arches?"

"Nope, guess they're all right."

"Say, Bill," and she crept into the hollow of his chest, "are folks
talking about me?"

"They sure are."

"What do they say?"

"Well, I hate to stir up trouble, but since you began it, I may as well
own up they think you're just about as lowbrow as they come. And I s'pose
you are."

"Oh, well. And what about the girls? Are they jealous of me?"

"Sort of. Lotta says if you cut her out with Trymie Icanspoon, she'll
elope with me."

"And will she?"

"Not if I reach the ticket office first. Besides, I like Iva better."

"Oh, Bill, don't you love me any more?"

"Course I do, Little Fudge Sundae. But a popular doctor has

"I know. I don't mean to be unreasonable. But let's keep peace in the
family as long as it's convenient--see what I mean?" "I see. Do you think
I'd like my new pajims better trimmed with frilled malines, or just
decorated with a conventional pattern of gold soutache braid?"

Warble, sitting on the other end of the now separated _chaise longue_ made
no reply, except to scratch her leg a little.

Petticoat yawned, took a stroll round the room, tried on a new dressing
gown, mixed himself a highball, smoked three cigarettes, glanced through
"What the Swell-dressed Man can Spare," wound his watch, put out his
Angora cat, yawned again, sneezed twice, stomped out in the hall and back,
and then went and stood in front of the fireplace, teetering on his heels.

But until he bawled, "Aren't you ever going to clear out?" she sat,


Lotta Munn ran in occasionally. She was of the anecdotal type. The stories
she told made one gasp. They were always prefaced by an "Oh, my dear, I
can't tell you _that_ one--it's _too_ awful!"

Warble didn't care much for these tales, indeed, frequently missed the
point, and laughed purely from a sense of duty.

As she observed to Petticoat, one day, in exasperation, "There are only
two classes of women in this world--women who tell naughty stories, and
women I have never met!"

Also Lotta Munn was by way of being complimentary. She told Warble that
old Leathersham thought her a peach, and that Trymie Icanspoon declared he
was going to make love to her.

That Mrs. Charity Givens had heard she was a great heiress, and meant to
stick her for a new hospital. That Le Grand Paynter wanted to do her
portrait, life size and full width, and that the Reverend Avery Goodman
said she was very light on her feet for a fat woman.

The last made Warble mad and she made a face at Lotta and sent her home.

* * * * *

A rose-colored June day. Meringues of cloud floating on a sky of cerulean

She crawled out for a walk. It was ninety-eight in the shade, too hot to
run much.

She walked down Ptomaine Street, her nose shining, and pearly drops
chasing each other down her back like rain on a car window pane.

In her tucked white dimity and ankle-ties, her pink sunbonnet and her
tiny, frilled parasol, she was as much out of place in the aesthetic town
as whipped cream on a grapefruit.

She circled the outskirts of the town, and noted the massive and imposing
gateways to the great estates. She knew the grandeur inside, she had been
there. Cubist landscapes, some of them, others were Russian steppes, and
in one instance a magnate was having the ruins of an Egyptian temple
excavated on his grounds, which he had previously with difficulty and at
great expense had buried there.

She did not know what to do about it.

She felt, intuitively, that these men would resent her criticism of their
homes. Yet she couldn't let it go on--this gigantic inutility, this
mammoth lack of practical, efficient management.

Why, the ground sunk in a sunken garden would raise crops enough to feed
an army--and Lord knew how soon they might be needed.

And then she happened to think that reform, like charity should begin at
home, and she decided to start in on Petticoat.

She did.

* * * * *

They were sitting in their home-like Tower of Jewels, and, a bit timidly,
Warble said, "Let's pote quoetry to each other."

Poor child, nervousness or emotion always made her reverse her initial

"All right," Petticoat returned, good naturedly, "you begin."

Just what Warble wanted! Fate was always good to her.

"I will, because I hope to reform your tastes, dear, and teach you to see
the beauty of simple beautiful poetry. Listen to this:

"Weep and the world weeps with you,
Laugh and you laugh alone--"

"That'll do, Warb. Don't go too far. Now it's my turn. But, you know, dear,
quoting isn't everything. You must learn to dissect, to interpret, and
above all to trace the influences that swayed the poet.

"Now I'll read you a poem picked at random, and then I'll trace the
influences for you."

Petticoat reached out a languid arm, picked up a current magazine and

'Here, at your delicate bosom, let death
Come to me
Where night has made a warm Elysium,
Lulled by a soft, invisible sea.

'Now in the porches of your soul I stand
Where once I stood;
Fed and forgiven by a liberal hand,
My broken boyhood is renewed.

'You are my bread and honey, set among
A grove of spice;
An ever brimming cup; a lyric sung
After the thundering battle-cries.

'You are my well-loved earth, forever fresh,
Forever prodigal, forever fond,
As, from the sweet fulfilment of the flesh,
I reach beyond.'"

Noting that Warble was still awake, Petticoat discoursed:

"In the first line, we note the influence of Swinburne. There could be no
better start out. The Swinburne collocation of delicate bosom and death
is both arrestive and interesting. The third and fourth lines denote the
influence of Poe. To be sure, 'a warm Elysium' sounds like a new and
appetizing soft drink, but that is not what is meant; and the sea is
indubitably the one that sounded around the tomb of Miss Annabel Lee.

"The second stanza opens under pure Tennysonian influences. This may not be
clear at first to the beginner in influence tracing, but it is unmistakably
so to the expert. The recurring sibilants, the sound without sense, the
fine architectural imagery, all point to the great Lady Alfred. The latter
half of this stanza is due entirely to the strong influence of D. W.
Griffith. The poem was, without doubt, written after the poet had been to
see 'Broken Blossoms,' and the liberal hand from which that production
was flung to a waiting world left its ineffaceable finger-prints on his
polished mind.

"Now we come to stanza three. The first line shows the influence of
Mother Goose; the second is an unconscious echo of Solomon's Song; the
ever-brimming cup owes itself to Omar; and the rest of the stanza to Rupert

"Thus we see the importance of widespread reading, and a catholicity of

"Influence is wonderful! To invent a new simile, it is like a pebble
dropped into a placid lake; the ripples form ever-widening circles, and the
influence of an influence is never wholly lost.

"Perhaps--and this is quite as it should be--the final stanza is the finest
of all. It starts out under the influences of Walt Whitman. Had Walt
been omitted, the whole structure would have tumbled to the ground! No
self-respecting poet now-a-days writes without being influenced by
Whitman. It isn't done. It would be as indiscreet as to appear in one's
shirt-sleeves. The influence of the good, gray Poet _must_ be felt, must be
_shown_, or the budding bard is out of the running. Only a dash of Whitman
is needed--'my well-loved earth' and 'prodigal' are quite sufficient.

"'The sweet fulfilment of the flesh' is a final roundup that gracefully
blends Whitman's and Ella Wheeler Wilcox's influential powers--and,
incidentally, justifies the magnificent title of the poem.

"Then, as a crowning triumph, note the splendid last line, a masterpiece
brought about by the influence of Sir Oliver Lodge and his spiritistic ilk!
Could anything be finer? What imagery for a last line! What a break-off,
leaving the gasping reader in a state of choking suspense, of avid,
ungratified curiosity! A great poem indeed, and influenced by a noble army
of writers.

"Nor is the manner of the thing all that matters. The theme--the great idea
of the whole affair--is a marvelous example of influence. The New York
State Legislature recently passed a bill making attempted suicide no longer
a punishable offense. If successful, it is, like virtue, its own reward.
Indeed, it has to be, for as the Penal Code distinctly states, owing to
the impossibility of reaching the successful perpetrator no forfeiture is
imposed. But the new law lifts the ban from futile efforts in the matter
of self-destruction, and one need not pay the hitherto exacted fine of a
thousand dollars by way of a luxury tax on such diversion.

"Can it be doubted, then, that our Poet read of this new law, and--it may
be unconsciously--was so influenced by it that he devoted sixteen lines of
his precious verse to the expression of his willingness to let death come
to him?"

"I don't blame him for being willing, and I wouldn't put a straw in Death's
way," said Warble, earnestly. "I'm glad you read me that, Bill, for that is
just the sort of thing I mean to eradicate from your system. It's like a
disease, this aestheticism of yours--it's the Culture Ptomaine."

"Now, hold on, Dumpling Dear, do you know a culture from a ptomaine?"

"Oh, I don't mean the cultures you take, I mean Culture with a big C. It's
a poison, and as you cure ptomaine poisoning, I'm going to cure this town
of its deadly art poisoning. I'm in revolt."

"That's right, everybody who is anybody is in revolt against something
nowadays, because our knowledge of the truth is too great for our existing
conditions, and it bursts--"

"Like poor Betsy Binn, who was so very pure within,
She burst this outer shell of sin,
And hatched herself a cherubim!"

Warble interrupted.

"Yes, or as Gertrude Stein puts it: 'It is a gnarled division, that which
is not any obstruction, and the forgotten swelling is certainly attracting.
It is attracting the whiter division, it is not sinking to be growing, it
is not darkening to be disappearing, it is not aged to be annoying. There
cannot be sighing. This, is bliss.' There you see how art is greater than

"Do you think I'm too fat?" Warble again interrupted him.

"I do, my dear. You weren't, I think you are, I know you will be."

"Would you love me more if I were--didn't weigh so much?"

"Yes, in exact inverse ratio."

Warble made an awful face at him, and then she went quietly around behind
him, and dropped down his back a little fuzzy caterpillar, which she had
tied in her handkerchief for that very purpose.

* * * * *

It was her last effort to cure her husband of culture poisoning, but she
was not yet ready to give up her big idea of reforming Butterfly Center.

Warble was a determined little person, and, too, fate often gave her a good
boost, and she thought one was about due.

* * * * *

She went to the Toddletopsis Club, at Lotta Munn's.

Lotta had inherited eight or ten town and country houses, and for the
moment was perched like a bird of passage, on her Roman villa, called Seven

Warble's little electric Palanquin rolled through the arch of Constantine
and she ascended the dazzling flight of marble steps to the entrance patio.

"Hello, Pot Pie," screamed Lotta, by way of greeting, "come on in, the
firewater's fine."

It was, and there was lots of it, and a group of long silk-legged
Butterflies were sprawled on the Roman couches, smoking and chatting as
they spun the Toddletops.

Warble was unfamiliar with the teetotum-like things, but the others kindly
instructed her. Moreover, there was a roulette wheel and some other devices
of which our litle heroine didn't even know the name.

Also, there were tables, where those who chose played high-staked bridge,
poker or rum.

Warble wasn't a born gambler. Games of chance had no appeal for her. She
wanted to make faces at everybody and run away. But she scolded herself for
being too superior and forced herself to stay with the bunch.

In a way, she was rewarded, for she won all the money from the others.
Her luck was monumental. Every different game she tried she took all the
stakes, and at last having broken the bank, she was forced to go home for
lack of occupation.

* * * * *

She was a proud and stuck-up chit all the evening.

Trymie Icanspoon called and flirted something fierce. But it didn't mean a
thing to Warble, for the man was so saturated with art that it oozed forth
in his conversation and she had no idea what he was driving at.

He went home thinking she was the most deliciously tempting morsel he had
ever seen and the biggest fool.

* * * * *

"No, I couldn't fall in love with him. I like him, as a gift-book, but he's
no man. Could I kiss him? Not with a real movie kiss.

"They say marriage is a lottery. I haven't drawn much. I mean in the matter
of love. I wish I had a Prince Charming. Bill would do, all right, but he
thinks I'm too fat. I wish I could get thinner--all of them are. Lotta's
like a golf club and Daisy's like a breadstick.

"I s'pose they were born that way.

"I wasn't.

"I wonder when we'll begin to keep a family.

"I'm crazy about Bill--I am--I am--

"Am I?

"All the girls are, too.

"Does he care for them? For any of them? For all of them?

"For that detestable Daisy? That disgusting Iva? That rotten Lotta!

"Oh, I may as well admit it--I just adore Bill!

"This frock is too tight--I must have it stretched.

"Yes, I'm mad over my husband--but--"

* * * * *

She sought Petticoat in his rooms.

She tumbled into his lap, and he pushed her out until he could set aside
the Angora cat and the Airedale and his pet guinea pig, then he said
politely, "Is this your seat?" and she perched on his knee.

"Do you love me, dear?" she asked, her voice full of a dumb pathos.

"Ooooooooooooooooooo! I'm sleepy," he said, with a cavernous yawn and a
Herculean stretch that threw her out on the floor. "Want any money?" She
looked at him. He was not unlike John Barrymore in The Jest, and Warble
fell for him afresh.

"You are so beautiful--" she wailed. "I wish you loved me--"

"I wish I did," he returned, honestly, "but you are such a butter-ball."

"Oh, Butterfly Thenter calls anybody Butter-ball who weights over
ninety-five! If you're so cut up about it I won't live under this roof
another minute! I can earn my own living, and all I want, too! You can get
a divorce and marry some thread of a woman who has ptomaines all the time!"

"Pish, tush, Warb, don't be a damfool! Lay off the melodrama. I do love
you--at least, I love ninety-five pounds of you. Now, will you be good?"


"And will you try to think of me as a devoted and loving husband, even if
I'm not one?"

"Oh, my dear, I am unjust to you! I will take what you give me--what you
can spare from the little dog and the cat and the guinea pig. And I will be
your own little Petty Warblecoat. And I won't give you over to Iva Payne--I
hate her!"


The mail.

The Petticoats rarely received mail. It wasn't done much in Butterfly
Center. So unaesthetic.

On a tray, a lacquered lackey brought a letter to Warble.

A white letter. Large and square--ominously square.

Warble took tray and all and went with it to Petticoat's rooms--the letter
was addressed to him.

She tapped but there was no answer. Listening at the door, she could hear
him splashing in his rock-hewn bath and leaping, chamois-like, from crag to
crag of his quarried bathroom.

She sat down on the floor and waited. Petticoat's toilets were like linked
sweetness, long drawn out.

It was late afternon, before he emerged, fresh, roseate and smiling, and
imprinted a kiss on Warble's cheek that left the red stamp of a lip-sticked
mouth. Warble sometimes thought if it could be arranged as a dating stamp,
she could keep a record of when he had last kissed her.

Poor little Warble--she loved her Big Bill so fondly, and he only looked on
her as something fatter than his dog, a little bigger than his cat. Timidly
she proffered the trayed letter.

"Oh, my Heavens!" and Petticoat smote himself, hip and thigh. "Where
did you get this? Why was I not told sooner of its arrival? To me! And
postmarked Lake Skoodoow-abskoosis! Home of my ancestors! Woman! Why this
delay? _Why_?"

"It came this morning," said Warble, apologetically, "but you were in your
bath, and the door was locked."

"But this is a most important letter. Why didn't you slip it under the

"I couldn't," said Warble, simply, "it was on a tray."

"As I hoped--I mean, feared--" exclaimed Petticoat, tearing the envelope
from the sheet, "he is dead!"

It made Warble writhe to see the devastated envelope--she always slit them
neatly with a paper-knife--but she was thrilled by Petticoat's excitement.

"A fortune!" he exclaimed. "My revered ancestor, the oldest of the
Cotton-Petticoats, has died and left all his wealth to me! A windfall! Now
we can afford to have a baby and get over the Moorish Courtyard, too! Oh,
Warble, ain't we got fun!"

He danced about the room, in his blue burnous and red tarbush, looking more
like a howling dervish than a tempestuous Petticoat.

Warble thought a minute. A baby would be nice--and perhaps she could reform
that more easily than she could older people.

"All right," she said, "and I'll have beautiful gaternity mowns of
shuffy fliffon--I mean, fliffy shuffon, no--shiffy fluffon--oh,

Warble's tongue always misbehaved when she was excited or embarrassed, but
Petticoat didn't notice her.

"I can send Roscoe Rococo after that Courtyard," he mused, "he'll know. The
last man I sent to Spain for a casemented facade, brought home a temple!
But Roscie knows, and he'll do it proper. I don't want to run over just

* * * * *

The baby was coming.

Warble reveled in infant layettes and her own layouts for lying in. She
sank deeper and deeper in a sea of baby-clothes, down pillows and orris
powder. Nursery quarters were added to the house, influenced by Lucca Delia
Robbia and Fra Angelico.

Also a few influential Madonnas.

* * * * *

The Butterflies came in with advice. Marigold Leathersham was dubious about
the wisdom of the plan, but brought a pillow of antique rose point, filled
with ostrich plumes.

Mrs. Holm Boddy rushed over with a copy of _Poems Every Expectant Mother
Ought to Know_, and Lotta Munn sent a card of diamond safety pins.

Iva Payne, the hateful thing, sent a Cubist picture of an infant falling
downstairs, but Warble couldn't make it out so its pre-natal influence
didn't amount to much.

Daisy Snow, innocent child, sent a beautiful edition of _How to Tell Your
Young_, a treatise of the bird-and-bee-seed-and-pollen school, and Faith
Loveman sent her own marked copy of _Cooks that Have Helped Me_.

But Warble made a face at them all, and gave their books to the Salvation
Army and read the Diary of Maggot Somebody.

* * * * *

Another fate slather.

The baby was twins.

That was the way things came to Warble--fate in big chunks--destiny in

Two little red Petticoats all at once to hang on the ancestral tree.

But Warble was not caught napping. In her efficient way, she had provided
two bassinets, two nurseries--in fact, she had really provided three of
everything, but the third wasn't needed, and she thriftily ordered it put
aside for the present and for the future.

Dr. Petticoat was enchanted.

He saw the children first, asleep in their downy nests, tucked in by the
skilled hands of the staff of trained nurses, and as he gazed on his
offspring, his little tucked and quilted Petticoats, he named them Guelph
and Ghibelline, after two of his illustrious ancestors and ran off at once
to put up their names at various select and inaccessible clubs.


Petticoat had five hobbies. Ptomaines, his collection of pieplates, Warble,
his personal appearance and his Aunt Dressie.

The last was one of the old Cotton-Petticoats, and in her younger days
had been a flibbertigibbet. Was still, for that matter, but she flibbered
differently now.

She appeared unannounced, took up her favorite quarters in the N.N.W. wing,
and permeated the household.

Tall. Slender. Smart. Sport suits. Bobbed hair. Smoked cigars.

About fifty-five, looked forty, acted thirty.

Fond of boxing and immediately on her arrival hunted up the butler to spar
with him, being a bit off condition.

"I've no use for Bill," she would say, "with his custard pie ideals, his
soft-bosomed rooms and his purple and fine _lingerie_."

Then she'd embrace her nephew wildly, and promise to make him her heir.

She looked at Warble appraisingly.

"You're a tuppenny, ha'penny chit, with eyes like two holes burnt in a
blanket, and a nose Mr. Micawber might have waited for, but you'll do. You
get everything you want, without effort, and that's a rare trait. What do
you think of me?"

Warble made a face at her. "Corking!" screamed Aunt Dressie, "you come
straight from heaven and you've slid into my soul. Does Bill love you?"

"Not adequately."

"H'm. You love him?"

"Oh, yeth!"

"All right--love and grow thin, and then he'll come round. Or get a case of
ptomaine poisoning--that'd help. But don't take the matter too lightly. If
you want your husband, get him, if you don't, then let him go.

"I've just let mine go. You see we had a place--a sort of Vegetarian and
Free Love Community proposition, but it didn't work out so we sold it."

"And your husband?"

"Oh, he's on his own for a while. I'm deciding what to fly at next. I
always ask nephew Bill's advice so as to know what not to do."

"Forgot to mention it," said Petticoat, strolling in, "but a few people are
coming to-night to help me plan for my new Color Organ."

"What's that?" asked Warble, gazing at Petticoat in azure-eyed adoration.

"Oh, Lord, don't you know _anything_? Tell her, Aunt Dressie!" and turning
on his French heel, Petticoat walked delicately out of the room.

"Treat him rough, Warble, you're an awful fool," commented the older woman.
"Why, a Color Organ is that marvelous new invention that plays color
instead of sound."

"Color--instead of--sound--"

"Yes--now don't try to understand, for you can't possibly. Go and play with
the children."

"I won't. Tell me more about this thing."

"I won't. You can hear it to-night, when they all talk about it."

"What use is it?"

Aunt Dressie stared at her. "What use are you?" she said.

Warble's brain stopped beating.


* * * * *

What use was she--she, the utilitarian, the efficient, the practical! What
use? Grrrhhh!

She'd show 'em! The silly bunch! Not one of them could put together the
dissected beef picture in the cook-book if the cuts were separated!

"I don't care! I won't endure it!

"What's Aunt Dressie anyhow? A military blonde, with glazed chintz undies!
What's Marigold Leathersham? A smart party who wears a hat!

"What's Iva Payne? Nothing but a backbone--a shad! She's about the shape of
a single rose vase! Damn her! Damn Lotta Munn and Daisy Snow, yes and May
Young! They think they can charm my Bill off his perch with their revolting
artistic propaganda, and their schools and non-schools and neo-schools!

* * * * *

And when they came--came and talked wise and technical jargon about
being endlessly enveloped in a toneless sound, about being drowned in an
overwhelming sea of blue, pure and singing, and a moment later dropped into
pale amethyst which in turn deepens to a threatening purple then plunges
you into a turmoil of passionate red, always and constantly swirling and
whirling and twisting and untwisting, gliding, approaching and retreating
in that haunted and inexplicable color space--

There was more--much more--but at this point Warble rose, made a
comprehensive, all-embracing and very outspoken face at them and went down
to the pantry.

"It's no use--" she groaned, "perpetual waste motion--and now waste color!
What to do--what to do!

"Yet I must reform them somehow. That Iva Payne! Like a pure, pale
lily--but I bet her soul has got its rubbers on! Lotta Munn--spinster in
name only--with her foolish pleasures and palaces--Daisy Snow, little
innocent-making saucer eyes at my husband--oh, Bill, dear, I love you so--
I wish I was pale and peaked and wise and--yes, and artistic! So there now!

"Well, there's only two alternatives. I must reform this toy town, or be
dragged down to their terrible depths myself!

"Aunt Dressie says, love and grow thin. I surely love Bill enough, but if
he doesn't love me--maybe I'd better try somebody else. It's done here.

"But not Trymie Icanspoon! No, he makes me sick. I guess I'll eat pickles."

* * * * *

In the pantry she found the under scullery maid screaming with an earache.

"You poor child," she said, sympathetically, "I'll run and get my husband
and he'll cure it."

She flew back to the room where the eager group had their heads together
over the blue prints and wash drawing of the new color organ. Pushing
in between Iva and Lotta she seized Bill by the arm and said, "hurry up
now--matter of life or death--Polly, the maid--dying--urgent case--"

By that time they were down in the servant's pantry where Polly was moaning
and groaning and wailing like a banshee.

"What is it, my dear?" Big Bill asked, gently, for Polly was a very pretty
girl. "Oh, my ear! It aches and stings and burns and smarts and--"

"That'll do for a beginning," Dr. Petticoat said, rolling up his sleeves
and calling for basins of sterilized water and various antiseptics and

"Can you do anything, Bill?" Warble asked anxiously, "it isn't ptomaines,
you know."

"That's the devil of it! Why couldn't the silly thing have had a decent bit
of ptomaine poisoning instead of this foolish earache. But, it's more than
an earache! The bally ear has been stung--or something--anything bite you,

"Yes, sir, a wasp."

"She says a wathp!" exclaimed Warble. "Oh, Bill, it may mean blood

"Yes, that's true--it is--the ear will have to come off. Guess I'd better
call in old Grandberry to operate--he's an ear specialist--"

"Oh, no, there won't be time! She may die!"

Warble was dancing about in her excitement. "You can do it, Bill."

"All right. Get her up on the pastry table--there--that's all right. Now
we'll take her blood pressure--here, Warb, you be taking her temperature,
and send somebody for my stethoscope, and my case of instruments--and my
X-ray apparatus. Now, my girl, don't cry. We'll fix you up." Petticoat
lighted a cigarette and sat down to take Polly's pulse.

"That's right," he said to the men who brought the things he had sent for,
"scuttle back for my rubber gloves, and the chloroform outfit. Tell my
man and his helpers to come down--I may need them--and bring me a clean

"Now for an X-ray," he said, a little later, as he adjusted his portable

"Oh, it's all done," said Warble, "While you were taking her plood
bressure, I cut off her ear--"

"What with?"

"Oh, I had a boning knife and the sardine scissors. It's all right. And
I've fixed her hair lovely--in a big curly earmuff, so it will never show
at all. Be quiet for a day or so, Polly, and then you'll be all right. The
only trouble is, after this, orders will probably go in one ear and out the

"You're a hummer, Warble," Petticoat said, as they went back up stairs.

"Yes, it had to be done quickly, you see. And it was out of your line, so I
duffed in. But one thing bothered me a little. You see, the fire was out,
and the cook lighted it with kerosene, and she used such a lot--something
might of blew up."

"And you knew that! You knew that two Petticoats might have been blown

"Sure. Didn't you? Don't faint, pleathe!"


Porgie Sproggins.

Cave man. Brute.

Hulking, enormous, shaggy-haired, prognathous jawed, a veritable
Cro-magnard type. Bluely unshaven and scowling.

Warble saw him first across the room at a picture exhibition in Manley
Knight's gallery.

His nose startled her. It was like an alligator pear--and his complexion
was like those cactus fruits that likewise infest fancy grocers' shops.
A visitor from the South Sea Islands? No, he wasn't that sort. He was a
Fossil. Vikings were in his face, and Beef Eaters and Tarzan.

Warble flew at him.

"Do you like me?" she whispered.

"No," he growled, and she kissed his hand which was like a hand by Rodin.

Thus does the law of compensation get in its fine work. Warble remembered
the little boy at the public school, and she wished she could give
Sproggins a red balloon.

"What is he?" she asked of Trymie.

"A miniature painter," Icanspoon replied, "and a wonder! He does portraits
that fairly make the eyes pop out of your head! He's got the world agog."

Warble drifted back to the attraction.

"_Do_ like me," she said, and shot him a glance that was a bolt from the

Warble was of the appealing sex, and hardly a man was yet alive who could
resist her.

Sproggins turned on her fiercely. He grasped her by the shoulders, pressing
them back as if he would tear her apart.

"Let me see your soul!" he demanded, and his great face came near to peer
down through her eyes.

"Ugh, merely blocked in," and he flung her from him.

"It isn't block tin!" she retorted, angrily, "it's pure gold--as you will
find out!"

He gave her another glance and two more grunts and turned away to devote
himself to Daisy Snow.

Bing! That was the way things came to Warble.

Fate, Kismet, Predestination--whatever it was, it came zip! boom!

"It's not only his strength but his crudeness--like petroleum or Egyptian

"He can control--

"Amazingly impertinent!

"He wasn't--

"But I wish he had been--

"He will be!"

* * * * *

She went to see him--in his studio.

A bijou studio, fitted for a painter of miniatures. French gilt gimcracks.
Garlands of fresh pink roses, tied with blue ribbons.

"Get out," he said, staring at her a second and then returning to his
niggling at a miniature.

Warble made a face at him.

"Do that again," he commanded, reaching for a clean slice of ivory.

A few tiny brushmarks.

A wonder picture of Warble--made face, and all.

"Pleathe--Pleathe--" she held out her hand, and he dropped the miniature
into it.

"Why don't you hit it off better with your husband?" he demanded.

"Don't ask me things when you know everything yourself."

"I do. I paint a miniature of a face, and I get a soul laid bare."

"Your name? Your silly first name--"

"It's a nickname."

"For what?"

"Areopagitica." "Sweet--sweet--" cooed Warble, dimpling.

"Oh, you popinjay! I wish you and I were ragpickers--"


"It's my ambition. I don't want to be a miniature painter all my life. But
to be a ragpicker--ah, there's something to strive for! A rattlebanging
cart, with jangling bells on a string across the back, a galled jade of a
horse, broken traces, mismated lines--whoa!--giddap, there! oh--Warble,
come with me!"

He swooped her up in one gigantic arm, but she slipped through and running
around, faced him impishly.

"Would you really like me to go ridy-by in your wagon, and curl up in the
rags and watch the stars shoot around overhead?"

"No, better stay here--" he patted her shoulder gently, leaving a deep
purple bruise.


"Better not stay here--better go home."



He took her up--it seemed to her between his thumb and forefinger--and set
her outside his door, promptly closing and locking it.

* * * * *

She heard him return to his work. She trotted home. Her husband, as she
paused to look in at his door, greeted her:

"Had a good time?"

She could not answer.

He yawned, delicately. He was seated at his mirror, arranging his wringing
wet permanent in serried rows by means of tiny combs.

"Gooooo--oooo--oo--d night," he said.

That was all. Yet she was kinda mad.

* * * * *

A footle, twaddly love affair! No art. A silly little dumpling smattering
with a brute beast.

"No, he is not! He has noble impulses--ragpicking--inspired! His eyes were
misty when he spoke of it--

"A way out of Butterfly Thenter!

"A ragpicker's cart--

"A way out--"

Petticoat held her up.

"You seem a bit gone on that tin-type fellow, Sproggins."

"Yop. Maybe I'd better go to Atlantic Thity for a while."

"Oh, no, you stay here. A lady's place is in the home."

* * * * *

So she was fairly thrown at Porgie.

Another downpour of fate. And Warble, caught without an umbrella or

The night came unheralded.

Petticoat had gone to Iva Payne's on an urgent summons--over-ripe
sardines--and Warble had wandered out into the moonlight.

Petticoat, out of his new wealth, had, like Kubla Khan in Xanadu, a stately
pleasure dome decreed, and in this new architectural triumph, where water
lilies and swans floated on the surface of a deep black pool, Warble
restlessly tossed in a welter of golden cushions, changing her position
every ten seconds.

A giant lumbered in.


"Saw your husband speeding away--couldn't stand it, dropped in. Take me
upstairs--I want to see your shoe cabinet."

"Oh, don't spoil everything. Be my gentleman friend. Tell me about your
dreams and ideals--your rags--"

"Ah--rags--you do love me!"

"I don't know--but I love rags--sweet--so sweet--"

"You're a misfit here--as who isn't. All misfits, frauds--fakes--liars--"

"All?" Warble looked interested.

"Yes, you little simpleton. I know!" He growled angrily. "Shall I tell
you--tell you the truth about the Butterflies?"


"I will! You ought to know--you gullible little fool. Well, to start with,
Avery Goodman--in his true nature, he's a worldly, carnal man. His religion
is a cloak, a raincoat, a mere disguise. Mrs. Charity Givens, now, she's no
more truly charitable than I am! She's shrewd and stingy, her lavish gifts
to the poor are merely made for the sake of the praise and eulogy heaped
upon her by her admiring friends. Manley Knight, renowed for his bravery in
the war, is an arrant coward. His soul is a thing of whining terror, his
heroism but a mask. Oh, I know--I read these people truly, when they sit to
me--off guard and unconsciously betraying themselves.

"Mrs. Holm Boddy! Pah! She's far from domestic! She yearns for the halls of
dazzling light, for gayety and even debauchery. Her devotion to home and
children is the blackest of lies! And Iva Payne! She's no invalid! It's a
pose to seem interesting and delicately fragile. You should see her stuff
when no one's looking!

"Judge Drinkwater is a secret drunkard. Lotta Munn is a pauper--an
adventuress, pretending to wealth she doesn't possess. Herman True and his
wife! Zounds, if you could hear those two quarrel! Yet they pose as lovers
yet, and folks fall for it!"

"May Young?" Warble asked, breathlessly.

"An old maid. Well preserved, but no chicken. And Daisy Snow! Angel-faced
debutante! Huh, she knows more than her mother ever dreamed of! You should
see her in my studio, at her sittings! Cocktails, cigarettes, snatches of
wild cabaret songs and dances--oh, Daisy Snow is a caution!"

"The Leathershams?"

"He's a profiteer--she--well, she was a cook--"

"Marigold! No!"

"Marigold, yes! You are a little numskull, you know. You can't see through
these people's masks."

"Can I reform them?"

"No, Baby Doll, you can't do that. They're dyed in the wool
hypocrites--joined to their idols--let 'em alone. And as to that husband of

"Stop! Stop! I can't stand any more! Pleathe go--pleathe--"

* * * * *

"What're you going to do about that Tertium Quid you've annexed?" Aunt
Dressie inquired, casually.

"I don't know," Warble uncertained. "He has wonderful ambitions and
aspirations. He wants to be a ragpicker--a real one."

"Ambitions are queer things," Aunt Dressie thoughtfuled. "Now, you mightn't
think it, but I want to be a steeple climber."

"You take Porgie off my hands, and he'll help you--"

"Oh, no, child, every lassie has her laddie--and you saw him first."

* * * * *

Warble sighed. Thus was she always thrown at Porgie's head.

Fate, like a sluicing torrent carried her ever on. Beware, beware, the
rapids are below you!

Thus Conscience, Prudence, Wisdom, Policy, Safety First--all the deadly
virtues called her.

Did she heed?

As the sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.

* * * * *

On a June evening, when Petticoat was called to Iva Payne's, Porgie came.

Bowed in by a thin red line of footmen, he found Warble in the moon-parlor.
She wore a picture frock of _point d'esprit_ and tiny pink rosebuds, and
little pink socks and sandals.

"Come out on the Carp Pond," he muttered, picking her up and stuffing her
in his pocket. "Nobody will see us."

He seated her in the stern of a shallop and took the golden oars. Three of
his long sweeping strokes took them a mile up stream and they drifted back.
Porgie talked steadily and uninterruptedly. He told her in detail of his
ragpicking plans and how perfectly she would fit in.

"Think of it!" he boomed. "No fetters of fashion, no gyves of convention.
Free--free as air--free verse, free love, free lunch--ah, goroo--goroo!"

"Goroo--" agreed Warble, "sweet--sweet--"

"Sweet yourself!" roared Porgie, and grabbed her all up in his gorilla-like
arms just as a ringing, musical, "Ship ahoy!" sounded on their ears.

"Hello there, Warbie!"

She knew then it was Petticoat.

"Having a walk?" he inquired, casually.

"Yop," she casualed back.

He pulled his skiff up alongside, threw Porgie into the deep pool and
snatched Warble in beside himself.

"Time to go home," he said, cheerfully. "Good night, Sproggins."

He took her into the house through the conservatory, paused to pluck and
twine a wreath of tiny pink rosebuds for her, adjusted it on her rather
touseled curls, and took her out to the Moorish Courtyard.

"Now, Warb, what about the baboon?" "I want to go ragpick with him and be
pag-rickers together. Can I? Pleathe--"

"Nixy. Now, you hark at me. I'm the real thing--a good old
Cotton-Petticoat--birth, breeding and boodle. Your Porgie person has none
of these--"

"But he loves me!" Warble wailed.

"Yes, 'cause he can't get you. Go along with him, and then see where you'll
be! No, my Soufflee, you hear me! Can the Porgie and stick to your own Big
Bill--your own legit."

"But you don't love me--"

"Oh, I do--in my quaint married-man fashion. And--ahem--I hate to mention

"I know--and I _am_ banting--and exercising, and rolling downstairs and all

"Well, we're married, and divorces are not the novelty they once were--so
let's stay put."

"Kiss me, then--"

He brushed a butterfly kiss across her left eyebrow, and together they
strolled back into the house, and as he went up to bed, Warble went down to
the pantry to see about something.


"I d-don't belong to Butterfly Thenter," Warble sobbed, "I don't
b-belong--and I-m g-going away--"

"All right," Petticoat said, cheerfully, "how long'll you be gone?"

"It may be four yearth and it may be eleven--"

"Oh, come, now, not all that time! It isn't done."

"You d-don't underthtand--I'm going to find my plathe in the world--I don't
belong here."

"All right. Can I go 'long?"

"No; you stay here. I'm--oh, don't you thee--I'm leaving you!"

"Oh, that's it?"

"You'll have the girls to amuse you--"

"What girls?"

"Iva and Lotta and Daisy and May Young--"

"They're not girls--they're married women--"


"Sure they are. They don't live with their husbands all the time--they're
pretty modern, you know. They have separate establishments, but they're
friendly, pally, and even a heap in love with each other."

"I don't believe it--" "Fact, all the same. Where you going Warble--that
is, if you care to tell."

"I'm going where I can live a busy, useful life--not a Butterfly existence,
with nothing to occupy my mind but art and hifalutin lingo! I can't express
myself with long candles and Oriental junk! I'm going--oh, I don't know
where I'm going, but I'm taking the next train out of Butterfly Thenter!"

"Warble--haven't I treated you right? Haven't you had enough to eat? The
Cotton-Petticoats have always been called good providers--"

"It isn't that, Bill, dear--it's that--you don't love me very much--"

Petticoat looked at her. His eyes traveled up and down from her golden
curls to her golden slippers, and then crossways, from one plump shoulder
to the other.

"Goodby, Warble," he said.

* * * * *

That's the way things came to Warble. Freedom! All at once, in unlimited

Baffled in her attempts to reform Butterfly Center, having fallen down on
the job of replacing Art by Utility, she went, undaunted and indomitable,
on her way.

* * * * *


Work in a pickle foundry. Cucumbers, small onions, green tomatoes,
cauliflower, tiny string beans, red peppers, mustard, vinegar, cauldrons,
boiling, seething fumes, spicy mists, pungent odors, bottles, jars, labels,
chow-chow, picalilli, smarting tongue, burning palate, inflamed oesophagus,
disordered stomach, enteritis.

That was the way things came to Warble. And she made good. Her position was
that of a pickle taster.

At first, only of the little gherkins, then promoted through medium
cucumbers, to the glory of full-fledged Dills.

A conscientious taster--faithful, diligent, she reached the amazing speed
of forty pickles a minute, and all done well.

Of course it told on her. Also, her heartaches told on her.

Lonely. Homesick for Bill, for Ptomaine Haul, for the gallery of

* * * * *

Yet: A glorious soft summer afternoon.

Warble alone in a room with a big, forceful looking man.

The door is closed, and the gentle breeze scarce stirs the opaque white

In the depths of a great arm-chair, Warble, her lovely head upturned sees
the eager, earnest face of the man. Closer he draws and a faint pink flush
dyes Warble's cheek. His arm is round her soft neck, his hand holds her
dimpled chin.

With a little sigh, Warble's blue eyes close, her scarlet lips part and
though she wants to struggle she dare not,

For he is a determined man, and a dentist will have his fill.

Petticoat came to see her in Hoboken after she had been there a year.
Unexpected and unannounced, he strode in to the pickle foundry and grasped
the fat arm of the girl who worked next to Warble.

"Come along," he said, not unkindly, but the girl screamed.

"Beg pardon," Petticoat said, nonchalantly, "sorry. Thought you were my
wife. Know where I can find her?"

A slim, fairy-like Warble turned to greet him.

Petticoat couldn't believe his eyes. That sylph, that thread, that
wisp--his Warble--his one time plump wife!"

"Gee, you're great!" he cried, "I'm for you!"

She got leave from the factory for a couple of years, with privilege of

"I don't want to impose on your kindness," he said, "but I'd like to chase
around Hoboken and take in the sights, I've never been here before."
"There's a Bairns' Restaurant," said Warble, shyly, "we might go there."

* * * * *

They did. In a taxicab. He held her in his lap and told her the news.

He had had his own rooms done over. Mediaeval setting. Romanesque arches.
Stained-glass windows. Sculptured cloisters. Good work.

"How are the twins?" she asked, timidly. "Pleathe."

"Fine. Miss you terribly--we all do. Butterfly Center mourns your loss.
Spring a come-back, won't you, Warble?"

"You want me?"

"More than anything in the world! I'm mad about you! You beauty! You raving
beauty! You'll be the talk of the world this winter. Gee, Warble, how I can
dress you, now you're thin! Won't Beer be astounded!"

* * * * *

That's the way things came to Warble.

The only thing she wanted, her husband's love, now flung at her feet in
unstinted measure, pressed down and running over--love, slathers of it--all
for her! It was sweet--a pleasant change from pickles.

"How's everybody?"

"Here and there. Iva's gone."

"Thank Heaven! Where'd she go?"

"Dunno. Her husband took her off. Jealous of me." "H'm. And Daisy Snow?"

"Gone into the movies. She grew too heavy for society. May Young's in the
Old Ladies' Home."

"And Lotta Munn?"

"Murdered by her husband. He had to kill her--she wouldn't support him. The
Leathershams are in the poorhouse, and Mrs. Charity Givens has bought their
place. Want to go on a second honeymoon? Round the world?"


* * * * *

They went. One night, sitting on top of the Taj Mahal, 'neath the Blue Moon
of Persia, Warble cried,

"Shall I go back to Butterfly Thenter--or shall I not?"

"Spin a toddletop," said Petticoat, taking one from his pocket.

She spun it and it came up pickle foundry.

So Warble said, "All right, dear, I'll go home with you whenever you're
ready," and she kissed him slenderly.

* * * * *

Ptomaine Haul.

Two Petticoats arriving. A happy Warble sprang from the car and seemed
fairly to skim up the steps. She passed, unnoticing, the pantry door,
and flew up to her own rooms which had been done over to suit her new

"Beer," she cried, "look at me!"

"Maddum!" cried the astounded Beer. "What done it?"

"Unrequited love and pickles. I can wear sport clothes now!"

"Maddum can wear anything or nothing!" declared Beer triumphantly.

That night, Warble, her hands behind her, wafted into Petticoat's room.

He sat on the edge of his bed, running lingerie ribbons in his underwear.

"I'll stay, always," Warble said, sidling up to him. "And I'm happy.

"Look out! Don't let the cat get that bolt of ribbon to play with!"

She smoothed his pillows and patted his sheets, while Petticoat glanced at
her a little suspiciously, from under his gabled eyebrows.

"But I don't say that Butterfly Center is worth the ground it's built on. I
don't admit that Ptomaine Street is as useful as a Hoboken alley. I don't
admit that Art is any good at all. I've fought like a tiger and I didn't
make a dent on the Butterflies--but, I _have_ grown thin!" "Sure, you bet
you have!" said Petticoat, threading ribbon into his gold bodkin. "Well,
kiss me good night--here you--I see you! Don't you put those caterpillars
in my bed!"


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