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Title: Star-Dust: A Story of an American Girl
Author: Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: "HER BLOOD WAS POUNDING AND HER VOICE WAS IN FLIGHT"]


                               STAR-DUST

                       A Story of an American Girl

                            BY FANNIE HURST

                                  1921



Book One

THE VINE

     Oh, the little more and how much it is:
     And the little less, and what worlds away.
                                             --BROWNING.

[Greek: Zoae]



CHAPTER I

When Lilly Becker eked out with one hand that most indomitable of
pianoforte selections, Rubinstein's "Melody in F," her young mind had a
habit of transcending itself into some such illusory realm as this:
Springtime seen lacily through a phantasmagoria of song. A very floral
sward. Fountains that tossed up coloratura bubbles of sheerest aria and
a sort of Greek frieze of youth attitudinized toward herself.

This frieze was almost invariably composed of Estelle Foote, a
successful rival in a class candidacy for the sponge-and-basin
monitorship; Sydney Prothero, infallible of spitball aim; Miss Lare with
her spectacles very low on her nose and a powdering of chalk dust down
her black alpaca; Flora Kemble with infinitely fewer friendship bangles
on her silver link bracelet; Roy Kemble, kissing her yellow, rather than
yanking her brown, braids.

And then suddenly, apropos of nothing except the sweet ache of Lilly's
little soul, the second movement would freeze itself into a proscenium
arch of music, herself, like a stalagmite, its slim center.

At this point, "Melody in F" veils itself in a mist of arpeggios, and
Mrs. Becker, who invariably, during the after-school practice hour, sat
upstairs with Mrs. Kemble in her sunny second-story back, would call
down through the purposely opened floor register.

"Lilly, not so fast on that part."

"Yes'm."

Were it not that the salient spots, the platform places in experience,
are floored over in little more or less identical mosaics of all the
commonplace day by days, Lilly Becker, at the rented-by-the-month piano
in her parents' back parlor in Mrs. Schum's boarding house, her two
chestnut braids rather precociously long and thick down her back, her
mother rocking rhythmically overhead, were spurious to this narrative.

Yet how much more potently than by the mere exposition of it and because
you have looked in on the nine-year-old chemistry of a vocal and blond
dream in the dreaming, are you to know the Lilly of seventeen, who
secretly and unsuccessfully washed her hair in a solution of peroxide,
and at eighteen, through the patent device of a megaphone inserted
through a plate-glass window, was singing to--But anon.

There was a game Lilly used to play on the front stairs of Mrs.
Schum's boarding house, winter evenings after dinner. She and
Lester Eli, who, at seventeen, was to drown in a pleasure canoe; Snow
Horton--clandestinely present--daughter of a neighborhood dentist and
forbidden to play with the "boarding-house children"; Flora and Roy
Kemble, twins; and little Harry Calvert, who would creep up like a dirty
little white mouse from the basement kitchen.

"C"--hissed sibilantly.

"Can't carry cranky cats!"

"No fair, Snow; that doesn't make sense."

"Does."

"Your turn, Roy."

"Z."

"No fair. Nothing begins with 'Z.'"

LILLY: "Does so. Z! Z--zounds--zippy--zingorella--zoe! Zoe!"

By similar strain of alliterative classification, Mrs. Schum's boarding
house might have been indexed as Middle West, middle class, medium
price, and meager of meal.

Poor, callous-footed Mrs. Schum, with her spotted bombazine bosom and
her loosely anchored knob of gray hair! She was the color of cold dish
water at that horrid moment when the grease begins to float, her hands
were corroded with it, and her smile somehow could catch you by the
heartstrings, which smiles have no right to do. How patiently and how
drearily she padded through these early years of Lilly's existence.
There were rubber insets in her shoes which sagged so that her ankles
seemed actually to touch the floor from the climbing upstairs and
downstairs on her missionary treadmill of the cracked slop jar; the fly
in the milk; the too-tepid shaving water; the bathroom monopoly; the
infant cacophony of midnight colic; salt on the sleety sidewalk, the
pasted handkerchief against a front window pane; ice water. Towels.
Towels. Towels.

And how saucily after school would Lilly plant herself down in the
subterranean depths of the kitchen.

"Mrs. Schum, mamma says to give me a piece of bread and butter."

With her worried eyes Mrs. Schum would smile and invariably hand out a
thick slice, thinly buttered.

"More butter, mamma said."

"That's plenty, dearie; too much isn't good for little girls'
complexions."

"More but-ter!"

"Here, then."

Scalloping the air with it before little Harry's meek eyes: "You can't
have any. You don't pay board. We do!"

"My Mamma-Annie she paid board once. Uh-huh! my Mamma-Annie she's an
angel in heaven and you aren't. Uh-huh!" This from little Harry, who was
far too pale and wore furiously stained blouses.

"But your mamma-Annie's dead now. You can't be a real live angel without
being dead first, and I'd rather be me."

"Lilly, aren't you ashamed? You run on now, or I'll tell your mamma.
Poor little Harry can't help it he's an orphan with only his old gramaw
to look after him. You a great big girl with your mother and father to
do for you. It's not nice to be against Harry."

"Well, what was I saying so much, Mrs. Schum? Can I help it he says
she's an angel? Here, Harry, you can have it. Mamma's got a whole basket
of apples in the closet and a dozen oranges. Honest, take it, I'm
not hungry."

He would mouth into it, round eyes gazing at her above the rim of crust.

There were times again when Lilly would bare her teeth and crunch them
in a paroxysm of rage and tyranny over little Harry. She would delight
in making herself terrible to him, pinch and tower over the huddle of
him with her hands hooked inward like talons. His meekness hurt her to
frenzy, and because she was ashamed of tears she clawed.

"Oh, you! You! You just make me feel like--I don't know what."

"Ouch! Lilly, you pinch!"

"Well, then, don't always hold your head off to one side like somebody
was going to hit you. I hate it. It makes me feel like wanting to
hit you."

"I won't."

"You aren't such a goody-goody. You steal. You stole some balls of twine
my papa brought home from his factory. Mamma says you got it behind
your ears."

"I haven't anything behind my ears."

"Oh, silly! Everything isn't there just because you say it's there. If I
close my eyes just a little eeny, I can see birds and fountains and a
beautiful stage, and me with my hair all gold, and a blue satin train
that kicks back when I walk, and all the music in the world winding
around me like--like everything--like smoke. But it isn't truly there,
silly, except inside of me."

"Haw."

"I'm going to be the beautifulest singer in the world some day, with a
voice that goes as high as anything, and be on the stage, and you can't
even be on it with me."

"'N' I'm going to work in a butcher shop and give gramaw all the meat
she wants without even putting it down in the book."

"You steal."

"Don't."

"Do."

"And I won't ever have to touch the meat if it's got blood on."

"Fraidy, scared of a little blood." Then with not a great deal of
relevance, "I could have the yellowest hair in the world if I
wanted to."

"How?"

"Oh, by just wanting to."

"Nit."

"Could."

"Your mamma's calling you."

"Lil-ly, come practice."

"I'm coming." To Harry, "I can do something you can't do."

"What?"

"Hop up six stairs on one foot."

"Dare you."

Ankle cupped in her hand, brown braids bobbing, she would thus essay
two, three, even four steps of staggering ascent, collapsing then
against the banister.

"Ouch!"

"Told you so."

"Well, I nearly did."

"Oh, you _nearly_ do everything."

"I can't help it if my foot isn't strong enough to hold me."

"Lil-ly, don't let me have to call you again."

"I'm coming, mamma." And then for a final tantalizing gleam of her
little self across the banister, "Last tag."



CHAPTER II

One wall of the Becker back parlor was darkly composed of walnut folding
doors dividing it from the front-parlor bachelor apartment of Mr.
Hazzard, city salesman for the J.D. Nichols Fancy Grocery Supply
Company, his own horse and buggy furnished by the firm.

It was Mrs. Becker's habit during his day-long absence, in fact just as
soon as her acute ear detected the scraping departure of his tin-tired
wheels from the curb, to fling back these folding doors for the rush of
daylight and sense of space, often venturing in beside the front window
with a bit of sewing and pottering ever so discreetly at the sample
packages of fine teas, jars of perfectly conserved asparagus, peas, and
olives spread out on his mantelpiece and fingering, again ever so
discreetly, the neatly ripped stack of letters on the dresser. Once, and
despite Mrs. Becker's frantic swoop to save it, a piece of pressed
flower fell out from one of these envelopes in the handling, crumbling
to bits as it fluttered to the floor.

Next morning the folding doors refused to part to touch, an eye to the
keyhole discovering it clogged with key. Then Lilly began music lessons
and the newly rented upright piano was drawn up against these doors.

Never were fingers more recalcitrant at musical chores. The Bach
"Inventions" were weary digital gyrations against the slow-moving hands
of the alarm clock perched directly in her line of vision. Czerny, too,
was punctuated with quick little forays between notes, into a paper bag
of "baby pretzels" at the treble end of the piano, often as not lopping
over on the keyboard.

But with the plunge into brilliant but faulty execution of one of her
"pieces," her little face would flood over and tighten up into the
glyptic immobility of a cameo and her toes curl as they pressed
the pedals.

"The Storm King" of the Parlor Pianoforte Series was a favorite. Dashing
her quickly memorized way through it, she would follow closely the brief
printed synopsis on the cover page ... _suddenly the clouds gather, a
bird carols, a faint rumble is heard in the distance (it is important
that the student practice this base tremolo with left hand only), the
rush of approaching wind mingles with the nearing roll of thunder,
accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning_....

The red would run up into Lilly's face and her hands churn the white
keys into a curdled froth of dissonance.

"Lil-ly, not so fast. Play 'Selections from Faust' now, slowly, and
count, the way Miss Lee said you should."

Another favorite was the just published "Narcissus" of Nevin. Its
cross-hand movement was a phillipic to her ever-ready-to-ferment fancy.
Head back and gaze into the scroll-and-silk front of the piano, the
melody would again, like a curve of gold, shape itself into the lovely
form of a proscenium arch.

"Lilly, that is beautiful. Play the tune part over again."

The tingling that would actually gooseflesh her would die down as
surely as a ringing crystal tumbler, had she closed her warm little
hand over it.

"Mamma," her voice directed upward toward the open register, "can I--may
I go out on my tricycle?"

"No."

"I've only ten minutes yet, mamma. I'll make them up to-morrow."

"No, I don't intend to pay Miss Lee fifty cents a lesson so you can go
out and ride on your tricycle. You bothered me for the lessons, so now
you practice. Work on 'Narcissus' so you can play it for your father
to-night."

"Oh, mom, please."

"I don't care. Go! Only put on your hat and don't let me see you riding
around on Taylor Avenue."

"No'm."



CHAPTER III

The St. Louis of Lilly's little girlhood, sprung so thrivingly from the
left bank of the Mississippi and builded on the dead mounds of a dead
past, was even then inexplicably turning its back to its fine river
frontage; stretching in the form of a great adolescent giant, prone,
legs flung to the west and full of growing pains, arms outstretched and
curving downward in a great north-and-south yawn.

Taylor Avenue (then almost the city's edge, and which now is a girdle
worn high about its gigantic middle) petered out into violently muddy
and unmade streets and great patches of unimproved vacant lots that in
winter were gaunt with husks.

A pantechnicon procession of the more daring, shot with the growing
pains, was grading and building into the vast clayey seas west of
Kings-highway, but for the most part St. Louis contained herself
gregariously enough within her limits, content in those years when the
country rang hollowly to the cracked ring of free silver to huddle under
the same blanket with her smoke-belching industries.

A picture postcard of a brewery, piled high like a castle and with
stables of Augean collosity, rose from the south tip of the city to the
sour-malt supremacy of the world; boots, shoes, tobacco, and street cars
bringing up by a nose, Eads Bridge, across the strong breast of the
Mississippi, flinging roads of commerce westward ho.

For one rapidly transitional moment street-car traffic in St. Louis
stood in three simultaneous stages of its lepidopterous development: a
caterpillar horse-car system crawled north and south along Jefferson
Avenue, glass coin box and the backward glance of the driver, in lieu of
conductor. A cable-car system ready to burst its chrysalis purred the
length of Olive Street, and a first electric car, brightly painted, and
with a proud antenna of trolley, had already whizzed out
Washington Avenue.

When Lilly was twelve years old her walk to school was across quite an
intricacy of electric-car tracks, and on rainy days, out of a small fund
of children's car tickets laid by in Mrs. Becker's glove box for just
that contingency, she would ride to and from school, changing cars with
a drilled precision at Vandaventer and Finney Avenues.

For the first few of these adventures Mrs. Becker wrote tiny notes, to
be handed out by Lilly along with her street-car ticket:

Conductor, please let this little girl off at Jefferson Avenue: she
wants to change cars for the Pope School.

One day by some mischievous mischance Mrs. Schum's board receipt found
its way into Lilly's little pocketbook:

Received of Mrs. Ben Becker, forty-five dollars for one month's board
for three.

"Aw," said the conductor, thrusting it back at her, "ask your mamma to
tell her troubles to a policeman, little girl."

From that day Lilly rebelled.

"Guess I can find my way to school without having to carry a note like a
baby."

"But, Lilly, you might get mixed up."

"Nit."

"Don't sass me that way or I'll tell your father when he comes home
to-night."

A never quite bursting cloud which hung over the entire of Lilly's
girlhood was this ever-impending threat which even in its rare execution
brought forth no more than a mild and rather sad rebuke from a mild and
rather sad father, and yet which was certain to quell any rising
rebellion.

"I notice you never get sassy or ugly to your father, Lilly. I do all
the stinting and make all the sacrifices and your father gets all
the respect."

"Mamma, how can you say that!"

"Because it's a fact. To him it is always, 'Yes, sir, no, sir.' I'm
going to tell him a few things when he comes home to-night of what I go
through with all day in his absence. Elocution lessons! Just you ask him
for them yourself."

"Oh, mamma, you promised!"

"Well, I will, but I oughtn't."

Every evening until long after Lilly's dresses had descended to her shoe
tops and until the ritual came to have a distinctly ridiculous aspect,
there took place the one pleasantry in which Lilly and her father
ever indulged.

About fifteen minutes before seven, three staccato rings would come at
the front-door bell. At her sewing or what not, Mrs. Becker would glance
up with birdlike quickness.

"That's papa!" And Lilly, almost invariably curled over a book, would
jump up and take stand tensely against the wall so that when the room
door opened it would swing back, concealing her.

In the frame of that open doorway Mrs. Becker and her husband would
kiss, the unexcited matrimonial peck of the taken-for-granted which
is as sane to the taste as egg, and as flat, and then the
night-in-and-night-out question that for Lilly, rigid there behind the
door, never failed to thrill through her in little darts.

"Where is Lilly, Carrie?"

MRS. BECKER (assuming an immediate mask of vacuity): "Why, I don't know,
Ben. She was here a minute ago."

"Well, well, well!" looking under the bed, under the little cot drawn
across its baseboard and into a V of a back space created by a
catacorner bureau. "Well, well, well! What could have happened to her?"

At this juncture Lilly, fairly titillating, would burst out and before
his carefully averted glance fling wide her arms in self-revelation.

"Here I am, papa!"

"Well, I'll declare, so she is!" lifting her by the armpits for a kiss.
"Well, well, well!"

"Papa, I got ninety in arithmetic. I'd have got a hundred, but I got the
wrong common denominator."

"That's right, Lilly. Keep up well in your studies. Remember, knowledge
is power."

"Get your father's velveteen coat, Lilly."

"Papa, Ella McBride kisses boys."

"Then don't ever let me hear of your associating with her. The little
girl that doesn't keep her own self-respect cannot expect others to
respect her."

"And you ought to see, papa, she always rides her tricycle down past
Eddie Posner's house on Delmar just to show herself off to him."

"Lilly, go wash your hands for supper. How is business, Ben?"

"Nothing extra, Carrie."

"Oh, I get so tired hearing a poor mouth. Sometimes I could just scream
for wanting to do things we are not in a position to do. Go
housekeeping, for instance, have a little home of my own--"

"Now, now, little woman," at the invariable business of flecking his
neat gray business suit with a whisk broom, "you got up on the wrong
side of bed this morning. Lilly, suppose you shine papa's spectacles
for him."

"There is the supper bell. Quick, Ben and Lilly, before the Kembles."

The dining room, directly over the basement kitchen, jutted in an ell
off the rear of the house so that from the back parlor it was not
difficult to precede the immediate overhead response to that bell. A
black-faced genii of the bowl and weal, in a very dubiously white-duck
coat thrust on hurriedly over clothing reminiscent of the day's window
washing and furnace cinders, held attitude in among the small tables
that littered the room. There were four. A long table seating ten and
punctuated by two sets of cruets, two plates of bread, and two
white-china water pitchers; Mr. Hazzard's tiny square of individual
table, a perpetual bottle of brown medicine beside his place. The
Kembles also enjoyed segregation from the mother table, the family
invariably straggling in one by one. For the Beckers was reserved the
slight bulge of bay window that looked out upon the Suburban street-car
tracks and a battalion of unpainted woodsheds. A red geranium, potted
and wrapped around in green crêpe tissue paper, sprouted center table, a
small bottle of jam and two condiments lending further distinction. A
napkin with self-invented fasteners dangled from Mr. Becker's chair, and
beside Lilly's place a sterling silver and privately owned knife and
fork, monogrammed.

To Mr. Becker, the negro race was largely and genetically christened
Gawge, to be addressed solely in native patois.

"Evenin', Gawge."

"Evenin', Mistah Beckah."

"George, are you going to take good care of my husband to-night? That
piece of steak you served him yesterday wasn't fit to eat."

"Law now, Mis' Beckah, kin I help it if de best de kitchen has ain't
none too good?"

"Don't tell me! I saw the piece you brought Mr. Kemble."

"Now, Carrie ..."

"What have we to-night, George?"

"Fried steak, lamb, or corn'-beef hash."

"Bring us steak, and if it isn't tender, tell Mrs. Schum for me that
right back downstairs it goes! A little piece of lamb on the side in
case Miss Lilly don't like the steak, and bring up a dish of those sweet
pickles. You know, under the tray the way you always do. There's a pair
of Mr. Becker's old shoes, good as new, waiting to be given away."

"Carrie!"

"Miss Lilly loves pickles. George, do as I say."

"Carrie!"

"Law! Mistah Beckah, I knows Mis' Beckah and her ways. Law! I doan take
no offense."

"I wish if you want extras, Carrie, you would buy them. It is a darn
shame to make yourself so small before the other boarders."

"I haven't as much money as you have, Ben Becker. I'm not ashamed to ask
for my money's worth. Lilly, haven't I told you not to talk on your
fingers at meals?"

This form of digital communication between the children of the boarding
house seemed to break out in its most virulent form at dinner. In spite
of a sharp consensus of parental disapproval, there was a continual
flashing of code between Lilly, the Kemble twins, and Lester Eli at the
larger table.

"Ben, will you speak to Lilly? She won't mind me."

"Lilly!"

"Yes, sir," immediately subsiding to a contemplation of the geranium.

Poker played for penny stakes was a favorite after-dinner pastime. A
group including Mrs. Eli, the Kembles, and Mr. Hazzard would gather in
the Becker back parlor, Mrs. Becker, relieved of corsets and in a
dark-blue foulard teagown shotted all over with tiny pink rosebuds,
presiding over a folding table with a glass bowl of the "baby pretzels"
in its center.

The children meanwhile would forgather on the front hall stairs, the
peaked flare of an olive of gaslight that burned through a red glass
globe with warts blown into it, bathing the little group in a sort of
greasy fluid. Roy and Flora Kemble, Snow Horton, Lester Eli, and Stanley
Beinenstock, racked with bronchitis and lending an odor of creosote,
Lilly, and even Harry in his poor outlandish blouse.

"Snow, tell us a story; you're the oldest."

Snow was full of lore; would invoke inspiration with a very wide and
very blue gaze up to the ceiling, her thin hands clasping her thin neck.

"Once upon a time--once upon a time there was the most beautiful girl
in all the world and her name was--"

"Aw, give us one about boys."

LILLY: "You shut up, Roy Kemble. I guess Snow can tell a girl story if
she wants to. Go on, Snow, 'once upon a time there was the most
beautiful girl in all the world' and she had honey-colored curls and--"

"I didn't say she had honey-colored curls. Honey! Who ever heard of a
girl having honey curls?"

"Well, she had."

"Didn't."

"Did."

"--and her name was--was--Gladys."

"Oh no, Snow, call her--"

"I think Gladys is just a beautiful name for a girl," ventured Flora
Kemble on this occasion. "I like Elsie, too. I think Elsie Dinsmore is
my favorite name."

"Elsie Dinsmore!" flared Lilly. "Girls aren't pokey like her any more."

Thus diverted, there ensued a quick confetti of flung opinions.

"Minn is a pretty name."

"That's because you're stuck on Minnie Duganne in your class. Oh-oh, Roy
is stuck on Minnie Duganne!"

"Arabella--I just love that name. Don't you, Lilly?"

"If I was a girl, I would be named Mamma-Annie."

"Shut up, Harry; and, say, you better take back that can opener. You
stole it off Mr. Hazzard's dresser."

"What is your favorite name, Lilly?"

Her eyes on the warts blown into the glass globe, hugging her knees in
their sturdy ribbed stockings, her smooth brown hair enhancing her clean
kind of prettiness, Lilly gazed up roundly.

"I choose," she said, mouthing grandiloquently, her little pink tongue
waving like a clapper--"I choose--choose--ah--Zoe!"

"That isn't a name!"

"'Tis so."

"Who ever heard of a girl named Zoe! You never did yourself."

"I know I never did, Roy Kemble, but just the same I think it is the
most beautiful name in the world. It isn't so much what it really means;
names don't have to mean anything--it's what it feels like it means. To
me the name Zoe feels like it means--means--"

CHORUS: "She don't know what it means. She don't know what it means."

"She means doe! The doe in the zoo at Forest Park. Hauh-hauh--her
favorite name is Doe."

"Zoe," repeated Lilly, her eyes in a trance and lakes of reflected
vision. "Zoe--it means--it means something--something full of life.
Life--free--to me Zoe means free! Life!"



CHAPTER IV

When Lilly was fourteen she graduated from grade school, second in her
class.

"It's an outrage," said Mrs. Becker. "Miss Lare always did pick on the
child."

"I'd rather have been last than second," said Lilly, trying to keep firm
a lip that would tremble.

"Never mind, Lilly, you'll have the prettiest graduation dress of them
all. I've got Katy Stutz engaged for three days in the house. A girl
don't have to be so smart."

"I'd rather have the valedictory address than--clothes," still very
uncertain of lip.

"Of course. That is because for a child you certainly have crazy ideas.
Why don't you nag your father a little with what you've been nagging me
all week?"

"I--Not now, mamma."

"Why not now? All I've got to say about it is, if he is willing, I am."

"What is it?"

"Tell him, Lilly."

"I--You see, papa, I thought if only you would let me begin vocal
lessons, now that I am going to High School. Not real singing, papa--I'm
too young for that--but just the foundation for voice."

"She wants to study with Max Rinehardt, Ben. I say it can't do any harm
for the child to learn parlor singing. I think I can manage it at a
dollar and a half a lesson. The elocution I say 'No' to. We don't need
any play-acting in the family."

"Why--er--I'm surprised, Lilly, that you should have your heart set on
that kind of thing. Seems to me a young girl could find something more
worth while than that. Singers never amount to much."

"Oh, papa, it's what I want most in the world."

"Let her have them. A little parlor singing helps any girl with the
young men. I notice you courted me from the choir. If she waits for
encouragement from you, her accomplishments won't amount to a row
of pins."

"You see, papa, I'm going to take the commercial course at High and
learn stenography and typewriting, so it will just balance my
education fine."

"Well, little woman, whatever you say."

"You know what I say."

"Don't you think she is a bit too young?"

Mimetically: "No, I don't think she's a bit too young. The sooner you
wake up to the fact that your daughter is growing up, the better. She's
a graduate already from grammar school."

"Papa, I'm on the graduating program."

"For what, daughter?"

"A piano solo. 'Alice,' with variations."

"Well, Carrie, if that is the way you feel about it--if you think those
kind of lessons are good for her--"

"That is the way I feel about it."

These little acid places occurring somewhere in almost every day hardly
corroded into Lilly's accustomed consciousness. If they etched their way
at all into Mr. Becker's patient kind of equanimity, the utter quietude
of his personality, which could efface itself behind a newspaper for two
or even three hours at a time, never revealed it. His was the stolidity
of an oak, tickled rather than assailed by a bright-eyed woodpecker.

"Little woman" he liked to call her in his nearest approach of
endearment, although it must have been her petite quickness rather than
a diminutive quality that earned the appellation. Even when he had wooed
her in Granite City, Missouri, and she had sung down at the quiet-faced
youth from a choir loft, she was after the then prevalent form of
hourglass girlish loveliness. Now she was rather enormous of bust,
proudly so, and wore her waist pulled in so that her hips sprang out
roundly. A common gesture was to place her hands on her hips, press
down, and breathe sharply inward, thus holding herself for the moment
from the steel walls of her corsets. Their removal immediately after
dinner was a ritual to be anticipated during the day. She would sit in
her underbodice, unhooked of them, sunk softly into herself, her hands
stroking her tortured jacket of ribs and her breath flowing deeper.

"I don't believe I'd pull in quite so tight, Carrie, if I were you. It
will tell on your health some day."

"You don't catch me with a sloppy figure. I don't give a row of pins for
the woman without some curve to her."

To Mrs. Becker a row of pins was the basest coinage of any realm. It ran
through her speech in pricking idiom.

She was piquant enough of face, quick-eyed, and with little pointy
features enhanced by a psyche worn as emphatically as an exclamation
point on the very top of her head. On eucher or matinée days her bangs,
at the application of a curling iron, were worn frizzed, but usually
they were pinned back beneath the psyche in straight brown wisps.

As she grew older, Lilly came more and more to resemble her father in a
certain tight knit of figure, length of limb, and quiet gray eyes that
could fill blackly with pupil and in the smooth, straight, always
gleaming brown hair growing cleanly and with the merest of widows' peaks
off her forehead.

At fourteen she stood shoulder to shoulder with her mother, and their
gloves and shirt waists were interchangeable. One really distinguishing
loveliness was her complexion. The skin flowed over her body with the
cool fleshliness of a pink rose petal. There was a natural shimmer to
it, a dewiness and a pollen of youth that enveloped her like a caress.

"Looks more like her father, if she looks like either of them," Mrs.
Schum was fond of saying, "and she has his easy disposition. But there
is a child who runs deep. If she was mine I'd educate her to be
something. Ah me, if only my Annie hadn't lost her head and married, she
had the makings, too."

As a matter of fact, Lilly's resemblance to her parents stopped
abruptly. Her first year in High School, a course in natural science
revealed to her the term "botanical sport."

"That's what I am," she determined, with youth's immediate application
of cosmos to self, "a botanical sport." A spontaneous variation from the
normal type. "Papa, I learned to-day that I'm a sport."

MRS. BECKER: "A what? That _is_ a genteel expression for a young girl to
apply to herself! That High School does you more harm than good."

"But, mamma, it's a term used in botany. A term from Darwin."

"Darwin! That's a fine thing to teach children in school--that they come
from monkeys! No wonder children haven't any respect for their parents
nowadays."

"Well, just the same it is in the biology. We're on frogs now. You ought
to see the way frogs get born!"

"In my day children weren't taught such stuff. I'm surprised, Ben, it's
allowed."

Across the biology of life, as if to shut out the loathsome facts of an
abattoir, a curtain of dreadful portent was drawn before Lilly's
clear eyes.

"When baby came," was Mrs. Becker's insinuation for the naked and
impolite fact of birth.

In a vague, inchoate sort of way, Lilly at sixteen was visualizing
nature procreant as an abominable woman creature standing shank deep in
spongy swampland and from behind that portentous curtain moaning in the
agonized key of Mrs. Kemble.

About this time Mrs. Kemble's third child was within a few weeks of
birth.

"Mamma, what makes Mrs. Kemble look so funny!"

"Hush, Lilly. Don't you ever let me hear you talk like that again.
Little girls shouldn't ask such questions."

One night shortly after, a cry that tore like a gash through the
sleeping boarding house roused Lilly to a sitting posture on her little
cot drawn across the baseboard of her parents' bed.

"Mamma! Papa! What was that?"

There were immediate voices and running up and down stairs and more
cries that beat the air and Mrs. Becker already up and clamoring into
her kimono.

"Sh-h-h, Lilly! Go back to sleep. It is nothing but Mrs. Kemble not
feeling very well. I'll run upstairs a minute, Ben. See that Lilly goes
back to sleep."

Until the break of day Lilly lay tense there on her little cot, toes
curled in, and still her mother did not return. Time and time again the
moans rose to shrieks of dreadful supplication that set her to trembling
so that her cot rattled against the baseboard.

"Kill me! God! Put me out of it! Please! I can't suffer any more! Kill
me, God! Kill me!"

"Papa, I--I'm scared."

"Go to sleep, Lilly," said her father from the pool of darkness, his
voice rather thin and sick. "Go to sleep now, like a good girl."

In a little area of quiet that ensued, she did drop healthily off,
wakening to the warmth of sunshine, her father already departed, her
mother rocking and sewing beside the window.

"Mamma, why didn't you wake me? I'll be late to school."

"You won't if you hurry and--and, Lilly, what do you think?"

"What, mamma?"

"The stork brought Flora and Roy the dearest little baby sister last
night. They're going to call her Evelyn. That's why Roy and Flora went
to spend the week with their Aunt Emma, so they wouldn't frighten the
stork away when he flew in with it. In a few days you can go up and see
it. Isn't that nice, Lilly?"

Still tousled with sleep, but the red rising up out of the yoke of her
nightgown, Lilly answered, with averted face, "Yes, mamma."



CHAPTER V

This episode marked the beginning of what was to be a three years'
refrain.

"Ben, we must go housekeeping. It's an outrage to board, with a girl
Lilly's age. Not as much as a parlor for her to bring her friends, and a
great big girl like her without a room to herself! It's not even
delicate."

"Well, Carrie, I'm willing."

"I know, until the time comes. I don't forget so easily the way you
sighed all night in your sleep that time I came near renting the house
on Delmar Avenue. Where is the money coming from! The minute that old
business down there earns a penny, right back into it go the earnings,
instead of drawing out a few dollars for the comfort of his family, like
any other man would."

"But, Carrie--"

"There is not another woman in the world would stand for it but me. A
woman that could enjoy a little home of her own as much as I! What do I
get out of it, I'd like to know! Stint. Stint. Stint. Shove it all back
into that old rope-and-twine business down there that doesn't show a
cent of capital when you take stock except in rope, rope, rope, until
I'd like to hang myself with some of it."

"Now, little woman, you got up on the wrong side of bed this morning.
Just hold your horses. These are tight times, I admit, but we have
our health--"

"I've heard that since I'm married. Health! Suppose we have got our
health. We can't thank the business for that."

"Lilly, your mother certainly got up on the wrong side of bed this
morning, didn't she?"

"Well, it's right discouraging, if you ask me."

"You're all right, little woman."

"Yes, I know," trying not to smile, "I'm all right when it don't cost
nothing and when it comes to the dirty work of trying to make two
ends meet."

"You're certainly a splendid manager. No one can take that away from
you."

"Well, I wish you would both appreciate it a little more."

"We do appreciate it, don't we, Lilly?"

"Yes, papa."

Her second year in High School, Lilly was kept out for five weeks by an
attack of typhoid fever.

An aversion for physical shortcoming, from her mother's occasional
headaches to the mortally afflicted Mr. Hazzard with the great chronic
sore crisscrossed with court plaster at the end of one of his eyes,
amounted in Lilly to something actually Indian.

"Oh, mamma, if I had a headache, I wouldn't always be talking about it.
People aren't interested."

"I'm going to tell your father when he comes home to-night what a
sympathetic daughter I have. If ever I fall sick the City Hospital will
be the place for me. When I see the way that Flora Kemble carries her
mother around and the way my own daughter sympathizes with me. If I
don't tell your father this night!"

It was this queer little congenital urge that kept Lilly on her feet for
two weeks after the malady had hold of her. With a stoicism that taxed
her cruelly, she would march smilingly off to school, a bombardment of
pains shooting through her head, her hands and tongue dry, a ball and
chain of inertia dragging at her ankles.

"Lilly, what is the matter? Why don't you eat your bread and butter
after school? Has Mrs. Schum said anything?"

"No, no, mamma. I'm not hungry, that's all."

"Funny. Open the closet. There is a basket of oranges behind your
father's overcoat, and a bag of baby pretzels, too."

"Goodness! mamma, if I was hungry, I'd eat."

"Don't you feel well, Lilly?"

"Of course I feel well, mamma. Why shouldn't I?"

But next day, at her after-school hour of practice, a small discordant
crash broke suddenly in upon "Chaminade's Scarf Dance" and Mrs. Becker's
rhythmic rocking above. Lilly had fainted, with her head in her arms and
face down among the keys.

Followed two weeks that crowded up the little back parlor with anxiety,
the tension of two doctors in consultation, and a sense of hysteria that
was always just a scratch beneath the surface of Mrs. Becker. She would
break suddenly into loud and unexpected fits of crying, crushing her
palms up against her mouth; would waken from a light doze beside the
bed, on the shriek of a nightmare, and have literally to be dragged from
the room. She harassed the doctors with questions that only the course
of the disease could answer.

The crisis came in the watches of the night, Lilly very straight and
very white and light of breathing in the center of her parents' bed, her
glossy hair in a thick plait over each shoulder, her fine white and
developed chest hardly rising.

"O God! help me to live this night! Ben! Ben!"

"Carrie, you're only making yourself sick and not helping the child."

"My baby! My beautiful snow-white baby! The best child that ever lived!
Help me to live this night!"

"Carrie, little woman, if only you won't take on so. There's every
reason to hope for the best. The doctor assured us."

"How long before we know? Go get Doctor Allison over. Ask Roy Kemble to
run over to Horton's and telephone for Doctor Birch. I want them
here. My baby!"

"Carrie, Carrie, haven't they told you time and time again there is
nothing they can do now? Don't antagonize Doctor Birch by calling him
over here again to-night. Everything is being done for the child. Now
all we can do is to sit and wait and hope for the best."

"You don't care! You're made of iron. At a time like this you stop to
consider the doctors' feelings. Mine don't count. My baby. Get well,
Lilly. Mamma's been cross at times, but never again. We'll do everything
to make you happy. You can read your eyes out and mamma won't turn out
the light on you. Mamma will buy you books and a box of paints and a
little bird's-eye-maple room all your own. Lilly, mamma's baby. We're
going housekeeping--your own piano--your own room. Aren't we, Ben?
Aren't we?"

"Yes, Carrie."

"You can take your choice, baby, of all the things you want to be. Mamma
won't oppose any more, or papa. Opera singing if you want it. You come
by it naturally from my choir voice. Whatever you say, baby. Even an
actress and all the elocution and singing lessons you--"

"Carrie!"

"Oh, you don't care! You're only her father. What does a father know?
You don't care."

Against this age-old indictment of paternity, and absolutely without
precedent, the patient, the iron-gray head of Mr. Becker fell forward, a
fearful and silent storm of sobs beating against his repression.

Full of dumfounded hysteria, walking on her knees around the bed edge to
him, Mrs. Becker drew down his head into the wreath of her arms, kissing
into it, mingling her tears with his, and tasting their anguish.

"My darling! Ben--please, darling! I say a lot of things I don't mean.
You are my husband--and my life. Ben--don't! I can't stand it! Ben!"

At six o'clock Lilly opened her eyes. They were clear and cool and the
petal-like quality was out on her skin.

"Sweet Alice," she said, "oh, Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt," a bit of dream
floating up with her like seaweed to the surface of consciousness.
"Sweet Alice."

She had been reading _Trilby_, surreptitiously filched from Mrs.
Kemble's stack of novels.

"Lilly--mamma's Lilly!"

"Where--I--Where--"

"In your own room, sweetheart, and your own mother and father beside
you."

"I thought--Sweet Alice--"

"The fever is gone now, Lilly. You won't have any of those thoughts any
more. Go to sleep now, papa's girl."

"I must have been singing--'Faust'--what makes you and papa--so
angry--with me--dears?"

"We're not, Lilly. Nothing makes us angry any more."

She was too tired to smile.

"I kept dreaming, mamma, that my hair was two big honey-colored braids
all wound up with pearls, like Marguerite's picture in _Stories of
the Operas_."

"Go to sleep, Lilly, like a good child. Our girl has got too much sense
to fill her head up with such nonsense."

"No, no, papa, I won't have common sense. I want to ride up to meet the
sun, like the princess in--"

"She wants to what? Are you sure her fever is gone, Carrie?"

"Nonsense! It is stuff she reads in her fairy tales. Yes, darling,
anything you want."

"You know, mamma--pearls--in my hair--"

"Yes, yes, darling. Sh-h-h!"

"Mamma?"

"Yes."

"We're middle-class, aren't we?"

"What does she mean?"

"Middle-class people, I mean. You know."

"Why, yes, dear, we're middle-class. I guess that is what you'd call it.
What an idea!"

"Help me."

"Yes, yes. How, baby? The doctor will be here any--"

"You don't know what I mean. No matter what I say, you don't know what I
mean. Isn't that terrible?"

"Help you to get well, that's what mamma and papa are going to do."

"No, no, no! Help me--out--up!"

Presently Lilly fell asleep. To her watching parents her light and
regular breathing took on the meter of a Doxology.



CHAPTER VI

Center High School, the city's only at a time when half a million souls
beat up like sea around it, a model and modern institution that was
presently and paradoxically to become architectural paragon for what to
avoid in future high-school buildings, was again within street-car
distance, except on usually bland days, when Lilly and Flora Kemble
would walk home through Vandaventer Place, the first of those short,
private thoroughfares of pretentious homes that were presently to run
through the warp of the city like threads of gold.

On these homeward walks Flora and Lilly, who referred to each other as
"my chum," were fond of peripatetically exchanging the views, the
consciousness, and the sweetness of sixteen.

"If you had your choice, Lilly, what house would you select for yours in
Vandaventer Place?"

"None."

"Why?"

"I don't want to live in between stone gates with 'No Thoroughfare'
stuck on each end."

"You're the funniest girl! What do you mean, 'No thoroughfare'? Don't
you want to be exclusive and private?"

"Yes, but a person can be private somewhere high--high--not just stuck
between gates like everybody else. Sappho always sat on a balcony that
overlooked the Aegean Sea."

"Maybe she did, and she jumped off, too, but I'm not talking to-day's
Greek history lesson. I'm talking about regular folks. Between the gates
of Vandaventer Place would be good enough for me. Wouldn't I just love
to be mistress over one of these houses and give parties with an awning
stretched out over the sidewalk!"

"What did you get in algebra, Flora?"

"B plus. And you?"

"B minus."

"Lilly Becker, that is the fifth B minus you've had in succession. I'm
going to call you Lilly Minus."

"If she hadn't sprung that old oral exam on us--"

"Oh, if ifs and ands were pots and pans!"

Flora, rather freckly, elbowy, and far too tall, was none the less about
to be pretty. She was frailly fair, like her mother, and could already
throw her blue eyes about their balls, in the Esperanto of coquetry. She
had a treacherous little faculty of appearing never to study and yet
maintaining an excellent grade of scholarship.

"You get me to do all sorts of things with you, Flora, and then you
sneak off and study on the quiet and leave me to flunk because I
promised you I wouldn't study, either."

"Why, Lilly Becker, I never studied one minute for that algebra quiz."

"You did so! When I went downstairs to write in my Friendship Book, like
you said you were going to do, you worked your algebra instead. Roy
told me."

"Well, if I was as pretty as you, Lilly, I wouldn't ever care if I got
my lessons or not," said Flora, to palliate.

"Flora Kemble, I'm not pretty!"

"You are, too. Everybody says your complexion is like peaches and
cream, and look at mine, all freckles."

"Complexion, huh! If I had your yellow hair, you could have all my
complexion."

"Boys hate freckles because so many of them have them themselves."

"Always boys. Honestly, you're boy-crazy, Flora."

"Well, I like that. Can I help it if I got an invitation and you didn't?
You sat right next to him in English and I sat two whole seats away."

A cloud no larger and smudgier than a high-school boy's hand had dropped
its first shadow between them. Eugene Bankhead, son of the credit man
for Slocum-Hines, the city's largest wholesale hardware firm, had
suddenly, out of this clear sky, invited Flora to the Thanksgiving Day
football game between Center High and an exclusive local academy. A new
estate felt, rather than spoken, quickened the eye and authority of
Flora. A sense of it rode on the air waves between them.

"I hate boys."

"How do you know? You've never seen any except my brother and
sneak-thief Harry."

"Papa says if a girl begins to run around with boys too soon it makes
her so forward that by the time she's eighteen she's too old
and faded--"

"That's old-fogy talk."

"You mean it's old fogy for girls to let boys jam everything else out of
their heads. I'd like to see the boy that could make me forget my--my
ambitions."

"If Eugene had asked you instead of me you wouldn't be saying that."

"Anyway, I hate snips. I like men--real men."

"Oh, I know. You're stuck on Lindsley!"

A violent splash of red and a highly superlative denial of word and
manner laid hold of Lilly.

"Why, Flora Kemble!"

"Look at her blushing. Oh, what I know about you!"

"You fibber. I think he's the limit. I never saw a fellow so stuck on
himself."

"Oh, I know! I know now why you carry home twice as many books as you
used to since he got charge of the library."

"I'm reading the _Lady of the Lake_ and you know it. That's why I
stopped in to-night."

"I know why you're always writing compositions since you have him in
English. Lilly's stuck on Lindsley."

Tears were rare with Lilly, but a tremor waved her voice.

"I think you're horrid, Flora Kemble. Anyway, he's more worth while
being stuck on than Eugene Bankhead. He's just--just middle-class. His
future is to work in Slocum-Hines's hardware store, like his father."

"Well, that's more of a man's job than sitting around in a schoolroom
doing lady's work. Papa says Eugene's father is a five-thousand-a-year
man. Eugene has all the spending money he wants and they have a
conservatory in their house."

"Well, I'd rather be Lindsley than Eugene; besides, he's a kid hardly
out of short trousers."

"Silly, you don't think it's Eugene I'm stuck on, do you? His brother
Vincent is a big man down at Slocum-Hines's, too, and a catch. I'm going
to meet him some day. Lindsley! Ugh! I like a little sponduliks thrown
in with a fellow. Lindsley's elbows shine."

For the most part the Board of Education drew upon the offspring of its
own system for teaching talent, occasionally letting in an artery of new
blood. Lilly's second year in High School such an infusion took place in
the form of one H. Horace Lindsley, the young master of arts, his degree
rather heavy upon him, dawning blondly and behind high-power pince-nez
upon the English department.

Sweet sixteen capitulated to English literature. The double wave of Mr.
Lindsley's hair, the intellectual rush of very long, white teeth to the
front, somehow mitigating for the sins of a curriculum that could
present Gorboduc, and _Friar Bacon_ and _Friar Bungay_, to young minds
illy furrowed for such seed.

Notwithstanding the literary odor with which Mr. Lindsley sprayed
himself as he sprayed his handkerchief with a domestic scent called
"Sesame and Lilies," his neoclassic determination to write the American
_Iliad_ must have died painlessly when his iambically disposed feet
ventured too deeply into the quagmire of pedagogy, from which he was not
to emerge. But for the first time in her life Lilly was hearing her name
pronounced by one who rolled it under his tongue like a lollypop. He
rolled all names quite so, but in her beatitude she was only conscious
of her own as it candied. Besides, his eyes, through the pince-nez, had
a gimlet, goosefleshing quality; he recited "Straits of Dover" to a
class of young women with rapt adenoidal expression when he should have
been inoculating them with the bitter serum of Burke's Conciliation
Speech, and walked to school of wintry mornings without an overcoat;
skates and the _Areopagitica_ under his arm.

It was undeniable that at this stage Lilly had veered unaccountably to
authorship, her after-school practice hour gouged into by a suddenly
stimulated pen.

"Papa, I know my ambition!"

Mr. Becker let fall his newspaper to his knee, glancing up over the rim
of his reading glasses.

"What's it now, daughter?"

"I want to be a writer. You know, an author of stories. My English
teacher says I have talent. I get A minus on all my essays, and to-day
he wrote on the edge of one, 'Quite a literary touch.'"

MRS. BECKER (who rocked as she darned): "The trouble with you, Lilly, is
that you have it too good. You don't know what you want."

"You don't care if I am a writer, do you, papa?"

"Last week it was the stage, and last month the opera, and now it's
writing. What next, I wonder?"

"Your mother's right. There's no stability to this art business, Lilly.
They're a loose lot that never come to a good end."

"Well, just the same," cried Lilly, hot with a sense of futility and
rebellion, "your own father was the next thing to an actor. Preaching is
kin to acting."

"Don't you ever let me hear you talk like that again. Your grandfather
was a God-fearing, not a play-acting man." Attacking this subject, a
little furrow would invariably appear between Mr. Becker's fine gray
eyes and his lips express bitter intolerance for a world that translated
itself to him solely in terms of pink tights.

Not that the odor of religion lay any too heavily on Lilly's youth.
Sunday school was not enforced, Sabbath ethics were observed loosely, if
at all, but a yearly membership in the Garrison Avenue Rock Church was
maintained, not without remonstrance from Mrs. Becker.

"I don't see why we belong. If I want to attend church on Easter Sunday
or a Christmas, I don't have to pay dues all year for it. A person can
pray just as well at home as in church if he's inclined that way."

"Our child doesn't need to be raised like a heathen just because we
aren't as regular as we might be about churchgoing. Besides, when
trouble comes we don't want to be buried like heathens, either."

"Calamity howler."

"In England, papa, writers get buried in Westminster Abbey. If I lived
in England, that would be my ambition."

"The child has ambitions even about funerals. I bought you goods for a
navy-blue poplin to-day, Lilly. Gentle's had a sale."

"Oh, mamma, can you get Katy Stutz to come in time to make it for
auditorium next Friday? Mr. Lindsley may call on me to read my essay
out loud."

"That Mr. Lindsley makes me sick. You're a changed child since he's come
to that school. Mrs. Foote said the same thing of Estelle at the euchre
yesterday. All the girls want new dresses and to be in his classes."

"Why, mamma!" coloring up.

"Oh, run over to Pirney's and buy me a postal card. I'll write Katy
Stutz to take Mrs. Foote's days away from her and give them to me."

By small briberies employed without sense of compromise, Mrs. Becker had
a way with those who served her. Katy Stutz, an old soul as lean and as
green as a cotton umbrella, had sewed at minimum wage through fourteen
years of keeping Lilly daintily and a bit too pretentiously clad.
Willie, Mrs. Schum's old negro cook, who wore her feet wrapped in gunny
sacking, and every odd and end that came down in the day's waste
baskets, from empty spools to nubs of pencil, stored away in the kink of
her hair, would somehow invariably send up the giblets along with the
Beckers' Sunday allotment of chicken. Mr. Keebil, too, an old Southern
relic, his head covered with suds of gray astrakhan and a laugh like the
up and down of rusty bedsprings, for ten years had presided over the
hirsute destinies of Lilly and her mother. Bi-monthly he arrived on his
shampooing mission, often making a day's tour throughout the
boarding house.

"Mr. Keebil, don't you do the Kembles' heads first to-day. That's the
way with you people. I get you all your customers and then you neglect
me for them."

"Law! Mrs. Beckah, how cum you think that? Don't I give you and Miss
Lilly shampoos for two bits when I chawges Mrs. Kemble three heads for
a dollar?"

"Yes, but what about the underwear and socks of Mr. Becker's that you
get?"

"I allas say I 'ain't got no bettah friend than Mrs. Beckah. That was
certainly a fine suit you done give me las' time, except for the
buttons cut off."

"You should consider yourself lucky to get a head like Miss Lilly's to
take care of at any price. Just look at it--like spun silk."

He would fluff out the really beautiful cascade of smooth and highly
electric hair, his brown hands, so strangely light pink of palm, full of
pride in their task.

"Law! Miss Lilly, if you ain't going to grow up the pick of them all."

"Ouch! Mr. Keebil, you hurt!" cried Lilly, ever tender of scalp.

Nor was Mrs. Becker above a bit of persiflage.

"Mr. Keebil, I hear it is something scandalous the way you and Willie
are setting up to each other."

The old shoulders would shake, the face crinkle into a raisin, and the
little spade of gray beard heave to the springy laughter.

"Law! Mrs. Beckah. if you ain't the greatest one to joke."

"Joke nothing. It's a fine match. A good upstanding church member like
you and a fine-looking woman like Willie."

Lilly would turn a quirking but disapproving eye upon her mother.

"Mamma, haven't you anything better to do?"

"Law! Miss Lilly, me and your ma we understand each other. Me and your
papa we know she will have her little joke but the heart is there.
That's what counts on the Lord's Judgment Day--the heart."

Lilly's poplin frock was completed for the Friday auditorium exercises.
Her two braids, now consolidated into one hempy rope, lay against her
back, finishing without completement of hair ribbon into a cylinder of
brushed-around-the-finger curl. It was a little mannerism of hers, not
entirely unconscious, to fling the heavy coil of hair over one shoulder.
It enhanced her face, somehow, the fall of shining plait down over her
young bosom. Contrary to her choking expectation, she was not called
upon to read, but to sit on the platform in an honorable-mention row
of five.

Flora Kemble read a B-plus paper, largely and in immaculate vertical
penmanship, entitled "Friendship," Lilly, the tourniquet twist at her
heart, sitting by. Her name was read later among the honorable five,
true to manner, Mr. Lindsley seeming to caress it with his tongue.

"Miss Halpern. Mr. Prothero. Miss Foote. Miss Deidesheimer. Miss
Beck-er."

From where she sat Lilly could see the slightly protuberant shine to his
teeth, the intellectual ride of glasses along his thin nose, the long,
nervous hand with a little-finger fraternity ring.

Her own hands were very cold, her cheeks very pink. She had a pressing
behind the eyes of a not-to-be-endured impulse of wanting to cry. His
reading of her name was a hot javelin through the pit of her being.

After the exercises and as school was in dismissal she saw him hurrying
out of a side door with a tennis racket. It seemed suddenly intolerable
that walk home through Vandaventer Place to her boarding-house world.

Flora's perceptions were small and quick.

"Why, Lilly, your cheeks are as red as anything and you're getting a
fever blister. Somebody kissed you!"

Her hand flew to her mouth almost guiltily, as if to the feel of lips
slightly protuberant.

"Why--Oh, you horrid girl!"

"It was Lind! Lind!"

"Lind--what--who?"

"Lindsley, of course," dipping with laughter.

"Flora Kemble, I'll never speak to you again. You're stuck on him
yourself and trying to put it on to me."

"Me stuck on him, the way his teeth stick out! No poor school-teacher
for mine!"

"You're boy-crazy. I'm not."

But that night for the first time in her life Lilly lay through a
sleepless hour, staring up into the darkness. The blanket irked her and
she plunged it off, burrowing one cheek and then the other into her
pillow in search of cool spots. Her mother puffed out slowly into the
silence, her father a bit more sonorous and full of rumblings.

Lilly felt herself wound up tightly and needing to be run down. She was
taut as a spring. After a while she took to plucking out from the
darkness words of sedative quality.

"Dove," she repeated softly to herself, and very, very slowly. "Dove.
Beautiful, quiet dove. Saint. Cathedral. Peace. Dell."

But when she finally did drop off to sleep a smile of protuberant teeth
was out like a rainbow across her darkness.



CHAPTER VII

Latitudinally speaking, there are about two kinds of Americans--those
who live west of Syracuse, and those who do not. An imaginary line
separates the tropic of candescence, fast trains, naval reviews, broad
a's, Broadway, Beacon Street, Independence Square, and Tammany Hall from
the cancer of craps, silver dollars, lynchings, alfalfa, toothpicks,
detachable cuffs, napkin rings, and boll weevils.

It is more than probable that Horace Lindsley's and Lilly Becker's
lineage were loamy with about the same magnesia of the soil. Generations
of each of them had tilled into the more or less contiguous dirt of
Teutonic Europe.

Lilly's progenitors had bartered in low Dutch; Horace Lindsley's in high
German, which, after all, is more a matter of geography than altitudes.

An oval daguerreotype of a great-grandmother at the harpsichord had hung
in Carrie Becker's (_née_ Ploag) home in Granite City.

A Lindsley had once presented an emperor with a hand-illuminated version
of the King James Bible, wrought out of peasant patience. Horace
Lindsley's mother belonged to a New England suffrage society when ladies
still wore silk mitts, and had dared to open a private kindergarten in
her back parlor after marriage.

It was this tincture of culture running like a light bluing through
Lindsley's heritage that began to set in motion the little sleeping
molecules of Lilly's class consciousness.

"Middle class," came to be a term employed always with lips that curled.
There were, then, actually men creatures outside the English "Fireside
Novels" she was allowed to devour without interruption by parents to
whom books were largely objects with which a room was cluttered up, who
wore spats, did play tennis in white flannels, turned down the page at a
favorite passage of poetry, eschewed suspenders for belts, were
guiltless of sleeve garters, and attended Saturday-afternoon symphony
concerts, in Lindsley's case, almost a lone male, debonaire and
unabashed in a garden of women.

At Lilly's urgent instance she and her mother often attended these
subscription concerts, seats for single performances obtainable (in a
commendable zeal to promote local music) in exchange for a newspaper
coupon and twenty-five cents.

Mrs. Becker frankly yawned through them, nictitating, as it were, during
the long narrative passages of the symphony or occupied with the
personnel of the audience.

"Look, Lilly," whispering behind her unopened program, "that's a pretty
idea over there on that red-haired girl. See the way the baby ribbon is
run through the sleeves. Do you want a dress like that?"

"Sh-h-h-h, mamma! No; it's too fussy!"

"Why don't they play something with a tune to it? I wouldn't give a row
of pins for music without any air at all."

"Sh-h-h-h, mamma. There isn't much tune to classical music."

"I wish the first violinist would play a solo. 'Warum,' like last time.
I've some baby ribbon just like that, Lilly. I picked it up on sale in
Gentle's basement bins--"

"Mamma, don't stare so."

"Don't criticize everything I do."

At one of these concerts Lilly shot out her hand suddenly, closing it
over her mother's wrist.

"Mamma, there's Lindsley. See, down there in the fourth row."

"Who?"

"My English teacher. See, polishing his eyeglasses."

Mrs. Becker sat straight, chin out like an antenna.

"Is that him?"

"Yes, that's he."

"I don't see anything so wonderful about him. He needs a haircut."

"Oh, mamma, you think all men have to wear their hair short and ugly
like papa and Uncle Buck. In the East men look like that."

"The idea! A man calls himself a man coming to a matinée like this. Your
papa ought to know that you have a sissy like him on your mind. Such a
looking thing! Ugh!"

These recurring intimations could sting Lilly almost to tears.

"Oh, mamma, that's just the--the meanest thing to say. Can't I show you
my English teacher without having him on my mind?"

"I never could stand a man whose teeth stick out. He looks like a
horse."

"Papa's teeth stick out."

"Yes, but just one, and his mustache hides that. I only hope for you,
Lilly, that some day you get a man as good as your father."

"How did papa propose to you, mamma? What did he say?"

Even Mrs. Becker could flush, quite prettily, too, her lids dropping at
this not infrequent query of Lilly's.

"It's not nice for young girls to ask such questions."

"Go on, mamma, what did he say?"

"I don't remember."

The overture broke in upon them then, a brilliantly noisy one from
Tschaikowsky that bathed them in a vichy of excited surf.

Settling with her head snuggled against her fur tippet, the back of her
neck against the chair top, Lilly could feel herself recede, as it were,
into a sort of anagogical half consciousness, laved and carried along on
currents of melody that were as sensually delicious as a warm bath. Her
awareness of Lindsley on a diagonal from her so that she could see his
profile hook into the music-scented dimness, ran under her skin like a
quick shimmer.

The proscenium arch curved again into her consciousness, herself its
center and vocal beyond the powers of the human organ.

The slamming up of chairs and mussy shuffling into wraps recalled her.
It was indescribably sad, this swimming up to reality. The buttoning of
her little tippet. The smell of damp umbrellas. Then the jamming down
the aisle toward the late and rainy afternoon. At the door they were
suddenly crushed up against Horace Lindsley, his coat collar turned up
about his ears.

"Miss Becker," he said, by way of greeting, nodding and showing his
teeth.

Her heart became a little elevator dropping in sheer descent.

"Oh--how--do--you--do?" They were pushed shoulder to shoulder, and, to
Lilly's agony, her mother's voice lifted itself in loud concern.

"For pity's sake, look at that downpour, will you? I hope your father
has the good sense to wear his rubbers. Ouch! Don't knock me
down, please."

"Mamma--please. Mr. Lindsley, I want you to meet my mother."

"Pleased to meet you. Lilly certainly has talked of her English teacher
a lot."

"She is a very interesting little student, Mrs. Becker. Quite a quality
to her work."

"Well, I am certainly pleased to hear that. She's our only one, you
know."

"Lilly has a tendency to let her imagination run away with her. A good
fault if she controls it."

"That's what her father and I always tell her. The child has too many
talents to settle down to any one. She gets her music from my side of
the house, but she quits practicing to write and she quits writing to
practice. It's not that we want our little girl ever to make her own
living, but her father and I believe in a girl being prepared, even if
she never has to use it. That's why we are having her take the
commercial course. We don't pretend to be swells, but at least we plan
to do as well for our child as the next."

"Exactly."

LILLY (in her agony): "Come, mamma."

"I wish you could read the poem she wrote last night, Mr. Lindsley. Not
that I give a row of pins for poetry, as a rule, but I told her she
ought to take this one to school."

"Please, mamma, please!"

"If I do say it myself, it was grand. Mr. Hazzard, quite an educated
gentleman who boards where we do, thought so, too. Lilly, why don't you
show Mr. Lindsley that poem? He's authority."

"Mamma, if only you won't talk about it."

"You must bring it to class, Miss Becker."

"No, no! I've--I've torn it up."

"I don't remember all of it, but everybody considered it a grand thought
for such a young girl; it goes--"

"Mamma! Mamma--not here--now!"

     "I would not have the restless soul
        That sees not beauty everywhere.
     I see it glint on ocean waves,
        Dance through a youth's or maiden's hair."

"Mamma, they're pushing so! Good night, Mr. Lindsley. Mamma, come!"

Outside in the wet dusk they boarded an electric car, Lilly and her
mother crammed on a rear platform of the wet overcoats, leaking
umbrellas, and wet-smelling mackintoshes of dinner-bound St. Louis.

"He's a right nice young man, intelligent--but if ever a person looked
like a horse! You see, he agrees with your papa and me. You don't apply
yourself to any one thing."

Lilly turned her inflamed, quivering face upon her mother, trying to
speak through a violent aching of tonsils.

"Oh," she cried, "how could you? I'll never look him in the face again!
Oh--oh--how could you?"

"Are you crazy? How could I what?"

"The poem. The--the glint in--his hair. He'll think it was his hair I
meant. Oh! Oh!"

The ready ire which could flame up in Mrs. Becker leaped out then.

"If you are ashamed of your mother, maybe you had better not be seen
out with her again. All I am good for is to stint and manage to get you
pretty clothes."

"No, n-no, mamma, I didn't mean that, dear."

"For a horse-face like him I won't be made little."

"Sh-h-h-h, dear! The whole street car doesn't need to hear."

"I wouldn't give a row of pins for ten like him."

"Mamma, the way you--talked."

"The way I talked, what? I suppose hereafter when I go out with my
educated daughter I will have to wear a muzzle."

"I--Oh, it wasn't what you said, mamma; it was--the way you said it."

"The way I said it? That's a rich one. If I don't tell your father! My
own child is ashamed of her mother. Well, let me tell you I--"

"No, mamma, you don't understand. Take that word 'swells,' for instance.
Oh, I know I've used it myself, but all of a sudden, to-day, it--it
sounded so ordinary."

"For a hundred-dollar-a-month school-teacher that your papa has to pay
taxes to support, I'm not afraid of my p's and q's."

"And, mamma," suddenly and acutely sensitive to pleonasm, "you begin
every sentence with 'say' and you say 'certainly' so often."

"If I don't have a talk with your father when he comes home this night!
That's the thanks I get for sitting through a concert with you when I
might have been enjoying myself at my euchre club. Just get those
high-tone notions out of your head. We're simple people, not swells.
You're a changed child these days."

It was true. An ineffable ache, a darting neuralgia of spirit, too
cunning and quick for diagnosis, was shooting through Lilly her last two
years at High School.

That Horace Lindsley, who was hardly to indent her life and whose
interest in the clean-eyed girl was little more than a leaf upon his
consciousness, and whose feet were already feeling the tug of the
quicksands of mediocrity which were to suck him out of her reckoning,
should have been the innocent source of this neurosis, is hardly
remarkable.

Lilly, with the mysterious tenacity of a crannied flower, was pulling
from her soil toward the light. And light in all its chiaroscuras rules
the _se leve, couche_, complexion, and humors of the world. Lindsley
was a ray.

And so her adolescence came in suddenly, almost stormlike, uprooting
little forests of sapling traditions.

At sixteen she still slept on the cot drawn across the bed end and rode
her bicycle up and down the sidewalks, holding her skirts down against
the wind, but also she had ransacked the boarding-house shelves and High
School library, reading her uncensored way through _Lady Audrey's
Secret, Canterbury Tales, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Plain
Facts About Life, Arabian Nights, Golden Treasury, Childe Harold, To
Have and to Hold, Tales from Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, Old
Curiosity Shop, Diary of Marie Baschkertcheff, Pride and Prejudice,
Vanity Fair, Les Misérables, Stories of the Operas_, and a red volume
rescued from propping up the hall hatrack, _Great Lovers_.

Within that same year Katy Stutz twice lowered her skirt hems.

"Mamma, I think it is terrible I haven't a room to myself."

The entire surface of Mrs. Becker seemed to coat over with sensitiveness
to this frequently discussed issue.

"Why," her lips writhing with an excoriating brand of self-pity, "who am
I that I should want a home for my daughter, now that she is grown? Mr.
Kemble can treat his wife like a queen, but me--why, I'm mud under my
husband's feet."

The Kemble family, on a wave of putative prosperity, had eight months
since gone to housekeeping in a rather pretentious rock-fronted house on
one of the many newly graded streets west of Kingshighway. Every Friday
night Lilly slept with Flora, the two side by side in Flora's pretty new
bird's-eye-maple bed, exchanging unextinguishable confidences well
through nights wakeful with their dreams.

"Flora has her own parlor to practice in, and here I can't even sing a
little without the entire boarding house rapping on the wall."

"It's a shame. Watch me talk to your father to-night."

"Mamma, can't I please take elocution?"

"I should say not. Aren't piano and voice sufficient? The idea! I
wouldn't give a row of pins for all the elocution in the world. Reciting
is out of date."

"Mamma, it isn't. Mr. Lindsley says the modern woman of culture should
cultivate her speaking voice the same as she learns to use her singing
voice. Please, mamma; only a dollar a lesson."

"Oh, I don't care! Goodness knows where the money is coming from, with
flax twine where it is; but anything for peace."

And so when Lilly graduated from High School,  third in her class, and
again slightly to the rear of Estelle Foote, who read the valedictory,
she was executing excitedly, if sloppily, "The Turkish Patrol," was
singing in an abominably trained but elastic enough soprano, the "Jewel
Song" from "Faust," and "Jocelyn," a lullaby, and at a private recital
of the Alden School of Dramatic Expression had recited "A Set of
Turquoise" to incidental music.

Mrs. Schum's boarding house, to the man, turned out to Lilly's High
School graduation, Katy Stutz and Willie standing in the wings and all
unwittingly visible from the house. A German-silver manicure set,
handsomely embossed, bore the somewhat cryptic card, "To Lilly Becker,
as she stands on the threshold of life, from her friends in the house."
There were a Honiton-lace fan with mother-of-pearl sticks, with the best
wishes of her mother's euchre club, and from her parents a tiny diamond
ring set high in gold facets, "To Lilly, from her parents, June, 1901,"
engraved in the hoop.

That night, still in her white organdie frock, with its whirligig design
of too much Valenciennes lace, her hair worn high and revealing an
unsuspectedly white nape of neck, Lilly regarded her parents across a
little table-display of gifts.

"I feel so queer," she said, looking off through the chocolate-ochre
wall paper, the reaction already set in. "So sort of--finished.
Nothing to do."

MR. BECKER: "That was certainly a fine speech the president of the Board
of Education made. You've something now that no one can take away from
you. Knowledge is power."

"Two girls in our class are going to the University of Missouri, papa.
That's what I'd like to do--go to college."

"Don't spoil a good thing by trying to overdo it, Lilly. It is as bad
for a young girl to permit herself to be educated into one of those
bold, unwomanly woman's-rights girls as it is for her to be frivolous
and empty-headed. When women get too smart they get unattractive."

"But, papa, girls are beginning more and more to go to college, and all
women will be--suffrage--some day."

"Not womanly girls, Lilly."

"I always said that High School would be her ruination."

"I didn't learn it there, mamma. I always wanted to be something--"

"Well, you're a finished stenographer, aren't you? Why not go down to
your father's office a couple of mornings a week?"

"I don't mean stenography. I hated learning it. I mean
something--something--beyond--"

Suddenly Mrs. Becker, quiet at the business of wrapping away some of the
gifts, glanced up, two round spots of color on her cheeks.

"You _are_ going to do something, Lilly. Have a home and entertain in it
like other girls."

"But--"

"I've a piece of news for you and your father. If I waited for him to
take the initiative I'd wait until the crack of doom."

"What is it, little woman?"

"I signed a lease yesterday for one of those yellow-brick houses--seven
rooms, bath, furnace heat, and privilege of buying. Twenty-eight
dollars, out on Page Avenue near Union. We move in two weeks
from to-day."



CHAPTER VIII

There followed one of those years which come and go even in the small
affairs of small men, when for Ben Becker swift waters flowed under the
bridge. He was just that, a small man, prided himself upon it and was
frequent in his boast: "I'm a small man, Carrie. I don't hope to make a
big or showy success of it. Just a comfortable and unassuming living is
about all I expect to get out of it, and that's a pretty good deal."

The Spanish-American War, something of musical comedy in its setting,
had run its brief malarial engagement, netting Ben Becker, in one order
of hemp rope alone, a cleanly realized profit of forty-two
hundred dollars.

On a new and gradually attained bank credit the B. T. Becker Hemp, Rope,
and Twine Company bought out the about-to-be-insolvent Mound City Flax
Twine Company, the consolidated interests moving into a two-story brick
building on South Seventh Street.

The firm took on the subtle and psychological proportions that go with
incorporation, however unassuming, capitalizing at fifteen thousand
dollars, B. T. Becker, president; Jerry Hensel, trusted foreman of
years, vice president and holder of ten shares; Carrie Becker, secretary
and treasurer and, to propitiate the law, holder of one share.

The little house on Page Avenue, too new for wall paper, still exuding
the indescribable cold, white smell of mortar in the drying, was none
the less---and with the flexible personality of houses--taking on the
print of the family. A mission dining-room set, ordered wholesale
through the machinations of one of Mrs. Becker's euchre friends,
arriving from Grand Rapids two months late, completed a careful and
thrifty period of housefurnishing. There were an upright piano, still
rented, but, like the house, payments to apply to a possible future
purchase, in the square of "reception hall"; a double brass bedstead in
the second-story front; and tucked away in the back of the tiny house,
overlooking, through sheerest of dimity curtains, a rolling ocean of
empty lots, the German-silver manicure set spread out on the dressing
table, Lilly's bird's-eye-maple bedroom come true.

Followed even then a long and uneasy period of adjustment. The up and
down stairs tugged at the rear muscles of Mrs. Becker's legs, compelling
evening foot baths. Mr. Becker chafed under the twenty minutes
additional street-car ride, eating his dinner by gaslight even in
August. The bed making and her allotment of the upstairs work irked
Lilly, even though Willie's stepniece, Georgia, came to help out once a
week, and evenings the little house could seem very still and
untenanted.

But after the arrival of the mahogany-and-velours parlor set, the music
cabinet, and the hanging of crispy lace curtains, Lilly standing on the
ladder, her mother steadying from below, and finally the laying of a
well-padded strip of stair carpet to eat in the hollow noises of new
tenancy, the house began to settle, so to speak.

Something latent, something congenital, even malignant, however, had
developed in Mrs. Becker. She took a fierce kind of joy, not untinged
with the mongrel emotion of self-pity, in scrubbing, on hands and knees,
the entire flight of back stairs at the black six-o'clock hour of wintry
mornings, her voice tickling up like a feather duster to Lilly's
reluctantly awakening senses.

"Lil-ly! Get up! I've done a day's work already. If I was a girl I
wouldn't want to sleep while my mother slaves."

But let Lilly so much as venture down into the wintry gaslight of the
bacon-fragrant kitchen, proffering her drowsy aid, a new flow, still in
the key of termagency, would greet her.

"Go right back to bed, Lilly. You want to catch your death of cold?"

"But, mamma, you fuss so. I'd rather help than listen. Here, let me stir
the oatmeal."

"Go back to bed, I say. I don't intend to have you spoil your hands with
kitchen work. Maybe some day your father will feel in a position to give
his wife a permanent servant girl like any other woman has."

"Mamma, he's always begging you to get one,"

"I know. Talk is cheap. Did you hear what I said, Lilly? Stop that
stirring and go back to bed! I'll bring up your breakfast after a while.
I'll fix your sandwiches for the sewing circle this afternoon."

"Oh, mamma, I just hate that circle! I wish to goodness you would let me
resign."

"I have a grateful daughter, I have. Any other child with your
advantages would think she had heaven on earth."

"I hate it, I tell you. Flora and Snow and all those girls, with nothing
on their brains except fellows and fancy work, make me positively sick."

"I notice Flora had enough brains to become engaged to a fine young
fellow with prospects like Vincent Bankhead."

"Every time I sit down at that circle I think I'm going to scream. I
just can't rake up enthusiasm over French knots. Something in me begins
to suffocate and I can't get out from under. I hate it."

Regarding her daughter through the bluish aroma of bacon in the frying,
her early-morning coiffure and wrapper not lenient with her, a
bitterness pulled at the lips of Mrs. Becker.

"That settles it. I'm going to have a talk with your father this
morning."

"Oh, mamma, please don't begin a scene!"

"Ben, are you ready for breakfast? Come down. What do you do up there so
long? You've been one solid hour splashing around the bathroom, as if I
didn't have to get down on my hands and knees to wipe up the flood
around the bathtub. Hurry! Your daughter has something to say to you."

"Coming, Carrie. Don't get excited."

"Don't get excited! I think your father would ram that down my throat if
this house was tumbling around our heads."

It was true that Mr. Becker's imperturbability incased him like a kindly
coating of tallow. His daily and peremptory call to breakfast brought
him down only after the last satisfactory application of whisk, tooth,
hand, shoe, bath, and hair brush, his invariable white-linen string tie
adjusted to a nicety, his neat gray business suit buttoned over a
gradual embonpoint.

"If I took as good care of myself as my husband does, I'd live to be a
thousand."

"Now, little woman, you got up on the wrong side of bed to-day."

On this particular morning he descended genial, rubbing cold,
soap-exuding hands together.

"Well, little woman! Good morning, daughter."

"Ben, I'm at my row's end with Lilly. Something has got to be done or I
can't stand it."

He sat down, an immediate tiredness out in his face, adjusting his
napkin by the patent fasteners to each coat lapel.

"Now, Carrie, have you and Lilly been quarreling again? Doesn't it seem
too bad, Lilly, that you and your mother cannot get on without these
disturbances? Your mother may have her peculiarities, but she
means well."

A ready wave of red self-commiseration dashed itself across Mrs.
Becker's face.

"I can't stand it, Ben. I don't know what she wants. Maybe you can
please her. I can't. Everything I do is wrong. Everything."

In her little blue-gingham morning dress, out of which her neck flowered
white and ever beautiful of nape, Lilly crumbled up her biscuit, eyes
miserably down, the red-hot pricklings which invariably accompanied
these scenes flashing over her and a crowding in her throat as if she
must tear it open for language to make them understand.

"Talk to your father, now! Tell him some of the things you hound me
with."

"Lilly, what seems to be the trouble?"

"I--I don't know. Mamma gets so excited right away. I just happened to
mention that--I don't know what to do with myself."

"Do with yourself! Help me in the house. I can give you enough to do
with yourself. I don't get lonesome."

"Carrie, now, don't holler."

"That's the way she is, papa. She gets excited and hollers at me
because I can't get interested in sewing clubs and housework."

"It's because you've got it too good that you're not satisfied. That
Flora Kemble, that never has a decent thing to wear, gets engaged
to a--"

"Now, Carrie, that's no way to talk."

"Mamma always makes me feel uncomfortable because I'm not married yet."

"Now do you believe what I go through with, Ben?"

"You haven't any faith in me, but--somewhere--destiny, or whatever you
want to call it, has a job waiting for me!"

"That's too poetical for me to keep up with. Thank goodness I'm a plain
woman who knows her place in life."

"Exactly, mamma. It isn't that I consider myself above Flora's party
to-morrow night. It's not my place. I don't belong there. I hate it, I
tell you."

"You hear that, Ben? That's the thanks I get. You know the way I've
tried to make this little home one a child could be proud of. Take the
time that fine young Bryant fellow came to call. Why, that little parlor
of ours was fit for a princess. His knuckles didn't suit her! They
cracked, she said. I've heard of lots of excuses for not taking to boys,
but that beats all. Three girls out of the sewing club already married
and Flora engaged to that well-to-do Bankhead boy, and mine holds
herself above them all."

"Your mother isn't all wrong, Lilly."

"I've run my legs off for the white organdie so Katy Stutz could make it
up for Flora's engagement party to-morrow night. Does she appreciate it?
Oh yes, long face is the kind of appreciation I get."

"I'd rather stay home, mamma, and practice my singing or
read--anything--"

"You'll sing _there_. Mrs. Kemble has it all fixed for Flora to call on
you just before the refreshments. If you begin to pout about this party,
Lilly, I--"

"Oh," cried Lilly, turning her face away to hide the embitterment of lip
and still crumbling up her biscuit, "don't worry. I'm going if--if it
kills me."

Suddenly Mrs. Becker's face quivered ominously, the impending
storm-cloud bursting.

"I wish I was dead. What do I get out of it? Struggle and sacrifice, and
all for an ungrateful daughter that isn't happy in her home."

"It isn't that. Just let me be--myself!"

"Then what is yourself? For God's sake tell us what? Anything to end
this state of affairs."

"I'm suffocating here. Let me make something out of myself."

"Listen to her, Ben. Make something. Her stories come back from the
editors. Her teacher keeps telling me her voice isn't ready yet. Miss
Lee says her piano technique is lazy--"

"Then let me travel--college--anything."

"She thinks we're millionaires, Ben."

"Lilly, Lilly! What is the young generation coming to?"

"I wish I was dead. Dead," cried Mrs. Becker, beating at the table until
the dishes shivered. Danger lights sprang out in little green signals
around about the flanges of her nose. She was mounting to hysteria.

"Lilly, aren't you ashamed to torture your mother like this?" cried Mr.
Becker, his voice shot through with what for him amounted to a pistol
report. "Comfort your mother. Apologize at once!"

"Mamma, I'm sorry! I am, dear."

"You would think we were plotting against her."

"Now, now, Carrie, Lilly doesn't mean all she says."

"But she eats my life out."

"She wants to please us. Don't you, Lilly?"

"Y-yes, papa--"

"Now let us see if things can't run smoother in our little home, eh,
Lilly? We'll all try and do each his part, eh, Lilly?"

"Y-yes, papa."

"It's late," cried Mrs. Becker, suddenly, on the single gong of half
after seven, and, ever quick and kaleidoscopic of mood: "Katy Stutz will
be here any minute. That's her now. Run upstairs, Lilly, and take the
top off the sewing machine and lay out the white organdie. Quick, Lilly.
I want you to have it without fail for to-morrow night."



CHAPTER IX

It was at this controversial gathering of young people at the home of
Flora Kemble that Lilly met, for the first time, Albert Penny.

The Kemble home lent itself gracefully to occasions of this kind, the
parlor and reception hall opening into one, and the impending
refreshments in the dining room shut off with folding doors. There was
more of ostentation in the Kemble home. More festooning of fringed
scarfs, gilt chairs, and a glass curio cabinet crammed with knickknacks.

"Dutch as sauerkraut," was Mrs. Becker's indictment; and Flora Kemble
came under the gaucherie of the impeachment, too.

She had attained tall and exceedingly supine proportions, wore pinks and
blues and an invariable necklace of pink paste pearls to fine advantage,
and a fuzz of yellow bangs that fell down over her eyes, only to be
repeatedly flung back again.

Again MRS. BECKER (who could be caustic): "She makes me so nervous, with
her hair down over her eyes like a poodle dog, that I could scream."

Nevertheless, at eighteen Flora's neat spiritous air lay calm as a
wimple over her keenly motivated little self. The same apparently
guileless exterior that had concealed her struggle along a road lit with
midnight oil toward her graduation, enveloped the campaign of strategy
and minutiae that had resulted victoriously in her engagement to Vincent
Bankhead, assistant credit man to his father.

Albert Penny at this time was second-assistant buyer for Slocum-Hines,
and, at the instance of his friend Vincent, somewhat reluctantly
present.

"Al, what are you doing to-night?"

"Oh, about the same old thing! Take a stroll and turn in, I guess. Why?"

"There is a little gathering up at the Kembles' this evening. Thought
maybe you'd like to meet the girl. Nothing formal, just a few of the
girls and boys over to celebrate."

"I'm not much on that kind of thing, Bankhead. Guess you'd better count
me out."

"Come along. Want to show you the kind of little peach I've picked."

"Ask me out some night to a quiet little supper, Bankhead. I feel a cold
coming on."

"Quiet little supper, nothing. That's your trouble now, too much quiet.
Nice people, her folks. It'll do you good."

And so it came that when the folding doors between the Kemble dining
room and parlor were thrown open, Lilly Becker, still flushed from a
self-accompanied rendition of "Angels' Serenade" and an encore,
"Jocelyn," and Albert Penny, in a neat business suit and plaid
four-in-hand, found themselves side by side, napkin and dish of ice
cream on each of their laps, gay little bubbles of conversation, that
were constantly exploding into laughter, floating up from off the
gathering.

There is a photograph somewhere in an album of Lilly much as she must
have looked that night. Her white organdie frock out charmingly around
her, a fluted ruffle at the low neck forming fitting calyx for the fine
upward flow of her high white chest into firm, smooth throat; the
enormous puff sleeves of the period ending above the elbow where her
arm was roundest; the ardent, rather upward thrust of face as if the
stars were fragrant; the little lilt to the eyebrows; the straight gray
eyes; the complexion smooth as double cream, flowing in cleanest
jointure into the shining brown hair, worn in an age of Psyche or
Pompadour, so swiftly and shiningly drawn back that it might have been
painted there.

That was the Lilly Becker upon whom Albert Penny cast the first second
glance he had ever spared her sex.

"Miss Becker, we certainly did enjoy your solo."

She was still warmed from the effort, the tingling nervousness of the
moment not yet died down, and she was eager and grateful.

"Oh, Mr. Penny, did you really? I was so afraid I flatted there at the
end."

"I had to laugh the way they broke in with clapping before you were
finished. I knew you weren't done."

"Oh, then you're musical, too?"

"No, but I could see there was one more page you hadn't turned."

"Oh!"

"My! but you can go high! Like a regular opera singer."

"Oh, if I thought you meant that! It's my ambition to sing--real big
opera, you know."

"It certainly was a pretty song, not so much the song as the way you
sang it. I could understand every word."

"If only my parents could hear you say that. You see, they don't
approve. They think it's all right for a girl to have a parlor voice,
but it must stop right there, otherwise it becomes a liability instead
of an asset."

At this little conceit of speech he turned delighted eyes upon her.

"Why, you're a regular little business woman!" he cried.

"Yes," she sighed out at him through a smile, "I took the commercial
course at High."

Inhibitions induce callosities, and Albert Penny's inhibitions, incased
within the shell of himself, were as catalogic as Homer's list of ships.
First, like Tithonus, he had no youth. Persiflage, which he secretly
envied in others, on his own lips went off like damp fireworks. He loved
order and his mind easily took in statistics. He had invented a wire
kind of dish for utilizing the left-over blobs of soap. He never
received so much as a street-car transfer without reading its entire
face contents. In seven years he had not availed himself of the annual
two weeks' vacation offered him by his firm, and, conspire as he would
against it, Sunday continued to represent to him a hebdomadal vacuity of
morning paper, afternoon nap and walk, unsatisfactory cold supper, and
early to bed. His very capacity for monotony seemed to engender it. He
could sit in Forest Park the whole of a Sunday afternoon, poring over a
chance railroad time-table picked up on the bench; paring his straight,
clean finger nails with a penknife; observing the carriages go by; or
sit beside the lake, watching the skiffs glide about at twenty-five
cents the hour; and finally, hat brim down over his eyes, doze until
twilight seeped damply into his consciousness.

This same unsensitiveness to routine had enhanced his value with
Slocum-Hines from delivery boy at fifteen to second-assistant buyer at
twenty-five, an amenability, however, that threatened to pauperize him
of any capacity for play. Under the well-meant banterings of friends he
became conscious of it, but to cast it off was to cast off the thing he
was. He tried to learn to recreate, and took Saturday-evening street-car
rides to Forest Park Highlands and joined a bowling club. He paid ten
dollars in advance for a course of six dancing lessons, too, and only
took four of them.

There had never been a woman, a perfume, or a regret in his life. In the
period of ten years since his migration from the paternal farm ten miles
outside of Sparta, Missouri, he had worked for one firm, boarded with
one landlady, and eaten about three thousand quick lunches in the Old
Rock Bakery at Lucas Avenue and Broadway. To further account for the
state of existing hiatus in Mr. Penny's scheme of things would be
tautology.

A short femur line gave him an entirely false appearance of stockiness.
On the contrary, he stood a full five feet ten, was thewed with fine
compactness and solid with clean living and clean with solid living.
Even the fiber of his remarkably fine hair was strong. It was the
brilliant honey color of full-moon shine, lay off his brow, but not
down, lending him a look of distinction to which he was hardly entitled.

He regarded Lilly with a furtiveness prompted solely by a desire not to
appear audacious. Her softly rising throat just recovering its normal
beat reminded him of the sweet agitation of pigeons in the park. He was
close enough to be conscious of an amazing impulse on his part to reach
over and touch the soft white flesh above the cove of her elbow. A
little blue thread of a vein showed there, maddeningly. A sense of inner
pounding suffocated him. He felt as if he had suddenly stepped into a
bath of charged waters, little explosions all over the surface of him.
Then a numbness so that, when he placed his tongue to the roof of his
mouth, it was insensate, and, somewhat frightened, he pinched the back
of his hand, relieved by the stab of pain.

"Do you dance, Mr. Penny?"

"Me? I--No, I guess I'm what you would call temperance when it comes to
frolics."

A little clearing had been made in the parlor, a music box pricking out
the "Blue Danube." From the dining room they sat regarding the three or
four couples, Lilly marking time with the toe of her white-kid slipper.
The elixir of the dance could rush to her head like wine, but she was
not sought after as a partner, due to her reserve against a too locked
embrace and a curious tendency to lead.

"To me, dancing is poetry as written by the feet."

He relieved her of her napkin and ice-cream dish, eager for suitable
reply to this syrupy observation.

"Speaking of feet, have you seen the show at Forest Park Highlands this
week?"

"No."

"Well, really remarkable. There is an armless fellow there who eats and
juggles, even writes, with his toes."

"Indeed!"

"Sometime if you would honor me by--by accompanying--I--er--Becker, did
I understand the name to be? I wonder if by any chance you are related
to Ben Becker."

She turned upon him with the immemorial sense of a point about to be
scored, her eyes full of relish.

"Why, I think I'm slightly related, Mr. Penny. He happens to be my
father."

He whacked his thigh.

"You don't tell me! Why, I've bought rope and twine from your father for
three years! A mighty fine gentleman, there. Well, well, this is a small
world, after all."

She noticed his large, protuberant Adam's apple throbbing with the
accelerando of pleasure, and a thaw set in between them. He let his arm
drape over the back of her chair, a stolen sense of her nearness
dizzying him. He was like a man with a suddenly developed new sense,
which he could not tickle enough.

"Well, well!" he said. "Well, well, well!" And she sighed out again
through her smile that he could fall so short of what he looked to be.

"I used to say, when I was a little girl, Mr. Penny, that I wished my
father were in a more romantic business than rope and twine. I wanted
him to be a florist or a wood carver or a music publisher or some of the
perfectly silly things that girls get into their heads."

"I always say of myself that I must have been born with a wooden spoon
in my mouth. Took to hardware from the very start. Left my stepfather's
farm and general store at fifteen and made a bee line for the hardware
business before I hardly knew what hardware meant. I suppose I'll die
with my nose to one of those very grindstones we carry in stock and be
buried with one of those same wooden spoons in my mouth. Although I
always say, no burial for mine. Burn me up--cremate me when I'm
finished here."

"Papa is that way, too, about his business, I mean. Tied up in twine, I
tell him."

"Just ask your father if he knows Albert Penny, Miss Becker. Queer how
things happen. This very day I turned over a memorandum to the head of
my department, advising a certain buy in hemp rope, Becker and Co. in
the back of my head all the time."

At eleven o'clock the first guest rose to go, Lilly following immediate
suit.

His state of eagerness rose redly to his ears.

"Will you permit me to escort you home, Miss Becker?"

"Why, yes, if it won't upset Flora's plans for me. I only live two
blocks over on Page."

"I wish you lived as far as Carondalet," he said, choking over words too
strange to be his.

They walked home through quiet streets that smelled sweetly and moistly.

He was scrupulously careful of her at crossings, his tingling fingers
closing over the roundest part of her arm, the warmth of her shining
through to the fabric of her eider-down-bordered cape, lending it a
vibrant living quality that thrilled him.

"I certainly have enjoyed a perfect evening, Miss Becker."

The magic of youth stole out of the citified night upon her.

"See!" she cried, her arm darting out of her cape, "that's Taurus up
there. I can always tell him. He's green. See how he glitters to-night.
Sometimes I feel sorry for Taurus. It's as if his little emerald soul is
bursting to twinkle itself out of the monotony of all the white ones.
That's what they were at the party to-night, all white. All of a color."

"Except you."

"Oh! Do you know the names of the stars, Mr. Penny?"

"I know the Dipper. It's our trade-mark, you know. That's how I
happened to work out our nest of aluminum dippers. Wonder if you
wouldn't permit me to bring you out a set of those dippers, Miss Becker.
All sizes fitted into one another. Just a little kitchen novelty you
might enjoy."

They were at her front steps now, the hall light flickering out over
them.

"I just certainly have enjoyed this evening, Miss Becker."

"Nice of you to put it that way, Mr. Penny," she said, trying to appear
unconscious of the unmistakable suns in his eyes.

"I--I'm not much of a fellow for this kind of thing, but I see I've been
making a mistake. A fellow like myself ought to get about more. But most
of the--er--er--ladies--young ladies--I have met, if you will pardon my
saying it, haven't been the sensible kind like yourself that a fellow
could sit down and have a talk with."

"I'm not very congenial, either, Mr. Penny, with the boys and girls I am
thrown in with. Flora's all right, and Vincent, but I'd rather stay at
home with my music or a good book than waste my time with social life. I
just ache sometimes for something better."

"Well, well," he said, "we certainly agree in a lot of ways. I thought I
was the only home body."

She was inside the door now, bare arm escaping the cape and out toward
him.

"Good night, Miss Becker. I--I hope I may be permitted to bring over
those dippers some evening."

"Why--er--yes, thank you."

"Good night."

Turning out the hall light, Lilly felt her way carefully upstairs to
save creaks.

"Lilly, that you?"

"Yes."

"Tear your dress?"

"No."

"Turn out the hall light?"

"Yes."

"Tight? Wait. I'm getting up."

"Never mind."

But during the process of Lilly's undressing, huddled on the bed edge,
arms hugging herself, Mrs. Becker held midnight commune.

"Who was there?"

"Oh, the usual crowd."

"Refreshments?"

"The usual."

"Anybody admire your dress?"

"No."

"Don't tell me too much, Lilly. I might enjoy hearing it."

"But, mamma, won't it keep until to-morrow? I'm sleepy now, dear."

"Who brought you home--Roy?"

"A Mr. Penny."

"Who? I thought you said only the old crowd was there. It's like pulling
teeth to get a word out of you."

"A friend of Vincent's. Works at Slocum-Hines's."

"Seems to me I've heard your father mention that name. Penny--familiar.
Is he nice?"

Lilly shuddered into a yawn. In the long drop of nightdress from
shoulder to peeping toes, her hair cascading straight but full of
electric fluff to her waist, she was as vibrant and as eupeptic as
Diana, and as aloof from desire.

"Yes, he's nice enough--"

"Penny--certainly--familiar name."

"--if you like him."

"What?"

"I say he's nice enough if you like his kind."

"Well, Miss Fastidious, I wish I knew who your kind is."

"I wish I did too, mamma."

Suddenly Mrs. Becker leaned to the door, her voice lifted.

"Ben!"

"Oh, mamma, he's asleep!"

"Oh, Ben!"

"Mamma, how can you?"

"Y-yes, Carrie."

"Isn't that assistant buyer down at Slocum-Hines's, the one you say has
thrown some orders in your way, named Penny?"

"Mamma, surely that will keep until morning."

"Isn't it, Ben?"

"Yes, Carrie; but come back to bed."

"I knew it! He's one of the coming young men at Slocum-Hines's. Vincent
Bankhead swears by him. He throws some fine orders in your papa's way. I
knew the name had a ring. Lilly, did he ask to--call?"

"Mamma, I'm sleepy."

"Did he?"

"Yes--maybe--sometime."

Then Mrs. Becker, full of small, eager ways, insisted upon tucking her
daughter into bed, patting the light coverlet well up under her chin and
opening the windows.

"Good night, baby," she said, giving the covers a final pat. "Sleep
tight and don't get up for breakfast. I want to bring it up to you."

But, contrary to the blandishment, Lilly lay awake, open-eyed, for quite
a round hour after her mother's voice, broken into occasionally by the
patient but sleepy tones of her father, had died down.

From her window she could see quite a patch of sky, finely powdered with
stars, the Dipper pricked out boldly.

For some reason, regarding it, a layer of tears formed on her eyes and
dried over her hot stare.



CHAPTER X

On the 6th of the following July, Lilly Becker and Albert Penny were
married.

The day dawned one of those imperturbable blues that hang over that
latitude of the country like a hot wet blanket steaming down. The corn
belt shriveled of thirst. The automobile had not yet bitten so deeply
into the country roads, but even a light horse and buggy traveled in a
whirligig of its own dust. St. Louis lay stark as if riveted there by
the Cyclopean eye of the sun. For twenty-four hours the weather vanes of
the great Middle West stood stock-still while July came in like a lion.
The city slept in strange, improvised beds drawn up beside windows or
made up on floors, and awoke enervated and damp at the back of the neck.

Throughout the Becker household, however, the morning moved with a whir,
the newly installed telephone lifting its shrill scream, delivery wagons
at the door, the horses panting under wet sponges and awning hats,
Georgia wide-eyed at the concurrence of events.

For the half-dozenth time that morning Mrs. Becker suffered a little
collapse, dropping down to the kitchen chair or hall bench, fanning
herself with the end of her apron.

"I'm dead! Another day like this will finish me. Georgia, have you
polished the door bell? Those delivery boys finger it up so. I'm
wringing wet with _prespiration_. If only there is a breeze in the
church to-night. Georgia, if that is Mr. Albert on the telephone, tell
him Miss Lilly isn't going to leave her room until noon. No, wait. I
want to speak to him myself. Hello, Albert? Well, bridegroom, good
morning!... What's left of me is fine.... I'm making her stay in her
room. Poor child, she's all nerves. Don't be late. I hate last-minute
weddings. Did you see the item in the morning _Globe_?... Yes, the name
is spelled wrong, Pen-nie, but there's quite a few lines. 'In lieu of a
honeymoon,' it goes on to say, 'the young couple will go to housekeeping
at once in their new home, 5199 Page Avenue, directly across from the
parents of the bride.' I'm sending over now to have all the windows
opened so it won't be stuffy for you to-night. Wait until you see the
presents, Albert, that came this morning. A check for five hundred
dollars all the way from her uncle Buck in Alaska. That makes six
hundred in checks. Three beautiful clocks, a dozen berry spoons from my
euchre club, and an invitation in poetry for her to become a member of
the Junior Matron Friday Club. If I wasn't so rushed I think I--I could
just sit down and have a good cry. Albert, be careful of those silk
sleeve garters I sent you for your wedding shirt, don't adjust them too
tight; and you know how you catch cold. Don't perspire and go in a
draught. And--and Albert, I see I have to remind you of little things
the way I do Ben. You men with your heads so chock full of business!"
(Very _sotto voce_.) "Send Lilly flowers this afternoon.
Lilies-of-the-valley and white rosebuds. Remley's on your corner is a
good place. Tell them your mother-in-law is a good customer and they'll
give you a little discount.... Yes, she's upset, poor child. I was the
same way. My mother almost had to shove me into the carriage. Well,
Albert, call up again about noon. She'll be up by then. Good-by--son."

A pox of perspiration was out over her face, sparkling forth again after
each mopping. A box arrived from a jeweler's and one from a department
store. They were a pie knife and a table crumber in the form of a
miniature carpet sweeper. The usual futilities with which such occasions
can be cluttered and which have shaped the destinies of immemorial women
into a tyranny of petty things.

Then Mrs. Becker hurried upstairs, her white wrapper floating after.

In the bathroom her husband leaned to a mirror, his jaw line thrust to
the cleave of a razor.

"I really envy you, Ben. Not even your daughter's wedding day can
disturb you. For a cent I could cry my eyes out. It's only excitement
keeps me going. I--could--c-c-cry."

"Now, now, little woman."

She sat down on a hall chair, regarding him through the open bathroom
door.

"Has she said anything to you, Ben, since yesterday? It's made me so
upset."

"Now, now, little woman, you must make allowances for a young girl's
nervousness."

"I know, Ben, but it worries me so. It's not natural for her to have
crying spells like that one yesterday."

"Nonsense! I'm not so sure you weren't a red-eyed bride."

"My nervousness wasn't anything like hers. She'll make herself sick."

"You mean you will."

"Have you heard her moving about her room yet?"

"No."

"Shall I knock?"

"No, Carrie; now let the child alone this morning."

"I never knew her to stay in bed so long. It's after eleven, and the
hair dresser coming at twelve. It will seem funny, won't it, Ben,
her--little room empty to-night."

"Now, now, no waterworks. What if she was moving away to another city
instead of just settling down across the street? You worked this thing
your way, and even now you don't feel satisfied."

"I do feel satisfied, Ben, but I want her to be, too."

"Now, little woman, mark my word, Lilly may feel that she is doing this
thing in more or less of a spirit of sacrifice to our pleasure, but
inside of a week she'll be as busy and happy a little housekeeper as
her mother."

"Is that her calling?"

"Yes. Go to her, Carrie."

Out in the little upper square of hallway Lilly appeared suddenly; her
hair still down in the beautiful way she let it toss about her in sleep,
and her body boldly outlined in a Japanese kimono she held tightly
about her.

"Mamma, will you and papa please come to my room? I want to talk to
you."

"Your father is shaving, Lilly. Can't you talk to us out here? How is
our girl on her wedding day? Frightened? You're me all over again. Ask
your father if I wasn't as pale as you are." She kissed her daughter on
lips that were cold, brushing back the shower of hair from her
shoulders. "You ought to see the presents, Lilly, that just--"

"Mamma--papa--you must listen."

"Yes, Lilly."

"Please, won't you let me off? Please!"

Her father regarded her from behind the white mud of lather, his eyes
darkening up.

"Now, now, sweetheart," he said, using one of his rarest words of
endearment, "this won't do at all."

"But I can't, papa. I just can't. I know it's terrible, this last
minute, but--but--I tell you--I can't."

"My God, Ben!"

"Can't what, Lilly?"

"Can't! I never had such a funny--a terrible feeling. I can't explain
it, only let me off. Please! It's not too late. Lots of girls have done
it--found out at the last minute they couldn't--"

"My God! What are we to do, Ben? Ben!"

"Carrie, if only you will hold your horses I'll handle this." He mopped
off his face hurriedly, sliding into a dressing gown.

"Come now, Lilly, into the front room. Sit down."

She moved after him with the rather groping look of the blind.

"Now what is this nonsense, Lilly, you've been hinting these last few
days?"

"I've made a mistake, papa. I should have said so weeks--ago--from the
start. It isn't Albert's fault. It isn't anybody's fault. I've had it
all along, this queer feeling all through the engagement and parties,
but I kept hoping for your sakes I'd get over it--hoping--in vain--"

"Why, of course, Lilly, you'll get over it! It's natural for a young
girl to feel--"

"No! No! My feeling won't lift! If only I had said nothing the night
he--proposed. But mamma was waiting up. She--she pressed me so. It was
so hard the way you put it. I know he's a fine fellow. I know, papa,
he's thrown big orders in your way. But I can't help being what I am.
Please, papa, let me off! Please!"

An actual shrinkage of face seemed to have taken place in Mrs. Becker.

"What'll we do? What'll we do, Ben?" she kept repeating, rocking herself
back and forth in what seemed to border on dementia.

"You see, papa, it's only to be a small wedding. We could so easily call
things off. I'll take all the blame--"

"No! No! No!"

"Mamma dear, I'm as sorry--about it as you are, but--"

"No! No! She's ruining our lives, Ben--disgracing--"

"Lilly, are you sure that you are telling us everything?"

"I swear it, papa. I know I'm inarticulate, I don't seem able to explain
the terrible state I've been in for days--"

"It's nervousness, Lilly."

"I tell you, no! I can't make you understand. But I'm not cut out, papa,
for what I'm going to settle down to. I'm something else than what you
think I am. I guess I--I am a sort of botanical sport, papa, off our
family tree. I know what you're going to say, and maybe you're right. I
may have more ideas than I have talent, but let me go my way. Let me be
what I am."

"Lilly, Lilly, let us take this thing step by step, quietly. Surely,
daughter, you appreciate the enormity of the situation!"

"I do. I do."

"Now to go back to the beginning. Did you consent to this engagement of
your own free will?"

"I did and I didn't."

"You didn't?"

"Oh, I know you let me decide for myself, but don't you think I felt the
undercurrent of your attitudes? All the other girls settling down, as
you put it. You and Albert such good friends, and then Albert himself
so--so what he should be."

"Now you are talking. If your mother and I hadn't felt that Albert was
the fine and upright man for their little girl to marry, do you think
they would have--"

"I know! There we go around in the circle again. Everything is perfect.
The little house, Albert's promotion to first assistant. Everything
perfect, but me. I don't want it. I don't love him. You hear me! There
is something in me he hasn't touched. Respect him? Yes, but respect is
only a poor relation to love and comes in for the left-over and the
cast-off emotions."

"Her head is full of the novels she reads!"

"You can't keep me from thinking like a woman. Feeling like one. Is it
shameful to want to love? Is it wrong to desire in the man you are to
marry that fundamental passion that makes the world go around? I'm not
supposed to know any thing about the thing I'm plunging into until after
I've plunged! I'm afraid, papa. Save me!"

"Ben, I could swear who is at the bottom of this indecent talk of hers.
I found his picture cut out of the school magazine and pasted in her
diary. She's a changed child since that Lindsley came to the High School
the year before she graduated."

"Mamma! Mamma!" fairly exploded to her feet by the potency of her sense
of outrage. "Oh, you--you--"

"I know I'm right."

"Why, I haven't even seen him since I graduated! I've never talked ten
words to the man in my life! Oh--oh--how can you?"

"Just the same, he's been your ruination. Since you got him into your
head not one of the boys you met has been good enough. I knew you had
him in mind the day you told me you wished Albert was a little more
bookish and musical. I know why you wanted him to subscribe to the
Symphony. The spats you made him buy. Poor boy! and his ankles aren't
cut for them. Love! Your father and I weren't so much in love, let me
tell you. Only I knew my parents wanted it and that was enough. I wish
to God I'd never lived to see this day--"

"Carrie!"

"I do. Noon of my daughter's wedding day, and she can't make up her mind
whether she'll be married or not. O God! it's funny--love, now at the
last minute--oh--oh--" A geyser of hysteria shot up, raining down in a
glassy kind of laugh. "Oh--oh, it's funny!--love--"

"Carrie, you're hysterical. Here, smell this ammonia."

"The little house--my heart's blood in it. A doll's house, ready for her
to walk into. Membership in the Junior Matrons--trousseau--oh, it's
funny--funny--"

"For God's sake, papa, try to calm her!"

"Funny--funny--funny."

With a wave of sobs that broke over her, she went down, then, literally
to her knees, her back heaving and shuddering.

"Her wedding day--O God--funny--"

"Mamma! Mamma! It's all right, dear. Don't--holler like that. I just got
upset, that's all. Frightened like--like any other girl would. I'm all
right now, mamma. I'm sorry."

"We want to see you happy, baby. It's for your good."

"Of course you do. I know it. I'm all right now, mamma."

"We're your best friends, Lilly. We would go through fire for you."

"Of course, mamma. I--I was nervous, that's all."

"There's no finer boy breathes than Albert."

"You're right."

"He's sending you lilies-of-the-valley, baby. He's ordered himself some
white-flannel tennis pants, too--the kind you admired. He got his report
from the life-insurance people and he's a grand risk, Lilly. In as fine
a condition to marry as a man could be. Baby, tell me--tell papa--aren't
you happy?"

"I am--I--oh, I am, dear! Why, here is Elsa ready to dress my hair!
Mamma--dear--I'm all right now. Fine."

       *       *       *       *       *

At eight o'clock that evening, in the Garrison Avenue Rock Church,
little Evelyn Kemble, in the bushiest of white skirts and to the
accompaniment of organ music rolling over her, placed a white-satin
cushion before the smilax-banked altar.

Kneeling on it, and to the antiphonal beat of the Reverend Stickney's
voice, Lilly Becker and Albert Penny became as one.



CHAPTER XI

By a strange conspiracy of middle-class morality, which clothes the
white nude of life in suggestive factory-made garments, and by her own
sheer sappiness, which vitalized her, but with the sexlessness of a
young tree, Lilly, with all her rather puerile innocence left her,
walked into her marriage like a blind Nydia, hands out and groping
sensitively.

The same, in a measure, was true of Albert, who came into his immaculate
inheritance, himself immaculate, but with a nervous system well
insulated by a great cautiousness of life.

He was highly subject to head colds and occasional attacks of dyspepsia,
due to his inability to abstain from certain foods. He was, therefore,
sensitive to draughts and would not eat hot bread. He carried an
umbrella absolutely upon all occasions and a celluloid toothpick in his
waistcoat pocket.

Then, too, he gargled. To chronicle the heroic emotions that motivate
men is a fine task. Love and hate and all the chemistry of their
mingling that go to form the plasma of human experience. It is a lesser,
even an ignominious one to narrate Lilly's kind of anguish during this
matinal performance of her husband. She suffered a tight-throated sort
of anguish that could have been no keener had it been of larger
provocation. Her toes and her fingers would curl and a quick ripple of
flesh rush over her.

Mornings, when he departed, his kiss, which smelled of mouth wash, would
remain coldly against her lips with the peculiar burn of camphor ice.
All her sensibilities seemed suddenly to fester.

On a week day of the third week of her marriage, in her little canary
cage of a yellow bedroom dominated with the monstrous brass bedstead of
the period and a swell-front dresser elaborate in Honiton and flat
silver, she endured, with her head crushed into the chair back, those
noisome ablutions from across the hallway. She was wearing, these first
mornings, a rose-colored negligée, foamy with lace and still violet
scented from the trousseau chest, and especially designed to pink this
early hour.

It lay light to a skin that, strangely enough, did not covet its sensual
touch. She craved back to the starchy blue-gingham morning dresses. It
was as if she sat among the ruins of those crispy potential yesterdays,
all her to-morrows ruthlessly and terribly solved.

Something swift and eager had died within her. She was herself gone
flabby. A wife, with a sudden and, to her, horrid new consciousness that
had twisted every ligament of life.

Her husband's collar so intimately there on the dresser top. His shirt,
awaiting studs, spread out on the bed--their bed. His suspenders
straddling the chair back. The ordering of the evening beefsteak lurking
back in her consciousness. He liked sirloin, stabbing it vertically (he
had a way of holding his fork upright between first and third fingers)
when he carved, and cutting it skillfully away from the T bone. After
the first week, he liked the bone, too, gnawing it, not mussily, but
with his broad white teeth predatory and his temples working. She was a
veritable bundle of these petty accumulated concepts, harrowed to
their quick.

She knew that presently he would enter the room in his trousers and
undershirt, which he did upon the very minute, the little purple circle,
like a stamp mark on the rind of a bacon, showing just beneath his
Adam's apple, the shag of his yellow hair wetly curly from dousing, like
a spaniel's.

"Certainly fine water pressure we have in the bathroom, Lilly. I am
going to bring home some tubing from the store and attach a spray."

She looked out of the window over the languid little patch of front
lawn, more gray than green from the scourge of heat. Insect life hung
midair like a curtain of buzzings. Directly opposite the dusty, unmade
street, she could see her parents' home standing unprotected except for
one sapling maple, the sun already pressing against the drawn shades.
There was a slight breeze through this morning that turned the sapling
leaves and even lifted the little twist of tendril at the nape of
Lilly's neck.

It was just that spot, while tugging at his collar, that Albert Penny
stooped to kiss.

"Little wife," he said.

"Ugh!" she felt.

"Poor little wife, it was ninety-four and a half at six-thirty-eight
this morning."

His capacity for accuracy could madden her.

He computed life in the minutiae of fractions, reckoning in terms of the
halfpenny, the half minute, the half degree.

She sat now, laying pleats in the pink negligée where it flowed over her
knees, a half smile forced out on her lips.

"Well, Albert," she said, wanting to keep her voice lifted, "I guess
we're in it, aren't we? Up to our necks."

"In what?"

"Marriage."

Leaning to the mirror for the adjustment of his collar button, he
paused, regarding her reflection.

"Well now, what an idea! Of course we're in it, and the wonder to me is
how we ever stayed out so long."

She reached up to yawn, her long white arms stretched above her head.

"Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear!" she said in what might have been the key of
anything.

"Poor little girl!" he said. "I wish I could make it cooler for you."

"It isn't that."

"What then is bothering your little head?"

"I--oh, I don't know. I guess it's just the reaction after the
excitement of the wedding."

He came back to kiss the same tendril at the nape of her neck.

"I'm glad it's over, too. Feels mighty good to settle down."

"'Settle down.' Somehow I hate that expression."

"All right, then, Mrs. Penny, we'll settle up. Speaking of settling up,
I guess the missus wants her Monday-morning allowance, doesn't she?"

"I--guess--so."

He placed three already counted out five-dollar bills on the dresser,
weighting them down with a silver-back mirror.

"See if you can't make it last this week, Lilly. You watch Mother Becker
market and you'll come out all right."

"Oh, I can't pick around raw meat the way mamma does. It makes me sick."

"Housekeeping may seem a little strange at first, but I'm not afraid my
little wife is going to let any of them get ahead of her."

"Whoever wants it, can have that honor."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"What's the program for to-day, Lilly?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"I'm going to send Joe out from the store to-day with some washers for
the kitchen faucets and some poultry netting for a chicken yard. I'll
potter around this evening and build one behind the woodshed. Chickens
give a place a right homey touch."

"And send out a man from Knatt's to fix the piano. They delivered it
with a middle C that sticks."

"Yes, and I'll send a can of Killbug out with the wire. I noticed a
cockroach run over the ice box last night. You must watch that a little,
even in a new house."

"Ugh!"

"I hope I'm not getting a cold. I feel kind of that way. Mother Becker
fixed me up fine with that wet cloth around my neck last time. I'll try
it to-night."

"Come," she said, "breakfast is ready."

They descended to the little oak dining room, quite a glitter of new cut
glass on the sideboard and the round table white and immaculately
spread. There was a little maidservant, Lena Obendorfer, the
fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kemble washerwoman, shy and red rims
about her eyes from secret tears of homesickness.

"Why, Lena, the breakfast table looks lovely; and don't forget, dearie,
Mr. Penny takes three eggs in the morning, and he doesn't like his
rolls heated."

The child, her poor flat face pock-marked, fluttered into service.

Lilly regarded her husband through his meal, elbows on table, cheek in
her palm. He ate the three two-minute eggs with gusto, alternating with
deep draughts of coffee, and crisp little ribbons of bacon made into a
sandwich between his rolls.

"This is certainly delicious bacon."

"Mamma sent a whole one over yesterday."

"I like it lean. Always buy it with plenty of dark streaks through it.
Don't you like it lean?"

Silence.

"Can't you eat, Lilly? That's a shame."

"Too hot."

"Poor girlie!"

"Lena, bring Mr. Penny some more bacon."

"Certainly delicious. I like it lean."

She watched his temples quiver to the motion of his jaws, her
unspeakable depression tightening up her tonsils and the very pit of her
scared and empty.

"Albert--"

"Um-hum!"

"I--What if you should find that I--I'm not--not--"

"What?"

"Not right--here. Not the--wife for you."

He leaned over to pinch her cheek, waggling it softly and masticating
well before he spoke.

"If my little wife suited me any better they would have to chain me
down. Ah, it's great! I tell you, Lilly, a man makes the mistake of his
life not to do it earlier. If I had it to do over again I'd marry at
twenty. Solid comfort. Something to work for. I feel five years closer
to the general managership than I did six months ago. Certainly fine
bacon. Best I ever ate."

"Albert--let us not permit our marriage to drag us down into the kind
of rut we see all about us. Take Flora and Vincent. Married five months
and she never so much as wears corsets when she takes him to the street
car, mornings. And he used to be such a clever dresser, and look at him
now. All baggy. Let's not get baggy, Albert."

"I agree with you there. A man owes it to himself and his business to
appear well pressed. It's a slogan of mine. Clothes may not make the
man, but neatness often goes a long way toward making the opportunity.
Don't you worry about me becoming baggy, Lilly. I'm going to send one of
those folding ironing boards up from the store this day."

"I don't mean only that. You mustn't be so literal about everything. I
mean let's not become baggy-minded. Take Flora again. Flora was her
class poetess and I don't believe she has a literary thought or a book
in her head now except her account book. Let us improve ourselves,
Albert. Read evenings and subscribe to the Symphony and the Rubinstein
Evening Choral."

"Speaking of Rubinstein, Lilly, I'm going to take out a thousand
dollars' burglary insurance with Eckstein. One cannot be too careful."

She pushed back from the table. "We're invited over to the Duncans'
to-night for supper. They've one of the new self-playing pianos."

He felt in his waistcoat pocket for the toothpick.

"I'll go if you want it, Lilly, but guess where I'd rather eat my
supper."

"Where?"

"Right here. And fry the sirloin the way Mother Becker does it, Lilly,
sprinkle a few onions on it. If I were you I wouldn't let Lena
tackle it."

"This is the third night for beefsteak."

"Fine. You'll learn this about your hubby, he--"

"Don't use that word, Albert. I hate it."

"What?"

"Hubby."

"All right then, husband. Bless her heart, she likes to hear the real
thing. Well then, your husband is a beefsteak fellow. Let the others
have all the ruffly dishes they want. Good strong beefsteak is my pace."

She let him lift her face for a kiss.

"I'll be home six-forty-six to the dot. That's what I've figured out it
takes me if I leave the office at six-five."

He kissed her again, pressing her head backward against the cove of his
arm, pinching her cheeks together so that her mouth puckered.

"Won't kiss my little wife on the lips this morning. I'm getting a head
cold. Good-by, Mrs. Penny. Um-m-m! like to say it."

"Good-by."

"Mother Becker coming over to-day?"

"Yes. We had planned to go to the meat market together."

"Fine."

"But I'm not going."

"Why?"

"I--don't know. Too hot, I guess."

He looked at her rather intently.

"That's right, Lilly," he said, his eyes, with something new in them,
roving over her figure; "if you don't feel up to the mark, just you take
care of yourself. Jove!" he repeated. "Jove!" kissed her again, and went
down the front steps, whistling.



CHAPTER XII

At eleven o'clock Mrs. Becker, hatted, crossed the sun-bleached street,
carrying outheld something that wetted through the snowy napkin that
covered it. At the door she surrendered it to Lena.

"Put this in the ice box for Mr. Albert's supper. It's some of my
coldslaw he's so fond of, and a pound of sweet butter, I took from my
dairyman. See that Miss Lilly never uses it for cooking, Lena; the salt
butter I brought yesterday is for that."

"Yes'm."

"And, Lena," drawing a palm across the banister and showing it up,
"look. That isn't nice. In my house I go over every piece of woodwork
from top to bottom on my hands and knees. You mustn't wait for Miss
Lilly to tell you everything. Where is she?"

"Upstairs, ma'am."

She ascended to a jeremiad of the cardinal laws of housekeeping, palm
still suspicious. Her daughter rose out of a low mound beside
the window.

"Good morning, mamma."

"Lilly, you should help upstairs wash days with the housework. Eight
o'clock and my house is spick span, even my cellar steps wiped down.
Take off that pink thing and I'll help you make the bed. It was all
right to wear it around the first week for your husband, but now one of
your cotton crepes will do. Come, help turn the mattress."

"Oh, mamma, Lena will make the bed."

"Who ever heard of not doing your upstairs work on wash day? Really,
Lilly, I was ignorant as a bride, too, but I wasn't lazy. I wouldn't
give a row of pins for--"

"Please, mamma--don't begin."

"Well, it's your house. If it suits your husband, it suits me."

"Well, it does suit him."

"Not if I judge him right. Albert likes order. I went over his socks the
other day, and he kept them matched up as a bachelor just like a woman
would. He's methodical."

"Don't lift that heavy mattress alone, mamma. Here, if you insist upon
doing it, I'll help."

They dressed the bed to its snowy perfection, a Honiton counterpane over
pink falling almost to the floor.

"Well, that's more like it." Her face quickly moist from exertion, Mrs.
Becker regarded her daughter across the completed task.

"Now for the carpet sweeper."

Lilly returned to her chair, lying back to fan her face with a lacy
fribble of pocket handkerchief. "You can wear yourself out if you
insist, mamma, but I can't see any reason for it. I'm--tired."

Mrs. Becker sat down, hitching her chair toward her daughter's.

"Lilly," she paid, eagerly forward and a highly specialized significance
in her voice, "don't you feel well--baby?"

"Of course I feel well, mamma. As well as anyone can feel in this heat.
If only you wouldn't harass me about this--old house."

Mrs. Becker withdrew, her entire manner lifting with her shoulders.

"Well, if that's the way you feel about it, you need not be afraid that
I'm going to interfere. That's one thing I made up my mind to from the
start, never to be a professional mother-in-law in my daughter's home.
The idea!"

"Mamma, I didn't mean it that way, and you know it. I realize that you
mean well. But I suppose many a family skeleton rattles its bones to the
tune of 'they meant well.'"

"Lilly, you're not yourself. I'm sure you don't feel well. Baby, you
mustn't be bashful with your own mother."

"Please, please don't ask me that again in--in that voice. You know I
always feel well."

"We're both married women now, Lilly. If--if there's anything you want
to say--"

"No."

"I always say, a single woman doesn't know she's on earth. Isn't it so,
Lilly?"

Suddenly Lilly shot her hand out to her mother's arm, her fingers
digging into the flesh.

"You should have told me something--beforehand!"

"I'd have cut out my tongue sooner. What kind of a mother do you think I
am? Shame!"

"It's wicked to rear a girl with no conception of life."

"You're no greener than I was. That's what a man wants in the girl he
marries. Innocence."

"Ignorance."

"It all comes naturally to a woman after she's married, life does."

"I--I hate life."

"Lilly!"

"I do! I do! I do!"

"You poor child!" said Mrs. Becker, stroking her hand, and her voice
pitched to a very private key. "Life is life and what are you going to
do about it?"

"Only love--some sort of magic potion which Nature uses to drug us, can
make her methods seem anything but gross--horrible."

"What's on your mind, Lilly? We don't need to be bashful together any
more. We're married women."

Lilly rose then, moving toward the dresser, drawing the large
tortoise-shell pins from the smooth coil of her hair.

"If you want me to go to the meat market with you, mamma, I'd better be
dressing before it gets any hotter."

"You're too warm, Lilly. I'll go myself. You can learn the beef cuts
later."

"I would rather stay at home and practice awhile. I haven't touched the
piano since--"

"Tack up your shelf paper while I'm gone, Lilly--your cupboards look so
bare--and then come over to lunch with me and we'll go to the euchre
together. It's your first afternoon at the Junior Matrons and I want you
to look your best. Wear your flowered dimity."

"If you don't mind, mamma, I want to unpack my music this afternoon and
get my books straightened. I'd rather not go."

"The nerve! And that poor little Mrs. Wempner goes to extra trouble in
your honor. I hear she's to have pennies attached to the tally cards.
Pretty idea, pennies for Penny. Well, I'm not going to worry my life
away! Work it out your own way. I'll send you home a steak and some
quinine from the drug store for Albert to take to-night."

Presently Lilly heard the lower door slam. It came down across her
nerves like the descent of a cleaver.

For another hour she sat immovable. A light storm had come up with
summer caprice, thunder without lightning, and a thin fall of rain that
hardly laid the dust. There was a certain whiteness to the gloom,
indicating the sun's readiness to pierce it, but a breeze had sprung up,
fanning the Swiss curtains in against Lilly's cheek, and across the
street she could see her mother's shades fly up and windows open to the
refreshment of it.

At twelve o'clock the telephone rang. It was her husband. "Yes, she was
well. Pouring downtown? Funny. Only a light shower out there. No, the
man had not brought the missing caster for the bedstead. Yes,
six-forty-six, and she would put the steak on at six-twenty. Yes, the
poultry netting had come. Fine. Bathtub stopper. Yes."

For quite a while after this she sat in the hallway, her hand on the
instrument, in the attitude of hanging up the receiver.

She did piddle among her books then, a vagabond little collection of
them. Textbooks, in many cases her initials and graduating year printed
in lead pencil along the edges. Rolfe's complete edition of Shakespeare.
A large illustrated edition of Omar Khayyam. Several gift volumes of
English poets. Complete set of small red Poes that had come free with a
two-year magazine subscription. Graduation gift of Emerson's essays.
_Vision of Sir Launfal_. _Journeys to the Homes of Great Men_.
_Lucille_, in padded leather. An unaccountably present _Life of Cardinal
Newman_. _The Sweet Girl Graduate_. _Faust_. _How to Interpret Dreams_.

They occupied three shelves of the little case; the remaining two she
filled in with stacks of sheet music, laying aside ten picked selections
marked "Repertoire" and occasionally sitting back on her heels to hum
through the pages of a score. Once she carried a composition to the
piano, "Who is Sylvia?" to be exact, singing it through to her own
accompaniment. Her voice lifted nicely against the little square
confines of reception hall, Lena, absolutely wringing wet with suds and
perspiration, poking her head up from the laundry stairs.

"Oh, Miss Lilly, that's grand! Please sing it over again."

She did, quickened in spite of herself. Her voice had a pleasant
plangency, a quality of more yet to come and as if the wells of her
vitality were far from drained.

She could hear from the laundry the resumed thrubbing and even smell the
hot suds. The afternoon reeked of Monday. She left off, finally, and
rocked for a time on the cool porch, watching the long, silent needles
of rain, wisps of thought floating like feathers.

"Who am I? Lilly Becker. How do I happen to be me? What if I were Melba
instead? What if Melba were frying the sirloin to-night and five
thousand people were coming to hear me sing in the Metropolitan Opera
House? Albert--husband. What a queer word! Husband. Love. Hate.
Lindsley. Language. How did language ever come to be? We feel, and then
we try to make sounds to convey that feeling. What language could ever
convey the boiling inside of me? I must be a sea, full of terrible
deep-down currents and smooth on top. How does one know whether or not
he is crazy--mad? How do I know that I am not really singing to five
thousand? Maybe this is the dream. Page Avenue. Lena in the laundry.
That sirloin steak being delivered around the side entrance, by a boy
with a gunny sack for an apron. Dreams. Freud. Suppressed desires.
That's me. Thousands--thousands of them. Am I my conscious or my
unconscious self? Can I break through this--this dream into reality?
Which part of me is here on this front porch and which part is
Marguerite with the pearls in her hair? Bed casters, they're real. And
Albert--husband--the rows of days--and nights--nights of my marriage. O
God, make it a dream! Make it a dream!"

At six-forty-six Albert Penny came home to supper.



CHAPTER XIII

There was nothing consciously premeditated about the astonishing speech
Lilly made to her husband that evening. Yet it was as if the words had
been in burning rehearsal, so scuttling hot they came off her lips.
There had been a coolly quiet evening on the front porch, a telephone
from Flora Bankhead, a little run-in visit from her parents, and now at
ten o'clock her husband, shirt-sleeved and before the mirror, tugging to
unbutton his collar.

She did not want that collar off. It brought, rawly, a sense of his
possession of her. She sat fully dressed, in her chair beside the
window, the black irises almost crowding out the gray in her eyes, her
hands tightening and tightening against that removal of collar. Finally
one half of it flew open, and on that tremendous trifle Lilly spoke.

"Albert."

"Yes?"

"Let me go!"

"Huh?"

"It's wrong. I've made a mistake. I don't want to be married."

For a full second he held that pose at his collar button, his entire
being seeming to suspend a beat.

"What say?" not exactly doubting, but wanting to corroborate his senses.

She was amazed at her ability to reply.

"I said I have made a terrible mistake. I can't stand being married to
you."

He came toward her with the open side of his collar jerking like an old
door on its hinges.

"Now lookahere," he said, rather roughly for him; "it's all right for a
woman to have her whims once in a while, but there are limits. I've been
as considerate with you as I know how to be. A darn sight more than many
a man with his woman."

"I'm not that!" she cried, springing to her feet.

"What?"

"That! Your--that!"

"Call it what you want," he said, "all I know is that you're my wife and
I married you to settle down to a decent, self-respecting home life and
that a sensible woman leaves her whims behind her."

She stood with her hands to the beat of her throat, looking at him as if
he had hunted her into her corner, which he had not.

"Let me go," she said.

He seemed trying to gain control of his large, loose hands, clenching
and unclenching them.

"Good God!" he said. "What say?"

"It's no use! I've tried. I'm wrong. Something in me is stronger than
you or mamma or papa or--or environment. All my life I've been fighting
against just--just--this. And now I've let it trap me."

"Darn funny time to be finding it out."

"That's the terrible part! To think it took this--marriage--to awaken me
to a meaning of myself."

"Bah! Your meaning to yourself is no better than any other woman's."

"A month ago it would have been so simple--to have had the
courage--then. To have realized then! Why--why can life be like that?"

"Like what?"

"You remember the night coming home from the Highlands? I tried to tell
you. Something in me was rebelling. Ask mamma; papa. They knew! That's
been my great trouble. My desires for myself were never strong enough to
combat their desires for me. They've always placed me under such ghastly
obligation for their having brought me into the world. Their obligation
is to _me_, for having brought me here, the accident of their desires!
But I let the molasses lake of family sentiment--suck--me in. If only I
had fought harder! It took this trap--marriage! All of a sudden I'm
awake! Don't try to keep me, Albert. I haven't known until this minute
that my mind is made up. So made up that it frightens me even more than
you. I'd rather be on my own in a garret, Albert! It's kinder to tell
you. We mustn't get into this thing deeper. Nothing can change me.
Don't try."

She put up her hands as if to ward off some sort of blow, but in her
heart not afraid, and she wanted to be afraid of him. He did whirl a
chair toward her by the back, but sat down, jerking her into one
opposite, facing her so that their knees touched, and she could see the
spots on his temples that responded so to beefsteak, throbbing. Her
terror rose a little to the volume of his silence. His head was so
square. She wanted him to rage and she to hurl herself against his
storm. Her whole being wanted a lashing. She could pinch herself to the
capacity of her strength without wincing.

But on the contrary, his voice, when it came, was muted.

"Lilly," he said, "you're sick. You're affected with the heat." His look
of utter daze irritated her.

"Sick! You mean I was sick before! I'm well now."

"You're either sick or crazy!"

"I'm trapped. I was born trapped, but now I tell you I'm free! Something
up here in my brain--down here in my heart--has set me free! You can't
keep me. No one can. I want out!"

"In God's name, what are you driving at?"

"You wouldn't understand. Love might have made you--this--possible, but
it didn't come. It didn't come, Albert."

He reached for his coat to plunge into it.

"I'm going across for your mother and father. I'm afraid of you. There
is something behind all this. One of us is crazy!"

"No, no, Albert. Please, not them. I'll run out of the house if they
come. They've defeated me so often. That terrible wall they erect--out
of flesh that bleeds every time I try to climb it. They've killed me
with the selfishness of their love, those two. They put me body and soul
into Chinese shoes the day I was born. I've never ceased paying up for
being their child. Suppose they did sacrifice for me--clothe me--feed
me--what does parenthood mean but that? Don't you dare to call them
over! Don't you dare!"

"In God's name, then, what!"

"Just let me go, Albert--quietly."

"Where?"

She went toward him, her fine white throat palpitating as if her heart
were beating up in it, something even wheedling in her voice.

"I've thought it all out, Albert. These unbearable days since--this.
I'll go quietly; I'll take the blame. In these cases where a woman
leaves it becomes desertion--"

"If you're talking divorce, I'll see you burn like brimstone before
I'll sacrifice my respectability in this community before your
damn whims."

She quivered, and it was a full second before she was able to continue.

"I know, Albert, to you it sounds--worse, probably, than it is. But
think how much worse, how degrading it would be for me to stay here--in
your house--hating. I'll make it so easy. It's done every day, only we
don't happen to hear of it. That's what makes our kind the marrow of
society. We're too immorally respectable to live honestly. We build a
shell of conventionality over the surface of things and rot underneath.
Nature doesn't care how she uses us. It's the next generation concerns
her. She has to drug us or we couldn't endure. We're drugged on
respectability. On a few of us the drug won't react. I'm one. Let me go,
Albert. To Chicago. I was there once with mamma and papa to the Rope and
Hemp Manufacturers' Convention. Or, better still, New York. That's the
field for my kind of work. Many a girl with less voice than I has gotten
on there. Albert, won't you let me go?"

He was like nothing so much as a cornered bull, trying to bash his
bewildered head through the impenetrable wall of things. Little red
shreds had come out in the white of his eyes; he was sweating coarsely
and feeling the corners of his mouth with his tongue.

"You won't ruin my name--you won't ruin my name."

"I'll take the blame. I'll love taking it. You'll have a clean case of
desertion--"

Suddenly he took a step toward her with the threat of a roar in his
voice, and again she found relief in the rising velocity of his anger
and practically thrust herself in the hope of a blow.

"What are you that I am married to," he cried, "a she-devil? What have
I got to do? Treat you like one? Huh? Huh?"

He stopped just short of her, the upper half of his body thrust backward
from restraining his impulse to lunge, his face distorted and quivering
down at her.

"Be careful," he said. "By God! be careful when I get my blood up. The
woman don't live that can touch my respectability. If you go, you go
without a divorce. You're trying to harm me--ruin my life--that's what
you are. Ruin my life." And suddenly, before the impulse to strike had
traveled down his tightening arm, collapsed weakly, his entire body
retched by the dry sobs that men weep. He could so readily arouse her
aversion, that even now, with a quick pity for him stinging her
eyeballs, she could regard him dispassionately, a certain disgust for
him uppermost.

He turned toward her finally with the look of a stricken St. Bernard
dog, his lower lids salt-bitten and showing half moons of red flesh.

"What is it, Lilly? What have I failed in? For God's sake tell me and
I'll make it right."

"That's the terrible part, Albert. You haven't failed. You're _you_.
It's something neither of us can control any more than we can control
the color of our eyes. It's as if I were a--a problem in chemistry that
had reacted differently than was expected and blew off the top
of things."

"Bah! the trouble with you women to-day is that you've got an itch that
you don't know how to scratch. Well, it's high time for you to learn a
way to scratch yours by settling down like a respectable married woman
has to." His voice rising and his wrongs red before him: "I wish to God
I'd never laid eyes on you. I thought you were more sensible than most
and I find you a crazy woman."

"Then, Albert, you don't want a crazy woman for your wife!"

"Ah no, you don't! No, you don't! I've worked like a dog to get where I
am. I'm a respected member of this community and I intend to stay one.
No woman gets a divorce out of me unless over my dead body. I'm a leader
of a Bible class and an officer in my lodge. I wore a plume and gold
braid at the funeral of the mayor of this town. I'm first-assistant
buyer and I propose to become general manager. I'm a respectable citizen
trying to settle down to a respectable home, and, by God! no woman
tomfoolery is going to bamboozle me out of it."

She sat with her eyes closed, tears seeping through them, and her fist
beating softly into her palm.

"Oh, Albert--Albert--how can I make you understand? My brain is
bursting--"

"Lilly," he interrupted, explosively reaching out and closing over her
wrist, and sudden perception lifting his voice, "I know! You--you're not
well! You're ailing. Women aren't--aren't always quite themselves--at
times. You--Lilly--could it be--"

"No! No! No! I'll go mad if you, too, begin to insinuate--that! I'm
myself, I tell you. Never more so in my life."

He regarded her through frank and even tender tears, his voice humoring
her.

"Of course, you're high strung, Lilly, and a high-strung woman is like a
high-strung horse, has to be handled lightly. Don't exert yourself.
If--if I'm embarrassing to you--talk to mother. These are the times a
girl needs her mother. You go ahead and pick on me to your heart's
content. I--I'm a pretty slow kind of fellow about some things. Never
been around women enough. Come, it's ten-thirty-six. You need all the
sleep you can get. Come, Lilly. Why--I--I've been thick-headed--that's
all."

She suffered him to kiss her on the cheek as she turned her face from
him.

"Have it your own way," she said, limp with a sudden sense of futility
and as if all the reflex resiliency had oozed out of her.

"We're all right together, Lilly. Just don't you worry your head. We'll
get adjusted in no time. You and--and mother talk things over to-morrow.
I've been a thick-headed old fool. Pshaw! I--Pshaw!"

She moved to the dresser, removing pins until her hair fell shiningly
all over her, brushing through its thick fluff and weaving it into two
heavy braids over her shoulders. He laid hesitant and rather clumsy
hands to its thickness.

"Fine head of hair."

She jumped back as if a pain had stabbed her.

"Don't forget, Albert, to lock the downstairs windows."

He was full of new comprehensions.

"I understand. Take your time to undress, Lilly. I'll be about fifteen
minutes locking up, and I want to attach some new safety locks I brought
with me. Everything all right?"

"Yes."

"You don't need to keep the light burning."

"I won't."

He opened his lips to say something, but, instead, turned and went out,
the closed half of his collar drenched in perspiration.

When he returned, after a generous fifteen minutes, the room was in
darkness except for a thin veil of whiteness from the arc light in the
street. Between the sweetly new sheets the long, supple mound of Lilly
lay along the bed, her bare arms close to her body.

Her breathing was sufficiently deep to simulate sleep. He undressed in
the darkness and the silence.

Half the night through he tossed, keeping carefully to the bed edge, and
often she heard him sigh out and was conscious that he mopped
continually at the back of his hands. Once he whispered her name.

"Lilly--awake?"

She deepened her breathing.

About four o'clock he dozed off, swooning deeply into sleep, his lips
opening and a slight snore coming.

She lay with her eyes open to the darkness, letting it lave over her as
if it were water and she had drowned in it with her gaze wide.

She felt bathed in a colorless fluid of unreality. Those Swiss window
curtains! To what era of her consciousness did their purchase belong?
She and her mother had shopped them at Gentle's. They hung now lightly
against the darkness. The blond girl who had sold them to her must be
sleeping now, too, in this same curious pool of unreality. She lay sunk
in a strange pause. Once she propped herself on an elbow, gazing across
the street to the blank front of her parents' house. They were sleeping
behind that middle upper window, their clothing folded across chairs, as
if waiting. How eagerly they would greet their new day of small duties,
small pleasures, and small emotions. What gave them the courage to meet
the years of days cut off one identical pattern, like a whole regiment
of paper dolls cut from a folded newspaper? She began to count. Uncle
Buck, five hundred. Grandma Ploag, one hundred. Mamma and papa, one
hundred and fifty. Seven hundred and fifty in the bank in her name! Her
own little checking account. The tan-bound check book. The new tan
valise, monogrammed, L.B.P. The stack of music marked "Répertoire." New
York! She fell to trembling, forcing herself into rigidity when the
figure beside her stirred. She was burning with fever and wanted to
plunge from the cool sheets. She could have run a mile--two.

Instead, she lay the long night through, her mind a loom weaving a
tapestry of her plan of action, and dawn came up pink, hot, and
cloudless.



CHAPTER XIV

At seven o'clock her husband awakened with an ejaculation that landed
him sitting on the bed edge. She lay with her eyes closed, wanting not
to blink. He dressed silently, but she could hear him tiptoeing about,
and finally lay with her hands clenched against the gargling noises that
came through the closed door of the bathroom. At last she was conscious
that, fully dressed, he was standing beside her, looking down. She could
tell by the aroma of mouth wash.

"Lilly?" he said, in a coarse whisper.

She continued to simulate sleep.

"Lilly!"

She did not employ the deception of a start, but opened her eyes quietly
to meet his.

"Lazy!" he said. "It is twenty-six minutes past seven."

"So late?" she said, twisting into a long, luxurious yawn. He kissed her
directly on that yawn between the open lips.

"You stay in bed this morning. Rest up."

"I think I will, Albert, if you don't mind."

"You turn right over and have your nap out. I'll be home at
six-forty-six."

"Good-by, Albert," she said into the crotch of her elbow.

He kissed her again on the ear lobe and the nape of her neck.

"Good-by, Lilly, and if I were you I'd have a little talk with mother
if I found myself not feeling just right. I'm sending Joe up with a pair
of granite scrub buckets and that stopper for the bathtub. All right?"

"Yes."

After a while she could hear him below, the tink of breakfast cutlery
and the little passings in and out of Lena through the swinging pantry
door. Then the front door closed gently, and on its click she swung
herself lightly out of bed, standing barefooted behind the Swiss
curtains to watch the square-shouldered figure swing across the street
toward the Page Avenue car. Her energy to be up and doing suddenly
unstoppered, she turned back to the room, jerking out a dresser drawer
until it flew out to the floor.

At nine o'clock she was still in her nightdress, sloughing about in an
engagement gift of little blue knitted bedroom slippers. There were the
new valise and an old dress-suitcase tightly packed and shoved beneath
the bed, and over a chair a tan-linen suit inserted with strips of
large-holed embroidery that had been dyed in coffee by Katy Stutz. It
had originally been designed as a traveling suit for a honeymoon trip to
Excelsior Springs until that project had been decided against in favor
of immediate possession of the little house.

"Put that extra money into your furniture," Mrs. Becker had advised, to
which Albert had been highly amenable.

There was a large _pièce de resistance_ of a hat, too, floppy of brim
and borne down at one spot by an enormous flat satin rose. Lilly had
rebelled against its cart-wheel proportions, but in the end her mother's
selection prevailed.

She dressed hurriedly, emerging from her bath with her hair wet at the
edges, but combing back easily into its smoothness.

Her nervousness conveyed itself to her mostly through her breathing; it
was short and very fast, but she was as cool of the flesh as the fresh
linen she donned. That was part of the clean young wonder of her. Her
vitality flowed and showered back upon itself, like the ornamental
waters of a fountain. She awoke like a rose with the dew on. Even Albert
Penny, rubbing the grit out of his eyes, had marveled at the matinal
bloom of her.

She ran in her movements, closing drawers and doors after her to keep
down her rising sense of confusion, pinning where fingers could not wait
to fit hook to eye. There were twenty-eight dollars in her little
brown-leather purse and a check for seven hundred and fifty dollars,
payable to "self," in a little chamois bag around her neck.

The pretty solitaire engagement ring, a little aquamarine breastpin,
gift of the groom, a gold band bracelet, and after some hesitation her
wedding ring, she placed in an envelope in the now empty top dresser
drawer, scribbling across it, "Valuable." She pried it open again after
sealing, to drop in a tiny gold chain with a pearl-and-turquoise drop,
still another gift, suggested by her mother to the bridegroom. Finally,
there were the little trinkets of more remote days which she dropped
into her purse. A rolled-gold link bracelet dangling a row of friendship
hearts. Her class pin. A tiny reproduction on porcelain, like the one
burned into the china plate in the parlor, of her parents, cheek to
cheek. Regarding it, her throat tightened and she sat down suddenly.

"O God!" she said, half audibly, "what am I doing?" But on the second
she cocked her head to a passer-by and finally leaned out to hail in a
neighborhood man of all work, paying him a dollar and car fare to carry
her bags down to the new Union Station and check them. Seeing them
lugged out of the house was another moment when it seemed to her that
she must faint of the crowding around her heart.

Lena she dispatched to the grocer's on the homely errand of beeswax for
ironing, and, trembling to take advantage of the interval of her
absence, hurried into her jacket and hat, her face deeply within the
wide brim. Opposite, her mother was scrubbing an upper window sill, the
brush grating against the silence. She waited behind the Swiss curtains
for the figure to withdraw.

The wide, peaceful morning filled with order and sunshine! The pleasant
greeny light cast by awnings into her bedroom. What devil dance was in
her blood? What prickly rash lay under her being? Her mother at that
ordered scrubbing of the window sill! Her eyes swung the smaller orbit
of the room. The rumpled bed. That discarded collar on the dresser, the
two stretched buttonholes like two tiny mouths. That collar...

She caught up her purse and ran downstairs. Her telephone was ringing
violently as she hurried toward the Page Avenue car.

On the ride down there occurred one of those incidents that sometimes
leap out like a long arm of coincidence pointing the way. A classmate
with whom she had once sung in the Girl's High School Glee Club, and
whom she had long lost sight of, sat down beside her.

"Why, it's Lilly Becker!"

"Vera Wohlgemuth!"

"Of all people! The same pretty and stylish Lilly."

Remembering Vera's readiness with the platitude, Lilly smiled down upon
her.

"And you, too, Vera, you look natural"--but the words almost petered out
on her lips. Much of Vera's slender prettiness was gone. She had gone
hippy, as the saying is, even her face insidiously wider and
coarser pored.

"What are you doing, Vera? Have you kept up your music?"

"Oh no! I'm married!"

There was a little click to the finish of that speech that seemed
automatically to lock against the intrusion of old dreams.

"A ten-months-old daughter furnishes me all the music I have time for.
Didn't I read where you got married, Lilly?"

"Yes. You had such a pretty touch on the piano, Vera."

"Why, I don't believe I've opened the piano in six months! Marriage
knocks it out of you pretty quick, don't it? And, say, wait until the
babies begin to come. I said to him last night, 'Ed, why is marriage
like quicksands?' He's no good at conundrums. 'Because it sucks you
down,' I said, and he didn't even see the point. But it's a fact, isn't
it? Mine is city salesman for the Mound City Shoe Company.
What's yours?"

"With Slocum-Hines."

"Lucille Wright is married. And remember Edna Ponscarme? Twins. Nine
months to a day. Maybe she wasn't in a hurry! And Stella Loire, the
class beauty? She wheels her past our house on her way to market every
morning. More like the class dishrag now. Well, well! it does seem
funny. Lilly Becker married and settled down like the rest of us, and
we had you down in the class prophecy for a famous opera singer.
Well, well!"

At Eighteenth Street Lilly left the car, transferring for Union Station.
A sudden exultation was racing through her. She sat well forward on her
seat, as if that could quicken transit.

Union Station, one of the first of those dividend-built and
dividend-building terminals that were to spring up quickly and
palatially the country over, rose with a peculiarly American trick out
of one of the most squalid sections of the city. Fifteen railroads
threaded into it, a gaseous shed _de luxe_, picking up St. Louis like a
gigantic bead upon the necklace of commerce.

The coughing of steam up against a glass roof threw off repetitions of
self. The boom of a train announcer's voice rang out, the echoes fitting
smaller and smaller into one another like a collapsible drinking cup. A
hither and thither! A bustle that caught Lilly up into it. She was
immediately drunk with the moment and train smoke. Life was a gigantic
drum, beating.

The clerk at the Terminal Hotel, Mrs. Kemble's brother-in-law, in fact,
cashed her check for her, without question, but a sort of unspoken
askance, sending it across the street, with his additional indorsement,
to a bank. There were six one-hundred-dollar bills, two fifties, and
five tens. She folded their considerable bulk into the bag around
her neck.

True to direction, the checks for her bags had been left at the
Information Desk in an addressed envelope. A porter scurried for them.

Backed by the precedent of the trip to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and
Chicago, she bought her ticket, and then, rather more reluctantly and
against her sense of thrift, a berth, which already necessitated a
foray into the little chamois bag.

Last, she dropped an already stamped and addressed envelope into the
station mail box, her heart seeming to swoon to her feet as she did so.
It contained a half-hundredth version of a week-old letter finally
reduced to:

MY DEAREST PARENTS,--When you receive this I will be on my way. I won't
try to explain my action except that now I see plainly my entire life
has been directed toward this moment.

Had I found this courage two months ago a great deal of suffering might
have been spared one person, at least. I cannot say enough for Albert's
patient struggle to make possible the impossible, or for you, my dear
parents, for whom my love is as great as my rebellion.

I am not leaving an address. That would be useless. My decision is
unalterable. It is futile to come after or try to find me. In a large
city I will immediately become a needle in a haystack and that is what I
want and need for my work. Do not worry. You know very well I can take
excellent care of myself, and in case of unforeseen accident I will
always be identified by your name and address on me. So by my very
silence you are to know I am well and happy. Some day, when success has
justified this seemingly rash step, who knows what happy reunion may be
in store for us?

Take Albert into your home. He will be a better son to you than I have
been a daughter. God bless you all. LILLY.

At ten-five the B. & O. Limited, for New York, pulled out. In a Pullman,
her bags on the seat opposite and her hands locked so that her finger
nails bit in, sat Lilly, gazing out over the moving landscape of dirty,
uneven fringe of city. Crossing Eads Bridge, the higher and lighter
rumble of the train, induced by steel over water, was like thin soprano
laughter with ice in it.

She was suddenly terrifyingly conscious of an impulse to join in that
laughter--to laugh and to laugh.



CHAPTER XV

There is a sense of detachment from this old planet of ours goes with
travel, that is not unlike that instant when the pole vaulter's feet are
farthest off ground. It seemed to Lilly, after a while, that both her
starting point and her destination had fallen away. She hung in
abeyance. She was the unanchored streak of a rocket through space.

Time was dropping away from her with a sense of the same steep declivity
that could awaken her out of a doze to a sense of falling. She was
rolling through the pleasant monotony of Indiana, against the light
slant of a morning suddenly turned rainy. Quick diagonal streaks flecked
the pane and she could see the drops spat down into a thick white-plush
road, clipping it of nap.

The sleeper was quite empty save for a medley of drummers' talk and the
rattle of chips from the smoking room and an old man in a skull cap who
dozed incessantly. Even the porter dozed. She sat the day through
without responding to calls for meals, the rain falling steadily now
like a curtain. At five o'clock the lamps were already burning and a
rash of little lights began to break out over the landscape.

"Some day," she mused, "I'll look back upon all this and laugh. I'll
tell it in a newspaper interview. Lillian Ploag. No, Luella Ploag.
Ploag. No-o, Luella--Luella Parlow! Not bad. Luella Parlow!"

She asked a passing porter the time.

"Six-forty-six!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She slept fitfully, awakening with little exclamations, and once came so
suddenly out of a doze that she awoke sitting bolt upright, bumping her
head against the top of the berth. Cup her hands as she would against
the window pane, she could not see out, but it seemed to her that dawn
must be imminent. She felt for her little watch, leaning to the streak
of light the curtains let in. Ten-five! Not yet midnight. She lay back
on the gritty bed, trembling.

At six o'clock there were still stars, but a coral tremor was against
the sky line and clouds coming up furiously. Suddenly she realized that
the clouds were mountains and that the flat territory had flowed through
the night into Pennsylvania mountains that were like plunging waves, and
with the changed physiognomy, her mood quickened. She would not wait for
the sun, dressing in her berth.

At eight o'clock, and for only the third time in her life, she
breakfasted in a dining car. It was well crowded, the old man in the
skull cap across the aisle from her gouging out an orange. She ordered
with a sense of novelty and thrift, passing on from grilled spring
chicken, bar-le-duc, and honey-dew melon to eggs and bacon. A drummer
with a gold-mounted elk's tooth dangling from his chain ogled her, so
she sat very prim of back, gazing out over flying villages that were
like white-pine toys cut in the cisalpine Alps and invitingly more
clipped and groomed than the straggling Indiana towns of yesterday. She
was cruelly conscious of self, and throughout the meal kept the tail of
her glance darting at her surroundings, dropping a piece of toast once
and apologizing to the waiter, continuing to smile in an agony of strain
after the incident. She ate slowly, her little finger at right angle to
her movements, masticating with closed lips, her napkin constantly
dabbing up at them.

Finally the head waiter, who had been hovering, to Lilly's great
discomfiture, directly at her shoulder, steered a young woman, with a
great deal of very fuzzy light-brown hair about her face, to the empty
seat opposite. She had a certain air of chic, was modishly dressed, wore
no rings except a marriage band, and long pink nails with careful half
moons. With the ripple of a thrill over her, Lilly registered her as
"typical New Yorker." As a matter of fact, she was the wife of a teacher
of physics in Brooklyn Manual Training School, returning from a two
weeks' visit to her mother-in-law in Indianapolis.

She ordered with somewhat of a manner, asking for an immediate cup of
hot water, and to Lilly there was something esoteric even in that. The
sturdy, fine machine of her own body had the crass ability to start off
the day with bacon and eggs. She blushed for the healthiness of
her choice.

A patter of conversation sprang up between them, something like this:

"Would you mind passing me the sugar?"

"Why, certainly not!" from an eager Lilly.

"Going all the way to New York?"

"Yes."

"Live there?"

"No. Do you?"

"Yes, since my marriage."

"Do you like it?"

"New York is not a point of view, my dear. It's a habit. Your system
comes to demand it just as an opium fiend comes to require so many
pipefuls. You know it's bad for you, but the fumes are delicious."

"What fumes?"

"The fumes of the metropolis, my dear. The perfumes of wealth. The next
best to being Mrs. Four Hundred herself is to walk past her Fifth Avenue
home and see her step out of her automobile."

"I suppose so, if wealth is what one craves most."

"It isn't a craving in New York; it's a necessity. But to those of us to
whom life is pretty much of a compromise anyway, there is something in
mere propinquity to wealth that is like smelling into a tumbler with its
sides still wet from some rare old chartreuse. It isn't filling, but
it's heady."

"That's exactly the way I feel about life; it's worth going after if you
only get the aroma. If I can't be Venus, then let me be the star dust
that is nearest to her!"

It seemed to Lilly that she was suddenly talking to her own kind. New
York spoke her language.

"Fearful coffee. I always say the only place outside of my own
percolator I can get a decent cup of coffee is the new Hudson."

"The Hudson? Is that a good hotel?"

"Yes, splendid. Are you alone?"

There occurred to Lilly a swift talent for the moment.

"Certainly," she said, shaping her own voice into a petard against the
little clang of surprise in the voice of her _vis-à-vis_. "I always
travel alone. I'm a professional."

"Really?" her glance running over the somewhat florid details of the
corn-colored linen. "With that fine chest, I'll warrant you're
a singer."

"Right."

"I wonder if you know Margaret Mazarin."

"Indeed I do, from hearsay."

"Well, we virtually gave Margaret her start. Madge Evans is her real
name. My husband grew up next door to her in Indianapolis. She
practically used to make our apartment her home. One day when she was
about as close to bed rock as a girl could be, my husband said to her:
'Madge, if the managers won't give you a hearing, why don't you try some
of those agencies in the Pittman Building in Longacre Square? I see all
sorts of musical and theatrical agencies' signs on the windows.' Bless
us, if the very first one to which she applied didn't give her the
position that indirectly led her straight to the Metropolitan! Some one
connected with one of the biggest patrons of the opera heard her singing
down at a little old ten-twenty-and-thirty theater and got her an
audience right off."

"Oh," cried Lilly, her face ardent, "if only--I--some day--"

"Yes," continued her companion, dipping into her finger bowl and pushing
back, "Madge always says it was that tip from my husband, a mere chance
suggestion, gave her a start."

"Wonderful!"

They paid, each her check, leaving small womanish tips beside their
saucers.

"Well, I hope some day to have the pleasure of hearing you sing. Are you
in concert?"

"Oh yes, concert."

"I must watch for your name," digging down into a reticule for a bit of
cardboard. "Mine is Towser--Mrs. Seymour Towser. What is yours?"

"Mine? Lilly Penny," she replied, her whole body flashing to rescind
the word no sooner than it was spoken. "Lilly-Penny-Parlow."

They swayed their way through the chain of cars, Lilly's coach running
two ahead of her companion's.

"Well, good-by, Miss Parlow, I hope we meet again some day."

"Good-by," said Lilly, making her way relievedly through two more cars
of aisle.

Once in her seat, she withdrew hastily from her valise a small red
memorandum book, giltly inscribed "Mid-West Insurance Company," plying a
quick and small chirography on to its first page:

     Pittman Building, Longacre Square.
     Hudson Hotel.

The day, which for Lilly began with the tickle of aërial champagne,
petered out humiliatingly. Quite without the precedent of the previous
trip to Buffalo, Niagara Palls, and Chicago, train-sickness set in and
the remainder of the day was spent hunched with her face to the prickly
hot plush of the seat, her hair and linen suit awry, and not a spot on
the pillow mercifully proffered by the porter that would remain cool to
her cheek.

It was well past nine o'clock, and two hours behind schedule, when a
very limp and rumpled Lilly followed the weary straggle of weary
passengers through the pale fog of the New Jersey station to the waiting
ferry. She found a place at the very bow, and, standing there beside her
bags, hat off to the sudden kiss of fresh air, her prostrated senses
seemed to lift.

There was something Trojan, Illiadic, in the way in which they moved out
presently, to bay. The first tang of salt air, that rotten,
indescribable smell of the sea, tickled her nostrils. It was all she
could do to keep from being drunk with it. She felt skittish. She wanted
to kick up.

The approach was not spectacular. The great spangled flank of herself
which New York turns to her harbor had just about died down, only a
lighted tower jutting above the gauze of fog like a château perched on a
mountain. Fog horns sent up rockets of dissonance. Peer as she would,
Lilly could only discern ahead a festoon of lights each smeared a bit
into the haze.

She began her trick of dramatizing the moment. She wanted suddenly to
claw apart the dimness with her finger nails. She wanted to lean into
the beyond, to wind herself in that necklace of lights out there and
bend back until she touched the floor of the universe.

They slid into slip. Chains dropped. There was a sudden plunge forward.
Night was day, white arc lights grilling into a vast black shed. A few
automobiles and a line of horse cabs backed up against a curb--the
one-horse variety that directly antedated the general use of the
taxicab. A porter shoved her bags into one of these, the driver leaning
an ear down off his box.

"Where to, miss?"

"Hudson Hotel," she said, sitting back against the leather tufting.



CHAPTER XVI

They rattled over the cobblestones until her very flesh shivered, and
she bit into her tongue and her hands bounced as they lay in her lap,
and, trying to peer out of the window, she bumped her head, and finally
sat back, forced to be inert as she bumbled over the deep narrow streets
of lower Manhattan which at night become deserted runways to slaughter,
ghostly with the silent thunder of a million stampeding feet.

It was ten o'clock when they finally drew up at the side entrance of the
hotel in a street disappointingly narrow, but which seemed to burst,
just a few feet beyond, into a wildly tossed stream of light,
pedestrians, and, above all, a momentum of traffic that was like the
fast toss of a mountain stream. The cab fare was overwhelmingly large.
Her bags disappeared; she followed them, immediately enveloped in an
atmosphere of upholstery, mosaic floors that seemed to slide from under
her, palms that leaned out of corners, crystal chandeliers, uniforms,
rivulets of music. She had dined upon several occasions at the Planters'
Hotel in St. Louis, and had once spent a night at the Briggs House,
Chicago, and the Hotel Imperial at Niagara Palls, and had objected when
her father signed, "B. T. Becker, Wife and Daughter," taking the pen to
write out her own name boldly under his, and upon all summer excursions
had taken upon herself the ordering of the family meals.

But the Hudson awed her, the very Carrara magnitude of the walls, the
remote gold-leaf ceilings, light-studded, the talcy odor _de luxe_. She
wanted to back out of that lobby of groups of well-dressed loungers; to
turn; to run. Instead, she wrote her name on the register, marveling at
her steady chirography:

Luella Parlow, Dallas

A narrow clerk scanned the bulk of her baggage, unhooked some keys, and
called, "Front." She was mildly taken for granted and her assurance
stiffened.

"Bath?"

"What are your rates?"

"Three-fifty and up."

"Yes--bath."

He shifted among his keys and she noticed that when she returned the pen
to him his hand lingered just too long. She had a way of lifting her
eyebrows to express her archest scorn. The smile on the clerk's face did
not die, but neither did it widen.

She shot upward in an elevator. She padded her way through long hallways
deeply carpeted to eat in footfalls. It seemed to her they must have
rounded a city square of those hallways, door after door after door as
imperturbable as eyeless masks, and yet which somehow seemed to look on.

"Anything else, ma'am?"

"Nothing." She interpreted his wait and felt for a ten-cent piece. He
shifted the key to the room inside of the door and went out.

She was alone in a twelfth-story room that enhanced her aërial sense of
light-headedness. She looked at the bed. Curly birch with a fine sense
of depth to its whiteness. There was a glass top on the dresser, with a
lace scarf beneath it which appealed to her sense of novelty. Also an
extra light above it which she jerked on, peering at herself in
the mirror.

There were soot rims about her eyes, and when she removed her hat her
hair was glued to her brow in its outline. But just the same, the pollen
that gave to her skin its velvetiness was there. She leaned to the
mirror, baring her teeth to scan their whiteness; turned her profile as
if to appraise its strong, sure cast; swelled her chest after the manner
of inhaling for an octave, letting her hand ride on it. Then she
undressed slowly, luxuriating in a deep hot bath that rested her as she
lay back in it. She even washed her hair, wrapping it finally in one of
the thick turkish towels, and then leaned out of her window for a while,
her body well over the sill, and the air, with a cool washed quality to
it, flowing through her nightdress. She looked down on what she thought
must be the bosom of Broadway. Actually it was Forty-fourth Street. An
ocean of roofs billowed under her gaze.

She thought of Tuefelsdröck alone with his stars. Or rather, wanted to
think of herself as thinking of him.

A telephone directory on the desk caught her eye. For an hour she pored
over its pages, names that had blazoned themselves incandescently from
the pages of musical reviews and magazines mixed in casually with the
clayey ones of mere persons. A thrill shot over her with each encounter.
The book began to exhale an odor of sanctity.

It was two o'clock when she turned off her lights, just enough glow from
the hallway pressing against her transom to reassure her. The sheets
were fragrant with cleanliness and she let her body give to the
delicious sag of the mattress. The rumble of the train was gone from
her ears. She felt washed, light, drowsy; cast aside her pillow; wound
her arm up under her head; sighed out of deliciousness; slept.

She awoke with a sense of red. A flame of fear shot through her, and a
first thought of fire, but even before she could rise she saw it was
static, this crimson gash across the blackness, and shaped like a grin.

She began to tremble, and an unreasoning fear of the depth of the
darkness to take hold of her. A sort of paralysis locked her, and,
although she wanted to scream, she lay there drenched in terror.
Finally, out of contempt for her fear, she sprang, landing both feet on
the floor.

A little window in the box of the wall telephone, one of those modern
hotel devices _de luxe_ and _de trop_, had flashed up redly, spelling
out to her dilated gaze, "MAIL IN YOUR BOX." Regarding it, her relief
shifted suddenly to terror. Mail! Not even had she herself known what
her address might be! Her mother--father--Albert? But how? The drummer
with the gold-mounted elk's tooth! The clerk and that almost
imperceptible trail of the hand. Detectives! Her window showed a streak
of dawn. Five-forty by her watch. She tried to go back to bed, but at
six she was up again, dressed fumblingly, finally sliding the linen
jacket over an unbuttoned blouse. She had some difficulty locating the
elevator, scurrying through the deserted halls only to dash herself
against repeated _cul-de-sacs_. It was almost seven when she descended
into a lobby that was littered with sawdust in the sweeping up.

She asked for her mail, a strange clerk handing it out to her without
askance, and hurried to a chair behind a pillar, holding the envelope
between the folds of her skirt without glancing at it, and trying to
hide the trembling of her arm. She sat down, forcing her hand around and
her gaze to meet it. The envelope was blank; she tore its flap and read:
"Valet Service. Suits Cleaned and Pressed in One Hour."

And then she went out into 7 A.M. Broadway, all swept clean and caroling
with the song of the car gong and the whistlings of steamboats. A
line-up of theaters, early-morning mausoleums of last night's madnesses,
first met her eye in the clean light. One of them was violently postered
with lithographs of Minnie Maddern Fiske. A three-sheet proclaimed
Melba. Broadway became an Olympus, every passer-by a probable immortal.
She half expected to pass John Drew there as the Rialto cleaned its
cuspidors, polished its brass, and swept its front. She thought she
caught a flash of Margaret Mazarin in a cab. An exultant chill raced
over her at the vertical sign, "Rector's." A musical comedy full of
frothy and naughty allusions to Rector's had once played Forest Park
Highlands, St. Louis. It was like strolling the pages of an illustrated
magazine. Some one jostled her and smiled around very closely into her
face. Suddenly her eyebrows shot up. It seemed to her that the face
under the gray derby hat was as coldly and as bonelessly fat as an
oyster. Her two hands could have met around the little neck which was
tightly incased in a soft blue collar held with a gold bar pin. She
quickened her step and, what with the lifted brows, promptly lost him.

She stopped finally at a florid lace-and-glass-fronted restaurant on
Forty-third Street, with a mimeographed breakfast menu up against the
window. Her food went down through a throat constricted against it. Her
tightness would not relax.

At half after eight she was back once more in her room, changing from
the tan linen into a pink mull, heavily inserted, too, and throwing up
quite an aura of rosiness about her. She had only the tan hat, too wide
and too floppy of brim, but it had a picturesque value, which is a
greater selling quality than _chic_. In fact, in her own eyes, as she
tilted the mirror for a full-length view, the art of Katy Stutz stood
unimpeached. Eying her reflection in the mirrored walls of the elevator,
she felt as pinkly blown as a rose, and looked it. A head or two turned
after her youth. At the desk she inquired for the Pittman Building. Just
opposite! A policeman held up traffic to let her cross. She picked a
name off a third-story window, "Barnett Bureau--Musical Service," and
rode up to it.

By one of those astonishing flukes of beginner's good fortune, upon the
occasion of this very first effort Lilly obtained.

A ground-glass door opened into a room the size and bareness of a
packing case and crammed to its capacity with a roller-top desk, a
stenographer at a white-pine table, a cuspidor, a pair of shirt sleeves,
a black mustache, and a blacker cigar.

Entering, Lilly was surprised at the measured tempo of her voice and the
manner in which she permitted her eyebrows to arch ever so
superciliously.

"I'm looking for an engagement," she said, speaking through the ticking
of the typewriter.

The jaw ate in half an inch more of cigar and swung around in the
swivel.

"Voice?"

"Yes. High soprano."

He ran a swift cocked eye over her points and turned to the white-pine
table.

"Send her down to Visigoth," he said to the stenographer, who took up
where he left off.

She was as blond and as bland as a summer's day. A Pompadour dipped down
over one eye and her jaws moved as rhythmically as rigorously to gum
with a pull to it. She was herself caricatured. She and Lilly exchanged
that quickest of inventories, woman's for woman.

"Sign here."

Lilly signed.

"Ten dollars."

"Why?"

"Our rules. Ten dollars a year bureau membership, and fifty per cent of
first two weeks' salary."

"But what if--"

"We always place sooner or later."

"But in case--"

"Take this card down to the Union Family Theater, Union Square, and ask
for Robert Visigoth. It's a two-a-day. If you don't do business with
him, come back to-morrow morning."

A quick dozen of questions rushed to Lilly's lips, but instead she laid
down a new ten-dollar bill, crammed the slip into her palm through the
hole in her glove, and went out, the snapping torrent of typewriting
already resumed.

The Union Family Theater was the first of a succession of variety houses
that was to spread, first to Harlem, then Philadelphia, and later gird
the country like a close-link chain. Vaudeville prefaced with
stereopticon views, designed to appeal to the strict respectability of
the most strictly respectable audiences in the world.

The high-class Rialto houses might pander to low-class comedy and
Broadway take its entertainment broad, but Robert Visigoth laid the
corner stone of subsequent fortunes when he decided that a
ten-twenty-thirty vaudeville audience that smells sour of perspiration
and strong foods demands entertainment as pink and as sweet as a baby's
heel, and that a gunman in the gallery will catcall his prototype on
the stage.

Let the Noras and all the pyschanalyzed Magdas go their problematic and
not always prophylactic ways, the Visigoth Family Theaters wanted 'em
sweet, high-necked and low-browed.

Robert Visigoth, attorney-at-law, whose practice had suddenly, by one of
those arbitrary twists as difficult to account for as the changed course
of a river, assumed a theatrical twist, had taken over, on cleverly
obtained backing, the Union Family Theater from an insolvent client.
Within a year it had made a disappearing island of the law office,
flowing over and finally submerging that enterprise in the swifter
waters of the new.

At the end of two years, Bruce Visigoth, a younger brother by ten years
and snatched from the law the very day he graduated into it, was already
in Chicago, launching under the auspices of The Enterprise Amusement
Company, the People's Family Theater, Popular Prices, the sixth link of
the chain already in the soldering.

When Lilly found out the older of these brothers, he was standing in the
black auditorium of the theater, holding an electric bulb made portable
by a coil of cord, and directing the reverberating hammering down of an
additional brace of three orchestra chairs for which room had been found
by shifting the position of the bass drum.

A hairy old watchdog, tilted back against the brick side of the building
and smoking a pipe so foul that its tang clung to her hair that night as
she brushed it out, inspected her slip of paper and led her through a
black labyrinth of wings and properties.

An aroma lay on that blackness that in some indefinable way quickened
her, set her nostrils quivering, and ran along her entire being like a
line of fire. It smelled of Elizabethans in buckskin. Bottom rollicked
through it, thumb to nose. Ophelia leaned out of it. Bernhardt,
Coquelin, Melba, intoned into it. Its cold, pink paintiness lay damply
to her face. She had never smelled simmering mascara, but her lashes
were hot with it. Suddenly to herself she was herself, running ahead of
the wind, her aching senses bathed in an odor which somehow intoxicated
them. She was on a stage for the first time in her life, a bunch light
only half revealing it to her. Through the megaphone of cupped hands and
the dimness of the auditorium a voice came at her.

"Come down here, around through the left box."

She groped her way to a steel door, stumbling down two unsuspected
steps, and was suddenly in the carpeted silence of an aisle. Robert
Visigoth came toward her, the electric bulb held high and dragging the
yards of cord behind him.

"I'm from the agency," she said at once, the little beating quality that
she was feeling all over her in her voice, and holding out the slip.

"Come out here," he said, "where I can see you."

Some daylight flowed in through a slightly open fire exit and she
caught at a last moment of darkness to straighten her hat.

"Sing?"

"Yes."

He shoved open the iron door so that more light flowed over her.

"Why," he said, "you're a big girl, aren't you?"

"I don't know," she said, through a little laugh of embarrassment, and
noticing that, regarding her, he wetted his lips.

"That part's all right. What I need is a good refined ballad voice.
Understand? The kind that can sing 'The Suwanee River' as if the only
thing in the world that mattered is that old plantation down there.
Understand?"

"I see."

He spoke through a slight patois, New-Yorkese, but which she misjudged
for Virginian. He was in inverse ratio to her stock idea of theatrical
manager. Both brothers were to become more and more subject to this soft
indictment.

Born in one of those old morose houses in lower Lexington Avenue, each
had lived there until he obtained his degree of LL.D. from a state
university. It had been a sedate, a mildly prosperous, even an historic
home. A Vice President of the United States had once owned it. Then a
Major O. Higginbothom, and finally, for fifteen years of tenancy, the
Visigoths. One of the kind whose genteel hall light had burned through
the fanlight decade after decade, and then suddenly, overnight, as it
were, disintegrated into a furnished-room house with a sign over the
door bell.

One evening Horace R. Visigoth, of the law firm of Visigoth, Visigoth &
Higginbothom, did not answer his wife's soft question to him across the
green-shaded reading lamp of their library table. His head was quite
sunk forward in a sheaf of proofs. He was dead. One month later his wife
failed to awaken to Pauline Visigoth's frenzied attempts or to even a
dexterous physician's respiratory methods. The year following Pauline
Visigoth married the dexterous physician and moved to Chicago.

The Lexington Avenue house succumbed to a quick sale, and in attempting
to divert the law business out of the clayey rut of quiet old
conservatism, the Enterprise Amusement Company was ultimately to
be born.

Robert Visigoth, twenty-nine at the time, betrayed little of the
heritage his name suggested. His Teutonic blood pretty well laid, he was
a trifle too short and a trifle too heavy, and with none of his mother's
lean patrician quality to which both his younger brother and older
sister had fallen heir.

Suggesting future rotundities and a reddishness of complexion that was
presently to purple, at this stage his chin was undoubted and as square
as a spade, and, as so often happens to chins of this potentiality,
punctuated absurdly with a dimple, and he wore a little clipped edge of
black mustache which he tried to twirl.

Busy at the mannerism, if not the act, of twirling that hirsute
adornment of upper lip, he continued to observe Lilly.

"You understand? What I need is a real heart-to-heart voice."

"I'm quite good at ballads."

"Quite good or darn good?"

"Darn."

"Experience?"

"I'm just in from as far west as--Dallas."

"Now what I want is a turn that hasn't struck the West yet. Understand?
It originated right here in this theater. There is a firm of music
publishers in this town makes up slides of its songs, and all you have
to do is stand beside the screen and sing to the stereopticon
illustrations. Understand? You don't have to follow the pictures. The
pictures follow you. It is sure fire if it is handled right, only the
girl we had on last week must have wrapped her vocal cords in sandpaper.
The secret of the whole thing is to make them--out there--live the song.
Understand?"

"I see."

"Every woman in the audience has to be the sweetheart and every man the
lover you are singing to them about. And to do that the first one to
live that song must be you. Believe in yourself before you expect the
world to. If you come in here and tell me you sing _quite_ good, it
won't be easy to convince me of more if you begin to warble like Melba.
Now you go up there and let me hear a bar or two. Take care of the last
row gallery and the first row orchestra will take care of
itself. Shoot!"

"I--haven't my music with me--my répertoire--"

"Nonsense! Just a bar or two--'Suwanee River'--anything with heart in
it. Give us some lights up there, Bob."

Through the blackness Lilly moved as if she were sleep-walking in it.
Little needles of nervousness were out all over her, and, absurdly
enough, there walked across her vision the utterly irrelevant spectacle
of old black Willie with her feet bound in gunny sacks and the pencil
nubs in her hair, and just as irrelevantly her mind began to pop with a
little explosive ejaculative prayer: "O God, make him take me! O God,
make him take me!"

The bunch light had been dragged down center stage. She stood beside it,
opening her mouth as if to muster voice, then closing it. It was as if
water were swirling around and around her, the unseen presence in the
back of the house surging at her like a multitude.

"Shoot!"

She looked appealingly in the direction of the hammering down of the
seats.

"Never mind that. Sing to the top row of the gallery."

A fearful recurrence of yesterday's train-sickness rushed over her; she
could have crumpled to her knees, had even a sense of wanting to faint,
but instead she opened her lips again, her eyes fixed on the unseen last
two tows of the unseen top gallery, and by miracle finding a pitch that
left her plenty of range.

     "Way down upon the Suwanee River-"

"Louder!"

     "Far, far away,
     There's where my heart is turning ever,
     There's where the old folks stay.
     All the world am sad and dreary,
     Everywhere I roam.
     Oh, darkies, how my heart grows weary--"

The lay of Page Avenue was before her, swollen through tears. Her mother
sewing beside Katy Stutz. The patient back of her father's gray head.
Her parents on their knees, far back there somewhere beside her bed of
fever. Albert! Their wedding night when the door had closed behind
them! "O God, make him take me! Please!

     "Far from the o-old folks--at ho--"

"That will do."

She stood with her mouth an O on the unfinished note, hand to the little
rise of her bosom.

"Meet me around in my office back stage." His voice was like a call in a
fog, retreating and retreating. She followed it. They met in a narrow
patch of broad daylight.

"I'm afraid," she began, her voice breaking on a gulp--"I'm afraid I
didn't--"

"You did very well," he said, kindly. "Little off key and your voice
won't set the world on fire, and it has a tremolo quality that may be
rotten-bad singing, but it's the right stuff for the act."

She thought, with a swoop of perception, that in this she discerned the
astuteness of a buyer too clever to praise the article he covets. She
felt lighter, as if some of her had melted in the ordeal. The machinery
of her body began to take up again, the saliva to flow, and her heart to
beat without seeming to hit its walls.

"I'll try you out for a week. Twenty dollars?"

"Yes." Trying to seem to pro and con.

"Come to-morrow at ten and I'll have a man down to go over next week's
slides with you. That gives you until Monday. Something pink on the
order of what you are wearing will do, only fluffier. Rough up your hair
a bit, too. No, leave it slick like that, but something fluffy in a hat
or a sun-bonnet with a pink bow under the chin. Right there--under that
little chin."

Her head flew up from his touch.

"I see."

"Manage it?"

"I think so."

"You what?"

"I know so."

"Good. Never let a think show through your answer. Yes or no!"

"Yes."

He tweaked her chin again.

"Watch out somebody doesn't steal you on your way home, big girl."

"To-morrow at ten," she repeated, going out into the sunshine that smote
her with the sting of hot lances. The tweak from his hand lay back
somewhere, branded none too pleasantly into her consciousness.

But just the same, when she inquired of a traffic policeman the
direction to the Hotel Hudson, even the mundane wording of her asking
clicked like happy castanets into her spirit.



CHAPTER XVII

And so it came about, through events of surprisingly simple shaping,
that her first week in the metropolis found Lilly integral to it.

She liked the consciousness that unless she appeared at the Union Family
Theater at two-fifteen and at eight-fifteen she was breaking into the
continuity of a sequence of events in which she had her place.

She was already in the rush of assurance that followed her sense of
earning capacity, regarding the Union Family Theater merely as a means
to an end, and in spare time had registered at two concert bureaus, read
off the same building of plate-glass windows, and had purchased the
score of "Carmen," humming Michaela's aria, in bed of mornings. There
was a letter she had once obtained from Max Rinehardt, addressed:

"_To Whom It May Concern. Miss Lilly Becker has studied with me for a
period of three years. I consider her voice a lyric soprano of fine
quality._"

Evidently it concerned no one. The clerk at the concert bureau tossed it
aside without comment. Visigoth, when he read it one day in the wings,
returned it in just that manner.

She was secretly ashamed of her professional debut in a role that would
not have survived the ridicule of even Flora Bankhead's easy standards.
Many a time, together at matinées, they had giggled and munched
chocolates over acts that hardly rivaled hers for sentimental appeal of
about one dimension. Plenty of length and no depth.

To a series of colored views thrown upon the screen, Lilly sang from a
dark stage into the warm musk and stale linen-smelling theater, a ballad
as slow and sweet as taffy in the pulling.

     "Dressed up in her gingham gown,
      Just to come with me to town.
      How the sun was shining down!
      It seemed to bless our lit-tul wedding day."

                      CHORUS:

     "Darling Sue--e dear,
      How I miss your laughing!
      Seems to me I hear it in the same old way.
      Darling Sue dear, don't believe I'm chaffing.
      Bless your heart! I love you in the same old way."

Lights! Revealing Lilly in the pink mull and dangling sunbonnet beside
the blank white screen. They liked her, invariably demanding encore,
this time the words and score of the chorus thrown upon the screen and,
to Lilly's importunings and pretty encouragement, the house joining in.

By arrangement with the publishing house, this exploitation of song hits
cost the Visigoth brothers nothing. In fact the little novelty soon came
to supplement one of the eight acts on the program, thus eliminating
a number.

Each week a new song score bordered in hearts and flowers was thrown
upon that darkness, the audience eager to find a hum in it.

Lilly's second song, "Mamma, Why Are You So Sad To-night?" went even
better than the first, and it so pleased Robert Visigoth, who in those
years had his ears to the ground of the daily audience, to hear them
filing out, whistling and carrying it on little tra-la-las, that he
called Lilly into his office the first day of the second week, to
announce a five-dollar raise in salary.

She had been in the habit of oozing past him rather hurriedly in and out
the dark passages, conscious that his touch was ever ready to slide down
her length of arm, or his knee to find out hers and press it if he sat
down beside her as she waited in the wings.

It was before the realty aspect, the buying, leasing, and selling, of
theater property had engulfed him, and his presence around the theater,
often shirt-sleeved, was hardly a matter of moment.

However favorably he differed in aspect from Lilly's preconception of
the managerial genius, her inhibitions concerning him were strong. She
always sat on the edge of her chair in his presence. To accept so much
as a slip of paper from him meant that his touch would trail to the last
long-drawn second. His eyes had a habit of focusing, seeming to move in
a bit toward the tip of his nose and grill intimately into her being.
And then his wetted lips, as if his mouth were watering.

"You need to be waked up," he said once to her. "You're like a great big
sleepy cat."

She jerked away from his touch and his reference, hurrying from the
theater, as always, immediately after her act, which came first on the
afternoon and evening bill. Secretly she was thoroughly ashamed of what
she was doing, putting each performance quickly behind her.

Six hundred and twenty-two dollars still lay in the chamois bag against
her bosom, but the additional five dollars a week on to her salary was a
saving prop against the not infrequent sag of her spirit.

She was listed at half a dozen agencies, but nothing presented itself.
Her first hotel bill, twenty-eight dollars, sent her scurrying, against
further and deeper inroads into the chamois bag, to an immediately
adjoining side street of brownstone fronts as without identity as a row
of soldiers, all of them proclaiming the furnished room to that great
sandstorm of New York transients who blow in and out of them in
nameless whirl.

Their dreariness flowed over her in cold, soupy odors, that left a
feeling of a coating of grease over the surface of her. The poor filbert
of gaslight burning into floor after floor of slits of hallway. The
climb after a whole processional of spotty landladies whose shortness of
breath contributed to the odor-laden air.

The room which she finally obtained at three dollars a week was a
third-floor front, shaped like a shoe box, with an aisle of walking
space between the cot and washstand, and as dank to her and as
shiver-inducing as a damp bathing suit donned at dawn.

But the matting on the floor smelled scrubbed, the bathroom at the head
of the stairs contained a porcelain tub instead of the usual horror in
painted tin, and except for June bugs that bumbled all night against her
ceiling, attracted by the incandescence from the theater sign across the
street, was free from those scavengers of bed slats and woodwork which,
often as she inspected from room to room, to her agonized flush, had
crawled across a landlady's very denial of them.

Robert Visigoth had a habit of appraising this ready blush of hers. It
never rushed hotly to her face but what he noted it in persiflage.

"Look at her blush!" he cried, one afternoon as they both stooped to
recover her dropped hand bag, their heads bumping so that they sprang
apart in laughter.

"The idea, Mr. Visigoth! I'm not blushing!" she cried, stinging with her
inability to control the too ready red.

He ran his hand over the smooth glaze of her hair.

"Don't!"

"Let's see if it will muss. I'll wager it's painted on."

"It grows that way," she said, levelly.

"I like it! Clean as a whistle. Interesting. In fact, you're a mighty
interesting young woman, if you want to know it, Miss Luella Parlow."

"What is the song for next week, Mr. Visigoth?"

"'My Pretty, My Pretty,'" he said, his intimate eyes watching her
wriggle, with a sense of being ridiculous, on the hook of his glance.

"I never know how to take you," she flared, infuriated, and rushed
toward the door.

"Take me--with you."

"Really now--this--this is too absurd."

"Where are you going?"

"Home, of course. I have all this time to myself between now and the
evening performance. Why waste it sitting around with the dog and
trapeze acts?"

"Where do you live?"

"West Forty-fourth Street, near Eighth."

"Where?"

"West Forty-fourth Street."

"Hm-m-m!" he said, with a new easiness of manner that alarmed her.

"Selfish little girl. All this time to yourself."

"You would be surprised how it flies."

"What do you do?"

"Oh, no end of odds and ends. Wash out things. Read. Sew. Practice.
Write."

"What do you write? Letters to suitors? Lucky chaps."

"Nonsense!" she said, coloring.

"A girl like you must have a string of them after her."

"No! I write--you see, I've always sort of wanted to write fiction.
Magazine stories. I like to scribble in my spare time."

"Story writing? You can't serve two masters in this profession."

"Oh, and then I practice." It was here she had shown him the letter
addressed, "To Whom It May Concern." "I haven't a piano, but you would
be surprised how helpful it is just to memorize the role from
the score."

"What role?"

"I know four. Michaela is my last. I haven't memorized all of her aria
yet, but half the time I'm singing her with my mind, if you know what I
mean. I once had twelve lessons on Marguerite. With study, Mr. Visigoth,
and perhaps some more lessons with one of the big teachers here, do you
think I have the slightest chance for opera or--concert? You can be
frank with me. Do you?"

He patted her.

"Too much ambition will make that satiny head of yours ache."

"Let it ache."

"What you need more than lessons is some one to wake you up. That will
do more for you than all the training money can buy. You need a
rousing-good love affair. Love, that's the secret!"

She walked past him now, swinging open the stage door.

"You can be so nice, Mr. Visigoth, and so--horrid."

He followed, laughing.

"I'll walk a ways. Which way you going?"

"Home."

They strolled into the syrupy warmth of a late Indian-summer afternoon.
At each crossing he took her arm, closing gently into the flesh.

"Yes, my little lady, that's what you need."

"What?"

"To be waked up."

"Oh, there you go again! Is there no limit to sex self-consciousness? I
want to be a person in my work. An individual. Not first and foremost
a woman!"

"Why, my dear girl, you talk like a child! Sex is the very soul of art.
The greatest songs have been sung and the greatest pictures painted
because men and women have loved. Don't tell me a great big handsome
creature like you doesn't realize that!"

"Well, just the same," with feminine subjectiveness, "I mean to make my
way as an individual first and a woman second. I give nothing to you men
and I ask nothing except a fighting chance. I don't believe in all this
pay-the-price business. I don't recognize you as the arbiters of my
destiny. I'll pay my price with my ability, and if I can't pay up that
way then I deserve to fail. Women can fight back at the world with
something besides their sex. I intend to prove it."

He closed tighter over her arm.

"I like you when you tilt at windmills, Miss Don Quixote, and I like the
way your eyes turn black."

"There you are at it again."

"Certainly; it's the law of life."

"You mean it's the law of men! Why should you set the price of our
success? We women are going to batter down the monopoly."

"You're a regular little holy terror for woman's rights. Come in here
for a drink and tell me about it."

They were approaching the rapids of Broadway, the quickened torrent of
the pleasure zone that leaps high in folly even under sunlight. Sidewalk
humanity quickened and had a shove to it. Street cars and cabs plunged
in seemingly impassable directions. Frivolity was showing her naked
shoulder on lithograph roof garden and matinée stage. The Times Building
stood like a colossus, breakwater to the tide. Rector's invited.

"Come in for a drink," he repeated.

She threw him a northwest glance with what for her amounted to quite an
adventure in coquetry.

"Aha!" in the key of burlesque. "Either I sully these fair lips with
alcohol or to-morrow I awake jobless."

He was visibly annoyed, dropping her arm and hurrying past the mirrored
entrance.

"You flatter yourself."

She bit into her lips, again with a sense of her ridiculousness,
confessing, in her stress and against the old inhibition, to a state of
being unwell.

"It isn't that, and you know it! I'm done up these last few days.
Feeling seedy. It must be this Indian-summerish heat."

"Poor pussy!" he said, again good-humored.

It was true that a recurring sense of dizziness would sweep like a
sudden wave over her, in street cars, even in bed before she rose
mornings, and that very afternoon as she sang into the murky darkness a
terrifying sense of it had threatened her.

In the little restaurant in Union Square which she frequented, her
healthy young appetite would prompt her to order foods that when they
arrived she would suddenly reject. She tried to guard against these
nervous recurrences by resolutely permitting no thought of her
yesterdays to crop into her to-days. Except, daily, she visited the
Public Library, reading over St. Louis newspapers of last week's
vintage, and never failing to glance at the death notices. For one week
an advertisement under PERSONAL appeared, which every time she
encountered it was sure to blur over her vision with quick tears:

     Lilly, come home. All is forgiven.

She attributed some of her nervousness to the condition of mind this
little paragraph invariably induced. To bear out this conviction she
even omitted the visits to the Library for three or four days, but still
the flashes of discomfort persisted.

They had stopped at the stoop of her lean-looking rooming house.

"So this is where you live," he said, half a smile out and his lids well
down.

"Yes," she said, unconsciously defiant, "and for my purpose it's fine."

"No doubt."

"Clean, quiet, and reasonable."

"I see," he said through the same smile that was somehow hateful to her,
and after a moment of apparent indecision raised his hat and walked off.

The following evening, without waiting for the second refrain of chorus
or the lights to flash up, and creating some confusion down in the
orchestra, Lilly left the stage rather hurriedly, her hand groping ahead
of her as if to ward off muzziness, and her very first step into the
wings crumpled up quietly in a faint.

She awoke in her little damp dungeon of a dressing room, a trick bicycle
rider in sateen knickerbockers fanning her with a spangled jockey cap
and immediately rushing off for her act, Robert Visigoth standing and
looking down at her.

Embarrassment flooded her. She insisted upon standing immediately,
smoothing herself down and brushing at the wet spots where the water had
trickled away from her lips.

"Why," she said, through a gasp of apology, "of all things! Why, I have
never done such a thing in my life! It was the heat. Oh, how silly of
me! How unutterably silly!"

He pressed her down into a chair.

"You had better sit quiet there, my young miss, and get yourself
together. One eighth of an inch nearer that bicycle trapeze in the wings
and that smooth head of yours might not be so smooth right now."

"I'm so ashamed."

"I'll call a cab and take you home."

"I'd rather you didn't trouble."

"But I'd rather I did."

She smiled through an impulse to dig her nails into her palms and weep
her sense of ignominy.

While he procured the cab she hurriedly changed from the pink into the
coffee-colored linen, and, frightened at her pallor with the rouge
removed, tried to pinch her cheeks back to pinkness.

In the hansom and behind the wooden apron his hand crept over to hers,
soothing it.

"Poor little sick girl!" he said.

She tried to withdraw, but the black spots were swimming before her, and
to save herself from their engulfing her, as the shields and bracelets
must have buried Tarpeia, sat suddenly erect, blinking and shaking
her head.

"Oh, I say now!"

"Why, I--I'm all right--"

His one arm was at her waist and with the other he was poking open the
little trap door.

"Stop at the corner."

"No--please."

"Yes, please."

She closed her eyes, and almost immediately they drew up at a corner
drug store adjoining a long row of brownstone fronts deep in brown
studies. He helped her down, reading up at one of them. Dr. Barney Lee.
"He leaves his name at the box office once in a while. Suppose you stop
in here instead of the drug store. Don't like the idea of soda-fountain
cures. You've a little sunstroke, I think."

"No, no, Mr. Visigoth. Why, I've hardly ever had a doctor in my life!
The--drug store will--"

"One, two, three--march!"

"Please!"

"March! Got money? Good! I'll have a smoke in the cab. If he's not in,
then I'll drive you around to our house doctor."

He was in. But for ten minutes she sat in a leather-and-oak waiting
room, beneath a fly-specked Rembrandt's "Night-Watch," a clock ticking
spang into the gaslighted silence and the very chairs seeming to
meditate as they stood.

Then a pair of black-walnut doors slid back, and on a puff of iodoform
Lilly passed between them and they clicked shut again.

When she emerged Robert Visigoth's cigar was smoked two thirds its
length and he was slumped down, with one knee hooked comfortably about
the other.

He sprang out to help her in.

"Well?"

Her smile was drawn across her face almost like a gash.

"Tired waiting?" she said, holding her lips lifted.

"Fix you up?"

"You were right. A little sunstroke. A good night's rest will fix me
up."

"You've been playing 'possum."

"That's it," she said, with the plating of hired gayety over her tones,
but her nails printing little half moons into her palms.

"Just for punishment, I'm going to drive you around the Park."

"No, no, no! I don't feel quite up to it. He said rest--a good night's
rest."

He regarded her unmistakable pallor.

"Oh, all right," sulkily, "you tantalizing enigma, you! Gad! you--you'd
drive a man crazy! There's something over your face. A veil. I'd like to
tear it off--"

"You--you're talking like a Third Avenue melodrama."

"I suppose I am," he said, subsiding and regarding the hooked top of his
cane the remaining ten minutes of the drive. "I suppose I am."

He dismissed the cab at her curb. To escape his arm she even ran up the
steps, and to prove how complete recovery called down over one shoulder:

"You've been kind and I'm grateful. Good night."

"Prove it," he said, up and after her, his arm at her waist.

"What?" she said, his meaning flashing as she spoke. She was crowding
away from his nearness against one of the storm doors which folded back
against the entrance, sooty light filtering over them through a frosted
door panel.

His face twisted out of repose, flooded darker and darker with red.

"You devil," he said, "you knew you'd get me."

"You go!" she cried, her lips pulled with the degradation of the moment.

He grasped her so that the breath jumped out of her.

"Oh," she cried, wrenching herself free, "don't you dare put your foot
in this house--"

"Then the Gramatan, Lilly. It's quiet and first class there--we can have
a talk. I'll call a cab--the Gramatan. Or my place--I live alone."

"If you do I--I'll bite! I'll bite, you hear?"

"Do it," he said, his face the color that was Iago's, grasping her then
in the shadow of the storm door, and kissing her so on the open lips
that to evade him she had to wriggle down to her knees and out of
his clasp.

The shamefulness of the scene not to be endured, she held her hand with
the key in it behind her back; then suddenly let it fly up for
her hatpin.

"If you come near me--"

He stood back from her upflung arm, his refinement of feature
incongruous under the rush of ox-blood red, his teeth showing whiter as
he darkened.

"What the devil do you want, then? You devil! Who are you? There's only
one woman in a thousand I'd follow to a joint like this. I'm afraid of
them. Now I've had enough of this baby talk from you. It doesn't match
this house! What's your game? Let me up."

"House!"

"What do you expect, with an address like this? There's two kinds of
women. You can't be the kind you pretend to be and live here. What is
the comedy? I like you, Lilly. Let me up. Come, put that little arm
down. God damn it! what do you want?"

With a wrench that threw him backward, a frenzied instant of struggle
for the lock, and she was in, slamming the door behind her, and up the
two flights with such a sense of pursuit that her breath turned to moans
in her throat.

Once within her room, locking her door on its very slam, and her hat
sliding down on her unpinned hair, she dropped down on her bed edge so
that the springs coughed, seeming to bleed her tears, so roundly and
full of agony they came.

The white light from the electric sign opposite created a pallor in the
room that enveloped her like a veil. She rocked herself as she sat. She
pressed her palms into her eyes until the terrible kind of darkness they
induced was sprinkled with red. She clapped her hands to her mouth to
keep down the rise of shrieks. She burrowed her head down into her
pillow, beating into the surrounding area of bed, chewing at the sheet
end, twisting it until it became rigid. She slid to the floor as if for
relief of its hardness; sat looking into the white kind of darkness with
the rims of her eyes stretched until her gaze seemed to sleep. She fell
to rocking herself again and twisting the sheet in an outrageous
abandonment of despair that was abashing because it was so naked. Her
hands wound each other in a dry wash. She sobbed in long coughs drawn
through a resisting throat. Pounded the matting. Dragged her palms down
over her face, pulling the hair with it.

Half the night through she paced the narrow aisle of the room, repeating
and repeating until the darkness seemed filled with the rushing of a
million frantic little wings:

"O God! O God! Help me, God! Make it a lie! Tell me that the doctor
lied! God, I need you! Where are you? Save me! Where are you? Help me,
God! Help me!"

Thus did Lilly Penny greet the coming of her child.



CHAPTER XVIII

There was no egress for Lilly's state of panic. It hurled itself into
this and that _cul-de-sac_, only to dash into a black, a colossal wall
of ignorance builded on the sands of false and revolting modesty, and
which, as it tottered, threatened to crush her.

Her mind ran hither and thither, panic and anger plunging into storm
waves of sobs. Around and around spun her terror in its trap. Each pore
of her body might have been a mouth screaming. Distaste for her physical
awareness mounted upon her old peculiar aversion. The maternal did not
even lift its head. She could have beaten her own head, and did, for the
relief of pain. One alternative after another flickered into her
consciousness, only to die out again into blackness. Home! But by the
merest flash of the incongruous, not to say absurd, vision of Albert
Penny's wilted collar on the chiffonier, or his shirt sleeves that were
held back with pink rubber garters, bending over the recalcitrant bed
caster, knew how impossible that!

Forceps sensitive enough to lay hold of an antenna could not capture the
vagariousness of all of this, but none the less it was just that
ridiculous and irrelevant flash across her vision that eliminated the
almost unbearable tugging of nostalgia at her heart strings.

There were long hours of dizzying and fascinated contemplation down into
the cypress-sided vale of self-destruction; that ravine which gets its
glance from most and even the best of us. It seemed to her that she
could not even think for the rush of its dark waters pressing against
her reason; but love of life was strongest of all in Lilly. It was the
sweep of her own vitality which she felt pressing.

She tried to desire what had befallen her, to think in terms of beauty;
to feel the miracle of her state and the age-old throbs that make
maternity sublime. The sense of her aversion debased while it immersed
her. She reasoned how valiantly whole eternities of women had gone down
to meet motherhood and how proudly those eternities of women had worn
the moment. Her mother. Mrs. Kemble. The concept awed her, but then
memory came scourging out of that long night of her childhood:

MRS. KEMBLE: "Kill me, God! Put me out of it! Please! I can't suffer any
more! Kill me, God!"

She buried her head into her pillow; tried to think in terms of God; to
intimidate her rebellion. Finally she did cool to a sort of leaden
despair through which slow determination began to percolate.

At nine o'clock the following morning, a Sunday that wrapped the city
windily in the first cold gray of autumn, without having undressed the
night through, she ventured as far as Times Square for a newspaper, the
dark halls of the house and the rows of closed doors suddenly sinister.
The wind caught at her flimsy skirts, blowing them forward, and she was
forced to clutch the wide brim of her hat. Summer was gone.

But more than that, it seemed to Lilly that a black gauze lay across her
eyes, the very complexion of the streets had darkened, the hurried
wind-blown clouds stamping the whole aspect of things with turbulence.
She could not keep the run out of her steps, and her palms were full of
the half moons impressed there by her finger nails. The city, as joyous
as Chloe, had suddenly turned a frightening grimace upon her.

She bought a Sunday paper, letting the prankish gale around Times Square
scurry the bulk of it through the streets while she stood in the shelter
of the news stand, unfolding the Furnished Room section. Wind puffed the
sheets up into her face, and finally she crossed to a white-tiled lunch
room, ordering coffee and rolls more for the temporary shelter than for
appetite. Scanning column after column, occasionally she poked a
toothpick through the page, and once tore out a little segment, dropping
it into her hand bag. It read:

Neatly Furnished Room near Columbia University and Kroeg School of
Music. Three dollars and a half a week and breakfasts if desired. Ideal
for refined young lady. Inquire at 9000 Amsterdam Avenue.

She paid her check, inquired direction of the cashier, and, hurrying
out, boarded a north-bound Amsterdam Avenue car, riding for half an hour
through streets lined in petty shops and presenting the peculiar swept
look of Sunday.

She had cooled to apathy, a drowsiness descending that made her
reluctant to leave the car; could have ridden on and on in this eased
and half-narcotized state, but people had a habit of remembering her. A
truckman had followed her only the day before through half a block of
snarled traffic to see that she turned properly to the right. New York,
mad as a March hare, was eager to direct her. The conductor now walked
up the aisle of car to tap her on the shoulder.

"Your corner, miss."

Nine thousand Amsterdam Avenue was a drug store sidled in between a
bakeshop that six days a week poured forth sweet hot breath, and an
undertaking establishment with a white-satin infant's coffin _de luxe_
tilted in the window. The sight of it caught Lilly like a pain. That
peculiar power of an obsessed mind to see in everything its own state
reflected had set in. Queer that this infant's coffin should tilt at
her. A bouncing youngster leaned out of its perambulator to dance
its arms.

She hurried into the drug store. Isaac Neugass, Chemist.

It was the older-style pharmacy, with a gilt mortar and pestle for a
sign; and as she entered, a bell attached by a pulley rang somewhere in
a thin, tattling voice. The soda fountain, fountain pen, the picture
postcard, the umbrella, and the face-powder demonstrator had not yet
invaded here. Isaac Neugass, Chemist--was just that. His walls were
lined in labeled jars of panacea. The pungency of valerianate of ammonia
smote the entrant. He pummeled his own pills, percolated his own
paregoric, prescribed for neighborhood miseries from an invariable
bottle that was slow, sluggish, and malodorous in the pouring, anointed
the neighborhood bruises, and extracted, always gratis, neighborhood
cinders from neighborhood eyes.

A Madison Avenue physician, erstwhile of Amsterdam Avenue, and more
recently of two honorary degrees, his own private hospital, two outer
waiting rooms, three assistants, and four-figure operations, still
diverted quite a runnel of his clientele to the impeccable pharmaceutics
of the little Amsterdam Avenue shop, so that the motor car and the
carriage not infrequently sidled up to its curb.

At Lilly's entrance, Isaac Neugass came shuffling around the
ground-glass prescription partition, his hands at their perpetual dry
washing of each other. There was something of a dressed-up wishbone
about him, in the way his clothing scarcely suggested the thin body
within them. They had scarcely a point of contact, even with his angles.
He was a mere inner tubing to what he wore. A skull cap hid his
baldness, a fringe of gray below it suggesting what was not beneath it.
His little eyes were like steel, humorously glinting gimlets in the
process of boring, the old face wrinkling up around them as pliantly as
a dough eraser. In fact, when he laughed his little chin with the tip of
beard did curl up like one of those rubber-toy faces where chin
kicks brow.

"Well," he said, with a great dip of nose down into his smile, "whad can
I do for you?" He reminded Lilly of a great auk, something alcidine in
the thin cheeks with the mouth cutting so widely toward the ears.

She had not realized it, but suddenly the terrible, the impersonal
detachment of the past weeks smote her. There had been voiceless days
and days when the sound of herself asking direction or ordering from a
bill of fare had an element of surprise in it, and the toneless voice of
public service was the only one directed to her: "Step lively." "Two
blocks east." "Don't mention it." "No more rice pudding left, ma'am."

When Isaac Neugass said, "Well, whad can I do for you?" something within
her thawed so that she could have cried.

"I'm looking for this furnished room," she said, and held out the slip
toward him.

"You wand my wife," he said, waving her the direction. "Go right
outside to the next stoop and ring the bell over Neugass."

"Oh, thank you!" she said, suiting her action to his word.

"It's a nize room. I could wish it to an early bird to catch it."

"That's what I want, a nice, quiet room."

"Then you got it," he cried. "It's a room for a needle," his thumb and
forefinger indicating an infinitesibly fine point.

"A needle?"

"So it could hear itself fall."

In his own way Mr. Neugass was a jokester, insisting upon the laugh,
sitting back upon his figurative haunches, waiting.

"Then it is just what I want," said Lilly, giving him his smile, "only I
hope it isn't too--"

He took to waggling his head, his little kindly eyes illuminated with a
sunburst of wrinkles and his voice a festooned chant of rising and
falling inflections.

"Sa-y, if you can't pay three-fifty, she'll make it three. You doan'
need to tell her I told you, but for such a young lady like you, sa-y,
the brice in the newspaper doan' always got to be the brice in the hand,
ain't it?"

She laughed, the irises that had crowded out the gray in her eyes
suddenly smaller and back to normal.

In the little entrance adjoining, with its line-up of door bells, she
pressed the button as directed. A clicking answered her ring, and she
had to learn from a child who entered with a dangling pail of milk, that
she was to speak upward through a tube above the bell.

"About the room?" Yes, she was to come up.

She climbed two flights of dark, clean-smelling stairs, and Mrs.
Neugass herself opened the door.

Mary, Rispah, Cornelia, Monica, Martha Washington, Mrs. Whistler,
Margaret Ogilvy, and Mrs. Neugass, blessed be their tribe, must all have
had about the same look about the eyes. Masha Neugass was sixty, and
looked it. A blue-gingham apron held her in at the waist so that she
bulged softly and fatly above and below it.

Thirty minutes and one hundred years removed from Millionaires' Row, the
apartment was just another of those paradoxes which the city can shake
from its spangled sleeve. Built like a coach, each room opening off a
strip of hallway, it was a scoured chromo of Victoria's age of horrors.
The brilliantly flower-splashed wall paper and carpeting. A front room
that smelled and pricked of horsehair. The little patch of dining room
brightened by a red tablecloth, two canaries, and a window-sill array of
turnips sprouting in bottles. The rush of bead portières as you walked
through them. Hassocks. A freshly washed-and-ironed ribbon bow on a
chair back. Pillow shams. Nottingham-lace curtains with sham drapes
woven into them. A pair of bisque pugs.

The room to let was the size of a freight elevator and crammed with a
fine old walnut bed when there was scarcely room for a cot. Also an
overflow of curlicue divan, and a washstand. It was clean to coolness,
as if the very air were washed, but, entering it, Mrs. Neugass flecked
an imaginary dust particle from the divan with her apron, then wrapping
it muff fashion about her hands.

"It ain't big, but it's gumfortable."

"Indeed it is!" said Lilly, sniffing in appreciatively.

"We doan' got to rent this room, miss. It's our first time. My husband,
if he had his way, wouldn't. But I say it's a shame for the waste, since
our youngest daughter ain't in it no more...."

"It's lovely."

"You see out there between those two chimneys? That's Columbia
University. You're from the college? Yes? We brefer it should be
a student."

"I--I'm a high-school graduate, but not exactly a college student. I
mean--I'm a music student. Voice."

"You doan' tell me! Now ain't that a coinstidance! For why you think I
should have this room empty if not my own baby daughter is in Europe
with her voice! For three years already, with her gone, miss, and my
husband's daughter down to her bookkeeping all day, as I tell him, it's
like my heart will burst from the silence."

"There is something I had better explain--"

"I want a young girl in the house again, I tell him."

Standing there, the words pressing for utterance against her very teeth,
Lilly swallowed them back again.

"I see," she said, smiling her misery. "Then I'm afraid--I--"

"We're used to a young girl. You read maybe of our daughter only in last
Sunday's papers. Millie du Gass, with the Milan Opera?"

Lilly had. "Millie du Gass--your daughter!"

"We got more only last night from her in 'Traviata.' They pulled her
carriage after the opera. Felix Auchinloss went special from Vienna to
conduct her. That's her picture there and there and there. Say, ain't
that a coinstidance you should be a voice!"

Lilly stood regarding one of the framed photographs. A lifted young
profile, ever so slightly of the father's aquilinity, a vocal-looking
swell to the bosom, and a chin that locked up prettily to the
protuberant upper lip.

Regarding her, such a nausea of bitterness flowed over Lilly that her
lips were too wry to speak and she could have sobbed out her plight to
the simple soul there, with her hands in the muff of her apron, and her
gaze soft to tears upon the photograph.

"That ain't so good of her, miss, as some her papa keeps down in the
store. In Milan they call her the American Beauty. Auchinloss won't
conduct 'Faust' without our Millie's Marguerite. How she used to
practice it, miss, righd on that piano you seen in the front room. It's
worth all the sacrifices we made for such a success like hers. I doan'
know who you study with, but if you come to us here, I wand once you
should let her old teacher, Ballman, hear you. He's the man that can
find your voice if you got it."

"Oh, I do want to come here, Mrs. Neugass. I--If only--. Will you--will
you let me talk to you as I would to my own mother? I--somehow--I--I
think you will understand--"

Then Mrs. Neugass came closer, a little whisper of garlic in her breath
and her eyes screwed to conniving.

"Sa-y, miss, you doan' need to worry. Doan' tell it to my husband that
the reduction came from me, but if three dollars is all you can pay,
since it's for some one who will use the piano and liven up things a
little, it's worth the difference to me in pleasure."

"Oh, Mrs. Neugass, if you knew what a place like this would mean to
me--now! If only you--"

"All righd, then, for a few cents we doan' dicker. Say we make it three
dollars, and on rainy mornings coffee and rolls so you doan' get your
feet wet."

"But I--"

"We're blain beoble, miss, but we got a respegtable standing in the
neighborhood for fifteen years. My husband's daughter by his first
marriage is sixteen years bookkeeper down by Aaron Schmoll Paper Box
Company in Green Street. We doan' got to rent, miss, unless it should be
to the righd person. A nice young lady like you--"

"But what if I were to tell you, Mrs. Neugass, that I'm a mar--"

"You got references? It ain't I don't trust, but business is business,
ain't it?"

"I'm afraid I haven't. You see, I'm a stranger. Here from--the West to
study. I don't quite like it where I am. In fact, I want to get
out to-day."

"Say, doan' I know how things can happen? For two months after she
arrived in Munich, where she went first, my Millie used to write home,
'Mamma, I can't get myself settled righd.' In one place bugs and in
another they complained of her practicing. I got sympathy for a girl
trying to get settled. You can come righd away up into a room of mine,
miss. There's no extra cleaning to be done."

"Oh, Mrs. Neugass, if I may! I've only my valise and suitcase."

A complete shrugging of Mrs. Neugass took place, her voice, brow, and
manner lifting.

"Valise and suitcase. Is that a baggage?"

"I'm sending West for my trunks later, Mrs. Neugass."

"You'm _Goyem_, not?"

"Beg pardon?"

"You're Gentiles, ain't it? Well, with _Goyem_ such things ain't so
important. I'll show you sometimes the way my Millie left home, complete
even to hand-crocheted washrags. Three of us had to sit on her trunk.
You'm _Goyem_, not?"

"I was reared in the Unitarian Church, if that's what you mean,
until--well, I guess until I sort of figured out my own religion
for myself."

"We're Jews, you know, miss, in case you should have any _richas_."

"_Richas?_"

"Prejudices against us, like some. My husband has one of the finest
cantor voices of any temple in the city."

"No, no, Mrs. Neugass. I just love Jewish people. Some of the nicest
folks we knew in St. Lo--I ever knew--have been Jews," cried Lilly, with
the colossal, the unconscious patronage of race consciousness.

It left no welt, however, across the sensibilities of Mrs. Neugass. The
centuries had seen to that. She was craven and she was superb in
her heritage.

"I always say, thank God for whad I am, but it doan' matter to me whad
anybody else is, just so she is that with the best she has in her."

"Exactly. There--there is something I ought to say to you, Mrs. Neugass.
You've made it so difficult, with your kindness, but I--well, I--There
are certain conditions I want you to know about. I--Not a--I could
only take the room for a few months, Mrs. Neugass, because I--"

"Say, doan' I know how it is with students?"

"No, no--"

"They go home when it comes summer. You doan' got to worry. It ain't
like we need it to pay rent with. You got my word it's all righd,
Miss--The name, blease--Miss what?"

"Par--Parlow. Lilly Parlow."

"All righd, Miss Parlow; that makes everything fine."

She opened her purse, unfolding a bill.

"I'll pay now," she said, calm with sudden decision.

"Sa-y, I would have trusted you. But you're like me, I always say money
speaks louder than words."

"I'll be right back, Mrs. Neugass."

"That's good. I'll have out fresh towels. That's one thing I doan'
expect from nobody is to stint on towels."

And so it came about that at the moment Robert Visigoth was confronted
with a sudden gap in his program, Lilly Penny, with almost the week's
lodging still to her credit, was tiptoeing through the moldy halls of
the house in Forty-fourth Street, her luggage hitting against wall and
banisters and a palpitating fear fuddling her haste.

At the second flight down she experienced her first and by no means
fragrant encounter in these hallways. A door flew open with a rush and,
her thin body wrapped in something ornate and flowing that was like a
quick sheaf of flame around her, a woman dragged suddenly out to the
head of the stairs, by the actual scruff of the neck, the ridiculous
figure of a male, his collar--the necktie streaming from it--in
his hand.

She spat then a bombardment of screaming profanity that sickened Lilly
as she stood unseen and flattened against the wall. A further shove sent
him sprawling down the remaining stairs, and from the open doorway a
flung waistcoat and coat draped him ludicrously as they struck.

"Cheap skate! Piker! Skinflint!"

Then a slamming, reverberating door, and, while she stood trembling and
waiting, the creature on the stairs, a hulk of Swede with short, square
teeth and a corner of lip that snarled back to bare them, scrambled into
his coat, stumbling out the front door, collar still in his clutch.

Then Lilly wound her weak-kneed way down the flight after him, softly,
to save the creak, her luggage held out before her.

The air outside seemed cleansing as water to her. She could not breathe
deeply enough of it. For a long and indeterminate period she stood at
the corner, Amsterdam Avenue car after car rumbling past, her luggage on
the sidewalk and inclosing her in a little island.

Indecision buffeted her. Even Mrs. Neugass and her apartment had
suddenly become abhorrent; Broadway as barren as any granite gully and
somehow terrifying. She strolled a block toward the station, yet it is
doubtful whether in the back of her head Lilly did not know the impulse
of home to be a mock one.

The tremendous trifles began their running fire.

Her mother pulling her corsets in so that they bottled her up more and
more into the shape of an hourglass. That caster for the brass bed.
Those interminable discussions over that caster for the brass bed!

She boarded an Amsterdam Avenue car.



CHAPTER XIX

The following months of her life always seemed to Lilly to have hung
suspended without any forward march to them, and entirely surrounded
with a colorless fluid which distorted reality, as a hand seen through a
fish bowl of water is distorted. There descended upon her whole rows of
days that were swollen with inertia. Her little window looked out upon
an ocean of roofs, and across her distant horizon was a strident picture
in electricity of an old woman in a Dutch cap beating a tub of
proclaimed soap flakes into an incandescent froth.

She would sit with her cheek crumpled against her hand, looking out over
this, her mind hardly stirring. There still lay three one-hundred-dollar
bills, crisply warm, against her bosom, and during the long arid spell
that followed her first stroke of good fortune they were to her like a
sedative touch, pressing down a more and more frequently recurring
rise of fear.

Two or three mornings a week she ventured in among the agencies,
occasionally an address handed out to her which she followed up,
always vainly.

There was something gone from Lilly, these months, as if a line of
resiliency within her had snapped like a rubber band. It showed most in
her slowed step and her head not quite so flung up.

One Saturday night she did earn twenty dollars, singing, a
red-white-and-blue paper cap on her head, the "Star-spangled Banner" and
the "Marsellaise" on the up-and-down-stream excursion of the Annual
Convention of Commercial Photographers.

During their clambake and dance at Grody's Grove, just beyond Coney
Island, she remained on the boat, lying back in a deck chair, facing a
night brilliantly pointed with stars. The machinery of her mind might
have ceased with the chugging of the boat. She lay the five hours of her
wait, floating in a state of the complete disembodiment of which she was
peculiarly capable.

At one o'clock the convention, highly inflamed, came trooping back on
board, the boat nosing downstream, brilliant and terrible with orgy.

Twice she was grasped by revelers who were little more than bashing
bulls, and before she could fight them off, her face and neck, through
the sheerness of her blouse, were covered with hot, wet, and beery
kisses. The third time she fought off with her hatpin, inflicting a deep
red scratch across a too loose jowl. She took refuge, finally, finding
out by desperate instinct the only other woman on board. A cook down in
the reeking kitchen of the one-screw steamer, who had grown old so
horribly that her only remaining tooth was a tusk that hung deeply
beneath her lower lip. But she found out a bench rug for Lilly, so that
the trip home she lay there in the stench of strong foods and hot
machinery, stupefied with misery.

And yet, withal, a certain exultation had hold of her these strangely
unreal weeks, her terror of the life about to be subdued somewhere
underneath her consciousness, and each to-morrow reassuringly remote.

The long unfettered days. Her own latchkey to come and go at will. The
lay of those three crisp bills against her heart. Her little economies,
however, grew against a day which she hardly contemplated and for which
she certainly did not plan. Very often she ate in her own room, a
sandwich and a bottle of milk from a corner delicatessen. She had
already learned those small private economies of the petty and penny
wise. The mirror-pasted handkerchief. The gas-jet-brewed egg. The
hand-fluted ruching. Once, in her absence, Mrs. Neugass had pressed out
her dark-brown-cloth coat suit, wrinkled from weeks in her suitcase, and
which she had left hanging before the open window.

The print of these kindly people was like an indelible rubber stamp into
the premises. Mr. Neugass had already presented her with a jar of Millie
face cream and a preparation for cleaning kid gloves. Sundays she was
invariably importuned to dine with the family, and of occasional
evenings, Alma Neugass, angular and full of the knobs of protruding
neckbones, elbows, and shoulder blades, and with little sacs under her
eyes as if she had wept down into them that life could be so tasteless,
would knock at her door, and for an hour or two, and sometimes up to
midnight, sit on the edge of Lilly's bed, the drone of their
conversation surviving repeated rappings from the parental bedroom,
adjoining.

There was something about Alma of an old glove just about ready to
breathe out and flatten from the print of a recent hand. Fifteen years
of debit and credit and days which swung with pendulum fidelity within
the arc of routine had creased and dried her of sap.

The whiteness of Lilly and the swift, shining, backward rush of her hair
were a source of wistful and vicarious delight to her. "Whoever named
you Lilly was right," she said upon one of these midnight confabs so
immemoriably dear to women, when hairpins can be removed and the dig of
skirt bands unhooked. "You're so snowy, and soft, too; you feel like a
kitten's ear. And that shining head of yours!"

"But all my life I've wanted to be blond. Sun people I call them."

"Millie is a blonde," said Miss Neugass, glancing toward one of the
photographs that graced even Lilly's wall. "There's a girl was born
in the sun!"

"You've been part of her sun, Miss Neugass. Your parents have told me
how for eight years half of your earnings went toward her education."

"Life is a beehive, Miss Parlow," said Alma, her rather grandiloquent
and apiarian simile highly inaccurate, "some of us are the drones, some
the workers, and some the queens. Millie happened to be a queen."

"How can you say that? Happened! What if Napoleon had never left
Corsica, or Lincoln the backwoods, or Jeanne d'Arc her village, just
because they decided environment had placed them there."

"Quite right, but it is their being queens, drones, or workers
determines their action."

"Well, whether or not I was born for it, I aspire to be a queen."

"Fine. Only be sure your arm is long enough to reach what you want."

"But how can I tell if I don't stretch and stretch?"

"You can't. Most of us never know when we've used up the last inch of
reach, and keep on straining to touch what God or circumstance, or call
it what you will, has placed beyond us."

"Yes, but it is not knowing makes us capable of hoping and striving."

"To me that is one of the tragedies of living. The hearts that pass by
the jobs they are fitted for, to eat themselves out struggling to do
what they think they're fitted for."

"You're a fatalist."

"Not at all. The way to know the reach of your arm is to sprain it. I
sprained mine, and it wasn't until the ligaments began to pull that I
had the courage to face the fact that I was made out of bookkeeper
instead of concert-pianist stuff."

"You, Miss Neugass, a pianist!"

"Sounds queer to you, doesn't it?"

"What--interfered?"

"My own realization. One night before he moved from the neighborhood
Doctor Feldman sent pa a pair of seats for De Pachman. I was seventeen
then, and Millie seven. Ma stayed in the store and pa and I went. I
remember as if it were yesterday. The concert was at Beethoven Hall and
it snowed so that when we arrived I made pa slip off his shoes under the
chair, for his socks to dry. I had been studying for eight years then
and my teacher was arranging a recital. Strangest thing, but De Pachman
played every single thing of Chopin's that I had on my own little
repertoire, only under his touch it was real lace played into perfect
design. I think pa must have lived through everything with me that
night. He's got the finest musical instinct in the family, Millie
included. We didn't say a word all the way home, but next day when I
told him that I was going to business college on the money we were going
to put into the recital, he didn't say a word, either. Just patted my
hand. He knew! It wasn't so much a matter of technique, only when I
played Nocturne in D flat a hammer inside the piano case hit a wire;
when De Pachman touched those same keys a nerve kissed a heartbeat."

"Alma--Neugass! You poor--you splendid girl!"

Curled up there on the narrow bed, her bony profile against the wall and
her knees hugged up to her after the manner of the excessively thin, a
smile had come out on Miss Neugass's face as if the taste of
renunciation were anything but bitter.

"I don't know what kind of a pianist I might have made, but I do know
I've made a good bookkeeper and that a little talent took a chance on
stepping aside for a bigger."

"You mean your sister?"

"There's a talent for you! Millie has a voice like one of those
revolving barber poles, as round at the bottom as it is at the top, and
it goes up and up seemingly without end. There never was any doubt
about Millie."

"Oh, Miss Neugass, you frighten me! What if my arm is too short? Your
sister's teacher, Ballman, to whom your mother sent me, says so little."

"Ballman is a great voice builder, but he doesn't concern himself with
the future of his pupils. He's a dear old fogy with a single-track
mind."

"What did he used to say of your sister?"

"Nothing much except that he used to call her his wonder-child and shut
up like a clam when we tried to discuss her future with him. What you
need now, if you're ever really going to get anywhere, is an audition."

"Audition?"

"One of the big opera directors to hear you. It's not easy to arrange at
the Metropolitan. Ballman has no pull. It takes a man like Auchinloss or
Trieste or one of the big guns."

"If only I could get started, Miss Neugass, on the right track!"

"I'll tell you what I'll do. When Auchinloss comes this winter I'll have
him hear you. That may pave the way to something. He's the prince of
them all. His judgment never fails. He's only stamped his approval on
five or six, but he's never missed. They say he heard Paula Anchutz
singing her baby to sleep one night as he happened to pass her cottage,
and he rang her door bell."

"Auchinloss discovered Paula Anchutz!"

"He decided her greatness after a few bars. Some day I'll read you
Millie's letter home about her audition in Vienna. After about six bars
of the 'Jewel Song' he leaped up over the footlights, screamed at her,
kissed her, drew up a chair, and began to plan out the entire campaign
of her future, so rapidly that the poor child said everything was
swinging in circles before her."

Her eyes two flaming orbits, Lilly sat staring, her lips slightly open.

"And that was the beginning."

"Yes, that was the beginning of--everything," said Miss Neugass, with a
twist on her lips.

"Oh, I--Even to hear it thrills me so that I--Thrills me so! But what,
Miss Neugass--what if he hadn't--"

"That is where you must make up your mind to take your medicine. There's
an article about him in this month's _Musical Gazette_. If he thinks
you've the stuff great singers are made of, it's a repetition of his
scene with Millie every time. But this article goes on to say, if he
rubs his hands together and says, 'Very nice,' and walks off, that means
he thinks you will probably make a better bookkeeper or baby dandler
than you will a prima donna. Millie used to write that around the opera
house in Vienna, when Auchinloss started rubbing his hands together
after an audition, everybody used to have the smelling salts ready."

"Miss Neugass--you've heard me practice. Tell me the truth! Do you think
my ambition is bigger than my voice? Tell me as you would your sister."

The veil of a pause hung between them, Miss Neugass unfolding her legs
and letting them hang over the side of the bed, as if she would flee
the moment.

"Why, I'm no critic, Miss Parlow. All I inherit is some of my father's
natural musical instinct."

"You're evading me, like Ballman does! Tell me! You may save me as you
saved yourself. Am I chasing a phantom?"

"I swear to you I don't know. I like your voice. I think it has a
beautiful rich quality. I agree with Ballman, it has fine timbre."

"Timbre--I'm tired hearing that--"

"That counts in voice almost as much as range."

"No, no, don't evade. You think it lacks range?"

"I don't know. It lacks something--as if--well, if you'll pardon my
saying it, as if it didn't reach as far as your temperament could
fling it."

"That's it exactly! I feel that about myself in everything--almost as
if--as if it would take another generation of me to complete me--if--if
you get what I mean."

"There is something in that."

"I know what you think in your heart. I'm a vaudeville product with a
grand-opera aspiration."

"I'm not capable of judging."

"You judged your sister."

"Ah, but Millie's voice there was no mistaking. Her talent needed
hardly to be developed. It opened naturally, like a rose. Nine voices
out of ten have to be drilled for like precious ore. Just you study on.
I'll have Auchinloss hear you when he comes over."

"You're sure, Miss Neugass, they're coming?"

"That's what the papers keep saying. She's to sing three operas in
January, with Auchinloss conducting. We're expecting daily to hear from
my sister, verifying it."

"You don't know--exactly?"

"No."

"If only--You don't think it will be this side of January? You see,
after January my--my plans may be uncertain."

"I understand. He's to conduct his own symphony in December, to be
played the first time in this country, somewhere around Christmas in
Boston, I think."

"Will you be wanting this room then?"

Miss Neugass swung her face with its considerable dip of nose toward
Lilly.

"You don't think this place will hold Millie any more? You don't think,
for instance, the great Du Gass could receive the reporters--here!"

"But, after all, it's her home."

A levelness of expression came down over the face of Miss Neugass, as if
a shade had been lowered across it, her voice, too, leveled of any
inflection.

"Of course," she said, "you know about my sister and--Auchinloss."

"You mean--"

"Oh, I realize everybody knows--that is, everybody except my parents."

"I didn't--"

"That's because you don't belong yet! Wait until you've worked your way
in a bit. I've known it long enough. Two years."

"Then she--you--"

"She was a baby when she left, Miss Parlow. Even if there had been the
money to send me along with her, we wouldn't have felt the need of it. I
could have staked my life on that child. Not that I'm blaming her, only
I--God! I could have staked my life."

"He's--"

"Already married. She wrote me the whole story two years ago. It's an
old one. So old it's got barnacles. I sometimes wonder it came to me
with the terrible shock it did. She was so young--too young to get ahead
so quickly even with her gifts. He has a son almost her age. He's forty
and she's twenty. The wife in an insane asylum somewhere outside of
Paris. Our Millie! I don't think I even realize it yet. Beauty and the
Beast they call them in Milan."

"Horrible!"

"That baby. The whole world before her. It was all with her or nothing,
she wrote, and she chose all. She sang six leading roles that first
year. It made her. I--I don't blame her, somehow--that baby. It's him I
hate. Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to hold back, when I lay hands on
him, from--killing. But I won't. I'll grin and bear it just as if her
beautiful little white self were no more to me than an alabaster vase
after it's cracked."

"And your parents?"

"That's all she writes of, now that she thinks she is coming, to keep it
from them! I wake up nights in a cold sweat over it. Wringing wet with
the fear of my job."

"Your mother and sweet little old father!"

"That's it; they're like two babes in the woods morally. They don't know
any gradation except black and white. Virtue and sin. A woman is good or
a woman is rotten bad. She falls or she doesn't."

"Oh, I know the relentlessness of that single-track code of right and
wrong."

"My stepmother, good soul that she is, would take the last stitch off
her back for what she calls honest need, but I've seen her slam the door
in the face of one of our neighbor girls in trouble who's come to my
father begging for help--medicine. That's what I'm up against, Miss
Parlow, keeping from those two old people what their daughter--is."

"Oh, my dear, my dear!"

"I don't know why I'm airing my troubles here. God knows you are bottled
up enough about yours, if you have any, but I thought surely you knew.
Everyone does. Is it any wonder that my sister's home-coming is a
nightmare to me? She doesn't want to come; I can read between the lines
of her letter she's fighting it. But you see, Auchinloss is a great man.
He's been invited to conduct his own symphony at its American _première_
and naturally has taken this opportunity to bring about her American
debut. You can imagine my parents' pride."

"I can see it. Why, your father can't keep his face straight--he's
always sort of smiling, slyly, to himself."

"Their daughter, Millie du Gass, coming home with an opera triumph back
of her in every European city, the great Auchinloss himself coming to
conduct for her American debut. That is the kind of homecoming they're
looking forward to and the kind I must make possible for them. My
mother, who screams out every girl in trouble who dares to come into the
drug store for help!"

When Lilly bade Alma Neugass good night, they kissed, a dark bony hand
lingering on each of Lilly's shoulders.

"You've your decision before you yet, Miss Parlow, and you're young and
pretty, too. Much as I love that little sister of mine, and can't find
it in my heart to blame her, I know that somewhere there are women big
enough not to have to pay the price. You--there's something about
you--something so, if you'll permit me to say it, so boyish--so
clean--so wholesome. You should be big enough not to have to pay
the price."

"If only I felt that your sister--cared. That is so horrible--the
beauty-and-the-beast part. To place personal ambition above her
body--the body that holds her soul! Ugh!"

"She sent his picture. He's hairy like an ape. My. little white
sister--he's--hairy, I tell you, like an ape."

"I think I would have to want something--love something--enough to tear
out my very heart for it before I could pay her price. Nothing on earth,
Miss Neugass, can be so hideous--as that! I--I imagine it's flying in
the face of the first law of nature--nothing so hideous as giving of
self to--in--in--payment--"

Tears were racking the worn form of Miss Neugass, Lilly wrapping her in
arms that soothed.

"You musn't," she said; "you've your big job ahead of you."

Through the left wall came a sharp trilogy of raps.

"All right, ma. Coming!" cried Miss Neugass, starting up instantly, her
voice lifted and absolutely without tremor.

That night Lilly dreamed the whole of her marriage. Her father with his
face distorted by lather before his shaving mirror. The Leffingwell Rock
Church. Little Evelyn Kemble placing the white-satin cushion. Herself
and Albert finally locking the door of their new little home that
wedding night.

It was then she awoke with a scream.



CHAPTER XX

About a week later an advertisement in a morning paper caught Lilly's
eye.

WANTED:--Refined young woman of good appearance and soprano voice, to
sing in music store. Must be able to accompany self. Apply between
twelve and six. Broadway Melody Shop, 1432 Broadway.

A recurring and dragging sense of lassitude was over her these mornings,
so that it was all she could do to drag herself through two hours of
practice in the parlor, scrupulously given over by Mrs. Neugass, who
moved constantly and audibly about the kitchen.

Her lessons, one every Tuesday morning, with Leopold Ballman, were
tiresome unmusical periods of diaphragm exercises and an entire tearing
down and reconstruction process of the previous methods taught her. It
was tedious, standing before the long gold-and-black pier glass in the
front parlor, watching the tendinous rise and fall of her lower thorax
when her forbidden arias were on top of the piano and a cabinet of
Millie du Gass's sheet music bulged there at her disposal.

The old disturbing ache would climb up to the back of her neck, and her
half-baked power of concentration falter at the arid monotony of,
breathe-in; breathe-out.

There were about five months between Lilly and the hour of her supreme
travail. They might have been five years, while she paused suspended,
as it were, in this state of abeyance that hung between the hot August
day of her leave-taking of home and that chimeric hour ahead which
depended like a stalactite, stabbing space.

Her most tangible concern was a money one. The breaking of another
one-hundred-dollar bill was imminent and it frightened her. She reduced
her vocal lessons, at three dollars the hour, to one every other week,
finally discontinuing entirely, and took to haunting the agencies daily,
leaving her address where no initial charges were required and scanning
incessantly the want advertisements under Amusements.

She applied one Monday morning at the Broadway Melody Shop, a mere aisle
wedged between a theater and a _rôtisserie_, a megaphone inserted
through a hole cut in the plate-glass frontage that was violently
plastered over with furiously colored copies of what purported to be the
latest song hits: "If I Could Be Molasses to Your Griddle Cakes."
"Snuggle Up, Snookums." "Honey, Does You Love Me?" "Cakin' the Walk."
"It's Twilight on the Tiber." "Tu-Lips for Mine!"

A sort of managerial salesman in a number-thirteen-and-a-half collar and
a part that ran through his varnished-looking hair bisecting the back of
his head like a poodle's, and a soft, pimply jowl that had never borne
beard, stuck up a random sheet of music on the piano, so placed that its
tones carried straight through the megaphone to the sidewalk.

She played and sang it off easily, her tones jaunty and staccato and her
desire to please quivering through them. He stood beside her, the angle
of his body so that the sharp bone of his hip pressed against her.

"Rag up," he said once, insinuating the movement with a slight wriggle
that ran through his apparently rigid body. She quickened her speed,
leaning forward to read more surely:

     "Uh-uh! my ba-a-aaby,
      You drive me cra-azy,
      Uh-uh! quit shovin',
      I'm only lov--in'."

The words running along to a stuttering syncopation that filled her with
self-disgust as she sang them. But she finished with quite a flourish,
swinging around on the stool to face him.

"You need ragging up, kiddo. You've the speed of a funeral march."

"A little practice is what I need," she said, half hoping to obtain.

"I'll try you at fifteen a week. Eleven to six Tuesday, Thursday, and
Friday. The other evenings we close at eleven; fifty cents extra for
supper money. You on?"

"Yes."

"Slick, ain't you? Who peeled you to-day, Miss Bermuda Onion? Aw,
touchy! No harm meant. You're too big to suit me; I like 'em squab size.
Rag up a bit between now and to-morrow, Miss Onion."

For five weeks in the little slit of store that was foul with tired and
devitalized air, and concealed behind a screen that shut off the
megaphone device, Lilly sang through an eight and sometimes a
twelve-hour day, her voice drifting out to the sidewalk with a remote
calling quality.

To her relief she quickly learned that Mr. Alphonse
Rook--"Phonzie"--spent the greater part of his time at the office of the
Manhattan Music Publishing Company, under which auspices the Broadway
Melody Shop operated.

He was replaced by a salesgirl of such superlative dress and manner that
her long jet earrings were like exclamations at the audacity of her
personality. An habitual counter line-up of Broadway mental brevities in
the form of young men with bamboo sticks and eyes with perpetual ogles
in them, would while away the syncopated hours with her, occasionally
Lilly emerging from behind her screen to "come up for air," as Miss
Gertrude Kirk put it.

She was "Gert" to the boys, and from the propinquity of that sliver of
store and the natural loquacity of Miss Kirk, which would have
overflowed a much more generous area, Lilly was to learn much of life as
it is lived on that bias which is cut against the warp and woof of
society. Miss Kirk had twice been up in night court. Her mother
alternated under three aliases and was best known on the night boat that
plied between New York and Albany. Occasionally this mother visited upon
her daughter, her laughter hitting through the store like cymbals. She
had the sagging flesh of an old fowl and cheeks that had not been
cleansed of rouge long enough for the pores to breathe in and keep the
flesh alive. To Lilly she was as terrible as a plucked hen on a
butcher's block, with her head dyed to a vicious cock's-comb red and the
wattles of loose skin beneath her chin.

In fact, she was familiarly known around the shop as "old bird," and on
one occasion had invited Lilly for a Sunday excursion "up to Albany."

"Lay off, ma," said her daughter. "Fer Gossake, can't you take a
tumble?"

Miss Kirk's tongue was as nimble as her fingers. She used them both
lightly. Would tear the flounce off her too lacy petticoat to bind up a
messenger boy's cut finger, and no scarf-pin that came within three feet
of her was immune from her quick touch. The only hour that ever struck
for her was sex o'clock. The unmentionable lay mentioned in her
discourse so frequently that to Lilly the Broadway Melody Shop became a
slimy-sided vat, horrible with small-necked young men with flexible
canes and Gertrude Kirk's slit-eyed stare of calculation.

"I don't know what you're trying to put over, Lilly-of-the-valley;
you're one too many for me. But I'd stake my life on one thing."

"What?"

"You got a caul over your face."

"A what?"

"Caul. Sort of veil some get born with. I know a girl carried hers
around in a little wooden box for luck. Well, you got that white-veil
kind of look that would blacklist you for the Vestal Virgin Sextet. I
can pick 'em every time. You look to me like--say, I got a little mud
puddle of my own to play in without wetting my feet in yours."

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," said Lilly, crashing
out the opening bars of "Oh, Willie, I love you when you're silly."

"No?" said Miss Kirk, the slit-eyed stare of terrible sophistication
narrowing down to two blade edges.

That night Lilly eyed herself in all the plate-glass windows as she
walked to the car. She was straight as a lance, but before she went to
bed she readjusted the gathers of her skirt band, pushing them forward.

One evening, because she saw it in the window of one of the Amsterdam
Avenue petty shops, she bought, furtively, a baby dress with a little
nursery legend embroidered on the yoke. She stole home with the package
up under her coat, like a thief. Once in her room, she laid it out on
the bed. It was as tiny as the French apron of the French maid who opens
the play, and as sheer. She wanted suddenly to finger it, and did,
laying her cheek to it with a rushing sense of sweetness, and then
suddenly, on wild lashing tears of her resentment and terror, her hands
tightening into and wringing it. Dragging the suitcase out from beneath
her bed, she crammed in the little garment, and finally, strapping down
the lid again, laid her head against it, silently screaming her despair.

Strangely enough, that very night, long after the street noises had
thinned and she had heard Isaac Neugass, creeping up from the drug
store, drag the bolt across the apartment door, Lilly sat suddenly up in
bed out of a hot tossing period of light doze. She was often crying
unconsciously into her sleep these nights, so that her eyes were
tear-bitten and dilated into the darkness. The night bell that connected
from the drug store was gouging the silence with a long-sustained
grilling. Soft-soled feet were already padding down the hallway past her
door, a bolt withdrawn, then voices.

The grunty tones of Mr. Neugass and a woman's fast soprano that rose and
rent the silence like the tear of silk. More feet down the hallway; sobs
that were filled with coughing; Mrs. Neugass, pitched high in the key of
termagency; the faint, expostulatory voice of Alma Neugass; and finally
one throat-torn sob that grated like a buzz saw against the night and
the banging, reverberating slam of a door.

Barefooted, trembling in the chill, Lilly peered out into the hallway,
the grotesque procession returning down its length. Mr. Neugass bent to
his tired angle, nightshirt striking him midships as it were, the two
dim white women creeping after.

"What has happened?"

"It's nodding, Miss Parlow. It's a shame for decent beoble they should
have to listen. Wash your ears out of it, Alma, and go back to bed."

But instead, to Lilly's importuning arm, Miss Neugass slid into her
room, closing the door softly behind her, standing there shivering in
the blue kind of darkness.

"It's the old story," she said--"some girl in a fix and trying to get pa
to help her. It makes me sick, positively sick."

"A fix?"

"Every once in a while some poor creature comes begging pa to break the
law and help her. It gets him wild. Any girl who doesn't want her child
is a monster and every girl in trouble a vicious sinner. This poor
little thing didn't look seventeen; I couldn't quite understand her. A
Pole, I think. Something about the beach at Coney Island. A man she'd
never seen before or since. My mother in her righteousness! Her
terrible, untempted righteousness. Her easy righteousness. The law in
its righteousness. It can be just as wrong and horrible to have children
as it can be sublime. What right has that little underbred girl to bring
an illegitimate life into the world? The law doesn't provide for the
illegitimate child. Why should it provide for its birth? What right had
my father to withhold his help? ... There are worse crimes than taking
human life; one of them is to give life under such conditions."

"You mean, Alma, there's a way not to--a way out?"

"Why, you poor baby! Of course there is if you see to it in time. That
is, during the first few weeks."

"How--many?"

"Oh, five or six at the outside. Go back to bed, girl; you'll catch your
death. O Lordy! such is life!" And went out.

For the third time in her life, Lilly fainted that night, standing
shivering in her nightdress for a second after Miss Neugass had left. In
a room barely wide enough to contain her length she dropped softly
against the bed, and, her fall broken, slid the remaining distance to
the floor.

After a while the chill air from the open window revived her and she
crept shudderingly into bed.



CHAPTER XXI

Two weeks before Christmas such a gale of house-cleaning swept through
the Neugass apartment that the scoured smell of pine-wood floors and the
scrubbed taste of damp matting lurked at the very threshold.

Then one Sunday morning Mlle. Millie du Gass and maid, also Felix G.
Auchinloss, were registered at the Waldorf.

All that day there wound into Lilly's room the aroma of fowl simmering
in their juices, the quick hither and thither of feet down the hallway,
and later the whirring of an ice-cream freezer and the quick
fork-and-china click of egg whites in the beating. For days she had
hardly glimpsed the family, except as they passed her on excited little
comings and goings, and always package-laden. A strip of new hall carpet
appeared, Miss Neugass nailing it down one night, calling out short,
excited orders through a mouthful of tacks. The piano had been tuned.

A sense of delicacy kept Lilly to her room that bright cold Sunday. She
did her breathing exercises; washed out some handkerchiefs and
stockings; tightened the buttons on a pretty new brown coat with a touch
of modish stone-martin fur at the collar which she had purchased, not
without qualms, for twenty-seven dollars and a half, at an
advertised sale.

Then for two long immobile hours she sat with her cheeks crumpled into
her palms, staring out across the sun-washed roofs and roofs.

At noon she took in a bottle of milk from the window sill, thawed it,
slid a hatpin along the wrapping of a new tin of biscuit. She alternated
between bites and sips, sitting on the bed edge, her gaze into the
design of the wall paper.

At home they must be sitting down to dinner, her father adjusting his
napkin by the patent fasteners and tilting back his head for the
invariable preamble of throwing the contents of his water tumbler down
at a gulp. Her mother in the hebdomadal polka-dotted foulard, her bangs
frizzed. Albert gnawing close to the drumstick, jaws working.

As a matter of fact, just that scene was at just that moment in its
enactment, and in all the fullness of her intuition she now knew it as
unerringly as if it had flowed in replica to her through time and space,
etching itself in dry point into her consciousness.

How often and with uncanny fidelity to fact her retroactive state of
mind had guided her step by step over the site of the domestic disaster.

Her parents' home, reaching around like an amoeba, inclosing Albert in
living walls. The slow readjustment, dumfounded rage, and despair
simmering gradually to bitterness and hardening finally to despair. The
soft, sensitive ground of their sorrow constantly spongy with the
wellsprings of grief beneath, but the surface bubbles showing less and
less, and ultimately a hard dryness setting in. Her heart would hurt as
tangibly as if the surface of her body were red with a wound from it,
yet, sitting there at her milk and biscuit, her gaze into the monotonous
repetition of wall-paper design, the thought of that Sunday dinner out
there, with its invariable roast chicken, bread stuffing, candied sweet
potatoes, and lemon-meringue pie; the Sunday-afternoon lethargy; the
hypothenuse of her father asleep in his chair, the newspaper over his
face; Albert, the celluloid toothpick moving along his lips, puttering
around at favorite locks and bells; the mere visualization was such a
fillip to her present that she lay back on the bed, stretching her arms
and legs like a great, luxurious cat, her lips curved to a smile.

At five o'clock, as she lazed there, Alma Neugass burst in without the
usual scrupulously observed preamble of a knock. There were two round
spots of color out on her long cheeks, and her white cotton shirt waist,
always bearing the imprint of sleeve protectors, was replaced by a
dark-blue silk of candy-stripe plaid, with a standing collar of lace
that fell in a jabot down the front, held there by an ivory hand of a
brooch. There was something of the mausoleum about poor Alma, the grim
skeleton of her everyday personality finding but icy warmth beneath the
ivory, lace, and the seldom-warn black broadcloth skirt that was pinned
over two inches at the waistline to hold it up.

"Did you think I'd forgotten you? I haven't--but it's been such a rush."

She sat down on a chair edge, pressing a bony hand to her brow.

"You poor thing, you're dead tired."

"They're here, you know. Docked this morning, almost twenty-four hours
ahead of schedule. They--they would have come up immediately, but
customs detained them three hours. They are at the hotel now and won't
be up until supper. It's all so confusing. The reporters and
photographers on their trail. He won't let anyone at her until she's
rested. I talked to him over the telephone. His voice is--hairy."

"I've never seen you look so nice, Miss Neugass."

"If I stop to think, I'll scream."

"Then you mustn't stop, dear."

"You should see my father; he can't sit still. I never realized how
little and--old he's getting until I put his black suit on him. He's so
full of pride he--Oh, what a mockery--for him to dare to come
here--home--with her."

"Miss Neugass--this is not the time. Not now."

A cocaine sort of courage seemed to lock her face back into its rather
nondescript immobility.

"You're right," she said. "I'm acting like a fool," and rose. "What I
came in to say, get into that little pink dress of yours about
nine-thirty and I may be able to manage it for you to-night. Two minutes
of his time may mean everything to you and nothing to him."

Lilly flashed to her feet.

"To-night!"

"Keep your head. Sing the 'Jewel Song.' It's always a good, showy
standby. Let go--the way I heard you practice the other Sunday
morning--and forget that it's Auchinloss or anyone else listening
to you."

"No, no, not to-night, Miss Neugass. I--I'm not prepared. It's too
sudden."

"It's as good as any other time. Besides, to-night we have him here, and
there is no telling when we will again. This isn't what you would call
the ideal headquarters for a pair of celebrities. I suppose, if the
truth is known, Millie dreads bringing him here at all. Besides, they
leave to-morrow for Boston, and with the line-up of entertainments the
newspapers say are planned for them, there is no telling when we will
get him alone again."

"I'm not in voice these days. It's all roughened up since I'm singing
downtown. I--oh, I'm not ready to-night, Miss Neugass."

"Nonsense! Don't ask Opportunity to wait outside when he knocks. He may
move on and not return."

"I--I'm so frightened. I've such--such odds against me--right now. What
if he only rubs his hands and says, 'very nice'? What if--"

"That's where you'll have to swallow your medicine. After all, even the
great Auchinloss represents only one man's opinion."

"But his judgment has proved itself--time and time again."

"That's why you have the chance to-night that comes once in a lifetime.
Take it."

"I will!"



CHAPTER XXII

It was just before midnight, after a four-hour period of waiting in the
pink mull dress, when came the summons which brought Lilly into the
presence of Felix Auchinloss.

Cramped from the long period of taut waiting, she was so dry of throat
that in spite of constantly sipped water she could only gulp her reply
to Miss Neugass's knock and eagerly inserted head.

"Quick! He'll hear you now before they leave." She followed her, without
a word, down the hallway and into a front parlor brilliant with the
full-flare gas jets, a bisque angel in the attitude of swinging dangling
from the chandelier, and, swimming in the dance, a circle of faces.

"Miss Parlow, this is my sister, Millie du Gass."

A Greek chorus could have swayed to the epiphany in Millie's voice.

With her short bush of curls, little aquiline profile true to her
father's, tilted upward, as if sniffing the aerial scent, her slender
figure Parisienne to outlandishness, the stream of Millie's ancestry
flowed through the tropics of her very exotic personality. She was the
magnolia on the family tree, the bloom on a century plant that was heavy
with its first bud. Even at this time, slightly before her
internationalism as a song bird was to carry her name to the remote
places of the earth, a little patina of sophistication had set in,
glazing her over and her speech, which carried the whir of three
acquired languages.

"And this is Doctor Auchinloss. I've told him about you and your
eagerness for a foothold. He's going to give you a little home-made
audition. Will you hear Miss Parlow now, Doctor Auchinloss?"

The face of Felix Auchinloss, also to become familiar through subsequent
years of American dictatorship, seemed by the hirsute vagary of a black
beard joining up _via_ sideburns with a Pompadour of sooty black, to
peer through a porthole. It did just that. A face in window looking out
with very quick perceptions which ruffled it not at all, upon a world
that came to him chiefly through two channels, his supernaturally
attuned hearing and his palate.

He could detect a slurred note of the sixteenth violin in the crash of a
ninety-piece ensemble of orchestration, and one-eighth-of-a-second
miscalculation of his two-minute egg could embroil a breakfast table. A
creature of elbows and knees, such as a chimpanzee is, the backs of his
hands were hairy, but the eye seldom strayed from his face. It knew its
Huxley, that face, its Hegel and its Kant. It loved the smoothness of
young girls' bodies. It was attuned to the music of the spheres. It
could hold in leash the outrageous temperaments that responded to his
baton and look with impassivity, even cruelty, upon torture. Mostly the
torture of women. Also it could brighten out of its imperturbability at
the steaming sight of a dish of _sauerbraten_.

There had been no _sauerbraten_ on Mrs. Neugass's festive board, rather
fowl, in a white glue of gravy and great creamy dumplings, and under
three helpings and the steady pour of an extra lager the great
Auchinloss had expanded and expounded.

His glance, still warmed, took in Lilly at a sweep finding resting place
at the swell of her bosom.

There was something about Lilly as she stood thereof the winglike
smoothness of a little wild duck, wet from a skim across water. A slick
and pale kind of beauty which ordinarily held little appeal for him
except that her bosom was very white. Very, very white, he thought.

"Zoprano?" he asked, his gaze still beneath her chin.

"Lyric soprano."

"Om-m-m-m!" After the manner of having his doubts.

"You accompany her, Felix," said Miss du Gass, not unkindly and actually
with an intensive kind of eagerness, as if for the diverting of
his interest.

He seated himself at the piano, his great knees at a wide stride, hands
riding down the keyboard in an avalanche of improvised octaves.

In black silk that stood away from her, Mrs. Neugass sat by, not
releasing hold of Millie's hand, her eyes as if they could never finish
their feast of her. Her timidity forbade her much that she would say,
and so she sat smilingly silent and held the little ring-littered hand,
stroked it and lay it to her cheek. To Lilly, who had never seen her out
of the cotton-stuff uniform of housewife, it seemed to her that
something of her Old Testament beauty had died beneath the bunchy jetted
taffeta that brought out in her the look of peasant--her husband in
camphoric broadcloth suffering the same demotion.

"Now doan' get egcited," said Mr. Neugass, himself shaken of voice.
"Remember it is home folks."

"She's all right, pa, if you don't make her nervous," said Miss Neugass,
seating herself stiffly on a stiff chair, her face, as the evening wore
on, cold of its flush, and tired rings coming out beneath her eyes.

"What do you prefer to sing?" asked Millie du Gass, again, kindly.

"The 'Jewel Song.'"

On her words the opening bars crashed out, and, to Lilly's
consternation, far too rapidly, so that she ran with her breath, as it
were, for the opening notes, lifting to it nicely, however, and, by
miracle, quite at her truest.

The state of her invariable vocal exultation began to mount, her
consciousness of scene to recede, and, anticipating her coloratura
climax, she started to climb, building for warble. Her blood was
pounding and her voice in flight. Up went her chin. It was then Felix
Auchinloss swung on the stool, snipping off the song like a thread, his
face in its window, full of a new impassivity, and this time his eyes
off somewhere behind Lilly's left ear.

"That is verra nize," he said, moving restlessly about the room as if to
throw off an irksome moment, and then winding his hands and winding
them, "a pretty voice as far as it goes, and verra, verra nize."

There was a silence that seemed to wait, and Millie du Gass, her laugh
like glass beads falling from a snapped chain:

"You must come down to the hotel, dear, some day, where I've a concert
grand. This darling old tin pan! You should have seen, Felix, the way
pops used to make me practice on it, rapping me over the knuckles. You
old darling pops!"

"Papa's baby-la," he said, pinching her cheek.

"If you will excuse me now, please, I--won't, intrude any longer."

"Good night, dear; it was just lovely. Good night," joined in
everybody, too kindly.

Walking out of that room, Lilly was conscious suddenly of passing
through a prolonged stare, especially from Mrs. Neugass, who leaned
forward slightly in her chair--a stare that prompted her somehow to
quicken her departure almost to a run.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of a night that had flowed around her in a bitter sort of blackness
that fairly threatened to drown her, she floated up toward morning to an
exhausted doze, her face tear-lashed and her breathing sucked in sobbily
as she slept.

It was out of this that she awoke suddenly to a bombardment of knocks at
her door.

"Come!" she cried, sitting up rather alarmedly in bed, and holding the
blanket over her chest. She was lovely and disheveled with sleep, her
whiteness whiter because of the most delicately darkened oyster shells
beneath her eyes.

It was Mrs. Neugass. She was pleasantly shapeless again in cotton stuff,
her bosom bulging down and over the jerked-in apron strings.

"Wait, I'll get up and close the window, Mrs. Neugass!"

"You doan' need to," she said, slamming down the window herself, opening
the floor register, and seating herself rigidly on the chair that faced
the bed. "I want a little talk with you, blease."

"Why, yes, Mrs. Neugass!" A wave of memory and a sense of physical
misery swept over Lilly so that it was difficult for her to force the
smile. But she did, sitting up in bed and hugging her knees with bare
shining arms.

With nervousness patent in every move, Mrs. Neugass sat forward,
pleating and unpleating a little section of her apron.

"I guess you know it, Miss Lilly, that with all the honors we got by our
daughter, we're still blain, respegtable beoble."

"Of course--"

"For fifteen years in one business in one neighborhood we've such a
standing that from three blocks around they come to my husband he should
keep their savings. My girls--I can say it on a bible--more than
anything around them was always respegtability."

"But why--"

"If I'm mistaken, Miss Luella, and blease God I should be, then excuse
me for a foolish old woman, but is--is everything all right with you,
Miss Luella?"

"Mrs. Neugass, I--What do you mean?"

"I took you in for a student, a girl alone from her home town, but not
once since you're with us--I can't help it I got eyes--so much as a
postal card. All right, I said time and time again to my husband, she
don't have friends to come and call on her, because she's a stranger in
New York. Neither did my Millie have so many friends, I guess, the first
few weeks in Munich. But no letters--not a line! I know _goys_ ain't so
strong on family ties, but once in a while a letter--"

"I don't quite see where the matter of my correspondence can be of
interest to you, Mrs. Neugass."

"No, but it is of interest to me if everything is all right with you. If
everything is over and above-board, as the saying is, Miss Luella!"

There was a throb to the silence, as she sat upright there in bed, that
seemed to shape itself about her, like a trap. She buried her face
suddenly into her hands.

Then Mrs. Neugass rose, edging around the back of her chair as if to get
clear of even propinquity.

"I'm right?" she cried, hoarsely and rather coarsely. "I'm right, then?
I took into my home a bad girl?"

"No!--No!--No!--"

Out of bed, her feet hastily into slippers and fumbling into her kimono
so that the flow of her hair went down inside it, Lilly approached Mrs.
Neugass, her gesture toward her and entreating.

"Mrs. Neugass, you're horribly wrong in what you suspect. You must
listen to me--"

"You can exblain nothing to me except to get your clothes packed. How it
goes to show you never can tell beoble from looks. Even my husband, who
never gets deceived in human nature, 'She's a refined, intelligent girl
to have around,' he says. My stepdaughter! A girl I am as careful with
as if she was still eighteen, should go out of her way to get you before
Auchinloss! No wonder he says it you are limited and that you fall just
short of fine talent. You don't deserve it no better. Ain't you ashamed?
You bad girl, you! I'm only sorry for the mother you say you got--your
poor mother!"

"Mrs. Neugass, this is outrageous! You haven't the right to speak to me
like this! It was wrong, I admit, to--to deceive you. But I had my
reasons--you wouldn't have taken me in. I'm not what--what you think
I am!"

"I don't care what you are and what you ain't. I only want you to pack
your bags and go."

"I won't go until you've heard me out!"

"We're respegtable beoble!"

"Oh, I know, Mrs. Neugass, your kind of respectability. I was reared on
it. It's the cruelest respectability in the world. It has no outlook
except through the narrow little bars of the small decencies you have
erected about yourselves."

"That fine talk don't save a girl's skin when she's in such a fix like
you!"

"I've more claims to your precious kind of respectability than you--than
you think!"

"I don't _think_ no more. I know! I don't say it's the nicest thing I
should have looked once through your things. Even then I must have felt
it in my bones. That little dress with the nursery rhyme on the
yoke--how it was I didn't get suspicious then? All of a sudden last
night, though--even while you was singing, it come over me, all these
weeks I must have been blind."

"I tell you I'm a married woman. I was married last July in the
Leffingwell Rock Church in St.--in a city I don't care to name. I
suppose that constitutes me a moral woman in your world of cautious
morality. But in my eyes I'm a moral leper. Not because I did not marry,
but because I did. Married for every reason in the world except love. No
marriage ceremony in the world can condone the immorality of that!
Society may, but God doesn't. From your point of view, then, I'm a
respectable woman. From mine, I'm rotten."

"I don't know what it is you're talking aboud. If you are what you say
you are, what does it mean living around in decent beoble's houses in a
condition like yours? It's an insult to my daughters you should be here.
The right kind of a married woman don't live around New York in such a
way like you. There is something very crooked in the woodpile."

"If that is what bothers you, won't you please, dear Mrs. Neugass, sit
down and let me tell you the whole story? I need you--"

"The whole story, Miss--Mrs. Parlow--or whatever it is you call
yourself--ain't what bothers me. All I want is you should go while my
husband is down in his store and my daughter in her position. I am
ashamed they should know. I'm lucky yet I saved myself from having a
disgrace in the house a few weeks from now."

"Oh, Mrs. Neugass, be careful! You may have cause some day to--"

"A singer she wants to be! Is it any wonder, miss, you got no luck? A
girl like you don't deserve it. I'm sorry enough for your poor mother.
Married or no married, I want you should leave here. Quick, you bad
girl, you! I'll wait outside till you go."

So Lilly was subjected to the bitter, the unspeakably vulgar humiliation
of gathering her belongings like any culprit servant girl, cramming
them, blind with tears and frenzy, into the suitcase and valise, tears
scalding down and rolling over her hands as she dressed.

As she staggered finally down the hallway, the two bags grating the
walls and her hat awry from haste, Mrs. Neugass stood at the door,
holding it open.

"Here," she said, "is your rent back for four days--"

"Don't you dare, Mrs. Neugass, to offer me that! Only let me out,
please, from this outrageous predicament."

"You got righd. It is a outrageous predicament. Ach! shame on you! Such
a fine, clean-looking girl like you. Indeed, you don't got to ask to be
let out twice."

Thirty minutes later, and because her wildly beating brain could figure
out no alternative, Lilly sat on a bench in the waiting room of the
Grand Central Station, bags at her feet, trying to subdue her state of
trembling.

Eleven o'clock moved around largely on the station clock. She was due at
the Broadway Melody Shop. Still she sat on, the palpitating surface of
her gradually slowing its throb. The reverberating terminal, then at the
excavating state of its gigantic reconstruction, rang to the crash of
steel with the fantastic echo of tunnel and of blasting. Its constant
conglomerate of footfalls reduced to the common denominator of a
gigantic shuffle, it swelled toward the noonday schedule, with more and
more rapid comings and goings. A light snow was announcing itself in
little white powderings across overcoat shoulders and in the crevices
of derbys.

The new brown coat enveloped her warmly enough, but she shivered as she
sat, at the same time committing the paradox of unbuttoning and flinging
its double-breastedness away from the beating of her very being. After a
while she gave over her bags to the obliging eye of a shawled Polish
girl on the bench beside her and crossed to the Information Bureau. A
clerk gave her precedence over two men.

Yes, there was a St. Louis train out at two-five. Another at six.

She returned and sat in the midst of a third bustling hour. A young
woman with an infant, and a whole archipelago of luggage surrounding
her, finally replaced the Polish girl. She was as fadely and straggily
pretty as a doll that has been left lying on the lawn throughout a night
of heavy dews. Every so often the tiny head would spring back from the
soft fount of her breasts, a cry rising thin and spiral as smoke.

"Sh-h-h, baby! He won't eat," she said, plaintively. "It's just
terrible; we've tried everything and he won't eat."

Lilly put out her hand toward the small ball of head, but withdrew it.

"Poor little baby!"

"My sister's gone to the matron to get him some barley water before he
gets on the train. There is a grand matron here at the station. I left
him with her all morning while we shopped, and he never whimpered. The
barley water was her idea. He won't eat. It's terrible. He 'ain't gained
in six weeks. The doctor says we've just got to keep trying until we hit
a formula that agrees with him."

"Formula? How funny! Sounds like chemistry."

The young mother cast a commiserating eye.

"I'd hate to tell you what it sounds like about two P.X. I've been on a
visit to my mother in Brooklyn, but he yelled so of nights the whole
flat was kicking. You ain't, by any chance, taking the two-five St.
Louis Limited, are you? Brazil, Indiana, is mine."

"I--don't know--yet."

"Ever been there?"

"Where?"

"Brazil."

"I've passed through."

"Some dump, believe me. I keep saying to him, 'Keep me out here much
longer, Fred, and you'll have to ship me home in a wooden kimono.'"

"Wooden kimono?"

"Coffin. Get me?"

"Then Brazil isn't your home?"

"By transplanting, yes. I never married out there, believe me. We was
both born and raised right here on the little long and narrow island,
till he got a better job out there with the telephone company. Believe
me, I'll take my little old fifteen a week in New York to thirty a week
out there, bungalow setting thrown in. Bunk-a-low, I call it."

"But isn't it better for the baby?"

"That's right, too. I always say to my twin, I say, 'Myrt, if you don't
think I got harder hours than when I worked next to you in the Five and
Ten, and no pay day, neither, just trade with me one day and take care
of the kid and the bunk-a-low.' I always say to Fred, I say, 'If you
think you're dog tired, fasten a speedometer on my ankle and read it
when you come home nights and see who's taken the most steps.' It's
hell, anyways, when they won't eat and you can't hit the right formula."

"Poor baby!"

"You wouldn't give 'em up after you got 'em, but believe me it's a wise
girl will think twice before she has 'em. A girl gains a lot by
marrying--maybe. But believe me, she gives up a lot--sure."

"But you married the right man."

"Yeh; but Nature is a trickster. How you going to know where her
intentions leave off her and your own begin? Fred and me ran off.
Regular love affair. I suppose I am one of them that picked right; right
as a girl with my disposition could ever pick. If I hadn't, believe me,
eight hours for me behind the counter in preference to eating the rest
of my breakfasts across from the wrong face. Sh-h-h, Freddie baby! Can't
you see my back is breaking? Sh-h-h! Auntie Myrt's gone to nice matron
for barley water. For the love of Mike, sh-h-h! or mamma'll spank."

The twin fluttered up then, a vivid italicized prototype, on slim tall
heels that clicked and a very small red hat set just at the angle of
sauciness. They moved off together after a bickering over luggage, the
slim silhouette with the chin sharply flung up and the accentuated
sway-back figure of the little mother, her skirt sagging over run-down
heels, and, for want of a free hand, blowing up the loose strands of
hair from out her eyes.

For a time Lilly sat quite intently, her gaze on a small sign that hung
at right angles from an open doorway, "MATRON." After a while she
gathered up her luggage and walked over, entering a little room fitted
up with the efficient and institutional unprivacy of public service. On
a couch, her face to the wall, a woman in a traveling duster lay
stretched, hat and all, in an attitude of exhaustion, a young girl with
a wayward fling of posture, sitting sullen in a corner, her very pointed
and heeled shoes toeing in. A three-year-old child with a large tag
pinned across his little dress played with railroad-owned blocks; the
matron, a sort of stout Lachesis, with a string of keys at her belt,
gray with years and the rather sweet tiredness of service, sorted towels
at a rack. It was to her that Lilly spun out a ready tale, reddening as
she talked, but stanch to it.

"I'm from Indianapolis. I want a quiet place for the next few months.
Two, to be exact."

Sweeping her with a look. "Are you in any kind of difficulty?"

"No--not that! I've left my husband. We agreed to separate. I want a few
weeks of quiet until--afterward, and then I can arrange to start out
on my own."

"You're too nice a girl to--"

"I'm not asking anything. I am not the kind you are evidently accustomed
to deal with here. It is simply that I'm strange."

"Have you no friends?"

"None with whom I desire to communicate."

"Well," doubtfully, "there is the Nonsectarian Home for Indigent Girls
and the Hanna Larchmont Lying-in Hospital--"

"Oh," cried Lilly, with a sting of color to her cheeks, "you don't
understand! I have funds. I tell you it is just that I am strange. I
want a medium-priced place to live for the next few weeks, where it
won't be embarrassing."

The matron unlocked a drawer.

"I have a few addresses here of private rooming houses in the Hanna
Larchmont Lying-in Hospital and Bellevue districts, if that is what you
want. Personally inspected places that can be recommended for their
cleanliness and respectability."

"That is exactly what I need."

"You will find no questions asked so long as you conduct yourself
quietly, and of course you are expected to make your plans for leaving
well in advance of any emergency. There are several private sanitariums
in the neighborhood."

"Of course."

"Here are three addresses. The first is in East Seventeenth Street, just
in back of the Hanna Larchmont. It's a very nice place run by an old
Irishwoman who has a lace-curtain establishment in the basement. Here
are two others on the same block, in case she has rented her room."

"I'll go there at once," said Lilly, taking the memorandum.

"If I were you I should go back home to friends. It is too bad that a
girl like you should find herself in this position. Won't you let me
help you?"

"Thank you"--lifting her bags again--"you have helped me a great deal."

That night Lilly slept in a small back room, two flights up, over a
lace-curtain-cleaning establishment. It was cruder and rougher than
anything she had yet encountered; a white-pine table with a washbowl and
a toothbrush mug, and a black iron bed that at first glance had sent
darting through her a sinking sense of institution. But it was clean,
and a sparse Irish landlady with a moist pink presence that steamed hot
suds had left her without question and one week's advance payment tucked
into her bosom.

Before going to bed, after she had looked under it and turned out the
gas jet, she went over to her single window, opening it wide to the bite
of a winter's night and shooting up the shade. Her view was again of
roofs and roofs and chimney pots, dirtier, this time, and dingier, and
marching against the sky line, like a dark herd of buffalo, a long range
of buildings, blackened of bricks.

It was the Hanna Larchmont Lying-in Hospital seen from the rear.



CHAPTER XXIII

When Lilly returned to the Broadway Melody Shop that morning following,
there was already a voice driving with such nasal power into the
sidewalk din that she hardly needed to enter to learn of her successful
replacement.

There was an entirely new hauteur incasing Miss Kirk, who upon her
entrance wound into an attitude.

"Well!"

"I was ill."

"I--see."

"I guess the place is filled. Oh, it's all right!"

"Better go over to the office and see Phonzie about it. All I know is
they sent over a pair of lungs that can stop traffic when they let out.
Forty copies of 'Cinderella Ella' just like hot cakes the first time she
telephones it out to 'em! Hauls in a netful every time she opens her
mouth, and, some mouth! 'Phonzie,' I telephones over to him this
morning, 'thank God she's screened from the public or somebody would buy
her for codfish balls.'"

"Do you think there might be something over at the office for me? I've
had some training for desk work, too."

"Don't know. I always told you to put some nose into your voice. Let
out, that's what they want in this business. You never came out enough
from behind your tonsils. The refined stuff through a megaphone has
about as much chance as a violet in the six-o'clock rush. In other
words, dearie," finished Miss Kirk, her rather close-set eyes focusing
upon the tip of Lilly's nose, "I think you're fired. Canned, so to
speak. Replaced, as it were."

Lilly laughed, forcing her head high to deny disconcertment.

"Well, anyway, that saves me the trouble of resigning."

"Yes," said Miss Kirk, her gaze suddenly long and full of portent, "I
wouldn't be surprised."

To Lilly's heated consciousness the grilling quality in that gaze was so
unmistakable that it plunged into her like an arrow. She walked out,
stinging with it.

Hurrying toward the music-publishing office, she caught suddenly her
reflection in the plate-glass window of a shop devoted to Broadway's
intense interpretation of the prevalent in modes. She stood, in the very
act of motion, regarding this snapshot of herself. Then she entered,
emerging presently in a full-length dark-blue cape with gilt buttons and
little pipings of red along the edge. It was neither so warm nor so
durable as the brown coat, and cost her the rather sickening sensation
of breaking into a hundred-dollar bill for twelve dollars and
ninety-eight cents.

But it was immensely becoming, this flowing wrap, enveloping her like a
wimple, her face rising out of it as clear as a nun's. Nevertheless, it
was her realization of need for it that quite suddenly ended her quest.
She turned for home, stopping at the Public Library for one of her
frequent perusals of the St. Louis newspapers. She read quickly, her eye
skimming the obituary, personal, and social columns. For a week there
had daily appeared a little insertion which invariably caused her a
twist of heart:

To Sublet: Furnished. Seven rooms and bath. Brand new from top to
bottom. Every convenience. Will sell furnishings if desired. Spacious
front lawn. Poultry yard. 5199 Page Avenue. Apply 5198 Page Avenue.

Then one day it disappeared and something lifted from Lilly's heart.
This time, as she opened the St. Louis paper of just one week previous,
a small oval photograph leaped at her from a row of them, choking her as
if it had clutched at her throat.

In a full-page advertisement, Slocum-Hines Hardware Company announced to
its many friends a twenty-fifth anniversary, the entire sheet bordered
in small oval photographs of the personnel of valued employees.

"Albert Penny, first-assistant buyer." Regarding it, her consciousness
of his promotion was secondary to a feeling that straight lines joining
the four corners of Albert's face would have produced almost a perfect
rectangle. A little farther on was Vincent Bankhead, buyer, and on a
lower row, Ralph Sluder, with whom she had graduated from grade school.

Strangely enough, in this very edition the name of Horace Lindsley
sprang out at her from the tiniest of type in the marriage-license
column. Horace Lindsley, 3345 Bell Avenue. Carol Ingomar Devine, 3899
Westminster Place. The name of the bride was associated in Lilly's mind
with the society columns of the Sunday _Post-Dispatch_. A hundred little
pointed darts shot through her, and even now the old sinking but
delicious sensation of too sudden descent in an elevator.

That night she went to bed with a toothache, a biting little spark of
pain that toward morning became a raging flame rushing against the
entire inside of her cheek. She could not trace its source, every tooth
seeming to stampede.

All of the day following she lay with her face buried into her pillow,
abandoning herself utterly to creature discomfort. Toward evening she
ventured down as far as Fourteenth Street for a bowl of milk and toast,
but the pain raged on, tightening her throat against food, and she crept
back to the haven of her cheek to Mrs. McMurtrie's scorched pillow slip.

After another two nights of local application and the rather futile
business of holding warm water in the sag of her cheek, she found out,
at the direction of Mrs. McMurtrie, a neighborhood dentist who occupied
a suite of rooms over a corner drug store, the large grinning picture of
a boy, with a delighted hiatus of missing front tooth, painted on each
window and giltly inscribed, "It Didn't Hurt a Bit."

It is inconceivable, except that under duress of great pain Lilly could
have engaged services so obviously quasi professional, but she was past
that perception by now, her nerves from brow to shoulder crackling like
a bonfire.

Examination by a dentist with gray pointed side whiskers that flared and
brushed her cheek unpleasantly, revealed a pair of abscesses gathering
within the gum, and for weeks of mornings she lay back to the agony of
steel incisions, for the remainder of the day stretching out on her iron
bedstead, face to wall.

Then for a few days a premature spring came out teasingly. The East
Seventeenth Street block, with its rows of houses, going down none too
debonairly, from gentility to senility, showing a bud here and there.
There even remained one private residence with a polished door bell and
name plate and a little cluster of crocuses in an iron jardinière set
out in a front yard about the dimension of an army blanket.

Crocuses, whose cold, moist smell, with all the pungency of associations
an odor can arouse, somehow suggested, to Lilly, Taylor Avenue and
little Harry Calvert. She did not remember it, but Harry had once stolen
two satiny red ones for her from a Taylor Avenue flower bed and been
soundly cuffed by a housewife.

A block away, Gramercy Park, a rectangle of the Knickerbocker New York
of the woodcut, red-brick sidewalk, salon parlor, and crystal
chandelier, was already lacy with the first leafwork of spring. Several
times, when the sun lay warmest, Lilly ventured into its Old World
sobriety, strolling around the tall grill fence that inclosed the park.
It was locked against the public, nursemaids from surrounding homes and
a few old ladies stiff with gentility holding keys. Children from the
raggedy fringe of Third Avenue played without awareness, against the
outside of the iron palings, too young, and, anyway, too imprisoned in
class, to resent one more monopoly even of God's sunshine and the brown,
warm earth already swollen with life about to be.

It seemed to Lilly that almost any of these mild days Washington Irving,
in pot hat and lace in his sleeves, might come strolling this pompous
Square. She bought a manhandled copy of Volume I of Knickerbocker's
_History of New York_ off a secondhand bookstall one day, and read it
sitting on the sun-drenched stoop of one of the old houses whose eyeless
stare and boarded windows bespoke one absent family. Off this same stall
she also purchased a volume of Wordsworth's poems, feeling a vague, a
procreative, and who shall say mistaken need for beauty. Over and over
she read, milking each phrase dry:

     Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
     The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
     Hath elsewhere had its setting and cometh from afar.
     Not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness
     But trailing clouds of glory, do we come from God who is our home.

She read of daffodils as if she would steep her soul in the sun of their
yellowness, bought some one morning and propped them in the
toothbrush mug.

She practiced her shorthand, too, these days, in a blank book bought for
the purpose, sometimes an hour--even two or three--until the sun receded
off the stoop.

Then for a week it rained, and from the patch of back yard, two stories
beneath her window, began to mount the moist smell of living earth.
Beside this open window, after the harrowing mornings of dentistry, with
a soft rain falling from a sky swift and low with clouds, she wrote, her
pencil dabbing constantly at the well of her tongue, a short story of
some six thousand words composed out of the fabric of an idea that
suddenly presented itself. She copied it in her most painstaking
handwriting, on one side of foolscap, and sent it, with return postage,
to a popular magazine.

She was venturing out less and less, preparing over a portable oil stove
her own breakfast, and very often her own lunch and dinner. She tried to
sew, too, cutting up one of the sheerest and prettiest of her nightgowns
into a litter of small garments, but almost immediately her hands would
fall idle and the great waves of terror begin to surge.

Certain inevitable decisions crept closer. She decided against the
Hanna Larchmont Hospital, its very foyer awakening in her such a
sickening sense of public institution that she ventured no farther, but
engaged a tiny room in a private sanitarium in Nineteenth Street, at
twenty dollars a week, and the privilege of boarding on two or three
weeks after her discharge.

Her bag of three new one-hundred-dollar bills still hung in all its
reassuring entirety from the little pink ribbon about her neck, but the
confronting dentist's bill of twenty-five dollars, and the slow but acid
process of daily expenditure eating into the thirty or forty dollars
left in her purse, lay uncomfortably against her consciousness.

By a series of constantly repeated calculations, particularly if the
short story should bring in even a check large enough to cover the
dentistry, Lilly planned to span the weeks of her narrowing interval
with the three bills intact, but pretty shortly the first piece of mail
she had received in New York arrived in a long, bulky envelope:

MY DEAR MISS PARLOW,--Thank you for submitting the accompanying
manuscript. It does not quite get across in this office, but it is near
enough to our standard for us to want to see anything more you may care
to submit.--THE EDITOR.

That night Lilly cried again all through her sleep, presenting herself
next morning at the dentist's with heavy, rimmed eyes. It was her final
visit, and before mounting the chair she laid down her carefully
counted-out payment, five five-dollar bills, in a little pile on the
revolving stand.

Doctor Hotchkiss, with the offshoot of white whiskers from each jowl,
and who was fond of pinching her cheek as she lay under his touch,
moistened his fingers and counted.

"The charges are fifty dollars," he said.

She was immediately startled.

"Why, Doctor Hotchkiss, you said twenty-five!"

"Fifty, with the bridgework, my dear young woman," he said, the words
swimming in the oil of his suavity.

"You said twenty-five."

"You misunderstood, my dear young woman. Twenty-five would not pay for
the amount of gold I used. Fifty is what I said. Fifty dollars," his
voice rising.

She looked her despair.

"I--It's not honorable. I asked you distinctly. What if I haven't it to
spare--"

"That is not my business," he replied, his entire manner roughening up.
"You have forty dollars' worth of my gold in your mouth and the law
provides for receiving goods you can't pay for. You've got it, all
right, and if you haven't, from the look of you, there is some one
behind you who has."

She colored so furiously that her eyes smarted to tears as she reached
down into her blouse for the little chamois bag.

"Give me fifty dollars," she said, cramming the five five-dollar bills
back into her purse, holding a crisp new hundred-dollar bill out to him,
her voice as fluttering as a broken wing; "but nothing--nothing will
ever convince me that you have not taken advantage of me."

He counted her fifty dollars off his own roll, all the more suave.

"You will find you have made a mistake, my dear young woman. This is a
strictly one-price office. Now I will take out that temporary filling
and finish you up."

She was loath to mount the chair, except that the nerve was jumping
again. For half an hour she lay under his touch; finally, as he fumbled
to untie the bib-like towel about her neck, his lips descended so close
to her cheek that she could feel their cold, liver-colored caress touch
her finally in a kiss. She sprang to her feet, jerking the towel away
from her neck and rubbing it across the defiled spot.

"How dare you! You cheat! You miserable creature! How dare you! You come
near me and I'll call the police. Let me out of here! Out!"

She ran from the place with her hat in her hand, across the street, and
up two flights to her room. Panting and drenched with perspiration, all
day she lay on the little iron bed, her face to the wall, shuddering.

"O God, where are you driving me? What are you driving me on for? Where?
Why? What does it mean?"

At dusk, with a sense of weakness entirely new to her, she rose to
undress, resting after each discarded piece of clothing.

She could hear Mrs. McMurtrie passing through the outer hall, a tin
bucket, on one of its frequent errands to Joe's place across the street,
grating against the wall. The room took on a deeper and soupy color of
twilight, the great pachyderm of the Hanna Larchmont Hospital casting
its shadow.

Suddenly, one of those boltlike perceptions that can spring out
apparently from space, Lilly clapped her hands to her throat, her
breast, the back of her neck. Her bag, the little chamois bag, and the
pink ribbon at her neck were gone! She shook through her clothing in a
frenzy of haste; she tore each piece inside out; slapped her hands over
the washstand; flung back her mattress, plunging her fingers into every
imaginable crevice. Dragged out the bed; jerked up the tacks from the
carpet, turning back the corners; felt along the dark, narrow halls and
down two flights on her hands and knees; shook out her clothing again.
The hair came down over her shoulders and her reasoning seemed to go.

That hand fumbling to untie that bib-towel. Those pointed whiskers
approaching her cheek. The little pink bow at her neck. Those liverlike
lips. That soft, boneless hand at the back of her neck had jerked out
the bag! O God! that soft, slimy kiss and the little jerk of the bow at
the back of her neck! and fell down with a screaming that brought Mrs.
McMurtrie.

At noon of the next day Lilly Penny lay in the public ward of the Hanna
Larchmont Lying-in Hospital, a premature mother by some weeks.

Lilly Penny, whose trousseau had included twelve of the sheerest batiste
ones, in a coarse, unbleached nightdress not her own and the least
gentle to her flesh she had ever known.

There was a row of her of which she was the whitest; wan women, big-eyed
with pain, who had gone down into the canons of death that there
might be life.

She had a slow, vagarious notion that all of the cots were tilted, so
that they appeared each on a cross, these mothers. It was sad to lie
there in that etheric world, yet somehow pleasant. The frieze on the
auditorium of the St. Louis Center High School was unaccountably before
her. It was still sown with lilies, but with babies' heads for calyxes.
Her mother, her teeth set with effort, was scrubbing something. A window
sill? Who was calling? Mamma--Flora. You wouldn't give 'em up after you
got 'em, but: it's a wise girl that'll think twice. She felt so white.
Never, in fact, had she enjoyed such a sense of her whiteness. She held
up her arm to regard the column of it, and wanted to laugh, but it was
easier to cry.

They brought her child. Hers, Lilly Becker Penny's. A huge tray of them,
like a vender's street-corner offering of spring flowers. Tiny human
blooms with a tag at each wrist. Incredible!

"Three guesses," said the nurse, through a smile, and held out the human
bouquet toward her. She could scarcely breathe. She wanted to scream, to
draw up the sheet over her head. To suffocate. Herself, external to
herself, was breathing out there--off somewhere in that tray. She tried
to pull up the covers over her head. A hand would draw them away. There
was a black one in that row of little pink nubs of humanity! Heads like
hard-boiled eggs not quite cooked through. No! No! No!

Suddenly Lilly raised to her elbow. The second from the end! The big
head. The full-blown spring-tight curls! The color of honey. The blue
eyes that were almost ready to turn gray. The tag on the wrist. Number
two. The tag of her own unbleached gown? Number two!

"Give me!" cried Lilly, on a sudden mounting note that left a little
resonance like a plucked violin string.

"Right the first time," cried the nurse, lifting the second from the
end, "and a little beauty she is."

That little living ball of head in the crotch of her arm! She leaned
forward to the flameless heat of it, her lips moving and wanting
to speak.

"What is it, dear?" asked the nurse.

She moved them again, but still silently.

The nurse bent lower, her ear to the pillow.

"Now what is it, dear? Say it again."

This time through the veil of a whisper she could hear quite clearly:

"Zoe."



Book Two


THE GRAPE



CHAPTER I

There were vagrant little streams of water, released by thaw, hurrying
along against the curbs of Second Avenue, the absolutely impeccable
spring day that Lilly Penny walked out of the Hanna Larchmont Hospital
into the warm scented bath of its sunshine, a blanketed bundle in the
crook of her arm that mysteriously seemed to animate the nap of the
wool, lifting it and suggesting the little life it enfolded.

She felt strangely light and giddy that life could have gone clattering
on outside those dim weeks of hers inside the walls.

She had gone down in a dark, a fantastic hiatus in her scheme of things,
and it was incredible that out here were street cars still clanging for
right of way, pedestrians weaving in and out the great tapestry of a
city day, factory whistles splitting asunder with terrific cleavage the
fore--from the afternoon. There was a hurdy-gurdy rattling tinnily
through the morning that must have played on uninterruptedly through
this strange demise of hers.

School children, the air raucous with them, sped home for luncheon
through streets that already smelled of sun on asphalt. She had never
really noticed them before. That little fat girl with the braids. How
pretty to loop them up that way behind each ear with bright red bows.
She pressed against the little warm life at her bosom. She felt throaty
with laughter, and the tears of a delicious weakness that made her ache
to lie down somewhere in this sun, close to the soft bearing earth whose
secret she knew now, and open this bundle. Hers! It was the first moment
of her actual ownership. Reality was reclaiming her from that unreal
realm of doctors and nurses and the dozy detached period of her
convalescence.

She wanted to run with her living loot to some quiet corner and open it
up. There was a little square of park with a municipal-laid-out bed of
tulips across the street, but its benches were crowded with humanity,
like sparrows sunning themselves on a wire, and the winding of its
asphalt paths swift with the hurry of all the strangely uninterrupted
world outside.

She hurried toward Seventeenth Street--could have run, in fact, such a
resurgence of the old vitality was upon her. Before one of the private
houses a rheumatic-looking oleander was in the supremest moment of its
full bloom. It lit up the old street as if a bride had donned her veil
there. Outside the cleaning establishment were two stretchers of lace
curtains sunning themselves against the wall.

Lilly hurried up the stoop and pulled out the bell that rang dimly in
one of those subterranean retreats peculiar to landladies.

Mrs. McMurtrie herself opened the door, as usual her great hands
steaming and swollen with suds.

"Well?" she said, her arm immediately flung up to the virago's akimbo
and her foot sliding in between the door.

In an agony of anxiety over possible exclusion, Lilly's words came so
fast they hardly allowed for the coherence of spacing.

"How do you do, Mrs. McMurtrie? I've returned and I'm fine. I'm so
sorry about that--that night and the trouble I must have caused you.
Thank you for sending my bag after me. It's a girl. She's the best
little thing, Mrs. McMurtrie. Doesn't cry at all. I'll only be wanting
her with me for a few days until I can get her placed somewhere near me,
so I can spend evenings and Sundays with her. I've such plans! I'm ready
to take a position again and forge right ahead. If I might have the old
room, Mrs. McMurtrie, I promise you that you won't know she's in the
house these few days. It won't mean one thing in the way of extras for
you, but I'm willing to pay more. Nothing except a little alcohol stove,
and if your little girl could watch her for an hour or two once in a
while, when I'm out, I'll pay her, too. Gladly. My bag is at the
hospital. I'll send for it--"

"Be saving your breath," cried Mrs. McMurtrie, flinging her gesture
upward with a cluck of the fingers. "I wouldn't give that for your yarn!
You're a hussy, from the looks of the whole business, and I've a mind to
be suing the railroad station for the sending of you to me. You
mentioned the husband of your own free will. Your husband! Faith, and
not so much as a relation turning up to be with you in your trouble.
Husband! You'd better be going and telling that to the Home for Indigent
Girls. Your husband! Bah!"

To a door slammed full in her face Lilly stood there for a stunned
instant, hugging at her bundle. She would have liked to crumple up, to
have felt the earth open and drag her down to a merciful oblivion, but
after a while she turned and walked down those steps, fumbling with her
free hand for an address she had applied for at the hospital information
desk, against possible emergency.

The slip of paper read Nineteenth Street, almost in a straight line
from where she stood. It was a morose, lean building, only two windows
wide and five stories high, with a porcelain sign above the bell,
"ROOMS." A wrinkled pod of a woman opened the door.

"I'm looking for a room for myself alone except for a few days until I
get my baby placed--"

"Nothing," answered on the click of a closed door.

With her lips almost ludicrously lifted to stimulate the crescent of a
smile, Lilly descended. There were passers-by and one or two of them
turned for another glance, and more than ever she kept the smile
looped up.

Then she instituted a campaign down one side and up the other of two
blocks of Nineteenth Street. Finally there came a whimper from the
depths of the blanket, and a light and coughy little cry against and
into her heart.

She stood on the corner, arguing with herself for a clear brain, the
easy fatigue of weakness beginning to descend and a queer unsteadiness
of limb setting in.

"Don't lose your head, Lilly," she admonished of self. "There is a way,
only you haven't yet struck it. Don't let your brain feel trapped. Keep
cool. Quiet. Dove. Peace. Cathedral. Sweet and low. Sweet and low.
Neugass. No. Gertrude Kirk. No, no! If only Mrs. McMurtrie--Indigent
Girls--No--no--no!"

However, after a while she did turn back through toward Second Avenue,
her feet quickened with a destination she could not bring herself to
admit, and so she loitered, inquiring at three more front doors which
had now come to have an angry scowl for her as she mounted their
front steps.

Between a Home for Lithuanian Aged and a Swedish bakery and lunch room
that she had more than once frequented, a black-and-gold sign spanned
what at one time had been the noncommittal front of a stately
residence--"Nonsectarian Home for Indigent Girls."

Ascending these steps, she could feel the glance of every passer-by
boring into the very back of her head, awls crawling through and through
her. She tried to drag her hat down over her eyes. Her black velvet
sailor, modish enough when new, had suffered somewhat in the hurried
packing off of her things after her. The buckram rim, misshapen from too
close quarters, flared rather outlandishly off her face, so that after
she had pulled the bell she stood with her back to the sidewalk, while
the sign above seared into her.

Induced by the warmth of the day and the bundle of blanket she carried,
a pox of perspiration had burst out on her face, but the little
whimperings against her heart had died down so that she dared not risk
the jolt of reaching for her handkerchief.

She was admitted finally into one of the large salon parlors that had
lost its beauty as a woman can lose hers. Stripped of the jewels of
crystal chandeliers, long mirrors, and glittering floors, it remained
now a gaunt strip of room, divided by a low fence and swinging gate into
office and waiting room.

There were long windows that looked out upon the polyglot of Second
Avenue, which even then, over a not quite abandoned elegance, was
donning its Joseph's coat of seventeen nationalities and dining,
bartering, and gesticulating in as many languages.

On a strip of bench between the windows Lilly sat and waited.

The movement of the room coagulated about the figure of a woman seated
at a desk on the office side of the partition. Girls, to Lilly it seemed
a whole phantasmagoria of identical ones with short hair and eyes none
too young, passed in and out of the little swinging gate. Suddenly it
struck her, with such a wrench that she almost cried out, that here was
no illusion. They were uniformed, these girls. In dark-blue cotton
stuff, with three rows of white tape running around the skirt hem and
white bone buttons up the back. Through the doorway one of them was
washing down a flight of stairs, raising a cold, soap-and-lye smell.
Another, with a splay smile that was terrible as a wound, wiped in and
out among the spokes of the banisters, her face as without muscle as a
squeezed orange, and smiling without knowing that it smiled.

Sitting there with her bundle closer and closer to her heart, Lilly
closed her eyes to that smile.

Above all, she knew that she needed to keep clear, and yet across the
swept horizon she tried to create, silhouettes of thought such as these
would move, fantastic as cloud shapes.

"Who am I?" And then, with her old untrained probing after reality: "How
do I know I am not dreaming? Where am I going? What is it I want? How
terrible! Me, Lilly Becker. This place is like the poorhouse at home,
that time the High School sociology class visited it. Zoe, are you real?
Mine alone! Not his. Mine. You must be the miracle and show me the way,
Zoe. You shall be me plus everything that I am not. To have missed the
ecstasy of you is not to have lived. If Auchinloss could hear me now.
Who knows? I may, yet. What if I am like Joan of Arc, heeding a vision,
only I don't know which way the vision is pointing. Funny. Oh, but I'm
going to clear the way for you, Zoe. No Chinese shoes for your little
feet or your little brain. Free--to choose--to be! That's the way I'll
rear my daughter. My daughter! Queer I never think of him, her father.
Zoe--what if you don't want to be saved from what I'm saving you. The
fatness--the sedentary spirit of--out there. But you are me plus
everything that I am not. You will want to be saved. You will."

It was out of this limbo that Lilly was finally summoned, through the
little swing door to an empty chair beside the desk.

She thought she had never beheld such eyes as were turned upon her
through polished eyeglasses with the complement of a wide black-ribbon
guard. They were the color of slate and cleaned for impression. The
eight cases that had preceded Lilly were gone from them just as the
eight cases to follow would erase one by one.

"Sit down," she said. Then, "Girl or boy?"

"Girl."

"Name?"

"Zoe. Oh, you mean my name? Let me explain. You must understand that I
am not--indigent. I am looking for a room. I've just come out of the
hospital with my little one, and you have no idea how difficult it is to
find lodging where there is a child."

"What is your name?"

"I--I must beg of you not to--to take an attitude toward--"

"If you want me to help you, my dear, you must trust me. What is your
name?"

"Lilly. Your files won't help you. I'm not on record--that way. Lilly
Parlow for professional reasons, but I want her christened by her full
family name--"

"What is your family name?"

"Why, Lilly--Becker--Penny."

"Your last address?"

"You mean?"

"Where did you sleep last night?"

"I told you. Hanna Larchmont Hospital. I received my discharge to-day."

"Is the father of your child your lawful husband?"

"Indeed, yes!"

"Where is he?"

"Out West--where I came from."

"Exactly where?"

"D-d-denver, I think."

"Why are you here and he there?"

"Oh, you mustn't question me like this! I left him of my own free will,
after I found I had made a mistake. I am not asking anything of you. I
can pay. I want a room for me and my baby, for a few days until I get
her placed. I can make certain arrangements for her and take up my
work again."

"What is your work?"

"I am a singer."

"Where are your friends?"

"I have none."

"You are quite sure that this man whom you call your husband--"

"I won't be talked to in that tone."

"Of course, you realize that you are a highly specialized case."

"Do these institutions merely function as machines? Is no provision made
for the exception? Rent me a room for me and my baby. I will pay you in
advance. See, I have five five-dollar bills in my purse. I must have a
place to sleep and I won't leave here unless you forcibly eject me. I
must have my luggage; it is still at the hospital."

"How is it they did not help you there to make further provision for--"

"I didn't explain. It seemed inconceivable that I could not find
immediately lodgings."

"I see," said Lilly's interrogator, with the air of seeing not at all.
"Your case does not come under our kind of jurisdiction. Our girls are
unfortunate mothers who are cared for here until such time as
arrangements can be made to place the child. But no girl is entitled to
our nursery and infirmary service for more than four consecutive weeks,
and then, as I said, only in the event of unfortunate motherhood."

"Can only the unmarried mother be unfortunate?"

"I hardly care to discuss with you the wisdom of our policies."

"But you must," cried Lilly, now thoroughly beside herself. "What about
the girl who would rather fight out her own destiny than live through
the miserable and immoral--yes, immoral--process of a marriage that she
realizes has been a mistake? Is there no provision for the woman who
hasn't a man-made grievance against society? Who simply wants her
one-hundred-per-cent-right to live? Women are coming to demand it more
and more, that right! I venture to say that ten years from now they will
be voting themselves that right. Now we're like a lot of half-hatched
chickens pecking through the shell. I've pecked through! My daughter may
live to see them all pecked through."

"Really, I can't see--"

"To-day a woman on her own with a child has only one meaning. I've been
treated like a leper. Suppose, for argument, my child hadn't had a
legitimate father. All the more reason a hand should have been held out
to us. But I'm not asking anything. A night's lodging, madam, for which
I can pay. Here it is in advance. I'm not going to leave!"

The child was whimpering now lustily and wanting to lift its little body
from the long confinement of wrappings. There were tears and anger and a
brilliant sort of challenge in Lilly's voice and in her glance that
seemed to dart and glance off the starchy shirt waist of the figure
behind the desk. She sat clicking her pencil against her teeth, eyes
averted, as if to galvanize herself against a personality that dared to
intrude itself through a "case."

She openly regarded her work, this Miss Letitia Scullen, who was one day
to lay down her life valiantly enough at the altar of typhus in
war-stricken Rumania, as an exact science. Indigency, like typhus, was a
pandemic which must ultimately respond to an antitoxin. It was as if her
forty-seven charges were sick, and she reading the blood test of
indigency, prescribing in toto.

"If you are what you say you are, then you are not entitled to the
benefits of this home. Our girls here receive absolutely collective
treatment along lines worked out for their general needs. Your case is
an isolated one. You are not in need."

"But please, please, please, is there no need except that covered by
vice? Can you not conceive of a plight being all the worse because there
is no provision for it?"

"It is unthinkable that a woman like you, of evident refinement and
education, should find herself in the predicament you describe."

"Then thank God for being a rebel, if it will make you ponder on what is
new, untried, and not according to formula. There are only two kinds of
women you social workers recognize. The sheltered ones and the
unfortunates. What about the woman who is neither, but merely out on her
own? I try to meet life as an individual and not as a woman. What
happens? Doors slam in my face. I can't buy a night's lodging for the
child in my arms. It sounds like a thirty-cent melodrama. And now you,
whose life study is life--I tell you I won't be turned off. You must
take me in."

"It's very irregular."

"I'll pay."

"We don't accept paying inmates. You may make the institution a present
if you so desire. I'll put you up in the infirmary--it happens to be
empty; and you may have the use of the nursery equipment adjoining, and
there is a practical nurse in the house. Understand that this is
entirely outside the regulations of the institution and I must ask you
to make different arrangements as soon as possible."

"Thank you," said Lilly, ashamed to be grateful and the tears pressing
against her eyeballs. "Oh, my dear, thank you! Thank you!"

And so it came about that in a room of five white cots and three barred
windows, with the aid of a practical nurse and a tiny gas stove on a tin
mat, Lilly prepared her daughter for the night.

In her bag, lugged over from the hospital by one of the uniformed girls,
was the little layout, parting gift of the institution, including a
machine-stitched flannelet nightdress that Lilly could have wept over
as she fastened the thick button at the throat.

Still, with the chapped-faced nurse moving about the bare, ugly room on
her everlasting mission of efficiency, diluting the formula to just the
proportion required, rubbing the little bud of a body with coarse
cornstarch, the sense of ownership did not descend upon Lilly.

She wanted to feel this new estate of hers. In all the three and a half
weeks there had never been a moment of privacy, to give reality to this
pink-and-blue-and-yellow bloom that had somehow flowered from the tree
of her being.

She wanted the quiet to reconcile this new, this terrible, this
throat-throbbing sweetness with the Medean fury which had flung her, a
shuddering, choking mass upon that rooming-house floor. She wanted to
feel again and again the quick, ecstatic brash that could race in a wave
over her when she held this warm rose of life to her breast.

At just before nine there was a wordless round of inspection from the
white starched shirt waist surmounted with the spectacles and the
black-ribbon guard, a final look-in from the nurse whose face was
Swedishly blond and pink from chapping, a bottle of milk placed in the
small refrigerator, and the little bundle on the pillow covered with an
extra thickness of murky blanket.

At nine o'clock the lights went out just as Lilly had slid into her own
gown. She tiptoed to the door, barefooted, locking it and thereby
violating a rule of the institution. There must have been a moon
somewhere behind housetops, because through the three shadeless windows
a sort of gleam whitely powdered the silence.

She was suddenly full of fear there in the darkness and the aloneness,
and ran over to the cot for the miracle of that soft body to her flesh.
She lifted it from the nest of coarse pillow, even in sleep the tendril
of a little finger closing about hers.

There were crisscross shadows on the floor, cast there by the iron bars
at the windows. Her child lay asleep in an institutional garb of
charity. The father of that child, ignorant of its very existence, was
at that moment, and at a distance of one thousand miles, adjusting a new
rubber stopper to the bathtub in the home he shared with his
parents-in-law.

On one of the empty cots the rather silly silhouette of Lilly's hat, its
buckram rim sadly broken, persisted through the gloom. Her shoes, in a
little attitude of waiting beside a chair, lopped slightly of a
tipsiness induced by run-over heels. In the jumble of changing hands the
black valise of her underwear, handkerchiefs, and baby garments had
disappeared, so her little washed-out chemise, quite dainty, hung drying
over a table edge.

Outside the Home for Indigent Girls a city that took absolutely no
reckoning of Lilly wove its pattern toward another to-morrow.

She was alone with the first realization of her child, in a moment that
might have shaped itself to crush her. She felt a throbbing that seemed
to make a rush for her throat. She sat down on the bed, leaning over
until her body formed a sort of cave about the child. She had a sense of
the power to strangle both their lives out there in that strange
darkness. An old fear leaned out at her.

"Am I mad?"

More and more the sense of wanting to strangle flowed over her.

"Here--to-night--now!"

A cry leaped up under her pressure, startled, and with a stab of pain in
it.

She swooped the little squirming burden up under her chin; she buried
her head into the warm froth of curls, the light wind of her laughter
suddenly sweeping the room.

"Mother's darling! Twiddle-de-darling. Moonlit flake! Beautifulest.
Zoeist flower in the world. Mine alone! Alone mine! Oodle-de-dums.
To-morrow! To-morrow!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There followed for Lilly a week of scars, each exactly as deep as the
day was long.

First, the heartbreaking business of giving over her child to the
chappy-faced nurse and a rear room of nursery hung in the odors of
formaldehyde and lined up into a ward of white iron cribs, each screened
in with a clothes horse of little flannel garments of a thickness that
wrung Lilly's heart.

There were now two additional occupants--a poor, top-heavy infant with a
fourteen-year-old mother, father unknown, and the teething baby of one
of the blue-uniformed inmates whose routine allowed her periods of the
day to nurstle her child.

That was the wrench that began each day. To abandon the pink-and-white
bloom that slept all night without crying in the cove of her arm, to the
grayness of a nursery that should have been pink and white and sweetly
fragrant with powders and puffs and the rosy kind of tufted coverlets
with scent between them that her mother had once sewn over with bowknots
for the Kemble baby.

She was guilty of extravagances that ate menacingly into the four
remaining five-dollar bills. Against the protests of the practical
nurse she promptly discarded the long muslin swaddling dress, whose
superfluous length wound around the little feet, purchasing three short
and sheer ones, also a doll-size toilet set painted in little clumps of
forget-me-nots. The hair brush had a thick, soft nap which would spin
out her child's curls into a cloud of gold. They really were the color,
these curls, of a jar of strained honey seen through sunlight. It was as
if she could never tire of feeling them wind to her finger.

The nurse she kept placated with tips in outlandish proportion to her
funds, and often a memory of that dip of lip curving terrifyingly across
her consciousness would scurry homeward to this gray-and-black abode of
theirs, which only contained them on a tolerance that day after day
seared deeply into her being.

Slowly but surely her none too immaculately shod feet ceased their
pilgrimages to the agencies. She did apply one sultry morning in answer
to an advertisement for a "refined indoor entertainer, city work," only
to find the usual fee exhortation thinly backed by promises. For the
most part she marked off at her breakfast table in the adjoining Swedish
lunch room, under the newspaper heading, "Help Wanted, Female," the
demands for stenographers, companions, hat models, and, on one occasion,
for a cashier's vacancy in a Madison Avenue florist's.

A persistent streak of circumstances seemed to prohibit her success.
Upon three occasions it happened that she waited all morning in a line,
only to see the applicant directly in front of her chosen for the
position. At the florist's shop, bond was required. A lawyer in the
Flatiron Building asked her to type a specimen letter for him, and laid
heavy lips on the curl at the nape of her neck as she bent to his
dictation. R.L. Ginsburg, of the Ginsburg-Flatow Millinery Company,
engaged her services, and kissed her squarely on the lips to seal
the bargain.

The straight line of those lips had undeniably softened. She walked
about with them usually moist and slightly open, and the arch of her
brows very high. She had softened ineffably, like a ripened fruit; was
more liable to the backward glance of the passer-by.

During these days that were lifting now, each its frankly lashing tail
of terror, there were smiles all along the way for Lilly--old faces
smiling at and young faces with her, often to the assuagement of the
tightening knot of terror at her heart.

With her trick of mind that could close itself against any concern
beyond her immediate future, her one burning desire was for a
competency, to be earned preferably at stenography, since that would
leave her evenings free, and which would tide her over these first weeks
of difficult readjustment. To find and afford for this amazing liability
of hers the kind of temporary asylum that would set her free for the
scheming out of her new cosmos.

She found out, at the instance of the practical nurse, a sort of
semi-private institution on Columbus Avenue, but a trip through the
wards and nurseries sickened her. There was a score of little blue
gingham dresses, dingy fabrics that seemed to darken childhood, flapping
on a rear clothes line, and one two-year-old child lay asleep on a step,
his little white frock, with black anchors printed into it, furiously
smeared, and one hand clutching a sticky gingersnap.

She did not even inquire further, but got out quickly, trembling.

The proprietor of the Swedish bakery gave her an address of a Mrs.
Landman, a practical nurse who might consent to board the infant of an
employed parent. So on the very day of the lawyer's encounter there was
another sickening journey to what proved to be a tenement in West
Fifty-third Street. The newel post to the entrance was defaced with
obscene handwriting, the hallways were like cellars, and there was a
sign in the window, "Madam Landman, Midwife."

She did not linger to ring the bell, but worked her way downtown again,
toward the lawyer's office _via_ the florist's establishment, always
with an eye to minimum car fare.

That night she lay awake the night through. Another bed in the infirmary
was occupied. One of the girls had spilled scalding tea along her arm,
and all night to her groanings Lilly lay staring into the darkness, her
child so in the cove of her arm that its slight breathing fanned
her flesh.

It was one of those long, calculating nights full of alternatives no
sooner contrived than rejected. Only one state of surety came
crystalline out of it.

There was no going back.

Twice she rose and, with much of her old revulsion curiously gone,
greased the scalded arm by the puny aid of a night light that flowed in
from the hall when the door was opened.

At five o'clock her child began a lusty paean to the dawn. She heated
the milk and held the warm bottle tilted until it was emptied with the
strong, deep draughts that delighted her. There was distinctly more gold
out day by day in the ringlets, and the eyes were turning gray and
could fill blackly with pupil.

After that Lilly sat in her nightdress beside the window, her eagerness
for the day allayed to an extent by her rising sense of panic. She tried
to lay her despair. Unthinkable that this new day, dawning so pinkly
over chimney pots, would not prove itself a friend in her great need. By
eight-thirty, at the instance of a newspaper advertisement, she was the
first applicant at the Acme Publishing Company, East Twenty-third
Street, a narrow five-story building with ground-floor offices and a
tremor through it from the champ of presses.

She obtained this time from a woman who accepted her lack of reference
rather negligibly.

She, too, asked her to compose a specimen letter acknowledging receipt
of a translator's manuscript. She accomplished it with a glibness that
brought a flush to her cheek and a smile to the face of her employer.

Lilly thought she had never beheld such spick-and-span efficiency as
this woman's. The smooth white hair arranged with a conservative eye to
the prevailing mode. The clean, untired skin and rather large, able
hands. She made mental note of the crisp organdie collar and cuffs, and
was suddenly conscious that her shoes were too short of vamp, and her
heels run down because they were too high. A revulsion of taste flowed
over Lilly; she hated suddenly the rather tawdry cape piped in red, and
mentally retailored herself with a new feeling for simplicity.

Her sinkage of heart at the proffered eight dollars a week was followed
by a quick resurgence of vitality at the prospect of the
advancement held out.

Her predecessor was being promoted to first reader!

_The Paradise Trail_, a best seller of the moment, had been written in
those same offices during spare moments of one of the proof readers.

The Acme Publishing Company printed paperback editions of translations
from the more highly papriked of current French novels. The instinct to
write rose in Lilly, the quick flame of her faddism easily aroused. Here
was nothing more than a stroke of fate. A long-laid plan for a novel
lifted, an entire panorama of resolutions dramatizing themselves.

The easy hours from nine to four. Long evenings at work beside the crib.
A _nom de plume_, of course--Ann something. Ann Netherland. But eight
dollars! Her heart tightened.

She had obtained, the day previous, at a Lexington Avenue Children's
Hospital she chanced to pass, the address of an institution at Spuyten
Duyvil said to be conducted for the children of professional parents,
and conducted by Minnie Dupree, an old stock actress remembered by the
generation preceding Lilly's for the heavier Shakespearean roles. Her
mind leaped to this. Yes, she would return at two o'clock, ready to
begin work, and went out into a day warm with sunshine.

A quick resolve formed itself. She inquired at some length in a corner
drug store, finally taking a train for Spuyten Duyvil, and fifteen
minutes later descended to a little station upon the edge of a park that
was brilliant with new green.

More inquiry, the disdaining of a cab, and a twenty minutes' walk along
curving asphalt walks with houses far enough back to lose their
identities among trees. A sense of summer and hope swept her.

The Dupree place was an old homestead of painted gray brick and ugly
with the millwork and gable bulging wall and tower of American
architecture in most horrific mood, but a smooth green lawn fell
plushily away from it on four sides and it was all Lilly could do to
keep from running up the walk. Her child in the sweet air of this fine
old spot! Out of her eight dollars a week she could manage four, even
five if need be! Her embarrassment was only temporary. Any arrears
incurred she could make up later if only it could be arranged.

There were long, cool halls, a sun-flooded kindergarten, an open-air
playroom on the roof, and a white-enameled nursery with a row of
ducklings waddling across the walls, and Mrs. Dupree herself, who
stopped at each stair landing for ready and copious explanation.

She was very corseted, very mannered, and quick to attitudinize. A
flight of framed photographs of her followed the staircase upward step
by step, in which she registered at a considerably younger period such
staple states as Anger, Meditation, Humiliation, Vengeance, Love.

She was still a commanding figure with copper-colored hair that for ten
years had wanted to turn gray, a face of furiously combated wrinkles,
and eyes deep with black or blackened lashes.

She was the declamatory kind of Lady Macbeth who had stepped into the
role flatly on a No. 7 last, rather than from a Juliette who had
fattened into the part; that congenial stateliness now thrown completely
out of plumb by a violent limp, which, resulting from a railway
accident, threw out her entire left leg as she walked.

All the velvet was unconsciously out in Lilly's voice coping with the
Dupree extravagance of manner.

"Do you accept them as young as four weeks, Mrs. Dupree?"

"Bless you, dearie, the three weeks' duckie darling of Cissie de Veaux
is our youngest at present."

"The comic-opera Cissie de Veaux?"

"Why, honey child, Cissie tells it on herself, she never would have had
those ducky twins of hers five years ago if she hadn't known there was a
Minnie Dupree Infantary. That is our aim, here, you know. To give the
child of superior professional parents the most superior environment
that money can buy."

"How much--"

"Elaine Bringhouse, daughter of Harold Bringhouse. Ever seen him in
'Hamlet'? Before your time, I guess! Poor Harold in his day was the best
all-around Hamlet in the country. Cry! I wish you could have seen that
child's father cry on Elaine's fifth birthday. We don't keep them over
five years of age here, you know. Bless her! she's in a road company of
'Little Miss Muffet' now. Yes, indeedy, dearie, that's a book of
testimonials there on that table from my children's parents. I take it
you're a professional, dearie?"

"Oh yes--yes. Concert and--vaudeville."

"I'm a retired member of the profession myself. A little before your
time, bless you, but ask anyone who remembers the Manhattan Stock
Company about Minnie Dupree. Why, I played Lady Macbeth opposite Claude
Melrose when he was making thirty dollars a week in Fredericksburg
Stock. Did he use my cutting of the banquet scene all those years after
he struck Broadway? He did. Did he give credit where credit was due? He
did not. Oh, my dear, I could tell you tales! The dirt I've had spun me
in my day. Maybe Minnie Dupree never saw Broadway, but dirt! If there is
so much as a speck on my name, God strike me dead. You voice, dearie?"

"Yes."

"Ah, voice! Ask anyone who knew me in the Manhattan Stock if they
remember Minnie Dupree in 'The Silver Lute.' Donald Deland as fine a
Macbeth as ever strode the boards! That's his picture there as Iago.
I'll show you his little grandchild up in the nursery. 'Min,' he used to
say, 'if you'll throw over Edward Dupree, I'll give you a year's voice
training at the academy and put you up against Melba.' Ah, my dear, I
hope yours is a happy one."

"How much--"

"I threw away a career for the caprice of a man who cast me off like an
old glove. Be careful, dearie. Here in the Infantary we never ask
questions of parents, believing it the right of everyone to work it out
her own way, but look twice before you leap in this life, dearie. I
could tell you tales! The dirt I've been spun!"

"Oh, Mrs. Dupree, what a sunny, lovely nursery! How happy I would be if
my little girl could come to you here."

"My people want the best, dearie, and I give it to them. I've put the
last ten years of my life, since the accident, dearie, to making this
home one the profession can be proud of. My nurses and doctors are the
best. We only accept them from two weeks of age to five years, but look
over that album of testimonials--"

"Oh, this bright, lovely nursery is sufficient--"

"Look, at that one! Ever see such a flower? God love it, that's Esther
Deland. Her mother's playing Canada. And this is little Sidonia
Vavasour--mother out in one of the highest-priced sketches in
vaudeville. Know it? 'The Snake.' Every morning that God sends comes her
good-morning telegram to this little mite, just as regular as
clockwork."

"I hope, Mrs. Dupree, it isn't going to be too expensive."

"Our service divides itself into three classifications, Mrs. ----?"

"Penny."

"Not Alonzo Penny of the old Trenton Stock?"

"No. You were saying, Mrs. Dupree, three classifications?"

"Yes, I'll give you a booklet, dearie. The rates vary according to age.
Up to one, then one to three, and three to five. We've our own cows,
sterilizing machines--"

"How much did you say, Mrs. Dupree, up to one year?"

"Six hundred dollars a year, in quarterly advance payments."

They were down again in the wide, cool hallway, little kindergarten
voices of children shrilling through from one of the playrooms.

A white nurse passed them, tilting a white perambulator down a flight of
white stone stairs.

"Six hundred dollars a year. That--that would make one hundred and fifty
dollars--in advance," said Lilly, trying to keep the muscles of her face
from quivering.

"Right, dearie."

"I--why--I--I'm afraid--"

"No hurry, dearie. Think it over. It just happens we have a bed on the
infant floor right now, so I'd make up my mind right quickly if I were
you. Think it over. You know best."

Out on the sun-swept lawn, the white perambulator and the white nurse
just ahead, Lilly broke into a run. Tears were beating up against her
throat and there was a knot of sobs behind her breathing. She wanted to
throw herself on the warm slope of terrace and kick into it. That vision
of that large bone button at the throat of that little muslin nightgown
somehow became the symbol of all her misery!

After a while she dropped down on a little grassy knoll just off the
curving sidewalk, and leaned her head against a tree, large tears, since
there was no one to see them, rolling unheeded down her cheeks toward an
inverted crescent of bitterly disappointed mouth.

The sun at her back must have acted as a sedative, because, after a
while of crying there tiredly, she started up out of a light doze, all
her perceptions startled, and began immediately to run back toward the
station. Within view of it she met a pedestrian, inquiring of him the
time. Ten minutes before two! This set her to running again, so that she
fairly flopped with a little collapse on a station bench. A train was
just pulling out. There was another at two-twenty.

It was ten minutes past three when she burst into the outer offices of
the Acme Publishing Company, her lips trembling with a prepared apology
she had hardly the breath for.

An office boy brought her out an immediate message. Her place had been
filled at five minutes past three.

All the way down Second Avenue she was inclined somehow to laugh. She
found herself finally in the Swedish bakery and lunch room, ordering,
without appetite, but with a growing sense of need of food, a dish of
rice pudding and a cup of coffee. She broke into the only remaining bill
in her pocket, leaving a five-cent tip beside her saucer, and pouring,
with quite a little jangling, one dollar and eighty-five cents back into
her purse.

In the hallway of the Home she encountered Miss Scullen, hurrying with a
sheaf of papers in her hand.

"Oh yes, Lilly, I want to speak to you."

"Yes?"

"Have you made different arrangements? You know it is highly irregular
your remaining on."

"I am expecting to take a position and get baby placed any day now, Miss
Scullen. I've just returned from Spuyten Duyvil, where I have something
very good in view. If you could see your way clear to let things run on
a few days longer, Miss Scullen?"

"Not beyond next Tuesday evening. It is very irregular and I've a board
of directors' meeting Wednesday."

"Yes, Miss Scullen, not beyond Tuesday evening."

When Lilly entered the infirmary the smell of iodine smote her queerly
and with an unnamable terror. Her child lay sleeping on a pillow hedged
in with a chair, and, bending over, the aroma struck her squarely and
with a close pungency. There was a great yellow stain on the little
forehead, a welt rising and purpling through it. Even the honey-colored
curls were stained with a great blotch of the vicious greeny yellow, one
little eyelid swelling.

With a cry somewhere from the primordial depths of her, Lilly snatched
up the pillow, rushing with it and its burden to the door, kicking it
open in a gale of terror, her voice tearing down the hallway.

"Help! For God's sake--quick--help!"

The nurse came rushing with a stack of sheets in her arms, and in an
instant the corridor was a runway of blue-clad girls, ready, even eager
for stampede, and finally Miss Scullen herself pushing through.

"My baby! What has happened to her! Quick--my child!"

With immediate realization of the situation, the nurse pushed her
red-elbowed way through the tightening congestion, her voice strident
above the dreaded hum of panic.

"Get back to your room. It is nothing. The child fell off the bed and
bumped its head. Get back, every one of you. I painted the bruise with
iodine. It's nothing but a bumped head. Back, I say!"

There was a blur before Lilly's eyes that waved like a red flag, and her
voice shot up to a shriek.

"You've hurt her terribly! You! Devil! Pig! How dared you! You've
pinched her! too. I know now what those little blue marks are from. Her
head! Her little eye! I could kill you! Devil! Pig! You let her fall! I
could kill you!"

Through the snarl of the corridor Miss Scullen emerged, her lips very
thin and her voice a steady sedative to the rising murmur.

"You get your things and get out! Leave the child, if you want, until
you find a place, but you get your things. You thankless, ungrateful
girl. You were taken in here on sufferance and against my better
judgment. This is the reward which comes from placing myself liable to
censure from my board of directors. Girls, go back to your rooms at once
and forget this wayward girl's disgraceful scene. Now you go!"

"Indeed I'll go! But leave my baby here? Not likely! Why, what's one
baby's brain more or less to you? One case more or less for your filing
cabinet, that's all. If I were one of these poor girls and found myself
stuck in one of these places that screams out their indigence above the
very doorway, dresses them in the blue calico of indigence, and then
seals and stamps indigence all over them, I'd show you what real
indigence is, once you insisted upon stamping me with it. But you're not
going to make an indigent out of my baby. No, you're not! No! No! No!"

She was presently marching down the street with her head high, her eyes
black with iris, a bag in one hand and the bundle of her child clutched
under her chin.

She did not heed where she was going, but as she tramped she was saying
audibly over and over again:

"My baby. My baby. My baby."



CHAPTER II

She was not afraid. The blood was rocking in her veins like a sea, and
she was raging with an anxiety that mounted as the heliotrope dusk,
turping out sky lines, began to blow in like fog through the narrowness
of the cross streets.

But neither was she alone. That was the miracle of her state. That
peculiar living magnetism was through the blanket she carried and in a
current along her arm. A lusty little storm of crying rose once, quite
suddenly, and she kissed down into the pink little mouth that was full
of the breath of life--her life.

There were three bottles of still warm milk in her bag. She fumbled for
one, kneeling right there on the sidewalk, jerking out the stopper with
her teeth and fitting on the rubber nipple. The little lips closed over
it with the pull and strong insuck of breath which never failed to
thrill her.

She was sobering, though, slowly and surely into a state of panic. At
Broadway the swirl of the dinner-bound was already tightening. Lights
began to pop out in the tall, narrow office and loft buildings of the
vertical city.

She boarded an uptown car, counting, and truly enough, upon the chivalry
of the mob toward her burden, for obtaining an immediate seat. At West
Fifty-third Street she alighted into a day gone two shades darker. A
stiffening breeze blew in from the river, whipping up the odor of
garbage from curbs. A group of dirty children were building a bonfire
of some of these slops and bits of flying paper, lending a certain
vicious redness to the scene.

She thought suddenly of Page Avenue at this hour of pinkish mist. The
little patch of front porch with the green chairs and tan-linen covers.

"O God, what have I done!"

The window with the midwife's sign was dark and there was a little
coagulation of bareheaded women on the steps. They parted to give her
passage, their babel immediately resuming after her.

The hot, sour smells of the hallway smothered her, but she fumbled for
the bell, plunging her hand into the damp, clinging gauze of a cobweb
that sent her back shuddering. What proved to be Mrs. Landman herself
opened the door upon a rushing smell of hops and a cookery and a glimpse
of violently disordered interior. It was not so much the furiously
stained figure that sent Lilly a step backward, but a black flap tied
over one eye and knotted at the back of her head struck her as so
unutterably sinister that without a word she turned and, with her head
charging the way for her, ran out through the hallway, through the group
on the stoop, and the entire length of the block, catching a downtown
surface car that stopped for her after it had started.

She was palpitating with the kind of fear that gave her a sense of
fleeing through a dark corridor with some one at her heels, and so rode
on until her breath caught up and she could relax into a grateful sort
of inertia.

At Forty-second Street, on a sudden impulse, she left the car, hurrying
into Grand Central Station. In its undress of semicompletion, the swirl
of home-going commuters caught her, so that she was swept down a
temporary runway and shunted finally into the waiting room. At its far
end the "Matron" sign still hung at right angles. She hurried to it, and
to her relief was met by a new face above the gray-and-white uniform,
rather little and old and framed kindly in white. There was a small boy
asleep on the couch this time, and the usual frowsily tired traveling
public relaxed against various of the chairs.

"I want to leave my baby here until I get in touch with friends who have
failed to meet me."

A quick suspicion of foundling crossed the old face.

"We don't take the responsibility of infants."

"But this is urgent. I must locate my friends in Brooklyn. I cannot find
them in the telephone book and evidently they have not received my
telegram."

"We don't do it."

Then Lilly went gallantly down to her last handful of change, all but a
ten-cent piece.

"She's the best little thing. Sleeps the night through. I've two bottles
of prepared food here in my bag. Her next feeding time is at ten and her
next at six--"

"We don't keep infants for nothing like that long, madam. I go off duty
at seven and--"

"I haven't any intention of leaving her that long, just until I get in
touch with my friends."

With the mound of change ingratiated into the old palm and the little
bundle transferred to arms more or less reluctantly held out for it,
Lilly lifted back a corner of the blanket.

"Wait until nice lady sees mother's beautiful, then she'll be glad to
watch over her."

Mysteriously, it seemed to Lilly, there was nothing of the button nose
so peculiar to infants about her child. Its was tipped with character;
so, too, the little mouth in the firm way it had of closing.

"Say, but ain't she a beauty!" capitulated the matron.

"Isn't she! Isn't she!"

"Look at them curls. You ought to enter her in a show, ma'am."

"You will see to her carefully until I return, won't you? She sleeps
that way always, sweetly and deeply."

"Why, I'll sit and rock her myself this very minute."

When Lilly went out into the darkness there were the ten cents in her
bag and the blurry outline of things she finally laid to hunger. She
walked downward for some blocks, finally entering a Third Avenue lunch
room and ordering a ten-cent bowl of beef stew. She took it from a
tablespoon like a thick soup, its warmth flowing through her and
dissipating a chilly discomfort. But her face still felt rather drawn,
and, regarding herself in the pink net-draped mirror, she took to
rubbing her cheeks, an old, schoolgirl device against pallor. She was
quite becomingly large-eyed from the deadly aching tiredness that lay
over her, but otherwise the old whiteness of her skin flowed unmarred
and intact, also that unadorned look of nun to her face where the hair
left it so cleanly.

Beside her at one of the marble-topped tables a great, hefty motorman in
uniform kept finding out her knee and pressing it.

"Stop it," she said, "or I'll call the proprietor."

He drew surlily back, draining his thick cup of coffee and shambling
out, chewing a toothpick. At the door he looked back with his lips
pulled down, mouthing a filthy epithet at her.

After a while she followed, almost slunk, with a sense of no tip left
beneath the saucer, her pace swinging into the indefinable tempo of
destination, but more and more indeterminate as she approached
Madison Square.

She kept close to Third Avenue, something reassuring in the sidewalk
gabble, the air of cheap carnival, the white arc lights over open fruit
stands, and the percussive roar of Elevated trains. Presently even Third
Avenue would withdraw to over its shops, the sidewalks fall quiet and
darken, pedestrians become sinister. She shivered against that lateness;
stood for a period outside a bird store, watching a pair of Japanese
mice chase their little eternities in a wheel cage. At Twenty-third
Street a youth with a prison complexion, a cap pulled down and a sweater
pulled up, sauntered out of a pool room, matching his pace with hers,
and at once easily colloquial.

"Hello, sweetness!"

Her eyebrows shot up. She could smell, feel, and taste the cheap beer on
his breath, and anger rather than fear possessed her.

"Cat got your tongue, sweetness? Where you goin'? Lonesome?"

After a while he fell back, flecked off as it were like a burr clutching
for a metal surface.

It was her conviction, many times put to test, that such situations lay
within her shaping, and that man took his cue from the yea or nay of
her attitude.

At the sight of a crowd tightening about a street corner she edged her
way in. The iron plug to a corner sewer had been removed, a policeman
and the shirt-sleeved figure of a man prone on the ground, red-faced and
arms inserted their length.

"What is it?" asked Lilly, tiptoeing.

"A feller's gold watch rolled down."

"Who'll go down on a rope?" called out the owner.

"I will," cried Lilly.

The crowd turned its face to her.

"I will, for a hundred and fifty dollars--now--here!"

In the derision and boo that went up she escaped, hurrying this time and
without uncertainty.

The Union Square Family Theater showed the lighted but quiet front of a
performance in progress.

At the stage entrance the old doorman with his look of sea dog
recognized her, admitting her with a nod. The titter of music came back
through the wings and quick, loud thumps of a tumbling act in progress.
The smell of grease paint, like the flop of a cold, wet hand to her
face, smote her with a familiarity out of all proportion to her limited
experience in the theater.

She wound, unchallenged, up the short spiral staircase.

Through an open doorway of an office that had been refurnished in large
mahogany desk, filing case, and a stack of sectional bookcases, Robert
Visigoth sat tilted on a swivel chair, his hands locked at the back of
his head, gaze and cigar toward the ceiling.

She stood in the doorway a second, watching his perceptions dawn.

"Hel-lo!" he said, finally, uncrossing a knee grown slightly corpulent
and his rather small eyes crinkling to slits. "Hel-lo!"

She was arch and laughed back.

"A bad penny, you see."

He swung a chair toward her without rising.

"Turned up, didn't you? Good."

She seated herself, with that coquetry of hers which she could force on
occasion, feeling his glance as it ran over her dawning shabbiness as
searingly as a flame. It darted on downward to her feet, and because
that very day the leather in her right shoe had cracked, showing a grin
of white lining, she wound that foot up around the chair rung.

"I took sick--that time," she explained, fatuously.

He lifted her hand, bending back each finger to match his words.

"You are a naughty girl. Why did you run away?"

She sat swallowing through obvious gulps, but increasingly determined to
be arch.

"Please--don't," trying to withdraw her hand.

"Come now," he said through a half smile and watching her redden almost
to purple, "you don't hate me that badly or you wouldn't be back here."

"I know I don't."

"What?"

"Hate you."

"Good! Now we're getting on."

"I need something, Mr. Visigoth--terribly."

"We're not using that song specialty any more," he said, kindly.

"I've given up that sort of thing, too, Mr. Visigoth. I'm a stenographer
now."

"Smartest thing you ever did."

"I--I'm in a little difficulty right now--a money one. That's why I
thought if you--Could you use me in the office? I know stenography and
typewriting. I--It would be a godsend, Mr. Visigoth. I dislike having to
put it so strongly--but my present difficulty is serious--very."

"What's troubling you?"

"I must have an office position. I want my evenings free and I cannot
be situated so that I might have to go on the road at any time."

"Married?"

"Why, I--I thought--assumed that you knew I was married from the
beginning. I--We aren't together, though; haven't been--"

"Umph!"

"It's just that I'm temporarily embarrassed."

"That was a pretty rough way you left me in the lurch. Those actions
don't get a girl very far in this business."

"It was sickness."

He leaned forward to pat her hand, his lids somehow seeming to thicken.

"You're a queer little duck," he said, "but I like you. Always have."

"Then you will, Mr. Visigoth?"

"Well, let's not bother about that now."

"But--"

"There is quite a change taking place in these offices. My brother is
coming from Chicago to take charge of the booking end and I am going out
there after he comes on, and I'll see if he can use you. Let us talk
about you now."

"No. No. I haven't made you understand. That isn't all. I'm in immediate
need. So immediate! I need as much as--as a hundred and fifty--two
hundred--here, now, to-night!"

"Whew!"

"It is so difficult to explain, but if you would. If you could! I will
work it out for you, beginning tomorrow morning. To the last penny. Two
hundred dollars advance on any salary you may see fit to pay me, if you
would! I'm not afraid to start small. Within a week I'll prove my value
to you--that's how I'll slave for advancement. Just two hundred dollars
advance on my salary--one hundred and fifty if--"

"Well, well, well," he said, stropping up and down the back of her hand,
"that does put a different face on things, doesn't it? I just don't know
what to say."

"Say yes. It is only my predicament gives me the courage to ask. But I
need money, Mr. Visigoth. Need it. Need it. Now--to-night! I'll pay it
back in service. I--"

"Come now," he said, his eyes crinkling again. "You don't mean that,
Lilly. I'm a man and you're a woman. I don't want your money."

"I'll go any length for yours."

"What length?"

"Any--you say."

He leaned forward at that and kissed down into her lips so deeply that
her neck was strained backward to hurting. She sprang to her feet,
wiping her hand across her mouth until her lips dragged, but trying
to laugh.

"You hurt."

"That's what I want to do--hurt, hurt," kissing down into and crushing
her lips again and again.

"Oh! oh! oh!" she moaned rather than cried, pummeling at his chest.

"Devil," he said, jerking her back to him until the breath jumped from
her.

"I--I hate you!"

"Good!"

"I'm not what you think I am. I hate you. I hate--sex. I--"

"I don't care what I think you are. I only know that I want to be the
one to wake you up to the knowledge that sex is life and life is sex.
Ice maid. I don't care what you are. I know that I like you. I know
that I like your lips. Give me."

"Quick, then," she said, trying not to shudder.

       *       *       *       *       *

She squirmed from him finally, pushing against him with all her
strength.

"Ugh. How I--I--hate--"

"Gad! how I like your lips!"

"Let me go now."

He looked down at her through slits of eyes.

"To the last cent, you said."

"Yes."

"Come, then," he said. "I live alone."

"Please," she said, her palm pat against her mouth and looking at him
with streaming eyes. "Please--not that--"

For answer he kissed her again so brutally that she sat down, moaning
her shame.

"You're a woman of the world, Lilly. You don't want anything for
nothing. Life wouldn't balance up that way."

"But I'll--"

"Yes, yes, I'm going to give you a position, too. Fifteen a week to
start with, to show you I mean well by you. You beautiful
sleepy-eyed thing!"

"I'm not what you think--"

"All right, I know. Never again after to-night, so help me God! This
isn't my kind of thing any more than it is yours. Any position you want
in this office to-morrow morning and me off to Chicago for permanent
headquarters next month. I'm good pay. Are you? Now? To-night?"

"My hundred and fifty--"

"Two hundred!"

"Yes--I'm good pay--now--to-night!"



CHAPTER III

With a flaying intensity that kept her teeth unconsciously ground
together so that when she relaxed their pressure the gums fairly sang,
Lilly took up her work in the office of the newly incorporated Universal
Amusement Enterprises.

The clerical department occupied a large unfinished room, obviously
makeshift, that had previously been used for the storage of stage
properties. There were two flat-topped desks, placed so that their
swivel chairs faced across a considerable expanse of surface, two
bookkeepers' perches also rigged up to meet the exigencies of run-away
affairs, and her own little table with its brand-new typewriting
machine.

Yet Lilly never entered the rather cold breath of this atmosphere
without a sense of haven. It was as if she had turned the key on those
areas that lay outside of the immediate present. She could take the
dictation of a letter to the printers, or a manufacturer of slot
machines for opera glasses, or to a ventriloquist guilty of disorderly
conduct behind the scenes, with the whole of her concentration brought
to bear upon her pencil point until very often it snapped under the
nervousness of her pressure.

Then Robert Visigoth, who dictated with his ten fingertips together to
form a little chapel, would invariably wedge a pleasantry into her
tightly maintained attitude, but there was a freshly sharpened pencil
always at hand in the little patch of shirt-waist pocket, so that even
this slight schism was seldom accomplished.

Her work consisted of some correspondence, mimeographing of programs for
distribution to orchestra leaders, scene shifters, printers, bookkeeping
and publicity department. Quite a bit of communication by wire, letter,
and telephone with the Chicago office, and upon one very recent occasion
she had been summoned down to the auditorium together with a Mrs. Ida
Blair, one of the bookkeepers, for the try-out performance of a sketch,
with the request for a written opinion on its box-office value.

Lilly alone had sent in a negative report--"Too sophisticated and not
sufficient emotional appeal for vaudeville." On the strength of several
opposing yeas, the playlet was booked, and removed after the second
performance--a little secret feather which Lilly wore jauntily on a
little secret cap.

In these eight weeks a quiescence that was like a hand to the
reverberating parchment of a drum had come over her. It was, in fact, as
if the whole throbbing orchestration of her universe had stopped as it
sometimes can seem to upon the motion-picture screen, leaving the action
to click on quietly without the excitation of music.

She had taken, at the instance of Mrs. Blair, a room in an Eleventh
Street house. The odor of Bohemia, which is the odor of poverty through
cigarette smoke, lay on the hallways. There were frequent all-night
revelries reverberated down from the skylight room on the top floor, and
one evening a passing group had beat a can-can of invitation on her
doorway; but she could lock and bolt herself into her room, a box, it is
true, at two dollars and a half a week, but it boasted half curtains of
yellow scrim, a couch-bed with a moth-eaten but gay wool cover, and a
small square of table with a reading lamp attached by a tube to the
gas jet.

She found herself during the routine of her business day looking forward
to these long, quiet evenings beside the tiny table. There had been
eight unbroken weeks of them, and each Sunday a fresh little mound of
sheer garments to be carried out to Spuyten Duyvil. Her old inaptitude
with the needle, by no means overcome, hampered her so that her stitches
were often wandering gypsy trails to be ripped over and over, and then
her fingers leaving little prick stains to be washed out.

She had grown thinner, so much so that a slight jaw line had come out,
but the shells were gone from beneath her eyes and it pleased her, when
she brushed out her hair before going to bed, to see that its
electricity, which had departed for a while, was out in it again, so
that it would snap and stand out horizontally from her head. The little
spark of a smile was constantly over her face like a mirage before her
lips and her eyes and seeming to hover on the very peak of her brows
when she arched them.

She liked to stand before her wavy mirror, folding the completed
garments and looking back at herself. Newly freed, probably by the great
Auchinloss and her daughter between them, from the bondage of an idea,
she felt corporeally lighter, and was. The toothache of her being had
ceased its neuralgic stabbings.

It was not unusual for her to stand before this mirror before climbing
into bed, her mouth bunched to mimetics.

"Zoe, come to mother. _Mother!_ Daughter, they're shouting for you! Let
me hold your flowers, darling; they'll smother you!... You mean the one
with the yellow curls, madam? The valedictorian? That's my daughter!"

All the spots would come out in her eyes, like little "niggers" in a
pair of diamonds, and more often than not she would fall asleep then
with a crescent moon of a smile lying deeply into her face.

One day, after these weeks of minute fidelity to routine, she was
startled somewhat by a request from Robert Visigoth, in the form of a
note sent over to her desk, to remain after six to take some dictation.
The big temporary-looking office with its absence of partitions and
staring lack of privacy had become a paradoxical source of security to
her. In all the eight weeks, three of which, it is true, he had spent in
Chicago, she had not once encountered Robert Visigoth alone. She had
subconsciously developed the habit of peering down the dark stairs that
led to the stage door before descending them, and on one or two
occasions, when they chanced to pass, had flattened herself rather
unduly against the wall. Her comings and goings, whether by maneuver or
not, were seldom alone. She and this Mrs. Blair, a sparse, umbrella of a
woman with a very bitter kind of widowhood, had formed the noonday habit
of taking a dairy lunch of milk and cereal at a near-by White Kitchen
and of departing evenings for there, too, since it spelled strong, hot,
simple foods and a very superior kind of cleanliness.

It was with a distinct sinkage, well laid over with office
imperturbability, that she showed Mrs. Blair the note, saw her stab into
her greenish-black bird's nest of a hat and depart alone. Then the
office boy; the publicity man, whistling; a clerk or two, and finally a
sixteen-year-old girl who pasted clippings into scrap books.

The pleasantly cool summer day had thickened up rather suddenly into the
beginnings of dusk, the electric sign down over the theater throwing up
a sudden glow through the windows. She sat before her machine, shorthand
book in lap, her attitude quiet enough except that her hands, as they
clasped each other, showed whitish at the nails, and she would not
swerve her gaze by the fraction of an inch, even with the consciousness
of a presence behind her.

It was Visigoth at her shoulder, the male aroma of him, a mixture of
cigar smoke, bay rum, and freshly washed hands, and the feel of his
rough-serge suit very close.

She rose, withholding herself stiffly from his nearness, marveling, as
always, at this power of hers to endure him so casually.

"Letters?" she asked.

He placed a knee on the chair rung, tilting it toward him, and leaning
across the back at her.

"You funny, funny girl," he said, regarding her intently through the
crinkling eyes.

She met his stare in a challenging sort of silence.

"My, what big eyes you have!"

"Please," she said, retreating from the look in his, her weight against
the table until it slid.

"Please what?" he rather mimicked, advancing the exact distance of her
withdrawal, the smile out on his never quite dry lips.

"Please--don't."

The corpulency which was one day to envelop him like suet was already
giving him the appearance of ten years his senior. He had upon occasion
been mistaken for the father of his younger brother, and some of
Lilly's acute distaste for him, across the slight enough chasm of the
seven or eight years between them, was already that of youth for
lascivious age.

"Shall I take those letters now--Mr. Visigoth?"

"I would rather take you--to dinner."

"I might have known," she said, rather tiredly.

"What?"

"That you would not keep your word."

"I have though, for eight weeks."

"I thought your promise meant--"

"Ah no. I never broke a promise in my life, but even I cannot be
expected to keep one indefinitely with a girl like you within eyeshot."

"That can be easily corrected."

"Come now, I'm giving you your chance here to make good."

"Well then, let me take it."

"My dear girl, never expect the best of us to be more than human."

"I suppose, then, this is to be the regulation,
theatrical-manager-dangers-of-a-big-city kind of scene."

"Come now," he said, his voice plushy with the right to intimacy. "We
understand each other--Lilly."

She stood silent, flaming her humiliation.

"And I like you for it. If there is one thing to my mind less
interesting than another, it is the untempted kind of woman who--"

"I never pretended to you, Mr. Visigoth, that I was what you are pleased
to term--tempted!"

"No? But how much more redeeming if you had been."

"Nothing can ever redeem that--night--except--"

"Except?"

"Oh, I don't know--maybe--except--God."

"You funny, funny girl!" he repeated. "I like you."

"I know your kind of liking. You like me for the kind of thing you would
protect your wife or your daughter from with all the fury of your little
elemental soul."

"I haven't a wife, I haven't a daughter, and I like you."

"No, but you will have presently. Your kind always does and you'll be
the ideal family man who telephones home from the office three times a
day to see if the baby has taken her cough medicine regularly, and
you'll knock the man down that brushes your wife too closely in a crowd,
and because of your attitude toward all but your own women you'll
suspect every man who even approaches your daughter. In the eyes of the
world you're entitled to your wild oats. That's what I am, a wild oat to
be sown at your pleasure. If you haven't any letters, Mr. Visigoth, I'm
going. I--"

"No," he said, closing his hand over hers. "Don't."

"You force me."

"Nonsense! Haven't I promised to let you be, Lilly? I've respected that
promise to the letter, as I always respect a promise. The past is dead,
it died with that night. I swear it over again."

"Dead, with your reminding me with every word you utter--every look."

"Nonsense, I tell you! I've treated you like everyone else in this
office. Made things easy for you. Helped you."

"And I've tried to justify my position in your office. To hold it by
sheer merit so that this--this wouldn't--couldn't happen. And now
you--your daring to keep me here like this shows me I've failed."

"You haven't. You've raised the efficiency of the office forty per cent.
I'm turning you over to my brother as a prize. I've got you in mind for
the booking end of the business. That's what I think of you."

"Oh, Mr. Visigoth, if you knew--if you knew what that would mean to me.
I'll give you my best! Let me go on proving to you that I want to stay
here to make good on my merits--as man to man!"

"I wish to God I could figure you out."

"I made it clear--that night--"

"But I flattered myself at least that--"

"You hadn't that right. Ours was a cold business deal. So much for so
much! I never for a moment pretended otherwise. I was in need. Terrible
need. I didn't think when I came to you that you would do business on
any other terms than you did."

"I envy the fellow that awakens you."

"Oh, I've been awakened! Awakened to the fact that a woman out in the
world has to fight through a barrier of yourselves that you men erect.
But I'm not afraid of your barrier. In the last analysis I know, that I
have the situation in hand. Every woman has. It is a matter of whether
she will or she won't! I had an alternative--that night. Could have
taken it, but wouldn't. Would do the same over again. A man invariably
takes his cue. You took yours. Even a street masher takes his cue from
the look in her eyes whether he will or won't follow up."

"Right, but public sentiment is all on the woman's side."

"It's worth more to me to know that the situation was in my own hands
than it is to play the sensational role of more sinned against
than usual."

"You're immense."

Dryly, "Doubtless, from your point of view."

"From any--"

"Now look here. I need this position here more desperately than I ever
needed anything in my life. It means the success or failure of something
that I've staked every card on, of a fight that nobody in the world
would understand--possibly not even myself. But that doesn't change the
fact that the situation again is mine. I am in a position now to demand
fairer terms than I was--then. I return to work to-morrow only on those
terms, Mr. Visigoth."

The veil of light from the sign fell upon her in the rigidity of her
pose and pallor. For some reason she was hugging one of the book-shaped
letter files, all the black out in her eyes.

He sat down, straddling the chair, his arms across the back and his chin
down upon them.

"Who are you?" he said, regarding her with the intense squint of one in
need of glasses.

She felt her power over the moment, and with her old slant for it began
to dramatize.

"I'm the grist being ground between yesterday and to-day. Sometimes I
think I must be some sort of an unfinished symphony which it will take
another generation to complete. I am a river and I long to be a sea. I
must be the grape between the vine of my family and the wine of my
progeny. That's it, I'm the grape fermenting!"

Then she felt absurd and looked absurd and stood there with the quick
fizzing spurt of exultation died down into a state of bathos.

"Let me stay on here on my terms, Mr. Visigoth," she finished with a
sort of broken-wing lameness of voice.

"What terms?"

"The terms you have been generous enough not to violate up to now. I've
the most glorious reason for wanting to make good that a girl--a woman
could have. I don't think the career stuff, as you once called it, is
rankling any more. I'm suddenly glad and quiet about my job. Let me stay
on. Let me make myself indispensable to this growing, interesting
enterprise of yours. Why, even watching the letters grow in numbers and
importance, and using the little individuality in handling them that you
are beginning to allow me, is a game worth playing! I'm like a bad girl
who has been spanked by life and is all chastened and ready to be good.
If you are the clever business man I think you are, you'll let me stay,
Mr. Visigoth, on my terms."

There was a shine to her there in the half light, probably because her
eyes were wide and the muscles of her face lifted so that her teeth
showed, but not in a smile.

"I played the game on your terms, Mr. Visigoth; now meet me on mine."

"Put your cards on the table, then; no fine flights of speech either.
Who are you?"

"I told you from the first I am a married woman, with nothing to be said
against my husband except that he was part of a condition that was
intolerable to me."

"Where is he?"

"West."

"Stage ambition, eh?"

"Yes or--I don't know. Too many ambitions of all kinds crawling over me
like a terrible itch, for God knows what. Fermenting. The grape
fermenting! But I'm quiet now. So quiet that sometimes I think I
wouldn't change it for even the--the singing wine of fulfillment. I
don't think I can make you understand. I seem to have been stretching
all these years for--for something my arm isn't quite long enough to
touch, and now my child--my little girl--"

"You have a child?"

"A little girl."

"How old?"

"Eleven weeks."

He looked at her across a long silence.

"Good God!" he said, and then again, "Good God."

"Yes," she said, watching belated comprehensions flood up into his face,
"that was it."

"You mean you had on your hands that night a--"

"Yes, a three-and-a-half-weeks-old one."

"You were broke?"

"Stony."

"Good God! You--poor--"

"I'm not pleading for your sympathy, Mr. Visigoth. Only a square deal.
Will you give it?"

He walked over to his desk, turning on a green-shaded bulb, the clip
back in his voice and manner.

"That will be all for this evening, Mrs. Parlow--"

"Penny."

"Mrs. Penny," he said, picking up a random sheaf of papers and not
meeting her eyes. "I want you to go over to Newark Monday afternoon and
bring back a report on an act over there; and, by the way, you are to
begin your new week in the booking department at twenty dollars."

She wanted to speak and her lips did move, but the tears anticipated
her, and, blink as she would, they sprang, magnifying her glance, and
besides, there were footsteps coming up the flight of stairs that led
from the stage entrance, and a young, a lean, a honed silhouette rather
suddenly in the doorway, the right side borne down by the pull of a
dress-suit case.

"R.J?" Peering into the gloom.

"Good Lord!" from the figure at the desk, leaning forward on the palm of
his hand. "That you, Bruce?"

They met center, gripping hands.

"When did you get in, youngster? Didn't expect you for another couple of
days."

"Just now. Took a chance on finding you here."

"Another five minutes and you wouldn't have."

"So these are the new diggings?"

"There is your desk."

He deposited his hat on the flat top indicated, his silhouette cutting
vigorously into the dimness, particularly the rather heavy double wave
to his hair causing Lilly to grope with a vague sense of having seen him
before. It was merely a rather remote resemblance to the remote Horace
Lindsley, but not for days did she stumble across this realization.

She knew, instinctively, even while she marveled at his youth and the
merest and most lightninglike resemblance to his brother, that here was
Bruce Visigoth, and what she did not know was that a certain throaty
resonance to his voice had a tendency to gooseflesh her and that quite
suddenly her eyes were very hot and her hands very cold.

"Well, R.J.," he was saying, and she noticed that his head came up with
a fine kind of young defiance, as if a pair of invisible Mercury wings
flowed with the sleek nap of his hair, "I'm for taking a chance on the
Buffalo lease. I stopped over yesterday and the little theater looks
good to me."

It was then Lilly began noiselessly to move toward the door.

"Oh--here--Mrs. Penny. My brother, Mrs. Penny. Sort of secretary on the
booking department, and a darn good one."

"How do you do, Mrs. Penny? Mighty pleased," he said, through the
resonance that had a little aftermath of a ting to it.

Her five fingers rather trailed along the palm of his hand as he slowly
released her.

"Thank you, Mr. Visigoth," she said, smiling up at him with her
eyebrows, pressing down her sailor hat, and hurrying toward the
staircase.

Outside, the darkness had the quality of cool water to her face. The
palm of her right hand and the tips of her fingers were tingling as if
they had been kissed.

She could have run before the wind.



CHAPTER IV

From now on for many a month to come, the curve of Lilly's life would
have shown a running festoon; six days whose uneventful continuity was
bearable because they were looped up by the rosette of the Sundays at
Spuyten Duyvil.

When Zoe was two years old this hebdomadal consciousness was already
borne upon her. Into her earliest vocabulary, as haphazard as if the
words had been dished up out of the alphabet of a vermicelli soup, crept
the word "Sunday," mysteriously boiled down to "Nunk," the first time
her mother heard it, the pride seeming to crowd around her heart, fairly
suffocating her.

As if the luster of this girl child could be any brighter, yet here was
the new shine of the mental beginning to radiate through. Nunk!

Was there any limit to this ecstasy of possession? It ran through her
days like a song.

It meant that while the home-going six-o'clock rush at Union Square,
which of face is the composite immobility of a dead Chinaman, would
presently cram into street cars and then deploy out into the
inhospitable cubbyholes of the most hospitable city in the world, Lilly,
even in her weariness, could be deterred by the lure of a curb vender
and a jumping toy dog. There was never a time or a weather that she
could pass, without pause, Westheim's Art Needlework Shop on Broadway
and its array of linen-lawn dainties, and, remarkably enough, the
purchase of the toy dog or a five-cent peppermint cane could send her
home with an actual physical refreshment as if she had slept off, rather
than cast off, fatigue.

She would line up during the week, Monday's toy dog, Tuesday's
peppermint cane, Wednesday's cap rosettes (fashioned out of five yards
of baby ribbon at one cent the yard), and so on to Saturday's climax of
bootines, and on one occasion a large circular wooden arrangement, a
sort of first aid to the first step, which she carried out herself,
standing with it on the train platform.

With her three months' running start, paid in advance and duly receipted
by Mrs. Dupree, Lilly's weekly expenditures, by the nicest calculation,
reduced themselves thus:

Room rent. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$2.50
Car fare (one round trip to Spuyten Duyvil). . . . . . . . .  .60
Breakfast (gas-jet boiled egg, an apple, three biscuits from
    a tin, and coffee) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .50
Lunch (milk, cereal, sandwich) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.50
Dinner (lamb or beef stew, green vegetable, pie, coffee.
    Tip) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.50
Laundry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .75
                                                            -----
                                                            $9.35

There were already forty-two dollars and sixty-eight cents hoarded in a
little biscuit tin in the depths of her valise, and out of it had come a
gift for Mrs. Dupree, a rather interesting relic of an old silver
thimble wrought in cunning filigree which she had bought in two payments
of seventy-five cents each, and largely by eliminating the pie for a
month, from a rapidly diminishing keep-chest of Ida Blair's.

A friendship had sprung up here, which, born out of the merest
propinquity, had sent down strong roots into the common ground
between them.

One or two nights they had attended the theater together, on orchestra
passes given out to them by one or the other of the Visigoths.

One Wednesday evening they saw the "School for Scandal" presented at the
Academy of Music, and once, just before the permanent departure of R.J.
for Chicago, he had tossed negligently across the desk a single balcony
ticket for Eames in "Faust."

"Here is something ought to keep one of you busy this rainy evening."

Ensued a highly feminine parley.

"Mrs. Blair, you take the ticket. Really, I'm too tired and I've some
sewing to do."

"Nonsense! You're musical and I'm not. Besides, it will do you a world
of good."

"I don't know," said Lilly, her lips giving a sensitive quiver. "I've
put it so out of my mind that it might only tantalize."

But in the end she did attend, seating herself, for the first time in
her life, in the F-minor, the perfumed twilight of the Metropolitan
Opera House, just as the velvet curtains swished sibilantly apart.

Day was breaking, and in all the passion and churchiness of Gounod, the
student calls for death, the echoes of human happiness rustling through
the background like the scything sound of harvesting.

Lilly could scarcely breathe for the poignancy of sensation. She was all
throat. Faust's opening greeting to the dawn, his challenge to
happiness, pierced her. She sat forward on her chair, anticipating the
lyrical vision of Marguerite, her hands clasped over the handle of her
wet umbrella, and her knees crowded up unconsciously about its dampness.

She bought the libretto, humming down into it between acts and leaping
ahead to verify her memory of the score.

Poor Lilly, it is doubtful if she was by endowment more than a lovely
melomaniac doomed never to emerge from her musical primaries. A mere
tonal accord could assail her nostrils like a perfume set to music. And
yet her quick ear, though, was not exact. Her capacity for fine vocal
distinctions in her own singing had been distinctly limited, and a note
landing just this side of itself could drop down into her state of
ecstatic coma with hardly a plop. She had neither capacity for
exactitude nor tireless fidelity to tone. It made her neck ache. She had
never graduated from musical sensation to cerebration; a theme washed
her over with all the voluptuous abandon of a Henner sea siren letting
the water tickling up the beach to roll over her lightly.

There was unrest in the balcony because Faust was singing through
laryngitis and a cloud of fog in his throat. A critic who wrote in terms
of elliptical rhythms and tonal arabesques tiptoed out for a smoke. One
of those sympathetic fits of coughing swept the house. But Lilly sat
hunched in her habitual beatific attitude against the chair back, the
old opera flowing back to her in association that caught her at
the tonsils.

"Lilly, play that over, the left hand alone."

"Oh, mamma, mamma!"

That blue challis wrapper shotted with pink rosebuds.

"Lilly, play that over."

Eames down there flinging up the "Jewel Song" like a curve of gold. Her
place!

She half rose to her feet.

Down in front!

She sat again, but a sudden, an inexplicable sense of wanting to plunge
from the height of the balcony seized her. It had been so long since the
old neuralgic stabbings of spirit. She wanted to jump and had a
ludicrous vision of herself landing down in the cream of white shoulders
and crashing through the U of one of those immaculate shirt fronts. She
could have torn and scratched the indestructibility of her failure and
wanted suddenly and terribly to wrap those pearl-twined taffy braids
around the rising throat of Marguerite as she sprayed the auditorium
with the "Jewel Song," a great fire hose of liquid music finding out
every cranny.

In the deep-napped velvet of this melodious darkness Lilly rose
suddenly, pushing her way out through knee-impeded aisles and a string
of protestations.

An usher helped her to find a door. She ran down several flights and
into a side street. A slant of rain met her and she charged into it with
bent head and umbrella. Bubbles with a tap of sleet in them exploded
like little torpedoes on the sidewalks, curbs were rushing water, and
Broadway was as black and oily-looking as a foundry. She tried to
visualize it as she had seen it that first morning from her window at
the Hudson Hotel, pink with sun.

The picture would not conjure, and finally, because her shoes were full
of bubbles and her damp skirt clung and hindered walking, she boarded a
street car and sat looking out of the water-lashed windows, her throat
full of little moans like the song of a kettle just about to boil.

When she reached home there was an envelope beneath her door. It
contained a snapshot picture of herself and Zoe taken by Mrs. Dupree
one Sunday afternoon. Still wet, she sat down with it on the bed edge.
Against a background of shrub and stone steps Lilly was little more than
a blur, but Zoe, with five little fingers dug into her cheek, leaped
from the picture, all her dimples out.

The mood induced by the opera fell off like a cloak, a warm, easy tear
splashing right down on the adorable little face. She wiped it off ever
so painstakingly, holding the little print up to the gas to dry.

Then she stood it up on the table so she could gaze down and smile while
she undressed, and even placed it on the floor as she leaned down to
unlace her shoes. She climbed into bed with it under her pillow, but
rose in the darkness to transfer it, against crumpling, beneath
the mattress.

She went to sleep right off with a little smile on her lips, as if the
picture had kissed it there, but it was many a day, sixteen years, in
fact, before she could be induced to enter the Metropolitan Opera House
again, and then only in the most crowded hour of her life.



CHAPTER V

Quite a friendship was thriving between Lilly and Mrs. Blair. The older
woman had opened the door to her upon that family skeleton, one of
which, by the way, lurks in the cupboards of most of us--the unproduced
play! This one, a sketch called "The Web," read by Lilly and even placed
by her with a written word of appreciation on Robert Visigoth's desk.

He carried it with him to Chicago, mailing it back one day without
comment.

"Just the same, there is a corking idea there. You ought to develop it
into a long play, Mrs. Blair."

"I will some day," she replied, with a cryptic something in her voice
that Lilly was only to understand a year later.

One spring evening, that year later, as she and Mrs. Blair sat in her
small room beside the open window that looked out over the twilighted
rear of housetops, Lilly was induced to sing, quietly, almost under her
breath, sitting there on the floor with her hands clasped about her
knees, her invariable shirt waist and dark-blue skirt discarded for a
pleasant sense of negligée in a pink cotton-crêpe kimono, her hair
flowing with the swift sort of rush peculiar to it.

They had just completed, as a relief from the nightly round of lunch
rooms, a wood-alcohol meal of canned baked beans, cheese, crackers, and
tinned sweet cakes. Even Mrs. Blair, at an age when the years are at
the throat of a woman, shriveling it, had opened her blouse at the neck,
revealing an unsuspected survival of its whiteness.

Lilly sang "Jocelyn," a lullaby dimmed in her memory by the mist of
years and full of inaccuracies. She had last sung it at Flora Kemble's.

It lay on the twilight after she had finished.

"How pretty! Why don't you let one of the Visigoths hear you? It might
lead to something."

"Robert V. has heard me."

"Well, I don't pretend to be a judge of music, but considering your
youth and looks and when I see the kind of thing that does get across--"

"I know. I used to feel that way about it, too--hot, rebellious--but,
somehow, not any more. Strange that it should have taken my child to
show me. I realized it last winter when I heard Eames. I simply hadn't
it to give, except in desire. Why, her voice--it seemed to climb up
around an invisible spiral staircase to the stars; and that wasn't all!
There was something so richly colored through it--like the candy stripe
through a crystal. I know now--and I'm glad I know--that my ambition was
bigger than my talent."

"I suppose that is what you thought about me, too, when you read my
sketch."

"No, no. I admit I did think it amateurish, but there is an idea in 'The
Web.' Almost as if you had lived it yourself and had written it in
blood. Besides, you know the secret of concentration; it shows in your
work at the office. I couldn't stick night after night over one of those
trial balances of yours. I'd throw it over. I've never in my life really
worked for anything. Even as a child I used to cheat myself--move the
clock; hadn't that sublime capacity for grind. That was part of the
lack. How clear it all seems now!"

"The cruelest clarity in the world is wisdom after the event."

"Oh, but I wouldn't have one thing different! It simply wasn't in me to
want badly enough, and therefore I didn't attain. But I know--I know,
Mrs. Blair, that there is a logic running somewhere through it all.
Nothing has been in vain. I'm out on a highroad now with open running
ahead. I'm going to rear her into a superwoman. She is my song, Zoe!
There is logic, I tell you, Mrs. Blair--straight through the apparent
mix-up. Off somewhere in Corsica a vine is putting down roots that there
may be wine in somebody's glass some day. The vine. The grape.
The wine."

"The vine. The grape. The wine."

"Don't you understand now a little better, Mrs. Blair, why this poor
little fermenting grape couldn't stay on the vine?"

"You've told me so little, dear."

"More than I've ever told a living soul. There's one thought I love to
carry about with me about Zoe. She was born out of captivity. No Chinese
shoes for her little mind or her little soul or body. I'm vague about it
now, just as I'm half crystallized about everything. But this time my
will to do is unlimited and unfaltering! Her whole life is going to be a
growth toward fulfillment of self. I want life to dawn upon her in great
truths, not in ugly shocks and realizations. She is a plant and I am her
trellis toward the light. Do you see? Do you? I may be as wrong as you
think I am, Mrs. Blair--terribly, irrevocably wrong--but I wouldn't take
her back there into that--that--sedentary fatness--I wouldn't--"

A musing sort of silence had fallen into a gloom that was thickening
into darkness.

"The more I see of your case, Lilly, the less I understand it. To think
of anyone in this world of suffering deliberately bringing it upon
herself. Why, my dear, it isn't any of my business, but when I think of
those parents of yours out there, comprehending nothing, and that poor
bewildered husband of yours, I could cry for them."

"Do you think I don't, Mrs. Blair, whole nightfuls of tears? Why,
yesterday at the Library in my home paper I saw a little local notice of
my mother's euchre club meeting at our house--it was a knife,
somehow--the pain of it--"

"I'm not saying so much about the husband, only, God knows why a woman
should throw away a life-time of protection just because a man chews
with his temples and--"

"Surely you haven't taken that literally! I only tried to symbolize for
you that the unimportant mannerisms that may even delight in one person
can become monstrosities in another. Oh, I haven't made you
understand--"

"Yes, dear child, you have made me understand this much. What a fine
sense of satire the power behind the throne of the world must have. Take
me--that first little two-by-four home of mine over in a back street of
Newark. Talk to me of freedom! I married to get away from it. Somebody
who cared whether I came or went. Somebody who cared enough to want to
restrict me."

"Ah yes, but--"

"We had a little house on Dayton Street; must have been a hundred years
old, with funny little leaded panes and a staircase rising out of the
parlor to a queer old box of a bedroom with slant walls. We painted the
floors ourselves and Lon did the doors in burntwood. He had a feeling
for the artistic, Lon had. That was the way we met--that was--the
way--we--met."

"How?"

"He was a police sergeant then, and I was bookkeeping for the time for
Metz Producing Company. Lon used to drop in once in a while for passes.
Then he got to waiting for me evenings with little pencil drawings of
all the funny things that had happened to him during the day. I was
strong for him to get off the force and take up art, but even then, now
that I look back on it, I can see that Lon was fed up on propositions
that it was driving him half mad to resist. That in itself should have
put me on my guard, but it didn't. I don't know why I'm telling you
all this--"

"Go on."

"Oh, I must have known in a way that Lon was drinking in his effort to
keep his eyes shut to the bribe money that could have come his way. He
never came home to me under the influence, but toward--the end--his eyes
began to glassen up. I was all for getting his beat changed. You see, it
took him down into the gang and red-light districts. More than that, I
had my heart set on seeing him off the force altogether. I wanted to
keep my position for a year or two after we were married and send him to
Paris to study art. I've some cartoons in my trunk. That boy would have
made good as--Well, it didn't happen. I blame myself. Marriage made a
great baby of me, Lilly. You see, I'd never been coddled in my life--all
those years of struggle on my own. Well I just turned soft and he loved
to baby me. Why, when I went back to bookkeeping I had to learn it all
over like a beginner--that's how wrapped up I became in that little
home of ours!"

"How long, Mrs. Blair, did you live in it?"

"Fourteen months and five days. It was a tiny place and we didn't have
much to spend at first, but what I had I managed to good advantage. Lon
hated makeshift. He couldn't get the fun out of simplicity that I could.
He wanted to dress me up. He wanted a big house. Big. Everything big.
That was his undoing. That's what they called him in the Ring, I learned
later, 'Gentleman Lon.' And I never knew there was a Ring! Never knew
the filthy inside workings of the graft game existed. That's the way he
protected me from everything ugly--from poverty. Me, that had never been
protected from either. O God! if he'd only been truthful with me those
last few months. I--I can't talk about it--I--"

"Then don't, dear Mrs. Blair, I didn't mean to--"

"He began bringing home more money than was natural, but he always
explained it--a tip from a bucket shop on his beat--extra duty. If I had
been right strong those days I might have suspected. Once he walked the
floor all night, said it was a toothache, my poor boy! and let me fix a
hot-water bottle for him. Then two men came one evening and there was
some loud talk down in the parlor and I heard words like 'squeal' and
'gangsters.' He told me when he came upstairs that one of them was
Eckstein. But how was I to know who Eckstein was? Didn't, until I heard
it was he who had been--shot. I--You see, the captain had closed in on
Eckstein's place because of a personal grudge, and Eckstein came
running to Lon to save him. Threatened to squeal on Lon--on the whole
business--if he didn't. Lon was hot-headed--got frightened--lost his
head. O God! I don't know what--never will know--"

"Know--what?"

"That evening he stayed home and helped me fix up the nursery. Yes, I
was expecting in the spring. That's why he was so for keeping things
from me. We painted the woodwork white and gave a couple of coats to a
little brown crib I had picked up second hand. He was for buying an
enameled one on casters--he loved the best. Next night--next
night--he--didn't come home--and at eight o'clock the following morning
the extras were on the street--about the killing. Even then I didn't tie
up--Lon and Eckstein. O God! God! how could I--"

"Tie up what? Who?"

"He was a cat's-paw, Lilly. Never believe otherwise. My boy was caught
and trapped in the filthy cesspool of politics. There are men in this
city--men whom I named at the trial, all the good it did me, living and
prospering for doing worse than my boy died for. You wouldn't know of my
boy, Lilly; you were too young then. The whole country knew him, eleven
years ago. Lon Elaine. It's easier Blair; no questions asked. It was the
beginning of a cleanup that my boy blazed the way for. He went to the
gallows, Lilly--my boy--"

"No! No!"

"He died a gunman. Thank God his child was born dead. But he lies in my
heart, Lilly like a saint washed clean. He sinned for love, and because
stronger forces than he wanted him for a tool. May every man on his jury
live to carry that truth to his grave. He killed in self-defense and he
sinned for love. I'll exonerate him in a play, yet! I will! I'll tell
them! I'll tell them!"

Told without hysteria, her tale had almost a droning quality on the
twilight. She was grim in her tragedy, and her lips were as twisted and
dried as paint tubes, yet Lilly crept closer, laying her cheek rather
timidly against the corduroyed one.

"Ida Blair," she said. "I see now. 'The Web'! Oh--Ida Blair."

They fell silent, the two of them, dry-eyed, cheek to cheek, drowning
back into a long twilight that finally blackened.

"I don't know why I've told you all this. It's been ten years since I've
talked it. But your telling me that you threw it all over--that little
home out there, and a man that was driving down deeply the stakes of his
home--threw it over because the black spot from his collar button made
you feel hysterical--Oh, I tell you there is a grin through the scheme
of things. A laugh. What old man Metz used to call a belly laugh."

Chin cupped in hand, Lilly stared out into a back yard that was filled
with the tulle of winding mist, the lighted rear windows of the houses
opposite blurry, as if seen through tears.

"Just the same," she said, her lips in the straight line peculiar to
this not infrequent reiteration, "I'd do the same if I had it to do
over again."

"How do you know that some day your child is not going to turn upon you
with the bitterest reproaches?"

"She won't; she's too much like me. That is why it is going to be
something sublime to have the rearing of her. It is going to be like
living my life over again the way I once dreamed it. I know even now
what she wants, before she puckers up her little lips for it. Of course,
you are right--he--they have the right to know. But take the shine off
that creature? Clip the wings of her spirit? Fatten her little soul back
there in that sluggish environment? She'd hate it as I hated! Oh you
must have seen for yourself that Sunday I took you out there. The little
live stars in her eyes. The plunge and rear to her little body. Never!
She's mine! We two! Out on the open road!"

"I shouldn't want the responsibility of rearing my child in a paid
institution if I had better to offer."

"I haven't better! I've proved to myself, Mrs. Blair, to what limit I
would go to--to save her from back there. Proved it--horribly! No--no,
she's mine. No, not even mine. She belongs to herself. As soon as her
little brain is ready to take it in, she shall decide; but until
then--she's mine."

"Lilly--Lilly--a father ignorant of his child!"

"They'd suck us back, I tell you! Self-preservation even against family
is a first law of life! Owls eat their young! So can human beings feed
on the thing they love. It's not these first years would matter. But
ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. They would hitch her vision, not to
a star, but to a--a tin dipper. You don't understand. You know it seems
to me, Mrs. Blair, that most people, women, anyhow, are like great big
houses with only half the rooms in use. The mentality closed up and
musty from disuse because they have never found or made the keys. I want
my child to live roundly--in all her mental rooms. What is the use
closing off any part of a house that was meant for light and sunshine? I
want her to know the world she lives in from attic to cellar. The good
from the bad, so that, knowing the bad, she can love more the good. The
right to live!"

"You're for woman's rights. You're one of those suffragists."

"I guess I am if woman's rights mean more breadth, more beauty, more
realization of our latent selves. Oh, I don't know what I mean. That's
been my curse."

In the darkness Mrs. Blair put up a hand to the sheen of Lilly's flowing
hair.

"You poor child! You funny girl. You need--"

"What?"

"The right man to sweep you off your feet."

"I knew you were going to say that. No, you're wrong. I'm not
essentially a man's woman, Mrs. Blair. Sex isn't even as big a part of
my life as it is of most women's. I can't flirt. I haven't an ounce of
coquetry in me. I think I almost hate--"

"You mean you hate what your experience has been. The right man for you,
dear, a man with enough of the materialist to hold you in check and
enough of youth and vision and ideals to soar with you. No, no, you
don't hate him, Lilly."

"Why--why--who?"

"Oh, I've seen it flash between the two of you. I've watched it being
silently born. Lilly child, look at me!"

"Why, Mrs. Blair! Why--Mrs. Blair! I've never seen him outside of office
hours in my life. I never laid eyes on him until he walked in that night
from Chicago. Why, I--I'm a married woman! He's younger--than I--a year!
He knows there is Zoe. He sent her up a little hobbyhorse from the
property room. Why, Mrs. Blair--of course if you look at me
like--that--"

She was suddenly in the older woman's arms, a passionate, a peony red
flooding her face and waving down her words. She was all for further
resistance, but her denial had taken on an archness for which she
somehow blushed.

Besides, it was suddenly delicious to huddle there, tingling in the
darkness.



CHAPTER VI

There were a quality of voice, of eye, and a fine, upstanding rush of
sooty black hair which he tried to japan down with a pair of swift
military brushes, in the way of woman's safest judgment of
Bruce Visigoth.

By the quieter kinetics of his own sex, he was a man's man. He
commingled easily in his clubs, a university, a Mask and Wig, a Long
Island Canoe, and the Gramercy. Preceding his brother in this last and
later proposing him.

The resemblance between the two was neither of form nor of feature.
Rather, it was fleeting as a wing; in fact, was just that. There was
something in the batting of the eye, a slant of lid, that showed the
mysterious corpuscles of the same blood asserting themselves. Yet it was
more the likeness of father and son; the older man shorter, wider of
thigh, and with none of that fleet, rather sensitive lift of head,
partly because his neck was shorter and not upflung as if so sensitive
to the very rush of air that the flanges of the nostrils quivered.

There was a more nervous organization to Bruce that gave him something
of the startled look of wild horse, particularly with the laid-back
Mercury wing effect to his hair.

In anger Robert had a répertoire of oaths that stained the air like the
trail of a wounded shark, his pupils receding to points and his mouth
pulling to an oblique.

Bruce, if anything, whitened and quieted. He had once, with hardly more
than a lightning lunge, broken a truck driver's wrist in an office
altercation over some manhandled scenery, and gone home rather sick
because the fellow's opened cheek had bled down over his desk.

His office manner was clipped, brisk, and highly impersonal. He
cultivated a little mustache to enhance that manner, yet the two
sixteen-year-old girls who pasted clippings into scrap books spitted
their curls for him, and, since his advent, even Ida Blair had discarded
her eye shade.

In moments of high pressure he stuttered slightly, grinding and whirring
over a sibilant like a stalled tire. Upon one occasion that was to be
memorable Lilly sat between the brothers, notebook in lap, her head bent
to dodge the fusillade of high words passing over it.

It was her third year in a firm that had not slipped a cog. She had
likened its growth to her child's--fine--sturdy--normal. There were
seven theaters now, lying at points between New York and Denver, a
quickening nervous system of them with New York its ganglia. An eighth
had just been acquired, through which transaction she had endured with a
vicarious anxiety that amazed her. There had been arduous after office
hours of deed, mortgage, and bill of sale, and to growing demands had
invested herself with power of notary public, proclaiming the same in a
neat sign above her desk.

It was the day of the consummation of this last deal, a Bronx Family
Theater, in fact, that occurred between the brothers one of those
bloodless chasms no wider than a sword blade, but hilt-deep.

After a morning series of conferences with two representatives of
Philadelphia capital and the vice president of a Surety Guarantee
Company, Lilly in her new capacity thumping down on document after
document that slid beneath her punch, the transfer was completed, and,
bursting out into the corridor, rather hoyendish with elation, she drew
up shortly to avoid collision with Robert Visigoth, himself still warm
with the occasion.

"Well," he said, slapping the side pockets of his waistcoat, "we pulled
it off, didn't we?" The possibility of an evening train back to Chicago
and of a big deal creditably accomplished quickening his well-being.

"Indeed we did!" she replied, heartily.

More and more, on these intermittent visits of his, the icy edge of her
self-consciousness was beginning to thaw. Probably because the years had
done their sebaceous worst with him. Somehow he had receded behind the
dumpling of himself.

"Have you seen this one of Rufus II, Mrs. Penny? I want to show you a
picture of a youngster with some kick to him. Look at those legs,
will you!"

He had married, three years previous, a Miss Hindle Higginbothom, the
only child of a Chicago leaf-lard magnate of household-word kind of
fame, and brother-in-law to his father's one-time law partner, O.J.
Higginbothom.

For three years now, as if caught in a suet destiny, he had lived in the
Lake Shore mansion of his father-in-law, making the Western city his
official headquarters for as long as seven and eight-month periods.
Ten, the year his first child was born.

Often his wife accompanied him on his trips to New York. She was an
enormous girl, looking ten years her senior, but with that fat kind of
prettiness which asserts itself so often in clear skin and
apple cheeks.

Her capitulation to matrimony, rather than to Robert Visigoth, was
complete. She was one of those inevitable mothers with little broody
household ways that no immense wealth could dissipate. The first year
there were twins. One of them died, but annually thereafter, until there
were six, she presented a chuckling grandfather with a literal heir.
Literal, because on each such nativity old Rufus Higginbothom, who had
found it easier to make millions than to learn to write, signed his
famous "X" to a five-hundred-thousand-dollar check of greeting to the
new arrival.

Robert Visigoth carried photographs of his babies and wife in a leather
pocket portfolio, referring to it constantly and with a great show of
casualness, "Oh, by the way, have I ever shown you--"

Lilly returned this to him now, with a rush of amused pleasure at the
bouncing rotundities of his newest born.

"He's a darling!"

"He was a little croupy before I left and I'm taking that six-three for
Chicago, Mrs. Penny, and I wonder if you would do something for me. I'm
caught empty-handed. Would you take a cab down to Ryan and Steger's (the
wife says they are the best for stouts) and select me a couple of right
nobby waists for her? Get the best, and you know pretty much about size.
The largest--you know. A few pairs of black silk stockings, extra
quality and extra size, would be nice, too. It would save me
considerable rush."

"I'll do my best."

"Well, that will be a darn sight better than the wife's when it comes
to clothes. She gets them tubby. Pick out something slick--on the order
of what you've got on."

"Why, this is only a two-dollar blouse!"

He flipped her a one-hundred-dollar bill.

"Don't come back with any change."

Late in the afternoon of this day which had transmitted its tremor of
large transaction throughout the offices, long since partitioned off
into ground-glass cells and softened with sound-eating rugs, Lilly was
summoned to the office of R.J., carrying with her the box containing her
purchases. Bruce was there, too, pacing between windows.

He met her up with an immediate inquiry.

"Mrs. Penny, did you go up to see that 'June Blossom' sketch last
night?"

"Yes. I'm writing my report on it."

Constantly now requests like this were tossed in the form of a pair of
tickets on her desk.

"Well?"

"Sweet, clean, and obvious."

He nodded in a short corroborative manner he had, drawing up alongside
the desk.

"Take a telegram, please. 'Mr. Sam Sadler, People's Theater, Cleveland,
Ohio. Book _June Blossom_ for week of nineteenth.' And now if you'll
sign and stamp this mortgage after my brother and I sign."

The box proved cumbersome, so before she took up pen she held it out to
R.J.

"The blouses," she said. "There is a blue and a maroon. I hope Mrs.
Visigoth is going to like them. And here is the change."

"That's mighty fine," he said, smiling until a second chin appeared. "A
trinket or two up his sleeve gives a fellow a right to ring his own
door bell."

He reached then, fumbling at the hasps of his alligator bag which stood
by, opening it out and stooping to insert the package.

Simultaneously, as the mouth of that valise yawned, the two men leaped
forward so that their heads came together resoundingly and absurdly, but
not before the bag had exposed its surface articles: a pair of
tortoise-shell military brushes, a packet of documents, and a precious
silver and lapis-lazuli box about the dimensions of a playing card, the
kind usually dedicated to such elusive addenda as stamps, collar
buttons, or sewing box in a lady's overnight bag.

From where she sat, shorthand book open, pencil poised, Lilly had
observed it quite casually, although it was some time before she could
co-ordinate it with what ensued.

Suddenly there was the flash of the two men to their feet, R.J., an
ox-blood surging into his face, kicking shut the valise, his brother
whitening and quivering.

"Why did you lie about that box!"

"What do you mean?" said Robert, through his teeth, his color so livid
that teeth and eyeballs seemed to whiten.

His voice like the splitting of silk, Bruce plunged down a pointing
forefinger toward the bag.

"Open that up," he said.

"The hell I will."

With one swift stroke from the lighter and lither of them, the bag was
on its side, spilling its contents of tortoise-shell hair brushes and
the silver box, Bruce standing above it, tightening of jaw and knuckles.

"Liar!" he cried. "Liar!"

To Lilly it seemed that out of these years of apparently placid
relationship, with something avuncular, even of father and son in it,
here were suddenly and terribly Cain and Abel, elemental with an itch
for each other's throat.

"Say that again, by God! and you'll regret it."

"Liar! Liar!" he reiterated over and over, standing and towering over
the spilling bag. "Why did you lie to me about that box? Three years ago
I asked you for it. The spring after her death. Just before the auction.
Wasn't it sufficient that I let you and Pauline settle her personal
effects between you? Only that little box--somehow I wanted it. Father
gave it to her the first Christmas of their marriage. She always kept it
on her table. You were welcome to all the rest between you. All I asked
for was that little box of mother's. And to think that yesterday, the
anniversary of her death, I mentioned it again. Liar! Liar! Lost! Never
been found among her effects! Bah! Liar! It's a little thing, a trinket
that she loved, but I wanted it. You hear, I wanted that trinket. She
used to keep jelly beans in it for me when I came in from school. It's
little--the littlest thing that ever happened between us, but it's the
meanest, and God knows in my dealings with you all my life there have
been enough of the little meannesses to contend with. But you have won
your last mean little advantage outside this office. You and I can play
the cards in business, particularly when we play them six hundred miles
apart and where it is a case of man to man out on the mat. But outside
this office we play quits! There aren't going to be any more nasty
little personal issues with you, because there aren't going to be any
at all. You're a liar and a hundred per cent bigger one over that little
trinket of a box than if the stakes had been bigger. You hate to give,
unless it's so much for so much. Your sense of fairness is vile! It's
penny mean! Liar!"

With a lowering of head Robert lunged then, his lips dragged to an
oblique, threads of red cut in his eyeballs.

"Eat those words or, by God! I'll ram them down your throat."

"The hell I will."

"Gentlemen!"

They were crowded against the door, their breathing flowing against each
other's face, gestures uplifted.

Her eyes black and her notebook crushed up to her, Lilly's voice rang
out like the crack of a whip, springing them apart. There were a
whiteness and a sense of emptiness upon her and she wanted to crumple up
rather sickly and cry, as if the blows had been diverted to her.

They were suddenly and quiveringly themselves again, the panther laid.

"You'll rue this," said Robert, walking back with some uncertainty of
step to his desk, his eyes still slits.

Bruce lifted the box rather tenderly, even with the greeny pallor of his
rage still out and his features straining for composure.

"I'll have it valued and send you a check--"

"Damn you!" With snarl-shaped lips the older brother lunged again, this
time their bodies meeting and swaying for clutch.

"Bruce!"

The use of his given name, the curdled quality to her voice, had their
way. There was a moment of blank staring between the two men, of Bruce
placing the box gently on the desk and walking out without slamming the
door, and Robert sinking down into the swivel chair, trying to bring the
oblique pull of his lips back to straight.

"Get out," he said, without looking at her.

She did, tiptoeing and fighting down the sense of sickness.

And thus, out of a bauble of silver and lapis lazuli, was reared a tower
of silence between these brothers as high as fifteen years is long.
Large affairs for their joint unraveling lay ahead, dramatic in their
magnitude. The Union Square Family Theater was very presently to become
first a tawdry, then a discarded link in the glittering chain of
playhouses that was to gird the country.

Toward this end R.J. and Bruce Visigoth steered, with an impeccable
oneness of purpose, the destinies of an enterprise audacious in its
concept and ultimately to be spectacular in its fulfillment.

But outside the sharply defined inclosures of their business lives, the
brothers went down into a wordless vale of fifteen years of
estrangement, not in enmity, but rather as a hatpin, plunged through the
heart, can kill, bloodlessly.



CHAPTER VII

When Lilly put on her hat outside in the now darkening and deserted
offices, it seemed to her that the roar of men's passions was a gale
through the silence. Quite irrelevantly she was clutched with a terror
of catastrophe. The possibility of fire! Only last week there had been a
devastating one in a children's hospital out in Columbus, Ohio. She beat
down these flames of fear. Yet what strange and horrible passions lay
just a scratch beneath the surface of the day-by-days. A little girl
aged four had once been found battered and dead beside a farm hand's
dinner pail in St. Louis County! Suddenly all the faces she could
conjure began to form staring circles around her--the Visigoths. Minnie
Dupree. Ida Blair. Auchinloss. Phonzie. Phonzie!

She decided to walk fast and long and ran downstairs out into the little
areaway that ran like an alley from stage entrance to sidewalk. A newly
installed nickelodeon, adjoining, was already lighted, throwing out a
hard white shine and tinned music at the instance of five cents in the
slot. In the glaring pallor Bruce Visigoth was suddenly at her side, his
felt hat bunched up in his hand and his hair wet-looking, as if drenched
with perspiration.

"I couldn't let you go without apologizing, Mrs. Penny."

She smiled with lips that would pull to the nervous impulse to cry.

"The idea!" she said, feeling the words tawdry and provincial as they
came.

"It was my fault for permitting it to happen in the presence of a third
party--you especially."

"Those things cannot always be avoided," again biting down into her
tongue for its banality.

"Will you forget it as if it had never occurred?"

She turned her gaze, that could be so singularly clear, full upon him.

"It is already forgotten."

Strangely enough and with unspoken accord they took to walking then at a
clip that was almost a rush and created quite a wind in their faces. It
was their first meeting out of office and here they were half running
through a cool and winey half darkness and utterly without destination.

She stopped abruptly at West Fourteenth Street, beyond the thunder of
the Sixth Avenue Elevated and where the sky line began to dip down
toward the piers.

"Good night," she said, throwing back her head to look up at him from
under the low brim of sailor.

He whipped off his resiliently soft hat, hugging it under one arm.

"Of course," he said, "of course," mopping at his forehead and so
unstrung that she could have laughed. "I'm sorry. I beg your pardon. Is
this where you live?"

They were before a greasily lighted taxidermist's window of mounted
raccoon, fox terrior with legs curled for running, and an owl on
a branch.

"No," she said, eying the owl, "I don't live here," and were both off
into a gale of laughter that swept down the barriers of self-restraint.

"We've both been walking it off," she said, easily. "Here is where I
turn for home."

He caught her hand.

"D-don't go. I'd be so grateful--so grateful if you'd have dinner with
me to-night."

"Nonsense!" she said, amazed at her fluency of manner. "You're a bit
unstrung, that's all. Look in at your club or a show."

"Please."

"All right," she said, suddenly, on a little click of teeth. "I'll
come--this once."

"You're a brick," he cried, releasing her hand with a grateful pressure.

She was excited out of all proportions to the event, flushing up with a
sense of adventure and crowded moment.

He began to scan for a cab.

"Let's walk."

"Not a bit of it," bringing one down with a cane. "We're out on a
party."

"But--"

"No buts," helping her in and climbing in after. "Waldorf."

"I'm too shirtwaisted."

"Nothing of the kind. You're as trim as a dime. I like those waists you
wear. They make you look smooth--shining. That's it, you've a shine
to you."

The odor of another drive in an open cab through this same snarl of
traffic was winding about her like mist. That doctor's outer office with
its row of thoughtful chairs. Rembrandt's "Night-Watch." That frenzied
moment of finding the lock! The run up two flights. She sat forward on
the slippery leather seat.

"I--I shouldn't have come."

"If you're serious, of course I'll take you home. But I can't tell you
how much I want you not to feel that way."

She sat back again.

"I'm behaving like a shop girl."

They both laughed again and complete thaw set in.

He selected one of the lesser dining rooms where the formality of
evening clothes was still the rule, but here and there a couple like
themselves, in street attire. It was her first New York meal that was
not read off a badly thumbed menu and eaten off thick-lipped china. A
stringed orchestra played the Duo of Parsifal and Kundry, which was
enough to set the blood rocking in her veins and some of its bombastic
maternal passion to dye her face.

He ordered a man's dinner: Clear soup with croûtons. Long oysters on the
half shell. A thick steak with potatoes deliciously concocted beneath a
crust of cheese. Light wine. Ices in long glasses as slender as the neck
of a crane. Turkish coffee brewed at the table over alcohol.

She sighed out finally, warm with well-being: "I didn't realize how
deadly tired I was of just--grub. You see, it's the first time I've
dined at a first-class place since I'm in New York."

"You don't mean that."

She nodded, smiling.

"I think I'm as surprised as you are. It's just one of the things that
never occurred to me."

He regarded her for a long moment and without smile.

"You queer, queer girl."

"If anyone tells me that again, I'll begin to believe it is my
inevitable epitaph."

"No epitaph is inevitable. It is what you write it."

She leaned her chin into the cup of her palm.

"Do you think that?"

"Yes, and therefore yours should embody courage and dauntless idealism
and love of truth."

She looked off through the atmosphere that was talcy with soft odors and
the warm perfume of bare shoulders.

"Love of truth," she said, her eyes lit, "would be enough."

"Love of you, would be an epitaph to my liking."

She was afraid he could see the little beating at her throat and wanted
to be facetious. Poor Lilly, to whom persiflage came none too readily.

"Now, you're making sport of me."

"Probably it is a case of laugh that I may not weep."

"Even tears can be idle."

"Or idolizing."

"I suppose I am to surmise over the quality of yours?"

"Well, you have had me guessing for three years. Mrs. Penny. Lilly! I
can't say the other, it--won't s-say itself."

She asked her question with a cessation of her entire being, as if her
heart had missed a beat.

"Hasn't--your--brother--told--you--anything?"

"Oh yes. I know how you threw over the professional end of it for what
you decided you could do better. I thought that pretty plucky; so many
of us mistake inflated judgment for genius and stubbornness for
perseverance, when that same perseverance applied to the job within
one's capacity may lead to fine fulfillment."

"It's good to hear you say that."

"But that is about all I do know--Lilly--except, of course, that there
is a youngster and somewhere in the background a husband whom I would
like to meet out some dark night when I happen to be wearing my favorite
pair of brass knuckles."

Something nameless and shapeless had lifted; there was a gavotte to her
heartbeat.

"My husband was--is a good man."

"But not a wise one if he couldn't hold a creature like you."

"And my child! You talk about shine! Of course I know it is only her
hair and eyes and now her little teeth, but sometimes it seems to me
there is an actual iridescence to her. Just as real as the gold circlets
the Italians loved to paint about heads they adored."

"Your head is--"

"You see, the fuzz of her curls gives that effect. Those new
stereopticon views that move, that we used on the bills last week, show
it--that aura off the hair. Even the nurses and Mrs. Dupree have
remarked Zoe's. She's really the show child of the place, you know."

"By inheritance?"

"No. She's only like me about the eyes, and like--him--in the honey
color of her hair. Hers is as brilliant and curly as mine is dull and
smooth. And she's so big. So golden and burstingly big. I can't look at
her without fairly gasping, 'can this be mine'!"

"And to think a man let you go, once he had you captured."

"He didn't let go. I went. I can never hear him referred to slightingly
without feeling myself a rotter not to explain. My husband was so
terribly all he should have been, Mr. Visigoth. As decent and
God-fearing a man as ever--chewed his beefsteak with his temples."

He threw back his head for one of his sustained laughs.

"It's horrid of me to belittle him. Let me explain further."

"Lord! you don't need to. I know everything about him there is to know.
A fine, hefty truck horse trying to do teamwork with a red-nostriled
filly."

"I--I think that's it--I've never been able to get it across to anyone
before, but--"

"He was just cast wrong. That's all there is to be said against the
chap. Right?"

"Exactly."

"I understand. In a way I'm in a similar position with my own brother.
Only, I've stuck it out because it was my mother's great wish to see us
get on together. After what you have observed these years, particularly
to-day, none of this can be particularly new to you."

"I've noticed, of course, you--you're different."

"It is the little things about Robert I cannot swallow. Never could. He
is the better business man and keeps my head out of the clouds, but many
a time I've wanted to duck these years of apprenticeship and produce the
things I believe in. I will some day, but that is another story. Robert
has vision. His sense of land and theater values is unfailing. He--"

"Well, so is your vision just as unfailing in your work. The chain
didn't even begin to form before you took over the booking end."

"He has fine traits, too. Big ones. His word is his bond. He has
business foresight and integrity, but somehow it is his little
meannesses. I remember once in my father's house he took a thrashing for
something outrageous he was not guilty of, because he had promised some
youngster across the way he would shield him, come what might, and
somehow I thought it pretty fine of him. But another time he let me take
a thrashing for something he had done and stood by without opening his
mouth. It is those indescribable smallnesses in his make-up. Once when I
was in favor of branching out and producing a legitimate three-act play
which I happened to run across--a rare thing from the French--he--well,
I won't go into it--but this thing--to-night--that bauble of my
mother's--it--it's the climax of a lifetime of such flea bites--a trifle
hardly worth the mentioning, and yet--it's the most utter--the most
damnable--"

There was a half crash of his clenched hand among the silver and a rise
of suffusing red up out of the white of his soft collar.

"I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to let you in for any more of it. I'm
sorry. And after you were gracious enough to come alone, too. Come, here
is to making this little party a gay one."

He held up his glass. "Here's to the shining child."

"Oh!" she cried, and drank quickly.

"Like it?"

"Not much. It burns."

"You should see your eyes."

"You should see hers."

"Whose?"

"My child's."

"Do you know what I should have done in your husband's place?"

"What?"

"Harnessed you, too, but to a moonbeam."

"I once knew a man to whom I never spoke ten words in all my life, and
yet I always imagined he might have talked to me like that--not
literally--not in terms of tin dippers."

"Of what, you queer, queer girl?"

"Now I know of whom you remind me! An old school-teacher I once had.
Odd."

"I would never have let you slip my harness through."

"And have deprived the Amusement Enterprise Company of my austere
services!"

"You've been invaluable. Ninety per cent of your judgments have been
ninety-nine per cent there!"

"Luck."

"Luck nonsense! Judgment isn't horseshoe-shaped."

"I love it! Feeling the public pulse for what it wants. The psychology
of your vaudeville audience is as elementary as a primer and as
intricate as life. It is a bloodhound when it comes to detecting the
false from the true. Take that little sketch, 'Trapped,' you sent me out
to see last week. A more sophisticated audience might have mistaken its
brittle epigrammatic quality for brilliancy and its flippancy for
cleverness. But not your ten-twenty-thirty's. In real life a husband
doesn't psychanalyze his wife's lover. He horsewhips him. And that
lovely blank-verse fantasy that you attempted on your own. That is the
sort of thing you are going to stand for some day in the theater. I
loved your wanting it. But right now, while you are on your way up to
the goal, is where I come in. Sort of mediator between your ideals and
the box office. Of course you loved the fantasy. So did I, and I loved
your wanting to do it. But it took vaudeville just one performance to
decide that it wasn't ready for that kind of mysticism."

"And you forty minutes."

"You would never have backed it even over my O.K."

"Then you don't realize how far your O.K. goes with me."

"What is this," she smiled, "a mutual-admiration fête?"

"I don't know," suddenly leaning toward her, reddening. "I can only
speak for myself. Lilly--you're wonderful--"

She chose to be casual, most effectively, too.

"Indeed it is mutual. I need hardly to tell you what association with
your office has meant to me. The romance of an organization like yours.
The thrill of seeing it triple proportions in these few years. The fine
stimulating something that comes with the acquisition of each new
Amusement Enterprise Theater. The chats we have had over plays, play
writing, producing. Your own fine aim. Oh, it has made bearable even the
monotony of the secretarial end of it!"

"I am afraid your secretarial services are about to be dispensed with."

She placed a quick hand to her heart.

"What do you mean?"

He flecked his cigar, laughing over at her.

"You're delicious. What could I mean except that you have outgrown your
job?"

"You--mean--"

"I mean that I am going to officially place you in charge of the booking
department at--well, your own idea of salary."

"I--I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything."

"You can't know--"

"I do know."

"You see, she is almost four now, and beautifully cared for, but, now
that her little mind is beginning to unfold--I--Oh, to be able to afford
a place of my own--next year--when she has outgrown Mrs. Dupree's. You
see, I've never really had her. I've such plans for the day when I can
have her rearing all to myself. I want life to unfold so naturally to
her. Like a flower. That's why I am so terribly jealous of every day we
spend apart. That's why you--you cannot know what it means to have you
tell me that I've made good. It means that the time is nearing for me to
have her with me, to--to--Well, you cannot--cannot know!"

She sat back, feeling foolish because her eyes were filling and trying
to smile back the tears.

He reached over to place his palms over her hand.

"How rightly named you are! 'Lilly.' One of those big, milky-spathed,
calla lilies. Calla Lilly."

"We'll be going now," she said, feeling for her jacket.

They rode down to Eleventh Street in a cab, almost silently, and as she
sat looking out, unsmiling, she could feel his gaze burn her profile.

He left her at the stoop, standing bareheaded.

"You've saved me from an evening of horrors."

"I'm glad."

"You're not angry--Calla Lilly?"

"Of course not."

"How soon again?"

"No."

"Yes, yes!"

"No."

And somehow the word was like a plummet deep into the years ahead.



CHAPTER VIII

One hot Saturday afternoon, at least a twelvemonth later, as Lilly was
rushing down from the children's department of one of Broadway's
gigantic cut-rate department stores, she stopped so abruptly that she
created a little throwback in the sidewalk jam.

Her miracle was broken. Her first impulse even now was to dart back, but
the tow of the crowd was strong, and, besides, she was suddenly eye to
eye with an exceedingly thin youth with a very long neck rising far
above a high collar, a pasty and slightly pimpled face evidently slow to
beard, and a soft hat pulled down over meek light-blue eyes, himself
even more inclined to push on than she.

It was her first encounter since her clean cleavage from a strangely
remote dream phase of her existence. For the first three years she had
carried about a fear of some such meeting, a passer-by brushing her
shoulders or a sense of presence at her back sending a shock through
her. Once she had hurriedly left a Subway train because of a fancied
likeness to Roy Kemble in a young fellow across the aisle. Even now
there were days when fancied resemblances seem to people the crowds.

"Why, Harry Calvert!"

"Hello," he said in the tempo of no great surprise, but purpling up into
his lightish hair. "I know you. You're Lilly Becker."

"Harry, I cannot believe my eyes! I haven't seen you since you were in
knickers. And to think we remembered each other! Come here a minute out
of the crowd. I want to talk to you."

He followed her with some reluctance and a great sheepishness out of
Broadway into quieter Thirty-fourth Street, twirling his hat, his
nervousness growing.

"You look fine, Lilly."

"What are you doing here, Harry? How is your grandma? St. Louis?"

She could have embraced, cried over him, the loneliness of years seeming
to rush to a head.

"Gramaw and I live here."

"Harry, not really!"

"Nearly two years, now."

"Where?"

"'Way out near Tremont Avenue."

"And you, Harry, what do you do?"

"I was window dresser for a gents' furnishing store up to a few weeks
ago, but it--it changed hands. I'm out of a job right now."

"Harry, do you ever hear from--home?"

"No, Miss Lilly, we never see anyone from there. You're the first."

"I'll tell you what. I'm going home with you. Take me out with you to
visit your grandma. I haven't seen her in years--it's been so long
ago--everything."

He was wringing his hat now and shifting.

"It's a long way out, Lilly. It's hardly built up out there at all."

"I don't care. I'll buy some pastries on the way and we will make a
party of it. Does she still keep boarders?"

"Roomers."

"Poor, dear Mrs. Schum, fancy her living here!"

They rode out on a surface car, changing twice and jammed face to face
on a rear platform, a brilliant pink out in her face.

"Harry, I just cannot realize it. You a full-fledged man!"

"I'm twenty-four."

"What is that yellow on your fingers? Not from smoking?"

"I used to a lot, but not now."

"Is your grandmother just as wrapped up in you as ever, Harry? Poor
dear!"

"Yes, she is. You sure look fine, Lilly. You're pretty!"

"And what in the world brought you to New York and what ever became of
Mr. Hazzard and--"

"Oh, gramaw read in the paper once that he died of that sore on his
face."

"And old Willie and Mr. Keebil and Snow Horton--ever see any of them,
Harry?"

"No; you see it is nearly two years since--"

"I have a little daughter--almost five years old!"

"Gramaw followed up in the papers when you were married. Flora Kemble
and Roy, they're both married, too."

"Harry, didn't you ever hear anything about--well, about my marriage?"

"Yes, there was something about it. I forget. You live in New York?"

"Yes, and, Harry, don't say anything when we get to your home. Just let
me walk in and surprise her."

"Yes."

More and more she noticed his indoor whiteness and the eyelids which
would twitch nervously.

"Do you keep well, Harry?"

"Fairly."

There was quite a walk from the car, across a viaduct, down a flight of
steps, and into a steep new street of flimsy-looking apartment houses of
the dawning era of vertical homes. But the Harlem River, neat as a
canal, flowed within easy view and there was something very scoured
about the expression of the just graded street of occasional vacant
lots, showing the first break in the continuity of city brick that
Lilly's tired eyes had encountered.

"Why, Harry, I've never been away out here before! How nice and clean!"

"Here we are."

They entered one of the tan-brick buildings, "El Dorado" writ in elegant
gilt script across the transom. Then up three flights of clean, new,
fireproof stairs, Harry inserting his key into one of the two doors that
faced the landing.

"Sh-h-h, Harry! Tell her it is just a friend."

Old odors laden with memory rushed to meet her; that pungency which,
unaccountably enough, reeks of the cold boiled potato, and which old
upholsteries, windowless hallways, and frequent meat stews can generate.

There was a blob of low-pressure gaslight in the hallway, a weak and
watery eye burning from a side bracket into the odor so poignant with
association. Tony Eli drowned at eighteen. Her father peering behind the
dresser. "Where's Lilly?" "Here I am!" Herself hugging up her knees in
their stout ribbed stockings, her round gaze on the red-glass globe with
the warts blown into it.

There it was, that same glass globe around the puny light; and the
hatrack--the one with the seat that opened for rubbers and school bags.

"Gramaw, come out. Here is some one."

A long cooking fork in her hand, and a puff of steam hissing out after
her, Mrs. Schum peered into the hallway. She was strangely smaller,
Lilly thought, as if the flesh were beginning to wither off the rack of
her bones.

"Mrs. Schum! Dear Mrs. Schum!"

"Who's that?"

"Come out, gramaw. It's no one to be afraid of."

"Harry!" Her voice came cracking out like a shot. "Harry, are you in
trouble?"

"No--no--"

"Who is hounding you? If you are here about my grandson, madam, they are
all the time trying to get the best of my boy. He hasn't broken parole
since old Judge Delahanty down in the Twenty-third Street Court--"

"Mrs. Schum! Dear Mrs. Schum! Don't you know me? Please! Think, dearie,
the little girl out in St. Louis who used to plague you for bread
and butter--"

The old face loosened, the eyes peering through spectacles held across
the nose with a bit of twine.

"It isn't--Lilly--Becker?"

"Right the first time, gramaw!"

"Bless my heart! Bless my soul! Let me sit down. I'm right weak. Little
Lilly--Becker!"

They embraced there in a hallway hardly wide enough to contain them.
These two, who ordinarily might have met again, after such a span of
years, in the mildest of reunions, here in each other's arms, hungrily,
heartbeat to heartbeat.

"Lilly, Lilly, come in here and let me look at you. Light up the front
room, Harry. Well, I declare! Let me sit down. I'm right weak-kneed.
Law! pretty is no name! Well, I declare!"

In the little front room of chromos, folding bed with desk attachment,
a bisque knickknack or two, they were finally knee to knee, Lilly's hat
tossed aside, her hands clasping the old veiny ones.

"Begin at the beginning, Mrs. Schum. Everything. First, tell me, dear,
how long since you have heard of my folks?"

"Harry, you go out in the kitchen and keep the things warm until gramaw
comes out to dish up. Set the table with a cloth on, and run over to the
delicatessen for a bit of cold cuts. He's a right smart help to me,
Lilly. Not like some boys, too proud to help. And now--now--let me
see--why, it's two years since I met your mother downtown in St. Louis
before I had any idea of coming here."

"How did she look?"

"Splendid. She was with one of her euchre friends, so I didn't have the
chance for an old-time chat, but she made me promise to come and see
her, and 'pon my word, just as young and pretty as you please, with a
fine face veil and a purple feather boa and shopping out of the Busy Bee
bins just the way she used to do."

"She looked--happy?"

"Indeed she did! Buying some menfolk stuff. Wool socks, I think she
said, for your father, was it, who is subject to colds in the head--"

"No, those weren't for papa. Oh, Mrs. Schum, it's so good to hear of her
first hand like this! What--what did she say about me?"

"Told me about you off here studying opera, and your husband was making
his home with them. I--I took it from what she said you were none too
happy with him, but I had no idea of your being here still! Aren't
things well with you, Lilly? I always said you reminded me of my Annie,
and she would have turned out something big if she had lived. I expect
it of you, too, Lilly."

"What else?"

"She put up a bold front with me, I will say that, never letting on that
there had been trouble. And then just before I left--we came away mighty
unexpectedly--Katy Stutz--"

"Katy Stutz--"

"Yes, came to sew for a family I had boarding with me, and she said she
heard you had left him for good and that your parents took sides with
your husband and had him in their home, occupying your very room, and
that your mother was as fussy over him as she ever was over you, babying
him to death. Lilly, Lilly, what is wrong with you?"

"And my father, Mrs. Schum?"

"Fine. Mary says he's a bit whiter, but not a whit changed. He's done
well in the rope business, hasn't he? Although I always say it was your
mother's practical ways got him on his feet, and from what I understand
that young man you married has given him many a lift. They've gone in
business together, haven't they? They tell me, Lilly, there is not a
steadier or more advancing young man than yours. Ah me, the ways of
young ones are strange I guess you haven't heard about Harry, either?"

"No."

"He's a good boy, Harry is, Lilly, but I've been through trouble with
him. That's the reason for our being here. You see, Lilly, him being a
poor orphan all his life, they're all against him. The little fellow
never had the right raising, knocking around with all those nigger
servants, and me with never the time to do for him."

"Oh, Mrs. Schum, how can you! Why, there wasn't any of the youngsters
in the boarding house had a sweeter influence over him than Harry."

"No, no. It was all my fault. I was too pressed trying to make ends
meet. I should have given up that big house years ago for a few roomers
like now. He got in bad ways, Lilly. Not noisy and with gangs like some
rough boys would. But quiet--solitary-like. I never knew him to hang
around with that gang of boys that used to loaf over at Pirney's drug
store or anything like that, but after the Kembles and you folks left,
Harry got to stealing, Lilly. Little things. The child never took
anything more than a bit of lead pipe from Quinn's empty house across
the street, and once a little silver trinket from a milliner I had up in
the third floor front--"

"He used to do little things like that when he was a child, don't you
remember, dear?"

"It's his father in him, Lilly. Maybe you don't know it, but that's what
killed my Annie, that same streak which was the ruination of a fine,
educated man like his father. But Harry's got too much of his mother in
him to be all bad; he--"

"Of course he has, dear."

"To get back to our coming East, Lilly. One night he--Harry brought me
home a brooch, Lilly. A right pretty gold one with a garnet in. It used
to hurt him that I never had any finery. He wouldn't take anything to
buy drink and bad times for himself like other boys, but he'd steal
something to bring home to his old grandmother. All that night, Lilly,
down there in the basement kitchen, I was nearly crazy trying to get out
of him where he got that brooch. The next day they was after him, for it
and some--nickel-plated facets from out of the washroom where he was
working. They hushed it up. Old Judge Mayer, you remember his sister
used to board with me. But the next time there was a little
trouble--this time a--a little finger ring--not even all gold. I--we--we
had to sell out and come here--where we could be swallowed up."

"Oh, Harry, Harry, how could he!"

"Wasn't his fault. It wasn't the place for him out there any more with
everybody against a poor orphan. I've cut him off, Lilly, from his bad
ways out there. You're the first I've seen or heard of since we left,
and I don't want you to even write it to your folks that we're here.
There's the little matter of that ring--not even all gold--and--some
lead pipe--forgotten, now--please God, but they might want him back for
it--that's how down on him they are. He's a good boy, Harry is, Lilly,
with respect for his grandmother. He's had a slip up or two, but the
best of us have that, haven't we?"

"Yes."

"It's to be expected. A boy can't shake off his inheritance overnight,
can he? Can he?"

"No, I suppose not, dear."

"Don't let on, Lilly. He's sensitive. We'll win yet, Harry and me will.
The world hasn't taken much stock of a poor little basement orphan, but
with the kind of mother he had, his grandmother will live yet to see the
day that it does take account of him. Harry's right smart with draping
and decorating around the house, and if I do say it, when he dresses a
window the traffic stops. He's a great one for reading and following up
the magazines, too. Smart. I'd stake my all on a boy that has got it in
him to treat his grandmother with the gentleness he does. And children!
There is not one on the street he can pass for love of them. A boy like
that cannot be all bad, can he, Lilly?"

Her eyes magnified with the glaze of tears so that one blink would have
overflowed them, Lilly laid her lips to the veiny old hand, her voice
down into the lap of blue-checkered apron.

"We mothers--Mrs. Schum--God, how we love to suffer to them!"

"We!"

Her face in the tired old lap, the little room seeming to crowd up with
voice, Lilly talked on then, until the little clock inset into a china
plate ticked out an hour, and in the kitchen, Harry, with all his old
capacity for meekness, lay asleep with his head in his arms and the
little dinner cloying on the stove.

"I'm afraid my old brain don't take it all in, Lilly. You mean your
mother--father--none of them--know?"

"It isn't for you to understand, dear. The mere telling of it has
somehow eased things. We are bits of seaweed, dear Mrs. Schum, tossed up
on the same shores. You and your fugitive from environment. Me and mine.
If your secret is to be mine, mine must be yours."

"God have mercy on you, Lilly, wherever it is your ways are leading
you."

"He has had, Mrs. Schum."

"I don't know. I don't know. You know best, I guess, what is in your
heart."

"I do. It's this. Why can't you take--us?"

"Who?"

"I want her with me. She is getting big enough for the kind of training
I have all mapped out for her. And now you--it's nothing short of
destiny led me to you. I could put her in day school. Can take her
myself in the mornings, say, and you, dear Mrs. Schum, are to call for
her? I can pay, I can help you and you can help me. Later we may take a
larger place with extra room. Mrs. Schum, don't you see, we've been
thrown together!"

"Why, Lilly--I believe--I do."

It was after ten o'clock when, over a belated little meal, they ceased
their planning. Eleven, when Harry finally walked with her across the
viaduct to the street car. Stars were out. Thick white ones. She skipped
a little, ran a little, and stood a moment at the parapet, looking down
at the lights which followed the narrow course of the river. She felt
suddenly wild for bauble. Her flesh, which never particularly craved the
lay of fine fabric, felt cheated. She wanted to wind her body to its
utmost flexuosity, bare her throat to the wind, and fling out a gesture
the width of Vegas to Capella.

At the corner she took Harry's face between her hands, kissing him
soundly on the lips.

"Good night, Harry, and God bless you for letting me find you."

Long after that kiss, ever so lightly bestowed, lay burning against his
lips and she had boarded the street car, he stood looking after, with
his very light-blue eyes.



Book Three


THE WINE



CHAPTER I

When Zoe Penny was still in knee frocks she graduated, first in her
class, from the public grade school. It was a period of great stress for
Lilly, of happy shopping and the sweet anxieties of ribbon and frock,
and there were always two high circles of color out on her cheeks, and
from time to time she would force herself to sit down, uncurl her
fingers of their tensity, as Ida Blair had taught her, and thus,
starting in at the hands, try to relax.

After two or three moves from the makeshift of the Tremont Avenue
apartment, they were finally installed in an old brownstone walk-up
house in West Ninety-third Street, a stone's throw removed from an
avenue of Elevated structure and petty shops, but with a quiet enough,
if gloomy, dignity. One of those tunnel dwellings, the light from the
front room and kitchen gradually petering out into a middle room of
almost absolute darkness.

Lilly and her daughter occupied what corresponded to the parlor, a room
of white woodwork, flimsy white mantelpiece, and gilded radiator; one of
the vertical layers and layers of just such city parlors. Two narrow
front windows looked down into Ninety-third Street and there were closed
white folding doors with again a rented piano against them. A pretty
screen of Japanese paper with a sprig of wistaria across it shut off a
bureau with a layout of much juvenile claptrap of hair ribbons, side
combs, and the worthless treasures of childhood. Between the windows a
"lady's" desk with hinged writing slab, really Lilly's, but mostly the
dangling place for a pair of Zoe's roller skates and its pigeonholes
bulging with her daughter's somewhat extraneous matter. But there were a
two-tone brown rug, and yellow silk curtains saved the room from the
iniquitous Nottingham and Axminster school of interior defamation. The
walls, too, were tempered of their whiteness by brown prints of the
"Coliseum by Night," "The Age of Innocence," and Watt's "Hope,"
blindfolded, atop the world.

These pictures had been shopped one Saturday afternoon at the cut-rate
department store and were largely Zoe's choice, happily corroborated
by Lilly.

"Remarkable selections for a miss," said the clerk.

"Do you really think so?" cried Lilly, herself turning away from an
inclination toward the more chromatic and immediately exhilarated out of
a state of fatigue.

"Zoe, you're wonderful!"

"You're wonderful, too, Lilly."

There had been scarcely any baby talk.

At three, it was "Zoe, are you happy to see mother this week-end?"

"Ees, ummie."

And then one day out of the pellucid sky of babyhood, in answer to this
invariable query, it was:

"Yes, Lilly," so suddenly that something seemed to catch at her
heartbeat, but after a pang she let it stand.

Let Lilly's Zoe dawn upon you through this rather typical conversation
between them, the night before the graduation from grade school:

"Lilly, am I beautiful?"

"Why, yes, Zoe, so long as you remain fine and unspoiled by it. That is
the rarest kind of loveliness--inner beauty."

"I don't mean that kind. Am I pretty--for boys to look at?"

"You are pretty enough as little girls go, if that is what you mean."

"Is it wrong to have beaus?"

"That all depends. Why?"

"Oh, I just wanted to know."

Silence.

"A boy in my class, Gerald Prang, says he is my beau."

"Silly fellow."

"Ethel Watts has one. They kiss."

"That's horrid."

"Is it horrid for me and Ethel to kiss?"

"No, Zoe, you know it isn't."

"Would it be horrid for me and Gerald--Gerald and I--to kiss?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Listen, Zoe, a new word. The most beautiful and the most horrible thing
in the world can be sex."

"Sex?"

"Yes, dear. We haven't used the term in our talks--yet."

"Isn't it nice?"

"That lies with you."

"Then what is sex?"

"Zoe, the world of human beings is divided into two great classes, isn't
it? Boys and girls."

"Oh, I know! It's me and Gerald."

"In a way, yes, but--"

"If me and Ethel kiss, it isn't sex, but if me and Gerald kiss, it is."

"If only you wouldn't keep your mind running ahead. I want to be so
sure you are going to understand. That's what our botany and physiology
study has been for. To prepare you to understand. Now take the kingdom
of flowers, a rose, for instance--"

"Begin with us, Lilly. I don't want to hear any botany."

"But, Zoe--"

"Storks cannot bring babies, can they?"

"No. No. Who put such silly nonsense into your head? Don't let that
stupid fable hide from you the beautiful truth of birth. That is an
absurd story, Zoe, invented by those to whom the most sublime fact in
the world seems nasty. Babies are born, dear--out of lo--out of the
union of the sexes."

"Lilly, you are all trembling."

She took her daughter's face between her hands, her eyes probing and
yearning down into the brilliantly blue ones.

"It is because I want to keep life clean and beautiful for you. Nothing
that is natural is ugly, Zoe. It's only when we make something dark and
shameful of nature's methods that we are apt to misunderstand and
to err."

"Did you err, Lilly?"

"How?"

"With him?"

"Who?"

"Penny."

"Zoe! Zoe! why will you refer to him that way? Yes, I erred out of
ignorance, the kind I want to save you from. In my case your father had
to pay for the ignorance of a girl who married him without knowing what
marriage meant. Ignorance!"

"How funny to hear that--word."

"What word?"

"Father."

"Zoe! Zoe! Have I made it clear to you about him? How good--how
kind--how wronged by me?"

"You are always so afraid I won't understand that. Why shouldn't I?"

"Because it is hard, dear, for you to grasp it all--especially its
effect upon you. Some day you will understand how gradually I have tried
to prepare your mind to judge me. Even this little graduation to-morrow
is a milestone and makes me want to talk to you just a wee bit plainer.
Zoe, I--Zoe, does--does--"

"What?"

"Does it ever make you unhappy among the other children to be questioned
about your--father?"

"No."

"Do you ever feel that you would like to see him?".

"No."

"Why?"

"Because he is dull. He would spoil things for us."

"But doesn't it ever seem terrible to you, Zoe, that I haven't given you
the opportunity to judge him for yourself? If the day ever
comes--to-day, tomorrow, next year--that you want your father, you
understand, dear, don't you, that I will be the first to--"

"I tell you No! No! Why do you always keep telling me that? No! No! It's
better his not knowing there is a me! He makes me feel all suffocated up
the way he did you. I couldn't stand it. I want to be what I want
to be!"

"Oh, want it badly enough then, Zoe; want it badly enough!"

"The greatest singer in the world! That's what I want to be, and stand
on a stage with all the music there is around me as if I was in the
middle of an ocean of it. Lilly, will you take me to another matinée to
see Bernhardt? She makes me feel what I want to be. Just--just her being
what she--is makes me--want to be what I--am."

"You funny muddled youngster! Why, you didn't understand either what she
said or what the play was about."

"I didn't need to. It was her voice. Something she says with her voice
that I feel inside of me, only I can't say it. I wanted to cry. Isn't it
queer, Lilly, to feel so happy you want to cry? Oh, I've learned a new
one--only my voice won't say it the way I feel it. It's in our school
Wordsworth. Something inside of me cries all the time I'm saying it:

     "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
      The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
        Hath elsewhere had its setting,
        And cometh from afar;
        Not in entire forgetfulness,
        And not in utter nakedness,
      But trailing clouds of glory do we come
        From God, Who is our home.

"Oh, Lilly--Lilly--I love that!--trailing clouds of glory--"

"You recited it beautifully, darling. See, you've made me cry."

"And I--I love you, Lilly. Hold me tight. I love you."

"My baby."

"Lilly, will you be--angry if I ask you something?"

"What?"

"Why--do you cry in the night sometimes?"

"Why, Zoe! Do I?"

"You know you do. I can feel you crying, and sometimes when I touch your
face--"

"Why, child--that's just my way. At night--things can be so real--so
terribly real. It is something you cannot understand yet."

"Do I make you sad?"

"No! No! No! My light, my life."

"Is it--Bruce?"

"Why, child--you talk nonsense! Don't speak of him as Bruce."

"I hate calling him Mr. Visigoth. It sounds--meek. I won't be meek! Are
you sure, Lilly, it isn't him--he?"

"Why, child, in Heaven's name should it be?"

"He looks at you so, Lilly. Maybe he makes you cry the way Bernhardt
makes me cry. By what he doesn't say. Saturday afternoons when I call
for you--he looks at you so when you're not looking."

"Why shouldn't he? We've worked together for all these years."

"You and he, when you stand up together you look so--so--_right_."

"Zoe, you are talking nonsense."

"But you're all red, aren't you?"

"No."

"Was it sex to say that?"

"No."

"Are you glad he is coming to-night?"

"Mr. Visigoth and I have business together, Zoe. We cannot sit around in
public places and discuss matters. I'm reading Mrs. Blair's play to him.
Go to bed now, dear."

"Mayn't I stay up?"

"No."

Her child looked up at her, chin cupped in her small hand and crystals
of light out in her eyes.

"Please, Lilly--why do you cry?"

"Why, darling, I don't cry because of anything you are quite ready to
understand. You know that, don't you, dear? There is nothing mother
won't talk over with you as soon as you are ready to take it all in.
That is part of her scheme for keeping life beautiful and free of rude
shocks for you."

"But I do understand--Lilly."

Long after her child slept that night Lilly sat beside her. She loved
the willful way the curls flung across the pillow. She leaned to the
full deep-chested breathing; leaned to kiss the lips which, slightly
parted, were perfect with the pollen of vitality.



CHAPTER II

She drew the screen finally about the little davenport, fussing at the
room, straightening it into a sort of formality with a woman's intuition
for this chair one-half inch closer to the hearth and that picture ever
so slightly straighter. The sheer frock she hung up in a closet,
covering it with a shroud of tissue paper, wadding her daughter's
none-too-carefully flung stockings into her shoes and tiptoeing to place
them beside the davenport. They were strong, ribbed stockings, still
warm and full of curves. She stroked over each. Once she paused at the
mantelpiece mirror, drawing back her lip from the even whiteness of her
teeth, perusing her points rather absent-mindedly.

Time had handled Lilly with a caress. At past thirty she was herself at
twenty, with even more youth, because at twenty she had looked herself
almost ten years hence. She had rounded out a bit, but not fatly. If
stouter at all, it was only in the slightly deeper look to the
cream-colored skin. There were two lines across her forehead, but they
had been there at eighteen and were quite obviously the result of
tilting her eyebrows so that the flesh folded; and besides, they
relieved her clearness, these horizontal traceries, of utter limpidity.

She had drifted, not all unconsciously, into a certain picturesque
uniformity of dress and could smile now over the large, cart-wheel hats,
coarse embroideries, and short-vamp shoes; neither was she often above
mentally contrasting herself in her annual seventy-five dollar suit of
dark-blue serge, natty sailor hat, and impeccable blouse, with a certain
coffee-colored linen with its slashings of coffee-dipped embroidery, and
the blouse that twirled with yards and yards of cotton Valenciennes.

There was still something of the look of the nun to Lilly, but a bit too
pinkly, as if she had dressed the part for Act One, but wore the ballet
skirts for Act Two underneath.

Her reaction asserted itself in her child. At thirteen Zoe wore straight
frocks of navy-blue alpaca with wide patent-leather belts and deep Eton
collars. They were mistaken sometimes, and, strangely enough, to Lilly's
invariable chagrin, for sisters, and Lilly, in her refutation, could be
smitingly swift.

At nine o'clock, to the staccato of three rings, she admitted Bruce
Visigoth, leading him down the tube of hallway. It annoyed her
unspeakably that Harry Calvert, collarless, poked out his head from a
doorway as they passed, and she was suddenly conscious of the smell of
stew. She had meant to burn an incense stick.

But she walked with that free, Hellenic stride of hers, without apology
and ahead of him.

"This is our room. Zoe is asleep there behind that screen. Won't you sit
down?"

He placed his hat and a light bamboo stick across the center table,
obviously oppressed with a sense of close quarters.

"Tell you what! Suppose we taxi over to Claremont. It's mild enough to
sit out on the terrace."

She met him with her levelest gaze.

"Aren't you going to be comfortable here?"

"Of course I am. There you go, getting sensitive right off. Only it is
a warmish evening, and why keep the sun-child awake?"

"Zoe can sleep," she said, with the barely perceptible arch to her
brows, "even through the fire of your presence."

"Good!" he said, seating himself in great good nature and trying not to
be quizzical. "So this is where you live."

He was frankly curious, his gaze humorous, but traveling over details,
his head upflung and the scenting movement to his nostrils. He had not
changed in weight, but in compactness and as if the house of his being
had settled with a fine kind of firmness. He was a bit squarer of jaw
and shoulder and ever so prematurely, and to the enormous fancy of
women, inclined to a hoar frost of gray at the temples.

She seated herself across the little square of table.

"You don't seem to care for us here."

"Certainly I do, only--only--"

"Only what?"

"Only--well, hanged if I make you out, lady. This place--it just isn't
you--that's all."

"Nonsense! I don't count. I'm just a sort of a means to an end, anyway."

"What end?"

"The wine!"

"The what?"

"Oh, nothing," she said, and laughed.

"Laugh again."

"Why?"

"I like it."

She looked her most serio-comic disapproval and held up a forefinger
with a warning little waggle to it.

"Please," she said, with an inlay of something deeper in her voice,
"don't begin by spoiling things."

"Rather not," he said. "I'm going to live up to your letter of the law."

Except for the frequent conferences now in the new Forty-second Street
offices that commanded a view of two rivers and a vast battledoor and
shuttlecock of the city, it was the first time in all those years that
stretched from the night at the Waldorf that they had sat thus
tête-à-tête. The day of the move she had ridden up from the old Union
Square offices with him, a stack of files in her lap. Once, too, on a
Saturday, the day of Zoe's invariable luncheon downtown and subsequent
opera matinee, he had strolled by what seemed mischievous chance into
the tea room where they were dining, but the occasion had hardly been a
success. There had been a great deal of badinage between him and Zoe,
but Lilly had finished her meal almost in silence. The day following, a
toy piano of complete range and really excellent workmanship had
arrived. She returned it without showing it to Zoe. These incidents lay
between them now.

"So this is where you live," he repeated, as if his long curiosity could
not find satiety in fact.

"That I have an abode seems to amaze you."

"It does. You're such a detached sort. You rise so above the mundane
things that clutter up life, that it is pretty much of a shock to
realize that you use tooth powder and carry a latchkey. It's hard to
reconcile Chopin and George Sand probably to those famous raw-meat
sandwiches they loved to eat at midnight. Well, that's about the way I
feel about you--hemmed in by--dull reality such as this."

"I like raw-meat sandwiches," she said.

"Me too."

They laughed.

She took up a sheaf of manuscript.

"If it doesn't bore you too much, I'm going to read it straight
through."

"Oh, I forgot; the play, of course."

She looked up at him as if over spectacles.

"What else?"

"You say it has been the rounds?"

"Yes. Peddled in every office in New York. Kline and Alshuler kept it
two years. Forensi paid her two hundred and fifty dollars advance on it
and then let his option lapse. For another year there was some talk of
Comstock and Comstock doing it, and then finally Hy Wolff got hold of it
and the very month he died paid her a second two hundred and fifty to
renew his option on it. I've always felt that if Ida had kept after Hy
Wolff he would have produced it. He had faith in it, but somehow just
didn't seem to get to it. You see, Ida hasn't any gumption--not the kind
of aggressiveness the game demands. That is why in fifteen years you
scarcely know she is in your office. That is why I plunged in and tried
to rewrite 'The Web' with her. It's a big story, sweated out of her own
agony. She may never write another. Probably won't. My little part in it
has merely been to help her co-ordinate--round up the jumble of her
ideas, so to speak. There is a big play somewhere in this story. I know
you didn't like it as a sketch--I didn't, either. A short play cannot
contain this drama. But out of a clear sky it occurred to me that you
might see it as a three-act play. Oh, I know it isn't the kind of thing
you've your mind's eye on, but why not take that step over into the
legitimate _via_ a big popular success? It may pave the way to bigger,
finer things. Who knows--Ida Blair--'The Web'--may mean the beginning of
your dream come true."

His mouth had straightened and thinned.

"You're right there. Ultimately I'll get into the other. If my brother
knew as much about the booking end as he does the realty, I'd have gone
over long ago. That is the most the success of the Amusement Enterprise
can mean to me--to afford some day the legitimate as a plaything. It
costs money to educate the public to better things. It's been profitable
playing down to its taste--some day it is going to enable me to afford
to be sufficiently altruistic to foot the bills for serving up the best.
It costs to educate.",

"Fine! And it is only a question of time until you are ready for that
inspiring fray. Meanwhile, why not help foot those bills with a little
side flier in 'The Web'?"

"You are a little opportunist, aren't you?".

"I know 'The Web' isn't art. But it is a cross section of reality with
the veins exposed and the sap of life running through them. Mrs. Blair,
poor dear, can't write. God knows I can't. That is why the play has been
through years of lying around in every office in New York. But the idea
is there. You see, it is everything she has lived through. You know
her story?"

"Yes."

"There is a scene when he comes screaming out of the room after having
been through the third degree, half blind from the terrible lights and
the terrible circle of terrible eyes, that isn't writing at all. It's
life--a raw, palpitating picture of a social abuse that can touch the
public as a reform measure can never hope to. Then the character of the
boy--a delinquent. We've one right here in this apartment. One of those
sweet, shy, half-frightened boys as gentle as a girl. The kind that
tells the neighborhood children Peter Pan and reads his grandmother to
sleep. I would trust him anywhere with Zoe, and yet there's the streak!
The criminal, congenital streak through him that is as pathological as
measles. Only we handle it under the heading of criminology. It's like
taking an earache to the chiropodist. The boy is a thief. It's through
him like a rotten spot, but instead of curing him the law wants to
punish him. It's like spanking a child for having the measles. But to
get back--Mrs. Blair has him in this play--just as if she had lifted him
out of this apartment. She wrote him from the life, too. A young fellow
who used to be on her husband's beat. It may not be fine writing, but
'The Web' has the throb of reality through it, and it is my opinion that
one pulsebeat of life is worth all your chastity of form."

"Right."

"We're one on that? Good! Well, here is your opportunity to solder the
first link into the legitimate. Keep it in mind while I am reading Ida
Blair's play and remember I am not talking Ida Blair or Lilly Penny to
you. I'm talking this play just as I would talk an act to you. Because I
believe in it."

He seemed to look at her through her words, a smile out in his eyes.

"You're not listening."

"I am," he said, "but your hair looks like it is painted on, the way it
comes down to that smooth little peak in front. Jove! it's pretty."

She looked off, wanting not to color.

"Come," he said, "I apologize. Read. I'm as predisposed as I can be
toward anything conceived by that little dormouse of a person in
the office."

"That's the trouble. You men are too often satisfied with a surface
inventory. The vault of heart sometimes yields up rare treasures."

"How like you to say that."

"Ready?"

"Go!"

And so, with her head bent so that the light burnished its smoothness,
she read him "The Web" through two uninterrupted hours, her voice
throbbing into the quiet. In the third act, when a half-crazed victim of
the third degree is led out in shuddering and horrible invocation, she
sprang to her feet for an instant, her gesture decrying its fullest arc.

She was like Iphigenia praying for death, he thought.

Later, when the shades of the prison house begin to dawn upon the
stunned consciousness of the woman, there were tears in her voice and on
her lashes, and one fell to the back of her hand, which she wiped off
against her skirt, like a child.

At eleven o'clock she finished, regarding him brilliantly through her
flush.

He had wanted to smoke, but thrust the case back into his pocket,
sitting tilted, his hands locked at the back of his head and gazing at
the line of the picture molding. Her lips parted as the paused held.

"Well?"

He uncrossed his knees, straightening.

"Well?"

"Strong."

"Then it did grip you?"

"Yes, but I can see why it gathered dust as it went the rounds. From the
average commercial manager's point of view there is a question about
that seamy kind of thing getting over with the playgoer. He wants to be
entertained, not harrowed. That's pretty raw stuff. Except for the
little woman and the poor delinquent youngster, it is an
out-and-out--what shall I say?--an out-and-out crook play, to coin
a phrase."

"Exactly. It is a section of life about which your average playgoer
knows little or nothing and yet one for which he nourishes a tremendous
curiosity."

"It's crude--"

"I know, but the idea is bigger than the writing is crude. If I had the
money I would take a chance on producing it to-morrow. It has social and
sociological value, and at the same time is corking-good entertainment.
I read the police-inspector scene to my little girl just to see what she
would get out of it. 'Why,' she cried, 'a man would confess to anything
with that white light on him and those big policemen's eyes on him.
That's not fair! That shouldn't be allowed. Isn't there a way to stop
it?' That from a thirteen-year-old! It's one of those man-made abuses
that if we women ever get the vote we'll go after! Don't answer me on
this play now, Mr. Visigoth. Take it to your hotel. Read it over again.
Talk it over with your brother when he comes next week. How's that? No
snap judgment."

"Good. The play is on the docket for the evening. Now let us get the
taste of the underworld out of our mouths. How would the Claremont
appeal now?"

"I'd rather not."

"Well, I suppose that amounts to my _congé?_"

She smiled with her brows arched.

"It is after eleven."

He was incessantly feeling for his cigarette case and then with a
certain unease refraining.

"You may," she said, "one, before you go."

He held the case to her. She took one gingerly, accepting the light more
gingerly.

"I don't like them," she said, exhaling with the violence of the
unaccustomed.

"Then whyfore?"

"Because it is a stupid convention which says that a man may and a woman
may not. Why should it be a matter of course for you and, in most cases,
a matter of comment and even vulgarity for me?"

"Usage."

"Usage isn't a reason. It's Time's trick for applying the brake to
progress."

He lit up gratefully, waving out the match and hesitating for a spot to
dispose of it. She reached across the table, palm up. "Give me."

He caught her hand.

"Lilly!"

She jerked back with a little clicky catch of breath.

"Don't."

"Lilly, you're maddening! Lilly, can't you see what I haven't the words
to tell you? For years--since that night at the Waldorf--I--I have been
living for this moment. I realized it to-night as you read that play.
Lilly, is what is between us insurmountable?"

She jerked back her head, her irises at their trick of growing.

"You don't know what you are saying!"

"I do know what I am saying. I know that you are the most delectable
woman in the world--and for me."

She held out his hat and cane.

"My little girl is asleep. Hadn't you better go?"

"That's not fair," he said, taking the hat and cane, but flushing up
furiously.

"I know it isn't. But what is there I can say to you?"

"You can talk it out. Man to man."

"Sit down," she said, clasping her hands and regarding him through
swimming and revealing eyes.

"Now--what is there to say--Bruce--between you and me?"

"Where is he?"

"You know."

"Are matters unchanged?"

She nodded.

"I love you, Lilly."

"And I have a husband and a thirteen-year-old child, making of the
triangle a rectangle."

"You have held me off on that dagger point now for ten years. Good God!
women don't martyrize themselves to a past these days. What are you
doing with your life? Sacrificing it on the altar of the old burned-out
husk of a marriage? Canonizing a mistake!"

"It is the one thing I am able to do for him in some little reparation!"

"Mock heroics."

"No, it is more than mock heroic to save him that precious shred of his
respectability. That is about all I have left him to cherish. There are
some human beings you simply cannot conceive of in certain situations.
Albert Penny and divorce are irreconcilable. Tear his heart out if you
will, but hands off his respectability. It may sound absurd in the face
of the enormity of what I have done to him, but it is a great solace to
me to be able to sacrifice that much to him and to drag him through my
life like a ball and chain. Somehow it seems that I ought to
suffer that."

"Stuff and nonsense! You made your mistake and you had the courage to
tear away from it by the roots. Unless those roots have a drag?"

"No. No drag! And yet I sometimes think my revolt has been a half
madness. You cannot know the sheer folly, the crazy kind of tenacity
that has driven me on through all these years! And for what? This
mediocrity? Or is it that I am an instrument clearing the way for her?
Zoe! Is there a divinity shapes our end, rough hew them how we will?
Listen to something incredible. Do you know that Zoe's father doesn't
know that he is a father?"

"Good God!"

"Yes, jealous truth going fiction one better."

"You mean to say you have fought this out alone?"

"He doesn't know. Neither do my parents. They would suck her down. Dwarf
her with their terrible kind of love. She belongs to herself. She's a
beautiful thing God has loaned me to rear into a rose, but the world is
her garden in which to bloom and expand."

"In all these years they don't know your whereabouts?"

"Oh yes! I write home every Christmas. Just a line that I am well and
happy. Occasionally I pick up notes of them in the St. Louis newspapers.
I keep them pretty well under glass. It's all so dreamlike--I've always
been obsessed with that consciousness. How faint can be the line between
the dream and reality."

He drew her toward him by the hands, their faces lit, quivering, close.

"Lilly, Lilly, let us not stop just short of happiness."

"All my life I have done that."

"I cannot put you out of my heart now that I have put you in."

"No. No. No." But his embrace had already shaped itself, and, springing
back from it and her own singing of the flesh, she crowded up against
the wistaria-painted screen, shielding it.

"How dared you--here--in this--room! With her!"

"Lilly!"

"Go, please! Go, please!"

"You mean that?"

"You know I do."

He bent low in the attitude of kissing her hand, but without touching
it.

"Forget everything I've said, Lilly, and forgive. We'll go back to the
old. Good night, Lilly! Mrs. Penny."

He must have departed on the balls of his feet, because presently
through the roaring of the silence she heard the door slam without
having been conscious of his passage down the hallway; and then, after a
second, Harry Calvert tiptoeing to her open door to look in with his
light-blue eyes.

She sprang forward, throwing herself against the door as she locked it.

"Don't," she cried through it--"don't you ever dare do that again,
Harry! Walk on your heels. You frighten me when you sneak like
that--you--you--frighten--me."

Then she undressed, crying, tears rolling down to her high white chest
and finally on to the crispiness of her plain nightgown. Crept to bed
finally, into a darkness as sleek as a black cat's flank, silently, to
save the sag of mattress, her body curving to the curve of her child's.

Once from the inky pool of that long night Zoe's hand crept up, finding
out her mother's cheek.

"Lilly," floating up for a drowsy second to the surface of
consciousness--"Lilly--you're crying. Are--you sad--again?"

"Yes, Zoe--terribly--terribly--"



CHAPTER III

The year that Zoe entered High School, 1914, out of an international sky
of fairly pellucid blue, the thunderclap of world war burst in fury.

It was strange, though, even after the subsequent plunge of her country
to the Allied flank, and the menacing and shifting tides of affairs
creeping closer and closer to the edge of everyday life, how little the
complexion of Lilly's routine was changed.

True, her national consciousness flared suddenly from lethargy to blaze.
The evening after the sinking of the _Lusitania_, she attended a mass
meeting in Astor Place with Zoe and Mrs. Blair, beating out an
umbrella-and-floor tom-tom for redress, love of country suddenly a lump
in her throat.

The day the Rainbow Division swept up Fifth Avenue in farewell, she
could see the rank and file from the roof of the Forty-second Street
office building, as if the avenue were running a clayey stream, and she
was torn between the ache and the thanksgiving of having no one to give.

But, for the most part, war kept its talons off Lilly. Twice, and as if
his exemption from the draft lay heavily, Harry Calvert had tried to
enlist, his grandmother, with a zeal that was hardly accountable,
exerting every effort toward that end.

It was almost as if war had revived her somewhat fainting faith in
Harry's ultimate justification.

But he was underweight and still in a weakened condition from an
operation for an adenoidal complaint. This last he had undergone before
the war and at Lilly's urgent instance. She had read, in the mass of
books on child hygiene, psychology, and physiology she was constantly
accumulating, the debilitative effects that adenoidal breathing might
exercise upon an entire constitution and mentality.

Poor Harry, and his cancerous predilection for the kind of thievery that
almost invariably stacked up to not even petty larceny! He could
withstand a jewel chest, but not a tool chest. Would steal the robe from
an automobile, provided it was not a luxurious one. Once, when his
grandmother at great difficulty had procured for him a clerkship, he
confiscated the nickel-plated faucets out of the wash room, barely
escaping prosecution. Only the utter triviality of his thievery and the
fight in Mrs. Schum saved him from the law. She was as indomitable in
her protection of him as the granite flesh of rocks.

Quiet, sensitive, with rather a girlish face, slow to beard and quick to
quiver, Harry was invariably liked during the period he held a position,
but month to month saw him from a clerkship in a real-estate office to
window decorator for a retail paper-flower concern, salesman in the
novelty and stationery department of a bookstore, and once in the
children's book section of a department store.

He was rarely apprehended, usually abandoning his position, with his
absurd loot already under cover, and the loss leaking out later, if
at all.

Invariably, as if by way of confession, he brought home to his
grandmother the proceeds from these petty sales, effected by who knows
what device, dropping down into her lap, almost sadly and with a
shrinkage from what was sure to follow, either the few dollars or the
bauble of a bit of jewelry.

She would cry up at him and wring her poor hands, and then he would go
off into his little room adjoining the kitchen, originally intended as
maid's room, and sit with his head down in his hands, back rounded, and
all his throat-constricting capacity for meekness out in his attitude.

And, presently, her sobs subsided, Mrs. Schum would creep in after him,
and behind that closed door there was no telling what long hours of
pleading and abjuration took place. But, next morning, in her little
black bonnet, the rust out in her black dress and the "want ad." sheet
cockily enough beneath her arm, Mrs. Schum would set out with him to
combat, by the decency of her presence, some of the difficulties of
seeking a new position with only one or two time-and thumb-worn
references.

His grandmother's and Lilly's possessions were sacred to him, but every
morning, after the two roomers had departed, Mrs. Schum would tiptoe
after, locking their doors and inserting the keys in her
petticoat pocket.

"I like to keep things locked," she explained to Lilly one day, upon
being intercepted. "You can never tell when a sneak thief will break
into these apartment houses that haven't hall service. I've even heard
of them entering through the fire escape."

"Of course, dear," said Lilly, through heartache for her.

There was an indescribable sweetness in Harry's attitude toward Zoe.
There had been countless long evenings of her little girlhood when no
waiting beside her bedside was too tedious--sometimes during three and
four evenings a week of Lilly's enforced absence in the pursuit of
vaudeville novelties. He was tireless and faithful as a watchdog,
keeping awake by whittling at something no more fantastic than a
clothespin. There were hundreds of them scattered about the house. It
was the sole form his idleness took. He painted heads and eyes on
them--cleverly, too--for Zoe, but as she grew older she began to disdain
them, bullying him in much the fashion her mother had before her.

"I can hop up four steps on one foot," Lilly, with a little catch at her
heart, chanced to overhear on one occasion.

"No, you can't," said Harry, smilingly and a little teasingly.

Catching at her ankle and flinging her curls, she made an unstaggering
and easy ascent of not four, but eight.

"There!" she cried, slapping Harry boldly and resoundingly on the cheek.
"Don't you ever dare say I cannot do what I know I can do."

It left the red print of her little hand, and it was literally as if, as
he looked away from her, he had turned the other cheek.

Almost immediately she caught his hand, placing her warm face to its
back.

"Harry, I'm a devil! I'm sorry. You know I don't mean to be a devil.
Harry! Are you angry? You're not! Please! Be nice, Harry--tell me a
story--Har-ry."

"Once upon a time--" he began, his light-blue eyes almost with the
patient look of the blind.

A little later, there occurred an infinitesimal but telling incident
which served to dissipate whatever growing qualms may have disturbed
Lilly over the rearing of her child in this atmosphere of petty crime.

One evening, while Harry was performing his willing chore of carrying
out for his grandmother the little dinner prepared by Mrs. Schum and
partaken of by Lilly and Zoe at a small card table opened up beside the
window of their room, Zoe announced, with a certain high-handedness with
which Lilly was more and more hard pressed to cope:

"I want my dresses longer. That big red-headed boy in the white jacket
said to me when I went into the drug store over on Columbus Avenue
to-day for some licorice drops: 'That's right. Wear 'em short; you've
got the stems.'"

"What a vulgar, horrid remark!"

"Well, I want my dresses longer."

Lilly regarded her daughter with concern troubling up her eyes.

"Don't ever go into that store again, Zoe. I've a mind to stop in there
myself and talk to the proprietor."

Later that same evening, Harry, with a purpling eye and an opened lip
which he tried vainly to smuggle past his grandmother, crept into his
room. But she was too quick for him, and at her high cry of shock Lilly
rushed into the hallway. There was an utterly alien and vibrating note
of anger in Harry's voice.

"For God's sake, gramaw, be quiet! It's nothing. Had a row with that
red-headed clerk down at the drug store. Took the freshness out of him
for a while."

Lilly tiptoed back to her room. All through a fitful night she woke in
little starts, kissing into the bare white arm of her child as if she
could not have done with the assurance of her safe proximity.

It was less than a month later, and over a year after the adenoidal
operation, that Harry returned home one evening from the real-estate
office with nine dollars and forty cents in his pocket from the proceeds
of the nickel-plated wash-room faucets and several liquid-soap
attachments.

       *       *       *       *       *

About eight months after Ida Blair's play had lain gathering mold in the
lower drawer of Bruce Visigoth's desk, he sent for Lilly.

Their office relationship since the stuffy June evening over the reading
of the manuscript had been resumed, with invisible joindure. Together
they continued in biweekly conferences to compile the endless cycle of
programs that moved like a chain along the cogs of city to city. There
were nine Enterprise Amusement Theaters now, the newest red-headed pin
on the circuit map as far west as Tulsa, their booking route as yet
independent of any of the larger and recent vaudeville mergers.

It was an office boast and pleasantry that Lilly could recite offhand
through the current program of any of the nine theaters, leaping glibly
from motion picture, to acrobat, and sister acts.

This was hardly true, but her touch at the steering wheel of her
department was sensitive and sure. She could substitute for a
quarantined team of jumping Arabs in Springfield, Illinois, with hardly
more than a sleight of hand through her card index and a telegram or
two. She knew that Memphis would not stand for a pickaninny act, and
that the same was sure fire in Trenton, and was familiar with every
house manager by long-distance-telephone voice. The department was more
and more the well-oiled engine under a light steering hand that Lilly
wielded well and wisely.

Her judgment of the incoming reports of the various house managers, or
a try-out act, although technically subject to Bruce Visigoth's
signature, went usually unchallenged. She virtually was her department,
particularly as the realty aspect of the enterprise came more and more
to assume the proportions of big business. Within her little office of
mahogany appointments she worked with an allotment of stenographers and
clerks. She had an assistant, too; at least, she confiscated him from
the press department--one Leon Greenberg, a young night student from New
York University, with an enormous profile rendered positively
carnivorous of thrust by his struggle up from First Street and Avenue A,
which is mire with a pull to it.

Her own capacity was unnamed. She was probably still down on the books
as stenographer, although at fifty dollars a week now, and it was six
years since she had taken a letter.

It was a gray day in cold and tardy spring when Bruce Visigoth sent for
her--one of those heavy afternoons that darken up at four o'clock and
press thick as gravy against the windows. He was seated at his desk,
hands laced at the back of his head and one foot propped on an open
drawer, his male stenographer typing at the remote corner of a wide and
rather luxuriously appointed office. Except for the green cone of light
over him, the room was plushy with dusk.

"About that play--" he began.

"What play?" she said, seating herself in the entirely easy business
manner she had with him.

"'The Web.'"

Her strong white hand out from its immaculate linen cuff lay unnervously
on the glass top of his desk, but the fingers now began to lift
in rotation.

"Yes?"

"I talked it over with my brother before he returned to Chicago
yesterday. Thought the firm might be interested."

"Yes?"

"He doesn't see it."

"He--wouldn't."

He bent a sliver of ivory paper knife almost double.

"I should have taken this matter up some time ago, but the sudden death
of my sister Pauline's husband, Doctor Enlow--"

"Mrs. Blair understands that."

"And you?"

"Well," she said, looking off and resolutely keeping her smile, "I guess
it means 'The Web' must resume its journey again."

"No, it doesn't."

"Why?"

"It means that I am going to produce it on my own."

She slid to the edge of the chair, her hand closing over the desk edge.

"Oh! Oh!"

"Isn't that what you want?"

"Yes."

"Well, that is my reason."

"You mean you don't see it, either?"

"But you do."

"But--"

"No 'buts.' She goes into rehearsal for a spring try-out in Baltimore,
Stamford, or any of the dog towns. I'm giving the manuscript to Forbes
to read this week. He's the man to direct that type of thing. I'm going
to throw in ten or twenty thousand on your judgment."

"You're serious?" He held out his lean hand. "Ill send for Ida Blair."

"No--please!"

"Why?"

"Sit down."

She did, biting back excitement.

"I don't know how to talk to that little woman. She depresses me. This
is your venture and mine."

"But her play! Its production will mean her resurrection. Her monument
to a memory. Her protest. A chance to get her on her feet. An
opportunity for a home, a background, a reason for living to a woman who
has lost every reason. It's her play and her chance."

"And it is our venture."

"I'm not afraid."

"Are we partners, then?"

"If I had the money, yes, to my limit."

"I don't mean that."

"I do."

"All right; go your limit."

"My limit? How far would six one-hundred-dollar municipal bonds and--"

"Good. I'll sell you six per cent of a twenty-thousand-dollar venture
for the six hundred."

"Six--percent--twenty--thousand--Why, that's not a man-to-man
proposition! You're treating me like a child."

"All right, then; three per cent for the six hundred."

"Done! But no nonsense. If I lose, I lose. Man to man."

"'Man to man,'" he said, clasping her hand and drinking down deep into
her gaze.

And so, when she hurried out to the high ledge to which Ida Blair's
figure had somehow shaped itself as the years went on, she stood for a
moment to steady the hand she placed on that shoulder.

"Ida!" The older woman raised her eyes of the peculiarly washed quality
of gray that has faded from repeated scaldings in hot water. "Mr.
Visigoth wants you in his office, dear--now."

She kept her voice out of quaver, but it had a singing quality like a
plucked violin string.



CHAPTER IV

As Lilly's months went, the one that followed was abloom with events. In
her vague, untutored way she was already reaching out, through her
daughter, toward a subject about which she knew nothing, but, in an
inchoate way, felt a great deal.

The New York State fight for woman's suffrage had not yet reached its
victorious culmination, and, reading announcement of a great parade up
Fifth Avenue for a Saturday afternoon, she took Zoe.

The smell of spring was dancingly out. Shop windows bloomed with the
millinery of May. Open street cars, open skies, and openwork shirt
waists had arrived.

They climbed the flank of an omnibus and rode down to the Washington
Arch in a midair snapping with bunting.

It was on one of those irresistible afternoons--radiant with the
sun-washed geometry of three architectural renaissances, a
monastic-fronted fur emporium, a Parthenon of a library, a
Doric-columned bank--that Lilly and Zoe lumbered their omnibus way
through the daily carnival of the most rococo avenue in the world.

There was the flare of a sea gull to Zoe--no containing her. Little
snatches of song bubbled. She was a freshet of delight.

"Look at that tray of violets, Lilly! I must have a bunch."

"Zoe, don't lean over so far!"

"See the yellow satin in that shop window, Lilly! I'd love to wind it
round me. It's like sun!"

"See those jams of women in white, Zoe, waiting to form into line!"

"I'd love to march!"

"Why?"

"Oh, I don't know, there--there's something sort of onward about it."

"Exactly! Onward! Forward! March!"

With a precocity that never ceased to amuse and delight Lilly, Zoe,
while only half understanding the content of an occasion, could somehow
imbibe its essence. She leaned now over the rail of the omnibus, the
cross-town streets, as they jogged past, already colloid masses of women
waiting to fall into line.

"Isn't it queer, Lilly, that after all these centuries and centuries
women are just beginning to--what did that woman on the program call it
down at Cooper Union hall the other night--function in the government?
Why has it taken them so long to ask for their half in the say-so
of things?"

"Any great movement, Zoe, must have very slow beginnings. Think for what
ages man lived without Christianity!"

"Yes; but look how long it has been here."

"Reckoning in geology, Zoe, and compared with the age of mountains and
oceans, two thousand years isn't long."

"I think it is."

"You darling!"

They alighted at the Washington Arch, jamming their way into the tight
battalion of spectators already lining both sides of lower Fifth Avenue.
The head of the parade was already forming, a slim young leader holding
in her white mount with difficulty.

"Lilly, she looks like our picture of Jeanne d'Arc when she sees the
vision!"

"She is heeding a vision, Zoe--of to-morrow."

"I feel so--so thrilled, Lilly. Do you?"

"Yes," said Lilly, for some reason breathing hard. "Oh, I do!"

There was a break of music, and all about them women darting into line,
sudden banners floating out, and the white horse prancing in the
archway, for all the world as if spun at a tangent off the narrative
frieze of the arch.

At the Eighth Street curb, where they stood, five hundred women, with
standards lifted, stiffened suddenly into formation, a deputy from their
ranks, a buyer, by the way, for the largest cloak-and-suit house in the
world, calling short, quick orders and distributing American flags.

The air was rent with silk and brass; a simoom of rapture raced over
Zoe. She danced on the balls of her feet. It was then that a deputy,
with a face that recalled newspaper reproductions of it, spied her.

"Here, little girl! You! Oh, lovely! Could you manage this banner, dear,
and lead this section? Miss, is this lovely child your sister? Do let
her lead!"

"She's my daughter."

"Come; you may fall in line right behind her. Do you mind if I unpin
your sister's curls? Oh, she's lovely--"

"I said she's my _daughter!_"

"Here, right in front, dear--my--oh, what a find!"

And so, with her somewhat bewildered parent in the ranks behind her, her
little black frock wrapped in a purple-and-yellow banner, head up, eyes
stars, Zoe Penny led the largest district of Greater New York up Fifth
Avenue, a constant and running line of applause following her lead.

She was youth sonnetized. Cameras clicked after her, and, with the
martial music tickling her blood, her head went higher still, like a
stag's. To her mother, following after, it seemed that the loudest of
all must be music within her own heart, and so she marched on, sprayed,
as it were, by the wave of constant applause as it broke over Zoe and
died down at the rank and file.

It was dusk when they reached Fifty-ninth Street, and in the jam of
disbanding and quite a little demonstration over Zoe by the section she
had distinguished, they worked their way out finally toward the
cross-town street car, hand in hand, like two ecstatic, rather
bewildered babes in the wood.

At a touch upon her shoulder Lilly turned, spun, rather, under high
tension, to encounter the well-bred hesitancy of an exceedingly slender
woman, a very small head set on the stem of a long, gracile neck,
something hauntingly familiar in the somewhat heart-shaped face and the
far-apart eyes that were considerably younger than the white hair which
framed them.

"I beg your pardon"--in a voice perfectly rounded of edges--"but my
husband is so enchanted with the little girl that we are taking the
liberty of asking to meet her. Won't you permit me to present my
husband, Gedney Daab? You have heard of him, I presume."

Lilly had. The "Dolorosa" above her desk was a print from a Gedney Daab.

He stepped forward then, lanky and rugged, with a great shock of
upstanding gray hair, with the path of his fingers through it and his
features with no scheme at all. Just very delightfully irregular, he
jutted out of any crowd.

"Zoe, Mr. and Mrs. Daab want to meet you."

She lifted her clean gaze, dropped a courtesy, and held out her hand
with the short, curved gesture of childhood.

"Hello!" he said, the timbre of real youth in his voice, which childhood
is so quick to detect from the silly enameling of tone coated on by
grown-ups for the occasion. "I want to paint you, youngster."

"Oh, Lilly, what fun!"

"Then she is your sister?"

"Oh no, Mrs. Daab; she is my daughter."

"But the name--"

"It's our way together."

"How droll!"

"Do you think I'm pretty?"

Gedney Daab looked down at her ardent artlessness without a burst of
laughter.

"Oh, as little girls go."

"Zoe knows God has merely given her a fair urn of a body, Mr. Daab,
which she, in turn, must fill with beauty of mind and spirit."

"You are the Dolorosa, aren't you?" continued Zoe, turning to Mrs. Daab.
"The sad one with the tears that don't show, from crying on the
inside of you."

It was not until then that this dawned upon Lilly. Those eyes of the
Dolorosa, bleeding tears, were Mrs. Daab's.

"You'll have to paint me as glad--won't you?--glad all over clear from
the inside."

"Yes, Sunlight; I rather think I will."

"Will you permit my husband and me to take you home, Mrs.--"

"Penny."

"Oh, please, Lilly!"

"We live rather far up from here--Ninety-first Street, West."

"And we live at Park Hill; so you see we hardly regard that as far."

They were presently riding through the Park, Zoe facing the three of
them in the soft gray interior of the Daab limousine. She was
absolutely artless.

"I've been in a taxi three times and a hansom once. But I prefer this. I
shall have my own some day--only, purple upholstery instead of
gray--sort of wine color--"

"An early eye to effect, I see, young miss."

"I'm the class beauty," she explained. "I didn't care to be that at
first--Lilly says it is just a lovely accident and might happen to
anyone else. She wanted me to be class president; so I decided to
be both."

"You will observe that my daughter is not chiefly notable for her
reticence."

"You come to my studio, little lady, and I am going to paint you just as
golden and radiantly innocent as you are."

"What is 'radiantly innocent'?"

"Good Lord! I don't know any definition of it except--you."

"Zoe has no innocence in one sense, Mr. Daab. Her real innocence lies in
the fact that life has no ugly secrets from her. She knows the beautiful
from the ugly, and why it is so. I think that is what Mr. Daab means by
'radiant innocence,' Zoe.' Fearless knowledge of truth."

He whistled softly in the gloom.

"Extraordinary!" said Mrs. Daab. "And you are one of us--aren't you,
dear?"

"For suffrage? Oh yes; and I am going to be a real one when I grow up."

"What else are you going to be?"

"A singer."

"You said that as if you meant it."

"I do. I've already heard nine operas. I am allowed to be anything I
want so long as I get to the biggest--the very biggest!"

"Are you studying?"

"I've had piano lessons for five years."

"I'm looking about now for a vocal teacher for her. She may be too
young, but at least I want her voice tried. I--we think she has quite an
amazing range."

"Have you tried Trieste?"

"Oh, I haven't dared contemplate anyone so inaccessible as he."

Mrs. Daab turned her head.

"Gedney," she said, "couldn't you give her a note to Trieste?"

"Good!" he said, feeling for a card and scrawling across its face. "This
will pass you directly to his nibs."

"You couldn't have granted us a bigger favor," said Lilly, feeling her
face glow.

"Then you grant me one. Bring your little girl to my Fifty-ninth Street
studio. I want to paint her."

"Indeed I will!"

"When?"

"Saturday afternoon is our only time."

"Fine. To-day two weeks?"

"Yes."

They Were at Ninety-first Street now, and he saw them up to their door.

"Good-by," he said. "You're a great youngster, and you've picked a great
little mother for yourself. Mrs. Daab and I want you both at the
studio often."

Up in their room, they embraced, Zoe's arms tight about her mother's
neck.

"It's begun, Lilly, to be wonderful!"

"What?"

"Life!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Saturday afternoon following, in a brownstone house in West
Forty-sixth Street that was more like a museum of the storied loot of
many lands, Trieste himself opened the pair of Florentine doors,
originally unhinged from a campanile outside of Rome, of his very
private studio, without appointment, to the magic of Gedney Daab's
scrawled card.

He had a head, Lilly decided, like the one of Praxiteles in the St.
Louis Museum of Fine Arts--only, the bust implied young hair, and
Trieste's curls were full of gray and the lines of his face were slashed
deeply. He listened, while Lilly talked her brief preamble, as he
invariably did, with his eyes closed and finger tips touching. Finally,
he opened them, regarding Lilly from under swollen, rather
diabetic lids.

"You should sing," he said, his acquired language grating slightly
against the native one.

"No! No!"

"You are young," he said, running his eyes down her body, "and fine and
big and strong."

She rose as if to throw off the crowding stress of the moment.

"Once," she said; "but that is all over now. My little girl--"

"You have temperament--let me hear," he said, reaching out to the piano
and striking out a bold C. "Sing the scale."

"Please!" she cried, the situation an agony to her. "Not me. My
little--"

"Why, Lilly!" said Zoe, regarding her mother with wide, unaffected eyes.
"Sing the scale, dear."

"Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do"--through a crimson flush.

He seemed to lose interest then, turning to Zoe.

"Let me hear you," he said.

"Shall I sing 'Jocelyn' or 'How Like a Bird'?"

"Anything--something simpler."

"Schubert, then, Zoe."

In her straight frock, with its wide patent-leather belt and flat white
collar, the cascade of her hair down over it, Zoe held the center of the
vast studio, singing straight into her mother's eyes.

It seemed to Lilly, at the sound of that voice, not yet cleared of
childish treble, but as ready to rise as a lark, that every ounce of her
blood must be gushing against her throat; so, after it was finished, she
sat on quite dumbly, staring at the manner in which Trieste remained
sitting with his eyes closed.

"Lyric soprano," he said, finally. "Fine! Big! God-given!"

"_Maestro_--you mean that?"

"Heigh-ho!" he said on a sigh, walking over and placing his hand on
Zoe's curls. "I make up my mind I am seeck of this business. I wait only
for this war to live my day quietly in Capri, where I have my _casa_,
and now a new nightingale flies in at my window. Twice now. Ten years
ago comes Carrienta out of just such a clear sky, and once more, when I
am again sure that one voice is only more unmusical than the rest,
comes this--"

Standing there, Lilly was fighting an impulse to faint. She remembered,
with terror, previous sensations, and fought off the vertigo, biting
down into her lips. She wanted to smile, but her mouth felt numb, as if
it dragged instead of lifted.

"You--you make us very happy--_maestro_."

"Some day," cried Zoe, still thrilling from her effort, "I will sing
until my high C hits the sky!"

'I think you will, _bella mia_, if you have in you the power to work for
it."

"I have."

"Art is the most cruel paymaster in the world. It exacts full
recompense, toil, and heartache before it deals out a first payment
in success."

"I'll pay! I'll pay for what I want, and most of all I want to sing!"

She trilled up a brace of scales for him then, and there were minute
questions of health and habits, and, finally, in a waiting pause, Lilly
found word to ask the question against which her lips stiffened.

"What--are--your terms--_maestro_?"

Something strange happened then, his well-known acumen immediately
asserting itself. It was as if he had slipped into another personality.

"Fifteen dollars a lesson. She must have three a week and her school
work and other studies should be reduced."

"Lilly--we're too poor for that!"

"I--I'm afraid my little girl is right, _maestro_. I--I couldn't even
pay that for all three. I'm employed myself, you see."

"Oh," he said, and walked off to the window, dilly-dallying on his
heels and looking out.

Finally he turned, with a gesture of dismissal.

"I have never before, except Carrienta, done such a thing. It must be a
secret between us. My belief is that art should be as well paid as any
life work, whether it is dentistry or lawmaking or storekeeping. But
your child here--they do not come so every day. In ten years, with
hundreds of pupils each year, she is the greatest since Carrienta. But I
must have first right to her. You hear, first right! I will teach her
free of charge. Leave your name and address with my secretary as you go
out. Send her Monday at four. Loose clothing. Not even corset waists.
Good afternoon. Good-by--Zoe"--placing his hands on her curls as if for
their warmth.

In the room adjoining, under whisper of a very soft pedal, some one,
probably a waiting pupil, was playing the indomitable pianoforte
composition, "Melody in F." Staring at her daughter, an old conceit of
Lilly's girlhood came flowing back. It seemed to her that a proscenium
arch of music was forming over Zoe and that her voice, a high-flung
scarf of melody, was winding itself reverently round a star.

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon, Bruce Visigoth again asked Lilly to marry him.

Taking advantage of the quiet of a Saturday afternoon half holiday, she
had returned to the office to clear her desk of an accumulation of
loose ends.

In spite of herself, an extraordinary depression, low as storm clouds,
was gathering over the excitation whipped up by Trieste's acceptance
of Zoe.

The tight squeeze of a lump was gathering in her throat. Finally she
laid her cheek to the desk and cried a little pool of her unaccountable
melancholy on to the glassed surface.

Bruce Visigoth found her so, although, at his entrance, she sprang from
the mound of her misery, violently simulating affairs at a lower drawer.

"Hello!" he cried, then, eying her crumpled cheek and the lane of tears:
"Ah, I say now! Come, come; this won't do. What's up?"

She rubbed her bare hand furiously across the ravages of her sharp
depression.

"Nothing. I--I guess I'm blue," she said, in a half laugh. "Something
wonderful has happened to Zoe, and I--it's made me so happy, I'm blue.
That's it--so--happy--I'm blue."

"What is the wonderful thing?"

She told him.

It was then he caught her hands.

"Lilly, marry me! Make it possible! Don't let the years lead you into a
blind alley. You are bound inevitably to lose a child like Zoe--to life.
That's why you are so unaccountably blue, Lilly; the writing is on
the wall."

"No!" she cried, plunging past him, her hat in hand and her throat now a
cave of the winds for her unreleased sobs. "The years have brought me,
Zoe. She is my fulfillment. You can't frighten me--life cannot take her
from me. I'm not afraid--only, I can't bear anything to-night, least of
all from you--"

"Lilly, you're not--"

"Let me go! I'm all right--only tired--that's all.
Terribly--terribly--tired."

She was presently on her homeward way, walking swiftly, almost, it would
seem, a little madly, through a May evening that hung as thinly as one
thickness of a veil.

At Seventy-second Street she veered suddenly and rather unaccountably
to Riverside Drive and down into a ledge of park that dips like a
terrace to the Hudson River.

An asphalt walk led in festoons from high parky nooks that sheltered
couples, down to the water-slapped edge of docks, where the tidey surf
had a thick, inarticulate lisp, as if what it had to say might only be
comprehended from the under side.

At one of the lowermost curves of the walk, the width of a brace of
railroad tracks between, a coal dock jutted out into the river. Across
these forbidden tracks, indeed, as if they did not exist,
Lilly wandered.

At the last inch of dock, so that the water licked up at her shoes,
Lilly stood poised. Not, it is true, with the diver's blade thrust of
arms, but rather the unskilled, the indeterminate movement of one
vaguely prompted from the unfathomable places of the heart.

It was upon that move that something, a terrifying restraint, laid hold
of Lilly's jangling nerve ends.

"Hey there! None o' that to-night!"

A dockman's hand, hairy as an Airedale, had her by the arm, and
somewhere at her brow, cooling it, the fine hand of Bruce Visigoth,
pressing her against him, and at that touch Lilly's hysteria shot up
like a geyser.

"Don't!" she screamed, and would have struggled for the edge except for
the two firm hands now pressing her arms to her sides.

"Lilly, for God's sake, get hold of yourself!"

"Let me go! Let me go!"

"Aw no; we don't leggo. It's a good stroke we both happened to spy you
at the same minute. There's nothin' gives strength like a spell of the
craziness. You'd 'a' jumped me alone, sure!"

"No! No! It wasn't that--God, not that! Tell me, Bruce, it
wasn't--that."

"Of course it wasn't, Lilly."

"That's what they all say once they git their senses jerked back. Come
in here and pull yourself together, girl, or I'll call an ambulance or a
patrol, suiting your pleasure."

"Let me go, you! I won't stand it. I must have been mad! Bruce, you tell
him, please--it wasn't--that!"

"You're wrong, old man. Here--take this for your trouble, but this young
woman is my sister. We walked out here together."

Quieted suddenly to the merest timbre of insolence, the old man shambled
off.

"Sure!" he said, far too knowingly. "Sure!" And faded shaggily,
impudently into darkness.

Bruce Visigoth took Lilly home in a taxicab. At her door she broke her
shamed silence.

"You understand, Bruce, it wasn't anything--like that. It must have been
nerves--tiredness--but nothing, Bruce, that you think it was. That old
man was wrong. You must understand--for her sake--it wasn't that."

"Of course it wasn't, Lilly." His voice drained off, as if from
exhaustion.

But for years, like a wound whose jagged lips were slow to close, the
memory of this night lay palpitating between them.



CHAPTER V

"The Web" was tried out in Baltimore the following April, Zoe, Ida
Blair, and Bruce Visigoth traveling down on the same train with the
company. It cost Lilly a pang for Zoe to miss the two days of school and
a vocal, a French, and a piano lesson, but the theater attracted Zoe
like the blithesome little moth she was. The duties of her High School
combined with the unrelenting tutelage of Treiste molded her young days
pretty rigidly to form, but more than once, during the rehearsals of
"The Web," Lilly, seated in the black maw of the auditorium, would turn
suddenly to the feel of her daughter's gaze burning like sun through
glass into the darkness. The company adopted her as a pet. The director
babied her. Once, as the afternoon rehearsal was disbanding, she crept
up through a box to the stage. The footlights were dark, but she came
down quite freely toward them, seeming to feel their mock blaze, and
sang a snatch or two from the tenderest _Lieder_ ever written, bits of
Schubert and Hugo Wolf, the company gathering in the wings to listen
and applaud.

The incident, slight as it was, brought the scratch of tears to Lilly's
eyes and the pull of half hysteria to her lips. What if, after all, an
incredible fulfillment was gathering about her like a vast dawn? "O
God! please!"

And so, to the unending delight and amusement of Bruce, Zoe went along
to Baltimore, Lilly pinching a little over the expense and pressing out
ribbons and girlish accessories up to the last minute.

With Ida Blair, who had sunk back against years the colorlessness of
cold dish water, herself more colorless, it was as if she had fired her
one and only shot and run retreating behind the explosion.

Already her name had been linked with a co-author on programs and
three-sheets, because a collaborator, a professional mender of plays,
had been called in at the last moment to riddle the drama's somber story
with a few "laughs." A character policeman, a comedy jury foreman, and a
subplot of love story between the character policeman and an Irish cook
had been "written in." The last act entirely revised, a happy ending
substituted, and the theme of the story extricated like a jumping nerve.

It was the heroic treatment administered by experts to save what looked
like unmistakable demise after the first Baltimore performance, and all
the while Ida Blair sat mutely by, trying to probe through the actuality
of her play or what was left of it, actually in the acting.

"The Steel Trap," as it was renamed, played to indifferent reviews and
receipts the remainder of the Baltimore engagement, and lost money in
Washington, but to the director, Bruce Visigoth, and certainly to Lilly,
looked a potential property.

So after two weeks the play was removed, revamped, recast, still another
play diagnostician called in, and under his surgery the third and fourth
acts combined, and the original role of love story made to predominate
what sociological note the play still contained. After an October tryout
in Stamford and a New York opening of still doubtful reception, when the
production hung between life and death and all the well-known
exigencies of oxygen were applied in the form of "papering" the house
with two weeks of free tickets, press-agenting, _et al._, the public
decided to like it.

"Who Did It?" as it was re-renamed, settled down to a run of forty-three
New York weeks, and along the Rialto the source of its authorship leaked
out and became curbstone, and finally newspaper, patter.

At the end of six months Ida Blair had resigned her bookkeepership,
erected a small but perfect plinth of blue granite in a certain hillside
cemetery, purchased a story-and-a-half bungalow in the heart of two Long
Island acres, and was raising leghorns and educating a niece
by marriage.

For the forty-three metropolitan weeks, not to mention stock, foreign,
motion pictures, and road incomes that were to accrue later, Lilly was
receiving her share, never less than one hundred and twenty-five dollars
a week and often considerably more.

It was a windfall pure and simple. The years of petty pickering suddenly
seemed more horrid to her in retrospect than she had ever realized they
were in the living. It was hateful to have reckoned in car fares and to
so often have appeared to do the niggardly thing before the unspoken
reproach of her child.

That same winter a cashier's note with her weekly check announced a
thirty-three and a third per cent advance in salary. Life had suddenly
quickened its tempo. She was passing through one of those eras when
events, long crouched, seem to spring simultaneously.

       *       *       *       *       *

In April, 1917, the United States declared war against Germany. Daily
life, even to the indirectly touched, took on a new throb. Fourteen men
employees of the Amusement Enterprise Company enlisted the first week.
A service flag went up. Bruce Visigoth, outside the draft limit,
immediately enrolled on a service committee, spending two days out of
every week in Washington. Vaudeville ranks sagged suddenly and for a
brief moment the gray-haired actor came back into his own. Office
tension tightened. A nervousness set in. A telephone ringing could set
Lilly's nerves to quivering and the telephone not ringing fill her with
a nameless sort of anxiety.

More and more, too, it seemed to her, with the emotions always just a
scratch beneath the surface those war times, that the agony of pretense
between her and Bruce Visigoth could not endure. That he had applied for
a commission in active service Lilly knew, but merely from
correspondence. There had been no talk about it. She awoke nights, heavy
with a dread she could not name.

Only the violent conjuring of her child and a vision of Albert Penny
carried her rebellion past these bad places. Their frequent enforced
conferences; the chance touching of their fingers, only to fly too
instantly apart; the impeccable masks of indifference and elaborate
casualness of manner; the forbidden singing through her entire being as
he walked into the office and the imperturbability of the manner she
must present to him. To contemplate a future futile with such dreary
repetition became almost more than she could bear, and bitter with that
salt were the lonely tears she cried at night.

Even the occasional appearance of Robert Visigoth came more and more to
be a sort of biting irritant to a gangrenous spot she thought long since
had hardened.

He had grown enormously fat and Rufus G. Higginbothom, dying, had
enhanced that glutted look by bequeathing to his only daughter, Hindle,
without stipulation, a leaf-lard fortune of some seventeen
million dollars.

When his daughter, Pauline, was thirteen, he brought her to New York on
one of his frequent fliers, parading the fat, freckled, and frightened
youngster from one department to another.

"How much do you think she weighs?" he was fond of interrogating, with
his small parental eyes full of pride. "Hundred and thirty-six for
thirteen years. Not bad, eh?"

With about the sickest sensation she was ever to know, Lilly saw him
this day lead his daughter past her open door, his face averted and the
roll of fat at the back of his neck redly conscious.

It was after this incident that a half plan, long dormant, lifted its
head. Every day in her comings and goings through the wide fireproof
corridors of the Forty-second Street building a sign on a ground-glass
door waved at her like a flag:

     MISS NELLIE TERRY

     Playbroker

     Authors'
     Manuscripts
     Placed

She had little doubt of her ability to launch out into a scheme of this
sort for herself and liked to incubate the idea in the back of her head,
going so far as to inspect a tiny office on the fifteenth floor,
mentally furnishing it up, and visualizing her name in neat black
letters on her own ground-glass door.

She did broach the subject to Zoe one evening, who, with her head
wrapped in a brilliant fez improvised out of an old cushion top, stood
before the mirror, attitudinizing her part in school entertainment.

"No! Don't go into anything tin horn like that! I hate for you to keep
playing _second fiddle._"

In the pause that followed, hardly perceptible enough to hold the drop
of a pin, Zoe flashed toward her mother, the colossal ego of her youth
somehow penetrated for the moment.

"Why, Lilly--I--I mean--You know what I mean--"

"Of course I know what you mean, dear. Second fiddle!"

And so what with Zoe's growing demands and Lilly's rooted fear of any
jeopardy to them, time marched on rather imperceptibly, except that
Lilly thinned and whitened a bit, slendering down, as it were, to more
and more sisterly proportions as her daughter shot up to meet her. They
were shoulder to shoulder now, if the truth were known, Zoe a little in
the preponderance.

Meanwhile, Zoe was growing restive of the somewhat irksome limitations
of the Ninety-first Street apartment. She complained that the room was
oppressive for her long hours of study and practice. Visits to the Daab
studio, faithful in effect to a Doge's palace and where she was more and
more a favorite, and also to the pretentious homes of one or two school
companions, had an upsetting effect upon her. The long, gloomy neck of
hallway depressed her and she voiced bitterly a secret aversion of
Lilly's for the single bathroom with the ugly wooden floor and shallow
bathtub. "Dump" she called the little flat, her brilliant blue gaze
blackening up.

"I can't have the girls and boys visit me in this little two-by-four,
dear. It's a dump!"

And so early in the run of "Who Did It?" the little group moved again.
This time to a strictly modern, pretentious apartment in West End
Avenue, whose upper apartments boasted a river view and three baths and
rented as high as four and five thousand dollars a year.

For twelve hundred Lilly obtained the ground-floor rear, no view, but
five fairly large rooms and two capacious baths. And since such a house
takes its tone from its highest-priced tenants, they enjoyed with them
the uniformed hall service, the ornate entrance _de luxe_ and foyer
_de trop_.

In lieu of maid, Harry again occupied those quarters, his grandmother
sleeping on a davenport in the sitting-dining-room. There were no
roomers, Lilly carrying the resultant deficit.

She and Zoe again shared what corresponded to the parlor, this time a
fairly large room, with alcove curtained off for sleeping quarters. They
furnished it themselves, quite charmingly, too, and with a consensus of
taste except where Lilly gave way to Zoe's really superior intuition.

There were plain écru walls, not papered, but, at Zoe's instance,
painted and roughened up with a process called "stippling." The two-tone
brown rug. An overstuffed couch of generous proportions and upholstered
in a nicely woven imitation of Flemish tapestry. Along the back of this
piece, which occupied virtually the center of the room, was a long,
narrow table the exact length of the couch, with a pair of Italian
polychrome candlesticks, gift of Gedney Daab, at either end.

A piece of old red brocade hung over the fireplace, covering the ugly
mirror, and facing it a brown-rep fireside chair, coarse tan fishnet
curtains, a pair of huge black-velvet floor cushions with orange-colored
balls in each center, bespeaking a new art era which was dawning as
colorfully and as formlessly as a pricked egg yolk.

An upright piano was stacked with music, and, in spite of Lilly's
argument for them, no pictures on the walls, only a brilliant panel
portrait of Zoe, signed Gedney Daab, her young form in faint profile
against a background of cloth of gold, the face up-flung to a flow of
sunlight that crossed the picture in a churchy ray.

"If we cannot have originals or etchings, we won't have any. I hate
middle-classness."

"But, Zoe, dear--a few good prints. 'The Age of Innocence'--"

She kissed her mother on the mouth with all the outrageous patronage of
youth.

"You're a darling, Lilly, but they just aren't doing it that way any
more, dear."

So there were no pictures.

At the time of this move, Harry had been holding the position of clerk
at the cigar, magazine, and book concession of one of the newest and
noisiest of Broadway's terrific commercial hotels.

The hours were difficult, from noon to midnight, but within the
seventeen months he had advanced from fifteen to twenty-five dollars a
week. A new, a surprising spruceness had laid hold of him. He took to
exceedingly tall small collars and vivid neckwear, his suit very narrow
and making him look less than ever his years.

Mrs. Schum, too, had taken on some of that well-being, and, though she
complained constantly of a sciatic twist in her side, something had
lifted from off her. Her patter about the house, in the slippers with
the rubber insets, was lighter; she discarded the old jet-edged dolman
with the humps on the shoulders and the slits for the arms, for a decent
full-length black coat with a stitched braid border and self-covered
buttons, gift of her grandson. There had been a present for Lilly, too,
a light-blue, drugstore-purchased celluloid toilet set.

He no longer sat idle in his room, his light eyes futile with staring at
space or his head down tiredly in his hands. Something had indeed come
over Harry.

"After all," said Lilly, always readily buoyed, "the operation did
accomplish!"

Sometimes, since his mornings were free, he rode down to the office with
Lilly, eagerly insistent to pay her car fare and cram a return Subway
ticket into the warm pink aperture of flesh where her glove clasped.

Once he bought her a little spray of heather off a vender's tray.

"Harry, you mustn't spend on me this way. You must begin to save your
money for that right girl when she comes along."

Never quick with retort, he stood watching her dart into the foyer of
the Forty-second Street building, a sudden silence shaping around him
that had in it the little noises of birds singing. "Right girl," he kept
repeating after her, or something like that, and remained there
loitering for twenty minutes after her presence had fluttered through
the revolving doors and into the elevator.

And then suddenly a quick succession of events set in.

One night Lilly and Zoe, returning from a Boston Symphony concert for
which they held first-balcony season seats, found Harry trying to pour
brandy between the clenched lips of Mrs. Schum, who lay rigid on the
hall floor where she had fallen, her head bleeding from a sharp contact
with the door.

Her poor face with the shriveled bags of flesh seemed suddenly shrunk,
and, holding the flask against her teeth, Harry's hands were trembling
so that the liquid poured in a thin stream off the edge of her mouth.

After half an hour of desperate and unavailing use of home remedies,
Lilly sent for a doctor, one in the building, who came down in
dinner clothes.

At twelve o'clock that night Mrs. Schum, without regaining
consciousness, was rushed to the Saint Genevieve Hospital in East
Seventy-eighth Street, for an emergency operation that had to do with a
growth in her side.

It was Lilly's first contact with the casualty of sudden illness. In the
little anteroom of the hospital, her hand in Harry's, she sat the
remainder of the night through. He was constantly wiping away the tears
from his light eyes and looking away to gulp. She reassured him where
she could, tightening her hold of his hand.

"Don't--let them hurt her."

"They aren't hurting her, Harry dear. She can't feel at all under the
anaesthetic."

"But they won't know. Gramaw won't let them know. Tell them, Lilly,
she's that way--not to hurt her--please."

"Harry--dear!"

At dawn milk wagons began to clatter through streets no grayer than
Harry's face. But at six o'clock Mrs. Schum was reported "as well as
could be expected" and the operation apparently a success.

They rode home through the early morning, Lilly insisting upon a taxicab
and Harry lying back, quite frankly spent, against her arm. Her vitality
was unquenchable, mounted, in fact, under stress. Untired, she brewed
him hot coffee, forced him to drink it and lie down; tidied up the
little flat there at six-thirty o'clock in the morning, with a
hit-and-a-miss it is true, but allaying all signs of confusion; fluted
an Eton collar for Zoe and packed her off to school; and at half after
eight, just out of a cold and invigorating shower, was combing out the
fine electric rush of her hair, a pink Turkish bathrobe, the color of
her firm, cool skin, wrapped tightly about her and caught in by a cord
at her waist line.

Suddenly through the mirror she saw the door open, and before she could
call out, Harry stood in the center of the room, his eyes running quite
unmistakably over the contour of her sheathed body.

It was the first time he had ever violated the slightest nicety, and,
outraged even in her pity for him, her hand flew up, drawing the robe
closer at her breast.

"Don't come in!" she cried, retreating up against the dresser and
turning her shoulder with the hair flowing over it toward him. "How
dared you come in here without knocking! Go!"

He was crying, not seeming to know it, because he continued, even as she
stood blazing at him, to stand staring through the rain of tears.

"Harry, you're forgetting yourself. You mustn't give way. Your
grandmother is over the worst now--"

Suddenly he was on his knees, his back round and shaken with sobs.

"Lilly--Lilly--can't you see?"

"See what? Is anything wrong? Harry," she cried, stooping to shake him
by the shoulder, "has anything happened again? Are you in trouble?"

He would not rise, following her, to her horror, by walking on his
knees, pressing and pressing the hem of her garments, and before she
realized it burning his kisses down into it. She fought him off, tearing
from his grasp and staggering back against the wall.

"Harry--you're in trouble again."

He caught her bare arm, pressing his lips into the yielding flesh.

"Lilly, I can't hold back any longer. I love you. I'm all alone. With
gramaw here I could hold back--somehow--but now--Lilly--Lilly--I
love you."

She could only stare, her mouth fallen open and the rim of her eyes
their widest.

"It's been so long to--hold back--so long. Since that first day at the
street car--you kissed me--and now with gramaw gone--Lilly--"

She jerked him up from his knees this time, holding him firmly, even
absurdly, by the coat lapels, shaking him.

"Harry, you've gone mad!"

"I love you, Lilly. All these years. I'm all alone now and--"

Her glance shot to the egress of the door, but, seeing that he
anticipated her, she did not dart, but held herself back from him, her
hands in an X across her breast.

"Harry," she said, trying to keep out of her voice a rising sense of
fear, "you're not well You don't know what you are saying or doing."

"You treat me like a child, but I'm a man. Your age! You hear--a man
with a man's feelings for a woman--for you--Lilly. You're my--be my--"

"You get out," she cried, her terror bursting out like a flame. "Get out
or I'll call Mr. Alquist."

She referred to the superintendent of the apartment building, although
she knew him to be well out of hearing. It is probable that Harry knew,
too, because he had her by the elbows, pressing them in against her body
and her hair flowing across his face.

"Lilly, Lilly, Lilly!" he kept repeating, breathing so heavily it
sickened her to hear and feel it, and all the time fumbling with his
free hand down into his waistcoat pocket, bringing up a bit of tissue
paper which he tore at with his teeth, revealing the icy flash of a
great oval diamond ring set up high in platinum. "It's yours, Lilly. I
want to cover you with them. I want you to blaze with them--"

He pressed it on her finger, pushing it down the entire length, danced
her hand before her, catching her to him finally and crushing her and
the flow of her hair to him, kissing so fiercely down that red marks
came out against her whiteness, and when her cry finally rose to a
shriek let go of her, staggering back, his face, never quite clean of
pimples, suddenly fat-looking and with a lionlike thickening up of
the features.

"Ah--yah--yah--yah--yah!"

His incoherence was horrible and she began to sob at him through
hysteria.

"You go! You get out! You stole that ring! You're a thief! You stole
that ring!" she cried, thrusting it with a sudden quick hand down the V
of his waistcoat. "Get out! Get out! Your grandmother--your--" Then,
because words failed and her knees threatened to give way, she snatched
up a book from the table, standing quivering and in the attitude
of hurling.

He did go then, as if the book had actually struck, making a detour of
her and his knees quite bent as he walked.

She finished her dressing in quick, fuddled movements, voice out in her
breathing, buttoning up wrong and tearing open again in the grip of a
nervous frenzy.

A panicky need to gain the outdoors seized her; air to sweep and somehow
to cleanse her.

Before she was quite dressed, her belt not yet adjusted, in fact, the
bell rang in three titters and a prolonged grill. She stood arrested,
for some reason beginning all over her trembling. When Harry did not
answer she went out herself, opening the door to a mere slit. A foot was
pushed immediately in, crowding her back against the wall. Two men
walked in, without removing derby hats, and at sight of them the
nameless terror pinned her there in silence.

"Harry Calvert live here?"

She stood with her answer locked in her throat, conscious, on the
moment, of Harry appearing in the kitchen doorway behind her. She
wanted, for the same nameless reason, to motion him back, to shriek out
a warning, to throw herself against his presence. To herself in quick
repetitions:

"O God, make him go back!"

"Harry Calvert?"

"Yes," replied Harry from where he stood.

"Warrant for your arrest. Charged with entering the apartment of Mrs. J.
King at Hotel Admiral and stealing one four-carat diamond ring valued
at five thousand dollars. More evidence than we know what to do with.
You better come quietly."

"Harry, deny it! They've made a mistake! You haven't the right to come
here at a time like this. There is sickness. His grandmother is dying at
a hospital. You've made a mistake. Take me. I'll appear for him. I'll
give his bail. All you want. Deny it, Harry. Harry!"

For answer a sharp explosion rang suddenly into the narrow hallway,
banging and reverberating against the walls, crowding faces out behind
an immediate purplish smoke.

"Harry! Harry! My God! Harry!"

He crumpled up quietly, one shoulder in the lead and his left leg
bending under him, straightening out then, with half a writhe to
his back.

"No! No! Help him! God! No! No! No!"

But yes. Harry had shot himself, very truly, too, through the heart.



CHAPTER VI

There followed black weeks, with Mrs. Schum lying there on the edge of
death, yet reluctant to go, Lilly's days an intricate pattern of
hospital, office, and home.

She was more tired than she knew and for days after the tragedy went
about with a springy little sob just behind her throat, which was
perpetually taut from holding back tears.

The effect upon Zoe was telling. She whose solicitude for her mother had
never been any too noteworthy and who with all the unthinking blitheness
of an unthinking childhood had taken much for granted, developed,
suddenly, a new consciousness.

She would literally drag Lilly away from the pressing board.

"Don't, Lilly. I'm old enough to iron out my own ribbons." Or: "Don't
polish my shoes, Lilly. It's outrageous!"

"But, Zoe, I would rather you put the time on practicing or reading."

"I can do both."

One Saturday morning she was even awakened to an aroma of coffee, her
daughter standing attendant at the bedside with a tray of steaming
breakfast.

"Stay in bed this morning, Lilly. You look fagged. Let me take a message
down to Visi for you. Oh, Lilly, do! I'll wear my new red tam."

"Nonsense! I'm going down as usual."

"But, Lilly, I want him to see me in it."

Probably Lilly regarded her daughter a second longer than the occasion
warranted, because Zoe broke away from the gaze somewhat redly.

"Faugh! I hate him. He reminds me of a wild horse. But I'll show him
some day that I'm on earth. I'm as full of my own ideals as he is
of his."

"Of course you are, dear; but why so angry?"

"I'm not."

Then Lilly rose, smiling as she dressed.

The household was not easy of readjustment until finally were procured
the services of one of the charwomen from the Bronx Theater, who
prepared the meals and could flute Zoe's collars to the utmost delicacy.

At this time Zoe was an advanced junior in High School, president of her
class, although the hawklike tutelage of Cleofant Trieste had delayed
graduation for a year, slowing down her curriculum to meet his demands
of harmony, languages, rhythmic dancing, and sports. She had a long,
sure swimming stroke that could carry her again her length, rode with
the fine fluid movement of a young body at one with her mount, and
because of her five hours a week at gymnasium excelled in the rather
uncommon sport of handball.

She no longer wore her hair in its great avalanche of curls down her
back; they were caught in now with an amber barrette. Nights Lilly loved
to brush them out until they flared to a dust of gold about her head.
There was no light too dull for this hair to catch. It sprang out in
radiance against any background.

"When you sing Marguerite, Zoe, you won't need a wig."

"Ah, but when I sing Electra--Thaïs--the real me--no namby-pamby
Marguerite--no pearls--that's how I feel about Thaïs--as if she were a
great opal full of fire. Hair," flopping her head backward with a bounce
of curls, "is hot--it restricts. These curls--they are all hot and
crawly around my neck, holding me."

"Poor Harry! You remember how he used to love to take you out walking to
show off your curls?"

"Lilly, is Mrs. Schum going to get well?"

"I don't know. It frightens me. I cannot bear to look ahead for her,
poor dear."

"If she gets well she'll have to know, won't she, that Harry didn't go
to war?"

"Yes, and somehow--I couldn't stand her knowing that."

"She'll know it some day, anyhow."

"Yes, but then maybe where it will be easier for her to understand."

On her own responsibility Lilly had employed this subterfuge with Mrs.
Schum. Slowly as she came clutching back at consciousness, the name of
her grandson more and more on her twisted lips, Lilly whispered it down
to her, closing her hand over the tired old bony one.

"Listen, dear Mrs. Schum, I've--news for you."

"They're all against him--"

"No, no, dear. While you've been so ill, what we had hoped for has
happened. Harry's been accepted, dear--he's enlisted."

She crinkled her brow, trying to understand.

"They wouldn't take him. He wanted to fight for his country. They were
all against him--"

"No, no, dear. It's all different now. Since our country is at war Harry
has been accepted. The boys were rushed overnight to training camp.
Thousands of them. He came weeks ago to tell you good-by, but you were
too ill to know. He's on a transport now, dear, sailing to fight for his
country. Aren't you proud? Aren't we all proud?"

The poor hands began to tremble, feeling their way up along Lilly's arm.

"Harry's gone--to war?"

"Y-yes--dear."

She seemed to speak then, through a pale transparent sleep, into which a
new contentment pressed lightly.

"Harry's gone. Annie, he's a soldier. He's so gentle with me, Annie, a
meek child, like you were. Never any back talk or a harsh word. Whatever
wrong he did was forced on him by those working against him. They were
all against him. His Mamma-Annie knows. She bore him and I raised him.
Fight, Harry! The streak from your father can't keep you down. Show
them, Harry, show them. Whatever wrong my boy did was forced on him by
those working against him--"

"That's all past now, dear."

"He liked you, Lilly. He'd have gone through fire for you. You were
always good to my soldier boy. I was forever finding old bits of things
that you had thrown away among his belongings. Don't tell him I told
you. Old pencils and old gloves. He was a great one for gathering up
things for keepsakes after you had thrown them away. Gloves--found some
old ones of yours under his pillow one morning. Not taking things, you
understand, but just pulled out of the rubbish heap for remembrance."

"I do understand, dear."

And so the weeks of her illness and of Lilly's deception dragged on.

There were holes in the fabric of the story, obvious to any but Mrs.
Schum's tired consciousness, and a too sudden inquiry could throw Lilly
off her guard, but there was a flag with one shining service star
glowing above the narrow bed, and evenings straight from the office
Lilly would hasten to the hospital with fruits that could only be looked
at, and newspapers to be unfurled and read.

"Is his name in the papers yet?"

"Not yet."

"Why?"

"I--You see, dear, the transport has just reached the other side."

"My boy will show them--"

The kindly spirit of the deception had fallen over the entire corridor.
A maternity case in the room adjoining sent in a silk flag with
hand-embroidered stars. The head nurse, herself on the eve of sailing
for service, had shopped the flag with the one bright star. The doctor,
fathering the lie, called her "captain" and saluted her upon entering
the room with a flash of palm and a click of heels.

She could smile at this, but with lips as blue and shriveled as drowned
flesh.

One night after she had dozed off and wandered into some phantasmagoria
where she seemed to fancy herself seated in the bow of a boat with her
daughter, she opened her eyes suddenly, reaching out for Lilly's hand.

"Lilly, your poor mother. Do you ever think of her?"

"Yes, yes, I do, dear."

"You remember, Lilly, how she used to rush down right from the breakfast
table to the bargain bins for those pink and blue mill-ends she used to
dress you so pretty in. My! wasn't she one for Valenciennes lace,
though! Wouldn't she just dress Zoe up, though--"

"Wouldn't she!"

"She was a good woman in her way, Lilly, even with all her fussing and
nagging. My! how she did used to nag! I understood her. The ketchup. She
was a great one for condiments and would have them all over the other
boarders. Ketchup and the best cut of the meat for you and your father.
There was just no pleasing her. But I understood her--she's a good
woman, Lilly."

"Indeed, mamma is good!"

"It's not that I don't glory in you, Lilly, and your having a wonder
child. You know I've always gloried in you. You've a head on you I
always say that's going to carry you beyond us all, but don't you ever
feel, Lilly, that maybe your doings have been wayward?"

"I do. I do."

"Your mother. Your father, as patient and as fine a man as breathed.
Your husband, I don't know him, but life is so short. So terribly short.
So full of pain and regrets for what can't be undone. That's why I
cannot go and leave my boy behind--to suffer alone. I want him to go
first. He's not strong. What is life, except doing for those we love?
Don't you ever feel that about them out there, Lilly? Life is so
short--such a struggle--alone--"

"Dear Mrs. Schum, you--you--you're right."

"Ah, I know---the young man in the box with you at 'The Web' that night
it opened. Your boss. I know! He likes you, that young man does, Lilly.
It's easy to see it in his eyes for you. That's why it's dangerous.
Harry likes you, too--but not that way, I think. He saves your old
gloves. That's always struck me as funny. They're all against him. The
fire escapes; that's why I lock the doors. You hear--the fire escapes.
Poor Lilly! just a little too much ambition and not quite enough talent
to reach. I used to predict for you all the things that are cropping out
in your child. Zoe is to be the one, Lilly. Not you--or Harry--or
Mamma-Annie--Zoe! Funny his saving your gloves--"

These were the times that Lilly would sit there crying, old musty
memories rising around her like kicked-up dust. There were whole
evenings when her mother's name was constantly on the not always
coherent lips, and to Lilly the old sense of the unreality of her
universe, or was it herself, laid somewhat, by the busy years, would
come surging again. Where were the visions for which she had climbed,
spike-shod, up that loving wall of living flesh back there? How long
since her last dream of self had vanished? Zoe was her answer.

One evening when Lilly arrived home from the hospital she found Zoe
squatting in bed, her face naughtily screwed into a little grimalkin
knot, elbows pressed into her sides, palms up, and all attitudinized to
emulate a Chinese god. Holding this pose for a full minute after Lilly
had entered the room, she began to bounce in hilarity up and down on the
mattress, probably to allay her own sense of inner unease.

For the full round of the minute Lilly stared, her glance widening and
darkening. Something had happened to Zoe. Something horrid.

"Don't you love it, Lilly? Don't stand there like you're frozen.
Everybody loves it. All the models down at Daab's are wearing it this
way. Thaïs does. Jeanne d'Arc does. Don't look at me that way."

Zoe had bobbed her hair. It hung quite straight, and in an outstanding
shock, because of its thickness, just below her ears. Franz Hals would
have loved the rectilinear contour of her. She was saucy. She was
abbreviated. She was naughty; and liked to flop her head about for the
soft throw of her hair.

Her mother dropped rather than sat on a chair edge, trying to keep down
the storm of anger that had her by the throat and eyeballs.

"Your curls! All gone! Your beautiful hair! What have you done? You
wicked girl! You--wicked--girl--you!"

It was the first time in all the largesse of her youth that such a tone
had assailed Zoe. The very seventeenness of her revolted; she dropped
her attitude.

"Why, Lilly--you--you're talking like other--mothers."

But the spank in Lilly's hand was suddenly singing against her palm and
there was a rush of her not so forbearing forefathers to the very front.

"You horrid girl! How dared you? Don't come near me! Your beautiful hair
that I've never been too tired to brush for hours! To have realized
those gorgeous curls in you and for--for this! You horrid, selfish
girl--selfish--selfish!"

All during this, her naughtiness fallen from her like a cloak, Zoe sat
regarding her parent, her lower lip less and less steady. She might have
been stunned, trying to keep her equilibrium by a series of rapid little
blinks, Lilly meanwhile sunk into a heap and crying down into her hands.

"Lilly--dearest--darling--est--"

"Don't talk to me."

"But, Lilly--you--you've always wanted me to be true to myself."

"You're not true to yourself. You're true to a pose, a silly fad that
you've picked up around the Daab studio."

"You always said if I wanted to be a circus rider I could, just so I was
better than all the other circus riders. Well, I wanted to have my hair
bobbed and I bobbed it bobbiest."

"Your comparison is stupid. You know it is. You've never taken a step
before without talking it over with me. You know perfectly well I should
not have interfered. I should have tried to make you see the folly of
cutting off your beautiful curls, but if you had still insisted, off
they might have come just the same. I think it is that as much as the
loss of the curls. Your privilege has become a license. You've made
everything seem ridiculous--me--you."

"Then you've made me so. If you want me to be like other girls you
should have reared me like other girls. Have other girls' fathers who
don't know they are on earth? Have other girls' mothers who--"

"Zoe!"

As if the words had been live coals scuttling off her lips before she
knew, Zoe sat back, staring at her mother's stare, scalding tears
already welling.

"Lilly, forgive me. I--I wish I could cut my tongue out. I didn't mean
it that way; you know I didn't. If you don't forgive me I can't stand
it," the stabbing consciousness of that impulsively flung reproach
already through her like a hurting wound.

"You are right, Zoe, I--"

"I didn't mean one word, Lilly darling, not one eeny word. It's just
that all of a sudden it seemed to me to be the freest, gladdest thing in
the world to cut off my hair. That's it, free! Haven't you ever had
that feeling, darling? Free! I wouldn't have done it, Lilly, if I had
known how it would hurt. Lilly--darling--mother. If I've hurt you I want
to just die. My own dear--Lilly--"

Her voice caught on the crest of a sob and she was at her mother's feet,
seeking out her lap, tears rushing down over her incoherence.

"I'll grow it back again for you, Lilly. I'll make it up to you,
sweetheart. I didn't mean that--what I said about fathers or--or other
girls--you know I didn't. I'm bad. Terrible."

In some alarm, Lilly placed her hand on the shorn head, shuddering in
spite of herself as if the ends were bleeding.

"Sh-h-h, Zoe! It upset me, dear, that's all--the shock of seeing you
sitting up in bed there--with it off."

"I'll make it up to you, Lilly. In so many ways. Soon. It's settled,
dear, that Auchinloss is coming to America in the fall to conduct.
Trieste is going to arrange my audition for September. He promised
to-day I'd be ready. Think, Lilly, my audition so soon. I'll have the
wig made out of my own hair, dear, for Marguerite. Don't feel badly,
Lilly; the wig will look--"

"I don't any more, Zoe. It was just the shock--"

"I know it was silly, dear, but it will grow quickly and I just had that
feeling to be free--you see, dear--"

"I do see, dear, I do. Zoe, look at me. Doesn't it ever come over you,
on the eve of so much, dear--that perhaps you do need his--your
father's guardianship--"

"Now just because I said _that_. I tell you I'm a devil. I didn't mean
it--not one word--"

"I know you didn't. It cropped out unconsciously. You're not to blame.
He's a good man, Zoe, your father, and his steady hand might do much
where I--may have failed."

"If you talk that way I can't stand it. You tell me so often he's a good
man, I wonder if he really is--"

"You're getting beyond me, Zoe. I wonder if the day isn't inevitable
when you are going to break out more and more into unconscious
reproach."

"Lilly--no--no--"

"Oh, I don't only mean what you said just now. But it's on my mind more
and more, now that you are old enough to decide for yourself. You cannot
be sucked back any more into a life you would not tolerate. You can
choose. That is what I have been waiting for. Doesn't the ache ever come
over you, Zoe, to see your father? Just a natural instinctive ache, if
nothing else--your grandparents--"

"No! No! No! I hate it all as you hated it. If you want to punish me
terribly--for saying something I didn't mean--just talk them to me. I
want wideness, must have it! Room! I--I could say it in music better
than in words. Some day I shall compose a song that says it for
me--the--the way I feel it. Don't stop now saving me from them. Wait.
Wait, Lilly, until I sing. Trieste understands even better than you. I'm
the surprise he keeps hinting about to everyone. I'm going to bowl them
over at my audition. Lilly--have I ever failed you? Have I ever come in
second for you? No, and I never will. You won't ever be sorry, Lilly--on
my account. You won't even care that I've cut off my hair. Lilly dear,
do you believe me? I'm always going to come in first for you. First!"

"I do, dear, I do."

And of course in the end they sobbed together, and lay far into the
dawn, cheek to cheek, until finally Zoe dropped off to sleep and Lilly
lay wide-eyed beside her, the perfume of her child's soft breathing
against her cheek.

The next morning in the reading room of the Public Library a notice
catapulted itself at Lilly from the second page of the St. Louis
Globe-Democrat:

L.H. Hines, president, and Albert Penny, vice president of Slocum-Hines
Hardware Company, leave shortly for Washington, where they have been
called to give expert advice upon installing American Canteen Service.



CHAPTER VII

The day that followed seemed to Lilly vague with a sort of fog. A
disturbing something lay against her consciousness and one of her
unquiet nights was filled with the unaccountable crying. But morning
invariably brought back reality and her workaday could envelop her
busily, even happily.

Meanwhile, war, like a spreading wing, had blackened against the
international sky. Somme, Vimy Ridge, Aisne had been bled, and more than
ever the streets that led toward the embarkation points were the color
of khaki, women frequently running alongside, crying and laughing
bewildered farewells.

Some of this war hysteria, of which she was really no integral part,
had, however, hold of Lilly. Her throat ached with it. Her state cropped
out in her work. One afternoon she traveled to Newark for the purpose of
seeing a Japanese sleight-of-hand act, and came away without sufficient
impression of any kind to pass judgment.

Bruce Visigoth eyed her closely.

"You're tired," he said, commenting upon her failure to turn in the
report. "You need a rest."

"No," she said, "it's just--a little of everything--I guess--then Harry
Calvert--that was a shock, you see, and now his grandmother. I'm with
her at the hospital every evening--and then this war--this futile
bleeding--horror."

He could never, with her, keep his tone as level as his manner.

"Lilly," he burst out, "drop it all for a couple of weeks. You and the
youngster come out to the place in Tarrytown. There are some things I
want to talk over with you. I'm working now to obtain the rights to that
little beauty from the Spanish you gave me to read. I'm going to produce
after this war mess slows down. It is the exquisite kind of thing I'd
expect you to find."

"I didn't. Zoe read it to me one evening. She was the one to see its
possibilities."

"It's spring, Lilly, and I want you to see the place. My sister Pauline
moved in last week. I want you to be our first guest. It's
spring, Lilly--"

It was his first mention to her of the recent purchase of a
one-hundred-acre estate at Tarrytown, although in her capacity of notary
public she had officiated at the drawing up of certain papers and deed.
Blue prints of plans had passed through her hands. That he had furnished
it she knew, too, from the magnitude of breath-taking bills from
decorators and dealers exclusive antique. It had piqued her more than
she would admit, his failure to solicit even her advice or opinion.
There was a framed photograph of plans on his desk in the office which
her eyes studiously avoided. Furtively and with the edge of her gaze,
she knew the house to be a low-length with Tudor peaks to it that gave
her a nostalgia for pools of green quiet and the leafy whisperings of
English countrysides she had never seen.

"I want you out at the place, Lilly, more than I can say. Please come.
The way things are clouding up, there is no telling how soon they'll let
me over for active service. Lilly?"

She shook her head.

"I can't. Zoe graduates next month, and--"

"Good Lord! the youngster!"

"Seventeen."

He whistled.

"Well, I'll be hanged. The sun-kid. Bring her out too, Lilly."

"Trieste is very strict with her. She is preparing for her audition in
September, and even if it could be managed, there is poor Mrs. Schum,
you know."

His eagerness would not endure obstacle.

"Bring her out, too. How's that, Lilly? I'll send a limousine full of
pillows for her. It will take Pauline's mind off her loneliness, having
some one to mother. We'll put her up in a sun room with a view of pine
woods and Hudson River that cannot be surpassed. It's spring--Lilly--"

"Poor Mrs. Schum!" she replied, her smile tired and twisted. "I'm afraid
her next journey will be a longer one than that."

"Poor soul! Does she still think that boy of hers is fighting?"

"Surely there is no wrong in saving her from the horror of the truth."

"You dear girl, of course, no. It's only that--somehow don't you think
that before she passed on she ought to know that he's gone on
before--even if you have to tell her that he died--gloriously?"

"I've thought of that," she said, looking away, "thought and thought of
it."

"Lilly," he cried, reaching for her two hands She drew them back quickly
and walked out.

That evening when she presented herself at the hospital the nurse met
her outside the door with her finger to her lips.

"She is sinking, but conscious."

Confronted with her emergency, Lilly stood before that closed door,
beating all over with her silent little prayer:

"O God, help me! Help me, help her!"

Mrs. Schum was quite conscious.

"Lilly," she said, reaching out a thin old hand that was covered with
veins as round as cables, "I've been waiting."

"Here I am, dear."

"I think I'm done, Lilly. I--dream so much--of God."

"Why, you're better, dear!"

"No. I'm going. I wanted so to wait for my boy. The doctor, can't he
help me to wait, Lilly? Ask him to help me to wait. I keep thinking he's
over there somewhere--Harry--funny isn't it? Over there waiting. You've
heard no news, Lilly?"

In this moment more propitious than she dared hope Lilly leaned over.

"Yes, dear, there is news."

"Harry?" she said quickly and sharply, lifting her head.

"Yes, dear--Harry--is--over there--waiting."

"His Mamma-Annie's boy--they were all against him. He can't stay back
here alone--he needs me, doctor--help me to wait for him--"

"Listen, dear--Harry's gone."

"Where?"

"Why--over there--just as your intuition told you."

She pulled at the sheet with fingers as fleshless as the feet of a bird,
moving her lips, vainly at first, and suddenly jerked herself up with a
strength no doctor would have conceded her.

"He's dead, Lilly. My boy's dead. Please--please--it is so--isn't it? My
boy's dead?"

"Yes."

"I knew it. Oh, Annie, you're the mother of a soldier. God wouldn't let
me leave him back here--alone. I wouldn't have left him. There wasn't
any good ahead for him. That's why I wanted him to die like a soldier.
Before he should come to the bad places ahead. I can go so easy now. I'm
done. God fixed it for me--Lilly."

She held the racked old form to her, kissed away tears that the washed
old eyes could hardly yield, made a couch of her arms, and held her
close so that their heartbeats met.

"Lilly, I feel so easy. I never felt so easy."

"Lie quietly, dear."

"Life can be hard, Lilly. And now--war. Make it easier for yourself.
Don't let him out there--go over there--anywhere--reproaching. Your
parents--your child--it's his as much as yours, Lilly. If I had gone
first, my boy would have reproached. There is nothing so terrible,
Lilly--as eyes that reproach--eyes--Lilly--don't."

"I--won't."

She drifted off then in the placidity of a sleep from which she was not
to emerge.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lilly walked home that early morning following. Her direction lay in a
straight line through Central Park. Spring was out in firstlings of
every kind. The baby nap of new grass. Trees ready to quiver into leaf.
The sun came up from behind a sky line of skyscrapers, and as she was
crossing the Mall a fountain rained up a first joyous geyser, some
sparrows immediately plunging for a bath.

She sat down on a bench there in the lovely quiet, quite lax, and,
because of its pressure, her natty little blue sailor in her lap. The
air was like cool water and she closed her tired eyes to it.

Finally children began to trot past on their way to school. She heard
their shouts and watched them. A father passed with his little girl by
the hand and carrying her sheaf of books. A boy in knickerbockers lunged
furiously on roller skates. Another drove his ball under her bench and
she smiled as she drew aside to let him drive. A private in khaki threw
her a flirtatious glance. The sun found her finally.

Then Lilly followed one of her curious and absolutely irrepressible
impulses, one that must have been smoldering who knows how long.

She completed her walk through the Park. At Seventy-second Street, where
she emerged, a family hotel, one of those _de luxe_ mausoleums to family
life, reared showily. Without pause she turned in there, finding out the
telegraph desk; wrote her message largely and flowingly, leaning over
while the operator read out the words to her:

Mr. Albert Penny, 5198 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. Won't you
include New York in your visit to Washington and if possible bring
parents. Try to. Lilly Penny, 2348 West End Avenue.

Hearing that telegram repeated, the pencil marking time word by word, it
seemed to Lilly that each one of them was released with the spring of an
arrow from its bow, and that the operator recoiled, stunned, from the
impact of the message.

"Well," she said, leaning farther over the desk, and for some reason
shaping the word to a breathless question.

"Fifty-one cents," said the girl, through the inimitable laconism of gum
chewing.



CHAPTER VIII

Six hours later there was a reply folded in Lilly's purse:

We leave to-day for Washington. Arrive New York next Sunday 2.03 _via_
Pennsylvania. Albert Penny.

An incredible state of calm set in. She had the sensation of each
intervening day a shelf of terrace down which she was walking into a
deepening sea. Dreams ill-flavored as Orestes' filled her nights, and
how tired she was must have sopped into her pillow, but her capacity for
the present lessened her dread and made more bearable the fluent and
fateful passing of the time.

There were the details of the poor little funeral to be arranged. Lilly,
who had never known death, was suddenly face to face with it again, at a
time, too, when the incipient beginnings of pandemic that was later to
scourge the country was reaping its first harvest; a strange malady
carried on the stinking winds of war, shooting up in spouty little
flames, that, no sooner laid, found new dry rot to feed upon. Spanish
influenza, it was called, for no more visible reason than that it
probably had its beginnings in Germany or India.

On the Wednesday of Mrs. Schum's funeral five of the Amusement
Enterprise office force were home with it, one little telephone
operator, who occasionally laid the surreptitious offering of an orange
or a carnation on Lilly's desk, succumbing.

It was amazing how light the imprint of Harry and his grandmother. Of
effects there were practically none. A few tired-looking old dresses of
Mrs. Schum's. Eleven dollars and some odd change in a tin box behind a
clock. Harry's pinch-back suit with the slanting pockets. A
daguerreotype or two. The inevitable stack of modest enough but unpaid
bills. Odds. Ends. And in a wooden soap box shoved beneath Harry's cot,
old door bells, faucets, bits of pipe, glass door knobs, and, laid
reverently apart, a stack of Lilly's discarded gloves, placed to
simulate the print of the hand.

For days, Zoe, who had taken the tired willingness of Mrs. Schum so for
granted, cried herself bitterly into a state that threatened to take the
form of a fever, and then to the strophe and antistrophe of her young
grief, becoming self-conscious, burst, with not particularly precocious
rhyme, reason, or meter, into the following, which was printed in her
school paper:

     "Teach me to live, O God,
      If sorrow be to live,
      Then let me know
        All pain that it can give."

     "Teach me to live, O God,
      To know the gold from dross,
      To live, dear God, to live.
        I care not what it cost."

And Lilly, the dear mother dust in her eyes, had the page framed beneath
a faded photograph of Mrs. Schum, taken when her lips and breast
were young.

To attune Zoe to the coming of her family was no small matter. She was
outrageously rebellious, flagrantly irreverent, and for every outburst
Lilly bled her sense of blame.

"You've made a farce of everything, Lilly. You've fought for a
principle and, with it won, turned maudlin. What is the idea? To drag me
back there to join the sewing circle and the local society for the
prevention of spinsterhood to maidens?"

"You are not funny at all. You know you are clear of that kind of thing.
You're like an arrow on its way to its goal. Straight and sure. Nothing
can deflect you. That's why I dared."

"Well, then?"

"Realizations can come, Zoe, even to a selfishness as great as mine has
been."

"Sacrifice is not always beautiful. It can be silly and futile."

"Zoe!"

"Yes, and bring rewards to neither side. Half the people who are
sacrificed for become tearful tyrants, and those who do the sacrificing
sour and meek, or holy with righteousness."

"You are reciting the kind of thing you hear down at Daab's."

"I'm reciting you."

"You darling boomerang!"

"I suppose now you are sorry you didn't stay at home in your canary cage
to no one's particular advantage and your own terrific disadvantage. Now
that you have reared me into the kind of human being you set out to be,
you renig. Do you want to throw me back into that bowl with the greased
sides that you managed to climb out of? Not much."

This from Zoe, mixed metaphor and all, who at seventeen kept _Doll's
House_, Freud, _Anna Karenina_, and Ellen Key on the table beside
her bed.

"Theories go down, Zoe, before life--and death."

She sat haughtily young, and without tolerance, her profile averted and
trying to keep the quiver off her lips.

"Just when I'm ready to graduate and preparing for my audition--to have
this--"

"Zoe--Zoe--don't make it harder--"

"I'm a dog, Lilly--forgive me."

"The entire abominable condition is my fault--"

"Then thank God for the abominable condition. I love you and everything
you've done."

"Then be sweet to them for my sake. Your grandmother, she's going to be
unlike anyone you have ever known. She's a great one to pick up the
bread crumbs of life with a great ado. That's been her existence,
dear--little things. And your grandfather, Zoe, he's so gentle. Somehow
I imagine he is even gentler now. You remember I used to tell you how
we'd play at hide and seek long after I was grown. Oh, Zoe, be sweet!"

"I will, dear."

"And--your father. Whatever his attitude may be, remember the fault lies
in me--not him."

"Trust me, Lilly, if only he doesn't drop dead when he sees me!"

"Zoe!"

Between them the little drama was carefully rehearsed.

"Visi would pay big money for this act."

"You'll be your own natural sweet self, Zoe? No posing?"

"Don't worry. I suppose if the truth is known I'll have an aggravated
case of stage fright."

"They'll know--everything, Zoe, before I let them see you. Just be
simple, dear--and please--no dramatics!"

"It's all too dramatic for dramatics," she replied, cryptically.

It was finally decided that Lilly was to meet the train alone, settle
the trio at the Hotel Astor, and arrive at the apartment in time for a
dinner prepared by a cook and waitress especially brought in for
the day.

"Break the news in a public place, Lilly--the hotel lobby or a
taxi---and avoid family fireworks."

"My news can't be broken."

"Why?"

"Smashed, rather."

At four o'clock the morning of the arrival, Lilly was up, moving with
the aimlessness of great nervousness about the apartment. At that same
hour Mrs. Becker was emerging backward from her sleeper, kimono-clad,
and bulging through the curtains into the dark aisle.

"Carrie," her husband whispered after her, jutting his head out with a
turtle's dart, "it's only three o'clock, Eastern time. Why are you
getting up?"

"Because I want to," she said, plowing on.

Once in the dressing room, she fell to crying as she staggered and
dressed, apparently because each object, as she took it up, fell from
her fingers.

And yet the meeting occurred, as dreaded and anticipated moments often
do, damply, and as a heavily loaded bomb, for one reason or another, can
go off with a cat cough.

To the observer, what happened that early afternoon was simply a very
trim and very tailored young woman, her boyishness of attire somewhat
accentuated because her swift clean-cutness was so obviously its
inspiration, greeting, in the marble vastness of Grand Central Terminal,
a trio of what was plainly a pair of travel-stained parents and
perhaps an uncle.

Standing there peering between the grillwork as the train slid in
through the greasy gloom, watching the run of "red caps" and the slow
disgorging of passengers, Lilly saw it all in waves of movement, waves
of heat, waves of gaseous unreality.

Then she spied them. Her mother in the old, familiar vanguard, her
father with that bulge to his back from which the gray coat hung
loosely, Albert struggling to save his luggage from the fiery piracy of
a "red cap."

Her first sense was of fatness, their incredible, caravaning,
lumbaginous fatness! There was a new chin to her mother. Gone was the
old pulled-in waistline, but the old love of finery was out on her hat
in ostrich plumes, a boa of marabou lending further elegance. And her
father! He was somehow behind himself, slanting out from neck to quite a
bulge of abdomen, then receding again to legs that caught her throat
with a sense of their being too thin to sustain him. The fringe of hair
that showed beneath his slouch hat was quite white, too, and with that
same clutch at her throat she saw that it was thin as a baby's can
be thin.

It is doubtful if she would have known Penny. He was himself in
sebaceous italics. The old stolidity of stature was there, but hardly
the solidity. Like Mrs. Becker, he had chubbied up, so to speak, until
he looked shorter. And Albert was bald. It showed out under the rear of
his derby, like a well-scrubbed visage awaiting some deft hand to sketch
in the features, as poor Harry had done it to the clothespins. His
Scandinavian blondness was quite gone; there was just a fringe of tan
hair left and his jowls hung a bit, of skin not quite filled
with flesh.

All this in a telegraphic flash as she stood there waiting, and at the
sight of her father, on his too thin legs, dragging his cane slightly so
that it scraped, and in the other hand a sagging old black valise that
she remembered, all the tightness at her throat relaxed suddenly, the
tears coming so easily that she could smile through them.

The dragging of that cane, it hurt her poignantly, as little vagrant
memories can.

They spied her out even as she spied them, and, bodybeat to bodybeat,
she and her mother met, shaking to silent sobs and twisting hearts. Then
her father, pressing the coldly smelling mustache to her lips and
lifting her in the old way by the armpits, so that the instant closed
over her like a swoon.

With Albert it was strangely easier; there was a pause as wide as a hair
while he stood there blinking, and weighted with his unsurrendered
luggage.

"Albert," she said, finding the word at last.

At that moment, a "red cap," wild for fee, made for one of the brand-new
leather cases.

"Let go," he cried, in small anger. "That is a
six-dollar-and-ninety-eight-cent bag you are jerking."

Then he brought his gaze back to Lilly, his Adam's apple above the gray
necktie throbbing so that it seemed to her his entire body must
reverberate to the pistonlike process.

"Well," he said. "Well, well," the words dropping down into the dry well
of a gulp.

But somehow after the episode of the luggage, everything was easier, for
Lilly at least. She could smile now.

Very presently they were actually in a taxicab together, the talk of
the moment echoing against the silence of unspoken words taking shape
between them.

"Papa!" she said, finally, from the little folding seat opposite him,
stroking his hands and steadying herself with them against the throw of
the cab. "Oh, papa, papa!"

He smiled back through crinkles that were new to her, patting her in
turn and looking off.

Mrs. Becker fell to crying, pressing her handkerchief up against her
eyes and trying to lift her veil above the tears.

"After all these years," she kept repeating. "Years. Years."

"Now, now, Carrie--you promised."

"What hotel?" asked Penny, one of the bags across his knees and one
weather eye for the other on the driver's seat.

"The Astor; that is one of the best. I've your rooms all arranged for.
My--my place is too small."

"A less expensive would do, wouldn't it, mother?" addressing himself,
without once meeting Lilly's eye, to his mother-in-law.

"You're my guests," she said, trying to smile down old aversions. "This
is my party."

"Years--" sobbed Mrs. Becker. "She looks the same, but I'm a stranger to
my own child. Ben, we're strangers."

They were all suddenly in tears, Mr. Becker laying a clumsy hand to his
wife's arm.

"Carrie, you promised--"

"Can't help it--can't help it," her lips bubbling. "I'm bursting with
it. All these years. I can't hold in. What mother could?"

Only their arrival at the hotel stemmed the rising tide, but, once up
in their aerial suite of rooms, the last bell hop tipped out, then broke
the storm wave, flaying them all.

"Lilly--Lilly let me look at you. Baby--are you my baby--are you mine?
Years--O God--years--"

"Mamma--mamma--"

"Feel my heart. Ben--tell her--what I've suffered--"

"Carrie--now--now--what is past is past; we must look to the present
now."

"Papa dear--you look so changed and yet so--natural--"

There was an air of indescribable prosperity that rose off Mr. Becker,
in the nondescript but excellent quality of the gray suiting, the
polished, square-toed, custom-made shoes, the little linen string of
necktie, one for each day, the kind, despite family suasion, he had
always worn. But it was difficult for him to speak now because he was
always blinking and looking off.

"You've given us a great sorrow to bear, Lilly," he said, in a tone of
rehearsed reproach. "We tried to be thankful for our health
and--bear our--"

"There he goes on health again at a time like this. I'm a broken woman.
Years! Years of explaining lies to the community. Years of holding up
our heads over an opera singer that nobody ever hears about and that
never came home to her folks. Years of feeling them laugh behind our
backs--your father and husband trying to hold up their heads in business
under the lie. What have I ever done, I've asked myself all these
years--to deserve it? I've never harmed anyone. I've--"

"Carrie--please."

"Where do you live? How do you live? A stranger to my own child. Worse
than a stranger!"

"I've a well-paid position with a producing firm, mamma, and I live
nicely. You shall see, dear."

"Producing? Producing what? Trouble? A position! For that she threw away
her life. Her big talk of prima donna, and we find her in a position.
The girl that was going to set the world on fire. That's why we looked
our eyes out all these years for her name in the paper, only to find her
in a position! Ben, what have we ever done to deserve it? Albert, I'm
her mother, but my heart bleeds for you--"

He was tugging at his bag straps, industriously keeping his head
averted, but the red up in his ears.

"Mother," he said, "did you pack my throat atomizer?"

She licked up at the taste of her tears.

"It's wrapped in between your socks. You're standing in a draught,
Albert; close that window. You heard that man in the train about the
epidemic of colds that is starting all over the country. O my God! I'm
just so upset. And now that it has happened everything is so different.
I could tear out my tongue for what I want to say and I can't say
anything--not so much your father and I--at least we had Albert to help
make it up to us. We know what a son he has been, don't we, Ben, but to
think of him, the upstandingest boy that ever wore shoe leather--him
having to suffer for it--"

"Carrie, Carrie, it's time to go over all that later. Let's get our
bearings. Lilly, you've not changed except for the bones kind of
setting and--"

"I don't like you in those shirt waists. Too mannish. The lace I used to
dress that child in! The way I used to love to poke in the
bins--sacrificed for her. These years--years. Lilly--tell me you've been
a good girl--that your sinning has only been against us--child that I
raised--Lilly--"

They were locked in embrace again, Mrs. Becker blown hot and cold by the
ever-shifting clouds of her emotions, the two men standing by in a state
of helplessness that was always in inverse proportion to the lavalike
eruptions from the crater of her nerves.

"Mother, father and I will leave you alone for a while and you have your
talk together first--"

"No! She's your wife. You have yours first! It's about time you were
coming into some of your rights!"

Such a fiery redness was out in Albert's ears that against the lights
they were of the translucency of red-hot iron, and even through her pity
for his _malaise_, her old poignant distaste of him would not be laid.
She wanted him to lunge somehow with that bull-like head of his with the
bashedin squareness to its top, but since nothing like that happened,
she sprang up instead, grasping her mother's hand.

"Not now," she cried. "I want to tell you all something first, and then
I want to take you--to my place--to see where--the way I live--"

"Yes," said Mrs. Becker, rising with a crinkling of nose and drawing her
marabout boa about her, "I want to see the way you live--first. Guests
of hers at a hotel like this. A position, she tells me.
Lilly--Lilly--for God's sake tell me you've been a good girl--"

"Carrie!" At the sound of rare thunder in her husband's voice she did
subside then. Later she began.

"Nice rooms. Nicer than in Chicago that time. Albert, let me give you a
clean handkerchief out of the valise.... No, you don't know where they
are. Don't like that shirt waist. Too mannish. Don't worry about those
pillows, Albert. I brought your little one along. Glass tops. That's
nice, isn't it? How would you like one for your chiffonier at home,
Albert? Quit whittling toothpicks on the floor, Ben--Oh dear! if
somebody don't say something, I'll scream--"

"Come, mamma--papa--Albert. I want to take you--home, and while we drive
up there I want to talk to you."

But once within the cab and with her mother's constant runnel of talk
and its threat of hysteria, courage failed Lilly, so she sat back,
holding herself against rising panic and her mind refusing to hook
tentacles into the situation toward which they were speeding.

"You look mighty well, Lilly," her father would repeat, gently; "not
much changed, but a little more settled--in the bones--"

"Who does your darning and mending?"

"I do, mamma. See, this is Broadway, papa. We're just rounding the
famous Columbus Circle."

"I don't see much difference between this and St. Louis. Do you, Ben?
Just stores and stores like there are on Olive Street. Oh, look! There
is one of the Ryan Cut Price Drug Stores, just like we have at home.
Look at the crowds around that thing--what's that? 'Subway,' it says--"

"Lilly, Lilly, it makes me tremble when I think of you in this great
city alone."

"Why, papa, I never was so safe."

"It's not decent, that's what it's not."

"Now, Carrie--"

"Stop cutting me off every time I open my mouth."

"How far is it?" asked Albert, speaking for the first time.

"Why, I guess it ought to take about ten minutes from here," replied
Lilly, grateful for the question and trying to meet his averted glance.

He withdrew quite a disk of silver watch, reading it carefully.

"We're already on the way seven and a quarter minutes," he said.

"Albert," she began, "there is something I want to--ought to--tell
you--first--"

"Albert, close that window next to you."

"I--don't quite know--how to begin--"

"Close it all the way, Albert, you're still in a draught."

Suddenly Lilly sat back, silent holding her father's hand the rest of
the way.

But no sooner were the three of them safely into the little front room
than, without even seating them, she rushed out to forestall Zoe.

But too late. That young lady herself had already appeared between the
curtains of the alcove. She had done the outlandish, the outrageous, the
irrelevant thing.

An old red rep portière wound tightly around her body to below the
armpits, and held there by skillfully adjusted bands of black velvet, a
fillet of the same so low that it touched her eyebrows secured about her
boxed and brilliantly blond hair, she held the half-profile pose of a
Carmencita, a pair of ten-cent-store black earrings dangling and her
upflung gesture one of defiance, mischief with an unmistakable dash of
irrepressible dramatics.

In a silence that shaped itself to a grin, Lilly, caught midstep as it
were, stood regarding her daughter. She wanted to scream, to throw back
her head and shout her hysteria, to spank her daughter bodily there
across her knees, and more than that she wanted to laugh! Enormous
laughter, to allay her sense of madness.

Instead she found voice, which, when it came, was not her own, for
thinness.

"Albert," she said, "this is your daughter--Zoe."

"Ben," whispered Mrs. Becker, out of a fantastic cave of silence and
rising suddenly from her chair to plant herself on the overstuffed
divan, where there was more horizontal room--"Ben, I think I'm going
to faint."

And she did.



CHAPTER IX

Yet within a week Mrs. Becker, through all the fog of her bewilderment,
was embroidering seed pearls on her granddaughter's white
graduation slippers.

Forty years of dogged loyalty to the white string ties, fresh every day,
had gone down before seventeen's mandate; and to Ben Becker's
unspeakable sheepishness, he had appeared one evening in an impeccable
dark-blue knitted cravat, his collar, of cut heretofore easily inclusive
of chin, snugger to his neck, and flowing out to slight points.

"So you let her bamboozle you into something I couldn't accomplish in
thirty-eight years," was Mrs. Becker's sole comment through a mouthful
of seed pearls.

"Nonsense! The child has ideas. These collars don't dig in."

"Humph! She's had you around her little finger from the start."

"Now, Carrie, why do you say that?"

"Because it's true," trying not to smile.

It was.

An immediate _entente cordiale_ had shaped itself around Zoe and her
grandfather. She named him with her usual fantastic aptitude.

"Dapple-dear," she would have it, and could not explain the choice. It
must have been some such remote analogy as his likeness to an old
dapple-gray family horse, patient flanked and thoroughly imperturbable
to the fleck of the whip.

Her grandmother she promptly christened "Tippy," also for a reason she
could not or would not divulge. But one evening, to her secret
amusement, Lilly found a sheet of paper in the litter of the desk,
jotted all over with Zoe's joyous scrawl, "Zantippe," in every case the
first syllable crossed out.

All but Albert. She addressed him quite studiedly, "Father," her teeth
coming down in a little bite over her lower lip, her use of the term
never failing to elicit the rush of red to his ears.

He seemed tranced, falling into all plans, just so they included the
presence of his mother-in-law, without comment. To her proverbial apron
strings he kept firm hold, literally not permitting her out of his
sight. Even when he addressed Lilly or his daughter his gaze was
straight for Mrs. Becker, and the flags of her moral support that he
must have had the eyes to see waving for him in her glance.

The impending interview began to take on the proportions of a delayed
tooth-pulling. Repeatedly Lilly had cleared the way for it; just as
repeatedly he had fled to cover. A week passed.

Meanwhile something disquieting happened. It developed in further
correspondence from Washington on the matter of canteen equipment, that
there was some thought of sending Albert to France. An increased
stolidity was his sole reaction, but there was no doubt that the
prospect of an impending ocean trip weighed heavily.

The submarine situation, at a time when the seas were sown with the
menace of sudden death, was of greatest and worrying concern to him.

No new device was overlooked. His room at the hotel was littered with
rubber suits, guaranteed to keep the body floating upright for thirteen
hours. Adjustable cork life savers. Patent propellers. Wings.

There was talk, in the face of the impending contingency, of applying
for a commission. Albert in olive drab! To Lilly he would not conjure.

But meanwhile, to the slow champings of a huge governmental machine in
travail, there was little to do but wait, and in the interim not a day
that he and Mrs. Becker failed to follow up this or that newest device
against bone-cracking seas.

"Albert, there must be a way out! Don't tell me there are not plenty of
men who could help install canteen service. Let them send Vincent
Bankhead. He's younger. You leave it to me if they decide to send you.
I'll find you a way out. It's done every day."

"Wait until I'm called, mother; then there's time to act."

But his eyes were worried.

One day when the strain of holding together the precarious threads of
the situation was becoming almost more than she could bear, and the end
of the ten-day vacation period she was allowing herself from the office
was at hand, Lilly spread three matinée tickets out on the table of a
tea room where the five of them were lunching.

"Zoe, you and your grandparents are going to the Hippodrome this
afternoon. Albert and I will take a walk or a drive and meet you at the
hotel afterward."

"Mother, you come, too."

"No, Albert, Lilly's right. I want this thing settled. I want something
decided or I'll go mad. My husband has got me muzzled; I'm afraid to
open my mouth; but if I don't know something soon, I'll go crazy. Why
are we here? When are we all going back? I don't like it here. I can't
stand the noise. My servant girl is out there eating me out of house and
home. I didn't even lock the grocery closet; that is the state of
excitement I left home in. Something has got to be settled. The minute I
open my mouth to talk about what is in the back of all our heads,
everybody shushes me up. Now you two go and talk it out. I want to go
home. I want us all to go home. I'm a wreck. I--"

"Carrie--"

"Oh, I'll shut up! Next time you travel with me, get me a muzzle. All
I'm good for is to bear the brunt of everything. You've dribbled my head
full of enough these last seventeen years to drive any woman but me
crazy. But with her, it's a soft mouth. I'll shut up, but for God's sake
settle things. I'm going crazy. I can't stand it."

The look of one trapped settled over Albert,

"I think I'd rather walk," he said; "those cabs are reckless and the
meters run up so."

"Don't curl up your lips so, Lilly, over a little economy. Albert's
right. What good does it do you to earn, the way you spend? Your husband
has forty thousand dollars to show, and what have you to show? Taxicab
rides don't draw any interest. Don't be so ready to curl up your lips."

"Why, mamma, you imagine things!" And to Albert, "Of course, let's
walk."

For two hours, then, oftentimes stopping to face each other, they paced
the wind-swept rectangle of the reservoir in Central Park, spring out in
the air, but quite a tear of breeze across their high place.

He was sullen, casuistic, and impenetrable as a sea wall under a
dashing, and the thought came to her that had he presented any other
surface it would have been easier.

"Well, Albert," she began, facing him there in the wide afternoon light,
"what is there that we two can say to each other?"

"Words," he said, stodgy in his bitterness, "mean nothing against
seventeen years."

"You're right. And yet--I want you to know, Albert--before you go
across--"

"Don't be too sure you'll be rid of me that way."

"Or before you go back home--that she is yours as much as mine and--"

"Generous," he said, dryly.

She could have beaten her head with a sense of futility.

"You've been a bad woman with a streak of devil in you. Tried to ruin my
life, but I didn't let you. No, siree! I've worked things out. I've
gotten on. I'm big in my way--in my business--in my home."

"Albert, I love to hear you say that!"

"You! You don't love anything or anybody outside yourself."

"Why? Because I took my chance to save myself from everything I--I
hated! Not you--not they--but everything it stands for out there. Does
self-preservation imply only selfishness?"

"Whatever it implies," he answered, stung to dark red by his effort for
quick retort, "you're selfish--rotten selfish. But you haven't kept me
down. I've gotten up these eighteen years--and you--you--Bah!"

"You've been happy, Albert? Tell me you have."

"Happy! I'm not a hog for happiness. You to inquire about my happiness!
Lots you care! I've had my share of contentment. Contented as a man can
be in a community where he has kept up a farce for seventeen years that
his wife is off with his consent studying opera. But I've kept my
name--kept it in spite of you. I don't know what's been what with you.
Guess if the truth is known, I'm afraid to think what's what!"

"Albert--"

"Oh, I don't put anything past you. I don't even know if that girl is
mine. For all I know you're a--"

"Albert!"

"Bah! I don't put anything past you!"

She faced his words as if they were blows, letting them rain.

"You're lying, Albert," she said, evenly. "She's yours and you know it."

"I've kept _my_ name! Kept it and tried to make it up to your parents,
who deserved better than you!"

She quivered and the red that sprang out in her face was almost purple,
and yet by her silence bared her chest for more, as if grateful for the
sting of the lash.

"Bah! Don't be afraid. I don't want to know anything, but I'm not the
booby I may seem to you. When a woman has lived around this way for all
these years, in with a gang of show folks--Bah! I don't want to
know." And spat.

"She's yours, Albert, and you know it. You know it!"

"Yes, I guess she is, from the look of her, not that I put anything past
you. But that's your business. You're nothing to me. I'm cured of you.
You couldn't make me suffer the way they do in books. I've kept my name,
so if it's divorce you have on your brain, you might as well get it out,
because--"

"No, Albert--"

"I've kept my name, whatever you've done to yours. Your life is your
business. But the girl. That's where I have a right or two coming
to me."

She was prepared for just this, but somehow when it came it was a full
moment before she could answer, for the rush of fear that choked her.

"That's for--for Zoe to decide."

"That's for _me_ to decide. She goes to a decent, respectable home where
she belongs. You're not fit to raise her. Look at what you made of her.
A fine specimen. A short-haired freak with all your crazy ideas thriving
in her head. You've ruined your life, but you didn't succeed in ruining
mine and you won't ruin hers. You and your stage-struck notions that
never got you anywhere. She's going home where she belongs!"

She could hardly breathe for keeping down the rising tide of her terror,
but her eyes were always cold for him.

"Your daughter has a lyric-soprano voice, and however little that may
mean to you she is going to delight the world with it some day. One of
the great masters of the world has made her his protégée. She is
preparing for her audition--her hearing--in the fall, and it is even
possible she may be singing in grand opera next season. You cannot--"

"I'll see her dead first. You were an opera bird, too. I'll see her dead
first before I let her make a zero mark out of her life as her crazy
mother did before her."

"Albert, can't you see! Zoe's the wine. You, mamma--papa--the vine. I
don't count. I--I'm sort of the grape--that fermented--you see! She's
me--plus. Her arm is long enough to touch what she wants. Mine wasn't. I
saw it, but I couldn't reach. I was one generation too underdone. You
cannot have Zoe. I cannot. She doesn't belong to you or me. She belongs
to life. She's not mine. She is only my success; she--"

"She--goes--home!"

"No!"

"Why in God's name did you get me on here? You don't expect to see me
stand by and countenance your craziness?"

"Why! Why! I've asked it ever since the moment I sent the wire. Why! I
had to do it somehow--a fear of--something--war--life--death--but you
shall not have her. Not unless she decides it that way. No. Never!"

"I'm a slow thinker! And slower to act. That's been my trouble. But this
time the bit is between my teeth. I've a family now and family
obligations. Don't be so sure yet that I'm on my way overseas. There is
a way around every situation if you look for it hard enough. My place is
here now. Home! My daughter goes home!"

She could see in profile the heavy jaw clamp upward, and more and more
that wooden stodginess became terrible to her. In a flash-back she could
see those seventeen years of beefsteak suppers; his temples at-their
trick of working. Seventeen years all cluttered up with bed casters,
bathtub stoppers, and poultry wiring. That party back there at Flora's.
The lotto and tiddledywinks tables laid out. Page Avenue on a summer's
day with the venders hawking down it--ap-ples--twenty cents a
peck--ap-ples. Zoe--caught!

She closed over his wrists with a little predatory grip.

"Albert, don't do that! Don't take her back. She'll claw you like a wild
eagle in a cage--out there. She belongs to the world. In the fall she
sings for Auchinloss. It may lead to anything! Albert--you ask why I
sent for you. Let her be. Let her stay here with Mrs. Blair--a friend--a
dear--good friend of mine. Her education--Take me, Albert. Take _me_
home--Albert."

At her hand on his wrist something raced over him like the lick of a
flame; he pressed against her with the entire length of his body and his
lips were moist.

"Lilly," he said, very darkly red and trying to clasp her about the
waist, "I'll take you! I oughtn't, but I will. Come back, Lilly, and
make it up to me for all these years. Being near you makes me forget
everything except that--you are near me. I've missed you all these
years--I guess--but never so much as this minute. You've gotten so
handsome with the years. Something--Come home, Lilly--make it up to me.
Give me--your--your lips!"

She kept retreating before the dark red and the moist lips which he wet
more and more with his tongue.

"Will you leave her be--then--Albert? Here?"

"Lilly--your lips--give me."

"Will you, Albert--leave her here--Zoe?"

She could feel the scald of his breathing.

"Yes--if you come."

"You promise?"

"Yes, Lilly. Your lips--let me."

Suddenly he had her to him, there in the light darkness of the deserted
square of reservoir, kissing her so that his mouth smeared over
toward her ear.

She was not quick enough entirely to avert her face, and in the embrace
his Adam's apple was against her throat so that she could feel it beat,
and with her nails biting into her palm to keep her from screaming, she
was shrieking over and over to herself at his nearness: "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!"



CHAPTER X

Albert did not sail.

A certain depression seemed to settle over him the evening following,
after they had dined at a Broadway restaurant and were spending the
interim before theater in the lobby of the Hotel Astor, where Mrs.
Becker never tired of observing and commenting upon the transient swirl
and peacockery.

"Look at that tight skirt, will you! It's a shame for any
self-respecting woman to have to look at, much less wear it."

"Tippy dear, not so loud."

"Look at that low-cut back, will you! And white hair, too. I wouldn't
live in this town if you gave it to me! Sixty cents for string beans the
menu read to-night. I can buy a bushel at home for that. If I had been
alone I know what I would have done. Walked out. It's only for
millionaires here. The rest have to live in back rooms so they can put
everything on their backs. You should thank your stars you have a home
to go to, Lilly, instead of you and Zoe crying over each other all day.
If I had my say she would go, too. Education! St. Louis education is
good enough for anybody. Ben, I want you to look! If I was to ask you to
buy me a chiffon cape like that you would drop in your tracks."

"Now, old lady, do I ever refuse you anything?"

"No, because I never ask for anything."

"I think we had better be going," said Lilly, leaning forward to tilt
Zoe's hat farther down over her face. "I don't want you to miss the
first act."

There was to be a box for "Who Did It?" and a visit behind scenes
between acts.

"I want to get a look-in on what goes on behind there," specified Mrs.
Becker through a sniff. "Fine mess!"

From where he sat with crossed knees and his nicely polished shoes far
out so that passers-by were forced to a small detour, Albert looked
suddenly across at his mother-in-law, rather scaredly white.

"Mother," he said, "I've got a pain in my chest."

On the instant her rosiness blanched.

"Albert, one of your colds coming on? They never start on your chest.
It's influenza; the papers are full of it. They say next winter we're
going to have it in a terrible epidemic. Albert, what hurts?"

He inserted two fingers into the front pleat of his shirt.

"It hurts here," he said.

"Albert," cried Mrs. Becker, instantly taken with panic, "let me feel if
you have any fever!"

"Now, now, Carrie, don't create a scene here in the lobby. You've nursed
him through enough colds not to be alarmed."

"But, Ben, in his chest! It's a symptom, I tell you; the papers are full
of it!"

"Nonsense, Carrie! It's probably a little indigestion. You will insist
upon those table d'hôtes. On the way to the theater we'll stop in at a
drug store."

"Theater! Don't even mention the word. Come upstairs, Albert. Luckily I
put a pair of your flannelette pajamas in the trunk. Ben, you rush over
to the drug store for some camphorated oil. Albert, do you feel achy?"

Lilly laid out a quietly firm hand on his arm.

"Mamma, please let Albert get a word in."

"I know that boy like a book. He looks feverish."

"Albert," said Lilly, holding to the sedative quality in her voice, "do
you feel ill?"

"I've a pain in my chest," he persisted, doggedly and with the drawn
look about his mouth whitening.

They put him to bed. By nine o'clock a slight flush lay on Albert's
cheek and he kept feeling of his brow.

"I think I have fever," he said once, always in scared white manner.
"Look in the paper and see if dry lips is one of the symptoms."

Then Zoe was dispatched home and the house physician called in, Mrs.
Becker, as usual, tempestuous with instantaneous hysteria and conjuring
to Lilly another sick room from out the hinterland of her childhood.

"Doctor, is it the Spanish influenza? Has he fever? He's always subject
to colds, Doctor. He's not as strong as he looks. I've sat up many a
night with his quincy sore throats. Many is the time, before we got the
auto, that I rode down for him in the street car with his rubbers, if a
rain came up. Doctor, do you think it could be that Spanish influenza? O
God! if he should take sick away from home! Our doctor at home
understands his system. My boy--my son--"

With a frozen sense of her alienism, Lilly sat, as it were, outside the
situation, proffering herself almost with a sense of intrusion.

The doctor would not pronounce, but left with instructions and the
promise of a midnight return. Into that Mrs. Becker read darkly.

"He's a sick man or one of these busy New York doctors wouldn't be
returning again to-night. My boy is a sick man."

Meanwhile Albert had fallen into a light sleep. They sat beside his
bedside watching his lips puff out, sometimes in bubbles.

The silence of midnight descended over the transient formality of the
hotel room.

Undoubtedly Albert had a fever which seemed to be rising. He moistened
his lips now constantly and threw himself about beneath the coverings,
and then Mrs. Becker, not to be restrained, would lean forward to brush
backward from his brow, as if there were hair.

At midnight the doctor returned and at one o'clock Albert was removed to
Murray Hill Hospital.

He was ill three days, slipping off almost from the beginning into a
state of coma from which he did not emerge.

With a celerity that was presently to race it through the country, this
strange malady laid low its victim with what might have been pneumonia,
except for certain complications that baffled and alarmed an already
thoroughly aroused medical world.

The second day a sort of dark rash broke out over Albert's chest, so
that his nurses entered the room in gauze masks, and finally, in spite
of Lilly's protestations and Mrs. Becker's most violent hysterics, no
admittance to the sick room was granted them.

And now comes a tide in the affairs of Lilly Penny which, being too true
life, is not sufficiently true to fiction.

On the day that was to have been Zoe's formal graduation from High
School, so that the pearl-embroidered slippers were never worn and her
diploma brought home to her by a classmate, Albert Penny died, with no
more furor than he had lived.

Stupor enveloped Lilly. She moved through days incredibly crowded with
detail, and yet, somehow, so withdrawn into the very nub of herself that
it was the shell of her seemed to compete with the passing time.
Certainly it was this shell of her followed Albert in that strangest of
little processions, to his cremation.

There had been an effort to travel west with the remains, but quarantine
conditions forbade, and it was just as well so.

Four times on that ride through a warm summer rain to the crematory Mrs.
Becker went off into light faints, sobbing herself back into
consciousness. It frightened Lilly to look at her father; his face had
dropped into hollows and the roundness of his back was suddenly a
decided hump. And he had fallen into a silence. A sort of hollow urn of
it that not even the outbursts of his wife could rouse to his usual
soothing chirpings. He merely sat stroking her hand and staring into a
silence which he seemed to see.

A very quiet and very frightened Zoe had been packed off to Ida Blair's,
through it all Lilly's stupor persisting.

Mrs. Becker's state became cause for concern. Once back at the hotel,
with Albert's room locked off, and once more thrown open to the
impersonal feet of transiency, she would only moan and wind her hands
and go off into the light states of unconsciousness.

"I haven't my son any more! Why did we come? It might not have happened
at home. Our daughter wronged him, but, thank God, we tried to make it
up to him. My boy. He was so steady--so careful. I can't realize he's
gone--without me. The way he used to come home. Never a habit--evening
after evening his newspaper and bed. Thank God, I don't think he ever
missed her going as he might have. It hurt at first. He wanted to resign
his Bible class, and that day we broke up the house--he kept twitching
with his eyes. You remember, Ben. And that bed caster. Funny to have
twitched over that. It seems he brought it home the night she left--it
came over him all of a sudden, it wouldn't ever have to be fitted in.
That's it! O God! all these years without knowing his own child. He was
so steady--a good boy if God ever grew one. Ben, Ben, how can we go home
without him? How can we go home without our boy?"

"Carrie, it is God's will."

"It is nobody's will. God couldn't will it that way. Just as he had got
a little happiness in his way. To think he was willing to take her back.
I don't care for myself, we're on in years, Ben--we're done--and now
we've lost our--all--nothing to live for--"

"Mamma, mamma, don't talk that way. Let me try to make up to you for--"

"I can't face going home. He was my life, that boy. He made up for what
we suffered through our own. He was a son to us. I can't face going home
without him. Albert--where are you? Albert!"

"Mamma, mamma, won't you let me try to make up, dear, for what I have
failed you?"

"Albert--can't you hear me--Albert--"

"Carrie, we've got our daughter back. Isn't that something to be--"

"I want my son, I tell you."

"Mamma darling, you're killing me. Let me make it up to you--even a
little--the--"

"No, no; you're not a daughter to me. I want my son. Our way was his
way."

"Mamma, please--take me home in his place. I'll make it up to you. Let
me go back, dear, in Albert's place. I want to pay up--to you. I'm
finished--here, dear. I'm ready--ready--"

Suddenly Mrs. Becker seemed to experience one of her cyclonic shifts.
Tears came raining down her face, her sobbing cleft with great racking
gulps. Then she dropped to her knees beside her daughter, and, before
Lilly could prevent, reached up to drag down her face against her own
tear-drenched one.

"Don't leave us, Lilly. Don't ever. Come home with us. We're getting
old, Lilly. Don't ever leave us, me and papa. Promise me,
Lilly. Promise."

"Of course I promise, mamma darling. Of course I promise."



CHAPTER XI

For a full week after Albert's strangely curtailed obsequies, a gray
blanket of woolly humidity hung with July unseemliness over the city in
a clinging fog that feathered the throat.

The morning that Lilly returned to the office electric lights were
burning and electric fans were whirring into it.

The unassailed normality of the machine whose functioning depended upon
its parts! How easily even the most component of those parts could be
replaced! The rows of stenographers, in her but two weeks' absence, new
faces among them, outlined against windows of space and East River. The
hinged little mahogany gates swinging to their goings and comings. Her
own office with its glazed pane of door glass and outlook over city
roofs and tug-specked band of river.

It was as if the tide of life were once more licking at her feet. She
hung up her hat, patting at her hair in the little square of mirror
above the stationary washstand, looking back at herself out of eyes a
bit dreggy with tiredness, but her skin so deep in its whiteness that it
was almost as if its creamy quality had congealed of mere richness.

She rubbed her cheeks to pinken and quicken them, and rang for an office
boy, turning her back on the pile of letters and her reports on the desk
and her eagerness to be at them.

"Ask Mr. Bruce Visigoth if he can see me."

The message came back on the instant. He could.

She turned the knob to his office door so slowly that she saved the
slightest squeak, and stood there with her silhouette against the ground
glass for a long moment. When she did enter, from the center of the room
where he had been watching her silhouette against the pane, Bruce
advanced to meet her.

He took her hand and on the instant she felt her eyes fill, burningly.

He was in summer and office negligée, an unlined blue-serge coat, a
white-silk shirt which lay lightly to his body flexuosity, and above the
soft collar he had taken on enough outdoor tan to make his smile whiter.
She could have bitten her lips for their trembling, and tried to smile
with her tortured eyes.

"Lilly," he said, topping her hand with his, "why didn't you let me know
sooner? Your letter an hour ago came out of a clear sky. You see, I
didn't even know he--he was here."

"It was all so--so quick!"

"Jove! I don't seem to take it in yet."

"Nor I," she said, quiescently and letting him lead her to a chair.
"He--You see, he was only ill three days."

"There doesn't seem much for me to say, does there, Lilly?"

"No," she said, "that's it, there's nothing to say."

"I can't bear to think of your having been exposed to it."

"That was the least. He died--afraid. That is so terrible to me,
somehow. I wouldn't mind all of the horrible rest if only he hadn't
died--afraid. I wonder if you know what I mean. He lived so--so meekly
to have died--that way. Afraid."

"Yes," he said, "I think I do know." He wanted to keep his gaze away
from her and to keep it cool, but somehow each time their eyes met a
flame leaped up out of embers, a fiery new consciousness that
kept dancing.

"He and--and my parents--you see, they--Well, I told you everything in
the letter."

"Are your parents returning home?"

"Yes. That's what I've come to say. You see--they--we--we've decided to
remain here two months. Until September--up in my little apartment, all
of us. In September Zoe is to have her audition with Auchinloss. So much
depends on that. We've such hopes, her teacher and I. She's pure lyric
soprano. We think grand-opera brand. And now with the war on, more and
more the American girl is getting her chance. That's why my parents have
finally consented to wait here with me until then. After that, Zoe is to
stay with Ida Blair and we three--my parents and I--are going
home--together. That is what I have come to tell you. I'll be giving up
my work with you in--September. I'm going home--with them."

He regarded her, his flush going down perceptibly.

"You're fooling."

"No," she said, trying to smile. "I suppose it's about the most solemn
job I have left to do in life--going home."

"Why, you--you can't go back there."

"I can," she said, her voice held calm.

"I--we can't let you go."

"Why? Zoe--my big job's done."

"Lilly, I tell you we need you here more than ever. My brother arrives
this morning from Seattle. We've completed the cross-country chain. I'm
free now to branch out. I'm counting on you. I'm full of an idea for
that community opera scheme and I'm ready to do the play from the
Russian on your say-so. Lilly--you cannot go now--"

"I can--must," she said, scraping back her chair. "You must work out your
dreams--alone--with some one else. I--must--go." And then withdrawing
from what she saw: "No! No! Bruce! No! No!"

But just the same they were in each other's arms with the
irresistibility of tide for moon and moon for tide. Press him back with
her palms as she would when his lips found hers, it was as if something
etheric had flowed into her brain. She wanted to resist him and instead
her hands met in a clasp about his neck. "No, no." And yet as he kissed
her eyelids and down against the satinness of her hair, it seemed to her
that toward this moment all the poor blind years had been directed.

"Lilly--darling."

She tried to shake off her enchantment.

"You hurt!"

"I want to."

"My--love."

"My love."

"So this--this is it?"

"What?"

"Love."

"Love. Love."

"How beautiful--sex."

"I want to kiss those stars out of your eyes. I want to wind you in
moonlight."

"Bruce, I think I must be mad. Crazily--deliciously mad."

"Me too. I'm as deliciously, as crazily mad as any young Leander. I want
to swim a thousand Hellesponts for you. I want--"

"No--no--no, Bruce, you don't understand--my love--"

"I do understand. That I have you now to love and adore, to marry--"

The door opened then, quite abruptly. It was Robert Visigoth. He had a
straw hat in one hand and an alligator traveling bag in the other. The
latter he set down rather abruptly.

So instantaneous was their springing apart and so ready the mind to
believe what the heart denied, that it was almost conceivable that he
had not seen. There was not even a pause, and through the perfunctory
greetings of these two men of strangest relation, Lilly found herself
somehow back at her desk, little prickles out all over her body and
particularly against her face, like the bite of sleet, something like
this running behind her lips:

"Please, God, don't let him tell. He promised! Please! God, I'll never
give in again. Bruce--my darling--don't let him tell you. He promised he
wouldn't. Don't tell him, Robert. Bruce, don't let him. Please,
God--don't let him."

After a while, burning with the fever in her blood, she plunged, for the
sedative of it, into the work before her. The first of a stack of
reports on her desk was from the Adelphi Theater, Akron, Ohio.

"Three Melodious Sisters." 12 minutes. Well received. Wardrobe worn.

"Whistling Bicyclers."     14 minutes. Skillful. Comedy weak.

"Please, God--don't let him--"

"Shenck and Bent."          9 minutes. 3 laughs.

"Sylvia King & Co." 9 minutes. Weak patter but finished strong.

"Musical Gypsies."         10 minutes. Fair. Good opening number.

"Please, God, don't let him tell."

After what might have been minutes or hours, then, the door opened and
without preamble Robert Visigoth walked in, and in the wide-kneed
fashion forced upon him by corpulency seated himself beside her desk.

"How long has this thing been going on?" he said, looking at her from
under beetling brows that had grown bushy with the years. Time had done
just that to Robert Visigoth. Beetled him. His years overhung him. He
carried them massively. It was not so much that he had lost his
waistline, but he had settled into himself. That was it! Robert Visigoth
had settled rather appallingly into himself.

For a second Lilly's eyes moved from the two fifty-cent cigars
protruding from his waistcoat pocket to a lodge button at his lapel, and
then, finally trapped, met his.

"How long? I said."

"You've told him?" she asked, leaning forward to hear through the
buzzing in her ears.

"Whether I do or not depends upon you."

She tried not to let him see how the room was rocking around and around,
how suddenly the buzzing had lifted until she felt light-headed. She
could have shouted, danced, wept, or fainted her relief. Nothing
mattered, not even the squatty person sitting there with little diabetic
puffs beneath his eyes.

"How long has this thing been going on?" he repeated, his voice a rising
gale.

"Are you your brother's keeper?"

"From your kind, yes."

"There has been nothing between us."

"That's a lie."

Through the scorch of her humiliation it was a second before she could
command her lips.

"I swear to God."

"Bah!" he almost spat out, "after what I walked in on!"

"Yes," she said, biting off the words with a clip, "after what you
walked in on."

He leaned forward with a thrust of face that was unpleasantly close.

"All I have to say is, hands off there."

"There has been nothing between us. I tell you it's true."

"I'm not concerned whether it is or not. What has been has been. But
now, hands off. You can't land my brother. I heard the word. Marry. The
cheek--you--my brother! You must be crazy."

"You're wrong. You're wrong," she managed to insist, her throat rising
and falling like a sea.

"My eyes aren't wrong. They saw what I stumbled in on."

"I know. I know. It's difficult--impossible to explain away an--an
occurrence like that. How well I know the futility of trying to convince
your kind of man that there are more than two kinds of women in the
world. Good and bad. The woman you marry and the woman you ruin. I'm
bad. Have it your way. Bad. Bad. Bad. But for what was your sin as much
as mine you are free in your man-made society to go your way, fulfilling
your life, and then you dare to come here and sit judgment on my
fulfilling mine. When are women going to venture from _behind_ the
man-made throne to sit beside, and make you men move over?"

"I'm not here to discuss the double code with you. I don't know and
don't care how you have lived since. It is not my business. For sixteen
years you have given this firm fine satisfaction for which we, in turn,
have tried to express our appreciation. You know that. We know that.
Your morals are none of my business except when they touch me! A man's a
man. I don't know how you've lived. For my part, I think you've gone
pretty straight, but that doesn't change matters. I know what I know,
and a man's a man. What are you going to do about it? You know, too,
that there is no love lost between me and my brother in the little
things. We go our ways. But when it comes to the big--he's my brother.
Blood. Get me? Whatever I am can't change me here inside. He's my
brother. You're--you!"

"You're right. I wouldn't. I couldn't. I must have been mad--this
morning. I--somehow--it got all beyond me in a moment. I swear to you
for the first time! Do you think I'd muss up one hour of his life? Even
if I dared? Even if you were to come to me, on your knees, begging me
to--to--marry him? To begin with, I'm older--only a year in time, it's
true, but he--he's just beginning. I'm beginning over. What is my life
compared to his? He's on the brink of a thousand realizations. And
I--oh, I'm not whining. I'd do it all over again, loathing you as you
must know I loathed you--that night. But my child got her chance. You
sold it to me and I paid for it in the basest coin of the realm. But I'd
do it again--knowing what I know now, I'd do it again. You hear! Do
you hear!"

"That's past now--"

"No. For you, yes, but I'm still paying. Paying at this moment with
my--my heart's blood. But if I hadn't done it--gone with you--something
would have been lost that night that was worth every cent I paid.
They'd have got her back. I don't care. I've won. I've won if
I've lost."

She was on her feet now, her eyes, like blue wells that were filling
with ink, plunging beyond his with a Testament defiance that seemed to
shout, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

"Yes, I love him. You can't take that from me. That is why he is so safe
from me. I love him too much for him to know. And yet I think--I
believe--I know that even if he did know, in the end it
wouldn't matter--"

"You must be crazy. Once let your idealist wake up and there is no more
dreaming for him."

"He mustn't ever wake up--for his sake! Promise. Promise me that you
won't ever wake him!"

"Whether I do or not is up to you."

"What do you want?" she said, tiredly.

"I suppose the black and white of it is that you must quit."

"That is easy. I'm resigning anyway the fifteenth of September to go
West to live."

He took on the half-conciliatory graciousness of one who has gained his
advantage with unsuspected ease.

"I'd give a great deal not to have had this happen, but, after all, a
man is a man and life is life."

She let her gaze bore into his like gimlets burning for center.

"I think you've explained that before."

He began to back out before her immobility.

"I am remaining East two months. I hope your resignation will allow us
that much time to attempt to fill your place."

"I leave that to you. It can be either immediate or take effect in
September."

"By all means the latter. Will you--can you believe me when I say if
there is anything I can do--letters--an opening with a Western firm--"

"Please," she said, turning him a shoulder in high distaste.

"I have your word--then?"

"My word," she said, looking past his hand toward the door.

He backed out in the somewhat ludicrous crab fashion and then she sat
down, swinging around on her swivel chair toward the desk. The stack of
reports lay facing her. She caught up the next in order.

People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the next half hour she must have sat there trying to co-ordinate out
of chaos by staring at the heading and repeating over and over again:
"_People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma. People's Playhouse. Tulsa,
Oklahoma._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Whistles were blasting through the noonday fog when Bruce finally and
without preamble burst into her office.

It struck her even on the gale of his entrance how young he was that his
hair should show the nervous plowing of five fingers, and how sensitive
his profile and ready to flare at the nostrils. His tie, too, burnt
orange, from a soft collar and badly knotted! She wanted to jerk up his
chin and putter at remaking the four-in-hand.

"Lilly--sweetheart--"

She sat regarding him over the top of People's Playhouse, Tulsa,
Oklahoma.

"Sweetheart, let us call it a day. I want to drive you out to Tarrytown
to--"

"Don't," she said, frowning.

"Don't what?" Her immobility an ineffectual stop to his exuberance.

"Come now," wanting to draw her from her chair by the two hands,
swinging them wide and then together; "don't let his nibs bouncing in
that way throw a damper. We were too quick for him, anyway. Don't
believe he saw a thing. And what if he did? He's going to know it
anyhow, and pretty quick, too. I want to shout it from the housetops, I
want to megaphone it up to the stars. Lilly--Lilly-mine! Sweetheart!"

She crowded back into the chair.

"How dared you!"

He fell back with his gesture still wide.

"Why--what? Dared what? Oh, come now, sweetheart, I could wager he
didn't see, and suppose he did? We've nothing to conceal. I'm for
telling him to-day!"

"No. No. No. You played unfair. You took me--unawares. You misunderstood
me horribly--most horribly."

"You mean--"

"Why, you--you _boy!_ What has happened cannot make any difference
between you and me. It was outrageous of you--silly _boy_ you--to--to
take advantage. After all that has passed--all these years--it is
unthinkable that you didn't understand. Why, you--you _boy!_"

She saw his jaw fall and the sense of his ridiculousness set in.

"What has merely been absurd all along you have suddenly made
intolerant. You make more imperative my resignation. You must
understand--Mr. Visigoth--under what conditions I will consent to remain
here these few weeks."

The words were so stilted that she had the sensation of throwing metal
disks on a stone floor and waiting for their tinny clatter. She could
see the high red drain out of his face and then rush up again as if he
had been slapped.

"Lilly, for God's sake, you--you cannot be serious!"

"No mock heroics--please."

His ears tipped with flame; he straightened back from her.

"No more mock heroics," he said, in a voice suddenly quieted down like
vichy gone stale. "Forgive an old--fool--a young--fool--and forget it.
Thank you for jerking me up."

He raised her limp hand, bowing over it until his lips hovered but did
not touch.

"My solemn word on it this time--no more--mock--heroics." And still
Lilly, on the click of the door after him, could not clear her brain of
the running threnody of nonsense:

People's Playhouse. Tulsa, Oklahoma. People's Playhouse. Tulsa,
Oklahoma.



CHAPTER XII

Time flies or does not, according to the eyes of the beholder. As the
days began to lengthen into the longest spokes of the cycle, and parlors
and magazines to don summer covers, it seemed to Lilly that somewhere an
interim too subtle for mortal eyes must have occurred, because suddenly
there came a very torrid day in September, the fourteenth, to be exact,
when the little apartment in West End Avenue stood denuded, stripped to
a few huddled trunks, and Zoe's dressing table, chair, piano, and desk
ready to be carted out to the little sea-view room that awaited her in
Ida Blair's Long Island bungalow.

They were a group diverse of emotion and perilous to one another's
nerves this last morning.

MRS. BECKER: "I think I'd better write my girl another postal to be sure
and have supper ready when we get home Thursday night. There is some
canned salmon in the grocery closet, I forgot to mention, and she can
borrow a few potatoes from the Shriners for frying, until I get a chance
to lay in supplies when I get home. Poor Albert! How he loved creamed
salmon and fried potatoes! Ben, help me to realize what has happened.
O God, I--"

MR. BECKER: "Now, Carrie."

MRS. BECKER: "The Shriners are nice neighbors, Lilly. They are the only
ones besides us on the block who stuck after the street began to go
down. You'll like Edna Shriner. You remember her? Pock-marked. She used
to be in your dancing-school class. She never married, but how she keeps
that little home for her old father! Kitchen floor! You could eat off
it. And as handy a body with the needle as ever lived. Her French knots.
The guest-towels that girl has French-knotted."

LILLY (to herself): "Salmon and fried potatoes. Page Avenue. Shriners.
Funny!--O God!--Why--Oh!--Oh!--Funny!--"

ZOE: "Lilly, feel my heart, how it beats."

It was as if Lilly could not take her eyes from off her daughter.

"Remember what Triest said, dearest, let your nerves be so many violin
strings, tightening but not quivering."

"It's your going, Lilly--I--I can't seem quite to grasp it. You will
come back to me soon--in two months--one--I couldn't stand it longer!"

"Yes, and, Zoe, you will write every day. Every little single thing.
Your work--your life--your friends--every tiny success--"

"Lilly, Lilly--don't go! It's madness. Stay, darling. I feel like a
pig--all that money--his fortune. If you are not entitled to touch it,
I am not--"

"You are his child and the only wrong you ever did him was through me."

"Lilly--don't go, darling--"

"Zoe, don't tear me to pieces."

"I'll work, darling, as I've never worked before."

"Zoe, Zoe, go straight to your mark."

"I--I can't realize it, Lilly. To-day! He's going to hear me
to-day--this very afternoon. I--I feel as nervous at the prospect of
singing before you as before him. I--I think I'm the luckiest girl in
the world. Lilly, sometimes I--I--think life has--has sort of cleared
the way for me to walk in its lovely places--you have cleared the way.
But what--what if he doesn't think I've the voice _maestro_ thinks I
have? I couldn't stand that, Lilly--the way you stood it."

"But he will," said Lilly, a memory shaping itself. "Remember your power
begins where mine left off. You heard Du Gass the year before she died,
but you were too young to remember. Your voice is so much--so
infinitely bigger, Zoe, and your knowledge and defiance of life and of
the Auchinlosses--makes me so unafraid for you--"

"Kiss me, Lilly. I'm frightened--not of Auchinloss--or life--but
of--Oh, I don't know--frightened of silliness, I guess."

"I'm not."

"But you're trembling."

"Of hope."

At eleven Lilly went down to her office. Leon Greenberg already had her
desk. It was largely a matter now of sliding in the new prop before
sliding out the old.

There were several farewell offerings from various of the older girls.
The immemorial trifles that women exchange. A bottle of eau de cologne.
The inevitable six handkerchiefs. A silver bodkin for running ribbon
through lingerie. And from the booking department, a silk umbrella
suitably engraved. She cried a little.

By noon the top of her desk was bare and the drawers empty.

She sat looking out over the waves of roofs of a city that had beaten
her back at every turn, lashed her, and yet with the mysterious
counterflow of oceans had carried her out a foot for every ten it
flung her back.

She felt full of sobs, but quiet. Strangely quiet, as if the champing
machinery of her life had stopped suddenly, leaving an hiatus that made
her heart ache of passivity.

At two o'clock, by appointment, came Zoe ... like a blaze of light. Her
eyes with her mother's trick of iris, full of inner glow, and her blond
hair so daringly boxed, set off with a droop of tam-o'-shanter.

There had been a new frock of heavy white crepe with a wide white hat
for this occasion. Instead, with last-moment decision, she had come in
one of the straight blue frocks, the wide patent-leather belt, a knot of
orange and blue ribbon, representing her active membership in a local
canteen service, at her throat. She came glowing through the daring
simplicity, flamboyantly and to the nth power of Lilly's slower
personality, her mother's child.

"Hurry, darling, I've a taxi waiting. We're to meet _maestro_ at the
Opera House."

"Zoe, I'm glad you wore this instead. Did your grandmother feel badly
that you didn't wear the one she gave you?"

"I wasn't myself in it. No--room."

In the corridor, going out, Bruce stepped suddenly out of his office
into their path.

Zoe's hand had shot out.

"Hello, you!" she said.

He looked at her through a slow smile.

"Well, I'll be hanged! The youngster! Good Lord! What have they done!
Who elongated you? Where are the knee dresses and the corkscrews?"

She withdrew a highly haughty hand.

"You poor, misguided Rip Van Winkle. When did you return from the
Catskills?"

"When did it happen?" he asked Lilly, trying to keep his eyes from
crinkling.

It was the first time in this last brace of weeks that there had been
more than the merest perfunctory word between them, and she tried to
thaw her cold lips into a smile.

"You forget that you haven't seen her since last Christmas. Six inches
more of skirt and a few hairpins did it."

"Well, I'll be hanged!" he kept reiterating. "Zoe grown up!"

"Is it true you are going to try for the aviation? Ida Blair says you
are."

"Looks that way."

"You're too old."

"Well, then, I'll have to come down to earth. You and your mother have
different ideas regarding my age. I'm rather dizzy about it this minute,
myself. Either time is putting one over on me or you have caught up. By
Jove! that's it! You've caught up! You're immense!"

She was suddenly, and to Lilly's amazement, a creature of flashes and
quirks, of self and sex consciousness.

"Don't like to be--immense!"

"Gorgeous, then."

"Better."

"Don't go. Let me look at you."

"Come with us. Dare you."

"Zoe!"

"Where?"

"I'm singing this afternoon for Auchinloss. My audition at the Opera
House."

"The deuce you say!"

"I've a cab waiting," she said, challenging him with a flash of eyes to
their corners.

"Wait," he said, darting into his office.

"Zoe, how dared you?"

"Lilly--he's thrilling! I want him along; I feel keyed up now. The way I
want to feel! Edgy!"

Before her persistently cold lips would reply he rejoined them and
presently they were all three in the cab.

His contemplation of Zoe became a stare.

"So the little Zoe grew up."

"I'm eighteen. You used to be old enough to be my father. Not any more.
Now you are old enough to be my--anything."

"Zoe!"

"Good Lord!" he said. "Fact."

Suddenly her nervousness came flowing back over her.

"Lilly, look at me every second while I'm singing, darling. You too,"
leaning toward him and placing cold fingers on each of their wrists.

"Delightful and easy task."

She made him a _moue_, prettily pouty.

"You'll be sorry, when I'm famous, that you didn't take me seriously."

"How can I take you at all when you've taken me off my feet?"

"You've never heard me sing, have you?"

"No."

"Wait."

"I palpitate."

"I'm going to be all alone now, you know," she said, looking at him with
her brilliant eyes filling.

"More's the pity," he said, feeling rather than seeing the downward
brush of Lilly's lashes.

"I'll be out at Ida Blair's until--for a while."

"May I come out and play with you, now that you are caught up and I can
be your--anything?"

"You may."

Laughter.

With the stopping of the cab such a javelin of nervousness shot through
Lilly that it was as if it had pierced her heart.

A lovely pallor was out over Zoe, enlarging the dark pools of her eyes.

"Sit out in the house, center aisle, and look at me, dears--so I can
feel you there--"

To the magic of a bit of cardboard Lilly and Bruce were in the vast
fantastic hinterland of the Opera House, and, stumbling through various
degrees of blackness, were presently down in the colossal maw of the
auditorium, finding out seats in the great pit of darkness.

They sat in silence, except that for Lilly the beating of her heart
seemed to record like a clapper against her brain.

"Don't be nervous," he said once.

"I'm not," she lied.

There was a bunch light on the stage, a dirty backdrop of Corinthian
pillars and esplanade and no wings, one or two stage hands moving about,
and finally a concert grand piano dragged down.

Suddenly Lilly recognized Auchinloss. He was standing just outside the
pool of light that flowed over the piano, the unforgetable outline of
his shaggy head, joined by two little peninsulas of sideburns to the
heavy spade of beard, gray now and not the sooty black she remembered.

The odor of that little room up on Amsterdam Avenue came winding back.
Millie du Gass, the supreme soprano of two continents--dead now, of
heartbreak, some said; Alma, in her plaid-silk waist and the
bookkeeper's curve to her back. That walk across the parlor floor--

"There's Auchinloss now," said Bruce.

She did not reply, but sat with her handkerchief against her mouth and
crowded breathing.

There were three auditions.

A high-bosomed young woman with a powerful mezzo soprano that pulled her
mouth to a rhomboid sang Santuzza's famous aria from "Cavalleria
Rusticana," stopping suddenly to some unseen signal.

"Fine, strong voice of resonant tin," said Visigoth, under his breath.

A throaty young tenor sang "Ride, Ride, Pagliacci," through to the sob,
anticipating it with a violent throw of body.

Then Trieste took the piano, running downward an avalanche of quick
chords, the sepia-outlined head of Auchinloss gone meanwhile from the
stage and down somewhere in the sea of dimness that rolled through the
auditorium. Lilly could see his profile etched into the twilight.

Very suddenly Zoe was downstage, and through the cymbals hitting into
Lilly's consciousness the voice finally came through to her, flowing so
easily on the beautiful, the tried old theme of Michaela's aria that she
had the feeling of great bolts of every color ribbon, winding about and
not even half un-flung as they struck the topmost places.

How true her flight!

With each fluty mount how like a bird, the line of her throat, as her
chin went up, throbbing slightly of its warbling, and from where she
stood her gaze seeming to plumb them out.

She sang through without interruption, so that when she had finished,
the timbre lay like a singing wire on the silence.

Somewhere between the ecstasy of the elbow that pressed against hers,
and the ecstasy of her child's voice still trilling on the black
silence, Lilly was conscious of movement. The gray silhouette marching
down the aisle of gloom. A group up about the piano. Another chord
struck out. Zoe's voice skipping upward in grace notes.

Vague, indeterminate passings of figures through a fluid of unreality,
like submarine life behind glass.

Then somehow they were out again into the gloom of wings and then on to
the white, incredible humdrum of the side street, standing there beside
the little door marked "Private," Bruce at her side, rather quivery at
the flanges and mopping constantly at the damp rim of his hair.

"Lilly, you've won!"

She felt sillily inclined to laugh.

"I seem to have, don't I?" she said, turning her face under pretense of
adjusting her hat, but really for fear that even a smile would induce
the threatening laughter which she knew, once let go, would slip up
beyond her control.

"She's a flute. She's a lark. She's a dream. I--I don't believe I seem
to take it in."

"Nor--I."

Later, Zoe joined them, an air of assumed composure belied by the
flaming brilliancy of her eyes and cheeks.

"Why didn't you come up afterward?" she said, forcing a commonplace,
and to Bruce, "Hail a cab, Pretty-please."

He did, helping them in and poking his head in after.

"Where?"

"Anywhere. Let it be the Park for a while, Lilly?"

She nodded.

"Is three a crowd?"

For answer she drew him in by the sleeve and on the jouncing off of the
cab was in her mother's arms, covering her cheeks with close-pressed,
audible kisses, and, after the inexplicable manner of women, both of
them crying.

"He--he didn't say much, Lilly. Kissed my hands. Told me to live
beautifully and work endlessly. Asked me if I loved poetry and painting
and sunrises and spring--a lot of stuff about the awakening of spring.
And kissed my hands again. I'm going back to-morrow. They're discussing
things now--he and _maestro_--something about a five-year contract--but
a great deal of red tape first--board meeting. I'm to be a secret until
next season, _maestro_ cried--and Auchinloss--Lilly, you need never be
afraid for me--you hear--you hear--never! We measured each other--he
called me wonder-child. Me--Zoe. Lilly--it's happened ... and you--did
it. Lilly, kiss me."

"You darling. You're like a queen. All the little lives that go into the
making of your cloth of gold, yet each proud to be ever so humble a
party to it!"

"Lilly, you're sad! On _my_ day you're sad."

"Glad! You're the meaning of everything. The road had to lead somewhere.
Everything is so clear now. You're the lovely meaning, Zoe, behind all
the circumstances that went to weave you."

Only half plumbed, Zoe sprang from her mood, flashing with all the
amazing coquetry that was so new to Lilly, around toward Bruce.

"Well--what?"

"On the very day I've found you I've lost you."

"To whom?"

"Fame."

"Nonsense!" she cried. "Don't forget the awakening of spring." And
buried her face against her mother because she had been outrageous.

Persiflage rose.

"Skylark, when I become more coherent I'll tell you how wonderful you
are."

"Zoe dear, hadn't we better drive home?"

"Lark. Lark. I cannot go home now, Lilly. Let's have a lark!"

Suddenly Bruce caught her by the dancing hands.

"Let's celebrate."

"Let's!"

"We'll dine at Sherry's, dance at the Bilt--"

"Lovely! Lovely! I've never been to either!"

"No, no, Zoe. Please! Your grandparents at home. Besides, it's war
time."

"Nonsense! Laugh while we may. Next month this time I'll probably be in
the thick of it myself. Let's laugh to-day. Vote her down, Zoe!"

"Pl-ease, Lilly."

"Your grandparents, Zoe, they don't even know the news yet--"

"Lilly, this once. Tippy and Dapples aren't going to be thrilled. They
think the whole business rather low, anyway. Besides--there's time--it's
my day--Lilly--"

"Not Sherry's, then, Zoe--a quieter--"

"Immense! I have it! Tarrytown. An opportunity to show you the place
before you go. We'll drop this taxi and pick up my car at the garage.
How's that, dinner at Tarrytown? Perfect, I'll say."

"What a duck of an idea! Oh, la, la, la, la!"

And so, quite dumbly, Lilly acquiesced and by easy shift to the
tan-upholstered car that ironed out all jolts, and a stiff breeze from
the Hudson whirring softly against their faces, they were whirling out
along quiet stretches, dusk coming down like a veil.

Seated between them, Zoe fell to singing, trilling highly and softly,
her head bared to the wind, her tam-o'-shanter on Bruce's lap, and Lilly
sitting silently by with lids down against hot eyeballs, and fighting a
sense of cross grain.

Presently lights began to come out along the river, like the gold eyes
of cats.

"How cool your fingers are, Zoe. Like the petals of something."

"Lilly, naughty man is holding back one of my hands on me."

"Lovely hands."

"Naughty man."

Silence.

"Oh dear."

"Oh dearest."

"That wasn't for you. That was a sigh."

"But I stole it."

"Cheeky."

Giggles.

Silence again and they turned off a macadamized road that was
prematurely dark with trees and into a lariat of driveway that elicited
from Zoe a squeal of enthrallment.

Even to Lilly, though she had figured in its purchase, there was
something startling in the vast classic whiteness and formal Italian
chastity of the house as they flanked it, drawing up under a
porte-cochère of Corinthian columns. Through a double row of cypresses
turning black, that inclosed a sunken garden, Dante and Virgil might
have moved, and yet, Lilly, aching with the analogy which could not
conjure, could only call up rather foolishly the three-color magazine
advertisement of a low-streamline motor car, drawn up before just such
Renaissance magnificence.

Three sheer and cunningly landscaped terraces dropped down from what was
actually the rear of the house, but which overhung the river, so that,
stepping out of the car, an unsuspected, breath-taking panorama of river
wound itself, at that moment the Albany boat moving upstream,
light-studded.

ZOE (out at a bound): "Oh! Oh! Oh! Isolde's garden. Tristan, where are
you?"

"Here."

"I want to kiss a star--that luscious one up there."

"Let me be proxy."

"Lilly, chastise him!"

She smiled at him with her tortured eyes.

"Like it?" he said, smiling back at her with something impersonal in his
eyes that deadened her. "All this formality is hardly my choice; it's
Pauline's idea."

They were met by Pauline--known to Zoe and her mother through
perfunctory office meetings. She was exceedingly petite, rather
appealingly so in her widowhood, and of her younger brother's rather
Spanish darkness, except for a graying coiffure worn high and
flatteringly.

There were seventeen years between them and yet her shoulders were
deeply white, and rose, quite unwithered, out of a jetted evening gown;
and her profile, also with the heat lightning of a scarcely perceptible
nervous quiver to it, entirely without the sag of tired flesh.

A certain petulance lent to her exceedingly well-bred diction quite a
charm, and she was playful and adoring enough to pinch each cheek of her
brother's as she tiptoed to kiss him.

"Nice boy to bring home charming people and save me from the boredom of
dining alone. How's my handsome brother? Naughty boy! It's the first
time you've looked yourself in weeks. They work him too hard down there,
Mrs. Penny. I tell my fat brother he's become little more than an
ornamental gargoyle. It's too sordid for this boy, and now you running
away from him just when I had hoped the time was ripe for him to dabble
in some of the things he's set his heart on. The kind of plays he reads
all night until I have to turn his lights out. Shame on you for
running away!"

Her twitter, from topical bough to topical bough, hardly demanded reply.
She exclaimed over Zoe, admiring her extravagantly, insisted upon
kissing away a purely imaginary look of headache from her brother's
brow, and led the way quite tinily regal, her running line of
comment unbroken.

In a soft boudoir of French grays, French doors, cerulean blues, and a
litter of every extravagant requisite of the toilet, Lilly faced herself
in a cunningly triplicated mirror.

"We're not dressed. We shouldn't have come," trying to ride down her
sense of misery.

"I'm dressed in all the cloth of gold you have woven for me," quoth Zoe,
in mock grandiloquence, still pitched to her exultant key and in all
her youthful capacity for it, full of self.

There were enamel-backed brushes with deep bristles that plowed her hair
out into dust of gold, and a finely wrought amber comb which she ran
through the fluff, striking an attitude.

"She walks in splendor like the night--"

"Zoe, you're losing your head."

"Splendor! This is me. Marble--terraces--rugs that slide--only I
want peacocks--that strut--and tails that open like fans
and--starlight--him--"

"Who?"

"Silly darling--nobody--the world--life."

There was no restraining her. She smoothed her mother's hair only to
kiss it awry again. She fluffed a fragrant cloud of powder along her
neck. Trilled at a drowsy canary in a wicker cage. Stretched herself in
the conscious pose of a Récamier on the lacy mound of a chaise-longue,
and finally followed her mother into the drawing-room, entirely at ease
in the straight blue frock.

It was a room almost the width of the house, with a balcony at one end
hung in a shah's silk prayer rug, and a stone fireplace, out of the
Davanziti palace, opposite. Three sets of leaded doors opened out on to
a flagged parapet that overlooked the Hudson and beyond the deep purple
of perfect September.

They met in a little group at one of these doors, and Lilly noticed
gratefully that Mrs. Enlow had thrown a net wrap over the formality of
her evening gown and that Bruce had merely changed to flannels.

He smiled at her with that impersonal sort of kindness which could cause
such a gush of blood to her heart, and spread himself in a playful
salaam before Zoe.

"Princess."

She held out her hand to be kissed, which he did five times, finger by
finger.

"These terraces," said Lilly, trying not to be heavy, "are like the
setting for an Aegean romance."

He smiled back at her again through the new film across his eyes.

"Write it and I'll produce it."

"Close the doors, Dicky; it's growing chilly," said Mrs. Enlow.

"Yes," said Lilly, shivering a bit, "chilly."

"And I'm burning, Dicky, Tickey Tavey," cried Zoe, applying the name
audaciously. "How can anyone be chilly on such a night as this?"

"Come, Princess, and I'll show you some stars."

"Don't wander too far before dinner, children. Mrs. Penny and I will sit
indoors. Only youth can risk swollen joints."

"Yes," said Lilly, feeling herself rather terrifiedly past the fiercer
rush of life, "only youth."

They sat on a great overstuffed divan that faced the parapet, lighted
softly at each end by the first lamps of evening.

"Why, you poor child, you're shivering of chill! It's the damp. Let me
get you a wrap."

In the thickening silence Lilly sat alone looking out through the glass
doors. Bruce and Zoe were silhouetted out there against a fathomless
evening sky that was brilliantly pointed with a few big stars. But they
were not gazing out. Her face was up to his like a flower about to be
plucked, and, looking down into it, his whole body seemed to sway to its
sweetness.

Suddenly the ache in Lilly's heart was laid. With all of her old
capacity for the incongruous, but without any of her usual pump of
terror, she thought suddenly of her father, two nights hence, sitting
down to the creamed salmon and fried potatoes on Page Avenue, hanging
his napkin with the patent fasteners about his neck. Edna Shriner
must teach her that French-knot stitch for Zoe's gowns--in
case--heigh-ho!--in case--

With her gaze on those two etched and eloquent profiles, a piercing
sense of achievement seemed to flow with a warm rush of blood, curing
her of chill.

Her heart beat high with what even might have been fulfillment.


THE END





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