Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Glebe 1914/03 (Vol. 1, No. 6): Erna Vitek
Author: Kreymborg, Alfred
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Glebe 1914/03 (Vol. 1, No. 6): Erna Vitek" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images made available by the Blue Mountain
Project, Princeton University.



                                  THE
                                 GLEBE

                                VOLUME 1
                                NUMBER 6

                                 MARCH
                                  1914

                              SUBSCRIPTION
                          Three Dollars Yearly
                          THIS ISSUE 50 CENTS

                               ERNA VITEK

                          By Alfred Kreymborg


                               ERNA VITEK



                               ERNA VITEK


                                   BY
                            Alfred Kreymborg


                                NEW YORK
                        ALBERT AND CHARLES BONI
                            96 Fifth Avenue
                                  1914


                            Copyright, 1914
                                   by
                        Albert and Charles Boni



                               ERNA VITEK



                                   I


Three young men, the best of friends, a painter, Bainbridge Breen, a
writer, Eric Nielsen, and a composer, John Carstairs, were arguing that
three-faced conundrum, morals. Quite an accident had provoked them to
it: a waitress, Erna Vitek. From picking at her they had launched into
axiomizing, only to come back to her. Her morals were the vital topic of
the evening. Carstairs' studio provided the _mise en scène_.

"Well, we've hit a conclusion at last," said Breen with an air of
comfortable finality. "Carstairs calls her moral, I say she's unmoral,
and Nielsen that she may be moral, unmoral or even both."

"Yes!"

"Now, we've all conceded that Erna's not immoral--at least she doesn't
lead a life inconsistent with morality?"

"Yes!"

"Very well then," Breen concluded contentedly. "Now let me make a
proposition."

"What kind of a proposition?" Nielsen quizzed in droll tones and looked
at Carstairs, who was frowning.

"There's very little to it. I can dish it out in a few words. It's
simply this: that we put Erna to the test."

"What do you mean?" was Carstairs' immediate challenge.

"Don't worry!" Breen responded blandly. "I'm not going to injure the
girl."

"Well, what did you mean--"

"Merely this," the painter interrupted quietly. "I don't believe that
any of us know her very well. She's only been working at Landsmann's a
few months. Of course, Carstairs, you've taken her out on one or two
occasions, so you've had an opportunity of studying her at closer
range."

"Not of studying her!"

"You don't study her, certainly. You--er--what would you call it,
Nielsen?"

"Why, John has been burned a little by the divine flame."

Carstairs blushed angrily. "If you fellows intend to be personal--"

"Never mind, John," Nielsen cut in. "You must allow us the occasional
escape of some of our surplus wind. Now, let's drop these bravado poses
and get down to business. I want the rest of the proposition. We know
that we're to put Erna to the test. Now, Breen, tell us how."

"There's nothing to explain. I said, put her to the test. Let each one,
in his own way and for himself, perhaps, pay her attentions--I don't
mean, make love to her--but simply, well, let him take her to the
theatre or to supper some evening--she's free nights--and find out how
close he can get to her--I don't mean seduction--but that he penetrate
her character. Let each, in his own way, learn for himself, and later
we'll compare notes and decide whether the respected lady has the moral
or the unmoral tendency or even whether she might develop an--er--"

"See here, Breen!" Carstairs exploded.

"Oh, I'd forgotten that we agreed to throw that out," the painter
apologized. "You see, I couldn't help thinking of that little affair
with the young prize ring gladiator. What was his name? Allen!"

"But that was only a temptation," Carstairs fought back.

"Of course, only a temptation. But we have only her word that it never
proved more."

The composer was ready with a hot retaliation when Nielsen interposed:
"Now don't let's revert to that topic again, Breen. We can never know
the whole story, and it only annoys John to refer to it. We know that
Erna was down and out at the time--she'd just come to Landsmann's, was
unsettled and that sort of thing--that much we know and that young Allen
followed her there with an offer of cash. At least, she intimated
something like that to John and said it was a case of being good or bad
then and there. She chose being good. Even if she had chosen the other,
the transaction might have been an unmoral and not an immoral one, for
she was fond of Allen."

"But--"

"Now never mind, Breen! We've threshed that out often enough. Erna
didn't flop--in fact, she showed Mr. Allen the door, hasn't seen him
since and--"

"But we have only _her_ word for all that stuff."

"All right. There's no other to contradict."

Breen, although silenced, was busy reflecting; Carstairs' ire was
appeased. Nielsen concluded: "Let's take up Breen's proposition, John,
each in his own way, whatever that may be, and then we'll compare notes
some day and settle the business. After all, Erna's only a waitress; we
needn't spend more than an ordinary amount of excitement over her."

"But she isn't a waitress. I tell you, she's a woman."

"All right, woman let her be," Nielsen conceded gracefully. "Now, we
don't want to sit here throwing words and phrases around all evening.
We've been at it too long as it is. Why not put the matter to a vote and
then drop it?"

"Yes."

"Breen, of course, votes that we put her to the test. Will you vote that
way too?"

Carstairs gave in with an effort.

"Fine!" Nielsen applauded. "I'll vote 'yes' too."

"Motion proposed and carried that one Erna Vitek, employed as waitress
at the Café Landsmann--"

"That'll do, Breen. We've had enough of your eloquence for one evening.
You've given me a headache. Besides, I'm sick of this subject. Let's
start something else."

Breen laughed his ever-ready, self-satisfied laugh, and Nielsen, and
even Carstairs, joined him. Presently, the studio slept the sleep of the
unperturbed. Carefully, Breen filled his pipe and began a deliberate
puffing, while Nielsen introduced some new anecdote in his droll,
even-tempered way. Carstairs, on the other hand, was meditating
gloomily: in an hour or so he would be due at that damnable hole, the
Phoenix Music Hall--where he earned his bread playing accompaniments. A
second thought cheered him not a little. He would still have time to eat
his supper at Landsmann's.



                                   II


"Erna! What is the matter with you? Another cup of coffee for Mr.
Nolan!"

"I know it. I ordered it an hour ago."

The stocky, middle-aged, stolid-faced German stared at the handsome
sensual girl of twenty, muttered something, as she returned his critical
stare with a defiant one, and passed out of the kitchen into the store.

"What is the matter with Erna to-day?" he demanded of his stocky,
middle-aged, stolid-faced wife, who stood behind the counter waiting on
customers.

"Why?"

"This is the third time she has been _schnautzing_ me."

"Oh, she has something on her mind," was the woman's unconcerned reply.

The storekeeper was not satisfied. "That _fellow_ must be to blame," he
said.

"Who?"

"That Allen! He's been coming here again."

"Has he?" the woman returned with the same unconcern. "Let him come.
What do you care?"

Erna Vitek was in a morose humor. Her pugnacious nose seemed more
pugnacious than ever, and even her mouth, usually so soft and yielding,
appeared hard this morning. And her brown eyes, which could give you
gentle glances one day and repelling ones the next, were filled with
ominous signs. There was a good reason. She had just overheard the other
waitresses exchanging remarks about her. This would not have been so bad
if their talk had been without foundation. But it was true: she had been
glad to see Jimmy Allen yesterday noon and evening, when he came
in--after an absence of three months. He had stopped drinking. He had
been living and training in the country, so that the old color had
returned to his face and the old light to his eyes. He looked stronger
than ever, more energetic and happier. Yes, he was to begin fighting
again--next week--but that had never been his worst fault. The girls
said that she still "liked him" or that she would "like him again." This
would not have been so bad if--

Gretchen and Mollie were small, mean, dirty. They were always gossipping
about her. And she had given them her old dresses, old hats,
encouragement, advice. What a lot of gratitude women felt toward you!

Her face cleared. A laughing, splendidly built young fellow was making
his way through the store, returning salutations. He stopped in the
kitchen long enough to barter laughing glances with Erna and passed down
the two steps into the dining room: a small low one containing six
tables--Erna's empire. There, he received more greetings and one or two
short tributes on his return to the public eye. The young athlete pulled
off his coat and cap and hung them on the wall. He flung himself into a
chair at an empty table and was soon at his ease.

Erna was a shrewd girl. She did not come to take his order at once.
First, she served another patron. Then, she cleared away some dishes.
Finally, she came to Jimmy's table, but with a careless air.

He gave her a frank look. "How's the girl?" was his familiar greeting.

"Pretty fair!" she responded in cool tones. "How are you?"

"Bully!"

"What do you want?" she went on indifferently.

"Gimme time to breathe!" he protested, and tried to stare into her face
and to take her hand.

"Stop!" she warned him and drew back.

"Why, what the deuce--"

"Customers are waitin'--" she cut him short.

He gave the bill of fare a contemptuous glance. "Bring me a soft boiled
egg, toast an' a glass o' milk."

She looked at him with sudden irritation, but smiled, turned her back
and left the room with aggravating slowness.

Jimmy appeared angry, but one of the patrons disturbed his mood with an
admiring: "On a diet, Jimmy?"

"Yes."

"What night does it come off?"

"Next Tuesday."

"How do you feel?"

Jimmy expanded his chest, gave himself a solid punch and answered:
"Great! Harder than a rock!"

"Feel sorry for 'the Kid.' How long are you goin' to let him stay?"

"Oh, part o' the second," was Jimmy's laughing assurance.

A sigh of pleasure and envy escaped the patrons. And they quickly
announced their intention to be present at the joyous butchery.

Erna came back. She pretended to wipe off the neighboring table. Pretty
soon, however, she was at Jimmy's side.

"What's the grouch?" he asked confidentially.

"Nothin'."

"Still sore at me?"

"No."

"Sore at somebody else?"

"No."

He looked up at her anxiously, but Erna smiled; her eyes softened and
winked slyly. Jimmy, who was always willing to laugh, laughed again.
"You're still the kiddo," he whispered.

Erna blushed and moved away.

"Erna!" he called.

"Wait a moment!"

She stayed away about two minutes and then returned with Jimmy's order,
which was overdue. Three of the patrons, exchanging "so longs!" with the
prize-fighter, went out. Two remained, milkmen, but they were fast
asleep.

Erna set Jimmy's order before him. He tried to catch her hand, but she
was too quick. An irritable grunt escaped him.

"What's the matter?" she taunted him.

"What's the matter with _you_?"

"Nothin'."

But she dropped her glance coquettishly. He gave her face and figure an
admiring look.

"Erna," he said gently.

She looked at him for a shy instant.

"I say, Erna," he repeated.

"Well?"

"You're not sore?"

"No."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"You know what I mean?"

"Sure!"

He studied her. "Then why do you treat me this way--now?"

She tried bold and bashful glances, turned her head a little and said
enigmatically "Just because."

"Just because what?"

"Just because."

He shook his head, but his ever-ready laugh came to his assistance.
"Then you're not sore?"

"No."

"Sure?"

"Of course."

"Even though--"

"Yes."

"Then you like to treat me this way just--"

"Sure."

"Why?"

"Just because!" she echoed and started to laugh.

He gave her an adoring glance and this time caught her hand. She tried
to pull it away, but his grip was too powerful. He squeezed her hand.

"Don't, don't!" she begged in pain.

He let go and smiled. She was not angry. Instead, she placed her hand on
his biceps. He raised his forearm and imprisoned her hand. "Oo-oo!" she
sighed in happy homage, and her eyes shone.

Once more, he freed her hand. "Well?"

"Terrible!" she whispered. "What'll happen to the poor 'Kid'?"

"Death!" was his jovial rejoinder.

He caught her hand once more. "Don't, don't!" she warned him. He let go
as before, but she did not withdraw it immediately.

His glance grew bolder and bolder, but he hesitated. He busied himself
with his breakfast for a moment, shaking salt into his egg and stirring
it with a spoon. He looked up and hesitated again. Finally, he began:
"Then it'll be all right to-night?"

"To-night?"

"Yes. You said you'd tell me to-day."

"I know."

"It'll be all right?" he pleaded.

She eyed him a moment, softened a little and then gave in: "But where
can we go?"

"We can take in a show," he suggested.

"A show?"

"Yes!"

"Where?"

"Oh, Miner's, the Gran' or a movie."

She meditated.

"Hurry up! Here come some customers."

She turned her head quickly, and then looked back at him. "All right,"
she whispered.

"Where'll I meet you?" he demanded eagerly.

"At the old corner--eight o'clock!"

He pressed her hand in hurried understanding, as three young men entered
the dining room. They were Breen, Carstairs and Nielsen. Erna passed
them on her way out with a nervous "good-morning."

She stayed out some time. Jimmy ate and drank rapidly, got up, took his
check, put on his cap and coat, and ignoring the newcomers, left the
room. Breen and Nielsen had recognized him with amazement. They watched
him curiously, but not so Carstairs. He sat there, staring gloomily at
the table.



                                  III


"Moral or unmoral, but not--" Breen started and waited for Nielsen to
supply the last word.

Nielsen, who understood, shook his head and corrected: "Moral or
unmoral--no more," and smiled confidently.

Carstairs looked from Nielsen to Breen and continued staring at the
table.

"How do you account then for the recrudescence of our young gladiator?"
Breen went on.

"And what has that to do with Erna's life, present or future?" Nielsen
argued amiably.

"If he's calling again?"

"Let him call! Does that necessarily affect Erna's conduct?"

"But _hasn't_ it affected her conduct? Didn't you notice it as we came
in?"

"Yes."

"Well?"

Nielsen wore a thoughtful frown, but smiled mischievously and declared:
"There was nothing _im_moral, as far as I could make out."

Breen was gracious enough to agree: "Perhaps not."

They were silent. Carstairs watched them gloomily and then returned to
his occupation. Erna came in, affecting a matter-of-fact air.

Breen and Nielsen pressed her with playful greetings and compliments.
She accepted them as part of the tribute due her each day, but her
stereotyped expression disappeared, and she was ready to take up her
duties as gracious empress. Even her pugnacious nose appeared less
pugnacious. Having recognized the young men's tribute by a favor or two,
she criticized genially: "You're late this morning."

"Nielsen overslept himself," Breen explained.

"Don't you believe him--he overslept himself," Nielsen retorted.

Erna was leaning against their table, her arms akimbo. The pair received
a glance each, as was their due, and then she studied Carstairs. "Maybe
it was you, Mr. Carstairs?"

He looked up. "Me?"

"Yes--maybe it was you that overslept yourself."

Carstairs blushed, his friends laughed, and he denied with a return of
good nature: "No. They were the ones."

"He's not awake yet, Erna," Breen fought back.

"He doesn't look it," she seconded.

The young composer blushed again, but did not defend himself this time.
Nielsen eyed him with friendly concern.

"Your orders, gentlemen."

"What's your hurry?" Breen complained.

"You don't suppose I can stand here all day," she reminded him.

"But I want to admire you a little," he protested. "Who wants to eat in
the presence of a--of a--Why, look at the beautiful red ribbon! Is it a
new one, Erna?"

"Yes," and instantly, Erna, always susceptible to praise or flattery,
raised her hands to arrange the ribbon.

"It matches your hair to perfection," Breen pursued. "You love color,
don't you?"

"Sure."

"Red the most?"

"Sure."

"Blood, blood red?"

"Yes."

"My favorite color, too!"

"That'll do," Nielsen interposed. "Don't steal all the crumbs, Breen."

Erna laughed.

"But they belong to me," Breen defended himself. "Color is my line. Red
is my color too."

"These grasping conceited painters!" Nielsen grumbled.

"No," Erna interceded. "If he likes red, he likes red."

"'A second Daniel'," quoted Breen. "I thank thee, gracious Lady. Thou
and I are of one mind and desire. By the way, Erna! Did you ever wear
all red?"

"No--oh, yes, two or three years ago."

"You did? Have you still got the dress?"

"Oh, I've outgrown it. I'm--I'm stouter now," and she expanded her chest
and laughed again.

"But you must find it," he continued with growing interest. "You could
easily alter it to fit, couldn't you? I want you to pose for me. You
know you've promised me several times. Wouldn't you like to? All in red:
red ribbon, red waist, and skirt and even red slippers, but best of all,
red cheeks and red lips!"

Erna's pleasure-loving scent was aroused.

"Will you, Erna?"

"Sure!"

"When?"

"Oh, not to-day."

"When then?"

"Not to-morrow."

"Oh, pshaw--when then?"

"My first afternoon off?"

"Fine! When will that be?"

"Next Monday."

"Good! And you'll be ready?"

"Yes, if you really want me to. But I won't be able--"

"That's all right," he interrupted. "Come anyhow! You'll be immense just
the same. You will create--"

"Pooh, pooh, and likewise tut, tut!" Nielsen broke in. "When are we to
hear an end to this?"

"He's jealous," said Erna.

"Of course," Nielsen admitted. "To the painter go all the spoils. No one
ever poses for a writer. It wouldn't be proper."

"Why?" she challenged.

Nielsen got up in a hurry. "What?" he demanded in mock seriousness.

"Order, order!" she said roguishly and looked away.

"But--"

"Order, order!" Breen echoed. "The lady is right. We must have order.
Besides, we haven't ordered."

Nielsen fell back with a philosophic sigh. "All is unfair when bad puns
make their appearance."

It did not take the young men long to make their choice of breakfast.
Erna went away.

"Come back soon!" pleaded Breen.

"In a wink," she called back.

Breen started drumming on the table; Nielsen looked across at him and
hummed a pleasant tune. "You're a clever individual," he observed.

"Why?"

"You're not going to have her pose, old Sly Fox."

"Certainly not, thou reader of souls."

"I thought not."

"But I'm only carrying out our program of last night. You seem to have
forgotten it."

"No."

"Then why criticize me for being the first one on the job? It'll be up
to you and Carstairs too."

"I know," Nielsen agreed jovially.

"Count me out!" Carstairs interrupted suddenly.

"The sleeper's awake," Breen applauded. "He's back from the land of
dreams. What news from Arcadia, Colonel?"

"You can count me out," Carstairs repeated stubbornly, and would not
look at his friends.

"Why, what's the matter?" Nielsen interposed sympathetically, and raised
his hand to forewarn Breen.

"Nothing."

"Breen's only been fooling all along!"

"I know."

"Then you're not angry with him, or me?"

"No."

"Then what's the trouble?"

"I don't like it--I hate it," the young composer went on with
difficulty.

"What don't you like?"

"This business!"

"What, this business of testing Erna?" Nielsen asked gently, and studied
him. "John!" The latter refused to look at him. "It's all in fun. I
thought you were satisfied with our arrangement? We are each to study
Erna in our own way, then to compare notes to learn whether--You don't
have to use Breen's method. I don't intend to. You don't have to
either."

"I know."

"Then there ought to be no complaint."

"Count me out anyhow."

"Why?"

Breen wanted to poke into the argument, but Nielsen raised his hand
again.

"She's not a waitress or a--or a working woman--or a table or a chair,"
Carstairs said with obvious difficulty.

Nielsen understood. He squeezed his neighbor's arm and declared with his
most soothing tone: "She's a woman, of course--as we concluded last
night. Breen and I know that. You feel that we do, don't you?"

Carstairs, who was in his most sentimental mood, seemed on the verge of
tears. "Yes," he managed to agree.

Nielsen broke off the subject at once. "Well, we'll talk over the whole
business some other time. You're not feeling well this morning. It must
be your work at that confounded moving picture hole."

"Yes," Carstairs said doubtfully.

"Cheer up!" Breen succeeded in interpolating. "Forget your troubles in
the music world and listen to that concert over there. That duet
recital, I should say."

Carstairs smiled.

"Tristan and Isolde are being undone," Nielsen added, catching Breen's
cue. "Or Salome and Jokannan, eh? Away with Wagner and Strauss: Richard
the First and Second--what do you say, John?"

"Yes."

The two milkmen, who were sleeping more soundly than ever, appreciated
their listeners' applause. They were indulging in a crescendo.

"Silence and listen!" Breen warned so solemnly that Nielsen, and even
Carstairs, laughed.

Breen and Nielsen exchanged nods. They had accomplished their object.
Erna came back with their orders.

"What music have we here?" Breen hailed her.

She set their orders on the table, and arranged their plates, knives,
forks and spoons. "What did you say?"

"What music is this emanating from yon Orpheus and his Eurydice?"

"Must be some ragtime," she suggested.

Breen feigned disappointment.

"It all depends upon one's taste, you see," Nielsen interpreted for him.

And Carstairs laughed again.

Erna eyed him. "Why, he's awake," she said.

"Yes," Breen and Nielsen assured her.

Carstairs raised his head and met her glance for an instant, and the
sudden warmth he felt brought color to his face. He looked elsewhere,
but it was plainly evident that he was feeling better.

"You're sure you're awake now?" she questioned wantonly.

"Yes, thanks," he responded gratefully.

The young men started eating. Erna attended to her remaining duties with
them and then went over to another table and sat down. Presently, she
was occupied folding paper napkins. Breen, with Nielsen's assistance,
opened a discussion on the newest fad of French painting, examples of
which were being exhibited at a Fifth Avenue gallery.

Carstairs stole cautious glances at Erna. Once or twice, she raised her
eyes and caught his glance in hers. Both looked away in embarrassment.
This performance was repeated several times. There seemed to be some shy
understanding between them.

About a half hour later, the young men arose and put on their hats and
coats. Erna came over and gave them their checks. "So long, Erna,"
Nielsen parted cordially. "_Au midi_," Breen seconded. And the pair made
their way up the steps and out of the dining room.

Carstairs had delayed his departure a moment. He approached Erna
nervously and in a hurried voice, began: "Is it all right for to-night?
You know, you were going to let me know."

She frowned a little and then returned: "Yes--oh no, I can't go out with
you to-night."

His face became tragic. She, possessed by one of her soft moods, played
the sympathetic: "Will you be off again this week?"

"Yes--Sunday night--from seven to nine," he explained in an eager
whisper.

"Well?" She waited, smiling.

"Will it be all right then?" he asked, his courage rising.

"Yes."

"All right--Sunday--seven o'clock," he whispered, hurried out--and
forgot his check.

She came after him and caught him at the counter, where he had joined
his friends.

"You've forgotten your check," she told him, with a bright glance.

"Oh, yes, thanks," he stammered.

Breen and Nielsen stared at him. The trio passed out into the street.

"Where shall we go?" Breen questioned.

"Let's bum a while in my room," Nielsen proposed.

"I can't," Carstairs declined.

"Why not, John?"

"I want to work a little," Carstairs explained.

Breen and Nielsen stared at him again.

Somewhat later, the painter and the writer were comfortably seated in
the latter's comfortable workshop.

"I guess so, but I hope it isn't true," Nielsen was saying.

"Oh, he'll get over it. These attachments of his are never serious nor
of long duration. And at best, she's only a hardened little thing, a
fact he'll realize in good season."

"John was always much slower to learn matters than the rest of us,"
Nielsen said dreamily.

"Yes."

"He's foolishly sensitive too."

"And foolishly sentimental," Breen concluded.

There was a pause.

"And how about your story?" the painter continued.

"By the way, I'm thinking of using Erna as a model for--"

"Want her to pose for you too, old Sly Fox?" Breen demanded in revenge.

"Of course, and incidentally to find out--"

"I know," Breen interrupted, and the pair laughed in mutual admiration.

In the meanwhile, John Carstairs was busy--working. He was seated at the
small upright piano, which monopolized a good part of the space in his
small studio. About an hour later, he had finished improvising and
selecting and arranging his material and now placed a large sheet of
music paper against the piano rack. The staves were blank at present,
but it was certain that the young composer intended covering them as
rapidly as possible. First of all, however, he wrote the title of the
composition at the head of the page: To Thee.



                                   IV


An evening performance was in full swing at the Phoenix Music Hall, a
small but well attended five and ten cent moving picture and vaudeville
establishment on Eighth Avenue, not far from Landsmann's. At present,
the moving pictures were doing a turn, and the auditorium was dark.
Music from a piano, placed close to the stage, was the only
accompaniment, but it was an adequate one. A young, slender, anaemic
individual was seated at the piano.

At the moment, he was playing a dainty popular waltz as a descriptive
background for a French comedy scene. Many a laugh rolled toward him.
Then he commenced a two-step, as the screen announced a change of
pictures. The audience laughed more frequently and with heartier
approval, as an American farce romped by. Again, the screen announced a
change.

An Irish romance was under way. For this class of sketch, Carstairs was
expected to interpolate or to improvise something "sweet and dreamy."
Therefore, he took advantage of the opportunity. He leaned closer to the
keyboard, lowered his head and was soon engulfed in what he was
rendering--so much so, that he did not turn to keep in touch with the
pictures, as was his habit. The yearning sentimental composition had
made him captive.

Let others talk against Erna, he would still hold fast to his faith in
her. Breen was a cynic, and Nielsen too. They flattered themselves that
they knew human nature, but they did not, for they were lacking in
sympathy. He had been foolish to listen to their prattle concerning
Erna. He would not do so in the future. In fact, he ought to drop their
acquaintance or to avoid their company, at least. He would do that. Now,
he could keep his thought of her, so pure, to himself--his thought of
her, who, in spite of her fun-loving and prank-playing nature, was as
pure as the purest and whitest of-- Yes, he would keep her pure. And
Jimmy Allen, well, he had come back, but his influence over her was
dead, dead since the day she had shown him the door, as she had confided
to him that time. He could trust her. She was strong enough and pure
enough to take care of herself.

This was Friday; to-morrow would be Saturday, and then Sunday, a long,
long Sunday, would come and have to pass before she would be with him.
Of course, he would see her to-morrow morning at breakfast, but he must
be careful to avoid the cynics. Even so, how could he tell her that he
had composed this for her, this, the best of his compositions, thanks to
the circumstance that she had been its inspiration. Perhaps, it would be
better not to tell her; it would be a bigger surprise if he were to play
it for her and then offer it to her, as one would a flower or some other
symbol.

Would he have the courage to ask her to come to his studio, so that he
might play for her? And if he had, suppose she should refuse? But she
had accepted an invitation from Breen, and only to pose for him. Surely,
she would not refuse him? And if she did not, could he actually amuse
and hold her attention by merely playing for her? Why not? She sang a
great deal in the store,--it is true, popular music, which he hated--but
she had not been educated to anything higher. That did not make her any
the less musical; moreover, she would learn in time, at his guidance
perhaps, since she possessed so much temperament along with that lovely
voice. Therefore, she would not object should he offer to play for her.
And he would play as he never had for any one, eventually to lead up to
this composition, that belonged so naturally to her. What would she say
when he would offer it to her as her own? He must push his courage far
enough to ask her to come to his studio.

Carstairs continued playing and dreaming.

The audience was very still now. At one end of the front row, a young
couple were sitting, holding hands. When the lights were up a while ago,
one might have recognized them as Erna Vitek and Jimmy Allen. Both were
living in the proverbial seventh heaven.

"Ain't it lovely?" she was whispering.

"The two boobs in the love story?"

"Not them so much--but the music!"

"Pretty good."

"Nice an' dreamy, ain't it?"

"Yes--sounds as though the guy was playing for us."

Erna gave him a reproving nudge, and he laughed. They listened and
watched in silence. But he grew impatient. "Don't care for the story, do
you?"

"Sure! What's the matter with it?"

"Them two boobs gimme a pain."

"Why?"

"I dunno."

"They're true to life?"

"So's my dead gran'mother."

She laughed. "What's wrong with 'em?"

He squeezed her hand as gently as he was able. "Where do we come in?"

"What?"

"Ain't we true to life?"

She pulled her hand away.

"What's the matter?" he demanded.

"Nothin'."

"Gimme your--my hand again!"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Just because."

"Sore?"

"No."

He was silent.

Presently, she commanded: "Jimmy!"

No answer.

"Jimmy!"

Again, no answer.

Her hand slid across his arm and sought his.

"Mad?"

"Mm--no."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"Then why wouldn't you answer?"

"Just because!" he mimicked her.

She slapped his hand gently, his hand opened and they clasped again.
There was a pause.

"Erna," he said in bolder tones.

"Not so loud!" she warned him.

"Well then--Erna," he repeated in very low tones.

"That's better."

"How about it?"

"About what?"

"What I asked you 'fore we came here?"

"I asked you not to repeat that," was her reproach.

"I know, but I can't help it. Don't you like it here?"

"Sure."

"I mean here, side o' me--in the dark?"

"Yes."

"Well--" He hesitated.

"Well?" she mocked him.

"Think o' how swell it'd be--"

"Be careful, Jimmy!"

"I can't help it," he persisted. "Think o' how swell it'd be--"

"Jimmy!" she warned him once more.

"Oh shucks!" he returned aloud, and was silent. There was a longer
pause.

"Jimmy!"

No answer.

"Jimmy!"

Again, no answer.

"Jimmy!"

A third time, no answer.

She pressed his hand and pushed against his shoulder, but he would not
respond. Erna gave in. "I'm sorry--forgive me?"

"Mm--"

"Do you forgive me?"

"Yes."

"You don't say it very loud."

"Well, you jumped on me before for talkin' loud."

"You'd wake the audience," she apologized.

"Well?" he challenged.

"Well what?" she retorted.

"What did you want to say?"

"Nothin'."

"All right!"--and he was silent.

"Ah yes, Jimmy," she resigned.

"Well?"

"You can go on with--with your story, but--but don't go too far."

"All right."

"Promise?"

"Yes."

"Then go ahead."

He revolved matters in his blunt mind, and recommenced: "You remember, I
told you 'bout the--the little furnished flat my manager, Nolan, asked
me to move in?"

"Yes?"

"Well, why couldn't we--just you an' me--"

"Jimmy!"

"I know, but I can't help it, Erna. Things is different now. When I
asked you that time--well, that's all over now. You an' I's forgotten
that. So what's buried's buried. An' times is different now. You've got
a job, though it's a punk one. I've got a little money an' more to come,
an' I've cut drinkin'. My health's fine an' prospects great. After I
finish 'the Kid' there'll be Young Walcott--an' after Walcott, a bunch
o' others--"

"But Jimmy--"

"Don't butt in!" he begged seriously. "Now, I know you hate that job o'
yours--"

"It ain't all cheese an' honey," she confessed.

"No, an' it never will be. Now, why can't you pull up stakes--"

"Jimmy!"

"Don't butt in!" he begged more seriously. "This is different than last
time. I'm a--a respectable man now an' you're a respectable woman."

"Always have been," she cautioned him.

"I know," he hastened to admit. "What I've been tryin' to say is: Keep
your job a little longer if you want to, till I go on with mine an' get
lots o' dough. In the meanwhile--" He stopped.

"Well?" she ventured, but with an ominous inflection.

"I'll rent the little flat off Nolan, an' you an' I can--"

"Jimmy!"

"But I'm askin' you to _marry_ me this time," he protested.

"I know."

"Ain't that different?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it ain't."

"Why not?"

"Because it ain't."

"But Erna--"

"Now listen, Jimmy! You promised not to go too far."

"Oh shucks!" he broke out.

They were silent. He let go her hand and drew away a short distance. She
removed her hand rather reluctantly. Once or twice, she pushed against
his shoulder. But he would not respond.

The romantic pictures disappeared, and the music ceased. The lights were
turned on. There was a sigh throughout the audience. Erna and Jimmy
seemed glad of the change as well. A little sooner, they would have been
sorry.

She glanced his way. He was not looking in her direction. She nudged
him. He still refused to turn his head. "Jimmy," she whispered tenderly.

He stole a half glance at her. She was smiling in invitation. He could
not help smiling too.

"You all right now?" she ventured.

He turned toward her, and instantly, his ever-ready laugh dispelled
their gloom.

"You all right?" she repeated.

"Yes," he admitted, and declared: "Some scrap that!"

"No, it wasn't," she reassured him and smiled with revived mischief.

Their hands fell back to their natural occupation.

"Turn out the lights!" Jimmy commanded in so loud a tone that most of
their neighbors, as well as Erna, giggled.

A German comedian made his appearance and offered the usual monologue.
No musical accompaniment was required for this act; therefore, Carstairs
had disappeared under the stage. He had not seen Erna and Jimmy, nor
they him.



                                   V


Carstairs was waiting at the street corner rendezvous early the
following Sunday evening. Impatience had kept him company all day, a
long day, but the impatience he felt now was even keener. He had been
ahead of their appointment by about twenty minutes, for he was afraid
that Erna might be there first. His vigil was that much the longer and
more trying. What hours it took for minutes to pass! Suppose she did not
come?

The fates, however, were good-humored. He could see an athletic figure
coming along at a familiar leisurely pace. It was Erna. His joy and
excitement were such that he could scarcely wait for her to reach him.
What made her walk so slowly?

"Hello," was her soft cheery greeting.

He had avoided the bakery restaurant all day. He could hardly return her
salutation, the last of his courage having fled.

"Where--where shall we go?" he questioned.

"Anywhere," she agreed genially.

Now was his opportunity. He must ask her. Of course, they could not walk
the streets the whole of his two hours' freedom. Nor could they go to
the theatre so early. Would she sense these arguments? Moreover, they
had been to a restaurant for a little refreshment and conversation on
their two former outings. She had not enjoyed those visits particularly,
reminding her, as they must have, of her daily life at Landsmann's.

"It's a little bit too cold," he ventured.

"Not so very," she returned mischievously, as they started walking.

He was frightened. "But--"

She was enjoying his embarrassment, but came to his assistance with:
"Well, where _shall_ we go? It's up to you. You did the invitin'."

"I've got nearly two hours," he explained. "Can you stay out that long?"

"I'm off for the rest o' the night," she assured him; "but I ought to be
back under the quilt by ten. I'm a bit tired."

"Of course, you are," he agreed hurriedly--this was another
opportunity--"so we mustn't do any walking. Do you--would you like to
come--"

"Yes."

"How would you like to come over to my place?"

It was out. What would she say?

"Will anybody else be there?"

"Oh no!"

"It's over there on Fourteenth Street somewhere, ain't it?"

"Yes."

"I don't mind," she said.

Joy and excitement overwhelmed him. He could not speak. And he had
imagined all along that it would be so difficult to induce her to come.
He did not know what to say.

"Do we cross here?" she suggested.

"Yes," he said in a low tone.

The need of politeness forced itself upon him. Timidly, he took her arm
and led her across the street. As a matter of fact, it was she, who was
so much stronger and more daring than he, who had done the leading. They
reached the opposite side, and walked along in silence. After a minute
or so, they approached an old building.

"Here it is," he declared nervously and let go her arm.

They climbed three smelly flights of stairs, followed a dark hallway and
came to a halt. He took out his keys and opened a door. "Step in," he
requested.

"You've got the light lit," she announced.

"Yes, I thought it'd be--"

"It's awful nice here."

"Do you think so?" he questioned eagerly, greatly encouraged. "But it's
such a small, dingy place."

"Oh no," she maintained. "It's nice an' cosy."

Erna walked about, examining articles with her inquisitive eyes. "So
this is your piano?"

"Yes, it's an old box."

"No, it's nice lookin'. An' whose picture is that?"

"My mother's."

"An' that one?"

"Oh that--that's only--"

"An old _friend_?" she assisted him.

"Yes," he agreed, and his blushes appeared.

Fortunately, Erna's back was turned. But she knew he was blushing, and
her face lighted with pleasure. She examined other articles.

Carstairs asked quickly: "Won't you take off your things?"

Slowly, she removed her coat and hat, and fixed her hair at a small
looking glass. "Men use these things too," she observed.

"Yes, we do," he echoed, and put her things on the couch, where he
likewise laid his own.

"Sit down," he advised.

"Over here?"

"Yes."

"Oh, this is a nice soft chair."

Carstairs walked about a while. He was so nervous that he did not know
what to do. Nevertheless, he realized that he must offer to entertain
her. At least, he must say something.

But Erna spoke first. "What makes you walk around?"

"Oh nothing," he returned abruptly, looked about in confusion and
finally selected the piano stool, which, however, was so close to Erna's
chair that his confusion grew. The girl, herself, had betrayed a little
embarrassment once or twice, but she had conquered its last sign. This
was perhaps possible because of her enjoyment of Carstairs' rather
pathetic condition. Erna loved and craved praise or flattery, and the
young composer's substitute for them was certainly a decided tribute.

"It's awful nice here," she repeated.

"I'm glad you think so," he responded gratefully, and glanced toward
her, only to look away.

"It's kind o' restful too."

This was an excellent opening.

"You must be very tired," he declared.

"A little bit."

"You've been working all day?"

"Since six-thirty this morning."

"Lord, then you must be tired."

"Not so very much," she denied with pride. "I can stand work."

He dared a glance at her strong body and her bold eyes. How splendid she
was!

"But _you_ must be tired," she continued.

"Yes,--no, only a very little."

"You've been workin' all day too."

"At the afternoon performance. I didn't get away until six o'clock."

"An' you go on to-night?"

"From nine to eleven, yes," he explained, and felt ashamed that he was
so weary. And she had been working in that stuffy, unhealthy dining room
and kitchen since half-past six and was as cheerful as ever.

"You'll be needin' a rest now," she went on.

"Oh no!" he hastily assured her.

"Then will you play for me? I never heard you play, an' I've heard Mr.
Breen an' Mr. Nielsen talk so much about you."

"They are flatterers," he said, with a self-conscious laugh. "But if
you'd like--if you--would you really like to have me?"

"Of course."

This was his next opportunity, but again, his courage would not assist
him. What should he play? "Do you really feel like listening?" he began
once more.

"Of course--I like music," she argued.

There was nothing else to do. He had better start playing. And Carstairs
turned on the stool. "What shall I play for you?"

"Anything at all."

"But wouldn't you rather--"

"Play somethin' you like yourself," she interrupted.

Carstairs hesitated. He had not had the faintest idea how difficult it
would be. Moreover, he could feel her soft brown eyes resting on him.
And he had been vowing such wonderful deeds of late: that he would play
for her as he never had for any one--that he would play her composition,
which belonged so naturally to her. Instead, he could scarcely touch a
key.

A spirit of self-condemnation took possession of him. He must forget
himself. She would think him a fool. Besides, she might learn how much
he--No, she must not learn that. He commenced improvising.

The young composer blundered considerably at first, but his
self-resentment helped him, and his efforts soon displayed more
coherence and warmth. Should he open his program with "To Thee"? Why
not? Why wait until later? But she might understand. She might catch its
significance and then--But how could she know that he had written the
composition? It might just as easily belong to some other composer. Yes,
he would play it.

"Are you ready?" he asked with attempted levity.

"Of course, don't stop!" she encouraged him.

Carstairs played "To Thee", at first, with timidity and uncertainty, but
by and by with more resolution and consequent expressiveness as his
faith in the composition, as an expression of himself, returned.
Gradually, too, he realized how appropriate was the mood that flowed
through its measures.

Erna watched him. A greedy little smile played about the corners of her
mouth and her nose twitched slightly. But the corners straightened and
her nose stopped twitching.

No, he was too soft. His shoulders were so weak and his hands so small
and his face so pale--just like his nature. He belonged to his mother up
there and to that soft pretty face over there. But he was a nice, decent
fellow. And he was lots of fun, he was so different from other men. But
he was sad. She loved joy and freedom. He seemed like a mean little
prisoner, and he made her feel soft too. But he had always been decent
toward her. Yes, he belonged to such as his mother and the pretty face.
Anyhow, he knew how to play the piano.... What a different time she had
had last night! Jimmy was such a big, strong, happy fellow. But even he
did not quite satisfy her. Erna sighed just a little.

She regained immediate control of herself and stopped studying
Carstairs. Instead, she followed the patterns in the small rug at her
feet. Presently, she gave herself up to the music. It was very pretty.
It sounded familiar too.

Carstairs finished playing.

"I like that," she said instantly.

"Do you?" he demanded, wheeling toward her.

"Yes, it's awful nice," she complimented him.

He brightened perceptibly. "Do you really think so? Do you really like
it?"

"Of course!"

He could not repress his emotion. "Do you--I--what do you think?" he
asked with enthusiasm.

"What?"

"Do you know who wrote that?"

"No."

"I wrote that," he broke out, and leaned forward.

"You did?"

"Yes!"

"It's awful nice," she repeated.

This was not very strong applause, but it was more than sufficient for
Carstairs, and he grew reckless. In one moment, he had confessed himself
the author of the work, and in the next, such was his present rashness,
he was about to go much farther.

"How would you like--" but he stopped, and smiled in a happy way.

"What?" she urged him.

"You're sure you like it?" he repeated.

"Yes."

"Would you like to have it?" he asked with sudden boldness.

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you understand?" he rambled on, and explained: "Composers, you
know, write songs and piano pieces and orchestral works, and afterward
they often dedicate them to somebody--to one of their friends or--or one
of their relatives. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"That's what I want to do," he continued excitedly. "I wrote the
piece--it's nothing wonderful, but I--I put myself into it and--and you
like it--"

"Yes."

"So I'd like to give it to you."

"But I don't play," she protested.

"That isn't the point," he declared. "I'm dedicating it to you--that is,
your name appears on it: first, the name of the composition, then my
name, as composer, and then 'to Miss Erna Vitek.' Do you see?"

"Oh yes!"

"Do you like the idea?"

"Yes, that's fine."

"Great!" he cried.

"But what's the name o' the piece?" she requested quietly.

"Why, I--I gave it a name--but suppose I call it simply: 'A Song'?"

"Yes."

"Sure! That'd be a nice title, wouldn't it?"

"Yes."

His emotions threatened to run over. He wanted to tell her the rest:
that, as a matter of fact, she had been the one to inspire the
composition--his inspiration--but, well, that would be going too far.
She would be learning too much. But this was the happiest day of his
life. He had made a long stride, even over the evening when, for a few
confidential minutes, she had confided to him those details of her past
relation with Allen. He must compose many compositions for her.

Carstairs played other music, composition after composition, many of
them his own, but all the while he waited to hear Erna ask him to repeat
her composition. She did not do so at once, but eventually, bored--to
tell the truth--by the incessant flow of music, she made the request.
Overjoyed, he repeated the work, and every measure lingered, breathed
and swayed with the mood of its creator. Near the close, Erna succeeded
in stifling a yawn.

It was after nine o'clock when Carstairs conducted her down the three
flights. He would receive a reprimand and fine when he reported at the
music hall. But what did he care?

The young composer did not return to his sanctum until eleven thirty. He
quickly lit the gas. At the theatre, a thought had come to torment him,
as he had rehearsed the evening's doings and joys many times over. He
went to the piano and took down the picture of the girl. Presently, he
buried it under a heap of odds and ends that littered the drawer of a
bureau, and said to himself for at least the fiftieth time: "What a
careless damned fool I am!"



                                   VI


It was early the next afternoon. Breen and Nielsen were arguing in the
former's studio: a large unusually well furnished and attractively
decorated West Fourteenth Street skylight room.

"Now, you clear out of here!" Breen was commanding. "She'll be here
right away."

"Sure she won't disappoint thee?" Nielsen mocked pleasantly.

"No, I saw her this morning and this noon for a moment, and she intends
keeping her royal promise."

"How about the rouge garment?"

"She hasn't had time to alter it."

"That won't make any difference, of course," Nielsen ventured in
provoking tones.

"Go on! Clear out of here!" Breen repeated.

"You painters!" sang Nielsen, as he backed toward the door.

"We're no worse than you fellows are," Breen retorted. "Besides, this
afternoon is no more and no less than an experiment in line with the
contract of our triumvirate. Your inning will come, especially as you
are writing a story, for which purpose--"

"I know," Nielsen admitted with cheerful slyness. "And I really need
Erna to help me with it."

"And Carstairs will have to contribute his share of the contract, unless
he persists in that 'count me out' air of his."

"Oh, he'll come around, in his own way," was Nielsen's confident
assurance. "I saw him this morning, by the way--the first time I've seen
him at Landsmann's in several days."

"How is he?"

"Unusually cheery and affable."

"He'll recover from that foolishness."

"I think so too, but--"

"Now, get out!" Breen commanded a third time. "You'll be gossipping here
forever."

Nielsen took hold of the door knob, smiled in an aggravating manner,
opened the door, bowed low and said in a droll tone: "Moral or unmoral,
but--?"

Breen followed him, but Nielsen escaped, and the painter slammed the
door. His mood changed instantly. He bustled around the studio, fixing
this and rearranging that object and eventually looked about with
satisfaction. He then approached a looking glass, readjusted his tie,
smoothed his hair with his hand and otherwise subjected himself to a
critical but self-satisfied examination, which, however, was cut short
by a knock at the door. He hurried over to the door and opened it. "Come
in!" he said cordially and stepped aside for Erna.

She was wearing her best clothes, which were very attractive on her.
Unfortunately, the only red in the picture was a profusion of ribbons on
her black hat and a neat tie--but fortunately, her red cheeks and lips
were not missing. Altogether, Erna was a seductive apparition.

Certainly, this was Breen's opinion too. "How charming you look, your
Ladyship!" he exclaimed.

"Do I?" she retorted, smiling.

"Oh decidedly, decidedly," and Breen bowed in anticipation of a pleasant
afternoon. Bringing all of his courtesy to the surface, he helped Erna
to remove her coat. She went over to the looking glass, laughed, cried:
"You've got a glass too," and took off her hat with careless ease.

"What do you mean?" demanded Breen, standing behind her and surveying
her reflection with open admiration.

"Nothin'," she returned rather impudently.

"A lovely girl that!" he added significantly.

"Think so?" she challenged.

"Decidedly," he repeated.

She shrugged her shoulders a little and smiled at him in the glass.
Breen's interest grew. He tried to put his hands on her shoulders, by
way of confidence, but Erna turned toward him with a quick supple
movement. Like the accomplished artist she was, she said nothing, not
even by way of reproach, but laughed again. He eyed her with still
franker admiration.

"Well?" she questioned.

"Oh, I know," he said, recollecting his rôle, and went on evasively:
"But you're not wearing your red dress or very much red?"

"What difference does that make? Maybe you'd rather have me come some
other time?"

"No, no! You stay right here, now that you've come. You'll do just as
well in that costume. The same Erna Vitek is inside it. But--er--"

"But what?"

"I won't attempt a color sketch of you in that dress. There, there,
forgive me--it's very charming, my dear, but-- Perhaps, I'll just make a
pencil sketch of you to-day. Artists ought to commence with pencil
sketches anyhow, until the characters of their subjects have had time to
properly enter their blood, so to speak. Which, of course, is all Greek
to you. Do you object, madame?"

"No, do me any way you like," she consented.

"Oh, if you feel that way about it," he hinted audaciously.

"Take care!" she warned.

Breen went over to the model throne and pretended to place the chair for
her. He was sorry that he had had to suggest even a pencil sketch of
her, but he was forced to attempt some part of their original agreement.
What is more, he had practically cast away all thought of "studying"
Erna, later to make his report before the triumvirate. She was too
interesting and magnetic an individual to be used for such a childish
purpose. "Come over here and sit down," he requested calmly.

Giving herself an unexpected air of modesty, she complied, at the same
time adding a prudish touch by fixing her skirt carefully as she sat
down. Breen was puzzled, but drew up a chair, took a pencil and sketch
book and seated himself. "I'm going ta draw you at close range," he
apologized. She smiled in encouragement.

Breen commenced drawing, very carelessly, it is true. Erna watched him
with innocent eyes. "Do I pose right?" she asked at length.

"Yes," he assured her.

She was silent.

A little later, she asked: "Do your models have to keep quiet?"

"Not at all! Chatter away!"

But she preferred to remain silent. To tell the truth, this was not
Erna's first experience as a sitter. She had posed for two or three
other artists in the past: once as Carmen, another time as a madonna,
and a third time for some allegorical effort concerning Spring. Breen
continued to study her for the drawing. His mind, however, or that
region wherein its desires lay, was more busy than his pencil. Ten
minutes or so later, he stopped drawing and held the pad off, squinted
one eye at Erna, then at the drawing and again at Erna.

"Do you like being winked at?" he asked.

"Depends upon who's doin' it," she commented.

"Don't you like me to do it?"

"I don't know," she replied enigmatically.

He got up from his chair and approached her.

"Bring the picture with you!" she requested.

Breen, however, once more tried to put his hands on her. She pushed back
her chair, and in outraged tones commanded: "Mr. Breen!"

"I beg your pardon," he said with well assumed candor, but he was
irritated to a considerable degree. "I merely wanted to change your pose
a bit."

"Well, why didn't you ask _me_ to do it?" she complained, her innocent
self again.

He returned to his chair without explaining.

"Am I all right now?" she asked.

"Pull your chair forward again."

"So?"

"That'll do."

Erna watched him as before, and Breen went on drawing. But his usually
well balanced mind was ruffled. He tried to construct some other scheme.
Erna had always been quite prone (after all, she was only a waitress) to
permit occasional familiarity on his part at Landsmann's. What made her
play the prude away from home? Perhaps she was, at heart, like the rest
of her class, nothing more than a narrow moralistic thing, and not the
unmoral soul he had constantly given her credit for being. His disgust
was supreme. On the contrary, he mused, she might only be playing a
part. Admitting that Erna, in society, only held the position of
waitress, still, she was a very shrewd girl. He must try some other
attack, allowing her the credit she deserved. He had attempted flattery,
pleasantry and not a little boldness. What should be his next step?

Eventually, the young artist tried bribery. Having finished his work, he
presented it to Erna accompanied by a short but eloquently complimentary
speech. The girl did not neglect to admire the drawing and to thank him
for the present. His act, apparently, made no stronger impression on
her. Later, he suggested and, with her consent, prepared and served some
tea and biscuits. They were sitting at a small cosy table. About them,
the atmosphere had spread a halo of warmth and intimacy. And Breen
played host and admirer to the best of his accomplished ability. But
Erna refused to respond any more than she had done earlier. She appeared
grateful; she talked a good deal; and she seemed completely at ease with
Breen and her surroundings. But she would not respond more than she had
done. Breen's disgust threatened to reach a climax.

There was a reason for Erna's conduct. She, in her greed of heart,
playing with Breen, as she had with Carstairs, the part of a watchful
cat, had come to several conclusions. She disliked the artist's long,
angular figure, his sharp, shrewd face, and most of all, his cold,
self-sympathetic eyes. And she disliked him personally even more.
Without claiming any undue powers of discernment for Erna, one would
surely have had to credit her with the possession of a strong feminine
instinct. Her instinct had resented his attentions, for, behind them
all, she had felt that he, as a gentleman, was shoving her down where
she belonged. She was a waitress, but she was good looking enough and
lots of fun for him--and much more in prospect. In a word, Breen had
brought out the hard calculating side of her nature, and she had raised
her guard against him.

Furthermore, Erna was in a bad humor when she came to Breen's studio,
her genial conduct notwithstanding. She had seen Jimmy that noon in the
dining room, but he had spent all of his time talking fight with the
customers. As though the fact that he was to turn to the ring to-morrow
night would bring the world to an end! She would pay him for neglecting
her. Besides, Mr. Nielsen had been approaching her. He had been asking
her to "pose" for him too. Did he also want to take advantage of her?
Still, there was something human inside of him. He had always acted a
little differently from the others. As for Jimmy--

Breen interrupted her reflection. He reached across the table and tried
to touch her hand. Erna's face flushed with anger, and her hand came
down upon his with a loud slap. Just as quickly, she recollected
herself. "Excuse me!" she asked sullenly.

Breen, however, was through. He arose from his chair. This had been
impudence beyond all impudence. And the man of success turned his back
upon the waitress.

Erna likewise got up, leaving the sketch on the table. She did not offer
a second apology. Instead, she drew on her coat, picked up her hat and
walked over to the glass. Her face was crimson.

Breen was quite sorry. He came behind Erna and made several attempts to
clear some momentary pangs of conscience. But Erna would not listen. He
moved away, pride clouding his face.

Erna hurried toward the door. Breen followed her, offering one or two
final excuses. But she refused to answer, and went out. Breen slammed
the door behind her. Presently, he was busy pacing the studio in a vain
endeavor to regain some of his composure.

Steps were to be heard coming along the hallway. The door was opened
cautiously, and Nielsen's head and shoulders appeared. And his caressing
voice questioned: "Well, your Highness, what is your decision? Moral,
unmoral or--?"

Breen faced about, swore a strong oath and commanded: "Get out of here!"

"But, dear Bainbridge--"

"Get out, you spy!" Breen continued angrily, and went toward the door.

"But I want to know your decision."

"Moral, moral, a million times moral--she has degenerated--in fact, she
hasn't even degenerated. I wouldn't do her the honor of saying so. She's
always been a narrow, conventional, contemptible little thing. Is that
enough, you ass? She's a--"

"Enough, noble Sire!" Nielsen interrupted with a mysterious air. "Thou
hast spoken. Enough!" Luckily, his head and shoulders disappeared just
in time.

Breen slammed the door.



                                  VII


Wednesday morning was a particularly noisy morning in the rear dining
room of Landsmann's. Jimmy Allen was the hero. On the night before, he
had knocked out his opponent toward the close of the first round. Some
of his admirers had met at Landsmann's to discuss and celebrate the
event, and one who had been present was supplying the others with the
details.

"An' toward the end o' the round," he was describing, "Jimmy ducked
under the poor 'Kid's' flabby guard an' caught 'im an awful soak in the
guts, an' as 'the Kid' doubled up, Jimmy swung the finisher--it was a
terror!--right on the point o' the jaw. 'The Kid' hit the mat deader
than a door nail. An' they carried 'im away, a smashed hope inside o'
three minutes."

The listeners clamored for more, and one of them queried: "But I thought
'the Kid' was such a clever sidestepper?"

"He is, but he couldn't sidestep Jimmy. Jimmy's a terror in the ring.
He's a good-natured feller outside, but the sight of another feller in
front of 'im kind o' riles 'is blood. He can't rest till he's battered
the guy away, an' let 'im see a little blood, like 'the Kid's' mouth
bleedin', an' it's all off 'cept the count, for Jimmy goes wild. He got
to 'the Kid' by constant borein' in. Half a dozen fierce body taps
weakened the poor guy, then a couple o' face smashers, an' then the
finish. Oh, it was awful."

The listeners sighed with awe. "An' Jimmy?" requested the interlocutor.

"Oh, he got a scratch or two. But he was 'is smilin' self soon's it was
over."

Standing near the doorway, listening to every word with feverish
interest, was Erna. Her eyes shone, and her heart beat with joyous
pride.

Landsmann suddenly called to her from the kitchen: "Erna, your order is
here." She did not heed him, but waited for more details. Again, the
storekeeper called to her, but once more, she refused to heed him. The
man appeared in the doorway, his face red with vexation. "Erna! Do you
hear me?"

"Yes, yes," she retorted petulantly, and hurried past him. He followed
close behind her, and as she turned, gave her a stupid but indignant
stare. Erna returned his stare with interest, and Landsmann, beaten as
he had been so often, retreated to the store, there to seek muttered
consultation with his wife.

Erna was about to take up her order, when she came upon a remarkable
sight. She stopped, stared and, stimulated by a desire to emulate,
tiptoed forward, her strong white teeth showing in the joy of
anticipation. On the bottom of the kitchen sink, a goodly sized rat was
drinking.

The girl continued to sneak forward without making a sound. Suddenly,
her hand darted out and seized the rat by the neck; at the same time,
she turned on the water from the large faucet. With a strong grip, she
held the squirming, squeaking animal under the stream.

Gretchen screamed and ran out into the store. "_Was ist los?_" demanded
the storekeeper. Gretchen told her story in a frightened whisper. Mrs.
Landsmann and Molly screamed; several customers arose and, led by
Landsmann, who waddled forward, came into the kitchen. Landsmann stopped
short at a respectful distance from Erna, eyed her furiously and shouted
imprecations. She paid no attention to him, but continued her pleasant
task, her face alight with animal joy and brutality. The rat's life was
soon extinguished, due, perhaps, more to Erna's fingers than the water.
Proudly holding it out by the tail for display, she dropped the body
into a pail under the sink.

The storekeeper approached her, followed by the customers. The latter
profferred congratulations, but not so Herr Landsmann. He grabbed some
table refuse and dumping it into the pail, piled some old newspapers on
top, all the while averting his face as much as possible. He then turned
upon Erna, but she stood her ground, defying him, and the storekeeper
was forced to resort to still stronger imprecation. Erna grew impudent
in the knowledge of her righteousness, and Landsmann had to retreat once
more, but this time with threatening gestures and for an even angrier
consultation with his wife. The other waitresses refused to return to
the kitchen, but went over to assist Landsmann.

The customers, who had been joined by others from the rear dining room,
refused to leave the kitchen, each one wishing to pay Erna homage by
compliment or by taking her arm. Jimmy Allen was forgotten. At first,
the girl, conscious of the sensation she had created so
accidentally,--killing rats was not entirely new to her--faced her
worshippers with an exultant smile. Soon, she tired of their praise, and
more so of their physical attentions, a repetition of their usual
conduct toward her. Furthermore, the storekeeper's attitude rankled
deeper and deeper, until anger controlled her. Therefore, she pushed her
way through the gathering, ordered all back to their tables, a command
they obeyed under protest, and returned to her duties with a decidedly
willful air. If only Jimmy were here!

Within the next hour or so, Herr Landsmann, backed by his wife's moral
support, came into the kitchen four times to reprimand Erna. He had even
hunted for other pretexts to scold her. By nine o'clock, when Erna was
almost alone in her small empire, her resentment had reached a state of
revolt. Why didn't he bounce her at once? It would be better. In fact,
she would leave of her own free will. That would be better still. She
would be free. She had a right to be happy. She had always been happy.
So she would be free, Landsmann, his wife and the rest of the world
notwithstanding. How she hated and despised them! Let any one else try
to tie her hands!

Another half hour passed, and Erna's determination grew. Her whole
fighting instinct had been set astir. As a result, she had treated the
few remaining customers with contemptuous neglect. They were all of one
breed. And they left, one by one, passing remarks, laughing or trying to
banter her. Soon she was left to herself and surly reflection, as
Landsmann, luckily, had discontinued molesting her--for the present, at
least. However, a newcomer entered the dining room. But he was the
highly welcome Jimmy Allen.

Erna greeted him with joy. She had forgotten her yesterday's resentment,
in his sudden rise to honor and in her present need. And Jimmy greeted
her with joy. No other word passed between them. Instead, Jimmy embraced
her with all of his brute strength. He then tried kissing her, only to
have Erna slip from his grasp. Jimmy's blood was aroused. He pursued
Erna, cornered her and caught her with an even stronger embrace than
before, breathing hard with passion. They overturned a chair, and Jimmy
tripped and lost his hold. They both breathed rapidly, and stood apart,
watching each other. Herr Landsmann looked into the dining room, scowled
and disappeared.

Jimmy again came closer, but Erna shook her head in warning. She had
seen the storekeeper. Presently, she gave her lover a short nervous
account of her morning's trial. Jimmy swore a generous oath and begged
her to drop her work at once. But Erna hesitated.

"Ah, come out o' this!" he pleaded.

Erna would not answer.

"Come out o' this, Erna!" he repeated seriously. "You're sick o' this.
I'm sick o' this. Let's go away. We're fixed now--or as good as fixed.
The only job's the minister's. Come on, Erna!"

Still, the girl refused to answer, but it was evident that she was
weakening--as Jimmy was aware too. Hurriedly, he recounted his victory
of last night, emphasized the fact that he was stronger than ever, knew
"more about the game," and outlined the near future: that he was soon to
meet Young Walcott, whom he would dispose of, and some unknown from
Chicago. He would have quite a little money shortly, and he could
support her "as a decent woman should be supported." She would be happy.
They would both be happy. "Come on, Erna!" he concluded. "Be a sport!"

Erna was in a groggy state. One last stinging argument would have
finished her. She hesitated, as did Jimmy, who, unfortunately, resorted
to stalling.

At length, she said: "Gimme until to-night!"

Now, Jimmy missed entirely: "But I say, Erna. I got an important date
then."

Her resentment returned at once. She recalled his neglect of yesterday.
"What?" she demanded jealously.

"I got to see Nolan an' Walcott an' his manager to-night. We got to talk
over an' arrange things. Besides, Nolan's givin' a little spread in my
honor among the boys. Can't you tell me now? Tell me now!"

"I said _to-night_, didn't I?" she retorted in dangerous tones.

"I know, Erna, but I can't see you to-night. Make it to-morrow night,
an' we'll talk it over, long's you won't say now. Make it to-morrow
night! An' I'll spend the whole evenin' with you."

Erna had turned her back on him. Jimmy came closer, but she walked away,
while he followed her, foolishly continuing to apologize and to cajole
her. Unhappily, Jimmy's suit was interrupted. Another man came into the
dining room: Eric Nielsen.

Glances passed between them. Nielsen went over to the farthermost
corner, took off his hat and coat and sat down. Jimmy looked at Erna on
the sly, but she paid no attention to him. The young fighter did not
stay for breakfast. He left the room without another word. And Erna
smiled secretly.

Nielsen, always a lover of other's secrets, had digested most of the
scene. But he was still a diplomat. Consequently, he said nothing and
permitted Erna to come over for his order. She looked nervous and
uncertain.

"What's new?" he asked pleasantly.

"Nothin'."

"Still ham and eggs and the old program?"

She smiled slightly. "Yes!"

He ordered some eggs, toast and a cup of black coffee and explained: "I
need some energy for work this morning. I feel dopy."

Erna smiled again and went away. She was feeling a little better. There
was always something soothing in Nielsen and his banter. And she did not
wait in the kitchen for his order, but came back to his table. Erna
rarely acted parts in Nielsen's company.

He looked up sympathetically. He wanted to ask her what was wrong, but
knowing her antipathy for expressed sympathy or soft advances, remained
silent. Herr Landsmann looked in upon them. Erna flushed with her old
resentment, and the storekeeper frowned and disappeared. Nielsen
remarked the exchange. "That's it, is it?" he observed gently.

"What?"

"The boss?"

She was thoughtful and then admitted: "Yes."

"What's the Dutchman done?"

Slowly, and not without reluctance in the beginning, she told him the
details, he interrupting her once or twice with encouragement. "Shades
of Norway!" he exclaimed in admiration. "You could easily play the
Rat-wife in 'Little Eyolf'."

She looked at him in a puzzled way, but he laughed and advised her:
"Don't mind me; I'm cracked. Go on!"

Erna related the rest of the incident. He was quietly attentive to every
detail, and at the conclusion of her recital, broke out cheerfully: "The
trouble with the German is that he's too slow to catch even a cockroach.
Therefore, he resents speed. So Landsmann calls you down. And the
girls--well, they're children, like most females. You're entirely too
dramatic for their comfort."

Erna never quite understood Nielsen, but she mellowed down to some of
her old good nature. Nielsen continued his reassuring nonsense, and
gradually, the rest of her good nature was restored. The young writer
was not slow to notice the change, and he was glad to have been of
service to her. He had no desire to make any personal use of Erna's
present mental condition, but nevertheless, he proceeded: "Erna, you
must be tired."

"Yes?"

"Certainly. You need a little rest--a little diversion. Let me help you
out; there's a sensible girl. Will you come over and spend part of the
evening with me?"

His request had not been a bold one; he had made it seriously, and with
no thought of himself. But Erna gave him a sharp look. He met her glance
with an honest one and pursued: "I don't want you to pose for the story,
as I asked you yesterday--honestly, I don't. I just want to amuse you a
little, if I can. You need a bit of a change, even by having me supply
it."

This was approaching dangerously close to a soft advance, but Erna did
not heed it. She was still busy trying to read Nielsen, but reading
Nielsen was not so easy as appearances would have led one to believe.
However, she was able to read humanity behind his lurking smile, and
likewise his seriousness of purpose. "I don't know," she said in doubt.

"You're not afraid?"

"No," she admitted.

"Come ahead then. We'll have a quiet little evening together, or you can
tell me some more about your enemies, German and others. As for posing,
I'll do the posing, such as standing on my head, for example."

Erna had always felt that Nielsen was human. It now come as a
realization. She gave him a final penetrating glance. He smiled frankly,
and she had to smile as well. "All right," she resigned.

"You're a good sport, Erna," he complimented her. "But you're too
trusting, I'm afraid."

"Think so?"

"Yes."

She looked somewhat doubtful, and then her face cleared. Nielsen
understood.

"Your order's ready, Erna," came Landsmann's voice.

And the girl hurried out.



                                  VIII


Erna was in a splendid mood when she called on Nielsen that evening. In
the first place, the young Norwegian-American had earned her gratitude.
Secondly, and what is perhaps more important, Jimmy Allen had come into
Landsmann's both for the noon and the evening meal and had paid her
humble devotion. She had agreed to spend to-morrow evening with him, but
principally that she might add coal to the fire of his impatience by
putting off her answer, which she had not formed as yet but in the
existence of which she had succeeded in leading him to believe. Thirdly,
she had had two more tilts with Landsmann and was victorious in both.
Consequently, Erna was in high spirit. In addition, her greedy nature
was looking forward to the new sensation that life might be on the point
of offering her in Nielsen.

It was evident at once that he was likewise in the best of humor. His
greeting of Erna was of the heartiest cordiality and cheer. And he
required only a minute or two to settle her comfortably on the couch and
to make her feel otherwise at home. She was not surprised. On the
contrary, she entered immediately into the mood of the young writer's
hospitality.

"Well, Rat-wife, how've you been?" he commenced. "I haven't seen you
since this morning."

"Why do you call me Rat-wife?"

"Because you're a professional rat catcher."

"I've caught rats before," she confessed.

"Have you? Great! I always thought you must have had another vocation in
life."

"But I hate caterpillars, don't you?" she declared naïvely.

"By all means," he agreed. "They give one the fuzzy-wuzzies, don't
they?"

They both laughed. He drew his chair closer to the couch and watched her
frankly. She watched him with equal candor. There was honest admiration
in his next remark: "You're strong, aren't you, Erna?"

"Yes."

"How'd you get that way?" he pursued.

"I must 'a' been born that way. I guess my father an' mother were strong
an' healthy. Any way, I exercise a great deal--"

"In the store, you mean?"

"No, at night, by the open window, in--"

"Not in the nude?" he ventured.

"Not quite, but almost!" she admitted, and they laughed again.

"But Erna, what made you say you _guess_ your father and mother were
strong? Don't you know whether they were? Aren't they alive?"

She looked at him suddenly, but his straightforward glance reassured
her. She announced quietly: "I never saw my parents."

"What?" he broke out. "Then how--but I beg your pardon, child. I didn't
mean to be inquisitive."

"You're not inquisitive," she returned with unaccustomed seriousness.
"Only--"

"I understand," he interrupted. "Don't speak of it! It's too painful.
Besides, we mustn't be growing gloomy."

Erna was meditative. She had never confided that part of her life to any
one. It might be nice to unburden some of it. And Mr. Nielsen--he was
so--She glanced at him.

"Please don't!" he requested. "I'd much rather you wouldn't."

She smiled and said: "It isn't so sad; it's just kind o' funny."

"Well, if it's funny, out with it, but if it isn't--"

"It's kind o' funny that I should be tellin' at all."

"To me, you mean?"

"Yes!"

"That's easy. You trust me; that's the reason," he explained jocularly.

"Do I? How do you know?"

"Oh, I'm a wise old know-it-all. Which is certainly a nice bunch of
conceit, isn't it?"

"No," she denied good-humoredly.

Without pretense of any sort, and completely at her ease sitting there
on the couch only a yard or two from him, she gave Nielsen a few points
in her knowledge of past years. Briefly, she laid claim to having lived
nearly all her life with adopted parents, from whom, thanks to their
continued selfishness and maltreatment, she had run away about a year
ago. These people had once informed her that her father had married some
woman of position in Bohemia, where Erna was born, and that, having
squandered her money, he had disappeared for good. Her mother had died
in giving birth to her, and her adopted parents, related to him as
cousins, had received her indirectly through some friends of her
father's, as well as money, through various mysterious channels, up to
her sixth year. The remittances stopped suddenly, and she was left a
beggar on their hands, a fact of which they were often careful to remind
her. At the age of twelve or thirteen, Erna had hunted for and found a
situation, and later others, and had been able to pay some sort of board
through the intervening years. But her "parents," who had five children
of their own, despised her and maltreated her accordingly, as did the
children, guided by the elders' precepts. Only her strength of body and
endowed pugnaciousness had saved her from greater maltreatment.

"And this you call a funny story?" demanded Nielsen, stopping her.

"There's nothing so very sad in it," she declared stubbornly.

"There isn't?"

"No."

His admiration for her developed. Erna certainly possessed sterling
qualities.

"But I haven't finished," she interposed.

"Never mind, Erna. I've heard enough."

"You haven't heard why I quit my 'parents'."

"I don't have to," he tried to stop her.

"There's only a little to it."

"Well?"

"They tried to sell me."

"What?"

"Just what I said."

"What do you mean?"

"They tried to sell me to an old admirer o' mine in Paterson."

"You must be crazy, child."

"No more'n you," she insisted. "The man was all ready with his money
an'--"

"But this is impossible," he interrupted.

"No, it isn't. I ought to know. It made me jump the track."

"That's how you ran away?"

"Yes."

"A year ago?"

"Yes. It was the last straw. They'd tried the same game twice before. I
was through."

Nielsen eyed her in sympathy. He had not credited the whole of her
story, incoherent and almost imaginary as some of its details sounded,
but the climax had moved him deeply. He was not as superficial as his
outward demeanor might indicate. But he was still a diplomat, and
knowing Erna's nature better than ever now, did not offer her open
sympathy. Instead, he questioned: "So you wandered around New York
looking for jobs?"

"Yes."

"Till you landed at Landsmann's?"

"Oh no, I had two other jobs before that."

"Where?"

"At other bakeries, but I was fired."

"For--for sassing back?" he asked, smiling.

"Yes, just as I sass old Landsmann."

He grew serious. "Hadn't you better be careful?"

"How?"

"About angering Landsmann?"

"I can't help it. I hate him. I hate Germans. My 'parents' were German
an'--"

"He may fire you too."

"I don't care."

"But you don't want to be forced to run about New York again, do you?"

Erna was about to break out, thinking of Jimmy, "I won't have to," but
substituted staring at Nielsen. He was so fine, so human, so--

"Never mind, Erna! Let's talk of something more cheerful." Suddenly, it
was his turn to look thoughtful. Before he was aware of himself, he
commenced: "Erna!"

"Yes?"

"If you ever need anybody--"

"Yes?"

"I mean in case you should ever lose your job--"

"Yes?"

"Don't hesitate to come to me for help."

He had spoken in a more earnest tone than was his custom. Erna looked
quantities of gratitude. "Do you mean--"

"Yes," he forestalled her. "I'm a man, Erna, or a part o' one. I know
you're a good sport, I've seen so much evidence of it. In fact, you're
as good and probably a better sport than I am"--all this with a return
to banter--"so it's up to me, if you ever need assistance."

Erna was unable to reply.

"Will you?" he requested more quietly.

"Yes," she agreed, and was silent.

Presently, he came back to the whimsical. "We're a funeral party, aren't
we?"

"No."

"Well, we can start a partnership as funeral directors to bury the past,
can't we?"

"Sure!"

Nielsen laughed, and she followed his example.

"Erna, I envy you," he started again.

"Why?"

"Nothing downs you long. You're such a happy Indian that you're able to
run your world."

"Am I?"

"Yes. It takes happy people to run the world, you know."

"Does it?"

"Certainly. That's my humble belief anyhow. Dost believe in philosophy?"

"No time for it!" she returned.

"You're right," he applauded. "It's only a pastime for lemon natures.
Stick to your joy, Erna!"

Erna was indulging in more abstract matters than she had ever attempted,
for she said: "I can't help it, I suppose. I love joy and happy people.
An' fresh air, strength, freedom." But it was Nielsen's fault, he used
such a subtle method of probing her.

"That'll do, Erna," he interrupted. "You have spoken. There is nothing
to be added to fresh air, the breeder of strength, the breeder of
freedom. This ought to be enough philosophy for one day, eh? We'll have
headaches soon, won't we?"

"Not me!" she denied, and he laughed and added: "Then I'll close the
sermon with a little text, if I may."

"Go ahead."

"Whatever happens," he bantered her; "stick to your freedom with your
last dying breath!"

"Thanks!"

The evening developed even further intimacy. And Erna soon came to
realize that she had discovered her new sensation. As for Nielsen, he
was spending an unusual evening too. Several times, he thought of Jimmy
Allen and his connection with Erna. He was a splendid joyous animal like
her. It did not surprise him that he had been restored to her favor,
they were so well mated. And he recalled the short but significant scene
he had spoiled that morning.

Erna, surely, was a rare nature,--hard, perhaps, selfish and cruel in
many ways too, quite a little more so than others, but her strength of
will, self reliance and her stubborn pursuit of pleasure and
excitement--her life of joy--were irresistible. And she was only a
waitress. But she was far more than that, an individual, as Carstairs
had vaunted that time; she had lived a life harder to endure than that
loaded upon his educated acquaintances, for example, and yet, she,
lacking their knowledge and so called experience and wisdom, controlled
life; life did not control her. And Nielsen, who seldom overlooked
dissecting himself along with others, admitted readily that Erna
attracted him powerfully, and not in the name of the story, which he had
forgotten--for the present, anyhow.

Erna's mind was making more rapid calculations than ever before. "Stick
to your freedom!" he had advised her. It was true. She must go on
fighting for that. But what of Jimmy--and marriage? Marriage, that word
with a bad taste, marriage even with Jimmy would steal a good portion of
her freedom. She must be careful. Besides, her power over Jimmy was so
easy just the same. And Nielsen, that puzzling human man, disconcerted
her. He was different from Jimmy. He was strong physically too, if not
quite as handsome, and he possessed a strong heart and mind, which Jimmy
did not. But his constant joking--was he really serious? She never knew
just where to find him, he eluded her so. If she were to marry, she
would never see him again, a prospect her greediness did not like to
consider, as she sat there slyly watching him, clothed in that easy,
cheerful, even-tempered strength of his.

Erna and Nielsen did not leave the latter's workshop until close upon
midnight. The rest of the time had passed swiftly and pleasantly. Their
parting was warm to a decided degree. And they made an appointment for
the following Friday evening.

"I'll be a night owl soon," she complained.

"Oh no--you'll always be a Rat-wife," he corrected.

She pressed the book under her arm--Ibsen's "Little Eyolf," which he had
lent her--and laughed.

"Now, don't forget my text," he warned her gently, as they stood on the
dark street corner near Landsmann's, their hands clasped in friendly
embrace.

"I won't."

"And if there's any real trouble with Landsmann?"

"Yes, I will," she agreed.

He pressed her hand.

"Good-night," she said.

"Good-night," he returned.

And they separated. But they both looked back twice and waved their
hands--in the old fashioned way.



                                   IX


"An order of mocha tart, Erna!"

It was Bainbridge Breen who had spoken. The girl left the dining room
with a cheery: "All right!" The young artist turned to his friends,
Carstairs and Nielsen, who were sitting with him at the rear table:
"Mocha tart is still the prince of Landsmann pastries."

"You've made up with Erna, I see," Nielsen ventured quietly.

"Oh, of course! I'm too busy a man to spend any time harboring
animosity. Besides, I guess I'm sufficiently broad-minded to forgive the
girl her indiscretion."

"And on her side, she's too light-hearted to hold animosity," the author
supplied.

"I expect so," Breen agreed generously, and then challenged: "But how
about _you_ and Erna? And how about your story?"

"Haven't been able to finish it as yet," Nielsen returned somewhat
evasively.

"Haven't had enough opportunity for _studying_ Erna?"

"No, I'm not quite through."

Breen laughed significantly, and Carstairs flushed.

"Then you haven't reached your decision as regards Erna's morals?" the
painter continued.

"Not just yet!" was Nielsen's response, keyed in deeper evasiveness.

"You'll reach my conclusion absolutely," Breen closed confidently.
"She's a moral little thing."

"Of course," Carstairs interposed indignantly.

"Whoop-la!" cried Breen. "So you've come to _your_ decision, Brother
John? How did it happen, you sly dog?"

"I haven't come to any decision," Carstairs denied wearily. "I told you
in the beginning what I thought of Erna."

"That's so," Breen gave in with a tone of fatherly wisdom. "But when and
where did you find opportunity to strengthen your belief? You haven't
been coming here very often of late?"

"That's my affair," Carstairs retorted.

He was in a melancholy mood. Erna had been neglecting him since their
evening together. Moreover, she had treated him with more or less
indifference as well, as though his visits bored her, and had allowed
him no opening for inviting her again.

Nielsen wisely changed the subject: "Been doing much work lately, John?"

"Yes, I've been busy."

"What are you doing?"

"I've been writing a little set of piano songs," he rejoined.

"Good for you!" Breen applauded. "There's nothing like work after all,
and we all seem engaged to that lady at present. She's the best wife in
the world."

Nielsen smiled philosophically, but the tired expression had revisited
Carstairs' face. The trio continued eating their supper, and the
conversation strayed to other and less personal topics.

That same evening, Erna was to meet Jimmy Allen. The hero of Landsmann's
was well ahead of their appointment time, for he was strangely excited.
He had some news to impart to Erna.

She was ten minutes late. He did not call her attention to the fact, but
greeted her boisterously and began: "Gee, Erna! I got great news for
you."

"Have you?" she replied with well feigned indifference.

"What do you think? Nolan's offered to let us have the rooms free for
one month."

"Did he?"

"Sure! What do you think o' that? Ain't he the pippin? Ain't he the
classy guy?"

She did not answer. They were walking slowly. He grabbed her arm.
"What's the matter now?" he demanded.

"Nothin'."

"You said you'd made up your mind," he maintained anxiously.

"I said: not quite," she corrected him.

"Oh, but you have, Erna," he pleaded. "You'll join hands with me? You're
sick o' Landsmann's. You--we're stuck on each other, an' the
minister's--Well, wait'll you see the flat!" he broke off. "That'll
settle it. Wait'll you see the _flat_!"

"Why?"

"I'm takin' you there," he informed her eagerly.

"Now?"

"Of course!" he cajoled her. "You'll come, won't you?" and he squeezed
her arm. "There's no harm in it. You don't have to like the place? It
don't hurt to see it?"

"No."

"Then we'll go."

Erna was busy eyeing a millinery show window.

"How about it?" he questioned.

"All right."

He sighed with relief and satisfaction.

                   *       *       *       *       *

There were two rooms and a bath. The furnishings were fairly
attractive--garish in some respects, but on the whole, adequate. Erna
admitted to herself that they surpassed her expectation, the garish
qualities, no doubt, appealing to her love of life and violent color.
But she made no such admission to Jimmy.

He was watching her with wide open eyes. Gradually, his anxiety forsook
him and his natural cheerfulness appeared. "Well?" he asked quietly.

Erna continued reticent. Neither of the rooms compared with Mr.
Nielsen's, which was so wonderfully cosy, but she could easily improve
them. Her woman's housekeeper instinct declared itself; it would be nice
to occupy herself making changes here and there. And it would be a nice
place to spend a few lazy hours every day, it was such a fine little
apartment. Best of all, it would be her first home.... Erna studied the
large couch for the first time and hesitated. "Stick to your freedom!"
he had advised her. Marriage? No, marriage would not be so nice. Still,
strong, broad shouldered, handsome, happy Jimmy was standing right near
her. She glanced his way.

"Well?" he repeated.

Erna looked away.

"What's the matter?" he asked, and approached a little.

She did not answer.... That other time matters were different. She had
not felt as drawn to him then as she had since his return. His offer of
money that day--well, it had been an honest one: he had cared for her,
and he had been her best friend in those days. She must do him that much
justice. And he was offering her much more now. She hated Landsmann's
more and more. She could not endure the place many days longer. And this
would be her first home. But suppose she should want to change--as she
had done so often before, due to her hatred of any steady existence? Her
hands would be tied. Marriage meant loss of freedom. She cared for
Jimmy, yes, but not quite enough. If she were only given more time for a
decision! Perhaps, Mr. Nielsen would help her to decide. But she would
not ask _him_.

"What's the matter?" Jimmy demanded once more and with returning
anxiety. He came closer.

Erna turned toward him. She cast aside the part she usually played with
him, and gave him the first honest glance he had received from her in
several days. He quickly put his arm about her shoulders.

Erna turned her head away and tried to pull back, but his other arm
found its way about her. "Erna!" he begged for the last time.

She commenced to struggle. His instincts of battle were aroused; and his
exasperation of nearly two years' standing seized this opportunity.
Heedless of her cries, he tightened his grip and pressed her breast
against his with brutal strength. There was a moment of tugging and
swaying. Suddenly, Erna raised her face, and he kissed her mouth with
the same undeniable brutality. The girl no longer struggled. But he
would not let her go.

At length, she tried to break away, but his strength was much greater
than hers. He continued to weaken her, strong and stubborn though she
was, by more unmerciful kisses and embraces. Erna attempted to beat his
breast with what freedom her hands were permitted and not succeeding,
kicked his shins. But Jimmy, laughing with joy and suffering with
passion, hugged her with such finality that she was left powerless.

As usual, that old but simple law of physics, concerning the continued
contact of bodies, was vindicated. Soon after, it was satisfied. Erna
and Jimmy did not rise from the couch for nearly three hours.

Erna was tired, but happy. She looked at Jimmy. He laughed. She laughed
too. And then they laughed together. Suddenly, she became serious.

"What's the trouble?" he questioned.

Erna looked at him differently now, but her seriousness soon fled. After
all, just as posing for Breen had not been quite new to her, so her
present experience was not quite new. Furthermore, Erna possessed
unlimited gameness. Life had never been able to throw her for a long
fall. Therefore, her boldness returned. Jimmy laughed as before, and she
joined him once more.

"All right?" he requested.

"Yes!"

He got up. She watched him dress. He was slow and careless in the
performance. But her attention was absorbed by the muscular play of his
splendid body.

"Well?" he asked smiling.

"Well what?" she challenged.

"What makes you stare?"

"Nothin'!"

"Am I nothin'?"

"Yes!"

He laughed with his usual readiness, and content, turned his back on her
with lazy ease and walked over to the mirror. Erna frowned slightly.
Somehow, his "I" had put her on her old guard. It seemed to spell
property, as did his care-free satisfaction with himself. Erna watched
him with glances sharpened by caution.

But it was necessary to dress. She was beginning to feel chilly. Without
getting up, she slipped on her waist, that had been lying nearby on the
floor.

Jimmy Allen's mood had reached a state of hopeless disregard. He
committed a decided blunder. With cheerful candor, he asked, without
troubling himself to turn around: "Erna! When do we move in?"

She gave his back an indignant glance. "What did you say?"

"I said: when do we move in?"

Her instinct was up in arms. Throwing coolness into her reply, she
returned deliberately: "Not until doomsday."

He stopped fixing his tie. But he continued: "You're gettin' crazy
again."

"I'm not," she replied without changing her tone. "I said: not until
doomsday."

He turned toward her, smiling. But the smile left his face. "What's the
matter now?" he asked, coming forward.

"Go on dressin'!" she commanded, his smile having started her petulance.

He, however, had come over to the couch and now stood over her, staring
at her stupidly. She looked up at him, animosity in her glance. His
vapid expression deepened.

"Well?" she challenged.

"Sore?" he asked humbly.

"No!"

He tried to study her. Gradually, light penetrated his cloudy
understanding: Erna was just like other women. Luckily, some stroke of
intuition prompted him not to turn away this time. Instead, he put his
hands on her shoulders and said with unaccustomed seriousness: "Erna!
Don't be sore."

"I'm not sore," she resented.

"I know--but--"

"You don't have to explain," she cried melodramatically. Strange to say,
Erna seemed ready to cry.

At a loss, Jimmy tried philosophy: "'Cause life is Hell to some folks,
Erna, we don't have to imitate 'em, do we?" He could not tell whether
she was listening. "Gimme a chance!" he added more cheerfully. "Quit the
beanery an' gimme a chance! I don't want life to be Hell for you. Gimme
the chance, won't you?" He waited, but she did not look up. "You
listenin'?"

"Yes," she said.

"Then quit the beanery, Erna! We can live nice an' cosy an' happy here,
can't we? You like it here?"

"Yes," she admitted.

"Let's get the minister then!" he concluded quietly.

She removed his hands from her shoulders.

"Erna!" he repeated.

"Wait a moment," she cut him short, although in a milder tone.

"Stick to your freedom!" he had advised her. He was so human that he
understood everything. And yet, Jimmy--if she were not forced to decide
so soon!

Her strength came back under the influence of this tonic. A little of
her innate cheerfulness revived as well. She looked up at Jimmy. His
puzzled expression disappeared, and he smiled in encouragement. She
smiled too.

"Got somethin' to say," he read. "What is it?"

"Marriage'd be Hell, Jimmy," she announced without emotion.

"Why?" he demanded abruptly, but recollecting himself, stopped. Dimly,
he once more realized that Erna was a woman. And the man's psychology
assisted him: Nature and his long enduring exasperation had been
satisfied. Why worry his head trying to understand Erna? Let her take
care of herself. She would outgrow her present mood. He grew blasé, and
repeated quietly: "Why?"

"I dunno," she explained doubtfully. "Just because, I suppose."

He sat down beside her, not so much to help her wrestle with the problem
as to encourage her to speak. She was thoughtful. "I guess I don't want
to," she continued, but with increasing doubt.

"You don't want to marry? Why?"

"I wouldn't be free," she declared in an uncertain way.

"Why not?" he demanded. "You'd be free? You could do what you want. I
wouldn't stop you?"

She shook her head.

An idea came to him. "Maybe you'd rather--" but he stopped, remembering
a former experience.

"Go ahead," she advised him.

"You'll get sore again," he protested.

"No, I won't," she disagreed, but anticipated him with: "I know what you
were goin' to say."

"You do? Well?"

Erna averted her glance. The old thoughts passed in quick review:
Landsmann's--Mr. Nielsen's advice--scraps of the past--home. She could
live with him a little while and then marry him if all went well. That
seemed best for her.

"Wait'll to-morrow!" he interrupted her. "You're kind o' up in the air
now. You'll be surer to-morrow."

She nodded absent-mindedly.

"You'll let me know to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"All right! Forget it! We'll get it all settled to-morrow. An' if you'd
still want to have the minister--"

She shook her head negatively. Jimmy appeared just as well satisfied. He
did not understand, but what was the difference, and what the use of
worrying? "You love me, don'tcher?"

Again, she nodded absent-mindedly. He pushed her with rough good nature.
Presently, he got up, returned to the mirror and again busied himself
with his tie. Erna likewise continued dressing. She had reached a
decision. And she was cheerful once more. But she would wait until
to-morrow. It might be better.



                                   X


Mollie and Gretchen, the Landsmann waitresses, were gossipping. It was
about eight o'clock, the next morning. Above the rattle of dishes in the
kitchen, this is what one might have overheard:

"Yes, I saw her with him."

"So did I a few nights ago."

"They must go out every night."

"Of course! She's out every night since he's back. Who else would she go
with?"

"It's just like her."

"Yes! I always said she'd go back to 'im."

"It was _me_ said that."

"Maybe you did, but I said it first. She's a fine girl to be workin' in
an honest place like this to be goin' out with a common prize-fighter."

"Not to have any more self-respect!"

"Yes! I always said she'd come to a bad end."

"Looks that way!"

Their gossipping might have continued indefinitely had not part of it
been heard by an eavesdropper. She came stealthily into the kitchen and
of a sudden, the waitresses received some resounding slaps. The pair
screamed.

Erna called them one or two unquotable names and tried to continue her
attack. But she saw Landsmann coming into the kitchen and beat a retreat
into the dining room, although not without this parting shot: "So you're
the kind I've been givin' dresses to!"

Herr Landsmann was a busy man. Both waitresses were trying to explain at
the same time. And Mollie was weeping violently. At length, he succeeded
in holding an excited consultation with the girls, and with him at their
head, they marched out into the store in ragged single file. The trio
hurriedly argued the case before Mrs. Landsmann, who was standing behind
the counter, guarding the cash register. Pretty soon, Mollie cried:
"Here he comes now!"

Jimmy Allen entered. He greeted the Landsmanns and the waitresses and
then some of his friends, as he passed the store tables. "How about
Young Walcott?" called one. "Next Wednesday," Jimmy returned. "Trainin'
again?" "Yes, I start to-day." And the young hero penetrated the kitchen
and stepped down into the dining room.

Erna was in a disordered state. Some of the customers were endeavoring
to pacify her, but she refused their offers. She spied Jimmy and
throwing down all caution, hurried over to him. He soon heard enough
details.

The young man struck a melodramatic pose. "We'll clear out o' this
hole," he exclaimed. She put her hand on his arm, but he shook it off.
"Go up-stairs an' pack your things!"

"But Jimmy--"

"Never mind!" he interrupted. "You don't have to stay here. If you did,
it'd be different. Go up-stairs an' pack up!"

She looked at him with momentary dread, but Jimmy waved his hand toward
the doorway. Two of the customers got up to interfere, but he gave them
threatening glances. Erna moved away and then stopped in uncertainty.
"Go ahead!" he ordered her. She tried to go, but Landsmann stood in the
doorway. His face was struggling between anger and dignity.

"Erna!" he commanded.

She stared at him.

"Go right up-stairs and--"

The storekeeper noticed Jimmy's threatening attitude and hesitated. "Go
on!" that individual encouraged him. "Got any more to say?"

Evidently, the German had not.

"Then get 'er money ready an' see there ain't a cent short, you lousy
Dutchman! I'll see she gets her deserts. Hurry up, you fat slob, or I'll
help you!"

Herr Landsmann disappeared and so did Erna. Jimmy, master of the moment,
gave the dining room denizens a look of contemptuous pride and likewise
went out.

Consternation prevailed. Each patron wanted to express an opinion, and
argument rose high. Only one of them held his peace: John Carstairs. He
sat aloof, a picture of gloom and stupor.

                   *       *       *       *       *

It was an early hour that evening. Carstairs was seated at the piano in
his small cosy room. The gas was turned fairly low. Except for
intermittent sounds from the instrument, the room was quiet.

The young man was composing. Vague measures, desolate of all cheer,
followed one another in funeral tempo. The monotony, unbroken by even
one note of prophecying gladness, was maddening. But the young man
persisted in his lugubrious incantation. Presently, he got up, turned
the gas a little higher and sat down again. A sheet of music paper lay
in front of him. Only a few measures and the title--Dirge--had been
transcribed. He started jotting down more notes.

There was a knock at the door. He did not hear it. The knock was
repeated. Carstairs struck a petulant dissonance, arose wearily, went
over to the door and opened it part way.

"Special delivery!" a man announced.

Carstairs signed the slip, the postman went away and the door was
closed. The young composer examined the handwriting and quickly tore
open the envelope. The note was very short.

He gave way to eager joy. And he breathed a name twice over: "Elsie!"
Nervous animation betrayed him further. He re-read the note five or six
times, looked about in bewilderment and re-read the note again. Of a
sudden, he hurried over to the bureau and pulled open the bottom drawer.
A litter of odds and ends was laid bare. With anxious haste, he threw
them all about on the floor. At last, he came to a picture: the
photograph of a pretty girl. His joy deepened; he held the picture at
arm's length and gazed a fill of delight. He then arighted himself, went
over to the piano, moved the photograph of an older woman to one side
and placed this picture near the centre. He was soon occupied studying
the effect, and ultimate satisfaction was his.

He again sat down at the piano, but was unable to take his glance from
the picture. Eventually, he smiled, gave the picture an _au revoir_ look
and again turned his attention to the keyboard and manuscript. He had
decided to finish his composition just the same. The dirge continued
intoning its gloomy measures, but a note of prophecying gladness
appeared. From time to time, too, the composer stole shy glances at the
photograph.

                   *       *       *       *       *

In a cosy room in a building not far away, a different scene was taking
place. Eric Nielsen and Erna Vitek were sitting close together on a
couch, chatting confidentially and bantering each other.

Erna had not broken off her appointment with the young writer even
though a sudden change had come into her life. Luckily, Jimmy was away
all afternoon, training up in Fordham, and, thanks to his continued
absence, she was able to leave their flat shortly after six o'clock. She
would only stay out an hour or so and, should he return before her,
would tell him that she had to visit Landsmann's for some small articles
she had left behind. On the way to Nielsen's, she bought two or three
trifles. Fortunately, she had found him at home, although she was two
hours beforehand.

He had heard of the morning's event and was heartily sorry. But Erna
quickly reassured him. Of course, he did not believe the hazy part of
her story,--that she was "stayin' with some friends"--but his philosophy
was equal to the occasion: what Erna hid from him was no concern of his.
In all, they had been spending a delightful evening. As a consequence,
Erna was staying much longer than she had planned.

Nielsen enjoyed her company. She was a splendid stimulant to his
stimulant-craving mental system. After his recent intercourse with the
every-day woman and the every-day man,--a monotonous gallery of drab
souls--she was a touch of brilliant color. Her joy, animal spirit and
fighting instinct enthralled him. She stimulated his imagination
particularly and consequently brought him back to his old interest in
his life and work. So he was trebly indebted to her.

Erna's greed had developed rapidly, and she had grown reckless in short
order. Nielsen inspired her complete confidence. He did not take her too
seriously, neither did he take her too lightly. This was just what she
had craved so long. As a result, at the height of her confidence and his
bantering comment, she allowed him to sit next to her, and they
developed their further intimacy. For the present, she had forgotten
Jimmy. He was physical and did not inspire her as Nielsen's human
temperament did so easily and so quietly. Moreover, her Vitek blood had
been excited.

Therefore, it was inside a natural sequence of happenings that Nielsen's
arm stole about Erna's waist and that she submitted to the liberty. To
tell the truth, Nielsen was decidedly under the influence of the wine in
her nature and she under that in his.

"Isn't this wicked?" he questioned pleasantly.

"No," she denied.

"But it's growing darker," he protested.

"So much the better!" she retorted.

And they both laughed.

"This is rat time," he warned her.

"I don't care," she vaunted.

And they laughed again.

Erna did not leave the Nielsen workshop until well after nine o'clock.



                                   XI


It was the following Monday noon. Breen and Nielsen were seated at the
last table in Landsmann's rear dining room, eating and gossipping.
"Gretchen!" called the former.

Erna's successor came forward.

"Bring me a mocha tart, please."

"Yes, sir"--and the girl walked away.

"So you think you'll be able to finish your story?" Breen questioned.

"I think so," was Nielsen's thoughtful response. "I've found the missing
link."

"But is any story ever finished?" Breen protested. "Can't you always
find room for additional installments?"

Not being in an argumentative mood, Nielsen quietly accepted his
friend's criticism. Soon, they were both meditative. Gretchen brought
the mocha tart and went away. Hers was a peace-loving temperament, in
distinct contrast to Erna's, an opinion Breen expressed. Nielsen again
accepted his criticism.

"After all," the artist added comfortably: "Erna was quite a study. I
confess, she fooled me."

"How so?"

"By running off with that young gladiator."

"Then you think she's living with him?"

"Of course. What other conclusion should I come to?"

Nielsen did not answer. At length he said: "Then you're ready to alter
your decision of the other day?"

"That she's a moral little thing?" Breen replied.

"Yes, to some extent," he declared generously. "Her last act does change
my first consideration a bit. But I still refuse to credit her with
being _un_moral."

"Which means that you believe her _im_moral?" Nielsen ventured in a
droll tone.

"I suppose so."

"Explain yourself!"

"She's accepted a life contrary to Society's code or her own code--if
she was ever unconventional enough to have one, which I doubt."

Nielsen smiled. "If what you say is true, we're all of us more or less
immoral."

"Why so?"

"Because every one barters his soul some time during his existence, and
some of us are doing so all the time. At heart, you know, we're most of
us, unmoral, in appearance, moral, but in action, immoral."

Breen laughed in amiable derision. "What scrambled egg philosophy!" he
cried. "Where did you learn it, noble scholar?"

"Nowhere," Nielsen answered and frowned. But his ready good nature
intervened and he observed gently: "At any rate, Breen, I disagree with
you regarding Erna."

"That she's neither moral nor immoral?"

"She has a little bit of each--like all of us," the young author agreed;
"but fundamentally she's unmoral."

"Bravo! So that will be the end of your story?"

"I don't know," Nielsen silenced him and smiled a second time.

Breen shook his head with a knowing air. After an interval, he
requested: "Will you see her again?"

"I'm not certain," Nielsen said without emotion. "I imagine I will some
time. But it won't be necessary."

The young men finished their meal.

A little later, Nielsen was alone in his studio. He was sitting at his
small writing desk, looking over some material that lay in front of him.
Presently, he seemed worried, but only for a moment. No, the point was
absolutely clear. Erna had settled it for him the other evening. At
heart, she was unmoral. The young author commenced writing.

Through some insidious channel, a thought managed to come between his
mind and the manuscript: would he see her again? Quickly, he beat it
down: it would be unnecessary to see her again; there was nothing more
for him to learn. Still, he had enjoyed himself the other evening. The
physical, so glorious, so great, had once more penetrated his life.
Would he drive it away? Nielsen stopped writing.

Almost resentfully, he mused: What had he and the physical to do with
each other? The physical gave him new experience, yes, but it was almost
always experience that he courted and utilized for his work. He must not
expect more; he must continue to sacrifice everything--thought, emotion,
volition--to work. Nothing else existed; in no other way could he hope
to reach the realm of artist. He must drive Erna and the other evening's
sensations from his memory. She had served as his model, no more; so he
must not permit her personality or his own to interfere again.
Furthermore, he must be cautious on her behalf as well. She was a
joyous, healthy animal. Jimmy Allen was a joyous, healthy animal. They
were mated, and were living together, undoubtedly. The chapter was
closed. He must not desire more.

Nielsen tightened his resolve. In another moment, he was again busy,
writing.

There was a knock at the door. He did not hear it. The knock was
repeated more loudly. He looked around petulantly, got up, went over to
the door and opened it. "Oh, it's you," he said, but not with
cordiality.

Erna came in.

"I was down in the neighborhood," she apologized.

"You were right to come up," he reassured her, sorry to have treated her
discourteously. "Take off your things!"

"But you're busy," she protested.

"Not at all. Only a little touch or two I was working on. They can
wait."

Reluctantly, Erna permitted him to help her remove her coat. She did not
take off her hat. "Sit down," he advised her, his regret for his
momentary show of self-interest developing.

She sat down on a chair. He seated himself at his desk, but faced her.
"What's new?" he asked pleasantly.

"Nothin' much," she returned and glanced at him.

His glance met hers, and he quickly looked elsewhere. He felt a sharp
pain: he had gone too far the other evening. Erna likewise looked away.
She had seen enough; her instinct knew. There was an awkward pause.

Nielsen gave her a sidelong glance. What could he do? This was dreadful.
He should not have gone so far. Erna was staring at the floor. He could
see her pugnacious nose and her determined mouth and chin, and felt
somewhat relieved. Her case might not be as serious as he feared. She
had tenacious strength of character. But the situation was very
uncomfortable notwithstanding. He should not have gone so far. It was
selfish--whether a man's selfishness or an artist's. Nielsen turned
away.

Again, he glanced in her direction, but she was still staring at the
floor. Luckily, she had Jimmy; they were living together--at least, he
had taken that much for granted by putting her story and the bakery
scandal side by side. They were suited to each other. What could or
should she have to do with such a thing as an artist? Perhaps, the
novelty in their short affair had appealed to her. She was a greedy
nature. She craved everything: sun, moon, stars and all. He himself had
only been one of them. This conjecture satisfied him considerably. And
he breathed with returning freedom.

She looked up. He smiled. She smiled too. And he breathed still more
freely.

"What have you been doing lately?" he questioned cheerfully.

"I've been busy straightenin' out," she replied, and looked at him.

He moved restlessly. There was a second pause, but only a short one.

"You've been busy too," she said.

"Oh yes, I--I've been working on a story."

"What kind of a story?"

"Merely a foolish little affair about a foolish little affair," he
hastened to condemn.

Her glance dropped. His work and her own lived apart. "I brought back
'Little Eyolf'."

"So I saw. Did you like it?"

"Not very much."

"Why not?"

"It's too sad," she explained. "An' I don't like cripples."

"Of course!" he broke out. "I forgot that you love only joy and happy
people."

"An' freedom," she concluded unconsciously.

"Certainly, and freedom," he agreed.

He caught a glimpse of her eyes--eyes that could love you to-day and
hate you to-morrow--and felt still more reconciled with circumstances.
Erna craved freedom, and was free. She could take care of herself. She
possessed that rare thing, the life-controlling temperament. Perhaps,
she would not need even Jimmy Allen. How splendid she was! Would she
hate him to-morrow? It would be a shame. He had only to raise his
hand--and they could continue. But he must not, it would be so much
better for her. She would be miserable with him: an artist and not a
physical man. She belonged to Jimmy--and still more, to herself. He must
not interfere, but leave her destiny to destiny. Nielsen felt almost
completely relieved.

"You _love_ your work, don't you?" Erna announced with unexpected
candor.

Nielsen looked at her with sharpened eyes. She was glorious. She had
emphasized "love" and not "work." He could scarcely reply.

"Don't you?" she repeated.

She was more than glorious. Her own gameness had fought the problem for
her. She required assistance from no one.

"Yes," was all he was able to say, his emotions crowding him.

"Do you write a whole lot?"

"Yes, lots and lots, but it's all trivial."

"Oh no!" she contradicted him.

"Oh yes!" he mimicked her, and laughed, although he did not know why.
"My writings are as much like life--" as you are like art, he would have
finished, but hesitated.

"As what?" she assisted him.

"As the catching of butterflies is like the catching of rats," he closed
with a return to himself.

"Oh, the Rat-wife!" she interpreted.

"Yes."

"You're not a rat-wife writer then?"

"No."

"You're not a butterfly writer either?"

"Why not?"

"'Cause butterflies come from caterpillars, don't they?"

"Yes," Nielsen admitted and laughed again, although his emotions were
threatening him, as before. "I forgot about the caterpillars."

"Yes, I hate 'em," she reminded him. "They're too--too--"

"Fuzzy wuzzy!" he helped her.

"Yes," she accepted and laughed for the first time, if not very
heartily.

Nielsen studied her with frank admiration. Her nature was that of a
lioness. She looked capable of pushing over or slipping from under any
circumstance. She did not even require one's sympathy. And still?--But
he resisted the temptation. For her sake, it would be better not to
continue.

"I must be goin'," she said suddenly.

"Oh no, not yet!" he begged.

"Yes, I must be goin'," she insisted and got up. "I got shoppin' to do."

"Haven't you finished decorating?" he inquired, and got up against his
will.

"No," she returned and smiled.

Nielsen helped her with her coat. He was tempted to put his arms about
her, but resisted. It would make her departure more difficult. She
turned around. "Is my hat on straight?"

"Oh yes," he assured her and added, by way of controlling himself:
"_Vanitas vanitatum!_"

"What's that?"

"More triviality!" he declared.

Erna started toward the door, but he stopped her with: "Don't you want
another book to read?"

The temptation was a strong one, but she dodged it: "No, I'll be too
busy now. Maybe, later on," she concluded with a lingering tone.

Nielsen looked away. Erna continued toward the door, but he hurried
after her and opened and held it open for her.

"Good-bye," she said.

"Oh no, not good-bye, but _au revoir_!" he quoted gently.

"That's a hard word to pronounce."

"Try it anyhow," he encouraged her.

"Orrevore!"

"Fine!" he congratulated her, repeated the phrase, and added: "Come in
again soon."

"Yes," she agreed.

But she never did.



                                  XII


Two months passed.

Erna Vitek was still living with Jimmy Allen. There was, however, less
and less likelihood that they would ever marry. In fact, the most
probable issue to their affair was that they would separate again, in
the near future and this time for good.

Erna was tired of Jimmy. For some weeks past, her restless nature had
been craving some one else, or better still, some other mode of living,
her present one having reached a state of unbearable monotony. She
recovered from her experience with Eric Nielsen only after several weeks
of struggle. Even such a fine tonic as that supplied her so freely by
her resource of blood found the healing of her wound no ordinary matter,
but she had recovered, except for an occasional memory. Her battle with
her craving for Nielsen did not assist her attachment for Jimmy; on the
contrary, the latter degenerated by contrast. And Jimmy, himself, was
very much to blame as well. He had changed toward her.

It is no doubt true that possession often breeds boredom, and boredom,
carelessness. Erna, before possession and after possession, was not the
same individual, and Jimmy treated her accordingly. He was no longer an
anxious desire-maddened suitor.

Furthermore, he was softening physically. He continued training for his
schedule of fistic contests and carried out that schedule; he defeated
Young Walcott, the man from Chicago and another, but lately, had fought
two very poor draws, in the latter of which he, himself, was on the
point of being knocked out. His manager, the astute Jerry Nolan, was
losing patience with him. He bluntly attributed his protégé's decline to
the fact that he was "livin' with a woman. A man's got to cut out drink
if he wants to succeed as a athlete, but he's got to be _sure_ to cut
out women. They sucks his blood an' strength."

Jimmy did not agree with this sentiment. He continued to live with Erna.
What is more, he had threatened to move out of the Nolan apartment and
"to throw up the sponge"--quit the prize-ring--if his manager persisted
in arguing along these lines. Although Nolan submitted, he found other
grounds upon which to pick quarrels with Jimmy. The truth is, the young
manager was ambitious, and Jimmy's ability to climb the pugilistic
ladder reflected credit upon him. He had always felt and expressed his
faith in his protégé and prophesied that he would be "mixin' it with the
top notchers" not far hence, a prophecy Jimmy substantiated by defeating
"the Kid," Young Walcott and the westerner so decisively. But he was in
danger now, as his recent battles and his late mutiny testified. Should
Jimmy fall from grace a second time, it would be irrevocably. Therefore,
Nolan was using eloquence, persuasion, threats, anything, to save him.

Many of their quarrels took place in Erna's presence. After a while,
Jimmy, much to her growing distaste, formed the habit of bringing Nolan
and "some o' the boys" to the flat. Custom gradually trained them to
believe that she was nothing more than part of the furniture, and they
accepted her attentions, due them as Jimmy's guests, just so. They
stayed well on into the night, amused themselves, played pranks, broke
dishes, quarrelled, made up--and came again. And more and more, they
looked upon Erna with contempt. On her side, she hated and despised
them.

During the day, Jimmy was usually absent, training at the Nolan
headquarters in Fordham. Erna saw him for a moment in the morning, when
she prepared his breakfast, and at evening, when she prepared his
supper, not to see him again, as a rule, until fairly late at night,
except when he brought "the boys." To be sure, she slept with him
and--well, she hated that too. It made her feel herself some dirty,
inferior animal.

Erna's days were still more monotonous. She sewed quite a little,
attended to details of house work, which were few, and otherwise, took
long walks or went to an afternoon vaudeville or moving picture show. As
she was accustomed to a day of constant labor and occupation, she had
never known much idleness; her evenings were spent in resting or in the
search of a little excitement. Moreover, Erna's was purely an emotional
nature; she did not possess the intellect or imagination so requisite
toward making idleness useful. Unfortunately, she had no friends to
visit.

At first, Jimmy gave her money in regular installments. Their house
expenses paid, she would have a sufficient balance with which to indulge
herself--with a new hat, a new dress, a few odds and ends, or her
afternoon amusements. The installments, however, were more and more
irregular and smaller in amount; last week, none had materialized. The
reason was this: Jimmy had returned to drinking. And the climax was
impending. One night, he came home late, pretty well drunk.

Erna opened the door. He swayed and then staggered into the room, a
broad leer on his face. "Howsh--the--girl?" he demanded stupidly.

He tried to embrace her, but Erna stepped back, and he nearly fell. With
an effort, he straightened himself and laughed. "Wha--whash--a--matter?"

Erna's resentment poured over. "You beast!" she said in low tones.

"You--what?" He leaned forward to hear better.

"Beast, I said," and she pelted him with epithets and reproaches.

Jimmy made several ludicrous attempts to apologize, and protested:
"I--I'm not--d-drunk; I--I'm just--ossified." And he laughed more
stupidly and tried to approach.

"Keep away!"

"Wha--whash--a--matter?"

"Keep away!"

"Wheresh--No--Nolan?"

"Nolan's in hell, where he belongs," she cried angrily, and a second
tirade followed, directed this time at the manager and Jimmy's friends.

"Be c-c-careful!" he interrupted, but she added further condemnation.
"Be c-c-careful!" he repeated. "No--Nolan's a frien' o' mine an' so's
P-p-piggy Wallace. Be c-c-careful!"

His defence only succeeded in infuriating her. She concluded with two or
three judgments that included the families of those gentlemen. Jimmy's
good nature stopped. "You ----!" he called her and stumbled toward her.

Erna retreated, her face aflame. Once more, he called her ---- and fell
toward her. She tried to ward him off, for he had driven her against the
couch. But Jimmy pushed himself forward and raising his fist, brought it
down clumsily upon her face. Erna slipped and fell upon the couch, her
mouth bleeding.

Furious, she jumped up and attacked Jimmy. He was in a defenceless
condition, and blows rained upon his shoulders, body and head. He tried
to raise his guard, but it was useless. At length, swearing
incoherently, she struck him full in the face, and he swayed, mumbled
stupidly and toppled over on the couch, unconscious or asleep--more
likely the latter. Handsome Jimmy was a disgusting sight.

Erna, still struggling with herself, looked down at him. He started
snoring, a part painful, part beatific smile wrinkling his face. His
legs were dangling over the side of the couch. She gave them a kick,
lifted them and shoved them onto the couch. She then turned away and
wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Erna had come to a simple
determination.

Without hesitation, she went over to a closet and opened the door. She
likewise pulled open the drawer of a commode. And somewhere, she found
an old suit case and dragged that forth. Her packing did not last more
than twenty minutes. She left a hat, a dress and some odds and ends
behind her.

                   *       *       *       *       *

One pleasant late afternoon about two weeks later, Eric Nielsen was
occupied in writing at his desk. He was engaged on an essay he had
planned and started some time ago. His pencil was moving more rapidly
than usual.

The door was opened gently and Bainbridge Breen came in. "Busy?" he
inquired.

"Come in! I'll be through in a second," Nielsen returned without looking
up.

The painter came forward. The author's pencil scribbled a little faster,
a period was jotted down, and he laid aside the pencil, at the same time
eyeing his work and sighing with satisfaction.

"Finished?"

"Oh no, not for some time. I've got several thousand words more,"
Nielsen explained.

"How's it coming on?"

"Splendidly!" was the optimistic rejoinder. "If I can keep sufficient
enthusiasm in my body, I ought to be able to carry it through
perfectly."

"It'll be your _chef-d'oeuvre_, I suppose," Breen observed with his
customary pleasantry.

"I hope so," Nielsen admitted seriously. "It's stronger than anything
I've done, I feel. It shows maturity, I think, not only maturity of
judgment, but maturity of execution as well."

"In other words, Art," Breen interrupted slyly. "What more do you ask?"

"Nothing," confessed Nielsen, and his warm smile appeared.

"But what's the matter with the story?" the painter demanded.

"How do you mean?" the author retorted.

"I thought _that_ had fulfilled your ambition."

"Not quite, not quite," Nielsen hastened to deny, and was thoughtful. "I
don't know just what it was, but there was something missing in it," he
said gently, and changing the subject, concluded abruptly: "I'm sure I
have that something in this essay."

Breen explained himself: "You know what made me ask about the story?"

"No. What?"

"I had lunch in a small bakery on Sixth Avenue this noon."

"Well?"

"Guess whom I saw there?"

"Well?"

"Can't you guess?"

"Out with it!"

"Our old friend: Erna Vitek!"

Nielsen turned and stared at his friend. He was unable to speak.

"What do you think o' that?" Breen pursued, unruffled.

"She must have left Allen."

"Yes!"

"And is working again?"

"Yes!"

Nielsen stared at the floor now. He seemed unable to formulate, much
less express, an opinion. "How is she? Changed?" he requested at last.

"Somewhat! She's quite a little harder and a bit more quiet--that is the
way matters appeared to me. But her eyes have lost none of their
boldness. And besides, she seems to like it there."

"She does?"

"Yes, and she's very popular too."

"How so?"

"The men are very attentive, it looked to me," Breen volunteered
significantly.

"And she?"

"She's still got an eye open. Not as wide open, perhaps, as in the old
days, but it isn't closed, that's certain."

Nielsen was silent, reflecting.

At length, Breen asked: "What do you imagine will become of her?"

"How?"

"I mean, of her life--what life do you suppose she'll lead eventually:
this young lady so moral, unmoral or--"

"I can't say exactly," Nielsen, who disliked the topic, interrupted.

"Think she'll take to the streets?"

"No, no, not that!" was the vehement denial.

"Why not?"

Again, Nielsen seemed unable to answer, but he boasted unexpectedly:
"She's too strong. She has fight in her--and love of freedom."

"But so have street ladies."

"Yes, but they don't carry it through."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," was the stubborn reply. "They don't, that's all."

"Well, do you? Does Tom, Dick or Harry? Does Erna?"

"I don't know. Let's drop the subject."

"_I_ wouldn't be so certain that she does," Breen insinuated, still
persisting.

"Of course, _you_ wouldn't," Nielsen condemned, unable longer to hold
back his emotion. "You're wisdom itself."

The young artist decided to shift the topic: "Heard from Carstairs
lately?"

Animation returned to Nielsen. "Yes, I heard from John last night."

"Is he still in Indianapolis?"

"Yes, he has a fine position there and seems contented now."

"And Elsie Pearson?"

"Oh, that'll come off, as you said the other day."

"Marriage?"

"Yes!"

"Good for John! I'm glad he won. He was a long time waiting."

Nelsen nodded. He was thoughtful once more. But he shook off the mood
and asked: "What are you doing, Breen?"

"Getting ready for spring."

"That's so--spring'll be here in a week or two. Going out to the country
as usual?"

"Yes, I've gathered a bunch of canvases and plenty of tubes, etcetera,
and off I'll go."

"Going to Connecticut again?"

"Yes, that's the only country for a landscape painter."

"I suppose so," Nielsen agreed.

"How about supper?" Breen interposed.

"Why, what time is it?"

"After five o'clock."

"By Jove--that late? I must be getting dressed soon."

"Got an engagement?"

"Yes, I'm going to feed with the Plymptons."

"Too bad! That means, I'll have to eat alone. See you in the morning! So
long!" and Breen moved away.

"Going over to Landsmann's?"

"Yes. But it's hopelessly dull there these days. It'll give me the
incurables to-night."

"Or a tummy-ache, at least," Nielsen added good-humoredly.

"Yes, so long!"

"So long!"

Breen went out quietly and closed the door. Nielsen studied the door
with a blank expression. But he shook himself and returned to his
manuscript. In a moment, he was absorbed, re-reading.


                                 POETRY

                          A MAGAZINE OF VERSE

         Edited by Harriet Monroe, 543 Cass St., Chicago, Ill.

   POETRY, at the end of its first year, is no longer an experiment
   but an assured artistic success, a publication whose importance
   is authoritatively recognized, not only in this country, but in
   Great Britain and France as well. The field it has opened up is
   full of brilliant possibilities, encouraging the editors to hope
   for the enthusiastic support of a discriminating public.

   POETRY endeavors to present the best verse now being written in
   English, quality alone being the test of acceptance.

   POETRY is an effort to create an organ for the art. While the
   ordinary magazines must minister to a large public little
   interested in poetry, this magazine appeals to and will develop a
   public primarily interested in poetry as an art, potentially the
   highest, most complete human expression of truth and beauty. Thus
   it offers to poets a chance to be heard by their own audience, in
   their own place, without the limitations imposed by the popular
   magazines. And to lovers of poetry it offers each month a sheaf
   of new verse in delicate form uninterrupted by prose articles
   demanding a different mood.

   If You Love Good Poetry, Subscribe--

      POETRY
      543 Cass Street, Chicago.

   Send POETRY for one year ($1.50 enclosed) beginning

   ............................. to

   Name ...........................

   Address ........................


                     THE INTERCOLLEGIATE SOCIALIST

           Thought-Compelling, Admirably Written Quarterly of
                  Socialism and the Socialist Movement

                   Among the year's contributors are:

   Karl Kautsky, Jean Longuet, Keir Hardie, Morris Hillquit,
   Alexander Irvine, Helen L. Sumner, Sidney and Beatrice Webb,
   Prof. Vida D. Scudder, Upton Sinclair, William English Walling,
   Charles Zueblin, Ernest Poole, Howard Brubaker, Albert Edwards,
   Jessie W. Hughan, Caro Lloyd.

                       READ ITS REVIEW OF BOOKS!

                           SUBSCRIPTION, 25c.
                           SINGLE COPY, 10c.
                           15 COPIES, $1.00.

                   INTERCOLLEGIATE SOCIALIST SOCIETY
                 105 WEST 40TH STREET - - NEW YORK CITY


                           THE INTERNATIONAL

   A magazine for matured minds.

   A magazine for those who dare to think.

   A magazine for all true cosmopolites.

   A magazine with a courage so fearless that it publishes the best.

   Brieux, Schnitzler, Strindberg are only a few of the advanced
   thinkers who have appeared in the pages of THE INTERNATIONAL.

   We have been in the vanguard of intellectual freedom.

   We shall always be far ahead of our times.

   You may glimpse the future by reading THE INTERNATIONAL.

                   George Sylvester Viereck, Editor.
      Leonard D. Abbott, Richard Le Gallienne, Associate Editors.

                     15 CENTS A COPY. $1.50 A YEAR.

                        MOODS PUBLISHING COMPANY
                 29 WEST 42ND STREET - - NEW YORK CITY


                       The April issue of THE
                       GLEBE will present
                       Collects and prose-pieces
                       by Horace Traubel.

                   Subscription price per year, $3.00



                          Transcriber's Notes


The original spelling was mostly preserved. A few obvious typographical
errors were silently corrected. All other changes are listed here
(before/after):

   [p. 104]:
   ... her desserts. Hurry up, you fat slob, or I'll help ...
   ... her deserts. Hurry up, you fat slob, or I'll help ...





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Glebe 1914/03 (Vol. 1, No. 6): Erna Vitek" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home