Cupid Goes Slumming by Alice Hegan Rice
It is a debatable question whether love is a cause or an
effect, whether Adam discovered a heart in the recesses
of his anatomy before or after the appearance of Eve. In
the case of Joe Ridder it was distinctly the former.
At nineteen his knowledge of the tender passion
consisted of dynamic impressions received across the
footlights at an angle of forty-five degrees. Love was
something that hovered with the calcium light about
beauty in distress, something that brought the hero from
the uttermost parts of the earth to hurl defiance at the
villain and clasp the swooning maiden in his arms; it
was something that sent a fellow down from his perch in
the peanut gallery with his head hot and his hands cold,
and a sort of blissful misery rioting in his soul.
Joe lived in what was known by courtesy as Rear Ninth
Street. "Rear Ninth Street" has a sound of exclusive
aristocracy, and the name was a matter of some pride to
the dwellers in the narrow, unpaved alley that writhed
its watery way between two rows of tumble-down cottages,
Joe's family consisted of his father, whose vocation was
plumbing, and whose avocation was driving either in the
ambulance or the patrol wagon; his mother, who had
discharged her entire debt to society when she bestowed
nine healthy young citizens upon it; eight young Ridders,
and Joe himself, who had stopped school at twelve to
assume the financial responsibilities of a rapidly
Lack of time and the limited opportunities of Rear Ninth
Street, together with an uncontrollable shyness, had
brought Joe to his nineteenth year of broad-shouldered,
muscular manhood, with no acquaintance whatever among
the girls. But where a shrine is built for Cupid and the
tapers are kept burning, the devotee is seldom
One morning in October, as Joe was guiding his rickety
wheel around the mud puddles on his way to the cooper
shops, he saw a new sign on the first cottage after he
left the alley—"Mrs. R. Beaver, Modiste & Dress Maker."
In the yard and on the steps were a confusion of
household effects, and in their midst a girl with a pink
shawl over her head.
So absorbed was Joe in open-mouthed wonder over the
"Modiste," that he failed to see the girl, until a
laughing exclamation made him look up.
"What's the matter?" asked Joe, coming to a halt.
"I thought maybe you didn't know your wheels was going
'round!" the girl said audaciously, then fled into the
house and slammed the door.
All day at the shops Joe worked as in a trance. Every
iron rivet that he drove into a wooden hoop was duly
informed of the romantic occurrence of the morning, and
as some four thousand rivets are fastened into four
thousand hoops in the course of one day, it will be seen
that the matter was duly considered. The stray spark
from a feminine eye had kindled such a fierce fire in
his heart that by the time the six o'clock whistle blew
the conflagration threw a rosy glow over the entire
As he rode home, the girl was sitting on the steps, but
she would not look at him. Joe had formulated a definite
course of action, and though the utter boldness of it
nearly cost him his balance, he adhered to it strictly.
When just opposite her gate, without turning his head or
his eyes, he lifted his hat, then rode at a furious pace
around the corner.
"What you tidying up so fer, Joe?" asked his mother that
night; "you goin' out?"
"No," said Joe evasively, as he endeavoured in vain to
coax back the shine to an old pair of shoes.
"Well, I'm right glad you ain't. Berney and Dick ain't
got up the coal, and there's all them dishes to wash,
and the baby she's got a misery in her year."
"Has paw turned up?" asked Joe.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Ridder indifferently. "He looked in
'bout three o'clock. He was tolerable full then, and I
'spec he's been took up by now. He said he was goin' to
buy me a bird-cage with a bird in it, but I surely hope
he won't. Them white mice he brought me on his last
spree chewed a hole in Berney's stocking; besides, I
never did care much for birds. Good lands! what are you
goin' to wash yer head for?"
Joe was substituting a basin of water for a small girl
in the nearest kitchen chair, and a howl ensued.
"Shut up, Lottie!" admonished Mrs. Ridder, "you ain't
any too good to set on the floor. It's a good thing this
is pay-day, Joe, for the rent's due and four of the
children's got their feet on the ground. You paid up the
grocery last week, didn't you!"
Joe nodded a dripping head.
"Well, I'll jes' git yer money out of yer coat while I
think about it," she went on as she rummaged in his
pocket and brought out nine dollars.
"Leave me a quarter," demanded Joe, gasping beneath his
"All right," said Mrs. Ridder accommodatingly; "now that
Bob and Ike are gitting fifty cents a day, it ain't so
hard to make out. I'll be gittin' a new dress first
thing, you know."
"I seen one up at the corner!" said Joe.
"A new dress?"
"Naw, a dressmaker. She's got out her sign."
"What's her name?" asked Mrs. Ridder, keen with
"Mrs. R. Beaver, Modiste," repeated Joe from the sign
that floated in letters of gold in his memory.
"I knowed a Mrs. Beaver wunst, up on Eleventh Street—a
big, fat woman that got in a fuss with the preacher and
smacked his jaws."
"Did she have any children?" asked Joe.
"Seems like there was one, a pretty little tow-headed
"That's her," announced Joe conclusively. "What was her
"Lawsee, I don't know. I never would 'a' ricollected
Mrs. Beaver 'cepten she was such a tarnashious woman,
always a-tearin' up stumps, and never happy unless she
was rippitin' 'bout somethin'. What you want? A
needle and thread to mend your coat? Why, what struck
you? You been wearin' it that a-way for a month. You
better leave it be 'til I git time to fix it."
But Joe had determined to work out the salvation of his
own wardrobe. Late in the evening after the family had
retired, he sat before the stove with back humped and
knees drawn up trying to coax a coarse thread through a
small needle. Surely no rich man need have any fear
about entering the kingdom of heaven since Joe Ridder
managed to get that particular thread through the eye of
that particular needle!
But when a boy is put at a work-bench at twelve years of
age and does the same thing day in and day out for seven
long years, he may have lost all of the things that
youth holds dear, but one thing he is apt to have
learned, a dogged, plodding, unquestioning patience that
shoves silently along at the appointed task until the
work is done.
By midnight all the rents were mended and a large new
patch adorned each elbow. The patches, to be sure, were
blue, and the coat was black, but the stitches were set
with mechanical regularity. Joe straightened his aching
shoulders and held the garment at arm's length with a
smile. It was his first votive offering at the shrine of
The effect of Joe's efforts were prompt and
satisfactory. The next day being Sunday, he spent the
major part of it in passing and repassing the house on
the corner, only going home between times to remove the
mud from his shoes and give an extra brush to his hair.
The girl, meanwhile, was devoting her day to sweeping
off the front pavement, a scant three feet of pathway
from her steps to the wooden gate. Every time Joe passed
she looked up and smiled, and every time she smiled Joe
suffered all the symptoms of locomotor ataxia!
By afternoon his emotional nature had reached the
saturation point. Without any conscious volition on his
part, his feet carried him to the gate and refused to
carry him farther. His voice then decided to speak for
itself, and in strange, hollow tones he heard himself
"Say, do you wanter go to the show with me?"
"Sure," said the pink fascinator. "When?"
"I don't care," said Joe, too much embarrassed to
remember the days of the week.
"To-morrer night?" prompted the girl.
"I don't care," said Joe, and the conversation seeming
to lauguish, he moved on.
After countless eons of time the next night arrived. It
found Joe and his girl cosily squeezed in between two
fat women in the gallery of the People's Theatre. Joe
had to sit sideways and double his feet up, but he would
willingly have endured a rack of torture for the
privilege of looking down on that fluffy, blond
pompadour under its large bow, and of receiving the
sparkling glances that were flashed up at him from time
"I ain't ever gone with a feller that I didn't know his
name before!" she confided before the curtain rose.
"It's Joe," he said, "Joe Ridder, What's your front
"Miss Beaver," she said mischievously. "What do you
think it is?"
Joe could not guess.
"Say," she went on, "I knew who you was all right even
if I didn't know yer name. I seen you over to the hall
when they had the boxin' match."
"The last one?"
"Yes, when you and Ben Schenk was fightin'. Say, you
didn't do a thing to him!"
The surest of all antidotes to masculine shyness was not
without its immediate effect. Joe straightened his
shoulders and smiled complacently.
"Didn't I massacre him?" he said. "That there was a
half-Nelson holt I give him. It put him out of business
all right, all right. Say, I never knowed you was
"You bet I was," said his companion in honest
admiration; "that was when I got stuck on you!"
Before he could fully comprehend the significance of
this confession, the curtain rose, and love itself had
to make way for the tragic and absorbing career of "The
Widowed Bride." By the end of the third act Joe's
emotions were so wrought upon by the unhappy fate of the
heroine, that he rose abruptly and, muttering something
about "gittin' some gum," fled to the rear. When he
returned and squeezed his way back to his seat he found
"Miss Beaver" with red eyes and a dejected mien.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked banteringly.
"My shoe hurts me," said Miss Beaver evasively.
"What you givin' me?" asked Joe, with fine superiority.
"These here kinds of play never hurts my feelin's none.
Catch me cryin' at a show!"
But Miss Beaver was too much moved to recover herself at
once. She sat in limp dejection and surreptitiously
dabbed her eyes with her moist ball of a handkerchief.
Joe was at a loss to know how to meet the situation
until his hand, quite by chance, touched hers as it lay
on the arm of her chair. He withdrew it as quickly as if
he had received an electric shock, but the next moment,
like a lodestone following a magnet, it traveled slowly
back to hers.
From that time on Joe sat staring straight ahead of him
in embarrassed ecstasy, while Miss Beaver, thus
comforted, was able to pass through the tragic finale of
the last act with remarkable composure.
When the time came to say "Good night" at the Beavers'
door, all Joe's reticence and awkwardness returned. He
watched her let herself in and waited until she lit a
candle. Then he found himself out on the pavement in the
dark feeling as if the curtain had gone down on the best
show be had ever seen. Suddenly a side window was raised
cautiously and he heard his name called softly. He had
turned the corner, but he went back to the fence.
"Say!" whispered the voice at the window, "I forgot to
tell you—It's Mittie."
The course of true love thus auspiciously started might
have flowed on to blissful fulfilment had it not
encountered the inevitable barrier in the formidable
person of Mrs. Beaver. Not that she disapproved of
Mittie receiving attention; on the contrary, it was her
oft-repeated boast that "Mittie had been keepin' company
with the boys ever since she was six, and she 'spected
she'd keep right on till she was sixty." It was not
attention in the abstract that she objected to, it was
rather the threatening of "a steady," and that steady,
the big, awkward, shy Joe Ridder. With serpentine wisdom
she instituted a counter-attraction.
Under her skilful manipulation, Ben Schenk, the son of
the saloon-keeper, soon developed into a rival suitor.
Ben was engaged at a down-town pool-room, and wore
collars on a weekday without any apparent discomfort.
The style of his garments, together with his easy air of
sophistication, entirely captivated Mrs. Beaver, while
Ben on his part found it increasingly pleasant to lounge
in the Beavers' best parlour chair and recount to a
credulous audience the prominent part which he was
taking in all the affairs of the day.
Matters reached a climax one night when, after some
close financing, Joe Ridder took Mittie to the Skating
Rink. An unexpected run on the tin savings bank at the
Ridders' had caused a temporary embarrassment, and by
the closest calculation Joe could do no better than pay
for two entrance-tickets and hire one pair of skates. He
therefore found it necessary to develop a sprained
ankle, which grew rapidly worse as they neared the rink.
"I don't think you orter skate on it, Joe!" said Mittie
"Oh, I reckon I kin manage it all O.K.," said Joe.
"But I ain't agoin' to let you!" she declared with
divine authority. "We can just set down and rubber at
the rest of them."
"Naw, you don't," said Joe; "you kin go on an' skate,
and I'll watch you."
The arrangement proved entirely satisfactory so long as
Mittie paused on every other round to rest or to get him
to adjust a strap, or to hold her hat, but when Ben
Schenk arrived on the scene, the situation was
It was sufficiently irritating to see Ben go through an
exhaustive exhibition of his accomplishments under the
admiring glances of Mittie, but when he condescended to
ask her to skate, and even offered to teach her some new
figures, Joe's irritation rose to ire. In vain he tried
to catch her eye; she was laughing and clinging to Ben
and giving all her attention to his instructions.
Joe sat sullen and indignant, savagely biting his nails.
He would have parted with everything he had in the world
at that moment for three paltry nickels!
On and on went the skaters, and on and on went the
music, and Joe turned his face to the wall and doggedly
waited. When at last Mittie came to him flushed and
radiant, he had no word of greeting for her.
"Did you see all the new steps Mr. Ben learnt me?" she
"Naw," said Joe.
"Does yer foot hurt you, Joe?"
"Naw," said Joe.
Mittie was too versed in masculine moods to press the
subject. She waited until they were out under the
starlight in the clear stretch of common near home. Then
she slipped her hand through his arm and said coaxingly—
"Say now, Joe, what you kickin' 'bout?"
"Him," said Joe comprehensively.
"Mr. Ben? Why, he's one of our best friends. Maw likes
him better'n anybody I ever kept company with. What have
all you fellers got against him?"
"He was black marveled at the hall all right," said Joe
"It ain't none of my business to tell what for," said
Joe, though his lips ached to tell what he knew.
"Maw says all you fellows are jealous 'cause he talks so
pretty and wears such stylish clothes."
"We might, too, if we got 'em like he done," Joe began,
then checked himself. "Say, Mittie, why don't yer maw
"She says you haven't got any school education and don't
talk good grammar."
"Don't I talk good grammar?" asked Joe anxiously.
"I don't know," said Mittie; "that's what she says. How
long did you go to school?"
"Me? Oh, off and on 'bout two year. The old man was
always poorly, and Maw, she had to work out, till me an'
the boys done got big enough to work. 'Fore that I had
to stay home and mind the kids. Don't I talk like other
"You talk better than some," said Mittie loyally.
After he left her, Joe reviewed the matter carefully. He
thought of the few educated people he knew—the boss at
the shops, the preacher up on Twelfth Street, the doctor
who sewed up his head after he stopped a runaway team,
even Ben Schenk, who had gone through the eighth grade.
Yes, there was a difference. Being clean and wearing
good clothes were not the only things.
When he got home, he tiptoed into the front room, and
picking his way around the various beds and pallets,
took Berney's school satchel from the top of the
wardrobe. Retracing his steps, he returned to the
kitchen, and with his hat still on and his coat collar
turned up, he began to take an inventory of his mental
One after another of the dog-eared, grimy books he
pondered over, and one after another he laid aside, with
a puzzled, distressed look deepening in his face.
"Berney she ain't but fourteen an' she gits on to 'em,"
he said to himself; "looks like I orter."
Once more he seized the nearest book, and with the
courage of despair repeated the sentences again and
again to himself.
"That you, Joe?" asked Mrs. Ridder from the next room an
hour later. "I didn't know you'd come. Yer paw sent word
by old man Jackson that he was at Hank's Exchange way
down on Market Street, and fer you to come git him."
"It's twelve o'clock," remonstrated Joe.
"I know it," said Mrs. Ridder, yawning, "but I reckon
you better go. The old man always gits the rheumatiz
when he lays out all night, and that there rheumatiz
medicine cost sixty-five cents a bottle!"
"All right," said Joe with a resignation born of
experience, "but don't you go and put no more of the
kids in my bed. Jack and Gus kick the stuffin' out of me
And with this parting injunction he went wearily out
into the night, giving up his struggle with Minerva,
only to begin the next round with Bacchus.
The seeds of ambition, though sown late, grew steadily,
and Joe became so desirous of proving worthy of the
consideration of Mrs. Beaver that he took the boss of
the shops partially into his confidence.
"It's a first-rate idea, Joe," said the boss, a big,
capable fellow who had worked his way up from the
bottom. "I could move you right along the line if you
had a better education. I have a good offer up in
Chicago next year; if you can get more book sense in
your head, I will take you along."
"Where can I get it at?" asked Joe, somewhat dubious of
his own power of achievement.
"Night school," said the boss. "I know a man that
teaches in the Settlement over on Burk Street. I'll put
you in there if you like."
Now, the prospect of going to school to a man who had
been head of a family for seven years, who had been the
champion scrapper of the South End, who was in the midst
of a critical love affair, was trebly humiliating. But
Joe was game, and while he determined to keep the matter
as secret as possible, he agreed to the boss's
"You're mighty stingy with yourself these days!" said
Mittie Beaver one night a month later, when he stopped
on his way to school.
Joe grinned somewhat foolishly. "I come every evenin',"
"For 'bout ten minutes," said Mittie, with a toss of her
voluminous pompadour; "there's some wants more'n ten
"Ben Schenk?" asked Joe, alert with jealousy.
"I ain't sayin'," went on Mittie. "What do you do of
nights, hang around the hall?"
"Naw," said Joe indignantly. "There ain't nobody can say
they've sawn me around the hall sence I've went with
"Well, where do you go?"
"I'm trainin'," said Joe evasively.
"I don't believe you like me as much as you used to,"
said Mittie plaintively.
Joe looked at her dumbly. His one thought from the time
he cooked his own early breakfast, down to the moment
when he undressed in the cold and dropped into his place
in bed between Gussie and Dick, was of her. The love of
her made his back stop aching as he bent hour after hour
over the machine; it made all the problems and hard
words and new ideas at night school come straight at
last; it made the whole sordid, ugly day swing round the
glorious ten minutes that they spent together in the
"Yes, I like you all right," he said, twisting his big,
grease-stained hands in embarrassment. "You're the
onliest girl I ever could care about. Besides, I
couldn't go with no other girl if I wanted to, 'cause I
don't know none."
Is it small wonder that Ben Schenk's glib protestations,
reinforced by Mrs. Beaver's own zealous approval, should
have in time outclassed the humble Joe? The blow fell
just when the second term of night school was over, and
Joe was looking forward to long summer evenings of
He had bought two tickets for a river excursion, and was
hurrying into the Beavers' when he encountered a stolid
bulwark in the form of Mrs. Beaver, whose portly person
seemed permanently wedged into the narrow aperture of
the front door. She sat in silent majesty, her hands
just succeeding in clasping each other around her ample
waist. Had she closed her eyes, she might have passed
for a placid, amiable person, whose angles of
disposition had also become curves. But Mrs. Beaver did
not close her eyes. She opened them as widely as the
geography of her face would permit, and coldly surveyed
Mrs. Beaver was a born manager; she had managed her
husband into an untimely grave, she had managed her
daughter from the hour she was born, she had dismissed
three preachers, induced two women to leave their
husbands, and now dogmatically announced herself arbiter
of fashions and conduct in Rear Ninth Street.
"No, she can't see you," she said firmly in reply to
Joe's question. "She's going out to a dance party with
"Where at?" demanded Joe, who still trembled in her
"Somewheres down town," said Mrs. Beaver, "to a real
"He oughtn't to take her to no down-town dance," said
Joe, his indignation getting the better of his shyness.
"I don't want her to go, and I'm going to tell her so."
"In-deed!" said Mrs. Beaver in scorn. "And what have you
got to say about it? I guess Mr. Schenk's got the right
to take her anywhere he wants to!"
"What right?" demanded Joe, getting suddenly a bit
"'Cause he's got engaged to her. He's going to give her
a real handsome turquoise ring, fourteen-carat gold."
"Didn't Mittie send me no word?" faltered Joe.
"No," said Mrs. Beaver unhesitatingly, though she had in
her pocket a note for him from the unhappy Mittie.
Joe fumbled for his hat. "I guess I better be goin'," he
said, a lump rising ominously in his throat. He got the
gate open and made his way half dazed around the corner.
As he did so, he saw a procession of small Ridders
bearing joyously down upon him.
"Joe!" shrieked Lottie, arriving first, "Maw says hurry
on home; we got another new baby to our house."
During the weeks that followed, Rear Ninth Street was
greatly thrilled over the unusual event of a home
wedding. The reticence of the groom was more than made
up for by the bulletins of news issued daily by Mrs.
Beaver. To use that worthy lady's own words, "she was in
her elements!" She organised various committees—on
decoration, on refreshment, and even on the bride's
trousseau, tactfully permitting each assistant to
contribute in some way to the general grandeur of the
"I am going to have this a real showy wedding," she said
from her point of vantage by the parlour window, where
she sat like a field-marshal and issued her orders.
"Those paper fringes want to go clean across every one
of the shelves, and you all must make enough paper roses
to pin 'round the edges of all the curtains.
Ever'thing's got to look gay and festive."
"Mittie don't look very gay," ventured one of the
assistants. "I seen her in the kitchen cryin' a minute
"Mittie's a fool!" announced Mrs. Beaver calmly. "She
don't know a good thing when she sees it! Get them
draperies up a little higher in the middle; I'm going to
hang a silver horseshoe on to the loop."
The wedding night arrived, and the Beaver cottage was
filled to suffocation with the élite of Rear
Ninth Street. The guests found it difficult to circulate
freely in the room on account of the elaborate and
aggressive decorations, so they stood in silent rows
awaiting the approaching ceremony. As the appointed hour
drew near, and none of the groom's family arrived, a few
whispered comments were exchanged.
"It's 'most time to begin," whispered the preacher to
Mrs. Beaver, whose keen black eyes had been watching the
door with growing impatience.
"Well, we won't wait on nobody," she said positively, as
she rose and left the room to give the signal.
In the kitchen she found great consternation: the bride,
pale and dejected in all her finery, sat on the table,
all the chairs being in the parlour.
"What's the matter?" demanded Mrs. Beaver.
"He ain't come!" announced one of the women in tragic
"Ben Schenk ain't here?" asked Mrs. Beaver in accents so
awful that her listeners quaked. "Well, I'll see the
Out into the night she sallied, picking her way around
the puddles until she reached the saloon at the corner.
"Where's Ben Schenk?" she demanded sternly of the men
around the bar.
There was an ominous silence, broken only by the
embarrassed shuffling of feet.
Drawing herself up, Mrs. Beaver thumped the counter.
"Where's he at?" she repeated, glaring at the most
embarrassed of the lot.
"He don't know where he's at," said the man. "I rickon
he cilebrated a little too much fer the weddin'."
"Can he stand up?" demanded Mrs. Beaver.
"Not without starchin'," said the man, and amid the
titter that followed, Mrs. Beaver made her exit.
On the corner she paused to reconnoitre. Across the
street was her gaily lighted cottage, where all the
guests were waiting. She thought of the ignominy that
would follow their abrupt dismissal, she thought of the
refreshments that must be used to-night or never, she
thought of the little bride sitting disconsolate on the
With a sudden determination she decided to lead a
forlorn hope. Facing about, she marched weightily around
to the rear of the saloon and began laboriously to climb
the steps that lead to the hall. At the door she paused
and made a rapid survey of the room until she found what
she was looking for.
"Joe Ridder!" she called peremptorily.
Joe, haggard and listless, put down his billiard-cue and
came to the door.
Five minutes later a breathless figure presented himself
at the Beaver kitchen. He had on a clean shirt and his
Sunday clothes, and while he wore no collar, a clean
handkerchief was neatly pinned about his neck.
"Everybody but the bride and groom come into the
parlour," commanded Mrs. Beaver. "I'm a-going to make a
speech, and tell 'em that the bride has done changed her
Joe and Mittie, left alone, looked at each other in
dazed rapture. She was the first to recover.
"Joe!" she cried, moving timidly towards him, "ain't you
mad? Do you still want me?"
Joe, with both hands entangled in her veil and his feet
lost in her train, looked down at her through swimming
"Want yer?" he repeated, and his lips trembled, "gee
whiz! I feel like I done ribbeted a hoop round the hull
The signal was given for them to enter the parlour, and
without further interruption the ceremony proceeded, if
not in exact accordance with the plans of Mrs. Beaver,
at least in obedience to the mandate of a certain little
autocrat who sometimes takes a hand in the affairs of
man even in Rear Ninth Street.