Oats for the Woman, by Fannie Hurst

Humoresque

That women who toil not neither do they spin might know the feel of fabrics so cunningly devised that they lay to the flesh like the inner petals of buds, three hundred and fifty men, women, and children contrived, between strikes, to make the show-rooms of the Kessler Costume Company, Incorporated, a sort of mauve and mirrored Delphi where buyers from twenty states came to invoke forecast of the mood of skirts, the caprice of sleeves, and the rumored flip to the train. Before these flips and moods, a gigantic industry held semi-annual pause, destinies of lace-factories trembling before a threatened season of strictly tailor-mades, velvet-looms slowing at the shush of taffeta. When woman would be sleazy, petticoat manufacturers went overnight into an oblivion from which there might or might not be returning. The willow plume waved its day, making and unmaking merchants.

Destiny loves thus to spring from acorn beginnings. Helen smiled, and Troy fell. Roast pork, and I doubt not then and there the apple sauce, became a national institution because a small boy burnt his fingers.

That is why, out from the frail love of women for the flesh and its humors, and because for the webby cling of chiffon too often no price is too high, the Kessler Costume Company employed, on the factory side of the door, the three hundred and fifty sewers and cutters, not one of whose monthly wage could half buy the real-lace fichu or the painted-chiffon frock of his own handiwork.

On the show-room side of the door, painted mauve within and not without, mannequins, so pink finger-tipped, so tilted of instep, and so bred in the thrust to the silhouette, trailed these sleazy products of thick ringers across mauve-colored carpet and before the appraising eyes of twenty states.

Often as not, smoke rose in that room from the black cigar of the Omaha Store, Omaha, or Ladies' Wear, Cleveland. In season, and particularly during the frenzied dog-days of August, when the fate of the new waist-line or his daring treatment of cloth of silver hung yet in the balance, and the spirit of Detroit must be browbeaten by the dictum of the sleeveless thing in evening frocks, Leon Kessler himself smoked a day-long chain of cigarettes, lighting one off the other.

In the model-room, a long, narrow slit, roaringly ventilated by a whirling machine, lined in frocks suspended from hangers, and just wide enough for two very perfect thirty-sixes to stand abreast, August fell heavily. So heavily that occasionally a cloak-model, her lot to show next December's conceit in theater wraps, fainted on the show-dais; or a cloth-of-gold evening gown, donned for the twentieth time that sweltering day, would suddenly, with its model, crumple, a glittering huddle, to the floor.

Upon Miss Hattie Becker, who within the narrow slit had endured eight of these Augusts with only two casual faints and a swoon or two nipped in the bud, this ninth August came in so furiously that, sliding out of her sixth showing of a cloth-of-silver and blue-fox opera wrap, a shivering that amounted practically to chill took hold of her.

"Br-r-r!" she said, full of all men's awe at the carbon-dioxide paradox.
"I'm so hot I'm cold!"

Miss Clarice Delehanty slid out of a shower of tulle-of-gold dancing-frock and into an Avenue gown of rough serge. The tail of a very arched eyebrow threatened, and then ran down in a black rill.

     "If Niagara Falls was claret lemonade,
      You'd see me beat it to a watery grave."

"That'll be enough canary-talk out of you, Clare. Hand me my shirt-waist there off the hook."

"Didn't Kess say we had to show Keokuk the line before lunch?"

"If the King of England was buying ermine sport coats this morning, I wouldn't show 'em before I had a cold cut and a long drink in me. Hurry! Hand me my waist, Clare, before the girls come in from showing the bridesmaid line."

Miss Delehanty flung the garment down the narrow length of the room.

"Minneapolis don't know it, but after this showing he's going to blow me to the frappiest little lunch on the Waldorf roof."

Miss Becker buttoned her flimsy blouse with three pearl beads down its front, wiping constantly at a constantly dampening brow.

"You'd shove over the Goddess of Liberty if you thought she had her foot on a meal ticket."

"Yes; and if I busted her, you could build a new one on the lunch money you've saved in your time."

"Waldorf! You've got a fine chance with Minneapolis. You mean the
Automat, and two spoons for the ice-cream."

Miss Delehanty adjusted a highly eccentric hat, a small green velvet, outrageously tilted off the rear of its bandeau, and a wide black streamer flowing down over one shoulder. It was the match to the explosive effect of the trotteur gown. She was Fashion's humoresque, except that Fashion has no sense of humor. Very presently Minneapolis would appraise her at two hundred and seventy-five as is. Miss Delehanty herself came cheaper.

"Say, Hattie, don't let being an old man's darling go to your head. The grandchildren may issue an injunction."

A flare of crimson rushed immediately over Miss Becker's face, spreading down into her neck.

"You let him alone! He's a darn sight better than anything I've seen you girls picking for yourselves. You never met a man in your life whose name wasn't Johnnie. You couldn't land a John in a million years."

Miss Delehanty raised her face from over a shoe-buckle. A stare began to set in, as obviously innocent as a small boy's between spitballs.

"Well, who said anything about old St. Louis, I'd like to know?"

"You did, and you leave him alone! What do you know about a real man? You'd pass up a Ford ride to sit still in a pasteboard limousine every time!"

"Well, of all things! Did I say anything?"

"Yes, you did!"

"Why, for my part, he can show you a good time eight nights in the week and Sundays, too."

"He 'ain't got grandchildren—if you want to know it."

"Did I say he had?"

"Yes, you did!"

"Why, I don't blame any girl for showing grandpa a good time."

"You could consider yourself darn lucky, Clarice Delehanty, if one half as good ever—"

"Ask the girls if I don't always say old St. Louis is all to the good.
Three or four years ago, right after his wife died, I said to Ada,
I said—"

A head showed suddenly through the lining side of the mauve portières, blue-eyed, blue-shaved, and with a triple ripple of black hair trained backward.

"Hurry along there with fifty-seven, Delehanty! Heyman's got to see the line and catch that six-two Chicago flier."

Miss Delehanty fell into pose, her profile turned back over one shoulder.

"Tell him to chew a clove; it's good for breathless haste," she said, disappearing through portières into the show-room.

Miss Becker thrust herself from a hastily-found-out aperture, patting, with final touch, her belt into place.

"Have I been asking you for five years, Kess, to knock before you poke your head in on us girls?"

Mr. Leon Kessler appeared then fully between the curtains, letting them drape heavily behind him. Gotham garbs her poets and her brokers, her employers and employees, in the national pin-stripes and sack coat. Except for a few pins stuck upright in his coat lapel, Mr. Kessler might have been his banker or his salesman. Typical New-Yorker is the pseudo, half enviously bestowed upon his kind by hinter America. It signifies a bi-weekly manicure, femininely administered; a hotel lobbyist who can outstare a seatless guest; the sang-froid to add up a dinner check; spats. When Mr. Kessler tipped, it did not clink; it rustled. In theater, at each interval between acts, he piled out over ladies' knees and returned chewing a mint. He journeyed twice a year to a famous Southern spa, and there won or lost his expenses. He regarded Miss Becker, peering at her around the fluff of a suspended frock of pink tulle.

"What's the idea, Becker? Keokuk wants to see you in the wrap line."

Miss Becker swallowed hard, jamming down and pinning into a small taffy-colored turban, her hair, the exact shade of it, escaping in scallops. Carefully powdered-out lines of her face seemed to emerge suddenly through the conserved creaminess of her skin. Thirty-four, in its unguarded moments, will out. Miss Becker had almost detained twenty's waistline and twenty-two's ardent thrust of face. It was only the indentures of time that had begun to tell slightly—indentures that powder could not putty out. There was a slight bagginess of throat where the years love to eat in first, and out from the eyes a spray of fine lines. It was these lines that came out now indubitably.

"If you want me to lay down on you, Kess, for sure, just ask me to show the line again before lunch. I'm about ready to keel. And you can't put me off again. I'm ready, and you got to come now."

He dug so deeply into his pockets that his sleeves crawled up.

"Say, look here. I've got my business to attend to, and, when my trade's in town, my trade comes first. See? Take off and show Keokuk a few numbers. I want him to see that chinchilla drape."

She reached out, closing her hand over his arm.

"I'll show him the whole line, Kess, when we're back from lunch. I got to talk to you, I tell you. You put me off yesterday and the day before, and this—this is the last."

"The last what?"

"Please, Kess, if you only run over to Rinehardt's with me. I got to tell you something. Something about me and—and—"

He regarded her in some perplexity. "Tell it to me here. Now!"

"I can't. The girls'll be swarming in any minute. I can't get you anywheres but lunch. It's the first thirty minutes of your time I've asked in five years, Kess—is that little enough? Let Cissie show Keokuk the blouses till we get back. It's something, Kess, I can't put off. Kess, please!"

Her face was so close to him and so eager that he turned to back out.

"Wait for me at the Thirty-first Street entrance," he said, "and I'll shoot you across to Rinehardt's."

She caught up her small silk hand-bag and ran out toward the elevators. Down in Thirty-first Street a wave of heat met, almost overpowering her. New York, enervated from sleepless nights on fire-escapes and in bedrooms opening on areaways, moved through it at half-speed, hugging the narrow shade of buildings. Infant mortality climbed with the thermometer. In Fifth Avenue, cool, high bedrooms were boarded and empty. In First Avenue, babies lay naked on the floor, snuffing out for want of oxygen.

Across that man-made Grand Cañon men leap sometimes, but seldom. Mothers whose babies lie naked on the floor look out across it, damning.

Out into this flaying heat Miss Becker stepped gingerly, almost immediately rejoined by Mr. Leon Kessler, crowningly touched with the correct thing in straw sailors.

"Get a move on," he said, guiding her across the soft asphalt.

In Rinehardt's, one of a thousand such Rathskeller retreats designed for a city that loves to dine in fifteen languages, the noonday cortège of summer widowers had not yet arrived. Waiters moved through the dim, pink-lit gloom, dressing their tables temptingly cool and white, dipping ice out from silver buckets into thin tumblers.

They seated themselves beneath a ceiling fan, Miss Becker's taffy-colored scallops stirring in the scurry of air.

"Lordy!" she said, closing her eyes and pressing her finger-tips against them, "I wish I could lease this spot for the summer!"

He pushed a menu-card toward her. "What'll you have? There's plenty under the 'ready to serve.'"

She peeled out of her white-silk gloves.

"Some cold cuts and a long ice-tea."

He ordered after her and more at length, then lighted a cigarette.

"Well?" he said, waving out a match.

She leaned forward, already designing with her fork on the table-cloth.

"Kess, can you guess?"

"Come on with it!"

"Have you—noticed anything?"

"Say, I'd have a sweet time keeping up with you girls!"

She looked at him now evenly between the eyes.

"You kept up with me pretty close for three years, didn't you?"

"Say, you knew what you were doing!"

"I—I'm not so sure of that by a long shot. I—I was fed up with the most devilish kind of promises there are. The kind you was too smart to put in words or—or in writing. You—you only looked 'em."

"I suppose you was kidnapped one dark and stormy night while the villain pursued you, eh? Is that it?"

"Oh, what's the use—rehashing! After that time at Atlantic City and—and then the—flat, it—it just seemed the way I felt about you then—that nothing you wanted could be wrong. I guess I knew what I was doing all right, or, if I didn't, I ought to have. I was rotten—or I couldn't have done it, I guess. Only, deep inside of me I was waiting and banking on you like—like poor little Cissie is now. And you knew it; you knew it all them three years."

"Say, did you get me over here to—"

"I only hope to God when you're done with Cissie you'll—"

"You let me take care of my own affairs. If it comes right down to it, there's a few things I could tell you, girl, that ain't so easy to listen to. Let's get off the subject while the going's good."

"Oh, anybody that plays as safe as you—"

He raised his voice, shoving back his chair. "Well, if you want me to clear out of this place quicker than you can bat your eye, you just—"

"No, no, Kess! 'Sh-h-h-h!"

"If there ever was a girl in my place had a square deal, that girl's been you."

"'Square deal!' Because after I held on and—ate out my heart for three years, you didn't—take away my job, too? Somebody ought to pin a Carnegie medal on you!"

"You've held down a twenty-dollar-a-week job season in and season out, when there've been times it didn't even pay for the ink it took to write you on the pay-roll."

"There's nothing I ever got out of you I didn't earn three times over."

"A younger figure than yours is getting to be wouldn't hurt the line any, you know. It's because I make it a rule not to throw off the old girls when their waist-lines begin to spread that makes you so grateful, is it? There's not a firm in town keeps on a girl after she begins to heavy up. If you got to know why I took you off the dress line and put you in the wraps, it's because I seen you widening into a thirty-eight, and a darn poor one at that. I can sell two wraps off Cissie to one off you. You're getting hippy, girl, and, since you started the subject, you can be darn glad you know where your next week's salary's coming from."

She was reddening so furiously that even her earlobes, their tips escaping beneath the turban, were tinged.

"Maybe I—I'm getting hippy, Kess; but it'll take more than anything you can ever do for me to make up for—"

"Gad!" he said, flipping an ash in some disgust, "I wish I had a ten-cent piece for every one since!"

"Oh," she cried, her throat jerking, "you eat what you just said! You eat it, because you know it ain't so!"

"Now look here," he said, straightening up suddenly, "I don't know what your game is, but if you're here to stir up the old dust that's been laid for five years—"

"No, no, Kess! It's only that—what I got to tell you—I—it makes a difference, I—"

"What?"

"There's nothing in these years since, I swear to God, or in the years before, that I got to be ashamed of!"

"All right! All right!"

"If ever a girl came all of a sudden to her senses, it was me. If ever a girl has lived a quiet life, picking herself up and brushing the dust off, it's been me. Oh, I don't say I 'ain't been entertained by the trade—I didn't dodge my job—but it's been a straight kind of a time—straight!"

"I'm not asking for an alibi, Becker. What's the idea?"

"Kess," she said, leaning forward, with tears popping out in her eyes,
"I.W. Goldstone has asked me to marry him."

He laid down his roll in the act of buttering it, gazing across at her with his knife upright in his hand.

"Huh?"

"Night before last, Kess, in the poppy-room at Shalif's."

"Are you crazy?"

"It's the God's truth, Kess. He's begging me for an answer by to-night, before he goes back home."

"I.W. Goldstone, of Goldstone & Auer, ladies' wear?"

She nodded, her hand to her throat.

"Well, I'll be strung up!"

"He—he says, Kess, it's been on his mind for a year and a half, ever since his spring trip a year ago. He wants to take me back with him, Kess, home."

"Whew!" said Mr. Kessler, wiping his brow and the back of his collar.

"You're no more surprised than me, Kess. I—I nearly fell off the
Christmas tree."

"Good Lord! Why, his wife—he had her in the store it seems yesterday!"

"She's been dead four years and seven months, Kess."

"Old I.W. and you!"

"He's only fifty-two, Kess; I'm thirty-four."

"I.W. Goldstone!"

"I know it. I can't realize it, neither."

"Why, he's worth two hundred thousand, if he's worth a cent!"

"I know it, Kess."

"The old man's stringing you, girl. His kind stop, look, and listen."

"He's not stringing me! I tell you he's begging me to marry him and go back home with him. He's even told his—daughter about me."

"Good Lord—little Effie! I was out there once when she was a kid. Stopped off on my way to Hot Springs. They live in a kind of park—Forest Park Street or something or other. Why, I've done business with Goldstone & Auer for fifteen years, and my father before me! Good Lord!"

"What'll I do, Kess?"

"So that's the size of the fish you went out and landed!"

"I didn't! I didn't! He's been asking me out the last three trips, and post-cards in between, but I never thought nothing of it."

"Why, he can't get away with this!"

"Why?"

"They won't stand for it out in that Middle West town. He's the head of a big business. He's got a grown daughter."

"He's got her fixed, Kess—settled on her."

"Hattie Becker, Mrs. I.W. Goldstone! Gad! can you beat it? Can't you just see me, when I come out to St. Louis pretty soon, having dinner out at Mrs. I.W. Goldstone's house? Say, am I seeing things?"

"What'll I do, Kess? What'll I do?"

"I tell you that you can't get away with it, girl. The old man's getting childish; they'll have to have him restrained. Why, the woman he was married to for twenty years, Lenie Goldstone, never even seen a skirt-dance. I remember once he brought her to New York and then wouldn't let her see a cabaret show. He won't even buy sleeveless models for his French room."

"I tell you, Kess, he'll take me to Jersey to-morrow and marry me, if I give the word."

"Not a chance!"

"I tell you yes. That's why I got to see you. I got to tell him to-night, Kess. He—goes back to-morrow."

He regarded her slowly, watching her throat where it throbbed.

"Well, what are you going to do?"

"I—I don't know."

"Where do you stand with him? Sweet sixteen and never been kissed?"

"He—he don't ask questions, Kess. I—I'm his ideal, he says, of the—kind of—woman can take up for him where his wife left off. He says we're alike in everything but looks, and that a man who was happy in marriage like him can't be happy outside of it. He—he's sized up pretty well the way I live, and—and—he knows I don't expect too much out of life no more. Just a quiet kind of team-work, he puts it—pulling together fifty-fifty, and somebody's hand to hold on to when old fellow Time hits you a whack in the knees from behind. But he ain't old when he talks that way, Kess; he—he's beautiful to me."

"Does he wear a mask when he makes love?"

"He's got a fine face."

"So that's the way you're playing it, is it? Love-stuff?"

"Oh, I've had all the love-stuff knocked out of me. Three years of eating out my heart is about all the love-stuff I can handle for a while. He don't want that in a woman. I don't want it in him. He's just a plain, good man I never in my life could dream of having. A good home in a good town where life ain't like a red-eyed devil ready to hit in deep between the shoulder-blades. I know why he says he can see his wife in me. He knows I'm the kind was cut out for that kind of life—home and kitchen and my own parsley in my own back yard. He knows, if he marries me, carpet slippers seven nights in the week is my speed. I never want to see a 'roof,' or a music-show, or a cabaret again to the day I die. He knows I'll fit in home like a goldfish in its bowl. Life made a mistake with me, and it's going to square itself. It's fate, Kess; that's what it is—fate!"

She clapped her hands to her face, sobbing down into them.

He glanced about him in quick and nervous concern.

"Pull yourself together there, Becker; we're in a public place."

"If only I could go to him and tell him."

"Well, you can't."

"It's not you that keeps me. Only, I know that with his kind of man and at his age, a woman is—is one thing or another and that ends it. With a grown daughter, he wouldn't—couldn't—he's too set in his ways to know how it was with me—and—what'll I do, Kess?"

"Say, I'm not going to stand in your light, if that's what's eating you. If you can get away with it, I don't wish you nothing but well. Looks to me like all right, if you want to make the try. I'll even come and break bread with you when I go out to see my Middle West trade pretty soon. That's the kind of a hairpin I am."

"It's like I keep saying to myself, Kess. If—if he'd ask me anything, it—it would be different. He—he says he never felt so satisfied that a woman had the right stuff in her. And I have! There's nothing in the world can take that away from me. I can give him what he wants. I know I can. Why, the way I'll make up to that little girl out there and love her to death! I ask so little, Kess—just a decent life and rest—peace. I'm tired. I want to let myself get fat. I'm built that way, to get fat. It was nothing but diet gave me the anaemia last summer. He says he wants me to plump out. Perfect thirty-six don't mean nothing in his life except for the trade. No more rooming-houses with the kitchenette in the bath-room. A kitchen, he says, Kess, half the size of the show-room, with a butler's pantry. He likes to play pinochle at night, he says, next to the sitting-room fire. He tried to learn me the rules of the game the other night in the poppy-room. It's easy. His first wife was death on flowers. She used to train roses over their back fence. He loved to see her there. He wants me to like to grow them. He wants to take me back to a home of my own and peace, where life can't look to a girl like a devil with horns. He wants to take me home. What'll I do, Kess? Please, please, what'll I do?"

He was rather inarticulate, but reached out to pat her arm. "Go—to it—girl, and—God bless you!"

* * * * *

Forest Park Boulevard comes in sootily, smokestacks, gas-tanks, and large areas of scarred vacant lots boding ill enough for its destiny. But after a while, where Taylor Avenue bisects, it begins to retrieve itself. Here it is parked down its center, a narrow strip set out in shrubs, and on either side, traffic, thus divided, flows evenly up and down a macadamized roadway. In summer the shrubs thicken, half concealing one side of Forest Park Boulevard from its other. Houses suddenly take on detached and architectural importance, often as not a gravel driveway dividing lawns, and out farther still, where the street eventually flows into Forest Park, the Italian Renaissance invades, somebody's rococo money's worth.

I.W. Goldstone's home, so near the park that, in spring, the smell of lilacs and gasolene hovers over it, pretends not to period or dynasty. Well detached, and so far back from the sidewalk that interlocking trees conceal its second-story windows, an alcove was frankly a bulge on its red-brick exterior. Where the third-floor bath-room, an afterthought, led off the hallway, it jutted out, a shingled protuberance on the left end of the house. A tower swelled out of its front end, and all year round geraniums and boxed climbing vines bloomed in its three stories.

Across a generous ledge of veranda, more vines grew quite furiously, reaching their height and then growing down upon themselves. Behind those vines, and so cunningly concealed by them that not even the white wrapper could flash through to the passerby, Mrs. I.W. Goldstone, in a chair that would rock rhythmically with her, loved to sit in the first dusk of evening, pleasantly idle. A hose twirling on the lawn spun up the smell of green, abetted by similar whirlings down the wide vista of adjoining lawns. Occasionally, a prideful and shirt-sleeved landed proprietor wielded his own hose, flushing the parched sidewalk or shooting spray against hot bricks that drank in thirstily.

As Mrs. Goldstone rocked she smiled, tilting herself backward off the balls of her feet. The years had cropped out in her suddenly, surprisingly, and with a great deal of geniality. The taffy cast to her hair had backslid to ashes of roses. Uncorseted and in the white wrapper, she was quite frankly widespread, her hips fitting in tight between the chair-arms, and her knees wide.

A screen door snapped sharply shut on its spring, Mr. I.W. Goldstone emerging. There was a great rotundity to his silhouette, the generous outward curve to his waist-line giving to his figure a swayback erectness, the legs receding rather short and thin from the bay of waistcoat.

"Hattie?"

"Here I am, I.W."

"I looped up the sweet-peas."

"Good!"

He sat down beside her, wide-kneed, too, the smooth top of his head and his shirt sleeves spots in the darkness.

"Get dressed a little, Hattie, and I'll get out the car and ride you out to Forest Park Highlands."

She slowed, but did not cease to rock.

"It's so grand at home this evening, I.W. I'm too comfortable to even dress myself."

He felt for her hand in the gloom; she put it out to him.

"You huck home too much, Hattie."

"I guess I do, honey; but it's like I can never get enough of it. The first year I was a home body, and the second and third year I'm two of 'em."

"That's something you'll never hear me complain of in a woman. There's a world of good in the woman who loves her home."

"It's not that, I.W. It's because I—I never dreamed that there was anything like this coming to me. To live around in rooms, year in and year out, in the lonesomest town in the world, and then, all of a sudden, a home of your own and a hubby of your own and a daughter of your own, why—I dunno—sometimes when I think of them days it's like life was a big red devil with horns and a tail that I'd got away from. Why, if it was to get me again, I—I dunno, honey, I dunno—I—just—dunno."

"You're a good woman, Hattie, and you deserve all that's coming to you.
I wish it was more."

"And you're a good man—they don't come no better."

"I'm satisfied with my bargain."

"And me with mine, honey, if—if you don't mind the talk."

"S-ay, this town would talk if you cut its tongue out."

"You're my nice old hubby!"

"If I ever was a little uneasy it was in the beginning, Hattie—the girl—those things don't always turn out."

"It's her as much as me, I.W. She's the sweetest little thing."

"Never seen the like the way you took hold, though. I'll bet there's not one woman in a hundred could have worked it out easier."

"That's right—kid me to death."

"'Kid,' she says, the minute I tell her the truth."

"Put on your cap, I.W.; it's getting damp."

He felt under the chair-cushions, drawing out and adjusting a black skull-cap.

"Want to go to the picture-show awhile, Hattie?"

"No. When Lizzie's done the dishes, I want to set some dough."

"Let's walk, then, a little. I ate too much supper."

"Just in the side yard, I.W. It's a shame the way I don't dress evenings."

"S-ay, in your own home, shouldn't you have your own comfort? You can take it from me, Hattie, no matter what Effie tells you, you're twice the looking woman with some skin on your bones. I want my wife when she sits down to table she should not look blue-faced when the gravy is passed. Maybe it's not the style, but if it suits your old man, we should worry who else it suits."

"It's not right, I.W., but I love it—this feeling at home for—for good." She rose out of the low mound she had made in the chair, tucking up the white wrapper at both sides. "Come; let's walk in the side yard."

A narrow strip of asphalt ran across the housefrontage, turning in a generous elbow and then back the depth of the lot. They paced it quietly in the gloom, arm in arm, and their voices under darkness.

"Next month is my New York trip. All of a sudden Effie begs I should take her. We'll all go. What you say, Hattie? It'll do us good."

"You take the kid, I.W. Lizzie needs watching. Yesterday I had to make her do the whole butler's pantry over. She just naturally ain't clean."

"You got such luck with your roses, Hattie; it's wonderful!"

They were beneath a climbing bush of them that ran along, glorifying a wooden fence.

She pulled a fan of them to her face. "M-m-m-m!"

"I must spray for worms to-morrow," he said.

They resumed their soft walking in the gloom. "Where's Effie?"

"Telephoning."

"I ask you, is it a shame a child should hang on to the telephone an hour at a time? Fifty minutes since she was interrupted from supper she's been there."

"What's the harm in a young girl telephoning, I.W.? All young folks like to gad over the wire."

"What can a girl have to say over the telephone for fifty minutes?
Altogether in my life I never talked that long into the telephone."

"Let the child alone, I.W."

"Who can she get to listen to her for fifty minutes?"

"Birdie Harberger usually calls up at this time."

"Always at supper-time! Never in my life has that child sat down at the table it don't ring in our faces. The next time what it happens you can take sides with her all you want, not one step does she move till she's finished with her supper."

"As easy with her as you are, I.W., just as unreasonable you can get."

"On the stairs-landing for an hour a child should giggle into the telephone! I'm ashamed for the operators. You take sides with her yet."

"I don't, I.W.; only—"

"You do!"

A patch of light from an upper window sprang then across their path.

"She's in her room now, I.W.!" cried Mrs. Goldstone. "She hasn't been telephoning all this time at all. Now, crosspatch!"

"You know much! Can't you see she just lit up? Effie!"

A voice came down to them, clear and with a quality to it like the ring of thin glass.

"Coming, pop!"

The light flashed out again, and in a length of time that could only have meant three steps at a bound she was around the elbow of the asphalt walk, a coat dangling off one arm, her summery skirts flying backward and her head ardently forward.

"You'll never guess!"

She flung herself between the two of them, linking into each of their elbows.

"By my watch, Effie, fifty minutes! If it happens again that you get rung up supper-time, I—"

"It was Leon Kessler, pop; he didn't leave on the six-two. Can you beat it? Down at the station he got to thinking of me and turned back. Oh, my golly! how the boys love me!"

She was jumping now on the tips of her toes, her black curls bouncing.

"You don't tell me!" said Mr. Goldstone. "To-day in the store he says he must be back in New York by Monday morning."

She thrust her face outward, its pink-and-white vividness very close to his.

"Is my daddy's daughter going out in a seventy horse-power to Delmar
Garden? She is!"

"Them New York boys spend too much money on the girls when they come.
They spoil them for the home young men."

"Can I help it if he couldn't tear himself away?"

"S-ay, don't fool yourself! I said to him to-day he should stay over Sunday. After the bill of goods I bought from him this morning, and the way he only comes out to see his trade once in five or six years, he should stay and mix with them a little longer. That fellow knows good business."

She turned her face with a fling of curls to the right of her, linking closer into the soft arm there.

"Listen to him, Mamma Hat! Let's shove a brick house over on him."

When Mrs. Goldstone finally spoke there was a depth to her voice that seemed to create sudden quiet.

"Effie, Effie, why didn't you let him go?"

"Let him? Did I tie any strings to him? I said good-by to him in the store this afternoon. Can I help it that the boys love me? Why didn't I let him go, she says!"

Her father pinched her slyly at that. "Echta fresh kid," he said.

To her right, the hand at her arm clung closer.

"Effie, you—you're so young, honey. Leon Kessler's an old-timer—"

"I hate kids. Give me a man every time. I like them when they've got enough sense to—"

"Why didn't you let him go, Effie? Ain't I right, I.W.? Ain't I right?"

"S-ay, what's the difference if he likes to show her a good time? If I was a young man, I wouldn't pass her up myself."

"But, I.W., she's—so young!"

"Who's young? I'm nineteen, going on—"

"You've been running with him all the three days he's been here, honey.
What's the use getting yourself talked about?"

"Well, any girl in town would be glad to get herself talked about if
Leon Kessler was rushing her."

"Effie, I won't let you—I won't—"

Miss Goldstone unhinged her arm, jerking it free in anger.

"Well, I like that!"

"Effie, I—"

"You ain't my boss!"

"Effie!"

"But, papa, she—"

There was a booming in Mr. Goldstone's voice and a suddenly projected vibrancy.

"You apologize to your mother—this minute! You talk to your mother the way you know she's to be talked to!"

"I.W., she didn't—"

"You hear me!"

"I.W.! Don't holler at her; she—"

"She ain't your boss? Well, she just is your boss! You take back them words and say you're sorry! You apologize to your mother!" Immediate sobs were rumbling up through Miss Goldstone.

"Well, she—I—I didn't do anything. She's down on him. She—"

"Oh, Effie, would I say anything if it wasn't for your own good?"

"You—you were down on him from the start!"

"Effie darling, you must be mad! Would I say anything if it wasn't for our girl's good to—"

"I—oh, Mamma Hat, I'm sorry, darling! I never meant a word. I didn't! I didn't, darling!"

They embraced there in the shrouding darkness, the tears flowing.

"Oh, Effie—Effie!"

"I didn't mean one word I said, darling! I just get nasty like that before I know it. I didn't mean it!"

"My own Effie!"

"My darling Mamma Hat!"

In the shadow of a flowering shrub Mr. Goldstone stood by, mopping. Mrs.
Goldstone took the small face between her hands, peering down into it.

"Effie, Effie, don't let—"

Just beyond the enclosing hedge, a motor-car drew up, honking, at the curb, two far-flung paths of light whitening the street and a disused iron negro-boy hitching-post. Miss Goldstone reared back.

"That's him!"

"Effie!"

"Let me go, dearie; let me go!"

"But, Effie—"

"Say, Hattie, I don't want to butt in, but it don't hurt the child should go riding a little while out by Delmar Garden—a man that can handle a car like Leon Kessler. Anyways, it don't pay to hurt the firm's feelings."

There was a constant honking now at the curb, and violent throbbing of engine.

"But, I.W.—"

"Popsie darling, I'll be back early. Mamma Hat, please!"

"Your mother says yes, baby. Tell Kess he should come for Sunday dinner to-morrow."

She was a white streak across the grass, her nervous feet flying. Almost instantly the honk of a horn came streaming back, faint, fainter.

Left standing there, Goldstone was instantly solicitous of his wife, feeling along her arm up under the loose sleeve.

"It don't pay, Hattie, to hurt Kessler's feelings, and, anyhow, what's the difference just so we know who she's running with? It's like this house was a honey-pot and the boys flies."

She turned to him now with her voice full of husk, and even in the dark her face bleached and shrunken from its plumpness.

"You oughtn't to let her! You—hadn't the right! She's too young and too—sweet for a man like him. You oughtn't to let her!"

He stepped out in front of her, taking her by the elbows and holding them close down against her sides.

"Why, Hattie, that child's own mother that loved her like an angel couldn't worry no more foolishly about her than you do. Gad! I think you wimmin love it! It was the same kind of worrying shortened her mother's life. Always about nothing, too. 'Lenie,' I used to say to her, just to quiet her, 'it was worry killed a Maltese cat; don't let it kill you.' That child is all right, Hattie. What if he does like her pretty well? Worse could happen."

"No, it couldn't! No!"

"Why not? He 'ain't seen her since a child, and all of a sudden he comes
West and finds in front of him an eye-opener."

"He's twice her age—more!"

"The way girls demand things nowadays, a man has got to be twice her age before he can provide for her. Leon Kessler is big rich."

"He—he's fast."

"Show me the one that 'ain't sowed his wild oats. Them's the kind that settle down quickest into good husbands."

"He—"

"S-ay, it 'ain't happened yet. I'm the last one to wish my girl off my hands. I only say not a boy in this town could give it to her so good. Fifteen years I've done business with that firm, and with his father before him. A-1 house! S-ay, I should worry that he ain't a Sunday-school boy. Show me the one that is. Your old man in his young days wasn't such a low flier, neither, if anybody should ask you." He made a whirring noise in his throat at that, pinching her cold cheek. She was walking rapidly now toward the house. "Well, since our daughter goes out riding in a six-thousand-dollar car, to show that we're sports, lets her father and mother take themselves out for a ride in their six-hundred-dollar car. I drive you out as far as Yiddle's farm for some sweet butter, eh?"

"No, no; I'm cold. It's getting damp."

"S-ay, you can't hurt my feelings. On a cool night like this, a brand-new sleeping-porch ain't the worst spot in the world."

They were on the veranda, the hall light falling dimly out and over them.

"She's so young—"

"Now, now, Hattie; worry killed a Maltese cat. Come to bed."

"You go. I want to wait up."

"Hattie, you want to make of yourself the laughingstock of the neighborhood. A grown-up girl goes out riding with a man like Leon Kessler, and you wants to wait up and catch your death of cold. If we had more daughters, I wouldn't have no more wife; I'd have a shadow from worry. Come!"

"I'll be up in a minute, I.W."

He regarded her in some concern.

"Why, Hattie, if there's anything in the world to worry about, wouldn't
I be the first? Ain't you well?"

"Yes."

"Then come. I'll get a pitcher of ice-water to take up-stairs."

"I'll be up in a minute."

"I don't want, Hattie, you should wait up for that child and take your death of cold. Because I sleep like a log when I once hit the bed, don't you play no tricks on me."

"I'll be up in a minute, I.W."

He moved into the house and, after a while, to the clinking of ice against glass, up the stairs.

"Come, Hattie; and be sure and leave the screen door unhooked for her."

"Yes, I.W."

An hour she sat in the shrouded darkness of the elbow of the veranda. Street noises died. The smell of damp came out. Occasionally a motor-car sped by, or a passer-by, each step clear on the asphalt. The song of crickets grated against the darkness. An infant in the right-side house raised a fretful voice once or twice, and then broke into a sustained and coughy fit of crying. Lights flashed up in the windows, silhouettes moving across drawn shades. Then silence again. The university clock, a mile out, chimed twelve, and finally a sonorous one. Mrs. Goldstone lay huddled in her chair, vibrant for sound. At two o'clock the long, high-power car drew up at the curb again, this time without honking. She sat forward, trembling.

There followed a half-hour of voices at the curb, a low voice of undeniable tensity, high laughter that shot up in joyous geysers. It was a fifteen-minute process from the curb to the first of the porch steps, and then Mrs. Goldstone leaned forward, her voice straining to keep its pitch.

"Effie!"

The young figure sprang around the porch pillar.

"Mamma Hat! Honey, you didn't wait up for me?"

Mr. Kessler came forward, goggles pushed up above his cap-visor.

"Well, I'm hanged! What did you think—that I was kidnapping the kid?"

"How—how dared you! It's after two, and—"

Miss Goldstone began then to jump again upon her toes, linking her arm in his.

"Tell her, Leon! Tell her! Oh, Mamma Hat! Mamma Hat!"

She was suddenly in Mrs. Goldstone's arms, her ardent face burning through the white wrapper.

Mr. Kessler removed his cap, flinging it upward again and catching it.

"Tell her, Leon!"

"Well, what would you say, Becker, what would you say if I was to come out here and swipe that little darling there?"

"Oh, Leon—kidder!"

"If—what?"

"I said it!"

"Tell her, Kess; tell it out! Oh, mommie, mommie!"

He leaned forward with his hand on the back of the turbulent head of curls.

"You little darling, I'm going to put you on my back and carry you off to New York."

"Oh, mommie," cried Miss Goldstone, flinging back her head so that her face shone up, "he asked me in Delmar Garden! We're going to live in New York, darling, and Rockaway in summer. He don't care a rap about the New York girls compared to me. We're going to Cuba on our honeymoon. I'm engaged, darling! I got engaged to-night!"

"That's the idea, Twinkle-pinkle. I'd carry you off to-night if I could!"

"Mommie Hat, ain't you glad?"

"Effie—Effie—"

"Mommie, what is it? What's the matter, darling? What?"

"I—it's just that I got cold, honey, sitting here waiting—the surprise and all. Run, honey, and get me a drink. Crack some ice, dearie, and then run up-stairs in the third floor back and see if there's some brandy up there. Be sure to look for—the brandy. I—I'll be all right."

"My poor, darling, cold mommie!"

She was off on the slim, quick feet, the screen door slamming and vibrating.

Then Mrs. Goldstone sprang up.

"You wouldn't dare! Such a baby—you wouldn't dare!"

"Dare what?"

"You can't have the child! You can't!"

"What do you mean?"

"What do I mean?"

He advanced a step, his voice and expression lifted in incredulity.

"Say, look here, Becker, are you stark, raving crazy? Is it possible you don't know that, in your place, nobody but a crazy woman would open her mouth?"

"Maybe; but I don't care. Just leave her alone, Kess, please! That little baby can stand nothing but happiness."

"Why, woman, you're crazy with the heat. If you want to know it, I'm nuts over that little kid. Gad! never ran across anything so full of zip in my life! I'm going to make life one joy ride after another for that joy baby. That kid's the showpiece of the world. She's got me so hipped I'm crazy, and the worst of it is I like it. You don't need to worry. As the boys say, when I settle down, I'm going to settle hard."

"You ain't fit to have her!"

"Say, the kind of life I've lived I ain't ashamed to tell her own father. He's a man, and I'm a man, and life's life."

"You—"

"Now look here, Becker. That'll be about all. If you're in your right senses, you're going to ring the joy bells louder than any one around here. What you got on your chest you can just as well cut your throat as tell; so we'll both live happy ever after. There's not one thing in my life that any jury wouldn't pass, and—"

"I've seen you drunk."

"Well, what of it? It took three of us to yank old I.W. out from under the table at my sister's wedding."

"You—What about you and Cissie and—"

The light run of feet, and almost instantly Miss Goldstone was pirouetting in between them.

"Here, dearie! There wasn't anything like brandy up in the third floor. I found some cordial in the pantry. Drink it down, dearie; it'll warm you."

They hovered together, Miss Goldstone trembling between solicitude and her state of intensity.

"Kessie darling, you've got to go now. I want to get mommie up-stairs to bed. You got to go, darling, until to-morrow. Oh, why isn't it tomorrow? I want everybody to know. Don't let on, Mamma Hat. I'll pop it on popsie at breakfast while I'm opening his eggs for him. You come for breakfast, Leon. You're in the family now." He lifted her bodily from her feet, pressing a necklace of kisses round her throat.

"Good night, Twinkle-pinkle, till to-morrow."

"Good night, darling. I won't sleep a wink, waiting for you."

"Me, neither."

"One more, darling—a French one."

"Two for good measure."

"Sleep tight, beautiful! Good night!"

"Good night, beautifulest!"

She stood poised forward on the topmost step, watching him between backward waves of the hand crank, throw his clutch, and steer off. Then she turned inward, a sigh trembling between her lips.

"Oh, Mamma Hat, I—"

But Mrs. Goldstone's chair was empty. Into it with a second and more tremulous sigh sank Miss Goldstone, her lips lifted in the smile that had been kissed.

When Mr. Goldstone slept, every alternate breath started with a rumble somewhere down in the depths of him and, drawn up like a chain from a well, petered out into a thin whistle before the next descent. Beside him, now, on her knees, Mrs. Goldstone shook at his shoulder.

"I.W.! I.W.! Quick! Wake up!"

He let out a shuddering, abysmal breath.

"I.W.! Please!"

He moaned, turning his face from her.

She tugged him around again, now raising his face between her hands from the pillow.

"I.W.! Try to wake up! For God's sake, I.W.!" He sprang up in a terrified daze, sitting upright in bed.

"My God! Who? What's wrong? Effie! Hattie."

"No, no; don't get excited, I.W. It's me—Hattie!"

"What?"

"Nothing, I.W. Nothing to get excited about. Only I got to tell you something."

"Where's Effie?"

"She's home."

"What time is it?"

"Three."

"Come back to bed, then; you got the nightmare."

"No, no!"

"You ain't well, Hattie? Let me light up."

"No, no; only, I got to tell you something! I 'ain't been to bed; I been waiting up, and—"

"And what?"

"She just came home—engaged!"

"My God! Effie?"

He blinked in the darkness, drawing up his knees to a hump under the sheet.

"Engaged—how?"

"I.W., don't you remember? Wake up, honey. To Kess, to Leon Kessler that she went automobiling with."

"Our Effie engaged—to Leon Kessler?"

"Yes, I.W.—our little Effie!"

A smile spread over his face slowly, and he clasped his hands in an embrace about his knees.

"You don't tell me!"

"Oh, I.W., please—"

"Our little girl. S-ay, how poor Lenie would have loved this happiness!
Our little girl engaged to get married!"

"I.W., she—"

"We do the right thing by them—eh, Hattie? Furnish them up as many rooms as they want. But, s-ay, they don't need help from us. He's a lucky boy who gets her, I don't care who he is. Her papa's little Effie, a baby—old enough to get engaged!"

"I.W., she's too—young. Don't give him our little Effie; she's too young!"

"I married her mother, Hattie, when she wasn't yet eighteen."

"I know, I.W., but not to Leon Kessler. She's such a baby, I.W.
He—didn't I work for him nine years, I.W.—don't I know what he is!"

"I'm surprised, Hattie, you should hold so against a man his wild oats."

"Then why ain't oats for the man oats for the woman? It's the men that sow the wild oats and the women—us women that's got to reap them!"

"S-ay, life is life. Do you want to put your head up against a brick wall?"

"A wall that men built!"

"It's always hard, Hattie, for good women like you and like poor Lenie was to understand. It's better you don't. You shouldn't even think about it."

"But, I.W.—"

"If I didn't know Leon Kessler was no worse than ninety-nine good husbands in a hundred, you think I would let him lay a finger on the apple of my eye? I don't understand, Hattie; all of a sudden this evening, you're so worked up. Instead of happiness, you come like with a funeral. Is that why you wake me up out of a sleep? To cry about it? Don't think, Hattie, that just as much as you I haven't got the good of my child at heart. Out of a sound sleep she wakes me to cry because a happiness has come to us. Leon Kessler can have any girl in this town he wants. Maybe he wasn't a Sunday-school boy in his day—but say, show me one that was."

She drew herself up, grasping him at the shoulders.

"I.W., don't let him have our little Effie!"

"Nonsense!" he said, in some distaste for her voice choked with tears. "Cut out this woman foolishness now and come to bed. Is this something new you're springing on me? I got no patience with women who indulge themselves with nervous breakdowns. I never thought, Hattie, you had nothing like that in you."

Her voice was rising now in hysteria, slipping up frequently beyond her control.

"If you do, I can't stand it! I can't stand it, I.W.!"

He peered at her in the starlight that came down through the screened-in top of the sleeping-porch.

"Why?" he said, suddenly awake, and shortly.

"I worked for him nine years, I.W. I—I know him."

"How?"

"I know him, I.W. She's too good for him."

"How do you know him?"

"I—the girls, I.W. One little girl now, Cissie—I—I hear it all from my friend Delehanty—sometimes she—she writes to me. I—the models and—the girls and—and the lady buyers—they—they used to gossip in the factory and—I—I used to hear about it. I.W., don't! Let go! You hurt!" His teeth and his hands were very tight, and he hung now over the side of the bed and toward her.

"He—I.W.—he—"

"He what? He what?"

"He—ain't good enough."

"I say he is!"

"But he—I.W.—she—she's such a baby and he—he—. You hurt!"

"Then tell me, he what?"

"I.W., you're hurting me!"

"He what—do you hear?—he what?"

"Don't make me say it! Don't! It—it just happened—with him meaning one thing all the time and—me another. I was thrown with that kind of a crowd, I.W., all my life. All the girls, they—It don't make me worse than it makes him. With me it was once; with him it's—it's—I didn't know, I.W. My mother she died that year before, and—I needed the job, and I swear to God, I.W., I—kept hoping even if he never put it in words he'd fix it. Kill me, if you want to, I.W., but don't throw our Effie to him! Don't! Don't! Don't!"

She was pounding the floor with her bare palms, her face so distorted that the mouth drawn tight over the teeth was as wide and empty as a mask's, and sobs caught and hiccoughed in her throat.

"I didn't know, I.W.! Don't kill me for what I didn't know!"

She crouched back from his knotted face, and he sprang then out of bed, nightshirt flapping about his knees, and his fists and his bulging eyes raised to the quiet stars.

"God," he cried, "help me to keep hold of myself! Help me! You—you—"

His voice was so high and so tight in his throat that it stuck, leaving him in inarticulate invocation.

"I.W.!"

"My child engaged to—to her mother's—you—you—"

"I.W.! Do you see now? You wouldn't let him have her! You wouldn't,
I.W.! Tell me you wouldn't!"

"I want him if he touches her to be struck dead! I want him to be struck dead!"

"Thank God!" said Mrs. Goldstone, weeping now tears that eased her breathing.

Suddenly he leaned toward her, his voice rather quieter, but his forefinger waggling out toward the open door.

"You go!" he said, and then in a gathering hurricane of fury, "go!"

"I.W., don't yell! Don't! Don't!"

"Go—while I'm quiet. Go—you hear?"

She edged around him where he stood, in fear of his white, crouched attitude.

"I.W.!"

He made a step toward her, and, at the sound in his throat, she ran out into the hallway and down the stairs to the porch. In the deep shade of the veranda's elbow a small figure lay deep in sleep in the wicker rocker, one bare arm up over her head and lips parted.

In a straight chair beside her Mrs. Goldstone sat down. She was shuddering with chill and repeating to herself, quite aloud and over and over again:

"What have I done? What have I done? What have I done?"

She was suddenly silent then, staring out ahead, her hands clutching the chair-arms.

To her inflamed fancy, it was as if, beyond the hedge, the old disused hitching-post had become incarnate and, in the form of her naive and horned conception, was coming toward her with the whites of his eyes bloodshot.