White Goods, by Fannie Hurst

Humoresque

On a slope a white sprinkling of wood anemones lay spread like a patch of linen bleaching in the sun. From a valley a lark cut a swift diagonal upward with a coloratura burst of song. A stream slipped its ice and took up its murmur where it had left off. A truant squelched his toes in the warm mud and let it ooze luxuriantly over and between them.

A mole stirred in its hole, and because spring will find a way, even down in the bargain basement of the Titanic Store, which is far below the level of the mole, Sadie Barnet, who had never seen a wood anemone and never sniffed of thaw or the wet wild smell of violets, felt the blood rise in her veins like sap, and across the aisle behind the white-goods counter Max Meltzer writhed in his woolens, and Sadie Barnet, presiding over a bin of specially priced mill-ends out mid-aisle between the white goods and the muslin underwear, leaned toward him, and her smile was as vivid as her lips.

"Say, Max, guess why I think you're like a rubber band."

Classic Delphi was never more ready with ambiguous retort.

Behind a stack of Joy-of-the-Loom bed-sheets, Max Meltzer groped for oracular divination, and his heart-beats fluttered in his voice.

"Like a rubber band?"

"Yeh."

"Give up."

"Aw, give a guess."

"Well, I don't know, Miss Sadie, unless—unless it's because I'm stuck on you."

Do not, ascetic reader, gag at the unsocratic plane. True, Max Meltzer had neither the grain nor the leisure of a sophist, a capacity for tenses or an appreciation of Kant. He had never built a bridge, led a Bible class, or attempted the first inch of the five-foot bookshelf. But on a two-figure salary he subscribed an annual donation to a skin-and-cancer hospital, wore non-reversible collars, and maintained a smile that turned upward like the corners of a cycle moon. Remember, then, ascetic reader, that a rich man once kicked a leper; Kant's own heart, that it might turn the world's heart outward, burst of pain; and in the granite cañon of Wall Street, one smile in every three-score and ten turns upward.

Sadie Barnet met Max Meltzer's cycle-moon smile with the blazing eyes of scorn, and her lips, quivering to a smile, met in a straight line that almost ironed out the curves.

"'Cause you're stuck on me! That's a swell guess. Gee! you're as funny as a sob, you are."

The words scuttered from her lips like sharp hailstones and she glanced at him sidewise over a hump of uplifted shoulder and down the length of one akimbo arm.

"'Cause you're stuck on me! Huh!"

Max Meltzer leaned across a counter display of fringed breakfast napkins.

"Ain't that a good reason, Miss Sadie? It's a true one."

"You're one swell little guesser, you are not. You couldn't get inside a riddle with a can-opener. 'Cause you're stuck on me! Gee!"

"Well, I am."

"I didn't ask you why you was like a bottle of glue. I asked you why you was like a rubber band."

"Aw, I give up, Miss Sadie."

"'Cause you're so stretchy, see? 'Cause you're so stretchy you'll yawn your arm off if you don't watch it."

Max Meltzer collapsed in an attitude of mock prostration against a stock-shelf.

"Gee! that must have been cracked before the first nut."

"Smarty!"

Across the specially priced mill-ends she flashed the full line of her teeth, and with an intensity his features ill concealed he noted how sweet her throat as it arched.

"It's the spring fever gets inside of me and makes me so stretchy, Miss Sadie. It's a good thing trade is slow down here in the basement to-day, because it's the same with me every year; the Saturday before spring-opening week I just get to feeling like all outdoors."

"Wait till you see me with a new red-satin bow stuck on my last summer's shape. Dee Dee's got to lend me the price for two yards of three-inch red-satin ribbon for my spring opening."

His breath rose in his throat.

"I bet you look swell in red, Miss Sadie. But a girl like you looks swell in anything."

"Red's my color. Dee Dee says my mamma was a gay one, too, when it came to color. Had to have a red bow pinned somewheres around all the months she was in bed and—and up to the very night she died. Gimme red every time. Dee Dee's the one that's always kicking against red; she says I got too flashy taste."

"Say, if she keeps bossing and bossing at you, what do you keep on living with her for?"

"Wouldn't you live with your own mother's sister if she raised you from a kid? What am I going to do, put her in cold storage, now that her eyes are going back on her? Up in the ribbons she can't hardly keep her colors graduated no more, that's how blind she's getting. Only yesterday a dame brought back some lavender ribbon and wiped up the whole department with Dee Dee for putting it over on her as blue. What am I going to do?"

"Honest, Miss Sadie, I didn't know that she was your aunt and that her eyes was bad. I've seen you two together a lot and noticed her thick lenses, but I just didn't think."

"Well, now I'm telling you."

"I just thought she was some old girl up in the ribbons you was living with for company. Honest, I didn't know she had bad eyes. Gee!"

"No, they ain't bad. Only she's so blind she reads her paper upside down and gets sore if you tell her about it."

"And me thinking she was nothing but a near-sighted old grouch with a name like a sparrow."

Miss Barnet laughed with an upward trill.

"Dee Dee ain't her real name. When I was a kid and she took me to raise, that's the way I used to pronounce Aunt Edith. Gee! you don't think Dee Dee was the name they sprinkled on her when they christened her, did you?"

Max Meltzer leaned to the breath of her laughter as if he would fill his lungs with it.

"Gee! but you're a cute little lady when you laugh like that."

"Say, and ain't you the freshie! Just because you're going to be promoted to buyer for your department won't get your picture in the Sunday supplement. No white-goods buyer I know of ever had to build white marble libraries or present a bread-line to the city to get rid of his pin-money."

"I bet you was a cute little black-eyed, red-cheeked little youngster, alrighty."

"I wasn't so worse. Like I tell Dee Dee, the way she's held me down and indoors evenings, it's a wonder a kid like me grew up with any pep at all."

"Poor little lady!"

"It's like Dee Dee says, though. I never was cut out for life behind the counter. Gee! I'd soak my pillow in gasolene every night in the week if it would make me dream I'm automobiling."

"Poor little lady!"

"Say, ain't it hot? With the Opening on Monday, they better get the fans working. Last year three girls keeled. Honest, sometimes I think I'd rather spend the summer under the daisies out on the hill than down here in this basement."

"Don't I wish I had an auto to take you spinning in to-night."

"You ought to see the flier a friend of mine has got. A Mercury Six with a limousine top like a grand-opera box."

"Your—your—friend?"

"Yes. He's that slick-looking, little fat fellow that's a cousin to Mamie Grant up in the ready-to-wears. He was down here talking to me the other day."

"I seen him."

"Gee! you ought to feel yourself in his Mercury Six. 'Lemme die,' I says to him the last time I was in it. 'Just lemme close my eyes right in here and die happy,' I says, cuddled up in the red-leather seat with a cornucopia of daffodils tickling my nose and a street-car full of strap-hangers riding along-side of us."

"I—I guess if you got swell friends like that, a boat excursion down the river 'ain't got much of a sound for you."

"He says he's got a launch in summer—"

"Honest, Miss Sadie, I—I just been trying for the better part of two weeks to ask permission if I could come and call on you some evening, Miss Sadie, but—"

"Whoops! ain't he the daredevil!"

"The first boat of the season, Miss Sadie, a swell new one they call the White Gull, goes down to Coney to-night, and, it being real springtime, and you feeling kind of full of it, I thought maybe, it being the first boat of the season, maybe you would take a river ride this grand April night, Miss Sadie."

Her glance slanted toward him, full of quirks.

"My aunt Dee Dee, Mr. Meltzer, she's right strict with me. She don't think I ought to keep company with any boys that don't come to see me first at my house."

"I know it, Miss Sadie; that's the right way to do it, but I think I can get around her all right. Wasn't she down here in the basement the day I first heard about my promotion, and didn't she give me the glad hand and seem right friendly to me? I can get around her all right, Miss Sadie. I can always tell if a person likes me or not."

"Anyways, if her eyes ain't too bad, Mr. Meltzer, I got a date with my friend if his car is out of the shop from having the limousine top taken off. We—we're going for a little spin."

A quick red belied her insouciance and she made a little foray into the bin of mill-ends.

"Gee! if I've made three sales this livelong day I don't know nothing about two of them."

Max Meltzer met her dancing gaze, pinioning it with his own quiet eyes.

"You're right to pick out the lucky fellows who can buy a good time. A little girl like you ought to have every enjoyment there is. If I could give it to you, do you think I would let the other fellows beat me to it? The best ain't none too good for a little lady like you."

"Aw, Mr. Meltzer!" Her bosom filled and waned. "Aw, Mr. Meltzer!"

"I mean it."

An electric bell grilled through his words. Miss Barnet sprang reflexly from the harness of an eight-hour day.

"Aw, looka, and I wanted to sneak up before closing and get Dee Dee to snip me two yards of red satin, and she won't cut an inch after the bell. Ain't that luck for you? Ain't that luck?"

Her lips drew to a pout.

"Lemme get it for you, Miss Sadie. I know a girl up in the ribbons—"

"No, no, Mr. Meltzer. I—I got to charge it to Dee Dee, and, anyways, she gets mad like anything if I keep her waiting. I gotta go. 'Night, Mr. Meltzer! 'Night!"

She was off through the maze of the emptying store, in the very act of pinning on her little hat with its jaunty imitation fur pompon, and he breathed in as she passed, as if of the perfume of her personality.

At the ribbon counter on the main floor the last of a streamlet of outgoing women detached herself from the file as Miss Barnet ascended the staircase.

"Hurry up, Sadie."

"Dee Dee! How'd you girls up here get on your duds so soon? I thought maybe if I'd hurry upstairs you—you'd find time to cut me a two-yard piece of three-inch red satin for my hat, Dee Dee—to-morrow being Sunday. Two yards, Dee Dee, and that'll make two-sixty-nine I owe you. Aw, Dee Dee, it won't take a minute, to-morrow Sunday and all! Aw, Dee Dee!"

Miss Barnet slid ingratiating fingers into the curve of the older woman's arm; her voice was smooth as salve.

"Aw, Dee Dee, who ever heard of wearing fur on a hat in April? I gotta stick a red bow on my last summer's sailor, Dee Dee."

Miss Edith Worte stiffened so that the muscles sprang out in the crook of her arm and the cords in her long, yellowing neck. Years had dried on her face, leaving ravages, and through her high-power spectacles her pale eyes might have been staring through film and straining to see.

"Please, Dee Dee!"

Miss Barnet held backward, a little singsong note of appeal running through her voice.

Miss Worte jerked forward toward the open door. April dusk, the color of cold dish-water, showed through it. Dusk in the city comes sadly, crowding into narrow streets and riddled with an immediate quick-shot of electric bulbs.

"'Ain't you got no sense a-tall? 'Ain't you got no sense in that curly head of yourn but ruination notions?"

"Aw, Dee Dee!"

They were in the flood tide which bursts through the dam at six o'clock like a human torrent flooding the streets, then spreading, thinning, and finally seeping into homes, hall bedrooms, and Harlem flats.

Miss Edith Worte turned her sparse face toward the down-town tide and against a light wind that tasted of rain and napped her skirts around her thin legs.

"Watch out, Dee Dee! Step down; there's a curb."

"I don't need you. It's lots you care if I go blind on the spot."

"Dee Dee!"

"God! if I didn't have nothing to worry me but red ribbons! I told the doctor to-day while he was putting the drops in my eyes, that if he'd let me go blind I—I—"

"Now, now, Dee Dee! Ain't you seeing better these last few days?"

"If you had heard what the doctor told me to-day when he put the drops in my eyes you'd have something to think about besides red ribbon, alrighty."

"I forgot, Dee Dee, to-day was your eye-doctor day. He's always scarin' you up. Just don't pay no attention. I forgot it was your day."

"Sure you forgot. But you won't forget if I wake up alone in the dark some day."

"Dee Dee!"

"You won't forget then. You won't forget to nag me even then for duds to go automobiling with fly men that can't bring you no good."

"Dee Dee, I 'ain't been but one night this week. I been saving up all my nights for—for to-night."

"To-night. Say, I can't keep you from going to the devil on skates if—"

"It's only the second time this week, Dee Dee, and I—I promised. He'll have the limousine top off to-night—and feel, it is just like summer. A girl's gotta have a little something once in a while."

"What do I gotta have? What do I gotta have but slave and work?"

"It's different with you, Dee Dee. You're older even than my mamma was, and didn't you say when you and her was girls together there wasn't a livelier two sisters? Now didn't you, Dee Dee?"

"In a respectable way, yes. But there wasn't the oily-mouthed, bald-headed divorced man alive, with little rat eyes and ugly lips, who could have took me or your mamma out auto-riding before or after dark. We was working-girls, too, but there wasn't a man didn't take off his hat to us, even if he was bald-headed and it was twenty below zero."

"Aw!"

"Yes, 'aw'! You keep running around with the kind of men that don't look at a girl unless she's served up with rum-sauce and see where it lands you. Just keep running if you want to, but my money don't buy you no red ribbons to help to drive you to the devil!"

"The way you keep fussing at me, when I don't even go to dances like the other girls! I—sometimes I just wish I was dead. The way I got to watch the clock like it was a taximeter the whole time I'm out anywheres. It's the limit. Even Max Meltzer gimme the laugh to-day."

"You'd never hear me say watch the clock if you'd keep company with a boy like Max Meltzer. A straight, clean boy with honest intentions by a girl lookin' right out of his face. You let a boy like Max Meltzer begin to keep steady with you and see what I say. You don't see no yellow streak in his face; he's as white as the goods he sells."

"I know. I know. You think now because he's going to be made buyer for the white goods in September he's the whole show. Gee! nowadays that ain't so muchy much for a fellow to be."

"No, I think the kind of fellows that fresh Mamie Grant gets you acquainted with are muchy much. I'm strong for the old rat-eyed sports like Jerry Beck, that 'ain't got a honest thought in his head. I bet he gives you the creeps, too, only you're the kind of a girl, God help you, that's so crazy for luxury you could forget the devil had horns if he hid 'em under a automobile cap."

"Sure I am. I 'ain't seen nothing but slaving and drudging and pinching all my life, while other girls are strutting the Avenue in their furs and sleeping mornings as long as they want under eider-down quilts. Sure, when a man like Jerry Beck comes along with a carriage-check instead of a Subway-ticket I can thaw up to him like a water-ice, and I ain't ashamed of it, neither."

They turned into a narrow aisle of street lined with unbroken rows of steep, narrow-faced houses. Miss Worte withdrew her arm sharply and plunged ahead, her lips wry and on the verge of tremoling.

"When a girl gets twenty, like you, it ain't none of my put-in no more. Only I hope to God your mother up there is witness that if ever a woman slaved to keep a girl straight and done her duty by her it was me. That man 'ain't got no good intentions by—"

"Oh, ain't you—ain't you a mean-thinking thing, ain't you? What kind of a girl do you think I am? If he didn't have the right intentions by me do you think—"

"Oh, I guess he'll marry you if he can't get you no other way. Them kind always do if they can't help themselves. A divorced old guy like him, with a couple of kids and his mean little eyes, knows he's got to pay up if he wants a young girl like you. Oh, I—Ouch—oh—oh!"

"Dee Dee, take my arm. That was only an ashcan you bumped into. It's the drops he puts in your eyes makes 'em so bad to-night, I guess. Go on, take my arm, Dee Dee. Here we are home. Lemme lead you up-stairs. It's nothing but the drops, Dee Dee."

They turned in and up and through a foggy length of long hallway. Spring had not entered here. At the top of a second flight of stairs a slavey sat back on her heels and twisted a dribble of gray water from her cloth into her bucket. At the last and third landing an empty coal-scuttle stood just outside a door as if nosing for entrance.

"Watch out, Dee Dee, the scuttle. Lemme go in first. Gee! it's cold indoors and warm out, ain't it? Wait till I light up. There!"

"Lemme alone. I can see."

An immemorial federation of landladies has combined against Hestia to preserve the musty traditions of the furnished room. Love in a cottage is fostered by subdivision promoters and practised by commuters on a five-hundred-dollars-down, monthly-payment basis. Marble halls have been celebrated in song, but the furnished room we have with us always at three cents per agate line.

You with your feet on your library fender, stupefied with contentment and your soles scorching, your heart is not black; it is only fat. How can it know the lean formality of the furnished room? Your little stenographer, who must wear a smile and fluted collars on eight dollars a week, knows it; the book agent at your door, who earns eighteen cents on each Life of Lincoln, knows it. Chambermaids know it when they knock thrice and only the faint and nauseous fumes of escaping gas answer them through the plugged keyhole. Coroners know it.

Sadie Barnet and Edith Worte knew it, too, and put out a hand here and there to allay it. A comforting spread of gay chintz covered the sag in their white iron bed; a photograph or two stuck upright between the dresser mirror and its frame, and tacked full flare against the wall was a Japanese fan, autographed many times over with the gay personnel of the Titanic Store's annual picnic.

"Gee! Dee Dee, six-twenty already! I got to hurry. Unhook me while I sew in this ruching."

"Going for supper?"

"Yeh. He invited me. This is cottage-pudding night; tell old lady Finch when I ain't home for supper you got two desserts coming to you."

"I don't want no supper."

"Aw, now, Dee Dee!"

Miss Worte dropped her dark cape from her shoulders, hung it with her hat on a door peg, and sat heavily on the edge of the bed.

"God! my feet!"

"Soak 'em."

Miss Barnet peeled off her shirt-waist. Her bosom, strong and flat as a boy's, rose white from her cheaply dainty under-bodice; at her shoulders the flesh began to deepen, and her arms were round and full of curves.

"Here, Dee Dee, I'm so nervous when I hurry. You sew in this ruche; you got time before the supper-bell. See, right along the edge like that."

Miss Worte aimed for the eye of the needle, moistening the end of the thread with her tongue and her fluttering fingers close to her eyes.

"God! I—I just 'ain't got the eyes no more. I can't see, Sadie; I can't find the needle."

Sadie Barnet paused in the act of brushing out the cloud of her dark hair, and with a strong young gesture ran the thread through the needle, knotting its end with a quirk of thumb and forefinger.

"It's the drops, Dee Dee, and this gaslight, all blurry from the curling-iron in the flame, makes you see bad."

Miss Worte nodded and closed her eyes as if she would press back the tears and let them drip inward.

"Yeh, I know. I know."

"Sure! Here, lemme do it, Dee Dee. I won't stay out late, dearie, if your eyes are bad. We're only going out for a little spin."

Miss Worte lay back on the chintz bedspread and turned her face to the wall.

"I should worry if you come home or if you don't—all the comfort you are to me."

"You say that to me many more times and you watch and see what I do; you watch and see."

"The sooner the better."

In the act of fluting the soft ruche about her neck, so that her fresh little face rose like a bud from its calyx, Miss Barnet turned to the full length of back which faced her from the bed.

"That's just the way I feel about it—the sooner the better."

"Then we think alike."

"You 'ain't been such a holy saint to me that I got to pay up to you for it all my life."

"That's the thanks I get."

"You only raised me because you had to. I been working for my own living ever since I was so little I had to He to the inspectors about my age."

"Except what you begged out of my wages."

"I been as much to you as you been to me and—and I don't have to stand this no longer. Sure I can get out and—and the sooner the better. I'm sick of getting down on my knees to you every time I wanna squeeze a little good time out of life. I'm tired paying up for the few dollars you gimme out of your envelop. If I had any sense I—I wouldn't never take it from you, nohow, the way you throw it up to me all the time. The sooner the better is what I say, too; the sooner the better."

"That's the thanks I get; that's the—"

"Aw, I know all that line of talk by heart, so you don't need to ram it down me. You gotta quit insinuating about my ways to me. I'm as straight as you are and—"

"You—you—take off that ivory-hand breast-pin; that ain't yours."

"Sure I'll take it off, and this ruche you gimme the money to buy, and this red bracelet you gimme, and—and every old thing you ever gimme. Sure I'll take 'em all off. I wish I could take off these gray-top shoes you paid a dollar toward, and I would, too, if I didn't have to go barefoot. It's the last time I borrow from—"

"Aw, you commenced that line of talk when you was ten."

"I mean it."

"Well, if you do, take off them gloves that I bought for myself and you begged right off my hands. Just take 'em off and go barehanded with your little-headed friend; maybe he can buy—"

"You—Oh, I—I wish I was dead! I—I'll go barehanded to a snowball feast rather than wear your duds. There's your old gloves—there!"

Tears were streaming and leaving their ravages on the smooth surface of her cheeks.

"I just wish I—I was dead."

"Aw, no, you don't! There's him now, with a horn on his auto that makes a noise like the devil yelling! There's your little rat-eyed, low-lived fellow, now. You don't wish you was dead now, do you? Go to him and his two divorces and his little roundhead. That's where you belong; that's where girls on the road to the devil belong—with them kind. There he is now, waiting to ride you to the devil. He don't need to honk-honk so loud; he knows you're ready and waiting for him."

Miss Barnet fastened on her little hat with fingers that fumbled.

"Gimme—the key."

"Aw, no, you don't. When you come home tonight you knock; no more tiptoe, night-key business like last time. I knew you was lying to me about the clock."

"You gimme that key. I don't want you to have to get up, with all your kicking, to open the door for me. You gimme the key."

"If you wanna get in this room when you come home to-night, you knock like any self-respecting girl ain't afraid to do."

"You—oh—you!" With a shivering intake of breath Miss Barnet flung wide the door, slamming it after her until the windows and the blue-glass vase on the mantelpiece and Miss Worte, stretched full length on the bed, shivered.

Two flights down she flung open the front door. There came from the curb the bleat of a siren, wild for speed.

Stars had come out, a fine powdering of them, and the moist evening atmosphere was sweet, even heavy. She stood for a moment in the embrasure of the door, scenting.

"Do I need my heavy coat, Jerry?"

The dim figure in the tonneau, with his arms flung out their length across the back of the seat, moved from the center to the side.

"No, you don't. Hurry up! I'll keep you warm if you need a coat. Climb in here right next to me, Peachy. Gimme that robe from the front there, George.

"Now didn't I say I was going to keep you warm? Quit your squirming, Touchy. I won't bite. Ready, George. Up to the Palisade Inn, and let out some miles there."

"Gee! Jerry, you got the limousine top off. Ain't this swell for summer?"

Mr. Jerome Beck settled back in the roomy embrasure of the seat and exhaled loudly, his shoulder and shoe touching hers.

She settled herself out of their range.

"Now, now, snuggle up a little, Peachy."

She shifted back to her first position.

"That's better."

"Ain't it a swell night?"

"Now we're comfy—eh?"

They were nosing through a snarl of traffic and over streets wet and slimy with thaw. Men with overcoats flung over their arms side-stepped the snout of the car. Delicatessen and candy-shop doors stood wide open. Children shrilled in the grim shadows of thousand-tenant tenement-houses.

"Well, Peachy, how are you? Peachy is just the name for you, eh? 'Cause
I'd like to take a bite right out of you—eh, Peachy? How are you?"

"Fine and—and dandy."

"Look at me."

"Aw!"

"Look at me, I say, you pretty little peach, with them devilish black eyes of yours and them lips that's got a cherry on 'em."

She met his gaze with an uncertain smile trembling on her lips.

"Honest, you're the limit."

"What's your eyes red for?"

"They—they ain't."

"Cryin'?"

"Like fun."

"You know what I'd do if I thought you'd been crying? I'd just kiss them tears right away."

"Yes, you would not."

"Little devil!"

"Quit calling me that." But she colored as if his tribute had been a sheath of lilies.

They veered a corner sharply, skidding on the wet asphalt and all but grazing the rear wheels of a recreant taxicab.

"Gad, George! you black devil you, why don't you watch out what you're doing?"

"But, suh, I—"

"None of your black back-talk."

"Jerry!" She was shivering, and a veil of tears formed over her hot, mortified eyes. "Gee! what are you made of? You seen he couldn't help it when that taxi turned into us so sudden."

He relaxed against her. "Aw, did I scare the little Peachy? That's the way they gotta be handled. I ain't ready by a long shot to let a black devil spill my brains."

"'Shh-h. He couldn't—"

"Sure he could, if he watched. He's a bargain I picked up cheap, anyways, 'cause he's lame and can't hold down heavy work. And bargains don't always pay. But I'll break his black back for him if—Aw, now, now, did I scare the little peach? Gee! I couldn't do nothing but kill you with kindness if you was driving for me. I'd just let you run me right off this road into the Hudson Ocean if you was driving for me."

They were out toward the frayed edge of the city, where great stretches of sign-plastered vacant lots began to yawn between isolated patches of buildings and the river ran close enough alongside of them to reflect their leftward lights. She smiled, but as if her lips were bruised.

"It ain't none of my put-in, but he couldn't help it, and I hate for you to yell at anybody like that, Jerry."

"Aw, aw, did I scare the little Peachy? Watch me show the little Tootsie how nice I can be when I want to—Aw—aw!"

"Quit."

She blinked back the ever-recurring tears.

"All tired out, too; all tired out. Wait till you see what I'm going to buy you to-night. A great big beefsteak with mushrooms as big as dollars and piping-hot German fried potatoes and onions. M-m-m-m! And more bubbles than you can wink your eye at. Aw—aw, such poor cold little hands, and no gloves for such cold little hands! Here, lemme warm 'em. Wouldn't I just love to wrap a little Peachy like you up in a great big fur coat and put them little cold hands in a great big muff and hang some great big headlight earrings in them little bittsie ears. Wouldn't I, though. M-m-m-m! Poor cold little hands!"

Her wraith of a smile dissolved in a spurt of hot tears which flowed over her words.

"Gee! Ain't I the nut to—to cry? I—I'll be all right in a minute."

"I knew when I seen them red eyes the little Peachy wasn't up to snuff, and her cute little devilishlike ways. What's hurting you, Tootsie? Been bounced? You should worry. I'm going to steal you out of that cellar, anyways. Been bounced?"

"N-no."

"The old hag 'ain't been making it hot for you, has she?"

"Sh-she—"

"Gad! that old hag gets my fur up. I had a mother-in-law once tried them tricks on me till I learned her they wouldn't work. But the old hag of yourn—"

"It's her eyes; the doctor must have scared her up again to-day. When she gets scared like that about 'em she acts up so, honest, sometimes I—I just wish I was dead. She don't think a girl oughtta have no life."

"Forget it. Just you wait. She's going to wake up some morning soon and find a little surprise party for herself. I know just how to handle an old bird like her."

"Sometimes she's just so good to me, and then again, when she gets sore like to-night, and with her nagging and fussing at me, I don't care if she is my aunt, I just hate her."

"We're going to give her a little surprise party." Beneath the lap robe his hand slid toward hers. She could feel the movement of the arm that directed it and her own shrank away.

"But ain't I the limit, Jerry, airing my troubles to you, like you was a policeman."

"Now, now—"

"Quit! Leggo my hand."

They were spinning noiselessly along a road that curved for the moment away from the river into the velvet shadows of trees. He leaned forward suddenly, enveloping her.

"I got it. Why don't you lemme kidnap you, kiddo?"

"What—"

"Lemme kidnap you to-night and give the old hag the surprise of her life when she wakes up and finds you stolen. I'm some little kidnapper when it comes to kidnapping, I am, kiddo. Say, wouldn't I like to take you riding all wrapped up in a fur coat with nothing but your cute little face sticking out."

"Aw, you're just fooling me."

"Fooling! Lemme prove it, to-night. Lemme kidnap you this very night.
I—"

She withdrew stiff-backed against his embrace.

"Is—is that what you mean by—by kidnapping me?"

"Sure. There ain't nothing I'd rather do. Are you on, Peaches? A sensible little queen like you knows which side her bread is buttered on. There ain't nothing I want more than to see you all bundled up in a fur coat with—headlights in your little bittsie pink ears."

She sprang the width of the seat from him.

"You—What kind of a girl do you think I am? O God! What kind of a girl does he think I am? Take me home—take me—What kind of a girl do you think I am?"

He leaned toward her with a quick readjustment of tone.

"Just what I said, Peachy. What I meant was I'd marry you to-night if we could get a license. I'd just kidnap you to-night if—if we could get one."

"You—you didn't mean that."

"Sure I did, Peachy. Say, with a little girl of my own I ain't one of them guys that you think I am. Ain't you ashamed of yourself, Peachy—now ain't you?"

The color flowed back into her face and her lips parted.

"Jerry—Only a girl like me's got to be careful—that was all I meant,
Jerry. Jerry!"

He scooped her in his short arms and kissed her lips, with her small face crumpled up against his shoulder, and she lay quiescent enough in his embrace. Wind sang in her ears as they rushed swiftly and surely along the oiled road, but the two small fists she pressed against his coat lapels did not relax.

"Aw, now, Peachy, you mustn't treat a fellow cold no more! Ain't I going to marry you? Ain't I going to set you up right in my house out in Newton Heights? Ain't I going to give you a swell ten-room house? Ain't you going to live right in the house with my girl, and ain't she going to have you for a little stepmother?"

"Jerry, the—the little girl. I wonder if she wants—"

"Sure she does. Her mother gets her every other month. I'd let her go for good if you don't want her, except it would do her mother too much good. The courts give her to me every other month and I'll have her down to the last minute of the last hour or bust."

"Jerry!"

"That's what I gotta keep up the house out there for. The court says I gotta give her a home, and that's why I want a little queen like you in it. Gad! Won't her mother throw a red-headed fit when she sees the little queen I picked! Gad!"

"Oh, Jerry, her your first wife and all! Won't it seem funny my going in her house and—and living with her kid."

"Funny nothing. Cloonan won't think it's funny when I tell her she's finished running my house for me. Funny nothing. To-morrow's Sunday and I'm going to take you out in the afternoon and show you the place, and Monday, instead of going to your bargain bin, we're going down for a license, and you kiss the old hag good-by for me, too. Eh, how's that for one day's work?"

"Gee! and—and—Monday the spring opening and me not there! Jerry, I—I can't get over me being a lady in my own house. Me! Me that hates ugliness and ugly clothes and ugly living so. Me that hates street-cars and always even hated boat excursions 'cause they was poor folks' pleasures. Me a lady in my own house. Oh, Jerry!"

She quivered in his arms and he kissed her again with his moist lips pressed flat against hers.

"Ten rooms, Peachy—that's the way I do things."

They were curving up a gravel way, and through the lacy foliage of spring lights gleamed, and there came the remoter strains of syncopated music.

She sat up and brushed back her hair.

"Is this the place?"

"Right-o! Now for that steak smothered in mushrooms, and, gad! I could manage a sweetbread salad on the side if you asked me right hard."

They drew up in the flood-light of the entrance.

"'Ain't I told you not to open the door for me, George? I don't need no black hand reaching back here to turn the handle for me. That don't make up for bad driving. Black hands off."

"Jerry!"

They alighted with an uncramping and unbending of limbs.

"How'd some Lynnhavens taste to you for a starter, Peachy?"

"Fine, whatever they are."

A liveried attendant bowed them up the steps.

A woman in blue velvet, her white arms bare to the shoulder and stars in her hair, paused in the doorway to drop her cloak. Her heavy perfume drifted out to meet them.

Sadie Barnet's clutch of her companion's arm quickened and her thoughts ran forward.

"Jerry—gee! wouldn't I look swell in—in a dress like that? Gee! Jerry, stars and all!"

The cords in the muscles of his arm rose under her fingers.

"Them ain't one-two-three-six to the duds I'm going to hang on you. I know her; she's an old-timer. Them duds ain't one-two-three-six."

"Gee—Jerry!"

In the heart of a silence as deep as a bottomless pool, with the black hours that tiptoe on the heels of midnight shrouding her like a nun's wimple, limbs trembling and her hands reluctant, Sadie Barnet knocked lightly at her door, once, twice, thrice, and between each rap her heart beat with twice its tempo against her breast.

Then her stealthy hand turned the white china knob and released it so that it sprang backward with a click.

"Who's that?"

"Me, Dee Dee."

Her voice was swathed in a whisper.

She could hear the plong of the bedspring, the patter of bare feet across the floor; feel the slight aperture of the opening door. She oozed through the slit.

"All right, Dee Dee."

"God! I—I must have been sound asleep. What time is it?"

"It isn't late, Dee Dee."

"Light the gas."

"I—I can undress in the dark."

"Light the gas."

"I—"

"Light it, I say."

"It's lit, Dee Dee."

The figure in the center of the room, in her high-necked, long-sleeved nightdress, her sparse hair drawn with unpleasant tension from her brow, her pale eyes wide, moved forward a step, one bare foot, calloused even across the instep, extended.

"Lit?"

"Dee Dee, what's the matter?"

"Gimme—my glasses."

She took them from Miss Barnet's trembling ringers and curved them about her ears.

"Quit your nonsense now and light the gas. I ain't in no humor for foolin'. Quit waving that little spark in front of me. Light the gas. I ain't going to look at the clock. I'm done worrying about your carryings-on. I'm done. Light the gas, Sadie, there's a good girl. Light the gas."

"Dee Dee! My God! Dee Dee, I—I tell you it's lit—big."

"There's a good girl, Sadie. Don't fool your old aunt."

"See, dearie, I ain't fooling. See, the gas-jet here beside the dresser. Look—I can't turn it no higher. Hear it sing and splutter. You ain't awake good yet, Dee Dee."

Silence—the ear-splitting silence that all in its brief moment is crammed with years and years upon years. A cold gray wash seemed suddenly to flow over Miss Worte's face.

"Put my finger next to the gas flame. You—you're lying to me to—to fool your old aunt. Lemme feel my finger get burnt."

They moved, these two, across the floor, their blanched faces straining ahead. With the sudden sting of heat finally across her palm, reddening it, Miss Worte flung wide her arms and her head backward, and her voice tore out without restraint.

"God! God! God!" And she fell to trembling so that her knees gave way under her and she crouched on the floor with her face bared to the ceiling, rocking herself back and forth, beating her fists against her flat breasts.

"God! God! God!"

"Dee Dee!—Dee Dee! my darling! my darling!"

"O God! O God! O God!"

"Dee Dee darling, it ain't nothing! A little too much strain, that's all. 'Shh-h-h! Lemme bathe them. 'Shh-h-h, my darling. Oh, my God! darling! 'Shh-h-h!"

"Lemme go! Lemme go! He told me to-day it would come like this! Only he didn't say how soon. Not how soon. I'm done for, I tell you! I'm done! Kill me, Sadie; if you love me, kill me! He told me and I wouldn't believe it! Kill me, girl, and put me out of it! I can't breathe in the dark! I can't! I can't! I can't live in the dark with my eyes open! Kill me, girl, and put me out of it—kill me! Kill me!"

"Dee Dee, my darling, ain't I right here with you? Didn't you always say, darling, when it came you—you'd face it?"

Like St. Cecilia, who could not die, she crouched, and the curve of her back rose and fell.

"O God! Oh—"

"Dee Dee darling, try not to holler out so! Maybe it ain't for—for good. Aw, darling, keep your head down here next to me! Feel how close I am, Dee Dee, right here next to you. 'Shh-h-h! O God! Dee Dee darling, you'll kill yourself going on like that! Don't pull at your hair, darling—don't! Oh, my God, don't!"

"I'm done! Kill me! Kill me! Don't make me live in the dark with my eyes open—don't! There's a good girl, Sadie. Don't! Don't! Don't!"

From the room adjoining came a rattling at the barred door between.

"Cut it, in there! This ain't no barroom. Go tell your D. T.'s to a policeman."

They crouched closer and trembling.

"'Shh-h-h! Dee Dee, darling, try to be easy and not raise the house—try!"

Miss Worte lay back exhausted against Miss Barnet's engulfing arms. Her passion ebbed suddenly and her words came scant, incoherent, and full of breath.

"No use. No use. He told me to-day he wouldn't operate. He told me. No, no, all the colors so pale—even the reds—so pale! Lavender and blue I—I just couldn't tell. I couldn't. So pale. Two yards she brought back next day, kicking at—Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

'"Shh-h-h, darling! Don't take on so! Wait till morning and we'll get new drops from him. 'Shh-h-h! Maybe it's only strain."

"I know. I'm in the dark for good, Sadie. Oh, my God! I'm in the dark!"

Except that her face was withered, she was like Iphigenia praying for death.

"Lemme die! Lemme die!"

"'Shh-h-h—darling—That's it, rest quiet."

Suddenly Miss Worte flung up one arm about Sadie Barnet's neck, pressing her head downward until their faces touched.

"Dee Dee darling, you—you hurt."

"You won't never leave me, Sadie, like you said you would? You won't leave me alone in the dark, Sadie?"

"No, no, my darling; you know I won't, never, never."

"You'll keep me with you always, promise me that, Sadie. Promise me that on the curl of your mother's hair you wear in your locket. Promise me, little Sadie, you won't leave your aunt Dee Dee alone in the dark. My poor little girl, don't leave me alone in the dark. I can't see; Sadie, I can't see no more. Promise me, Sadie, promise me, promise me!"

From Sadie Barnet's heart, weakening her like loss of blood, flowed her tears. She kissed the heart of Edith Worte where it beat like a clock beneath the high-necked nightdress; she made of her bosom a pillow of mercy and drew the head up to its warmth.

"I—I promise, Dee Dee, on her curl of hair. Sure I promise. Always will
I keep you with me, darling, always, always, so help me, always."

Along the road to Newton Heights Spring and her firstlings crept out tenderly. Even close up to the rim of the oiled highway itself, an occasional colony of wood violets dared to show their heads for the brief moment before they suffocated. The threat of rain still lay on the air, but the Sunday rank and file of motors threw back tops, lowered windshields, and turned shining noses toward the greening fields.

In the red-leather tonneau, with her little face wind-blown and bared to the kiss in the air, Sadie Barnet turned to her companion and peered under the visor of his checked cap and up into his small inset eyes.

"Is—is that the house up on the hill there, Jerry?"

"Not yet. It's right around the next bend."

"Gee! My—my hands are like ice, I—I'm that nervous."

"Lemme feel."

"No."

"That's a swell way to treat a fellow who's promised to marry you."

"You—you must excuse me to-day, Jerry. Honest, without a wink of sleep last night—you must excuse me to-day. I—I'm so upset with poor Dee Dee, and on top of that so nervous about—your little girl and the house and everything. And, Dee Dee—when I think of Dee Dee."

"Don't think, Peachy; that's the way to get around that."

"I—I can't help it. You ought to seen her at the doctor's this morning, how—how the poor thing lost her nerve when he told her that there—there wasn't no hope."

"Aw, now, cut the sob stuff, Peachy! You can't help it. Nobody can, that's the trouble. Say, what kind of a little queen will they think you are if I bring you home all soppy with crying?"

"I ought not to have come, Jerry. I'm no kind of company to-day, only all of a sudden she's got so—so soft with me and she made me come while she—she tried to take a nap. Poor old Dee Dee!"

"Yeh, and poor old devil. Maybe she's just getting what's due to her."

"Jerry!"

"Sure, I believe every one of us gets what's coming to us."

"She—"

"Here we are, Tootsie. See, Peachy, that's the house I bought her and her mother, and they was kicking at it before the plaster was dry."

"Oh! Oh!"

"That's a concrete front. Neat, ain't it? That's a mosaic-floor porch, too, I built on a year after her and her mother vamoosed."

"It's a beau-tiful house, Jerry."

"You're the land of a kid that knows how to appreciate a home when she gets it. But her with her she-devil of a mother, they no sooner got in than they began to side with each other against me—her and her old mother trying to learn me how to run my own shebang."

"Where—"

"Gad! they're living in a dirty Harlem flat now and tryin' to put it over on me that they're better off in it. Bah! if I had to double up on alimony, I wouldn't give her a smell at this house, not a smell."

"Say, but ain't it pretty, Jerry, right up over the river, and country all around, and right over there in back the street-cars for the city when you want them?"

"This is going to be your street-car, Peachy, a six-cylinder one."

She colored like a wild rose.

"Oh, Jerry, I—I keep forgetting."

"By Gad! it's a good thing I'm going to give up my city rooms and come out here to watch my p's and q's. Gosh darn her neck! I told her to quit cluttering up that side-yard turf with her gosh darn little flower-beds! Gosh darn her neck! There never was a servant worth her hide."

"Jerry, why, they're beautiful! They just look beautiful, those pansies, and is that the little girl sitting up there on the porch steps? Is—is that Maisie?"

They drew to a stop before the box-shaped ornate house, its rough concrete front pretentiously inlaid over the doors and windows with a design of pebbles stuck like dates on a cake, and perched primly on the topmost step of the square veranda the inert figure of a small girl.

"Aw, ain't she cute?"

Miss Barnet sprang lightly to the sidewalk, and beside her Mr. Jerome Beck flecked the dust of travel from the bay of his waistcoat, shaking his trousers knees into place.

"This has got your Twenty-third Street dump beat a mile, and then some, 'ain't it, Peachy?"

"Jerry, call her here, the little girl. You tell her who—who I am. Tell her gently, Jerry, and—and how good I'm going to be to her and—Aw, ain't I the silly, though, to feel so trembly?"

The child on the step regarded their approach with unsmiling eyes, nor did she move except to draw aside her dark stuff skirts and close her knees until they touched.

"Hello there! Moping again, eh? Get up! Didn't I tell you not to let me catch you not out playing or helping Cloonan around? Say howdy to this lady. She's coming out here to live. Come here and say howdy to her."

The child shrank to the newel-post, her narrow little face overtaken with an agony of shyness.

"Cat got your tongue? Say howdy. Quit breathing through your mouth like a fish. Say howdy, that's a good girl."

"Don't force her, Jerry. She's bashful. Ain't you, dearie? Ain't you,
Maisie?"

"Moping, you mean. If it was her month in the dirty Harlem flat she'd be spry enough. She knows what I mean whan I say that, and she knows she better cut out this pouting. Quit breathing through your mouth or I'll stick a cork in it."

"Aw, Jerry, she can't help that!"

"Cat got your tongue? Where's Cloonan?"

The child's little face quivered and screwed, each feature drawing itself into position for tears. Her eyes disappeared, her nostrils distended, her mouth opened to a quivering rectangle, and she fell into silent weeping.

"Aw, Jerry—you—you scared her! Come here, darling; come here to me,
Maisie; come, dearie."

But the child slid past the extended arms, down the wooden steps, and around a corner of the house, her arm held up across her eyes.

"Aw, Jerry, honest, you can be awful mean!"

"I'll get that out of her or know the reason why. They've poisoned her against me, that's about how it is in a nutshell. I'll get that pouting to be in that dirty Harlem hole with her mother and grandmother out of her or know the reason why."

"She—"

"Look, this is the front hall. Guess this 'ain't got that sty in Twenty-third Street beat some. Look! How do you like it? This way to the parlor and dining-room."

Sadie Barnet smiled through the shadows in her eyes.

"Jerry! Say, ain't this beau-tiful! A upright piano and gold, chairs and—Why, Jerry! why, Jerry!"

"And look in here, the dining-room. Her and her mother shopped three weeks to get this oak set, and see this fancy cabinet full of china. Slick, ain't it?"

Her fingers curled in a soft, clutch around her throat as if her breath came too fast.

"Jerry, it—it's just grand."

He marshaled her in all the pride of ownership.

"Look, butler's pantry, exposed plumbing."

"Oh! Oh!"

"Kitchen."

"Oh! Oh!"

"Here, Cloonan. I told you I was going to bring somebody out to take hold and sit on you and your bills, didn't I? This lady's coming out here tomorrow, bag and baggage. Hand over your account-book to her and I bet she does better with it. See that you fix us up in honeymoon style, too. Bag and baggage we're coming. Savvy?"

The figure beside the ill-kept stove, bowl in lap and paring potatoes with the long fleshless hands of a bird, raised a still more fleshless face.

"Howdy!"

"Cloonan's been running this shebang for two years now, Peachy, and there ain't nothing much she can't learn you about my ways. They ain't hard. Look! Porcelain-lined sink. It's got Twenty-third Street beat some, 'ain't it?"

"Yes, Jerry."

"Fix us a beefsteak supper, Cloonan, and lemme weigh up them groceries I sent out and lemme see your books afterward. Come, Peachy, here, up these stairs. This is the second floor. Pretty neat, ain't it? Her and her mother shopped three more weeks on this oak bed-set. Some little move out here from Twenty-third Street for a little rooming-house queen like you, eh? Neat little bedroom, eh, Peachy? Eh?"

His face was close to her and claret red with an expression she did not dare to face.

"And what's this next room here, Jerry? Ain't it sweet and quiet-looking! Spare room? Ain't it pretty with them little white curtains? Quit, quit, Jerry! You mustn't—you mustn't."

She broke from his embrace, confusion muddling her movements.

"Is this the—the spare room?"

"It is, now. It used to be the old woman's till I laid down on the mother-in-law game and squealed. Yeh, I used to have a little mother-in-law in our house that was some mother-in-law. Believe me, she makes that old devil of yourn look like a prize angel."

"I—This'll be just the room for Dee Dee, Jerry, where she can feel the morning sun and hear the street-cars over there when she gets lonesome. She ought to have the sunniest room, because it's something she can feel without seeing—poor thing. This will be a swell room for poor old blind Dee Dee, won't it, Jerry? Won't it, Jerry dear?"

"Cut the comedy, Peachy. There's a neat free ward waiting for her just the other direction from the city than Newton Heights. Cut the comedy, Peachy."

"Jerry, I—I gotta have her with me. I—Now that she—she's in the dark.
She couldn't stand an institution, Jerry, she—she just couldn't."

"That's what they all say, but they get over it. I know a—"

"She couldn't, Jerry. She 'ain't had much in her life, but she's always had a roof over her head that wasn't charity, and she always said, Jerry, that she couldn't never stand a—a institution. She can take any other room you say, Jerry. Maybe there's a little one up-stairs in the third story we could fix up comfy for her; but she's in the dark now, Jerry, and, my God! Jerry, she just couldn't stand an institution!"

He patted her shoulder and drew her arm through his.

"You lemme take care of that. She don't need to know nothing about it.
We'll tell her we're sending her for a visit to the country for a while.
After the second day she'll be as snug as a bug in a rug. They're good
to 'em in those places; good as gold."

"No, no, Jerry! No, no! I gotta have her with me! She raised me from a kid and—and she couldn't stand it, Jerry! I gotta have her, I gotta! I want her!"

His mouth sagged downward suddenly and on an oblique.

"Say, somebody must have given you a few lessons in nagging, yourself. Them's the lines she used to recite to me about her she-devil of a mother, too. Gad! she used to hang on her mother's apron-strings like she was tied."

"Jerry, I—"

"Come, Peachy, don't get me sore. Come, let's talk about to-morrow. We gotta get the license first and—"

"Jerry, I—Promise me I can have her with me first. I—Just a little yes is all I want—Jerry dear—just a little yes."

A frown gathered in a triple furrow on his brow.

"Now, kiddo, you got to cut that with me, and cut it quick. If there's two things I can't stand it's nagging and pouting. Cloonan can tell you what pouting can drive me to. I'll beat it out of that girl of mine before she's through with me, and I won't stand it from no one else. Now cut it, Peachy, that's a nice girl."

He paced the carpeted space of floor between the dresser and bed, his mouth still on the oblique.

"Now cut it, Peachy, I said, and cut it quick."

She stood palpitating beside the window, her eyes flashing to his face and fastening there.

"God! I—I wanna go."

"Where?"

Her glance flashed past him out of the window and across the patch of rear lawn. A street-car bobbed across the country; she followed it with eager eyes.

"I wanna go."

He advanced, conciliatory. "Aw, now, Peachy, a row just the day before we are married. You don't want to start out making me train you just like you was a little kid. If you was a little girl I could beat your little ways out of you, but I wanna be on the level with you and show you how nice I can be. All the things I'm going to give you, all—"

"Quit, you! I wanna go! I wanna go!"

"You can go to hell, for my part. I'm going to get a steak inside of me before we budge. Quit your fooling. See, you nearly got me sore there. Come, the car won't be back for us until six. Come, Peachy, come."

She was past him and panting down the stairs, out across the patch of rear lawn, and toward the bobbing street-car, the streamer of ribbon at her throat flying backward over her shoulder.

In the bargain basement of the Titanic Store the first day of the spring opening dragged to its close. In a meadow beside a round pond a tree dripped apple blossoms, each so frail a thing that it fluttered out and away, too light to anchor.

In careless similitude the bargain basement of the Titanic Store resuscitated from its storerooms, and from spring openings long gone by, dusty garlands of cotton May blossoms, festooning them between the great white supporting pillars of the basement and intertwining them.

Over the white-goods counter and over Sunday, as it were, a papier-mâché pergola of green lattice-work and more cotton-back May blossoms had sprung up as if the great god Wotan had built it with a word. Cascades of summer linens, the apple green and the butter yellow, flowed from counters and improvised tables. Sadie Barnet's own mid-aisle bin had blossomed into a sacrificial sale of lawn remnants, and toward the close of the day her stock lay low, depleted.

Max Meltzer leaned out of his bower, and how muted his voice, as if it came from an inner throat that only spoke when the heart bade it.

"Little one, them remnants went like hot cakes, didn't they?"

"Hot cakes! Well, I guess. You'd have thought there was a mill-end sale on postage stamps."

"And if you don't look all tired out! If you just don't!"

The ready tears swam in her voice.

"It's—it's been awful—me away from her all day like this. But, anyways, I got news for her when I go home to-night about her five weeks' benefit money. Old Criggs was grand. He's going to send the committee to see her. Anyways, that's some good news for her."

"I just can't get her out of my mind, neither. Seems like I—I just can see her poor blind face all the time."

"M-me, too."

"They say the girls up in the ribbons been crying all day. She was no love-bird, but they say she wasn't bad underneath."

"God knows she—she wasn't."

"That's the way with some folks; they're hard on top, but everybody knows hard-shell crabs have got sweeter meat than soft."

"Nobody knows that she was a rough diamond better than me. I got sore at her sometimes, but I—I know she was always there when I—I needed her, alrighty."

"Now, now, little girl, don't cry! You're all worn out."

"She—she was always there to stand by me in—in a pinch."

"Honest, Miss Sadie, you look just like a pretty little ghost. What you need is some spring air, girlie, some spring air for a tonic. Wouldn't I just love to take you all by your little self down the river to-night on one of them new Coney boats, where we could be—right quiet. Say, wouldn't I?"

"No—no!"

"I wanna talk to you, Miss Sadie. Can't you guess? I wanna get you all by yourself and talk to you right in your little ear."

'"Shh-h-h! You mustn't talk like that."

"That's the only way I have of trying to tell you how—how I feel, Miss
Sadie—dearie."

'"Shh-h-h!"

"When I call you that it means—well, you know, dearie, you know. That's why I wanna take you to-night, dearie, all by your little self and—"

"No, no, Mr. Meltzer! I can't leave her alone like that. I promised I would never leave her alone in the dark if—if I could help it."

"Ain't I the dub? Sure you can't leave her. We gotta stick by her now, dearie. 'Ain't we? 'Ain't we?"

A red seepage of blood surged across his face and under his hair. Beneath his little hedge of mustache his lips quivered as if at their own daring.

"We gotta stick by her, dearie."

All her senses swam, nor could she control the fluttering of her hands.

"Oh—Mr. Meltzer—Max!"

"What you and poor old Dee Dee need is some of this spring air. Gee! wouldn't I love to take you—and her down the river to-night on one of them new Coney boats? Gee! would I? Just you and—and her."

"Max—oh, Max dearie!"