Heads, by Fannie Hurst

Humoresque

By the great order of things which decreed that about the time Herod, brother to no man, died, Jesus, brother to all men, should be born; and that Rabelais, moral jester, should see light the very year that orthodox Louis XI passed on, by that same metaphysical scheme reduced to its lowliest, Essman's drop-picture machine, patent applied for, was completed the identical year that, for Rudolph Pelz, the rainy-day skirt slumped from a novelty to a commodity.

At a very low tide in the affairs of the Novelty Rainy Day Skirt Company, Canal Street, that year of our Lord, 1898, when letter-head stationery was about to be rewritten and the I-haven't-seen-you-since-last-century jocosity was about to be born, Rudolph Pelz closed his workaday by ushering out Mr. Emil Hahn, locking his front door after his full force of two women machine-stitchers, and opening a rear door upon his young manhood's estate. A modest-enough holding in the eyes of you or me as beholders; but for the past week not an evening upon opening that door but what tears rushed to his throat, which he laughed through, for shame of them.

On a bed, obviously dragged from its shadowy corner to a place beside the single window, and propped up so that her hair, so slickly banding her head in two plaits, sprang out against the coarsely white pillows, Mrs. Rosa Sopinsky Pelz, on an evening when the air rose sultry, stale, and even garbage-laden from a cat-and-can-infested courtyard, flashed her quick smile toward that opening door, her week-old infant suckling at her breast.

"You ought to seen, Roody; she laughed! Puckered herself up into the cutest little grin when mamma left just now."

Mr. Pelz wound his way through an overcrowded huddle of furniture that was gloomily, uglily utilitarian. A sideboard spread in pressed glass; a chest of drawers piled high with rough-dry family wash; a coal-range, and the smell and sound of simmering. A garland of garlic, caught up like smilax, and another of drying red peppers. On a shelf above the sink, cluttered there with all the pitiful unprivacy of poverty, a layout, to recite which will label me with the nigritude of the realist, but which is actually the nigritude of reality—a dish of brown-and-white blobs of soap; a coffee-cup with a great jag in its lip; a bottle of dried beans; a rubber nipple floating in a saucer of water; a glass tumbler containing one inverted tooth-brush; a medicine-bottle glued down in a dark-brown pool of its own substance; a propped-up bit of mirror, jagged of edge; a piece of comb; a rhinestone breastpin; a bunion-plaster; a fork; spoon; a sprouting onion. Yet all of this somehow lit by a fall of very coarse, very white, and very freshly starched lace curtains portière-fashion from the door, looped back in great curves from the single window, and even skirting stiffly and cleanly the bureau-front and bed-edge.

"How is my little mammela?" said Mr. Pelz, leaning over the bed to kiss Mrs. Pelz on the shining plaits, the light-tan column of throat and the little fist pressed so deeply into her bosom.

"Just ought to seen, Roody—honest, she laughed and nearly jerked off mamma's sheidel!" [Footnote: Black wig worn by orthodox Jewish women after marriage.]

"Red head!" he said, stroking down at the warm "bulge of blanket, so snugly enclosed in the crotch of mothering arm.

"It's redder than yours already, Roody."

"She's sure a grand little thing cuddled up there, ain't it so, mammela?"

She reached up to pat his blue shirt-sleeve.

"There's some herring on the table mamma brought over, and some raw meat and onions. That's some borshtsh on the stove Etta carried all the way over from Hester Street for your supper."

"And what for the little mammela?"

"I'm fed up, Roody. Mamma closed the store at five to run over with some of that milk-shake like Doctor Aarons said. He sent his little son Isadore over with the prescription. Like I said to mamma, she should let the Canal Street Kosher Sausage Company do double the business from five until six while she closes shop to carry her daughter a milk-shake! Like I was used to it from home!"

"When my girl gets to be a little mammela, the best shouldn't be none too good."

She continued to stroke up at his sleeve and occasionally on up into his uneven shock of red hair.

"You miss me in the shop, Roody?"

"You should just see once how that Ruby Grabenheiner sits at your machine! She does one-half your work not one-half so good."

"I'll be back next week Monday."

He patted her quickly. "No! No! A mammela's place is with her baby."

"Roody, you make me laugh. I should sit at home now since we got a new mouth to feed? That would be a fine come-off!"

"Who do you think was just in, Rosie? Emil Hahn."

"Sol is going to make for me, Roody, one of those little packing-case cribs like he built for Etta up in the pants-factory, so when the machine works it rocks, too. Did—did the check from Solomon & Glauber come in on the last mail, Roody?"

"Now, Rosie, you mustn't worry yourself about such—"

"What you looking so funny for, Roody?"

"I was starting to tell you, Rosie—Hahn was just in and—"

"Roody, don't change the subject on me always. You looked funny. Is it something wrong with Solomon & Glau—"

"If you don't take the cake, Rosie! Now, why should I look funny?
'Funny,' she says I look, I'm hungry. I smell Etta's borshtsh."

She half raised herself, the pulling lips of the child drawing up the little head from the cove of arm.

"Rosie, you mustn't lift up that way!"

"Roody, I can read you like a book! Solomon & Glauber have countermanded, too."

"Now, Rosie, wouldn't that keep until—"

"They have!"

"Well, if you got to know it, Rosie, they're shipping back the consignment."

"Roody!"

"What you going to do about it? Give you my word never seen the like. It's like the rainy-day skirt had died overnight. All of a sudden from a novelty, I find myself with such a commodity that every manufacturer in the business is making them up for himself."

"You seen it first, though, Roody. Nobody can take it away from you that you seen first how the rainy-day skirt and its shortness would be such a success with the women."

"'Seen it first,' she says! Say, what good does it do me if I didn't see far enough? I pick for myself such a success that I crowd myself out of business."

"It's a dirty shame! A big firm like Solomon & Glauber should not be allowed to—"

"Say, if it wouldn't be Solomon & Glauber, it would be Funk & Hausman or any other firm. The rainy-day skirt has slipped out of my hands, Rosie, to the big fellows. We must realize that for ourselves. That's the trouble when you don't deal in a patented product. What's the little fellows like myself to do against a firm like Solomon & Glauber? Start something?"

"Three countermands in a week, and no orders coming in!"

"Say, it don't tickle my ribs no more than yours."

"Roody, maybe it's the worst thing ever happened to us you wouldn't listen to mamma and be satisfied with being chief cutter at Lipschuts'."

"Shame on you, Rosie! You want your daughter to grow up with a pants-cutter all her life for a father? You want I should die in somebody else's harness. Maybe I didn't hit it right away, but I say yet, if a fellow's got the eyes and the nerve to see ahead a little with his imagination—"

"'Imagination.' He talks like a story-book."

"Now—now, take Hahn, Rosie—there's a fellow's got imagination—but not enough. I know it makes you mad when I talk on his picture-machine, but you take it from me—there's a fellow with a good thing under his very nose, but he—he 'ain't quite got the eyes to see ahead."

"Say, for such a good thing like Emil Hahn's picture-machine, where his wife had to work in my own mother's sausage-store, I can't make myself excited."

"He 'ain't quite got the eyes to see, Rosie, the big idea in it. He's afraid of life, instead of making it so that life should be afraid of him. Ten dollars cheaper I can buy that machine to-day than last week. A song for it, I tell you."

"Ninety dollars to me is no cheap song, Roody."

"The people got to be amused the same as they got to be fed. A man will pay for his amusements quicker than he will pay his butcher's or his doctor's bill. It's a cash business, Rosie. All you do with such a machine like Hahn's is get it well placed, drop your penny in the slot, and see one picture after another as big as life. I remember back in the old country, the years before we came over, when I was yet a youngster—"

"You bet Hahn never put his good money in that machine. I got it from Birdie Hahn herself. For a bad debt he took it over along with two feather beds and—"

"One after another pictures as big as life, Rosie, like real people moving. One of them, I give you my word, it's grand! A woman it shows all wrapped tight around in white, on a sofa covered over with such a spotted—what you call—leopard-skin."

"To me that has a sound, Roody, not to be proud of—"

"A living picture, with such neck and arms and—"

"That's enough, Roody! That's enough! I'm ashamed even for your daughter here!"

"Such a machine, maybe some day two or three, set up in a place like Coney Island or, for a beginning, in Pleasure Arcade, is an immense idea, Rosie. Until an invention like this, nine-tenths of the people couldn't afford the theyater. The drop-picture machine takes care of them nine-tenths."

"Theyaters are no place for the poor."

"That's where you're wrong—they need it the most. I don't want to get you worked up, Rosie, while you ain't strong, but every day that we wait we're letting a great idea slip through our fingers. If I don't buy that machine off Emil Hahn, somebody else will see in it what I see. Then all our lives we will have something to reproach ourselves with."

Mrs. Pelz let slide her hand beneath the pillow, eyes closing and her face seeming to whiten.

"Ninety dollars! Twenty dollars less than every cent we got saved in the world. It ain't right we should gamble with it, Roody. Not now."

"Why not now, Rosie? It's all the more reason. Is it worth maybe a little gamble our Bleema should grow up like the best? I got bigger plans for her and her little mammela than such a back room all their lives. In a few years, maybe three rooms for ourselves in one of them newfangled apartment-houses up on Second Avenue with turn-on hot water—"

"That's right—you'll have her riding in a horseless carriage next!"

"I tell you, it's a big idea!"

"I wish we had ten cents for every big idea you've been struck with."

"That's just why, Rosie, I'm going to hit one right."

Mrs. Pelz withdrew then the slow hand from beneath the pillow and a small handkerchief with a small wad knotted into it.

"Nearly every—cent—in—the world, Roody, that we've got. Saved nearly penny by penny. Our Bleema—it's a sin—our—our—"

"Sin nothing!"

"Our week-old little girl—it—"

"Nothing ventured in life, Rosie, nothing squeezed out of it. Don't put it back! Look, the baby herself wants it! Papa's little Bleema! Look! She's trying to lift herself. Ain't that remarkable, Rosie—look at that child lifting for that handkerchief!"

"Our little baby girl! If it was for ourselves alone, all right, maybe, take a chance—but for—"

Suddenly Mr. Pelz clapped his thigh. "I got it! I got it! Well let the little Bleema decide it for us. How's that? She should decide it for us if we take a gamble on her daddy's big idea! Here—I put a five-cents piece in her little hand and see which way she drops it. The little mammela will say which way it is to be—heads or tails. How's that, Rosie—the baby should decide it for us?"

"Roody—we mustn't!"

"Heads or tails, Rosie?"

"I—I—"

"Quick!"

"H-heads!"

"Quick now, papa's baby, open up little fist!"

"Roody, not so rough! She can't hold that big nickel."

"That's just what I want—she should let it fall."

"Roody, Roody, I hope it's tails."

The coin rolled to the bed-edge, bounced off to the floor, rolled to the zinc edge.

Immediately after, on all-fours, his face screwed up for scrutiny and the back of his neck hotly ridden with crimson, Mr. Pelz leaned after.

"Roody—what?"

"Heads!"

Where Riverside Drive reaches its rococo climax of the twelve-thousand-dollar-a-year and twelve-story-high apartment-house de luxe and duplex, and six baths divided by fourteen rooms is equal to solid-marble comfort, Elsinore Court, the neurotic Prince of Denmark and Controversy done in gilt mosaics all over the foyer, juts above the sky-line, and from the convex, rather pop-eyed windows of its top story, bulges high and wide of view over the city.

From one of these windows, looking north, Rudolph Pelz, by the holding-aside of a dead weight of pink brocade and filet lace, could gaze upon a sweep of Hudson River that flowed majestically between the great flank of the city and the brobdingnagian Palisades.

After a day when he had unerringly directed the great swinging crane of this or that gigantic transaction it had a laving effect upon him—this view of sure and fluent tide that ran so perpetually into infinitude.

Yet for Mr. Pelz to attempt to articulate into words this porcelain-thin pillar of emotions was to shatter it into brittle bits.

"Say, Rosie, ain't that a view for you? That's how it is with life—a river that rises with getting born and flows into death, and the in-between is life and—and—"

"Roody, will you please hurry for sup—dinner? Do you want Feist to arrive with you not yet dressed?"

Mr. Pelz turned then into an interior that was as pink and as silk as the inside of a bud—satin walls with side brackets softly simulating candles; a Canet bed, piled with a careful riot of sheerest and roundest of pillows; that long suit of the interior decorator, the chaise-longue; the four French engravings in their gilt frames; the latest original Josephine's secrétaire; the shine of a white adjoining bathroom. Before a door-impaneled mirror, Mrs. Pelz, in a black-lace gown that was gracious to her rotundity.

"Just look! I'm all dressed already."

Mr. Pelz advanced to her, his clasp closing over each of her bare arms, smile and gaze lifting.

"Rosie, you've got them all beat! Guess why I wish I was your diamond necklace."

"Roody, it's nearly seven. Don't make me ashamed for Feist."

"Guess!"

"All right, then, I guess."

"So I could always be round your neck."

His hand flew immediately to the lay of gems at her throat, a small flush rising.

"Roody, you hear me—hurry! Stop it, I tell you! You pinch." But she was warmly pink now, the shake of her head setting the heavy-carat gems in her ears waggling.

Time, probably emulating destiny, had worked kindly here; had brought to Mrs. Pelz the soft, dove-like maturity of her little swell of bosom; the white, even creamy shoulders ever so slightly too plump between the blades; the still black hair polished and waved into expensive permanence. Out of years that had first veered and finally taken course under his unquestionable captaincy, Rudolph Pelz, with some of their storm and stress written in deep brackets round his mouth, the red hair just beginning to pale and thin, and a certain roundness of back enhancing his squattiness, had come snugly and simply into harbor. Only the high cheek-bones and bony jaw-line and the rather inconveniently low voice, which, however, had the timbre of an ormolu clock in the chiming, indicating his peculiar and covert power to dominate as dynamically as ungrammatically a board of directors reckoning in millions across the mahogany.

"Shall I call in Sato to help you dress, Roody?"

"Please—no! Just to have him in the room with his yellowness and tiptoes makes me nervous like a cat."

"I got your shirt and studs laid out myself."

He pinched her cheek again. "Rosie Posy!"

"You had a hard day, Roody? You look tired."

"I don't like the battle of Waterloo in the 'Saint Elba' picture."

"Roody, that scene it took such a fortune to build into the shape of the letter A?"

"It looks like what is it. Fake! The way it reads in that French Revolution by that fellow Carlyle they gave me to read and the way it looks in the picture is the difference of black from white. For fifty thousand dollars more or less on a four-hundred-thousand-dollar picture I don't have a fake Waterloo."

"I should say not, Roody, when you're famous for your water scenes in all your big pictures! In 'The Lure of Silk' it's the scenes on the water they went craziest over."

"I've already got the passage engaged for next week to shoot the company over to France. That windmill scene on Long Island looks as much like the windmill north of Fleuris, where Napoleon could see the Blucher troops from, as I look like a windmill scene. 'Sol,' I says, 'it looks just like what it is—a piece of pasteboard out of the storehouse set up on a rock. Eat those feet of film, Sol,' I says to him, 'plant 'em, drown 'em—anything you like with 'em. That kind of fake stuff won't make 'Saint Elba' the greatest picture ever released, and every picture turned out from these studios has got to be just that.' I wish you could have heard, Rosie, in the projection-room, quiet like a pin after I came out with it."

"Fifty thousand dollars, Roody?"

"Yes. 'Fifty thousand dollars,' begins Sol with me, too. 'Fifty thousand—one hundred thousand—two!' I said. 'It would make no difference. If we can't fake the kind of battle-plain that wouldn't make Napoleon turn over in his grave, we cross the ocean for the real thing.' 'Fifty thousand dollars,' Sol keeps saying—you know how he cries with his voice. 'Fifty thousand dollars your grandmother!' I hollered. 'For a few dollars more or less I should make a Rudolph Pelz picture something I'm ashamed of.' Am I right, Rosie? Am I right?"

"I should say so, Roody, for a few dollars you should not belittle yourself."

"Not if your old man knows it, by golly! and I think he does."

"Hurry now, Roody; you know how Bleema likes it you should be dressed."

"Believe me, if Feist had his choice he wouldn't be dressed, neither. Full dress for grandma and all of us to look at each other in! When there's company, it's bad enough, but for Feist and a few servants, hanged if I see it!"

"Does it hurt, Roody, to give the child a little pleasure? Anyway, she's right—people like us should get dressed up for sup—dinner. I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't bring Lester Spencer back for dinner from automobiling."

"He leaves to-night at ten with the company for Pennsylvania and the Horseshoe Bend picture. Anyways, I don't see where it comes in that for a fellow who draws his salary off of me I have to dress. I got to say it for him, though, give the devil his due, he does a good piece of work where Sol succeeds in getting him off center-stage in his scene with Wellington."

"Lester is a good actor. Madame Coutilly, to-day, when I had my manicure, just raved over him and Norma Beautiful in 'The Lure of Silk.'"

"He'll be a screen proposition some day if we can chain down some of his conceit. Only, where such friendships with him and Bleema comes in, I don't see. I don't like it."

"Say, the child likes to run around with celebrities. Why shouldn't it give her pleasure over the other girls from Miss Samuels's school to be seen out once in a while with Lester Spencer, their favorite, or Norma Beautiful? 'America's Darlings,' I see this week's Screen Magazine calls 'em. It's natural the child should enjoy it."'

"Let her enjoy; only, where it comes in I should have to sit across from him at supper three times this week, I don't see. Out of the studio, me and Spencer don't talk the same language. To-night, him and Feist would mix like oil and water."

"Does Feist know yet, Roody, you closed the deal on the Grismer estate?"

"Sure! I says to him to-day: 'Feist, with us for next-door neighbors of your country estate, together we own nearly half of Long Island.' Am I right?"

"Like I says last night in mamma's room to Etta and Sol, 'I was used to thirty-four rooms and nineteen baths from home yet!' Poor mamma—how she laughed! Just like before her stroke."

"Nothing, Rosie, not one hundred rooms and fifty baths—nothing I can ever do for you is one-tenth that you deserve."

"And nothing, Roody, that I can do for you is one-hundredth what you deserve."

"I sometimes wonder, Rosie, if, with all we got, there isn't maybe some little happiness I've overlooked for you."

She lifted herself by his coat lapels, kissing him. "Such a question!"

"So many times it comes up in the scenarios and the picture-plots,
Rosie, how money don't always bring happiness."

"It wouldn't, Roody—not a penny's worth to me without you and Bleema. But with you, Roody, no matter how happy I feel, it seems to me I can't ever feel happy enough for what we have got. Why, a woman just couldn't—why, I—I always say about you, Roody, only yesterday to my own sister-in-law, 'Etta,' I says, 'it's hard for me to think of anything new to wish for.' Just take last week, for instance, I wished it that, right after the big check you gave for the Armenian sufferers, you should give that extra ten thousand in mamma's name to the Belgian sufferers. Done! Thursday, when I seen that gray roadster I liked so much for Bleema, this afternoon she's out riding in it. It is a wonder I got a wish for anything left in me."

"To have you talk like this, Rosie, is the highest of all my successes."

"If—if there's one real wish I got now, Roody, it is only for our
Bleema. We got a young lady, honey; we got to put on our thinking-cap."

"'Young lady'—all of a sudden she decides we've got! Young baby, you better say."

"A graduate this month from Miss Samuels's Central Park School he calls a baby!"

"Let me see—how old is—"

"He don't know his own child's age! Well, how many years back is it since we were in rainy-day skirts?"

"My God! Ten—fourteen—eighteen! Eighteen years! Our little Bleema! It seems yesterday, Rosie, I was learning her to walk along Grand Street."

"You haven't noticed, Roody, David Feist?"

"'Noticed'?"

"Say, you may be a smart man, Rudolph Pelz—everybody tells me you are—but they should know once on the Picture Rialto how dumb as a father you are. 'Noticed?' he asks. All right then—if you need a brick house—noticed that David Feist hates your daughter and 'ain't got eyes for her and don't try every excuse to get invited here for sup—dinner."

"You mean, Rosie—"

"Of course I mean! It's pitiful how he follows her everywhere with his eyes. In the box last night at the opera you was too asleep to see it, but all evening Etta was nudging me how he nearly ate up our Bleema just with looks."

"You women with your nonsense!"

"I guess, Rudolph, it would be a bad thing. Our daughter and a young man smart enough to make himself from a celluloid collar-cutter to a millionaire five times over on a little thing like inventing a newfangled film-substance should tie up with the only child of Rudolph Pelz, the picture king."

"I give you my word, Rosie, such talk makes me sick."

"You'd hate it, wouldn't you? A prince like David Feist."

"People don't talk such things till they happen. If our daughter could have the King of England and didn't want him, I'd say she should not marry the King of England. I want my girl home by me yet, anyway, for many a long day. She should be playing with her dolls instead of her mother and aunt Etta filling her up with ideas. Don't think I'm so stuck, neither, on how she runs around with my film stars."

"Honest, Roody, the way you're so strict with that child it's a shame!
The girl has got to have her pleasure."

"Well, if she's got to have her pleasure, she should have it with young men like Feist and not with—"

"There! Didn't I tell you so? Didn't I?"

"Say, I don't deny if I got some day to have a son-in-law, my first choice for him would be Feist."

"Roody, the two estates together in one!"

"I'm surprised at you, Rosie—honest, I'm surprised. Such talk!"

Mrs. Pelz took a pinch of his each cheek, tiptoeing to kiss him squarely on the lips.

"Go get dressed," she said, "and I'll wait for you."

"Rosie Posy," he said, clucking into his cheek with his tongue and moving away through the pink-shaded twilight.

At the door to the whitely glittering bathroom she called to him again, softly; he turning.

"What'll you bet, Roody, that I get my biggest wish as soon as I got the gray roadster and the Belgian check?"

"Women's nonsense!" said Mr. Pelz, his voice suddenly lost in the violent plunge of water into porcelain.

In a drawing-room faithful to Dunlap Brothers' exorbitant interpretation of the Italian Renaissance, a veritable forest of wrought-iron candle-trees burned dimly into a scene of Pinturicchio table, tapestry-surmounted wedding-chest, brave and hideous with pastiglia work, the inevitable camp-chair of Savonarola, an Umbrian-walnut chair with lyre-shaped front, bust of Dante Alighieri in Florentine cap and ear-muffs, a Sienese mirror of the soul, sixteenth-century suit of cap-à-pie armor on gold-and-black plinth, Venetian credence with wrought-iron locks. The voiceless and invoiced immobility of the museum here, as if only the red-plush railing, the cords from across chairs, and the "Do Not Sit" warnings to the footsore had been removed.

Against a chair cruel to the back with a carved coat of arms of the Lombardi family Mr. David Feist leaned lightly and wisely. If his correct-enough patent pumps ever so slightly escaped the floor, his span of shoulders left hardly an inch to be desired. There was a peninsula of rather too closely shaved but thick black hair jutted well down Mr. Feist's brow, forming what might have been bald but were merely hairless inlets on either side. Behind pince-nez his eyes sparkled in points not unlike the lenses themselves. Honed to a swift, aquiline boniness of profile which cut into the shadows, there was something swiftly vigorous about even his repose.

Incongruous enough on the Pinturicchio table, and as if she had dared to walk where mere moderns feared to tread, a polychrome framed picture of Miss Bleema Pelz, tulle-clouded, piquant profile flung charmingly to the northwest, and one bare shoulder prettily defiled with a long screw-curl, lit, as it were, into the careful gloom.

Deliberately in range of that photograph, and so beatific of gaze that it was as if his sense were soaked in its loveliness, Mr. Feist smiled, and, smiling, reddened. Enter then Mrs. Pelz, hitting softly into white taffetas beneath the black lace; Mr. Pelz, wide, white and boiled of shirt-front.

"Good evening, Mr. Feist! It's a shame the way we kept you waiting."

"Not at all, Mrs. Pelz—a pleasure. Hello! how's my friend, the picture king?"

"Rotten," said Mr. Pelz, amiably, shaking hands with a great riding-up of cuff, and seating himself astride a Florentine bench and the leather-embossed arms of the Strozzi family.

"Roody, what a way to sit!"

"'What a way to sit,' she tells me. I'd like to see a fellow sit any way in this room without making a monkey of himself. Am I right, Feist? The Eyetalians maybe didn't know no better, but I should have to suffer, too, when for four-seventy-nine I can buy myself at Tracy's the finest kind of a rocking-chair that fits me."

"Roody!"

"Say, Feist agrees with me; only, he don't know you well enough yet to let on. I notice that with all his Louis-this and Louis-that rooms in his own house, up in his own room it is a good old Uncle Sam's cot and a patent rocker."

"You've got a gorgeous room here just the same, Pelz."

"Gorgeous for a funeral."

"Every collector in the country knows that table. I had my eye on it for my music-room once myself when it was shown at Dunlap's."

"Dunlap's are a grand firm of decorators, Mr. Feist. I'm having them do
Grismer, too."

"Well, Feist, how does it feel to have us for neighbors?"

"Immense, Pelz!"

"Like I said to my husband, between us the way the estates adjoin, we got a monopoly on Long Island—ain't it so?"

"And believe me, Mrs. Pelz, you'll never regret the buy. The finest pleasure my money brought me yet is that view of my little bedroom I took you up to, Pelz."

"Wonderful!"

"I've got an outlook there, Mrs. Pelz, is a paradise to see. You can have all my forty-two rooms and two garages if you'll leave me my little top room with its miles of beautiful greenness, and—and so—so much beauty that—that it gets you by the throat. I—don't express it the way I see it, but—"

"I should say so, Mr. Feist! Out of every one of our thirty-four rooms and eighteen baths you can see a regular oil-painting."

Mr. Pelz leaned over, tongue in cheek and, at the screwing noise again, poking Mr. Feist in the region of the fifth rib.

"She said to me up-stairs just now, Feist, 'Like we was used to it from home?' Eh? C-c-c-cluck! Eighteen baths a day! I know the time when one every Saturday night was stuck up."

"Roody, honest, you're awful!"

"Say, me and Feist speak the same language. We ain't entertaining a lot of motion-picture stars to-night."

"I want Mr. Feist to come over some night to sup—dinner when we have a few of them over. We're great friends, Mr. Feist, with Norma Beautiful and Allan Hunt and Lester Spencer and all that crowd. We entertain them a good deal. My daughter is quite chums with them all. Elsie Love sleeps here some nights. Honest, Mr. Feist, you never saw a more unassuming girl for her salary."

"Yes, especially is she unassuming when she spoils ninety feet of film yesterday in a row with Spencer over who should have one-half inch nearer to the center of the picture."

"My husband, Mr. Feist, has got no patience with temperament."

"Honey, a little supper wouldn't hurt."

"I'll send and see if Bleema is ready yet. She's been out, taking Lester
Spencer in her new runabout her papa bought her. I wish you could see,
Mr. Feist, the way the traffic policemen smile after that girl the way
she handles a car. If I do say it, she's a picture."

"If you ask me, Mrs. Pelz, the finest of the objects in this room of fine things, it won't take me long to tell you," said Mr. Feist, leaning forward to lift for closer gaze the framed photograph.

"Now you're shouting, Feist!"

"That picture don't half do her justice. If I do say it, Mr. Feist—if that child had to make her living, she'd be a fortune in pictures. 'No, mamma,' she always says; 'God forbid if I have to make my living some day, I want to be a famous writer.' I want you to read sometime, Mr. Feist, some of that girl's poetry. I cry like a baby over the sad ones. And stories! There's one about a poor little girl who could look out of her window into the house of a rich girl and—"

"Feist, her mother just hates that child!"

"Say, old man, I don't see any medals on you for hating her."

"He's worse than I am, Mr. Feist; only, he hides it behind making fun of me. I always say if Bleema Pelz wanted the moon, her father would see to it that his property-man got the real one for her."

"You—you've got a beautiful, sweet little girl there, Pelz. I don't blame you."

"Feist, if I didn't know it, I'd be an ungrateful dog."

"Her papa can't realize, Mr. Feist, we haven't got a baby any more."

"I—realize it, Mrs. Pelz."

"You—you see, Roody?"

"I—I—guess I'm the old-fashioned kind of a fellow, Pelz, when it comes to girls. I—I guess I do it the way they used to do it—the parents first—but—but—now that we—we're on the subject—I—I like your daughter, Pelz—my God! Pelz, but—but I like your little daughter!"

An Augsburg clock ticked into a suddenly shaped silence, Mr. Pelz rising, Mr. Feist already risen.

"I haven't got much besides a clean record and all that love or money can buy her, Pelz, but—well—you know me for what I am, and—"

"Indeed we do, Mr. Feist! I always say to my husband my favorite of all the young men who come here is—"

"You know what my standing—well, with men and in business is, Pelz, and as far as taking care of her goes, I can make her from a little princess into a little queen—"

"The young man that is lucky enough to get Bleema, Mr. Feist—"

"Not that the money part is everything, but if what I am suits you and Mrs. Pelz, I want to enter the ring for her. I might as well come out with it. I wouldn't for anything on earth have her know that I've spoken to you—yet—not till after I've spoken with her—but—well, there's my cards on the table, Pelz."

Mr. Pelz held out a slow and rigid arm, one hand gripping, the other cupping Mr. Feist at the elbow.

"It's the finest compliment I could pay to any man on God's earth to say it, Feist, but if it's got to be that my little baby girl has grown up to an age where she—"

"She's already a year older than me when I married you, Roody."

"If it's got to be, then there's one man on earth I can give her up to with happiness. That man is you, Feist."

Into this atmosphere so surcharged that it had almost the singing quality of a current through it entered Miss Bleema Pelz, on slim silver heels that twinkled, the same diaphanous tulle of the photograph enveloping her like summer, her hair richer, but blending with the peach-bloom of her frock, the odor of youth her perfume.

"Bleema darling, you're just in time!"

"Hello, moms!"—in the little lifted voice trained to modulation, and kissing Mrs. Pelz in light consideration of powdered areas. "Hello, dads!"—tiptoeing and pursing her mouth into a bud. "Good evening, Mr. Feist."

"Looks like I'm the left-over in this party," said Mr. Feist, slow to release her hand and wanting not to redden.

"Naughty-naughty!" said Miss Pelz, with a flash of eyes to their corners, a flouncing of tulle, and then landing ever so lightly on her father's knee and at the immediate business of jerking open his tie. "Bad, bad dad! Didn't let Sato dress him to-night."

"You little red head, you!"

"Stop it! Hold up your chin."

"Honey, we're all starvationed."

"Lester'll be here any minute now."

"Lester Spencer coming for dinner, Bleema?"

"Surely. I dropped him just now at the Lions' Club to change his clothes. Now, don't get excited, dads; he's leaving right after dinner to catch his train for Horseshoe Bend."

"I must tell Williams to lay another—"

"I've already told him, mamma. Here he is now! Come on in, Lester; you're holding up the family. You've never met Mr. Feist, have you, the film king? You two ought to get acquainted—one makes the films and the other makes them famous."

There was a round of greetings, Mr. Spencer passing a hand that had emerged white and slim through the ordeal of thousands of feet of heroics.

"How do you do, Mrs. Pelz? Boss! Mr. Feist, glad to know you!"

What hundreds of thousands of men, seeming to despise, had secretly, in the organ-reverberating darkness of the motion-picture theater, yearned over Mr. Lester Spencer's chest expansion, hair pomade, and bulgeless front and shirt-front! When Lester Spencer, in a very slow fade-out, drew the exceedingly large-of-eye and heaving-of-bosom one unto his own immaculate bosom, whole rows of ladies, with the slightly open-mouthed, adenoidal expression of vicarious romance, sat forward in their chairs. Men appraised silently the pliant lay of shirt, the uncrawling coat-back, and the absence of that fatal divorce of trousers and waistcoat.

"I was telling my husband, Lester, my manicurist just raved to-day about you and Norma Beautiful in 'The Lure of Silk.'"

"Isn't that just the sweetest picture, moms?"

"It certainly is! Mr. Pelz took me down to the projection-room to see its first showing, and I give you my word I said to him and Sol—didn't I, Roody?—'That picture is a fortune.' And never in my life did I fail to pick a winner—did I, Roody? I got a knack for it. Mr. Feist, have you seen 'The Lure of Silk'?"

"Sorry to say I have not."

"If you think that is a riot, Mrs. Pelz, you wait until you see the way they're going to eat me up in the court scene in 'Saint Elba.' I had the whole studio crying down there to-day—didn't I, Mr. Pelz? Crying like babies over the scene where I stand like this—so—overlooking—"

"Say, Rosie, that's twice already Williams announced dinner is served."

"Overlooking the—"

"I hear Friedman & Kaplan made an assignment, Feist."

"Come, Lester; you take me in to dinner. Rudolph, you go and get mamma.
Bleema, you and Mr. Feist be escorts."

In a dining-room so unswervingly Jacobean that its high-back chairs formed an actual enclosure about the glittering, not to say noble, oval of table, the dinner-hour moved through the stately procession of its courses. At its head, Mrs. Miriam Sopinsky, dim with years and the kind of weariness of the flesh that Rembrandt knew so well, her face even yellower beneath the black wig with the bold row of machine-stitching down its center, the hands veiny and often uncertain among the dishes.

"Roody, cut up mamma's chicken for her. She trembles so."

"Moms, let Williams."

"No; she likes it when your father does it."

Mr. Pelz leaned over, transferring his own knife and fork. In Yiddish:

"Grandmother, I hear you've been flirting with Doctor Isadore Aarons. Now, don't you let me hear any more such nonsense. The young girls in this house got to walk the straight line."

The old face broke still more furiously into wrinkle, the hand reaching out to top his.

"Don't tease her, Roody; she likes to be let alone in public."

MR. FEIST: The old lady certainly holds her own, don't she? Honest, I'd give anything if I knew how to talk to her a little.

"No, Mr. Feist, mamma's breaking. Every day since her stroke I can see it more. It nearly kills me, too. It's pretty lonesome for her, up here away from all her old friends. Outside of my husband and Bleema, not a soul in the house talks her language except Sol and Etta when they come over."

"She's my nice darling grandma," said Miss Pelz, suddenly pirouetting up from her chair around the table, kissing the old lips lightly and then back again, all in a butterfly jiffy.

MRS. PELZ (sotto to Mr. Feist). Ain't she the sweetest thing with her grandmother?

"Umh!" said Mr. Spencer, draining his wine-glass to the depth of its stem. "Mr. Pelz, believe me if the Atlantic Ocean was made out of this stuff, you wouldn't have to engage passage for me; I'd swim across."

"You better learn how first," said Mr. Pelz. "You've cost me a fortune already in dummies for the water scenes."

"It's a riot, Mr. Pelz, the way they go mad over me in that Pelham Bay scene in 'The Marines Are Coming.' I dropped into the Buckingham to see it last night, and before I knew it the house had it that I was present and was going wild over me. They had to throw the spotlight on the box."

"I love that scene, too, Lester! Honest, I just squeeze up with excitement where you stand there at the edge of the deck and take the plunge into the water to rescue Norma Beautiful."

"You mean a super for five a day takes the plunge."

"Tell you another scene where I simply raise the roof off the house in—"

MR. PELZ: Williams, pass Mr. Feist some more of them little cabbages.

"Brussels sprouts, dad."

MRS. PELZ: I guess you miss Norma Beautiful not playing with you in "Saint Elba," don't you, Lester? You and her are so used to playing with each other.

"I was the one first suggested she wouldn't be the type to play Josephine, Mrs. Pelz. Too thin. I've got to be contrasted right or it kills me—"

"Williams, a little more of that chicken stuffing. It's almost good enough to remind me how you and grandma used to make it, Rosie."

"Speaking of 'Saint Elba,' Mr. Pelz, somebody must speak to Mabel Lovely about the way she keeps hogging center-stage in that scene with me on—"

"There's no center-stage left to hog with you in the picture, Spencer."

"She crowds me to profile. They want me full-face. If you'd put in a word to Sol to direct it that way! Other night, at the Buckingham, it was a riot every time I turned full-face. Just because a fellow happens to have a good profile is no reason why—"

"Well, Feist, how does the war look to-day?"

"Ugly, Pelz, ugly. Every hour this country lets pass with Belgium unavenged she is going to pay up for later."

"It's not our fight, Mr. Feist."

"Maybe it's not our fight, Mr. Spencer, but if ever there was a cause that is all humanity's fight, it is those bleeding and murdered women and children of Belgium. You're sailing over there yourself next week, Mr. Spencer, and I hope to God you will see for yourself how much of our fight it is."

"Ain't things just simply terrible? Honest, I said to Roody, when I picked up the paper this morning, it gives me the blues before I open it."

"Nobody can tell me that this country is going to sit back much longer and see autocracy grind its heel into the face of the world."

"You're right, Feist! I think if there is one thing worse than being too proud to fight, it is not being proud enough to fight."

"Lester Spencer, if you don't stop making eyes!"

"Mr. Pelz, every time I drink to your daughter only with my eyes she slaps me on the wrist. You put in a good word for me."

"Little more of that ice-cream, Feist?"

"Thanks, Pelz; no."

"You, Lester?"

"Don't care if I do, Miss Bleema Butterfly."

Mr. Pelz flashed out a watch. "Don't want to hurry you, Spencer, but if you have to catch that ten-o'clock train, by the time you get back and change clothes—"

"You're right, Mr. Pelz; I'd better be getting on."

Miss Pelz danced to her feet. "Mamma and papa will excuse us, Lester, if we leave before coffee. Come; I'll shoot you to the club."

"Why, Bleema! George will bring the limousine around and—"

"I promised! Didn't I promise you, Lester, that if you came up to dinner
I'd drive you back to the club myself?"

"She sure did, Mrs. Pelz."

"Bleema, you stay right here and finish your supper. There's two chauffeurs on the place to drive Spencer around to his club."

"But, dad, I promised."

"Why, Bleema, ain't you ashamed? Mr. Feist here for dinner and you to run off like that. Shame on you!"

"Oh, that's all right, Mrs. Pelz. I'll stay around and be entertained by you and Mr.—"

"I'll be back in twenty minutes, moms. Surely you'll excuse me that long! I want to drive him down in my new runabout. I promised. Please, moms! Dad?"

"Ask your papa, Bleema; I—I don't know—"

"Dad?"

"You heard what I said, Bleema. No!"

A quick film of tears formed over Miss Pelz's eyes, her lips quivering. "Oh, well—if—if you're going to be that mean—oh, you make me so mad—. Come on, Lester—I—I guess I can take you as far as the front door without the whole world jumping on me. Oh—oh—you make me so mad!" And pranced out on slim feet of high dudgeon.

"Poor child!" said Mrs. Pelz, stirring into her coffee. "She's so high strung."

"She's got to quit wasting her time on that conceited jackass," said Mr.
Pelz, swallowing off his demi-tasse at a gulp. "Won't have it!"

"It makes her papa mad the way the boys just kill themselves over that girl," said Mrs. Pelz, arch of glance toward Mr. Feist, who was stirring also, his eyes lowered.

"Me, too," he said, softly.

"Jealous!" flashed Mrs. Pelz.

After an interval, and only upon despatching a servant, Miss Pelz returned, the tears frank streaks now down her cheeks.

"Sit down, baby, and drink your coffee."

"Don't want any."

"Williams, bring Miss Bleema some hot coffee."

"I'm finished, mother—please!"

"I was telling Mr. Feist a while ago, Bleema, about your ambition to be a writer, not for money, but just for the pleasure in it. What is it you call such writing in your French, honey? Dilytanty?"

"Please, mamma, Mr. Feist isn't interested."

"Indeed I am, Miss Bleema! More interested than in anything I know of."

"She's mad at her papa, Feist, and when my little girl gets mad at her papa there's nothing for him to do but apologize with a big kiss."

Suddenly Miss Pelz burst into tears, a hot cascade of them that flowed down over her prettiness.

"Why, Bleema!"

"Now, now, papa's girl—"

The grandmother made a quick gesture of uplifted hands, leaning over toward her, and Miss Pelz hiding her face against that haven of shrunken old bosom.

"Oh, grandma, make 'em let me alone!"

"Why, Bleema darling, I'm surprised! Ain't you ashamed to act this way in front of Mr. Feist? What'll he think?"

"Please, Mrs. Pelz, don't mind me; she's a little upset—that's all."

"You—you made me look like—like thirty cents before Lester
Spencer—that—that's what you did."

"Why, Bleema, do you think that if papa thought that Lester Spencer was worth bothering that pretty red head of yours about that he would—"

"There you go again! Always picking on Lester. If you want to know it, next to Norma Beautiful and Allan Hunt he's the biggest money-maker your old corporation has got."

"What's that got to do with you?"

"And he'll be passing them all in a year or two, you see if he don't—if—if—if only you'd stop picking on him and letting Uncle Sol crowd him out of the pictures and everybody in the company take advantage of him—he—he's grand—he—"

"He's a grand conceited fool. If not for the silly matinée women in the world he couldn't make salt."

"That shows all you know about him, papa! He's got big ideals, Lester has. He got plans up his sleeve for making over the moving-picture business from the silly films they show nowadays to—"

"Yes—to something where no one gets a look-in except Lester Spencer.
They're looking for his kind to run the picture business!"

"Roody—Bleema—please! Just look at poor grandma! Mr. Feist, I must apologize."

"He's a nix, an empty-headed—"

"He is—is he? Well, then—well, then—since you force me to it—right here in front of Mr. Feist—Lester Spencer and I got engaged to-day! He's the only man in my life. We're going to be married right off, in time for me to sail for France with the company. He's going to talk to you when he gets back from Horseshoe Bend. We're engaged! That's how much I think of Lester Spencer. That's how much I know he's the finest man in the world. Now then! Now then!"

There was a note in Miss Pelz's voice that, in the ensuing silence, seemed actually to ring against the frail crystal. She was on her feet, head up, tears drying.

"Blee-Bleema!"

"Moms darling, aren't you happy? Isn't it wonderful—moms?"

"Roody! For God's sake, Bleema, you're choking your father to death! Roody, for God's sake, don't get so red! Williams—some water—quick! Roody!"

"I'm all right. All right, I tell you. She got me excited. Sit down,
Bleema—sit down, I said."

"Pelz, if you don't mind, I think maybe I'd better be going."

"You stay right here, Feist. I want you to hear every word that I'm going to say. If my daughter has no shame, I haven't, either. Williams, call Mrs. Sopinsky's maid, and see that she gets to her room comfortable. Sit down, Bleema!"

"My God!—I can't believe my ears—Bleema and such a goy play-actor—"

"Please, Rosie!"

"A goy that—"

"Rosie, I said, 'Please!' Bleema, did you hear me? Sit down!"

Miss Pelz sat then, gingerly on the chair-edge, her young lips straight.
"Well?"

Her father crunched into his stiff damask napkin, holding a fistful of it tense against bringing it down in a china-shivering bang. Then, with carefully spaced words, "If I didn't think, Bleema, that you are crazy for the moment, infatuated with—"

"I'm not infatuated!"

"Bleema, Bleema, don't talk to your father so ugly!"

"Well, I guess I know my own mind. I guess I know when I'm in love with the finest, darlingest fellow that ever—"

"You hush that, Bleema! Hush that, while I can hold myself in. That I should live to hear my child make herself common over a loafer—"

"Papa, if you call him another name, I—I—"

"You'll sit right here and hear me out. If you think you're going to let this loafer ruin your own life and the lives of your parents and poor grandmother—"

"Papa, papa, you don't know him! The company are all down on him because they're jealous. Lester Spencer comes from one of the finest old Southern families—"

"Roody, Roody, a goy play-actor—"

"'A goy play-actor'! I notice, mamma, you are the one always likes to brag when the girls and fellows like Norma Beautiful and Allan Hunt and Lester and—and all come up to the house. It's the biggest feather in your cap the way on account of papa the big names got to come running when you invite them."

"Your mother's little nonsenses have got nothing to do with it."

"She reproaches me with having brought about this goy mix-up! Me that has planned each hour of that girl's life like each one was a flower in a garden, A young man, a grand young man like Mr. Feist, crazy in lo—"

"Mrs. Pelz, for God's sake! Mrs. Pelz, please!"

"Rosie, we'll leave Feist out of this."

"Lester Spencer, papa, is one of the finest characters, if only you—"

"I ask you again, Bleema, to cut out such talk while I got the strength left to hold in. It's a nail in my coffin I should live to talk such talk to my little daughter, but it's got to where I've got to say it. Lester Spencer and the fine character you talk about—it's free gossip in all the studios—is one of the biggest low-lifes in the picture-world. He has a reputation with the women that I'm ashamed to mention even before your mother, much less her daughter—"

"Oh, I know what you mean! Oh, you're like all the rest—down on him.
You mean that silly talk about him and Norma Beautiful—"

"Oh my God, Roody, listen to her!"

"I can clear that up in a minute. He never cared a thing for her. It was just their always playing in the same pictures, and that silly matinée public, first thing he knew, got to linking their names together."

"Bleema—for God's sake—baby—what do you know about such?"

"Bleema, you're killing your mother! Your mother that used to rock you in your cradle while she stitched on the machine to buy you more comforts—a mother that—"

"Oh, if you're going to begin that!"

"Your poor old grandmother—don't she mean nothing? You saw how she looked just now when they took her out, even before she knows what it's all about—"

"I hope she never has a worse trouble than for me to marry the best—"

Then Mr. Pelz came down with crashing fist that shattered an opalescent wine-glass and sent a great stain sprawling over the cloth.

"By God, I'll kill him first! The dirty hou—"

"Pelz, for God's sake, control yourself!"

'I'll kill him, I tell you, Feist!"

"Roody!"

"You can't scare me that way, dad. I'm no baby to be hollered at like that. I love Lester Spencer, and I'm going to marry him!"

"I'll kill him; I'll—"

"Roody, Roody, for God's sake! 'Sh-h-h, the servants! Williams, close quick all the doors. Roody, for my sake, if not your child's! Mr. Feist, please—please make him, Mr. Feist!"

"Pelz, for God's sake, man, get yourself together! Excitement won't get you anywheres. Calm down. Be human."

Then Mr. Pelz sat down again, but trembling and swallowing back with difficulty. "She got me wild, Feist. You must excuse me. She got me wild —my little girl—my little flower—"

"Papa—dad darling! Don't you think it kills me, too, to see you like this? My own darling papa that's so terribly good. My own darling sweet mamma. Can't you see, darlings, a girl can't help it when—when—life just takes hold of her? I swear to you—I promise you that, when you come to know Lester as I know him you'll think him as fine and—and gorgeous as I do. Mamma, do you think your little Bleema would marry a man who doesn't just love you, and dad, too? It isn't like Lester is a nobody—a high-salaried fellow like him with a future. Why, the best will be none too good! He loves you both—told me so to-day. The one aim in his life is to do big things, to make you both proud, to make his name the biggest—"

"Feist—Feist—can't you talk to her? Tell her it's madness—tell her she's ruining herself."

"Why, Miss Bleema, there's nothing much a—a stranger like me can say at a time like this. It's only unfortunate that I happened to be here. If I were you, though, I think I'd take a little time to think this over. Sometimes a young girl—."

"I have thought it over, Mr. Feist. For weeks and weeks I've thought of nothing else. That's how sure I am—so terribly sure."

"I won't have it, I tell you! I'll wring his—"

"'Sh-h-h, Pelz. If you'll take my advice, you'll handle this thing without threats. Why not, Miss Bleema, even if you do feel so sure, give yourself a little more time to—"

"No! No! No!"

"Just a minute now. If you feel this way so strongly to-night, isn't it just possible that to-morrow, when you wake up, you may see things differently?"

"I tell you I'm going to France with him—on our honeymoon. It's all fixed if—moms—dad—won't you please—darlings—can't you see—my happiness—"

"O God, Roody, were ever parents in such a fix?"

"Listen to me, Miss Bleema, now: I'm an old friend of the family, and you don't need to take exception to what I'm going to suggest. If your heart is so set on this thing, all right then, make up your mind it's an engagement and—"

"By God, Feist, no!"

"Wait, Pelz, I tell you you're making a mistake with your state of excitement."

"Let Mr. Feist talk, Roody."

"Make up your mind as I was saying, Miss Bleema, that this engagement exists between you and—and this young man. Then, instead of doing the hasty thing and marrying next week, you remain here a happy, engaged girl until the company returns in three weeks, and meanwhile you will have time to know your own mind and—"

"No! No! No! I do know it! It's all fixed we're—"

"That's a fine idea of Mr. Feist's, Bleema darling. For mamma's sake, baby. For grandma's. If it's got to be an engagement, hold it until after he gets back. Don't go rushing in. Take time to think a little. France is no place for a honeymoon now—submarines and all."

"Oh, I know! You hope he'll get sunk with a submarine."

"Shame, Miss Bleema; shame!"

"All mamma means, darling, is take a little time and get a—a trousseau like a girl like you has to have. If your heart is so set on it, can't you do that much to please mamma? That much?"

"There's a trick. You want me to wait and then—"

"Miss Bleema, is my promise to you enough that there's no trick? On my respect for your parents and grandmother, there's no trick. If it is only to please them, wait those few weeks and do it more dignified. If it's got to be, then it's got to be. Am I right, Pelz?"

Mr. Pelz turned away, nodding his head, but with lips too wry to speak.

"O my God, yes! Mr. Feist, you're right. Bleema, promise us! Promise!"

"Just a matter of a few weeks more or less, Miss Bleema. Just so your parents are satisfied you know your own mind."

"I do!"

"Then, I say, if you still feel as you do, not even they have the right to interfere."

"Promise us, Bleema; promise us that!"

"I—I'll be engaged on your word of honor—without any fussing about it?"

"An engaged girl, Miss Bleema, like any other engaged girl."

"But dad—look at him—he won't—p-promise," trembling into tears.

"Of course he will—won't you, Pelz? And you know the reputation your father has for a man of his word."

"Will—will he promise?"

"You do; don't you, Pelz?"

Again the nod from the bitter inverted features.

"Now, Miss Bleema?"

"Well then, I—I—p-promise."

On a May-day morning that was a kiss to the cheek and even ingratiated itself into the bale-smelling, truck-rumbling pier-shed, Mr. Lester Spencer, caparisoned for high seas by Fifth Avenue's highest haberdasher, stood off in a little cove of bags and baggage, yachting-cap well down over his eyes, the nattiest thing in nautical ulsters buttoned to the chin. Beside him, Miss Norma Beautiful, her small-featured pink-and-whiteness even smaller and pinker from the depths of a great cart-wheel of rose-colored hat, completely swathed in rose-colored veiling.

"For a snap of my finger I'd spill the beans—that's how stuck on this situation I am!"

Mr. Spencer plunged emphatic arms into large patch-pockets, his chin projecting beyond the muffle of collar.

"Just you try it and see where it lands you!"

Then Miss Beautiful from the rosy depths of hat began to quiver of voice, jerky little sobs catching her up.

"I can't stand it! I b-bit off a b-bigger piece than I can swallow."

"Now, Darling Beautiful, I ask you would your own Lester do anything that wasn't just going to be the making of his girl as well as himself? Is it anything, Angel Beautiful, he is asking you to do except wait until—"

"I can't bear it, I tell you! A little red-haired kike like her! How do I know what I'm letting myself in for? There's only one ground for divorce in this state. What guarantee have I you'll get free on it?"

"My guarantee, Pussy. You're letting yourself in for a pink limousine to match that pink sweetness of yours and a jumping-rope of pearls to match those sweet teeth of yours and—"

"I want black pearls, Lester, like Lucille Du Pont's."

"Black, then. Why, Angel Beautiful, you just know that there's not a hair on any head in the world, much less a red one, I'd change for one of my girl's golden ones. You think I'd ever have known the little Reddie was on earth if she hadn't just flung herself at my head! She could have been six Rudolph Pelz's daughters, and I wouldn't have had eyes for her."

"But, Lester—she—she's right cute. What guarantee have I got?"

"Cross my heart and swear to die, Angel! Haven't I already sworn it to you a thousand thousand times? You wouldn't want me to close my eyes to the chance of a lifetime—you know you wouldn't, Beautiful, when it's your chance as much as mine. Both ours!"

"I—if only it was—over, Lester—all—over!"

"What's three weeks, Angel Beautiful? The very day I'm back I'll pull the trick with the little red head, and then I'm for letting things happen quick."

"And me, what'll I—"

"I'm going to move you into the solid-goldest hotel suite in this here town, Pussy. I'm going to form the Norma Beautiful Film Corporation in my own girl's name, the first pop out of the box. Why, there's just nowhere Rudolph Pelz's son-in-law can't get his girl in the little while I'm going to stick."

"How do I know? How do I know they won't find a way to hold you?"

"Why, Darling Beautiful, when they're through with me, they'll pay me off in my weight in gold. Haven't you said things often enough about your boy's temper when he lets it fly? You think they're going to let me cut up nonsense with that little Reddie of theirs? Why, that old man would pay with his right eye to protect her!"

"O God, it's rotten—a nice fellow like Pelz—a—"

"It's done every day, Gorgeous Beautiful. Anyway, there's no way to really hurt the rich. Look at Warren Norton—the Talcott family paid Warren two hundred cool thousand to give her back quietly. It's done every day, Gorgeousness. Many a fellow like me has gotten himself roped into a thing he wanted to get out of quietly. That little girl lassoed me. I should have eyes for a little Reddie like her with the Deep-Sea Pearl of the world my very own. I'm going to marry you, too, Gorgeousness. I'm going to see you right through, this time. Jump right out of the frying-pan into the hottest, sweetest fire!"

"I tell you I can't stand it! Promising to marry me with another one to see through before you get to me. It—it's terrible! I—"

"There you go again! The Norma Beautiful Film Corporation doesn't tickle my pink rose on the eardrums! She doesn't want it! Wouldn't have it!"

"I do, Lester; I do—only—only—I—the little Reddie—it's not right. She's a sweet little thing. I'm afraid, Lester—I think I must be going crazy! I wish to God I could hate you the way you ought to be hated. I tell you I can't stand it. You sailing off like this. The coming back—her—I'll kill myself during the ceremony. I—"

"You create a scene down here and you'll be sorry!"

"Lester—please!"

"They'll be here any minute now. They're late as it is. Look— everybody's on board already! One more blast, and I'll have to go, too. You just kick up nasty at the last minute and watch me!"

"I won't, Lester; I won't! I swear to God! Only, be good to me; be sweet to me, darling! Say good-by before they—she comes. I'm all right, darling. Please—please—"

He caught her to him then, and back in the sheltering cove of baggage thrust back her head, kissing deep into the veiling.

"Beautiful! Angel Beautiful!"

"Swear to me, Lester, you'll see me through."

"I swear, Beautiful."

"Swear to me, or hope to die and lose your luck!"

He kissed her again so that her hat tilted backward, straining at its pins.

"Hope to die and lose my luck."

"My own preciousness!" she said, her eyes tear-glazed and yearning up into his.

"'Sh-h, Pussy; here comes Sol Sopinsky to hurry me on board. Funny the Pelz crowd don't show up. Quit it! Here they come! That's their car. Cut it—quick!"

With noiselessly thrown clutch, the Pelz limousine drew up between an aisle of bales, its door immediately flung open. First, Mr. Pelz emerging, with an immediate arm held back for Mrs. Pelz. Last, Miss Pelz, a delightful paradox of sheer summer silk and white-fox furs, her small face flushed and carefully powdered up about the eyes.

"There he is, dad! Over there with Norma and Uncle Sol!"

"Don't run so, Bleema; he'll come over to you."

But she was around and through the archipelago of baggage.

"Lester darling! There was a tie-up at Thirty-third Street. I thought I'd die! Here's a little package of letters, love, one for each day on the steamer. Lester, have you got everything—are you all ready to leave your girlie—Hello, Norma—Uncle Sol! Lester are you—you sorry to leave you—your—"

"Now, now—no water-works!"

"My all! My own boy!" She drew him, to hide the quickening trembling of her lips, back behind the shelter of piled baggage.

"Lester darling—I—I didn't sleep a wink all night! I—I'm so nervous, dear. What if a submarine should catch you? What if you meet a French girl and fall in—"

"Now, now, Reddie! Is that what you think of your boy?"

"I don't, dearest; I don't! I keep telling myself I'm a silly—What's three weeks? But when it means separation from the sweetest, dearest—"

"'Sh-h-h, Angel darling! There's the last blast, and your father's angry. See him beckoning! The company's been on board twenty minutes already. Look—there's the sailors lined up at the gangplank—Bleema—"

"Promise me, Lester—"

"I do! I do promise! Anything! Look, girlie: Miss Beautiful will feel hurt the way we left her standing. It isn't nice—our hiding this way."

"I can't bear, dearest, to see you go—"

"Look! See—there's David Feist come down, too. You don't want him to see my girl make a cry baby of herself over a three weeks' trip—"

"You'll write, Lester, and cable every day?"

"You just know I will!"

"You won't go near the war?"

"You just know I won't!"

"You—"

"Your father, Bleema—let's not get him sore, hiding back here. Come; they'll draw up the plank on me."

"I'll be waving out from the edge of the pier, darling. I've got a special permit to go out there. I just couldn't stand not seeing my boy up to the last second. It's terrible for you to sneak off on a boat like this, darling, without flags and music the way it was before the war. I want music and flags when my boy goes off. Oh, Lester, I'll be working so hard on the sweetest little trousseau and the sweetest little—"

"Bleema, please! There's Miss Beautiful overhearing every word. Please!" "Well, good-by, Miss Beautiful; don't walk off with the studio while we're gone—take care of yourself—"

"Good-by—Mr. Spencer—b-bon voyage!"

"Hi, Mr. Feist, mighty handsome of you to come down to see me off!"

"Safe journey, Spencer! Remember you've got a precious piece of anxiety waiting back here for you."

"Oh, Mr. Feist—isn't—isn't—it awful—submarine-time and all? I—I just can't bear it!"

"Now! Now! Is that the way for a brave little girl to talk?"

"Bleema, if you can't control yourself, you had better go sit in the car. I'm ashamed before the company."

"Roody, the poor child!"

"He—that's the only way papa talks to me these days—fault-finding!"

"Now, now, Miss Bleema! Here—take mine; yours is all wet."

Another blast then, reverberating into the din.

"All aboard!"

"Good-by, Lester—good-by, darling—cable every day—by—good-by—boy!"

"Good-by, little Reddie! Thanks for the beautiful fruits and letters.
Good-by, Mr. Pelz!"

"Play fair in the picture, Spencer. Don't hog the scenes. Help instead of hinder Sopinsky."

"Indeed I will, sir! Good-by, Mrs. Pelz!"

"Good-by, Lester! God bless you, my boy! Take care of yourself, and remember my little girl is—"

"Lester—Lester, a cable every day!"

"Bleema, will you please let the man catch his boat? It's an embarrassment to even watch you."

"Lester—Lester—"

"Yes, yes; good-by, everybody!"

"I'll be out at the pier-edge—wave back, darling!"

"Yes, yes! Good-by, Miss Beautiful! By, all!" And then, from an upper deck, more and more shouted farewells.

"They're moving! Come, Mr. Feist—please—with me—I've got the permit—don't let papa see us—come—the pier-edge!"

"Sure! This way, Miss Bleema—here—under—quick!"

Out in the open, May lay with Italian warmth over a harbor that kicked up the tiniest of frills. A gull cut through the blueness, winging it in festoons.

"Over this way, Miss Bleema; we can see her steaming out."

"Lester—good-by—Lester—a cable every day! I'll be waiting. Good-by!"

All this unavailingly flung to the great hulk of boat moving so proud of bow and so grandly out to sea, decks of faces and waving kerchiefs receding quickly.

"Good-by—darling—oh—oh—"

"'Sh-h—'sh-h-h, Miss Bleema. Here—take another of mine. Yours is all wet again. My—what a rainy day! Here—let me dry them for you. Hold still!"

"Oh—oh—cable every day, darling—write—oh, Mr. Feist—he don't see us—he's out of sight—don't wipe 'em so hard, Mr. Feist—you—you h-hurt!"

Out toward the blue, the billowing fields sailed away the gray steamer, cutting a path that sprayed and sang after. Sunlight danced and lay whitely as far as the eye could reach. It prolonged for those on shore the contour of the line of faces above each deck; it picked points of light from off everywhere—off smokestacks and polished railings, off plate-glass and brass-bound port-holes and even down the ship's flank, to where gilt letters spelled out shiningly:

"LUSITANIA."