Heads, by Fannie Hurst
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,
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
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
"Now, Rosie, wouldn't that keep until—"
"Well, if you got to know it, Rosie, they're shipping back the
"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
"It's a dirty shame! A big firm like Solomon & Glauber should not be
"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
"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
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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—"
"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?"
"Heads or tails, Rosie?"
"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
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.
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
"Roody, it's nearly seven. Don't make me ashamed for Feist."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Lester is a good actor. Madame Coutilly, to-day, when I had my
manicure, just raved over him and Norma Beautiful in 'The Lure
"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
"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
"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
"A graduate this month from Miss Samuels's Central Park School he calls
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"Well, Feist, how does it feel to have us for neighbors?"
"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."
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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,
"Ask your papa, Bleema; I—I don't know—"
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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—"
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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!"
"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
"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
"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
"By God, Feist, no!"
"Wait, Pelz, I tell you you're making a mistake with your state of
"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."
"Then, I say, if you still feel as you do, not even they have the right
"Promise us, Bleema; promise us that!"
"I—I'll be engaged on your word of honor—without any fussing about
"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
"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
"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
"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!"
"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,
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
"Hope to die and lose my luck."
"My own preciousness!" she said, her eyes tear-glazed and yearning up
"'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
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
"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!"
"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.
"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."
"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
"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
"'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.
"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.
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: