A Boob Spelled Backwards, by Fannie
How difficult it is to think of great lives in terms of the small
mosaics that go to make up the pattern of every man's day-by-day—the
too tepid shaving-water; the badly laundered shirt-front; the
three-minute egg; the too-short fourth leg of the table; the draught on
the neck; the bad pen; the neighboring rooster; the misplaced key; the
Richelieu, who walked with kings, presided always at the stitching of
his red robes. Boswell says somewhere that a badly starched stock could
kill his Johnson's morning. It was the hanging of his own chintzes that
first swayed William Morris from epic mood to household utensils.
Seneca, first in Latin in the whole Silver Age, prepared his own
vegetables. There is no outgrowing the small moments of life, and to
those lesser ones of us how often they become the large ones!
To Samuel Lipkind, who, in a span of thirty years, had created and
carried probably more than his share of this world's responsibilities,
there was no more predominant moment in all his day, even to the signing
of checks and the six-o'clock making of cash, than that matinal instant,
just fifteen minutes before the stroke of seven, when Mrs. Lipkind, in
a fuzzy gray wrapper the color of her eyes and hair, kissed him awake,
and, from across the hall, he could hear the harsh sing of his bath in
There are moments like that which never grow old. For the fifteen years
that Samuel Lipkind had reached the Two Dollar Hat Store before his two
clerks, he had awakened to that same kiss on his slightly open mouth,
the gray hair and the ever-graying eyes close enough to be stroked, the
pungency of coffee seeming to wind like wreaths of mundane aroma above
the bed, and always across the aisle of hallway that tepid cataract
leaping in glory into porcelain.
Take the particular morning which ushers in our story, although it might
have been any of twelve times three hundred others.
"Sammy!" This upon opening his door, then crossing to close the
conservative five inches of open window and over to the bedside for the
kissing him awake. "Sammy, get up!"
The snuggle away into the crotch of his elbow.
"Sammy! Thu, thu! I can't get him up! Sammy, a quarter to seven! You
want to be late? I can't get him up!"
"You want your own clerks to beat you to business so they can say they
got a lazy boss?"
"I'm awake, ma." Reaching up to stroke her hair, thin and gray now, and
drawn back into an early-morning knob.
"Don't splash in the bath-room so this morning, Sammy; it's a shame for
"I won't"—drawing the cord of his robe about his waist, and as if they
did not both of them know just how faithfully disregarded would be that
Then Mrs. Lipkind flung back the snowy sheets and bed-coverings, baring
the striped ticking of the mattress.
"Hurry, Sammy! I'm up so long I'm ready for my second cup of coffee."
"Two minutes." And off across the hall, whistling, towel across arm.
It was that little early moment sublimated by nothing more than the
fusty beginnings of a workaday, the mere recollecting of which was one
day to bring a wash of tears behind his eyes and a twist of anguish into
Next breakfast, and to dine within reach of the coal-range which brews
it is so homely a fashion that even Mr. Lipkind, upon whom such matters
of bad form lay as a matter of course, was wont to remonstrate.
"What's the matter with the dining-room, ma? Since when have
dining-rooms gone out of style?"
Pouring his coffee from the speckled granite pot, Mrs. Lipkind would
smile up and over it.
"All I ask is my son should never have it worse than to eat all his
lifetime in just such a kitchen like mine. Off my kitchen floor I would
rather eat than off some people's fine polished mahogany."
The mahogany was almost not far-fetched. There was a blue-and-white
spick-and-spanness about Mrs. Lipkind's kitchen which must lie within
the soul of the housewife who achieves it—the lace-edged shelves, the
scoured armament of dishpan, soup-pot, and what not; the white Swiss
window-curtains, so starchy, and the two regimental geraniums on the
sill; the roller-towel too snowy for mortal hand to smudge; the white
sink, hand-polished; the bland row of blue-and-white china jars spicily
inscribed to nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. That such a kitchen could be
within the tall and brick confines of an upper-Manhattan apartment-house
was only another of the thousand thousand paradoxes over which the city
spreads her glittering skirts. The street within roaring distance, the
highway of Lenox Avenue flowing dizzily constantly past her windows, the
interior of Mrs. Lipkind's apartment, from the chromos of the dear dead
upon its walls to the upholstery of another decade against those walls,
was as little of the day as if the sweep of the city were a gale across
a mid-Victorian plain and the flow past the windows a broad river
ruffled by wind.
"You're right, ma; there's not a kitchen in New York I'd trade it for.
But what's the idea of paying rent on a dining-room?"
"Sa-y, if not for when Clara comes and how in America all young people
got extravagant ideas, we was just as well off without one in our three
rooms in Simpson Street."
"A little more of that mackerel, please."
You to whom the chilled grapefruit and the eggshell cup of morning
coffee are a gastronomic feat not always easy to hurdle, raise not your
digestive eyebrows. At precisely fifteen minutes past seven six mornings
in the week, seven-thirty, Sundays, Mrs. Lipkind and her son sat down to
a breakfast that was steamingly fit for those only who dwell in the
headacheless kingdom of long, sleepful nights and fur-coatless tongues.
"A few more fried potatoes with it, Sammy?"
"Whoa! You want to feed me up for the fat boys' regiment!"
Mrs. Lipkind glanced quickly away, her profile seeming to quiver. "Don't
use that word, Sam—even in fun—it's a knife in me."
He reached across to pat the vein-corduroyed back of her hand.
"My little sweetheart mamma," he said.
She, in turn, put out her hand over his, her old sagging throat visibly
constricting in a gulp, and her eyes as if they could never be finished
with yearning over him. "You're a good boy, Sammy."
"I always say no matter what it is bad my life has had for me with my
twenty-five years a widow, my only daughter to marry out six hundred
miles away from me, my business troubles when I had to lose the little
store what your papa left me, nothing ain't nothing, Sammy, when a
mother can raise for herself a boy like mine."
"You mean when a fellow can pick out for himself a little sweetheart
mamma like mine."
"Sammy, stop it with your pinching-me nonsense like I was your best
"Well, ain't you?"
She paused, her cup of coffee half-way to her lips, the lines of her
face seeming to want to lift into what would be a smile. "No, Sammy;
your mother knows she ain't, and if she was anything but a selfish old
woman, she would be glad that she ain't."
"'Sh! 'Sh!" said Mr. Lipkind, reaching this time half across the table
for a still steaming muffin and opening it so that its hot fragrance
came out. '"Sh! No April showers! Uh! Uh! Don't you dare!"
"I ain't," said Mrs. Lipkind, smiling through her tear and dashing at it
with the back of her hand. "For why should I when I got only everything
to be thankful for?"
"Now you're shouting!"
"How you think, Sammy, Clara likes a cheese pie for supper to-night?
Last week I could see she didn't care much for the noodle pudding I
Mr. Lipkind, who was ever so slightly and prematurely bald and still
more slightly and prematurely rotund, suffered a rush of color then, his
ears suddenly and redly conspicuous.
"That's—that's what I started to tell you last night, ma. Clara
telephoned over to the store in the afternoon she—she thought she
wouldn't come to supper this Wednesday night, ma."
"Sammy—you—you and Clara 'ain't got nothing wrong together, the way
you don't see each other so much these two months?"
"Of course not, ma; it's just happened a few times that way. The
trade's in town; that's all."
"How is it all of a sudden a girl in the wholesale ribbon
business should have the trade to entertain like she was in the
"It's not that Clara's busy to-night, ma. She—she only thought she—for
a change—there's a little side table for two—for three—where she
boards—she thought maybe if—if you didn't mind, I'd go over to her
place for Wednesday-night supper for a change. You know how a girl like
Clara gets to feeling obligated."
"Obligated from eating once a week supper in her own future house!"
"She asked I should bring you, too, ma, but I know how bashful you are
to go in places like that."
"In such a place where it's all style and no food—yes."
"That's it; so we—I thought, ma, that is, if you don't mind, instead of
Clara here to-night for supper, I—I'd go over to her place. If you
don't mind, ma."
There was a silence, so light, so slight that it would not have even
held the dropping of a pin, but yet had a depth and a quality that set
them both to breathing faster.
"Why, of course, Sammy, you should go!"
"I—we thought for a change."
"You should have told me yesterday, Sammy, before I marketed poultry."
"I know, ma; I—just didn't. Clara only 'phoned at four."
"A few more fried potatoes?"
"Sit up straight, Sam, from out your round shoulders."
"You ain't—mad, ma?"
"For why, Sammy, should I be mad that you go to Clara for a change to
supper. I'm glad if you get a change."
"It's not that, ma. It's just that she asked it. You know how a person
feels, her taking her Wednesday-night suppers here for more than five
years and never once have I—we—set foot in any of her boarding-houses.
She imagines she's obligated. You know how Clara is, so independent."
"You should go. I hear, too, how Mrs. Schulem sets a good table."
"I'll be home by nine, ma—you sure you don't mind?"
"I wouldn't mind, Sammy, if it was twelve. Since when is it that a
grown-up son has to apologize to his mother if he takes a step
"You can believe me, ma, but I've got so it don't seem like theater or
nothing seems like going out without my little sweetheart mamma on one
arm and Clara on the other."
"It's not right, Sammy, you should spoil me so. Don't think that even if
you don't let me talk about it, I don't know in my heart how I'm in
yours and Clara's way."
"Ma, now just you start that talk and you know what I'll do—I'll get up
and leave the table."
"Sammy, if only you would let me talk about it!"
"You heard what I said."
"To think my son should have to wait with his engagement for five years
and never once let his mother ask him why it is he waits. It ain't
because of to-night I want to talk about it, Sam, but if I thought it
was me that had stood between you and Clara all these five years, if—if
I thought it was because of me you don't see each other so much here
"I couldn't stand it, son. If ever a boy deserved happiness, that boy is
you. A boy that scraped his fingers to the bone to marry his sister off
well. A boy that took the few dollars left from my notion-store and made
such a success in retail men's hats and has given it to his mother like
a queen. If I thought I was standing in such a boy's way, who ain't only
a grand business man and a grand son and brother, but would make any
girl the grandest husband that only his father before him could equal, I
couldn't live, Sammy, I couldn't live."
"You should know how sick such talk makes me!"
"I haven't got hard feelings, Sammy, because Clara don't like it here."
"For why should an up-to-date American girl like Clara like such an
old-fashioned place as I keep? Nowadays, girls got different ideas. They
don't think nothing of seventy-five-dollar suits and twelve-dollar
shoes. I can't help it that it goes against my grain no matter how fine
a money-maker a girl is. In the old country my sister Carrie and me
never even had shoes on our feet until we were twelve, much less—"
"Oh, I don't blame her, Sam. I don't blame her that she don't like it
the way I dish up everything on the table so we can serve ourselves. She
likes it passed the way they did that night at Mrs. Goldfinger's new
daughter-in-law's, where everything is carried from one to the next one,
and you got to help yourself quick over your shoulders."
"Clara's like me, ma; she wants you to keep a servant to do the waiting
"It ain't in me, Sam, to be bossed to by a servant, just like I can't
take down off the walls pictures of your papa selig and your grandma,
because it ain't stylish they should be there. It's a feeling in me for
my own flesh and blood that nothing can change."
"Clara don't want you to change that, ma."
"She's a fine, up-to-date girl, Sam. A girl that can work herself up to
head floor-lady in wholesale ribbons and forty dollars a week has got in
her the kind of smartness my boy should have in his wife. I'm an old
woman standing in the way of my boy. If I wasn't, I could go out to
Marietta, Ohio, by Ruby, and I wouldn't keep having inside of me such
terrible fears for my boy and—and how things are now on the other side
"Now, now, ma; no April showers!"
"An old woman that can't even be happy with a good daughter like Ruby,
but hangs always on her son like a stone around his neck!"
"You mean like a diamond."
"A stone, holding him down."
"Ma!" Mr. Lipkind pushed back, napkin awry at his throat and his eyes
snapping points of light. "Now if you want to spoil my breakfast, just
say so and I—I'll quit. Why should you be living with Ruby out in
Marietta if you're happier here with me where you belong? If you knew
how sore these here fits of yours make me, you'd cut them out—that's
what you would. I'm not going over to Clara's at all now for supper, if
that's how you feel about it."
Mrs. Lipkind rose then, crossed, leaning over the back of his chair and
inclosing his face in the quivering hold of her two hands. "Sammy,
Sammy, I didn't mean it! I know I ain't in your way. How can I be when
there ain't a day passes I don't invite you to get married and come here
to live and fix the flat any way what Clara wants or even move down-town
in a finer one where she likes it? I know I ain't in your way, son. I
take it back."
"Well, that's more like it."
"You mustn't be mad at mamma when she gets old-fashioned ideas in her
He stroked her hand at his cheek, pressing it closer.
"Sit down and finish your breakfast, little sweetheart mamma."
"Is it all right now, Sammy?"
"Of course it is!" he said, his eyes squeezed tightly shut.
"Promise mamma you'll go over by Clara's to-night."
"Promise me, Sammy; I can't stand it if you don't."
"Alright, I'll go, ma."
The Declaration of Economic Independence is not always a subtle one.
There was that about Clara Bloom, even to the rather Hellenic swing of
her very tailor-made back and the firm, neat clack of her not too high
heels, which proclaimed that a new century had filed her fetter-free
from the nine-teen-centuries-long chain of women whose pin-money had too
often been blood-money or the filched shekels from trousers pocket or
what in the toga corresponded thereto.
And yet, when Miss Bloom smiled, which upon occasion she did
spontaneously enough to show a gold molar, there were not only Hypatia
and Portia in the straight line of her lips, but lurked in the little
tip-tilt at the corners a quirk from Psyche, who loved and was so loved,
and in the dimple in her chin a manhole, as it were, for Mr.
At six o'clock, where the wintry workaday flows into dusk and Fifth
Avenue flows across Broadway, they met, these two, finding each other
out in the gaseous shelter of a Subway kiosk. She from the tall, thin,
skylightless skyscraper dedicated to the wholesale supply of woman's
insatiable demand for the ribbon gewgaw; he from a plate-glass shop with
his name inscribed across its front and more humbly given over to the
more satiable demand of the male for the two-dollar hat. There was a
gold-and-black sign which ran across the not inconsiderable width of
Mr. Lipkind's store-front and which invariably captioned his four inches
of Sunday-news-paper advertisement:
SAMMY LIPKIND WANTS YOUR HEAD
As near as it is possible for the eye to simulate the heart, there was
exactly that sentiment in his glance now as he found out Miss Bloom, she
in a purple-felt hat and the black scallops of escaping hair, blacker
because the red was out in her cheeks.
He broke into the kind of smile that lifted his every feature,
screw-lines at his eyes coming out, head bared, and his greeting
beginning to come even before she was within hearing distance of it.
There was in Mr. Lipkind precious little of Lothario, Launcelot,
Galahad, or any of that blankety-blank-verse coterie. There remains yet
unsung the lay of the five-foot-five, slightly bald, and ever so
slightly rotund lover. Falstaff and Romeo are the extremes of what Mr.
Lipkind was the not unhappy medium. Offhand in public places, men would
swap crop conditions and city politics with him. Twice, tired mothers in
railway stations had volunteered him their babies to dandle. Young
women, however, were not all impervious to him, and uncrossed their feet
and became consciously unconscious of him across street-car aisles. In
his very Two Dollar Hat Store, Sara Minniesinger, hooked of profile, but
who had impeccably kept his debits and credits for twelve years back
under the stock-balcony and a green eye-shade, was wont to cry of
evenings over and for him into her dingy pillow. He was so unconscious
of this that, on the twelfth anniversary of her incarceration beneath
the stock-balcony, he commissioned his mother to shop her a crown of
thorns in the form of a gold-handled umbrella with a bachelor-girl
There are men like that, to whom life is not only a theosophy of one
God, but of one women who is sufficient thereof. When Samuel Lipkind
greeted Clara Bloom there was just that in his ardently
"Didn't mean to keep you waiting, Clara—a last-minute customer. You
"I've been counting red heads and wishing the Subway was pulled by white
"Say, Clara, but you look a picture! Believe me, Bettina, that is some
Miss Bloom tucked up a rear strand of curl, turning her head to extreme
profile for his more complete approval.
"Is it an elegant trifle, Sam? I ask you is it an elegant trifle?"
"Clara, it's—immense! The best yet! What did it set you back?"
"Don't ask me! I'm afraid just saying it would give your mother
heart-failure by mental telepathy."
He linked her arm. "Whatever you paid, it's worth the money. It sets you
off like a gipsy queen."
"None of that, Sam! Mush is fattening."
"Mush nothing! It's the truth."
"Hurry. Schulem's got a new rule—no reserving the guest-table."
They let themselves be swept into the great surge of the underground
river with all of the rather thick-skinned unsensitiveness to
shoulder-to-shoulder contact which the Subway engenders. Swaying from
straps in a locked train, which tore like a shriek through a tube whose
sides sweated dampness, they talked in voices trained to compete
with the roar.
"What's the idea, Clara? When you telephoned yesterday I was afraid
maybe it was—Eddie Leonard cutting in on my night again."
"Eddie nothing. Is it a law, Sam, that I have to eat off your mother
every Wednesday night of my life?"
"No—only—you know how it is when you get used to things one way."
"I told you I had something to talk over, didn't I?"
They were rounding a curve now, so that they swayed face to face, nose
A few crinkles, frequent with him of late, came out in rays from his
"Is it anything you—you couldn't say in front of ma?"
He inserted two fingers into his collar, rearing back his head.
"Anything wrong, Clara?"
"You mean is anything right."
They rode in silence after that, both of them reading in three colors
the border effulgencies of frenzied advertising.
But when they emerged to a quieter up-town night that was already
pointed with a first star, he took her arm as they turned off into a
side-street that was architecturally a barracks to the eye, brownstone
front after brownstone front after brownstone front. Block after block
of New York's side-streets are sunk thus in brown study.
"You mustn't be so ready to be put out over every little thing I say,
Clara. Is it anything wrong to want you up at the house just as often as
we can get you?"
"No, Sam; it ain't that."
"Well then, what is it?"
"Oh, what's the use beginning all that again? I want to begin to-night
where we usually leave off."
"Is it—is it something we've talked about before, Clara?"
"Yes—and no. We've talked so much and so long without ever getting
anywheres—what's the difference whether we've ever talked it before
"You just wait, Clara; everything is going to come out fine for us."
Her upper lip lifted slightly. "Yes," she said; "I've heard that
"We're going to be mighty happy some day, just the same, and don't you
let yourself forget it. We've got good times ahead."
"Oh dear!" she sighed out.
He patted her arm. "You'll never know, Clara, the torture it's been for
me even your going out those few times with Eddie Leonard has put me
through. You're mine, Clara; a hundred Eddies couldn't change that."
"Who said anybody wanted to change it?"
He patted her arm again very closely. "You're a wonderful girl, Clara."
They turned up the stoop of Mrs. Schulem's boarding-house, strictly
first-class. How they flourish in the city, these institutions of the
Not Yet, the Never Was, the Never Will Be, and the Has Been! They are
the half-way houses going up and the mausoleums coming down life's
incline, and he who lingers is lost to the drab destiny of this or that
third-floor-back hearthstone, hot and cold running water, all the
comforts of home. That is why, even as she moved up from the rooming to
the boarding-house and down from the third-floor back to the
second-story front, there was always under Clara Bloom's single bed the
steamer-trunk scarcely unpacked, and in her heart the fear that, after
all, this might not be transiency, but home. That is why, too, she paid
her board by the week and used printed visiting-cards.
And yet, if there exists such a paradox as an aristocracy among
boarding-houses, Mrs. Schulem's was of it. None of the boiled odors lay
on her hallways, which were not papered, but a cream-colored fresco of
better days. There was only one pair of bisques, no folding-bed, and but
the slightest touch of dried grasses in her unpartitioned front parlor.
The slavey who opened the door was black-faced, white-coated, and his
bedraggled skirts were trousers with a line of braid up each seam. Two
more of him were also genii of the basement dining-hall, two low rooms
made into one and entirely bisected by a long-stemmed T of dining-table,
and between the lace-curtained windows a small table for two, with
fairly snowy napkins flowering out of its water-tumblers, and in its
center a small island of pressed-glass vinegar-cruet, bottle of darkly
portentous condiment, glass of sugar, and another of teaspoons.
It was here that Miss Bloom and Mr. Lipkind finally settled themselves,
snugly and sufficiently removed from the T-shaped battalion of eyes and
ears to insure some privacy.
"Well," said Mr. Lipkind, unflowering his napkin, spreading it across
his knees, and exhaling, "this is fine!"
There was an aura of authoritativeness seemed to settle over Miss Bloom.
This to one of the black-faced genii: "Take care of us right to-night,
Johnson, and I'll fix it up with you. See if you can't manage it in the
kitchen to bring us a double portion of those banana fritters I see
they're eating at the big table. Say they're for Miss Bloom. I'll fix it
up with you."
"Now, Clara, don't you go bothering with extras for me. This is
certainly fine. Sorry you never asked me before."
"You know why I never asked you before."
"Why, you never saw the like how pleased ma was. She was the first one
to fall in with the idea of my coming to-night."
She dipped into a shallow plate of amber soup. "I know," she said, "all
"Ma's a good sport about being left at home alone."
"How do you know? You never tried it until to-night. I'll bet it's the
first time since that night you first met me, five years ago, at Jerome
Fertig's, and it wouldn't have been then if she hadn't had the neuralgia
and it was your own clerk's wedding."
He laid down his spoon, settling back a bit from the table, pulling the
napkin across his knees out into a string.
"I thought we'd gone all over that, Clara."
"Yes; but where did it get us? That's why we're here to-night, Sam—to
He crumbed his bread. "What do you mean, Clara?"
She forced his slow gaze to hers calmly, her hands outstretched on the
table between them. "I've made up my mind, Sam. Things can't go on this
way no longer between us."
"Just what do you mean by that?"
"I mean that we've either got to act or quit."
He was rolling the bread pills again, a flush rising. "You know where I
stand, Clara, on things between us."
"Yes, Sam, and now you know where I stand." The din of the dining-room
surged over the pause between them. Still in the purple hat, and her
wrap thrown back over her chair, she held that pause coolly, level of
eye. "I'm thirty-one now, Sam, three weeks and two days older than you.
I don't see the rest of my days with the Arnstein Ribbon Company. I'm
not getting any younger. Five years is a long time out of a girl's life.
Five of the best ones, too. She likes to begin to see her future when
she reaches my age. A future with a good providing man. You and me are
just where we started five years ago."
"I know, Clara, and I'd give my right hand to change things."
"If I'd been able to save a cent, it might be different. But I
haven't—I'm that way. I make big and spend big. But you can't blame a
girl for wanting to see her future. That's me, and I'm not ashamed
to say it."
"If only, Clara, I could get you to see things my way. If you'd be
willing to try it with ma. Why, with a little diplomacy from you, ma'd
move heaven and earth to please you."
"There's no use beginning that, Sam; it's a waste of time. Why—why,
just the difference in the way me and—and your mother feel on money
matters is enough. There's no use to argue that with me; it's a waste
He lifted and let droop his shoulders with something of helplessness in
the gesture. "What's the use, then? I'm sure I don't know what more to
say to you, Clara. Oh, don't think my mother don't realize how things
are between us—it's all I can do to keep denying and denying."
"Well, you can't say she knows from my telling."
"No; but there's not a day she don't say to me, particularly these last
few times since you been breaking your dates with us pretty
regular—I—well she sees how it worries me, and there's not a day she
don't say to me, 'Sammy,' she said to me, only this morning, 'if I
thought I was keeping you and Clara apart—'"
"A blind man could see it."
"There's not a day passes over her head she don't offer to go to live
with my sister in Ohio, when I know just how that one month of visiting
her that time nearly killed her."
"Funny visiting an own daughter could nearly kill anybody."
"It's my brother-in-law, Clara. My mother couldn't no more live with
Isadore Katz than she could fly. He's a fine fellow and all that, but
she's not used to a man in the house that potters around the kitchen and
the children's food and things like Isadore loves to. She's used to her
own little home and her own little way."
"If I want to kill my mother, Clara, all I got to do is put her away
from me in her old age. Even my sister knows it. 'Sammy,' she wrote to
me that time after ma's visit out there, 'I love our mother like you do,
but I got a nervous husband who likes his own ways about the
housekeeping and the children and the cooking, and nobody knows better
than me that the place for ma to be happy is with you in her own home
and her own ways of doing.'"
"I call that a nerve for a sister to let herself out like that."
"It's not nerve, Clara; it's the truth. Ruby's a good girl in her way."
"What about you—ain't your life to be thought of? Ain't it enough she
was married off with enough money for her husband to buy a half-interest
in a ladies' ready-to-wear store out there?"
"Why, if I was to bring my little wife to that flat of ours, Clara, or
any other kind further down-town that she'd want to pick out for
herself, I think my mother would just walk on her hands and knees to
make things pleasant for her. Maybe you don't know it, but on your
Wednesday nights up at the house, she is up at five o'clock in the
morning fixing around and cooking the things she thinks you'll like."
"I'm not saying a word against your mother, Sam. I think she's a grand
woman, and I admire a fellow that's good to his mother. I always say,
'Give me a fellow every time that is good to his mother and that fellow
will be good to his wife.'"
"I'm not pretending to say ma mayn't be a little peculiar in her ways,
but you never saw an old person that wasn't, did you? Neither am I
saying it's exactly any girl's idea to start out married life with a
third person in—"
"I've always swore to myself, Sam, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, that
if I can't marry to improve myself, I'm going to stay single till I can.
I'm not a six-dollar-a-week stenog that has to marry for enough to eat.
I can afford to buy a seventy-five dollar suit every winter of my life
and twelve-dollar shoes every time I need them. The hat on my head cost
me eighteen-fifty wholesale, without having to be beholding to
"Ma don't mean those things, Clara. It's just when she hears the price
girls pay for things nowadays she can't help being surprised the way
things have changed."
"I'm not a small potato, Sam. I never could live like a small potato."
"Why, you know there's nothing I like better than to see you dressed in
the best that money can buy. You heard what I said about that hat just
now, didn't you? Whatever it cost, it's worth it. I can afford to dress
my little wife in the best that comes. There's nothing too good
"All ma needs, Clara, is a little humoring. She's had to stint so all
her life, it's a little hard to get her used to a little prosperity.
Take me. Why, if I bring her home a little shawl or a pockabook that
cost, say, ten dollars, you think I tell her? No. I say, 'Here's a
bargain I picked up for three ninety-eight,' and right away she's happy
with something reduced."
"Your mother and me, Sam, and, mind you, I'm not saying she isn't a
grand old lady, wasn't no more made to live together than we was made to
fly. I couldn't no more live her way than she could live mine. I've got
a practical head on my shoulders—I don't deny it—and I want to improve
ourselves in this world when we marry, and have an up-to-date home like
every young couple that starts out nowadays."
"That flat of yours up there or any other one under the conditions would
be run like the ark. I'm an up-to-date girl, I am. There's not a girl
living would be willing to marry a well-off fellow like you and go huck
herself in a place she couldn't even have the running of herself or have
her own say-so about the purse-strings. It may sound unbecoming, but
when I marry I'm going to better myself, I am."
"If she can't even stand for her own son-in-law walking into his own
kitchen in his own house—Oh, you don't find me starting my married
life that way at this late date. I haven't held off five years
Mr. Lipkind pushed back his but slightly tasted food, lines of strain
and a certain whiteness out in his face. "It—it just seems awful,
Clara, this going around in a circle and not getting anywheres."
"I'm at the end of my rope, I am."
"I see your point in a way, Clara, but, my God! a man's mother is his
mother! It's eating up my life just as it's eating yours, but what you
going to do about it? It just seems the best years of our life are
going, waiting for God knows what."
Hands clasped until her finger-nails whitened, Miss Bloom leaned across
the table, her voice careful and concentrated. "Now you said something!
That's why you and me are here alone together to-night. There's not
going to be a sixth year of this kind of waiting between us. Things have
got to come to a head. I've got a chance, Sam, to marry. Eddie Leonard
has asked me."
"Eddie Leonard ain't a Sam Lipkind, but after the war his
five-thousand-dollar job is down at Arnstein's waiting for him, and he's
got a good stiff bank-account saved as good as yours and—and no strings
to it. I believe in a girl facing those facts the same as any other
facts. Why, I—this war and all—why, if anything was to happen to you
to-morrow—us unmarried this way—I'd be left high and dry without so
much as a penny to show for the best five years of my life. We've got to
do one thing or another, Sam. I believe in a girl being practical as
well as romantic."
"I—see your point, Clara."
"I'm done with going around in this circle of ours."
"You know what I mean."
The lower half of Mr. Lipkind's face seemed to lock, as it were, into a
kind of rigidity which shot out his lower jaw. "I'll see Eddie Leonard
burning like brimstone before I let him have you!"
"God! I don't know what to say—I don't know what to say!"
"That's your trouble, Sam; you're so chicken-hearted you—"
"My father died when I was five, Clara, and no matter what my feelings
are to you, there's no power on earth can make me quit having to be him
as well as a son to my mother. Maybe it sounds softy to you—but if I
got to pay with her happiness for—ours—then I never want happiness to
the day I die."
"In other words, it's the mother first."
"Don't put it that way—it's her—age—first. It ain't what she wants
and don't want; it's what she's got to have. My mother couldn't live
away from me."
"She could if you were called to war."
There was something electric in the silence that followed, something
that seemed to tighten the gaze of each for the other.
"But I haven't been—yet."
"The next draft will get you."
"Well, what'll you do then?"
"That's something me and ma haven't ever discussed. The war hasn't been
mentioned in our house for two years—except that the letters don't come
from Germany, and that's a grief to her. There's enough time for her to
cross that bridge when we come to it. She worries about it enough."
"If I was a man I'd enlist, I would!"
"I'd give my right hand to. Every other night I dream I'm a lieutenant."
"Why, there's not a fellow I know that hasn't beaten the draft to it and
enlisted for the kind of service he wants. I know a half a dozen who
have got in the home guard and things and have saved themselves by
volunteering from being sent to France."
"I wouldn't dodge the front thataway. I'd like to enlist as a private
and then work myself up to lieutenant and then on up to captain and get
right into the fray on the front. I—"
"You bet, if I was a fellow, I'd enlist for the kind of home service I
wanted—that's what Eddie and all the fellows are doing."
"So would I, Clara, if I was what you call a—free man. There's nobody
given it more thought than me."
"Well, then, why don't you? Talk's cheap."
"You know why, Clara, to get back to going around in a circle again."
"But you've got to go, sooner or later. You've got a comfortable married
sister and independent circumstances of your own to keep your mother;
you haven't got a chance for exemption."
"I don't want exemption."
"Well, then, beat the draft to it."
"I—Most girls ain't so anxious to—to get rid of their best fellows,
"Silly! Can't you see the point? If—if you'd enlist and go off to camp,
I—I could go and live near you there like Birdie Harberger does her
"Then—God forbid anything should happen to you!—I'm your wife. You
"You see what I mean. But nothing can happen this way, because if you
try to enlist in some mechanical department where they need you in this
country—you see, Sam? See?"
"Your mother would have to get used to things then, Sam—it would be the
easiest for her. An old lady like her couldn't go trailing around the
outskirts of a camp like your wife could. Think of the comfort it'll be
to her to have me with you if she can't be. She'll get so used
"I—You mustn't talk that way to me, Clara. When I'm called to serve my
country, I'm the first one that will want to go. I've given more money
already than I can afford to help the boys who are at the front. So far
as I'm concerned, enlisting like this with—with you—around, would be
the happiest thing ever happened to me, but—well, you see for
"You mean, then, you won't?"
"I mean, Clara, I can't."
She was immediately level of tone again and pushed back, placing her
folded napkin beside her place, patting it down.
"Well, then, Sam, I'm done."
"Yep. That lets me out. I've given you every chance to make this thing
possible. Your mother is no better and no different than thousands and
thousands of other mothers who are giving their sons, only, she is
better off than most, because she's provided for. It's all right for a
fellow's mother to come first, maybe, but if his wife isn't even to
come second or third or tenth, then it's about time to call quits. I
haven't made up my mind to this in a day. I'm done."
"Ed has asked me. I don't pretend he's my ideal, but he's more concerned
about my future than he is about anybody else's. If I'm ready to leave
with him on that twelve-o'clock train for Boston to-morrow, where he's
going to be put in the clerical corps at Camp Usonis, we'll be married
there to-morrow night, and I'll settle down somewhere near camp as long
as I can. He's got a good nest-egg if—God forbid!—anything should
happen. That's the whole thing in a nutshell."
"My God! Clara, this is awful! Eddie Leonard he's not your kind; he—"
"I've given you first chance, Sam. That proves how you stand with me. A
one! Ace high! First! Nobody can ever take your place with me. Don't be
a boob coming and going, Sam; you're one now not to see things and
you'll be another one spelled backward if you don't help yourself to
your chance when it comes. You've got your life in front of you, and
your mother's got hers in back of her. Now choose."
"My God! Clara, this is—terrible! Why—I'd rather be a thousand boobs
than take my mother's heart and tear it to pieces."
"Don't say that, Sam. Go home and—sleep on it. Think it over. Please!
Come to your senses, honey. Telephone me at eleven to keep me from
catching that twelve-o'clock train. Don't let me take it with Eddie.
Think it over, Sam. Honey—our—future—don't throw it away! Don't let
me take that twelve-o'clock train!"
There were tears streaming from her eyes, and her lips, so carefully
firm, were beginning to tremble. "You can't blame a girl, Sam, for
wanting to provide for her future. Can you, Sam? Think it over. Please!
I'll be praying when eleven o'clock comes to-morrow morning for you to
telephone me. Please, Sam—think!"
He dropped his face low, lower toward the table, trembling under the red
wave that surged over him and up into the roots of his hair. "I'll think
it over, Clara—my girl—my own girl!"
As if the moments themselves had been woven by her flying amber needles
into a whole cloth of meditation, Mrs. Lipkind, beside a kitchen lamp
that flowed in gracious light, knitted the long, quiet hours of her
evening into fabric, her face screwed and out of repose and occasionally
the lips moving. Age is prone to that. Memories love to be mumbled and
chewed over—the unconscious kind of articulation which comes with the
years and for which youth has a wink and a quirk.
A tiger cat with overfed sides and a stare that seemed to doze purred on
the window-ledge, gold and unswerving of eye. The silence was like the
singing inside of a shell, and into it rocked Mrs. Lipkind.
By nine o'clock she was already glancing up at the clock, cocking her
head to each and every of night's creaks.
By half after nine there were small and frequent periods of peering
through cupped hands down into a street so remote that its traffic had
neither shape nor identity. Once she went down a long slit of hallway to
the front door, opening it and gazing out upon a fog-filled corridor
that was papered in embossed leatherette, one speckled incandescent bulb
lighting it sadly. There was something impregnable, even terrible to her
in the featureless stare of the doors of three adjoining apartments. She
tiptoed, almost ran, poor dear! with the consciousness of some one at
her heels, back to the kitchen, where at least was the warm print of the
cat's presence; fell to knitting again, clacking her needles for the
solace of explainable sound.
Identically with the round moment of ten Mr. Lipkind entered, almost
running down the hallway.
"Hello, ma! Think I got lost? Just got to talking and didn't realize.
Haven't been worried, ma? Afraid?"
She lifted her head from his kiss. "'Afraid!' What you take me for? For
why should I be worried at only ten o'clock? Say, I'm glad if you stay
out for recreation."
He kissed her again, shaking out of his coat and unwinding his muffler.
"I could just see you walking the floor and looking out of the window."
"Sa-y, I been so busy all evening I didn't have time to think. I'm not
such a worrier no more like I used to be. Like the saying is—life is
He drew up beside her, lifting her needles off her work. "Little
sweetheart mamma, why don't you sit on the big sofa in the front room
where it's more comfortable?"
"You can't make, Sammy, out of a pig's ear a silk stocking."
He would detain her hands, his eyes puckered and, so intent upon her.
"You had a good time, Sammy?"
"You'd be surprised, ma, what a nice place Clara boards at."
"What did they have to eat? Good cooking?"
"Not for a fellow that's used to my boarding-house."'
"I couldn't tell if it was soup or finger-bowls they served for the
"I know—stylish broth. Let me warm you up a little of my thick barley
soup that's left over from—"
He pressed her down. "Please, ma! I'm full up. I couldn't. They had pink
ice-cream, too, with pink cake and—"
"Such mess-food what is bad for you. I'm surprised how Clara keeps her
good complexion. Let me fix you some fried—"
"Ma, I tell you I couldn't. It's ten o'clock. You mustn't try to fatten
me up so. In war-time a man has got to be lean."
She sat back suddenly and whitely quiet. "That's—twice already to-day,
Sam, you talk like that."
He took up her lax hand, moving each separate finger up and down, eyes
lowered. "Why not? Doesn't it ever strike you, mamma, that you and me
are—are kidding ourselves along on this war business, pretending to
each other there ain't no war?"
She laid a quick hand to her breast. "What you mean, Sammy?"
"Why, you know what I mean, ma. I notice you read the war news pretty
closely, all right."
"Sammy, you mean something!"
"Now, ma, there's no need to get excited right away. Think of the
mothers who haven't even got bank-accounts whose sons have got to go."
"Sammy—you 'ain't been—"
"No, no; I haven't."
"You have! I can see it in your face! You've come home with some news to
break. You been drafted!"
He held her arms to her sides, still pressing her down to her chair. "I
tell you I haven't! Can't you take my word for it?"
"Swear to me, Sammy!"
"All right; I swear."
"Swear to me on your dead father who is an angel in heaven!"
She was still pressing against her breathing. "You're keeping something
back. Sammy, is it that we got mail from Germany? From Aunt Carrie? Bad
news—O my God!"
"No! No! Who could I get mail from there any more than you've been
getting it for the last two years? Mamma, if you're going to be this
excitable and get yourself sick, I won't talk over anything with you.
"You got something, Sammy, to break to me. I can read you like a book."
"I'm done. If I can't talk facts over with you without your going to
pieces this way, I'm done. I quit."
She clasped her hands, her face pleading up to him. "Sammy, what is it?
If you don't tell me, I can't stand it. Sammy?"
"Will you sit quiet and not get excited?"
"Please, Sammy, I will."
"It's this: you see, ma, the way the draft goes. When a fellow's called
to war, drafted, he's got to go, no questions asked. But when a fellow
enlists for war, volunteers, you see, before the government calls him,
then thataway he can pick out for himself the thing he wants to be in
the army. Y'see? And then maybe the thing he picks out for himself can
keep him right here at home. Y'see, ma—so he don't have to go away. See
"You mean when a boy enlists he offers himself instead of gets offered."
"You got something behind all this. You mean you—you want to enlist."
"Now, ma—you see, if I was to enlist—and stay right here in this
country—with you near the camp or, as long as it's too rough life for
you, with—with Clara there—a woman to look in on—"
"Sammy—you mean it's enlistment!"
Her voice rose in velocity; he could feel her pulse run beneath his
"It's the best way, ma. The draft is sure to get me. Let me beat it and
keep myself home—near you. We might as well face the music, ma. They'll
get me one way or another. Let me enlist now, ma. Like a man. Right
away. For my country!"
Do you know the eyes of Bellini's "Agony in a Garden"? Can you hear for
yourself the note that must have been Cassandra's when she shouted out
her forebodings? There were these now in the glance and voice of Mrs.
Lipkind as she drew back from him, her face actually seeming to shrivel.
"No, Sammy! No! No! No!"
"You wouldn't! You couldn't! No, Sammy—my son!"
"Ma, for God's sake don't go on so!"
"Then tell me you wouldn't! Against your own flesh and blood! Tell me
"No, no, ma! For God's sake, don't take a fit—a stroke—no, no; I
"Your own blood, Sammy! Your own baby cousins what I tucked you in bed
with—mine own sister's children! Her babies what slept with you. Mine
own sister who raised me and worked down her hands to the bone to make
it so with my young husband and baby we could come to America—no—no!"
"Mamma, for God's sakes—"
"Three years like a snake here inside of it's eating me—all night—all
day—I'm a good American, Sammy; I got so much I should be thankful
for to America. Twenty-five years it's my home, the home where I had
prosperity and good treatment, the home where I had happiness with your
papa and where he lies buried, but I can't give you to fight against my
own, Sammy—to be murdered by your own—my sister what never in her life
harmed a bird—my child and her children—cousins—against each other.
My beautiful country what I remember with cows and green fields and
clover—always the smell of clover. It ain't human to murder against
your own flesh and blood for God knows what reason!"
"Mamma, there is a reason it—"
"I tell you I'm a good American, Sammy. For America I give my last cent,
but not to stick knives in my own—it ain't human—Why didn't I die
before we got war? What good am I here? In my boy's way for his
country—his marriage—his happiness—why don't I die?"
"Ma, I tell you you mustn't! You're making yourself sick. Let me fan
you. Here, ma, I didn't mean it. See—I'm holding you tight. I won't
never let go. You're my little sweetheart mamma. You mustn't tremble
like that. I'm holding you tight—tight—little mamma."
"My boy! My little boy! My son! My all! All in their bed together.
Three. Her two. Mine. The smell of clover—my boy—Sammy—Sam—" She
fainted back into his arms suddenly, very white and very quiet and very
He watched beside her bed the next five hours of the night, his face so
close above hers that, when she opened her eyes, his were merged into
one for her, and the clasp of his hand never left hers.
"You all right, ma? Sure? Sure you don't need the doctor?"
She looked up at him with a tired, a burned-out, an ashamed smile. "The
first time in my life, Sammy, such a thing ever happened to me."
He pressed a chain of close kisses to the back of her hand, his voice
far from firm. "It was me, ma. I'll never forgive myself. My little
mamma, my little mamma sweetheart!"
"I feel fine, son; only, with you sitting here all night, you don't let
me sleep for worry that you ain't in bed."
"I love it. I love to sit here by you and watch you sleep. You're sure
you've no fever? Sure?"
"I'm well, Sammy. It was nothing but what you call a fainting-fit. For
some women it's nothing that they should faint every time they get a
little bit excited. It's nothing. Feel my hands—how cool! That's always
He pressed them both to his lips, blowing his warm breath against them.
"There now—go to sleep."
The night-light burning weakly, the great black-walnut bedstead
ponderous in the gloom, she lay there mostly smiling and always
"Such a thing should happen to me at my age!"
"Try to sleep, ma."
"Go in your room to bed, and then I get sleep. Do you want your own
clerks should beat you to business to-morrow?"
"A little whisky?"
"Go away; you got me dosed up enough with such Schnapps."
"The light lower?"
"No. If you don't go in your room, I lay here all night with my eyes
open, so help me!"
He rose, stiff and sore-kneed, hair awry, and his eyes with the red rims
of fatigue. "You'll sure ring the little bell if you want anything, ma?"
"You promise you won't get up to fix breakfast."
"If I don't feel good, I let you fix mine."
"Good night, little sweetheart mamma."
"You ain't—mad at me, Sam?"
"Mad! Why, ma, you mustn't ask me a—a thing like that; it just kills me
to hear you. Me that's not even fit to black your shoes! Mad at you?
Why, I—I—Good night—good—night—ma."
* * * * *
At just fifteen minutes before seven, to the pungency of coffee and the
harsh sing of water across the hall, Mrs. Lipkind in a fuzzy wrapper the
color of her eyes and hair, kissed her son awake.
"Sam! Sammy! Get up! Thu, thu! I can't get him up in the morning!"
The snuggle away and into the crotch of his elbow.
"Sam-my—quarter to seven!"
He sprang up then, haggard, but in a flood of recollection and remorse.
"Ma, I must 'a' dropped off at the last minute. You all right? What are
you doing up? Go right back! Didn't I tell you not to get up?"
"I been up an hour already; that's how fine I feel. Get up, Sammy; it's
He flung on his robe, trying to withdraw her from the business of
looping back the bed-clothing over the footboard and pounding into
"I tell you I won't have it! You got to lay in bed this morning."
"I'm all right, Sammy. Wouldn't I say so if I wasn't?" But she sat down
rather weakly on the edge of the bed, holding the right side of her,
breathing too hard.
"I—I shouldn't have beat that pillow is all. Let me get my breathing.
I'm all right." Nevertheless, she let him relax her to his pillow, draw
the covers down from the footboard, and cover her.
"This settles it," he said, quietly. "I'm going to get a doctor."
She caught his hand. "If—if you want to get me excited for sure, just
you call a doctor—now—before I talk with you a minute—I want to
talk—I'm all right, Sammy, if you let me talk to you. One step to that
telephone, and I get excited—"
"Will you listen to me and do like I want it?"
"I—been a bad old woman."
"That's right—break my heart."
"I got a brave boy for a son, and I want to make from him a coward."
"I laid saying to myself all night, a mother should have such a son like
mine and make things hard for him yet!"
"Please, get it all out of your head—"
"From America what has given to me everything I should hold back my son
from fighting for. In war, it ain't your own flesh and blood what
counts; it's the flesh and blood of your country—not, Sam? I been
thinking only it's my family affair. If God lets be such a terrible
thing like war, there is somewhere a good reason for it. I want you to
enlist, Sammy, for your country. Not for in an office, but for where
they need you. I want you to enlist to get some day to be such a
lieutenant and a captain like you used to play it with tin soldiers.
"Mamma, mamma, you know you don't mean it!"
"I want it, I tell you. All night I worked on it how dumb I've been, not
right away to see it—last night. With Clara near you in the camp—"
"Ma, I didn't mean it that way; I—"
"Clara near you for a woman to look in on, I been so dumb not to right
away see it. I'm glad you let it out, Sam. I wouldn't take five thousand
dollars it didn't happen—I feel fine—I want it—I—"
"I didn't mean it, ma—I swear! Don't rub it in this
"Why, I never wanted anything in my life like I want this, Sammy—that
you should enlist—a woman to look in on—I been a bad woman, Sammy,
It was then that Mr. Lipkind tore to the telephone, his hands so
frenzied that they would not properly hold the receiver.
At eight o'clock, and without even a further word, Mrs. Lipkind breathed
out quietly, a little tiredly, and yet so eloquent of eye. To her son,
pleading there beside her for the life she had not left to give, it was
as if the swollen bosom of some stream were carrying her rapidly but
gently down its surface, her gaze back at him and begging him to stay
"Mamma! Darling! Doctor—please—for God's sakes—please—she wants
something—-she can't say it—give it to her! Try to make her tell me
what she wants—she wants something—this is terrible—don't let her
want something—mamma—just one word to me—try—try—O my
A black arm then reached down to withdraw him from the glazed stare
which had begun to set in from the pillow.
By ten o'clock a light snow had set in, blowing almost horizontally
across the window-pane. He sat his second hour there in a rather forward
huddle beside the drawn shade of that window, the sotto-voce comings
and goings, all the black-coated parvenus that follow the wake of
death, moving about him. A clock shaped like a pilot's wheel, a boyhood
property which had marked the time of twenty years, finally chimed the
thin, tin stroke of eleven and after a swimming, nebulous interval,
twelve. He glanced up each time with his swollen eyes, and then almost
automatically out to the wall telephone in the hall opposite the open
door. But he did not move. In fact, for two more hours sat there
impervious to proffered warmth of word or deed. Meanwhile, the snow
behind the drawn shade had turned to rain that beat and washed
against the pane.
Just so the iciness that had locked Samuel Lipkind seemed suddenly to
melt in a tornado of sobs that swept him, felled him into a prostration
of the terrible tears that men weep.
At a training-camp—somewhere—from his side of a tent that had flapped
like a captive wing all through a wind-swept night, Lieutenant Lipkind
stirred rather painfully for a final snuggle into the crotch of an elbow
that was stiff with chill and night damp.
Out over the peaked city that had been pitched rather than built, and on
beyond over the frozen stubble of fields, sounded the bugle-cry of the
reveille, which shrills so potently:
I can't get 'em up; I can't get 'em up;
I can't get 'em up in the morn—ing!