Even As You and I, by Fannie Hurst

Humoresque

There is an intensity about September noonday on Coney Island, aided and abetted by tin roofs, metallic façades, gilt domes, looking-glass fronts, jeweled spires, screaming peanut and frankfurter-stands, which has not its peculiar kind of equal this side of opalescent Tangiers. Here the sea air can become a sort of hot camphor-ice to the cheek, the sea itself a percolator, boiling up against a glass surface. Beneath the tin roofs of Ocean Avenue the indoor heat takes on the kind of intense density that is cotton in the mouth and ringing in the ears.

At one o'clock the jibberwock exteriors of Ocean Avenue begin fantastic signs of life. The House of Folly breaks out, over its entire façade, into a chicken-pox of red and green, blue and purple, yellow, violet, and gold electric bulbs. The Ocean Waves concession begins its side-splitting undulations. Maha Mahadra, India's foremost soothsayer (down in police, divorce, and night courts as Mamie Jones, May Costello, and Mabel Brown, respectively), loops back her spangled portière. The Baby Incubator slides open its ticket-windows. Five carousals begin to whang. A row of hula-hula girls in paper necklaces appears outside of "Hawaii," gelatinously naughty and insinuating of hip. There begins a razzling of the razzle-dazzle. Shooting-galleries begin to snipe into the glittering noon, and the smell of hot spiced sausages and stale malt to lay on the air.

Before the Palace of Freaks, a barker slanted up his megaphone, baying to the sun:

"Y-e-a-o-u! Y-e-a-o-u! The greatest show on the Island! Ten cents to see the greatest freak congress in the world. Shapiro's freaks are gathered from every corner of the universe. Enter and shake hands with Baron de Ross, the children's delight, the world's smallest human being; age, forty-two years, eight months; height, twenty-eight inches; weight, fourteen and one-half pounds, certified scales. Enter and see the original and only authentic Siamese Twins! The Ossified Man! You are cordially invited to stick pins into this mystery of the whole medical world. Jastrow, the world's most famous strong man end glass-eater, will perform his world-startling feats. Show about to begin! Our glass-eater eats glass, not rock candy—any one doubting same can sample it first. We have on view within, and all included in your ten-cents admission, the famous Teenie, absolutely the heaviest woman in captivity. We guarantee Teenie to tip the certified scales at five hundred and fifty-five, a weight unsurpassed by any of the heavyweights in the history of the show business. Come in and fox-trot with Teenie, the world wonder. Come in and fox-trot with her. Show begins immediately. Y-e-a-o-u! Y-e-a-o-u!"

Within the Palace of Freaks, her platform elevated and railed in against the unduly curious, Miss Luella Hoag, all that she was so raucously purported to be, sat back in her chair, as much in the attitude of relaxing as her proportions would permit.

There is no way in which I can hope to salve your offended estheticisms with any of Miss Hoag's better points. What matters it that her skin was not without the rich quality of cream too thick to pour, when her arms fairly dimpled and billowed of this creaminess, and above her rather small ankles her made-to-order red-satin shoes bulged over of it, the low-cut bosom of her red and sequin dress was a terrific expanse of it, her hands small cushions of it, her throat quivery, and her walk a waddle with it. All but her face; it was as if the suet-like inundation of the flesh had not dared here. The chin was only slightly doubled; the cheeks just a shade too plump. Neither was the eye heavy of lid or sunk down behind a ridge of cheek. Between her eyes and upper lip, Miss Hoag looked her just-turned twenty; beyond them, she was antediluvian, deluged, smothered beneath the creamy billows and billows of self.

And yet, sunk there like a flower-seed planted too deeply to push its way up to bloom, the twenty-year-old heart of Miss Hoag beat beneath its carbonaceous layer upon layer, even skipped a beat at spring's palpitating sweetness, dared to dream of love, weep of desire, ache of loneliness and loveliness.

Isolated thus by the flesh, the spirit, too, had been caught in nature's sebaceous trick upon Miss Hoag. Life had passed her by slimly. But Miss Hoag's redundancy was not all literal. A sixth and saving sense of humor lay like a coating of tallow protecting the surface of her. For nature's vagary, she was pensioned on life's pay-roll at eighteen dollars a week.

"Easy money, friends," Miss Hoag would ad lib. to the line-up outside her railing; "how would some of you like to sit back and draw your wages just for the color of your hair or the size of your shoes? You there, that sailor boy down there, how'd you like to have a fox-trot with Teenie? Something to tell the Jackies about. Come on, Jack Tar, I'm light on my feet, but I won't guarantee what I'll be on yours. Step up and have a round."

Usually the crowd would turn sheepish and dissolve at this Terpischorean threat. In fact, it was Miss Hoag's method of accomplishing just that.

In the August high noon of the Coney Island Freak Palace, which is the time and scene of my daring to introduce to you the only under-thirty-years, and over-one-hundred-and-thirty-pounds, heroine in the history of fiction, the megaphone's catch of the day's first dribble of humanity and inhumanity had not yet begun its staring, gaping invasion.

A curtain of heat that was almost tangible hung from the glass roof. The Ossified Man, sworn by clause of contact impervious alike to heat and cold, urged his reclining wheel-chair an imperceptible inch toward the neighboring sway of Miss Hoag's palm-leaf. She widened its arc, subtly.

"Ain't it a fright?" she said.

"Sacred Mother of the Sacred Child!" said the Ossified Man, in a patois of very south Italy.

Then Miss Hoag turned to the right, a rail partitioning her from the highly popular spectacle of the Baron de Ross, christened, married, and to be buried by his nomenclature in disuse, Edwin Ross MacGregor.

"Hot, honey?"

The Baron, in a toy rocker that easily contained him, turned upon Miss Hoag a face so anachronistic that the senses reeled back. An old face, as if carved out of a paleolithic cherry-stone; the years furrowed in; the eyes as if they had seen, without marveling, the light of creation; even the hands, braceleted in what might have been portière-rings, leanly prehensile. When the Baron spoke, his voice was not unlike the middle C of an old harpsichord whose wires long since had rusted and died. He was frock-coated like a clergyman or a park statue of a patriot.

Of face, a Chaldean sire; of dress, a miniature apotheosis of the tailor's art; of form, a paleolithic child.

"Blow me to a ice-cream cone? Gowann, Teenie, have a heart!"

Miss Hoag billowed into silent laughter. "Little devil! That's six you've sponged off me this week, you little whipper-snapper!"

The Baron screwed up into the tightest of grimaces.

"Nice Teenie—nice old Teenie!"

She tossed him a coin from the small saucerful of them on the table beside her. He caught it with the simian agility of his tiny hands.

"Nice Teenie! Nice old Teenie!"

A first group had strolled up, indolent and insolent at the spectacle of them.

"Photographs! Photographs! Take the folks back home a signed photograph of Teenie—only ten cents, one dime. Give the kiddies a treat—signed photograph of little Teenie!"

She would solicit thus, canorous of phrase, a fan of her cardboard likenesses held out, invitational.

Occasionally there were sales, the coins rattling down into the china saucer beside her; oftener a mere bombardment of insolence and indolence, occasionally a question.

This day from a motorman, loitering in uniform between runs, "Say, skinnay, whatcha weigh?"

Whatever of living tissue may have shrunk and quivered deep beneath the surface of Miss Hoag was further insulated by a certain professional pride—that of the champion middleweight for his cauliflower ear, of the beauty for the tiny mole where her neck is whitest, the ballerina for her double joints.

"Wanna come up and dance with me and find out?"

"O Lord!"—receding from the crowd and its trail of laughter. "O Lord!
Excuse me. Good night!"

A CHILD: Missus, is all of you just one lady?

"Bless your heart, little pettie, they gimme a good measure, didn't they? Here's a chocolate drop for the little pettie."

"Come away! Don't take nothing from her!"

"I wouldn't hurt your little girl, lady. I wouldn't harm a pretty hair of her head; I love the kiddies."

"Good-by, missus."

"Good-by, little pettie."

A MAN: Say, was you born in captivity—in this line o' work, I mean?

"Law, no, friend! I never seen the light of the show business up to eight year ago. There wasn't a member of my family, all dead and put away now, weighed more 'n one-fifty. They say it of my mother, she was married at ninety pounds and died at a hundred and six."

"You don't say so."

"I was born and raised on a farm out in Ohio. Bet not far from your part of the country, from the looks of you, friend. Buckeye?"

"Not a bad guess at that—Indiana's mine."

"Law! to my way of thinking, there's no part of the Union got anything on the Middle States. Knock me around all you want, I always say, but let me be buried in the Buckeye State. Photographs? Signed photographs at ten cents each. Take one home to the wife, friend, out in Indiana. Come, friends, what's a dime? Ten cents!"

The crowd, treacle-slow, and swinging its children shoulder-high, would shuffle on, pause next at the falsetto exhortations of the Baron, then on to the collapsibilities of the Boneless Wonder, the flexuosities of the Snake-charmer, the goose-fleshing, the terrible crunching of Jastrow the Granite Jaw. A commotion, this last, not unlike the steam-roller leveling of a rock road.

Miss Hoag retired then back to her chair, readjusting the photographs to their table display, wielding her fan largely.

"Lord!" she said, across the right railing, "wouldn't this weather fry you!"

The Baron wilted to a mock swoon, his little legs stiffening at a hypotenuse.

"Ice-cream cone!" he cried. "Ice-cream cone, or I faint!"

"Poor Jastrow! Just listen to him! Honest, that grinding goes right through me. He hadn't ought to be showing to-day, after the way they had to have the doctor in on him last night. He hadn't ought to be eating that nasty glass."

"Ain't it awful, Mabel!"

"Yes, it's awful, Mabel! A fellow snagging up his insides like Jastrow. I never knew a glass-eating artist in my life that lived to old age. I was showing once with a pair of glass-eating sisters, the Twins Delamar, as fine a pair of girls as ever—"

"Sure, the Delamars—I know 'em."

"Remember the specialty they carried, stepping on a piece of plate glass and feeding each other with the grounds—"

"Sure."

"Well, I sat up for three weeks running, with one of them girls—the red-haired one, till she died off of sorosis of the liver—"

"Sure enough—Lizzie Delamar!"

"Lida, the other one, is still carrying the act on street-fair time, but it won't surprise me to hear of her next. That's what'll happen to Granite Jaw one of these days, too, if he—"

"Pretty soft on the Granite Jaw, ain't cha? M-m-n! Yum-yum! Pretty soft!" When the Baron mouthed he became in expression Punchinello with his finger alongside his nose, his face tightening and knotting into cunning. "Pretty soft on the Granite Jaw! Yum—yum—yum!"

"Little devil! Little devil! I'll catch you and spank you to death."

"Yum! Yum!"

     "It's better to have loved a short man
      Than never to have loved atall."

"Little peewee, you! Jastrow ain't short. Them thick, strong-necked kind never look their height. That boy is five feet two, if he's an inch. Them stocky ones is the build that make the strong kind. Looka him lift up that cannon-ball with just his left hand. B-r-r-r-r! Listen how it shakes the place when he lets its fall! Looka! Honest, it makes me sick! It's a wonder he don't kill himself."

     "Better to have loved a short man
      Than never to have loved atall."

The day, sun-riddled, stare-riddled, sawdusty, and white with glare, slouched into the clanging, banging, electric-pianoed, electrifying Babylonia of a Coney Island Saturday night. The erupting lava of a pent-up work-a-week, odoriferous of strong foods and wilted clothing, poured hotly down that boulevard of the bourgeoise, Ocean Avenue. The slow, thick cir culation of six days of pants-pressing and boiler-making, of cigarette-rolling and typewriting, of machine-operating and truck-driving, of third-floor-backs, congestion and indigestion, of depression and suppression, demanding the spurious kind of excitation that can whip the blood to foam. The terrific gyration of looping the loop. The comet-tail plunge of shooting the chutes; the rocketing skyward, and the delicious madness at the pit of the stomach on the downward swoop. The bead on the apple juice, the dash of mustard to the frankfurter, the feather tickler in the eye, the barker to the ear, and the thick festival-flavored sawdust to the throat. By eleven o'clock the Freak Palace was a gelatinous congestion of the quickened of heart, of blood, of tongue, and of purse. The crowd stared, gaped, squirmed through itself, sweated.

By twelve o'clock, from her benchlike throne that had become a straitjacket to the back, a heaviness had set in that seemed to thicken Miss Hoag's eyelids, the flush receding before doughiness.

A weary mountain of the cruelly enhancing red silk and melting sequin paste, the billowy arms inundated with the thumb-deep dimples lax out along the chair-sides, as preponderous and preposterous a heroine as ever fell the lot of scribe, she was nature's huge joke—a practical joke, too, at eighteen dollars a week, bank-books from three trust companies, and a china pig about ready to burst.

"Cheer up, Ossi! It might be worse," she said across the left rail, but her lids twitching involuntarily of tiredness.

"Sacred Mother of the Sacred Child!" said the Ossified Man, in Italian.

The sword-swallower, at the megaphone instance of the barker, waggled suddenly into motion, and, flouncing back her bushy knee-skirts and kissing to the four winds, threw back her head and swallowed an eighteen-inch carpenter's saw to the hilt. The crowd flowed up and around her.

Miss Hoag felt on the undershelf of her table for a glass of water, draining it. "Thank God," she said, "another day done!" and began getting together her photographs into a neat packet, tilting the contents of the saucer into a small biscuit-tin and snapping it around with a rubber band.

The Baron de Ross was counting, too, his small hands eager at the task.
"This Island is getting as hard-boiled as an egg," he said.

"It is that," said Miss Hoag, making a pencil insert into a small memorandum-book.

"You!" cried the Baron, the screw lines out again. "You money-bag tied in the middle! I know a tattooed girl worked with you once on the St. Louis World's Fair Pike says you slept on a pillow stuffed with greenbacks."

"You're crazy with the heat," said Miss Hoag. "What I've got out of this business, I've sweated for."

Then the Baron de Ross executed a pirouette of tiny self. "Worth your weight in gold! Worth your weight in gold!"

"If you don't behave yourself, you little peewee, I'll leave you to plow home through the sand alone. If it wasn't for me playing nurse-girl to you, you'd have to be hiring a keeper. You better behave."

"Worth your weight in gold! Blow us to a ice-cream cone. Eh, Ossi?"

The crowd had sifted out; all but one of the center aisle of grill arc-lights flickered out, leaving the Freak Palace to a spluttering kind of gloom. The Snake-charmer, of a thousand iridescencies, wound the last of her devitalized cobras down into its painted chest. The Siamese Twins untwisted out of their embrace and went each his way. The Princess Albino wove her cotton hair into a plait, finishing it with a rapidly wound bit of thread. An attendant trundled the Ossified Man through a rear door. Jastrow the Granite Jaw flopped on his derby, slightly askew, and strolled over toward that same door, hands in pocket. He was thewed like an ox. Short and as squattily packed down as a Buddha, the great sinews of his strength bulged in his short neck and in the backs of the calves of his legs, even rippled beneath his coat. It was as if a compress had reduced him from great height down to his tightest compactness, concentrating the strength of him. Even in repose, the undershot jaw was plunged forward, the jowls bonily defined.

"Worth her weight in gold! Blow us to a ice-cream cone. Eh, Jastrow?
She's worth her weight in gold."

Passing within reach of where the Baron de Ross danced to his ditty of reiteration, Jastrow the Granite Jaw reached up and in through the rail, capturing one of the jiggling ankles, elevating the figure of the Baron de Ross to a high-flung torch.

"Lay off that noise," said Jastrow the Granite Jaw, threatening to dangle him head downward. "Lay off, or I'll drown you like a kitten!"

With an agility that could have swung him from bough to bough, the Baron de Ross somersaulted astride the rear of Jastrow the Granite Jaw's great neck, pounding little futile fists against the bulwark of head.

"Leggo me! Leggo!"

"Gr-r-r-r! I'll step on you and squash you like a caterpillar."

"Don't hurt him, Mr. Jastrow! Don't let him fall off backwards. He is so little. Teenie'll catch you if you fall, honey. Teenie's here in back of you."

With another double twist, the Baron de Ross somersaulted backward off the shoulder of his captor, landing upright in the outstretched skirts of Miss Hoag.

"Yah, yah!" he cried, dancing in the net of skirt and waggling his hands from his ears. "Yah, yah!"

The Granite Jaw smoothed down the outraged rear of his head, eyes rolling and smile terrible.

"Wow!" he said, making a false feint toward him.

The Baron, shrill with hysteria, plunged into a fold of Miss Hoag's skirt.

"Don't hurt him, Jastrow. He's so awful little! Don't play rough."

THE BARON (projecting his face around a fold of skirt): Worth her weight in go-uld—go-uld!

"He's always guying me for my saving ways, Jastrow. I tell him I 'ain't got no little twenty-eight-inch wife out in San Francisco sending me pin-money. Neither am I the prize little grafter of the world. I tell him he's the littlest man and the biggest grafter in this show. Come out of there, you little devil! He thinks because I got a few hundred dollars laid by I'm a bigger freak than the one I get paid for being."

Jastrow the Granite Jaw flung the crook of his walking-stick against his hip, leaning into it, the flanges of his nostrils widening a bit, as if scenting.

"You old mountain-top," he said, screwing at the up-curving mustache, "who'd have thought you had that pretty a penny saved?"

"I don't look to see myself live and die in the show business, Mr.
Jastrow."

"Now you said something, Big Tent."

"There's a farm out near Xenia, Ohio, where I lay up in winter, that I'm going to own for myself one of these days. I've seen too many in this business die right in exhibition, and the show have to chip in to bury 'em, for me not to save up against a rainy day."

"Lay it on, Big Tent. I like your philosophy."

"That's me every time, Mr. Jastrow. I'm going to die in a little story-and-a-half frame house of my own with a cute little pointy roof, a potato-patch right up to my back steps, and my own white Leghorns crossin' my own country road to get to the other side. Why, I know a Fat in this business, Aggie Lament—"

"Sure, me and the Baroness played Mexico City Carnival with Aggie
Lament. Some heavy!"

"Well, that girl, in her day, was one of the biggest tips to the scale this business ever seen. What happens? All of a sudden, just like that—pneumonia! Gets up out of bed, eight weeks later, skin and bones —down to three hundred and sixty-five pounds and not a penny saved. I chipped in what I could to keep her going, but she just down and died one night. Job gone. No weight. In the exhibit business, just like any other line, you got to have a long head. A Fat's got to look ahead for a thin day. Strong for a weak day. That's why I wish, Mr. Jastrow, you'd cut out that glass-eating feature of yours."

"How much you got, Airy-Fairy? Lemme double your money for you!"

"She's worth her weight in gold."

"Lemme double it!"

"Like fun I will. A spendthrift like you!"

"Which way you going?"

"We always go home by the beach. Shapiro made it a rule that the Bigs and Littles can't ever show themselves on Ocean Avenue."

"Come on, you little flea; I'll ride you up the beach on my shoulder."

"Oh, Mr. Jastrow, you—you going to walk home with me—and—Baron?"

"Come on was what I said."

He mounted the Baron de Ross to his bulge of shoulder with veriest toss, Miss Hoag, in a multi-fold cape that was a merciful shroud to the bulk of her, descending from the platform. The place had emptied itself of its fantastic congress of nature's pranks, only the grotesque print of it remaining. The painted snake-chests closed. The array of gustatory swords, each in flannelet slip-cover. The wild man's cage, empty. The tiny velocipede of the Baron de Ross, upside down against rust. A hall of wonder here. A cave of distorted fancy. The Land of the Cow Jumped over the Moon and the Dish Ran away with the Spoon.

Outside, a moon, something bridal in its whiteness, beat down upon a kicked-up stretch of beach, the banana-skins, the pop-corn boxes, the gambados of erstwhile revelers violently printed into its sands. A platinum-colored sea undulated in.

The leaping, bounding outline of Luna Park winked out even as they emerged, the whole violent contortion fading back into silver mist. There was a new breeze, spicily cool.

Miss Hoag breathed out, "Ain't this something grand?"

"Giddy-ap!" cried the Baron, slappity-slappity at the great boulder of the Granite Jaw's head. "Giddy-ap!"

They plowed forward, a group out of Phantasmagoria—as motley a threesome as ever strode this side of the Land of Anesthesia.

"How do you like it at Mrs. Bostum's boarding-house, Mr. Jastrow? I never stop anywheres else on the Island. Most of the Shapiro concession always stops there."

"Good as the next," said Mr. Jastrow, kicking onward.

"I was sorry to hear you was ailing so last night, Mr. Jastrow, and I was sorry there was nothing you would let me do for you. They always call me 'the Doc' around exhibits. I say—but you just ought to heard yourself yell me out of the room when I come in to offer myself—"

"They had me crazy with pain."

"You wasn't so crazy with pain when the albino girl come down with the bottle of fire-water, was he, Baron? We seen him throwing goo-goos at Albino, didn't we, Baron?"

THE BARON (impish in the moonlight): He fell for a cotton-top.

"He didn't yell the albino and her bottle out, did he, Baron?"

"It's this darn business," said Mr. Jastrow, creating a storm of sand-spray with each stride. "I'm punctured up like a tire."

"I been saying to the Baron, Mr. Jastrow, if you'd only cut out the glass-eating feature. You got as fine a appearance and as fine a strong act by itself as you could want. A short fellow like you with all your muscle-power is a novelty in himself. Honest, Mr. Jastrow, it—it's a sin to see a fine-set-up fellow like you killing yourself this way. You ought to cut out the granite-jaw feature."

"Yeh—and cut down my act to half-pay. I'd be full of them tricks—wouldn't I? Show me another jaw act measures up to mine. Show me the strong-arm number that ever pulled down the coin a jaw act did. I'd be a, sweet boob, wouldn't I, to cut my pocket-book in two? I need money, Airy-Fairy. My God! how I got the capacity for needing money!"

"What's money to health, Mr. Jastrow? It ain't human or freak nature to digest glass. Honest, every time I hear you crunching I get the chills!"

Then Mr. Jastrow shot forward his lower jaw with a milling motion:

"Gr-r-r-r-r!"

"She's sweet on you, Jastrow, like all the rest of 'em."

     "Better to have loved a short man
      Than never to have loved atall."

"Baron, I—I'll spank!" "Worth her weight in gold!"

"Where you got all that money soaked, Big Tent?" "Aw, Mr. Jastrow, the
Baron's only tormenting me."

"She sleeps on a pillow stuffed with greenbacks." "Sure I got a few dollars saved, and I ain't ashamed of it. I've had steady work in this business eight years, now, ever since the circus came to my town out in Ohio and made me the offer, but that's no sign I can be in it eight years longer. Sure I got a few dollars saved."

"Well, whatta you know—a big tent like you?"

"Ain't a big tent like me human, Mr. Jastrow? Ain't I—ain't I just like any other—girl—twenty years old—ain't I just like—other—girls—underneath all this?"

"Sure, sure!" said Mr. Jastrow. "How much you to the good, little one?"

"I've about eleven hundred dollars with my bank-books and pig."

"'Leven hundred! Well, whatta you know about that? Say, Big Tent, better lemme double your money for you!"

"Aw, you go on, Mr. Jastrow! Ain't you the torment, too?"

"Say, gal, next time I get the misery you can hold my hand as long as your little heart desires. 'Leven hundred to the good! Good night! Get down off my shoulder, you little flea, you. I got to turn in here and take a drink on the strength of that! 'Leven hundred to the good! Good night!"

"Oh, Mr. Jastrow, in your state! In your state alcohol's poison. Mr.
Jastrow—please—you mustn't!"

"Blow me, too, Jas! Aw, say—have a heart; blow me to a bracer, too!"

"No, no, Mr. Jastrow, don't take the Baron. The little fellow can't stand alcohol. His baroness don't want it. Anyways, it's against the rules—please—"

"You stay and take the lady home, flea. See the lady home like a gentleman. 'Leven hundred to the good! Say, I'd see a lady as far as the devil on that. Good night!"

* * * * *

At Mrs. Bostum's boarding-house, one of a row of the stare-faced packing-cases of the summer city, bathing-suits drying and kicking over veranda rails, a late quiet had fallen, only one window showing yellowly in the peak of its top story. A white-net screen door was unhooked from without by inserting a hand through a slit in the fabric. An uncarpeted pocket of hall lay deep in absolute blackness. Miss Hoag fumbled for the switch, finally leaving the Baron to the meager comfort of his first-floor back.

"Y'all right, honey? Can you reach what you want?"

The Baron clambered to a chair and up to her. His face had unknotted, the turmoil of little lines scattering.

"Aw!" he said. "Good old tub, Teenie! Good old Big Tent!"

A layer of tears sprang across Miss Hoag's glance and, suddenly gaining rush, ran down over her lashes. She dashed at them.

"I'm human, Baron. Maybe you don't know it, but I'm human."

"Now what did I do, Teenie?"

"It—it ain't you, Baron; it—it ain't anybody. It—it's—only I just wonder sometimes what God had in mind, anyways—making our kind. Where do we belong—"

"Aw, you're a great Heavy, Teenie—and it's the Bigs and the Littles got the cinch in this business. Looka the poor Siamese. How'd you like to be hitched up thataway all day. Looka Ossi. How'd you like to let 'em stick pins in you all for their ten cents' worth. Looka poor old Jas. Why, a girl's a fool to waste any heartache gettin' stuck on him. That old boy's going to wake up out of one of them spells dead some day. How'd you like to chew glass because it's big money and then drink it up so fast you'd got to borrow money off the albino girl for the doctor's prescription—"

The tears came now rivuleting down Miss Hoag's cheeks, bouncing off to the cape.

"O God!" she said, her hand closing over the Baron's, pressing it. "With us freaks, even if we win, we lose. Take me. What's the good of ten million dollars to me—twenty millions? Last night when I went in to offer him help—him in the same business and that ought to be used to me—right in the middle of being crazy with pain, what did he yell every time he looked at me, 'Take her away! Take her away!'"

"Aw now, Teenie, Jas had the D.T.'s last night; he—"

'"Take her away!' he kept yelling. 'Take her away!' One of my own kind getting the horrors just to look at me!"

"You're sweet on the Granite Jaw; you are, Teenie; that's what's eating you—you're sweet on the Granite Jaw—"

Suddenly Miss Hoag turned, slamming the door afterward so that the silence re-echoed sharply.

"What if I am?" she said, standing out in the hall pocket of absolute blackness, her hand cupped against her mouth and the blinding tears staggering. "What if I am? What if I am?"

Within her own room, a second-floor-back, augmented slightly by an immaculate layout of pink-celluloid toilet articles and a white water-pitcher of three pink carnations, Miss Hoag snapped on her light where it dangled above the celluloid toilet articles. A summer-bug was bumbling against the ceiling; it dashed itself between Miss Hoag and her mirror, as she stood there breathing from the climb and looking back at herself with salt-bitten eyes, mouth twitching. Finally, after an inanimate period of unseeing stare, she unhooked the long cape, brushing it, and, ever dainty of self, folding it across a chair-back. A voluminous garment, fold and fold upon itself, but sheer and crisp dimity, even streaming a length of pink ribbon, lay across the bed-edge. Miss Hoag took it up, her hand already slowly and tiredly at the business of unfettering herself of the monstrous red silk.

Came a sudden avalanche of knocking and a rattling of door-knob, the voice of Mrs. Bostrum. landlady, high with panic.

"Teenie! Jastrow's dyin' in his room! He's yellin' for you! For God's sakes—quick—down in his room!"

In the instant that followed, across the sudden black that blocked Miss
Hoag of vision, there swam a million stars.

"Teenie! For God's sakes—quick! He's yellin' for you—"

"Coming, Mrs. Bostrum—coming—coming—coming!"

In a dawn that came up as pink as the palm of a babe, but flowed rather futilely against the tired, speckled eye of incandescent bulb dangling above the Granite Jaw's rumpled, tumbled bed of pain, a gray-looking group stood in whispered conference beside a slit of window that overlooked a narrow clapboard slit of street.

THE DOCTOR: Even with recovery, he will be on his back at least six months.

MISS HOAG: Oh, my God! Doctor!

THE DOCTOR: Has the man means?

THE BARON: Not a penny. He only came to the concession two months ago from a row with the Flying-Fish Troupe. He's in debt already to half the exhibit.

THE LANDLADY: He's two weeks in arrears. Not that I'm pestering the poor devil now, but Gawd knows I—need—

THE DOCTOR: Any relatives or friends to consult about the operation?

MISS HOAG (turning and stooping): 'Ain't you got no relations or friends, Jastrow? What was it you hollered about the aerial-wonder act? Are they friends of yours? 'Ain't you got no relatives, no—no friends, maybe, that you could stay with awhile? Sid? Who's he? 'Ain't you, Jastrow, got no relations?

The figure under the sheet, pain-huddled, limb-twisted, turned toward the wall, palm slapping out against it.

"Hell!" said Jastrow, the Granite Jaw.

THE DOCTOR (drawing down his shirt-sleeves): I'll have an ambulance around in twenty minutes.

MISS HOAG: Where for, Doctor?

THE DOCTOR: Brooklyn Public Institute, for the present.

THE LANDLADY (apron up over her head): Poor fellow! Poor handsome fellow!

MISS HOAG: No, Doctor. No! No! No!

THE DOCTOR (rather tiredly): Sorry, madam, but there is no alternative.

MISS HOAG: No, no! I'll pay, Doctor. How much? How much?

THE BARON: Yeh. I'll throw in a tenner myself. Don't throw the poor devil to charity. We'll collect from the troupe. We raised forty dollars for a nigger wild man, once when—

THE DOCTOR: Come now; all this is not a drop in the bucket. This man needs an operation and then constant attention. If he pulls through, it is a question of months. What he actually needs then is country air, fresh milk, eggs, professional nursing, and plenty of it!

Miss HOAG: That's me, Doc! That's me! I'm going to fix just that for him. I got the means. I can show you three bank-books. I got the means and a place out in Ohio I can rent 'til I buy it some day. A farm! Fresh milk! Leghorns! I'll take him out there, Doc. Eighty miles from where I was born. I was thinking of laying up awhile, anyways. I got the means. I'll pull him through, Doctor. I'll pull him through!

THE BARON: Good God! Teenie—you crazy—

FROM THE BED: Worth her weight in gold. Worth her weight in gold.

* * * * *

In the cup of a spring dusk that was filled to overflowing with an ineffable sweetness and the rich, loamy odors of turned earth; with rising sap and low mists; with blackening tree-tops and the chittering of birds—the first lamplight of all the broad and fertile landscape moved across the window of a story-and-a-half white house which might have been either itself or its own outlying barn. A roof, sheer of slant, dipped down over the window, giving the façade the expression of a coolie under peaked hat.

"Great Scott! Move that lamp off the sill! You want to gimme the blind staggers?"

"I didn't know it was in your eyes, honey. There—that better?"

Silence.

A parlor hastily improvised into a bedroom came out softly in the glow. A room of matting and marble-topped, bottle-littered walnut table, of white iron hospital-cot and curly horsehair divan, a dapple-marble mantelpiece of conch-shell, medicated gauze, bisque figurines, and hot-water kettle; in the sheerest of dimity, still dainty of ribbon, the figure of Miss Hoag, hugely, omnipotently omnipresent.

"That better, Jas?" Silence. "Better? That's good! Now for the boy's supper. Beautiful white egg laid by beautiful white hen and all beat up fluffy with sugar to make boy well, eh?"

Emaciated to boniness, the great frame jutting and straining rather terribly to break through the restraint of too tight flesh, Mr. Jastrow rose to his elbow, jaw-lines sullen.

"Cut out that baby talk and get me a swig, Teenie. Get me a drink before
I get ugly."

"Oh, Jastrow honey, don't begin that. Please, Jastrow, don't begin that. You been so good all day, honey—"

"Get me a swig," he repeated through set teeth. "You and a boob country quack of a doctor ain't going to own my soul. I'll bust up the place again. I ain't all dead yet. Get me a swig—quick, too."

"Jas, there ain't none."

"There is!"

"That's just for to whip up five drops at a time with your medicine. That's medicine, Jas; it ain't to be took like drink. You know what the doc said last time. He ain't responsible if you disobey. I ain't—neither. Please, Jas!"

"I know a thing or two about the deal I'm getting around here. No quack boob is going to own my soul."

"Ain't it enough the way you nearly died last time, Jas? Honest, didn't that teach you a lesson? Be good, Jas. Don't scare poor old Teenie all alone here with you. Looka out there through the door. Ain't it something grand? Honest, Jas, I just never get tired looking. See them low little hills out there. I always say they look like chiffon this time of evening. Don't they? Just looka the whole fields out there, so still—like—like a old horse standing up dozing. Smell! Listen to the little birds! Ain't we happy out here, me and my boy that's getting well so fine?"

Then Jastrow the Granite Jaw began to whimper, half-moans engendered by weakness. "Put me out of my misery. Shoot!"

"Jas—Jas—ain't that just an awful way for you to talk? Ain't that just terrible to say to your poor old Big Tent?"

She smoothed out his pillow, and drew out his cot on ready casters, closer toward the open door.

"See, Jas—honest, can you ever get enough of how beautiful it is? When I was a kid on my pap's farm out there, eighty miles beyond the ridge, instead of playing with the kids that used to torment me because I was a heavy, I just used to lay out evenings like this on a hay-rack or something and look and look and look. There's something about this soft kind of scenery that a person that's born in it never gets tired of. Why, I've exhibited out in California right under the nose of the highest kind of mountains; but gimme the little scenery every time."

"I'm a lump—that's what I am. Nine months of laying. I'm a lump—on a woman, too."

"Why, Jas, Teenie's proud to have you on—on her. 'Ain't we got plans for each other after—you get well? Why, half the time I'm just in heaven over that. That's why, honey, if only you won't let yourself get setbacks! That's all the doctor says is between you and getting well. That's all that keeps you down, Jas, you scaring me and making me go against the doctor's orders. Last week your eating that steak—that drink you stole—ain't you ashamed to have got out of bed that way and broke the lock? You—you mustn't ever again, Jas, make me go against the doctor."

"I gets crazy. Crazy with laying."

"Just think, Jas; here I've drew out my last six hundred, ready to make first payment down on the place and us all ready to begin to farm it. Ain't that worth holding yourself in for? It wouldn't be right, Jas; it would be something terrible if we had to break into that six hundred for medicine and doctors. I don't know what to make of you, honey, all those months so quiet and behaved on your back, and, now that you're getting well, the—the old liquor-thirst setting in. We never will get our start that way, Jas. We got plans, if you don't hinder your poor Teenie. The doctor told me, honey—honest, he did—one of them spells—from liquor could—could take you off just like that. Even getting well the way you are!"

"I'm a lump; that's what I am."

"You ain't, Jas; you're just everything in the world."

"Sponging off a woman!"

"'Sponging'! With our own little farm and us farming it to pay it off! I like that!"

"Gimme a swig, Teenie. For God's sake gimme a swig!"

"Jas—Jas, if you get to cutting up again, I'm going to get me a man-nurse out here—honest I am!"

"A swig, Teenie."

"Please, Jas—it's only for bad spells—five drops mixed up in your medicine. That's six dollars a bottle, Jas, and only for bad spells."

"Stingy gut!"

"Looka down there, honey—there's old man Wyncoop's cow broke tether again. What you bet he's out looking for her. See her winding up the road."

"Stingy gut!"

"You know I ain't stingy. If the doctor didn't forbid, I'd buy you ten bottles, I would, if it cost twenty a bottle. I'm trying to do what the doctor says is best, Jas."

"'Best'! I know what's best. A few dollars in my pocket for me to boss over and buy me the things I need is what's best. I'm a man born to having money in his pocket. I'm none of your mollycoddles."

"Sure you ain't! Haven't you got over ninety dollars under your pillow this minute? 'Ain't the boy got all the spending-money he wants and nowheres to spend it? Ain't that a good one, Jas? All the spending-money he wants and nowheres to spend it. Next thing the boy knows, he's going to be working the farm and sticky with money. Ain't it wonderful, Jas, never no showing for us again? God! ain't that just wonderful?"

He reached up then to stroke her hand, a short pincushion of a hand, white enough, but amazingly inundated with dimples.

"Nice old Big Tent!"

"That's the way, honey! Honest, when you get one of your nice spells, your poor old Teenie would do just anything for you."

"I get crazy with pain. It makes me ugly."

"I know, Jas—I know—anyway, you fix it, honey. I 'ain't got a kick coming—a—tub like me to have—you."

She loomed behind his cot, carefully out of his range of vision, her own gaze out across the drowsing countryside. A veil of haze was beginning to thicken, whole schools of crickets whirring into it,

"If—if not for one thing, Jas, you know—you know what? I think if a person was any happier than me, she—she'd die."

"Let's play I'm Rockefeller laying on his country estate, Teenie. Come on; let's kid ourselves along. Gimme the six hundred, Teenie—"

"Why don't you ask me, Jas, except for what I'd be the happiest girl? Well, it's this. If only I could wear a cloak so when I got in it you couldn't see me! If only I never had to walk in front of you so—so you got to look at me!"

"You been a good gal to me, Big Tent. I never even look twice at you—that's how used a fellow can get to anything. I'm going to square it up with you, too."

"You mean it's me will square it with you, Jas—you see if I don't. Why, there'll be nothing too much for me to do to make up for the happiness we're going to have, Jas. I'm going to make this the kinda little home you read about in the magazines. Tear out all this old rented junk furniture, paint it up white after we got the six hundred paid down and the money beginning to come in. I'm even going to fix up the little trap-door room in the attic, so that if the Baron or any of the old exhibit crowd happens to be showing in Xenia or around, they can visit us. Just think, Jas—a spare room for the old crowd. Honest, it's funny, but there's not one thing scares me about all these months on the place alone here, Jas, now that we bought the gun, except the nightmares sometimes that we—we're back exhibiting. That's why I want to keep open house for them that ain't as lucky as us. Honest, Jas—I—I just can't think it's real, not, anyways, till we've paid down six hundred and—the fellow you keep joking about that wears his collar wrong side 'fore comes out from Xenia to read the ceremony. Oh, Jas, I—I'll make it square with you. You'll never have a sorry day for it!"

"You're all right, Big Tent," said the Granite Jaw, lying back suddenly, lips twitching.

"Ain't you feeling well, honey? Let me fix you an egg?"

"A little swig, Teenie—a little one, is all I ask."

"No, no—please, Jastrow; don't begin—just as I had you forgetting."

"It does me good, I tell you. I know my constitution better than a quack country boob does. I'm a freak, I am—a prize concession that has to be treated special. Since that last swig, I tell you, I been a different man. I need the strength. I got to have a little in my system. I'm a freak, I tell you. Everybody knows there's nothing like a swig for strength."

"Not for you! It's poison, Jas, so much poison! Don't you remember what they said to you after the operation? All your life you got to watch out—just the little prescribed for you is all your system has got to have. Wouldn't I give it to you otherwise—wouldn't I?"

"Swig, Teenie! Honest to God, just a swig!"

"No, no, Jas! No, no, no!"

Suddenly Jastrow the Granite Jaw drew down his lips to a snarl, his hands clutching into the coverlet and drawing it up off his feet.

"Gimme!" he said. "I've done it before and I'll do it now—smash up the place! Gimme! You're getting me crazy! This time you got me crazy. Gimme—you hear—gimme!"

"Jas—for God's sakes—no—no!"

"Gimme! By God! you hear—gimme!" There was a wrenching movement of his body, a fumbling beneath the pillow, and Mr. Jastrow suddenly held forth, in crouched attitude of cunning, something cold, something glittering, something steel.

"Now," he said, head jutting forward, and through shut teeth—"now gimme, or by God—"

"Jas—Jas—for God's sake have you gone crazy? Where'd you get that gun? Is that where I heard you sneaking this morning—over to my trunk for my watch-dog? Gimme that gun—Jas! You—you're crazy—Jas!"

"You gimme, was what I said, and gimme quick! You see this thing pointing? Well, gimme quick."

"Jas—"

"Don't 'Jas' me. I'm ugly this time, and when I'm ugly I'm ugly!"

"All right! All right! Only, for God's sakes, Jas, don't get out of bed, don't get crazy enough to shoot that thing. I'll get it. Wait, Jastrow; it's all right, you're all right. I'll get it. See, Teenie's going. Wait—wait—Teenie's going—"

She edged out and she edged in, hysteria audible in her breathing.

"Jas honey, won't you please—"

"Gimme, was what I said—gimme and quick!"

Her arm under his head, the glass tilted high against his teeth, he drank deeply, gratefully, breathing out finally and lying back against his pillow, his right hand uncurling of its clutch.

She lifted the short-snouted, wide-barreled, and steely object off the bed-edge gingerly, tremblingly.

"More like it," he said, running his tongue around his mouth; "more like it."

"Jas—Jas, what have you done?"

"Great stuff! Great stuff!" He kept repeating.

"If—if you wasn't so sick, honey—I don't know what I'd do after such a terrible thing like this—you acting like this—so terrible—God! I—I'm all trembling."

"Great stuff!" he said, and reaching out and eyes still closed, patting her. "Great stuff, nice old Big Tent!"

"Try to sleep now, Jas. You musta had a spell of craziness! This is awful! Try to sleep. If only you don't get a spell—Sleep—please!"

"You wait! Guy with the collar on wrong side round—he's the one; he's the one!"

"Yes—yes, honey. Try to sleep!"

"I wanna dream I'm Rockefeller. If there's one thing I want to dream, it's Rockefeller."

"Not now—not now—"

"Lemme go to sleep like a king."

"Yes, honey."

"Like a king," I said.

She slid her hand finally into one of the voluminous folds of her dress, withdrawing and placing a rubber-bound roll into his hands.

"There, honey. Go to sleep now—like a king."

He fingered it, finally sitting up to count, leaning forward to the ring of lamplight.

"Six hundred bucks! Six hundred! Wow—oh, wow! If Sid could only see me now!"

"He can, honey—he can. Go to sleep. 'Sh-h-h-h!'"

"Slide 'em under—slide 'em under—Rockefeller."

She lifted his head, placing the small wad beneath. He turned over, cupping his hand in his cheek, breathing outward deeply, very deeply.

"Jas!"

"Huh?"

"Ain't you all right? You're breathing so hard. Quit breathing so hard. It scares me. Quit making those funny noises. Honey—for God's sake—quit!"

Jastrow the Granite Jaw did quit, so suddenly, so completely, his face turned outward toward the purpling meadows, and his mouth slightly open, that a mirror held finally and frantically against it did not so much as cloud.

At nine o'clock there drew up outside the coolie-faced house one of those small tin motor-cars which are tiny mile-scavengers to the country road. With a thridding of engine and a play of lamps which turned green landscape, gray, it drew up short, a rattling at the screen door following almost immediately.

"Doctor, that you? O my God! Doctor, it's too late! It's all over,
Doctor—Doctor—it's all over!" Trembling in a frenzy of haste, Miss
Hoag drew back the door, the room behind her flickering with shadows
from an uneven wick.

"You're the Fat, ain't you? The one that's keeping him?"

"What—what—"

"So you're the meal-ticket! Say, leave it to Will, Leave it to that boy not to get lost in this world. Ain't it like him to the T to pick a good-natured Fat?"

There entered into Miss Hoag's front room Miss Sidonia Sabrina, of the Flying-Fish Troupe, World's Aeronaut Trapeze Wonder, gloved and ringleted, beaded of eyelash and pink of ear-lobe, the teeth somewhat crookedly, but pearlily white because the lips were so red, the parasol long and impudently parrot-handled, gilt mesh bag clanking against a cluster of sister baubles.

"If it ain't Will to the T! Pickin' hisself a Fat to sponge on. Can you beat it? M-m! Was you the Fat in the Coney concession?"

"Who—Whatta you—want?"

"We was playin' the Zadalia County Fair. I heard he was on his back. The Little in our show, Baroness de Ross, has a husband played Coney with youse. Where is he? Tell him his little Sid is here. Was his little Sid fool enough to beat it all the way over here in a flivver for eight bucks the round trip? She was! Where is he?"

"He—Who—You—"

"You're one of them good-natured simps, ain't you? So was I, dearie. It don't pay! I always said of Will he could bleed a sour pickle. Where is he? Tell him his little Sid is here with thirty minutes before she meets up with the show on the ten-forty, when it shoots through Xenia. Tell him she was fool enough to come because he's flat on his back."

"I—That's him—Jastrow—there—O my God—that's him laying there, miss! Who are you? Sid—I thought—I never knew—Who are you? I thought it was Doc. He went off in a flash. I was standing right here— I—O God!"

There seemed to come suddenly over the sibilant Miss Sidonia Sabrina a quieting down, a lessening of twinkle and shimmer and swish. She moved slowly toward the huddle on the cot, parasol leading, and her hands crossed atop the parrot.

"My God!" she said. "Will dead! Will dead! I musta had a hunch. God! I
musta! All of a sudden I makes up my mind. I jumps ahead of the show.
God! I musta had one of my hunches. That lookin'-glass I broke in
Dayton. I—I musta!"

"It come so sudden, miss. It's a wonder I didn't die, too, right on the spot. I was standing here and—"

Suddenly, Miss Sabrina fumbled in the gilt mesh bag for her kerchief, her face lifting to cry.

"He spun me dirt, Will did. If ever a girl was spun dirt, that girl was me, but just the same it—it's my husband laying there—it's my husband, no matter what dirt he spun me. O God—O—O—"

At half after ten to a powdering of eye-sockets, a touching up with lip-stick, a readjustment of three-tiered hat, Miss Sidonia Sabrina took leave. There were still streaks showing through her retouched cheeks.

"I left you the collar-and-cuff box with his initials on, dearie, for a remembrance. I give it to him the first Christmas after we was married, before he got to developing rough. I been through his things now entire. I got 'em all with me. If there's such a thing as a recordin' angel, you'll go down on the book. Will was a bad lot, but he's done with it now, dearie. I never seen the roughness crop up in a man so sudden the way it did in Will. You can imagine, dearie, when the men in the troupe horsewhipped him one night for the way he lit in on me one night in drink. That was the night he quit. O Gawd! maybe I don't look it, dearie, but I been through the mill in my day. But that's all over now, him layin' there—my husband. Will was a good Strong in his day—nobody can't ever take that away from him. I'm leavin' you the funeral money out of what he had under his pillow. It's a godsend to me my husband layin' up that few hundred when things ain't so good with me. You was a good influence, dearie. I never knew him to save a cent. I'd never have thought it. Not a cent from him all these months. My legs for the air-work ain't what they used to be. Inflammatory rheumatism, y'know. I've got a mind to buy me a farm, too, dearie. Settle down. Say, I got to hand it to you, dearie—you're one fine Fat. Baby Ella herself had nothin' on you, and I've worked with as fine Fats as there is in the business. You're sure one fine Fat, and if there's such a thing as a recordin' angel—I got to catch that train, dearie—the chauff's honkin'—no grandmother stories goes with my concession. God, to think of Will layin' on a cool six hundred! Here's twenty-five for the funeral. If it's more, lemme know. Sidonia Sabrina, care Flying-Fish Troupe, State Fair, Butler County, Ohio. Good-by, dearie, and God bless you!"

Long after the thridding of engine had died down, and the purple quiet flowed over the path of twin lamplights, Miss Hoag stood in her half-open screen door, gazing after. There were no tears in her eyes; indeed, on the contrary, the echo of the chugg-chugging which still lay on the air had taken on this rhythm:

     Better to have loved a short man
     Than never to have loved atall.

     Better to have loved a short man
     Than never to have loved atall.