The Wrong Pew, by Fannie Hurst

Humoresque

For six midnights of the week, on the roof of the Moncrieff Frolic, grape-wreathed and with the ecstatic quivering of the flesh that is Asia's, Folly, robed in veils, lifts her carmined lips to be kissed, and Bacchus, whose pot-belly has made him unloved of fair women, raises his perpetual goblet and drinks that he may not weep.

On the stroke of twelve, when on stretches of prairie the invisible joinder of night and day is a majestic thing, the Moncrieff Follies—twenty-four of them, not counting two specialty acts and a pair of whistling Pierrots—burst forth into frolic with a terrific candle and rhinestone power.

Saint Geneviève, who loved so to brood over the enigmatic roofs of the city, would have here found pause. Within the golden inclosure of the Moncrieff Roof, a ceiling canopied in deep waves of burnt-orange velvet cunningly concealed, yet disclosed, amber light, the color of wine in the pouring. Behind burnt-orange portières of great length and great depth of nap, the Twenty-Four Follies, each tempered like a knife edge, stood identically poised for the first clash of Negroid music from a Negroid orchestra.

At a box-office built to imitate a sedan chair—Louis Quinze without and Louis Slupsky within—Million-Dollar Jimmie Cox, of a hundred hundred Broadway all-nights; the Success Shirt Waist Company, incorporated, entertaining the Keokuk Emporium; the newest husband of the oldest prima donna; and Mr. Herman Loeb, of Kahn, Loeb & Schulien, St. Louis, waited in line for the privilege of ordering à la carte from the most à la mode menu in Oh-là-là, New York.

The line grew, eighty emptying theaters fifteen stories below, sending each its trickle toward the Midnight Frolic—men too tired to sleep, women with slim, syncopated hips, and eyes none too nice. The smell of fur and fragrant powder on warm flesh began to rise on a fog of best Havana smoke. At the elevators women dropped out of their cloaks and, in the bustle of checking, stood by, not unconscious of the damask finish to bare shoulders.

When Mr. Herman Loeb detached himself from the human tape-line before the box-office, the firm and not easily discomposed lines of his face had fallen into loose curves, the lower lip thrust forward and the eyebrows upward. Sheep and men in their least admirable moments have that same trick of face. He rejoined his companion, two slips of cardboard well up in the cup of his palm.

"Good seats, Herman?"

"I ask you, Sam, is it an outrage? Twenty bucks for a table on the side!"

"No!"

"Is that highway robbery or not, I ask you!"

Mr. Samuel Kahn hitched at his belt, an indication of mental ferment.

"I wouldn't live in this town, not if you gave it to me!"

"It's not the money, Sam. What's twenty dollars more or less on a business trip, and New-Year's Eve at that? But it's the principle of the thing. I hate to be made a good thing of!"

"Twenty bucks!"

"Yes, and like he was doing me a favor, that Louis Slups kyin the box-office who used to take tickets in our Olympic at home. Somebody at the last minute let go of his reservation or we couldn't have got a table."

"Twenty bucks, and we got to feel honored yet that they let us sit at a table to buy a dinner! But say, Herm, it's a great sight, ain't it?"

"There's only one little old New York! Got to hand it to this town—they're a gang of cut-throats, but they do things up brown. A little of it goes a long ways, but I always say a trip to New York isn't complete without a night at the Moncrieff Roof. You sit here, Sam, facing the stage."

"No, you! An old bachelor has got the right to sit closer to a girl-show than a married man."

They drew up before a small table edging a shining area of reserved floor space and only once removed from the burnt-orange curtains.

"A-ha!" exuded Mr. Samuel Kahn, his rather strongly aquiline face lifted in profile.

"A-ha!" exuded Mr. Loeb, smiling out of eyes ten years younger.

"What'll you have, Sam?"

"Say, what's the difference? I'll take a cheese sandwich and a glass of beer."

"Now cut that! Maybe I squealed about the twenty bucks, but that don't make me out a short skate. This isn't Cherokee Garden at home, man. I'm going to blow my brother-in-law to New-Year's Eve in my own way, or know the reason why not. Here, waiter, a pint of extra dry and a layout of sandwiches."

"If you can stand it, I guess I can!"

"It's not on the firm, either, Sam; it's on me!"

"For the price of to-night ma and Etta would hang themselves, ain't it?"

"Say, we only live once. I always tell ma she can't take it with her when she goes. Anyways, for the discount we got on those Adler sport skirts, we can afford to celebrate."

"Say, Herman, I wish I had a dime for every dollar that is spent up here to-night. Look at the women! I guess American men don't make queens out of their wives!"

"For every wife who's up here to-night I wouldn't take the trouble to collect the dimes," said Mr. Loeb, with cunning distinction.

"I guess that ain't all wrong, neither. It isn't such a pleasure to be away from your family New-Year's Eve, but I can assure you I'd rather have Etta having her celebration with ma and grandma, and maybe the Bambergers over at the house, than up here where even a married woman can blush to be."

"Take it from me, old man, a flannel petticoat in the family is worth all the ballet skirts on this roof put together."

"I bought ma and Etta each one of them handbags to-day at Lauer's for nine dollars. What they don't know about the price won't hurt them. Two for nine I'll tell them."

"To this day ma believes that five-hundred-dollar bar pin I brought her two years ago from Pittsburgh cost fifty at auction."

"There's Moe Marx from Kansas City just coming in! Spy the blonde he's with, will you? I guess Moe is used to that from home, nix! There's a firm, Marx-Jastrow, made a mint last year."

"Look!"

The lights had sunk down, the sea of faces receding into fog. The buzz died, too, and doors were swung against the steady shuffle of incomers. From behind the curtains a chime tonged roundly and in one key. One—two—three—four—five—six—seven—eight—nine—ten—eleven —twelve!

Then the orange curtains parted and on a gilded dais the width of the room, in startling relief against a purple circle the size of a tower clock, the Old Year, hoar on his beard and with limbs that shivered in an attitude of abdication, held out an hourglass to a pink-legged cherub with a gold band in his or her short curls.

A shout went up and a great clanging of forks against frail glass, the pop of corks and the quick fizz ensuing. The curtains closed and the lights flashed up. Time had just sailed another knot into space, and who cared?

At a center table a woman's slipper was already going the rounds. It began to sag and wine to ooze through the brocade.

"Well, Hermie, here's a happy New Year to you!"

"And to you, Sam, and many of 'em!"

"To ma and Etta and grandma!"

"To Kahn, Loeb & Schulien!"

"To Kahn, Loeb & Schulien and that to this time next year we got the
Men's Clothing Annex."

They drank in solemn libation.

The curtains had parted again. A Pierrot, chalky white, whistled in three registers, soprano, bass, and baser. A row of soubrettes rollicked in and out again in a flash of bushy skirts.

"Say, look at the third one from this end with the black curls all bobbing. I'm for her!"

"Where?"

"Gone now!"

Mr. Kahn leaned across his singing glass, his eye quickened into a wink.

"Old man, you can pull that woman-hater stuff on the home folks, but it takes your brother-in-law to lead you to the live ones. Eh?"

"You dry up," said Mr. Loeb, peering between the halves of a sandwich.

On a glass runway built over the heads of the assembled, a crystal aisle for satin feet, the row of soubrettes suddenly appeared, peering over the crystal rail, singing down upon the sea of marcelled, bald, and dead heads. Men, sheepish of their smiles but with the small heels overhead clanging like castanets into their spirits, dared to glance up.

"Gad, Herman! What'll they think up next? Whatta you know about that—all those little devils dancing right over our heads!"

"There she is!"

"Who?"

"The little one in the boy's black-satin suit, with the black curls bobbing!"

"Watch out, Herm! You'll die of crick in the neck."

"I don't see any blinkers on you!"

"Hey, old man! Your mouth's open."

"I know. I opened it," said Mr. Loeb, his head back and eyes that were suddenly bold staring up at the twinkling aisle.

At a table adjoining, a man reached up, flecking one of the tiny black-satin feet with a whirl of his napkin.

Then Mr. Herman Loeb, of St. Louis, committed an act of spontaneous combustion. When came the turn of the black satin and the bobbing curls to bend over the rail directly above him, he flung wide his arms, overturning a wine bottle.

"Jump!" he cried.

Beneath the short, black curls a mouth shaped like a bud reluctant to open, blew him a kiss. Then came a cue of music like an avalanche, and quicker than Harlequin's wink the aisle was clean.

"Gad!" said Mr. Loeb, his strong profile thrust forward and a light on it.

"That little one with the black curls? Say! You can put her on your watch-fob and take her home."

"Wouldn't mind!" said Mr. Loeb.

"You and Moe Marx are like all the women-haters. You don't know it, but you're walking in your sleep and the tenth-story window's open."

"We oughtn't to come up here in business clothes," said Mr. Loeb, eying his cuff-edges.

A woman sang of love. A chorus, crowned and girdled in inflated toy balloons, wreathed in and out among the tables.

"She's not in that crowd."

Men to whom life for the most part was grim enough vied for whose cigarette end should prick the painted bubbles. A fusillade ensued; explosions on the gold-powdered air—a battle de luxe!

Mr. Kahn threw back his head, yawned, and slid a watch from his waistcoat pocket.

"W-ell, a little of this goes a long way. If we want to pull out of this town day after to-morrow we've got to get down to Cedar Street early in the morning on that sweater job lot. It's about time for us to be getting across to the hotel."

"Wait!" said Mr. Loeb.

A jingling and a right merry cacophony of sound came fast upon the bubble bombardment, and then, to a light runnel of song, the row of twenty-four, harnessed in slotted sleigh-bells and with little-girl flounced frocks to their very sophisticated pink-silk knees.

The devices of vaudeville are perennial. Rigoletto, who set a court's sides aching, danced to bells. The row of twenty-four, pink and white as if the cradle had just yielded them up, shivered suddenly into an ecstasy of sound, the jerked-up shoulder of one, the tossing curls of another, the naughty shrug of a third, eking out a melody.

A laugh rose off the crowd.

"Say, this town'll fall for anything! That act's got barnacles. But the little devils look cute, though. Say—say, old man, cut that out! This is no place for your mother's son. Say!"

Mr. Loeb was leaning forward across the table, his head well ahead of his shoulders. From the third from the end of the row of twenty-four, a shoulder shrugging to the musical nonsense of bells was arching none too indirectly toward him, and once the black curls bobbed, giving a share of tremolo to the melody. But the bob was carefully directed, and Herman Loeb returned it in fashion, only more vehemently and with repetition.

"Say, Herman, enough is enough! You'll have her here at the table next. It's like Al Suss always says, the reason he woke up one morning and found himself married to the first pony in the sextet was because he stuck a stamp upside down on a letter to her and found he could be held for a proposal in stamp language."

To a great flare of the Negroid music, the row of twenty-four suddenly turned turtle, and prone on a strip of rug, heads to audience and faces to ceiling, twenty-four pairs of legs, ankleted in bells, kicked up a syncopated melody. From a Niagara of lace, insteps quivered an arpeggio. A chromatic scale bounced off a row of rapidly pointing toes. The third from the end, seized with sudden chill, quivered into grace notes, small pink feet kicking violently to the chandelier.

Men red with laughter pounded their plates. The rhythmic convulsion passed down the prostrate line, forty-eight little feet twinkled a grand finale, and the curtains swung, then opened, remaining so.

The line of twenty-four danced down and across the wide hair-line that separates life and stage, butterflies sipping from table to table. The cabaret was done. Lights resumed, and the business of food and drink.

Mr. Loeb flung out an arm, pulling awry a carefully averted pink sash.

"Say, little Jingle Bells, you and your friend!"

"Cut it out, Herm! If we want to be down on Cedar Street by—"

"What's your hurry, little one?"

"It ain't mine; it belongs to the management."

"Won't you join us?"

"Herm, that job-lot of sweaters—"

"Oh, come on, little Jingle Bells!"

"My friend, too?"

"Sure your friend."

They teetered, the two of them like animated dolls, arm in arm, and so at ease.

"Here, you little Black Curls, sit next to me, and you, Blondey, over there by my brother-in-law."

"What'll you have, girls?"

"Anchovies and fine-chopped onions for mine. Tell 'em in the kitchen, waiter, I said fine, and if the gentlemen are going to order wine, bring me a plate of oyster crackers first to take off the edge of my emptiness."

"Sure, another bottle of wine, waiter."

"Hermie, we—"

"And you, little Jingle Bells, same as Blondey's order?"

"Yeh."

"Say, you know what?"

"No. What?"

"I fell for those bouncing black curls of yours before I was in the place five minutes."

At that there was an incredible flow of baby talk.

"Gemmemen ike ikkie gurl wiz naughty-naughty black curl-curlies?"

"You bet your life I do," said Mr. Loeb, unashamed of comprehension.

Mr. Kahn flashed another look at his watch.

"Say, don't you know, you girls oughtn't to keep us boys up so late.
Ain't there no wear out to you?"

The yellow curls to his right bounced sharply.

"He asks if there's a wear out to us, Cleone? I wish it to you this minute, Baldy, that you had the muscles in the back of my legs. I guess you think it's choice for us girls to come out on the floor after the show!"

"Sylvette!"

"Yah, it's my New-Year's resolution to tell the truth for thirty minutes if I'm bounced for it. If you got to know it, it's a ten-per-cent. rake-off for us girls on every bottle of golden vichy you boys blow us to."

"Honest, Sylvette, you're wearing scrambled eggs instead of brains to-night. Why don't you cry a few brinies for the gemmemen while you're at it!"

That so quickened Mr. Loeb's risibilities that he dropped his hand over
Miss Cleone St. Claire's, completely covering yet not touching it.

"You're a scream, kiddo! Gee! I like you!"

She drank with her chin flung up and her throat very white.

"Bubbles! Bubbles! God bless all my troubles!"

"Well, I'll be darned!" said Mr. Kahn, smiling at her.

"The gemmemen from out of town?"

"St. Louis."

"I had a friend out there—Joe Kelsannie, of Albuquerque. Remember him,
Sylvette?"

"Do I!"

"I'm going out there myself some day if the going's good, and get me a cowboy west of Newark."

Mr. Loeb leaned forward, smiling into her quick-fire eyes.

"I'll take you!"

"Stick her on your watch-fob, Herman."

"No, sirree, I'll take her life size."

"Watch out, Hermie; remember the upside-down postage stamp!"

"Want to go, Jingle Bells?"

"Sure."

"But I'm on the level, little one. No kidding. Day after to-morrow. St.
Louis—with me!"

Miss Cleone St. Claire drew herself up, the doll look receding somewhat from her gaze.

"Say, bo, you got me wrong. I'm one of the nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand chorus girls you could introduce your sister to. Aren't I, Syl?"

"You let that kid alone," said Miss Sylvette de Long, in a tone not part of her rôle. "When the traffic policeman sticks up his mitt it's time to halt, see?" Lines not before discernible in Miss De Long's face had long since begun to creep out, smoky shadows beneath her eyes and a sunburst of fine lines showing through the powder like stencil designs.

"Come on, Herm. It's getting late, and if we want to be down on Cedar—"

"You think I'm kidding this little black-eyed chum of yours, don't you,
Blondey?"

"Sure not! You want 'er to grace the head of your table and wear the family heirlooms!"

"Well, Sam, you're my brother-in-law—married to my own sister and living under the same roof with me—am I a habitual lady-fusser, or do they call me Hermie the Hermit at home?"

"Never knew him to talk ten straight words to a skirt before, girls," said Mr. Kahn through a yawn; "and if you don't believe it, go out and ask Louis Slupsky, who used to play chinies with him."

"Say, you," said Miss De Long, edging slightly, "you're about as funny as a machine-gun, you are! If you got a private life, why ain't you back in St. Louis a night like this, showing her and the kids a good time?"

She was frankly tired, her eyelids darkening.

"I wish to Heaven I was," said Mr. Kahn, suddenly. "Take it from me, girl, it was nothing but a business hang-over kept me. Come, Herm, if we—"

"You think I'm kidding little Jingle Bells, don't you?"

Miss St. Claire sat back against her chair; her black eyes had quieted.
"If you ain't kidding you must be crazy with the heat or dr—"

"Look at my glass. Have I touched it?"

"The man's raving, Syl! Wants to marry me and take me back to St. Louis,
Thursday."

"Cut the comedy and come! Herm, it's getting on to three in the morning."

"This little girl keeps thinking I'm kidding, Blondey. I always knew if I ever fell for matrimony it would be just like this. Right off the reel. No funny business. Just bing! Bang! Done!"

"Catch me while I swoon—but he sounds on the level, Cleone."

"Well, what if he is? Of all the nerve! Whatta you know about me? How do you know I haven't got three kids and a crippled husband at home? How do you know—?"

"I know, little Jingle Bells! Why, I was as sure of you, the minute I clapped eyes on you, as if we'd been raised next door to each other. I can see right down in your little life like it was this glass of wine."

Miss St. Claire threw out her arms in a beautiful and sleepy gesture.

"Well, boys, this is a nice little party, but I got to get up at three o'clock to-morrow afternoon, and I need the sleep. Oh, how I love my morning sleep!" She drew back, her bare outflung arm pushing her from the table. "If you'll call me and my room-mate a taxi—"

"No, you don't, Jingle Bells!"

He placed a hand that trembled slightly on the sleeved part of her arm.
She opened wider her very wide black eyes.

"Are you bats?" she said.

"I'm going to marry you and take you home with me, if I have to carry you off like a partridge."

"Cleone, I tell you the man means it!"

"You're right, Blondey. I never meant anything more in my life."

A sudden shortness of manner crept over Mr. Kahn.

"Man, you're drunk!" he cried, springing to his feet.

"See my glass!"

"Then you're crazy!"

"Sit down, old Baldy. Why's he crazy? That little room-mate of mine is as straight a little girl as—"

"Why, I tell you he's crazy! That man's the head of a big business. He can't kick up any nonsense like this. Come on, Herm, cut the comedy. It's time we were getting across to our hotel. Look at the crowd thinning, and what's left is getting rough. Come!"

"If you don't know how to behave yourself, Sam, in the presence of these ladies, maybe you better go back to the hotel alone. I'm going to see these young ladies to their door, and before we go me and this little girl are going to understand each other."

Mr. Kahn sat down again in some stupefaction.

"Well, of all the nerve! Who are you? Whatta you think I am? Syl, what's his game?"

Miss De Long thrust forward her tired and thinning face; her eyes had a mica gleam.

"Cleone, he wants to marry you. A decent man with a decent face from a decent town has taken a shine to you and wants to marry you. M-a-r-r-y! Do you get it, girl?"

"How do you know he's decent? I don't know no more about him than he knows about me. I—"

"'Ain't you got no hunch on life, girl? Look at him! That's how I know he's decent. So would you if you'd been in this business as long as me. Can't you tell a real honest-to-God man when you see one? A business man at that!"

"You got me right, Blondey. Kahn, Loeb & Schulien, Ladies' Wear, St. Louis. Here's my card. You give me an hour to-morrow, Jingle Bells, and I'll do all the credential stuff your little heart desires. Louis Slupsky knows me and my whole family. His mother used to stuff feather pillows for mine. Kahn here is my brother-in-law and partner in business. He's a slow cuss and 'ain't grasped the situation yet. But are you on, little one? Is it St. Louis Thursday morning, as Mrs.—?"

"Herm! You're cr—"

"Syl—what'll I—do?"

"An on-the-level guy, Cleone. Marry! Do you hear? M-a-r-r-y! Say, and it couldn't happen to me!"

"Herman, man, I tell you you're off your head. Think once of your home—ma, Etta, grandma—with a goy girl that—"

"Easy there, Baldy, you're adding up wrong. You and her both celebrates the same Sundays. If anybody should ask you for Sylvette de Long's birth certificate, look it up under the P's. Birdie Pozner. It's the same with my friend. Cleone, tell the gemmemen your real name! Well, I'll tell it for you. Sadie Mosher, sister to the great Felix Mosher who played heavy down at Shefsky's theater for twenty years. Goy! Say, Sammie, it's too bad a nut from the bug-house bought the Brooklyn Bridge to-day or I'd try to sell it to you."

"Little Jingle Bells, if I put you in a taxi now and shoot up those credentials, will you marry me to-morrow at noon?"

"I—oh, I dunno."

"Marry, he says to you, girl. Think of the minus number of times girls like us get that little word whispered to 'em. Think of the short season. Moncrieff's grouch. The back muscles of your legs! Marry, he says to you, girl! Marry!"

"To-morrow at noon, little one?"

"I—I sleep till three."

"And it couldn't 'a' been me!"

"Little Jingle Bells?"

"Why, y-yes, I—I'm on."

At three o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, in a magistrate's office, beneath a framed engraving of a judicial court in wigged session, Herman Schulien Loeb and Sadie Helen Mosher became as one. A bar of scant metropolitan sunshine, miraculously let in by a cleft between two skyscrapers, lay at the feet of the bride.

Slightly arear of them: Mr. Louis Slupsky; Mr. Samuel Kahn, with a tinge the color of apoplexy in his face; and Miss Sylvette de Long, her face thrust forward as if she heard melody. The voice of the magistrate rose like a bird in slow flight, then settled to a brief drone.

* * * * *

East is East and West is West, and St. Louis is neither. It lies like a mediator, the westerly hand of the east end of the country stretching across the sullenest part of the Mississippi to clasp the easterly hand of the west end of the country.

Indians have at one time or another left their chirography upon the face of St. Louis. But all that is effaced now under the hot lava of Americanism that is covering the major cities in more or less even layers. Now it stands atop its Indian mounds, a metropolis of almost a million souls, a twenty-story office-building upon the site of an old trading-post, and a subway threatening the city's inners. There is a highly restricted residence district given over to homes of the most stucco period of the Italian Renaissance, and an art-museum, as high on the brow of a hill as the Athenians loved to build. St. Louis has not yet a Champs-Élysées or a Fifth Avenue. And of warm evenings it takes its walks without hats. Neither is the café or the cabaret its evening solace.

It dines, even in its renaissance section, placidly chez soi; the family activities of the day here thrown into a common pool of discussion.

On Washington Boulevard, probably sixty dollars a foot removed from the renaissance section, architecture suddenly turns an indifferent shoulder to period, Queen Anne rubbing sloping roof with neighbor's concrete sleeping-porch of the hygienic period. Only the building-line is maintained, the houses sitting comfortably back and a well-hosed strip of sidewalk, bordered in hardy maples, running clear and white out to De Balaviere Avenue, where the art-nouveau apartment-house begins to invade. In winter bare branches meet in deadlock over this walk. On the smooth macadamized road of Washington Boulevard automobiles try out their speed limit.

One such wintry day, with the early dusk already invading, Mrs. Herman Loeb, with red circles round her very black eyes, and her unrouged face rather blotched, sat in one of the second-floor-front rooms of a double buff-brick house on Washington Boulevard, hunched up in a red-velvet chair, chin cupped in palm, and gazing, through perfectly adjusted Honiton lace curtains, at the steady line of home-to-dinner motor-cars.

Warmth lay in that room, and a conservative mahogany elegance—a great mahogany double bed, immaculately covered in white, with a large monogram heavily hand-embroidered in its center; a mahogany swell-front dresser, with a Honiton lace cover and a precise outlay of monogramed silver. Over it a gilt-framed French engraving with "Maternal Love" writ in elegant script beneath. A two-toned red rug ate in footsteps.

Mrs. Loeb let her head fall back against the chair and closed her eyes. In her dark-stuff dress with its sheer-white collar, she was part of the note of the room, except that her small bosom rose and fell too rapidly. A pungent odor of cookery began to invade; the street lamps of Washington Boulevard to pop out. The door from the hallway opened, but at the entrance of her mother-in-law Mrs. Loeb did not rise, only folded one foot closer under her.

"You, Sadie?"

"Yes."

"Herman home yet?"

"No."

"Smell? I fixed him red cabbage to-night."

"Yes, I smell."

"How she sits here in the dark. Thank goodness, Sadie, electricity we don't have to economize on."

She pushed a wall key, a center chandelier of frosted electric bulbs springing into radiance. In its immediate glare Mrs. Loeb regarded her daughter-in-law, inert there beside the window.

"Get your embroidery, Sadie, and come down by me and Etta till the men get home to supper. I want her to show you that cut-work stitch she's putting in her lunch napkins."

"Ugh!"

"What?"

Mrs. Bertha Loeb approached with the forward peer of the nearsighted. Time and maternity had had their whacks at her figure, her stoutness enhanced by a bothersome shelf of bust, but her face—the same virile profile of her son's and with the graying hair parted tightly from it—guiltless of lines, except now, regarding her daughter-in-law, a horizontal crease came into her brow.

"You want to go sit a while by grandma, then?"

"No. Gee! can't—can't a girl just sit up in her room quiet? I'm all right."

"I didn't say, Sadie, you wasn't all right. Only a young girl with everything to be thankful for don't need to sit up in her room like it was a funeral, with her mother and sister and grandma in the same house."

On the mahogany arms of her chair Mrs. Herman Loeb's small hand closed in a tight fist over her damp wad of handkerchief,

"I—I—"

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Sadie, you been crying again."

"What if I have?"

"A fine answer from a girl to her mother."

"I—you—you drive me to it—your questions—"

"I shouldn't have the interest of my own son's wife at heart!"

"Can't a girl get—get blue?"

"Blue?"

"Yes, blue."

Mrs. Bertha Loeb reached out her hand with its wide marriage band slightly indented in flesh; the back of that hand was speckled with large, lightish freckles and trembled slightly.

"Sadie, ain't there just no way we can make you feel happy in St. Louis? Last night through the door to my room I couldn't help hear again you and Herman with a scene. Take your feet down off the plush, Sadie."

"Oh yes, you heard, all right."

"'Ain't you got a good home here, Sadie? Everything in the world a girl could wish for! A husband as good as gold, like his poor dead father before him. 'Ain't we done everything, me and my Etta, to make you feel how—how glad we are to have you for our Hermie's wife?"

"Oh, I know, I know."

"What maybe we felt in the beginning—well, wasn't it natural, an only son and coming such a surprise—all that's over now. Why, it's a pleasure to see how grandma she loves you."

"I—I'm all right, I tell you."

"Didn't we even fix it you should go in a flat on Waterman Avenue housekeeping for yourself, if you wanted it?"

"Yes, and tie myself down to this dump yet. Not much!"

"Well, I only hope, Sadie Loeb, you never got in your life to live in a worse dump. I know this much, I have tried to do my part. Did I sign over this house to you and Herman for a wedding present, giving only to my own daughter the row of Grand Avenue stores?"

"I never said you didn't."

"Have you got the responsibility even to run your own house, with me and
Etta carrying it on like always?"

"Am I complaining?"

"Do I ask of you one thing, Sadie, except maybe that you learn a little housekeeping and watch how I order from the butcher, things that every wife should know if she needs it or not? In the whole year you been my daughter, Sadie, have I asked of you more than you should maybe help the up-stairs girl a little mornings, and do a little embroidery for your linen-chest, and that maybe, instead of sleeping so late till noon every morning, you should get up and have breakfast with your husband?"

"If you begin going over all that again I—I'll just yell!"

"With anybody pouting in the house I just 'ain't got heart to do nothing. I don't see, Sadie, that you had such fine connections in the East that you shouldn't be satisfied here."

"You just leave my friends in the East out of it. If you wanna know it, they're a darn sight better than the wads of respectability I see waddlin' in here to swap Kaffee Klatsches with you!"

"Just let me tell you, Sadie Loeb, you can be proud such ladies call on you. A girl what don't think no more of her husband's business connections than not to come down-stairs when Mrs. Nathan Bamberger calls! Maybe our friends out here got being good wifes and good housekeepers on the brain more as high kicking in New York; but just the same Mrs. Nathan Bamberger, what can buy and sell you three times over, ain't ashamed to go in her Lindell Avenue kitchen, when her husband or her son likes red cabbage, what you can't hire cooked, or once in a while a miltz."

"Say, if I've heard that once, I've—"

"Then, too, Sadie, since we're talking—it's a little thing—I haven't liked to talk about it, but I—I got the first time I should hear the word ma on your lips. You think it's so nice that a daughter-in-law should always call me 'Say,' like a bed-post?"

"I—I can't, Mrs. Loeb—it—it just won't come—mother."

"Don't tell me you don't know any better! A girl what can be so nice with poor old blind grandma, like you been, can be nice with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, too, if she wants to be. I didn't want I should ever have to talk to you like this, Sadie, but sometimes a—a person she just busts out."

And then Mrs. Herman Loeb leaped forward in her chair, her small tight fist pounding each word:

"Then let me go! Whatta you holding me here for? Let me go back, Mrs.—mother! Let me go! I don't deny it, you're too good for me round here. I don't fit! Let me go back to the old room and—my old room-mate where—where I belong with my—my crowd. You tell what you just said to Herm! Get him to let me go back with him on his trip to-morrow night. Please, Mrs.—mother—please!"

"You mean to New York with him on his business trip for a visit?"

"Call it that if you want to, only let me go! You—you can tell them later that—that I ain't coming back. I—I've begged him so! I don't belong here. You just said as much yourself. I don't belong here. Let me go, Mrs. Loeb. Let me go! You tell him, Mrs. Loeb, to let me go."

Mrs. Bertha Loeb suddenly sat down, and the color flowed out of her face.

"That I should live to see this day! My Herman's wife wants to leave him! Oh, my son, my son! What did you do to yourself! A di—a separation in the Loeb family! I knew last night when I heard through the door and how worried my poor boy has looked for months, that it didn't mean no good. Since her first month here I've seen it coming. I did my part to—"

"Yes, Mrs. Loeb, and I done my part!"

"Oh—oh—oh, and how that boy of mine has catered to her! Humored her every whim to keep her contented! I always say it's the nix-nux wives get the most attentions and thanks from their husbands. I—"

"I done my part. I've tried as much as you to make myself fit in out here. I—I just ain't your kind, Mrs. Loeb. Yours and—Etta's. I—I can't be saving and economical when I see there's plenty to spend. I—I was raised with my brother down in Shefsky's theater, where nobody cares about monogramed guest towels and about getting up before noon if they don't want to. The evenings here kill me! Kill me! I hate pinochle! I gotta have life, Mrs. Loeb. I hate Kaffee Klatsches with a lot of—I—I tell you I got different blood in my veins, Mrs. Loeb, I—"

"No, no, Sadie Mosher Loeb, that kind of talk don't go. You got just the same shabbos like us. Saturday is your—"

"Yes, yes, I'm in the right church, all right, Mrs. Loeb, but I'm in the wrong pew. Mrs. Loeb, please can't you understand I'm in the wrong pew!"

And all her carefully confined curls, springing their pins, she fell forward a shivering mass.

In that surcharged moment and brisky exuding a wintry out-of-doors, Mr. Herman Loeb entered and stood for a moment in the open doorway, in the act of removing his greatcoat.

"Herman, my son! Oh, my son!"

"What's wrong, ma? Sadie!"

"It's come, Herman, like I always predicted to Etta it would. Your wife, my poor boy, she wants to leave you. This should happen to a Loeb yet—a separation in the family! My poor boy! My poor boy!"

"Why, ma, what—what's Sadie been telling you?"

At that Mrs. Herman Loeb raised her streaming face, her eyes all rid of their roguery and stretched in despair.

"I didn't want to let out to her, Herman. I wanted to make a quiet get-away, you know I did. But she nagged me! She nagged me!"

"Ma, you shouldn't—"

"She heard us last night and Heaven knows how many nights before that.
She's wise. She knows. She knows it's been a year of prison here for—"

"Oh, my poor boy! Prison! A girl like her finds herself married into one of the most genteel families in St. Louis, a girl what never in her life was used to even decent sheets to sleep on!"

"Ma!"

"Till three o'clock in the afternoon she told me herself how her and them girls used to sleep, two and three in a boarding-house room, and such a mess!"

"Ma, if you and Sadie don't cut out this rowing I'll put on my hat and go back down-town where I came from. What is this, anyway, a barroom or a home out on Washington Boulevard? You want grandma to hear you? Ma! Sadie!"

"My poor boy! My poor boy!"

"I didn't start it, Herm. I was sitting up here quiet. All I ask, Herm, is for you to take me back to New York to-morrow night on your trip. Let me go, Herm, for—for an indefinite stay. It ain't this house, Herm, and it ain't your mother or your sister and—-and it ain't you—it ain't any one. It's all of you put together! I can't stand the speed out here! There ain't none!"

"I guess she wants, Hermie, for her bad-girl notions you should give up the best retail business in St. Louis and take her to live in New York, where she can always be in with that nix-nux theatri—"

"No, no, he knows I don't want that!"

"If she did, ma, we'd go!"

"Herm knows it was all a mistake with me. I didn't know my own mind. I wanna go back along where I came from and where I belong! It ain't like I was the kind of a girl with another man in the case—"

"We should thank her, Hermie, that there ain't more scandal mixed up in it yet!"

"Ma!"

"My poor boy, what could have had his pick from the first girls in
St.—"

"Ma!"

There was an edge to Mr. Loeb's voice that had the bite of steel. He tossed his greatcoat to the snowy bed, walking between the bed-end and the mantel, round to the crouched figure of his wife.

"There, there, Sadie!" he said in his throat, and, stooping over her: "I give in! I give in!"

Her head flew up.

"Herm!"

"My son!"

"No, no, ma, it's no use trying to put anything but a jingle-bell harness on poor little Jingle Bells. She don't understand us any more than we—we can understand her!"

"That's it, Herm; that's why I say if you'll only let me go!"

"Oh, my God! A separation in the Loeb family? My poor dead husband! My daughter Etta, president of the Ladies' Auxiliary! Grandma—"

"'Sh-h-h, ma! You want grandma to hear?"

"My son, the cleanest, finest—"

"Ma!" There were lines in his face as if a knot at his heart were tightening them. "You mustn't blame her, ma; and, Sadie, you mustn't feel this way toward my mother. Nobody's to blame. I've been thinking this thing over more than you think, Sadie, and I—I give in. She's a poor little thing, ma, that's been trapped into something she can't fit into."

"Yes, Herm, that's it."

"It's natural. My fault, too. I carried her off like a partridge. Don't cry, little Jingle Bells! To-morrow night we leave for New York, and when I come back you're going to stay on with—"

"Sylvette says—"

"With friends, indefinitely. Don't cry, little Jingle Bells, don't!
'Sh-h-h, ma! There, didn't I tell you you'd rouse grandma!"

With her hands stuffed against rising sobs, his mother ceased rocking herself to and fro in her straight chair, her eyes straining through the open door. A thin voice came through, querulous, and then the tap-tap of a cane.

Mr. Herman Loeb answered the voice, standing quiet at the bed-end.

"Nothing is the matter, grandma."

"Come and get me, Herman."

"Yes, grandma."

He hastened out and re-entered almost immediately, leading Mrs. Simon Schulien, her little figure so fragile that the hand directing the cane quavered of palsy, and the sightless face, so full of years and even some of their sweetness, fallen in slightly, in presage of dust to dust.

"Bertha?"

"Yes, mamma."

"Here, grandma, by the window is your chair."

He lowered her to the red-velvet arm-chair, placing her cane gently alongside.

"So!"

She moved her sightless face from one to the other, interrogating each presence.

"Sadie?"

"Yes, grandma."

"How you holler, children! Everything ain't right?"

"Yes, grandma. Ma and Sadie and me been making plans. To-morrow night
Sadie goes with me to New York on my trip. A little pleasure trip."

The little face, littler with each year, broke into smile.

"So, little Sadie-sha, you got good times, not? A good husband and good times? New York! To New York she goes, Bertha?"

"Yes, mamma."

Mrs. Schulien fell to crooning slightly, redigesting with the senility of years.

"To New York! Nowadays young wives got it good. How long you stay,
Hermie?"

"It's just my Pittsburgh-New York trip, grandma."

"Sadie, come here by grandma."

She approached with the tears drying on her face, her bosom heaving in suppressed jerks.

"Yes, grandma." And patted the little clawlike hand, and the bit of white hair beneath the fluted cap, and a bit of old lace fastened with an old ivory cameo and covering the old throat.

"You got good times, not?"

"Yes, grandma."

"And you'm a good girl, Sadie. Eh? Eh?"

"Y-yes, grandma."

"When you come back from New York, you bring grandma a fine present, not?"

"Yes, yes, grandma."

"A quilted under jacket wholesale, for when grandma rides out in the wheel-chair."

"Y-yes, grandma."

To the saturnine, New York of its spangled nights is like a Scylla of a thousand heads, each head a menace. Glancing from his cab window one such midnight, an inarticulate expression of that fear must have crept over and sickened Mr. Herman Loeb. He reached out and placed his enveloping hand over that of his wife,

"Well, Sadie, you take good care of yourself, girl. No matter how we decide to—to end this thing, remember you're my wife—yet."

"Yes, Herman," said Mrs. Loeb, through a gulp.

"Don't stint, and remember how easily you get cold from draughts."

"I won't. I will."

"If you find yourself too crowded in that room with your friend, get a better one farther away from the theaters, where it isn't so noisy—maybe by yourself."

"I'll see."

"You won't be afraid to go back to that room now, with Sylvette still at the show?"

"N-no."

"If I was you—now mind, I'm only suggesting it—but if I was you I wouldn't be in such a hurry about getting back in that roof show, Sadie. Maybe in a few days something better may show up or—or you'll change your mind or something."

"I gotta get back to work to keep from thinking. Anyway, I don't want to be sponging on you any longer than I can help."

"You're my wife, aren't you?"

She sat, a small cold huddle in the center of the cab seat, toward him her quivering face flashing out as street lamps bounced past. They were nearing the great marble façade of the Seventh Avenue Terminal.

"Herman, I—I hate to see everything bust up like this—you—you such a prince and all—but like Syl says, I—I guess all fools ain't dead yet!"

"You've had time to work this thing out for yourself now, Sadie, but like I was saying before, anybody can play stubborn, but—but it's a wise person who ain't ashamed to change his mind. Eh, Sadie? Eh?"

They were sliding down a runway and drew up now alongside a curb. A redcap, wild for fee, swung open the cab door, immediately confiscating all luggage.

"No, no, not that! You carry that box, Herm. It's the padded underjacket for grandma. Tell her I—I sent it to her, Herm—with—with love."

"Yes, Sadie."

She was frankly crying now, edging her way through the crowd, running in little quick steps to match her pace to his.

At the trainside, during the business of ticket inspection, she stood by, her palm pat against her mouth and tears galumphing down. With a face that stood out whitely in the gaseous fog, Mr. Loeb fumbled for the red slip of his berth reservation.

"Well, Sadie girl, three minutes more and—"

"Oh—oh, Herm!"

"If you feel as bad as that, it's not too late, Sadie. I—you—it takes a wise little girlie to change her mind. Eh? Eh?"

"No—no, Herm, I—"

He clenched her arm suddenly and tightly.

"If you want to come, girl, for God's sake now's your time. Sadie honey, you want to?"

She shook him off through gasps.

"No, no. Herm, I—I can't stand it—it's only that I feel so bad at seeing you—No—no—not—not now."

The all-aboard call rang out like a shout in a cave.

He was fumbling at his luggage for the small pasteboard box, haste fuddling his movements.

"I'll be in Pittsburgh to-morrow till seven, honey. Sleep over it, and if you change your mind, catch the eleven-forty-five St. Louis flyer out of here to-morrow morning, and that train'll pick me up at Pittsburgh—eleven forty-five."

"Oh, I—"

"You be the one to bring this box home, with your own little hands, to poor grandma, honey, and—and if you don't change your mind, why—why, you can send it. You be the one to bring it to her, honey. Remember, it's a wise girlie knows when to change her mind!"

"Oh, Hermie—Hermie!"

"All—aboard!"

With her hands clasped and her uncovered face twisted, she watched the snakelike train crawl into oblivion.

When she re-entered the taxicab she was half swooning of tears.

"Don't cry, baby," said the emboldened chauffeur, placing the small pasteboard box up beside her.

* * * * *

In the great old-fashioned room in Fortieth Street—of two beds and two decades ago—she finally in complete exhaustion slid into her white iron cot against the wall, winding an alarm-clock and placing it on the floor beside her.

Long before Miss Sylvette de Long, with her eyelids very dark, tiptoed in, and, rubbing the calves of her legs in alcohol, undressed in the dark, she was asleep, her mouth still moist and quivering like a child's.

At nine-thirty and with dirty daylight cluttering up the cluttered room, the alarm-clock, full of heinous vigor, bored like an awl into the morning.