Rolling Stock, by Fannie Hurst

Every Soul Hath Its Song

In the great human democracy, revolution cannot uncrown the builder of bridges to place upon his throne the builder of pantry shelves. Gray matter and blue blood and white pigment are not dynasties of man's making. Accident of birth, and not primogeniture, makes master minds and mulattoes, seamstresses and rich men's sons. Wharf-rats are more often born than made.

That is why, in this dynasty not of man's making, weavers gone blind from the intricacies of their queen's coronation robe, can kneel at her hem to kiss the cloth of gold that cursed them. A peasant can look on at a poet with no thought to barter his black bread and lentils for a single gossamer fancy. Backstair slaveys vie with each other whose master is more mighty. And this is the story of Millie Moores who, with no anarchy in her heart and no feud with the human democracy, could design for women to whom befell the wine and pearl dog-collars of life, frocks as sheer as web, and on her knees beside them, her mouth full of pins and her sole necklace a tape-measure, thrill to see them garbed in the glory of her labor.

Indeed, when the iridescent bubble of reputation floated out from her modest dressmaking rooms in East Twenty-third Street, Millie Moores, whom youth had rushed past, because she had no leisure for it, felt her heart open like a grateful flower when life brought her more chores to do. And when one day a next-year's-model limousine drew up outside her small doorway with the colored fashion sheet stuck in the glass panel, and one day another, and then one spring day three of them in shining procession along her curb, something cheeped in Millie Moores's heart and she doubled her prices.

And then because ladies long of purse and short of breath found the three dark flights difficult, and because the first small fruit of success burst in Millie Moores's mouth, releasing its taste of wine, she withdrew her three-figure savings account from the Manhattan Trust Company, rented an elevator-service, mauve-upholstered establishment on middle Broadway, secured the managerial services of a slender young man fresh from the Louis Quinze rooms of Madam Roth—Modes, Fifth Avenue, tripled her prices, and emerged from the brown cocoon of Twenty-third Street, Madam Moores, Modiste.

Two years later, three perfect-thirty-six sibyls promenaded the mauve display rooms, tempting those who waddle with sleeveless frocks that might have been designed for the Venus of Milo warmed to life.

The presiding young man, slim and full of the small ways that ingratiate, and with a pomaded glory of tow hair rippling back in a double wave that women's fingers itched to caress and men's hands itched to thresh, pushed forward the mauve velvet chairs with a waiter's servility, but none of his humility; officiated over the crowded pages of the crowded appointment-book, jotted down measurements with an imperturbability that grew for every inch the tape-line measured over and above.

Last, Madam Moores, her small figure full of nerves; two spots of red high on her cheeks; her erstwhile graying hairs, a bit premature and but a sprinkling of them, turned to the inward of a new and elaborate coiffure; and meeting this high tide with a smile, newly enhanced by bridge-work and properly restrained to that dimension of insolence demanded by the rich of those who serve them well.

In the springtime Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue turn lightly to thoughts of Narragansett Pier and Bronx Park. Fifth Avenue sheds its furs and Sixth Avenue its woolen underwear. At the dusk of one such day, when the taste of summer was like poppy leaves crushed between the teeth, and open streetcars and open shirtwaists blossomed forth even as the distant larkspur in the distant field, Madam Moores beheld the electric-protection door swing behind the last customer and relaxed frankly against a table piled high with fabrics of a dozen sheens.

"Whew! Thank heavens, she's gone!"

To a symphony of six-o'clock whistles the rumble of machines from the workrooms suddenly ceased.

"Turn out the shower lights, Phonzie, and see that Van Nord's black lace goes out in time for opera to-night. When she telephoned at noon I told her it was on the way."

Mr. Alphonse Michelson hurtled a mauve-colored footstool and hastened rearward toward the swinging-door that led to the emptying workrooms. The tallest of the perfect-thirty-sixes, stepping out of her beaded slippers into sturdier footwear of the street, threw him a smile as he passed that set her glittering earrings and metal-yellow ringlets bobbing like bells in a breeze.

"Hand me the shoe-buttoner, Phonzie. The doctor says stooping is bad for my hair-pins."

Their laughter, light as foam, met and mingled.

"Oh, you nervy Gertie!"

"What's your hurry, Phonzie dearie?"

"I don't see you stopping me."

"Fine chance, with her crouching over there, ready to spring."

"Hang around, sweetness. Maybe I'm not on duty, and I'll take you to supper if you've not got a date with one of your million-dollar Charlies."

"Soft pedal, Phonzie! You know I'd break a date with any one of 'em any day in the week for a sixty-cent table d'hote with you!"

"Hang around then, sweetness."

"Hang around! Gawd, if I hang around you any more than I have been doing in the last five years, following you from one establishment to the other, they'll have to kill me to put me out of my misery."

"You're all right, Gert. And when you haven't any of the greenback boys around to fill in, you can always fall back on me."

"You're a nice old boy, Phonzie, and I like the kink in your hair, but—but sometimes when I get blue, like to-night, I—I just wish I had never clapped eyes on you."

"How she hates me."

"I wish to God I did."

"Cut the tragedy, Gert."

"That's the trouble; I been cutting it for the mock comedy all my life."

"You, the highest little flyer in the flock!"

"Yeh, because I've never found anybody who even cares enough about me to clip my wings." Her laughter was short and with a blunt edge.

"Whew! Such a spill for you, Gert!"

"It's the spring gets on my nerves, I guess. Blow me to a table d'hôte to-night, Phonzie. I got a red-ink thirst on me and I'm as blue as indigo."

"Hang around, Gert, and if I'm not on duty I—"

"Honest, you're the greatest kid to squirm when you think a girl is going to pin you down. You let me get about as serious as a musical comedy with you and then you put up the barbed wire."

"Yes, I do not!"

"Fine chance I've got of ever pinning you down! You care about as much for me as—as anybody else does, and that ain't saying much."

"Aw, Gert, you got the dumps—"

"Look at her over there. I can see by her profile she's hanging around to buy you your dinner to-night. Whatta you bet she springs the appointment-book yarn on you and you fall for it?"

A laugh flitted beneath Mr. Michelson's blond hedge of mustache. "Can I help it that I got such hypnotizing, mesmerizing ways?"

She smiled beneath her rouge, and wanly. "No, darling," she said.

Across the room Madam Moores regarded them from beside the pile of sheeny silks, her fingers plucking nervously at the fabrics.

"Hurry up over there, Phonzie. I told her the black lace was on the way."

Miss Dobriner daubed at her red lips with a lacy fribble of handkerchief, her voice sotto behind it.

"Don't let her pin you, Phonzie. Have a heart and take me to supper when
I'm blue as indigo."

He leaned to impale a pin upon his lapel. "She's so white to me, Gert, how can I squirm if she asks me to go over the appointment-book with her to-night?"

"Tell her your grandmother's dead."

He leaned for another pin. "Stick around down in Seligman's. If I dust my hat with my handkerchief when I pass, I'm nailed for the evening. If I can wriggle I'll blow you to Churchey's for supper."

"I—"

"'Sh-h-h-h."

He retreated behind the mauve-colored swinging-door. The two remaining sibyls, hatted and coated to crane the neck of the passer-by, hurried arm-in-arm out into the spring evening. An errand girl, who had dropped her skirt and put up her hair so that the eye of the law might wink at her stigma of youth, hung the shimmering gowns away for another day's display. Gertie Dobriner patted her ringed fingers against her mouth to press back a yawn and trailed across the room, adjusting her hat before a full-length mirror. In the light from a single electric bulb her hair showed three colors—yellow gold, green gold, and, toward the roots, the dark gold of old bronze.

"You can go now, Gert."

"Yes, madam."

Miss Dobriner adjusted a spray of curls. Through the mirror she could observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.

"Did—did Du Gass order that fish-tail model, madam?"

Madam Moores dallied with her appointment-book. Through the mirror she could observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.

"Yes, in green."

"If I had her complexion I'd wear sandpaper to match it."

"We haven't all of us got the looks, Gert, that'll get us four-carat stones to wear down to a twenty-dollar-a-week job."

Miss Dobriner's hand flew to her throat and the gem that gleamed there. "I—I guess I can buy a stone on time for myself without—without any insinuations."

"You can wear the stone, all right, Gert, but you can't get past the insinuations."

"I—I ain't so stuck on this place, madam, that I got to stand for your insinuations."

"No, it ain't the place you're stuck on that keeps you here, Gert."

They regarded each other through eyes banked with the red fires of anger, and beside the full-length mirror Miss Dobriner trembled as she stood.

"You can think what you please, madam. I—I'm hired by Phonzie and I'm here to wear models and not to steer your thinking."

Madam Moores sat so tense in her chair that her weight did not relax to it. "You and me can't have no fusses, you know that, don't you? I give Phonzie the run of my floor, and he's the one has to deal with—with freshness."

"You—you started it, madam. I—can get along with anybody. I don't have to stay in a place where I'm not wanted; it's just because Phonzie—"

"We won't fuss about it, Gertie. I'm the last one to fall out with my help."

Silence.

"Did—did Laidlaw order that trotteur model in plaid, Gert?"

"No; she's coming back to-morrow."

"To-day's the day to land an order."

"She says that pongee we made her last spring never fit her slick enough between the shoulders. I felt like telling her we don't guarantee to fit tubs."

"You got to handle Laidlaw right, Gert. There'll be two trousseaux and a ball in that family before June. The best way to lose a customer like Laidlaw is to sell her what she ought to wear instead of what she wants to wear."

"Handle her right! I wore rubber gloves. Did I quiver an eyelash when she ordered that pink organdie, and didn't Phonzie nearly double up when he took down the order? You want to see her measurements. I'll get the book and—"

"No, no, Gert; you can go on. I got to stay and go over the appointments with Phonzie."

A quick red flowed up and under the rouged surface of Miss Dobriner's cheeks. "Oh—excuse me!"

"What!"

"I—All right, I'm going."

She readjusted her hat, a tiny winged chariot of pink straw and designed after fashion's most epileptic caprice, coaxed her ringed fingers into a pair of but slightly soiled white gloves, her eyes the while staring past her slim reflection in the mirror and on to the mauve-colored swinging-door.

"Good night, Gert."

Miss Dobriner bared her teeth to a smile and closed her lips again before she spoke. "Good night—madam."

Then she went out, clicking the door behind her. Through the mauve-colored swinging-door and scarcely a clock-tick later entered Mr. Alphonse Michelson, spick, light-footed, slim.

"Charley's left with the black lace, madam."

It was as if Madam Moores suddenly threw off the husk of the day.
"Tired, Phonzie?"

He ran a hand across his silk hair and glanced about. "Everybody gone?"

"Yes."

He reached for his hat and cane and a pair of untried gray gloves atop them. "I sent the yellow taffeta out on a C.O.D. That gold buckle she wanted on the shoulder cost her just twenty bucks more."

"Good!"

He fitted on his hat carefully and snapped his gloves across his palm.
"Well, I'm off, madam."

She adjusted her hat in a simulation of indifference. "Like to come up to the flat for supper and—and go over the books, Phonzie?"

"Huh?"

"There's plenty for two and—and we could kind of go over things."

He twirled his cane. "Oh, I—I'm running up there too often, sponging off you."

"Sponging! Like I'd ask you if I didn't want you!"

"I been up there sponging off you three times this week. Anyways, I'm—"

"Don't I always just give you pot luck?"

"Yes, but you'll think afterwhile that I got you mixed up with my meal-ticket."

A sensitive seepage of blood rushed over Madam Moores's nervous face, stinging it. "Of course, if you won't want to come!"

"Don't want to come! A fellow that's never had a snap like your cozy corner in his life—"

"Of course if—if you got a date with one of—of the models or something."

"I never said that, did I?"

"Well, get that sponging idea out of your head, Phonzie. There's always plenty for two in my cupboard. Like I says the other night, what's the use being able to afford my little flat if I can't get some pleasure out of it?"

"It sure looks good to this hall-room Johnnie."

She gathered her gloves and her black silk handbag. "Then come, Phonzie," she said, "I'm going to take you home." And her throat might have been lined with fur.

They went out together, locking the doors behind them, and into an evening as soft as silk and full of stars.

Along the wide up-town street the human tide flowed fast and as if thaw had set in, releasing it from the bondage of winter. Girls in light wraps and without hats loitered in the white flare of drugstore lights. Here and there a brown stoop bloomed with a boarder or two. In front of Seligman's florist shop, which occupied the ground floor of Madam Moores's dressmaking establishment, Alphonse Michelson paused for a moment in the flare of its decorative show-window and flecked at his hatband with sheer untried handkerchief.

"Come on, Phonzie."

"Coming, madam."

In the up-town Subway, bound for the up-town flat, he leaned to her with his small blond mustache raised in a smile.

"Where's the book, madam?"

"Forgot it," she replied, without shame.

* * * * *

Out of three hundred and eighty dollars cash, a bit of black and gold brocade flung adroitly over the imitation hearth, a cot masquerading under a Mexican afghan of many colors, a canary in a cage, a potted geranium, a shallow chair with a threadbare head-rest, a lamp, a rug, a two-burner gas-stove, Madam Moores had evolved Home.

And why not? The Petit Trianon was built that a queen might there find rest from marble halls. The Borghese women in their palaces live behind drawn shades, but Italian peasants sit in their low doorways and sing as they rock and suckle.

In Madam Moores's two-flights-up flat the windows were flung open to the moist air of spring, which flowed in cool as water between crisp muslin curtains, stirring them. In the sudden flare of electric light the canary unfolded its head from a sheaf of wing, cheeped, and fell to picking up seed from the bottom of its cage.

Mr. Alphonse Michelson collapsed into the shallow chair beside the table and relaxed his head against the threadbare dent in the upholstery.

"Whoops! home never was like this!"

"Is him tired?"

"Dead."

"Smoke?"

"Yep."

"There."

"Ah!"

"Now him all comfy and I go fix poor tired bad boy him din-din."

More native than mother-tongue is Mother's tongue. Whom women love they would first destroy with gibberish. To Mr. Michelson's linguistic credit, however, he shifted in his chair in unease.

"What did you say?"

"What him want for din-din?"

He slung one slim leg atop the other, slumping deeper to the luxury of his chair. "Dinner?"

"Yes, din-din."

"Say, those were swell chicken livers smothered in onions you served the other night, madam. Believe me, those were some livers!"

No, reader, Romance is not dead. On the contrary, he has survived the frock-coat and learned to chew a clove.

A radiance as soft as the glow from a pink-shaded lamp flowed over Madam
Moores's face.

"Livers him going to have and biscuits made in my own ittsie bittsie oven. Eh?"

"Swell."

She divested herself of her wraps, fluffing her mahogany-colored hair where the hat had restricted it, lighted a tiny stove off in the tiny kitchenette and enveloped herself in a blue-bib-top apron. Her movements were short and full of caprice, and when she set the table, brushing his chair as she passed and repassed, lights came out in her eyes when she dared raise her lids to show them.

They dined by the concealed fireplace and from off a table that could fold its legs under like Aladdin's. Fumes of well-made coffee rose as ingratiating as the perfume of a love story. Mr. Michelson dropped a lump of butter into the fluffy heart of a biscuit and clapped the halves together.

"Some biscuits!"

"Bad boy, stop jollying."

"Say, if I'd tell you the truth about what I think of these biscuits, you'd say I was writing a streetcar advertisement for baking-powder. Say, this is some cup custard!"

"More?"

"Full to my eyebrows."

"Just a little bittsie?"

"Nope."

He lighted a cigarette and they settled back in after-dinner completeness, their dessert-plates pushed well toward the center of the table and their senses quiet. She pleated the edge of her napkin and watched him blow leisurely spirals of smoke to the ceiling.

"What you thinking about, Phonzie?"

"Nothing."

"Honest?"

"If I was thinking at all I was just sizing it up as pretty soft for a fellow like me to get this sort of stand-in with—with my boss. Gawd! me and Roth used to love each other like snakes."

"I—I ain't your boss, Phonzie. Don't I give you the run of everything—hiring the models and all?"

"Sure you're my boss, and it's pretty soft for me."

"And I was just thinking, Phonzie, that it's pretty soft for me to have found a fellow like you to manage things for me."

"Shucks!"

"Without you, so used to the ways of the Avenue and all that kind of thing, where would I be now, trying to run in the right kind of bluff with the trade?"

"That's easy! After all, Fifth Avenue and Third Avenue is pretty much alike in the end, madam. A spade may be a spade, but if you're a good salesman, you can put it on black velvet and sell it for a dessert-spoon any day in the week."

"That's just what I'm saying, Phonzie, about you're knowing how. I needed just a fellow like you to show me how the swell trade has got to be blindfolded, and that the difference between a dressmaker and a modiste is about a hundred and fifty dollars a gown."

"You ought to see the way we handled them when I was on the floor for Roth. Say, we wouldn't touch a peignoir in that establishment for under two hundred and fifty, and—we had 'em coming in there like sheep. The Riverside Drive trade is nothing, madam, compared to what we could do down there with the Avenue business."

"You sure know how to handle the lorgnette bunch, Phonzie."

"Is it any wonder, being in the business twenty years?"

"Twenty years! Why, Phonzie, you—you don't look much more than twenty yourself."

He laughed, shifting one knee to the other. "That's because you can't see that my eye teeth are gold, madam."

"You're so light on your feet, Phonzie, and slick."

"To look twenty and feel your forty years ain't what it's cracked up to be. If I had a home of my own, you know what I'd buy first—a pair of carpet slippers and a patent rocker."

"I bet you mean it, too, Phonzie."

"Sure I mean it! How'd you like to go through life like me, trying to keep the kink ironed in my hair and out of my back, or lose my job at the only kind of work I'm good for? It's like having to live with a grin frozen on your face so you can't close your mouth."

"I—I just can't get over it, Phonzie, you forty! You five years older than me and me afraid—thinking all along it was just the other way."

"I had already shed my milk teeth before you were born, madam."

"Whatta you know about that!"

"Ask Gert. She's been following me around from place to place for years, sticking to me because I say there ain't a model in the business can show the clothes like she can."

"Yes?"

"Ask her; she's my age and we been on the job together for twenty years. Long before live models was even known in the business, she and me were showing goods in the old Cunningham place on Madison Avenue."

"Even—even back there you was dead set on having good figures around the place, wasn't you, Phonzie?"

"I tell you it's economy in the end, madam, to have figures that can show off the goods to advantage."

"Oh, I'm not kicking, Phonzie, but I was just saying."

"I have been in the business long enough, madam, to learn that the greatest way in the world to show gowns is on live stock. A dame will fall for any sort of a rag stuck on a figure like Gert's, and think the waist-line and all is thrown in with the dress. You seen for yourself Van Ness order five gowns right off Gert's back to-day. Would she have fallen for them if we had shown them in the hand? Not much! She forgot all about her own thirty-eight waist-line when she ordered that pink organdie. She was seeing Gert's twenty-two inches."

"But honest, Phonzie, take a girl like Gert, even with her figure, she—Oh, I don't know, there's something about her!"

"She may rub your fur the wrong way, madam, but under all her flip ways they don't come no finer than Gert."

"No, it ain't that, only she don't always get across. Take Lipton; she won't even let her show her a gown; she's always calling for Dodo instead. Sometimes I think the trade takes exceptions to a girl like Gert, her all decked out in diamonds that—show how—how fly she must be."

"Gertie Dobriner's the best in the business, just the same, madam. She ain't stuck on her way of living no more than I am, but she's a model and she 'ain't got enough of anything else in her to make the world treat her any different than a model."

"I'm not saying she ain't a good thirty-six, Phonzie."

"I got to hand it to her, madam, when it comes to a lot of things. She may be a little skylarker, but take it from me, it ain't from choice, and when she likes you—God! honest, I think that girl would pawn her soul for you. When I was down with pneumonia—"

"I ain't saying a thing against her."

"She's no saint, maybe, but then God knows I'm not, either, and what I don't know about her private life don't bother me."

"Oh, I—I know you like her all right."

"Say, I'll bet you any amount if that girl had memory enough to learn the words of a song or the steps of a dance, she could have landed a first-row job in any musical show on Broadway. She could do it now, for that matter. Gad! did you see her to-day showing off that Queen Louise cloth-of-gold model? Honest, she took my breath away, and I been on the floor with her twenty years."

"Y-yes."

"Keep down your hips and waist-line, Gert, I always say to her, and you are good in the business for ten years yet."

"She should worry while the crop of four carats is good."

"Yes, but just the same a girl like her don't know when her luck may turn. A girl can lose her luck sometimes before she loses her figure."

"Any old time she can lose her luck with you."

"Me!"

"Yes, you!"

Madam Moores bent over the pleats in her napkin. Opposite her, his cigarette held fastidiously aloft, he regarded her through its haze.

"Well, of all things! So that—that's what you think?"

"I—I know."

"Know what?"

"That she's dead strong for you."

"Sure she is, but what's that got to do with it? That girl's like—well, she's like a sister or—or a pal to me, but she's got about as much time for a fellow of my pace, except when she gets blue, as—as the Queen of Sheba has."

"That's what you think, maybe, but everybody else knows she—she's been after you for years, trying—"

"Aw, cut the comedy, madam. Honest, you make me sore. She's nothing to me off the floor but a darn good pal. Say, I can treat her to a sixty-cent table d'hôte twice a week; but don't you think in the back of my head, when it comes to a showdown, that I couldn't even buy silk shoelaces for a girl of her kind. I ain't her pace and we both know it. Bosh!"

"You'd like to be, all right, if—if she didn't have so many rich ones hanging around."

"Just the same, many's the time she's told me if she could land a regular fellow and do the regular thing and settle down on seventy-five a month in a Harlem flat, why she'd drop all this skylarking of hers for a family of youngsters, so quick it would make your head swim."

"Sure, that's just what I say, she—"

"Many's the time she—she's cried to me—just cried, because the kind of life she has to live don't lead to anything, and she knows it."

"I ain't blaming you for liking her, Phonzie; a girl with her figure can make an old dub like me look like—well, I just guess after her I—I must look like thirty cents to you."

"You! Say, you got more real sense in your little finger than three of
Gert's kind put together."

She colored like a wild rose.

"Sense ain't what counts with the men nowadays; it's looks and—and speed like Gert's."

"Girls like Gert are all right, I tell you; but say, when it comes to real brains like yours—nobody home."

"Maybe not, but just the same it's the girls with sense get tired having the men rave about their smartness and pass on, to go rushing after a empty head completely smothered under yellow curls. That's how much real brains counts for with—with you men."

He flung her a gesture, his cigarette trailing a design in smoke. "Honest, madam, you got me wrong there. A fellow like me 'ain't got the nerve to—to go after a woman like you. A girl like Dodo or Gert is my size, but I'd be a swell dub trying to line up alongside of you, now wouldn't I?"

Tears that were distilled in her heart rose to her eyes, dimming them.
Her hand fluttered in among the plates and cups and saucers toward him.

"Phonzie, I—I—"

"You what?"

"I—I—Aw, nothing."

Her head fell suddenly forward in her arms, pushing the elaborate coiffure awry, and beneath the blue-checked apron her shoulders heaved.

He rose. "Madam! Why, madam, what—"

"Don't—don't pay any attention to me, Phonzie. I—I just got a silly fit on me. I'll be all right in a minute."

"Aw, madam, I—I didn't mean to make you sore by anything I said."

"You go now, Phonzie; the whole evening don't need to be spoiled for you just because I went and got a silly fit of blues on. You—you go get some live one like Gert and—and take her out skylarking."

"You're sore about Gert, is that it, madam?"

"No, no. Honest, Phonzie."

"Madam, I—I just don't know what's got you. Is it something I said has hurt your feelings?"

"No, no."

He advanced with an incertitude that muddled his movements, made to cross to her side where she lay with her arms outstretched in the fuddle of dishes, made to touch her black silk sleeve where it emerged from the blue-checked apron, hesitated, sucking his lips in between his teeth, swung on his heel, then around once more, and placed his hand lightly on her shoulder.

"Madam?"

"You—you just go on, Phonzie. I—I guess I'm an old fool, anyways. It's like trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip for me to try and squeeze anything but work out of my life. I—I guess I'm just nothing but an old fool."

"But, madam, how can a fellow like me squeeze anything out of life for you? Look at me! Why, I ain't worth your house room. I'm nothing but a fellow who draws his salary off a woman, and has all his life. Why, you—you earn as much in a week as I do in a month."

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

"Look, you with a home you made for yourself and a business you built up out of your own brains, and what am I? A hall-room guy that can put a bluff across with a lot of idiot women. Look at me, forty and doing a chorus-man's work. You got me wrong, madam. I don't measure nowheres near up to you. If I did, do you think I wouldn't be settled down long ago like a regular—Aw, well, what's the use talking." He plucked at his short mustache, pulling the hairs sharply.

She raised her face and let him gaze at the ravages of her tears. "Why—why don't you come right out and say it, that I 'ain't got the looks and—the pep?"

"Madam, can't you see I'm only—"

"You—you can't run yourself down to me. You, and nobody else, has made the establishment what it is. I never had a head for the little things that count. That's why I spent my best years down in Twenty-third Street. What did I know about the big little things!—the carriage-call stunt and the sachet-bags in the lining and the blue and gold labels, all little things that get big results. I never had a head for the things that hold the rich trade, like the walking models, or the French accent."

"You got the head for the big things, and that's what counts."

"That's why, when you say you can't line up alongside of me, it's no excuse."

"I—I mean it."

"Just because I got a head for designing doesn't make me a nine days' wonder. Why don't you—you come right out and say what you mean, Phonzie?"

"Why, I—I don't even know how to talk to a woman like you, madam. La-La girls have always been my pace."

"I know, Phonzie, and I—I ain't blaming you. A slick-looking fellow like you can skylark around as he pleases and don't need to have time for—the overworked, tired-out ones like me."

"Madam, I never dreamed—"

"Dreamed! Phonzie, I—I've got no shame if I tell you, but, God! how many nights I—I've lain right here on this couch dreaming of—of—"

"Well?"

"Of you and me, Phonzie, hitting it off together."

"Madam!"

Her head burrowed deeper in her arms, her voice muffed in their depth.

"Madam!"

"How many times I've dreamed, Phonzie. You and me, real partners in the business and—and in everything. Us in a little home together, one of the five-room flats down on the next floor, with a life-size kitchen and a life-size dining-room and—and a life-size—Aw, Phonzie, you—you'll think I'm crazy."

"Madam, why, madam, I just don't know."

"Them's the dreams a silly old thing like me, that never had nothing but work and—and nothing else in her life, can lay right here on this couch, night after night, and—Gawd! I—I bet you think I—I'm just crazy, Phonzie."

For answer he leaned over and took her small figure in his arms, wiping away with his sheer untried handkerchief the tears; but fresh ones sashayed down her face and flowed over her words.

"Phonzie, tell me, do you—do you—think—"

He held her closer. "Sure, madam, I do."

* * * * *

On the wings of a twelvemonth, spring had come around again and the taste of summer was like poppy-leaves between the teeth, and the perennial open shirtwaists and open street-cars bloomed, even as the distant larkspur in the distant field. At six o'clock with darkness came a spattering of rain, heavy single drops that fell each with its splotch, exuding from the asphalt the warming smell of thaw. Then came wind, right high-tempered, too, slanting the rain and scudding it and blowing pedestrians' skirts forward and their umbrellas inside outward. Mr. Alphonse Michelson fitted his hand like a vizor over his eyes and peered out into the wet dusk. Lights gleamed and were reflected in the dark pool of rain-swept asphalt. Passers-by hurried for shelter and bent into the wind.

In Madam Moores's establishment, enlarged during the twelvemonth to twice its floor space, the business day waned and died; in the workrooms the whir of machines sank into the quiet maw of darkness; in the showrooms the shower lights, all but a single cluster, blinked out. Alphonse Michelson slid into a tan, rain-proof coat, turning up the collar and buttoning across the flap, then fell to pacing the thick-nap carpet.

From a mauve-colored telephone-booth emerged Miss Gertie Dobriner, flushed from bad service and from bad air.

"Whew!"

"Get her?"

"Sure I got her. Is it such a stunt to get an address from a customer?"

"Good!"

"I says to her, I says, 'I seen it standing on the sidewalk next to your
French maid and I wanted to buy one like it for my little niece.'"

"Can we get it to-night?"

"Yes, proud papa! But listen; I wrote it down, 'Hinshaw, 2227 Casset
Street, Brooklyn.'"

"Brooklyn!"

"Yes, two blocks from the Bridge, and for a henpecked husband you got a large fat job on your hands if you want to make another getaway to-night. This man Hinshaw shows 'em right in his house."

"Brooklyn, of all places!"

"Right-oh!"

He snapped his fingers in a series of rapid clicks. "Ain't that the limit? If I'd only mentioned it to you this afternoon earlier, we could have been over and back by now."

"Wait until Monday then, Phonzie."

"Yes, but you ought to have heard her this morning, Gert; it's not often she gets her heart so set. To-morrow being Sunday, all of a sudden she gets a-wishing for one of the glass-top ones like she's seen around in the parks, to take him out in for the first time."

"Oh, I'm game! I'll go, but can you beat it! A trip to Brooklyn when I got a friend from Carson City waiting at his hotel to buy out Rector's for me to-night."

"You go on with him, Gert. What's the use you dragging over there, too, now that you got the address for me. I would never have mentioned it to you at all if I'd have known you couldn't just go buy the kind she wants in any department store. I'll go over there alone, Gert."

"Yes, and get stung on the shape and the hood and all. I bought just an ordinary one for my little niece once, and you got to get them shallow. Anyways, I'm going to chip in half on this. I want to get the little devil something, anyways."

"Aw no, Gert, this is my surprise."

"I guess I can chip in on a present for the kid's month-old birthday."

"Well, then, say I meet you in the Eighty-sixth Street Subway at seven, so we can catch a Brooklyn express and make it over in thirty minutes."

"Yes."

"But it's raining, Gert. Look out. Honest, I don't like to ask you to break your date to hike over there in the rain with me."

"Raining! Aw, then let's cut it, Phonzie. I got a new marcel and a cold on my chest that weighs a ton. She can't roll it on a wet Sunday, nohow."

"Paper says clear and warm to-morrow, Gert; but, honest, you don't need to go."

"You're a nice boy, Phonzie, and a proud father, but you can't spend my money for me. What you bet I get ten per cent. off for cash? Subway at seven. I'll be there."

"I may be a bit late, Gert. She ain't so strong yet, and after last night I don't want to get her nervous."

"I told you she'd be sore at me for taking you to the Ritz ball last night, and God knows it wasn't no pleasure in my life to go model-hunting with you, when I might have been joy-riding with my friend from Carson City."

"It's just because she ain't herself yet. I'm off, Gert. Till seven in the Subway!"

"Yes, till seven!"

* * * * *

When Mr. Alphonse Michelson unlocked the door of his second-floor five-room apartment, a lamp softly burning through a yellow silk lamp-shade met him with the soft radiance of home. Beside the door he divested himself of his rain-spotted mackintosh, inserted his dripping umbrella in a tall china stand, shook a little rivulet from his hat and hung it on a pair of wall antlers.

"That you, Phonzie?"

"Yes, hon, it's me."

'"Sh-h-h-h!"

He tiptoed down the aisle of hallway and into the soft-lighted front room. From a mound of pillows and sleepy from their luxury Millie Moores rose to his approach, her forefinger placed across her lips and a pale mist of chiffon falling backward from her arms.

What a masseuse is Love! The lines had faded from Millie's face and in their place the grace of tenderness and a roundness where the chin had softened. Years had folded back like petals, revealing the heart and the unwithered bosom of her.

He kissed her, pressing the finger of warning closer against her lips, and she patted a place for him on the Mexican afghan beside her.

"Phonzie!"

"How you feelin', hon?"

"Strong! If it ain't raining to-morrow, I'm going to take him out if I have to carry him in my arms. Say, wouldn't I like to feel myself rolling him in one of them white-enamel, glass-top things like Van Ness has for her last one. Ida May tried three places to get one for us."

"They're made special."

"All my life I've wanted to feel myself wheeling him, Phonzie. I used to dream myself doing it in the old place down on Twenty-third Street, when I used to sit at the sewing-table from eight until eight. Gee! I—honest, I just can't wait to see if the sun is shining to-morrow."

He kissed her again on the back of each finger, and she let her hand, pale and rather inert, rest on his hair.

"Is my boy hungry for his din-din?"

"Gee! yes! The noon appointments came so thick I had to send Eddie out to bring me a bite."

"What kind of a day?"

"Everything smooth but the designing-room. Gert done her best, but they don't take hold without you, hon. They can't even get in their heads that gold charmeuse idea Gert and I swiped at the Ritz last night."

"Did you tell them I'll be back on the job next week, Phonzie?"

"Nothing doing. You're going to stay right here, snug in your rug, another two weeks."

"Rave on, hon, but I got the nurse engaged for Monday. How's the Van
Norder wedding-dress coming?"

"Great! That box train you drew up will float down the aisle after her like a white cobweb. It's a knock-out."

"Say, won't I be glad to get back in harness!"

"You got to take it slow, Mil."

"And ain't you glad it's all over, Phonzie?"

"Am I!"

"Four weeks old to-morrow, and Ida May was over to-day and says she never seen a kid so big for his age."

"He takes after my grandfather—he was six feet two without shoes."

"You ought to seen him to-day laying next to me, Phonzie. He looked up and squinted, dear, for all the world like you."

A bell tinkled. In the frame of a double doorway a seventeen-year-old maid drew back the portières on brass rings that grated. In the room adjoining and beneath a lighted dome of colored glass a table lay spread, uncovered dishes exuding fragrant spirals of steam.

"Supper! Say, ain't it great to have you back at the table again, Mil?"

"Oh, I don't know, the way—the way you went hiking off last night to—to a ball."

"Aw, now, hon, 'ain't you got that out of your system yet? For a girlie with all your good sense, if you ain't the greatest little one to get a silly gix and work it to death."

"I just made a civil remark."

"What was the use wasting that ten-dollar pair of tickets the guy from Carson City gave her, when we could use them and get some tips on some of the imports the women wore?"

"I never said to waste them."

"You know it don't hurt to get around and see what's being worn, hon.
That's our business."

Tears of weakness welled to her eyes and she stooped over her plate to conceal them.

"I'm not saying anything, am I? Only—only it's right lucky she can fill my place so—so well while I—I got to be away awhile."

Her barbed comment only pricked him to happy thought. He made a quick foray into his side pocket. "I brought up one of these pink velvet roses for you to look at, Mil. It's Gert's idea to festoon these underneath the net tunic on McGrath's blue taffeta. See, like that. It's a neat little idea, hon, and Gert had these roses made up in shaded effects like this one. How you like it?"

The tiny bud lay on the table between them, nor did she take it up.

"All right."

He leaned to pat her cheek. "These are swell potatoes, hon."

Her lips warmed and opened. "I—I told her how to make 'em."

"Give me some more."

She in turn leaned to press his hand. "Such a hungry boy."

"Can I take a peek at the kid before—"

"Aw, Phonzie, and wake him up like you did last night. He'll sleep straight through now till half past twelve; that's why I didn't even tiptoe back in the bedroom myself. The doctor says the first half of the night is his best sleep; let him sleep till half past twelve, dear."

"Aw, just one peek before I go."

"Before you what?"

"I got to go out for a little while to-night, hon. On business."

"Where?"

"Slews. I got to meet him in the Subway at seven and go to Brooklyn shops with him to look over those ventilators I'm having put in the fitting-rooms."

She laid down her fork. "I thought you said he was in St. Louis?"

"He got back."

"Oh!"

"You lay down in the front room and read till I get back, hon, and maybe—maybe I'll bring you a surprise."

The meal continued in silence, but after a few seconds her throat seemed to close and she discarded the pretense of eating.

"Now don't you get sore, Mil; you never used to be like this. It's just because you're not right strong yet."

"I ain't—ain't sore."

"You are. You got a foolish idea in your head, Mil."

"Why should I have an idea? I guess I'm getting all that's coming to me for—for forcing things."

"Now, Mil, I bet anything you're still feeling sore about last night.
Aren't you?"

"Sore? It ain't my business, Phonzie, if you can stay out till one o'clock one night and the next want to begin the same thing over again."

"We had to stick around last night, Mil. Gert was drawing off the models under her handkerchief and on the dance program. That's how we got the yellow charmeuse, just by keeping after it and drawing it line for line."

"I know, I know."

"Then give me a kiss and when I come back maybe—maybe I'll bring you a surprise up my sleeve, hon."

She sat beside her cold meal, tears scratching her eyes like blown grit. "It's like I told you this morning, Phonzie; when you get tired, all you got to do is remember I got the new trunk standing right behind the cretonne curtains, and I can pack my duds any day in the week and find a welcome over at—at Ida May's."

"Mil, ain't you ashamed!"

"Why, I could pack up and—and find a welcome there right to-night, if the kid wasn't too little for the night air."

"Mil, honest, I—I just don't know what to make of you. I—I've just lost my nerve about going now."

"I'm not going to be the one to say stay."

With his coat unhooked from the antlers and flung across his arm, he stood contemplating, a furrow of perplexity between his eyes.

"If I—I hadn't promised—"

"You go. I guess it won't be the last evening I spend alone."

"Yes it will, hon."

"I know, I know."

He buttoned his coat and stooped over her, the smell of damp exuding from his clothes.

"Just you lay down in the front room till I get back, Mil. Here, look at some of these new fashion books I brought home. I'll be back early, hon, and maybe wake you and the kid up with—with a surprise."

"Quit!"

"Just a French kiss, hon."

She raised a cold face. He tilted her head backward and pressed his lips to hers, then went out, closing the door lightly behind him.

For a breathing space she remained where he had left her, with her lips held in between her teeth and the sobbing breath fluttering in her throat. The pink rose lay on the table, its beautiful silk-velvet leaves concealing its cotton heart. She regarded it through a hot blur of tears that stung her eyeballs. Her throat grew tighter. Suddenly she sprang to her feet and to the hallway. A full-length coat hung from the antlers and a filmy scarf, carelessly flung. She slid into the coat, cramming the sleeves of her negligée in at the shoulders, wrapping the scarf about her head and knotting it at the throat in a hysteria of sudden decision. Then down the flight of stairs, her knees trembling as she ran. When she reached the bubbly sidewalk, cool rain slanted in her face. She gathered her strength and plunged against it.

At the corner, in the white flare of an arc-light, chin sunk on his chest against the onslaught of rain, and head leading, Alphonse Michelson stepped across the shining sea of asphalt. She broke into a run, the uneven careen of the weak, keeping to the shadow of the buildings; doubling her pace.

When he reached the hooded descent to the Subway, she was almost in his shadow; then cautiously after him down the iron stairs, and when he paused to buy his ticket, he might have touched her as she held herself taut against the wall and out of his vision. A passer-by glanced back at her twice. From the last landing of the stairway and leaning across the balustrade, she could follow him now with her eyes, through the iron gateway and on to the station platform.

From behind a pillar, a hen pheasant's tail in her hat raising her above the crowd, her shoulders rain-spotted and a dripping umbrella held well away from her, emerged Gertie Dobriner, a reproach in her expression, but meeting him with a pantomime of laughs and sallies. A tangle of passengers closed them in. A train wild with speed tore into the station, grinding to a stop on shrieking wheels. A second later it tore out again, leaving the platform empty.

Then Madam Moores turned her face to the rainswept street and retraced her steps, except that a vertigo fuddled her progress and twice she swayed. When she climbed the staircase to her apartment she was obliged to rest midway, sitting huddled against the banister, her soaked scarf fallen backward across her shoulders. She unlatched her door carefully, to save the squeak and to avoid the small maid who sang over and above the clatter of her dishes. The yellow lamp diffused its quiet light the length of the hallway, and she tottered down and into the bedroom at the far end.

A night lamp burned beside a basinette that might have been lined with the breast feathers of a dove, so downy was it. An imitation-ivory clock ticked among a litter of imitation-ivory dresser fittings. On the edge of the bed, and with no thought for its lacy coverlet, she sat down heavily, her wet coat dragging it awry. An hour ticked past. The maid completed her tasks, announced her departure, and tiptoed out to meet an appointment with a gas-fitter's assistant in the lower rear hall.

After a while Madam Moores fell to crying, but in long wheezes that came from her throat dry. The child in the crib uncurled a small, pink fist and opened his eyes, but with the gloss of sleep still across them and not forfeiting his dream. Still another hour and she rose, groping her way behind a chintz curtain at the far end of the room; fell to scattering and reassembling the contents of a trunk, stacking together her own garments and the tiny garments of a tiny white layette.

Toward midnight she fell to crying again beside the crib, and in audible jerks and moans that racked her. The child stirred. Cramming her handkerchief against her lips, she faltered down the hallway. In the front room and on the pillowed couch she collapsed weakly, eyes closed and her grief-crumpled face turned toward the door.

On the ground floor of a dim house in a dim street, which by the contrivance of its occupants had been converted from its original role of dark and sinister dining-room to wareroom for a dozen or more perambulators on high, rubber-tired wheels, Alphonse Michelson and Gertie Dobriner stood in conference with a dark-wrappered figure, her blue-checked apron wound muff fashion about her hands.

Miss Dobriner tapped a finger against her too red lips. "Seventy dollars net for a baby-carriage!"

"Yes'm, and a bargain at that. If he was home he'd show you the books hisself and the prices we get."

"Seventy dollars for a baby-carriage! For that, Phonzie, you can buy the kid a taxi."

In a sotto voice and with a flow of red suffusing his face, Alphonse Michelson turned to Gertie Dobriner, his hand curved blinker fashion to inclose his words.

"For Gawd's sake, cut the haggling, Gert. If this here white enamel is the carriage we want, let's take it and hike. I got to get home."

Miss Dobriner drew up her back to a feline arch. "The gentleman says we'll take it for sixty-five, spot cash."

"My husband's great for one price, madam. We don't cater to none but private trade and—"

"Sure you don't. If we could have got one of these glass-top carriages in a department store, we wouldn't be swimming over here to Brooklyn just to try out our stroke."

"Mrs. Nan Ness, who sent you here, knows the kind of goods we turn out. She says she's going to give us an order for a twin buggy yet, some of these days. If the Four Hundred believed in babies like the Four Million, we'd have a plant all over Brooklyn. Only my husband won't spread, he—he—"

Mr. Michelson waved aside the impending recitation with a sweep of his hand. "Is this the one you like, Gert?"

"Yes, with the folding top. Say, don't I want to see madam's face when she sees it. And say, won't the kid be a scream, Phonzie, all nestled up in there like a honey bunch?"

He slid his hand into his pocket, withdrawing a leather folder. "Here, we'll take this one with the folding top, but get us a fresh one out of stock."

"We'll make you this carriage up, sir, just as you see it now."

"Make it up! We've got to have it now. To-night!"

"But, sir, we only got these samples made up to show."

"Then we got to buy the sample."

"No, no. My husband ain't home and I—I can't sell the sample. We—"

"But I tell you we got to have it to-night. To-morrow's Sunday and the lady who—"

"No, no. With my husband not here, I can't let go no sample. As a special favor, sir, we'll make you one up in a week."

Miss Dobriner stooped forward, her eyes narrow as slits. "Seventy-five, spot down."

Indecision vanished as rags before Abracadabra.

"We make it a rule not to sell our samples, but—"

"That carriage has got to be delivered at my house to-night before ten."

"Sir, that can't go out to-night. It's got to be packed special and sent over on a flat-top dray. These carriages got to be packed like they was babies themselves."

"Can you beat that for luck?" He inserted two fingers in his tall collar as if it choked him. "Can you beat that?"

"The first thing Monday morning, sir, as a special favor, but that carriage can't go out to-night. We got one man does nothing but pack them for delivery."

He plunged his hands into his pockets and paced the narrow aisle down the center of the room. "We got to get that carriage over there to-night if—if we have to wheel it over!"

Miss Dobriner clapped her hands in an ecstasy of inspiration. "Good!
We'll wheel it home. We can make it by midnight. What you bet?"

He turned upon her, but with a ray in his eyes. "Say, Gert, that ain't such a worse idea, but—"

"No buts. The night is young, and I know a fellow used to walk from the
Bronx to Brooklyn with his girl every Sunday."

"Sure! What's an eight-mile walk on a spring night like this? It's all cleared up and stopped raining. Only, gee! I—I hate to be getting home all hours again."

She flipped him a gesture. "Say, it's not my surprise party you're giving."

"It's not that, Gert, only I don't want to keep her waiting until she gets sore enough to have the edge taken off the surprise when it does come."

"Say, suit yourself. It's not my kid I'm going to wheel out to-morrow. I should worry."

"I'll do it."

"You're not doing me a favor. With my cold and my marcel, a three-hour walk ain't the one thing in life I'm craving."

"I'll roll it over the bridge and be home by twelve, easy. You take the
Subway, Gert; it's too big a trot for you."

"Nix! I don't start anything I can't finish."

She cocked her hat to a forward angle, so that the hen pheasant's tail swung rakishly over her face, took an Hellenic stride through the aisle of perambulators, flung her arms across her bosom in an attitude of extravaganza, then tossed off a military salute.

"Ready, march!"

"You're a peach, Gert."

"I've tried pretty near everything in my life. Why not wheel another fellow's baby-carriage for another fellow's wife's baby across Brooklyn Bridge at midnight? Whoops! why not!"

"We're off, then, Gert."

"Forward, march!"

"Keep your eye on the steering-wheel, Phonzie, and remember, ten miles is speed limit on the Bridge. One, two, three! Gawd! if my friend from Carson City could only see me now!"

Out on the drying sidewalk they leaned to each other, and the duet of their merriment ran ahead of them down the meager street and found out its dark corners.

"Honest, Phonzie, won't the girls just bust when they hear this!"

"And Mil, poor old girl, she's right weak and full of nerves now, but she'll laugh loudest of all when she knows why I went with Slews."

"Yes. She-can-laugh-loudest-of-all."

"What?"

"Come on, or we won't get home until morning."

And on the crest of her insouciance she thrust out her arm, giving the shining white perambulator a running push from the rear, so that it went rolling lightly from her and with a perfect gear action down the slight incline of sidewalk. They were after it at a bound, light-heeled and full of laughter.

"Whoops, my dear!"

"Whoa!"

* * * * *

At a turn in the dark street the lights of the Bridge flashed suddenly upon them, swung in high festoons across an infinitude of night. Above, a few majestic stars, new coined, gleamed in a clear sky.

"What do you bet that with me at the wheel we can clear the Bridge in thirty minutes, Phonzie?"

"Sure we can; but here, let me shove."

She elbowed him aside, the banter gone suddenly from her voice.

"No, let me."

She fell to pushing it silently along. Stars came out in her eyes. He advanced to her pace, matching his stride to hers, fancies like colored beads slipping along the slender thread of his thoughts.

"Swell sight, ain't it, Gert, the harbor lights so bright and the sky so deep?"

Silence.

"Seeing so much sky all at once reminds me, Gert. You know about that midnight—blue satin Hertz had the brass to dump back on us because the skirt was too tight. Huh?"

Her eyes were far and away.

"Huh, whatta you know about that, Gert?"

Her hands, gripped around the handle-bars, were full of nerves; she could feel them jumping in her palm.

"Huh, Gert?"

"What you say, Phonzie?"

"All right, don't answer. Moon all you like, for my part." And he fell to whistling as he strode beside her, his eyes on the light-spangled outline of the city.

* * * * *

At twelve o'clock the lights in the lower hall of the up-town apartment-house had been extinguished. All but one, which burned like a tired eye beneath the ornate staircase. The misty quiet of midnight, which is as heavy as a veil, hung in the corridors. Miss Gertie Dobriner entered first and, holding wide the door between them, Alphonse Michelson at the front wheels, they tilted the white carriage up the narrow staircase, their whispers floating through the gloom.

"Easy there, Phonzie!"

"There!"

"Watch out!"

"Whew! that was a close shave!"

"Here, let me unlock the door. 'Sh-h-h!"

"Don't go, Gert. Come on in, and after the big show I'll send you home in a cab."

"Nix! After a three-hour walk, a street-car will look good enough to me."

"Well, then, come on in, just a minute, Gert. I want you to see the fun. What you bet she's asleep in the front room, sore as thunder, too? We'll sneak back and dump the kid in and wheel him in on her."

"Aw no! I—I got to go now, Phonzie."

"Come on, Gert, don't be a quitter. Don't you want to see her face when she knows that Slews has been all a fluke? Come on, Gert, I'll wake up the kid if I try to dump him in alone."

"Well, for just a minute. I—I don't want to butt in on your and—and her fun."

They entered with the stealthy espionage of thieves, and in the narrow hallway she waited while he tiptoed to the bedroom and back again, his lips pursed outward in a "'Sh-h-h."

"She must be in the front room. The kid's in his crib. Come on, Gert.
'Sh-h-h!"

He was pink-faced and full of caution, raising each foot in exaggerated stealth. Between them they manoeuvered the carriage down the hallway.

"'Sh-h-h. If she's awake, she can hear every word in the front room."

From her wakeful couch Madam Moores raised herself on her elbow, cupping her ear in her palm, and straining her glance down the long hallway. The tears had dried on her cheeks.

"Here, Gert, you dump in these things and let me lift the kid."

"No, no; let me! Go 'way, Phonzie. You'll wake him! I just want her to be too surprised to open her mouth when she sees him sleeping in it like a top."

She threw back the net drapery and leaned to the heart of the crib, and the blood ran in a flash across her face.

"Little darling—little Phonzie darling!"

"Don't wake him, Gert."

She was reluctant to withdraw herself. "His little darling fists, so pink and curled up! Little Phonzie darling!"

He hung over each process, proud and awkward.

"Little darling—little darling—here, Phonzie help."

They transferred the burden, the child not moving on his pillow. In the shallow heart of the perambulator, the high froth of pillows about him, he lay like a bud, his soft profile against the lace, and his skin like the innermost petal of a rose.

"Phonzie, ain't he—ain't he the softest little darling! Gawd! how—how she'll love to—to be wheeling him!"

His fingers fumbled with excitement and fell to strapping and buckling with a great show and a great ineffectually.

"Here, help me let down the glass top."

"'Sh-h-h-h! Every word carries in this flat."

"Now!"

"Now!"

"You wheel him down and in on her, Gert."

She stiffened with a new diffidence. "No, no. It's your surprise."

"You done all the work on the job as much as me, and it's half your present, anyways. You roll him down the hall and stand next to her till she wakes up. She's a tight little sleeper, but if she don't wake soon I'll drop a book or something. Go on, Gert, roll it in."

"No, no, Phonzie. You and her have your fun out alone. It's your fun, anyways, not mine. This piece of rolling-stock will roll herself along home now."

"Aw, now—"

"Anyways, I'm dead. Look what a rag I am! Look at the hem of this skirt! The next time I do a crazy thing like walk from Brooklyn, I want to be burned in oil."

"Now, Gert, stick around and I'll send you home in a cab."

But she was out and past him craning her neck backward through the aperture of the open door. "Go to it, Phonzie! It's your fun, anyways. Yours and hers. S'long!"

He had already begun his triumphant passage down the hallway, and on her couch among her pillows Madam Moores closed her eyes in a simulation of sleep and against the tears that scalded her lids.

In a south-bound car Gertie Dobriner found a seat well toward the front. Across the aisle a day laborer on a night debauch threw her a watery stare and a thick-tongued, thick-brogued remark. A char-woman with a newspaper bundle hugged under one arm dozed in the seat alongside, her head lolling from shoulder to shoulder. Raindrops had long since dried on the window-pane. Gertie Dobriner cupped her chin in her palm and gazed out at the quiet street and the shuttered shops hurtling past.

Twice the conductor touched her shoulder, his hand outstretched for fare. She sprang about, fumbling in her purse for a coin, but with difficulty, because through the hot blur of her tears she could only grope ineffectually. When she finally found a five-cent piece, a tear had wiggle-waggled down her cheek and fell, splotching the back of her glove.

Across the aisle the day laborer leaned to her batting at the hen pheasant's tail in her hat, and a cold, alcoholic tear dripping from the corner of his own eye.

"Cheer up, my gir-rl," he said, through a beard like old moss—"cheer up and be a spor-r-rt!"