Hochenheimer of Cincinnati, by Fannie Hurst
Hath Its Song
When Mound City began to experience the growing-pains of a Million Club,
a Louisiana Exposition, and a block-long Public Library, she spread
Westward Ho!—like a giant stretching and flinging out his great legs.
When rooming-houses and shoe-factories began to shove and push into
richly curtained brown-stone-front Pine Street, reluctant papas, with
urgent wives and still more urgent daughters, sold at a loss and bought
white-stone fronts in restricted West End districts.
Subdivisions sprang up overnight. Two-story, two-doored flat-buildings,
whole ranks and files of them, with square patches of front porch cut in
two by dividing railings, marched westward and skirted the restricted
districts with the formality of an army flanking. Grand Avenue, once the
city's limit, now girded its middle like a loin-cloth. The middle-aged
inhabitant who could remember it when it was a corn-field now
beheld full-blasted breweries, cinematograph theaters, ten-story
office-buildings, old mansions converted into piano-salesrooms and
millinery emporiums, business colleges, and more full-blasted breweries
up and down its length.
At Cook Street, which runs into Grand Avenue like a small tributary, a
pall of smoke descended thick as a veil; and every morning, from off
her second-story window-sills, Mrs. Shongut swept tiny dancing balls
of soot; and one day Miss Rena Shongut's neat rim of tenderly tended
geraniums died of suffocation.
Shortly after, the Adolph Shongut Produce Company signed a heavy note
and bought out the Mound City Fancy Sausage and Poultry Company at a
low figure. The spring following, large "To Let" signs appeared in the
second-story windows of the modest house on Cook Street. And, hard
pressed by the approaching first payment of the note and the great iron
voice of the Middle West Shoe Company, which backed up against the
woodshed; goaded by the no-less-insistent voice of Mrs. Shongut, whose
soot balls increased, and by Rena, who developed large pores; shamed by
the scorn of a son who had the finger-nails and trousers creases of a
bank clerk—Adolph Shongut joined the great pantechnicon procession
Westward Ho! and moved to a flat out on Wasserman Avenue—a
six-room-and-bath, sleeping-porch, hot-and-cold-water,
built-in-plate-rack, steam-heat, hardwood-floor,
decorated-to-suit-tenant flat neatly mounted behind a conservative
incline of a front terrace, with a square patch of rear lawn that backed
imminently into the white-stone garages of Kingston Place.
Friedrichstrasse, Rue de la Paix, Fifth Avenue, Piccadilly, Princess
Street and Via Nazionale are the highways of the world. Trod in
literature, asterisked in guide-books, and pictured on postal cards,
their habits are celebrated. Who does not know that Fifth Avenue is the
most rococo boulevard in the world, and that it drinks its afternoon tea
from etched, thin-stemmed glasses? Who does not know that Rue de la Paix
runs through more novels than any other paved thoroughfare, and that
Piccadilly bobbies have wider chest expansion than the Swiss Guards?
Wasserman Avenue has no such renown; but it has its routine, like the
history-hoary Via Nazionale, which daily closes its souvenir-shops to
seek siesta from two until four, the hours when American tourists are
rattling in sight-seeing automobiles along the Appian Way.
At half past seven, six mornings in the week, a well-breakfasted
procession, morning papers protruding from sack-coat pockets and
toothpicks assiduous, hastens down the well-scrubbed front steps
of Wasserman Avenue and turns its face toward the sun and the
two-blocks-distant street-car. At half past seven, six days in the week,
the wives of Wasserman Avenue hold their wrappers close up about
their throats and poke uncoifed heads out of doors to Godspeed their
Wasserman Avenue flutters farewell handkerchiefs to its husbands until
they turn the corner at Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market.
At eventide Wasserman Avenue greets its husbands with kisses, frankly
delivered on its rows of front porches.
Do not smile. Gautier wrote about the consolation of the arts; but,
after all, he has little enough to say of that cold moment when art
leaves off and heart turns to heart.
Most of Wasserman Avenue had never read much of Gautier, but it knew the
greater truth of the consolation of the hearth. When Mrs. Shongut waved
farewell to her husband that greater truth lay mirrored in her eyes,
which followed him until Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market
shunted him from view.
"Mamma, come in and close the screen door—you look a sight in that
Mrs. Shongut withdrew herself from the aperture and turned to the
sunshine-flooded, mahogany-and-green-velours sitting-room.
"You think that papa seems so well, Renie? At breakfast this morning he
looked so bad underneath his eyes."
Rena yawned in her rocking-chair and rustled the morning paper. The
horrific caprice of her pores had long since succumbed to the West End
balm of Wasserman Avenue. No rajah's seventh daughter of a seventh
daughter had cheeks more delicately golden—that fine tinge which is
like the glory of sunlight.
"Now begin, mamma, to find something to worry about! For two months he
hasn't had a heart spell."
Mrs. Shongut drew a thin-veined hand across her brow. Her narrow
shoulders, which were never held straight, dropped even lower, as though
"He don't say much, but I know he worries enough about that second
payment coming due in July and only a month and a half off. I tell you
I knew what I was talking about when I never wanted him to buy out
the Mound City. I was the one who said we was doing better in little
"Now begin, mamma!"
"I told him he couldn't count on Izzy to stay down in the business with
him. I told him Izzy wouldn't spoil his white hands by helping his papa
"I suppose, mamma, you think Izzy should have stayed down with papa when
he could get that job with Uncle Isadore."
"You know why your Uncle Isadore took Izzy? Because to a strange
bookkeeper he has to pay more. Your Uncle Isadore is my own brother,
Renie, but I tell you he 'ain't never acted like it."
"That's what I say. What have we got rich relatives with a banking-house
for, if Izzy can't start there instead of in papa's little business?"
"Ya, ya! What your Uncle Isadore does for Izzy wait and see. For his own
sister he never done nothing, and for his own sister's son he don't do
nothing, neither. You seen for yourself, if it was not for Aunt Becky
begging him nearly on her knees, how he would have treated us that time
with the mortgage. Better, I say, Izzy should stay with his papa in
business or get out West like he wants, and where he can't keep such
fine white hands to gamble with."
Miss Shongut slanted deeper until her slim body was a direct hypotenuse
to the chair. "Honest, mamma, it's a shame the way you look for trouble,
and the way you and papa pick on that boy."
"Pick! When a boy gambles the roulette and the cards and the horses
"When a boy likes cards and horses and roulette it isn't so nice, I
know, mamma; but it don't need to mean he's a born gambler, does it?
Boys have got to sow their wild oats."
"Ya, ya! Wild oats! A boy that gambles away his last cent when he knows
just the least bit of excitement his father can't stand! Izzy knows how
it goes against his father when he plays. Ya, ya! I don't need to look
for trouble; I got it. Your papa, with his heart trouble, is enough by
"Well, we're all careful, ain't we, mamma? Did I even holler the other
night when I thought I heard a burglar in the dining-room?"
"Ya! How I worry about the things you should know." Mrs. Shongut flung
wide the windows and pinned back the lace curtains, so that the spring
air, cool as water, flowed in.
Her daughter sprang to her feet and drew her filmy wrapper closer about
her. "Mamma, the Solingers don't need to look right in on us from their
"Say, I 'ain't got no time to be stylish for the neighbors. On wash-day
I got my housework to do. Honest, Renie, do you think, instead of laying
round, it would hurt you to go back and make the beds awhile? Do you
think a girl like you ought to got to be told, on wash-day and with
Lizzie in the laundry, to help a little with the housework? Do you
think, Renie, it's nice? I ask you."
"It's early yet, mamma; the housework will keep."
"Early yet, she says! On Monday, with my girl in the laundry and you
with five shirtwaists in the wash, it's early, she says! Your mother
ain't too lazy to start now, lemme tell you. Get them Kingston Place
ideas out of your head, Renie. Remember we don't do nothing but look out
on their fine white garages; remember business ain't so grand with your
"Now begin that, mamma! I know it all by heart."
"I ain't beginning nothing, Renie; but, believe me, it ain't so nice for
a girl to have to be told everything. How that little Jeannie Lissman,
next door, helps her mother already, it's a pleasure to see. I—"
"You've told me about her before, mamma."
Mrs. Shongut flung a sheet across the upright piano.
"Gimme the broom, mamma. I'll sweep."
"Sweep I never said you need to do. It's bad enough I got to spoil my
hands. Go back and wake Izzy up and make the beds."
"Aw, mamma, let him sleep. He don't have to be down until nine."
"Nine o'clock nowadays young men have got to work! Up to five years ago
every morning at dark your papa was down-town to see the poultry come
in, and now at eight o'clock my son can't be woke up to go to work.
Honest, I tell you times is changed!"
"Mamma, the way you pick on that boy!"
Mrs. Shongut folded both hands atop her broom in a solemn and hieratic
gesture; her face was full of lines, as though time had autographed it
many times over in a fine hand.
"Can you blame me? Can you blame me that I worry about that boy, with
his wild ways? That a boy like him should gamble away every cent of
his salary, except when he wins a little and buys us such nonsenses as
bracelets! That a boy who learnt bookkeeping in an expensive business
school, and knows that with his papa business ain't so good, shouldn't
offer to pay out of his salary a little board! I tell you, Renie, as he
goes now, it can't lead to no good; sometimes I would do almost anything
to get him out West. Not a cent does he offer to—"
"He only makes—"
"You know, Renie, how little I want his money; but that he shouldn't
offer to help out at home a little—that every cent on cards and clothes
he should spend! I ask you, is it any reason him and his papa got scenes
together until for the neighbors I'm ashamed, and for papa's heart so
afraid? That a fine boy like our Izzy should run so wild!"
Tears lay close to the surface of her voice, and she created a sudden
flurry of dust, sweeping with short, swift strokes.
"Izzy's not so worse! Give me a boy like Izzy any time, to a
mollycoddle. He's just throwing off steam now."
"Just take up with your wild brother against your old parents! Your
papa's a young man, with no heart trouble and lots of money; he can
afford to have a card-playing son what has to have second breakfast
alone every morning! Just you side with your brother!"
Miss Shongut side-stepped the furniture, which in the panicky confusion
of sweeping was huddled toward the center of the room, and through a
cloud of dust to the door.
"Every time I open my mouth in this family I put my foot in it. I should
worry about what isn't my business!"
"Well, one thing I can say, me and papa never need to reproach ourselves
that we 'ain't done the right thing by our children."
"Clean sheets, mamma?"
"Yes; and don't muss up the linen-shelfs."
Her daughter flitted down a narrow aisle of hallway; from the shoulders
her thin, flowing sleeves floated backward, filmy, white.
Mrs. Shongut flung open the screen door and swept a pile of webby dust
to the porch and then off on the patch of grass.
Thin spring sunshine lay warm along the neat terraces of Wasserman
Avenue. Windows were flung wide to the fresh kiss of spring; pillows,
comforters, and rugs draped across their sills. Across the street a
negro, with an old gunny-sack tied apron-fashion about his loins, turned
a garden hose on a stretch of asphalt and swept away the flood with his
broom. A woman, whose hair caught the sunlight like copper, avoided the
flood and tilted a perambulator on its two rear wheels down the wooden
steps of her veranda.
Across the dividing rail of the Shonguts' porch a child with a strap of
school-books flung over one shoulder ran down the soft terrace, and a
woman emerged after her to the topmost step of the veranda, holding her
checked apron up about her waist and shielding her eyes with one hand.
"Watch out for the street-car crossing, Jeannie."
"Good morning, Mrs. Shongut."
"Good morning, Mrs. Lissman. Looks like spring!"
"Ain't it so? I say to Mr. Lissman this morning, before he went
down-town, that he should bring home some grass seed to-night."
"Ya, ya! Before you know it now, we got hot summer after such a late
"I say to my Roscoe that after school to-day he should bring up the
rubber-plant out of the cellar."
"That's right; use 'em while they're young, Mrs. Lissman. When they grow
up it's different."
"Mrs. Shongut, you should talk! Only last night I says to my husband, I
says, when I seen Miss Renie pass by, 'Such a pretty girl!' I tell you,
Mrs. Shongut, such a pretty girl and such a fine-looking boy you can be
"Ach, Mrs. Lissman, you think so?"
"There ain't one on the street any prettier than Miss Renie. 'I tell
you, if my Roscoe was ten years older she could have him,' I says to my
Mrs. Shongut leaned forward on her broom-handle. "If I say so myself,
Mrs. Lissman, I got good reasons to have pleasure out of my children.
I guess you heard, Mrs. Lissman, what a grand position my Izzy has got
with his uncle, of the Isadore Flexner Banking-house. Bookkeeping in a
banking-house, Mrs. Lissman, for a boy like Izzy!"
"I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, if you got rich relations it's a help."
"How grand my brother has done for himself, Mrs. Lissman! Such a house
he has built on Kingston Place! Such a home! You can see for yourself,
Mrs. Lissman, how his wife and daughters drive up sometimes in their
"I'm surprised they don't come more often, Mrs. Shongut; your Renie and
them girls, I guess, are grand friends."
"Ya; and to be in that banking-house is a grand start for my boy. I
always say it can lead to almost anything. Only I tell him he shouldn't
let fine company make him wild."
"Ach, boys will be boys, Mrs. Shongut. Even now it ain't so easy for
me to get make my Roscoe to come in off his roller-skates at night. My
Jeannie I can make mind; but I tell her when she is old enough to have
beaus, then our troubles begin with her."
Mrs. Shongut's voice dropped into her throat in the guise of a whisper.
"Some time, Mrs. Lissman, when my Renie ain't home, I want you should
come over and I read you some of the letters that girl gets from young
men. So mad she always gets at me if she knows I talk about them."
"Mrs. Shongut, you'll laugh when I tell you; but already in the school
my Jeannie gets little notes what the little boys write to her. Mad it
makes me like anything; but what can you do when you got a pretty girl?"
"A young man in Peoria, Mrs. Lissman, such beautiful letters he writes
Renie, never in my life did I read. Such language, Mrs. Lissman; just
like out of a song-book! Not a time my Renie goes out that I don't go
right to her desk to read 'em—that's how beautiful he writes. In Green
Springs she met him."
"Ain't it a pleasure, Mrs. Shongut, to have grand letters like that?
Even with my little Jeannie, though it makes me so mad, still I—"
"But do you think my Renie will have any of them? 'Not,' she says, 'if
they was lined in gold.'"
"I guess she got plenty beaus. Say, I ain't so blind that I don't see
Sollie Spitz on your porch every—"
"Sollie Spitz! Ach, Mrs. Lissman, believe me, there's nothing to that!
My Renie since a little child likes reading and writing like he does.
I tell her papa we made a mistake not to keep her in school like she
"She loves learning, that girl. Under her pillow yesterday I found a
book of verses about flowers. Where she gets such a mind, Mrs. Lissman,
I don't know. But Sollie Spitz! Say, we don't want no poets in the
"I should say not! But I guess she gets all the good chances she wants."
"And more. A young man from Cincinnati—if I tell you his name, right
away you know him—twice her papa brought him out to supper after they
had business down-town together—only twice; and now every week he sends
her five pounds—"
"And such roses, Mrs. Lissman! You seen for yourself when I sent you one
the other day. Right in his own hothouse he grows 'em, Mrs. Lissman."
"If I tell you his name, Mrs. Lissman, right away you know his firm. In
Cincinnati they say he's got the finest house up on the hill—musical
chairs, that play when you sit on 'em. Twice every week he sends her—"
"'I tell you,' I says to her papa, 'her cousins over in Kingston Place
got tickets to take the young men to theaters with and automobiles to
ride them round in; but, if I say so myself, not one of them has better
chances than my Renie, right here in our little flat.'"
Mrs. Lissman folded her arms in a shelf across her bosom and leaned her
ample uncorseted figure against the railing. "I give you right, Mrs.
Shongut. Look at Jeannette Bamberger, over on Kingston; every night when
me and Mr. Lissman used to walk past last summer, right on her grand
front porch that girl sat alone, like she was glued."
"Then look at Birdie Schimm, across the street. Her mother a poor widow
who keeps a roomer, and look how her girl did for herself! Down at
Rindley's this morning nothing was fine enough for that Birdie to buy
for her table. I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, money ain't everything in this
"I always tell Renie she can take her place with the best of them."
"An hour already my Lizzie has been down in the laundry."
"Half a day I take Addie to help with the ironing."
"You should watch her, Mrs. Lissman; she steals soap."
"They're all alike."
"Ah, the mailman. Always in my family no one gets letters but my Renie.
Look, Mrs. Lissman! What did I tell you? Another one from Cincinnati.
Renie! Renie!" Mrs. Shongut bustled indoors, leaving her broom indolent
against the porch pillar. "Renie!"
"Letter!" Feet hurrying down the hall. "Letter from Cincinnati, Renie."
"Mamma, do you have to read the postmarks off my letters? I can read my
own mail without any help."
"How she sasses her mother! Say, for my part, I should worry if you
get letters or not. A girl that is afraid to give her mother a little
Mrs. Shongut made a great show of dragging the room's furniture back
into place; unpinning the lace curtains and draping them carefully
in their folds; drawing chairs across the carpet until the casters
squealed; uncovering the piano. At the business of dusting the
mantelpiece she lingered, stealing furtive glances through its mirror.
Miss Shongut ripped open the letter with a hairpin and curled her supple
figure in a roomy curve of the divan. Her hair, unloosened, fell in a
thick, black cascade down her back.
Mrs. Shongut redusted the mantel, raising each piece of bric-a-brac
carefully; ran her cloth across the piano keys, giving out a discord;
straightened the piano cover; repolished the mantelpiece mirror.
Her daughter read, blew the envelope open at its ripped end and inserted
the letter. Her eyes, gray as dawn, met her mother's.
"Well, Renie, is—is he well?"
"You're afraid, I guess, it gives me a little pleasure if I know what he
has to say. A girl gets a letter from a man like Max Hochenheimer, of
Cincinnati, and sits like a funeral!"
Rena unfolded herself from the divan and slid to her feet, slim as a
"I knew it!"
"He left Cincinnati last night and gets here this morning."
"He comes on business, he says. And at five o'clock he stops in at the
store and comes home to supper with papa."
"Supper—and a regular wash-day meal I got! Tongue sweet-sour, and red
cabbage! Renie, get on your things and—"
"Honest, if it wasn't too late I would telegraph him I ain't home."
"Get on your things, Renie, and go right down to Rindley's for a roast.
If you telephone they don't give you weight. This afternoon I go myself
for the vegetables." Excitement purred in Mrs. Shongut's voice. "Hurry,
"I'll get Izzy to take me out to supper and to a show."
"Get on your things, I say, Renie. I'll call Lizzie up-stairs too; we
don't need no wash-day, with company for supper. Honest, excited like a
chicken I get. Hurry, Renie!"
Miss Shongut stood quiescent, however, gazing through the lace curtains
at the sun-lashed terrace, still soft from the ravages of winter and
only faintly green. A flush spread to the tips of her delicate ears.
"Izzy's got to take me out to supper and a show. I won't stay home."
"Renie, you lost your mind? You! A young man like Max Hochenheimer
begins to pay you attentions in earnest—a man that could have any girl
in this town he snaps his finger for—a young man what your stuck-up
cousins over on Kingston would grab at! You—you—Ach, to a man like Max
Hochenheimer, of Cincinnati, she wants to say she ain't home yet!"
"Him! An old fatty like him! Izzy calls him Old Squash! Izzy says he's
the only live Cartoon in captivity."
"Izzy—always Izzy! Believe me, your brother could do better than layin'
in bed at eight o'clock in the morning, to copy after Max Hochenheimer."
"Always running down Izzy! Money ain't everything. I—I like other
things in a man besides money—always money."
"Believe me, he has plenty besides money, has Max Hochenheimer. He
'ain't got no time maybe for silk socks and pressed pants, but for a
fine good man your papa says he 'ain't got no equal. Your brother Izzy,
I tell you, could do well to mock after Max Hochenheimer—a man what
made hisself; a man what built up for hisself in Cincinnati a business
in country sausages that is known all over the world."
"No; he 'ain't got no time for rhymes like that long-haired Sollie
Spitz, that ain't worth his house-room and sits until by the nightshirt
I got to hold papa back from going out and telling him we 'ain't got no
hotel! Max Hochenheimer is a man what's in a legitimate business."
"Please, mamma, keep quiet about him. I don't care if he—"
"I tell you the poultry and the sausage business maybe ain't up to your
fine ideas; but believe me, the poultry business will keep you in shoes
and stockings when in the poetry business you can go barefoot."
"All right, mamma; I won't argue."
"Your papa has had enough business with Max Hochenheimer to know what
kind of a man he is and what kind of a firm. Such a grand man to deal
with, papa says. Plain as a old shoe—just like he was a salesman
instead of the president of his firm. A poor boy he started, and now
such a house they say he built for his mother in Avondale on the hill!
Squashy! I only wish for a month our Izzy had his income."
"I wouldn't marry him if—"
"Don't be so quick with yourself, missy. Just because he comes here on
a day's business and then comes out to supper with papa don't mean so
"Don't it? Well, then, if you know more about what's in this letter than
I do, I've got no more to say."
Mrs. Shongut sat down as though the power to stand had suddenly deserted
her limbs. "What—what do you mean, Renie?"
"I'm not so dumb that I—I don't know what a fellow means by a letter
"Renie!" The lines seemed to fade out of Mrs. Shongut's face, softening
it. "Renie! My little Renie!"
"You don't need to my-little-Renie me, mamma; I—"
"Renie, I can't believe it—that such luck should come to us. A man
like Max Hochenheimer, of Cincinnati, who can give her the greatest
happiness, comes for our little girl—"
"Always like me and papa had to struggle, Renie, in money matters you
won't have to. I tell you, Renie, nothing makes a woman old so soon.
Like a queen you can sit back in your automobile. Always a man what's
good to his mother, like Max Hochenheimer, makes, too, a grand husband.
I want, Renie, to see your Aunt Becky's and your cousins' faces at the
"Mamma, you talk like—Oh, you make me so mad."
"Musical chairs they got in the house, Renie, what, as soon as you sit
on, begin to play. Mrs. Schwartz herself sat on one; and the harder you
sit, she says, the louder it plays. Automobiles; a elevator for his
mother! I—Ach, Renie, I—I feel like all our troubles are over. I—
Ach, Renie, you should know how it feels to be a mother."
Tears rained frankly down Mrs. Shongut's face and she smiled through
their mist, and her outstretched arms would tremble.
"Renie, come to mamma!"
Miss Shongut, quivering, drew herself beyond their reach. "Such talk!
Honest, mamma, you—you make me ashamed, and mad like anything, too. I
wouldn't marry a little old squashy fellow like him if he was worth the
"An old fellow, just because he's got money and—"
"Old! Max Hochenheimer ain't more than in his first thirties, and old
she calls him! When a man makes hisself by hard work he 'ain't got time
to keep young, with silk socks and creased pants, and hair-tonic what
smells up my house a hour after Izzy's been gone. It ain't the color of
a man's vest, Renie—it's the color of his heart, underneath it. When
papa was a young man, do you think, if I had looked at the cigar ashes
on his vest instead of at what was underneath, that I—"
"That talk's no use with me, mamma."
"Renie; you—you wouldn't do it—you wouldn't refuse him?"
Her reply leaped out suddenly, full of fire: "It's not me or my feelings
you care anything about. Every one but me you think about first. What
about me? What about me? I'm the one that's got to do the marrying and
live with him. I'm the one you're trying to sell off like I was cattle.
I'm the one! I'm the one!"
"Yes; sell me off—sell me off—like cattle!"
Tears, blinding, scalding, searing, rushed down her cheeks, and her
smooth bosom, where the wrapper fell away to reveal it, heaved with the
"But you can't sell me—you can't! You can't keep nagging to get me
married off. I can get out, but I won't be married out! If I wasn't
afraid of papa, with his heart, I'd tell him so, too. I'd tell him so
now. I won't be married out—I won't be married out! I won't! I won't!"
Mrs. Shongut clasped her cheeks in the vise of her two hands. "Married
out! She reproaches me yet—a mother that would go through fire for her
"Always you're making me uncomfortable that I'm not married yet—not
papa or Izzy, but you—you! Never does one of the girls get engaged that
you don't look at me like I was wearing the welcome off the door-mat."
"Listen to my own child talk to me! No wonder you cry so hard, Renie
Shongut, to talk to your mother like that—a girl that I've indulged
like you. To sass her mother like that! A man like Max Hochenheimer
comes along, a man where the goodness looks out of his face, a man what
can give her every comfort; and, because he ain't a fine talker like
that long-haired Sollie Spitz, she—"
"You leave him out! Anyways, he's got fine feeling for something
"Is it a crime, Renie, that I should want so much your happiness? Your
papa's getting a old man now, Renie; I won't always be here, neither."
"For the love of Mike, what's the row? Can't a fellow get any beauty
sleep round this here shebang? What are you two cutting up about?"
The portières parted to reveal Mr. Isadore Shongut, pressed, manicured,
groomed, shaved—something young about him; something conceited; his
magenta bow tied to a nicety, his plushlike hair brushed up and backward
after the manner of fashion's latest caprice, and smoothing a smooth
hand along his smooth jowl.
"Morning, ma. What's the row, Renie? Gee! it's a swell joint round here
for a fellow with nerves! What's the row, kid?"
Mr. Isadore Shongut made a cigarette and puffed it, curled himself in a
deep-seated chair, with his head low and his legs flung high. His sister
lay on the divan, with her tearful profile buried, basso-rilievo,
against a green velours cushion, her arms limp and dangling in
"What's the row, Renie?"
"Aw, come out with it—what's the row? What you sitting there for, ma,
like your luck had turned on you?"
"Ask—ask your sister, Izzy; she can tell you."
"N-nothing—only—only—old—old Hochenheimer's coming to—to supper
to-night, Izzy; and—"
"Old Squash! Oh, Whillikens!"
"Take me out, Izzy! Take me out anywhere—to a show or supper, or—or
anywhere; but take me out, Izzy. Take me out before he comes."
"Sure I will! Old Squash! Whillikens!"
* * * * *
At five o'clock Wasserman Avenue emerged in dainty dimity and silk
sewing-bags. Rocking-chairs, tiptilted against veranda railings, were
swung round front-face. Greetings, light as rubber balls, bounded from
porch to porch. Fine needles flashed through dainty fabrics stretched
like drum parchment across embroidery hoops; young children, shrilling
and shouting in the heat of play, darted beneath maternal eyes;
long-legged girls in knee-high skirts strolled up and down the
sidewalks, arms intertwined.
At five-thirty the sun had got so low that it found out Mrs. Schimm in
a shady corner of her porch, dazzled her eyes, and flashed teasingly on
her needle, so that she crammed her dainty fabric in her sewing-bag and
crossed the paved street.
"You don't mind, Mrs. Lissman, if I come over on your porch for a while,
where it's shady?"
"It's a pleasure, Mrs. Schimm. Come right up and have a rocker."
"Just a few minutes I can stay."
"That's a beautiful stitch, Mrs. Schimm. When I finish this centerpiece
I start me a dozen doilies too."
"I can learn it to you in five minutes, Mrs. Lissman. All my Birdie's
trousseau napkins I did with this Battenberg stitch."
"For a poor widow's daughter, Mrs. Lissman, that girl had a trousseau
she don't need to be ashamed of."
"Look, will you? Mrs. Shapiro's coming down her front steps all diked
out in a summer silk. I guess she goes down to have supper with her
husband, since he keeps open evenings."
"I don't want to say nothing; but I don't think it's so nice—do you,
Mrs. Lissman?—the first month what her mourning for her mother is up a
yellow bird of paradise as big as a fan she has to have on her hat."
"Ain't it so!"
"I wish you could see the bird of paradise my Birdie bought when her and
Simon was in Kansas City on their wedding-trip—you can believe me or
not, a yard long! How that man spends money on that girl, Mrs. Lissman!"
"Say, when you got it to spend I always say it's right. He's in a good
business and makes good money."
"You should know how good."
"The rainy days come to them that save up for them, like us
old-fashioned ones, Mrs. Schimm."
"I—Look, will you? Ain't that Izzy Shongut crossing the street? He
comes home from work this early! I tell you, Mrs. Lissman, I don't want
to say nothing; but I hear things ain't so good with the Shonguts."
"Yes; I hear, since the old man bought out that sausage concern, they
got their troubles."
"And such a nice woman! That's what she needs yet on top of his heart
trouble and her girl running round with Sollie Spitz; and, from what
she don't say, I can see that boy causes her enough worry with his wild
ways. That's what that poor woman needs yet!"
"Look at Izzy, Mrs. Lissman. I bet that boy drinks or something. Look at
his face—like a sheet! I tell you that boy ain't walking up this street
straight. Look for yourself, Mrs. Lissman. Ach, his poor mother!" A
current like electricity that sets a wire humming ran in waves along
Mrs. Schimm's voice. "Look!"
"Oh-oh! I say, ain't that a trouble for that poor woman? When you see
other people's trouble your own ain't so bad."
"Ain't that awful? Just look at his face! Ain't that a trouble for you?"
"She herself as much as told me not a thing does her swell brother over
on Kingston do for them. I guess such a job as that boy has got in his
banking-house he could get from a stranger too."
"'Sh-h-h, Mrs. Lissman! Here he comes. Don't let on like we been talking
about him. Speak to him like always."
"Good evening, Izzy."
Isadora Shongut paused in the act of mounting the front steps and turned
a blood-driven face toward his neighbor. His under jaw sagged and
trembled, and his well-knit body seemed to have lost its power to stand
erect, so that his clothes bagged.
"Good evening, Mrs.—Lissman."
"You're home early to-night, Izzy?"
He fitted his key into the front-door lock, but his hand trembled so
that it would not turn; and for a racking moment he stood there vainly
pushing a weak knee against the panel, and his breath came out of his
throat in a wheeze.
The maid-of-all-work, straggly and down at the heels, answered his
fumbling at the lock and opened the door to him.
"You, Mr. Izzy!"
He sprang in like a catamount, clicking the door quick as a flash behind
him. "'Sh-h-h! Where's ma?"
"Your mamma ain't home; she went up to Rindley's. You ain't sick, are
you, Mr. Izzy?"
A spasm of relief flashed over his face, and he snapped his dry fingers
in an agony of nervousness. "Where's Renie? Quick!"
"She's in her room, layin' down. She ain't goin' to be home to the
supper-party to-night, Mr. Izzy; she—What's the matter, Mr. Izzy?"
He was down the hallway in three running bounds and, without the
preliminary of knocking, into his sister's tiny, semi-darkened
bedroom, his breathing suddenly filling it. She sprang from her little
chintz-covered bed, where she had flung herself across its top, her face
and wrapper rumpled with sleep.
"Izzy, what—where—Izzy, what is it?"
"'Sh-h-h, for God's sake! 'Sh-h! Don't let 'em hear, Renie. Don't let
Her swimming senses suddenly seemed to clear. "What's happened, Izzy?
Quick! What's wrong?"
He clicked the key in the lock, and in the agony of the same
dry-fingered nervousness rubbed his hand back and forth across his dry
lips. "Don't let 'em hear—the old man or ma—don't!"
"Quick! What is it, Izzy?" She sat down on the edge of the bed, weak.
"Tell me, Izzy; something terrible is wrong. It—it isn't papa, Izzy?
Tell me it isn't papa. For God's sake, Izzy, he—he ain't—"
"'Sh-h-h! N-no! No, it ain't. It—it ain't pa. It's me, Renie—it's
me!" He crumbled at her feet, his palms plastered over his eyes and his
fingers clutched deep in the high nap of his hair. "It's me! It's me!"
"'Sh-h-h! For God's sake, Renie, you got to stand by me; you got to
stand by me this time if you ever did! Promise me, Renie! It's me,
Renie. I—Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
She stooped to his side, her voice and hands trembling beyond control.
"Izzy! Izzy, tell me—tell me! What is it?"
"Oh, my God, why didn't I die? Why didn't I die?"
"Izzy, what—what is it? Money? Haven't I always stood by you before?
Won't I now? Tell me, Izzy. Tell me, I say!"
She tugged at his hands, prying them away from his eyes; but the terror
she saw there set her trembling again and thrice she opened her lips
before she found voice.
"Izzy, if you don't tell me, mamma will be back soon, and then pa;
and—you better tell me quick. Your own sister will stand by you. Get
up, dearie." Tears trickled through his fingers and she could see the
curve of his back rise and fall to the retching of suppressed sobs.
"Izzy, you got to tell me quick—do you hear?"
He raised his ravaged face at the sharp-edged incisiveness in her
voice. "I'm in trouble, Renie—such trouble. Oh, my God, such horrible
"Tell me quick—do you hear? Quick, or mamma and papa—"
"Renie—'sh-h-h! They mustn't know—the old man mustn't; she mustn't,
if—if I got to kill myself first. His heart—he—he mustn't, Renie—he
"It's all up, Renie. I've done something—the worst thing I ever done
in my life; but I didn't know while I was doing it, Renie, how—what it
was. I swear I didn't! It was like borrowing, I thought. I was sure
I could pay it back. I thought the system was a great one and—and I
"Izzy—roulette again! You—you been losing at—at roulette again?"
"No, no; but they found out at—at the bank, Renie. I—oh, my God!
Nothing won't save me!"
"The bank, Izzy?"
"They found out, Renie. Yesterday, when the bank was closed, he—Uncle
Isadore—put 'em on the books. Nothing won't save me now, Renie. He
won't; you—you know him—hard as nails! Nothing won't save me. It's
going to be stripes for me, Renie. Ma—the old man—stripes! I—I can't
let 'em do it. I—I'll kill myself first. I can't let 'em—I—can't—I
can't let 'em!"
He burrowed his head in her lap to stifle his voice, which slipped up
and away from his control; and her icy hands and knees could feel his
entire body trembling.
"'Sh-h-h, dearie! Try to tell me slow, dearie, for pa's and ma's sake,
so—so we can fix it up somehow."
"We can't fix it up. The old man 'ain't got the money and—and he can't
"For God's sake, Izzy, tell me or I'll go mad! Slow, dearie, so Renie
can think and listen and help you. She's with you, darling, and nothing
can hurt you. Now begin, Izzy, and go slow. What did you start to tell
me about Uncle Isadore and the books? Slow, darling."
Her voice was smooth and flowing, and the hand that stroked his hair was
slow and soothing; the great stream of his passion abated and he huddled
quietly at her feet.
"Now begin, dearie. Uncle Isadore—what?"
"This morning, when I got down to—to the office, two men had—my
"O God! When I seen 'em, right away my heart just stopped."
'"Sh-h-h! Yes—two men had the books."
"And Uncle Isadore—Uncle Isadore—he was—he—"
"He—he was in the cage, too; and—and you know how he looks when his
eyes get little."
"Yes, yes, Izzy."
"They were—expert accountants with him. All day yesterday, Sunday, they
were on my books; and—and they had me, Renie—they had me like a rat in
"Had you, Izzy?"
He drew himself upward, clutching at her arms; and the sobs began to
tear him afresh. "They had me, Renie."
"Oh, Izzy, why—"
"I could have paid it back. I could have put it back if the old
skinflint hadn't got to sniffing round and sicked 'em on my books. I
could have won it all back in time, Renie. With my own uncle, my own
mother's brother, it—it wasn't like I was stealing it, was it, Renie?
"Oh, my God, Izzy!"
"It wasn't, Renie—my own uncle! I could have won it back if—if—"
"Won back what, Izzy—won back what?"
"I—I started with a hundred, Renie. I had to have it; I had to, I tell
you. You remember that night I—I wanted you to go over and ask Aunt
Beck for it? I had to have it. Pa—. I—I couldn't excite him any more
about it; and—and I had to have it, I tell you, Renie."
"Yes; then what?"
"And I—I borrowed it without asking. I—I fixed it on my books so—so
Uncle Isadore wouldn't—couldn't—. I—I fixed it on my books."
"Oh-oh, Izzy! Oh—oh—oh!"
"I was trying out a system—a new one—and it worked, Renie. I tried it
out on the new wheel down at Sharkey's and the seventeen system worked
like a trick. I won big the first and second nights, Renie—you remember
the night I brought you and ma the bracelets? I paid back the hundred
the first week, Renie; and no one knew—no one knew."
"The next Friday my luck turned on me—I never ought to have played
on Friday—turned like a toad one unlucky Friday night. I got in deep
before I knew it, and deeper and deeper; and then—and then it just
seemed there wasn't no holding me, Renie. I got wild—got wild, I tell
you; and I—I wrote 'em checks I didn't have no right to write. I—I
went crazy, I tell you. Next day—you remember that morning I left the
house so early?—I had to fix it with the books and borrow what—what I
needed before the banks opened. I—I had to make good on them checks,
Renie. I fixed it with the books, and from that time on it worked."
"I kept losing, Renie; but I knew, if my luck just changed from that
unlucky Friday night, I could pay it back like the first time. All I
needed was a little time and a little luck and I could pay it back like
the first hundred; so I kept fixing my books, Renie, and—and borrowing
"O God, Renie! I could have paid it back with time; I—"
"'Sh-h-h! How much, Izzy—how much?"
"Somebody must have snitched on me, how I was losing every night. The
old skinflint, he—Oh, my God! They got me, Renie—they got me; and
it'll kill the old man!"
"How much, Izzy—how much?"
"Oh, my God! I could have paid it back if—if—"
"How much? Tell me, I say!"
"Oh-h-h, Izzy—Izzy—Izzy!" She sprang back from him, blind with
scalding tears. "Izzy! Four thousand! Oh, my God! Four thousand!"
"I could have paid it back, Renie; the system was all right, but—"
"Four thousand! Four thousand!"
"He—he was all for detaining me right away, Renie; sending for pa,
and—and sicking the law right on his—his own sister's son. On my knees
for three hours I had to beg, Renie—on my knees, for ma's sake and your
sake and pa's—just for a little time I begged. A little time was all
I begged. He don't care nothing for blood. I—I had to beg him, Renie,
till—till I fainted."
"What shall we do, Izzy? What shall we do?"
"I squeezed two weeks' time out of him, Renie. Two weeks to pay it back
or he puts the law on me—two weeks; and I got it from him like blood
from a turnip. Oh, my God, Renie, four thousand in two weeks—four
thousand in two weeks!"
He fell in a half-swoon against her skirts. Out of her arms she made a
pillow of mercy and drew his head down to her bosom; and tears, bitter
with salt, mingled with his, and her heart's blood buzzed in her brain.
"Izzy, Izzy! What have you done?"
"I can't pay it back, Renie. Where could I get half that much? I can't
pay back four dollars, much less four thousand. I can't! I can't!"
"We gotta keep it from the old man and ma, Renie. Let 'em kill me if
they want to; but we gotta keep it from him and ma."
"Four thousand! Four thousand!"
In the half-light of the room, with the late sunshine pressing warm
against the drawn green shades, the remote shouts of children coming to
them through the quiet, and the whir of a lawn-mower off somewhere,
they crouched, these two, as though they would shut their ears to the
flapping of vultures' wings.
"They can't do anything to you, Izzy."
"What'll we do, Renie? What'll we do?"
"We got to find a way, Izzy."
"They can't send me up for it, Renie—say they can't!"
"I ain't crooked like that! It was my own uncle. They can't send me up,
Renie. I'll kill myself first! I'll kill myself first!"
"Izzy, ain't you ashamed?" But it was as though the odor of death found
its way to her nostrils, nauseating her. "Let me think. Let me think
just a minute. Let me think." She rammed the ends of her fists tight
against her eyes until Catherine wheels spun and spun against her lids.
"Let me think just a minute."
"There's nobody, Renie—nobody—nobody—no way."
"No-body, I tell you, Renie. But I'll kill myself before I—"
Renie stood up. "Izzy! I will!"
He was whimpering frankly against her skirt. After a while she raised
her face. Jeanne d'Arc might have looked like that when she beheld the
"Squash! It's like he was sent out of heaven!"
"He's coming to-night—to ask me, Izzy. You know what I mean? Don't you
see? Don't you see?"
"Don't you see, Izzy? He's going to ask me, and—and I'm going to do
"Oh, my God! Renie, you can't do that for me if—You can't do that for
"He's got it, Izzy. I can get ten thousand out of him if I got to."
"I—I can rush it through and—do it before two weeks, Izzy; and we got
a way out, Izzy—we got a way. We got a way!"
She threw herself in a passion of hysteria face downward on the bed and
a tornado of weeping swept over her. Rooted, he stood as though face to
face with an immense dawn, but with eyes that dared not see the light.
"Renie, I—can't! I—Renie, I can't let you do that for me if—if—I
can't let you marry him for me if you don't—"
Mrs. Shongut's voice outside the door, querulous: "Renie!"
"Why you got your door locked?"
"Come right away out in the dining-room. If you 'ain't got no more
regards for your parents than not to stay home for supper, anyways you
got to fix for the table the flowers what I brought home from market."
"Yes, mamma." She darted to her feet, drying the tears on her cheeks
with the palm of her hand. "Coming, mamma." And she slipped through the
door of her room, scarcely opening it.
In the dining-room, beside the white-spread table, Mrs. Shongut unwound
a paper toot of pink carnations; but the flavor of her spirit was bitter
and her thin, pressed-looking lips hung at the corners.
"Maybe you can stop pouting long enough to help with things a little,
even if you won't be here. I tell you it's a pleasure when papa comes
home for supper with company, to have children like mine."
"Listen, mamma. I—"
"Sounds like somebody's going out of the house, Renie. Who—"
"No, no. No one has been here, mamma. It's just the breeze."
"I tell you it's a pleasure to have a daughter like mine! What excuses
to make to Max Hochenheimer, a young man what comes all the way from
Cincinnati to see her—"
"Listen, mamma; I—I've only been fooling—honest, I have."
Miss Shongut's face was suddenly buried in the neat lace yoke of her
mother's dimity blouse, and her arms crept up about her neck.
"I've been only fooling about to-night, mamma. Don't you think I know it
is just like he was sent from heaven? I've only been fooling, mamma, so
that—so that you shouldn't know how happy I am."
The soul peeped out suddenly in Mrs. Shongut's face, hallowing it.
"Renie! My little Renie!"
* * * * *
On Wasserman Avenue the hand that rocks the cradle oftener than not
carves the roast. Behind her platter, sovereign of all she surveyed, and
skilfully, so that beneath her steel the red, oozing slices curled and
fell into their pool of gravy, reigned Mrs. Shongut. And her suzerainty
rested on her as lightly as a tiara of seven stars.
"Mr. Hochenheimer, you ain't eating a thing!" Mrs. Shongut craned her
neck round the centerpiece of pink carnations. "Not a thing on your
plate! Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer some more salad."
"No, no, Mrs. Shongut; just don't you worry about me."
"I hope you ain't bashful, Mr. Hochenheimer. We feel toward you just
like home folks."
"Indeed, what I don't see I ask for, Mrs. Shongut."
"Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer some more of that red cabbage."
"No, no—please, Mrs. Shongut; I got plenty."
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer, you eat so little you must be in love."
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer knows that I only fool. Renie, pass the
"No, no—please! I—"
"Mamma, don't force. You're not bashful, are you, Mr. Hochenheimer?"
Miss Shongut inclined her head with a saucy, birdlike motion, and showed
him the full gleaming line of her teeth. He took a large mouthful of
ice-water to wash down the red of confusion that suddenly swam high in
his face, tingeing even his ears.
"For more dumplings I ain't bashful, Miss Renie; but there—there's
other things—I am bashful to ask for."
From his place at the far end of the table Mr. Shongut laughed deep, as
though a spiral spring was vibrating in the recesses of his throat.
"Bashful with the girls—eh, Hochenheimer?"
"I ain't much of a lady's man, Shongut."
"Well, I wish you was just so bashful in business—believe me! I wish
"Shongut, I never got the best of you yet in a deal."
"With my girl he's bashful yet, mamma; but down to the last
sausage-casing I have to pay his fancy prices. Nun, look mamma, how red
she gets! What you get so red for, Renie—eh?"
"A little teasing from her old father she can't take. Look at her,
mamma! Look at both of them—red like beets. Neither of them can stand a
little teasing from an old man."
"Adolph, you mustn't! All people don't like it when you make fun. Mr.
Hochenheimer, you must excuse my husband; a great one he is to tease and
make his little fun."
Mr. Shongut's ancient-looking face, covered with a short, grizzled
growth of beard and pale as a prophet's beneath, broke into a smile, and
a minute network of lines sprang out from the corners of his eyes.
"I was bashful in my life once, too—eh, mamma?"
"Please, you must excuse my husband, Mr. Hochenheimer; he likes to have
his little jokes."
Mr. Hochenheimer pushed away his plate in high embarrassment; nor would
his eyes meet Miss Shongut's, except to flash away under cover of
"My husband's a great one to tease, Mr. Hochenheimer. My Izzy too, takes
after him. I'm sorry that boy ain't home, so you could meet him again.
We call him the dude of the family. Renie, pass Mr. Hochenheimer the
A pair of deep-lined brackets sprang out round Mr. Shongut's mouth. "Why
ain't that boy home for supper, where he belongs?"
"Ach, now, Adolph, don't get excited right away. Always, Mr.
Hochenheimer, my husband gets excited over nothing, when he knows how it
hurts his heart. Like that boy ain't old enough to stay out to supper
when he wants, Adolph! 'Sh-h-h!"
Mrs. Shongut smiled to conceal that her heart was faint, and the saga of
a mother might have been written round that smile.
"Now, now, Adolph, don't you begin to worry."
"I tell you, Shongut, it's a mistake to worry. I save all my excitement
for the good things in life."
"See, Adolph; from a young man like Mr. Hochenheimer you can get
"I tell you, Shongut, over such a nice little home and such a nice
little family as you got I might get excited; but over the little things
that don't count for much I 'ain't got time."
Mrs. Shongut waved a deprecatory hand. "It's a nice enough little home
for us, Mr. Hochenheimer, but with a grand house like I hear you built
for your mother up on the stylish hilltop in Cincinnati, I guess to you
it seems right plain."
"That's where you're wrong, Mrs. Shongut. Like I says to Shongut coming
out on the street-car with him to-night, if it hadn't been that I
thought maybe my mother would like a little fanciness after a hard life
like hers, for my own part a little house and a big garden is all I ask
"Ach, Mr. Hochenheimer, with such a grand house like that is—sunk-in
baths Mrs. Schwartz says you got! To see a house like that, I tell you
it must be a treat."
"It's a fine place, Mrs. Shongut, but too big for me and my mother. When
I got into the hands of architects, let me tell you, I feel I was lucky
to get off with only twenty-five rooms. Right now, Mrs. Shongut, we got
rooms we don't know how to pronounce."
"Twenty-five rooms! Did you hear that, Adolph? Twenty-five rooms! I bet,
Mr. Hochenheimer, your mother is proud of such a son as can give her
"We don't say much about it to each other, my mother and me; but—you
can believe me or not—in our big, stylish house up there on the hill,
with her servants to take away from her all the pleasure of work and her
market and old friends down on Richmond Street yet, and nothing but
gold furniture round her, she gets lonesome enough. If it wasn't for my
garden and the beautiful scenery from my terraces, I would wish myself
back in our little down-town house more than once, too. I tell you, Mrs.
Shongut, fineness ain't everything."
"You should bring your mother some time to Mound City with you when you
come over on business, Mr. Hochenheimer. We would do our best to make it
pleasant for her."
"She's an old woman, Mrs. Shongut, and in a train or an automobile I
can't get her. I guess it would be better, Mrs. Shongut, if I carry off
some of your family with me to Cincinnati."
And, to belie that his words had any glittering import, he lay back in
his chair in a state of silent laughter, which set his soft-fleshed
cheeks aquiver; and his blue eyes, so ready yet so reluctant,
disappeared behind a tight squint.
"Adolph, I guess Mr. Hochenheimer will excuse us—eh? Renie, you can
entertain Mr. Hochenheimer while me and papa go and spend the evening
over at Aunt Meena's. Mr. Shongut's sister, Mr. Hochenheimer, 'ain't
been so well. Anyways, I always say young folks 'ain't got no time for
"You go right ahead along, Mrs. Shongut. Don't treat me like company. I
hope Miss Renie don't mind if I spend the evening?"
"I should say not."
"Hochenheimer, a cigar?"
"Thanks; I don't smoke."
"My husband, with his heart trouble, shouldn't smoke, neither, Mr.
Hochenheimer; it worries me enough. What me and the doctors tell him
goes in one ear and out of the other."
"See, Hochenheimer, when you get a wife how henpecked you get!"
"A henpeck never drew much blood, Shongut."
"Come, Adolph; it is a long car-ride to Meena's."
They pushed back from the table, the four of them, smiling-lipped. With
his short-fingered, hairy-backed hands Mr. Hochenheimer dusted at his
coat lapels, then shook his bulging trousers knees into place.
The lamp of inner sanctity burns in strange temples. A carpenter in
haircloth shirt first turned men's hearts outward. Who can know, who
does not first cross the plain of the guide with gold, that behind the
moldy panels at Ara Coeli reigns the jeweled bambino, robed in the
glittering gems of sacrifice?
Who could know, as Mr. Hochenheimer stood there in the curtailed dignity
of his five feet five, that behind his speckled and slightly rotund
waistcoat a choir sang of love, and that the white flame of his spirit
"I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, it is a pleasure to be invited out to your
house. You should know how this old bachelor hates hotels."
"And you should know how welcome you always are, Mr. Hochenheimer.
To-morrow night you take supper with us too. We don't take 'no'—eh,
"I appreciate that, Mrs. Shongut; but I—I don't know yet—if—if I stay
Mr. Shongut batted a playful hand and shuffled toward the door. "You
stay, Hochenheimer! I bet you a good cigar you stay. Ain't I right,
Renie, that he stays? Ain't I right?"
Against the sideboard, fingering her white dress, Miss Shongut regarded
her parents, and her smile was as wan as moonlight.
"Ain't I right, Renie?"
* * * * *
On the bit of porch, the hall light carefully lowered and cushions from
within spread at their feet, the dreamy quiet of evening and air as
soft as milk flowed round and closed in about Miss Shongut and Mr.
They drew their rocking-chairs arm to arm, so that, behind a bit of
climbing moonflower vine, they were as snug as in a bower. Stars shone
over the roofs of the houses opposite; the shouts of children had died
down; crickets whirred.
"Is the light from that street lamp in your eyes, Renie?"
The wooden floor reverberated as they rocked. A little thrill of breeze
fluttered her filmy shoulder scarf against his hand. To his fermenting
fancy it was as though her spirit had flitted out of the flesh.
"Ah, Miss Renie, I—I—"
"What, Mr. Hochenheimer?"
"Nothing. Your—your little shawl, it tickled my hand so."
She leaned her elbow on the arm of her chair and cupped her chin in her
palm. Her eyes had a peculiar value—like a mill-pond, when the wheel is
still, reflects the stars in calm and unchurned quiet.
"You look just like a little princess to-night, Miss Renie—that pretty
shawl and your eyes so bright."
"Yes; if I had a tin suit and a sword to match I'd ride up on a horse
and carry you off to my castle in Cincinnati."
"Say, wouldn't it be a treat for Wasserman Avenue to see me go loping
off like that!"
"This is the first little visit we've ever had together all by
ourselves, ain't it, Miss Renie? Seems like, to a bashful fellow like
me, you was always slipping away from me."
"The flowers and the candies you kept sending me were grand, Mr.
Hochenheimer—and the letter—to-day."
"You read the letter, Miss Renie?"
"Yes, I—I—You shouldn't keep spoiling me with such grand flowers and
candy, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"If tell you that never in my life I sent flowers or candy, or wrote a
letter like I wrote you yesterday, to another young lady, I guess you
laugh at me—not, Miss Renie?"
"You shouldn't begin, Mr. Hochenheimer, by spoiling me."
"Ah, Miss Renie, if you knew how I like to spoil you, if you would let
me—Ach, what's the use? I—I can't say it like I want." She could hear
him breathing. "It—it's a grand night, Miss Renie."
"And look over those roofs! It seems like there's a million stars
shining, don't it?"
"You're like me, Miss Renie; so many times I've noticed it. Nothing is
so grand to me as nature, neither."
"Up at Green Springs, in the Ozarks, where we went for ten days last
summer, honest, Mr. Hochenheimer, I used to lie looking out the window
all night. The stars up there shone so close it seemed like you could
nearly touch them."
"Ain't that wonderful, Miss Renie, you should be just like me again!"
She smiled in the dark. "When I was a boy always next to the attic
window I liked to sleep. When I built my house, Miss Renie, the
first thing after I designed my rose-garden I drew up for myself a
sleeping-garden on my roof. The architects fussed enough about spoiling
the roof-line, but that's one of the things I wanted which I stood pat
for and got—my sleeping-garden."
"Miss Renie, I just wish you could see it—all laid out in roses in
summer, and a screened-in pergola, where I sleep, right underneath the
stars and roses. I sleep so close to heaven I always say I can smell
She turned her little face, white as a spray of jasmine against a dark
background of night, toward him. "Underneath a pergola of roses! I guess
it's the roses you must smell. How grand!"
"Sometimes when—if you come to Cincinnati I want to show you my place,
Miss Renie. If I say so myself, I got a wonderful garden; flowers I can
show you grown from clippings from every part of the world. If I do say
so, for a sausage-maker who never went to school two years in his life
it ain't so bad. I got a lily-pond, Miss Renie, they come from all over
to see. By myself I designed it."
"It must be grand, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"On Sunday, Miss Renie, I like for my boys and girls from the factory to
come up to my place and make themselves at home. You should see my old
mother how she fixes for them! I wish you could see them boys and girls,
and old men and women. In a sausage-factory they don't get much time to
listen to birds and water when it falls into a fountain. I wish, Miss
Renie, you could see them with the flowers. I—well, I don't know how to
say it; but I wish you could see them for yourself."
"They like it?"
"Like it! I tell you it's the greatest pleasure I get out of my place. I
wish, instead of my fine house, the city would let me build my factory
for them right in the garden."
"On such a stylish street they wouldn't ever let you, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"Me and my mother ain't much for style, Miss Renie. Honest, you'd be
surprised, but with my fine house I don't even keep an automobile. My
mother, she's old, Miss Renie, and won't go in one. Alone it ain't no
pleasure; and when I don't walk down to my factory the street-cars is
"You should take it easier, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"All our lives, Miss Renie, we've been so busy, my mother and me, I tell
her we got to be learnt—like children got to be learnt to walk—how to
enjoy ourselves. We—we need somebody young—somebody like you in the
house, Miss Renie—young and so pretty, and full of life, and—and so
She gave a gauzy laugh. "Honest, it must seem like a dream to have a
rose-garden right on the place you live."
"I wish you could see, Miss Renie, a new Killarney my gardener showed me
in the hothouse yesterday before I left—white-and-pink blend; he got
the clipping from Jamaica. It's a pale pink in the heart like the first
minute when the sun rises; and then it gets pinker and pinker toward
the outside petals, till it just bursts out as red as the sun when it's
ready to set."
"And those beautiful little tan roses you sent me, Mr. Hochenheimer;
"Ah, Miss Renie, the clipping from those sunset roses comes from Italy;
but now I call them Renie Roses, if—if you'll excuse me. I tell you,
Miss Renie, you look just enough like 'em to be related. Little satiny
gold-looking roses, with a pink blush on the inside of the petals and
a—a few little soft thorns on the stem."
"Aw, Mr. Hochenheimer, I ain't got thorns."
Out from the velvet shadows his face came closer. "It's thorns to me,
Miss Renie, because you're so pretty and sweet, and—and seem so far
away from a—plain fellow like me."
"I'm a plain man, Miss Renie, and I don't know how to talk much about
the things I feel inside of me; but—but I feel, all-righty."
"Looks ain't everything."
"I tell you, Miss Renie, now since I can afford it, I just don't seem to
know how to do the things I got the feeling inside of me for. Even in my
grand house sometimes I feel like it—it's too late for me to live like
"Nothing's ever too late, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"Just since I met you I can feel that way, Miss Renie, if you'll excuse
me for saying it—just since I met you."
"For the first time in my life, Miss Renie, I got the feeling from a
girl that, for me, life—maybe my life—is just beginning. Like a vine,
Miss Renie, you got yourself tangled round my feelings."
"Oh, Mr. Hochenheimer!"
"Like I told your papa to-night on the car, I 'ain't got much to offer a
beautiful young girl like you; money, I can see, don't count for so much
with a fine girl like you, and I—I don't need to be told that my face
and my ways ain't my fortune."
"It's the heart that counts, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"If—if you mean that, Miss Renie—if love, just love, can bring
happiness, I can make for you a life as beautiful as my rose-garden. For
the first time in my life, Miss Renie, I got the feeling I can do that
for a woman—and that woman is you. I—Will you—will you be my wife,
Miss Renie?" She could feel his breath now, scorching her cheek. "Will
you, Miss Renie?"
And even as she leaned over to open her lips a figure, swift as a Greek,
dashed to the veranda—up the steps three at a bound.
"Izzy!" She rose, pushing back her chair, and her hand flew to her
"Just a minute. Inside I gotta see you quick, Renie. Howdy,
Hochenheimer? You excuse her a minute. I got to see her."
His voice was like wine that sings in the pouring.
"Yes, yes, Izzy; I'm coming." Hers was trembling and pizzicato. "Excuse
me a minute, Mr. Hochenheimer—a minute."
Mr. Hochenheimer rose, mopping his brow. "It's all right, Miss Renie. I
wait out here on the porch till it pleases you."
In her tiny bedroom, with the light turned up, she faced her brother;
and he grasped her shoulders so that, through the sheer texture of her
dress, his hands left red prints on the flesh.
"Renie, you 'ain't done it, have you?"
"No, no, Izzy; I've done nothing. Where you been?"
He gave a great laugh and sank into a chair, limp. "You don't have to,
Renie. It's all right! I've fixed it. Everything is all right!"
"What do you mean?"
Then, as though the current of his returning vigor could know no bounds,
he scooped her in a one-armed embrace that fairly raised her from the
"All of a sudden, when you went out, Renie, I remembered Aunt Becky. You
remember she was the one who made Uncle Isadore fork over to papa that
time about the mortgage?"
"All of a sudden it came over me that she was the only one who could do
anything with him. I ran over to the house—all the way I ran, Renie.
She was up in her room, and—and it's all right, Renie. I told her, and
she's fixed it—fixed it!"
"She's fixed it. When he came home to supper we got him right away up
in her room before he had his hat off. Like a mother she begged for me,
Renie—like a mother. God! I—I tell you I couldn't go through it again;
but she got him, Renie—she got him!"
"Go on, Izzy—go on!"
"She told him I wouldn't face the shame; she told him I—I'd kill my own
father, and that the blood would be on his hands; she told him if he'd
let me go to the devil without another chance—me that had been named
after him—that a curse would roost on his chest. He didn't want to give
in to her—he didn't want to; but she scared him, and she's a woman and
she knew how to get inside of him—she knew how. They're going to send
me out to his mines, where I can start over, Renie. Out West, where
it'll make a new man of me; where I can begin over—start right, Renie.
"Oh, Izzy darling!"
"I can pay up when I earn the money like a man, Renie. It would have
killed me if you had sold yourself to him for me. I'd have gone to the
stripes first. But I got a man's chance now, Renie, and I don't have to
do that rotten thing to you and Squash. A man's chance, Renie, and—and
I'm going to take it."
She sat down on the bed suddenly, as though the blood had flowed out of
her heart, weakening her.
"A sister like you that would have stuck; and—and I'm going to make
good to a sister like you, Renie. I am, this time. Please believe me,
Renie. I am! I am!"
Her hand lay pressed to his cheek and she could feel the warm course of
his tears. "Izzy, I knew you wasn't yellow; I—I knew you wasn't."
Sobs shook him suddenly and he buried his face in the pillow beside her.
"Why, Izzy! Why, Izzy darling, what—what is it, Izzy darling?"
"It's nothing. You—you get out, Renie. I'm all right; only—only
it's—it's—Now that it's all over, I—I—Just let me alone a minute,
She closed the door behind her and fumbled through the gloom of the
hallway, her hand faltering as she groped ahead.
From the recesses of the moonflower vine Mr. Hochenheimer rose to meet
her; and, because her limbs would tremble, she slid quickly into her
"You—you must excuse me, Mr. Hochenheimer."
"It's all right, Miss Renie. I take up where we left off. It ain't so
easy, Miss Renie, to begin all over again to say it, but—but will you
be my—will you be my—"
She was suddenly in his arms, burrowing against the speckled waistcoat a
little resting-place for her head.