In Memoriam, by Fannie Hurst
Every Soul Hath Its
Toward the city Mother Earth turns a plate-glass eye and an asphalt
bosom. The rhythm of her heart-beats does not penetrate through paved
streets. That cadence is for those few of her billion children who have
stayed by to sleep with an ear to the mossy floor of her woodlands. The
prodigals, the future Tammany leaders, merchant princes, cotton kings,
and society queens march on, each to an urban destiny.
Nor is the return of the prodigal to Mother Earth along a piked highway.
The road back to Nature is full of her own secrets, and few who have
trod the streets of the city remember the brambled return, or care.
Men who know to the centime each fluctuation of the wheat-market have
no eye for the tawny beauty of a whole field of the precious product
fluctuating to a breeze. Women stayed by steel and convention into the
mold of form love the soft faces of flowers looking up at them from
expensive corsages, but care not for their nativity. Greeks, first of
men, perched their gods up on Olympus and wandered down to build cities.
Because the city is as insidious as the sleeping-draught of an Indian
soothsayer, under its spell men go mad for gain and forget that to stand
on the brow of a mountain at night, arms outstretched in kinship to Vega
and Capella, is a golden moment of purer alloy than certified bonds.
What magnate remembers where the best tackle squirms, or the taste of
grass sucked in from the tender end of the blade? All progress is like
that. How immediately are the yesterdays metamorphosed into memories;
and memories, even the stanchest of them, mold and disintegrate.
There were times when Mrs. Simon Meyerburg, who was threescore and ten
years removed from the days when her bare feet had run fleet across a
plushy meadow, would pause, hand on brow, when a memory, perhaps moving
as it crumpled, would pass before her in faded daguerreotype. A gallery
of events—so many pictures faded from her mental walls that the gaps
seemed, as it were, to separate her from herself, making of her and
that swift-footed girl back there vague strangers. And yet the vivid
canvases! A peasant child at a churn, switching her black braids this
way and that when they dangled too far over her shoulders; a linnet dead
in its cage outside a thatched doorway, and the taste of her first heart
tears; a hand-made crib in a dark corner and hardly ever empty of a
Then gaps, except here and there a faded bit. Then again large memories
close and full of color: Simon Meyerburg, with the years folded back
and youth on him, wooing her beside a stile that led off a South German
country road, his peasant cap fallen back off his strong black curls,
and even then a seer's light in his strong black eyes. Her own black
eyes more diffident now and the black braids looped up and bound in
a tight coronet round her head. The voice of the mother calling her
homeward through cupped hands and in the Low Dutch of the Lowlands. A
moonrise and the sweet, vivid smell of evening, and once more the youth
Simon Meyerburg wooing her there beside the roadside stile.
The crowded steerage of a wooden ship, her first son suckling at her
breast. At the prow Simon Meyerburg again, his peasant cap pushed
backward and his black eyes, with the seer's light in them, gleaming
ahead for the first glimpse of the land of fulfilment. An unbelievable
city sucking them immediately into its slums. Filth. A quick descent
into squalor. A second son. A third. A fourth. A fifth. A girl child.
Mouths too eager for black bread. Always the struggle and the sour smell
of slums. Finally light. White light. The seer sees!
Then, ever green in her mind, a sun-mottled kitchen with a black iron
range, and along the walls festoons of looped-up green peppers. White
bread now in abundance for small mouths not so hungry. At evening, Simon
Meyerburg, with rims of dirt under his nails, entering that kitchen
door, the girl child turning from her breast to leap forward….
Sometimes in her stately halls, caught, as it were, in passing from room
to room, Mrs. Simon Meyerburg would pause, assaulted by these memories
of days so remote that her mind could not always run back to meet them.
Then again the glittering present studded with the jewels of fulfilment
lay on her brow like the thin line of a headache, pressing out the past.
In Mrs. Meyerburg's bedroom a great arched ceiling, after the narrative
manner of Paolo Veronese, lent such vastness to the apartment that
moving across it, or sitting in her great overstuffed armchair beside a
window, she hardly struck a note. Great wealth lay in canopied silence
over that room. A rug out of Persia, so large that countless extra years
and countless pairs of tired eyes and tired fingers had gone to make
it, let noises sink noiseless into its nap. Brocade and tufting ate up
sound. At every window more brocade shut out the incessant song of the
In the overstuffed chair beside one of these windows sat Mrs. Meyerburg
with her hands idle and laid out along the chair sides. They were
ringless hands and full of years, with a great network of veins across
their backs and the aging fingers large at the knuckles. But where
the hands betrayed the eyes belied. Deep in Mrs. Meyerburg's soft and
scarcely flabby face her gaze was straight and very black.
An hour by an inlaid ormolu clock she sat there, her feet in soft,
elastic-sided shoes, just lifted from the floor. Incongruous enough, on
a plain deal table beside her, a sheaf of blue-prints lay unrolled. She
fingered them occasionally and with a tenderness, as if they might
be sensitive to touch; even smiled and held the sheets one by one up
against the shrouded window so that the light pressing through them
might emphasize the labyrinth of lines. Dozed, with a smile printed on
her lips, and awoke when her head lopped too heavily sidewise.
After an interval she slid out of her chair and crossed to the door;
even in action her broad, squat figure infinitesimal to the room's
proportions. When she opened the door the dignity of great halls lay in
waiting. She crossed the wide vista to a closed door, a replica of her
own, and knocked, waited, turned the crystal knob, knocked, waited.
Rapped again, this time in three staccatos. Silence. Then softly and
with her cheek laid against the imperturbable panel of the closed door:
"Becky! Becky! Open! Open!"
A muffled sound from within as if a sob had been let slip.
Then again, rattling the knob this time: "Becky, it's mamma. Becky, you
should get up now; it's time for our drive. Let me in, Becky. Open!"
shaking the handle.
When the door opened finally, Mrs. Meyerburg stepped quickly through the
slit, as if to ward off its too heavy closing. A French maid, in the
immemorial paraphernalia of French maids, stood by like a slim sentinel
on stilts, her tall, small heels clicked together. Perfume lay on the
artificial dusk of that room.
"Therese, you can go down awhile. When Miss Becky wants she can ring."
"I wish, Therese, when you go down you would tell Anna I don't want she
should put the real lace table-cloth from Miss Becky's party last night
in the linen-room. Twice I've told her after its use she should always
bring it right back to me."
"Oui, madame." And Therese flashed out on the slim heels.
In the crowded apartment, furnished after the most exuberant of the
various exuberant French periods, Miss Rebecca Meyerburg lay on a Louis
Seize bed, certified to have been lifted, down to the casters, from the
Grand Trianon of Marie Antoinette. In a great confusion of laces and
linens, disarrayed as if tossed by a fever patient, she lay there, her
round young arm flung up over her head and her face turned downward to
the curve of one elbow.
"Ach, now, Becky, ain't it a shame you should take on so? Ain't it a
shame before the servants? Come, baby, in a half-hour it's time for our
drive. Come, baby!"
Beneath the fine linen Miss Meyerburg dug with her toes into the
mattress, her head burrowing deeper and the black mane of her hair
rippling backward in maenadic waves. "If you don't let me alone, ma, if
you don't just let me lay here in peace, I'll scream. I'll faint. Faint,
I tell you," and smothered her words in the curve of her elbow.
Mrs. Meyerburg breathed outward in a sigh and sat down hesitant on the
bed edge, her hand reaching out to the bare white shoulder and smoothing
its high luster.
"Come, Becky, and get up like a good girl. Don't you want, baby, to come
over by mamma's room and see the plans for the Memorial?"
"No! No! No!"
"They got to be sent back to-day, Becky, before Goldfinger leaves for
Boston with them. I got to get right away busy if I want the boys should
have their surprise this time next year. To no one but my baby girl have
I said yet one word. Don't you want, Becky, to see them before they go
down by Goldfinger's office, so he can right away go ahead?"
"Becky, ain't you ashamed, your own papa's Memorial?"
"Please, mamma, please. If you only won't Becky me."
"If you only will go and—and leave me alone."
"I ask you, Betty, should a girl what's got everything that should make
her happy just like an angel, a girl what has got for herself heaven on
earth, make herself right away sick the first time what things don't go
smooth with her?"
"If I could only die! If I could die! Why don't I die to-day?"
The throb of a sob lay on her voice, and she sat up suddenly, pushing
backward with both hands the thick rush of hair to her face. Grief had
blotched her cheeks, but she was as warm and as curving as Flora. It was
as if her deep-white flesh was deep-white plush and would sink to the
touch. The line and the sheen of her radiated through her fine garment.
"Why don't I die?" repeating her vain question, and her eyes, darker
because she was so white, looking out and past her parent and streaming
their bitter tears.
"You'm a bad girl, Becky, and it's a sin you should talk so. Gott sei
dank your poor papa ain't alive to hear such bad words from his own
"If pa was living things would be different—let me tell you that."
In a flare of immediate anger Mrs. Meyerburg's head shot forward. "Du—"
she cried; "du—you—you bad girl—du—"
"If he had lived they would!"
Suddenly Mrs. Meyerburg's face, with the lines in it held tight, relaxed
to tears and she fell to rocking herself softly to and fro, her stiff
silk shushing as she swayed.
"Ach, that I should live to hear from my own child that I 'ain't done by
her like her father would want that I should do. Every hour since I been
left alone, to do by my six children like he would want has been always
my only thought, and now—"
"I mean it! I mean it! If he had lived he would have settled it on me
easy enough when he saw what I was doing for the family. Two million
if need be! He was the one in this family that made it big, because he
wasn't afraid of big things."
Further rage trembled along Mrs. Meyerburg's voice, and the fingers she
waggled trembled, too, of that same wrath. "You'm a bad girl, Becky!
You'm a bad girl with thought only for yourself. Always your papa said
by each child we should do the same. Five hundred thousand dollars to
each son when he marries a fine, good girl. More as one night I can
tell you I laid awake when Felix picked out for himself Trixie, just
wondering what papa would want I should do it or not."
"Can't you keep from picking on that girl, mamma? It's through her, if
you want to know it, that I first got in with—with the marquis and that
"Always by each child we should do the same, he said. Five hundred
thousand dollars to our girl when she marries a fine, good man. Even
back in days when he had not a cent to leave after him, always he said
alike you should all be treated. Always, you hear? Always."
Fire had dried the tears in Mrs. Meyerburg's eyes and her face had
resumed its fixity of lines. Only her finger continued to tremble and
two near-the-surface nerves in her left temple.
"But, mamma, you know yourself he never dreamt we could climb up to
this. That for a miserable five hundred thousand more we—"
"A miserable five hundred thousand she calls it like it was five hundred
"That for a miserable five hundred thousand dollars we could raise our
family up to the nobility. The Marquis Rosencrantz, ma, who—"
"Becky, it ain't that I got a word to say against this young man
"Marquis Rosencrantz, mamma."
"All right then, Marquis Rosencrantz; but it's like your brother Ben
says—a marquis in a country where there ain't no more any of them made
could just as well be called a mister. Not a word I got to say against
this young Rosencrantz, but—"
"Marquis, ma, please remember! M-a-r-q-u-i-s. Whether there are any more
of them or not in France, he still goes by the title over here, and
that's what he is, ma. Please remember!"
"Marquis Rosencrantz. But when a young man, Becky, don't talk my own
language, it ain't so easy for me to know if I like him—"
"Like him. Huh!" Sitting there upright in bed, her large, white arms
wrapped about her knees, Miss Meyerburg regarded her mother with dry
eyes, but through a blur of scorn. "She don't know if she likes him! Let
me tell you, ma, we can worry if he likes us, not if we like him."
"I always say, Becky, about these fine people what you meet traveling in
Europe with your brother Felix and his wife with her gay ways, you—"
"A marquis comes her way and she don't know whether she likes him or
not. That's rich!"
"For the price what you say he hinted to you last night he's got to have
before he can get married, I guess oser I can say if I like him or
"I should think, ma, if you had any pride for the family after the way
we've been spit on by a certain bunch in this town, you'd be glad to
grab a marquis to wave in their stuck-up faces."
"For such things what make in life men like wild beasts fighting each
other I got no time. I ain't all for style. All what I want is to see my
little girl married to a fine, good—"
"Yes, yes, ma. I know all that fine, good man stuff."
"Ja, I say it again. To a fine, good man just like nearly all your
brothers married fine, good women."
"The marquis, just let me tell you, ma, is a man of force—he is. Maybe
those foreigners don't always show up, but I've seen him on his own
ground. I've seen him in Paris and Monte Carlo and I—"
"I 'ain't got a word to say against this young man what followed you all
the way home from Paris. What I don't know I can't talk about. Only I
ask you, Becky, ain't it always in the papers how from Europe they run
here thick after the girls what have got money?"
"What are you always running down Europe for, ma? Where did you come
from, yourself, I'd like to know!"
"I don't run it down, baby. I don't. You know how your papa loved the
old country and sent always money back home. But he always said, baby,
it's in America we had all our good luck and to America what gave us so
much we should give back too. Just because your brother Felix and his
wife what was on the stage like such doings over there is no reason—"
"It's just those notions of yours, ma, that are keeping this family
down, let me tell you that—you and Ben and Roody and Izzy and all the
rest of them with their old-fogyness."
"Your brothers, let me tell you, you bad girl, you, are as fine, steady
men as your papa before them."
"We could have one of the biggest names in this town and get in on the
right kind of charities, if you and they didn't—"
"Your papa, Becky, had his own ideas how to do charity and how we should
not give just where our name shows big in the papers. Your brothers are
like him, fine, good men, and that's why I want the Memorial should come
like a surprise, so they can have before them always that their father
was the finest—"
Suddenly Miss Meyerburg flung herself back on her pillows, tears gushing
hot and full of salt. "Oh, what's the use? What's the use? She won't
"Becky, baby, 'ain't you got everything what money can buy? A house on
Fifth Avenue what even the sight-seeing automobile hollers out about.
Automobiles of your own more as you can use. Brothers nearly all with
grand wives and families, and such a beautiful girl like you with a
grand fortune to—"
"Mamma, mamma, can't you understand there's things that money can't
"Ja, I should say so; but them is the things, Becky, that money makes
you forget all about."
"Try to understand, can't you, ma, that the Rosencrantzes are a great
old French family. You know for yourself how few of—of our people
got titles to their names. Jacob Rosencrantz, ma, the marquis's
great-grandfather back in the days when the family had big money, got
his title from the king, ma, for lending money when the—"
"If all of his sons got, like this great-grandson of his asks, one
million dollars with their wives, I should say he could afford to lend
to the king. To two kings!"
"Please, mamma, can't you understand? It don't hurt how things are
now—it's the way they used to be with those kinds of families that
count, ma. I was on their estate in France, ma, with Trixie and Felix.
She used to know him in Paris when she was singing there. You ought to
see, ma, an old, old place that you can ride on for a day and not come
to the end, and the house so moldy and ramshackly that any American girl
would be proud to marry into it. Those are the things, ma, that our
family needs and money can't buy."
"You mean, Becky, that five hundred thousand dollars can't buy it! It
has got to be a million dollars yet! A million dollars my child asks for
just like it was five dollars!"
"I'm not asking that, ma, I'm not. Five hundred thousand of it is mine
by rights. I'm only asking for half a million."
"Gott in Himmel, child, much more as a million dollars I 'ain't got left
altogether. With my five sons married and their shares drawn, I tell
you, Becky, a million dollars to you now would leave me so low that—"
"There you go. That's what you said that time Felix had to have the
hundred thousand in a hurry, but I notice you got it overnight without
even turning a finger. For him you can do, but—"
"For a black sheep I got to—"
"It's not all tease with the boys, let me tell you, ma, when they sing
that song at you about a whole stocking full you've got that none of us
know anything about."
"Ja, you and your brothers can talk, but I know what's what. Don't
think, Becky, your brother Felix and his wife with their Monte Carlo all
the time and a yacht they got to have yet, and their debts, 'ain't eat a
piece out of the fortune your papa built up for you children out of his
"Don't go back to ancient history, ma."
"Those cut-uppings is for billionaires, Becky; not for one old lady as
'ain't got much more as a million left after her six dowries is paid."
"Yes, I wish I had what you've got over and above that."
"That young Rosencrantz is playing you high, Becky, because he sees how
high your brother and his wife can fly. Always when people get big like
us, right away the world takes us for even bigger as we are. He 'ain't
got no right to make such demands. Five hundred thousand dollars is more
as he ever saw in his life. I tell you, Becky, if I could speak to that
young man like you can in his own language, I would tell him what—"
"He don't make demands in so many words, ma. There—there's a way those
things are done without just coming right out. I guess you think, when
Selma Bernheimer married her baron, he came right out in words and said
it had to be two millions. Like fun he did! But just the same, you don't
think she could have said yes to him, when he asked her, unless she knew
that she—she could fork over, do you?"
"I tell you in such marriages the last thing what you hear talked about
is being in love."
"Oh, that had nothing to do with this, ma. The love part is there all
right. You—you don't understand, ma!"
"Gott sei dank that I don't understand such!"
Then Miss Meyerburg leaned forward, her large, white hand on her
parent's knee, her face close and full of fervor. "Ma dear, you got it
in your power sitting there to make me the happiest girl in the world.
I'll do more for the family in this marriage, ma dear, than all five of
the boys put together. I tell you, ma, it's the biggest minute in the
life of this family if you give—if you do this for me, ma. It is,
"Ja, let me just tell you that your brothers and their wives will be the
first to put their foot down on that the youngest should get twice as
much as they."
"What do you care? And, anyways, ma, they don't need to know. What they
don't know don't hurt them. Don't tell them, ma; just don't tell them.
Ain't I the only girl, and the baby too? Haven't I got the chance to,
raise them all up in society? Oh, ma dear, you've got so much! So much
more than you can ever use, and—and you—you're old now, ma, and I—I'm
so young, dear, so young!"
"Ja, like you say, maybe I'm old, but I tell you, Becky, I 'ain't got
the money to throw away like—"
"Let me let the marquis ask me when he comes to-night, ma. He's ready to
pop if—if I just dare to let him, ma."
"Gott in Himmel, I tell you how things is done now'days between young
people. I should let him ask her yet, she says, like I had put on his
mouth a muzzle."
"It's no use letting him ask me, ma dear, if I can't come across like I
know the girl he can marry has got to. Let me let him ask me to-night,
ma. And to-morrow at New-Year's dinner with all the family here, we'll
break it to 'em, ma. Mamma dearie! Let me ask the marquis here to
New-Year's dinner to-morrow to meet his new brothers. Ma dearie!"
She was frankly pleading, her eyes twilit, with stars shining through,
her mouth so like red fruit and her beautiful brows raised.
"So help me, Becky, if I give you the million like you ask and with the
Memorial yet to build, I am wiped out, Becky. Wiped out!"
"Wiped out! With five sons with their finger in every good pie in town
and a daughter married into nobility?"
"I 'ain't got one word to say against my children, Becky; luckier I been
as most mothers; but the day what I am dependent on one of them for my
living, that day I want I should be done with living."
"You could live with us, ma dearie. Paris in season and the estate in
winter. You—you could run the big estate for us, ma, order and—"
"You heard what I said, Becky."
"Well, then, ma, why—why don't you get the Memorial out of your head,
dear? Pa built his own Memorial, ma. His memory lasts with everybody,
Aspen trembling laid hold of Mrs. Meyerburg, muddling her words.
"You—ach—from her dead father yet she would take away the marble to
"Ja, the marble to his memory! Bad girl, you! A man what lifted up with
his hands those that came after so that hardly on the ground they got to
put a foot. And now du—du what gives him no thanks! A Memorial to her
papa, a Home for the Old and Poor what he always dreamed of building,
she begrudges, she begrudges!"
"No, no, mamma, you don't understand!"
"A man what loved so the poor while he lived, shouldn't be able to do
for the poor after he is dead too. You go, you bad girl you, to your
grand nobleman what won't take you if you ain't worth every inch your
weight in gold, you—"
"Mamma—mamma, if you don't stop your terrible talk I—I'll faint, I
"You go and your brother Felix and his fine wife with you, for the
things what money can buy. You got such madness for money, sometimes
like wolfs you all feel to me breathing on my back, you go and—"
"I tell you if—if you don't stop that terrible talk I—I'll faint, I
will! Oh, why don't I die—why—why—why?"
"Since the day what he died every hour I've lived for the time when,
with my children provided for, I could spend the rest of my days
building to a man what deserved it such a monument as he should have. A
Home for the Old and Poor with a park all around, where they can sit all
day in the sun. All ready I got the plans in my room to send them down
by Goldfinger this afternoon he should go right ahead and—"
"Mamma, mamma, please listen—"
But the voice of Mrs. Meyerburg rose like a gale and her face was
slashed with tears. "If my last cent it takes and on the streets I go to
beg, up such a Memorial goes. All you children with your feet up on his
shoulders can turn away from his memory now he's gone, but up it goes if
on the day what I die I got to dig dirt with my finger-nails to pay yet
for my coffin."
"Listen, ma; just be calm a minute—just a minute. I don't mean that.
Didn't I just say he was the grandest father in the world and—"
"'Sh-h-h, mamma! Quiet, quiet! There isn't one of the boys wouldn't
agree with me if they knew. We aren't big enough, I tell you, to sink a
million in an out-of-town charity like that. In any charity, for that
matter, no matter how big it shows up. You say yourself a million and a
half will cripple you. Well, your first duty is to us living and not to
him dead—To us living! It means my whole life, my whole life!" And she
beat the pillow with hard fists.
"With that money you can buy my happiness living, and he don't want it
or need it dead."
Within the quick vise of her two hands Mrs. Meyerburg clasped her face,
all quivering and racked with sobs. "I can't hear it. It's like she was
sticking knifes into me."
"The marquis has the kind of blood we need to give this family a boost.
We can be big, ma. Big, I tell you. I can have a crest embroidered in
two colors in my linens. That inside clique that looks down on us now
can do some looking up then. The boys don't need to know about that
million, ma. Just let me have the marquis here to-morrow to meet his new
brothers, ma, like there was nothing unusual. I'll pay it back to you in
a million ways. The Memorial will come in time. Everything will come in
time. Make me the happiest girl in the world, ma. He'll ask me to-night
if I let him. Get the Memorial plans out of your head for a while,
anyway! Just for a while!"
"Not so long as I got in me the strength to send down them plans to
Goldfinger's office this afternoon with my message to go ahead. I don't
invite no marquis here to-morrow for family dinner if I got to get him
here with a million dollars' worth of bait. I—"
"Go and tell him your stingy old mamma would rather build a Home for the
Old and Poor in memory of the grandest man what ever lived than give a
snip like him, what never did a lick of work in his life, a fortune so
he should have with it a good time at Monte Carlo. Just go tell him!
She was trembling now so that she could scarcely withdraw from the
bedside, but her voice had lost none of its gale-like quality.
"Go tell him! Maybe it does him good he should hear." And in spite of
her ague she crossed the vast room, slamming the door so that a great
shudder ran over the room.
On the bed that had been lifted bodily from the Grand Trianon of Marie
Antoinette, its laces upheaved about her like billows in anger, Rebecca
Meyerburg lay with her face to the ceiling, raw sobs distorting it.
Steadying herself without that door, her hand laid between her breasts
and slightly to the left, as if there a sharp pain had cut her, Mrs.
Meyerburg leaned to the wall a moment, and, gaining quick composure,
proceeded steadily enough across the wide aisle of hall, her hand
following a balustrade.
A servant intercepted her half-way. "Madam—"
"Kemp, from here when I look down in the lower hall, all them ferns look
yellow on top. I want you should please cut them!"
"Yes, madam. Mrs. Fischlowitz, madam, has been waiting down in the side
hall for you."
"Mrs. Fischlowitz! For why you keep her waiting in the side hall?"
"Therese said madam was occupied."
"Bring her right up, Kemp, in the elevator. Her foot ain't so good.
Right away, Kemp."
Into Mrs. Meyerburg's room of many periods, its vastness so emphasized
by the ceiling after Paolo Veronese, its fluted yellow-silk bed canopy
reaching up to that ceiling stately and theatric enough to shade
the sleep of a shah, limped Mrs. Fischlowitz timidly and with the
uncertainty with which the callous feet of the unsocialistic poor tread
"How-do, Mrs. Fischlowitz?"
"Mrs. Meyerburg, I didn't want you to be disturbed except I want to
explain to you why I'm late again this month."
"Sit down! I don't want you should even explain, Mrs.
Fischlowitz—that's how little I thought about it."
Mrs. Meyerburg was full of small, pleased ways, drawing off her guest's
decent black cape, pulling at her five-fingered mittens, lifting the
"So! And how's the foot?"
"Not so good and not so bad. And how is the sciatica with you, Mrs.
"Like with you, Mrs. Fischlowitz. It could be better and it could be
worse. Sometimes I got a little touch yet up between my ribs."
"If it ain't one thing, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's another. What you think why
I'm late again with the rent, Mrs. Meyerburg? If last week my Sollie
didn't fall off the delivery-wagon and sprain his back!"
"You don't say so!"
"That same job as you got him two years ago so good he's kept, and now
such a thing has to happen. Gott sei dank, he's up and out again, but
I tell you it was a scare!"
"I should say so. And how is Tillie?"
"Mrs. Meyerburg, you should just see for yourself how that girl has got
new color since that certified milk you send her every day. Like a
new girl so pretty all of a sudden she has grown. For to-morrow, Mrs.
Meyerburg, a girl what never before had a beau in her life, if Morris
Rinabauer, the young foreman where she works, 'ain't invited her out for
"You got great times down by Rivington Street this time of year. Not? I
remember how my children used to like it with their horns oser like it
was their own holiday."
"Ja, it's a great gedinks like always. Sometimes I say it gets so
tough down there I hate my Tillie should come home from the factory
after dark, but now with Morris Rinabauer—"
"Mrs. Fischlowitz, I guess you think it's a sin I should say so, but I
tell you, when I think of that dirty little street down there and your
flat what I lived in the seventeen happiest years of my life with my
husband and babies—when I think back on my years in that little flat
I—I can just feel myself tremble like all over. That's how happy we
were down there, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, when I got a place like this, at
Rivington Street I wouldn't want I should ever have to look again."
"It's a feeling, Mrs. Fischlowitz, what you—you can't understand
until—until you live through so much like me. I—I just want some day
you should let me come down, Mrs. Fischlowitz, and visit by you in the
old place, eh?"
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, I can tell you the day what you visit on me down
there I am a proud woman. How little we got to offer you know, but if I
could fix for you Kaffeeklatsch some day and Kuchen and—"
"In the kitchen you still got the noodle-board yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz,
where you can mix Kuchen too?"
"I should say so. Always on it I mix my doughs."
"He built it in for me himself, Mrs. Fischlowitz. On hinges so when I
was done, up against the wall out of the way I could fold it."
"'Just think,' I say to my children, 'we eat noodles off a board what
Simon Meyerburg built with his own hands.' On the whole East Side it's a
"Sometimes when I come down by your flat, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I show you
how I used to make them for him. Wide ones he liked."
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, like you could put your hands in dough now!"
"'Mamma,' he used to say—standing in the kitchen door when he came home
nights and looking at me maybe rocking Becky there by the stove and
waiting supper for him—'Mamma,' he'd say, clapping his hands at me,
'open your eyes wide so I can see what's in 'em.'"
"That such a big man should play like that!"
"'Come in, darling,' I'd say; 'you can't guess from there what we got.'"
"Just think, like just married you were together."
"'Noodles!' he'd holler, and all the time right in back of me, spread
out on the board, he could see 'em. I can see him yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz,
standing there in the kitchen doorway, under the horseshoe what he found
when we first landed."
"I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, in that flat we 'ain't had nothing but
luck, neither, with you so good to us."
"Ach, now, Mrs. Fischlowitz, for an old friend like you, what I lived
next door to so many years and more as once gave my babies to keep for
me when I must go out awhile, I shouldn't do a little yet."
"'Little,' she calls it. With such low rent you give us I'm ashamed to
bring the money. Five weeks in the country and milk for my Tillie, until
it's back from the grave you snatched her. Even on my back now every
stitch what I got on I got to thank you for. Such comfort I got from
that black cape!"
"I was just thinking, Mrs. Fischlowitz, with your rheumatism and on such
a cold day a cape ain't so good for you, neither. Right up under it the
wind can get."
"Warm like toast it is, Mrs. Meyerburg."
"I got a idea, Mrs. Fischlowitz! In that chest over there by the wall I
got yet a jacket from Rivington Street. Right away it got too tight for
me. Like new it is, with a warm beaver collar. At auction one day he got
it for me. Like a top it will fit you, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"No, no, please, Mrs. Meyerburg. It just looks like every time what
I come you got to give me something. Ashamed it makes me. Please you
But in the pleasant frenzy of sudden decision Mrs. Meyerburg was on her
knees beside a carved chest, burrowing her arm beneath folded garments,
the high smell of camphor exuding.
"Only yesterday in my hand I had it. There! See! Just your size!" She
held the creased garment out from her by each shoulder, blowing the nap
of the beaver collar.
"Please, no, Mrs. Meyerburg. Such a fine coat maybe you can wear it
yourself. No, I don't mean that, when you got such grander ones; but for
me, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's too fine to take. Please!"
Standing there holding it thrust enthusiastically forward, a glaze
suddenly formed over Mrs. Meyerburg's eyes and she laid her cheek to the
brown fur collar, a tear dropping to it.
"You'm right, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I—I can't give this up. I—he—a coat
he bought once for me at auction when—he oser could afford it. I—you
must excuse me, Mrs. Fischlowitz."
"That's right, Mrs. Meyerburg, for a remembrance you should keep it."
Then brightening: "But I got in the next room, Mrs. Fischlowitz, a coat
better as this for you. Lined all in squirrel-skin they call it. One day
by myself I bought it, and how my Becky laughs and won't even let me
wear it in automobile. I ain't stylish enough, she says."
With an inarticulate medley of sounds Mrs. Fischlowitz held up a hand of
"Na, na, just a minute." And on the very wings of her words Mrs.
Meyerburg was across the room, through the ornate door of an ornate
boudoir, and out presently with the garment flung across her arm. "Na,
here put it on."
"Ach, such a beau-tiful coat!"
"So! Let me help!"
They leaned together, their faces, which the years had passed over
none too lightly, close and eager. Against the beaver collar Mrs.
Fischlowitz's hand lay fluttering.
"Put your hands in the pockets, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Deep, eh?"
"Finer you can believe me as I ever had in my life before. I can tell
you, Mrs. Meyerburg, a woman like you should get first place in heaven
and you should know how many on the East Side there is says the same.
I—I brought you your rent, Mrs. Meyerburg. You must excuse how late,
but my Sollie—"
Eleven! Twelve! Twelve-fifty! Mrs. Fischlowitz counted it out carefully
from a small purse tucked in her palm, snapping it carefully shut over
the remaining coins.
"Thank you, Mrs. Fischlowitz. You should never feel hurried. Mr.
Oppenheimer will mail you a receipt."
"I guess now I must be going, Mrs. Meyerburg—to-night I promised my
Sollie we have cheese-Kuchen for supper."
"Always I used to make it with a short crust for my Isadore. How he
"Just again, Mrs. Meyerburg, I want you should let me say how—how this
is the finest present what I ever had in my life. I can tell you from
just how soft it is on me, I can tell how it must feel to ride in
A light flashed in brilliance up into Mrs. Meyerburg's face. "Mrs.
"Ja, Mrs. Meyerburg?"
"I tell you what! I—this afternoon my Becky, Mrs. Fischlowitz, she—she
ain't so well and like always can't take with me a ride in the Park.
Such—such a cold that girl has got. How I should like it, Mrs.
Fischlowitz, if you would be so kind to—to take with me my drive in—in
your new coat."
"Ja, ja, I know, Mrs. Fischlowitz, cheese Kuchen should first get cold
before supper, but if you could just an hour ride by me a little? If you
would be so kind, Mrs. Fischlowitz!"
Diffidence ran trembling along Mrs. Meyerburg's voice, as if she dared
not venture too far upon a day blessed with tasks. "I got always so—so
much time to myself now'days, Mrs. Fischlowitz, sometimes I—I get maybe
a—a little lonesome."
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, you don't want to be bothered with such—such a
person like me when you ride so grand through the Park."
"Fit like a fiddle it will make you feel, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Button up
tight that collar and right away we start. Please, right next to you,
will you press that third button? That means we go right down and find
outside the car waiting for us."
"But, Mrs. Meyerburg—"
"See, just like you, I put on a coat on the inside fur. This way, Mrs.
Fischlowitz. Careful, your foot!"
In the great lower hall full of Tudor gloom the carved stone arches
dropping in rococo stalactites from the ceiling, and a marble staircase
blue-veined as a delicate woman's hand winding up to an oriole window,
a man-servant swung back two sets of trellised doors; bowed them
noiselessly shut again.
The quick cold of December bit them at the threshold. Opposite lay the
Park, its trees, in their smooth bark whipped bare, and gray as nuns,
the sunlight hard against their boles. More sunlight lay cold and
glittering down the length of the most façaded avenue in the world and
on the great up-and-down stream of motor-cars and their nickel-plated
snouts and plate-glass sides.
Women, with heads too haughty to turn them right or left, moved past in
closed cars that were perfumed and upholstered like jewel-boxes; the
joggly smartness of hansom cabs, their fair fares seeing and being seen
behind the wooden aprons and their frozen laughter coming from their
lips in vapor! On the broad sidewalks women in low shoes that defied
the wind, and men in high hats that the wind defied; nursemaids trim as
deaconesses, and their charges the beautiful exotic children of pure
milk and pure sunshine!
One of these deaconess-like nursemaids, walking out with a child whose
black curls lay in wide sprays on each shoulder, detached herself from
the up-town flow and crossed to the trellised threshold.
"Good afternoon, Madam Meyerburg. Mademoiselle, dites bonjour à madame
In the act of descending her steps, Mrs. Meyerburg's hands flew outward.
"Ach, du little Aileen. Come, Aileen, to grandma. Mrs. Fischlowitz, this
is Felix's little girl. You remember Felix—such a beautiful bad little
boy he was what always used to fight your Sollie underneath the sink."
"Gott in Himmel, so this is Felix's little girl!"
"Ja, this is already his second. Come, Aileen, to grandma and say good
afternoon to the lady."
The maid guided the small figure forward by one shoulder. "Dites
bonjour à madame, Mademoiselle Aileen."
"Not a word of English she can speak yet, Mrs. Fischlowitz. I tell you
already my grandchildren are so smart not even their language I can
understand. Aber for why such a child should only talk so in her own
country she can't be understood, I don't know."
"I guess, Mrs. Meyerburg, it's style now'days that you shouldn't know
your own language."
"Come by grandma to-morrow, Aileen, and upstairs I got in the little box
sweet cakes like grandma always keeps for you. Eh, baby?"
"Say thank you, grandmother."
"Merci bien, grand'maman."
And they were off into the stream again, the small white leggings at a
At the curb a low-bodied, high-power car, with the top flung back and
the wind-shield up, lay sidled against the coping.
"Get right in, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Burk, put under Mrs. Fischlowitz's both
feet a heater."
A second man, in too-accentuated livery of mauve and astrakhan, flung
open the wide door. A glassed-in chauffeur, in more mauve and astrakhan,
threw in his clutch. The door slammed. Mrs. Fischlowitz breathed deep
and grasped the nickel-plated door handle. Mrs. Meyerburg leaned out,
her small plumes wagging.
"Burk, since Miss Becky ain't along to-day, I don't want in front no
"I want instead you should take the roadster and call after Mrs.
Weinstein. You know, down by Twenty-third Street, the fourth floor
"I want you should say, Burk, that Mrs. Meyerburg says her and her
daughter should take off from their work an hour for a drive wherever
they say you should take them. And tell her, Burk, she should make for
me five dozens more them paper carnations. Right away I want you should
They nosed slowly into the stream of the Avenue.
"Always Becky likes there should be two men stuck up in front there.
I always say to look only at the backs of my servants I don't go out
Erect and as if to the fantastic requirements of the situation sat
Mrs. Fischlowitz, her face of a thousand lines screwed to maintain the
transiency of a great moment.
"That I should live, Mrs. Meyerburg, to see such a sight like this! In
the thirty years I been in this country not but once have I walked up
Fifth Avenue—that time when my Tillie paraded in the shirtwaist strike.
I—I can tell you I'm proud to live to see it this way from automobile."
"Lean back, Mrs. Fischlowitz, so you be more comfortable. That's all
right; you can't hurt them bottles. My Becky likes to have fancy touches
all over everything. Gold-tops bottles she has to have yet by her. I can
tell you, though, Mrs. Fischlowitz, if I do say it myself, when that
girl sits up in here like a picture she looks. How they stare you should
"Such a beau-ti-ful girl! I can tell you for her a prince ain't good
enough. Ach, what a pleasure it must be, Mrs. Meyerburg, for a mother to
know if her child wants heaven she can nearly get it for her. I can tell
you that must be the greatest pleasure of all for you, Mrs. Meyerburg,
to give to your daughter everything just like she wants it."
"Ja, ja," said with little to indicate mental ferment.
They were in the Park, with the wind scampering through the skeins of
bare tree branches. The lake lay locked in ice, skaters in the ecstasy
of motion lunging across it. Beneath the mink lap-robe Mrs. Fischlowitz
snuggled deeper and more lax.
"Gott in Himmel, I tell you this is better as standing over my cheese
"Always I used to let my cheese drip first the night before. Right
through a cheese-cloth sack hung from a nail what my husband drove in
for me under the window-sill."
"Right that same nail is there yet, Mrs. Meyerburg. Oser we should
touch one thing!"
"I can tell you it's a great comfort, Mrs. Fischlowitz, I got such a
tenant as you in there."
"When you come to visit me, Mrs. Meyerburg, right to the last nail like
you left it you find it. Not even from the kitchen would I let my Sollie
take down the old clothes-line what you had stretched across one end."
"Ach, how many times in rainy days I used that line. It's a good little
line I bet yet. Not?"
"Ja." But with no corresponding kit of emotions in Mrs. Fischlowitz's
voice. She was still breathing deep the buoyant ether of the moment, and
beneath the ingratiating warmth of fur utterly soothed. "Gott," she
said, "I wish my sister-in-law, Hanna, with all her fine airs up where
she lives on One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Street, could see me now.
Oser she could stare and stare, and bow and bow, and past her I would
roll like—like a rolling-pin."
From the gold-topped bottle nearest her came a long insidious whiff of
frangipani. She dared to lean toward it, sniffing.
"Such a beautiful smell." And let her eyes half close.
"You market your meat yet on Fridays down by old Lavinsky's, Mrs.
"Ja, just like always, only his liver ain't so good like it used to be.
I can tell you that's a beau-ti-ful smell."
An hour they rode purringly over smooth highways and for a moment
alongside the river, but there the wind was edged with ice and they were
very presently back into the leisurely flow of the Avenue. From her
curves Mrs. Fischlowitz unbent herself slowly.
"No, no, Mrs. Fischlowitz—you stay in."
"Ach, I get out here at your house, too, and take the street-cars. I—"
"No, no. James takes you all the way home, Mrs. Fischlowitz. I get out
because my Becky likes I should get home early and get dressed up for
"But Mrs. Meyerburg—"
"No, no. Right in you stay. 'Sh-h-h, just don't mention it. Enough
pleasure you give me to ride by me. Take good care your foot. Good-by,
Mrs. Fischlowitz. All the way home you should take her, James."
Once more within the gloom of her Tudor hall, Mrs. Meyerburg hurried
rearward and toward the elevator. But down the curving stairway the
small maid on stilts came, intercepting her.
"Madame will please come. Mademoiselle Betty this afternoon ees not so
well. Three spells of fainting, madame."
"Oui, not serious, madame, but what I would call hysteeria and
mademoiselle will not have doctor. Eef madame will come—"
With a great mustering of her strength Mrs. Meyerburg ran up the first
three of the marble steps, then quite as suddenly stopped, reaching out
for the balustrade. The seconds stalked past as she stood there, a fine
frown sketched on her brow, and the small maid anxious and attendant.
When Mrs. Meyerburg spoke finally it was as if those seconds had been
years, sapping more than their share of life from her. "I—now I don't
go up, Therese. After a while I come, but—but not now. I want, though,
you should go right away up to Miss Becky with a message."
"I want you should tell her for me, Therese, that—that to-morrow
New-Year's dinner with the family all here, I—I want she should invite
the Marquis Rosencrantz. That everything is all right. Right away I want
you should go and tell her, Therese!"
Up in her bedroom and without pause Mrs. Meyerburg walked directly
to the small deal table there beside her bed and still littered with
half-curled blue-prints. These she gathered into a tight roll, snapping
a rubber band about it. She rang incisively the fourth of the row of
bells. A man-servant responded almost immediately with a light rap-a-tap
at the door. She was there and waiting.
"Kemp, I want you should away take down this roll to Goldfinger's office
in the Syndicate Building. Just say Mrs. Meyerburg says everything is
all right—to go ahead."
"Yes, madam." And he closed the door after him, holding the knob a
moment to save the click.
* * * * *
In a Tudor dining-hall, long as the banquet-room of a thane, faced in
thrice-weathered oak and designed by an architect too eminent to endure
interference—except when Miss Meyerburg had later and at her own
stealthy volition installed a Pompeian colored window above the high
Victorian fireplace—the wide light of a brilliant New-Year's day lay
against leaded window-panes, but shut out by thick hangings.
Instead, the yellow light from a ceiling sown with starlike bulbs lay
over that room. At each end of the table, so that the gracious glow fell
full upon the small figure of Mrs. Meyerburg at one end and upon the
grizzled head of Mr. Ben Meyerburg at the other, two braces of candles
burned softly, crocheting a flickering design upon the damask.
From the foot of that great table, his place by precedence of years, Mr.
Ben Meyerburg rose from his Voltairian chair, holding aloft a wineglass
like a torch.
"Masseltov, ma," he said, "and just like we drank to the happy couple
who have told us the good news to-day, so now I drink to the grandest
little mother in the world. Masseltov, ma." And he drained his glass,
holding it with fine disregard back over one shoulder for refilling.
Round that table Mrs. Meyerburg's four remaining sons, towering almost
twice her height, rose in a solemn chorus that was heavier than their
libations of wine.
"Ach, boys, my sons, ich—ich—danke." She was quivering now in the
edge of tears and grasped tightly at the arms of her chair.
"Masseltov, ma," said Rebecca Meyerburg, raising her glass and
her moist eyes shining above it. The five daughters-in-law followed
immediate suit. At Miss Meyerburg's left the Marquis Rosencrantz, with
pointed features and a silhouette sharp as a knife edge, raised his
glass and his waxed mustache and drank, but silently and over a deep
"Mamma—mother dear, the marquis drinks to you."
Mrs. Meyerburg turned upon him with a great mustering of amiability and
safely withdrawn now from her brink of tears. "I got now six sons what
can drink to my health—not, Marquis?"
"She says, Marquis," translated Miss Meyerburg, ardently, to the sharp
profile, "that now she has six sons to drink to her health."
"Madame me fait trop d'honneur."
"He says, mamma, that it is too great an honor to be your son."
From her yesterday's couch of mental travail Miss Meyerburg had risen
with a great radiance turping out its ravages. She was Sheban in
elegance, the velvet of her gown taken from the color of the ruby on her
brow, and the deep-white flesh of her the quality of that same velvet
with the nap raised.
"He wants to kiss your hand, ma. Give it to him. No, the right one,
"I—I'm much obliged, Marquis. I—well, for one little old woman like
me, I got now six sons and six daughters, each one big enough to carry
me off under his arm. Not?"
She was met with immediate acclaim from a large blond daughter-in-law,
her soft, expansive bosom swathed in old lace caught up with a great
"Little old nothing, ma. I always say to Isadore you've got more energy
yet than the rest of the family put together."
"Ach, Dora, always you children like to make me think I been young yet."
But she was smilingly tremulous and pushed herself backward in her heavy
throne-like chair. A butler sprang, lifting it gently from her.
Immediately the great, disheveled table, brilliantly littered with
crystal, frumpled napkins, and a great centerpiece of fruits and
flowers, was in the confusion of disorganization.
Daughters-in-law and husbands moved up toward a pair of doors swung
heavily backward by two servants.
Mrs. Isadore Meyerburg pushed her real-lace bodice into place and
adjusted the glittering lizard. "Believe me," she said, exuding a sigh
and patting her bosom on the swell of that deep breath, "I ate too much,
but if I can't break my diet for the last engagement in the family, and
to nobility at that, when will I do it?"
"I should say so," replied Mrs. Rudolph Meyerburg, herself squirming to
rights in an elaborate bodice and wielding an unostentatious toothpick
behind the cup of her hand; "like I told Roody just now, if I take on a
pound to-day he can blame his sister."
"Say, I wish you'd look at the marquis kissing ma's hand again, will
"Look at ma get away with it too. You've got to hand it to them French,
they've got the manners all right. No wonder our swell Trixie tags after
"Say, Becky shouldn't get manners yet with her looks and five hundred
thousand thrown in. I bet, if the truth is known, and since ma is going
to live over there with them, that there's a few extra thousand tacked
"Not if the court knows it! Like I told Roody this morning, she's
bringing a title into the family, but she's taking a big wad of the
Meyerburg money out of the country too."
"It is so, ain't it?"
Around her crowded Mrs. Meyerburg's five sons.
"Come with us, ma. We got a children's party up in the ballroom for
Aileen this afternoon, and then Trixie and I are going to motor down to
Sheepshead for the indoor polo-match. Come, ma."
"No, no, Felix. I want for myself rest this afternoon. All you children
go and have your good times. I got home more as I can do, and maybe
"Tell you what, ma, come with Dora and me and the kids. She wants to go
out to Hastings this afternoon to see her mother. Come with us, ma. The
drive will do you good."
"No, no, Izzy. When I ride too much in the cold right away up in my ribs
comes the sciatica again."
Miss Meyerburg bent radiant over her parent. "Mother," she whispered,
her throat lined with the fur of tenderness, "it's reception-day out at
that club, and all the cliques will be there, and I want—"
"Sure, Becky, you and the marquis should drive out. Take the big car,
but tell James he shouldn't be so careless driving by them curves out
there by the golf-links."
"But, ma dear, you come, too, and—"
"No, no, Becky; to-day I got not time."
"But, ma—ma, you ain't mad at me, dear? You can see now for yourself,
can't you, dear, what a big thing it is for the family and how you—"
"Yes, yes, Becky. Look, go over by your young man. See how he stands
there and not one word what Ben is hollering so at him can he
Across the room, alongside a buffet wrought out of the powerful Jacobean
period, Mr. Ben Meyerburg threw a violent contortion.
"Want to go up in the Turkish room and smoke?" he shouted, the
apoplectic purple of exertion rushing into his face and round to the
roll of flesh overhanging the rear of his collar.
"Smoke? Do you smoke? Smokez-vous? Cigarez-vous? See, like this. Fume.
Blow. Do you smoke? Smokez-vous?"
"Pardon?" said the marquis, bowing low.
* * * * *
In the heavy solitude of Mrs. Meyerburg's bedchamber, the buzz of
departures over, silence lay resumed, but with a singing quality to it
as if an echo or so still lingered.
Before the plain deal table, and at her side two files bulging their
contents, Mrs. Meyerburg sat with her spatulate finger conning in among
a page of figures. After a while the finger ceased to move across the
page, but lay passive midway down a column. After another while she
slapped shut the book and took to roaming up and down the large room
as if she there found respite from the spirit of her which nagged and
carped. Peering out between the heavy curtains, she could see the tide
of the Avenue mincing, prancing, chugging past. Resuming her beat up and
down the vistas of the room, she could still hear its voice muffled and
not unlike the tune of quinine singing in the head.
The ormolu clock struck, and from various parts of the house musical
repetitions. A French tinkle from her daughter's suite across the hall;
from somewhere more remote the deep, leisurely tones of a Nuremberg
floor clock. Finally Mrs. Meyerburg dropped into the overstuffed chair
beside her window, relaxing into the attitude her late years had brought
her, head back, hands stretched out along the chair sides, and full of
rest. An hour she sat half dozing, and half emerging every so often with
a start, then lay quietly looking into space, her eyes quiet and the
erstwhile brilliancy in them gone out like a light.
Presently she sat forward suddenly, and with the quick light of
perception flooding up into her face; slid from her chair and padded
across the carpet. From the carved chest alongside the wall she withdrew
the short jacket with the beaver collar, worked her shoulders into it.
From the adjoining boudoir she emerged after a time in a small bonnet
grayish with age and the bow not perky. Her movements were brief and
full of decision. When she opened her door it was slyly and with a
quick, vulpine glance up and down the grave quiet of the halls. After a
cocked attitude of listening and with an incredible springiness almost
of youth, Mrs. Meyerburg was down a rear staircase, through a rear
hallway, and, unseen and unheard, out into the sudden splendor of a
winter's day, the side street quiet before her.
"Gott!" said Mrs. Meyerburg, audibly, breathing deep and swinging into
a smart lope eastward. Two blocks along, with her head lifted and no
effort at concealment, she passed her pantry-boy walking out with a
Swedish girl whose cheeks were bursting with red. He eyed his mistress
casually and without recognition.
At Third Avenue she boarded a down-town street-car, a bit winded from
the dive across cobbles, but smiling. Within, and after a preliminary
method of paying fare new and confusing to her, she sat back against the
rattly sides, her feet just lifted off the floor. She could hardly keep
back the ejaculations as old streets and old memories swam into view.
"Look at the old lay-dee talking to her-sel-uph," sang an urchin across
"Shut up," said the mother, slapping him sidewise.
At one of the most terrific of these down-town streets Mrs. Meyerburg
descended. Beneath the clang and bang of the Elevated she stood confused
for the moment and then, with her sure stride regained, swung farther
Slitlike streets flowed with holiday copiousness, whole families abroad
on foot—mothers swayback with babies, and older children who ran ahead
shouting and jostling. Houses lean and evil-looking marched shoulder to
shoulder for blocks, no gaps except intersecting streets. Fire-escapes
ran zigzag down the meanest of them. Women shouted their neighborhood
jargon from windows flung momentarily open. Poverty scuttled along close
to the scant shelter of these houses. An old man, with a beard to his
chest, paused in a doorway to cough, and it was like the gripe-gripe of
a saw with its teeth in hard wood. A woman sold apples from a stoop, the
form of a child showing through her shawl. Yet Mrs. Meyerburg smiled as
Midway in one of these blocks and without a pretense of hesitancy she
turned into a black mouth of an entrance and up two flights. On each
landing she paused more for tears than for breath. At a rear door
leading off the second landing she knocked softly, but with insistence.
It opened to a slight crack, then immediately swung back full span.
"Gott in Himmel, Mrs. Meyerburg! Mrs. Meyerburg! Kommen Sie herein.
Mrs. Meyerburg, for why you didn't let me know? To think not one of my
children home and to-day a holiday, my place not in order—"
"Now, now, Mrs. Fischlowitz, just so soon you go to one little bit of
trouble, right away I got no more pleasure. Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz.
Ach, if you 'ain't got on your pantry shelfs just the same paper edge
like my Roody used to cut out for me."
"Come, come, Mrs. Meyerburg, in parlor where—"
"Go way mit you. Ain't the kitchen where I spent seventeen years, the
best years in my life, good enough yet? Parlor yet she wants to take
An immediate negligée of manner enveloped her like an old wrapper.
A certain tulle of bewilderment had fallen. She was bold, even
"Don't fuss round me so much, Mrs. Fischlowitz. Just like old times
I want it should seem. Like maybe I just dropped in on you a lump of
butter to borrow. No, no, don't I know where to hang mine own bonnet in
mine own house? Ach, the same coat nails what he drove in himself!"
"To think, Mrs. Meyerburg, all my children gone out for a good time this
afternoon, my Tillie with Morris Rinabauer, who can't keep his eyes off
"How polished she keeps her stove, just like I used to."
"Right when you knocked I was thinking, well, I clean up a bit. Please,
Mrs. Meyerburg, let me fix you right away a cup coffee—"
"Right away, Mrs. Fischlowitz, just so soon you begin to make fuss over
me, I don't enjoy it no more. Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz, right here in
this old rocker-chair by the range let me, please, sit quiet a minute."
In the wooden rocker beside the warm stove she sat down quietly, lapping
her hands over her waist-line.
"Gott in Himmel," sitting well away from the chair-back and letting
her eyes travel slowly about the room, "just like it was yesterday; just
like yesterday." And fell to reciting the phrase softly.
"Ja, ja," said Mrs. Fischlowitz, concealing an unwashed litter of dishes
beneath a hastily flung cloth. "I can tell you, Mrs. Meyerburg, my house
ain't always this dirty; only to-day not—"
"Just like it was yesterday," said Mrs. Meyerburg, musing through a
tangle of memories. She fell to rocking. A narrow band of sunshine lay
across the bare floor, even glinted off a pan or two hung along the wall
over the sink. Along that same wall hung a festoon of red and green
peppers and a necklace of garlic. Toward the back of the range a pan
of hot water let off a lazy vapor. Beside the scuttle a cat purred and
fought off sleep.
"Already I got the hot water, Mrs. Meyerburg, to make you a cup coffee
"Please, Mrs. Fischlowitz, let me rest like this. In a minute I want you
should take me all through in the children's room and—"
"If I had only known it how I could have cleaned for you."
"Ach, my noodle-board over there! How grand and white you keep it."
"Yes, Mrs. Meyerburg?"
"Mrs. Fischlowitz, if you want to—to give me a real treat I tell you
what. I tell you what!"
"Ja, ja, Mrs. Meyerburg; anything what I can do I—"
"I want you should let me mix you on that old board a mess noodles!"
"Ach, Mrs. Meyerburg, your hands and that grand black-silk dress!"
"For why not, Mrs. Fischlowitz? Wide ones, like he used to like. Just
for fun, please, Mrs. Fischlowitz. To-morrow I send you two barrels
flour for what I use up."
"But, Mrs. Meyerburg, I should make for you noodles, not you for me—"
"It's good I should learn, Mrs. Fischlowitz, to get back my hand in
such things. Maybe you don't believe me, but I ain't so rich like I was
yesterday when you seen me, Mrs. Fischlowitz. To-day I'm a poor woman,
Mrs. Fischlowitz, with—"
Mrs. Fischlowitz threw out two hands in a liberal gesture. "Such a good
woman she is! In my house where I'm poor she wants, too, to play like
she's a poor woman. That any one should want to play such a game with
themselves! Noodles she wants to make for me, instead I should wait on
her like she was a queen."
"It takes me back, Mrs. Fischlowitz, to old times. Please, Mrs.
Fischlowitz, to-morrow I send you two barrels."
"Like you ain't welcome to everything what I got in the house. All
right, noodles you should make and always I keep 'em for remembrance.
Just let me run down to cellar and bring you up flour. No, no, you
set there and let me fold down the board for you. Rock there, Mrs.
Meyerburg, till I come up with the flour. Eggs plenty I got."
"And a little butter, Mrs. Fischlowitz, the size of an egg, and always a
pinch of salt."
"The neighbors should see this! Mrs. Simon Meyerburg making for me
noodles in my kitchen!" She was off and down a small rear stairway, a
ribbon of ejaculations trailing back over one shoulder.
In her chair beside the warm range Mrs. Meyerburg sat quiescent, her
head back against the rest, eyes half closed, and slanting toward the
kitchen door. Against the creaking floor her chair swayed rhythmically.
Tears ran down to meet the corners of her mouth, but her lips were
looped up in a smile.
The cat regarded her through green eyes slit down their middle. Toward
the rear of the stove the pan of water seethed.
Suddenly Mrs. Meyerburg leaned forward with a great flash across her
face. "Simon," she cried, leaning to the door and stretching forward
quavering arms. "Simon, my darling!" She leaned further, the rims of her
eyes stretched wide. "Simon—come, my darling. Simon!"
Into the opposite doorway, smirched with flour and a white pail of it
dangling, flashed Mrs. Fischlowitz, breathing hard from her climb.
"What, Mrs. Meyerburg, you want something?"
"Simon," cried Mrs. Meyerburg, her voice lifted in a paean of welcome;
"come, my darling, come in. Come!" And she tried to rise, but sat back,
quivering, her brow drenched in sudden sweat.
Raucous terror tore through Mrs. Fischlowitz's voice, and she let fall
her pail, a white cloud rising from off the spill. "Mrs. Meyerburg,
there ain't nobody there. Mrs. Meyerburg, he ain't there. Mrs.
"Mrs. Meyerburg, he ain't there. Nobody's there!
Back against Mrs. Fischlowitz's frenzied arms lay Mrs. Meyerburg, very
gray, her hand against her left breast and down toward the ribs.
"Gott! Gott! Please, Mrs. Meyerburg—Mrs. Meyerburg!" dragging back
one of the weary eyelids and crying out at what she saw there. "Help
She could not see, poor dear, that into those locked features was
crystallized the great ecstasy of reunion.