Roulette, by Fannie Hurst

The Vertical City

I

Snow in the village of Vodna can have the quality of hot white plush of enormous nap, so dryly thick it packs into the angles where fences cross, sealing up the windward sides of houses, rippling in great seas across open places, flaming in brilliancy against the boles of ever so occasional trees, and tucking in the houses up to the sills and down over the eaves.

Out in the wide places it is like a smile on a dead face, this snow hush, grateful that peace can be so utter. It is the silence of a broody God, and out of that frozen pause, in a house tucked up to the sills and down to the eaves, Sara Turkletaub was prematurely taken with the pangs of childbirth, and in the thin dawn, without even benefit of midwife, twin sons were born.

Sturdy sons, with something even in their first crescendo wails that bespoke the good heritage of a father's love-of-life and a mother's life-of-love.

No Sicilian sunrise was ever more glossy with the patina of hope than the iced one that crept in for a look at the wide-faced, high-cheek-boned beauty of Sara Turkletaub as she lay with her sons to the miracle of her full breasts, her hair still rumpled with the agony of deliverance. So sweetly moist her eyes that Mosher Turkletaub, his own brow damp from sweat of her writhings, was full of heartbeat, even to his temples.

Long before moontime, as if by magic of the brittle air, the tidings had spread through the village, and that night, until the hand-hewn rafters rang, the house of Turkletaub heralded with twofold and world-old fervor the advent of the man-child. And through it all—the steaming warmth, the laughter through bushy beards, the ministering of women wise and foolish with the memory of their own pangs, the shouts of vodka-stirred men, sheepish that they, too, were part custodians of the miracle of life—through it all Sara Turkletaub lay back against her coarse bed, so rich—so rich that the coves of her arms trembled each of its burden and held tighter for fear somehow God might repent of his prodigality.

That year the soil came out from under the snow rich and malmy to the plow, and Mosher started heavy with his peddler's pack and returned light. It was no trick now for Sara to tie her sons to an iron ring in the door jamb and, her strong legs straining and her sweat willing, undertake household chores of water lugging, furniture heaving, marketing with baskets that strained her arms from the sockets as she carted them from the open square to their house on the outskirts, her massive silhouette moving as solemnly as a caravan against the sky line.

Rich months these were and easy to bear because they were backed by a dream that each day, however relentless in its toil, brought closer to reality.

"America!"

The long evenings full of the smell of tallow; maps that curled under the fingers; the well-thumbed letters from Aaron Turkletaub, older brother to Mosher and already a successful pieceworker on skirts in Brooklyn. The picture postcards from him of the Statue of Liberty! Of the three of them, Aaron, Gussie, his wife, and little Leo, with donkey bodies sporting down a beach labeled "Coney." A horrific tintype of little Leo in tiny velveteen knickerbockers that fastened with large, ruble-sized, mother-of-pearl buttons up to an embroidered sailor blouse.

It was those mother-of-pearl buttons that captured Sara's imagination so that she loved and wept over the tintype until little Leo quite disappeared under the rust of her tears. Long after young Mosher, who loved his Talmud, had retired to sway over it, Sara could yearn at this tintype.

Her sons in little knickerbockers that fastened to the waistband with large pearl buttons!

Her black-eyed Nikolai with the strong black hair and the virile little profile that hooked against the pillow as he slept.

Her red-headed Schmulka with the tight curls, golden eyes, and even more thrusting profile. So different of feature her twins and yet so temperamentally of a key. Flaming to the same childish passions, often too bitter, she thought, and, trembling with an unnamed fear, would tear them apart.

Pull of the cruelties and the horrible torture complex of the young male, they had once burned a cat alive, and the passion of their father and their cries under flaying had beat about in her brain for weeks after. Jealousies, each of the other, burned fiercely, and, aged three, they scratched blood from one another over the favor of the shoemaker's tot of a girl. And once, to her soul-sickness, Nikolai, the black one, had found out the vodka and drunk of it until she discovered him in a little stupor beside the cupboard.

Yet—and Sara would recount with her eyes full of more tears than they could hold the often-told tale of how Schmulka, who could bear no injustice, championed the cause of little Mottke, the butcher's son, against the onslaught of his drunken father, beating back the lumbering attack with small fists tight with rage; of little Nikolai, who fell down the jagged wall of a quarry and endured a broken arm for the six hours until his father came home rather than burden his mother with what he knew would be the agony of his pain.

Red and black were Sara's sons in pigment. But by the time they were four, almost identical in passion, inflammable both to the same angers, the impulsive and the judiciary cunningly distributed in them.

And so, to the solemn and Talmud teachings of Mosher and the wide-bosomed love of this mother who lavishly nurtured them, these sons, so identically pitched, grew steady of limb, with all the thigh-pulling power of their parents, the calves of their little legs already tight as fists. And from the bookkeeping one snow-smelling night, to the drip-drip of tallow, there came the decisive moment when America looked exactly four months off!

Then one starlit hour before dawn the pogrom broke. Redly, from the very start, because from the first bang of a bayonet upon a door blood began to flow and smell.

There had been rumors. For days old Genendel, the ragpicker, had prophetically been showing about the village the rising knobs of his knotting rheumatic knuckles, ill omen of storm or havoc. A star had shot down one night, as white and sardonic as a Cossack's grin and almost with a hiss behind it. Mosher, returning from a peddling tour to a neighboring village, had worn a furrow between his eyes. Headache, he called it. Somehow Sara vaguely sensed it to be the ache of a fear.

One night there was a furious pink tint on the distant horizon, and borne on miles of the stiffly thin air came the pungency of burning wood and flesh across the snowlight. Flesh! The red sky lay off in the direction of Kishinef. What was it? The straw roof of a burning barn? The precious flesh of an ox? What? Reb Baruch, with a married daughter and eleven children in Kishinef, sat up all night and prayed and swayed and trembled.

Packed in airtight against the bite of the steely out-of-doors, most of the village of Vodna—except the children and the half-witted Shimsha, the ganef—huddled under its none-too-plentiful coverings that night and prayed and trembled.

At five o'clock that red dawn, almost as if a bayonet had crashed into her dream, Sara, her face smeared with pallor, awoke to the smell of her own hair singeing. A bayonet had crashed, but through the door, terribly!

The rest is an anguished war frieze of fleeing figures; of running hither and thither in the wildness of fear; of mothers running with babes at breasts; of men, their twisted faces steaming sweat, locked in the Laocoön embrace of death. Banners of flame. The exultant belch of iridescent smoke. Cries the shape of steel rapiers. A mouth torn back to an ear. Prayers being moaned. The sticky stench of coagulating blood. Pillage. Outrage. Old men dragging household chattels. Figures crumpling up in the outlandish attitudes of death. The enormous braying of frightened cattle. A spurred heel over a face in that horrible moment when nothing can stay its descent. The shriek of a round-bosomed girl to the smear of wet lips across hers. The superb daring of her lover to kill her. A babe in arms. Two. The black billowing of fireless smoke.

A child in the horse trough, knocked there from its mother's arms by the butt end of a bayonet, its red curls quite sticky in a circle of its little blood. A half-crazed mother with a singed eyebrow, blatting over it and groveling on her breasts toward the stiffening figure for the warmth they could not give; the father, a black-haired child in his arms, tearing her by force out of the zone of buckshot, plunging back into it himself to cover up decently, with his coat, what the horse trough held.

Dawn. A huddle of fugitives. Footsteps of blood across the wide open places of snow. A mother, whose eyes are terrible with what she has left in the horse trough, fighting to turn back. A husband who literally carries her, screaming, farther and farther across the cruel open places. A town. A ship. The crucified eyes of the mother always looking back. Back.

And so it was that Sara and Mosher Turkletaub sailed for America with only one twin—Nikolai, the black.

* * * * *

The Turkletaubs prospered. Turkletaub Brothers, Skirts, the year after the war, paying a six-figure excess-profit tax.

Aaron dwelt in a three-story, American-basement house in West 120th
Street, near Lenox Avenue, with his son Leo, office manager of the
Turkletaub Skirt Company, and who had recently married the eldest
daughter of an exceedingly well-to-do Maiden Lane jewelry merchant.

The Mosher Turkletaubs occupied an eight-room-and-two-baths apartment near by. Sara, with much of the fleetness gone from her face and a smile tempered by a look of unshed tears, marketing now by white-enameled desk telephone or, on days when the limp from an old burn down her thigh was not too troublesome, walked up to a plate-glass butcher shop on 125th Street, where there was not so much as a drop of blood on the marble counter and the fowl hung in white, plucked window display with garnitures of pink tissue paper about the ankles and even the dangling heads wrapped so that the dead eyes might not give offense.

It was a widely different Sara from the water lugger of those sweaty Russian days. Such commonplaces of environment as elevator service, water at the turning of a tap, potatoes dug and delivered to her dumbwaiter, had softened Sara and, it is true, vanquished, along with the years, some of the wing flash of vitality from across her face. So was the tough fiber of her skin vanquished to almost a creaminess, and her hair, due perhaps to the warm water always on tap, had taken on a sheen, and even through its grayness grew out hardily and was well trained to fall in soft scallops over the singed place.

Yes, all in all, life had sweetened Sara, and, except for the occasional look of crucifixion somewhere back in her eyes, had roly-polied her into new rotundities of hip and shelf of bosom, and even to what mischievously promised to be a scallop of second chin.

Sara Turkletaub, daughter of a ne'er-do-well who had died before her birth with the shadow of an unproved murder on him; Sara, who had run swiftly barefoot for the first dozen summers of her life, and married, without dower or approval, the reckless son of old Turkletaub, the peddler; Sara, who once back in the dim years, when a bull had got loose in the public square, had jerked him to a halt by swinging herself from his horns, and later, standing by, had helped hold him for the emergency of an un-kosher slaughter, not even paling at the slitting noises of the knife.

Mosher Turkletaub, who had peddled new feet for stockings and calico for the sacques the peasant women wore in the fields, reckoning no longer in dozens of rubles but in dozens of thousands! Indeed, Turkletaub Brothers could now afford to owe the bank one hundred thousand dollars! Mosher dwelling thus, thighs gone flabby, in a seven-story apartment house with a liveried lackey to swing open the front door and another to shoot him upward in a gilded elevator.

It was to laugh!

And Sara and Mosher with their son, their turbulent Nikolai, now an accredited Doctor of Law and practicing before the bar of the city of New York!

It was upon that realization, most of all, that Sara could surge tears, quickly and hotly, and her heart seem to hurt of fullness.

Of Nikolai, the black. Nicholas, now:

It was not without reason that Sara had cried terrible tears over him, and that much, but not all, of the struggle was gone from her face. Her boy could be as wayward as the fling to his fierce black head, and sickeningly often Mosher, with a nausea at the very pit of him, had wielded the lash.

Once even Nicholas in his adolescent youth, handsomely dark, had stood in Juvenile Court, ringleader of a neighborhood gang of children on a foray into the strange world of some packets of cocaine purloined from the rear of a vacated Chinese laundry.

Bitterly had Mosher stood in the fore of that court room, thumbing his hat, his heart gangrening, and trying in a dumbly miserable sort of way to press down, with his hand on her shoulder, some of the heaving of Sara's enormous tears.

There had followed a long, bitter evening of staying the father's lash from descending, and finally, after five hours with his mother in his little room, her wide bosom the sea wall against which the boiling waywardness of him surged, his high head came down like a black swan's and apparently, at least so far as Mosher knew, Sara had won again.

And so it was that with the bulwark of this mother and a father who spared not the wise rod even at the price of the sickness it cost him, Nicholas came cleanly through these difficult years of the long midchannel of his waywardness.

At twenty-one he was admitted to the bar of the city of New York, although an event so perilous followed it by a year or two that the scallops of strong hair that came down over the singed place of Sara's brow whitened that year; although Mosher, who was beginning to curve slightly of the years as he walked, as if a blow had been struck him from behind, never more than heard the wind before the storm.

Listen in on the following:

The third year that Nicholas practiced law, junior member in the Broad Street firm of Leavitt & Dilsheimer, he took to absenting himself from dinner so frequently, that across the sturdy oak dining table, laid out in a red-and-white cloth, gold-band china not too thick of lip, and a cut-glass fern dish with cunningly contrived cotton carnations stuck in among the growing green, Sara, over rich and native foods, came more and more to regard her husband through a clutch of fear.

"I tell you, Mosher, something has come over the boy. It ain't like him to miss gefülte-fish supper three Fridays in succession."

"All right, then, because he has a few more or less gefülte-fish suppers in his life, let it worry you! If that ain't a woman every time."

"Gefülte fish! If that was my greatest worry. But it's not so easy to prepare, that you should take it so much for granted. Gefülte fish, he says, just like it grew on trees and didn't mean two hours' chopping on my feet."

"Now, Sara, was that anything to fly off at? Do I ever so much as eat two helpings of it in Gussie's house? That's how I like yours better!"

"Gussie don't chop up her onions fine enough. A hundred times I tell her and a hundred times she does them coarse. Her own daughter-in-law, a girl that was raised in luxury, can cook better as Gussie. I tell you, Mosher, I take off my hat to those Berkowitz girls. And if you should ask me, Ada is a finer one even than Leo's Irma."

The sly look of wiseacre wizened up Mosher's face.

"Ada!" she says. "The way you pronounce that girl's name, Sara, it's like every tooth in your mouth was diamond filled out of Berkowitz's jewelry firm."

Quite without precedent Sara's lips began to quiver at this pleasantry.

"I'm worried, Mosher," she said, putting down a forkful of untasted food that had journeyed twice toward her lips. "I don't say he—Nicky—I don't say he should always stay home evenings when Ada comes over sometimes with Leo and Irma, but night after night—three times whole nights—I—Mosher, I'm afraid."

In his utter well-being from her warming food, Mosher drank deeply and, if it must be admitted, swishingly, through his mustache, inhaling copiously the draughts of Sara's coffee.

Do not judge from the mustache cup with the gilt "Papa" inscribed, that Sara's home did not meticulously reflect the newer McKinley period, so to speak, of the cut-glass-china closet, curio cabinet, brass bedstead, velour upholstery, and the marbelette Psyche.

They had furnished newly three years before, the year the business almost doubled, Sara and Gussie simultaneously, the two of them poring with bibliophiles' fervor over Grand Rapids catalogic literature.

Bravely had Sara, even more so than Gussie, sacrificed her old regime to the dealer. Only a samovar remained. A red-and-white pressed-glass punch bowl, purchased out of Nicholas's—aged fourteen—pig-bank savings. An enlarged crayon of her twins from a baby picture. A patent rocker which she kept in the kitchen. (It fitted her so for the attitude of peeling.) Two bisque plaques, with embossed angels. Another chair capable of metamorphosis into a ladder. And Mosher's cup.

From this Mosher drank with gusto. His mustache, to Sara so thrillingly American, without its complement of beard, could flare so above the relishing sounds of drinking. It flared now and Mosher would share none of her concern.

"You got two talents, Sara. First, for being my wife; and second, for wasting worry like it don't cost you nothing in health or trips to Cold Springs in the Catskills for the baths. Like it says in Nicky's Shakespeare, a boy who don't sow his wild oats when he's young will some day do 'em under another name that don't smell so sweet."

"I—It ain't like I can talk over Nicky with you, Mosher, like another woman could with her husband. Either you give him right or right away you get so mad you make it worse with him than better."

"Now, Sara—"

"But only this morning that Mrs. Lessauer I meet sometimes at Epstein's fish store—you know the rich sausage-casings Lessauers—she says to me this morning, she says with her sweetness full of such a meanness, like it was knives in me—'Me and my son and daughter-in-law was coming out of a movie last night and we saw your son getting into a taxicab with such a blonde in a red hat!' The way she said it, Mosher, like a cat licking its whiskers—'such a blonde in a red hat'!"

"I wish I had one dollar in my pocket for every blond hat with red hair her Felix had before he married."

"But it's the second time this week I hear it, Mosher. The same description of such a—a nix in a red hat. Once in a cabaret show Gussie says she heard it from a neighbor, and now in and out from taxicabs with her. Four times this week he's not been home, Mosher. I can't help it, I—I get crazy with worry."

A sudden, almost a simian old-age seemed to roll, like a cloud that can thunder, across Sara's face. She was suddenly very small and no little old. Veins came out on her brow and upon the backs of her hands, and Mosher, depressed with an unconscious awareness, was looking into the tired, cold, watery eyes of the fleet woman who had been his.

"Why, Sara!" he said, and came around the table to let her head wilt in unwonted fashion against his coat. "Mamma!"

"I'm tired, Mosher." She said her words almost like a gush of warm blood from the wound of her mouth. "I'm tired from keeping up and holding in. I have felt so sure for these last four years that we have saved him from his—his wildness—and now, to begin all over again, I—I 'ain't got the fight left in me, Mosher."

"You don't have to have any fight in you, Mamma. 'Ain't you got a husband and a son to fight for you?"

"Sometimes I think, except for the piece of my heart I left lying back there, that there are worse agonies than even massacres. I've struggled so that he should be good and great, Mosher, and now, after four years already thinking I've won—maybe, after all, I haven't."

"Why, Sara! Why, Mamma! Shame! I never saw you like this before. You ain't getting sick for another trip to the Catskills, are you? Maybe you need some baths—"

"Sulphur water don't cure heart sickness."

"Heart sickness, nonsense! You know I don't always take sides with Nicky, Mamma. I don't say he hasn't been a hard boy to raise. But a man, Mamma, is a man! I wouldn't think much of him if he wasn't. You 'ain't got him to your apron string in short pants any more. Whatever troubles we've had with him, women haven't been one of them. Shame, Mamma, the first time your grown-up son of a man cuts up maybe a little nonsense with the girls! Shame!"

"Girls! No one would want more than me he should settle himself down to a fine, self-respecting citizen with a fine, sweet girl like Ad—"

"Believe me, and I ain't ashamed to say it, I wasn't an angel, neither, every minute before I was married."

"My husband brags to me about his indiscretioncies."

"Na, na, Mamma, right away when I open my mouth you make out a case against me. I only say it to show you how a mother maybe don't understand as well as a father how natural a few wild oats can be."

"L-Leo didn't have 'em."

"Leo ain't a genius. He's just a good boy."

"I—I worry so!"

"Sara, I ask you, wouldn't I worry, too, if there was a reason? God forbid if his nonsense should lead to really something serious, then it's time to worry."

Sara Turkletaub dried her eyes, but it was as if the shadow of crucifixion had moved forward in them.

"If just once, Mosher, Nicky would make it easy for me, like Leo did for Gussie. When Leo's time comes he marries a fine girl like Irma Berkowitz from a fine family, and has fine children, without Gussie has to cry her eyes out first maybe he's in company that—that—"

"I don't say, Sara, we didn't have our hard times with your boy. But we got results enough that we shouldn't complain. Maybe you're right. With a boy like Leo, a regular good business head who comes into the firm with us, it ain't been such a strain for Gussie and Aaron as for us with a genius. But neither have they got the smart son, the lawyer of the family, for theirs. We got a temperament in ours, Sara. Ain't that something to be proud of?"

She laid her cheek to his lapel, the freshet of her tears past staying.

"I—I know it, Mosher. It ain't—often I give way like this."

"We got such results as we can be proud of, Sara. A genius of a lawyer son on his way to the bench. Mark my word if I ain't right, on his way to the bench!"

"Yes, yes, Mosher."

"Well then, Sara, I ask you, is it nice to—"

"I know it, Papa. I ought to be ashamed. Instead of me fighting you to go easy with the boy, this time it's you fighting me. If only he—he was the kind of boy I could talk this out with, it wouldn't worry me so. When it comes to—to a girl—it's so different. It's just that I'm tired, Mosher. If anything was to go wrong after all these years of struggling for him—alone—"

"Alone! Alone! Why, Sara! Shame! Time after time for punishing him I was a sick man!"

"That's it! That's why so much of it was alone. I don't know why I should say it all to-night after—after so many years of holding in."

"Say what?"

"You meant well, God knows a father never meant better, but it wasn't the way to handle our boy's nature with punishments, and a quick temper like yours. Your way was wrong, Mosher, and I knew it. That's why so much of it was—alone—so much that I had to contend with I was afraid to tell you, for fear—for fear—"

"Now, now, Mamma, is that the way to cry your eyes out about nothing? I don't say I'm not sometimes hasty—"

"Time and time again—keeping it in from you—after the Chinese laundry that night after you—you whipped him so—you never knew the months of nights with him afterward—when I found out he liked that—stuff! Me alone with him—"

"Sara, is now time to rake up such ten-year-old nonsense!"

"It's all coming out in me now, Mosher. The strain. You never knew. That time you had to send me to the Catskills for the baths. You thought it was rheumatism. I knew what was the matter with me. Worry. The nights—Mosher. He liked it. I found it hid away in the toes of his gymnasium shoes and in the mouth to his bugle. He—liked that stuff, Mosher. You didn't know that, did you?"

"Liked what?"

"It. The—the stuff from the Chinese laundry. Even after the Juvenile Court, when you thought it was all over after the whipping that night. He'd snuff it up. I found him twice on his bed after school. All druggy-like—half sleeping and half laughing. The gang at school he was in with—learned him—"

"You mean—?"

"It ain't so easy to undo with a day in Juvenile Court such a habit like that. You thought the court was the finish. My fight just began then!"

"Why, Sara!"

"You remember the time he broke his kneecap and how I fighted the doctors against the hypodermic and you got so mad because I wouldn't let him have it to ease the pain. I knew why it was better he should suffer than have it. I knew! It was a long fight I had with him alone, Mosher. He liked that—stuff."

"That—don't—seem possible."

"And that wasn't the only lead-pipe case that time, neither, Mosher. Twice I had to lay out of my own pocket so you wouldn't know, and talk to him 'til sometimes I thought I didn't have any more tears left inside of me. Between you and your business worries that year of the garment-workers' strike—and our boy—I—after all that I haven't got the strength left. Now that he's come out of it big, I can't begin over again. I haven't got what he would call the second wind for it. If anything should keep him now from going straight ahead to make him count as a citizen, I wouldn't have the strength left to fight it, Mosher. Wouldn't!"

And so Sara Turkletaub lay back with the ripple writing of stormy high tides crawling out in wrinkles all over her face and her head, that he had never seen low, wilting there against his breast.

He could not be done with soothing her, his own face suddenly as puckered as an old shoe, his chin like the toe curling up.

"Mamma, Mamma, I didn't know! God knows I never dreamt—"

"I know you didn't, Mosher. I ain't mad. I'm only tired. I 'ain't got the struggle left in me. This feeling won't last in me, I'll be all right, but I'm tired, Mosher—so tired."

"My poor Sara!"

"And frightened. Such a blonde in a red hat. Cabarets. Taxicabs. Night after night. Mosher, hold me. I'm frightened."

Cheek to cheek in their dining room of too-carved oak, twin shadow-boxed paintings of Fruit and Fish, the cut-glass punch bowl with the hooked-on cups, the cotton palm, casually rigid velour drapes, the elusive floor bell, they huddled, these two, whose eyes were branded with the scars of what they had looked upon, and a slow, a vast anger began to rise in Mosher, as if the blood in his throat were choking him, and a surge of it, almost purple, rose out of his collar and stained his face.

"Loafer! Low-life! No-'count! His whole body ain't worth so much as your little finger. I'll learn him to be a worry to you with this all-night business. By God! I'll learn my loafer of a son to—"

On the pistol shot of that, Sara's body jumped out of its rigidity, all her faculties coiled to spring.

"He isn't! You know he isn't! 'Loafer'! Shame on you! Whatever else he is, he's not a loafer. Boys will be boys—you say so yourself. 'Loafer'! You should know once what some parents go through with real loafers for sons—"

"No child what brings you such worry is anything else than a loafer!"

"And I say 'no'! The minute I so much as give you a finger in finding fault with that boy, right away you take a hand!"

"I'll break his—"

"You don't know yet a joke when you hear one. I wanted to get you mad! I get a little tired and I try to make myself funny."

"There wasn't no funniness in the way your eyes looked when you—"

"I tell you I didn't mean one word. No matter what uneasiness that child has brought me, always he has given me more in happiness. Twice more. That's what he's been. Twice of everything to make up for—for only being half of my twins."

"Then what the devil is—"

"I don't envy Gussie her Leo and his steady ways. Didn't you say yourself for a boy like ours you got to pay with a little uneasiness?"

"Not when that little uneasiness is enough to make his mother sick."

"Sick! If I felt any better I'd be ashamed of having so much health! If you get mad with him and try to ask him where he stays every night is all that can cause me worry. It's natural a handsome boy like ours should sow what they call his wild oat. With such a matzos face like poor Leo, from where he broke his nose, I guess it ain't so easy for him to have his wild oat. Promise me, Mosher, you won't ask one question or get mad at him. His mother knows how to handle her boy so he don't even know he's handled."

"I'll handle him—"

"See now, just look at yourself once in the glass with your eyes full of red. That's why I can't tell you nothing. Right away you fly to pieces. I say again, you don't know how to handle your son. Promise me you won't say nothing to him or let on, Mosher. Promise me."

"That's the way with you women. You get a man crazy and then—"

"I tell you it's just my nonsense."

"If I get mad you're mad, and if I don't get mad you're mad! Go do me something to help me solve such a riddle like you."

"It's because me and his aunt Gussie are a pair of matchmaking old women. That the two cousins should marry the two sisters, Irma and Ada, we got it fixed between us! Just as if because we want it that way it's got to happen that way!"

"A pair of geeses, the two of you!"

"I wouldn't let on to Gussie, but Ada, the single one, has got Leo's
Irma beat for looks. Such a complexion! And the way she comes over to
sew with me afternoons! A young girl like that! An old woman like me!
You see, Mosher? See?"

"See, she asks me. What good does it do me if I see or I don't see when his mother gets her mind made up?"

"But does Nicky so much as look at her? That night at Leo's birthday I was ashamed the way he right away had an engagement after supper, when she sat next to him and all through the meal gave him the white meat off her own plate. Why, the flowered chiffon dress that girl had on cost ten dollars a yard if it cost a cent. Did Nicky so much as look at her? No."

"Too many birthdays in this family."

"I notice you eat them when they are set down in front of you!"

"Eat what?"

"The birthdays."

"Ha! That's fine! A new dish. Boiled birthdays with horseradish sauce."

"All right, then, the birthday parties. Don't be so exactly with me. Many a turn in his grave you yourself have given the man who made the dictionary. I got other worries than language. If I knew where he is—to-night—"

Rather contentedly, while Sara cleared and tidied, Mosher snapped open his evening paper, drawing his spectacles down from the perch of his forehead.

"You women," he said, breathing out with the male's easy surcease from responsibility—"you women and your worries. If you 'ain't got 'em, you make 'em."

"Heigh-ho!" sighed out Sara, presently, having finished, and diving into her open workbasket for the placidity her flying needle could so cunningly simulate. "Heigh-ho!"

But inside her heart was beating over and over again to itself, rapidly:

"If—only-I—knew—where—he—is—to—night—if—only—I—knew—where —he—is—to—night."

II

This is where he was:

In the Forty-fifth-Street flat of Miss Josie Drew, known at various times and places as Hattie Moore, Hazel Derland, Mrs. Hazel, and—But what does it matter.

At this writing it was Josie Drew of whom more is to be said of than for.

Yet pause to consider the curve of her clay. Josie had not molded her nose. Its upward fling was like the brush of a perfumed feather duster to the senses. Nor her mouth. It had bloomed seductively, long before her lip stick rushed to its aid and abetment, into a cherry at the bottom of a glass for which men quaffed deeply. There was something rather terrifyingly inevitable about her. Just as the tide is plaything of the stars, so must the naughty turn to Josie's ankle have been complement to the naughty turn of her mind.

It is not easy for the woman with a snub nose and lips molded with a hard pencil to bleed the milk of human kindness over the frailties of the fruity chalice that contained Miss Drew. She could not know, for instance, if her own gaze was merely owlish and thin-lashed, the challenge of eyes that are slightly too long. Miss Drew did. Simply drooping hers must have stirred her with a none-too-nice sense of herself, like the swell of his biceps can bare the teeth of a gladiator.

That had been the Josie Drew of eighteen.

At thirty she penciled the droop to her eyebrows a bit and had a not always successful trick of powdering out the lurking caves under her eyes. There was even a scar, a peculiar pocking of little shotted spots as if glass had ground in, souvenir of one out of dozens of such nights of orgies, this particular one the result of some unmentionable jealousy she must have coaxed to the surface.

She wore it plastered over with curls. It was said that in rage it turned green. But who knows? It was also said that Josie Drew's correct name was Josie Rosalsky. But again who knows? Her past was vivid with the heat lightning of the sharp storms of men's lives. At nineteen she had worn in public restaurants a star-sapphire necklace, originally designed by a soap magnate for his wife, of these her birthstones.

At twenty her fourteen-room apartment faced the Park, but was on the ground floor because a vice-president of a bank, a black-broadcloth little pelican of a man, who stumped on a cane and had a pink tin roof to his mouth, disliked elevators.

At twenty-three and unmentionably enough, a son of a Brazilian coffee king, inflamed with the deviltry of debauch, had ground a wine tumbler against her forehead, inducing the pock marks. At twenty-seven it was the fourth vice-president of a Harlem bank. At twenty-nine an interim. Startling to Josie Drew. Terrifying. Lean. For the first time in eight years her gasoline expenditures amounted to ninety cents a month instead of from forty to ninety dollars. And then not at the garage, but at the corner drug store. Cleaning fluid for kicked-out glove and slipper tips.

The little jangle of chatelaine absurdities which she invariably affected—mesh bag, lip stick, memorandum (for the traffic in telephone numbers), vanity, and cigarette case were gold—filled. There remained a sapphire necklace, but this one faithfully copied to the wink of the stars and the pearl clasp by the Chemic Jewel Company. Much of the indoor appeal of Miss Drew was still the pink silkiness of her, a little stiffened from washing and ironing, it is true, but there was a flesh-colored arrangement of intricate drape that was rosily kind to her. Also a vivid yellow one of a later and less expensive period, all heavily slashed in Valenciennes lace. This brought out a bit of virago through her induced blondness, but all the same it italicized her, just as the crescent of black court plaster exclaimed at the whiteness of her back.

She could spend an entire morning fluffing at these things, pressing out, with a baby electric iron and a sleeve board, a crumple of chiffon to new sheerness, getting at spots with cleaning fluid. Under alcoholic duress Josie dropped things. There was a furious stain down the yellow, from a home brew of canned lobster á la Newburg. The stain she eliminated entirely by cutting out the front panel and wearing it skimpier.

In these first slanting years, in her furnished flat of upright, mandolin-attachment piano, nude plaster-of-Paris Bacchante holding a cluster of pink-glass incandescent grapes, divan mountainous with scented pillows, she was about as obvious as a gilt slipper that has started to rub, or a woman's kiss that is beery and leaves a red imprint.

To Nicholas Turkletaub, whose adolescence had been languid and who had never known a woman with a fling, a perfume, or a moue (there had been only a common-sense-heeled co-ed of his law-school days and the rather plump little sister-in-law of Leo's), the dawn of Josie cleft open something in his consciousness, releasing maddened perceptions that stung his eyeballs. He sat in the imitation cheap frailty of her apartment like a young bull with threads of red in his eyeballs, his head, not unpoetic with its shag of black hair, lowered as if to bash at the impotence of the thing she aroused in him.

Also, a curious thing had happened to Josie. Something so jaded in her that she thought it long dead, was stirring sappily, as if with springtime.

Maybe it was a resurgence of sense of power after months of terror that the years had done for her.

At any rate, it was something strangely and deeply sweet.

"Nicky-boy," she said, sitting on the couch with her back against the wall, her legs out horizontally and clapping her rubbed gilt slippers together—"Nicky-boy must go home ten o'clock to-night. Josie-girl tired."

Her mouth, like a red paper rose that had been crushed there, was always bunched to baby talk.

"Come here," he said, and jerked her so that the breath jumped.

"Won't," she said, and came.

His male prowess was enormous to him. He could bend her back almost double with a kiss, and did. His first kisses that he spent wildly. He could have carried her off like Persephone's bull, and wanted to, so swift his mood. His flare for life and for her leaped out like a flame, and something precious that had hardly survived sixteen seemed to stir in the early grave of her heart.

"Oh, Nicky-boy! Nicky-boy!" she said, and he caught that she was yearning over him.

"Don't say it in down curves like that. Say it up. Up."

She didn't get this, but, with the half-fearful tail of her eye for the clock, let him hold her quiescent, while the relentlessly sliding moments ticked against her unease.

"I'm jealous of every hour you lived before I met you."

"Big-bad-eat-Josie-up-boy!"

"I want to kiss your eyes until they go in deep—through you—I don't know—until they hurt—deep—I—want—to hurt you—"

"Oh! Oh! Josie scared!"

"You're like one of those orange Angora kittens. Yellow. Soft. Deep."

"I Nicky's pussy."

"I can see myself in your eyes. Shut me up in them."

"Josie so tired."

"Of me?"

"Nicky so—so strong."

"My poor pussy! I didn't mean—"

"Nicky-boy, go home like good Nicky."

"I don't want ever to go home."

"Go now, Josie says."

"You mean never."

"Now!"

He kissed his "No, No," down against each of her eyelids.

"You must," she said this time, and pushed him off.

For a second he sat quite still, the black shine in his eyes seeming to give off diamond points.

"You're nervous," he said, and jerked her back so that the breath jumped again.

The tail of her glance curved to the gilt clock half hidden behind a litter of used highball glasses, and then, seeing that his quickly suspicious eye followed hers:

"No," she said, "not nervous. Just tired—and thirsty."

He poured her a high drink from a decanter, and held it so that, while she sipped, her teeth were magnified through the tumbler, and he thought that adorable and tilted the glass higher against her lips, and when she choked soothed her with a crush of kisses.

"You devil," he said, "everything you do maddens me."

There was a step outside and a scraping noise at the lock. It was only a vaudeville youth, slender as a girl, who lived on the floor above, feeling unsteadily, and a bit the worse for wear, for the lock that must eventually fit his key.

But on that scratch into the keyhole, Josie leaped up in terror, so that Nicholas went staggering back against the Bacchante, shattering to a fine ring of crystal some of the pink grapes, and on that instant she clicked out the remaining lights, shoving him, with an unsuspected and catamount strength, into an adjoining box of a kitchenette.

There an uncovered bulb burned greasily over a small refrigerator, that stood on a table and left only the merest slit of walking space. It was the none too fastidious kitchen of a none too fastidious woman. A pair of dress shields hung on the improvised clothesline of a bit of twine. A clump of sardines, one end still shaped to the tin, cloyed in its own oil, crumbily, as if bread had been sopped in, the emptied tin itself, with the top rolled back with a patent key, filled now with old beer. Obviously the remaining contents of a tumbler had been flung in. Cigarette stubs floated. A pasteboard cylindrical box, labeled "Sodium Bi-carbonate," had a spoon stuck in it. A rubber glove drooped deadly over the sink edge.

On the second that he stood in that smelling fog, probably for no longer than it took the swinging door to settle, something of sickness rushed over Nicholas. The unaired odors of old foods. Those horrific things on the line. The oil that had so obviously been sopped up with bread. The old beer, edged in grease. Something of sickness and a panoramic flash of things absurdly, almost unreasonably irrelevant.

Snow, somewhere back in his memory. A frozen silence of it that was clean and thin to the smell. The ridges in the rattan with which his father had whipped him the night after the Chinese laundry. The fine white head of the dean of the law school. His mother baking for Friday night in a blue-and-white gingham apron that enveloped her. Red curls—some one's—somewhere. The string of tiny Oriental pearls that rose and fell with the little pouter-pigeon swell of a bosom. Pretty perturbation. His cousin's sister-in-law, Ada. A small hole in a pink-silk stocking, peeping like a little rising sun above the heel of a rubbed gilt slipper. Josie's slipper.

Something seemed suddenly to rise in Nicholas, with the quick capillarity of water boiling over.

The old familiar star-spangled red over which Sara had time after time laid sedative hand against his seeing, sprang out. The pit of his passion was bottomless, into which he was tumbling with the icy laughter of breaking glass.

Then he struck out against the swinging door so that it ripped outward with a sough of stale air, striking Josie Drew, as she approached it from the room side, so violently that her teeth bit down into her lips and the tattling blood began to flow.

"Nicky! It's a mistake. I thought—my sister—It got so late—you wouldn't go. Go now! The key—turning—Nervous—silly—mistake. Go—"

He laughed, something exhilarant in his boiling over, and even in her sudden terror of him she looked at his bare teeth and felt the unnice beauty of the storm.

"Nicky," she half cried, "don't be—foolish! I—"

And then he struck her across the lip so that her teeth cut in again.

"There is some one coming here to-night," he said, with his smile still very white.

She sat on the couch, trying to bravado down her trembling.

"And what if there is? He'll beat you up for this! You fool! I've tried to explain a dozen times. You know, or if you don't you ought to, that there's a—friend. A traveling salesman. Automobile accessories. Long trips, but good money. Good money. And here you walk in a few weeks ago and expect to find the way clear! Good boy, you like some one to go ahead of you with a snow cleaner, don't you? Yes, there's some one due in here off his trip to-night. What's the use trying to tell Nicky-boy with his hot head. He's got a hot head, too. Go, and let me clear the way for you, Nicky. For good if you say the word. But I have to know where I'm at. Every girl does if she wants to keep her body and soul together. You don't let me know where I stand. You know you've got me around your little finger for the saying, but you don't say. Only go now, Nicky-boy. For God's sake, it's five minutes to eleven and he's due in on that ten-forty-five. Nicky-boy, go, and come back to me at six to-morrow night. I'll have the way clear then, for good. Quit blinking at me like that, Nicky. You scare me! Quit! When you come back to-morrow evening there won't be any more going home for Josie's Nicky-boy. Nicky, go now. He's hotheaded, too. Quit blinking, Nicky—for God's sake—Nicky—"

It was then Nicholas bent back her head as he did when he kissed her there on the swan's arch to her neck, only this time his palm was against her forehead and his other between her shoulder blades.

"I could kill you," he said, and laughed with his teeth. "I could bend back your neck until it breaks."

"Ni—i—Nic—ky—"

"And I want to," he said through the star-spangled red. "I want you to crack when I twist. I'm going to twist—twist—"

And he did, shoving back her hair with his palm, and suddenly bared, almost like a grimace, up at him, was the glass-shotted spot where the wine tumbler had ground in, greenish now, like the flanges of her nostrils.

Somewhere—down a dear brow was a singed spot like that—singed with the flame of pain—

"Nicky, for God's sake—you're—you're spraining my neck! Let go! Nicky. God! if you hadn't let go just when you did. You had me croaking. Nicky-boy—kiss me now and go! Go! To-morrow at six—clear for you—always—only go—please, boy—my terrible—my wonderful. To-morrow at six."

Somehow he was walking home, the burn of her lips still against his, loathsome and gorgeous to his desires. He wanted to tear her out by the roots from his consciousness. To be rollickingly, cleanly free of her. His teeth shone against the darkness as he walked, drenched to the skin of his perspiration and one side of his collar loose, the buttonhole slit.

Rollickingly free of her and yet how devilishly his shoes could clat on the sidewalk.

To-morrow at six. To-morrow at six. To-morrow at six.

* * * * *

It was some time after midnight when he let himself into the uptown apartment. He thought he heard his mother, trying to be swift, padding down the hallway as if she had been waiting near the door. That would have angered him.

The first of these nights, only four weeks before (it seemed years), he had come in hotly about four o'clock and gone to bed. About five he thought he heard sounds, almost like the scratch of a little dog at his door. He sprang up and flung it open. The flash of his mother's gray-flannelette wrapper turned a corner of the hall. She must have been crying out there and wanting him to need her. None the less it had angered him. These were men's affairs.

But in his room to-night the light burned placidly on the little table next to the bed, a glass of milk on a plate beside it. The bed was turned back, snowy sheets forming a cool envelope for him to slip in between. The room lay sedatively in shadow. A man's room. Books, uncurving furniture, photographs of his parents taken on their twenty-fifth anniversary standing on the chiffonier in a double leather frame that opened like a book. Face down on the reading table beside the glass of milk, quite as he must have left it the night before, except where Sara had lifted it to dust under, a copy of Bishop's New Criminal Law, already a prognosis, as it were, of that branch of the law he was ultimately and brilliantly to bend to fuller justice.

Finally, toward morning Nicholas slept, and at ten o'clock of a rain-swept Sunday forenoon awoke, as he knew he must, to the grip of a blinding headache, so called for want of a better noun to interpret the kind of agony which, starting somewhere around his eyes, could prick each nerve of his body into a little flame, as if countless matches had been struck.

As a youngster these attacks had not been infrequent, usually after a fit of crying. The first, in fact, had followed the burning of the cat; a duet of twin spasms then, howled into Sara's apron, And once after he had fished an exhausted comrade out of an ice hole in Bronx Park. They had followed the lead-pipe affairs and the Chinese-laundry episode with dreadful inevitability. But it had been five years since the last—the night his mother had fainted with terror at what she had found concealed in the toes of his gymnasium shoes.

Incredible that into his manhood should come the waving specter of those early passions.

At eleven o'clock, after she heard him up and moving about, his mother carried him his kiss and his coffee, steaming black, the way he liked it. She had wanted to bring him an egg—in fact, had prepared one, to just his liking of two minutes and thirty seconds—but had thought better of it, and wisely, because he drank the coffee at a quick gulp and set down the cup with his mouth wry and his eyes squeezed tight. From the taste of it he remembered horridly the litter of tall glasses beside the gilt clock.

With all her senses taut not to fuss around him with little jerks and pullings, Sara jerked and pulled. Too well she knew that furrow between his eyes and wanted unspeakably to tuck him back into bed, lower the shades, and prepare him a vile mixture good for exactly everything that did not ail him. But Sara could be wise even with her son. So instead she flung up the shade, letting him wince at the clatter, dragged off the bedclothes into a tremendous heap on the chair, beat up the pillows, and turned the mattress with a single-handed flop.

"The Sunday-morning papers are in the dining room, son."

"Uhm!"

He was standing in his dressing gown at the rain-lashed window, strumming. Lean, long, and, to Sara, godlike, with the thick shock of his straight hair still wet from the shower.

"Mrs. Berkowitz telephoned already this morning with such a grand compliment for you, son. Her brother-in-law, Judge Rosen, says you're the brains of your firm even if you are only the junior partner yet, and your way looks straight ahead for big things."

"Uhm! Who's talking out there so incessantly, mother?"

"That's your uncle Aaron. He came over for Sunday-morning breakfast with your father. You should see the way he tracked up my hall with his wet shoes. I'm sending him right back home with your father. They should clutter up your aunt Gussie's house with their pinochle and ashes. I had 'em last Sunday. She don't need to let herself off so easy every week. It's enough if I ask them all over here for supper to-night. Not?"

"Don't count on me, dear. I won't be home for supper."

There was a tom-tom to the silence against her beating ear drums.

"All right, son," she said, pulling her lips until they smiled at him, "with Leo and Irma that'll only make six of us, then."

He kissed her, but so tiredly that again it was almost her irresistible woman's impulse to drag down that fiercely black head to the beating width of her bosom and plead from him drop by drop some of the bitter welling of pain she could see in his eyes.

"Nicky," she started to cry, and then, at his straightening back from her, "come out in the dining room after I pack off the men. I got my work to do. That nix of a house girl left last night. Such sass, too! I'm better off doing my work alone."

Sara, poor dear, could not keep a servant, and, except for the instigation of her husband and son, preferred not to. Cooks rebelled at the exactitude of her household and her disputative reign of the kitchen.

"I'll be out presently, mother," he said, and flung himself down in the leather Morris chair, lighting his pipe and ostensibly settling down to the open-faced volume of Criminal Law.

Sara straightened a straight chair. She knew, almost as horridly as if she had looked in on it, the mucky thing that was happening; the intuitive sixth sense of her hovered over him with great wings that wanted to spread. Josie Drew was no surmise with her. The blond head and the red hat were tatooed in pain on her heart and she trembled in a bath of fear, and, trembling, smiled and went out.

Sitting there while the morning ticked on, head thrown back, eyes closed, and all the little darting nerves at him, the dawn of Nicholas Turkletaub's repugnance was all for self. The unfrowsy room, and himself fresh from his own fresh sheets. His mother's eyes with that clean-sky quality in them. The affectionate wrangling of those two decent voices from the dining room. Books! His books, that he loved. His tastiest dream of mother, with immensity and grandeur in her eyes, listening from a privileged first-row bench to the supreme quality of his mercy. Judge—Turkletaub!

But tastily, too, and undeniably against his lips, throughout these conjurings, lay the last crushy kiss of Josie Drew. That swany arch to her neck as he bent it back. He had kissed her there. Countlessly.

He tried to dwell on his aversions for her. She had once used an expletive in his presence that had sickened him, and, noting its effect, she had not reiterated. The unfastidious brunette roots to her light hair. That sink with the grease-rimmed old beer! But then: her eyes where the brows slid down to make them heavy-lidded. That bit of blue vein in the crotch of her elbow. That swany arch.

Back somewhere, as the tidy morning wore in, the tranced, the maddening repetition began to tick itself through:

"Six o'clock. Six o'clock."

He rushed out into the hallway and across to the parlor pinkly lit with velours, even through the rainy day, and so inflexibly calm. Sara might have measured the distance between the chairs, so regimental they stood. The pink-velour curlicue divan with the two pink, gold-tasseled cushions, carelessly exact. The onyx-topped table with the pink-velour drape, also gold-tasseled. The pair of equidistant and immaculate china cuspidors, rose-wreathed. The smell of Sunday.

"Nicky, that you?"

It was his mother, from the dining room.

"Yes, mother," and sauntered in.

There were two women sitting at the round table, shelling nuts. One of them his mother, the other Miss Ada Berkowitz, who jumped up, spilling hulls.

Nicholas, in the velveteen dressing gown with the collar turned up, started to back out, Mrs. Turkletaub spoiling that.

"You can come in, Nicky. Ada'll excuse you. I guess she's seen a man in his dressing gown before; the magazine advertisements are full with them in worse and in less. And on Sunday with a headache from all week working so hard, a girl can forgive. He shouldn't think with his head so much, I always tell him, Ada."

"I didn't know he was here," said Miss Berkowitz, already thinking in terms of what she might have worn.

"I telephoned over for Ada, Nicky. They got an automobile and she don't need to get her feet wet to come over to a lonesome old woman on a rainy Sunday, to spend the day and learn me how to make those delicious stuffed dates like she fixed for her mother's card party last week. Draw up a chair, Nicky, and help."

She was casual, she was matter-of-fact, she was bent on the business of nut cracking. They crashed softly, never so much as bruised by her carefully even pressure.

"Thanks," said Nicholas, and sat down, not caring to, but with good enough grace. He wanted his coat, somehow, and fell to strumming the table top.

"Don't, Nicky; you make me nervous."

"Here," said Miss Berkowitz, and gave him a cracker and a handful of nuts. The little crashings resumed.

Ada had very fair skin against dark hair, slightly too inclined to curl. There was quite a creamy depth to her—a wee pinch could raise a bruise. The kind of whiteness hers that challenged the string of tiny Oriental pearls she wore at her throat. Her healthily pink cheeks and her little round bosom were plump, and across the back of each of her hands were four dimples that flashed in and out as she bore down on the cracker. She was as clear as a mountain stream.

"A trifle too plumpy," he thought, but just the same wished he had wet his military brushes.

"Ada has just been telling me, Nicky, about her ambition to be an interior decorator for the insides of houses. I think it is grand the way some girls that are used to the best of everything prepare themselves for, God forbid, they should ever have to make their own livings. I give them credit for it. Tell Nicky, Ada, about the drawing you did last week that your teacher showed to the class."

"Oh," said Ada, blushing softly, "Mr. Turkletaub isn't interested in that."

"Yes, I am," said Nicholas, politely, eating one of the meats.

"You mean the Tudor dining room—"

No, no! You know, the blue-and-white one you said you liked best of all."

"It was a nursery," began Ada, softly. "Just one of those blue-and-white darlingnesses for somebody's little darling."

"For somebody's little darling," repeated Mrs. Turkletaub, silently. She had the habit, when moved, of mouthing people's words after them.

"My idea was—Oh, it's so silly to be telling it again, Mrs.
Turkletaub!"

"Silly! I think it's grand that a girl brought up to the best should want to make something of herself. Don't you, Nick?"

"H-m-m!"

"Well, my little idea was white walls with little Delft-blue borders of waddling duckies; white dotted Swiss curtains in the brace of sunny southern-exposure windows, with little Delft-blue borders of more waddling duckies; and dear little nursery rhymes painted in blue on the headboard to keep baby's dreams sweet."

"—baby's dreams sweet! I ask you, is that cute, Nick? Baby's dreams she even interior decorates."

"My—instructor liked that idea, too. He gave me 'A' on the drawing."

"He should have given you the whole alphabet. And tell him about the chairs, Ada. Such originality."

"Oh, Mrs. Turkletaub, that was just a—a little—idea—"

"The modesty of her! Believe me, if it was mine, I'd call it a big one.
Tell him."

"Mummie and daddie chairs I call them."

Sara (mouthing): "Mummie and daddie—"

"Two white-enamel chairs to stand on either side of the crib so when mummie and daddie run up in their evening clothes to kiss baby good night—Oh, I just mean two pretty white chairs, one for mummie and one for daddie." Little crash.

"I ask you, Nicky, is that poetical? 'So when mummie and daddie run up to kiss baby good night.' I remember once in Russia, Nicky, all the evening clothes we had was our nightgowns, but when you and your little twin brother were two and a half years old, one night I—"

"Mrs. Turkletaub, did you have twins?"

"Did I have twins, Nicky, she asks me. She didn't know you were twins. A red one I had, as red as my black one is black. You see my Nicky how black and mad-looking he is even when he's glad; well, just so—"

"Now, mother!"

"Just so beautiful and fierce and red was my other beautiful baby. You didn't know, Ada, that a piece of my heart, the red of my blood, I left lying out there. Nicky—she didn't know—"

She could be so blanched and so stricken when the saga of her motherhood came out in her eyes, the pallor of her face jutting out her features like lonely landmarks on waste land, that her husband and her son had learned how to dread for her and spare her.

"Now, mother!" said Nicholas, and rose to stand behind her chair, holding her poor, quavering chin in the cup of his hand. "Come, one rainy Sunday is enough. Let's not have an indoor as well as an outdoor storm. Come along. Didn't I hear Miss Ada play the piano one evening over at Leo's? Up-see-la! Who said you weren't my favorite dancing partner?" and waltzed her, half dragging back, toward the parlor. "Come, some music!"

There were the usual demurrings from Ada, rather prettily pink, and Mrs. Turkletaub, with the threat of sobs swallowed, opening the upright piano to dust the dustless keyboard with her apron, and Nicholas, his sagging pipe quickly supplied with one of the rose-twined cuspidors for ash receiver, hunched down in the pink-velour armchair of enormous upholstered hips.

The "Turkish Patrol" was what Ada played, and then, "Who Is Sylvia?" and sang it, as frailly as a bird.

At one o'clock there was dinner, that immemorial Sunday meal of roast chicken with its supplicating legs up off the platter; dressing to be gouged out; sweet potatoes in amber icing; a master stroke of Mrs. Turkletaub's called "matzos klose," balls of unleavened bread, sizzling, even as she served them, in a hot butter bath and light-brown onions; a stuffed goose neck, bursting of flavor; cheese pie twice the depth of the fork that cut in; coffee in large cups. More cracking of nuts, interspersed with raisins. Ada, cunningly enveloped in a much-too-large apron, helping Mrs. Turkletaub to clear it all away.

Smoking there in his chair beside the dining-room window, rain the unrelenting threnody of the day, Nicholas, fed, closed his eyes to the rhythm of their comings and goings through the swinging door that led to the kitchen. Comings—and—goings—his mother who rustled so cleanly of starch—Ada—clear—yes, that was it—clear as a mountain stream. Their small laughters—comings—goings—

It was almost dusk when he awoke, the pink-shaded piano lamp already lighted in the parlor beyond, the window shade at his side drawn and an Afghan across his knees. It was snug there in the rosied dusk. The women were in the kitchen yet, or was it again? Again, he supposed, looking at his watch. He had slept three hours. Presently he rose and sauntered out. There was coffee fragrance on the air of the large white kitchen, his mother hunched to the attitude of wielding a can opener, and at the snowy oilclothed table, Ada, slicing creamy slabs off the end of a cube of Swiss cheese.

"Sleepyhead," she greeted, holding up a sliver for him to nibble.

And his mother: "That was a good rest for you, son? You feel better?"

"Immense," he said, hunching his shoulders and stretching his hands down into his pockets in a yawny well-being.

"I wish, then, you would put another leaf in the table for me. There's four besides your father coming over from Aunt Gussie's. I just wish you would look at Ada. For a girl that don't have to turn her hand at home, with two servants, and a laundress every other week, just look how handy she is with everything she touches."

The litter of Sunday-night supper, awaiting its transfer to the dining-room table, lay spread in the faithful geometry of the cold, hebdomadal repast. A platter of ruddy sliced tongue; one of noonday remnants of cold chicken; ovals of liverwurst; a mound of potato salad crisscrossed with strips of pimento; a china basket of the stuffed dates, all kissed with sugar; half of an enormously thick cheese cake; two uncovered apple pies; a stack of delicious raisin-stuffed curlicues, known as "schneken," pickles with a fern of dill across them (Ada's touch, the dill); a dish of stuffed eggs with a toothpick stuck in each half (also Ada's touch, the toothpicks).

She moved rather pussily, he thought, sometimes her fair cheeks quivering slightly to the vibration of her walk, as if they had jelled. And, too, there was something rather snug and plump in the way her little hands with the eight dimples moved about things, laying the slabs of Swiss cheese, unstacking cups.

"No, only seven cups, Ada. Nicky—ain't going to be home to supper."

"Oh," she said, "excuse me! I—I—thought—silly—" and looked up at him to deny that it mattered.

"Isn't that what you said this morning, Nicky?" Poor Sara, she almost failed herself then because her voice ended in quite a dry click in her throat.

He stood watching the resumed unstacking of the cups, each with its crisp little grate against its neighbor.

"One," said Ada, "two-three-four-five-six—seven!"

He looked very long and lean and his darkly nervous self, except that he dilly-dallied on his heels like a much-too-tall boy not wanting to look foolish.

"If Miss Ada will provide another cup and saucer, I think I'll stay home."

"As you will," said Sara, disappearing into the dining room with the mound of salad and the basket of sugar-kissed dates.

She put them down rather hastily when she got there, because, sillily enough, she thought, for the merest instant, she was going to faint.

* * * * *

The week that Judge Turkletaub tried his first case in Court of General Sessions—a murder case, toward which his criminal-law predilection seemed so inevitably to lead him, his third child, a little daughter with lovely creamy skin against slightly too curly hair, was lying, just two days old, in a blue-and-white nursery with an absurd border of blue ducks waddling across the wallpaper.

Ada, therefore, was not present at this inaugural occasion of his first trial. But each of the two weeks of its duration, in a first-row bench of the privileged, so that her gaze was almost on a dotted line with her son's, sat Sara Turkletaub, her hands crossed over her waistline, her bosom filling and waning and the little jet folderols on her bonnet blinking. Tears had their way with her, prideful, joyful at her son's new estate, sometimes bitterly salt at the life in the naked his eyes must look upon.

Once, during the recital of the defendant, Sara almost seemed to bleed her tears, so poignantly terrible they came, scorching her eyes of a pain too exquisite to be analyzed, yet too excruciating to be endured.

III

Venture back, will you, to the ice and red of that Russian dawn when on the snow the footsteps that led toward the horizon were the color of blood, and one woman, who could not keep her eyes ahead, moaned as she fled, prayed, and even screamed to return to her dead in the bullet-riddled horse trough.

Toward the noon of that day, a gray one that smelled charred, a fugitive group from a distant village that was still burning faltered, as it too fled toward the horizon, in the blackened village of Vodna, because a litter had to be fashioned for an old man whose feet were frozen, and a mother, whose baby had perished at her breast, would bury her dead.

Huddled beside the horse trough, over a poor fire she had kindled of charred wood, Hanscha, the midwife (Hanscha, the drunk, they called her, fascinatedly, in the Pale of generations of sober women), spied Mosher's flung coat and reached for it eagerly, with an eye to tearing it into strips to wrap her tortured feet.

A child stirred as she snatched it, wailing lightly, and the instinct of her calling, the predominant motive, Hanscha with her fumy breath warmed it closer to life and trod the one hundred and eight miles to the port with it strapped to her back like a pack.

Thus it was that Schmulka, the red twin, came to America and for the first fourteen years of his life slept on a sour pallet in a sour tenement he shared with Hanscha, who with filthy hands brought children into the filthy slums.

Jason, she called him, because that was the name of the ship that carried them over. A rolling tub that had been horrible with the cries of cattle and seasickness.

At fourteen he was fierce and rebellious and down on the Juvenile Court records for truancy, petty trafficking in burned-out opium, vandalism, and gang vagrancy.

In Hanscha's sober hours he was her despair, and she could be horrible in her anger, once the court reprimanding her and threatening to take Jason from her because of welts found on his back.

It was in her cups that she was proud of him, and so it behooved Jason to drink her down to her pallet, which he could, easily.

He was handsome. His red hair had darkened to the same bronze of the samovar and he was straight as the drop of an apple from the branch. He was reckless. Could turn a pretty penny easily, even dangerously, and spend it with a flip for a pushcart bauble.

Once he brought home a plaster-of-Paris Venus—the Melos one with the beautiful arch to her torso of a bow that instant after the arrow has flown. Hanscha cuffed him for the expenditure, but secretly her old heart, which since childhood had subjected her to strange, rather epileptical, sinking spells, and had induced the drinking, warmed her with pride in his choice.

Hanscha, with her veiny nose and the dreadful single hair growing out of a mole on her chin, was not without her erudition. She had read for the midwifery, and back in the old days could recite the bones in the body.

She let the boy read nights, sometimes even to dropping another coin into the gas meter. Some of the books were the lewd penny ones of the Bowery bookstands, old medical treatises, too, purchased three for a quarter and none too nice reading for the growing boy. But there he had also found a Les Miserables and The Confessions of St. Augustine, which last, if he had known it, was a rare edition, but destined for the ash pit.

Once he read Hanscha a bit of poetry out of a furiously stained old volume of verse, so fragrantly beautiful, to him, this bit, that it wound around him like incense, the perfume of it going deeply and stinging his eyes to tears:

  Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting!
  The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
  Hath had elsewhere its setting,
  And cometh from afar.
  Not in entire forgetfulness,
  And not in utter nakedness,
  But trailing clouds of glory do we come
  From God, who is our home:
  Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
  Shades of the prison house begin to close
  Upon the growing boy,
  But he beholds the light, and whence it flows
  He sees it in his joy;
  The youth who daily farther, from the East
  Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
  And by the vision splendid
  Is on his way attended;
  At length the man perceives it die away,
  And fade into the light of common day.

But Hanscha was drunk and threw some coffee-sopped bread at him, and so his foray into poetry ended in the slops of disgust.

A Miss Manners, a society social worker who taught poverty sweet forbearance every Tuesday from four until six, wore a forty-eight-diamond bar pin on her under bodice (on Tuesday from four until six), and whose gray-suède slippers were ever so slightly blackened from the tripping trip from front door to motor and back, took him up, as the saying is, and for two weeks Jason disported himself on the shorn lawns of the Manners summer place at Great Neck, where the surf creamed at the edge of the terrace and the smell of the sea set something beating against his spirit as if it had a thousand imprisoned wings.

There he developed quite a flair for the law books in Judge Manners's laddered library. Miss Manners found him there, reading, on stomach and elbows, his heels waving in the air.

Judge Manners talked with him and discovered a legal turn of mind, and there followed some veranda talk of educating and removing him from his environment. But that very afternoon Jason did a horrid thing. It was no more than he had seen about him all his life. Not as much. He kissed the little pig-tailed daughter of the laundress and pursued her as she ran shrieking to her mother's apron. That was all, but his defiant head and the laundress's chance knowledge of his Juvenile Court record did for him.

At six o'clock that evening, with a five-dollar bill of which he made a spitball for the judge's departing figure down the station platform, he was shipped back to Hanscha. Secretly he was relieved. Life was easier in the tenement under the shadow of Brooklyn Bridge. The piece of its arch which he could see from his window was even beautiful, a curve of a stone into some beyond.

That night he fitted down into the mold his body had worn on the pallet, sighing out satisfaction.

Environment had won him back.

On the other hand, in one of those red star-spangled passions of rebellion against his fetid days, he blindly cut Hanscha with the edge of a book which struck against her brow as he hurled it. She had been drunk and had asked of him, at sixteen, because of the handsomeness that women would easily love in him, to cadet the neighborhood of Grand Street, using her tenement as his refuge of vice and herself as sharer of spoils.

The corner of the book cut deeply and pride in her terror of him came out redly in her bloodshot eyes.

In the short half term of his high-school training he had already forged ahead of his class when he attained the maturity of working papers. He was plunging eagerly—brilliantly, in fact—into a rapid translation of the Iliad, fired from the very first line by the epic of the hexametered anger of Achilles, and stubbornly he held out against the working papers.

But to Hanscha they came with the inevitability of a summons rather than an alternative, and so for a year or two he brought home rather precocious wages from his speed in a canning factory. Then he stoked his way to Sydney and back, returning fiery with new and terrible oaths.

One night Hanscha died. He found her crumpled up in the huddle of her skirts as if she had dropped in her tracks, which she had, in one of the epileptic heart strictures.

It was hardly a grief to him. He had seen red with passion at her atrociousness too often, and, somehow, everything that she stood for had been part of the ache in him.

Yet it is doubtful if, released of her, he found better pasture. Bigger pastures, it is true, in what might be called an upper stratum of the lower East Side, although at no time was he ever to become party to any of its underground system of crime.

Inevitably, the challenge of his personality cleared the way for him. At nineteen he had won and lost the small fortune of thirty-three hundred dollars at a third-class gambling resort where he came in time to be croupier.

He dressed flashily, wore soft collars, was constantly swapping sporty scarfpins for sportier ones, and was inevitably the center, seldom part, of a group.

Then one evening at Cooper Union, which stands at the head of the Bowery, he enrolled for an evening course in law, but never entered the place again.

Because the next night, in a Fourteenth Street cabaret with adjacent gambling rooms, he met one who called herself Winnie Ross, the beginning of a heart-sickening end.

There is so little about her to relate. She was the color of cloyed honey when the sugar granules begin to show through. Pale, pimply in a fashion the powder could cover up, the sag of her facial muscles showed plainly through, as if weary of doling out to the years their hush money, and she was quite obviously down at the heels. Literally so, because when she took them off, her shoes lopped to the sides and could not stand for tipsiness.

She was Jason's first woman. She exhaled a perfume, cheap, tickling, chewed some advertised tablets that scented her kisses, and her throat, when she threw up her head, had an arch and flex to it that were mysteriously graceful.

Life had been swift and sheer with Winnie. She was very tired and, paradoxically enough, it gave her one of her last remaining charms. Her eyelids were freighted with weariness, were waxy white of it, and they could flutter to her cheeks, like white butterflies against white, and lay shadows there that maddened Jason.

She called him Red, although all that remained now were the lights through his browning hair, almost like the flashings of a lantern down a railroad track.

She pronounced it with a slight trilling of the R, and if it was left in her of half a hundred loves to stir on this swift descent of her life line, she did over Jason. Partly because he was his winged-Hermes self, and partly because—because—it was difficult for her rather fagged brain to rummage back.

Thus the rest may be told:

Entering her rooms one morning, a pair of furiously garish ones over a musical-instrument store on the Bowery, he threw himself full length on the red-cotton divan, arms locked under his always angry-looking head, and watching her, through low lids, trail about the room at the business of preparing him a surlily demanded cup of coffee. Her none too immaculate pink robe trailed a cotton-lace tail irritatingly about her heels, which slip-slopped as she walked, her stockings, without benefit of support, twisting about her ankles.

She was barometer for his moods, which were elemental, and had learned to tremble with a queer exaltation of fear before them.

"My Red-boy blue to-day," she said, stooping as she passed and wanting to kiss him.

He let his lids drop and would have none of her. They were curiously blue, she thought, as if of unutterable fatigue, and then quickly appraised that his luck was still letting him in for the walloping now of two weeks' duration. His diamond-and-opal scarfpin was gone, and the gold cuff links replaced with mother-of-pearl.

She could be violently bitter about money, and when the flame of his personality was not there to be reckoned with, ten times a day she ejected him, with a venom that was a psychosis, out of her further toleration. Not so far gone was Winnie but that she could count on the twist of her body and the arch of her throat as revenue getters.

At first Jason had been lavish, almost with a smack of some of the old days she had known, spending with the easy prodigality of the gambler in luck. There was a near-seal coat from him in her cupboard of near-silks, and the flimsy wooden walls of her rooms had been freshly papered in roses.

Then his luck had turned, and to top his sparseness with her this new sullenness which she feared and yet which could be so delicious to her—reminiscently delicious.

She gave him coffee, and he drank it like medicine out of a thick-lipped cup painted in roses.

"My Red-boy blue," she reiterated, trying to ingratiate her arms about his neck. "Red-boy tells Winnie he won't be back for two whole days and then brings her surprise party very next day. Red-boy can't stay away from Winnie."

"Let go."

"Red-boy bring Winnie nothing? Not little weeny, weeny nothing?" drawing a design down his coat sleeve, her mouth bunched.

Suddenly he jerked her so that the breath jumped in a warm fan of it against her face.

"You're the only thing I've got in the world, Win. My luck's gone, but
I've got you. Tell me I've got you."

He could be equally intense over which street car to take, and she knew it, but somehow it lessened for her none of the lure of his nervosity, and with her mind recoiling from his pennilessness her body inclined.

"Tell me, Winnie, that I have you."

"You know you have," she said, and smiled, with her head back so that her face foreshortened.

"I'm going far for you Winnie. Gambling is too rotten—and too easy. I want to build bridges for you. Practice law. Corner Wall Street."

This last clicked.

"Once," she said, lying back, with her pupils enlarging with the fleeting memories she was not always alert enough to clutch—"once—once when I lived around Central Park—a friend of mine—vice-president he was—Well, never mind, he was my friend—it was nothing for him to turn over a thousand or two a week for me in Wall Street."

This exaggeration was gross, but it could feed the flame of his passion for her like oil.

"I'll work us up and out of this! I've got better stuff in me. I want to wind you in pearls—diamonds—sapphires."

"I had a five-thousand-dollar string once—of star sapphires."

"Trust me, Winnie. Help me by having confidence in me. I'm glad my luck is welching. It will be lean at first, until I get on my legs. But it's not too late yet. Win, if only I have some one to stand by me. To believe—to fight with and for me! Get me, girl? Believe in me."

"Sure. Always play strong with the cops, Red. It's the short cut to ready money. Ready money, Red. That's what gets you there. Don't ask any girl to hang on if it's shy. That's where I spun myself dirt many a time, hanging on after it got shy. Ugh! That's what did for me—hanging on—after it got shy."

"No. No. You don't understand. For God's sake try to get me, Winnie. Fight up with me. It'll be lean, starting, but I'll finish strong for you."

"Don't lean on me. I'm no wailing wall. What's it to me all your highfaluting talk. You've been as slab-sided in the pockets as a cat all month. Don't have to stand it. I've got friends—spenders—"

There had been atrocious scenes, based on his jealousies of her, which some imp in her would lead her to provoke, notwithstanding that even as she spoke she regretted, and reached back for the words,

"I mean—"

"I know what you mean," he said, quietly, permitting her to lie back against him and baring his teeth down at her.

She actually thought he was smiling.

"I'm not a dead one by a long shot," she said, kindling with what was probably her desire to excite him.

"No?"

"No. I can still have the best. The very best. If you want to know it, a political Indian with a car as long as this room, not mentioning any names, is after me—"

She still harbored the unfortunate delusion that he was smiling.

"You thought I was up at Ossining this morning, didn't you?" he asked, lazily for him. He went there occasionally to visit a friend in the state prison who had once served him well in a gambling raid and was now doing a short larceny term there.

"You said you were—"

"I said I was. Yes. But I came back unexpectedly, didn't I?"

"Y-yes, Red?"

"Look at me!"

She raised round and ready-to-be-terrified eyes.

"Murphy was here last night!" he cracked at her, bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, like so many pistol shots.

"Why, Red—I—You—"

"Don't lie. Murphy was here last night! I saw him leave this morning as
I came in."

It was hazard, pure and simple. Not even a wild one, because all too easily he could kiss down what would be sure to be only her half-flattered resentment.

But there was a cigar stub on the table edge, and certain of her adjustments of the room when he entered had been rather quick. He could be like that with her, crazily the slave of who knows what beauty he found in her; jealous of even an unaccountable inflection in her voice. There had been unmentionable frenzies of elemental anger between them and she feared and exulted in these strange poles of his nature.

"Murphy was here last night!"

It had happened, in spite of a caution worthy of a finer finesse than hers, and suddenly she seemed to realize the quality of her fear for him to whom she was everything and who to her was not all.

"Don't, Red," she said, all the bars of her pretense down and dodging from his eyes rather than from any move he made toward her. "Don't, Red. Don't!" And began to whimper in the unbeautifulness of fear, becoming strangely smaller as her pallor mounted.

He was as terrible and as swarthy and as melodramatic as Othello.

"Don't, Red," she called still again, and it was as if her voice came to him from across a bog.

He was standing with one knee dug into the couch, straining her head back against the wall, his hand on her forehead and the beautiful flexing arch of her neck rising … swanlike.

"Watch out!" There was a raw nail in the wall where a picture had hung.
Murphy had kept knocking it awry and she had removed it. "Watch out,
Red! No-o—no—"

Through the star-spangled red he glimpsed her once where the hair swept off her brow, and for the moment, to his blurred craziness, it was as if through the red her brow was shotted with little scars and pock marks from glass, and a hot surge of unaccountable sickness fanned the enormous silence of his rage.

With or without his knowing it, that raw nail drove slowly home to the rear of Winnie's left ear, upward toward the cerebellum as he tilted and tilted, and the convex curve of her neck mounted like a bow stretched outward.

* * * * *

There was little about Jason's trial to entitle it to more than a back-page paragraph in the dailies. He sat through those days, that were crisscrossed with prison bars, much like those drowned figures encountered by deep-sea divers, which, seated upright in death, are pressed down by the waters of unreality.

It is doubtful if he spoke a hundred words during the lean, celled weeks of his waiting, and then with a vacuous sort of apathy and solely upon advice of counsel. Even when he took the stand, undramatically, his voice, without even a plating of zest for life, was like some old drum with the parchment too tired to vibrate.

Women, however, cried over him and the storm in his eyes and the curiously downy back of his neck where the last of his youth still marked him.

To Sara, from her place in the first row, on those not infrequent occasions when his eyes fumbled for hers, he seemed to drown in her gaze—back—somewhere—

On a Friday at high noon the jury adjourned, the judge charging it with a solemnity that rang up to wise old rafters and down into one woman's thirsty soul like life-giving waters.

In part he told the twelve men about to file out, "If there has been anything in my attitude during the recital of the defendant's story, which has appeared to you to be in the slightest manner prejudiced one way or another, I charge you to strike such mistaken impressions from your minds.

"I have tried honestly to wash the slate of my mind clean to take down faithfully the aspects of this case which for two weeks has occupied this jury.

"If you believe the defendant guilty of the heinous crime in question, do not falter in your use of the power with which the law has vested you.

"If, on the other hand and to the best of your judgment, there has been in the defendant's life extenuating circumstances, er—a limitation of environment, home influence, close not the avenues of your fair judgment.

"Did this man in the kind of er—a—frenzy he describes and to which witnesses agree he was subject, deliberately strain back the Ross woman's head until the nail penetrated?

"If so, remember the law takes knowledge only of self-defense.

"On the other hand, ask of yourselves well, did the defendant, in the frenzy which he claims had hold of him when he committed this unusual crime, know that the nail was there?

"Would Winnie Ross have met her death if the nail had not been there?

"Gentlemen, in the name of the law, solemnly and with a fear of God in your hearts, I charge you."

It was a quick verdict. Three hours and forty minutes.

"Not guilty."

In the front row there, with the titillating folderols on her bonnet and her hand at her throat as if she would tear it open for the mystery of the pain of the heartbeat in it, Sara Turkletaub heard, and, hearing, swooned into the pit of her pain and her joy.

Her son, with brackets of fatigue out about his mouth, was standing over her when she opened her eyes, the look of crucifixion close to the front of them.

"Mother," he said, pressing her head close to his robes of state and holding a throat-straining quiver under his voice, "I—I shouldn't have let you stay. It was too—much for you."

It took her a moment for the mist to clear.

"I—Son—did somebody strike? Hit? Strange. I—I must have been hurt. Son, am I bleeding?" And looked down, clasping her hand to the bosom of her decent black-silk basque.

"Son, I—It was a good verdict, not? I—couldn't have stood it—if—if it wasn't. I—Something—It was good, not?"

"Yes, mother, yes."

"Don't—don't let that boy get away, son. I think—those tempers—I can help—him. You see, I know—how to handle—Somehow I—"

"Yes, mother, only now you must sit quietly—"

"Promise me, son, you won't let him get away without I see him?"

"Yes, dear, only please now—a moment—quiet—"

You see, the judge was very tired, and, looking down at the spot where her hand still lay at her bosom as if to press down a hurt, the red of her same obsession shook and shook him.

Somehow it seemed to him, too, that her dear heart was bleeding.