Hers Not to Reason Why, by Fannie Hurst

Gaslight Sonatas

In the third winter of a world-madness, with Europe guzzling blood and wild with the taste of it, America grew flatulent, stenching winds from the battle-field blowing her prosperity.

Granaries filled to bursting tripled in value, and, in congested districts, men with lean faces rioted when bread advanced a cent a loaf. Munition factories, the fires of destruction smelting all night, worked three shifts. Millions of shells for millions of dollars. Millions of lives for millions of shells. A country feeding into the insatiable maw of war with one hand, and with the other pouring relief-funds into coffers bombarded by guns of its own manufacture—quelling the wound with a finger and widening it with a knife up the cuff.

In France, women with blue faces and too often with the pulling lips of babes at dry breasts, learned the bitter tasks of sewing closed the coat sleeves and of cutting off and hemming the trousers leg at the knee.

In America, women new to the feel of fur learned to love it and not question whence it came. Men of small affairs, suddenly earthquaked to the crest of the great tidal wave of new market-values, went drunk with wealth.

In New York, where so many great forces of a great country coagulate, the face of the city photographed would have been a composite of fat and jowl, rouge and heavy lip—satiated yet insatiate, the head double-chinned and even a little loggy with too many satisfactions.

But that is the New York of the Saturnite and of Teufelsdröckh alone with his stars.

Upon Mrs. Blutch Connors, gazing out upon the tide of West Forty-seventh Street, life lay lightly and as unrelated as if ravage and carnage and the smell of still warm blood were of another planet.

A shower of white light from an incandescent tooth-brush sign opposite threw a pallid reflection upon Mrs. Connors; it spun the fuzz of frizz rising off her blond coiffure into a sort of golden fog and picked out the sequins of her bodice.

The dinner-hour descends glitteringly upon West Forty-seventh Street, its solid rows of long, lanky hotels, actors' clubs, and sixty-cent tables d'hôte adding each its candle-power.

From her brace of windows in the Hotel Metropolis, the street was not unlike a gully cut through mica, a honking tributary flowing into the great sea of Broadway. A low, high-power car, shaped like an ellipse, cut through the snarl of traffic, bleating. A woman, wrapped in a greatcoat of "baby" pelts and an almost undistinguishable dog in the cove of her arm, walked out from the Hotel Metropolis across the sidewalk and into a taxicab. An army of derby hats, lowered slightly into the wind, moved through the white kind of darkness. Standing there, buffeting her pink nails across her pink palms, Mrs. Connors followed the westward trend of that army. Out from it, a face lying suddenly back flashed up at her, a mere petal riding a swift current. But at sight of it Mrs. Blutch Connors inclined her entire body, pressing a smile and a hand against the cold pane, then turned inward, flashing on an electrolier—a bronze Nydia holding out a cluster of frosted bulbs. A great deal of the strong breath of a popular perfume and a great deal of artificial heat lay sweet upon that room, as if many flowers had lived and died in the same air, leaving insidious but slightly stale memories.

The hotel suite has become the brocaded tomb of the old-fashioned garden. The kitchen has shrunk into the chafing-dish, and all the dear old concoctions that mother used to try to make now come tinned, condensed, and predigested in sixty-seven varieties. Even the vine-covered threshold survives only in the booklets of promoters of suburban real estate. In New York, the home-coming spouse arrives on the vertical, shunted out at whatever his layer. Yet, when Mrs. Connors opened the door of her pink-brocaded sitting-room, her spirit rose with the soughing rise of the elevator, and Romance—hardy fellow—showed himself within a murky hotel corridor.

"Honeybunch!"

"Babe!" said Mr. Blutch Connors, upon the slam of the lift door.

And there, in the dim-lit halls, with its rows of closed doors in blank-faced witness thereof, they embraced, these two, despising, as Flaubert despised, to live in the reality of things.

"My boy's beau-ful cheeks all cold!"

"My girl's beau-ful cheeks all warm and full of some danged good cologne," said Mr. Connors, closing the door of their rooms upon them, pressing her head back against the support of his arm, and kissing her throat as the chin flew up.

He pressed a button, and the room sprang into more light, coming out pinkly and vividly—the brocaded walls pliant to touch with every so often a gilt-framed engraving; a gilt table with an onyx top cheerfully cluttered with the sauciest short-story magazines of the month; a white mantelpiece with an artificial hearth and a pink-and-gilt chaise-longue piled high with small, lacy pillows, and a very green magazine open and face downward on the floor beside it.

"Comin' better, honeybunch?"

"I dunno, Babe. The town's mad with money, but I don't feel myself going crazy with any of it."

"What ud you bring us, honey?"

He slid out of his silk-lined greatcoat, placing his brown derby atop.

"Three guesses, Babe," he said, rubbing his cold hands in a dry wash, and smiling from five feet eleven of sartorial accomplishment down upon her.

"Honey darlin'!" said Mrs. Connors, standing erect and placing her cheek against the third button of his waistcoat.

"Wow! how I love the woman!" he cried, closing his hands softly about her throat and tilting her head backward again.

"Darlin', you hurt!"

"Br-r-r—can't help it!"

When Mr. Connors moved, he gave off the scent of pomade freely; his slightly thinning brown hair and the pointy tips to a reddish mustache lay sleek with it. There was the merest suggestion of embonpoint to the waistcoat, but not so that, when he dropped his eyes, the blunt toes of his russet shoes were not in evidence. His pin-checked suit was pressed to a knife-edge, and his brocaded cravat folded to a nicety; there was an air of complete well-being about him. Men can acquire that sort of eupeptic well-being in a Turkish bath. Young mothers and life-jobbers have it naturally.

Suddenly, Mrs. Connors began to foray into his pockets, plunging her hand into the right, the left, then stopped suddenly, her little face flashing up at him.

"It's round and furry—my honeybunch brought me a peach! Beau-ful pink peach in December! Nine million dollars my hubby pays to bring him wifey a beau-ful pink peach." She drew it out—a slightly runty one with a forced blush—and bit small white teeth immediately into it.

"M-m-m!"—sitting on the chaise-longue and sucking inward. He sat down beside her, a shade graver.

"Is my babe disappointed I didn't dig her coat and earrings out of hock?"

She lay against him.

"I should worry!"

"There just ain't no squeal in my girl."

"Wanna bite?"

"Any one of 'em but you would be hollering for their junk out of pawn. But, Lord, the way she rigs herself up without it! Where'd you dig up the spangles, Babe? Gad! I gotta take you out to-night and buy you the right kind of a dinner. When I walks my girl into a café, they sit up and take notice, all righty. Spangles she rigs herself up in when another girl, with the way my luck's been runnin', would be down to her shimmy-tail."

She stroked his sleeve as if it had the quality of fur.

"Is the rabbit's foot still kicking my boy?"

"Never seen the like, honey. The cards just won't come. This afternoon I even played the wheel over at Chuck's, and she spun me dirt."

"It's gotta turn, Blutch."

"Sure!"

"Remember the run of rotten luck you had that year in Cincinnati, when the ponies was runnin' at Latonia?"

"Yeh."

"Lost your shirt, hon, and the first day back in New York laid a hundred on the wheel and won me my seal coat. You—we—We couldn't be no lower than that time we got back from Latonia, hon?"

He laid his hand over hers.

"Come on, Babe. Joe'll be here directly, and then we're going and blow them spangles to a supper."

"Blutch, answer!"

"Now there's nothin' to worry about, Babe. Have I ever landed anywhere but on my feet? We'll be driving a racer down Broadway again before the winter's over. There's money in motion these wartimes, Babe. They can't keep my hands off it."

"Blutch, how—how much did you drop to-day?

"I could tell clear down on the street you lost, honey, the way you walked so round-shouldered."

"What's the difference, honey? Come; just to show you I'm a sport, I'm going to shoot you and Joe over to Jack's in one of them new white taxi-cabs."

"Blutch, how much?"

"Well, if you gotta know it, they laid me out to-day, Babe. Dropped that nine hundred hock-money like it was a hot potato, and me countin' on bringin' you home your coat and junk again to-night. Gad! Them cards wouldn't come to me with salt on their tails."

"Nine hundred! Blutch, that—that leaves us bleached!"

"I know it, hon. Just never saw the like. Wouldn't care if it wasn't my girl's junk and fur coat. That's what hurts a fellow. If there's one thing he ought to look to, it's to keep his wimmin out of the game."

"It—it ain't that, Blutch; but—but where's it comin' from?"

He struck his thigh a resounding whack.

"With seventy-five bucks in my jeans, girl, the world is mine. Why, before I had my babe for my own, many's the time I was down to shoe-shine money. Up to 'leven years ago it wasn't nothing, honey, for me to sleep on a pool-table one night and de luxe the next. If life was a sure thing for me, I'd ask 'em to put me out of my misery. It's only since I got my girl that I ain't the plunger I used to be. Big Blutch has got his name from the old days, honey, when a dime, a dollar, and a tire-rim was all the same size."

She sat hunched up in the pink-satinet frock, the pink sequins dancing, and her small face smaller because of the way her light hair rose up in the fuzzy aura.

"Blutch, we—we just never was down to the last seventy-five before. That time at Latonia, it was a hundred and more."

"Why, girl, once, at Hot Springs, I had to hock my coat and vest, and I got started on a run of new luck playin' in my shirt-sleeves, pretending I was a summer boy."

"That was the time you gave Lenny Gratz back his losings and got him back to his wife."

"Right-o! Seen him only to-night. He's traveling out of Cleveland for an electric house and has forgot how aces up looks. That boy had as much chance in the game as a deacon."

Mrs. Connors laid hold of Mr. Connors's immaculate coat lapel, drawing him toward her.

"Oh, Blutch—honey—if only—if only—"

"If only what, Babe?"

"If you—you—"

"Why, honey, what's eatin' you? I been down pretty near this low many a time; only, you 'ain't known nothing about it, me not wanting to worry your pretty head. You ain't afraid, Babe, your old hubby can't always take care of his girl A1, are you?"

"No, no, Blutch; only—"

"What, Babe?"

"I wish to God you was out of it, Blutch! I wish to God!"

"Out of what, Babe?"

"The game, Blutch. You're too good, honey, and too—too honest to be in it.
What show you got in the end against your playin' pals like Joe Kirby and
Al Flexnor? I know that gang, Blutch. I've tried to tell you so often how,
when I was a kid livin' at home, that crowd used to come to my mother's—"

"Now, now, girl; business is—"

"You're too good, Blutch, and too honest to be in it. The game'll break you in the end. It always does. Blutch darling, I wish to God you was out of it!"

"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, I never knew you felt this way about it."

"I do, Blutch, I do! For years, it's been here in me—here, under my heart—eatin' me, Blutch, eatin' me!" And she placed her hands flat to her breast.

"Why, Babe!"

"I never let on. You—I—You been too good, Blutch, to a girl like—like I was for me to let out a whimper about anything. A man that took a girl like—like me that had knocked around just like—my mother and even—even my grandmother before me had knocked around—took and married me, no questions asked. A girl like me 'ain't got the right to complain to no man, much less to one like you. The heaven you've given me for eleven years, Blutch! The heaven! Sometimes, darlin', just sittin' here in a room like this, with no—no reason for bein' here—it's just like I—"

"Babe, Babe, you mustn't!"

"Sittin' here, waiting for you to come and not carin' for nothing or nobody except that my boy's comin' home to me—it's like I was in a dream, Blutch, and like I was going to wake up and find myself back in my mother's house, and—"

"Babe, you been sittin' at home alone too much. I always tell you, honey, you ought to make friends. Chuck De Roy's wife wants the worst way to get acquainted with you—a nice, quiet girl. It ain't right, Babe, for you not to have no friends at all to go to the matinée with or go buyin' knickknacks with. You're gettin' morbid, honey."

She worked herself out of his embrace, withholding him with her palms pressed out against his chest.

"I 'ain't got nothing in life but you, honey. There ain't nobody else under the sun makes any difference. That's why I want you to get out of it, Blutch. It's a dirty game—the gambling game. You ain't fit for it. You're too good. They've nearly got you now, Blutch. Let's get out, honey, while the goin's good. Let's take them seventy-five bucks and buy us a peanut-stand or a line of goods. Let's be regular folks, darlin'! I'm willin' to begin low down. Don't stake them last seventy-five, Blutch. Break while we're broke. It ain't human nature to break while your luck's with you."

He was for folding her in his arms, but she still withheld him.

"Blutch darlin', it's the first thing I ever asked of you."

He grew grave, looking long into her blue eyes with the tears forming over them.

"Why, Ann 'Lisbeth, danged if I know what to say! You sure you're feelin' well, Babe? 'Ain't took cold, have you, with your fur coat in hock?"

"No, no, no!"

"Well, I—I guess, honey, if the truth was told, your old man ain't cut out for nothing much besides the gamin'-table—a fellow that's knocked around the world the way I have."

"You are, Blutch; you are! You're an expert accountant. Didn't you run the
Two Dollar Hat Store that time in Syracuse and get away with it?"

"I know, Babe; but when a fellow's once used to makin' it easy and spendin' it easy, he can't be satisfied lopin' along in a little business. Why, just take to-night, honey! I only brought home my girl a peach this evening, but that ain't sayin' that before morning breaks I can't be bringin' her a couple of two-carat stones."

"No, no, Blutch; I don't want 'em. I swear to God I don't want 'em!"

"Why, Babe, I just can't figure out what's got into you. I never heard you break out like this. Are you scared, honey, because we happen to be lower than—"

"No, no, darlin'; I ain't scared because we're low. I'm scared to get high again. It's the first run of real luck you've had in three years, Blutch. There was no hope of gettin' you out while things was breakin' good for you; but now—"

"I ain't sayin' it's the best game in the world. I'd see a son of mine laid out before I'd let him get into it. But it's what I'm cut out for, and what are you goin' to do about it? 'Ain't you got everything your little heart desires? Ain't we going down to Sheepshead when the first thaw sets in? Ain't we just a pair of love-birds that's as happy as if we had our right senses? Come, Babe; get into your jacket. Joe'll be here any minute, and I got that porterhouse at Jack's on the brain. Come kiss your hubby."

She held up her face with the tears rolling down it, and he kissed a dry spot and her yellow frizzed bangs.

"My girl! My cry-baby girl!"

"You're all I got in the world, Blutch! Thinkin' of what's best for you has eat into me."

"I know! I know!"

"We'll never get nowheres in this game, hon. We ain't even sure enough of ourselves to have a home like—like regular folks."

"Never you mind, Babe. Startin' first of the year, I'm going to begin to look to a little nest-egg."

"We ought to have it, Blutch. Just think of lettin' ourselves get down to the last seventy-five! What if a rainy day should come—where would we be at? If you—or me should get sick or something."

"You ain't all wrong, girl."

"You'd give the shirt off your back, Blutch; that's why we can't ever have a nest-egg as long as you're playin' stakes. There's too many hard-luck stories lying around loose in the gamblin' game."

"The next big haul I make I'm going to get out, girl, so help me!"

"Blutch!"

"I mean it. We'll buy a chicken-farm."

"Why not a little business, Blutch, in a small town with—"

"There's a great future in chicken-farmin'. I set Boy Higgins up with a five-hundred spot the year his lung went back on him, and he paid me back the second year."

"Blutch darlin', you mean it?"

"Why not, Babe—seein' you want it? There ain't no string tied to me and the green-felt table. I can go through with anything I make up my mind to."

"Oh, honey baby, you promise! Darling little fuzzy chickens!"

"Why, girl, I wouldn't have you eatin' yourself thisaway. The first ten-thou' high-water mark we hit I'm quits. How's that?"

"Ten thousand! Oh, Blutch, we—"

"What's ten thou', girl! I made the Hot Springs haul with a twenty-dollar start. If you ain't careful, we'll be buyin' that chicken-farm next week. That's what can happen to my girl if she starts something with her hubby."

Suddenly Mrs. Connors crumpled in a heap upon the lacy pillows, pink sequins heaving.

"Why, Babe—Babe, what is it? You're sick or something to-night, honey." He lifted her to his arms, bent almost double over her.

"Nothin', Blutch, only—only I just never was so happy."

"Lord!" said Blutch Connors. "All these years, and I never knew anything was eatin' her."

"I—I never was, Blutch."

"Was what?"

"So—happy."

"Lord bless my soul! The poor little thing was afraid to say it was a chicken-farm she wanted!"

He patted her constantly, his eyes somewhat glazy.

"Us two, Blutch, livin' regular."

"You ain't all wrong, girl."

"You home evenings, Blutch, regular like."

"You poor little thing!"

"You'll play safe, Blutch? Play safe to win!"

"I wish I'd have went into the farmin' three years ago, Babe, the week I hauled down eleven thou'."

"You was too fed up with luck then, Blutch. I knew better 'n to ask."

"Lord bless my soul! and the poor little thing was afraid to say it was a chicken-farm she wanted!"

"Promise me, Blutch, you'll play 'em close—to win!"

"Al's openin' up his new rooms to-night. Me and Joe are goin' to play 'em fifty-fifty. It looks to me like a haul, Babe."

"He's crooked, Blutch, I tell you."

"No more 'n all of 'em are, Babe. Your eyes open and your pockets closed is my motto. What you got special against Joe? You mustn't dig up on a fellow, Babe."

"I—. Why ain't he livin' in White Plains, where his wife and kids are?"

"What I don't know about the private life of my card friends don't hurt me."

"It's town talk the way he keeps them rooms over at the Liberty. 'Way back when I was a kid, Blutch, I remember how he used to—"

"I know there ain't no medals on Joe, Babe, but if you don't stop listenin' to town talk, you're going to get them pretty little ears of yours all sooty."

"I know, Blutch; but I could tell you things about him back in the days when my mother—"

"Me and him are goin' over to Al's to-night and try to win my babe the first chicken for her farm. Whatta you bet? Us two ain't much on the sociability end, but we've played many a lucky card fifty-fifty. Saturday is our mascot night, too. Come, Babe; get on your jacket, and—"

"Honeybunch, you and Joe go. I ain't hungry."

"But—"

"I'll have 'em send me up a bite from the grill."

"You ain't sore because I asked Joe? It's business, Babe."

"Of course I ain't, honey; only, with you and him goin' right over to Al's afterward, what's the sense of me goin'? I wanna stay home and think. It's just like beginnin' to-night I could sit here and look right into the time when there ain't goin' to be no more waitin' up nights for my boy. I—They got all little white chickens out at Denny's roadhouse, Blutch—white with red combs. Can we have some like them?"

"You betcher life we can! I'm going to win the beginnings of that farm before I'm a night older. Lordy! Lordy! and to think I never knew anything was eatin' her!"

"Blutch, I—I don't know what to say. I keep cryin' when I wanna laugh. I never was so happy, Blutch, I never was."

"My little kitty-puss!"

* * * * *

At seven o'clock came Mr. Joe Kirby, dark, corpulent, and black of cigar.

"Come right in, Joe! I'm here and waitin' for you."

"Ain't the missis in on this killin'?"

"She—Not this—"

"No, Joe; not—to-night."

"Sorry to hear it," said Mr. Kirby, flecking an inch of cigar-ash to the table-top. "Fine rig-up, with due respect to the lady, your missis is wearing to-night."

"The wife ain't so short on looks, is she?"

"Blutch!"

"You know my sentiments about her. They don't come no ace-higher."

She colored, even quivered, standing there beside the bronze Nydia.

"I tell her we're out for big business to-night, Joe."

"Sky's the limit. Picked up a pin pointin' toward me and sat with my back to a red-headed woman. Can't lose."

"Well, good-night, Babe. Take care o' yourself."

"Good night, Blutch. You'll play 'em close, honey?"

"You just know I will, Babe."

An hour she sat there, alone on the chaise-longue, staring into space and smiling at what she saw there. Finally she dropped back into the lacy mound of pillows, almost instantly asleep, but still smiling.

* * * * *

At four o'clock, that hour before dawn cracks, even the West Forties, where night is too often cacophonous with the sound of revelry, drop into long narrow aisles of gloom. Thin, high-stooped houses with drawn shades recede into the mouse-colored mist of morning, and, as through quagmire, this mist hovering close to ground, figures skulk—that nameless, shapeless race of many bloods and one complexion, the underground complexion of paste long sour from standing.

At somewhat after that hour Mr. Blutch Connors made exit from one of these houses, noiseless, with scarcely a click after him, and then, without pause, passed down the brownstone steps and eastward. A taxicab slid by, its honk as sorrowful as the cry of a plover in a bog. Another—this one drawing up alongside, in quest of fare. He moved on, his breath clouding the early air, and his hands plunged deep in his pockets as if to plumb their depth. There was a great sag to the silhouette of him moving thus through the gloom, the chest in and the shoulders rounding and lessening their front span. Once he paused to remove the brown derby and wipe at his brow. A policeman struck his stick. He moved on.

An all-night drug-store, the modern sort of emporium where the capsule and the herb have become side line to the ivoritus toilet-set and the pocket-dictionary, threw a white veil of light across the sidewalk. Well past that window, but as if its image had only just caught up with him, Mr. Connors turned back, retracing ten steps. A display-window, denuded of frippery but strewn with straw and crisscrossed with two large strips of poster, proclaimed Chicklet Face Powder to the cosmetically concerned. With an eye to fidelity, a small brood of small chickens, half dead with bad air and not larger than fists, huddled rearward and out of the grilling light—puny victims to an indorsed method of correspondence-school advertising.

Mr. Connors entered, scouting out a dozy clerk.

"Say, bo, what's one of them chicks worth?"

"Ain't fer sale."

Mr. Connors lowered his voice, nudging.

"I gotta sick wife, bo. Couldn't you slip me one in a 'mergency?"

"What's the idea—chicken broth? You better go in the park and catch her a chippie."

"On the level, friend, one of them little yellow things would cheer her up.
She's great one for pets."

"Can't you see they're half-dead now? What you wanna cheer her up with—a corpse? If I had my way, I'd wring the whole display's neck, anyhow."

"What'll you take for one, bo?"

"It'll freeze to death."

"Look! This side pocket is lined with velvet."

"Dollar."

"Aw, I said one, friend, not the whole brood."

"Leave or take."

Mr. Connors dug deep.

"Make it sixty cents and a poker-chip, bo. It's every cent I got in my pocket."

"Keep the poker-chip for pin-money."

When Mr. Connors emerged, a small, chirruping bunch of fuzz, cupped in his hand, lay snug in the velvet-lined pocket.

At Sixth Avenue, where the great skeleton of the Elevated stalks mid-street, like a prehistoric pithecanthropus erectus, he paused for an instant in the shadow of a gigantic black pillar, readjusting the fragile burden to his pocket.

Stepping out to cross the street, simultaneously a great silent motor-car, noiseless but wild with speed, tore down the surface-car tracks, blacker in the hulking shadow of the Elevated trellis.

A quick doubling up of the sagging silhouette, and the groan of a clutch violently thrown. A woman's shriek flying thin and high like a javelin of horror. A crowd sprung full grown out of the bog of the morning. White, peering faces showing up in the brilliant paths of the acetylene lamps. A uniform pushing through. A crowbar and the hard breathing of men straining to lift. A sob in the dark. Stand back! Stand back!

* * * * *

Dawn—then a blue, wintry sky, the color and hardness of enamel; and sunshine, bright, yet so far off the eye could stare up to it unsquinting. It lay against the pink-brocaded window-hangings of the suite in the Hotel Metropolis; it even crept in like a timid hand reaching toward, yet not quite touching, the full-flung figure of Mrs. Blutch Connors, lying, her cheek dug into the harshness of the carpet, there at the closed door to the bedroom—prone as if washed there, and her yellow hair streaming back like seaweed. Sobs came, but only the dry kind that beat in the throat and then come shrilly, like a sheet of silk swiftly torn.

How frail are human ties, have said the beaux esprits of every age in one epigrammatic fashion or another. But frailty can bleed; in fact, it's first to bleed.

Lying there, with her face swollen and stamped with the carpet-nap, squirming in a grief that was actually abashing before it was heartbreaking, Ann 'Lisbeth Connors, whose only epiphany of life was love, and shut out from so much else that helps make life sweet, was now shut out from none of its pain.

Once she scratched at the door, a faint, dog-like scratch for admission, and then sat back on her heels, staring at the uncompromising panel, holding back the audibility of her sobs with her hand.

Heart-constricting silence, and only the breath of ether seeping out to her, sweet, insidious. She took to hugging herself violently against a sudden chill that rushed over her, rattling her frame.

The bedroom door swung noiselessly back, fanning out the etheric fumes, and closed again upon an emerging figure.

"Doctor—quick—God!—What?"

He looked down upon her with the kind of glaze over his eyes that Bellini loved to paint, compassion for the pain of the world almost distilled to tears.

"Doctor—he ain't—"

"My poor little lady!"

"O God—no—no—no! No, Doctor, no! You wouldn't! Please! Please! You wouldn't let him leave me here all alone, Doctor! O God! you wouldn't! I'm all alone, Doctor! You see, I'm all alone. Please don't take him from me. He's mine! You can't! Promise me, Doctor! My darlin' in there—why are you hurtin' him so? Why has he stopped hollerin'? Cut me to pieces to give him what he needs to make him live. Don't take him from me, Doctor. He's all I got! O God—God—please!" And fell back swooning, with an old man's tear splashing down as if to revivify her.

* * * * *

The heart has a resiliency. Strained to breaking, it can contract again. Even the waiting women, Iseult and Penelope, learned, as they sat sorrowing and watching, to sing to the swing of the sea.

When, out of the slough of dark weeks, Mrs. Connors took up life again, she was only beaten, not broken—a reed lashed down by storm and then resilient, daring to lift its head again. A wan little head, but the eyes unwashed of their blue and the irises grown large. The same hard sunshine lay in its path between the brocade curtains of a room strangely denuded. It was as if spring had died there, when it was only the chaise-longue, barren of its lacy pillows, a glass vase and silver-framed picture gone from the mantel, a Mexican afghan removed from a divan and showing its bulges.

It was any hotel suite now—uncompromising; leave me or take me.

In taking leave of it, Mrs. Connors looked about her even coldly, as if this barren room were too denuded of its memories.

"You—you been mighty good to me, Joe. It's good to know—everything's—paid up."

Mr. Joe Kirby sat well forward on a straight chair, knees well apart in the rather puffy attitude of the uncomfortably corpulent.

"Now, cut that! Whatever I done for you, Annie, I done because I wanted to. If you'd 'a' listened to me, you wouldn't 'a' gone and sold out your last dud to raise money. Whatcha got friends for?"

"The way you dug down for—for the funeral, Joe. He—he couldn't have had the silver handles or the gray velvet if—if not for you, Joe. He—he always loved everything the best. I can't never forget that of you, Joe—just never."

She was pinning on her little crêpe-edged veil over her decently black hat, and paused now to dab up under it at a tear.

"I'd 'a' expected poor old Blutch to do as much for me."

"He would! He would! Many's the pal he buried."

"I hate, Annie, like anything to see you actin' up like this. You ain't fit to walk out of this hotel on your own hook. Where'd you get that hand-me-down?"

She looked down at herself, quickly reddening.

"It's a warm suit, Joe."

"Why, you 'ain't got a chance! A little thing like you ain't cut out for but one or two things. Coddlin'—that's your line. The minute you're nobody's doll you're goin' to get stepped on and get busted."

"Whatta you know about—"

"What kind of a job you think you're gonna get? Adviser to a corporation lawyer? You're too soft, girl. What chance you think you got buckin' up against a town that wants value received from a woman. Aw, you know what I mean, Annie. You can't pull that baby stuff all the time."

"You," she cried, beating her small hands together, "oh, you—you—" and then sat down, crying weakly. "Them days back there! Why, I—I was such a kid it's just like they hadn't been! With her and my grandmother dead and gone these twelve years, if it wasn't for you it's—it's like they'd never been."

"Nobody was gladder 'n me, girl, to see how you made a bed for yourself. I'm commendin' you, I am. That's just what I'm tryin' to tell you now, girl. You was cut out to be somebody's kitten, and—"

"O God!" she sobbed into her handkerchief, "why didn't you take me when you took him?"

"Now, now, Annie, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. A good-lookin' woman like you 'ain't got nothing to worry about. Lemme order you up a drink. You're gettin' weak again."

"No, no; I'm taking 'em too often. But they warm me. They warm me, and I'm cold, Joe—cold."

"Then lemme—"

"No! No!"

He put out a short, broad hand toward her.

"Poor little—"

"I gotta go now, Joe. These rooms ain't mine no more."

He barred her path.

"Go where?"

'"Ain't I told you? I'm going out. Anybody that's willin' to work can get it in this town. I ain't the softy you think I am."

He took her small black purse up from the table.

"What's your capital?"

"You—quit!"

"Ten—'leven—fourteen dollars and seventy-four cents."

"You gimme!"

"You can't cut no capers on that, girl."

"I—can work."

He dropped something in against the coins.

It clinked.

She sprang at him.

"No, no; not a cent from you—for myself. I—I didn't know you in them days for nothing. I was only a kid, but I—I know you! I know. You gimme! Gimme!"

He withheld it from her.

"Hold your horses, beauty! What I was then I am now, and I ain't ashamed of it. Human, that's all. The best of us is only human before a pretty woman."

"You gimme!"

She had snatched up her small hand-satchel from the divan and stood flashing now beside him, her small, blazing face only level with his cravat.

"What you spittin' fire for? That wa'n't nothin' I slipped in but my address, girl. When you need me call on me. 'The Liberty, 96.' Go right up in the elevator, no questions asked. Get me?" he said, poking the small purse into the V of her jacket. "Get me?"

"Oh, you—Woh—woh—woh!"

With her face flung back and twisted, and dodging his outflung arm, she was down four flights of narrow, unused stairs and out. Once in the streets, she walked with her face still thrust up and a frenzy of haste in her stride. Red had popped out in her cheeks. There was voice in each breath—moans that her throat would not hold.

That night she slept in the kind of fifty-cent room the city offers its decent poor. A slit of a room with a black-iron bed and a damp mattress. A wash-stand gaunt with its gaunt mission. A slop-jar on a zinc mat. A caneless-bottom chair. The chair she propped against the door, the top slat of it beneath the knob. Through a night of musty blackness she lay in a rigid line along the bed-edge.

You who love the city for its million pulses, the beat of its great heart, and the terrific symphony of its soul, have you ever picked out from its orchestra the plaintive rune of the deserving poor?

It is like the note of a wind instrument—an oboe adding its slow note to the boom of the kettle-drum, the clang of gold-colored cymbals, and the singing ecstasy of violins.

One such small voice Ann 'Lisbeth Connors added to the great threnody of industry. Department stores that turned from her services almost before they were offered. Offices gleaned from penny papers, miles of them, and hours of waiting on hard-bottom chairs in draughty waiting-rooms. Faces, pasty as her own, lined up alongside, greedy of the morsel about to fall.

When the pinch of poverty threatens men and wolves, they grow long-faced. In these first lean days, a week of them, Ann 'Lisbeth's face lengthened a bit, too, and with the fuzz of yellow bangs tucked well up under her not so decent black hat, crinkles came out about her eyes.

Nights she supped in a family-entrance café beneath her room—veal stew and a glass of beer.

She would sit over it, not unpleasantly muzzy. She slept of nights now, and not so rigidly.

Then followed a week of lesser department stores as she worked her way down-town, of offices tucked dingily behind lithograph and small-ware shops, and even an ostrich-feather loft, with a "Curlers Wanted" sign hung out.

In what school does the great army of industry earn its first experience? Who first employs the untaught hand? Upon Ann 'Lisbeth, untrained in any craft, it was as if the workaday world turned its back, nettled at a philistine.

Once she sat resting on a stoop beneath the sign of a woman's-aid bureau. She read it, but, somehow, her mind would not register. The calves of her legs and the line where her shoe cut into her heel were hurting.

She supped in the family-entrance café again—the bowl of veal stew and two glasses of beer. Some days following, her very first venture out into the morning, she found employment—a small printing-shop off Sixth Avenue just below Twenty-third Street. A mere pocket in the wall, a machine champing in its plate-glass front.

VISITING-CARDS WHILE YOU WAIT THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A HUNDRED

She entered.

"The sign says—'girl wanted.'"

A face peered down at her from a high chair behind the champing machine.

"'Goil wanted,' is what it says. Goil!"

"I—I ain't old," she faltered.

"Cut cards?"

"I—Try me."

"Five a week."

"Why—yes."

"Hang your coat and hat behind the sink."

Before noon, a waste of miscut cards about her, she cut her hand slightly, fumbling at the machine, and cried out.

"For the love of Mike—you want somebody to kiss it and make it well? Here's a quarter for your time. With them butter-fingers, you better get a job greasin' popcorn."

Out in the sun-washed streets the wind had hauled a bit. It cut as she bent into it. With her additional quarter, she still had two dollars and twenty cents, and that afternoon, in lower Sixth Avenue, at the instance of another small card fluttering out in the wind, she applied as dishwasher in a lunch-room and again obtained—this time at six dollars a week and suppers.

The Jefferson Market Lunch Room, thick with kicked-up sawdust and the fumes of hissing grease, was sunk slightly below the level of the sidewalk, a fitting retreat for the mole-like humanity that dined furtively at its counter. Men with too short coat-sleeves and collars turned up; women with beery eyes and uneven skirt-hems dank with the bilge-water of life's lower decks.

Lower Sixth Avenue is the abode of these shadows. Where are they from, and whither going—these women without beauty, who walk the streets without handkerchiefs, but blubbering with too much or too little drink? What is the terrible riddle? Why, even as they blubber, are there women whose bodies have the quality of cream, slipping in between scented sheets?

Ann 'Lisbeth, hers not to argue, but accept, dallied with no such question. Behind the lunch-room, a sink of unwashed dishes rose to a mound. She plunged her hands into tepid water that clung to her like fuzz.

"Ugh!"

"Go to it!" said the proprietor, who wore a black flap over one eye. "Dey won't bite. If de grease won't cut, souse 'em wit' lye. Don't try to muzzle no breakage on me, neither, like the slut before you. I kin hear a cup crack."

"I won't," said Ann 'Lisbeth, a wave of the furry water slopping out and down her dress-front.

Followed four days spent in the grease-laden heat of the kitchen, the smell of strong foods, raw meat, and fish stews thick above the sink. She had moved farther down-town, against car fare; but because she talked now constantly in her sleep and often cried out, there were knockings from the opposite side of the partitions and oaths. For two evenings she sat until midnight in a small rear café, again pleasantly muzzy over three glasses of beer and the thick warmth of the room. Another night she carried home a small bottle, tucking it beneath her coat as she emerged to the street. She was grease-stained now, in spite of precautions, and her hat, with her hair uncurled to sustain it, had settled down over her ears, grotesquely large.

The week raced with her funds. On the sixth day she paid out her last fifty cents for room-rent, and, without breakfast, filched her lunch from a half-eaten order of codfish balls returned to the kitchen.

Yes, reader; but who are you to turn away sickened and know no more of this? You who love to bask in life's smile, but shudder at its drool! A Carpenter did not sicken at a leper. He held out a hand.

That night, upon leaving, she asked for a small advance on her week's wage, retreating before the furiously stained apron-front and the one eye of the proprietor cast down upon her.

"Lay off! Lay off! Who done your bankin' last year? To-morrow's your day, less four bits for breakage. Speakin' o' breakage, if you drop your jacket, it'll bust. Watch out! That pint won't last you overnight. Layoff!"

She reddened immediately, clapping her hand over the small protruding bottle in her pocket. She dared not return to her room, but sat out the night in a dark foyer behind a half-closed storm-door. No one found her out, and the wind could not reach her. Toward morning she even slept sitting. But the day following, weak and too soft for the lift, straining to remove the great dish-pan high with crockery from sink to table, she let slip, grasping for a new hold.

There was a crash and a splintered debris—plates that rolled like hoops to the four corners of the room, shivering as they landed; a great ringing explosion of heavy stoneware, and herself drenched with the webby water.

"O God!" she cried in immediate hysteria. "O God! O God!" and fell to her knees in a frenzy of clearing-up.

A raw-boned Minerva, a waitress with whom she had had no previous word, sprang to her succor, a big, red hand of mercy jerking her up from the debris.

"Clear out! He's across the bar. Beat it while the going's good. Your week's gone in breakage, anyways, and he'll split up the place when he comes. Clear out, girl, and here—for car fare."

Out in the street, her jacket not quite on and her hat clapped askew, Ann
'Lisbeth found herself quite suddenly scuttling down a side-street.

In her hand a dime burnt up into the palm.

For the first time in these weeks, except when her pint or the evening beer had vivified her, a warmth seemed to flow through Ann 'Lisbeth. Chilled, and her wet clothing clinging in at the knees, a fever nevertheless quickened her. She was crying as she walked, but not blubbering—spontaneous hot tears born of acute consciousness of pain.

A great shame at her smelling, grease-caked dress-front smote her, too, and she stood back in a doorway, scraping at it with a futile forefinger.

February had turned soft and soggy, the city streets running mud, and the damp insidious enough to creep through the warmth of human flesh. A day threatened with fog from East River had slipped, without the interim of dusk, into a heavy evening. Her clothing dried, but sitting in a small triangle of park in Grove Street, chill seized her again, and, faint for food, but with nausea for it, she tucked her now empty pint bottle beneath the bench. She was crying incessantly, but her mind still seeming to revive. Her small black purse she drew out from her pocket. It had a collapsed look. Yet within were a sample of baby-blue cotton crêpe, a receipt from a dyeing-and-cleaning establishment, and a bit of pink chamois; in another compartment a small assortment of keys.

She fumbled among them, blind with tears. Once she drew out, peering forward toward a street-lamp to inspect it. It clinked as she touched it, a small metal tag ringing.

HOTEL LIBERTY 96

An hour Ann 'Lisbeth sat there, with the key in her lax hand. Finally she rubbed the pink chamois across her features and adjusted her hat, pausing to scrape again with forefinger at the front of her, and moved on through the gloom, the wind blowing her skirt forward.

She boarded a Seventh Avenue street-car, extracting the ten-cent piece from her purse with a great show of well-being, sat back against the carpet-covered, lengthwise seat, her red hands, with the cut forefinger bound in rag, folded over her waist.

At Fiftieth Street she alighted, the white lights of the whitest street in the world forcing down through the murk, and a theater crowd swarming to be turned from reality.

The incandescent sign of the Hotel Liberty jutted out ahead.

She did not pause. She was in and into an elevator even before a lackey turned to stare.

She found "Ninety-six" easily enough, inserting the key and opening the door upon darkness—a warm darkness that came flowing out scented. She found the switch, pressed it.

A lamp with a red shade sprang up and a center chandelier. A warm-toned, well-tufted room, hotel chromos well in evidence, but a turkey-red air of solid comfort.

Beyond, a white-tiled bathroom shining through the open door, and another room hinted at beyond that.

She dropped, even in her hat and jacket, against the divan piled with fat-looking satin cushions. Tears coursed out from her closed eyes, and she relaxed as if she would swoon to the luxury of the pillows, burrowing and letting them bulge up softly about her.

A half-hour she lay so in the warm bath of light, her little body so quickly fallen into vagrancy not without litheness beneath the moldy skirt.

* * * * *

Some time after eight she rose, letting the warm water in the bathroom lave over her hands, limbering them, and from a bottle of eau de Cologne in a small medicine-chest sprinkled herself freely and touched up the corners of her eyes with it. A thick robe of Turkish toweling hung from the bathroom door. She unhooked it, looping it over one arm.

A key scraped in the lock. From where she stood a rigidity raced over Ann 'Lisbeth, locking her every limb in paralysis. Her mouth moved to open and would not.

The handle turned, and, with a sudden release of faculties, darting this way and that, as if at bay, she tore the white-enameled medicine-chest from its moorings, and, with a yell sprung somewhere from the primordial depths of her, stood with it swung to hurl.

The door opened and she lunged, then let it fall weakly and with a small crash.

The chambermaid, white with shock at that cry, dropped her burden of towels in the open doorway and fled. Ann 'Lisbeth fled, too, down the two flights of stairs her frenzy found out for her, and across the flare of Broadway.

The fog from East River was blowing in grandly as she ran into its tulle.
It closed around and around her.