Hers Not to Reason Why, by Fannie Hurst
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
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
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
"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
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."
"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."
"Remember the run of rotten luck you had that year in Cincinnati, when the
ponies was runnin' at Latonia?"
"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."
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Oh, Blutch—honey—if only—if only—"
"If only what, Babe?"
"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—"
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
"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
"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!"
"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
"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."
"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,
"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
"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
"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."
"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'?"
"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
"The wife ain't so short on looks, is she?"
"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
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
"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."
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
He put out a short, broad hand toward her.
"I gotta go now, Joe. These rooms ain't mine no more."
He barred her path.
'"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?"
"Ten—'leven—fourteen dollars and seventy-four cents."
"You can't cut no capers on that, girl."
He dropped something in against the coins.
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!
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."
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
"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?"
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
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
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
"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.
"Five a week."
"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
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
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.
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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.