Golden Fleece, by Fannie Hurst

Gaslight Sonatas

How saving a dispensation it is that men do not carry in their hearts perpetual ache at the pain of the world, that the body-thuds of the drink-crazed, beating out frantic strength against cell doors, cannot penetrate the beatitude of a mother bending, at that moment, above a crib. Men can sit in club windows while, even as they sit, are battle-fields strewn with youth dying, their faces in mud. While men are dining where there are mahogany and silver and the gloss of women's shoulders, are men with kick-marks on their shins, ice gluing shut their eyes, and lashed with gale to some ship-or-other's crow's-nest. Women at the opera, so fragrant that the senses swim, sit with consciousness partitioned against a sweating, shuddering woman in some forbidding, forbidden room, hacking open a wall to conceal something red-stained. One-half of the world does not know or care how the other half lives or dies.

When, one summer, July came in like desert wind, West Cabanne Terrace and that part of residential St. Louis that is set back in carefully conserved, grove-like lawns did not sip its iced limeades with any the less refreshment because, down-town at the intersection of Broadway and West Street, a woman trundling a bundle of washing in an old perambulator suddenly keeled of heat, saliva running from her mouth-corners.

At three o'clock, that hour when so often a summer's day reaches its stilly climax and the heat-dance becomes a thing visible, West Cabanne Terrace and its kind slip into sheerest and crêpiest de Chine, click electric fans to third speed, draw green shades, and retire for siesta.

At that same hour, in the Popular Store, where Broadway and West Street intersect, one hundred and fifty salesgirls—jaded sentinels for a public that dares not venture down, loll at their counters and after the occasional shopper, relax deeper to limpidity.

At the jewelry counter, a crystal rectangle facing broadside the main entrance and the bleached and sun-grilled street without, Miss Lola Hassiebrock, salient among many and with Olympian certainty of self, lifted two Junoesque arms like unto the handles of a vase, held them there in the kind of rigidity that accompanies a yawn, and then let them flop.

"Oh-h-h-h, God bless my soul!" she said.

Miss Josie Beemis, narrowly constricted between shoulders that barely sloped off from her neck, with arms folded flat to her flat bosom and her back a hypothenuse against the counter, looked up.

"Watch out, Loo! I read in the paper where a man up in Alton got caught in the middle of one of those gaps and couldn't ungap."

Miss Hassiebrock batted at her lips and shuddered.

"It's my nerves, dearie. All the doctors say that nine gaps out of ten are nerves."

Miss Beemis hugged herself a bit flatter, looking out straight ahead into a parasol sale across the aisle.

"Enough sleep ain't such a bad cure for gaps," she said.

"I'll catch up in time, dearie; my foot's been asleep all day."

"Huh!"—sniffling so that her thin nose quirked sidewise. "I will now indulge in hollow laughter—"

"You can't, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, driven to vaudevillian extremities, "you're cracked."

"Well, I may be cracked, but my good name ain't."

A stiffening of Miss Hassiebrock took place, as if mere verbiage had suddenly flung a fang. From beneath the sternly and too starched white shirtwaist and the unwilted linen cravat wound high about her throat and sustained there with a rhinestone horseshoe, it was as if a wave of color had started deep down, rushing up under milky flesh into her hair.

"Is that meant to be an in-sinuating remark, Josie?"

"'Tain't how it's meant; it's how it's took."

"There's some poor simps in this world, maybe right here in this store, ought to be excused from what they say because they don't know any better."

"I know this much: To catch the North End street-car from here, I don't have to walk every night down past the Stag Hotel to do it."

At that Miss Hassiebrock's ears, with the large pearl blobs in them, tingled where they peeped out from the scallops of yellow hair, and she swallowed with a forward movement as if her throat had constricted.

"I—take the street-car where I darn please, and it's nobody's darn business."

"Sure it ain't! Only, if a poor working-girl don't want to make it everybody's darn business, she can't run around with the fast rich boys of this town and then get invited to help hem the altar-cloth."

"Anything I do in this town I'm not ashamed to do in broad daylight."

"Maybe; but just the samey, I notice the joy rides out to Claxton don't take place in broad daylight. I notice that 'tall, striking blonde' and Charley Cox's speed-party in the morning paper wasn't exactly what you'd call a 'daylight' affair."

"No, it wasn't; it was—my affair."

"Say, if you think a girl like you can run with the black sheep of every rich family in town and make a noise like a million dollars with the horsy way she dresses, it ain't my grave you're digging."

"Maybe if some of the girls in this store didn't have time to nose so much, they'd know why I can make them all look like they was caught out in the rain and not pressed the next morning. While they're snooping in what don't concern them I'm snipping. Snipping over my last year's black-and-white-checked jacket into this year's cutaway. If you girls had as much talent in your needle as you've got in your conversation, you might find yourselves somewheres."

"Maybe what you call 'somewheres' is what lots of us would call 'nowheres.'"

Miss Hassiebrock drew herself up and, from the suzerainty of sheer height, looked down upon Miss Beemis there, so brown and narrow beside the friendship-bracelet rack.

"I'll have you know, Josie Beemis, that if every girl in this store watched her step like me, there'd be a darn sight less trouble in the world."

"I know you don't go beyond the life-line, Loo, but, gee! you—you do swim out some!"

"Little Loo knows her own depth, all righty."

"Not the way you're cuttin' up with Charley Cox."

Miss Hassiebrock lowered her flaming face to scrutinize a tray of rhinestone bar pins.

"I'd like to see any girl in this store turn down a bid with Charley Cox. I notice there are plenty of you go out to the Highland dances hoping to meet even his imitation."

"The rich boys that hang around the Stag and out to the Highlands don't get girls like us anywheres."

"I don't need them to get me anywhere. It's enough when a fellow takes me out that he can tuck me up in a six-cylinder and make me forget my stone-bruise. Give me a fellow that smells of gasolene instead of bay rum every time. Trolley-car Johnnies don't mean nothing in my life."

"You let John Simeon out of this conversation!"

"You let Charley Cox out!"

"Maybe he don't smell like a cleaned white glove, but John means something by me that's good."

"Well, since you're so darn smart, Josie Beemis, and since you got so much of the English language to spare, I'm going to tell you something. Three nights in succession, and I can prove it by the crowd, Charley Cox has asked me to marry him. Begged me last night out at Claxton Inn, with Jess Turner and all that bunch along, to let them roust out old man Gerber there in Claxton and get married in poetry. Put that in your pipe and smoke it awhile, Josie; it may soothe your nerve."

"Y-aw," said Miss Beemis.

The day dwindled. Died.

At West Street, where Broadway intersects, the red sun at its far end settled redly and cleanly to sink like a huge coin into the horizon. The Popular Store emptied itself into this hot pink glow, scurried for the open street-car and, oftener than not, the overstuffed rear platform, nose to nose, breath to breath.

Fortunately the Popular Store took its semi-annual inventory of yards and not of souls. Such a stock-taking, that of the human hearts which beat from half after eight to six behind six floors of counters, would have revealed empty crannies, worn thin in places with the grind of routine. The eight-thirty-to-six business of muslin underwear, crash toweling, and skirt-binding. The great middle class of shoppers who come querulous with bunions and babies. The strap-hanging homeward ride. Supper, but usually within range of the range that boils it. The same smells of the same foods. The, cinematograph or front-stoop hour before bed. Or, if Love comes, and he will not be gainsaid, a bit of wooing at the fountain—the soda-fountain. But even he, oftener than not, comes moist-handed, and in a ready-tied tie. As if that matters, and yet somehow, it does. Leander wore none, or had he, would have worn it flowing. Then bed, and the routine of its unfolding and coaxing the pillow from beneath the iron clamp. An alarm-clock crashing through the stuff of dreams. Coffee within reach of the range. Another eight-thirty-to-six reality of muslin underwearing, crash toweling, and skirt-binding.

But, not given to self-inventory, the Popular Store emptied itself with that blessed elasticity of spirit which, unappalled, stretches to to-morrows as they come.

At Ninth Street Miss Lola Hassiebrock loosed her arm where Miss Beemis had linked into it. Wide-shouldered and flat-hipped, her checked suit so pressed that the lapels lay entirely flat to the swell of her bosom, her red sailor-hat well down over her brow, and the high, swathing cravat rising to inclose her face like a wimple, she was Fashion's apotheosis in tailor-made mood. When Miss Hassiebrock walked, her skirt, concealing yet revealing an inch glimmer of gray-silk stocking above gray-suede spats, allowed her ten inches of stride. She turned now, sidestepping within those ten inches.

"See you to-morrow, Josie."

"Ain't you taking the car?"

"No, dearie," said Miss Hassiebrock, stepping down to cross the street; "you take it, but not for keeps."

And so, walking southward on Ninth Street in a sartorial glory that was of her own making-over from last season, even St. Louis, which at the stroke of six rushes so for the breeze of its side yards, leaving darkness to creep into down-town streets that are as deserted as cañons, turned its feminine head to bear in mind the box-plaited cutaway, the male eye appraising its approval with bold, even quirking eye.

Through this, and like Diana, who, so aloof from desire, walked in the path of her own splendor, strode Miss Hassiebrock, straight and forward of eye. Past the Stag Hotel, in an aisle formed by lounging young bloods and a curb lined with low, long-snouted motor-cars, the gaze beneath the red sailor and above the high, horsy stock a bit too rigidly conserved.

Slightly by, the spoken word and the whistled innuendo followed her like a trail of bubbles in the wake of a flying-fish. A youth still wearing a fraternity pin pretended to lick his downy chops. The son of the president of the Mound City Oil Company emitted a long, amorous whistle. Willie Waxter—youngest scion, scalawag, and scorcher of one of the oldest families—jammed down his motorgoggles from the visor of his cap, making the feint of pursuing. Mr. Charley Cox, of half a hundred first-page exploits, did pursue, catching up slightly breathless.

"What's your hurry, honey?"

She spun about, too startled.

"Charley Cox! Well, of all the nerve! Why didn't you scare me to death and be done with it?"

"Did I scare you, sweetness? Cross my heart, I didn't mean to."

"Well, I should say you did!"

He linked his arm into hers.

"Come on; I'll buy you a drink."

She unlinked.

"Honest, can't a girl go home from work in this town without one of you fellows getting fresh with her?"

"All right, then; I'll buy you a supper. The car is back there, and we'll shoot out to the inn. What do you say? I feel like a house afire this evening, kiddo. What does your speedometer register?"

"Charley, aren't you tired painting this old town yet? Ain't there just nothing will bring you to your senses? Honest, this morning's papers are a disgrace. You—you won't catch me along again."

He slid his arm, all for ingratiating, back into hers.

"Come now, honey; you know you like me for my speed."

She would not smile.

"Honest, Charley, you're the limit."

"But you like me just the same. Now don't you, Loo?"

She looked at him sidewise.

"You've been drinking, Charley."

He felt of his face.

"Not a drop, Loo. I need a shave, that's all."

"Look at your stud—loose."

He jammed a diamond whip curling back upon itself into his maroon scarf. He was slightly heavy, so that his hands dimpled at the knuckle, and above the soft collar, joined beneath the scarf with a goldbar pin, his chin threatened but did not repeat itself.

"I got to go now, Charley; there's a North End car coming."

"Aw, now, sweetness, what's the idea? Didn't you walk down here to pick me up?"

An immediate flush stung her face.

"Well, of all the darn conceit! Can't a girl walk down to the loop to catch her car and stretch her legs after she's been cooped up all day, without a few of you boys throwing a bouquet or two at yourselves?"

"I got to hand it you, Loo; when you walk down this street, you make every girl in town look warmed over."

"Do you like it, Charley? It's that checked jacket I bought at Hamlin's sale last year made over."

"Say, it's classy! You look like all the money in the world, honey."

"Huh, two yards of coat-lining, forty-four cents, and Ida Bell's last year's office-hat reblocked, sixty-five."

"You're the show-piece of the town, all right. Come on; let's pick up a crowd and muss-up Claxton Road a little."

"I meant what I said, Charley. After the cuttings-up of last night and the night before I'm quits. Maybe Charley Cox can afford to get himself talked about because he's Charley Cox, but a girl like me with a job to hold down, and the way ma and Ida Bell were sitting up in their nightgowns, green around the gills, when I got home last night—nix! I'm getting myself talked about, if you want to know it, running with—your gang, Charley."

"I'd like to see anybody let out so much as a grunt about you in front of me. A fellow can't do any more, honey, to show a girl where she stands with him than ask her to marry him—now can he? If I'd have had my way last night, I'd—"

"You was drunk when you asked me, Charley."

"You mean you got cold feet?"

"Thank God, I did!"

"I don't blame you, girl. You might do worse—but not much."

"That's what you'd need for your finishing-touch, a girl like me dragging you down."

"You mean pulling me up."

"Yes, maybe, if you didn't have a cent."

"I'd have enough sense then to know better than to ask you, honey. You 'ain't got that fourteen-carat look in your eye for nothing. You're the kind that's going to bring in a big fish, and I wish it to you."

"Lots you know."

"Come on; let me ride you around the block, then."

"If—if you like my company so much, can't you just take a walk with me or come out and sit on our steps awhile?"

"Lord, girl, Flamm Avenue is hot enough to fry my soul to-night!"

"We can't all have fathers that live in thirty-room houses out in
Kingsmoreland Place."

"Thank God for that! I sneaked home this morning to change my clothes, and thought maybe I'd got into somebody's mausoleum by mistake."

"Was—was your papa around, Charley?"

"In the library, shut up with old man Brookes."

"Did he—did he see the morning papers? You know what he said last time,
Charley, when the motor-cycle cop chased you down an embankment."

"Honey, if my old man was to carry out every threat he utters, I'd be disinherited, murdered, hong-konged, shanghaied, and cremated every day in the year."

"I got to go now, Charley."

"Not let a fellow even spin you home?"

"You know I want to, Charley, but—but it don't do you any good, boy, being seen with me in that joy-wagon of yours. It—it don't do you any good, Charley, ever—ever being seen with me."

"There's nothing or nobody in this town can hurt my reputation, honey, and certainly not my ace-spot girl. Turn your mind over, and telephone down for me to come out and pick you up about eight."

"Don't hit it up to-night, Charley. Can't you go home one evening?"

He juggled her arm.

"You're a nice little girl, all righty."

"There's my car."

He elevated her by the elbow to the step, swinging up half-way after her to drop a coin into the box.

"Take care of this little lady there, conductor, and don't let your car skid."

"Oh, Charley—silly!"

She forced her way into the jammed rear platform, the sharp brim of the red sailor creating an area for her.

"S'long, Charley!"

"S'long, girl!"

Wedged there in the moist-faced crowd, she looked after him, at his broad back receding. An inclination to cry pressed at her eyeballs.

Flamm Avenue, which is treeless and built up for its entire length with two-story, flat-roofed buildings, stares, window for window, stoop for stoop, at its opposite side, and, in summer, the strip of asphalt street, unshaded and lying naked to the sun, gives off such an effluvium of heat and hot tar that the windows are closed to it and night descends like a gas-mask to the face.

Opening the door upon the Hassiebrock front room, convertible from bed- to sitting-room by the mere erect-position-stand of the folding-bed, a wave of this tarry heat came flowing out, gaseous, sickening. Miss Hassiebrock entered with her face wry, made a diagonal cut of the room, side-stepping a patent rocker and a table laid out with knickknacks on a lace mat, slammed closed two windows, and, turning inward, lifted off her hat, which left a brand across her forehead and had plastered down her hair in damp scallops.

"Whew!"

"Lo-o, that you?"

"Yes, ma."

"Come out to your supper. I'll warm up the kohlrabi."

Miss Hassiebrock strode through a pair of chromatic portières, with them swinging after her, and into an unlit kitchen, gray with dusk. A table drawn out center and within range of the gas-range was a blotch in the gloom, three figures surrounding it with arms that moved vaguely among a litter of dishes.

"I wish to Heaven somebody in this joint would remember to keep those front windows shut!"

Miss Ida Bell Hassiebrock, at the right of the table, turned her head so that, against the window, her profile, somewhat thin, cut into the gloom.

"There's a lot of things I wish around here," she said, without a ripple to her lips.

"Hello, ma!"

"I'll warm up the kohlrabi, Loo."

Mrs. Hassiebrock, in the green black of a cotton umbrella and as sparse of frame, moved around to the gas-range, scraping a match and dragging a pot over the blue flame.

"Never mind, ma; I ain't hungry."

At the left of the table Genevieve Hassiebrock, with thirteen's crab-like silhouette of elbow, rigid plaits, and nose still hitched to the star of her nativity, wound an exceedingly long arm about Miss Hassiebrock's trim waist-line.

"I got B in de-portment to-day, Loo. You owe me the wear of your spats
Sunday."

Miss Hassiebrock squeezed the hand at her waist.

"All right, honey. Cut Loo a piece of bread."

"Gussie Flint's mother scalded her leg with the wash-boiler."

"Did she? Aw!"

Mrs. Hassiebrock came then, limping around, tilting the contents of the steaming pot to a plate.

"Sit down, ma; don't bother."

Miss Hassiebrock drew up, pinning a fringed napkin that stuck slightly in the unfolding across her shining expanse of shirtwaist. Broke a piece of bread. Dipped.

Silence.

"Paula Krausnick only got C in de-portment. When the monitor passed the basin, she dipped her sponge soppin'-wet."

"Anything new, ma?"

Mrs. Hassiebrock, now at the sink, swabbed a dish with gray water.

"My feet's killin' me," she said.

Miss Ida Bell, who wore her hair in a coronet wound twice round her small head, crossed her knife and fork on her plate, folded her napkin, and tied it with a bit of blue ribbon.

"I think it's a shame, ma, the way you keep thumping around in your stocking feet like this was backwoods."

"I can't get my feet in shoes—the joints—"

"You thump around as much as you darn please, ma. If Ida Bell don't like the looks of you, let her go home with some of her swell stenog friends. You let your feet hurt you any old way you want 'em to. I'm going to buy you some arnica. Pass the kohlrabi."

"Well, my swell 'stenog friends,' as you call them, keep themselves self-respecting girls without getting themselves talked about, and that's more than I can say of my sister. If ma had the right kind of gumption with you, she'd put a stop to it, all right."

Mrs. Hassiebrock leaned her tired head sidewise into the moist palm of her hand.

"She's beyond me and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht to God there was a father to rule youse!"

"I tell you, ma—mark my word for it—if old man Brookes ever finds out I'm sister to any of the crowd that runs with Charley Cox and Willie Waxter and those boys whose fathers he's lawyer for, it'll queer me for life in that office—that's what it will. A girl that's been made confidential stenographer after only one year in an office to have to be afraid, like I am, to pick up the morning's paper."

"Paula Krausnick's lunch was wrapped in the paper where Charley Cox got pinched for speedin'—speedin'—speedin'—"

"Shut up, Genevieve! Just don't you let my business interfere with yours, Ida Bell. Brookes don't know you're on earth outside of your dictation-book. Take it from me, I bet he wouldn't know you if he met you on the street."

"That's about all you know about it! If you found yourself confidential stenographer to the biggest lawyer in town, he'd know you, all right—by your loud dressing. A blind man could see you coming."

"Ma, are you going to stand there and let her talk to me thataway? I notice she's willing to borrow my loud shirtwaists and my loud gloves and my loud collars."

"If ma had more gumption with you, maybe things would be different."

Mrs. Hassiebrock limped to the door, dangling a pail.

"I 'ain't got no more strength against her. My ears won't hold no more. I'm taking this hot oil down to Mrs. Flint's scalds. She's, beyond my control, and the days when a slipper could make her mind. I wisht to God there was a father! I wisht to God!"

Her voice trailed off and down a rear flight of stairs.

"Yes sir," resumed Miss Hassiebrock, her voice twanging in her effort at suppression, "I notice you're pretty willing to borrow some of my loud dressing when you get a bid once in a blue moon to take a boat-ride up to Alton with that sad-faced Roy Brownell. If Charley didn't have a cent to his name and a harelip, he'd make Roy Brownell look like thirty cents."

"If Roy Brownell was Charley Cox, I'd hate to leave him laying around loose where you could get your hands on him."

"Genevieve, you run out and play."

"If—if you keep running around till all hours of the night, with me and ma waiting up for you, kicking up rows and getting your name insinuated in the newspapers as 'the tall, handsome blonde,' I—I'm going to throw up my job, I am, and you can pay double your share for the running of this flat. Next thing we know, with that crowd that don't mean any good to you, this family is going to find itself with a girl in trouble on its hands."

"You—"

"And if you want to know it, and if I wasn't somebody's confidential stenographer, I could tell you that you're on the wrong scent. Boys like Charley Cox don't mean good by your kind of a girl. If you're not speedy, you look it, and that's almost the same as inviting those kind of boys to—"

Miss Lola Hassiebrock sprang up then, her hand coming down in a small crash to the table.

"You cut out that talk in front of that child!"

Thus drawn into the picture, Genevieve, at thirteen, crinkled her face for not uncalculating tears.

"In this house it's fuss and fuss and fuss. Other children can go to the 'movies' after supper, only me-e-e—"

"Here, honey; Loo's got a dime for you."

"Sending that child out along your own loose ways, instead of seeing to it she stays home to help ma do the dishes!"

"I'll do the dishes for ma."

"It's bad enough for one to have the name of being gay without starting that child running around nights with—"

"Ida Bell!"

"You dry up, Ida Bell! I'll do what I pl—ease with my di—uhm—di—uhm."

"If you say another word about such stuff in front of that child, I'll—"

"Well, if you don't want her to hear what she sees with her eyes all around her, come into the bedroom, then, and I can tell you something that'll bring you to your senses."

"What you can tell me I don't want to hear."

"You're afraid."

"I am, am I?"

"Yes."

With a wrench of her entire body, Miss Lola Hassiebrock was across the room at three capacity strides, swung open a door there, and stood, head flung up and pressing back tears, her lips turned inward.

"All right, then—tell—"

After them, the immediately locked door resisting, Genevieve fell to batting the panels.

"Let me in! Let me in! You're fussin' about your beaux. Ray Brownell has a long face, and Charley Cox has a red face—red face—red face! Let me in! In!"

After a while the ten-cent piece rolled from her clenched and knocking fist, scuttling and settling beneath the sink. She rescued it and went out, lickety-clapping down the flight of rear stairs.

Silence descended over that kitchen, and a sooty dusk that almost obliterated the table, drawn out and cluttered after the manner of those who dine frowsily; the cold stove, its pots cloying, and a sink piled high with a task whose only ending is from meal to meal.

Finally that door swung open again; the wide-shouldered, slim-hipped silhouette of Miss Hassiebrock moved swiftly and surely through the kind of early darkness, finding out for itself a wall telephone hung in a small patch of hallway separating kitchen and front room. Her voice came tight, as if it were a tense coil in her throat that she held back from bursting into hysteria.

"Give me Olive, two-one-o." The toe of her boot beat a quick tattoo. "Stag?… Say, get me Charley Cox. He's out in front or down in the grill or somewhere around. Page him quick! Important!" She grasped the nozzle of the instrument as she waited, breathing into it with her head thrown back. "Hello—Charley? That you? It's me. Loo … Loo! Are you deaf, honey? What you doing?… Oh, I got the blues, boy; honest I have. Blue as a cat…. I don't know—just the indigoes. Nothing much. Ain't lit up, are you, honey?… Sure I will. Don't bring a crowd. Just you and me. I'll walk down to Gessler's drug-store and you can pick me up there…. Quit your kidding…. Ten minutes. Yeh. Good-by."

* * * * *

Claxton Inn, slightly outside the city limits and certain of its decorums, stands back in a grove off a macadamized highway that is so pliant to tire that of summer nights, with tops thrown back and stars sown like lavish grain over a close sky and to a rushing breeze that presses the ears like an eager whisper, motor-cars, wild to catch up with the horizon, tear out that road—a lightning-streak of them—fearing neither penal law nor Dead Man's Curve.

Slacking only to be slacked, cars dart off the road and up a gravel driveway that encircles Claxton Inn like a lariat swung, then park themselves among the trees, lights dimmed. Placid as a manse without, what was once a private and now a public house maintains through lowered lids its discreet white-frame exterior, shades drawn, and only slightly revealing the parting of lace curtains. It is rearward where what was formerly a dining-room that a huge, screened-in veranda, very whitely lighted, juts suddenly out, and a showy hallway, bordered in potted palms, leads off that. Here Discretion dares lift her lids to rove the gravel drive for who comes there.

In a car shaped like a motor-boat and as low to the ground Mr. Charley Cox turned in and with a great throttling and choking of engine drew up among the dim-eyed monsters of the grove and directly alongside an eight-cylinder roadster with a snout like a greyhound.

"Aw, Charley, I thought you promised you wasn't going to stop!"

"Honey, sweetness, I just never was so dry."

Miss Hassiebrock laid out a hand along his arm, sitting there in the quiet car, the trees closing over them.

"There's Yiddles Farm a little farther out, Charley; let's stop there for some spring water."

He was peeling out of his gauntlets, and cramming them into spacious side pockets.

"Water, honey, can wash me, but it can't quench me."

"No high jinks to-night, though, Charley?"

"Sure—no."

They high-stepped through the gloom, and finally, with firmer step, up the gravel walk and into the white-lighted, screened-in porch.

Three waiters ran toward their entrance. A woman with a bare V of back facing them, and three plumes that dipped to her shoulders, turned square in her chair.

"Hi, Charley. Hi, Loo!"

"H'lo, Jess!"

They walked, thus guided by two waiters, through a light confetti of tossed greetings, sat finally at a table half concealed by an artificial palm.

"You don't feel like sitting with Jess and the crowd, Loo?"

"Charley, hasn't that gang got you into enough mix-ups?"

"All right, honey; anything your little heart desires."

She leaned on her elbows across the table from him, smiling and twirling a great ring of black onyx round her small finger.

"Love me?"

"Br-r-r—to death!"

"Sure?"

"Sure. What'll you have, hon?"

"I don't care."

"Got any my special Gold Top on ice for me, George? Good. Shoot me a bottle and a special layout of hors-d'oeuvre. How's that, sweetness?"

"Yep."

"Poor little girl," he said, patting the black onyx, "with the bad old blues! I know what they are, honey; sometimes I get crazy with 'em myself."

Her lips trembled.

"It's you makes me blue, Charley."

"Now, now; just don't worry that big, nifty head of yours about me."

"The—the morning papers and all. I—I just hate to see you going so to—to the dogs, Charley—a—fellow like you—with brains."

"I'm a bad egg, girl, and what you going to do about it? I was raised like one, and I'll die like one."

"You ain't a bad egg. You just never had a chance. You been killed with coin."

"Killed with coin! Why, Loo, do you know, I haven't had to ask my old man for a cent since my poor old granny died five years ago and left me a world of money? While he's been piling it up like the Rocky Mountains I've been getting down to rock-bottom. What would you say, sweetness, if I told you I was down to my last few thousands? Time to touch my old man, eh?"

He drank off his first glass with a quaff, laughing and waving it empty before her face to give off its perfume.

"My old man is going to wake up in a minute and find me on his checking-account again. Charley boy better be making connections with headquarters or he won't find himself such a hit with the niftiest doll in town, eh?"

"Charley, you—you haven't run through those thousands and thousands and thousands the papers said you got from your granny that time?"

"It was slippery, hon; somebody buttered it."

"Charley, Charley, ain't there just no limit to your wildness?"

"You're right, girl; I've been killed with coin. My old man's been too busy all these years sitting out there in that marble tomb in Kingsmoreland biting the rims off pennies to hold me back from the devil. Honey, that old man, even if he is my father, didn't know no more how to raise a boy like me than that there salt-cellar. Every time I got in a scrape he bought me out of it, filled up the house with rough talk, and let it go at that. It's only this last year, since he's short on health, that he's kicking up the way he should have before it got too late. My old man never used to talk it out with me, honey. He used to lash it out. I got a twelve-year-old welt on my back now, high as your finger. Maybe it'll surprise you, girl, but now, since he can't welt me up any more, me and him don't exchange ten words a month."

"Did—did he hear about last night, Charley? You know what came out in the paper about making a new will if—if you ever got pulled in again for rough-housing?"

"Don't you worry that nifty head of yours about my old man ever making a new will. He's been pulling that ever since they fired me from the academy for lighting a cigarette with a twenty-dollar bill."

"Charley!"

"Next to taking it with him, he'll leave it to me before he'll see a penny go out of the family. I've seen his will, hon."

"Charley, you—you got so much good in you. The way you sent that wooden leg out to poor old lady Guthrie. The way you made Jimmy Ball go home, and the blind-school boys and all. Why can't you get yourself on the right track where you belong, Charley? Why don't you clear—out—West where it's clean?"

"I used to have that idea, Loo. West, where a fellow's got to stand on his own. Why, if I'd have met a girl like you ten years ago, I'd have made you the baby doll of the Pacific Coast. I like you, Loo. I like your style and the way you look like a million dollars. When a fellow walks into a café with you he feels like he's wearing the Hope diamond. Maybe the society in this town has given me the cold shoulder, but I'd like to see any of the safety-first boys walk in with one that's got you beat. That's what I think of you, girl."

"Aw, now, you're lighting up. Charley. That's four glasses you've taken."

"Thought I was kidding you last night—didn't you—about wedding-bells?"

"You were lit up."

"I know. You're going to watch your step, little girl, and I don't know as I blame you. You can get plenty of boys my carat, and a lot of other things thrown in I haven't got to offer you."

"As if I wouldn't like you, Charley, if you were dead broke!"

"Of course you would! There, there, girl, I don't blame any of you for feathering your nest." He was flushed now and above the soft collar, his face had relaxed into a not easily controllable smile. "Feather your nest, girl; you got the looks to do it. It's a far cry from Flamm Avenue to where a classy girl like you can land herself if she steers right. And I wish it to you, girl; the best isn't good enough."

"I—I dare you to ask me again, Charley!"

"Ask what?"

"You know. Throw your head up the way you do when you mean what you say and—ask."

He was wagging his head now insistently, but pinioning his gaze with the slightly glassy stare of those who think none too clearly.

"Honest, I don't know, beauty. What's the idea?"

"Didn't you say yourself—Gerber, out here in Claxton that—magistrate that marries you in verse—"

"By gad, I did!"

"Well—I—I—dare you to ask me again, Charley."

He leaned forward.

"You game, girl?"

"Sure."

"No kidding?"

"Try me."

"I'm serious, girl."

"So'm I."

"There's Jess over there can get us a special license from his brother-in-law. Married in verse in Claxton sounds good to me, honey."

"But not—the crowd, Charley; just you—and—"

"How're we going to get the license, honey, this time of night without Jess? Let's make it a million-dollar wedding. We're not ashamed of nobody or nothing."

"Of course not, Charley."

"Now, you're sure, honey? You're drawing a fellow that went to the dogs before he cut his canines."

"You're not all to the canines yet, Charley."

"I may be a black sheep, honey, but, thank God, I got my golden fleece to offer you!"

"You're not—black."

"You should worry, girl! I'm going to make you the million-dollar baby doll of this town, I am. If they turn their backs, we'll dazzle 'em from behind. I'm going to buy you every gewgaw this side of the Mississippi. I'm going to show them a baby doll that can make the high-society bunch in this town look like Subway sports. Are you game, girl? Now! Think well! Here goes. Jess!"

"Charley—I—You—"

"Jess—over here! Quick!"

"Charley—honey—"

* * * * *

At eleven o'clock a small, watery moon cut through a sky that was fleecily clouded—a swift moon that rode fast as a ship. It rode over but did not light Squire Gerber's one-and-a-half-storied, weathered-gray, and set-slightly-in-a-hollow house on Claxton countryside.

Three motor-cars, their engines chugging out into wide areas of stillness, stood processional at the curb. A red hall light showed against the door-pane and two lower-story windows were widely illuminated.

Within that room of chromos and the cold horsehair smell of unaired years, silence, except for the singing of three gas-jets, had momentarily fallen, a dozen or so flushed faces, grotesquely sobered, staring through the gaseous fog, the fluttering lids of a magistrate whose lips habitually fluttered, just lifting from his book.

A hysterical catch of breath from Miss Vera de Long broke the ear-splitting silence. She reached out, the three plumes dipping down the bare V of her back, for the limp hand of the bride.

"Gawd bless you, dearie; it's a big night's work!"

* * * * *

In the tallest part of St. Louis, its busiest thoroughfares inclosing it in a rectangle, the Hotel Sherman, where traveling salesmen with real alligator bags and third-finger diamonds habitually shake their first Pullman dust, rears eighteen stories up through and above an aeriality of soft-coal smoke, which fits over the rim of the city like a skull-cap.

In the Louis Quinze, gilt-bedded, gilt-framed, gilt-edged bridal-suite de luxe on the seventeenth floor, Mrs. Charley Cox sat rigid enough and in shirt-waisted incongruity on the lower curl of a gilt divan that squirmed to represent the letter S.

"Charley—are you—sorry?"

He wriggled out of his dust-coat, tossing it on the gilt-canopied bed and crossed to her, lifting off her red sailor.

"Now that's a fine question for a ten-hours' wifey to ask her hubby, ain't it? Am I sorry, she asks me before the wedding crowd has turned the corner. Lord, honey, I never expected anything like you to happen to me!"

She stroked his coat-sleeve, mouthing back tears.

"Now everybody'll say—you're a goner—for sure—marrying a—Popular Store girl."

"If anybody got the worst of this bargain, it's my girl."

"My own boy," she said, still battling with tears.

"You drew a black sheep, honey, but I say again and again, 'Thank God, you drew one with golden fleece!'"

"That—that's the trouble, Charley—there's just no way to make a boy with money know you married him for any other reason."

"I'm not blaming you, honey. Lord! what have I got besides money to talk for me?"

"Lots. Why—like Jess says, Charley, when you get to squaring your lips and jerking up your head, there's nothing in the world you can't do that you set out to do."

"Well, I'm going to set out to make the stiff-necks of this town turn to look at my girl, all right. I'm going to buy you a chain of diamonds that'll dazzle their eyes out; I'm—"

"Charley, Charley, that's not what I want, boy. Now that I've got you, there ain't a chain of diamonds on earth I'd turn my wrist for."

"Yes, there is, girl; there's a string of pear-shaped ones in—"

"I want you to buck up, honey; that's the finest present you can give me. I want you to buck up like you didn't have a cent to your name. I want you to throw up your head the way you do when you mean business, and show that Charley Cox, without a cent to his name, would be—"

"Would be what, honey?"

"A winner. You got brains, Charley—if only you'd have gone through school and shown them. If you'd only have taken education, Charley, and not got fired out of all the academies, my boy would beat 'em all. Lord! boy, there's not a day passes over my head I don't wish for education. That's why I'm so crazy my little sister Genevieve should get it. I'd have took to education like a fish to water if I'd have had the chance, and there you were, Charley, with every private school in town and passed 'em up."

"I know, girl, just looks like every steer I gave myself was the wrong steer till it was too late to get in right again. Bad egg, I tell you, honey."

"Too late! Why, Charley—and you not even thirty-one yet? With your brains and all—too late! You make me laugh. If only you will—why, I'm game to go out West, Charley, on a ranch, where you can find your feet and learn to stand on them. You got stuff in you, you have. Jess Turner says you was always first in school, and when you set your jaw there wasn't nothing you couldn't get on top of. If you'd have had a mother and—and a father that wasn't the meanest old man in town, dear, and had known how to raise a hot-headed boy like you, you'd be famous now instead of notorious—that's what you'd be."

He patted her yellow hair, tilting her head back against his arm, pinching her cheeks together and kissing her puckered mouth.

"Dream on, honey. I like you crazy, too."

"But, honey, I—"

"You married this millionaire kid, and, bless your heart, he's going to make good by showing you the color of his coin!"

"Charley!"

She sprang back from the curve of his embrace, unshed tears immediately distilled.

"Why, honey—I didn't mean it that way! I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. What I meant was—'sh-h-h-h, Loo—all I meant was, it's coming to you. Where'd the fun be if I couldn't make this town point up its ears at my girl? Nobody knows any better than your hubby what his Loo was cut out for. She was cut out for queening it, and I'm going to see that she gets what's her due. Wouldn't be surprised if the papers have us already. Let's see what we'll give them with their coffee this morning."

He unfolded his fresh sheet, shaking it open with one hand and still holding her in the cove of his arm.

"Guess we missed the first edition, but they'll get us sure."

She peered at the sheet over his shoulder, her cheek against his and still sobbing a bit in her throat. The jerking of her breath stopped then; in fact, it was as if both their breathing had let down with the oneness of a clock stopped.

It was she who moved first, falling back from him, her mouth dropping open slightly.

He let the paper fall between his wide-spread knees, the blood flowing down from his face and seeming to leave him leaner.

"Charley—Charley—darling!"

"My—poor old man!" he said in a voice that might have been his echo in a cave.

"He—his heart must have give out on him, Charley, while he slept in the night."

"My—poor—old—man!"

She stretched out her hand timidly to his shoulder.

"Charley—boy—my poor boy!"

He reached up to cover her timid touch, still staring ahead, as if a mental apathy had clutched him.

"He died like—he—lived. Gad—it's—tough!"

"It—it wasn't your fault, darling. God forgive me for speaking against the dead, but—everybody knows he was a hard man, Charley—the way he used to beat you up instead of showing you the right way. Poor old man, I guess he didn't know—"

"My old man—dead!"

She crept closer, encircling his neck, and her wet cheek close to his dry one.

"He's at peace now, darling—and all your sins are forgiven—like you forgive—his."

His lips were twisting.

"There was no love lost there, girl. God knows there wasn't. There was once nine months we didn't speak. Never could have been less between a father and son. You see he—he hated me from the start, because my mother died hating him—but—dead—that's another matter. Ain't it, girl—ain't it?"

She held her cheek to his so that her tears veered out of their course, zigzagging down to his waistcoat, stroked his hair, placing her rich, moist lips to his eyelids.

"My darling! My darling boy! My own poor darling!"

Sobs rumbled up through him, the terrific sobs that men weep.

"You—married a rotter, Loo—that couldn't even live decent with his—old man. He—died like a dog—alone."

"'Sh-h-h, Charley! Just because he's dead don't mean he was any better while he lived."

"I'll make it up to you, girl, for the rotter I am. I'm a rich man now,
Loo."

"'Sh-h-h!"

"I'll show you, girl. I can make somebody's life worth living. I'm going to do something for somebody to prove I'm worth the room I occupy, and that somebody's going to be you, Loo. I'm going to build you a house that'll go down in the history of this town. I'm going to wind you around with pearls to match that skin of yours. I'm going to put the kind of clothes on you that you read of queens wearing. I've seen enough of the kind of meanness money can breed. I'm going to make those Romans back there look like pikers. I'm—"

She reached out, placing her hand pat across his mouth, and, in the languid air of the room, shuddering so that her lips trembled.

"Charley—for God's sake—it—it's a sin to talk that way!"

"O God, I know it, girl! I'm all muddled—muddled."

He let his forehead drop against her arm, and in the long silence that ensued she sat there, her hand on his hair.

The roar of traffic, seventeen stories below, came up through the open windows like the sound of high seas, and from where she sat, staring out between the pink-brocade curtains, it was as if the close July sky dipped down to meet that sea, and space swam around them.

"O God!" he said, finally. "What does it all mean—this living and dying—"

"Right living, Charley, makes dying take care of itself."

"God! how he must have died, then! Like a dog—alone."

"'Sh-h-h, Charley; don't get to thinking."

Without raising his head, he reached up to stroke her arm.

"Honey, you're shivering."

"No-o."

"Everything's all right, girl. What's the use me trying to sham it's not. I—I'm bowled over for the minute, that's all. If it had to come, after all, it—it came right for my girl. With that poor old man out there, honey, living alone like a dog all these years, it's just like putting him from one marble mausoleum out there on Kingsmoreland Place into one where maybe he'll rest easier. He's better off, Loo, and—we—are too. Hand me the paper, honey; I—want to see—just how my—poor old man—breathed out."

Then Mrs. Cox rose, her face distorted with holding back tears, her small high heels digging into and breaking the newspaper at his feet.

"Charley—Charley—"

"Why, girl, what?"

"You don't know it, but my sister, Charley—Ida Bell!"

"Why, Loo, I sent off the message to your mama. They know it by now."

"Charley—Charley—"

"Why, honey, you're full of nerves! You mustn't go to pieces like this.
Your sister's all right. I sent them a—"

"You—you don't know, Charley. My sister—I swore her an oath on my mother's prayer-book. I wouldn't tell, but, now that he's dead, that—lets me out. The will—Charley, he made it yesterday, like he always swore he would the next time you got your name on the front page."

"Made what, honey? Who?"

"Charley, can't you understand? My sister Ida Bell and Brookes—your father's lawyer. She's his private stenographer—Brookes's, honey. You know that. But she told me last night, honey, when I went home. You're cut off, Charley! Your old man sent for Brookes yesterday at noon. I swear to God, Charley! My sister Ida Bell she broke her confidence to tell me. He's give a million alone to the new college hospital. Half a million apiece to four or five old people's homes. He's give his house to the city with the art-gallery. He's even looked up relations to give to. He kept his word, honey, that all those years he kept threatening. He—he kept it the day before he died. He must have had a hunch—your poor old man. Charley darling, don't look like that! If your wife ain't the one to break it to you you're broke, who is? You're not 'Million Dollar Charley' no more, honey. You're just my own Charley, with his chance come to him—you hear, my Charley, with the best thing that ever happened to him in his life happening right now."

He regarded her as if trying to peer through something opaque, his hands spread rather stupidly on his wide knees.

"Huh?"

"Charley, Charley, can't you understand? A dollar, that puts him within the law, is all he left you."

"He never did. He never did. He wouldn't. He couldn't. He never did. I saw—his will. I'm the only survivor. I saw his will."

"Charley, I swear to God! I swear as I'm standing here you're cut off. My sister copied the new will on her typewriter three times and seen the sealed and stamped one. He kept his word. He wrote it with his faculties and witnesses. We're broke, Charley—thank God, we're flat broke!"

"He did it? He did it? My old man did it?"

"As sure as I'm standing here, Charley."

He fell to blinking rapidly, his face puckering to comprehend.

"I never thought it could happen. But I—I guess it could happen. I think you got me doped, honey."

"Charley, Charley!" she cried, falling down on her knees beside him, holding his face in the tight vise of her hands and reading with such closeness into his eyes that they seemed to merge into one. "Haven't you got your Loo? Haven't you got her?"

He sprang up at that, jerking her backward, and all the purple-red gushed up into his face again.

"Yes, by God, I've got you! I'll break the will. I'll—"

"Charley, no—no! He'd rise out of his grave at you. It's never been known where a will was broke where they didn't rise out of the grave to haunt."

He took her squarely by the shoulders, the tears running in furrows down his face.

"I'll get you out of this, Loo. No girl in God's world will have to find herself tied up to me without I can show her a million dollars every time she remembers that she's married to a rotter. I'll get you out of this, girl, so you won't even show a scratch. I'll—"

"Charley," she said, lifting herself by his coat lapels, and her eyes again so closely level with his, "you're crazy with the heat—stark, raving crazy! You got your chance, boy, to show what you're made of—can't you see that? We're going West, where men get swept out with clean air and clean living. We'll break ground in this here life for the kind of pay-dirt that'll make a man of you. You hear? A man of you!"

He lifted her arms, and because they were pressing insistently down, squirmed out from beneath them.

"You're a good sport, girl; nobody can take that from you. But just the same, I'm going to let you off without a scratch."

"'Good sport'! I'd like to know, anyways, where I come in with all your solid-gold talk. Me that's stood behind somebody-or-other's counter ever since I had my working-papers."

"I'll get you out of—"

"Have I ever lived anywheres except in a dirty little North St. Louis flat with us three girls in a bed? Haven't I got my name all over town for speed, just because I've always had to rustle out and try to learn how to flatten out a dime to the size of a dollar? Where do I come in on the solid-gold talk, I'd like to know. I'm the penny-splitter of the world, the girl that made the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store millinery department famous. I can look tailor-made on a five-dollar bill and a tissue-paper pattern. Why, honey, with me scheming for you, starting out on your own is going to make a man of you. You got stuff in you. I knew it, Charley, the first night you spied me at the Highlands dance. Somewhere out West Charley Cox is now going to begin to show 'em the stuff in Charley Cox—that's what Charley Cox & Co. are going to do!"

He shook his head, turning away his eyes to hide their tears.

"You been stung, Loo. Nothing on earth can change that."

She turned his face back to her, smiling through her own tears.

"You're not adding up good this morning, Mr. Cox. When do you think I called you up last night? When could it have been if not after my sister broke her confidence to tell me? Why do you think all of a sudden last night I seen your bluff through about Gerber? It was because I knew I had you where you needed me, Charley—I never would have dragged you down the other way in a million years, but when I knew I had you where you needed me—why, from that minute, honey, you didn't have a chance to dodge me!"

She wound her arms round him, trembling between the suppressed hysteria of tears and laughter.

"Not a chance, Charley!"

He jerked her so that her face fell back from him, foreshortened.

"Loo—oh, girl! Oh, girl!"

Her throat was tight and would not give her voice for coherence.

"Charley—we—we'll show 'em—you—me!"

Looking out above her head at the vapory sky showing through the parting of the pink-brocade curtains, rigidity raced over Mr. Cox, stiffening his hold of her.

The lean look had come out in his face; the flanges of his nose quivered; his head went up.