EVERY SOUL HATH ITS SONG
Just Around the Corner
"Oh, the melody in the simplest heart"
BOOKS BY FANNIE HURST
EVERY SOUL HATH ITS SONG
JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Every Soul Hath Its Song
HOCHENHEIMER OF CINCINNATI
THE NTH COMMANDMENT
THE NAME AND THE GAME
EVERY SOUL HATH ITS SONG
In this age of prose, when men's hearts turn point-blank from blank verse to the business of chaining two worlds by cable and of daring to fly with birds; when scholars, ever busy with the dead, are suffering crick in the neck from looking backward to the good old days when Romance wore a tin helmet on his head or lace in his sleeves—in such an age Simon Binswanger first beheld the high-flung torch of Goddess Liberty from the fore of the steerage deck of a wooden ship, his small body huddled in the sag of calico skirt between his mother's knees, and the sky-line and clothes-lines of the lower East Side dawning upon his uncomprehending eyes.
Some decades later, and with an endurance stroke that far outclassed classic Leander's, Simon Binswanger had swum the great Hellespont that surged between the Lower East Side and the Upper West Side, and, trolling his family after, landed them in one of those stucco-fronted, elevator-service apartment-houses where home life is lived on the layer, and the sins of the extension sole and the self-playing piano are visited upon the neighbor below. Landed them four stories high and dry in a strictly modern apartment of three dark, square bedrooms, a square dining-room ventilated by an airshaft, and a square pocket of a kitchen that looked out upon a zigzag of fire-escape. And last a square front-room-de-resistance, with a bay of four windows overlooking a distant segment of Hudson River, an imitation stucco mantelpiece, a crystal chandelier, and an air of complete detachment from its curtailed rear.
But even among the false creations of exterior architects and interior decorators, home can find a way. Despite the square dining-room with the stag-and-tree wall-paper design above the plate-rack and a gilded radiator that hissed loudest at mealtime, when Simon Binswanger and his family relaxed round their after-dinner table, the invisible cricket on the visible hearth fell to whirring.
With the oldest gesture of the shod age Mrs. Binswanger dived into her work-basket, withdrew with a sock, inserted her five fingers into the foot, and fell to scanning it this way and that with a furrow between her eyes.
"Ray, go in and tell your sister she should come out of her room and stop that crying nonsense. I tell you it's easier we should all go to Europe, even if we have to swim across, than every evening we should have spoilt for us."
Ray Binswanger rose out of her shoulders, her eyes dazed with print, then collapsed again to the pages of her book.
"Let her cry, mamma."
"It's not so nice, Ray, you should treat your sister like that."
"Can I help it, mamma, that all of a sudden she gets Europe on the brain? You never heard me even holler for Arverne, much less Europe, as long as the boats were running for Brighton, did you, mom?"
"She thinks, Ray, in Europe it's a finer education for you both. She ain't all wrong the way she hates you should run to Brighton with them little snips."
"Just the same you never heard me nag for trips. The going's too good at home. Did you, pop, ever hear me nag?"
"Ja, it's a lot your papa worries about what's what! Look at him there behind his paper, like it was a law he had to read every word! Ray, go get me my glasses under the clock and call in your sister. Them novels will keep. Mind me when I talk, Ray!"
Miss Ray Binswanger rose reluctantly, placing the book face downward on the blue-and-white table coverlet. It was as if seventeen Indian summers had laid their golden blush upon her. Imperceptibly, too, the lanky, prankish years were folding back like petals, revealing the first bloom of her, a suddenly cleared complexion and eyes that had newly learned to drop upon occasion.
"Honest, mamma, do you think it would hurt Izzy to make a move once in a while? He was the one made her cry, anyway, guying her about spaghetti on the brain."
"Sure I did. Wasn't she running down my profesh? She's got to go to Europe for the summer, because the traveling salesmen she meets at home ain't good enough for her. Well, of all the nerve!"
"Just look at him, mamma, stretched out on the sofa there like he was a king!"
Full flung and from a tufted leather couch Isadore Binswanger turned on his pillow, flashing his dark eyes and white teeth full upon her.
"Go chase yourself, Blackey!"
"Blackey! Let me just tell you, Mr. Smarty, that alongside of you I'm so blond I'm dizzy."
"Come and give your big brother a French kiss, Blackey."
"Like fun I will!"
"Do what I say or I'll—"
Mrs. Binswanger rapped her darning-ball with a thimbled finger.
"Izzy, stop teasing your sister."
"You just ask me to press your white-flannel pants for you the next time you want to play Palm Beach with yourself, and see if I do it or not. You just ask me!"
He made a great feint of lunging after her, and she dodged behind her mother's rocking-chair, tilting it sharply.
"Mamma, don't you let him touch me!"
"You—you little imp, you!"
"I tell you, ma, that kid's getting too fresh."
"You spoil her, Izzy, more as any one."
"It's those yellow novels, and that gang of drugstore snips you let her run with will be her ruination. If she was my kid I bet I'd have kept her in school another year."
"You shut up, Izzy Binswanger, and mind your own business. You never even went as long as me."
"With a boy it's different."
"You better lay pretty low, Izzy Binswanger, or I can tell a few tales. I guess I didn't see you the night after you got in from your last trip, in your white-flannel pants I pressed, dancing on the Brighton boat with that peroxide queen alrighty."
This time his face darkened with the blood of anger.
"You little imp, I'll—"
"Children! Stop it, do you hear! Ray, go right this minute and call Miriam and bring me my glasses. Izzy, do you think it's so nice that a grown man should tease his little sister?"
"I'll be glad when he goes out on his Western trip next week."
"Skidoo, you little imp!"
She tossed her head in high-spirited distemper and flounced through the doorway. He rose from his mound of pillows, jerking his daring waistcoat into place, flinging each knee outward to adjust the knifelike trouser creases, swept backward a black, pomaded forelock and straightened an accurate and vivid cravat.
"She's getting too fresh, I tell you, ma. If I catch her up round the White Front drug-store with that fresh crowd of kids I'll slap her face right there before them."
"Ach, at her age, Izzy, Miriam was just the same way, and now look how fine a boy has got to be before that girl will look at him. Too fine, I say!"
"Where's my hat, ma? I laid it here on the sewing-machine. Gee! the only way for a fellow to keep his hat round this joint is to sit on it!"
A quick frown sprang between Mrs. Binswanger's eyes and she glanced at her husband, hidden behind his barricade of newspaper. Her brow knotted and her wide, uncorseted figure half rose toward him.
"Izzy, one night can't you stay at home and—"
"I ain't gone yet, am I, ma? Don't holler before you're hurt. There's a fellow going to call for me at eight and we're going to a show—a good fellow for me to know, Irving Shapiro, city salesman for the Empire Waist Company. I ain't still in bibs, ma, that I got to be bossed where I go nights."
"Ach, Izzy, for why can't you stay home this evening? Stay home and you and Miriam and your friend sing songs together, and later I fix for you some sandwiches—not, Izzy? A young man like Irving Shapiro I bet likes it if you stay home with him once. Nice it will be for your sister, too—eh, Izzy?"
Mrs. Binswanger's face, slightly sagging at the mouth from the ravages of two recently extracted molars, broke into an invitational smile.
He found and withdrew his hat from behind a newspaper-rack and cast a quick glance toward the form of his father, whose nether half, ending in a pair of carpet slippers dangling free from his balbriggan heels, protruded from the barricade of newspaper.
"That's right, just get the old man started on me, ma, too. When a fellow travels six months out of the year in every two-by-four burg in the Middle West, nagging like this is just what he needs when he gets home."
"You know, Izzy, I'm the last one to start something."
"Then don't always ask a fellow where he's going, ma, and get pa started too."
"You know that not one thing that goes on does papa hear when he reads his paper, Izzy. Never one word do I say to him how I feel when you go, only I—I don't like you should run out nights so late, Izzy. Next week again already you go out on your trip and—"
"Now, ma, just—just you begin if you want to make me sore."
"I tell you, Izzy, I worry enough that you should be on the road so much. And ain't it natural, Izzy, when you ain't away I—I should like it that you stay by home a lot? Sit down, anyway, awhile yet till the Shapiro boy comes."
"Sure I will, ma."
"If I take a trip away from you this summer I worry, Izzy, and if I stay home I worry. Anyway I fix it I worry."
"Only sometimes I feel if your papa feels like he wants to spend the money—Well, anything is better as that girl should feel so bad that we don't take her to Europe."
He jingled a handful of loose coins from his pocket to his palm. "Cheer up, ma; if the old man will raise my salary I'll blow you to a wheelbarrow trip through Europe myself."
"'Sh-h-h-h, Izzy! Here comes Miriam. I don't want you should tease her one more word to make her mad. You hear?"
In the frame of the doorway, quiescent as an odalisque and with the golden tinge of a sunflower lighting her darkness, Miriam Binswanger held the picture for a moment, her brother greeting her with bow and banter.
"Well, little red-eyes!"
"Izzy, what did I just tell you!"
His sister flashed him a dark glance, reflexly her hand darting upward to her face. "You!"
"Now, now, children! Why don't you and Miriam go in the parlor, Izzy, and sing songs?"
"What you all so cooped up in here for, mamma? Open the window, Ray; it's as hot as summer outside."
"Say, who was your maid this time last year, Miriam?"
"Mamma, you going to let her talk that way to me?"
"Ray, will it hurt you to put up the window like your sister asks?"
"Well, I'm doing it, ain't I?"
"Now, Miriam, you and Izzy go in the parlor and sing for mamma a little."
Miriam's small teeth met in a small click, her voice lay under careful control and as if each nerve was twanging like a plucked violin string.
"Please, mamma, please! I just can't sing to-night!"
She was like a Jacque rose, dark and swaying, her little bosom beneath the sheer blouse rising higher than its wont.
"Ach, now, Miriam!"
"Where's those steamship pamphlets, mamma, I left laying here on the table?"
"Right here where you left them, Miriam."
Mr. Isadore Binswanger executed a two-stride dash for the couch, plunging into a nest of pillows and piling them high about his head and ears.
"Go-od night! The subject of Europe is again on the table for the seventh evening this week. Nix for mine! Good night! Good night!" And he fell to burrowing his head deeper among the pillows.
"You don't need to listen, Izzy Binswanger. I wasn't talking to you, anyways."
"No, to your mother you was talking—always to me. I got to hear it."
A sudden vibration darted through Mrs. Binswanger's body, straightening it. "Always me! I tell you, Simon, with your family you 'ain't got no troubles. I got 'em all. How he sits there behind his newspaper just like a boarder and not in the family! I tell you more as once in my life I have wished there was never a newspaper printed. Right under his nose he sits with one glued every evening."
"Na, na, old lady!"
"That sweet talk don't make no neverminds with me. 'Na, na,' he says. I tell you even when my children was babies how they could cry every night right under his nose and never a hand would that man raise to help me. I tell you my husband's a grand help to me. 'Such a grand husband,' the ladies always say to me I got. I wish they should know what I know!"
Mr. Binswanger tossed aside his newspaper and raised his spectacles to his horseshoe expanse of bald head. His face radiated into a smile that brought out the whole chirography of fine lines, and his eyes disappeared in laughter like two raisins poked into dough.
"Na, na, old lady, na, na!" He made to pinch her cheek where it bagged toward a soft scallop of double chin, but she withdrew querulously.
"I tell you what I been through this winter, with Izzy out in a Middle West territory where only once in four months I can see him, and my Ray and her going-ons with them little snips, and now Miriam with her Europe on the brain. I tell you that if anybody in this family needs Europe it's me for my health, better as Miriam for her singing and her style. Such nagging I have got ringing in my ears about it I think it's easier to go as to stay home with long faces."
Erect on the edge of her chair Miriam inclined toward her parent. "That's just what I been saying, mamma; all four of us need it. Not only me and Ray, but—"
"Leave me out, missy!"
"Not only us two for our education, mamma, but a trip like that can make you and papa ten years younger. Read what the booklet says. It—"
"I'm an old woman and I don't want I should try to look young like on the streets here up-town you can see the women. What comes natural to me like gray hairs I don't got to try to hide."
"Hurrah for ma! 'Down with the peroxide and the straight fronts,' she says."
"Izzy, that ain't so nice neither to talk such things before your sisters."
"Don't listen to him, mamma. Just let me ask you, mamma, just let me ask you, papa—papa, listen: did you ever in your life have a real vacation? What were those two weeks in Arverne for you last summer compared to on board a ship? You—"
"That's what I need yet—shipboard! I tell you I'm an old man and I'm glad that I got a home where I can take off my shoes and sit in comfort with my rheumatism."
"Hannah Levin's father limped ten times worse than you, papa. Didn't he, mamma? And since he took Hannah over last summer not one stroke has he had since. And she—Well, you see what she did for herself."
Mrs. Binswanger paused in her stitch. "That's so, Simon; Hannah Levin should grab for herself a man like Albert Hamburger. She should fall into the human-hair Hamburger family, a stick like her! At fish-market when he lived down-town each Friday morning I used to meet old man Levin, and I should say his knees were worse as yours, papa."
"When my daughter marries a Albert Hamburger, then maybe too we can afford to take a trip to Europe."
Miss Binswanger raised her eyes, great dark pools glozed over with tears. "All right then, I'll huck at home. But let me tell you, papa, since you come right out and mention it, that's where she met Albert Hamburger, if anybody should ask you, right on board the ship. Those kind don't lie round Arverne with that cheap crowd of week-end salesmen."
"There she goes on my profesh again!"
"That's where she met him, since you talk about such things, papa, right on the steamer."
"So!" Mrs. Binswanger let fall idle hands into her lap. "So!"
"Sure. Didn't you know that, mamma? She was going over for just ten weeks with her mother and father to take a few singing-lessons when they got to Paris, just like I want to, and right on the ship going over she met him and they got engaged."
Mr. Binswanger fell into the attitude of reading again, knees crossed and one carpet slipper dangling. "I know plenty girls as get engaged on dry land, Carrie; just get such ideas that they don't out of your head."
"I don't say, Simon, I don't give you right, but after a winter like I been through I feel like maybe it's better to go as to stay."
"That's right, ma, loosen up and she'll get you yet."
"It ain't nice, Izzy, you should use such talk to your mother. I tell you it ain't so nice a son should tell his mother she should loosen up."
"I only meant, ma—"
"That's just how I feel, Simon, with the summer coming on I can't stand no more long faces. Last year it was Arverne till a cottage we had to take. Always in April already my troubles for the summer begin. One year Miriam wants Arverne and Ray wants we should go to the mountains where the Schimm girls go. This year, since she got in with them Lillianthal girls, Miriam has to have Europe, and Ray wants to stay home so with snips like Louie Ruah she can run with. I tell you when you got daughters you don't know where—"
"Give 'em both a brain test, ma."
"Stop teasing your sister, Izzy. I always say with girls you got trouble from the start and with boys it ain't no better. Between Arverne and—"
"Arverne! None of the swell crowd goes there any more, mamma."
"Swell! Let me tell you, Miriam, your papa and me never had time to be swell when we was young. I remember the time when we couldn't afford a trip to Coney Island, much less four weeks a cottage at Arverne-next-to-the-sea. Ain't it, papa? I wish the word 'swell' I had never heard. My son Isadore kicks to-night at supper because at hotels on the road he gets fresh napkins with every meal. Now all of a sudden my daughter gets such big notions in her head that nothing won't do for her but Europe for a summer trip. I tell you, Simon, I don't wish a dog to go through what I got to."
Mr. Binswanger let fall his newspaper to his knee.
"Na, na, mamma, for what you get excited? Ain't talk cheap enough for you yet? Why shouldn't you let the children talk?"
Miss Binswanger inclined to her father's knee, her throat arched and flexed. "Papa dear, it's a cheap trip. For what four weeks in a cottage at Arverne-by-the-sea would cost the four of us could take one of those tourists' trips through Europe. The Lillianthals, papa, for four hundred and fifty dollars apiece landed in Italy and went straight through to—"
"The Lillianthals, Lillianthals," mimicked Mrs. Binswanger, sliding her darning-egg down the length of a silken stocking. "I wish that name we had never heard. All of a sudden now education like those girls you think you got to have, music and—"
"Oh, mamma, honest, you just don't care how dumb us girls are. Look at Ray and me, we haven't even got a common education like—"
"You can't say, Miriam Binswanger, that me or your papa ever held one of our children back out of school. If they didn't want to go we couldn't—"
"Oh, mamma, I—I don't mean just school. How do you think I feel when all the girls begin to talk about Europe and all, and I got to sit back at sewing-club like a stick?"
"Ain't it awful, Mabel!"
"Why do you think a fellow like Sol Blumenthal is all the time after Lilly Lillianthal and Sophie Litz and those girls? He has been over seventeen times, buying silks, and those girls don't have to sit back like sticks when he talks about the shows in Paris and all."
"I know girls, Miriam, what got as fine husbands as Sol Blumenthal and didn't need to run to Europe for them."
"I never said that, did I, mamma? Only it's a help to girls nowadays if—if they've been to places and know a thing or two."
"If a girl can cook a little and—"
"Look there at Ray, nothing in her head but that novel she's reading, and little snips that'll treat her to a soda-water if she hangs round the White Front long enough, and ride her down to Brighton on one of those dirty excursion boats if she—"
"You shut up, Miriam Binswanger, and mind your own business!"
"You let her talk to me that way, mamma?"
"Go to it, sis."
"You let her talk that way to me and Izzy eggs her on! No wonder she's fresh, the way everybody round here lets her do what she wants, papa worst of all!"
Ray danced to her feet, tossing her hair backward in maenadic waves, her hands outflung, her voice a taunt and a singsong. "I know! I know! You're sore because you're four years older and you're afraid I'll get engaged first. Engaged first! I know! I know!"
"Go to it, sis!"
"Sure, I got a Brighton date every Saturday night this summer, missy, and with a slick little fellow that can take his father's car out every Tuesday night without asking. Eddie Sollinger! I guess you call him a snip, too, because he's a city salesman. I know! I know! Ha! I should worry that the Lillianthals are going to Europe! I know! I know!" She pirouetted to her father's side of the table. "Give me a dollar, pa?"
Mrs. Binswanger held out a remonstrating hand. "Ach, Ray, you mustn't—"
"It ain't even seven yet. Have a heart, ma! Gee! can't I walk up to the corner with Bella Mosher for a soda? Do I have to stick round this fuss nest? I'll be back in a half-hour, ma. Please?"
"Don't let her go, ma."
"You shut up, Izzy!"
"Ach, Ray, I—"
"Give me the dollar, pa, for voting against Europe. Don't let her hypnotize you like she always does. Down with Europe! I say. We should cross the ocean and get our feet wet, eh, pa?"
He waggled a pinch of her flushed cheek between his thumb and forefinger and dived into his pocket.
"Baby-la, you!" he said, crossing her palm; and she was out and past him, imprinting a kiss on the crest of the bald horseshoe and tossing a glance as quick as Pierrette's over one shoulder.
On the echo of the slamming door, her eyes shining with conviction and her face suddenly old with prophecy, Miriam turned upon her mother.
"You see, mamma, you see! Seventeen, and nothing in her head but Brighton Beach and soda-water fountains and joy-riding. Just you watch; some day she'll meet up with some dinky fakir or ribbon clerk at one of those places, and the first thing you know for a son-in-law you'll have a crook."
"Yes, you will! Those are the only chances a girl gets if she's not in the swim."
"Listen to her, ma, and then you blame me for not bringing any of the fellows round here for her to meet. You don't catch me doing it, the way she thinks she's better than they are and gives them the high hand. Not muchy!"
"I should worry for the kind you bring, Izzy."
"As nice boys Izzy has brought home, Miriam, as ever in my life I would want to meet."
"Yes, but you see for yourself the way the society fellows, like Sol Blumenthal and Laz Herzog, hang round the Lillianthal girls. I always got to take a back seat, and maybe you think I don't know it."
"I never heard that on ships young men was so plentiful."
"She wants to land an Italian count and she'll just about land a barber."
Mr. Binswanger peered suddenly over the rim of his paper. "A no-count yet is what we need in the family. Get right away such ideas out your head. All my life I 'ain't worked so hard to spend my money on the old country. In America I made it and in America I spend it. Now just stop it, right away, too."
"Go to it, pa!"
Suddenly Miss Binswanger let fall her head into her cupped hands. Tears trickled through. "I—I just wish that I—I hadn't been born! Why—did you move up-town, then, where everybody does things, if—if—"
Her father's reply came in a sudden avalanche. "For why? Because then, just like now, you nagged me. You can take it from me, just so happy as now was me and mamma down by Rivington Street. I'm a plain man and with no time for nonsense. I tell you the shirtwaist business 'ain't been so good that—"
"You—you can't fool me with that poor talk, papa. Everybody knows you get a bigger business each year. You can't fool me that way."
Tears burst and flowed over her words, and her head burrowed deeper. Across her prostrate form Simon Binswanger nodded to his wife in rising perplexity.
"Fine come-off, eh, Carrie?"
"Miriam, ach, Miriam, come here to mamma."
"Aw, take her, pa, if she's so crazy to go. It'll be slack time between now and when I get back from my territory. Max has got pretty good run of the office these days. Take her across, pa, and get it out of her system. Quit your crying, kid."
Mr. Binswanger waggled a crooked finger in close proximity to his son's face. "Du! Du mit a big mouth! Is it because you sell for the house such big bills I can afford to run me all over Europe! A few more accounts like Einstein from Cleveland you can sell for me, and then we can go bankrupt easier as to Europe. Du mit a big mouth!"
"Pa, ain't you ever going to get that out of your system? My first bad account and—"
"You'm a dude! That's all I know, you'm a dude! Right on my back now I got on your old shirts and dressed like a king I feel."
"I'm done, pa! I'm done!"
"Ach, Miriam, don't cry so. Here, look up at mamma. Maybe, Miriam, if you ask your papa once more he will—"
"I tell you, no. What Mark Lillianthal does and what my son can say so easy makes nothing with me. I'm glad as I got a home to stay in."
Above her daughter's bowed head Mrs. Binswanger regarded her husband through watery eyes. "She ain't so wrong, Simon. I tell you I got the first time to hear you come out and say to your family, 'Well, this year we do something big.' The bigger you get in business the littler on the outside you get, Simon. Always you been the last to do things."
"And, papa, everybody—"
"Everybody makes no difference with me. I don't work for the steamship company. For two thousand dollars what such a trip costs I can do better as Europe."
"I—I just wish I hadn't ever been born."
A sudden tear found its way down Mrs. Binswanger's billowy cheek. "You hear, Simon, your own daughter has to wish she had never got born."
She drew her daughter upward to her wide bosom, and through the loose basque percolated the warm tears.
"'Sh-h-h-h, Miriam, don't you cry."
"Ach, now, Carrie—"
"I tell you, Simon, I 'ain't been a wife that has made such demands on you, but I guess you think it's a comfort that a mother should hear that in society her daughter has to take a back seat."
"When she 'ain't got a front seat she should take a second seat. I don't need no seat. I know worse young men as Sollie Spitz and Eddie Greenbaum what comes here to see her."
"Just the same you—you said to me the other night, papa, that I never seem to meet young men like Adolph Gans, fellows who are in business for themselves."
"Ja, but I—"
"Well, where do you think Elsa Bergenthal met Adolph, but on the ship?"
"You hear, Simon: Moe Bergenthal, who sells shirtwaists for you right this minute, can afford to send his daughter to Europe."
"Ja, I guess that's why he sells shirtwaists for me instead of for himself."
"See, papa, she—"
"That's right, get him cornered, ma! Go to it, Miriam!"
"Du, du good-for-nothings dude, du!"
"Be a sport, pa!"
"Ach, you women make me sick! In the old country, I tell you, I got no business. All the Eyetalians what I want to see I can see down on Cherry Street—for less as two thousand dollar too."
"Why—why, that's no way to learn about 'em, papa. You just ought to see me take a back seat when Lilly Lillianthal gets out her post-cards and begins telling about the real ones."
Mrs. Binswanger took on a private tone, peering close into her husband's face. "You hear that, Simon? Mark Lillianthal, what failed regular like clockwork before he moved up-town, his daughter can make our Miriam feel small. You hear that, Simon?"
His daughter's arms were soft about his neck, tight, tighter. "Papa, please! For a couple of thousand we can take that beau-tiful trip I showed you in the booklet. Card-rooms on the steamer, papa. Hannah told me all summer her father played pinochle in Germany, father, right outdoors where they drink beer and eat rye-bread sandwiches all day. In Germany we can even stop at Dusseldorf where you were born, papa—just think, papa, where you were born! In Italy we can make Ray look at the pictures and statues, and all day you can sit outdoors and—and play cards, papa. Just think, papa, by the time you have to buy us swell clothes for Arverne I tell you it will cost you more. All Lilly Lillianthal needed for Europe, mamma, was a new blue suit."
"Go way—go way with such nonsense, I tell you!" "And how you and papa can rest up, mamma." "She's right, Simon; such a trip won't hurt us. I tell you we don't get younger each day."
He regarded his wife with eyes rolled backward. "That's what I need yet, Carrie, all of a sudden you take sides away from me. Always round your little finger your children could always wind themselves."
"Na, Simon, when I see a thing I see it. With Izzy out on his trip these next two months it won't hurt us. So crazy for Europe you know I ain't, but when you got children you got to make sacrifice for them."
"For ten weeks, Simon, you can stand it, and me too."
"For ten weeks, Simon, if we go on that boat she wants that sails away on June twentieth—it's a fine boat, she says."
"June twentieth I don't go. July twentieth I got to be back when my men go out on the road—"
"Then shoot 'em over this month, pa. Max can—"
"There's a boat two weeks from to-day, pa, see here in the booklet, the same boat, the Roumania, only on this month's sailing. We can get ready easy, papa, we—oh, we can get ready easy."
"Ach, Miriam, in two weeks how can we get together our things for a trip like that?"
"Easy, mamma, I tell you I—I'll do all the shopping and packing and everything."
"'Sh-h-h-h, I 'ain't promised yet. I tell you if anybody would tell me two days ago to Europe I got to go this month, right away I wouldn't have believed 'em!"
"Ach, Simon, you think yet it's a pleasure for me? You think for me it's a pleasure to shut up my flat and leave it for two months? You think it's easy to leave Izzy, even when he's 'way out West on his trip? You think it's easy to leave that boy with the whole ocean between?"
"Aw, ma, cut the comedy!"
"Ten times, Simon, I rather stay right here in my flat, but—"
"Then right away on the whole thing I put down my foot."
"No, no, Simon, I want we should go. Girls nowadays, Simon, got to be smart—not in the kitchen, but in the head."
"Be a sport, pa."
"It's enough I got a son what's a sport."
"Only a little over two months, papa. Two weeks from to-day we can get a booking. To-morrow I'll go down to the steamship offices and fix it all up; I know all about it, papa; there isn't a booklet I haven't read."
"Na, na, I—"
"Simon, in all your life not one thing have you refused me. In all my life, Simon, have I made on you one demand? Answer me, Simon, eh? Answer your wife." She placed her thimbled hand across his knee, peering through dim eyes up into his face. "Eh, Simon, in thirty years?"
"Carrie-sha! Carrie-sha!" He smiled at her through eyes dimmer still, then rose, waggling the bent forefinger. "But not one day over ten weeks, so help me!"
With a cry that broke on its highest note Miss Binswanger sprang to her feet, her arms clasping about her father's neck.
"Oh, papa! Papa! Mamma!"
"'Sh-h-h-h! the door-bell! Go to the door, Izzy; I guess maybe that's Ray back or your friend. Ach, such excitement! Already I feel like we're on the boat."
"Oh, mamma, mamma!" Her words came too rapidly for coherence and her heart would dance against her breast. "I—I'm just as happy!" Kissing her mother once on each eye, she danced across to her brother, tagging him playfully. "Lazy! I'll go to the door. Lazy! Lazy! Tra-la-la, tra-la-la!" and danced to the door, flinging it wide.
Enter Mr. Irving Shapiro, his soft campus hat pressed against his striped waistcoat in a slight bow, and a row of even teeth flashed beneath a neat hedge of mustache.
"Mr. Izzy Binswanger live here?"
"Hello, Irv! That you? Come in!"
She dropped a courtesy. "That sounds like he lives here, don't it? That's him calling."
And because her new exuberance sent the blood fizzing through her veins with the bite and sparkle of Vichy, a smile danced across her face, now in her eyes, now quick upon her lips.
"Come right in the dining-room, Mr.—Mr.—"
"—Shapiro; he's expecting you." She drew back the portieres, quirking her head as he passed through. Isadore Binswanger rose from his couch, pressing his friend's hand and passing him round the little circle.
"Pa, meet Irving Shapiro, city man for the Empire Waist Company. Irv, meet my father and mother and my sister."
A round of handshaking.
"We're as excited as a barnyard round here, Irv; the governor and the family just decided to light out for Europe for two months."
"Ja, my children they drag a old man like me where they want."
Mrs. Binswanger leaned forward smiling in her chair. "You see, we want papa should have a good rest, Mr. Shapiro. You know yourself I guess shirtwaists ain't no easy business. We don't know yet if we can get berths on the twentieth this month, but—"
"State-rooms, then. What's that boat we sail on, Miriam?"
Mr. Shapiro sat suddenly forward in his chair, his eager face thrust forward. "Say, I'm your man!"
"Before you get your reservations let me steer you. I got a cousin works down at the White Flag offices—Harry Mansbach. He'll fix you up if there ain't a room left on the boat. He's the greatest little fixer you ever seen."
"Ach, Mr. Shapiro, how grand! To-morrow, Miriam, maybe when you get the berths—"
"State-rooms, maybe Mr. Shapiro will—will go mit."
"Aw, mamma, he—"
"Will I! Well, I guess!"
Across the table their eyes met and held.
* * * * *
Even into the granite canon of lower Broadway spring can find a way. In the fifty-first story of the latest triumph in skyscraping a six-dollar-a-week stenographer filled her drinking-tumbler with water and placed it, with two pansies floating atop, beside her typewriting machine. In Wall Street an apple-woman with the most ancient face in the world leaned out of her doorway with a new offering, forced but firm strawberries that caught a backward glance from the passing tide of finders and keepers, losers and weepers. Two sparrows hopped in and out among the stone gargoyles of a municipal building. A dray-driver cursed at the snarl of traffic and flecked the first sweat from his horse's flanks. A gaily striped awning drooped across the front of the White Flag steamship offices, and out from its entrance, spring in her face, emerged Miss Miriam Binswanger; at her shoulder Irving Shapiro attended.
"Honest, Mr. Shapiro, I—I just don't know what I would have done except for you."
"I told you Harry Mansbach would fix you up."
She clasped her wrist-bag carefully over the bulk of a thick envelope and turned her shining face full upon him.
"On deck A, too, right with the best!"
He steered her by a light pressure of her arm into the up-town flux of the sidewalk. "If I was a right smart kind of a fellow I never would have helped you to get those cabins."
"Oh, Mr. Shapiro!"
"But that's me every time, always working against myself."
"Well, of all the nerve!" And her voice would belie that she knew his delicate portent.
"If not for me, maybe you couldn't have gotten those reservations and you would have to stay at home. That's where I would come in, see?"
"Well, of all things!"
"But that's me every time. Meet a girl one day, take a fancy to her, and off she sails for Europe the next."
"Honest, Mr. Shapiro, you're just the limit!" She would have no more hold of his arm, but at the next Subway hood paused in the act of descending and held out her hand. "I'm just so much obliged, Mr. Shapiro."
He removed his hat, standing there holding it in the crook of his arm, the bright sunlight on his wavy hair. "Aw, now, Miss Binswanger, is this the way to leave a fellow?"
"Sure, it is! Anyways, don't you have to go to work?"
"I should let my work interfere with my pleasure! Anyway, that's the beauty of my line—I work when I please, not when my boss pleases."
"I got to go shopping and straight home, Mr. Shapiro. Just think, two weeks from yesterday we sail, and we got enough sewing and packing to be done at our house to keep a whole regiment busy."
He withdrew her from the tangle of pedestrians and into the entrance of a corner candy-shop. "Aw, now, what's your hurry?" he insisted, regarding her with smiling, invitational eyes.
"Well, of all the nerve!" She would not meet his gaze, and swung her little leather wrist-bag back and forward by its strap.
"I dare you to get on the Elevated with me and ride out with me to Bronx Park for a sniff of the country."
"I should say not! I got to go buy a steamer-trunk and a whole list of things mamma gave me and then hurry home and help. Maybe—maybe some other day."
"Aw, have a heart, Miss Miriam! To-morrow I've got to go over to Newark to sell a bill of goods. Maybe some other day will never come. Feel how grand it is out. Just half a day. Come!"
She was full of small emphasis and with no yielding note in her voice. "No, no, I can't go."
"Just a little while, Miss Miriam. All those things will keep until to-morrow. I can get you a steamer-trunk wholesale, anyway. Look, it's nearly two o'clock already! Come on and be game! Think of it—out in the park a day like this! Grass growing, birds singing, and the zoo and all. Aw, be game, Miss Miriam!"
"If I thought Ray would help mamma; but she's got a grouch on and—"
"Sure she will! Gee! what's the fun meeting a girl you think you're going to like if she won't do one little thing for a fellow! You bet it ain't every girl I'd beg like this. Whoops, I could just rip things open to-day!" It was as if he felt his life in every limb. "Come on, Miss Miriam, be a sport! Come on!"
"I—I oughtn't to."
"That's what makes it all the more fun."
Her eyes were so dark, so like pools! They met his with a smile clear through to their depths. "Well, maybe, but—but just for a little while."
"Just a little while."
"Well, just this once."
"Sure, just this once." He linked his arm in hers.
"Gee!" he said, "you're a girl after my own heart!"
On the Elevated train the windows were lowered to the first inrush of spring, and when they left the city behind them came the first green smells of open field and bursting bud.
"Now are you sorry you came, little Miss Miriam?"
She bared her head to the rush of breeze and he held her hat on his lap. "Well, I should say not!"
"No crowds, just everything to ourselves."
"M-m-m-m! Smells like lilacs."
"We'll pick some."
"I—I ought to be home."
"Now, Mr. Shap-iro!" But her eyes continued to laugh and the straight line of her mouth would quiver.
"Some eyes you've got, girlie! Some great big eyes! They nearly bowled me over when you opened the door for me last night. Let me see your eyes—what color are they, anyway?"
They laughed without rhyme and without reason, and as if their hearts were distilling joy. Then for a time they rode without speech and with only the wind in their ears, and he watched the tendrils of her hair blowing this way and that.
"Just think," she said, finally, "we land in Naples just four weeks from to-day!"
"Hope the boat don't sail."
"If you aren't just the limit!"
"What'll I be doing while you're gallivanting round the country with some Italian count?"
"I should worry."
"I better put a bee in Izzy's ear, and maybe he'll put another in your father's, and the old gentleman will change his mind and won't go."
"Yes—he—will—not! When papa promises he sticks."
"Well, you don't know the nervy things I can do if I want. Nerve is my middle name."
"You sure are some nervy."
"'Cheer up!' I always say to myself when a firm closes the front door on me: 'Cheer up; there's always the back door and the fire-escape left.' That's how I made my rep in shirtwaists—on nerve." He inclined to her slightly across the car-seat. "You wouldn't close the front door on me, would you, Miss Miriam?"
"Look, we get off here!"
Within the park new grass was soft as plush under their feet, and once away from the winding asphalt of the main driveway the bosky heart of a dell closed them in, and the green was suddenly dappled with shadow. Here and there in the cool, damp spots violets lifted their heads and pale wood-anemones, spring's firstlings. They sat on a rock spread first with newspaper. Over their heads birds twitted.
"Somehow, here so far away and all I—I just can't get it in my head that I'm really going."
"I can't, neither."
"Ain't it funny, Miss Miriam, but with some girls when you meet them it's just like you had known them for always, and then again with others somehow a fellow never gets anywheres."
"That's the way with me. I take a fancy to a person or I don't."
"That's me every time. Once let me get to liking a person, and good night!"
"Now take you, Miss Miriam. From the very minute last night when you opened that door for me, with your cheeks so pink and your eyes so big and bright, something just went—well, something just went sort of lickety-clap inside of me. You seen for yourself how I wanted to back out of going to the show with Izz?"
"It—it ain't many girls I'd want to stay home from a show for."
"Say, just listen to the birds. If I could trill like that I wouldn't have to take any lessons in Paris."
"You sing, Miss Miriam?"
"Oh, a little."
"Gee! you are a girl after my own heart! There's nothing gets me like a little girl with a voice."
"My teacher says I'm a dramatic soprano."
"When you going to sing for me, eh?"
"I'll sing for you some time alrighty."
"Maybe after—after I've had some lessons in Paris."
He was suddenly grave. "Aw, there you go on that old trip again! Gee! I wish I could grab that bag out of your hand and throw it with tickets and all in the lake!"
"You know with me it's right funny too. The minute I get something I want, then I don't want it any more. Before papa said yes I was so crazy to go, and now that I got the tickets bought I'm not so anxious at all."
"Then don't go, Miss Miriam."
She withdrew her hand and danced to her feet, her incertitude vanishing like a candle flame blown out. "Look over there, will you—a redbird!"
"If it ain't!" and he followed her quickly, high-stepping between violet patches.
"Honest, it's hard to walk, the violets are so thick."
"Here, let me pick you a bunch of them to take home, Miss Miriam. Say, ain't they beauties! Look, great big purple ones, and black and soft-looking toward the middle just like your eyes. Look what beauties—they'll keep a long time when you get home, if you wrap them in wet tissue-paper."
They fell to plucking, now here, now there.
The sun had got low when they retraced their steps to the train, and the chill of evening long since had set in.
"You—you ought to told me it was so late."
"I didn't know it myself, Miss Miriam."
"Let's hurry. Mamma won't know where—how—"
"We'll make it back in thirty minutes."
"Let's run for that train."
"Give me your hand."
They were off and against the wind, their faces thrust forward and upward. Homeward in the coach they were strangely silent, this time his hat in her lap. At the entrance to her apartment-house he left her with reiterated farewells.
"Then I can come to-morrow night, Miss Miriam?"
"Y-yes." And she stepped into the elevator. He waved through the trellis-work, as she moved upward, brandishing his hat. She answered with a flourish of her bunch of violets.
At the threshold her mother met her, querulous and in the midst of adjusting summer covers to furniture.
"How late! I hope, Miriam, right away you had the steamer-trunk sent up. Good berths—good state-rooms you got? What you got in that paper, that aloes root I told you to get against seasickness? Gimme and right away I boil it."
"No, no, don't touch them! They—they're violets. Let me put them in water with wet tissue-paper over them."
* * * * *
To the early clattering of that faithful chariot of daybreak, the milk-wagon, and with the April dawn quivering and flushing over the roofs of houses, Mrs. Binswanger rose from her restless couch and into a black flannelette wrapper.
"Simon, wake up! How a man can sleep like that the day what he starts for Europe!"
To her husband's continued and stentorian evidences of sleep she tiptoed to the adjoining bedroom, slippered feet sloughing as she walked.
Only their light breathing answered her. Atop the bed-coverlet her younger daughter's hand lay upturned, the fingers curling toward the palm.
Miriam stirred and burrowed deeper into her pillow, her hair darkly spread against the white in a luxury of confusion.
"Five o'clock, Miriam, and we ain't got the trunks strapped yet, or that seasick medicine from Mrs. Berkovitz."
"For Heaven's sake, mamma, the boat don't sail till three o'clock this afternoon! There's plenty time. Go back to bed awhile, mamma."
"When such a trip I got before me as twelve days on water, I don't lay me in bed until the last minute. Ray, get up and help mamma. In a minute the milkman comes, and I want you should tell him we don't take no more for ten weeks. Get up, Ray, and help mamma see that all the windows is locked tight."
"Miriam, get up! I want you should throw this quilt from your bed over the brass table in the parlor so it don't get rust. Miriam, didn't you say yourself last night you must get up early? Always only at night my children got mouths about how early they get up."
From the soft mound of her couch Miriam rose to the dawn with the beautiful gesture of tossing backward her black hair. Sleep trembled on her lashes and she yawned frankly with her arms outflung.
"I tell you I got more gumption as my daughters. I want, Miriam, you should go down by Berkovitz's for that prescription for your papa."
"Aw, now, mamma, you've got six different kinds of—"
"I tell you when I let your papa get seasick or any kind of sick on this trip, with his going-on about hisself, right away my whole trip is spoilt. Ray, if you don't get up and sew in them cuffs and collars on your coat don't expect as I will do it for you. For my part you can travel just like a rag-bag, Ray!"
Shivering and with her small ankles pressed together, Miriam peered out into the pale light.
"A grand day, mamma."
"Miriam, I think if I sew all the express checks up in a bag and wear them right here under my waist with the jewelry, they are better as in papa's pockets. With his tobacco-bag, easy as anything he can pull them out and lose them. That's what we need yet, to lose our express checks!"
"Mamma, that's been on your mind for ten days. For goodness' sakes, nobody's going to lose the express checks!"
"What time they call for the trunks, Miriam?"
"For goodness' sakes, mamma, didn't I tell you exactly ten times that's all been attended to! Yesterday Irving went direct to the transfer office with me."
"I ain't so sure of nothing what I don't attend to myself. Ray, get up!"
The sun rose over the roofs of the city, gilding them. At seven o'clock the household was astir, strapping, nailing, folding, and unfolding. Mr. Binswanger stooped with difficulty over his wicker traveling-bag.
In the act of adjusting her perky new hat Miriam flung out an intercepting hand. "Oh, papa, you mustn't put in that old flannel house-coat. That's not fit to wear anywhere but at home. And, papa, papa, you just mustn't take along that old black skull-cap; you'll be laughing-stock! Papa, please!"
He flung her off. "In my house and out of my house what I want to wear I wear. If in Naples them Eyetalians don't like what I wear, then—"
"Italians, papa; how many times have I told you to say it Italians?"
"When they don't like what I wear over there, right away they should lump it."
From the room adjoining Mrs. Binswanger leaned a crumpled coiffure through the frame of the open door: "Simon, I got here that red woolen undershirt. I want you should put it on before we start."
"Na, na, mamma, I—"
"Right away Mrs. Berkovitz says it will keep the salt air away from your rheumatism. That's what I need yet, you should grex from the start with your backache. Ray, take this in to your papa. Fooling with that new camera she stands all morning, when she should help a little. Look, Miriam, you think that in here I got the express checks safe?"
At ten o'clock, with the last bolt sprung and the last baggage departed, Mrs. Binswanger fell to the task of fitting gold links in her husband's adjustable cuffs, polishing his various pairs of spectacles, inserting various handkerchiefs in adjacent and expeditious pockets of his clothing.
"Simon, I want you should go in and dress now. All your things is laid right out on the bed for you."
"Mamma, you and papa don't need to begin to dress already. None of you need to leave the house until about two, and it's only ten now. Just think, from now until two o'clock you got to get ready in, mamma."
"When I travel I don't take no chances."
Miriam worked eager fingers into her new, dark-blue kid gloves. She was dark and trig in a little belted jacket, a gold quill shimmering at a cocky angle on the new blue-straw hat.
"To be on the safe side, mamma, I'm going right now to meet Irving, so we can sure have lunch and be at the boat by two."
"Not one minute later, Miriam!"
"Not one minute, mamma. Don't forget, Ray, you promised to bring my field-glass for me. Be in the state-room all of you where Irving and I can find you easy. There's always a big crowd at sailing. Don't get excited, mamma. Ray, be sure and fix papa's cuffs so the red flannel don't show. Good-by. Don't get excited, mamma!"
"Miriam, you got on the asafetidy-bag?"
"Miriam, you don't be one minute later as two—"
Over a luncheon that lay cold and unrelished between them Irving Shapiro leaned to Miriam Binswanger, his voice competing with the five-piece orchestra and noonday blather of the Oriental Cafe.
"I just can't get it in my head, somehow, Miriam, that to-morrow this time you'll be out on the sea."
"I just never had two weeks fly like these since we got acquainted."
Music like great laughter rose over the slip-up in her voice.
"You going to write to me, Miriam?"
"You're not going to forget me over there, are you, when you get to meeting all those counts and big fellows?"
"You're not going to clean forget me then, are you, Miriam, and the great times we've had together, and the days in the woods, and the singing, and—"
"Oh, Irving, don't. I—Please—"
She laid her fork across her untouched plate and turned her face from him. Tears rose to choke her, and, tighten her throat against them as she would, one rose to the surface and ricocheted down her cheek.
"It's nothing, Irving, only—only let's get out of here. I don't want any lunch, I just don't."
"Miriam, that's the way I feel, too. I—I just can't bear to have you go!"
"You—We can't talk like that, Irving."
"I tell you, Miriam, I just can't bear it!"
He leaned across the table for her hand, whispering, with an entire flattening of tone, "Miriam, don't go!"
"Irving, don't—talk so—so silly!"
"Miriam, let's—let's you and me stay at home!"
"Irving, are you crazy?" But her voice yearned toward him.
"Miriam, right at this table I've got an idea. We can do it, Miriam; we can do it if you're game."
He flashed out his watch. "We've got two hours and twenty minutes before she sails."
"We have, dear, to—to get a special license and the ring and do the trick."
"Two hours and twenty minutes to make it all right for you to stay back with me. Miriam, are you game, dear?"
They regarded each other across the table as if each beheld in the other a vision.
"Irving, you—you must be crazy!"
"I'm not, dear. I was never less crazy. What's the use of us having to get apart after we just got each other? What's all those phony counts and picture-galleries and high-sounding stunts compared to us staying home and hitting it off together, Miriam? Just tell me that, Miriam."
"Irving, I—we just couldn't! Look at mamma and papa and Ray, all down at the boat maybe by now waiting for me, and none of them wanting to go except me. For a whole year I had to beg them for this, Irving. They wouldn't be going now if it wasn't for me. I—Irving, you must be crazy!"
He leaned closer and out of range of the waiter, his voice repressed to a tight whisper.
"None of those things count when a girl and a fellow fall in love like you and me, Miriam."
Even in her crisis her diffidence inclosed her like a sheath. "I never said I—I was in love, did I?"
"But you are! They'll go over there, Miriam, without you and have the time of their lives. We'll stay home and keep the flat open for them so your mother won't have to worry any more about burglars. After the first surprise it won't be a trick at all. We got two hours and fifteen minutes, dearie, and we can do the act and be down at the boat with bells on to tell 'em good-by. Now ain't the time to think about the little things and waste time, Miriam. We got to do it now or off you go hiking, just like—like we had never met, a whole ocean between us, Miriam!"
"Irving, you—you mustn't."
She pushed back from the table. He paid his check with a hand that trembled, resuming, even as he crammed his bill-folder into a rear pocket:
"Be a sport, Miriam! I tell you we got the right to do it because we're in love. We'll just tell them the truth, that at the last minute we—we just couldn't let go. I'll do the talking, Miriam; I'll tell the old folks."
"If you ain't afraid to start out on a hundred a month and commissions, dear, we don't need to be scared of nothing. I'll tell them just the plain truth, dear. Just think, if we do it now, when they come back in ten weeks we can be down at the pier to meet them, eh, Miriam, just like an—an old married couple—eh, Miriam—eh, Miriam, dear!"
She rose. A red seepage of blood flooded her face; her bosom rose and fell.
"Are you game, Miriam? Are you, darling—eh, Miriam, eh?"
* * * * *
Alongside her pier, white as a gull, new painted, new washed, cargoed and stoked, the Roumania reared three red smoke-stacks, and sat proudly with the gang-plank flung out from her mighty hip and her nose tapering toward the blue harbor and the blue billows beyond.
Within the narrow confines of a first-deck stateroom, piled round with luggage and its double-decker berths freshly made up, Mrs. Binswanger applied an anxious eye to the port-hole, straining tiptoe for a wider glimpse of deck.
"I tell you this much, papa, in another five minutes when that child don't come, right away off the boat I get and go home where I belong."
In the act of browsing among the lower contents of his wicker hand-bag Mr. Binswanger raised a perspiring face.
"Na, na, mamma, thirty minutes' time yet she's got to get here. Everybody don't got to come on four hours too soon like us."
"Ja, you should worry about anything, so long as you got right in front of you your newspapers and your tobacco. Right away for his tobacco he has to dig when he sees so worried I am I can't see. Why don't our Ray come back now if she can't find 'em and say she can't find 'em?"
"I tell you, Carrie, if you let me go myself I can find 'em and—"
"Right here you stay with me, Simon Binswanger! We don't get separated no more as we can help. I ain't—Ach, look such a crowd, and no Miriam. I—"
"Na, na, Carrie!"
"So easy-going he is! My daughter should keep me worried like this! To lunch the day what she sails to Europe she has to go! Always she complains that salesmen ain't good enough for her yet, and on the day she sails she has to go to lunch with one. Why, I ask you, Simon, why don't that Ray come back?"
Mr. Binswanger packed his pipe tight and adjusted a small, close-fitting black cap. "To travel with women, I tell you, it ain't no pleasure."
"Ach, du Himmel! Right away off that cap comes, Simon! With my own hands right away out of sight I hide it. Just once I want Miriam should see you in that skull-hat! Right away off you take it, Simon!"
"Ach, Carrie, on my own head I—"
"I tell you already ten times I wish I was back in my flat. I guess you think it's a good feeling I got to lock up my flat for Himmel knows who to break in, and my son Isadore 'way out in Ohio and not even here to—to say to his mother good-by. Already with such a smell on this boat and my feelings I got a homesickness I don't wish on my worst enemy. My boy should be left like this in America all alone!"
"Ach, Carrie, for why—"
Of a sudden Mrs. Binswanger's face fell into soft creases, her eyes closed, and cold tears oozed through, zigzagging downward. "My boy out West with—"
"Na, na, Carrie! Don't you worry our Izzy don't take care of hisself better as you. For what his expense accounts are—always a parlor car he has to have—he can take care of hisself twice better as us, mamma. Mamma, you should feel fine now we got started. I wish, mamma, you could see such a card-room and such a dining-room they got up-stairs—gold chairs like you never seen. We should go up on deck, Carrie, and—"
"Ach, Simon, Simon, why don't that child come! So nearly crazy I never was in my life. And now on top my Ray gone too. In a few minutes the boat sails, and I don't know yet if I got a child on board. I tell you, Simon, when Ray comes back I think it's better we carry off our trunks and—"
"Na, na, mamma, hear out in the hall. I told you so! Didn't I tell you they come? You hear now Miriam's voice. Didn't I tell you, didn't I tell you?"
"Mamma, papa, here we are!"
And in the doorway the hesitant form of erstwhile Miriam Binswanger, her eyes dim as if obscured by a fog of tulle, over one shoulder the flushed face of Mr. Irving Shapiro, and in turn over his the dark, quick features of Ray, flashing their quick expressions.
"I—I found 'em, mamma, just coming on board."
A white flame of anger seemed suddenly to lick dry the two tears that staggered down Mrs. Binswanger's plump cheeks.
"I tell you, Miriam, you got a lots of regards for your parents."
"But, mamma, we—"
"A child what can worry her mother like this! Ten minutes before we sail on board she comes just like nothing had happened. I should think, Mr. Shapiro, that a young man what can hold a responsible position like you, would see as a young girl what he invites out to lunch should have more regards for her parents as you both."
"Mamma, you—But just wait, mamma."
Miriam stepped half resolutely into the room, peeling the glove from off her left hand, and her glance here and there and everywhere with the hither and thither of a wind-blown leaf.
"Mamma, guess what—what we—we got to tell you? Mamma, we—Irving, you—you tell," Her bared hand fell like a quivering wing and she shrank back against his gray tweed coat-sleeve. "Irving, you tell!"
"Miriam, nothing ain't wrong! Izzy, my—"
"No, no, Mrs. Binswanger, nothing is wrong; what Miriam was trying to say was that everything's right, wasn't it, Miriam?"
Mr. Binswanger threw two hands with the familiar upward gesture. "Come, right away in a few minutes you got to get off, Shapiro. First I take you up and show you the card-room and—"
"'Sh-h-h-h, papa, let Irving—Go on, Irving."
He cleared his throat, inserting two fingers within his tall collar. "You see, Mr. Binswanger, you and Mrs. Binswanger, just at the last minute we—we both seen we couldn't let go!"
"Now don't get excited, Mrs. Binswanger, only we—well, we just went and got married, Mrs. Binswanger, when we seen we couldn't let go. From Dr. Cann we just came. A half-hour on pins and needles, you can believe us or not, we had to wait for him, and that's what made us so late. See, on her hand she's got the ring and—"
"And in my pocket I got the special license. We couldn't help it, Mr. Binswanger, we—we just couldn't let go."
"We couldn't, mamma, papa. We thought we ought to stay at home in the flat—you're so worried, mamma, about burglars and nobody in America with Izzy—and—and—Mamma? Papa? Haven't you got nothing to say to your Miriam?"
She extended empty and eloquent arms, a note of pleading rising above the tears in her words.
"Nothing? Mamma? Papa?"
From without came voices; the grinding of chains lifting cargo; a great basso from a smoke-stack; more voices. "All off! All off!" Feet scurrying over wooden decks! "All off! All off!" A second steam-blast that shot up like a rocket.
"Mamma? Ray? Papa? Haven't any of you got anything to say?"
"Gott in Himmel!" said Mrs. Binswanger. "Gott in Himmel!"
"So!" said Mr. Binswanger, placing a hand with a loud pat on each knee. "So!"
"A fine come-off! A fine come-off! Eh, mamma? To Europe we go to take our daughter, and just so soon as we go no daughter we 'ain't got to take!"
"Gott in Himmel! Gott in Himmel!"
"Ray, haven't you got nothing to say to Irving and me—Ray!"
With a quick, fluid movement the younger sister slid close and her arms wound tight. "Miriam, you—you little darling, you! Miriam! Irving! You darlings!"
Suddenly Mrs. Binswanger inclined, inclosing the two in a wide, moist embrace. "Ach, my Miriam, what have you done! Not a stitch, not even a right wedding! Irving, you bad boy, you, like I—I should ever dream you had thoughts to be our son-in-law. Ach, my children, my children! Simon, I tell you we can be thankful it's a young man what we know is all right. Ach, I—I just don't know—I—just—don't know."
"Papa, you ain't mad at us?"
"What good it does me to be mad? I might just so well be glad as mad. My little Miriam-sha, my little Miriam-sha!" And he fell to blinking as if with gritty eyelids.
"Simon—ach, Simon—you—ach, my husband, you—you ain't crying, you—"
"Go 'way, Carrie, with such nonsense! You women don't know yet the difference between a laff and a cry. Well, Shapiro, you play me a fine trick, eh?"
"It wasn't a trick, Mr. Binswanger—pa, it was—"
"All off! All off!" And a third great blast sounded that set the tumblers rattling in their stands.
"I guess me—me and Irving's got to get off now, mamma—"
Mrs. Binswanger grasped her husband's arm in sudden panic. "Simon, I—I think as we should get off and go home with them. I—"
"Now, now, mamma, don't get excited! No, no, you mustn't! We will keep house fine for you until you come back. See, mamma! I have the key, and everything's fixed. See, mamma! You got to go, mamma. Ray should see Europe before she finds out there—there's just one thing that's better than going to Europe. Please, mamma, don't get excited. I tell you we'll have things fine when you come back. Won't we, Irving, won't we?"
"Ach, nothing in the house, Miriam."
"We got to get off now, Miriam dear, we got to. You can write us about those things, Mrs. Binswanger—mamma. Come, Miriam!"
"Yes, yes, Irving. Now don't cry, mamma, please! When everybody is so happy it's a sin to cry."
"Not a stitch on her wedding-day! All her clothes locked up here on the boat! Let me open the top tray of the trunk, Miriam, and give you your toothbrush and a few waists—Ach, nearly crazy I am! How I built for that girl's wedding when it—"
"Come, mamma, come—"
They were jamming up the crowded stairway and out to the sun-washed deck. Women in gay corsages and bright-colored veils strolled with an air of immediate adjustment. Men already in steamer caps and tweeds leaned against the railings. Travelers were rapidly separating themselves from stay-at-homes. Already the near-side decks were lined with faces, some wet-eyed and some smiling, and all with kerchiefs or small flags ready for adieus.
"All off! All off!"
"Good-by, mamma darling. Don't worry!"
"Irving, you be good to my Miriam. It's just like you got from me a piece of my heart. Be good to my baby, Irving. Be good!"
Ray tugged at her mother's skirts. "'Sh-h-h-h, mamma, the whole boat don't need to know."
"Be good to her, Irving!"
"Like I—just like I could be anything else to her, mamma!"
"Good-by, mamma darling. Don't cry so, I tell you! Let me go, please, mamma, please! Good-by, papa darling, take good care of yourself and—I—just love you, papa! Ray, have a grand time and don't miss none of it. That's right, kiss Irving; he's your brother-in-law now. Don't cry, mamma darling! Good-by! Good-by!"
A tangle of adieus, more handkerchiefing, more tears and laughter, more ear-splitting shrieks of steam and a black plume of smoke that rose in a billow, and hand in hand Miriam and Irving Shapiro joggling down the gang-plank to the pier.
From the bow of the top deck the ship's orchestra let out a blare of music designed to cover tears and heartaches. The gang-plank drew up and in like a tongue, separating land from sea. From every deck faces were peering down into the crowd below.
Miriam grasped her husband's coat-sleeve, in her frenzy taking a fine pinch of flesh with it. Tears rained down her cheeks.
"There they are, Irving, all three of 'em on the second deck, waving down at us! Good-by, mamma, papa, Ray! Oh, Irving, I just can't stand to see 'em go! Papa, Ray, mamma darling!"
"Now, now, Miriam, think what a grand time they're going to have and how soon they're going to be home again."
"Oh, my darlings!"
Mrs. Binswanger sopped at her eyes, waving betimes the small black cap rescued in the up-deck rush.
Laughter crept with a tinge of hysteria into Miriam's voice. "Oh, darlings, I—I just can't bear to have you go. They're—they're moving, Irving! I—Oh, mamma, papa, darlings! They're moving, Irving!"
Out into the bay where the sunlight hung between blue water and bluer sky, a sea-gull swinging round her spar, the Roumania steamed, unconscious of her freight.
"Good-by, mamma, good-by. Let's follow them to the end of the pier, Irving. I—I want to watch them till they're out of sight."
"Don't cry so, darling!"
"Look! look, see that black speck; it's papa! Oh, I love him, Irving. Good-by, my darlings! Good-by! They didn't want to go except for me, and—Oh, my darlings!"
"Come, dear, we can't see them any more. Come now, it's all over, dear."
They picked their way through the dispersing crowd back toward the dock gates.
"See, dear, how grand everything is! You and me happy here and—"
"Oh, Irving, I know, but—"
"Pin my veil for me, dear, to—to hide my eyes. I bet I'm a sight!"
"You're not a sight, you're a beauty!"
"'Sh-h-h-h, I don't feel like making fun, Irving!"
"It's a hot day, dear, so we got to celebrate some cool way. Let's take a cab and—"
"No, Irving dear, we can't afford another one."
"To-day we can afford any old thing we want."
"No, no, dear."
"I got it, then! If we ride down to the Battery we can catch a boat for Brighton. Then we can have a little boat-ride all our own, eh? You and me, darling, on a boat-trip all our own."
She turned her shining eyes full upon him. "That'll be just perfect, Irving!" she said.
In the great human democracy, revolution cannot uncrown the builder of bridges to place upon his throne the builder of pantry shelves. Gray matter and blue blood and white pigment are not dynasties of man's making. Accident of birth, and not primogeniture, makes master minds and mulattoes, seamstresses and rich men's sons. Wharf-rats are more often born than made.
That is why, in this dynasty not of man's making, weavers gone blind from the intricacies of their queen's coronation robe, can kneel at her hem to kiss the cloth of gold that cursed them. A peasant can look on at a poet with no thought to barter his black bread and lentils for a single gossamer fancy. Backstair slaveys vie with each other whose master is more mighty. And this is the story of Millie Moores who, with no anarchy in her heart and no feud with the human democracy, could design for women to whom befell the wine and pearl dog-collars of life, frocks as sheer as web, and on her knees beside them, her mouth full of pins and her sole necklace a tape-measure, thrill to see them garbed in the glory of her labor.
Indeed, when the iridescent bubble of reputation floated out from her modest dressmaking rooms in East Twenty-third Street, Millie Moores, whom youth had rushed past, because she had no leisure for it, felt her heart open like a grateful flower when life brought her more chores to do. And when one day a next-year's-model limousine drew up outside her small doorway with the colored fashion sheet stuck in the glass panel, and one day another, and then one spring day three of them in shining procession along her curb, something cheeped in Millie Moores's heart and she doubled her prices.
And then because ladies long of purse and short of breath found the three dark flights difficult, and because the first small fruit of success burst in Millie Moores's mouth, releasing its taste of wine, she withdrew her three-figure savings account from the Manhattan Trust Company, rented an elevator-service, mauve-upholstered establishment on middle Broadway, secured the managerial services of a slender young man fresh from the Louis Quinze rooms of Madam Roth—Modes, Fifth Avenue, tripled her prices, and emerged from the brown cocoon of Twenty-third Street, Madam Moores, Modiste.
Two years later, three perfect-thirty-six sibyls promenaded the mauve display rooms, tempting those who waddle with sleeveless frocks that might have been designed for the Venus of Milo warmed to life.
The presiding young man, slim and full of the small ways that ingratiate, and with a pomaded glory of tow hair rippling back in a double wave that women's fingers itched to caress and men's hands itched to thresh, pushed forward the mauve velvet chairs with a waiter's servility, but none of his humility; officiated over the crowded pages of the crowded appointment-book, jotted down measurements with an imperturbability that grew for every inch the tape-line measured over and above.
Last, Madam Moores, her small figure full of nerves; two spots of red high on her cheeks; her erstwhile graying hairs, a bit premature and but a sprinkling of them, turned to the inward of a new and elaborate coiffure; and meeting this high tide with a smile, newly enhanced by bridge-work and properly restrained to that dimension of insolence demanded by the rich of those who serve them well.
In the springtime Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue turn lightly to thoughts of Narragansett Pier and Bronx Park. Fifth Avenue sheds its furs and Sixth Avenue its woolen underwear. At the dusk of one such day, when the taste of summer was like poppy leaves crushed between the teeth, and open streetcars and open shirtwaists blossomed forth even as the distant larkspur in the distant field, Madam Moores beheld the electric-protection door swing behind the last customer and relaxed frankly against a table piled high with fabrics of a dozen sheens.
"Whew! Thank heavens, she's gone!"
To a symphony of six-o'clock whistles the rumble of machines from the workrooms suddenly ceased.
"Turn out the shower lights, Phonzie, and see that Van Nord's black lace goes out in time for opera to-night. When she telephoned at noon I told her it was on the way."
Mr. Alphonse Michelson hurtled a mauve-colored footstool and hastened rearward toward the swinging-door that led to the emptying workrooms. The tallest of the perfect-thirty-sixes, stepping out of her beaded slippers into sturdier footwear of the street, threw him a smile as he passed that set her glittering earrings and metal-yellow ringlets bobbing like bells in a breeze.
"Hand me the shoe-buttoner, Phonzie. The doctor says stooping is bad for my hair-pins."
Their laughter, light as foam, met and mingled.
"Oh, you nervy Gertie!"
"What's your hurry, Phonzie dearie?"
"I don't see you stopping me."
"Fine chance, with her crouching over there, ready to spring."
"Hang around, sweetness. Maybe I'm not on duty, and I'll take you to supper if you've not got a date with one of your million-dollar Charlies."
"Soft pedal, Phonzie! You know I'd break a date with any one of 'em any day in the week for a sixty-cent table d'hote with you!"
"Hang around then, sweetness."
"Hang around! Gawd, if I hang around you any more than I have been doing in the last five years, following you from one establishment to the other, they'll have to kill me to put me out of my misery."
"You're all right, Gert. And when you haven't any of the greenback boys around to fill in, you can always fall back on me."
"You're a nice old boy, Phonzie, and I like the kink in your hair, but—but sometimes when I get blue, like to-night, I—I just wish I had never clapped eyes on you."
"How she hates me."
"I wish to God I did."
"Cut the tragedy, Gert."
"That's the trouble; I been cutting it for the mock comedy all my life."
"You, the highest little flyer in the flock!"
"Yeh, because I've never found anybody who even cares enough about me to clip my wings." Her laughter was short and with a blunt edge.
"Whew! Such a spill for you, Gert!"
"It's the spring gets on my nerves, I guess. Blow me to a table d'hote to-night, Phonzie. I got a red-ink thirst on me and I'm as blue as indigo."
"Hang around, Gert, and if I'm not on duty I—"
"Honest, you're the greatest kid to squirm when you think a girl is going to pin you down. You let me get about as serious as a musical comedy with you and then you put up the barbed wire."
"Yes, I do not!"
"Fine chance I've got of ever pinning you down! You care about as much for me as—as anybody else does, and that ain't saying much."
"Aw, Gert, you got the dumps—"
"Look at her over there. I can see by her profile she's hanging around to buy you your dinner to-night. Whatta you bet she springs the appointment-book yarn on you and you fall for it?"
A laugh flitted beneath Mr. Michelson's blond hedge of mustache. "Can I help it that I got such hypnotizing, mesmerizing ways?"
She smiled beneath her rouge, and wanly. "No, darling," she said.
Across the room Madam Moores regarded them from beside the pile of sheeny silks, her fingers plucking nervously at the fabrics.
"Hurry up over there, Phonzie. I told her the black lace was on the way."
Miss Dobriner daubed at her red lips with a lacy fribble of handkerchief, her voice sotto behind it.
"Don't let her pin you, Phonzie. Have a heart and take me to supper when I'm blue as indigo."
He leaned to impale a pin upon his lapel. "She's so white to me, Gert, how can I squirm if she asks me to go over the appointment-book with her to-night?"
"Tell her your grandmother's dead."
He leaned for another pin. "Stick around down in Seligman's. If I dust my hat with my handkerchief when I pass, I'm nailed for the evening. If I can wriggle I'll blow you to Churchey's for supper."
He retreated behind the mauve-colored swinging-door. The two remaining sibyls, hatted and coated to crane the neck of the passer-by, hurried arm-in-arm out into the spring evening. An errand girl, who had dropped her skirt and put up her hair so that the eye of the law might wink at her stigma of youth, hung the shimmering gowns away for another day's display. Gertie Dobriner patted her ringed fingers against her mouth to press back a yawn and trailed across the room, adjusting her hat before a full-length mirror. In the light from a single electric bulb her hair showed three colors—yellow gold, green gold, and, toward the roots, the dark gold of old bronze.
"You can go now, Gert."
Miss Dobriner adjusted a spray of curls. Through the mirror she could observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.
"Did—did Du Gass order that fish-tail model, madam?"
Madam Moores dallied with her appointment-book. Through the mirror she could observe the mauve-colored swinging-door.
"Yes, in green."
"If I had her complexion I'd wear sandpaper to match it."
"We haven't all of us got the looks, Gert, that'll get us four-carat stones to wear down to a twenty-dollar-a-week job."
Miss Dobriner's hand flew to her throat and the gem that gleamed there. "I—I guess I can buy a stone on time for myself without—without any insinuations."
"You can wear the stone, all right, Gert, but you can't get past the insinuations."
"I—I ain't so stuck on this place, madam, that I got to stand for your insinuations."
"No, it ain't the place you're stuck on that keeps you here, Gert."
They regarded each other through eyes banked with the red fires of anger, and beside the full-length mirror Miss Dobriner trembled as she stood.
"You can think what you please, madam. I—I'm hired by Phonzie and I'm here to wear models and not to steer your thinking."
Madam Moores sat so tense in her chair that her weight did not relax to it. "You and me can't have no fusses, you know that, don't you? I give Phonzie the run of my floor, and he's the one has to deal with—with freshness."
"You—you started it, madam. I—can get along with anybody. I don't have to stay in a place where I'm not wanted; it's just because Phonzie—"
"We won't fuss about it, Gertie. I'm the last one to fall out with my help."
"Did—did Laidlaw order that trotteur model in plaid, Gert?"
"No; she's coming back to-morrow."
"To-day's the day to land an order."
"She says that pongee we made her last spring never fit her slick enough between the shoulders. I felt like telling her we don't guarantee to fit tubs."
"You got to handle Laidlaw right, Gert. There'll be two trousseaux and a ball in that family before June. The best way to lose a customer like Laidlaw is to sell her what she ought to wear instead of what she wants to wear."
"Handle her right! I wore rubber gloves. Did I quiver an eyelash when she ordered that pink organdie, and didn't Phonzie nearly double up when he took down the order? You want to see her measurements. I'll get the book and—"
"No, no, Gert; you can go on. I got to stay and go over the appointments with Phonzie."
A quick red flowed up and under the rouged surface of Miss Dobriner's cheeks. "Oh—excuse me!"
"I—All right, I'm going."
She readjusted her hat, a tiny winged chariot of pink straw and designed after fashion's most epileptic caprice, coaxed her ringed fingers into a pair of but slightly soiled white gloves, her eyes the while staring past her slim reflection in the mirror and on to the mauve-colored swinging-door.
"Good night, Gert."
Miss Dobriner bared her teeth to a smile and closed her lips again before she spoke. "Good night—madam."
Then she went out, clicking the door behind her. Through the mauve-colored swinging-door and scarcely a clock-tick later entered Mr. Alphonse Michelson, spick, light-footed, slim.
"Charley's left with the black lace, madam."
It was as if Madam Moores suddenly threw off the husk of the day. "Tired, Phonzie?"
He ran a hand across his silk hair and glanced about. "Everybody gone?"
He reached for his hat and cane and a pair of untried gray gloves atop them. "I sent the yellow taffeta out on a C.O.D. That gold buckle she wanted on the shoulder cost her just twenty bucks more."
He fitted on his hat carefully and snapped his gloves across his palm. "Well, I'm off, madam."
She adjusted her hat in a simulation of indifference. "Like to come up to the flat for supper and—and go over the books, Phonzie?"
"There's plenty for two and—and we could kind of go over things."
He twirled his cane. "Oh, I—I'm running up there too often, sponging off you."
"Sponging! Like I'd ask you if I didn't want you!"
"I been up there sponging off you three times this week. Anyways, I'm—"
"Don't I always just give you pot luck?"
"Yes, but you'll think afterwhile that I got you mixed up with my meal-ticket."
A sensitive seepage of blood rushed over Madam Moores's nervous face, stinging it. "Of course, if you won't want to come!"
"Don't want to come! A fellow that's never had a snap like your cozy corner in his life—"
"Of course if—if you got a date with one of—of the models or something."
"I never said that, did I?"
"Well, get that sponging idea out of your head, Phonzie. There's always plenty for two in my cupboard. Like I says the other night, what's the use being able to afford my little flat if I can't get some pleasure out of it?"
"It sure looks good to this hall-room Johnnie."
She gathered her gloves and her black silk handbag. "Then come, Phonzie," she said, "I'm going to take you home." And her throat might have been lined with fur.
They went out together, locking the doors behind them, and into an evening as soft as silk and full of stars.
Along the wide up-town street the human tide flowed fast and as if thaw had set in, releasing it from the bondage of winter. Girls in light wraps and without hats loitered in the white flare of drugstore lights. Here and there a brown stoop bloomed with a boarder or two. In front of Seligman's florist shop, which occupied the ground floor of Madam Moores's dressmaking establishment, Alphonse Michelson paused for a moment in the flare of its decorative show-window and flecked at his hatband with sheer untried handkerchief.
"Come on, Phonzie."
In the up-town Subway, bound for the up-town flat, he leaned to her with his small blond mustache raised in a smile.
"Where's the book, madam?"
"Forgot it," she replied, without shame.
* * * * *
Out of three hundred and eighty dollars cash, a bit of black and gold brocade flung adroitly over the imitation hearth, a cot masquerading under a Mexican afghan of many colors, a canary in a cage, a potted geranium, a shallow chair with a threadbare head-rest, a lamp, a rug, a two-burner gas-stove, Madam Moores had evolved Home.
And why not? The Petit Trianon was built that a queen might there find rest from marble halls. The Borghese women in their palaces live behind drawn shades, but Italian peasants sit in their low doorways and sing as they rock and suckle.
In Madam Moores's two-flights-up flat the windows were flung open to the moist air of spring, which flowed in cool as water between crisp muslin curtains, stirring them. In the sudden flare of electric light the canary unfolded its head from a sheaf of wing, cheeped, and fell to picking up seed from the bottom of its cage.
Mr. Alphonse Michelson collapsed into the shallow chair beside the table and relaxed his head against the threadbare dent in the upholstery.
"Whoops! home never was like this!"
"Is him tired?"
"Now him all comfy and I go fix poor tired bad boy him din-din."
More native than mother-tongue is Mother's tongue. Whom women love they would first destroy with gibberish. To Mr. Michelson's linguistic credit, however, he shifted in his chair in unease.
"What did you say?"
"What him want for din-din?"
He slung one slim leg atop the other, slumping deeper to the luxury of his chair. "Dinner?"
"Say, those were swell chicken livers smothered in onions you served the other night, madam. Believe me, those were some livers!"
No, reader, Romance is not dead. On the contrary, he has survived the frock-coat and learned to chew a clove.
A radiance as soft as the glow from a pink-shaded lamp flowed over Madam Moores's face.
"Livers him going to have and biscuits made in my own ittsie bittsie oven. Eh?"
She divested herself of her wraps, fluffing her mahogany-colored hair where the hat had restricted it, lighted a tiny stove off in the tiny kitchenette and enveloped herself in a blue-bib-top apron. Her movements were short and full of caprice, and when she set the table, brushing his chair as she passed and repassed, lights came out in her eyes when she dared raise her lids to show them.
They dined by the concealed fireplace and from off a table that could fold its legs under like Aladdin's. Fumes of well-made coffee rose as ingratiating as the perfume of a love story. Mr. Michelson dropped a lump of butter into the fluffy heart of a biscuit and clapped the halves together.
"Bad boy, stop jollying."
"Say, if I'd tell you the truth about what I think of these biscuits, you'd say I was writing a streetcar advertisement for baking-powder. Say, this is some cup custard!"
"Full to my eyebrows."
"Just a little bittsie?"
He lighted a cigarette and they settled back in after-dinner completeness, their dessert-plates pushed well toward the center of the table and their senses quiet. She pleated the edge of her napkin and watched him blow leisurely spirals of smoke to the ceiling.
"What you thinking about, Phonzie?"
"If I was thinking at all I was just sizing it up as pretty soft for a fellow like me to get this sort of stand-in with—with my boss. Gawd! me and Roth used to love each other like snakes."
"I—I ain't your boss, Phonzie. Don't I give you the run of everything—hiring the models and all?"
"Sure you're my boss, and it's pretty soft for me."
"And I was just thinking, Phonzie, that it's pretty soft for me to have found a fellow like you to manage things for me."
"Without you, so used to the ways of the Avenue and all that kind of thing, where would I be now, trying to run in the right kind of bluff with the trade?"
"That's easy! After all, Fifth Avenue and Third Avenue is pretty much alike in the end, madam. A spade may be a spade, but if you're a good salesman, you can put it on black velvet and sell it for a dessert-spoon any day in the week."
"That's just what I'm saying, Phonzie, about you're knowing how. I needed just a fellow like you to show me how the swell trade has got to be blindfolded, and that the difference between a dressmaker and a modiste is about a hundred and fifty dollars a gown."
"You ought to see the way we handled them when I was on the floor for Roth. Say, we wouldn't touch a peignoir in that establishment for under two hundred and fifty, and—we had 'em coming in there like sheep. The Riverside Drive trade is nothing, madam, compared to what we could do down there with the Avenue business."
"You sure know how to handle the lorgnette bunch, Phonzie."
"Is it any wonder, being in the business twenty years?"
"Twenty years! Why, Phonzie, you—you don't look much more than twenty yourself."
He laughed, shifting one knee to the other. "That's because you can't see that my eye teeth are gold, madam."
"You're so light on your feet, Phonzie, and slick."
"To look twenty and feel your forty years ain't what it's cracked up to be. If I had a home of my own, you know what I'd buy first—a pair of carpet slippers and a patent rocker."
"I bet you mean it, too, Phonzie."
"Sure I mean it! How'd you like to go through life like me, trying to keep the kink ironed in my hair and out of my back, or lose my job at the only kind of work I'm good for? It's like having to live with a grin frozen on your face so you can't close your mouth."
"I—I just can't get over it, Phonzie, you forty! You five years older than me and me afraid—thinking all along it was just the other way."
"I had already shed my milk teeth before you were born, madam."
"Whatta you know about that!"
"Ask Gert. She's been following me around from place to place for years, sticking to me because I say there ain't a model in the business can show the clothes like she can."