WE CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING
BOOKS BY RUPERT HUGHES
We Can't Have Everything
In A Little Town
The Thirteenth Commandment
What Will People Say?
The Last Rose Of Summer
WE CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING
A NOVEL BY RUPERT HUGHES
AUTHOR OF What Will People Say?
ILLUSTRATED BY JAMES MONTGOMERY FLAGG
THE FIRST BOOK MISS KEDZIE THROPP COMES TO TOWN
THE SECOND BOOK MRS. TOMMIE GILFOYLE HAS HER PICTURE TAKEN
THE THIRD BOOK MRS. JIM DYCKMAN IS NOT SATISFIED
THE FOURTH BOOK THE MARCHIONESS HAS QUALMS
THE FIRST BOOK
MISS KEDZIE THROPP COMES TO TOWN
Kedzie Thropp had never seen Fifth Avenue or a yacht or a butler or a glass of champagne or an ocean or a person of social prominence. She wanted to see them.
For each five minutes of the day and night, one girl comes to New York to make her life; or so the compilers of statistics claim.
This was Kedzie Thropp's five minutes.
She did not know it, and the two highly important, because extremely wealthy, beings in the same Pullman car never suspected her—never imagined that the tangle they were already in would be further knotted, then snipped, then snarled up again, by this little mediocrity.
We never can know these things, but go blindly groping through the crowd of fellow-gropers, guessing at our presents and getting our pasts all wrong. What could we know of our futures?
Jim Dyckman, infamously rich (through no fault of his own), could not see far enough past Charity Coe Cheever that day to make out Kedzie Thropp, a few seats removed. Charity Coe—most of Mrs. Cheever's friends still called her by her maiden name—sat with her back turned to Kedzie; and latterly Charity Coe was not looking over her shoulder much. She did not see Kedzie at all.
And Kedzie herself, shabby and commonplace, was so ignorant that if she looked at either Jim or Charity Coe she gave them no heed, for she had never even heard of them or seen their pictures, so frequent in the papers.
They were among the whom-not-to-know-argues-one-self-unknowns. But there were countless other facts that argued Kedzie Thropp unknown and unknowing. As she was forever saying, she had never had anything or been anywhere or seen anybody worth having, being, or seeing.
But Jim Dyckman, everybody said, had always had everything, been everywhere, known everybody who was anybody. As for Charity Coe, she had given away more than most people ever have. And she, too, had traveled and met.
Yet Kedzie Thropp was destined (if there is such a thing as being destined—at any rate, it fell to her lot) to turn the lives of those two bigwigs topsy-turvy, and to get her picture into more papers than both of them put together. A large part of latter-day existence has consisted of the fear or the favor of getting pictures in the papers.
It was Kedzie's unusual distinction to win into the headlines at her first entrance into New York, and for the quaintest of reasons. She had somebody's else picture published for her that time; but later she had her very own published by the thousand until the little commoner, born in the most neglected corner of oblivion, grew impudent enough to weary of her fame and prate of the comforts of obscurity!
Kedzie Thropp was as plebeian as a ripe peach swung in the sun across an old fence, almost and not quite within the grasp of any passer-by. She also inspired appetite, but always somehow escaped plucking and possession. It is doubtful whether anybody ever really tasted her soul—if she had one. Her flavor was that very inaccessibility. She was always just a little beyond. Her heart was forever fixed on the next thing, just quitting the last thing. Eternal, delicious, harrowing discontent was Kedzie's whole spirit.
Charity Coe's habit was self-denial; Kedzie's self-fostering, all-demanding. She was what Napoleon would have been if the Little Corporal had been a pretty girl with a passion for delicacies instead of powers.
Thanks to Kedzie, two of the best people that could be were plunged into miseries that their wealth only aggravated.
Thanks to Kedzie, Jim Dyckman, one of the richest men going and one of the decentest fellows alive, learned what it means to lie in shabby domicile and to salt dirty bread with tears; to be afraid to face the public that had fawned on him, and to understand the portion of the criminal and the pariah.
And sweet Charity Coe, who had no selfishness in any motive, who ought to have been canonized as a saint in her smart Parisian robes of martyrdom, found the clergy slamming their doors in her face and bawling her name from their pulpits; she was, as it were, lynched by the Church, thanks again to Kedzie.
But one ought not to hate Kedzie. It was not her fault (was it?) that she was cooked up out of sugar and spice and everything nice into a little candy allegory of selfishness with one pink hand over her little heartless heart-place and one pink hand always outstretched for more.
Kedzie of the sugar lip and the honey eye! She was going to be carried through New York from the sub-sub-cellar of its poverty to its highest tower of wealth. She would sleep one night alone under a public bench in a park, and another night, with all sorts of nights between, she would sleep in a bed where a duchess had lain, and in arms Americanly royal.
So much can the grand jumble of causes and effects that we call fate do with a wanderer through life.
During the same five minutes which were Kedzie's other girls were making for New York; some of them to succeed apparently, some of them to fail undeniably, some of them to become fine, clean wives; some of them to flare, then blacken against the sky because of famous scandals and fascinating crimes in which they were to be involved.
Their motives were as various as their fates, and only one thing is safe to say—that their motives and their fates had little to do with one another. Few of the girls, if any, got what they came for and strove for; and if they got it, it was not just what they thought it was going to be.
This is Kedzie's history, and the history of the problem confronting Jim Dyckman and Charity Coe Cheever: the problem that Kedzie was going to seem to solve—as one solves any problem humanly, which is by substituting one or more new problems in place of the old.
This girl Kedzie who had never had anything had one thing—a fetching pout. Perhaps she had the pout because she had never had anything. An Elizabethan poet would have said of her upper lip that a bee in search of honey had stung it in anger at finding it not the rose it seemed, but something fairer.
She had eyes full of appeal—appeal for something—what? Who knows? She didn't. Her eyes said, "Have mercy on me; be kind to me." The shoddy beaux in her home town said that Kedzie's eyes said, "Kiss me quick!" They had obeyed her eyes, and yet the look of appeal was not quenched. She came to New York with no plan to stay. But she did stay, and she left her footprints in many lives, most deeply in the life of Jim Dyckman.
Miss Kedzie Thropp had never seen Fifth Avenue or a yacht or a butler or a glass of champagne or an ocean or a person of social prominence. She wanted to see them. To Jim Dyckman these things were commonplace. What he wanted was simple, complex, cheap, priceless things—love, home, repose, contentment.
He was on the top of the world, and he wanted to get down or have somebody else come up to him. Peaks are by definition and necessity limited to small foothold. Climbing up is hardly more dangerous than climbing down. Even to bend and lift some one else up alongside involves a risk of falling or of being pushed overboard.
But at present Jim Dyckman was thinking of the other girl, Charity Coe Cheever, perched on a peak as cold and high as his own, but far removed from his reach.
Even the double seat in the sleeping-car was too small for Jim. He sprawled from back to back, slumped and hunched in curves and angles that should have looked peasant and yet somehow had the opposite effect.
His shoes were thick-soled but unquestionably expensive, his clothes of loose, rough stuff manifestly fashionable. Like them, he had a kind of burly grace. He had been used to a well-upholstered life.
He was one of those giants that often grow in rich men's homes. His father was such another, and his mother suggested the Statue of Liberty in corsets and on high heels.
Dyckman was reading a weekly journal devoted to horses and dogs, and reading with such interest that he hardly knew when the train stopped.
He did not see the woman who got out of a motor and got into the train, and whose small baggage the porter put in the empty place opposite his. He did not see that she leaned into the aisle and regarded him with a pathetic amusement in her caressing eyes. She took her time about making herself known; then she uttered only a discreet:
She put into the cough many subtle implications. Hardly more could be crowded into a shrug.
Dyckman came out of his kennels and paddocks, blinked, stared, gaped. Then he began to stand up by first stepping down. He bestrode the narrow aisle like a Colossus.
He caught her two hands, brought them together, placed them in one of his, and covered them with the other as in a big muff, and bent close to pour into her eyes such ardor that for a moment she closed hers against the flame.
Then, as if in that silent greeting their souls had made a too loud and startling noise of welcome, both of them looked about with an effect of surreptition and alarm.
There were not many people in the car, and they were absorbed in their own books, gossips, or naps. Only a few head-tops showing above the high-backed seats, and no eyes or ears.
"Do you know anybody on the train?" the woman asked.
The man shook his head and sank into the seat opposite her, still clinging to her hands. She extricated them:
"But everybody knows you."
He dismissed this with a sniff of reproof. Then they settled down in the small trench and seemed to take a childish delight in the peril of their rencounter.
"Lord, but it's good to see you!" he sighed, luxuriously. "And you're stunninger than ever!"
"I'm a sight!" she said.
She was clad even more plainly than he, and had the same spirit of neglectful elegance. She was big, too, for a woman; somewhat lank but well muscled, and decisive in her motions as if she normally abounded in strength. What grace she had was an athlete's, but she looked overtrained or undernourished. Seeing that she did not look well, Dyckman said:
"How well you're looking, Charity."
She did not look like Charity, either; but her name had been given to her before she was born. There had nearly always been a girl called Charity in the Coe family. They had brought the name with them from New England when they settled in Westchester County some two hundred years before. They had kept little of their Puritanism except a few of the names.
This sportswoman called Charity had been trying to live up to her name, of late. That was why she was haggard. She smiled at her friend's unmerited praise.
"Thanks, Jim. I need a compliment like the devil."
"Where've you been since you got back?"
"Up in the camp, trying to get a little rest and exercise. But it's too lonesome nights. I rest better when I keep on the jump."
"You're in black; that doesn't mean—?"
She shook her head. A light of eagerness in his eyes was quenched, and he growled:
"Too bad!" He could afford to say it, since the object of his obloquy was alive. If the person mentioned had not been alive, the phrase he used would have been the same more gently intoned.
Charity protested: "Shame on you! I know you mean it for flattery, but you mustn't, you really mustn't. I'm in black for—for Europe." She laughed pitifully at the conceit.
He answered, with admiring awe: "I've heard about you. You're a wonder; that's what you are, Charity Coe, a wonder. Here's a big hulk like me loafing around trying to kill time, and a little tike like you over there in France spending a fortune of money and more strength than even you've got in a slaughter-house of a war hospital. How did you stand it?"
"It wasn't much fun," she sighed, "but the nurses can't feel sorry for themselves when they see—what they see."
"I can imagine," he said.
But he could not have imagined her as she daily had been. She and the other princesses of blood royal or bourgeois had been moiling among the red human debris of war, the living garbage of battle, as the wagons and trains emptied it into the receiving stations.
She and they had stood till they slept standing. They had done harder, filthier jobs than the women who worked in machine-shops and in furrows, while the male-kind fought. She had gone about bedabbled in blood, her hair drenched with it. Her delicate hands had performed tasks that would have been obscene if they had not been sublime in a realm of suffering where nothing was obscene except the cause of it all.
She sickened at it more in retrospect than in action, and tried to shake it from her mind by a change of subject.
"And what have you been up to, Jim?"
"Ah, nothing but the same old useless loafing. Been up in the North Woods for some hunting and fishing," he snarled. His voice always grew contemptuous when he spoke of himself, but idolatrous when he spoke of her—as now when he asked: "I heard you had gone back abroad. But you're not going, are you?"
"Yes, as soon as I get my nerves a little steadier."
"I won't let you go back!" He checked himself. He had no right to dictate to her. He amended to: "You mustn't. It's dangerous crossing, with all those submarines and floating mines. You've done your bit and more."
"But there's so horribly much to do."
"You've done enough. How many children have you got now?"
"About a hundred."
"Holy mother!" he whispered, with a profane piety. "Can even you afford as big a family as that?"
"Well, I've had to call for some help."
"Let me chip in? Will you?"
"Sure I will. Go as far as you like."
"All right; it's a bet. Name the sum, and I'll mail it to you."
"You'd better not mail me anything, Jim" she said.
He blenched and mumbled: "Oh, all right! I'll write you a check now."
"Later," she said. "I don't like to talk much about such things, please."
"Promise me you won't go back."
She simply waived the theme: "Let's talk of something pleasant, if you don't mind."
"Something pleasant, eh? Then I can't ask about—him, I suppose."
"Of course. Why not?"
"How is the hound?—begging the pardon of all honest hounds."
She was too sure of her own feelings toward her husband to feel it necessary to rush to his defense—against a former rival. Her answer was, "He's well enough to raise a handsome row if he saw you and me together."
He grumbled a full double-barreled oath and did not apologize for it. She spoke coldly:
"You'd better go back to your seat."
She was as severe as a woman can well be with a man who adores her and writhes with jealousy of a man she adores.
"I'll be good, Teacher," he said. "Was he over there with you?"
She evidently liked to talk about her husband. She brightened as she spoke. "Yes, for a while. He drove a motor-ambulance, you know, but it bored him after a month or two. They wouldn't let him up to the firing-lines, so he quit. Have you seen him?"
"Once or twice."
"He's looking well, isn't he?"
"Yes, confound him! His handsome features have been my ruin."
She could smile at that inverted compliment. But Dyckman began to think very hard. He was suddenly confronted with one of the conundrums in duty which life incessantly propounds—life that squats at all the crossroads with a sphinxic riddle for every wayfarer.
Kedzie—to say it again—did not know enough about New York or the world to recognize Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Dyckman when she glanced at them and glanced away. They did not at all come up to Kedzie's idea or ideal of what swells should be, and she had not even grown up enough to study the society news that makes such thrilling reading to those who thrill to that sort of thing. The society notes in the town paper in Kedzie's town (Nimrim, Missouri) consisted of bombastic chronicles of church sociables or lists of those present at surprise-parties.
This girl's home was one of the cheapest in that cheap town. Her people not only were poor, but lived more poorly than they had to. They had, in consequence, a little reserve of funds, which they took pride in keeping up. The three Thropps came now to New York for the first time in their three lives. They were almost as ignorant as the other peasant immigrants that steam in from the sea.
Adna Thropp, the father, was a local claim-agent on a small railroad. He spent his life pitting his wits against the petty greed of honest farmers and God-fearing, railroad-hating citizens. If a granger let his fence fall down and a rickety cow disputed the right of way with a locomotive's cow-catcher, the granger naturally put in a claim for the destruction of a prize-winning animal with a record as an amazing milker; also he added something for damage to the feelings of the family in the loss of a household pet. It was Adna's business to beat the shyster lawyers to the granger and beat the granger to the last penny. One of his best baits was a roll of cash tantalizingly waved in front of his victim while he breathed proverbs about the delayful courts.
This being Adna's livelihood, it was not surprising that his habit of mind gave pennies a grave importance. Of course, he carried his mind home with him from the office, and every demand of his wife or children for money was again a test of ability in claim-agency tactics. He fought so earnestly for every cent he gave down that his dependents felt that it was generally better to go without things than to enter into a life-and-death struggle for them with Pa.
For that reason Ma Thropp did the cooking, baked the "light bread," and made the clothes and washed them and mended them till they vanished. She cut the boys' hair; she schooled the girls to help her in the kitchen and at the sewing-machine and with the preserve-jars. Her day's work ended when she could no longer see her darning-needle. It began as soon as she could see daylight to light the fire by. In winter the day began in her dark, cold kitchen long before the sun started his fire on the eastern hills.
She upheld a standard of morals as high as Mount Everest and as bleak. She made home a region of everlasting chores, rebukes, sayings wiser than tender, complaints and bitter criticisms of husband, children, merchants, neighbors, weather, prices, fabrics—of everything on earth but of nothing in heaven.
Strange to say, the children did not appreciate the advantages of their life. The boys had begun to earn their own money early by the splitting of wood and the shoveling of snow, by the vending of soap, and the conduct of delivery-wagons. They spent their evenings at pool-tables or on corners. The elder girls had accepted positions in the various emporia of the village as soon as they could. They counted the long hours of the shop life as an escape from worse. Their free evenings were not devoted to self-improvement. They did not turn out to be really very good girls. They were up to all sorts of village mischief and shabby frivolity. Their poor mother could not account for it. She could scold them well, but she could not scold them good.
The daughter on the train, the youngest—named Kedzie after an aunt who was the least poor of the relatives—was just growing up into a similar career. Her highest prayer was that her path might lead her to a clerkship in a candy-shop. Then this miracle! Her father announced that he was going to New York.
Adna was always traveling on the railroad, but he had never traveled far. To undertake New York was hardly less remarkable than to run over to the moon for a few days.
When he brought the news home he could hardly get up the front steps with it. When he announced it at the table, and tried to be careless, his hand trembled till the saucerful of coffee at his quivering lips splashed over on the clean red-plaid table-cloth.
The occasion of Thropp's call to New York was this: he had joined a "benevolent order" of the Knights of Something-or-other in his early years and had risen high in the chapter in his home town. When one of the members died, the others attended his funeral in full regalia, consisting of each individual's Sunday clothes, enhanced with a fringed sash and lappets. Also there was a sword to carry. The advantage of belonging to the order was that the member got the funeral for nothing and his wife got the further consolation of a sum of money.
Mrs. Thropp bore her neighbors no more ill-will than they deserved, but she did enjoy their funerals. They gave her husband an excuse for his venerable silk hat and his gilded glave. Sometimes as she took her hands out of the dough and dried them on her apron to fasten his sash about him, she felt all the glory of a medieval countess buckling the armor on her doughty earl. She had never heard of such persons, but she knew their epic uplift.
Now, Mr. Thropp had paid his dues and his insurance premiums for years and years. They were his one extravagance. Also he had persuaded Mrs. Thropp's brother Sol to do the same. Sol had died recently and left his insurance money to Mrs. Thropp. Sol's own wife, after cherishing long-deferred hopes of spending that money herself, had been hauled away first. She never got that insurance money. Neither did any one else; the central office in New York failed to pay up.
The annual convention was about to be held in the metropolis, and there was to be a tremendous investigation of the insurance scandal. Adna was elected the delegate of the Nimrim chapter, for he was known to be a demon in a money-fight.
And this was the glittering news that Adna brought home. Small wonder it spilled his coffee. And that wife of his not only had to go and yell at him about a little coffee-stain, but she had to announce that she hardly saw how she could get ready to go right away—and who was to look after those children?
Adna's jaw fell. Perhaps he had ventured on dreams of being set free in New York all by himself. She soon woke him. She said she wouldn't no more allow him loose in that wicked place than she would—well, she didn't know what! He could get a pass for self and wife as easy as shootin'. Adna yielded to the inevitable with a sorry grace and told her to come along if she'd a mind to.
And then came a still, small voice from daughter Kedzie. She spoke with a menacing sweetness: "Goody, goody! Besides seeing New York, I won't have to go to school for—How long we goin' to be gone, poppa?"
Both parents stared at her aghast and told her to hush her mouth. It was a very pretty mouth even in anger, and Kedzie declined to hush it. She said:
"Well, if you two think you're goin' to leave me home, you got another think comin'—that's all I got to say."
She betrayed an appalling stubbornness, a fiendish determination to subdue her parents or talk them to death.
"I never get to go any place," she wailed. "I never been anywhere or seen anything or had anything; I might as well be a bump on a log. And now you're goin' to New York. I'd sooner go there than to heaven. It's my first chance to see a city, and I just tell you right here and now, I'm not goin' to lose it! You take me or you'll be mighty sorry. I'll—I'll—"
"You'll what?" her father sneered. What, after all, could a young girl do?
"I'll run off, that's what I'll do! And disgrace you! I'll run away and you'll never see me again. If you're mean enough to not take me, I'm mean enough to do something desprut. You'll see!"
Her father realized that there were several things a young girl could do to punish her parents. Kedzie frightened hers with her fanatic zeal. They gave in at last from sheer terror. Immediately she became almost intolerably rapturous. She shrieked and jumped; and she kissed and hugged every member of the household, including the dogs and the cats. She must go down-town and torment her girl friends with her superiority and she could hardly live through the hours that intervened before the train started.
The Thropps rode all day in the day-coach to Chicago, and Kedzie loved every cinder that flew into her gorgeous eyes. Now and then she slept curled up kittenwise on a seat, and the motion of the train lulled her as with angelic pinions. She dreamed impossible glories in unheard-of cities.
But her mother bulked large and had been too long accustomed to her own rocking-chair to rest in a day-coach. She reached Chicago in a state of collapse. She told Adna that she would have to travel the rest of the way in a sleeper or in a baggage-car, for she just naturally had to lay down. So Adna paid for two berths. It weakened him like a hemorrhage.
Kedzie's first sorrow was in leaving Chicago. They changed trains there, bouncing across the town in a bus. That transit colored Kedzie's soul like dragging a ribbon through a vat of dye. Henceforth she was of a city hue.
She was enamoured of every cobblestone, and she loved every man, woman, horse, and motor she passed. She tried to flirt with the tall buildings. She was afraid to leave Chicago lest she never get to New York, or find it inferior. She begged to be left there. It was plenty good enough for her.
But once aboard the sleeping-car she was blissful again, and embarrassed her mother and father with her adoration. In all sincerity, Kedzie mechanically worshiped people who got things for her, and loathed people who forbade things or took them away.
She horrified the porter by calling him "Mister"—almost as much as her parents scandalized him the next day by eating their meals out of a filing-cabinet of shoe-boxes compiled by Mrs. Thropp. But it was all picnic to Kedzie. Fortunately for her repose, she never knew that there was a dining-car attached.
The ordeal of a night in a sleeping-car coffin was to Kedzie an experience of faery. She laughed aloud when she bumped her head, and getting out of and into her clothes was a fascinating exercise in contortion. She was entranced by the wash-room with its hot and cold water and its basin of apparent silver, whose contents did not have to be lifted and splashed into a slop-jar, but magically emptied themselves at the raising of a medallion.
She had not worn herself out with enthusiasm by the time the first night was spent and half the next day. She pressed her nose against the window and ached with regret at the hurry with which towns and cities were whipped away from her eyes.
She did not care for grass and trees and cows and dull villages, but she thrilled at the beauty of big, dark railroad stations and noble street-cars and avenues paved with exquisite asphalt.
The train was late in arriving at New York, and it was nearer ten than eight when it roared across the Harlem River. Kedzie was glad of the display, for she saw the town first as one great light-spangled banner.
The car seemed to be drawn right through people's rooms. Everybody lived up-stairs. She caught glimpses of kitchens on the fourth floor and she thought this adorable, except that it would be a job carrying the wood all the way up.
The streets went by like the glistening spokes of a swift wheel. They were packed with interesting sights. No wonder most of the inhabitants were either in the streets or leaning out of the windows looking down. Here it was ten o'clock, and not a sign of anybody's having thought of going to bed. New York was a sensible place. She liked New York.
But the train seemed to quicken its pace out of mere spitefulness just as they reached wonderful market streets with flaring lights over little carts all filled with things to buy.
When the wonder world was blotted from view by the tunnel it frightened her at first with its long, dark noise and the flip-flops of light. Then a brief glimpse of towers and walls. Then the dark station. And they were There!
Jim Dyckman had always loved Charity Coe, but he let another man marry her—a handsomer, livelier, more entertaining man with whom Dyckman was afraid to compete. A mingling of laziness and of modesty disarmed him.
As soon as he saw how tempestuously Peter Cheever began his courtship, Dyckman withdrew from Miss Coe's entourage. When she asked him why, he said, frankly:
"Pete Cheever's got me beat. I know when I'm licked."
Pete's courtship was what the politicians call a whirlwind campaign. Charity was Mrs. Cheever before she knew it. Her friends continued to call her Charity Coe, but she was very much married.
Cheever was a man of shifting ardors. His soul was filled with automatic fire-extinguishers. He flared up quickly, but when his temperature reached a certain degree, sprinklers of cold water opened in his ceiling and doused the blaze, leaving him unharmed and hardly scorched. It had been so with his loves.
After a brief and blissful honeymoon, Peter Cheever's capricious soul kindled at the thought of an exploration of war-filled Europe. His blushing bride was a hurdle-rider, too, and loved a risk-neck venture. She insisted on going with him.
He accepted the steering-wheel of a motor-ambulance and left his bride to her own devices while he shot along the poplar-plumed roads of France at lightning speed.
Charity drifted into hospital service. Her first soldier, the tortured victim of a gas-attack, was bewailing the fate of his motherless child. Charity brought a smile to what lips he had by whispering:
"I am rich. I will adopt your little girl."
It was the first time she had ever boasted of being rich. The man died, whispering: "Merci, Madame! Merci, Madame!" Another father was writhing in the premature hell of leaving a shy little unprotected boy to starve. Charity promised to care for him, too.
At a committee meeting, a week later, she learned of a horde of war orphans and divided them up with Muriel Schuyler, Mrs. Perry Merithew, and other American angels abroad.
When Charity's husband wearied of being what he called "chauffeur to a butcher-wagon," he decided that America was a pretty good country, after all. But Charity could not tear herself away from her privilege of suffering, even to follow her bridegroom home. He had cooled to her also, and he made no protest. He promised to come back for her. He did not come. He cabled often and devotedly, telling her how lonely he was and how busy. She answered that she hoped he was lonely, but she knew he was busy. He would be!
When Cheever first returned, Jim Dyckman saw him at a club. He saw him afterward in a restaurant with one of those astonishing animals which the moving pictures have hardly caricatured as a "vampire." This one would have been impossible if she had not been visible. She was intensely visible.
Jim Dyckman felt that her mere presence in a public restaurant was offensive. To think of her as displacing Charity Coe in Cheever's attentions was maddening. He understood for the first time why people of a sort write anonymous letters. He could not stoop to that degradation, and yet he wondered if, after all, it would be as degrading to play the informer as to be an unprotesting and therefore accessory spectator and confidant.
Gossip began to deal in the name of Cheever. One day at a club the he-old-maid "Prissy" Atterbury cackled:
"I saw Pete Cheever at a cabaret—"
Jim asked, anxiously, "Was he alone?"
"What do you mean—nearly alone?"
"Well, what he had with him is my idea of next to nothing. I wonder what sinking ship Cheever rescued her from. They tell me she was a cabaret dancer named Zada L'Etoile—that's French for Sadie Starr, I suppose."
Dyckman's obsession escaped him.
"Somebody ought to write his wife about it."
"That would be nice!" cried Prissy. "Oh, very, very nice! It would be better to notify the Board of Health. But it would be still better if his wife would come home and mind her own business. These Americans who hang about the edges of the war, fishing for sensations, make me very tired—oh, very, very tired."
Prissy never knew how near he was to annihilation. Jim had to hold one fist with the other. He was afraid to yield to his impulse to smash Prissy in the droop of his mustache. Prissy was too frail to be slugged. That was his chief protection in his gossip-mongering career.
Besides, it is a questionable courtesy for a former beau to defend another man's wife's name, and Dyckman proved his devotion to Charity best by leaving her slanderer unrebuked.
It was no anonymous better that brought Charity Coe home. It was the breakdown of her powers of resistance. Even the soldiers had to be granted vacations from the trenches; and so an eminent American surgeon in charge of the hospital she adorned finally drove Mrs. Cheever back to America. He disguised his solicitude with brutality; he told her he did not want her to die on their hands.
When Charity came back, Cheever met her and celebrated her return. She was a new sensation to him again for a week or two, but her need of seclusion and quiet drove him frantic and he grew busy once more. He recalled Miss L'Etoile from the hardships of dancing for her supper. Unlike Charity, Zada never failed to be exciting. Cheever was never sure what she would do or say or throw next. She was delicious.
When Dyckman learned of Cheever's extra establishment it enraged him. He had let Cheever push him aside and carry off Charity Coe, and now he must watch Cheever push Charity Coe aside and carry on the next choice of his whims.
To Dyckman, Charity was perfection. To lose her and find her in the ash-barrel with Cheever's other discarded dolls was intolerable. Yet what could Dyckman do about it? He dared not even meet Charity. He hated her husband, and he knew that her husband hated him. Cheever somehow realized the dogged fidelity of Dyckman's love for Charity and resented it—feared it as a menace, perhaps.
Dyckman had two or three narrow escapes from running into Charity, and he finally took to his heels. He lingered in the Canadian wilds till he thought it safe to return. And now she chanced to board the same train. The problem he had run away from had cornered him.
He had cherished a sneaking hope that she would learn the truth somehow before he met her. He was not sure what she ought to do when she learned it. He was sure that what she would do would be the one right thing.
Yet he realized from her placid manner of parrying his threats at her husband that she still loved the wretch and trusted him. It was up to Jim to tell her what he knew about Cheever. He felt that he ought to. Yet how could he?
It was hideous that she should sit there smiling tolerantly at a critic of her infernal husband as serenely as a priestess who is patient with an unenlightened skeptic.
It was atrocious that Cheever should be permitted to prosper with this scandal unrebuked, unpunished, actually unsnubbed, accepting the worship of an angel like Charity Coe and repaying it with black treachery! To keep silent was to co-operate in the evil—to pander to it. Dyckman thought it was hideous. The word he thought was "rotten"!
He actually opened his mouth to break the news. His voice mutinied. He could not say a word.
Something throttled him. It was that strange instinct which makes criminals of every degree feel that no crime is so low but that tattling on it is a degree lower.
Dyckman tried to assuage his self-contempt by the excuse that Charity was not in the mood or in the place where such a disclosure should be made. Some day he would tell her and then ask permission to kill the blackguard for her.
The train had scuttered across many a mile while he meditated the answer to the latest riddle. His thoughts were so turbulent that Charity finally intruded.
"What's on your mind, Jim?"
"Oh, I was just thinking."
Suddenly he reached out and seized the hand that drooped at her knee like a wilted lily. He wrung her fingers with a vigor that hurt her, then he said, "Got any dogs to show this season?"
She laughed at the violent abruptness of this, and said, "I think I'll give an orphan-show instead."
He shook his head in despairing admiration and leaned back to watch the landscape at the window. So did she. On the windows their own reflections were cast in transparent films of light. Each wraith watched the other, seeming to read the mood and need no speech.
Dyckman's mind kept shuttling over and over the same rails of thought, like a switch-engine eternally shunting cars from one track to another. His very temples throbbed with the clickety-click of the train. At last he groaned:
"This world's too much for me. It's got me guessing."
He seemed to be so impressed with his original and profound discovery of life's unanswerable complexity that Charity smiled, the same sad, sweet smile with which she pored on the book of sorrow or listened to the questions of her orphans who asked where their fathers had gone.
She thought of Jim Dyckman as one of her orphans. There was a good deal of the mother in her love of him. For she did love him. And she would have married him if he had asked her earlier—before Peter Cheever swept over her horizon and carried her away with his zest and his magnificence.
She rebuked herself for thinking of Jim Dyckman as an orphan. He had a father and mother who doted on him. He had wealth of his own and millions to come. He had health and brawn enough for two. What right had he to anybody's pity? Yet she pitied him.
And he pitied her.
And on this same train, in this same car, unnoticed and unnoticing, sat Kedzie.
Jim and Charity grew increasingly embarrassed as the train drew into New York. Charity was uncertain whether her husband would meet her or not. Jim did not want to leave her to get home alone. She did not want her husband to find her with Jim.
Cheever had excuse enough in his own life for suspecting other people. He had always disliked Jim Dyckman because Dyckman had always disliked him, and Jim's transparent face had announced the fact with all the clarity of an illuminated signboard.
Also Charity had loved Jim before she met Cheever, and she made no secret of being fond of him still. In their occasional quarrels, Cheever had taunted her with wishing she had married Jim, and she had retorted that she had indeed made a big mistake in her choice. Lovers say such things—for lack of other weapons in such combats as lovers inevitably wage, if only for exercise.
Charity did not really mean what she said, but at times Cheever thought she did. He had warned her to keep away from Dyckman and keep Dyckman away from her or there would be trouble. Cheever was a powerful athlete and a boxer who made minor professionals look ridiculous. Dyckman was bigger, but not so clever. A battle between the two stags over the forlorn doe would be a horrible spectacle. Charity was not the sort of woman that longs for such a conflict of suitors. Just now she had seen too much of the fruits of male combat. She was sick of hatred and its devastation.
So Charity begged Dyckman to get off at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, but he would not show himself so poltroon. He answered, "I'd like to see myself!" meaning that he would not.
She retorted, "Then I'll get off there myself."
"Then I'll get off there with you," he grumbled.
Charity flounced back into her seat with a gasp of mitigated disgust. The mitigation was the irresistible thrill of his devotion. She had a husband who would desert her and a cavalier who would not. It was difficult not to forgive the cavalier a little.
Yet it would have been better if he had obeyed her command or she her impulse. Or would it have been? The worst might always have been worse.
When Kedzie was angry she called her father an "old country Jake." Even she did not know how rural he was or how he had oppressed the sophisticated travelers in the smoking-room of the sleeping-car with his cocksure criticisms of cities that he had never seen. He had condemned New York with all the mercilessness of a small-town superiority, and he had told funny stories that were as funny as the moss-bearded cypresses in a lone bayou. While he was denouncing New York as the home of ignorance and vice, the other men were having sport with him—sport so cruel that only his own cruelty blinded him to it.
When the porter summoned the passengers to pass under the whisk broom, Adna remembered that he had not settled upon his headquarters in New York, and he said to a man on whom he had inflicted a vile cigar: "Say, I forgot to ask you. What's a good hotel in New York that ain't too far from the railroad and don't rob you of your last nickel? Or is they one?"
One of the smoking-room humorists mocked his accent and ventured a crude jape.
"You can save the price of a hack-ride by going to Mrs. Biltmore's new boarding-house. It's right across the road from the depot."
If Adna had been as keen as he thought he was, or if the porter had not alarmed him just then by his affectionate interest, even Adna would have noted the grins on the faces of the men.
But he broke the porter's heart by dodging the whisk broom and hustling his excited family to their feet. They were permitted to hale their own hand-baggage to the platform, where two red-capped Kaffirs reached for it together. There was danger of an altercation, but the bigger of the two frightened the smaller away by snapping his shiny eyeballs alarmingly. The smaller one took a second look at Adna and retreated with scorn, snickering:
"You kin have him."
The other, who was a good loser at craps or tips, re-examined his clients, flickered his eyelids, and started down the platform to have it over with as soon as possible. He paused to say:
"Where you-all want to go to—a taxicab?"
Adna, who was a little nervous about his property, answered with some asperity:
"No, we don't need any hack to git to Biltmore's."
"Nossah!" said the red-cap.
"Right across the street, ain't it?"
"Yassah!" The porter chuckled. The mention of the family's destination had cheered him a little. He might get a tip, after all. You couldn't always sometimes tell by a man's clothes how he tipped.
While Kedzie stood watching the red-cap bestow the various parcels under his arms and along his fingers, a man bumped into her and murmured:
She turned and said, "Huh?"
He did not look around. She did not see his face. It was the first conversation between Jim Dyckman and Kedzie Thropp.
Charity Coe, when the train stopped, had flatly refused to walk up the station platform with Jim Dyckman. She had not only virtue, but St. Paul's idea of the importance of avoiding even the appearance of evil. She would not budge from the car till Jim had gone. He was forced to leave her at last.
He swung through the crowd in a fury, jostling and begging pardon and staring over the heads of the pack to see if Cheever were at the barrier. He jolted Kedzie Thropp among others, apologized, and thought no more of her.
Cheever had not come to meet his wife. Her telegram was waiting for him at his official home; he was at his other residence.
When Dyckman saw that no one was there to welcome the fagged-out Charity, he paused and waited for her himself. When Charity came along her anxious eyes found nobody she knew except Dyckman. The disappointment she revealed hurt him profoundly. But he would not be shaken off again. He turned in at her side and walked along, and the two porters with their luggage walked side by side.
Prissy Atterbury was hurrying to a train that would take him for a week-end visitation to people who hated him but needed him to cancel a female bore with. As Prissy saw it and described it, Dyckman came into the big waiting-room alone, looked about everywhere, paused, turned back for Charity Coe; then walked away with her, followed by their twinned porters. Prissy said "Aha!" behind his big mustaches and stared till he nearly lost his train.
Atterbury had gained a new topic to carry with him, a topic of such fertile resources that it went far to pay his board and lodging. He made a snowball out of the clean reputations of Charity and Jim and started it downhill, gathering dirt and momentum as it rolled. It was bound to roll before long into the ken of Peter Cheever, and he was not the man to tolerate any levity in a wife. Cheever might be as wicked as Caesar, but his wife must be as Caesar's.
When Charity Coe was garrulous and inordinately gay, Jim Dyckman, who had known her from childhood, knew that she was trying to rush across the thin ice over some deep grief.
When he saw how hurt she was at not being met, and he insisted on taking her home, she chattered and snickered hysterically at his most stupid remarks. So he said:
"Don't let him break your heart in you, old girl."
She laughed uproariously, almost vulgarly, over that, and answered: "Me? Let a man break my heart? That's very likely, isn't it?"
"Very!" Jim groaned.
When they reached her magnificent home it had a deserted look.
"Wait here a minute," said Charity when Jim got out to help her out. She ran up the steps and rang the bell. There was a delay before the second man in an improvised toilet opened the door to her and expressed as much surprise as delight at seeing her. "Didn't Mr. Cheever tell you I was coming home?" she gasped.
"We haven't seen him, ma'am. There's a telegram here for him, but of course—"
Charity was still in a frantic mood. She wanted to escape brooding, at all costs. She ran back to where Jim waited at the motor door.
"Got any date to-night, Jim?" she demanded. He shook his head dolefully, and she said: "Go home, jump into your dancing-shoes, and come back for me. I'll throw on something light and you can take me somewhere to dance. I'll go crazy mad, insane, if you don't. I can't endure this empty house. You don't mind my making a convenience of you, do you, Jim?"
"I love it, Charity Coe," he groaned. He reached for her hand, but she was fleeting up the steps. He crept into the car and went to his home, flung off his traveling-togs, passed through a hot tub and a cold shower into evening clothes, and hastened away.
Charity kept him waiting hardly a moment. She floated down the stairs in a something fleetily volatile, and he said:
"You look like a dandelion puff."
"That's right, tell me some nice things," she said. She did not tell the servant where she was going. She did not know. She hardly cared.
To Kedzie Thropp the waiting-room of the Grand Central Terminal was the terminus of human splendor. It was the waiting-room to heaven. And indeed it is a majestic chamber.
The girl walked with her face high, staring at the loftily columned recesses with the bay-trees set between the huge square pillars, and above all the feigned blue sky and the monsters of the zodiac in powdered gold.
Kedzie could hardly breathe—it was so beautiful, so much superior to the plain every-night sky she was used to, with stars of tin instead of gold like these.
Even her mother said "Well!" and Adna paid the architects the tribute of an exclamation: "Humph! So this is the new station we was readin' about. Some bigger'n ours at home, eh, Kedzie?"
But Kedzie was not there. They had lost her and had to turn back. She was in a trance. When they snatched her down to earth again and pulled her through the crowds she began to adore the people. They were dressed in unbelievable splendor—millions, she guessed, in far better than the best Sunday best she had ever seen. She wondered if she would ever have nice clothes. She vowed that she would if she had to murder somebody to get them.
The porter led the way from the vastitude of a corridor under the street and through vast empty rooms and up a stairway and down a few steps and through the first squirrel-cage door Kedzie had ever seen (she had to run round it thrice before they could get her out) into a sumptuousness beyond her dream.
At the foot of more stairs the porter let down his burdens, and a boy in a general's uniform seized them. The porter said, mopping his brow to emphasize his achievement:
"This is fur's I go."
"Oh, all right! Much obliged," said Adna. He just pretended to walk away as a joke on the porter. When he saw the man's white stare aggravated sufficiently, Adna smiled and handed him a dime.
The porter stared and turned away in bitter grief. Then his chuckle returned as he went his way, telling himself: "And the bes' of it was, I fit for him! I just had to git that man."
He told the little porter about it, and when the little porter, who had been scared away from the Thropps and left to carry Charity Coe's dainty hand-bags, showed the big porter what he had received, still the big porter laughed. He knew how to live, that big porter.
Kedzie followed the little general up the steps and around to the desk. Her father realized that his fellow-passenger had been teasing him when he referred to this place as a boarding-house, but he was not at all crushed by the magnificence he was encountering. He felt that he was in for it—so he cocked his toothpick pluckily and wrote on the loose-leaf register the room clerk handed him:
A. Thropp, wife and daughter, Nimrim, Mo.
The room clerk read the name as if it were that of a potentate whose incognito he would respect, and murmured:
"About what accommodation would you want, Mr. Thropp?"
"Two rooms—one for the wife and m'self, one for the daughter."
"Yes, sir. And about how much would you want to pay?"
"How do they run?"
"We can give you two nice adjoining rooms for twelve dollars—up."
Mr. Thropp made a hasty calculation. Twelve dollars a week for board and lodging was not so bad. He nodded.
The room clerk marked down a number and slid a key to the page, who gathered the family treasures together. Kedzie had more or less helplessly recognized the page's admiration of her when he first took the things from the porter. The sense of her beauty had choked the boy's amusement at her parents.
Later Kedzie caught the glance of the room clerk and saw that she startled him and cheated him of his smile at Adna. Still later the elevator-boy gave her one respectful look of approval. Kedzie's New York stir was already beginning.
The page ushered the Thropps into the elevator, and said, "Nineteen."
It was the number of the floor, not the room. Adna warned his women folk that "she" was about to go up, but they were not prepared for that swift vertical leap toward the clouds. Another floor, and Mrs. Thropp would have screamed. The altitude affected her.
Then the thing stopped, and the boy led them down a corridor so long that Adna said, "Looks like we'd be stranded a hundred miles from nowheres."
The boy turned in at a door at last. He flashed on the lights, set the bags on a bag-rack, hung up the coats, opened a window, adjusted the shade, lighted the lights in Kedzie's room, opened her window, adjusted the shade, and asked if there were anything else.
Adna knew what the little villain meant, but he knew what was expected, and he said, sternly, "Ice-water."
"Right here, sir," said the boy, and indicated in the bathroom a special faucet marked "Drinking Water."
This startled even Adna so much that it shook a dime out of him. The boy sighed and went away. Kedzie surprised his eye as he left. It plainly found no fault with her.
Here in seclusion Mrs. Thropp dared to exclaim at the wonders of modern invention. Kedzie was enfranchised and began to jump and squeal at the almost suffocating majesty. Adna took to himself the credit for everything.
"Well, momma, here we are in New York at last. Here we are, daughter. You got your wish."
Kedzie nearly broke his neck with her hug, and called him the best father that ever was. And she meant it at the moment, for the moment.
Mrs. Thropp was already making herself at home, loosening her waistband and her corset-laces.
Adna made himself at home, too—that is, he took off his coat and collar and shoes. But Kedzie could not waste her time on comfort while there was so much ecstasy to be had.
She went to the window, shoved the sash high, and—discovered New York. She greeted it with an outcry of wonder. She called to her mother and father to "Come here and looky!"
Her mother moaned, "I wouldn't come that far to look at New Jerusalem."
Adna yawned noisily and pulled out his watch. His very eyes yawned at it, and he said: "'Levum o'clock. Good Lord! Git to bed quick!"
Kedzie was furious at ending the day so abruptly. She wanted to go out for a walk, and they sent her to her room. She watched at the window as she peeled off her coarse garments and put her soft body into a rough nightgown as ill-cut and shapeless as she was neither. She had been turned by a master's lathe.
She waited till she heard her father's well-known snore seesawing through the panels. Then she went to the window again to gaze her fill at the town. She fell in love with it and told it so. She vowed that she would never leave it. She had not come to a strange city; she had just reached home.
She leaned far out across the ledge to look down at the tremendously inferior street. She nearly pitched head foremost and scrambled back, but with a giggle of bliss at the excitement. She stared at the dark buildings of various heights before her. There was something awe-inspiring about them.
Across a space of roofs was the electric sign of an electric company, partly hidden by buildings. All Kedzie could see of it was the huge phrase LIGHT—HEAT—POWER. She thought that those three graces would make an excellent motto.
She could see across and down into the well of the Grand Central Terminal. On its front was some enormous winged figure facing down the street. She did not know who it was or what street it was. She did not know any of the streets by name, but she wanted to. She had a passionate longing for streets.
Farther south or north, east or west, or whichever way it was, was a tall building with glowing bulbs looped like the strings of evergreen she had helped to drape the home church with at Christmas-time. Here it was Christmas every day—all holidays in one.
Down in the ravine a little in front of her she could read the sign ATHENS HOTEL. She had heard of Athens. It was the capital of some place in her geography. She who had so much of Grecian in her soul was not quite sure of Athens!
In one of the opposite office buildings people were working late. The curtains were drawn, but the casements were filled with light, a honey-colored light. The buildings were like great honeycombs; the dark windows were like the cells that had no honey in them. Light and life were honey. Kedzie wondered what folks they were behind those curtains—who they were, and what were they up to. She bet it was something interesting. She wished she knew them. She wished she knew a whole lot of city people. But she didn't know a soul.
It was all too glorious to believe. She was in New York! imparadised in New York!
"Are you in bed?"
"Yes, momma." She tried to give her voice a faraway, sleepy sound, for fear that her mother might open the door to be sure.
She crept into bed. The lights burned her weary eyes. She could not reach them to put them out.
By the head of her bed was a little toy lamp. A chain hung from it. She tugged at the chain—pouff! Out went the light. She tugged at the chain. On went the light. A magical chain, that! It put the light on and off, both. Kedzie could find no chains to pull the ceiling lights out with. She let them burn.
Kedzie covered her head and yet could not sleep. She sat up quickly. Was that music she heard? Somebody was giving a party, maybe.
She got up and out again and ran barefoot to the hall door, opened it an inch, and peeked through. She saw a man and two ladies swishing along the hall to the elevator. They were not sleepy at all, and the ladies were dressed—whew! skirts short and no sleeves whatever. They really were going to a party.
Kedzie closed the door and drooped back to bed—an awful place to go when all the rest of the world was just starting out to parties.
She flopped and gasped in her bed like a fish ashore. Then a gorgeous whim came to her. She would dive into her element. Light and fun were her element. She came out of bed like a watch-spring leaping from a case. She tiptoed to the parental door—heard nothing but the rumor of slumber.
She began to dress. She put on her extra-good dress.
She had brought it along in the big valise in case of an accident to the every-day dress. When she had squirmed through the ordeal of hooking it up, she realized that its skirts were too long for decency. She pinned them up at the hem.
The gown had a village low-neck—that is, it was a trifle V'd at the throat. Kedzie tried to copy the corsage of the women who passed in the hall. She withdrew from the sleeves, and gathering the waist together under her arms, fastened it as best she could. The revelation was terrifying. All of her chest and shoulders and shoulderblades were bare.
She dared hardly look at herself. Yet she could not possibly deny the fearful charm of those contours. She put her clothes on again and prinked as much as she could. Then she sallied forth, opening and closing the door with pious care. She went to the elevator, and the car began to drop. The elevator-boy politely lowered it without plunge or jolt.
Kedzie followed the sound of the music. The lobbies were thronged with brilliant crowds flocking from theaters for supper and a dance. Kedzie made her way to the edge of the supper-room. The floor, like a pool surrounded by chairs and tables, was alive with couples dancing contentedly. Every woman was in evening dress and so was every man. The splendor of the costumes made her blink. The shabbiness of her own made her blush.
She blushed because her own dress was indecent and immoral. It was indecent and immoral because it was unlike that of the majority. In this parish, conventionality, which is the one true synonym for morality, called for bare shoulders and arms unsleeved. Kedzie was conspicuous, which is a perfect synonym for immoral. If she had fallen through the ceiling out of a bathtub she could not have felt more in need of a hiding-place. She shrank into a corner and sought cover and concealment, for she was afraid to go back to the elevator through the ceaseless inflow of the decolletees.
She throbbed to the music of the big band; her feet burned to dance; her waist ached for the sash of a manly arm. She knew that she could dance better than some of those stodgy old men and block-bodied old women. But she had no clothes on—for dancing.
But there was one woman whom Kedzie felt she could not surpass, a dazzling woman with a recklessly graceful young man. The young man took the woman from a table almost over Kedzie's head. They left at the table a man in evening dress who smoked a big cigar and seemed not to be jealous of the two dancers.
Some one among the spectators about Kedzie said that the woman was Zada L'Etoile, and her partner was Haviland Devoe. Zada was amazing in her postures and gyrations, but Kedzie thought that she herself could have danced as well if she had had that music, that costume, that partner, and a little practice.
When Zada had completed her calisthenics she did not sit down with Mr. Devoe, but went back to the table where the lone smoker sat. Now that she looked at him again, Kedzie thought what an extraordinarily handsome, gloriously wicked-looking, swell-looking man he was. Yet the girl who had danced called him Peterkin—which didn't sound very swell to Kedzie.
He had very little to say to Zada, who did most of the talking. He smiled at her now and then behind his cigar and gave her a queer look that Kedzie only vaguely understood. She thought little of him, though, because the next dance began, and she had a whole riot of costumes to study.
There was a constant movement of new-comers past Kedzie's nook. Sometimes people halted to look the crowd over before they went up the steps, and asked two handsome gentlemen in full-dress suits if they could have a table. The gentlemen—managers, probably, who got up the party—usually said no. Sometimes they looked at papers in their hands and marked off something, and then the people got a table.
By and by two men and an elderly woman dressed like a very youngerly woman paused near Kedzie. Both of the men were tall, but the one called Jim was so tall he could see over the rail, or over the moon, for all Kedzie knew.
The elderly lady said, "Come along, boys; we're missing a love of a trot."
The less tall of the men said: "Now, mother, restrain yourself. Remember I've had a hard day and I'm only a young feller. How about you, Jim?"
"I'll eat something, but I'm not dancing, if you'll pardon me, Mrs. Duane," said Jim. "And I'm waiting for Charity Coe. She's in the cloak-room."
"Oh, come along," said Mrs. Duane. "I've got a table and I don't want to lose it."
She started away, and her son started to follow, but paused as the other man caught his sleeve and growled:
"I say, isn't that Pete Cheever—there, right there by the rail? Yes, it is—and with—!"
Then Tom gave a start and said: "Ssh! Here's Charity Coe."
Both men looked confused; then they brightened and greeted a new batch of drifters, and there was a babble of:
"Why, hello! How are you, Tom! How goes it, Jim? What's the good word, Mary? What you doing here, Charity, and all in black? Oh, I have to get out or go mad."
Kedzie, eavesdropping on the chatter, wondered at the commonplace names and the small-town conversation. With such costumes she must have expected at least blank verse.
She was interested to see what the stern sentinels would do to this knot of Toms, Jims, and Marys. She peeked around the corner, and to her surprise saw them greeted with great cordiality. They smiled and chatted with the sentinels and were passed through the silken barrier.
Other people paused and passed in or were rejected. Kedzie watched Mr. Cheever with new interest, but not much understanding. He had next to nothing to say. After a time she overheard Zada say to him, raising her voice to top the noise of the band: "Say, Peterkin, see that great big lad over there, the human lighthouse by the sea? Peterkin, you can't miss him—he's just standing up—yes—isn't that Jim Dyckman? Is he really so rich as they say?"
"He's rotten rich!" said Peterkin.
Then Zada said something and pointed. She seemed to be excited, but not half so excited as Peter was. His face was all shot up with red, and he looked as if he had eaten something that didn't sit easy.
Then he looked as if he wanted to fight somebody. He began to chew on his words.
Kedzie caught only a few phrases in the holes in the noisy music.
"When did she get back? And she's here with him? I'll kill him—"
Kedzie stood on tiptoe, primevally trying to lift her ears higher still to hear what followed. She saw Zada putting her hand on Peter's sleeve, and she heard Zada say:
"Don't start anything here. Remember I got a reputation to lose, if you haven't."
This had the oddest effect on Peter. He stared at Zada, and his anger ran out of his face just as the water ran out of the silver washbowl in the sleeping-car. Then he began to laugh softly, but as if he wanted to laugh right out loud. He put his napkin up and laughed into that.
And then the anger he had lost ran up into Zada's face, and she looked at Peter as if she wanted to kill him.
Now it was Peter who put his hand on her arm and patted it and said, "I didn't mean anything."
Mean what? Kedzie wondered. But she had no chance to find out, for Peter rose from the table and, dodging around the dancing couples, made his escape. He reappeared in the very nook where Kedzie watched, and called up to Zada:
"Did they see me?"
Zada shook her head. Peter threw her a kiss. She threw him a shrug of contempt. Peter went away laughing. Kedzie waited a few minutes and saw that Mr. Devoe had come to sit with Zada.
After a moment the music was resumed, and Zada rose to dance again with Mr. Devoe—a curious sort of dance, in which she lifted her feet high and placed them carefully, as if she were walking on a floor covered with eggs and didn't want to break any.
But Kedzie's eyes were filling with sand. They had gazed too long at brilliance. She dashed back to the elevator and to her room. She was exhausted, and she pulled off her clothes and let them lie where they fell. She slid her weary frame between the sheets and instantly slept.
* * * * *
Charity Coe danced till all hours with Jim, with Tom Duane and other men, and no one could have fancied that she had ever known or cared what horrors filled the war hospitals across the sea.
She was frantic enough to accept a luncheon engagement with Jim and his mother for the next day. She telephoned him in the morning: "Your angel of a mother will forgive me when you tell her I'm lunching down-town with my husband. The poor boy was detained at his office last night and didn't get my telegram till he got home. When he learned that I had come in and gone out again he was furious with himself and me. I hadn't left word where I was, so he couldn't come running after me. He waited at home and gave me a love of a call-down for my dissipation. It was a treat. I really think he was jealous."
Jim Dyckman did not laugh with her. He was thinking hard. He had seen Cheever at the Biltmore, and a little later Cheever vanished. Cheever must have seen Charity Coe then. And if he saw her, he saw him. Then why had he kept silent? Dyckman had a chilling intuition that Cheever was lying in ambush for him.
Again he was wrung with the impulse to tell Charity Coe the truth about her husband. Again some dubious decency withheld him.
The word "breakfast" was magic stimulant to the Thropps. Kedzie put on her clothes, and the family went down to the elevator together.
They found their way to the Tudor Room, where a small number of men, mostly barricaded behind newspapers, ate briskly. A captain showed the Thropps to a table; three waiters pulled out their chairs and pushed them in under them. Another laid large pasteboards before them. Another planted ice-water and butter and salt and pepper here and there.
Adna had traveled enough to know that the way to order a meal in a hotel is to give the waiter a wise look and say, "Bring me the best you got."
This waiter looked a little surprised, but he said, "Yes, sir. Do you like fruit and eggs and rolls, maybe?"
"Nah," said Adna. "Breakfast's my best meal. Bring us suthin' hearty and plenty of it. I like a nice piece of steak and fried potatoes and some griddle-cakes and maple-surrup, and if you got any nice sawsitch—and the wife usually likes some oatmeal, and she takes tea and toast, but bring me some hot bread. And the girl—What you want, Kedzie? The same's I'm takin'? All right. Oh, some grape-fruit, eh? She wants grape-fruit. Got any good? All right. I guess I'll take some grape-fruit, too; and let me see—I guess that'll do to start on—Wait! What's that those folks are eatin' over there? Looks good —spring chicken—humm! I guess you'd like that better'n steak, ma? Yes. She'd rather have the chicken. All right, George, you hustle us in a nice meal and I'll make it all right with you. You understand."
Adna called all waiters "George." It saved their feelings, he had heard.
The waiter bowed and retired. Adna spoke to his family:
"Since we pay the same, anyway, might's well have the best they got."
The waiter gave the three a meal fitter for the ancient days when kings had dinner at nine in the morning than for these degenerate times when breakfast hardly lives up to its name.
The waiter and his cronies stood at a safe distance and watched the Thropps surround that banquet. They wondered where the old man got money enough to buy such breakfasts and why he didn't spend some of it on clothes.
The favorite theory was that he was a farmer on whose acres somebody had discovered oil or gold and bought him out for a million. Mr. Thropp's proper waiter hoped that he would be as extravagant with his tip as he was with his order. He feared not. His waiterly intuition told him the old man put in with more enthusiasm than he paid out.
At last the meal was over. The Thropps were groaning. They had not quite absorbed the feast, but they had wrecked it utterly. Mr. Thropp found only one omission in the perfect service. The toothpicks had to be asked for. All three Thropps wanted them.
While Thropp was fishing in his pocket for a quarter, and finding only half a dollar which he did not want to reveal, the waiter placed before him a closely written manuscript, face down, with a lead-pencil on top of it.
"What's this?" said Thropp.
"Will you please to sign your name and room number, sir?" the waiter suggested.
"Oh, I see," said Thropp, and explained to his little flock. "You see, they got to keep tabs on the regular boarders."
Then he turned the face of the bill to the light. His pencil could hardly find a place to put his name in the long catalogue. He noted a sum scrawled in red ink: "$11.75."
"Wha-what's this?" he said, faintly.
The surprised waiter explained with all suavity: "The price of the breakfast. If it is not added correctlee—"
Thropp added it with accurate, but tremulous, pencil. The total was correct, if the items were. He explained:
"But I'm a regular—er—roomer here. I pay by the week."
"Yes, sir—if you will sign, it will be all right."
"But that don't mean they're going to charge me for breakfast? 'Levum dollars and seventy-five cents for—for breakfast?—for a small family like mine is? Well, I'd like to see 'em! What do they think I am!"
The waiter maintained his courtesy, but Adna was infuriated. He put down no tip at all. He lifted his family from the table with a yank of the eyes and snapped at the waiter:
"I'll soon find out who's tryin' to stick me.—you or the proprietor."
The old man stalked out, followed by his fat ewe and their ewe lamb. Adna's very toothpick was like a small bayonet.
His wife and daughter hung back to avoid being spattered with the gore of the unfortunate hotel clerk. The morning trains were unloading their mobs, and it was difficult to reach the desk at all.
When finally Adna got to the bar he had lost some of his running start. With somewhat weakly anger he said to the first clerk he reached:
"Looky here! I registered here last night, and another young feller was here said the two rooms would be twelve dollars."
"Well, they sent me up to roost on a cloud, but I didn't kick. Now they're tryin' to charge me for meals extry. Don't that twelve dollars include meals?"
"Oh no, sir. The hotel is on the European plan."
Adna took the shock bravely but bitterly: "Well, all I got to say is the Europeans got mighty poor plans. I kind of suspicioned there was a ketch in it somewheres. After this we'll eat outside, and at the end of the week we'll take our custom somewheres else. Maybe there was a joke in that twelve dollars a week for the rooms, too."
"Twelve dollars a week! Oh no, sir; the charge is by the day."
Adna's knees seemed to turn to sand and run down into his shoes. He supported himself on his elbows.
"Twelve dollars a day—for those two rooms on the top of the moon?"
"Yes, sir; that's the rate, sir."
Adna was going rapidly. He chattered, "Ain't there no police in this town at tall?"
"Well, I've heard they're the wust robbers of all. We'll see about this." He went back to his women folk and mumbled, "Come on up-stairs."
They followed, Mrs. Thropp murmuring to Kedzie: "Looks like poppa was goin' to be sick. I'm afraid he et too much of that rich food."
The elevator flashed them to their empyrean floor. Adna did not speak till they were in their room and he had lowered himself feebly into a chair. He spoke thickly:
"Do you know what that Judas Iscariot down there is doin' to us? Chargin' us twelve dollars a day for these two cubby-holes—a day! Twelve dollars a day! Eighty-four dollars a week! And that breakfast was 'levum dollars and seventy-five cents! If I'd gave the waiter the quarter I was goin' to, it would have made an even dozen dollars! for breakfast! I don't suppose anybody would ever dast order a dinner here. Why, they'd skin a millionaire and pick his bones in a week. We'd better get out before they slap a mortgage on my house."
"Well, I just wouldn't pay it," said Mrs. Thropp. "I'd see the police about such goings-on."
"The police!" groaned Thropp. "They're in cahoots with the burglars here. This hull town is a den of thieves. I've always heard it, and now I know it."
He was ashamed of himself for being taken in so. He began to throw into the valises the duds that had been removed.
Throughout the panic Kedzie had stood about in a kind of stupor. When her father tapped her on the shoulder and repeated his "C'm'on!" she turned to him eyes all tears glistening like bubbles, and she whimpered:
"Oh, daddy, the view! The nice things!"
Adna snapped: "View? Our next view will be the poorhouse if we don't hustle our stumps. We got to get out of here and find the cheapest place they is in town to live or go back home on the next train."
Kedzie began to cry, to cry as she had cried when she wept in her cradle because candy had been taken from her, or a box of carpet-tacks, or the scissors that she had somehow got hold of.
Adna dropped his valises with a thud. He began to upbraid her. He had endured too much. He had still his bill to pay. He told her that she was a good-for-nothin' nuisance and he wished he had left her home. He'd never take her anywheres again, you bet. Kedzie lost her reason entirely. She was shattered with spasms of grief aggravated by her mother's ferocity and her father's. She could not give up this splendor. She would not go to a cheap place to live. She would never go back home. She would rather die.
Her mother boxed her ears and shook her and scolded with all her vim. But Kedzie only shook out more sobs till they wondered what the people next door would think. Adna was wan with wrath. Kedzie was afraid of her father's look. She had a kind of lockjaw of grief such as children suffer and suffer for.
All she would answer to her father's threats was: "I won't! I won't! I tell you I won't!"
Her cheeks were blubbered, her nose red, her mouth swollen, her hair wet and stringy. She gulped and swallowed and beat her hands together and stamped her feet.
Adna glared at her in hatred equal to her own for him. He said to his wife: "Ma, we got to go back to first principles with that girl. You got to give her a good beatin'."
Mrs. Thropp had the will but not the power. She was palsied with rage. "I can't," she faltered.
"Then I will!" said Adna, and he roared with ferocity, "Come here to me, you!"
He put out his hand like a claw, and Kedzie retreated from him. She stopped sobbing. She had never been so frightened. She felt a new kind of fright, the fright of a nun at seeing an altar threatened with desecration. She had not been whipped for years. She had grown past that. Surely her body was sacred from such infamy now.
"Come here to me, I tell you!" Adna snarled, as he pursued her slowly around the chairs.
"You better not whip me, poppa," Kedzie mumbled. "You better not touch me, I tell you. You'll be sorry if you do! You better not!"
"Come here to me!" said Adna.
"Momma, momma, don't let him!" Kedzie whispered as she ran to her mother and flung herself in her arms for refuge.
Mrs. Thropp then lost a great opportunity forever. She tore the girl's hands away and handed her over to her father. And he, with ugly fury and ugly gesture, seized the young woman who had been his child and dragged her to him and sank into a chair and wrenched and twisted her arms till he held her prone across his knees. Then he spanked her with the flat of his hand.
Kedzie made one little outcry; then there was no sound but the thump of the blows. Adna sickened soon of his task, and Kedzie's silence and non-resistance robbed him of excuse. He growled:
"I guess that'll learn you who's boss round here."
He thrust her from his knees, and she rolled off to the floor and lay still. She had not really swooned, but her soul had felt the need of withdrawing into itself to ponder this awful sacrilege.
Her mother knew that she had not fainted. She was sick, too, and blamed Kedzie for the scene. She spurned the girl with her foot and said:
"You get right up off that floor this minute. Do you hear?"
Kedzie's soul came back. It had made its decision. It gathered her body together and lifted it up to its knees and then erect, while the lips said, "All right, momma."
She groped her way into the bathroom and washed her face, and straightened her hair and came forth, a dazed and pallid thing. She took up the valise her father gave her and followed her mother out, pausing to pass her eyes about the beautiful room and the window where the peaks of splendor were. Then she walked out, and her father locked the door.
Kedzie saw that the elevator-boy saw that she had been crying, but what was one shame extra? She had no pride left now, and no father and no mother, no anybody.
Adna refused the offices of the pages who clutched at the baggage. He went to the cashier and paid the blood-money with a grin of hate. Then he gathered up his women and his other baggage and set out for the station. He would leave all the baggage there while he hunted a place to stop.
They could not find the tunnelway, but debouched on the street. Crossing Vanderbilt Avenue was a problem for village folk heavy laden. The taxicabs were hooting and scurrying.
Adna found himself in the middle of the street, entirely surrounded by demoniac motors. His wife wanted to lie down there and die. Adna dared neither to go nor to stay. Suddenly a chauffeur of an empty limousine, fearing to lose a chance to swear at a taxi-driver, kept his head turned to the left and steered straight for the spot where the Thropps awaited their doom.
Adna had his wife pendent from one arm and a valise or two from the other. Kedzie carried a third valise. Her better than normal shoulders were sagged out of line by its weight.
When Adna saw the motor coming he had to choose between dropping his valise or his wife. Characteristically, he saved his valise.
In spite of his wife's squawking and tugging on his left arm, he achieved safety under the portico of the Grand Central Terminal. He looked about for Kedzie. She was not to be seen. Adna saw the taxicab pass over the valise she had carried. It left no trace of Kedzie. Her annihilation was uncanny. He gaped.
"Where's Kedzie?" Mrs. Thropp screamed.
A policeman checked the traffic with uplifted hand. Adna ran to him. Mrs. Thropp told him what had happened.
"I saw the goil drop the bag and beat it for the walk," said the officer.
"Which way'd she go?"
"She lost herself in the crowd," said the officer.
"She was scared out of her wits," Mrs. Thropp sobbed.
The officer shook his head. "She was smilin' when I yelled at her. It looks to me like a get-away."
"A runaway?" Mrs. Thropp gasped.
"Yes,'m. I'd have went after her, but I was cut off by a taxi."
The two old Thropps stood staring at each other and the unfathomable New York, while the impatient chauffeurs squawked their horns in angry protest, and train-missers with important errands thrust their heads out of cab windows.
The officer led his bewildered charges to the sidewalk, motioned the traffic to proceed, and beckoned to a patrolman. "Tell your troubles to him," he said, and went back into his private maelstrom.
The patrolman heard the Thropp story and tried to keep the crowd away. He patted Mrs. Thropp's back and said they'd find the kid easy, not to distoib herself. He told the father which station-house to go to and advised him to have the "skipper" send out a "general."
Thropp wondered what language he spoke, but he went; and a soft-hearted walrus in uniform sprawling across a lofty desk took down names and notes and minute descriptions of Kedzie and her costume. He told the two babes in the wood that such t'ings happened constant, and the goil would toin up in no time. He sent out a general alarm.
Mrs. Thropp told him the whole story, putting all the blame on her husband with such enthusiasm that the sympathy of everybody went out to him. Everybody included a number of reporters who asked Mrs. Thropp questions and particularly desired a photograph of Kedzie.
Mrs. Thropp confessed that she had not brought any along. She had never dreamed that the girl would run away. If she had have, she wouldn't have brought the girl along, to say nothing of her photograph.
The amiable walrus in the cap and brass buttons recommended the Thropps to a boarding-house whose prices were commensurate with Adna's ideas and means, and he and his wife went thither, where they told a shabby and sentimental landlady all their troubles. She reassured them as best she could, and made a cup of tea for Mrs. Thropp and told Mr. Thropp there was a young fellow lived in the house who was working for a private detective bureau. He'd find the kid sure, for it was a small woild, after all.
There was a lull in the European-war news the next day—only a few hundreds killed in an interchange of trenches. There was a dearth of big local news also. So the morning papers all gave Kedzie Thropp the hospitality of their head-lines. The illustrated journals published what they said was her photograph. No two of the photographs were alike, but they were all pretty.
The copy-writers loved the details of the event. They gave the dialogue of the Thropps in many versions, all emphasizing what is known as "the human note."
Every one of them gave due emphasis to the historic fact that Kedzie Thropp had been spanked.
The boarding-house was shaken from attic to basement by the news. The Thropps read the papers. They were astounded and enraged at gaining publicity for such a deed. They visited the walrus in his den. But there was no word of Kedzie Thropp. The sea of people had opened and swallowed the little girl. Her mother wondered where she had slept and if she were hungry and into whose hands she had fallen. But there was no answer from anywhere.
People who call a child in from All Outdoors and make it their infant owe it to their victim to be rich, brilliant, and generous. Kedzie Thropp's parents were poor, stupid, and stingy.
They were respectable enough, but not respectful at all. Children have more dignity than anybody else, because they have not lived long enough to have their natal dignity knocked out of them.
Kedzie's parents ought to have respected hers, but they subjected her to odious humiliation. When her father threatened to spank her—and did—and when her mother aided and abetted him, they forfeited all claim to her tolerance. The inspiration to run away was forced on Kedzie, though she would have said that her parents ran away from her first.
Kedzie had preferred her own life to the security of her valise. She dropped the bag without hesitation. When the taxicab parted her family in the middle, Kedzie ran to the opposite sidewalk. She saw a policeman dashing into the thick of the motors. Her eye caught his. He beckoned to her that he would ferry her across the torrent. He was a nice-looking man, but she shook her head at him. She smiled, however, and hastened away.
Freedom had been forced on her. Why should she relinquish the boon?
She lost herself in the crowd. She had no purpose or destination, for the whole city was a mystery to her. Soon she noted that part of the human stream flowed down into the yawning maw of a Subway kiosk as the water ran out of the bath-tub in the hotel. She floated down the steps and found herself in a big subterrene room with walls tiled like those of the hotel bathroom. Everybody was buying tickets from a man in a funny little cage.
Kedzie had a hand-bag slung at her wrist. In it was some small money. She fished out a nickel and slid it across the glass sill as the others did.
Beneath her eyes she saw a card that asked, "How many?" She said, "One."
The doleful ticket-seller was annoyed at the tautology of passing him a nickel and saying, "One!" He shot out an angry glance with the ticket, but he melted at sight of Kedzie's lush beauty, recognized her unquestionable plebeiance, and hailed her with a "Here you are, Cutie."
Kedzie was not at all insulted. She gave him smile for smile, took up her pasteboard and followed the crowd through the gate.
The ticket-chopper yelled at the back of her head, "Here, where you goin'?"
She turned to him, and his scowl relaxed. He pointed to the box and pleaded:
"Put her there, miss, if you please."
She smiled at the ticket-chopper and dropped the flake into the box. She moved down the stairway as an express rolled in. People ran. Kedzie ran. They squeezed in at the side door, and so did Kedzie. The wicker seats were full, and so Kedzie stood. She could not reach the handles that looked like cruppers. Men and women saw how pretty she was. She was so pretty that one or two men nearly rose and offered her their seats. When the train whooped round the curve beneath Times Square Kedzie was spun into the lap of a man reading a prematurely born "Night Edition."
She came through the paper like a circus-lady, and the man was indignant till he saw what he held. Then he laughed foolishly, helped the giggling Kedzie to her feet and rose to his own, gave her his place, and went blushing into the next car. For an hour after his arms felt as if they had clasped a fugitive nymph for a moment before she escaped.
This train chanced to be an express to 180th Street in the Bronx Borough. If any one had asked Kedzie if she knew the Bronx she would probably have answered that she did not know them. She did not even know what a borough was.
It was fascinating how much Kedzie did not know. She had an infinite fund of things to find out.
She was thrilled thoroughly by the glorious velocity through the tunnel. The train stopped at Seventy-second Street and at Ninety-sixth Street and at many other stations. People got on or off. But Kedzie was too well entertained to care to leave.
She did not know that the train ran under a corner of Central Park and beneath the Harlem River. She would have liked to know. To run under a river would tell well at home.
Suddenly the Subway shot out into midair and became a superway. The street which had been invisible above was suddenly visible below, with street-cars on it. Also there was a still higher track overhead. Three layers of tracks! It was heavenly, the noise they made! She enjoyed hearing the mounting numbers of the streets shouted antiphonally by the gentlemen at either door.
At 180th Street, however, the train stopped for good, and the handsome young man at the front door called, "All out!" He said it to Kedzie with a beautiful courtesy, adding, "This is as far as we go, lady."
That was tremendous, to be called "lady." Kedzie tried to get out like one. She smiled at the guard and left his protection with some reluctance. He studied her as she walked along the platform. She seemed to meet with his approval in general, and in particular. He sighed when she turned out of his sight.
The station here was very high up in the world. Kedzie counted seventy-seven steps on her way to the level. She was distressed to find herself in a shabby, noisy community where streets radiated in six directions. Her fears were true. She had left New York. She must get home to it again.
She walked back along the way she had come, on the sidewalk beneath the tracks. This meandering street was called Boston Road. Kedzie had no ideas as to the distance of Boston. She only knew that New York was good enough for her—the New York of Forty-second Street, of course. Kedzie did not know yet how many, many New Yorks there are in New York.
She was discouraged by her present surroundings. Along the rough and neglected streets were little rows of shanty shops, and there were stubby frame residences.
There was one two-story cottage snuggling against a hill; it had a little picket fence with a little picket gate leading to a little ragged yard with an old apple-tree in it; and there was a pair of steps up to the front door, and a rough trellis from there to the woodshed with a grapevine draped across it. It was of the James Whitcomb Riley school of architecture—a house with a woodshed.
Rich people who were tired of the city, and chanced that way, used to pause and look at that little nook and admire its meek attractiveness. It made them homesick.
But Kedzie was sick of home. This lowly cot was too much like her father's. It had a sign on it that said, "To Let." It was a funny expression. Kedzie studied it a long time before she decided that it was New-Yorkese for "For Rent."
She shuddered at the idea of renting or letting such a house— especially as it was so close to a church, a small, seedy, frame church nearly all roof, a narrow-chested, slope-shouldered churchlet with a frame cupola for a steeple. It looked abandoned, and an ivy flourished on it so impudently that it almost closed the unfrequented portal.