By Edna Ferber
TO WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE
It has become the fashion among novelists to introduce their hero in knee pants, their heroine in pinafore and pigtails. Time was when we were rushed up to a stalwart young man of twenty-four, who was presented as the pivot about whom the plot would revolve. Now we are led, protesting, up to a grubby urchin of five and are invited to watch him through twenty years of intimate minutiae. In extreme cases we have been obliged to witness his evolution from swaddling clothes to dresses, from dresses to shorts (he is so often English), from shorts to Etons.
The thrill we get for our pains is when, at twenty-five, he jumps over the traces and marries the young lady we met in her cradle on page two. The process is known as a psychological study. A publisher's note on page five hundred and seventy-three assures us that the author is now at work on Volume Two, dealing with the hero's adult life. A third volume will present his pleasing senility. The whole is known as a trilogy. If the chief character is of the other sex we are dragged through her dreamy girlhood, or hoydenish. We see her in her graduation white, in her bridal finery. By the time she is twenty we know her better than her mother ever will, and are infinitely more bored by her.
Yet who would exchange one page in the life of the boy, David Copperfield, for whole chapters dealing with Trotwood Copperfield, the man? Who would relinquish the button-bursting Peggotty for the saintly Agnes? And that other David—he of the slingshot; one could not love him so well in his psalm-singing days had one not known him first as the gallant, dauntless vanquisher of giants. As for Becky Sharp, with her treachery, her cruelty, her vindicativeness, perhaps we could better have understood and forgiven her had we known her lonely and neglected childhood, with the drunken artist father and her mother, the French opera girl.
With which modest preamble you are asked to be patient with Miss Fanny Brandeis, aged thirteen. Not only must you suffer Fanny, but Fanny's mother as well, without whom there could be no understanding Fanny. For that matter, we shouldn't wonder if Mrs. Brandeis were to turn out the heroine in the end. She is that kind of person.
You could not have lived a week in Winnebago without being aware of Mrs. Brandeis. In a town of ten thousand, where every one was a personality, from Hen Cody, the drayman, in blue overalls (magically transformed on Sunday mornings into a suave black-broadcloth usher at the Congregational Church), to A. J. Dawes, who owned the waterworks before the city bought it. Mrs. Brandeis was a super-personality. Winnebago did not know it. Winnebago, buying its dolls, and china, and Battenberg braid and tinware and toys of Mrs. Brandeis, of Brandeis' Bazaar, realized vaguely that here was some one different.
When you entered the long, cool, narrow store on Elm Street, Mrs. Brandeis herself came forward to serve you, unless she already was busy with two customers. There were two clerks—three, if you count Aloysius, the boy—but to Mrs. Brandeis belonged the privilege of docketing you first. If you happened in during a moment of business lull, you were likely to find her reading in the left-hand corner at the front of the store, near the shelf where were ranged the dolls' heads, the pens, the pencils, and school supplies.
You saw a sturdy, well-set-up, alert woman, of the kind that looks taller than she really is; a woman with a long, straight, clever nose that indexed her character, as did everything about her, from her crisp, vigorous, abundant hair to the way she came down hard on her heels in walking. She was what might be called a very definite person. But first you remarked her eyes. Will you concede that eyes can be piercing, yet velvety? Their piercingness was a mental quality, I suppose, and the velvety softness a physical one. One could only think, somehow, of wild pansies—the brown kind. If Winnebago had taken the trouble to glance at the title of the book she laid face down on the pencil boxes as you entered, it would have learned that the book was one of Balzac's, or, perhaps, Zangwill's, or Zola's. She never could overcome that habit of snatching a chapter here and there during dull moments. She was too tired to read when night came.
There were many times when the little Wisconsin town lay broiling in the August sun, or locked in the January drifts, and the main business street was as silent as that of a deserted village. But more often she came forward to you from the rear of the store, with bits of excelsior clinging to her black sateen apron. You knew that she had been helping Aloysius as he unpacked a consignment of chamber sets or a hogshead of china or glassware, chalking each piece with the price mark as it was dug from its nest of straw and paper.
"How do you do!" she would say. "What can I do for you?" And in that moment she had you listed, indexed, and filed, were you a farmer woman in a black shawl and rusty bonnet with a faded rose bobbing grotesquely atop it, or one of the patronizing East End set who came to Brandeis' Bazaar because Mrs. Brandeis' party favors, for one thing, were of a variety that could be got nowhere else this side of Chicago. If, after greeting you, Mrs. Brandeis called, "Sadie! Stockings!" (supposing stockings were your quest), you might know that Mrs. Brandeis had weighed you and found you wanting.
There had always been a store—at least, ever since Fanny could remember. She often thought how queer it would seem to have to buy pins, or needles, or dishes, or soap, or thread. The store held all these things, and many more. Just to glance at the bewildering display outside gave you promise of the variety within. Winnebago was rather ashamed of that display. It was before the day of repression in decoration, and the two benches in front of the windows overflowed with lamps, and water sets, and brooms, and boilers and tinware and hampers. Once the Winnebago Courier had had a sarcastic editorial about what they called the Oriental bazaar (that was after the editor, Lem Davis, had bumped his shin against a toy cart that protruded unduly), but Mrs. Brandeis changed nothing. She knew that the farmer women who stood outside with their husbands on busy Saturdays would not have understood repression in display, but they did understand the tickets that marked the wares in plain figures—this berry set, $1.59; that lamp, $1.23. They talked it over, outside, and drifted away, and came back, and entered, and bought.
She knew when to be old-fashioned, did Mrs. Brandeis, and when to be modern. She had worn the first short walking skirt in Winnebago. It cleared the ground in a day before germs were discovered, when women's skirts trailed and flounced behind them in a cloud of dust. One of her scandalized neighbors (Mrs. Nathan Pereles, it was) had taken her aside to tell her that no decent woman would dress that way.
"Next year," said Mrs. Brandeis, "when you are wearing one, I'll remind you of that." And she did, too. She had worn shirtwaists with a broad "Gibson" shoulder tuck, when other Winnebago women were still encased in linings and bodices. Do not get the impression that she stood for emancipation, or feminism, or any of those advanced things. They had scarcely been touched on in those days. She was just an extraordinarily alert woman, mentally and physically, with a shrewd sense of values. Molly Brandeis never could set a table without forgetting the spoons, or the salt, or something, but she could add a double column of figures in her head as fast as her eye could travel.
There she goes, running off with the story, as we were afraid she would. Not only that, she is using up whole pages of description when she should be giving us dialogue. Prospective readers, running their eyes over a printed page, object to the solid block formation of the descriptive passage. And yet it is fascinating to weave words about her, as it is fascinating to turn a fine diamond this way and that in the sunlight, to catch its prismatic hues. Besides, you want to know—do you not?—how this woman who reads Balzac should be waiting upon you in a little general store in Winnebago, Wisconsin?
In the first place, Ferdinand Brandeis had been a dreamer, and a potential poet, which is bad equipment for success in the business of general merchandise. Four times, since her marriage, Molly Brandeis had packed her household goods, bade her friends good-by, and with her two children, Fanny and Theodore, had followed her husband to pastures new. A heart-breaking business, that, but broadening. She knew nothing of the art of buying and selling at the time of her marriage, but as the years went by she learned unconsciously the things one should not do in business, from watching Ferdinand Brandeis do them all. She even suggested this change and that, but to no avail. Ferdinand Brandeis was a gentle and lovable man at home; a testy, quick-tempered one in business.
That was because he had been miscast from the first, and yet had played one part too long, even though unsuccessfully, ever to learn another. He did not make friends with the genial traveling salesmen who breezed in, slapped him on the back, offered him a cigar, inquired after his health, opened their sample cases and flirted with the girl clerks, all in a breath. He was a man who talked little, listened little, learned little. He had never got the trick of turning his money over quickly—that trick so necessary to the success of the small-town business.
So it was that, in the year preceding Ferdinand Brandeis' death, there came often to the store a certain grim visitor. Herman Walthers, cashier of the First National Bank of Winnebago, was a kindly-enough, shrewd, small-town banker, but to Ferdinand Brandeis and his wife his visits, growing more and more frequent, typified all that was frightful, presaged misery and despair. He would drop in on a bright summer morning, perhaps, with a cheerful greeting. He would stand for a moment at the front of the store, balancing airily from toe to heel, and glancing about from shelf to bin and back again in a large, speculative way. Then he would begin to walk slowly and ruminatively about, his shrewd little German eyes appraising the stock. He would hum a little absent-minded tune as he walked, up one aisle and down the next (there were only two), picking up a piece of china there, turning it over to look at its stamp, holding it up to the light, tapping it a bit with his knuckles, and putting it down carefully before going musically on down the aisle to the water sets, the lamps, the stockings, the hardware, the toys. And so, his hands behind his back, still humming, out the swinging screen door and into the sunshine of Elm Street, leaving gloom and fear behind him.
One year after Molly Brandeis took hold, Herman Walthers' visits ceased, and in two years he used to rise to greet her from his little cubbyhole when she came into the bank.
Which brings us to the plush photograph album. The plush photograph album is a concrete example of what makes business failure and success. More than that, its brief history presents a complete characterization of Ferdinand and Molly Brandeis.
Ten years before, Ferdinand Brandeis had bought a large bill of Christmas fancy-goods—celluloid toilette sets, leather collar boxes, velvet glove cases. Among the lot was a photograph album in the shape of a huge acorn done in lightning-struck plush. It was a hideous thing, and expensive. It stood on a brass stand, and its leaves were edged in gilt, and its color was a nauseous green and blue, and it was altogether the sort of thing to grace the chill and funereal best room in a Wisconsin farmhouse. Ferdinand Brandeis marked it at six dollars and stood it up for the Christmas trade. That had been ten years before. It was too expensive; or too pretentious, or perhaps even too horrible for the bucolic purse. At any rate, it had been taken out, brushed, dusted, and placed on its stand every holiday season for ten years. On the day after Christmas it was always there, its lightning-struck plush face staring wildly out upon the ravaged fancy-goods counter. It would be packed in its box again and consigned to its long summer's sleep. It had seen three towns, and many changes. The four dollars that Ferdinand Brandeis had invested in it still remained unturned.
One snowy day in November (Ferdinand Brandeis died a fortnight later) Mrs. Brandeis, entering the store, saw two women standing at the fancy-goods counter, laughing in a stifled sort of way. One of them was bowing elaborately to a person unseen. Mrs. Brandeis was puzzled. She watched them for a moment, interested. One of the women was known to her. She came up to them and put her question, bluntly, though her quick wits had already given her a suspicion of the truth.
"What are you bowing to?"
The one who had done the bowing blushed a little, but giggled too, as she said, "I'm greeting my old friend, the plush album. I've seen it here every Christmas for five years."
Ferdinand Brandeis died suddenly a little more than a week later. It was a terrible period, and one that might have prostrated a less resolute and balanced woman. There were long-standing debts, not to speak of the entire stock of holiday goods to be paid for. The day after the funeral Winnebago got a shock. The Brandeis house was besieged by condoling callers. Every member of the little Jewish congregation of Winnebago came, of course, as they had come before the funeral. Those who had not brought cakes, and salads, and meats, and pies, brought them now, as was the invariable custom in time of mourning.
Others of the townspeople called, too; men and women who had known and respected Ferdinand Brandeis. And the shock they got was this: Mrs. Brandeis was out. Any one could have told you that she should have been sitting at home in a darkened room, wearing a black gown, clasping Fanny and Theodore to her, and holding a black-bordered handkerchief at intervals to her reddened eyes. And that is what she really wanted to do, for she had loved her husband, and she respected the conventions. What she did was to put on a white shirtwaist and a black skirt at seven o'clock the morning after the funeral.
The store had been closed the day before. She entered it at seven forty-five, as Aloysius was sweeping out with wet sawdust and a languid broom. The extra force of holiday clerks straggled in, uncertainly, at eight or after, expecting an hour or two of undisciplined gossip. At eight-ten Molly Brandeis walked briskly up to the plush photograph album, whisked off its six-dollar price mark, and stuck in its place a neatly printed card bearing these figures: "To-day—79@!" The plush album went home in a farmer's wagon that afternoon.
Right here there should be something said about Fanny Brandeis. And yet, each time I turn to her I find her mother plucking at my sleeve. There comes to my mind the picture of Mrs. Brandeis turning down Norris Street at quarter to eight every morning, her walk almost a march, so firm and measured it was, her head high, her chin thrust forward a little, as a fighter walks, but not pugnaciously; her short gray skirt clearing the ground, her shoulders almost consciously squared. Other Winnebago women were just tying up their daughters' pigtails for school, or sweeping the front porch, or watering the hanging baskets. Norris Street residents got into the habit of timing themselves by Mrs. Brandeis. When she marched by at seven forty-five they hurried a little with the tying of the hair bow, as they glanced out of the window. When she came by again, a little before twelve, for her hasty dinner, they turned up the fire under the potatoes and stirred the flour thickening for the gravy.
Mrs. Brandeis had soon learned that Fanny and Theodore could manage their own school toilettes, with, perhaps, some speeding up on the part of Mattie, the servant girl. But it needed her keen brown eye to detect corners that Aloysius had neglected to sweep out with wet sawdust, and her presence to make sure that the counter covers were taken off and folded, the outside show dusted and arranged, the windows washed, the whole store shining and ready for business by eight o'clock. So Fanny had even learned to do her own tight, shiny, black, shoulder-length curls, which she tied back with a black bow. They were wet, meek, and tractable curls at eight in the morning. By the time school was out at four they were as wildly unruly as if charged with electric currents—which they really were, when you consider the little dynamo that wore them.
Mrs. Brandeis took a scant half hour to walk the six blocks between the store and the house, to snatch a hurried dinner, and traverse the distance to the store again. It was a program that would have killed a woman less magnificently healthy and determined. She seemed to thrive on it, and she kept her figure and her wit when other women of her age grew dull, and heavy, and ineffectual. On summer days the little town often lay shimmering in the heat, the yellow road glaring in it, the red bricks of the high school reflecting it in waves, the very pine knots in the sidewalks gummy and resinous with heat, and sending up a pungent smell that was of the woods, and yet stifling. She must have felt an almost irresistible temptation to sit for a moment on the cool, shady front porch, with its green-painted flower boxes, its hanging fern baskets and the catalpa tree looking boskily down upon it.
But she never did. She had an almost savage energy and determination. The unpaid debts were ever ahead of her; there were the children to be dressed and sent to school; there was the household to be kept up; there were Theodore's violin lessons that must not be neglected—not after what Professor Bauer had said about him.
You may think that undue stress is being laid upon this driving force in her, upon this business ability. But remember that this was fifteen years or more ago, before women had invaded the world of business by the thousands, to take their place, side by side, salary for salary, with men. Oh, there were plenty of women wage earners in Winnebago, as elsewhere; clerks, stenographers, school teachers, bookkeepers. The paper mills were full of girls, and the canning factory too. But here was a woman gently bred, untrained in business, left widowed with two children at thirty-eight, and worse than penniless—in debt.
And that was not all. As Ferdinand Brandeis' wife she had occupied a certain social position in the little Jewish community of Winnebago. True, they had never been moneyed, while the others of her own faith in the little town were wealthy, and somewhat purse-proud. They had carriages, most of them, with two handsome horses, and their houses were spacious and veranda-encircled, and set in shady lawns. When the Brandeis family came to Winnebago five years before, these people had waited, cautiously, and investigated, and then had called. They were of a type to be found in every small town; prosperous, conservative, constructive citizens, clannish, but not so much so as their city cousins, mingling socially with their Gentile neighbors, living well, spending their money freely, taking a vast pride in the education of their children. But here was Molly Brandeis, a Jewess, setting out to earn her living in business, like a man. It was a thing to stir Congregation Emanu-el to its depths. Jewish women, they would tell you, did not work thus. Their husbands worked for them, or their sons, or their brothers.
"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Brandeis, when she heard of it. "I seem to remember a Jewess named Ruth who was left widowed, and who gleaned in the fields for her living, and yet the neighbors didn't talk. For that matter, she seems to be pretty well thought of, to this day."
But there is no denying that she lost caste among her own people. Custom and training are difficult to overcome. But Molly Brandeis was too deep in her own affairs to care. That Christmas season following her husband's death was a ghastly time, and yet a grimly wonderful one, for it applied the acid test to Molly Brandeis and showed her up pure gold.
The first week in January she, with Sadie and Pearl, the two clerks, and Aloysius, the boy, took inventory. It was a terrifying thing, that process of casting up accounts. It showed with such starkness how hideously the Brandeis ledger sagged on the wrong side. The three women and the boy worked with a sort of dogged cheerfulness at it, counting, marking, dusting, washing. They found shelves full of forgotten stock, dust-covered and profitless. They found many articles of what is known as hard stock, akin to the plush album; glass and plated condiment casters for the dining table, in a day when individual salts and separate vinegar cruets were already the thing; lamps with straight wicks when round wicks were in demand.
They scoured shelves, removed the grime of years from boxes, washed whole battalions of chamber sets, bathed piles of plates, and bins of cups and saucers. It was a dirty, back-breaking job, that ruined the finger nails, tried the disposition, and caked the throat with dust. Besides, the store was stove-heated and, near the front door, uncomfortably cold. The women wore little shoulder shawls pinned over their waists, for warmth, and all four, including Aloysius, sniffled for weeks afterward. That inventory developed a new, grim line around Mrs. Brandeis' mouth, and carved another at the corner of each eye. After it was over she washed her hair, steamed her face over a bowl of hot water, packed two valises, left minute and masterful instructions with Mattie as to the household, and with Sadie and Pearl as to the store, and was off to Chicago on her first buying trip. She took Fanny with her, as ballast. It was a trial at which many men would have quailed. On the shrewdness and judgment of that buying trip depended the future of Brandeis' Bazaar, and Mrs. Brandeis, and Fanny, and Theodore.
Mrs. Brandeis had accompanied her husband on many of his trips to Chicago. She had even gone with him occasionally to the wholesale houses around La Salle Street, and Madison, and Fifth Avenue, but she had never bought a dollar's worth herself. She saw that he bought slowly, cautiously, and without imagination. She made up her mind that she would buy quickly, intuitively. She knew slightly some of the salesmen in the wholesale houses. They had often made presents to her of a vase, a pocketbook, a handkerchief, or some such trifle, which she accepted reluctantly, when at all. She was thankful now for these visits. She found herself remembering many details of them. She made up her mind, with a canny knowingness, that there should be no presents this time, no theater invitations, no lunches or dinners. This was business, she told herself; more than business—it was grim war.
They still tell of that trip, sometimes, when buyers and jobbers and wholesale men get together. Don't imagine that she came to be a woman captain of finance. Don't think that we are to see her at the head of a magnificent business establishment, with buyers and department heads below her, and a private office done up in mahogany, and stenographers and secretaries. No, she was Mrs. Brandeis, of Brandeis' Bazaar, to the end. The bills she bought were ridiculously small, I suppose, and the tricks she turned on that first trip were pitiful, perhaps. But they were magnificent too, in their way. I am even bold enough to think that she might have made business history, that plucky woman, if she had had an earlier start, and if she had not, to the very end, had a pack of unmanageable handicaps yelping at her heels, pulling at her skirts.
It was only a six-hour trip to Chicago. Fanny Brandeis' eyes, big enough at any time, were surely twice their size during the entire journey of two hundred miles or more. They were to have lunch on the train! They were to stop at an hotel! They were to go to the theater! She would have lain back against the red plush seat of the car, in a swoon of joy, if there had not been so much to see in the car itself, and through the car window.
"We'll have something for lunch," said Mrs. Brandeis when they were seated in the dining car, "that we never have at home, shall we?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Fanny in a whisper of excitement. "Something—something queer, and different, and not so very healthy!"
They had oysters (a New Yorker would have sniffed at them), and chicken potpie, and asparagus, and ice cream. If that doesn't prove Mrs. Brandeis was game, I should like to know what could! They stopped at the Windsor-Clifton, because it was quieter and less expensive than the Palmer House, though quite as full of red plush and walnut. Besides, she had stopped at the Palmer House with her husband, and she knew how buyers were likely to be besieged by eager salesmen with cards, and with tempting lines of goods spread knowingly in the various sample-rooms.
Fanny Brandeis was thirteen, and emotional, and incredibly receptive and alive. It is impossible to tell what she learned during that Chicago trip, it was so crowded, so wonderful. She went with her mother to the wholesale houses and heard and saw and, unconsciously, remembered. When she became fatigued with the close air of the dim showrooms, with their endless aisles piled with every sort of ware, she would sit on a chair in some obscure corner, watching those sleek, over-lunched, genial-looking salesmen who were chewing their cigars somewhat wildly when Mrs. Brandeis finished with them. Sometimes she did not accompany her mother, but lay in bed, deliciously, until the middle of the morning, then dressed, and chatted with the obliging Irish chamber maid, and read until her mother came for her at noon.
Everything she did was a delightful adventure; everything she saw had the tang of novelty. Fanny Brandeis was to see much that was beautiful and rare in her full lifetime, but she never again, perhaps, got quite the thrill that those ugly, dim, red-carpeted, gas-lighted hotel corridors gave her, or the grim bedroom, with its walnut furniture and its Nottingham curtains. As for the Chicago streets themselves, with their perilous corners (there were no czars in blue to regulate traffic in those days), older and more sophisticated pedestrians experienced various emotions while negotiating the corner of State and Madison.
That buying trip lasted ten days. It was a racking business, physically and mentally. There were the hours of tramping up one aisle and down the other in the big wholesale lofts. But that brought bodily fatigue only. It was the mental strain that left Mrs. Brandeis spent and limp at the end of the day. Was she buying wisely? Was she over-buying? What did she know about buying, anyway? She would come back to her hotel at six, sometimes so exhausted that the dining-room and dinner were unthinkable. At such times they would have dinner in their room another delicious adventure for Fanny. She would try to tempt the fagged woman on the bed with bits of this or that from one of the many dishes that dotted the dinner tray. But Molly Brandeis, harrowed in spirit and numbed in body, was too spent to eat.
But that was not always the case. There was that unforgettable night when they went to see Bernhardt the divine. Fanny spent the entire morning following standing before the bedroom mirror, with her hair pulled out in a wild fluff in front, her mother's old marten-fur scarf high and choky around her neck, trying to smile that slow, sad, poignant, tear-compelling smile; but she had to give it up, clever mimic though she was. She only succeeded in looking as though a pin were sticking her somewhere. Besides, Fanny's own smile was a quick, broad, flashing grin, with a generous glint of white teeth in it, and she always forgot about being exquisitely wistful over it until it was too late.
I wonder if the story of the china religious figures will give a wrong impression of Mrs. Brandeis. Perhaps not, if you will only remember this woman's white-lipped determination to wrest a livelihood from the world, for her children and herself. They had been in Chicago a week, and she was buying at Bauder & Peck's. Now, Bauder & Peck, importers, are known the world over. It is doubtful if there is one of you who has not been supplied, indirectly, with some imported bit of china or glassware, with French opera glasses or cunning toys and dolls, from the great New York and Chicago showrooms of that company.
Young Bauder himself was waiting on Mrs. Brandeis, and he was frowning because he hated to sell women. Young Bauder was being broken into the Chicago end of the business, and he was not taking gracefully to the process.
At the end of a long aisle, on an obscure shelf in a dim corner, Molly Brandeis' sharp eyes espied a motley collection of dusty, grimy china figures of the kind one sees on the mantel in the parlor of the small-town Catholic home. Winnebago's population was two-thirds Catholic, German and Irish, and very devout.
Mrs. Brandeis stopped short. "How much for that lot?" She pointed to the shelf. Young Bauder's gaze followed hers, puzzled. The figures were from five inches to a foot high, in crude, effective blues, and gold, and crimson, and white. All the saints were there in assorted sizes, the Pieta, the cradle in the manger. There were probably two hundred or more of the little figures. "Oh, those!" said young Bauder vaguely. "You don't want that stuff. Now, about that Limoges china. As I said, I can make you a special price on it if you carry it as an open-stock pattern. You'll find——"
"How much for that lot?" repeated Mrs. Brandeis.
"Those are left-over samples, Mrs. Brandeis. Last year's stuff. They're all dirty. I'd forgotten they were there."
"How much for the lot?" said Mrs. Brandeis, pleasantly, for the third time.
"I really don't know. Three hundred, I should say. But——"
"I'll give you two hundred," ventured Mrs. Brandeis, her heart in her mouth and her mouth very firm.
"Oh, come now, Mrs. Brandeis! Bauder & Peck don't do business that way, you know. We'd really rather not sell them at all. The things aren't worth much to us, or to you, for that matter. But three hundred——"
"Two hundred," repeated Mrs. Brandeis, "or I cancel my order, including the Limoges. I want those figures."
And she got them. Which isn't the point of the story. The holy figures were fine examples of foreign workmanship, their colors, beneath the coating of dust, as brilliant and fadeless as those found in the churches of Europe. They reached Winnebago duly, packed in straw and paper, still dusty and shelf-worn. Mrs. Brandeis and Sadie and Pearl sat on up-ended boxes at the rear of the store, in the big barn-like room in which newly arrived goods were unpacked. As Aloysius dived deep into the crate and brought up figure after figure, the three women plunged them into warm and soapy water and proceeded to bathe and scour the entire school of saints, angels, and cherubim. They came out brilliantly fresh and rosy.
All the Irish ingenuity and artistry in Aloysius came to the surface as he dived again and again into the great barrel and brought up the glittering pieces.
"It'll make an elegant window," he gasped from the depths of the hay, his lean, lengthy frame jack-knifed over the edge. "And cheap." His shrewd wit had long ago divined the store's price mark. "If Father Fitzpatrick steps by in the forenoon I'll bet they'll be gone before nighttime to-morrow. You'll be letting me do the trim, Mrs. Brandeis?"
He came back that evening to do it, and he threw his whole soul into it, which, considering his ancestry and temperament, was very high voltage for one small-town store window. He covered the floor of the window with black crepe paper, and hung it in long folds, like a curtain, against the rear wall. The gilt of the scepters, and halos, and capes showed up dazzlingly against this background. The scarlets, and pinks, and blues, and whites of the robes appeared doubly bright. The whole made a picture that struck and held you by its vividness and contrast.
Father Fitzpatrick, very tall and straight, and handsome, with his iron-gray hair and his cheeks pink as a girl's, did step by next morning on his way to the post-office. It was whispered that in his youth Father Fitzpatrick had been an actor, and that he had deserted the footlights for the altar lights because of a disappointment. The drama's loss was the Church's gain. You should have heard him on Sunday morning, now flaying them, now swaying them! He still had the actor's flexible voice, vibrant, tremulous, or strident, at will. And no amount of fasting or praying had ever dimmed that certain something in his eye—the something which makes the matinee idol.
Not only did he step by now; he turned, came back; stopped before the window. Then he entered.
"Madam," he said to Mrs. Brandeis, "you'll probably save more souls with your window display than I could in a month of hell-fire sermons." He raised his hand. "You have the sanction of the Church." Which was the beginning of a queer friendship between the Roman Catholic priest and the Jewess shopkeeper that lasted as long as Molly Brandeis lived.
By noon it seemed that the entire population of Winnebago had turned devout. The figures, a tremendous bargain, though sold at a high profit, seemed to melt away from the counter that held them.
By three o'clock, "Only one to a customer!" announced Mrs. Brandeis. By the middle of the week the window itself was ravished of its show. By the end of the week there remained only a handful of the duller and less desirable pieces—the minor saints, so to speak. Saturday night Mrs. Brandeis did a little figuring on paper. The lot had cost her two hundred dollars. She had sold for six hundred. Two from six leaves four. Four hundred dollars! She repeated it to herself, quietly. Her mind leaped back to the plush photograph album, then to young Bauder and his cool contempt. And there stole over her that warm, comfortable glow born of reassurance and triumph. Four hundred dollars. Not much in these days of big business. We said, you will remember, that it was a pitiful enough little trick she turned to make it, though an honest one. And—in the face of disapproval—a rather magnificent one too. For it gave to Molly Brandeis that precious quality, self-confidence, out of which is born success.
By spring Mrs. Brandeis had the farmer women coming to her for their threshing dishes and kitchenware, and the West End Culture Club for their whist prizes. She seemed to realize that the days of the general store were numbered, and she set about making hers a novelty store. There was something terrible about the earnestness with which she stuck to business. She was not more than thirty-eight at this time, intelligent, healthy, fun-loving. But she stayed at it all day. She listened and chatted to every one, and learned much. There was about her that human quality that invites confidence.
She made friends by the hundreds, and friends are a business asset. Those blithe, dressy, and smooth-spoken gentlemen known as traveling men used to tell her their troubles, perched on a stool near the stove, and show her the picture of their girl in the back of their watch, and asked her to dinner at the Haley House. She listened to their tale of woe, and advised them; she admired the picture of the girl, and gave some wholesome counsel on the subject of traveling men's lonely wives; but she never went to dinner at the Haley House.
It had not taken these debonair young men long to learn that there was a woman buyer who bought quickly, decisively, and intelligently, and that she always demanded a duplicate slip. Even the most unscrupulous could not stuff an order of hers, and when it came to dating she gave no quarter. Though they wore clothes that were two leaps ahead of the styles worn by the Winnebago young men—their straw sailors were likely to be saw-edged when the local edges were smooth, and their coats were more flaring, or their trousers wider than the coats and trousers of the Winnebago boys—they were not, for the most part, the gay dogs that Winnebago's fancy painted them. Many of them were very lonely married men who missed their wives and babies, and loathed the cuspidored discomfort of the small-town hotel lobby. They appreciated Mrs. Brandeis' good-natured sympathy, and gave her the long end of a deal when they could. It was Sam Kiser who had begged her to listen to his advice to put in Battenberg patterns and braid, long before the Battenberg epidemic had become widespread and virulent.
"Now listen to me, Mrs. Brandeis," he begged, almost tearfully. "You're a smart woman. Don't let this get by you. You know that I know that a salesman would have as much chance to sell you a gold brick as to sell old John D. Rockefeller a gallon of oil." Mrs. Brandeis eyed his samples coldly. "But it looks so unattractive. And the average person has no imagination. A bolt of white braid and a handful of buttons—they wouldn't get a mental picture of the completed piece. Now, embroidery silk——"
"Then give 'em a real picture!" interrupted Sam. "Work up one of these water-lily pattern table covers. Use No. 100 braid and the smallest buttons. Stick it in the window and they'll tear their hair to get patterns."
She did it, taking turns with Pearl and Sadie at weaving the great, lacy square during dull moments. When it was finished they placed it in the window, where it lay like frosted lace, exquisitely graceful and delicate, with its tracery of curling petals and feathery fern sprays. Winnebago gazed and was bitten by the Battenberg bug. It wound itself up in a network of Battenberg braid, in all the numbers. It bought buttons of every size; it stitched away at Battenberg covers, doilies, bedspreads, blouses, curtains. Battenberg tumbled, foamed, cascaded over Winnebago's front porches all that summer. Listening to Sam Kiser had done it.
She listened to the farmer women too, and to the mill girls, and to the scant and precious pearls that dropped from the lips of the East End society section. There was something about her brown eyes and her straight, sensible nose that reassured them so that few suspected the mischievous in her. For she was mischievous. If she had not been I think she could not have stood the drudgery, and the heartbreaks, and the struggle, and the terrific manual labor.
She used to guy people, gently, and they never guessed it. Mrs. G. Manville Smith, for example, never dreamed of the joy that her patronage brought Molly Brandeis, who waited on her so demurely. Mrs. G. Manville Smith (nee Finnegan) scorned the Winnebago shops, and was said to send to Chicago for her hairpins. It was known that her household was run on the most niggardly basis, however, and she short-rationed her two maids outrageously. It was said that she could serve less real food on more real lace doilies than any other housekeeper in Winnebago. Now, Mrs. Brandeis sold Scourine two cents cheaper than the grocery stores, using it as an advertisement to attract housewives, and making no profit on the article itself. Mrs. G. Manville Smith always patronized Brandeis' Bazaar for Scourine alone, and thus represented pure loss. Also she my-good-womaned Mrs. Brandeis. That lady, seeing her enter one day with her comic, undulating gait, double-actioned like a giraffe's, and her plumes that would have shamed a Knight of Pythias, decided to put a stop to these unprofitable visits.
She waited on Mrs. G. Manville Smith, a dangerous gleam in her eye.
"Scourine," spake Mrs. G. Manville Smith.
"No. Send them."
Mrs. Brandeis, scribbling in her sales book, stopped, pencil poised. "We cannot send Scourine unless with a purchase of other goods amounting to a dollar or more."
Mrs. G. Manville Smith's plumes tossed and soared agitatedly. "But my good woman, I don't want anything else!"
"Then you'll have to carry the Scourine?"
"Certainly not! I'll send for it."
"The sale closes at five." It was then 4:57.
"I never heard of such a thing! You can't expect me to carry them."
Now, Mrs. G. Manville Smith had been a dining-room girl at the old Haley House before she married George Smith, and long before he made his money in lumber.
"You won't find them so heavy," Molly Brandeis said smoothly.
"I certainly would! Perhaps you would not. You're used to that sort of thing. Rough work, and all that."
Aloysius, doubled up behind the lamps, knew what was coming, from the gleam in his boss's eye.
"There may be something in that," Molly Brandeis returned sweetly. "That's why I thought you might not mind taking them. They're really not much heavier than a laden tray."
"Oh!" exclaimed the outraged Mrs. G. Manville Smith. And took her plumes and her patronage out of Brandeis' Bazaar forever.
That was as malicious as Molly Brandeis ever could be. And it was forgivable malice.
Most families must be described against the background of their homes, but the Brandeis family life was bounded and controlled by the store. Their meals and sleeping hours and amusements were regulated by it. It taught them much, and brought them much, and lost them much. Fanny Brandeis always said she hated it, but it made her wise, and tolerant, and, in the end, famous. I don't know what more one could ask of any institution. It brought her in contact with men and women, taught her how to deal with them. After school she used often to run down to the store to see her mother, while Theodore went home to practice. Perched on a high stool in some corner she heard, and saw, and absorbed. It was a great school for the sensitive, highly-organized, dramatic little Jewish girl, for, to paraphrase a well-known stage line, there are just as many kinds of people in Winnebago as there are in Washington.
It was about this time that Fanny Brandeis began to realize, actively, that she was different. Of course, other little Winnebago girls' mothers did not work like a man, in a store. And she and Bella Weinberg were the only two in her room at school who stayed out on the Day of Atonement, and on New Year, and the lesser Jewish holidays. Also, she went to temple on Friday night and Saturday morning, when the other girls she knew went to church on Sunday. These things set her apart in the little Middle Western town; but it was not these that constituted the real difference. She played, and slept, and ate, and studied like the other healthy little animals of her age. The real difference was temperamental, or emotional, or dramatic, or historic, or all four. They would be playing tag, perhaps, in one of the cool, green ravines that were the beauty spots of the little Wisconsin town.
They nestled like exquisite emeralds in the embrace of the hills, those ravines, and Winnebago's civic surge had not yet swept them away in a deluge of old tin cans, ashes, dirt and refuse, to be sold later for building lots. The Indians had camped and hunted in them. The one under the Court Street bridge, near the Catholic church and monastery, was the favorite for play. It lay, a lovely, gracious thing, below the hot little town, all green, and lush, and cool, a tiny stream dimpling through it. The plump Capuchin Fathers, in their coarse brown robes, knotted about the waist with a cord, their bare feet thrust into sandals, would come out and sun themselves on the stone bench at the side of the monastery on the hill, or would potter about the garden. And suddenly Fanny would stop quite still in the midst of her tag game, struck with the beauty of the picture it called from the past.
Little Oriental that she was, she was able to combine the dry text of her history book with the green of the trees, the gray of the church, and the brown of the monk's robes, and evolve a thrilling mental picture therefrom. The tag game and her noisy little companions vanished. She was peopling the place with stealthy Indians. Stealthy, cunning, yet savagely brave. They bore no relation to the abject, contemptible, and rather smelly Oneidas who came to the back door on summer mornings, in calico, and ragged overalls, with baskets of huckleberries on their arm, their pride gone, a broken and conquered people. She saw them wild, free, sovereign, and there were no greasy, berry-peddling Oneidas among them. They were Sioux, and Pottawatomies (that last had the real Indian sound), and Winnebagos, and Menomonees, and Outagamis. She made them taciturn, and beady-eyed, and lithe, and fleet, and every other adjectival thing her imagination and history book could supply. The fat and placid Capuchin Fathers on the hill became Jesuits, sinister, silent, powerful, with France and the Church of Rome behind them. From the shelter of that big oak would step Nicolet, the brave, first among Wisconsin explorers, and last to receive the credit for his hardihood. Jean Nicolet! She loved the sound of it. And with him was La Salle, straight, and slim, and elegant, and surely wearing ruffles and plumes and sword even in a canoe. And Tonty, his Italian friend and fellow adventurer—Tonty of the satins and velvets, graceful, tactful, poised, a shadowy figure; his menacing iron hand, so feared by the ignorant savages, encased always in a glove. Surely a perfumed g—— Slap! A rude shove that jerked her head back sharply and sent her forward, stumbling, and jarred her like a fall.
"Ya-a-a! Tag! You're it! Fanny's it!"
Indians, priests, cavaliers, coureurs de bois, all vanished. Fanny would stand a moment, blinking stupidly. The next moment she was running as fleetly as the best of the boys in savage pursuit of one of her companions in the tag game.
She was a strange mixture of tomboy and bookworm, which was a mercifully kind arrangement for both body and mind. The spiritual side of her was groping and staggering and feeling its way about as does that of any little girl whose mind is exceptionally active, and whose mother is unusually busy. It was on the Day of Atonement, known in the Hebrew as Yom Kippur, in the year following her father's death that that side of her performed a rather interesting handspring.
Fanny Brandeis had never been allowed to fast on this, the greatest and most solemn of Jewish holy days Molly Brandeis' modern side refused to countenance the practice of withholding food from any child for twenty-four hours. So it was in the face of disapproval that Fanny, making deep inroads into the steak and fried sweet potatoes at supper on the eve of the Day of Atonement, announced her intention of fasting from that meal to supper on the following evening. She had just passed her plate for a third helping of potatoes. Theodore, one lap behind her in the race, had entered his objection.
"Well, for the land's sakes!" he protested. "I guess you're not the only one who likes sweet potatoes."
Fanny applied a generous dab of butter to an already buttery morsel, and chewed it with an air of conscious virtue.
"I've got to eat a lot. This is the last bite I'll have until to-morrow night."
"What's that?" exclaimed Mrs. Brandeis, sharply.
"Yes, it is!" hooted Theodore.
Fanny went on conscientiously eating as she explained.
"Bella Weinberg and I are going to fast all day. We just want to see if we can."
"Betcha can't," Theodore said.
Mrs. Brandeis regarded her small daughter with a thoughtful gaze. "But that isn't the object in fasting, Fanny—just to see if you can. If you're going to think of food all through the Yom Kippur services——"
"I sha'n't?" protested Fanny passionately. "Theodore would, but I won't."
"Wouldn't any such thing," denied Theodore. "But if I'm going to play a violin solo during the memorial service I guess I've got to eat my regular meals."
Theodore sometimes played at temple, on special occasions. The little congregation, listening to the throbbing rise and fall of this fifteen-year-old boy's violin playing, realized, vaguely, that here was something disturbingly, harrowingly beautiful. They did not know that they were listening to genius.
Molly Brandeis, in her second best dress, walked to temple Yom Kippur eve, her son at her right side, her daughter at her left. She had made up her mind that she would not let this next day, with its poignantly beautiful service, move her too deeply. It was the first since her husband's death, and Rabbi Thalmann rather prided himself on his rendition of the memorial service that came at three in the afternoon.
A man of learning, of sweetness, and of gentle wit was Rabbi Thalmann, and unappreciated by his congregation. He stuck to the Scriptures for his texts, finding Moses a greater leader than Roosevelt, and the miracle of the Burning Bush more wonderful than the marvels of twentieth-century wizardy in electricity. A little man, Rabbi Thalmann, with hands and feet as small and delicate as those of a woman. Fanny found him fascinating to look on, in his rabbinical black broadcloth and his two pairs of glasses perched, in reading, upon his small hooked nose. He stood very straight in the pulpit, but on the street you saw that his back was bent just the least bit in the world—or perhaps it was only his student stoop, as he walked along with his eyes on the ground, smoking those slender, dapper, pale brown cigars that looked as if they had been expressly cut and rolled to fit him.
The evening service was at seven. The congregation, rustling in silks, was approaching the little temple from all directions. Inside, there was a low-toned buzz of conversation. The Brandeis' seat was well toward the rear, as befitted a less prosperous member of the rich little congregation. This enabled them to get a complete picture of the room in its holiday splendor. Fanny drank it in eagerly, her dark eyes soft and luminous. The bare, yellow-varnished wooden pews glowed with the reflection from the chandeliers. The seven-branched candlesticks on either side of the pulpit were entwined with smilax. The red plush curtain that hung in front of the Ark on ordinary days, and the red plush pulpit cover too, were replaced by gleaming white satin edged with gold fringe and finished at the corners with heavy gold tassels. How the rich white satin glistened in the light of the electric candles! Fanny Brandeis loved the lights, and the gleam, and the music, so majestic, and solemn, and the sight of the little rabbi, sitting so straight and serious in his high-backed chair, or standing to read from the great Bible. There came to this emotional little Jewess a thrill that was not born of religious fervor at all, I am afraid.
The sheer drama of the thing got her. In fact, the thing she had set herself to do to-day had in it very little of religion. Mrs. Brandeis had been right about that. It was a test of endurance, as planned. Fanny had never fasted in all her healthy life. She would come home from school to eat formidable stacks of bread and butter, enhanced by brown sugar or grape jelly, and topped off with three or four apples from the barrel in the cellar. Two hours later she would attack a supper of fried potatoes, and liver, and tea, and peach preserve, and more stacks of bread and butter. Then there were the cherry trees in the back yard, and the berry bushes, not to speak of sundry bags of small, hard candies of the jelly-bean variety, fitted for quick and secret munching during school. She liked good things to eat, this sturdy little girl, as did her friend, that blonde and creamy person, Bella Weinberg. The two girls exchanged meaningful glances during the evening service. The Weinbergs, as befitted their station, sat in the third row at the right, and Bella had to turn around to convey her silent messages to Fanny. The evening service was brief, even to the sermon. Rabbi Thalmann and his congregation would need their strength for to-morrow's trial.
The Brandeises walked home through the soft September night, and the children had to use all their Yom Kippur dignity to keep from scuffling through the piled-up drifts of crackling autumn leaves. Theodore went to the cellar and got an apple, which he ate with what Fanny considered an unnecessary amount of scrunching. It was a firm, juicy apple, and it gave forth a cracking sound when his teeth met in its white meat. Fanny, after regarding him with gloomy superiority, went to bed.
She had willed to sleep late, for gastronomic reasons, but the mental command disobeyed itself, and she woke early, with a heavy feeling. Early as it was, Molly Brandeis had tiptoed in still earlier to look at her strange little daughter. She sometimes did that on Saturday mornings when she left early for the store and Fanny slept late. This morning Fanny's black hair was spread over the pillow as she lay on her back, one arm outflung, the other at her breast. She made a rather startlingly black and white and scarlet picture as she lay there asleep. Fanny did things very much in that way, too, with broad, vivid, unmistakable splashes of color. Mrs. Brandeis, looking at the black-haired, red-lipped child sleeping there, wondered just how much determination lay back of the broad white brow. She had said little to Fanny about this feat of fasting, and she told herself that she disapproved of it. But in her heart she wanted the girl to see it through, once attempted.
Fanny awoke at half past seven, and her nostrils dilated to that most exquisite, tantalizing and fragrant of smells—the aroma of simmering coffee. It permeated the house. It tickled the senses. It carried with it visions of hot, brown breakfast rolls, and eggs, and butter. Fanny loved her breakfast. She turned over now, and decided to go to sleep again. But she could not. She got up and dressed slowly and carefully. There was no one to hurry her this morning with the call from the foot of the stairs of, "Fanny! Your egg'll get cold!"
She put on clean, crisp underwear, and did her hair expertly. She slipped an all-enveloping pinafore over her head, that the new silk dress might not be crushed before church time. She thought that Theodore would surely have finished his breakfast by this time. But when she came down-stairs he was at the table. Not only that, he had just begun his breakfast. An egg, all golden, and white, and crisply brown at the frilly edges, lay on his plate. Theodore always ate his egg in a mathematical sort of way. He swallowed the white hastily first, because he disliked it, and Mrs. Brandeis insisted that he eat it. Then he would brood a moment over the yolk that lay, unmarred and complete, like an amber jewel in the center of his plate. Then he would suddenly plunge his fork into the very heart of the jewel, and it would flow over his plate, mingling with the butter, and he would catch it deftly with little mops of warm, crisp, buttery roll.
Fanny passed the breakfast table just as Theodore plunged his fork into the egg yolk. She caught her breath sharply, and closed her eyes. Then she turned and fled to the front porch and breathed deeply and windily of the heady September Wisconsin morning air. As she stood there, with her stiff, short black curls still damp and glistening, in her best shoes and stockings, with the all-enveloping apron covering her sturdy little figure, the light of struggle and renunciation in her face, she typified something at once fine and earthy.
But the real struggle was to come later. They went to temple at ten, Theodore with his beloved violin tucked carefully under his arm. Bella Weinberg was waiting at the steps.
"Did you?" she asked eagerly.
"Of course not," replied Fanny disdainfully. "Do you think I'd eat old breakfast when I said I was going to fast all day?" Then, with sudden suspicion, "Did you?"
And they entered, and took their seats. It was fascinating to watch the other members of the congregation come in, the women rustling, the men subdued in the unaccustomed dignity of black on a week day. One glance at the yellow pews was like reading a complete social and financial register. The seating arrangement of the temple was the Almanach de Gotha of Congregation Emanu-el. Old Ben Reitman, patriarch among the Jewish settlers of Winnebago, who had come over an immigrant youth, and who now owned hundreds of rich farm acres, besides houses, mills and banks, kinged it from the front seat of the center section. He was a magnificent old man, with a ruddy face, and a fine head with a shock of heavy iron-gray hair, keen eyes, undimmed by years, and a startling and unexpected dimple in one cheek that gave him a mischievous and boyish look.
Behind this dignitary sat his sons, and their wives, and his daughters and their husbands, and their children, and so on, back to the Brandeis pew, third from the last, behind which sat only a few obscure families branded as Russians, as only the German-born Jew can brand those whose misfortune it is to be born in that region known as hinter-Berlin.
The morning flew by, with its music, its responses, its sermon in German, full of four- and five-syllable German words like Barmherzigkeit and Eigentumlichkeit. All during the sermon Fanny sat and dreamed and watched the shadow on the window of the pine tree that stood close to the temple, and was vastly amused at the jaundiced look that the square of yellow window glass cast upon the face of the vain and overdressed Mrs. Nathan Pereles. From time to time Bella would turn to bestow upon her a look intended to convey intense suffering and a resolute though dying condition. Fanny stonily ignored these mute messages. They offended something in her, though she could not tell what.
At the noon intermission she did not go home to the tempting dinner smells, but wandered off through the little city park and down to the river, where she sat on the bank and felt very virtuous, and spiritual, and hollow. She was back in her seat when the afternoon service was begun. Some of the more devout members had remained to pray all through the midday. The congregation came straggling in by twos and threes. Many of the women had exchanged the severely corseted discomfort of the morning's splendor for the comparative ease of second-best silks. Mrs. Brandeis, absent from her business throughout this holy day, came hurrying in at two, to look with a rather anxious eye upon her pale and resolute little daughter.
The memorial service was to begin shortly after three, and lasted almost two hours. At quarter to three Bella slipped out through the side aisle, beckoning mysteriously and alluringly to Fanny as she went. Fanny looked at her mother.
"Run along," said Mrs. Brandeis. "The air will be good for you. Come back before the memorial service begins." Fanny and Bella met, giggling, in the vestibule.
"Come on over to my house for a minute," Bella suggested. "I want to show you something." The Weinberg house, a great, comfortable, well-built home, with encircling veranda, and a well-cared-for lawn, was just a scant block away. They skipped across the street, down the block, and in at the back door. The big sunny kitchen was deserted. The house seemed very quiet and hushed. Over it hung the delicious fragrance of freshly-baked pastry. Bella, a rather baleful look in her eyes, led the way to the butler's pantry that was as large as the average kitchen. And there, ranged on platters, and baking boards, and on snowy-white napkins, was that which made Tantalus's feast seem a dry and barren snack. The Weinberg's had baked. It is the custom in the household of Atonement Day fasters of the old school to begin the evening meal, after the twenty-four hours of abstainment, with coffee and freshly-baked coffee cake of every variety. It was a lead-pipe blow at one's digestion, but delicious beyond imagining. Bella's mother was a famous cook, and her two maids followed in the ways of their mistress. There were to be sisters and brothers and out-of-town relations as guests at the evening meal, and Mrs. Weinberg had outdone herself.
"Oh!" exclaimed Fanny in a sort of agony and delight.
"Take some," said Bella, the temptress.
The pantry was fragrant as a garden with spices, and fruit scents, and the melting, delectable perfume of brown, freshly-baked dough, sugar-coated. There was one giant platter devoted wholly to round, plump cakes, with puffy edges, in the center of each a sunken pool that was all plum, bearing on its bosom a snowy sifting of powdered sugar. There were others whose centers were apricot, pure molten gold in the sunlight. There were speckled expanses of cheese kuchen, the golden-brown surface showing rich cracks through which one caught glimpses of the lemon-yellow cheese beneath—cottage cheese that had been beaten up with eggs, and spices, and sugar, and lemon. Flaky crust rose, jaggedly, above this plateau. There were cakes with jelly, and cinnamon kuchen, and cunning cakes with almond slices nestling side by side. And there was freshly-baked bread—twisted loaf, with poppy seed freckling its braid, and its sides glistening with the butter that had been liberally swabbed on it before it had been thrust into the oven.
Fanny Brandeis gazed, hypnotized. As she gazed Bella selected a plum tart and bit into it—bit generously, so that her white little teeth met in the very middle of the oozing red-brown juice and one heard a little squirt as they closed on the luscious fruit. At the sound Fanny quivered all through her plump and starved little body.
"Have one," said Bella generously. "Go on. Nobody'll ever know. Anyway, we've fasted long enough for our age. I could fast till supper time if I wanted to, but I don't want to." She swallowed the last morsel of the plum tart, and selected another—apricot, this time, and opened her moist red lips. But just before she bit into it (the Inquisition could have used Bella's talents) she selected its counterpart and held it out to Fanny. Fanny shook her head slightly. Her hand came up involuntarily. Her eyes were fastened on Bella's face.
"Go on," urged Bella. "Take it. They're grand! M-m-m-m!" The first bite of apricot vanished between her rows of sharp white teeth. Fanny shut her eyes as if in pain. She was fighting the great fight of her life. She was to meet other temptations, and perhaps more glittering ones, in her lifetime, but to her dying day she never forgot that first battle between the flesh and the spirit, there in the sugar-scented pantry—and the spirit won. As Bella's lips closed upon the second bite of apricot tart, the while her eye roved over the almond cakes and her hand still held the sweet out to Fanny, that young lady turned sharply, like a soldier, and marched blindly out of the house, down the back steps, across the street, and so into the temple.
The evening lights had just been turned on. The little congregation, relaxed, weary, weak from hunger, many of them, sat rapt and still except at those times when the prayer book demanded spoken responses. The voice of the little rabbi, rather weak now, had in it a timbre that made it startlingly sweet and clear and resonant. Fanny slid very quietly into the seat beside Mrs. Brandeis, and slipped her moist and cold little hand into her mother's warm, work-roughened palm. The mother's brown eyes, very bright with unshed tears, left their perusal of the prayer book to dwell upon the white little face that was smiling rather wanly up at her. The pages of the prayer book lay two-thirds or more to the left. Just as Fanny remarked this, there was a little moment of hush in the march of the day's long service. The memorial hour had begun.
Little Doctor Thalmann cleared his throat. The congregation stirred a bit, changed its cramped position. Bella, the guilty, came stealing in, a pink-and-gold picture of angelic virtue. Fanny, looking at her, felt very aloof, and clean, and remote.
Molly Brandeis seemed to sense what had happened.
"But you didn't, did you?" she whispered softly.
Fanny shook her head.
Rabbi Thalmann was seated in his great carved chair. His eyes were closed. The wheezy little organ in the choir loft at the rear of the temple began the opening bars of Schumann's Traumerei. And then, above the cracked voice of the organ, rose the clear, poignant wail of a violin. Theodore Brandeis had begun to play. You know the playing of the average boy of fifteen—that nerve-destroying, uninspired scraping. There was nothing of this in the sounds that this boy called forth from the little wooden box and the stick with its taut lines of catgut. Whatever it was—the length of the thin, sensitive fingers, the turn of the wrist, the articulation of the forearm, the something in the brain, or all these combined—Theodore Brandeis possessed that which makes for greatness. You realized that as he crouched over his violin to get his cello tones. As he played to-day the little congregation sat very still, and each was thinking of his ambitions and his failures; of the lover lost, of the duty left undone, of the hope deferred; of the wrong that was never righted; of the lost one whose memory spells remorse. It felt the salt taste on its lips. It put up a furtive, shamed hand to dab at its cheeks, and saw that the one who sat in the pew just ahead was doing likewise. This is what happened when this boy of fifteen wedded his bow to his violin. And he who makes us feel all this has that indefinable, magic, glorious thing known as Genius.
When it was over, there swept through the room that sigh following tension relieved. Rabbi Thalmann passed a hand over his tired eyes, like one returning from a far mental journey; then rose, and came forward to the pulpit. He began, in Hebrew, the opening words of the memorial service, and so on to the prayers in English, with their words of infinite humility and wisdom.
"Thou hast implanted in us the capacity for sin, but not sin itself!"
Fanny stirred. She had learned that a brief half hour ago. The service marched on, a moving and harrowing thing. The amens rolled out with a new fervor from the listeners. There seemed nothing comic now in the way old Ben Reitman, with his slower eyes, always came out five words behind the rest who tumbled upon the responses and scurried briskly through them, so that his fine old voice, somewhat hoarse and quavering now, rolled out its "Amen!" in solitary majesty. They came to that gem of humility, the mourners' prayer; the ancient and ever-solemn Kaddish prayer. There is nothing in the written language that, for sheer drama and magnificence, can equal it as it is chanted in the Hebrew.
As Rabbi Thalmann began to intone it in its monotonous repetition of praise, there arose certain black-robed figures from their places and stood with heads bowed over their prayer books. These were members of the congregation from whom death had taken a toll during the past year. Fanny rose with her mother and Theodore, who had left the choir loft to join them. The little wheezy organ played very softly. The black-robed figures swayed. Here and there a half-stifled sob rose, and was crushed. Fanny felt a hot haze that blurred her vision. She winked it away, and another burned in its place. Her shoulders shook with a sob. She felt her mother's hand close over her own that held one side of the book. The prayer, that was not of mourning but of praise, ended with a final crescendo from the organ, The silent black-robed figures were seated.
Over the little, spent congregation hung a glorious atmosphere of detachment. These Jews, listening to the words that had come from the lips of the prophets in Israel, had been, on this day, thrown back thousands of years, to the time when the destruction of the temple was as real as the shattered spires and dome of the cathedral at Rheims. Old Ben Reitman, faint with fasting, was far removed from his everyday thoughts of his horses, his lumber mills, his farms, his mortgages. Even Mrs. Nathan Pereles, in her black satin and bugles and jets, her cold, hard face usually unlighted by sympathy or love, seemed to feel something of this emotional wave. Fanny Brandeis was shaken by it. Her head ached (that was hunger) and her hands were icy. The little Russian girl in the seat just behind them had ceased to wriggle and squirm, and slept against her mother's side. Rabbi Thalmann, there on the platform, seemed somehow very far away and vague. The scent of clove apples and ammonia salts filled the air. The atmosphere seemed strangely wavering and luminous. The white satin of the Ark curtain gleamed and shifted.
The long service swept on to its close. Suddenly organ and choir burst into a paeon. Little Doctor Thalmann raised his arms. The congregation swept to its feet with a mighty surge. Fanny rose with them, her face very white in its frame of black curls, her eyes luminous. She raised her face for the words of the ancient benediction that rolled, in its simplicity and grandeur, from the lips of the rabbi:
"May the blessing of the Lord our God rest upon you all. God bless thee and keep thee. May God cause His countenance to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee. May God lift up His countenance unto thee, and grant thee peace."
The Day of Atonement had come to an end. It was a very quiet, subdued and spent little flock that dispersed to their homes. Fanny walked out with scarcely a thought of Bella. She felt, vaguely, that she and this school friend were formed of different stuff. She knew that the bond between them had been the grubby, physical one of childhood, and that they never would come together in the finer relation of the spirit, though she could not have put this new knowledge into words.
Molly Brandeis put a hand on her daughter's shoulder.
"Bet you're hungry!" from Theodore.
"I was, but I'm not now."
"M-m-m—wait! Noodle soup. And chicken!"
She had intended to tell of the trial in the Weinberg's pantry. But now something within her—something fine, born of this day—kept her from it. But Molly Brandeis, to whom two and two often made five, guessed something of what had happened. She had felt a great surge of pride, had Molly Brandeis, when her son had swayed the congregation with the magic of his music. She had kissed him good night with infinite tenderness and love. But she came into her daughter's tiny room after Fanny had gone to bed, and leaned over, and put a cool hand on the hot forehead.
"Do you feel all right, my darling?"
"Umhmph," replied Fanny drowsily.
"Fanchen, doesn't it make you feel happy and clean to know that you were able to do the thing you started out to do?"
"Only," Molly Brandeis was thinking aloud now, quite forgetting that she was talking to a very little girl, "only, life seems to take such special delight in offering temptation to those who are able to withstand it. I don't know why that's true, but it is. I hope—oh, my little girl, my baby—I hope——"
But Fanny never knew whether her mother finished that sentence or not. She remembered waiting for the end of it, to learn what it was her mother hoped. And she had felt a sudden, scalding drop on her hand where her mother bent over her. And the next thing she knew it was morning, with mellow September sunshine.
It was the week following this feat of fasting that two things happened to Fanny Brandeis—two seemingly unimportant and childish things—that were to affect the whole tenor of her life. It is pleasant to predict thus. It gives a certain weight to a story and a sense of inevitableness. It should insure, too, the readers's support to the point, at least, where the prediction is fulfilled. Sometimes a careless author loses sight altogether of his promise, and then the tricked reader is likely to go on to the very final page, teased by the expectation that that which was hinted at will be revealed.
Fanny Brandeis had a way of going to the public library on Saturday afternoons (with a bag of very sticky peanut candy in her pocket, the little sensualist!) and there, huddled in a chair, dreamily and almost automatically munching peanut brittle, her cheeks growing redder and redder in the close air of the ill-ventilated room, she would read, and read, and read. There was no one to censor her reading, so she read promiscuously, wading gloriously through trash and classic and historical and hysterical alike, and finding something of interest in them all.
She read the sprightly "Duchess" novels, where mad offers of marriage were always made in flower-scented conservatories; she read Dickens, and Thelma, and old bound Cosmopolitans, and Zola, and de Maupassant, and the "Wide, Wide World," and "Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates," and "Jane Eyre." All of which are merely mentioned as examples of her catholicism in literature. As she read she was unaware of the giggling boys and girls who came in noisily, and made dates, and were coldly frowned on by the austere Miss Perkins, the librarian. She would read until the fading light would remind her that the short fall or winter day was drawing to a close.
She would come, shivering a little after the fetid atmosphere of the overheated library, into the crisp, cold snap of the astringent Wisconsin air. Sometimes she would stop at the store for her mother. Sometimes she would run home alone through the twilight, her heels scrunching the snow, her whole being filled with a vague and unchildish sadness and disquiet as she faced the tender rose, and orange, and mauve, and pale lemon of the winter sunset. There were times when her very heart ached with the beauty of that color-flooded sky; there were times, later, when it ached in much the same way at the look in the eyes of a pushcart peddler; there were times when it ached, seemingly, for no reason at all—as is sometimes the case when one is a little Jew girl, with whole centuries of suffering behind one.
On this day she had taken a book from the library Miss Perkins, at sight of the title, had glared disapprovingly, and had hesitated a moment before stamping the card.
"Is this for yourself?" she had asked.
"It isn't a book for little girls," snapped Miss Perkins.
"I've read half of it already," Fanny informed her sweetly. And went out with it under her arm. It was Zola's "The Ladies' Paradise" (Au Bonheur des Dames). The story of the shop girl, and the crushing of the little dealer by the great and moneyed company had thrilled and fascinated her.
Her mind was full of it as she turned the corner on Norris Street and ran full-tilt, into a yowling, taunting, torturing little pack of boys. They were gathered in close formation about some object which they were teasing, and knocking about in the mud, and otherwise abusing with the savagery of their years. Fanny, the fiery, stopped short. She pushed into the ring. The object of their efforts was a weak-kneed and hollow-chested little boy who could not fight because he was cowardly as well as weak, and his name (oh, pity!) was Clarence—Clarence Heyl. There are few things that a mischievous group of small boys cannot do with a name like Clarence. They whined it, they catcalled it, they shrieked it in falsetto imitation of Clarence's mother. He was a wide-mouthed, sallow and pindling little boy, whose pipe-stemmed legs looked all the thinner for being contrasted with his feet, which were long and narrow. At that time he wore spectacles, too, to correct a muscular weakness, so that his one good feature—great soft, liquid eyes—passed unnoticed. He was the kind of little boy whose mother insists on dressing him in cloth-top, buttoned, patent-leather shoes for school. His blue serge suit was never patched or shiny. His stockings were virgin at the knee. He wore an overcoat on cool autumn days. Fanny despised and pitied him. We ask you not to, because in this puny, shy and ugly little boy of fifteen you behold Our Hero.
He staggered to his feet now, as Fanny came up. His school reefer was mud-bespattered. His stockings were torn. His cap was gone and his hair was wild. There was a cut or scratch on one cheek, from which the blood flowed.
"I'll tell my mother on you!" he screamed impotently, and shook with rage and terror. "You'll see, you will! You let me alone, now!"
Fanny felt a sick sensation at the pit of her stomach and in her throat. Then:
"He'll tell his ma!" sneered the boys in chorus. "Oh, mamma!" And called him the Name. And at that a she wildcat broke loose among them. She pounced on them without warning, a little fury of blazing eyes and flying hair, and white teeth showing in a snarl. If she had fought fair, or if she had not taken them so by surprise, she would have been powerless among them. But she had sprung at them with the suddenness of rage. She kicked, and scratched, and bit, and clawed and spat. She seemed not to feel the defensive blows that were showered upon her in turn. Her own hard little fists were now doubled for a thump or opened, like a claw, for scratching.
"Go on home!" she yelled to Clarence, even while she fought. And Clarence, gathering up his tattered school books, went, and stood not on the order of his going. Whereupon Fanny darted nimbly to one side, out of the way of boyish brown fists. In that moment she was transformed from a raging fury into a very meek and trembling little girl, who looked shyly and pleadingly out from a tangle of curls. The boys were for rushing at her again.
"Cowardy-cats! Five of you fighting one girl," cried Fanny, her lower lip trembling ever so little. "Come on! Hit me! Afraid to fight anything but girls! Cowardy-cats!" A tear, pearly, pathetic, coursed down her cheek.
The drive was broken. Five sullen little boys stood and glared at her, impotently.
"You hit us first," declared one boy. "What business d' you have scratching around like that, I'd like to know! You old scratch cat!"
"He's sickly," said Fanny. "He can't fight. There's something the matter with his lungs, or something, and they're going to make him quit school. Besides, he's a billion times better than any of you, anyway."
At once, "Fanny's stuck on Clar-ence! Fanny's stuck on Clar-ence!"
Fanny picked up her somewhat battered Zola from where it had flown at her first onslaught. "It's a lie!" she shouted. And fled, followed by the hateful chant.
She came in at the back door, trying to look casual. But Mattie's keen eye detected the marks of battle, even while her knife turned the frying potatoes.
"Fanny Brandeis! Look at your sweater! And your hair!"
Fanny glanced down at the torn pocket dangling untidily. "Oh, that!" she said airily. And, passing the kitchen table, deftly filched a slice of cold veal from the platter, and mounted the back stairs to her room. It was a hungry business, this fighting. When Mrs. Brandeis came in at six her small daughter was demurely reading. At supper time Mrs. Brandeis looked up at her daughter with a sharp exclamation.
"Fanny! There's a scratch on your cheek from your eye to your chin."
Fanny put up her hand. "Is there?"
"Why, you must have felt it. How did you get it?"
Fanny said nothing. "I'll bet she was fighting," said Theodore with the intuitive knowledge that one child has of another's ways.
"Fanny!" The keen brown eyes were upon her. "Some boys were picking on Clarence Heyl, and it made me mad. They called him names."
"Fanny dear, if you're going to fight every time you hear that name——"
Fanny thought of the torn sweater, the battered Zola, the scratched cheek. "It is pretty expensive," she said reflectively.
After supper she settled down at once to her book. Theodore would labor over his algebra after the dining-room table was cleared. He stuck his cap on his head now, and slammed out of the door for a half-hour's play under the corner arc-light. Fanny rarely brought books from school, and yet she seemed to get on rather brilliantly, especially in the studies she liked. During that winter following her husband's death Mrs. Brandeis had a way of playing solitaire after supper; one of the simpler forms of the game. It seemed to help her to think out the day's problems, and to soothe her at the same time. She would turn down the front of the writing desk, and draw up the piano stool.
All through that winter Fanny seemed to remember reading to the slap-slap of cards, and the whir of their shuffling. In after years she was never able to pick up a volume of Dickens without having her mind hark back to those long, quiet evenings. She read a great deal of Dickens at that time. She had a fine contempt for his sentiment, and his great ladies bored her. She did not know that this was because they were badly drawn. The humor she loved, and she read and reread the passages dealing with Samuel Weller, and Mr. Micawber, and Sairey Gamp, and Fanny Squeers. It was rather trying to read Dickens before supper, she had discovered. Pickwick Papers was fatal, she had found. It sent one to the pantry in a sort of trance, to ransack for food—cookies, apples, cold meat, anything. But whatever one found, it always fell short of the succulent sounding beefsteak pies, and saddles of mutton, and hot pineapple toddy of the printed page.
To-night Mrs. Brandeis, coming in from the kitchen after a conference with Mattie, found her daughter in conversational mood, though book in hand.
"Mother, did you ever read this?" She held up "The Ladies' Paradise."
"Yes; but child alive, what ever made you get it? That isn't the kind of thing for you to read. Oh, I wish I had more time to give——"
Fanny leaned forward eagerly. "It made me think a lot of you. You know—the way the big store was crushing the little one, and everything. Like the thing you were talking to that man about the other day. You said it was killing the small-town dealer, and he said some day it would be illegal, and you said you'd never live to see it."
"Oh, that! We were talking about the mail-order business, and how hard it was to compete with it, when the farmers bought everything from a catalogue, and had whole boxes of household goods expressed to them. I didn't know you were listening, Fanchen."
"I was. I almost always do when you and some traveling man or somebody like that are talking. It—it's interesting."
Fanny went back to her book then. But Molly Brandeis sat a moment, eyeing her queer little daughter thoughtfully. Then she sighed, and laid out her cards for solitaire. By eight o'clock she was usually so sleepy that she would fall, dead-tired, asleep on the worn leather couch in the sitting-room. She must have been fearfully exhausted, mind and body. The house would be very quiet, except for Mattie, perhaps, moving about in the kitchen or in her corner room upstairs. Sometimes the weary woman on the couch would start suddenly from her sleep and cry out, choked and gasping, "No! No! No!" The children would jump, terrified, and come running to her at first, but later they got used to it, and only looked up to say, when she asked them, bewildered, what it was that wakened her, "You had the no-no-nos."
She had never told of the thing that made her start out of her sleep and cry out like that. Perhaps it was just the protest of the exhausted body and the overwrought nerves. Usually, after that, she would sit up, haggardly, and take the hairpins out of her short thick hair, and announce her intention of going to bed. She always insisted that the children go too, though they often won an extra half hour by protesting and teasing. It was a good thing for them, these nine o'clock bed hours, for it gave them the tonic sleep that their young, high-strung natures demanded.
"Come, children," she would say, yawning.
"Oh, mother, please just let me finish this chapter!"
"Just this little bit. See? Just this."
"Well, just that, then," for Mrs. Brandeis was a reasonable woman, and she had the book-lover's knowledge of the fascination of the unfinished chapter.
Fanny and Theodore were not always honest about the bargain. They would gallop, hot-cheeked, through the allotted chapter. Mrs. Brandeis would have fallen into a doze, perhaps. And the two conspirators would read on, turning the leaves softly and swiftly, gulping the pages, cramming them down in an orgy of mental bolting, like naughty children stuffing cake when their mother's back is turned. But the very concentration of their dread of waking her often brought about the feared result. Mrs. Brandeis would start up rather wildly, look about her, and see the two buried, red-cheeked and eager, in their books.
"Fanny! Theodore! Come now! Not another minute!"
Fanny, shameless little glutton, would try it again. "Just to the end of this chapter! Just this weenty bit!"
"Fiddlesticks! You've read four chapters since I spoke to you the last time. Come now!"
Molly Brandeis would see to the doors, and the windows, and the clock, and then, waiting for the weary little figures to climb the stairs, would turn out the light, and, hairpins in one hand, corset in the other, perhaps, mount to bed.
By nine o'clock the little household would be sleeping, the children sweetly and dreamlessly, the tired woman restlessly and fitfully, her overwrought brain still surging with the day's problems. It was not like a household at rest, somehow. It was like a spirited thing standing, quivering for a moment, its nerves tense, its muscles twitching.
Perhaps you have quite forgotten that here were to be retailed two epochal events in Fanny Brandeis's life. If you have remembered, you will have guessed that the one was the reading of that book of social protest, though its writer has fallen into disfavor in these fickle days. The other was the wild and unladylike street brawl in which she took part so that a terrified and tortured little boy might escape his tormentors.
There was no hard stock in Brandeis' Bazaar now. The packing-room was always littered with straw and excelsior dug from hogsheads and great crates. Aloysius lorded it over a small red-headed satellite who disappeared inside barrels and dived head first into huge boxes, coming up again with a lamp, or a doll, or a piece of glassware, like a magician. Fanny, perched on an overturned box, used to watch him, fascinated, while he laboriously completed a water set, or a tea set. A preliminary dive would bring up the first of a half dozen related pieces, each swathed in tissue paper. A deft twist on the part of the attendant Aloysius would strip the paper wrappings and disclose a ruby-tinted tumbler, perhaps. Another dive, and another, until six gleaming glasses stood revealed, like chicks without a hen mother. A final dip, much scratching and burrowing, during which armfuls of hay and excelsior were thrown out, and then the red-headed genie of the barrel would emerge, flushed and triumphant, with the water pitcher itself, thus completing the happy family.
Aloysius, meanwhile, would regale her with one of those choice bits of gossip he had always about him, like a jewel concealed, and only to be brought out for the appreciative. Mrs. Brandeis disapproved of store gossip, and frowned on Sadie and Pearl whenever she found them, their heads close together, their stifled shrieks testifying to his wit. There were times when Molly Brandeis herself could not resist the spell of his tongue. No one knew where Aloysius got his information. He had news that Winnebago's two daily papers never could get, and wouldn't have dared to print if they had.
"Did you hear about Myrtle Krieger," he would begin, "that's marryin' the Hempel boy next month? The one in the bank. She's exhibiting her trewsow at the Outagamie County Fair this week, for the handwork and embroid'ry prize. Ain't it brazen? They say the crowd's so thick around the table that they had to take down the more pers'nal pieces. The first day of the fair the grand-stand was, you might say, empty, even when they was pullin' off the trottin' races and the balloon ascension. It's funny—ain't it?—how them garmints that you wouldn't turn for a second look at on the clothesline or in a store winda' becomes kind of wicked and interestin' the minute they get what they call the human note. There it lays, that virgin lawnjerie, for all the county to look at, with pink ribbons run through everything, and the poor Krieger girl never dreamin' she's doin' somethin' indelicate. She says yesterday if she wins the prize she's going to put it toward one of these kitchen cabinets."
I wish we could stop a while with Aloysius. He is well worth it. Aloysius, who looked a pass between Ichabod Crane and Smike; Aloysius, with his bit of scandal burnished with wit; who, after a long, hard Saturday, would go home to scrub the floor of the dingy lodgings where he lived with his invalid mother, and who rose in the cold dawn of Sunday morning to go to early mass, so that he might return to cook the dinner and wait upon the sick woman. Aloysius, whose trousers flapped grotesquely about his bony legs, and whose thin red wrists hung awkwardly from his too-short sleeves, had in him that tender, faithful and courageous stuff of which unsung heroes are made. And he adored his clever, resourceful boss to the point of imitation. You should have seen him trying to sell a sled or a doll's go-cart in her best style. But we cannot stop for Aloysius. He is irrelevant, and irrelevant matter halts the progress of a story. Any one, from Barrie to Harold Bell Wright, will tell you that a story, to be successful, must march.
We'll keep step, then, with Molly Brandeis until she drops out of the ranks. There is no detouring with Mrs. Brandeis for a leader. She is the sort that, once her face is set toward her goal, looks neither to right nor left until she has reached it.
When Fanny Brandeis was fourteen, and Theodore was not quite sixteen, a tremendous thing happened. Schabelitz, the famous violinist, came to Winnebago to give a concert under the auspices of the Young Men's Sunday Evening Club.
The Young Men's Sunday Evening Club of the Congregational Church prided itself (and justifiably) on what the papers called its "auspices." It scorned to present to Winnebago the usual lyceum attractions—Swiss bell ringers, negro glee clubs, and Family Fours. Instead, Schumann-Heink sang her lieder for them; McCutcheon talked and cartooned for them; Madame Bloomfield-Zeisler played. Winnebago was one of those wealthy little Mid-Western towns whose people appreciate the best and set out to acquire it for themselves.
To the Easterner, Winnebago, and Oshkosh, and Kalamazoo, and Emporia are names invented to get a laugh from a vaudeville audience. Yet it is the people from Winnebago and Emporia and the like whom you meet in Egypt, and the Catalina Islands, and at Honolulu, and St. Moritz. It is in the Winnebago living-room that you are likely to find a prayer rug got in Persia, a bit of gorgeous glaze from China, a scarf from some temple in India, and on it a book, hand-tooled and rare. The Winnebagoans seem to know what is being served and worn, from salad to veilings, surprisingly soon after New York has informed itself on those subjects. The 7:52 Northwestern morning train out of Winnebago was always pretty comfortably crowded with shoppers who were taking a five-hour run down to Chicago to get a hat and see the new musical show at the Illinois.
So Schabelitz's coming was an event, but not an unprecedented one. Except to Theodore. Theodore had a ticket for the concert (his mother had seen to that), and he talked of nothing else. He was going with his violin teacher, Emil Bauer. There were strange stories as to why Emil Bauer, with his gift of teaching, should choose to bury himself in this obscure little Wisconsin town. It was known that he had acquaintance with the great and famous of the musical world. The East End set fawned upon him, and his studio suppers were the exclusive social events in Winnebago.
Schabelitz was to play in the evening. At half past three that afternoon there entered Brandeis' Bazaar a white-faced, wide-eyed boy who was Theodore Brandeis; a plump, voluble, and excited person who was Emil Bauer; and a short, stocky man who looked rather like a foreign-born artisan—plumber or steam-fitter—in his Sunday clothes. This was Levine Schabelitz.
Molly Brandeis was selling a wash boiler to a fussy housewife who, in her anxiety to assure herself of the flawlessness of her purchase, had done everything but climb inside it. It had early been instilled in the minds of Mrs. Brandeis's children that she was never to be approached when busy with a customer. There were times when they rushed into the store bursting with news or plans, but they had learned to control their eagerness. This, though, was no ordinary news that had blanched Theodore's face. At sight of the three, Mrs. Brandeis quietly turned her boiler purchaser over to Pearl and came forward from the rear of the store.
"Oh, Mother!" cried Theodore, an hysterical note in his voice. "Oh, Mother!"
And in that moment Molly Brandeis knew. Emil Bauer introduced them, floridly. Molly Brandeis held out her hand, and her keen brown eyes looked straight and long into the gifted Russian's pale blue ones. According to all rules he should have started a dramatic speech, beginning with "Madame!" hand on heart. But Schabelitz the great had sprung from Schabelitz the peasant boy, and in the process he had managed, somehow, to retain the simplicity which was his charm. Still, there was something queer and foreign in the way he bent over Mrs. Brandeis's hand. We do not bow like that in Winnebago.