Fannie Hurst.

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beads slipping along the slender thread of his thoughts.

"Swell sight, ain't it, Gert, the harbor lights so bright and the sky so
deep?"

Silence.

"Seeing so much sky all at once reminds me, Gert. You know about that
midnight - blue satin Hertz had the brass to dump back on us because the
skirt was too tight. Huh?"

Her eyes were far and away.

"Huh, whatta you know about that, Gert?"

Her hands, gripped around the handle-bars, were full of nerves; she
could feel them jumping in her palm.

"Huh, Gert?"

"What you say, Phonzie?"

"All right, don't answer. Moon all you like, for my part." And he fell
to whistling as he strode beside her, his eyes on the light-spangled
outline of the city.

* * * * *

At twelve o'clock the lights in the lower hall of the up-town
apartment-house had been extinguished. All but one, which burned like
a tired eye beneath the ornate staircase. The misty quiet of midnight,
which is as heavy as a veil, hung in the corridors. Miss Gertie Dobriner
entered first and, holding wide the door between them, Alphonse
Michelson at the front wheels, they tilted the white carriage up the
narrow staircase, their whispers floating through the gloom.

"Easy there, Phonzie!"

"There!"

"Watch out!"

"Whew! that was a close shave!"

"Here, let me unlock the door. 'Sh-h-h!"

"Don't go, Gert. Come on in, and after the big show I'll send you home
in a cab."

"Nix! After a three-hour walk, a street-car will look good enough to
me."

"Well, then, come on in, just a minute, Gert. I want you to see the fun.
What you bet she's asleep in the front room, sore as thunder, too? We'll
sneak back and dump the kid in and wheel him in on her."

"Aw no! I - I got to go now, Phonzie."

"Come on, Gert, don't be a quitter. Don't you want to see her face when
she knows that Slews has been all a fluke? Come on, Gert, I'll wake up
the kid if I try to dump him in alone."

"Well, for just a minute. I - I don't want to butt in on your and - and
her fun."

They entered with the stealthy espionage of thieves, and in the narrow
hallway she waited while he tiptoed to the bedroom and back again, his
lips pursed outward in a "'Sh-h-h."

"She must be in the front room. The kid's in his crib. Come on, Gert.
'Sh-h-h!"

He was pink-faced and full of caution, raising each foot in exaggerated
stealth. Between them they manoeuvered the carriage down the hallway.

"'Sh-h-h. If she's awake, she can hear every word in the front room."

From her wakeful couch Madam Moores raised herself on her elbow, cupping
her ear in her palm, and straining her glance down the long hallway. The
tears had dried on her cheeks.

"Here, Gert, you dump in these things and let me lift the kid."

"No, no; let me! Go 'way, Phonzie. You'll wake him! I just want her to
be too surprised to open her mouth when she sees him sleeping in it like
a top."

She threw back the net drapery and leaned to the heart of the crib, and
the blood ran in a flash across her face.

"Little darling - little Phonzie darling!"

"Don't wake him, Gert."

She was reluctant to withdraw herself. "His little darling fists, so
pink and curled up! Little Phonzie darling!"

He hung over each process, proud and awkward.

"Little darling - little darling - here, Phonzie help."

They transferred the burden, the child not moving on his pillow. In the
shallow heart of the perambulator, the high froth of pillows about him,
he lay like a bud, his soft profile against the lace, and his skin like
the innermost petal of a rose.

"Phonzie, ain't he - ain't he the softest little darling! Gawd! how - how
she'll love to - to be wheeling him!"

His fingers fumbled with excitement and fell to strapping and buckling
with a great show and a great ineffectually.

"Here, help me let down the glass top."

"'Sh-h-h-h! Every word carries in this flat."

"Now!"

"Now!"

"You wheel him down and in on her, Gert."

She stiffened with a new diffidence. "No, no. It's your surprise."

"You done all the work on the job as much as me, and it's half your
present, anyways. You roll him down the hall and stand next to her till
she wakes up. She's a tight little sleeper, but if she don't wake soon
I'll drop a book or something. Go on, Gert, roll it in."

"No, no, Phonzie. You and her have your fun out alone. It's your fun,
anyways, not mine. This piece of rolling-stock will roll herself along
home now."

"Aw, now - "

"Anyways, I'm dead. Look what a rag I am! Look at the hem of this skirt!
The next time I do a crazy thing like walk from Brooklyn, I want to be
burned in oil."

"Now, Gert, stick around and I'll send you home in a cab."

But she was out and past him craning her neck backward through the
aperture of the open door. "Go to it, Phonzie! It's your fun, anyways.
Yours and hers. S'long!"

He had already begun his triumphant passage down the hallway, and on her
couch among her pillows Madam Moores closed her eyes in a simulation of
sleep and against the tears that scalded her lids.

In a south-bound car Gertie Dobriner found a seat well toward the front.
Across the aisle a day laborer on a night debauch threw her a watery
stare and a thick-tongued, thick-brogued remark. A char-woman with a
newspaper bundle hugged under one arm dozed in the seat alongside, her
head lolling from shoulder to shoulder. Raindrops had long since dried
on the window-pane. Gertie Dobriner cupped her chin in her palm and
gazed out at the quiet street and the shuttered shops hurtling past.

Twice the conductor touched her shoulder, his hand outstretched for
fare. She sprang about, fumbling in her purse for a coin, but with
difficulty, because through the hot blur of her tears she could only
grope ineffectually. When she finally found a five-cent piece, a tear
had wiggle-waggled down her cheek and fell, splotching the back of her
glove.

Across the aisle the day laborer leaned to her batting at the hen
pheasant's tail in her hat, and a cold, alcoholic tear dripping from the
corner of his own eye.

"Cheer up, my gir-rl," he said, through a beard like old moss - "cheer up
and be a spor-r-rt!"




HOCHENHEIMER OF CINCINNATI


When Mound City began to experience the growing-pains of a Million Club,
a Louisiana Exposition, and a block-long Public Library, she spread
Westward Ho! - like a giant stretching and flinging out his great legs.

When rooming-houses and shoe-factories began to shove and push into
richly curtained brown-stone-front Pine Street, reluctant papas, with
urgent wives and still more urgent daughters, sold at a loss and bought
white-stone fronts in restricted West End districts.

Subdivisions sprang up overnight. Two-story, two-doored flat-buildings,
whole ranks and files of them, with square patches of front porch cut in
two by dividing railings, marched westward and skirted the restricted
districts with the formality of an army flanking. Grand Avenue, once the
city's limit, now girded its middle like a loin-cloth. The middle-aged
inhabitant who could remember it when it was a corn-field now
beheld full-blasted breweries, cinematograph theaters, ten-story
office-buildings, old mansions converted into piano-salesrooms and
millinery emporiums, business colleges, and more full-blasted breweries
up and down its length.

At Cook Street, which runs into Grand Avenue like a small tributary, a
pall of smoke descended thick as a veil; and every morning, from off
her second-story window-sills, Mrs. Shongut swept tiny dancing balls
of soot; and one day Miss Rena Shongut's neat rim of tenderly tended
geraniums died of suffocation.

Shortly after, the Adolph Shongut Produce Company signed a heavy note
and bought out the Mound City Fancy Sausage and Poultry Company at a
low figure. The spring following, large "To Let" signs appeared in the
second-story windows of the modest house on Cook Street. And, hard
pressed by the approaching first payment of the note and the great iron
voice of the Middle West Shoe Company, which backed up against the
woodshed; goaded by the no-less-insistent voice of Mrs. Shongut, whose
soot balls increased, and by Rena, who developed large pores; shamed by
the scorn of a son who had the finger-nails and trousers creases of a
bank clerk - Adolph Shongut joined the great pantechnicon procession
Westward Ho! and moved to a flat out on Wasserman Avenue - a
six-room-and-bath, sleeping-porch, hot-and-cold-water,
built-in-plate-rack, steam-heat, hardwood-floor,
decorated-to-suit-tenant flat neatly mounted behind a conservative
incline of a front terrace, with a square patch of rear lawn that backed
imminently into the white-stone garages of Kingston Place.

Friedrichstrasse, Rue de la Paix, Fifth Avenue, Piccadilly, Princess
Street and Via Nazionale are the highways of the world. Trod in
literature, asterisked in guide-books, and pictured on postal cards,
their habits are celebrated. Who does not know that Fifth Avenue is the
most rococo boulevard in the world, and that it drinks its afternoon tea
from etched, thin-stemmed glasses? Who does not know that Rue de la Paix
runs through more novels than any other paved thoroughfare, and that
Piccadilly bobbies have wider chest expansion than the Swiss Guards?

Wasserman Avenue has no such renown; but it has its routine, like the
history-hoary Via Nazionale, which daily closes its souvenir-shops to
seek siesta from two until four, the hours when American tourists are
rattling in sight-seeing automobiles along the Appian Way.

At half past seven, six mornings in the week, a well-breakfasted
procession, morning papers protruding from sack-coat pockets and
toothpicks assiduous, hastens down the well-scrubbed front steps
of Wasserman Avenue and turns its face toward the sun and the
two-blocks-distant street-car. At half past seven, six days in the week,
the wives of Wasserman Avenue hold their wrappers close up about
their throats and poke uncoifed heads out of doors to Godspeed their
well-breakfasted spouses.

Wasserman Avenue flutters farewell handkerchiefs to its husbands until
they turn the corner at Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market.
At eventide Wasserman Avenue greets its husbands with kisses, frankly
delivered on its rows of front porches.

Do not smile. Gautier wrote about the consolation of the arts; but,
after all, he has little enough to say of that cold moment when art
leaves off and heart turns to heart.

Most of Wasserman Avenue had never read much of Gautier, but it knew the
greater truth of the consolation of the hearth. When Mrs. Shongut waved
farewell to her husband that greater truth lay mirrored in her eyes,
which followed him until Rindley's West End Meat and Vegetable Market
shunted him from view.

"Mamma, come in and close the screen door - you look a sight in that
wrapper."

Mrs. Shongut withdrew herself from the aperture and turned to the
sunshine-flooded, mahogany-and-green-velours sitting-room.

"You think that papa seems so well, Renie? At breakfast this morning he
looked so bad underneath his eyes."

Rena yawned in her rocking-chair and rustled the morning paper. The
horrific caprice of her pores had long since succumbed to the West End
balm of Wasserman Avenue. No rajah's seventh daughter of a seventh
daughter had cheeks more delicately golden - that fine tinge which is
like the glory of sunlight.

"Now begin, mamma, to find something to worry about! For two months he
hasn't had a heart spell."

Mrs. Shongut drew a thin-veined hand across her brow. Her narrow
shoulders, which were never held straight, dropped even lower, as though
from pressure.

"He don't say much, but I know he worries enough about that second
payment coming due in July and only a month and a half off. I tell you
I knew what I was talking about when I never wanted him to buy out
the Mound City. I was the one who said we was doing better in little
business."

"Now begin, mamma!"

"I told him he couldn't count on Izzy to stay down in the business with
him. I told him Izzy wouldn't spoil his white hands by helping his papa
in business."

"I suppose, mamma, you think Izzy should have stayed down with papa when
he could get that job with Uncle Isadore."

"You know why your Uncle Isadore took Izzy? Because to a strange
bookkeeper he has to pay more. Your Uncle Isadore is my own brother,
Renie, but I tell you he 'ain't never acted like it."

"That's what I say. What have we got rich relatives with a banking-house
for, if Izzy can't start there instead of in papa's little business?"

"Ya, ya! What your Uncle Isadore does for Izzy wait and see. For his own
sister he never done nothing, and for his own sister's son he don't do
nothing, neither. You seen for yourself, if it was not for Aunt Becky
begging him nearly on her knees, how he would have treated us that time
with the mortgage. Better, I say, Izzy should stay with his papa in
business or get out West like he wants, and where he can't keep such
fine white hands to gamble with."

Miss Shongut slanted deeper until her slim body was a direct hypotenuse
to the chair. "Honest, mamma, it's a shame the way you look for trouble,
and the way you and papa pick on that boy."

"Pick! When a boy gambles the roulette and the cards and the horses
until - "

"When a boy likes cards and horses and roulette it isn't so nice, I
know, mamma; but it don't need to mean he's a born gambler, does it?
Boys have got to sow their wild oats."

"Ya, ya! Wild oats! A boy that gambles away his last cent when he knows
just the least bit of excitement his father can't stand! Izzy knows how
it goes against his father when he plays. Ya, ya! I don't need to look
for trouble; I got it. Your papa, with his heart trouble, is enough by
itself."

"Well, we're all careful, ain't we, mamma? Did I even holler the other
night when I thought I heard a burglar in the dining-room?"

"Ya! How I worry about the things you should know." Mrs. Shongut flung
wide the windows and pinned back the lace curtains, so that the spring
air, cool as water, flowed in.

Her daughter sprang to her feet and drew her filmy wrapper closer about
her. "Mamma, the Solingers don't need to look right in on us from their
dining-room."

"Say, I 'ain't got no time to be stylish for the neighbors. On wash-day
I got my housework to do. Honest, Renie, do you think, instead of laying
round, it would hurt you to go back and make the beds awhile? Do you
think a girl like you ought to got to be told, on wash-day and with
Lizzie in the laundry, to help a little with the housework? Do you
think, Renie, it's nice? I ask you."

"It's early yet, mamma; the housework will keep."

"Early yet, she says! On Monday, with my girl in the laundry and you
with five shirtwaists in the wash, it's early, she says! Your mother
ain't too lazy to start now, lemme tell you. Get them Kingston Place
ideas out of your head, Renie. Remember we don't do nothing but look out
on their fine white garages; remember business ain't so grand with your
papa, neither."

"Now begin that, mamma! I know it all by heart."

"I ain't beginning nothing, Renie; but, believe me, it ain't so nice for
a girl to have to be told everything. How that little Jeannie Lissman,
next door, helps her mother already, it's a pleasure to see. I - "

"You've told me about her before, mamma."

Mrs. Shongut flung a sheet across the upright piano.

"Gimme the broom, mamma. I'll sweep."

"Sweep I never said you need to do. It's bad enough I got to spoil my
hands. Go back and wake Izzy up and make the beds."

"Aw, mamma, let him sleep. He don't have to be down until nine."

"Nine o'clock nowadays young men have got to work! Up to five years ago
every morning at dark your papa was down-town to see the poultry come
in, and now at eight o'clock my son can't be woke up to go to work.
Honest, I tell you times is changed!"

"Mamma, the way you pick on that boy!"

Mrs. Shongut folded both hands atop her broom in a solemn and hieratic
gesture; her face was full of lines, as though time had autographed it
many times over in a fine hand.

"Can you blame me? Can you blame me that I worry about that boy, with
his wild ways? That a boy like him should gamble away every cent of
his salary, except when he wins a little and buys us such nonsenses as
bracelets! That a boy who learnt bookkeeping in an expensive business
school, and knows that with his papa business ain't so good, shouldn't
offer to pay out of his salary a little board! I tell you, Renie, as he
goes now, it can't lead to no good; sometimes I would do almost anything
to get him out West. Not a cent does he offer to - "

"He only makes - "

"You know, Renie, how little I want his money; but that he shouldn't
offer to help out at home a little - that every cent on cards and clothes
he should spend! I ask you, is it any reason him and his papa got scenes
together until for the neighbors I'm ashamed, and for papa's heart so
afraid? That a fine boy like our Izzy should run so wild!"

Tears lay close to the surface of her voice, and she created a sudden
flurry of dust, sweeping with short, swift strokes.

"Izzy's not so worse! Give me a boy like Izzy any time, to a
mollycoddle. He's just throwing off steam now."

"Just take up with your wild brother against your old parents! Your
papa's a young man, with no heart trouble and lots of money; he can
afford to have a card-playing son what has to have second breakfast
alone every morning! Just you side with your brother!"

Miss Shongut side-stepped the furniture, which in the panicky confusion
of sweeping was huddled toward the center of the room, and through a
cloud of dust to the door.

"Every time I open my mouth in this family I put my foot in it. I should
worry about what isn't my business!"

"Well, one thing I can say, me and papa never need to reproach ourselves
that we 'ain't done the right thing by our children."

"Clean sheets, mamma?"

"Yes; and don't muss up the linen-shelfs."

Her daughter flitted down a narrow aisle of hallway; from the shoulders
her thin, flowing sleeves floated backward, filmy, white.

Mrs. Shongut flung open the screen door and swept a pile of webby dust
to the porch and then off on the patch of grass.

Thin spring sunshine lay warm along the neat terraces of Wasserman
Avenue. Windows were flung wide to the fresh kiss of spring; pillows,
comforters, and rugs draped across their sills. Across the street a
negro, with an old gunny-sack tied apron-fashion about his loins, turned
a garden hose on a stretch of asphalt and swept away the flood with his
broom. A woman, whose hair caught the sunlight like copper, avoided the
flood and tilted a perambulator on its two rear wheels down the wooden
steps of her veranda.

Across the dividing rail of the Shonguts' porch a child with a strap of
school-books flung over one shoulder ran down the soft terrace, and a
woman emerged after her to the topmost step of the veranda, holding her
checked apron up about her waist and shielding her eyes with one hand.

"Jeannie! Jean-nie!"

"Yes'm."

"Watch out for the street-car crossing, Jeannie."

"Yes'm."

"Jean-nie!"

"What?"

"Be sure!"

"Yeh."

"Good morning, Mrs. Shongut."

"Good morning, Mrs. Lissman. Looks like spring!"

"Ain't it so? I say to Mr. Lissman this morning, before he went
down-town, that he should bring home some grass seed to-night."

"Ya, ya! Before you know it now, we got hot summer after such a late
spring."

"I say to my Roscoe that after school to-day he should bring up the
rubber-plant out of the cellar."

"That's right; use 'em while they're young, Mrs. Lissman. When they grow
up it's different."

"Mrs. Shongut, you should talk! Only last night I says to my husband, I
says, when I seen Miss Renie pass by, 'Such a pretty girl!' I tell you,
Mrs. Shongut, such a pretty girl and such a fine-looking boy you can be
proud of."

"Ach, Mrs. Lissman, you think so?"

"There ain't one on the street any prettier than Miss Renie. 'I tell
you, if my Roscoe was ten years older she could have him,' I says to my
husband."

Mrs. Shongut leaned forward on her broom-handle. "If I say so myself,
Mrs. Lissman, I got good reasons to have pleasure out of my children.
I guess you heard, Mrs. Lissman, what a grand position my Izzy has got
with his uncle, of the Isadore Flexner Banking-house. Bookkeeping in a
banking-house, Mrs. Lissman, for a boy like Izzy!"

"I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, if you got rich relations it's a help."

"How grand my brother has done for himself, Mrs. Lissman! Such a house
he has built on Kingston Place! Such a home! You can see for yourself,
Mrs. Lissman, how his wife and daughters drive up sometimes in their
automobile."

"I'm surprised they don't come more often, Mrs. Shongut; your Renie and
them girls, I guess, are grand friends."

"Ya; and to be in that banking-house is a grand start for my boy. I
always say it can lead to almost anything. Only I tell him he shouldn't
let fine company make him wild."

"Ach, boys will be boys, Mrs. Shongut. Even now it ain't so easy for
me to get make my Roscoe to come in off his roller-skates at night. My
Jeannie I can make mind; but I tell her when she is old enough to have
beaus, then our troubles begin with her."

Mrs. Shongut's voice dropped into her throat in the guise of a whisper.
"Some time, Mrs. Lissman, when my Renie ain't home, I want you should
come over and I read you some of the letters that girl gets from young
men. So mad she always gets at me if she knows I talk about them."

"Mrs. Shongut, you'll laugh when I tell you; but already in the school
my Jeannie gets little notes what the little boys write to her. Mad it
makes me like anything; but what can you do when you got a pretty girl?"

"A young man in Peoria, Mrs. Lissman, such beautiful letters he writes
Renie, never in my life did I read. Such language, Mrs. Lissman; just
like out of a song-book! Not a time my Renie goes out that I don't go
right to her desk to read 'em - that's how beautiful he writes. In Green
Springs she met him."

"Ain't it a pleasure, Mrs. Shongut, to have grand letters like that?
Even with my little Jeannie, though it makes me so mad, still I - "

"But do you think my Renie will have any of them? 'Not,' she says, 'if
they was lined in gold.'"

"I guess she got plenty beaus. Say, I ain't so blind that I don't see
Sollie Spitz on your porch every - "

"Sollie Spitz! Ach, Mrs. Lissman, believe me, there's nothing to that!
My Renie since a little child likes reading and writing like he does.
I tell her papa we made a mistake not to keep her in school like she
wanted."

"My Jeannie - "

"She loves learning, that girl. Under her pillow yesterday I found a
book of verses about flowers. Where she gets such a mind, Mrs. Lissman,
I don't know. But Sollie Spitz! Say, we don't want no poets in the
family."

"I should say not! But I guess she gets all the good chances she wants."

"And more. A young man from Cincinnati - if I tell you his name, right
away you know him - twice her papa brought him out to supper after they
had business down-town together - only twice; and now every week he sends
her five pounds - "

"Just think!"

"And such roses, Mrs. Lissman! You seen for yourself when I sent you one
the other day. Right in his own hothouse he grows 'em, Mrs. Lissman."

"Just think!"

"If I tell you his name, Mrs. Lissman, right away you know his firm. In
Cincinnati they say he's got the finest house up on the hill - musical
chairs, that play when you sit on 'em. Twice every week he sends her - "

"Grand!"

"'I tell you,' I says to her papa, 'her cousins over in Kingston Place
got tickets to take the young men to theaters with and automobiles to
ride them round in; but, if I say so myself, not one of them has better
chances than my Renie, right here in our little flat.'"

Mrs. Lissman folded her arms in a shelf across her bosom and leaned her
ample uncorseted figure against the railing. "I give you right, Mrs.
Shongut. Look at Jeannette Bamberger, over on Kingston; every night when
me and Mr. Lissman used to walk past last summer, right on her grand
front porch that girl sat alone, like she was glued."

"I know."

"Then look at Birdie Schimm, across the street. Her mother a poor widow
who keeps a roomer, and look how her girl did for herself! Down at
Rindley's this morning nothing was fine enough for that Birdie to buy
for her table. I tell you, Mrs. Shongut, money ain't everything in this
world."

"I always tell Renie she can take her place with the best of them."

"Washing?"

"An hour already my Lizzie has been down in the laundry."


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