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a day and a night, and when he came fuming up every few minutes from the
hotel veranda, miserable and fretting, met him at the closed door of her
mother's darkened room and was adamant.

"It won't hurt if I tiptoe in and sit with her," he pleaded.

"No, Louis. No one knows how to get her through these spells like I do.
The least excitement will only prolong her pain."

He trotted off, then, down the hotel corridor, with a strut to his
resentment that was bantam and just a little fighty.

That night as Alma lay beside her mother, holding off sleep and
watching, Carrie rolled her eyes side-wise with the plea of a stricken
dog in them.

"Alma," she whispered, "for God's sake! Just this once. To tide me over.
One shot - darling. Alma, if you love me?"

Later there was a struggle between them that hardly bears relating. A
lamp was overturned. But toward morning, when Carrie lay exhausted, but
at rest in her daughter's arms, she kept muttering in her sleep:

"Thank you, baby. You saved me. Never leave me, Alma.
Never - never - never. You saved me, Alma."

And then the miracle of those next months. The return to New York. The
happily busy weeks of furnishing and the unlimited gratifications of the
well-filled purse. The selection of the limousine with the special body
that was fearfully and wonderfully made in mulberry upholstery with
mother-of-pearl caparisons. The fourteen-room apartment on West End
Avenue with four baths, drawing-room of pink-brocaded walls, and
Carrie's Roman bathroom that was precisely as large as her old hotel
sitting room, with two full-length wall mirrors, a dressing table
canopied in white lace over white satin, and the marble bath itself, two
steps down and with rubber curtains that swished after.

There were evenings when Carrie, who loved the tyranny of things with
what must have been a survival within her of the bazaar instinct, would
fall asleep almost directly after dinner, her head back against her
husband's shoulder, roundly tired out after a day all cluttered up with
matching the blue upholstery of their bedroom with taffeta bed hangings.
Shopping for a strip of pantry linoleum that was just the desired slate
color. Calculating with electricians over the plugs for floor lamps.
Herself edging pantry shelves in cotton lace.

Latz liked her so, with her fragrantly coiffured head, scarcely gray,
back against his shoulder, and with his newspapers, Wall Street journals
and the comic weeklies which he liked to read, would sit an entire
evening thus, moving only when his joints rebelled, his pipe smoke
carefully directed away from her face.

Weeks and weeks of this, and already Louis Latz's trousers were a little
out of crease, and Mrs. Latz, after eight o'clock and under cover of a
very fluffy and very expensive negligée, would unhook her stays.

Sometimes friends came in for a game of small-stake poker, but after the
second month they countermanded the standing order for Saturday night
musical-comedy seats. So often they discovered it was pleasanter to
remain at home. Indeed, during these days of household adjustment, as
many as four evenings a week Mrs. Latz dozed there against her husband's
shoulder, until about ten, when he kissed her awake to forage with him
in the great white porcelain refrigerator and then to bed.

And Alma. Almost she tiptoed through these months. Not that her
scorching awareness of what must have lain low in Louis' mind ever
diminished. Sometimes, although still never by word, she could see the
displeasure mount in his face.

If she entered in on a tête-à-tête, as she did once, when by chance she
had sniffed the curative smell of spirits of camphor on the air of a
room through which her mother had passed, and came to drag her off that
night to share her own lace-covered-and-ivory bed.

Again, upon the occasion of an impulsively planned motor trip and
week-end to Long Beach, her intrusion had been so obvious.

"Want to join us, Alma?"

"Oh - yes - thank you, Louis."

"But I thought you and Leo were - "

"No, no. I'd rather go with you and mamma, Louis."

Even her mother had smiled rather strainedly. Louis' invitation,
politely uttered, had said so plainly, "Are we two never to be alone,
your mother and I?"

Oh, there was no doubt that Louis Latz was in love and with all the
delayed fervor of first youth.

There was something rather throat-catching about his treatment of her
mother that made Alma want to cry.

He would never tire of marveling, not alone at the wonder of her, but at
the wonder that she was his.

"No man has ever been as lucky in women as I have, Carrie," he told her
once in Alma's hearing. "It seemed to me that after - my little mother
there couldn't ever be another - and now you!"

At the business of sewing some beads on a lamp shade Carrie looked up,
her eyes dewy.

"And I felt that way about one good husband," she said, "and now I see
there could be two."

Alma tiptoed out.

The third month of this she was allowing Leo Friedlander his two
evenings a week. Once to the theater in a modish little sedan car
which Leo drove himself. One evening at home in the rose-and-mauve
drawing-room. It delighted Louis and Carrie slyly to have in their
friends for poker over the dining-room table these evenings, leaving the
young people somewhat indirectly chaperoned until as late as midnight.
Louis' attitude with Leo was one of winks, quirks, slaps on the back,
and the curving voice of innuendo.

"Come on in, Leo; the water's fine!"

"Louis!" This from Alma, stung to crimson and not arch enough to feign
that she did not understand.

"Loo, don't tease," said Carrie, smiling, but then closing her eyes as
if to invoke help to want this thing to come to pass.

But Leo was frankly the lover, kept not without difficulty on the
edge of his ardor. A city youth with gymnasium-bred shoulders, fine,
pole-vaulter's length of limb, and a clean tan skin that bespoke cold
drubbings with Turkish towels.

And despite herself, Alma, who was not without a young girl's feelings
for nice detail, could thrill to this sartorial svelteness and to the
patent-leather lay of his black hair which caught the light like a
polished floor.

In the lingo of Louis Latz, he was "a rattling good business man,
too." He shared with his father partnership in a manufacturing
business - "Friedlander Clinical Supply Company" - which, since his advent
from high school into the already enormously rich firm, had almost
doubled its volume of business.

The kind of sweetness he found in Alma he could never articulate even to
himself. In some ways she seemed hardly to have the pressure of vitality
to match his, but, on the other hand, just that slower beat to her may
have heightened his sense of prowess.

His greatest delight seemed to lie in her pallid loveliness. "White
honeysuckle," he called her, and the names of all the beautiful white
flowers he knew. And then one night, to the rattle of poker chips from
the remote dining room, he jerked her to him without preamble, kissing
her mouth down tightly against her teeth.

"My sweetheart! My little white carnation sweetheart! I won't be held
off any longer. I'm going to carry you away for my little moonflower
wife."

She sprang back prettier than he had ever seen her in the dishevelment
from where his embrace had dragged at her hair.

"You mustn't," she cried, but there was enough of the conquering male in
him to read easily into this a mere plating over her desire.

"You can't hold me at arm's length any longer. You've maddened me for
months. I love you. You love me. You do. You do," and crushed her to
him, but this time his pain and his surprise genuine as she sprang back,
quivering.

"No, I tell you. No! No! No!" and sat down trembling.

"Why, Alma!" And he sat down, too, rather palely, at the remote end of
the divan.

"You - I - mustn't!" she said, frantic to keep her lips from twisting, her
little lacy fribble of a handkerchief a mere string from winding.

"Mustn't what?"

"Mustn't," was all she could repeat and not weep her words.

"Won't - I - do?"

"It's - mamma."

"What?"

"Her."

"Her what, my little white buttonhole carnation?"

"You see - I - She's all alone."

"You adorable, she's got a brand-new husky husband."

"No - you don't - understand."

Then, on a thunderclap of inspiration, hitting his knee:

"I have it. Mamma-baby! That's it. My girlie is a cry-baby, mamma-baby!"
And made to slide along the divan toward her, but up flew her two small
hands, like fans.

"No," she said, with the little bang back in her voice which steadied
him again. "I mustn't! You see, we're so close. Sometimes it's more as
if I were the mother and she my little girl."

"Alma, that's beautiful, but it's silly, too. But tell me first of all,
mamma-baby, that you do care. Tell me that first, dearest, and then we
can talk."

The kerchief was all screwed up now, so tightly that it could stiffly
unwind of itself.

"She's not well, Leo. That terrible neuralgia - that's why she needs me
so."

"Nonsense! She hasn't had a spell for weeks. That's Louis' great brag,
that he's curing her. Oh, Alma, Alma, that's not a reason; that's an
excuse!"

"Leo - you don't understand."

"I'm afraid I - don't," he said, looking at her with a sudden intensity
that startled her with a quick suspicion of his suspicions, but then he
smiled.

"Alma!" he said, "Alma!"

Misery made her dumb.

"Why, don't you know, dear, that your mother is better able to take care
of herself than you are? She's bigger and stronger. You - you're a little
white flower, that I want to wear on my heart."

"Leo - give me time. Let me think."

"A thousand thinks, Alma, but I love you. I love you and want so
terribly for you to love me back."

"I - do."

"Then tell me with kisses."

Again she pressed him to arm's length.

"Please, Leo! Not yet. Let me think. Just one day. To-morrow."

"No, no! Now!"

"To-morrow."

"When?"

"Evening."

"No, morning."

"All right, Leo - to-morrow morning - "

"I'll sit up all night and count every second in every minute and every
minute in every hour."

She put up her soft little fingers to his lips.

"Dear boy," she said.

And then they kissed, and after a little swoon to his nearness she
struggled like a caught bird and a guilty one.

"Please go, Leo," she said. "Leave me alone - "

"Little mamma-baby sweetheart," he said. "I'll build you a nest right
next to hers. Good night, little white flower. I'll be waiting, and
remember, counting every second of every minute and every minute of
every hour."

For a long time she remained where he had left her, forward on the pink
divan, her head with a listening look to it, as if waiting an answer for
the prayers that she sent up.

* * * * *

At two o'clock that morning, by what intuition she would never know, and
with such leverage that she landed out of bed plump on her two feet,
Alma, with all her faculties into trace like fire horses, sprang out of
sleep.

It was a matter of twenty steps across the hall. In the white-tiled
Roman bathroom, the muddy circles suddenly out and angry beneath
her eyes, her mother was standing before one of the full-length
mirrors - snickering.

There was a fresh little grave on the inside of her right forearm.

* * * * *

Sometimes in the weeks that followed a sense of the miracle of what was
happening would clutch at Alma's throat like a fear.

Louis did not know.

That the old neuralgic recurrences were more frequent again, yes.
Already plans for a summer trip abroad, on a curative mission bent,
were taking shape. There was a famous nerve specialist, the one who
had worked such wonders on his mother's cruelly rheumatic limbs,
reassuringly foremost in his mind.

But except that there were not infrequent and sometimes twenty-four-hour
sieges when he was denied the sight of his wife, he had learned, with a
male's acquiescence to the frailties of the other sex, to submit, and,
with no great understanding of pain, to condone.

And as if to atone for these more or less frequent lapses, there was
something pathetic, even a little heartbreaking, in Carrie's zeal for
his well-being. No duty too small. One night she wanted to unlace his
shoes and even shine them - would have, in fact, except for his fierce
catching of her into his arms and for some reason his tonsils aching as
he kissed her.

Once after a "spell" she took out every garment from his wardrobe and,
kissing them piece by piece, put them back again, and he found her so,
and they cried together, he of happiness.

In his utter beatitude, even his resentment of Alma continued to grow
but slowly. Once, when after forty-eight hours she forbade him rather
fiercely an entrance into his wife's room, he shoved her aside almost
rudely, but, at Carrie's little shriek of remonstrance from the
darkened room, backed out shamefacedly, and apologized next day in the
conciliatory language of a tiny wrist watch.

But a break came, as she knew and feared it must.

One evening during one of these attacks, when for two days Carrie had
not appeared at the dinner table, Alma, entering when the meal was
almost over, seated herself rather exhaustedly at her mother's place
opposite her stepfather.

He had reached the stage when that little unconscious usurpation in
itself could annoy him.

"How's your mother?" he asked, dourly for him.

"She's asleep."

"Funny. This is the third attack this month, and each time it lasts
longer. Confound that neuralgia!"

"She's easier now."

He pushed back his plate.

"Then I'll go in and sit with her while she sleeps."

She, who was so fastidiously dainty of manner, half rose, spilling her
soup.

"No," she said, "you mustn't! Not now!" And sat down again hurriedly,
wanting not to appear perturbed.

A curious thing happened then to Louis. His lower lip came pursing
out like a little shelf and a hitherto unsuspected look of pigginess
fattened over his rather plump face.

"You quit butting into me and my wife's affairs, you, or get the hell
out of here," he said, without raising his voice or his manner.

She placed her hand to the almost unbearable flutter of her heart.

"Louis! You mustn't talk like that to - me!"

"Don't make me say something I'll regret. You! Only take this tip, you!
There's one of two things you better do. Quit trying to come between me
and her or - get out."

"I - She's sick."

"Naw, she ain't. Not as sick as you make out. You're trying, God knows
why, to keep us apart. I've watched you. I know your sneaking kind.
Still water runs deep. You've never missed a chance since we're married
to keep us apart. Shame!"

"I - She - "

"Now mark my word, if it wasn't to spare her I'd have invited you out
long ago. Haven't you got any pride?"

"I have. I have," she almost moaned, and could have crumpled up there
and swooned her humiliation.

"You're not a regular girl. You're a she-devil. That's what you are!
Trying to come between your mother and me. Ain't you ashamed? What is it
you want?"

"Louis - I don't - "

"First you turn down a fine fellow like Leo Friedlander, so he don't
come to the house any more, and then you take out on us whatever is
eating you, by trying to come between me and the finest woman that ever
lived. Shame! Shame!"

"Louis!" she said, "Louis!" wringing her hands in a dry wash of agony,
"can't you understand? She'd rather have me. It makes her nervous trying
to pretend to you that she's not suffering when she is. That's
all, Louis. You see, she's not ashamed to suffer before me. Why,
Louis - that's all! Why should I want to come between you and her? Isn't
she dearer to me than anything in the world, and haven't you been the
best friend to me a girl could have? That's all - Louis."

He was placated and a little sorry and did not insist further upon going
into the room.

"Funny," he said. "Funny," and, adjusting his spectacles, snapped open
his newspaper for a lonely evening.

The one thing that perturbed Alma almost more than anything else, as the
dreaded cravings grew, with each siege her mother becoming more brutish
and more given to profanity, was where she obtained the soluble tablets.

The well-thumbed old doctor's prescription she had purloined even back
in the hotel days, and embargo and legislation were daily making more
and more furtive and prohibitive the traffic in drugs.

Once Alma, mistakenly, too, she thought later, had suspected a chauffeur
of collusion with her mother and abruptly dismissed him, to Louis' rage.

"What's the idea?" he said, out of Carrie's hearing, of course. "Who's
running this shebang, anyway?"

Again, after Alma had guarded her well for days, scarcely leaving her
side, Carrie laughed sardonically up into her daughter's face, her eyes
as glassy and without swimming fluid as a doll's.

"I get it! But wouldn't you like to know where? Yah!" And to Alma's
horror slapped her quite roundly across the cheek so that for an hour
the sting, the shape of the red print of fingers, lay on her face.

One night in what had become the horrible sanctity of that
bedchamber - But let this sum it up. When Alma was nineteen years old a
little colony of gray hairs was creeping in on each temple.

And then one day, after a long period of quiet, when Carrie had lavished
her really great wealth of contrite love upon her daughter and husband,
spending on Alma and loading her with gifts of jewelry and finery,
somehow to express her grateful adoration of her, paying her husband the
secret penance of twofold fidelity to his well-being and every whim,
Alma, returning from a trip taken reluctantly and at her mother's
bidding down to the basement trunk room, found her gone, a modish
black-lace hat and the sable coat missing from the closet.

It was early afternoon, sunlit and pleasantly cold.

The first rush of panic and the impulse to dash after stayed, she forced
herself down into a chair, striving with the utmost difficulty for
coherence of procedure.

Where in the half hour of her absence had her mother gone? Matinée?
Impossible! Walking? Hardly possible. Upon inquiry in the kitchen,
neither of the maids had seen nor heard her depart. Motoring? With a
hand that trembled in spite of itself Alma telephoned the garage. Car
and chauffeur were there. Incredible as it seemed, Alma, upon more than
one occasion, had lately been obliged to remind her mother that she
was becoming careless of the old pointedly rosy hands. Manicurist? She
telephoned the Bon Ton Beauty Parlors. No. Where? O God! Where? Which
way to begin? That was what troubled her most. To start right so as not
to lose a precious second.

Suddenly, and for no particular reason, Alma began a hurried search
through her mother's dresser drawers of lovely personal appointments.
Turning over whole mounds of fresh white gloves, delving into nests of
sheer handkerchiefs and stacks of webby lingerie. Then for a while she
stood quite helplessly, looking into the mirror, her hands closed about
her throat.

"Please, God, where?"

A one-inch square of newspaper clipping, apparently gouged from the
sheet with a hairpin, caught her eye from the top of one of the
gold-backed hairbrushes. Dawningly, Alma read.

It described in brief detail the innovation of a newly equipped
narcotic clinic on the Bowery below Canal Street, provided to medically
administer to the pathological cravings of addicts.

Fifteen minutes later Alma emerged from the Subway at Canal Street, and,
with three blocks toward her destination ahead, started to run.

At the end of the first block she saw her mother, in the sable coat and
the black-lace hat, coming toward her.

Her first impulse was to run faster and yoo-hoo, but she thought better
of it and, by biting her lips and digging her finger nails, was able to
slow down to a casual walk.

Carrie's fur coat was flaring open and, because of the quality of her
attire down there where the bilge waters of the city tide flow and eddy,
stares followed her.

Once, to the stoppage of Alma's heart, she saw Carrie halt and say a
brief word to a truckman as he crossed the sidewalk with a bill of
lading. He hesitated, laughed, and went on.

Then she quickened her pace and went on, but as if with a sense of being
followed, because constantly as she walked she jerked a step, to look
back, and then again, over her shoulder.

A second time she stopped, this time to address a little nub of a
woman without a hat and lugging one-sidedly a stack of men's basted
waistcoats, evidently for home work in some tenement. She looked and
muttered her un-understanding at whatever Carrie had to say, and
shambled on.

Then Mrs. Latz spied her daughter, greeting her without surprise or any
particular recognition.

"Thought you could fool me! Heh, Louis? I mean Alma."

"Mamma, it's Alma. It's all right. Don't you remember, we had this
appointment? Come, dear."

"No, you don't! That's a man following. Shh-h-h-h, Louis! I was fooling.
I went up to him in the clinic" (snicker) "and I said to him, 'Give you
five dollars for a doctor's certificate.' That's all I said to him,
or any of them. He's in a white carnation, Louis. You can find him by
the - it on his coat lapel. He's coming! Quick - "

"Mamma, there's no one following. Wait, I'll call a taxi!"

"No, you don't! He tried to put me in a taxi, too. No, you don't!"

"Then the Subway, dearest. You'll sit quietly beside Alma in the Subway,
won't you, Carrie? Alma's so tired."

Suddenly Carrie began to whimper.

"My baby! Don't let her see me. My baby! What am I good for? I've ruined
her life. My precious sweetheart's life. I hit her once - Louis - in the
mouth. It bled. God won't forgive me for that."

"Yes, He will, dear, if you come."

"It bled. Alma, tell him in the white carnation that mamma lost
her doctor's certificate. That's all I said to him. Saw him in the
clinic - new clinic - 'give you five dollars for a doctor's certificate.'
He had a white carnation - right lapel. Stingy. Quick! - following!"

"Sweetheart, please, there's no one coming."

"Don't tell! Oh, Alma darling - mamma's ruined your life! Her sweetheart
baby's life."

"No, darling, you haven't. She loves you if you'll come home with her,
dear, to bed, before Louis gets home and - "

"No. No. He mustn't see. Never this bad - was I, darling? Oh! Oh!"

"No, mamma - never - this bad. That's why we must hurry."

"Best man that ever lived. Best baby. Ruin. Ruin."

"Mamma, you - you're making Alma tremble so that she can scarcely walk if
you drag her so. There's no one following, dear. I won't let anyone harm
you. Please, sweetheart - a taxicab."

"No. I tell you he's following. He tried to put me into a taxicab.
Followed me. Said he knew me."

"Then, mamma, listen. Do you hear? Alma wants you to listen. If you
don't - she'll faint. People are looking. Now I want you to turn square
around and look. No, look again. You see now, there's no one following.
Now I want you to cross the street over there to the Subway. Just with
Alma who loves you. There's nobody following. Just with Alma who loves
you."

And then Carrie, whose lace hat was quite on the back of her head,
relaxed enough so that through the enormous maze of the traffic of
trucks and the heavier drags of the lower city, her daughter could wind
their way.

"My baby! My poor Louis!" she kept saying. "The worst I've ever been.
Oh - Alma - Louis - waiting - before we get there - Louis!"

It was in the tightest tangle of the crossing and apparently on this
conjuring of her husband that Carrie jerked suddenly free of Alma's
frailer hold.

"No - no - not home - now. Him. Alma!" And darted back against the breast
of the down side of the traffic.

There was scarcely more than the quick rotation of her arm around with
the spoke of a truck wheel, so quickly she went down.

It was almost a miracle, her kind of death, because out of all that jam
of tonnage she carried only one bruise, a faint one, near the brow.

And the wonder was that Louis Latz, in his grief, was so proud.

"To think," he kept saying over and over again and unabashed at the way
his face twisted - "to think they should have happened to me. Two such
women in one lifetime as my little mother - and her. Fat little old Louis
to have had those two. Why, just the memory of my Carrie - is almost
enough. To think old me should have a memory like that - it is almost
enough - isn't it, Alma?"

She kissed his hand.

That very same, that dreadful night, almost without her knowing it,
her throat-tearing sobs broke loose, her face to the waistcoat of Leo


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