Our Mr. Wrenn - The Romantic Adventures of a Gentle Man
by Sinclair Lewis
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

"Yes, that's so."

His hand stole secretly, craftily skirting a cushion, to touch hers—which she withdrew, laughing:

"Hump-a! You go hold your artist's hand!"

"Oh, Miss Nelly! When I told you about her myself!"

"Oh yes, of course."

She was contrite, and they played Five Hundred animatedly all evening.



The hero of the one-act play at Hammerstein's Victoria vaudeville theater on that December evening was, it appeared, a wealthy young mine-owner in disguise. He was working for the "fake mine promoter" because he loved the promoter's daughter with a love that passed all understanding except that of the girls in the gallery. When the postal authorities were about to arrest the promoter our young hero saved him by giving him a real mine, and the ensuing kiss of the daughter ended the suspense in which Mr. Wrenn and Nelly, Mrs. Arty and Tom had watched the play from the sixth row of the balcony.

Sighing happily, Nelly cried to the group: "Wasn't that grand? I got so excited! Wasn't that young miner a dear?"

"Awfully nice," said Mr. Wrenn. "And, gee! wasn't that great, that office scene—with that safe and the rest of the stuff—just like you was in a real office. But, say, they wouldn't have a copying-press in an office like that; those fake mine promoters send out such swell letters; they'd use carbon copies and not muss the letters all up."

"By gosh, that's right!" and Tom nodded his chin toward his right shoulder in approval. Nelly cried, "That's so; they would"; while Mrs. Arty, not knowing what a copying-press was, appeared highly commendatory, and said nothing at all.

During the moving pictures that followed, Mr. Wrenn felt proudly that he was taken seriously, though he had known them but little over a month. He followed up his conversational advantage by leading the chorus in wondering, "which one of them two actors the heroine was married to?" and "how much a week they get for acting in that thing?" It was Tom who invited them to Miggleton's for coffee and fried oysters. Mr. Wrenn was silent for a while. But as they were stamping through the rivulets of wheel-tracks that crisscrossed on a slushy street-crossing Mr. Wrenn regained his advantage by crying, "Say, don't you think that play 'd have been better if the promoter 'd had an awful grouch on the young miner and 'd had to crawfish when the miner saved him?"

"Why, yes; it would!" Nelly glowed at him.

"Wouldn't wonder if it would," agreed Tom, kicking the December slush off his feet and patting Mr. Wrenn's back.

"Well, look here," said Mr. Wrenn, as they left Broadway, with its crowds betokening the approach of Christmas, and stamped to the quieter side of Forty-second, "why wouldn't this make a slick play: say there's an awfully rich old guy; say he's a railway president or something, d' you see? Well, he's got a secretary there in the office—on the stage, see? The scene is his office. Well, this guy's—the rich old guy's—daughter comes in and says she's married to a poor man and she won't tell his name, but she wants some money from her dad. You see, her dad's been planning for her to marry a marquise or some kind of a lord, and he's sore as can be, and he won't listen to her, and he just cusses her out something fierce, see? Course he doesn't really cuss, but he's awful sore; and she tells him didn't he marry her mother when he was a poor young man; but he won't listen. Then the secretary butts in—my idea is he's been kind of keeping in the background, see—and he's the daughter's husband all the while, see? and he tells the old codger how he's got some of his—some of the old fellow's—papers that give it away how he done something that was crooked—some kind of deal—rebates and stuff, see how I mean?—and the secretary's going to spring this stuff on the newspapers if the old man don't come through and forgive them; so of course the president has to forgive them, see?"

"You mean the secretary was the daughter's husband all along, and he heard what the president said right there?" Nelly panted, stopping outside Miggleton's, in the light from the oyster-filled window.

"Yes; and he heard it all."

"Why, I think that's just a fine idea," declared Nelly, as they entered the restaurant. Though her little manner of dignity and even restraint was evident as ever, she seemed keenly joyous over his genius.

"Say, that's a corking idea for a play, Wrenn," exclaimed Tom, at their table, gallantly removing the ladies' wraps.

"It surely is," agreed Mrs. Arty.

"Why don't you write it?" asked Nelly.

"Aw—I couldn't write it!"

"Why, sure you could, Bill," insisted Tom. "Straight; you ought to write it. (Hey, waiter! Four fries and coffee!) You ought to write it. Why, it's a wonder; it 'd make a dev— 'Scuse me, ladies. It'd make a howling hit. You might make a lot of money out of it."

The renewed warmth of their wet feet on the red-tile floor, the scent of fried oysters, the din of "Any Little Girl" on the piano, these added color to this moment of Mr. Wrenn's great resolve. The four stared at one another excitedly. Mr. Wrenn's eyelids fluttered. Tom brought his hand down on the table with a soft flat "plob" and declared: "Say, there might be a lot of money in it. Why, I've heard that Harry Smith—writes the words for these musical comedies—makes a mint of money."

"Mr. Poppins ought to help you in it—he's seen such a lot of plays," Mrs. Arty anxiously advised.

"That's a good idea," said Mr. Wrenn. It had, apparently, been ordained that he was to write it. They were now settling important details. So when Nelly cried, "I think it's just a fine idea; I knew you had lots of imagination," Tom interrupted her with:

"No; you write it, Bill. I'll help you all I can, of course.... Tell you what you ought to do: get hold of Teddem—he's had a lot of stage experience; he'd help you about seeing the managers. That 'd be the hard part—you can write it, all right, but you'd have to get next to the guys on the inside, and Teddem—Say, you certainly ought to write this thing, Bill. Might make a lot of money."

"Oh, a lot!" breathed Nelly.

"Heard about a fellow," continued Tom—" fellow named Gene Wolf, I think it was—that was so broke he was sleeping in Bryant Park, and he made a hundred thousand dollars on his first play—or, no; tell you how it was: he sold it outright for ten thousand—something like that, anyway. I got that right from a fellow that's met him."

"Still, an author's got to go to college and stuff like that." Mr. Wrenn spoke as though he would be pleased to have the objection overruled at once, which it was with a universal:

"Oh, rats!"

Crunching oysters in a brown jacket of flour, whose every lump was a crisp delight, hearing his genius lauded and himself called Bill thrice in a quarter-hour, Mr. Wrenn was beatified. He asked the waiter for some paper, and while the four hotly discussed things which "it would be slick to have the president's daughter do" he drew up a list of characters on a sheet of paper he still keeps. It is headed, "Miggleton's Forty-second Street Branch." At the bottom appear numerous scribblings of the name Nelly.

{the full page is covered with doodling as well}

"I think I'll call the heroine 'Nelly,'" he mused.

Nelly Croubel blushed. Mrs. Arty and Tom glanced at each other. Mr. Wrenn realized that he had, even at this moment of social triumph, "made a break."

He said, hastily; "I always liked that name. I—I had an aunt named that!"

"Oh—" started Nelly.

"She was fine to me when I was a kid, "Mr. Wrenn added, trying to remember whether it was right to lie when in such need.

"Oh, it's a horrid name," declared Nelly. "Why don't you call her something nice, like Hazel—or—oh—Dolores."

"Nope; Nelly's an elegant name—an elegant name."

He walked with Nelly behind the others, along Forty-second Street. To the outsider's eye he was a small respectable clerk, slightly stooped, with a polite mustache and the dignity that comes from knowing well a narrow world; wearing an overcoat too light for winter; too busily edging out of the way of people and guiding the nice girl beside him into clear spaces by diffidently touching her elbow, too pettily busy to cast a glance out of the crowd and spy the passing poet or king, or the iron night sky. He was as undistinguishable a bit of the evening street life as any of the file of street-cars slashing through the wet snow. Yet, he was the chivalrous squire to the greatest lady of all his realm; he was a society author, and a man of great prospective wealth and power over mankind!

"Say, we'll have the grandest dinner you ever saw if I get away with the play," he was saying. "Will you come, Miss Nelly?"

"Indeed I will! Oh, you sha'n't leave me out! Wasn't I there when—"

"Indeed you were! Oh, we'll have a reg'lar feast at the Astor—artichokes and truffles and all sorts of stuff.... Would—would you like it if I sold the play?"

"Course I would, silly!"

"I'd buy the business and make Rabin manager—the Souvenir Company.

So he came to relate all those intimacies of The Job; and he was overwhelmed at the ease with which she "got onto old Goglefogle."

His preparations for writing the play were elaborate.

He paced Tom's room till twelve-thirty, consulting as to whether he had to plan the stage-setting; smoking cigarettes in attitudes on chair arms. Next morning in the office he made numerous plans of the setting on waste half-sheets of paper. At noon he was telephoning at Tom regarding the question of whether there ought to be one desk or two on the stage.

He skipped the evening meal at Mrs. Arty's, dining with literary pensiveness at the Armenian, for he had subtle problems to meditate. He bought a dollar fountain-pen, which had large gold-like bands and a rather scratchy pen-point, and a box of fairly large sheets of paper. Pressing his literary impedimenta tenderly under his arm, he attended four moving-picture and vaudeville theaters. By eleven he had seen three more one-act plays and a dramatic playlet.

He slipped by the parlor door at Mrs. Arty's.

His room was quiet. The lamplight on the delicately green walls was like that of a regular author's den, he was quite sure. He happily tested the fountain-pen by writing the names Nelly and William Wrenn on a bit of wrapping-paper (which he guiltily burned in an ash-tray); washed his face with water which he let run for a minute to cool; sat down before his table with a grunt of content; went back and washed his hands; fiercely threw off the bourgeois encumbrances of coat and collar; sat down again; got up to straighten a picture; picked up his pen; laid it down, and glowed as he thought of Nelly, slumbering there, near at hand, her exquisite cheek nestling silkenly against her arm, perhaps, and her white dreams—

Suddenly he roared at himself, "Get on the job there, will yuh?" He picked up the pen and wrote:





John Warrington, a railway president; quite rich. Nelty Warrington, Mr. Warrington's daughter. Reginald Thorne, his secretary.

He was jubilant. His pen whined at top speed, scattering a shower of tiny drops of ink.

Stage Scene: An office. Very expensive. Mr. Warrington and Mr. Thorne are sitting there. Miss Warrington comes in. She says:

He stopped. He thought. He held his head. He went over to the stationary bowl and soaked his hair with water. He lay on the bed and kicked his heels, slowly and gravely smoothing his mustache. Fifty minutes later he gave a portentous groan and went to bed.

He hadn't been able to think of what Miss Warrington says beyond "I have come to tell you that I am married, papa," and that didn't sound just right; not for a first line it didn't, anyway.

At dinner next night—Saturday—Tom was rather inclined to make references to "our author," and to remark: "Well, I know where somebody was last night, but of course I won't tell. Say, them authors are a wild lot."

Mr. Wrenn, who had permitted the teasing of even Tim, the hatter, "wasn't going to stand for no kidding from nobody—not when Nelly was there," and he called for a glass of water with the air of a Harvard assistant professor forced to eat in a lunch-wagon and slapped on the back by the cook.

Nelly soothed him. "The play is going well, isn't it?"

When he had, with a detached grandeur of which he was immediately ashamed, vouchsafed that he was already "getting right down to brass tacks on it," that he had already investigated four more plays and begun the actual writing, every one looked awed and asked him assorted questions.

At nine-thirty that evening he combed and tightly brushed his hair, which he had been pawing angrily for an hour and a half, went down the hall to Nelly's hall bedroom, and knocked with: "It's Mr. Wrenn. May I ask you something about the play?"

"Just a moment," he heard her say.

He waited, panting softly, his lips apart. This was to be the first time he had ever seen Nelly's room. She opened the door part way, smiling shyly, timidly, holding her pale-blue dressing-gown close. The pale blueness was a modestly brilliant spot against the whiteness of the room—white bureau, hung with dance programs and a yellow Upton's Grove High School banner, white tiny rocker, pale-yellow matting, white-and-silver wall-paper, and a glimpse of a white soft bed.

He was dizzy with the exaltation of that purity, but he got himself to say:

"I'm kind of stuck on the first part of the play, Miss Nelly. Please tell me how you think the heroine would speak to her dad. Would she call him 'papa' or 'sir,' do you think?"

"Why—let me see—"

"They're such awful high society—"

"Yes, that's so. Why, I should think she'd say 'sir.' Maybe oh, what was it I heard in a play at the Academy of Music? 'Father, I have come back to you!'"

"Sa-a-ay, that's a fine line! That'll get the crowd going right from the first.... I told you you'd help me a lot."

"I'm awfully glad if I have helped you," she said, earnestly. Good night—and good, "awfully glad, but luck with the play. Good night."

"Good night. Thank you a lot, Miss Nelly. Church in the morning, remember! Good night."

"Good night."

As it is well known that all playwrights labor with toy theaters before them for working models, Mr. Wrenn ran to earth a fine unbroken pasteboard box in which a ninety-eight-cent alarm-clock had recently arrived. He went out for some glue and three small corks. Setting up his box stage, he glued a pill-box and a match-box on the floor—the side of the box it had always been till now—and there he had the mahogany desks. He thrust three matches into the corks, and behold three graceful actors—graceful for corks, at least. There was fascination in having them enter, through holes punched in the back of the box, frisk up to their desks and deliver magic emotional speeches that would cause any audience to weep; speeches regarding which he knew everything but the words; a detail of which he was still quite ignorant after half an hour of playing with his marionettes.

Before he went despairingly to bed that Saturday night he had added to his manuscript:

Mr. Thorne says: Here are the papers, sir. As a great railway president you should—

The rest of that was to be filled in later. How the dickens could he let the public know how truly great his president was?

(Daughter, Miss Nelly, comes in.)

Miss Nelly: Father, I have come back to you, sir.

Mr. Warrington: My Daughter!

Nelly: Father, I have something to tell you; something—

Breakfast at Mrs. Arty's was always an inspiration. In contrast to the lonely dingy meal at the Hustler Dairy Lunch of his Zapp days, he sat next to a trimly shirtwaisted Nelly, fresh and enthusiastic after nine hours' sleep. So much for ordinary days. But Sunday morning—that was paradise! The oil-stove glowed and purred like a large tin pussy cat; it toasted their legs into dreamy comfort, while they methodically stuffed themselves with toast and waffles and coffee. Nelly and he always felt gently superior to Tom Poppins, who would be a-sleeping late, as they talked of the joy of not having to go to the office, of approaching Christmas, and of the superiority of Upton's Grove and Parthenon.

This morning was to be Mr. Wrenn's first attendance at church with Nelly. The previous time they had planned to go, Mr. Wrenn had spent Sunday morning in unreligious fervor at the Chelsea Dental Parlors with a young man in a white jacket instead of at church with Nelly.

This was also the first time that he had attended a church service in nine years, except for mass at St. Patrick's, which he regarded not as church, but as beauty. He felt tremendously reformed, set upon new paths of virtue and achievement. He thought slightingly of those lonely bachelors, Morton and Mittyford, Ph. D. They just didn't know what it meant to a fellow to be going to church with a girl like Miss Nelly, he reflected, as he re brushed his hair after breakfast.

He walked proudly beside her, and made much of the gentility of entering the church, as one of the well-to-do and intensely bathed congregation. He even bowed to an almost painfully washed and brushed young usher with gold-rimmed eye-glasses. He thought scornfully of his salad days, when he had bowed to the Brass-button Man at the Nickelorion.

The church interior was as comfortable as Sunday-morning toast and marmalade—half a block of red carpet in the aisles; shiny solid-oak pews, gorgeous stained-glass windows, and a general polite creaking of ladies' best stays and gentlemen's stiff shirt-bosoms, and an odor of the best cologne and moth-balls.

It lacked but six days till Christmas. Mr. Wrenn's heart was a little garden, and his eyes were moist, and he peeped tenderly at Nelly as he saw the holly and ivy and the frosted Christmas mottoes, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men," and the rest, that brightened the spaces between windows.

Christmas—happy homes—laughter.... Since, as a boy, he had attended the Christmas festivities of the Old Church Sunday-school at Parthenon, and got highly colored candy in a net bag, his holidays had been celebrated by buying himself plum pudding at lonely Christmas dinners at large cheap restaurants, where there was no one to wish him "Merry Christmas" except his waiter, whom he would quite probably never see again, nor ever wish to see.

But this Christmas—he surprised himself and Nelly suddenly by hotly thrusting out his hand and touching her sleeve with the searching finger-tips of a child comforted from night fears.

During the sermon he had an idea. What was it Nelly had told him about "Peter Pan"? Oh yes; somebody in it had said "Do you believe in fairies?" Say, why wouldn't it be great to have the millionaire's daughter say to her father, "Do you believe in love?"

"Gee, I believe in love!" he yearned to himself, as he felt Nelly's arm unconsciously touch his.

Tom Poppins had Horatio Hood Teddem in that afternoon for a hot toddy. Horatio looked very boyish, very confiding, and borrowed five dollars from Mr. Wrenn almost painlessly, so absorbed was Mr. Wrenn in learning from Horatio how to sell a play. To know the address of the firm of Wendelbaum & Schirtz, play-brokers, located in a Broadway theater building, seemed next door to knowing a Broadway manager.

When Horatio had gone Tom presented an idea which he had ponderously conceived during his Sunday noon-hour at the cigar-store.

"Why not have three of us—say me and you and Mrs. Arty—talk the play, just like we was acting it?"

He enthusiastically forced the plan on Mr. Wrenn. He pounded down-stairs and brought up Mrs. Arty. He dashed about the room, shouting directions. He dragged out his bureau for the railroad-president's desk, and a table for the secretary, and, after some consideration and much rubbing of his chin, with two slams and a bang he converted his hard green Morris-chair into an office safe.

The play was on. Mr. T. Poppins, in the role of the president, entered, with a stern high expression on his face, threw a "Good morning, Thorne," at Wrenn, his secretary, and peeled off his gloves. (Mr. Wrenn noted the gloves; they were a Touch.)

Mr. Wrenn approached diffidently, his face expressionless, lest Mrs. Arty laugh at him. "Here—

"Say, what do you think would be a good way for the secretary to tell the crowd that the other guy is the president? Say, how about this: 'The vice-president of the railway would like to have you sign these, sir, as president'?"

"That's fine!" exclaimed Mrs. Arty, whose satin dress was carefully spread over her swelling knees, as she sat in the oak rocker, like a cheerful bronze monument to Sunday propriety. "But don't you think he'd say, 'when it's convenient to you, sir'?"

"Gee, that's dandy!"

The play was on.

It ended at seven. Mr. Wrenn took but fifteen minutes for Sunday supper, and wrote till one of the morning, finishing the first draft of his manuscript.

Revision was delightful, for it demanded many conferences with Nelly, sitting at the parlor table, with shoulders confidentially touching. They were the more intimate because Tom had invited Mr. Wrenn, Nelly, and Mrs. Arty to the Grand Christmas Eve Ball of the Cigar-Makers' Union at Melpomene Hall. Nelly asked of Mr. Wrenn, almost as urgently as of Mrs. Arty, whether she should wear her new white mull or her older rose-colored China silk.

Two days before Christmas he timidly turned over the play for typing to a haughty public stenographer who looked like Lee Theresa Zapp. She yawned at him when he begged her to be careful of the manuscript. The gloriously pink-bound and red-underlined typed manuscript of the play was mailed to Messrs. Wendelbaum & Schirtz, play-brokers, at 6.15 P.M., Christmas Eve.

The four walked down Sixth Avenue to the Cigar-Makers' Ball. They made an Indian file through the Christmas shopping crowds, and stopped frequently and noisily before the street-booths' glamour of tinsel and teddy-bears. They shrieked all with one rotund mad laughter as Tom Poppins capered over and bought for seven cents a pink bisque doll, which he pinned to the lapel of his plaid overcoat. They drank hot chocolate at the Olympic Confectionery Store, pretending to each other that they were shivering with cold.

It was here that Nelly reached up and patted Mr. Wrenn's pale-blue tie into better lines. In her hair was the scent which he had come to identify as hers. Her white furs brushed against his overcoat.

The cigar-makers, with seven of them in full evening-dress and two in dinner-coats, were already dancing on the waxy floor of Melpomene Hall when they arrived. A full orchestra was pounding and scraping itself into an hysteria of merriment on the platform under the red stucco-fronted balcony, and at the bar behind the balcony there was a spirit of beer and revelry by night.

Mr. Wrenn embarrassedly passed large groups of pretty girls. He felt very light and insecure in his new gun-metal-finish pumps now that he had taken off his rubbers and essayed the slippery floor. He tried desperately not to use his handkerchief too conspicuously, though he had a cold.

It was not till the choosing of partners for the next dance, when Tom Poppins stood up beside Nelly, their arms swaying a little, their feet tapping, that Mr. Wrenn quite got the fact that he could not dance.

He had casually said to the others, a week before, that he knew only the square dances which, as a boy, he had learned at parties at Parthenon. But they had reassured him: "Oh, come on—we'll teach you how to dance at the ball—it won't be formal. Besides, we'll give you some lessons before we go." Playwriting and playing Five Hundred had prevented their giving him the lessons. So he now sat terrified as a two-step began and he saw what seemed to be thousands of glittering youths and maidens whirling deftly in a most involved course, getting themselves past each other in a way which he was sure he could never imitate. The orchestra yearned over music as rich and smooth as milk chocolate, which made him intensely lonely for Nelly, though she was only across the room from him.

Tom Poppins immediately introduced Nelly to a facetious cigar salesman, who introduced her to three of the beaux in evening clothes, while Tom led out Mrs. Arty. Mr. Wrenn, sitting in a row of persons who were not at all interested in his sorrows, glowered out across the hall, and wished, oh! so bitterly, to flee home. Nelly came up, glowing, laughing, with black-mustached and pearl-waistcoated men, and introduced him to them, but he glanced at them disapprovingly; and always she was carried off to dance again.

She found and hopefully introduced to Mr. Wrenn a wallflower who came from Yonkers and had never heard of Tom Poppins or aeroplanes or Oxford or any other topic upon which Mr. Wrenn uneasily tried to discourse as he watched Nelly waltz and smile up at her partners. Presently the two sat silent. The wallflower excused herself and went back to her mama from Yonkers.

Mr. Wrenn sat sulking, hating his friends for having brought him, hating the sweetness of Nelly Croubel, and saying to himself, "Oh—sure—she dances with all those other men—me, I'm only the poor fool that talks to her when she's tired and tries to cheer her up."

He did not answer when Tom came and told him a new story he had just heard in the barroom.

Once Nelly landed beside him and bubblingly insisted on his coming out and trying to learn to dance. He brightened, but shyly remarked, "Oh no, I don't think I'd better." Just then the blackest-mustached and pearl-waistcoatedest of all the cigar salesmen came begging for a dance, and she was gone, with only: "Now get up your courage. I'm going to make you dance."

At the intermission he watched her cross the floor with the hateful cigar salesman, slender in her tight crisp new white mull, flourishing her fan and talking with happy rapidity. She sat down beside him. He said nothing; he still stared out across the glassy floor. She peeped at him curiously several times, and made a low tapping with her fan on the side of her chair.

She sighed a little. Cautiously, but very casually, she said, "Aren't you going to take me out for some refreshments, Mr. Wrenn?"

"Oh sure—I'm good enough to buy refreshments for her!" he said to himself.

Poor Mr. Wrenn; he had not gone to enough parties in Parthenon, and he hadn't gone to any in New York. At nearly forty he was just learning the drab sulkiness and churlishness and black jealousy of the lover.... To her: "Why didn't you go out with that guy with the black mustache?" He still stared straight ahead.

She was big-eyed, a tear showing. "Why, Billy—" was all she answered.

He clenched his hands to keep from bursting out with all the pitiful tears which were surging in his eyes. But he said nothing.

"Billy, what—"

He turned shyly around to her; his hand touched hers softly.

"Oh, I'm a beast," he said, rapidly, low, his undertone trembling to her ears through the laughter of a group next to them. "I didn't mean that, but I was—I felt like such a mutt—not being able to dance. Oh, Nelly, I'm awfully sorry. You know I didn't mean—Come on! Let's go get something to eat!"

As they consumed ice-cream, fudge, doughnuts, and chicken sandwiches at the refreshment counter they were very intimate, resenting the presence of others. Tom and Mrs. Arty joined them. Tom made Nelly light her first cigarette. Mr. Wrenn admired the shy way in which, taking the tiniest of puffs, she kept drawing out her cigarette with little pouts and nose wriggles and pretended sneezes, but he felt a lofty gladness when she threw it away after a minute, declaring that she'd never smoke again, and that she was going to make all three of her companions stop smoking, "now that she knew how horrid and sneezy it was, so there!"

With what he intended to be deep subtlety Mr. Wrenn drew her away to the barroom, and these two children, over two glasses of ginger-ale, looked their innocent and rustic love so plainly that Mrs. Arty and Tom sneaked away. Nelly cut out a dance, which she had promised to a cigar-maker, and started homeward with Mr. Wrenn.

"Let's not take a car—I want some fresh air after that smoky place," she said. "But it was grand.... Let's walk up Fifth Avenue."

"Fine.... Tired, Nelly?"

"A little."

He thought her voice somewhat chilly.

"Nelly—I'm so sorry—I didn't really have the chance to tell you in there how sorry I was for the way I spoke to you. Gee! it was fierce of me—but I felt—I couldn't dance, and—oh—"

No answer.

"And you did mind it, didn't you?"

"Why, I didn't think you were so very nice about it—when I'd tried so hard to have you have a good time—"

"Oh, Nelly, I'm so sorry—"

There was tragedy in his voice. His shoulders, which he always tried to keep as straight as though they were in a vise when he walked with her, were drooping.

She touched his glove. "Oh don't, Billy; it's all right now. I understand. Let's forget—"

"Oh, you're too good to me!"


As they crossed Twenty-third on Fifth Avenue she took his arm. He squeezed her hand. Suddenly the world was all young and beautiful and wonderful. It was the first time in his life that he had ever walked thus, with the arm of a girl for whom he cared cuddled in his. He glanced down at her cheap white furs. Snowflakes, tremulous on the fur, were turned into diamond dust in the light from a street-lamp which showed as well a tiny place where her collar had been torn and mended ever so carefully. Then, in a millionth of a second, he who had been a wanderer in the lonely gray regions of a detached man's heart knew the pity of love, all its emotion, and the infinite care for the beloved that makes a man of a rusty sales-clerk. He lifted a face of adoration to the misty wonder of the bare trees, whose tracery of twigs filled Madison Square; to the Metropolitan Tower, with its vast upward stretch toward the ruddy sky of the city's winter night. All these mysteries he knew and sang. What he said was:

"Gee, those trees look like a reg'lar picture!... The Tower just kind of fades away. Don't it?"

"Yes, it is pretty," she said, doubtfully, but with a pressure of his arm.

Then they talked like a summer-time brook, planning that he was to buy a Christmas bough of evergreen, which she would smuggle to breakfast in the morning. Through their chatter persisted the new intimacy which had been born in the pain of their misunderstanding.

On January 10th the manuscript of "The Millionaire's Daughter" was returned by play-brokers Wendelbaum & Schirtz with this letter:

DEAR SIR,—We regret to say that we do not find play available. We inclose our reader's report on the same. Also inclose bill for ten dollars for reading-fee, which kindly remit at early convenience.

He stood in the hall at Mrs. Arty's just before dinner. He reread the letter and slowly opened the reader's report, which announced:

"Millionaire's Daughter." One-act vlle. Utterly impos. Amateurish to the limit. Dialogue sounds like burlesque of Laura Jean Libbey. Can it.

Nelly was coming down-stairs. He handed her the letter and report, then tried to stick out his jaw. She read them. Her hand slipped into his. He went quickly toward the basement and made himself read the letter—though not the report—to the tableful. He burned the manuscript of his play before going to bed. The next morning he waded into The Job as he never had before. He was gloomily certain that he would never get away from The Job. But he thought of Nelly a hundred times a day and hoped that sometime, some spring night of a burning moon, he might dare the great adventure and kiss her. Istra— Theoretically, he remembered her as a great experience. But what nebulous bodies these theories are!

That slow but absolutely accurate Five-Hundred player, Mr. William Wrenn, known as Billy, glanced triumphantly at Miss Proudfoot, who was his partner against Mrs. Arty and James T. Duncan, the traveling-man, on that night of late February. His was the last bid in the crucial hand of the rubber game. The others waited respectfully. Confidently, he bid "Nine on no trump."

"Good Lord, Billl" exclaimed James T. Duncan.

"I'll make it."

And he did. He arose a victor. There was no uneasiness, but rather all the social polish of Mrs. Arty's at its best, in his manner, as he crossed to Mrs. Ebbitt's chair and asked: "How is Mr. Ebbitt to-night? Pretty rheumatic?" Miss Proudfoot offered him a lime tablet, and he accepted it judicially. "I believe these tablets are just about as good as Park & Tilford's," he said, cocking his head. "Say, Dunk, I'll match you to see who rushes a growler of beer. Tom'll be here pretty soon—store ought to be closed by now. We'll have some ready for him."

"Right, Bill," agreed James T. Duncan.

Mr. Wrenn lost. He departed, after secretively obtaining not one, but two pitchers, in one of which he got a "pint of dark" and in the other a surprise. He bawled upstairs to Nelly, "Come on down, Nelly, can't you? Got a growler of ice-cream soda for the ladies!"

It is true that when Tom arrived and fell to conversational blows with James T. Duncan over the merits of a Tom Collins Mr. Wrenn was not brilliant, for the reason that he took Tom Collins to be a man instead of the drink he really is.

Yet, as they went up-stairs Miss Proudfoot said to Nelly: "Mr. Wrenn is quiet, but I do think in some ways he's one of the nicest men I've seen in the house for years. And he is so earnest. And I think he'll make a good pinochle player, besides Five Hundred."

"Yes," said Nelly.

"I think he was a little shy at first.... I was always shy.... But he likes us, and I like folks that like folks."

"Yes!" said Nelly.



"He was blown by the whirlwind and followed a wandering flame through perilous seas to a happy shore."—Quoth Francois.

On an April Monday evening, when a small moon passed shyly over the city and the streets were filled with the sound of hurdy-gurdies and the spring cries of dancing children, Mr. Wrenn pranced down to the basement dining-room early, for Nelly Croubel would be down there talking to Mrs. Arty, and he gaily wanted to make plans for a picnic to occur the coming Sunday. He had a shy unacknowledged hope that he might kiss Nelly after such a picnic; he even had the notion that he might some day—well, other fellows had been married; why not?

Miss Mary Proudfoot was mending a rent in the current table-cloth with delicate swift motions of her silvery-skinned hands. She informed him: "Mr. Duncan will be back from his Southern trip in five days. We'll have to have a grand closing progressive Five Hundred tournament." Mr. Wrenn was too much absorbed in wondering whether Miss Proudfoot would make some of her celebrated—and justly celebrated—minced-ham sandwiches for the picnic to be much interested. He was not much more interested when she said, "Mrs. Ferrard's got a letter or something for you."

Then, as dinner began, Mrs. Ferrard rushed in dramatically and said, "There's a telegram for you, Mr. Wrenn!"

Was it death? Whose death? The table panted, Mr. Wrenn with them.... That's what a telegram meant to them.

Their eyes were like a circle of charging bayonets as he opened and read the message—a ship's wireless.

Meet me Hesperida.—ISTRA.

"It's just—a—a business message," he managed to say, and splashed his soup. This was not the place to take the feelings out of his thumping heart and examine them.

Dinner was begun. Picnics were conversationally considered in all their more important phases—historical, dietetical, and social. Mr. Wrenn talked much and a little wildly. After dinner he galloped out to buy a paper. The S.S. Hesperiida was due at ten next morning.

It was an evening of frightened confusion. He tottered along Lexington Avenue on a furtive walk. He knew only that he was very fond of Nelly, yet pantingly eager to see Istra. He damned himself—"damned" is literal—every other minute for a cad, a double-faced traitor, and all the other horrifying things a man is likely to declare himself to be for making the discovery that two women may be different and yet equally likable. And every other minute he reveled in an adventurous gladness that he was going to see Istra—actually, incredibly going to see her, just the next day! He returned to find Nelly sitting on the steps of Mrs. Arty's.



Both good sound observations, and all they could say for a time, while Mr. Wrenn examined the under side of the iron steps rail minutely.

"Billy—was it something serious, the telegram?"

"No, it was—Miss Nash, the artist I told you about, asked me to meet her at the boat. I suppose she wants me to help her with her baggage and the customs and all them things. She's just coming from Paris."

"Oh yes, I see."

So lacking in jealousy was Nelly that Mr. Wrenn was disappointed, though he didn't know why. It always hurts to have one's thunderous tragedies turn out realistic dialogues.

"I wonder if you would like to meet her. She's awful well educated, but I dunno—maybe she'd strike you as kind of snobbish. But she dresses I don't think I ever seen anybody so elegant. In dressing, I mean. Course"—hastily—"she's got money, and so she can afford to. But she's—oh, awful nice, some ways. I hope you like—I hope she won't—"

"Oh, I sha'n't mind if she's a snob. Of course a lady gets used to that, working in a department store," she said, chillily; then repented swiftly and begged: "Oh, I didn't mean to be snippy, Billy. Forgive me! I'm sure Miss Nash will be real nice. Does she live here in New York?"

"No—in California.... I don't know how long she's going to stay here."

"Well—well—hum-m-m. I'm getting so sleepy. I guess I'd better go up to bed. Good night."

Uneasy because he was away from the office, displeased because he had to leave his beloved letters to the Southern trade, angry because he had had difficulty in getting a pass to the wharf, and furious, finally, because he hadn't slept, Mr. Wrenn nursed all these cumulative emotions attentively and waited for the coming of the Hesperida. He was wondering if he'd want to see Istra at all. He couldn't remember just how she looked. Would he like her?

The great steamer swung side-to and was coaxed alongside the wharf. Peering out between rows of crowding shoulders, Mr. Wrenn coldly inspected the passengers lining the decks. Istra was not in sight. Then he knew that he was wildly agitated about her. Suppose something had happened to her!

The smallish man who had been edging into the crowd so politely suddenly dashed to the group forming at the gang-plank and pushed his way rudely into the front rank. His elbow dug into the proper waistcoat of a proper plump old gentleman, but he didn't know it. He stood grasping the rope rail of the plank, gazing goggle-eyed while the plank was lifted to the steamer's deck and the long line of smiling and waving passengers disembarked. Then he saw her—tall, graceful, nonchalant, uninterested, in a smart check suit with a lively hat of black straw, carrying a new Gladstone bag.

He stared at her. "Gee!" he gasped. "I'm crazy about her. I am, all right."

She saw him, and their smiles of welcome made them one. She came from the plank and hastily kissed him.

"Really here!" she laughed.

"Well, well, well, well! I'm so glad to see you!"

"Glad to see you, Mouse dear."

"Have good tr—"

"Don't ask me about it! There was a married man sans wife who persecuted me all the way over. I'm glad you aren't going to fall in love with me."


"Let's hustle over and get through the customs as soon as we can. Where's N? Oh, how clever of it, it's right by M. There's one of my trunks already. How are you, Mouse dear?"

But she didn't seem really to care so very much, and the old bewilderment she always caused was over him.

"It is good to get back after all, and—Mouse dear, I know you won't mind finding me a place to live the next few days, will you?" She quite took it for granted. "We'll find a place this morning, n'est-ce pas? Not too expensive. I've got just about enough to get back to California."

Man fashion, he saw with acute clearness the pile of work on his desk, and, man fashion, responded, "No; be glad tuh."

"How about the place where you're living? You spoke about its being so clean and all."

The thought of Nelly and Istra together frightened him.

"Why, I don't know as you'd like it so very much."

"Oh, it'll be all right for a few days, anyway. Is there a room vacant."

He was sulky about it. He saw much trouble ahead.

"Why, yes, I suppose there is."

"Mouse dear!" Istra plumped down on a trunk in the confused billows of incoming baggage, customs officials, and indignant passengers that surged about them on the rough floor of the vast dock-house. She stared up at him with real sorrow in her fine eyes.

"Why, Mouse! I thought you'd be glad to see me. I've never rowed with you, have I? I've tried not to be temperamental with you. That's why I wired you, when there are others I've known for years."

"Oh, I didn't mean to seem grouchy; I didn't! I just wondered if you'd like the house."

He could have knelt in repentance before his goddess, what time she was but a lonely girl in the clatter of New York. He went on:

"And we've got kind of separated, and I didn't know—But I guess I'll always—oh—kind of worship you."

"It's all right, Mouse. It's—Here's the customs men."

Now Istra Nash knew perfectly that the customs persons were not ready to examine her baggage as yet. But the discussion was ended, and they seemed to understand each other.

"Gee, there's a lot of rich Jew ladies coming back this time!" said he.

"Yes. They had diamonds three times a day," she assented.

"Gee, this is a big place!"

"Yes." So did they testify to fixity of friendship till they reached the house and Istra was welcomed to "that Teddem's" room as a new guest.

Dinner began with the ceremony due Mrs. Arty. There was no lack of the sacred old jokes. Tom Poppins did not fail to bellow "Bring on the dish-water," nor Miss Mary Proudfoot to cheep demurely "Don't y' knaow" in a tone which would have been recognized as fascinatingly English anywhere on the American stage. Then the talk stopped dead as Istra Nash stood agaze in the doorway—pale and intolerant, her red hair twisted high on her head, tall and slim and uncorseted in a gray tight-fitting gown. Every head turned as on a pivot, first to Istra, then to Mr. Wrenn. He blushed and bowed as if he had been called on for a speech, stumblingly arose, and said: "Uh—uh—uh—you met Mrs. Ferrard, didn't you, Istra? She'll introduce you to the rest."

He sat down, wondering why the deuce he'd stood up, and unhappily realized that Nelly was examining Istra and himself with cool hostility. In a flurry he glowered at Istra as she nonchalantly sat down opposite him, beside Mrs. Arty, and incuriously unfolded her napkin. He thought that in her cheerful face there was an expression of devilish amusement.

He blushed. He furiously buttered his bread as Mrs. Arty remarked to the assemblage:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I want you all to meet Miss Istra Nash. Miss Nash—you've met Mr. Wrenn; Miss Nelly Croubel, our baby; Tom Poppins, the great Five-Hundred player; Mrs. Ebbitt, Mr. Ebbitt, Miss Proudfoot."

Istra Nash lifted her bowed eyes with what seemed shyness, hesitated, said "Thank you" in a clear voice with a precise pronunciation, and returned to her soup, as though her pleasant communion with it had been unpleasantly interrupted.

The others began talking and eating very fast and rather noisily. Miss Mary Proudfoot's thin voice pierced the clamor:

"I hear you have just come to New York, Miss Nash."


"Is this your first visit to—"


Miss Proudfoot rancorously took a long drink of water.

Nelly attempted, bravely:

"Do you like New York, Miss Nash?"


Nelly and Miss Proudfoot and Tom Poppins began discussing shoe-stores, all at once and very rapidly, while hot and uncomfortable Mr. Wrenn tried to think of something to say.... Good Lord, suppose Istra "queered" him at Mrs. Arty's!... Then he was angry at himself and all of them for not appreciating her. How exquisite she looked, with her tired white face!

As the soup-plates were being removed by Annie, the maid, with an elaborate confusion and a general passing of plates down the line, Istra Nash peered at the maid petulantly. Mrs. Arty frowned, then grew artificially pleasant and said:

"Miss Nash has just come back from Paris. She's a regular European traveler, just like Mr. Wrenn."

Mrs. Samuel Ebbitt piped: "Mr. Ebbitt was to Europe. In 1882."

"No 'twa'n't, Fannie; 'twas in 1881," complained Mr. Ebbitt.

Miss Nash waited for the end of this interruption as though it were a noise which merely had to be endured, like the Elevated.

Twice she drew in her breath to speak, and the whole table laid its collective knife and fork down to listen. All she said was:

"Oh, will you pardon me if I speak of it now, Mrs. Ferrard, but would you mind letting me have my breakfast in my room to-morrow? About nine? Just something simple—a canteloupe and some shirred eggs and chocolate?"

"Oh no; why, yes, certainly, "mumbled Mrs. Arty, while the table held its breaths and underneath them gasped:


"A canteloupe!"

"Shirred eggs!"

"In her room—at nine!"

All this was very terrible to Mr. Wrenn. He found himself in the position of a man scheduled to address the Brewers' Association and the W. C. T. U. at the same hour. Valiantly he attempted:

"Miss Nash oughta be a good person for our picnics. She's a regular shark for outdoor tramping."

"Oh yes, Mr. Wrenn and I tramped most all night in England one time," said Istra, innocently.

The eyes of the table asked Mr. Wrenn what he meant by it. He tried to look at Nelly, but something hurt inside him.

"Yes," he mumbled. "Quite a long walk."

Miss Mary Proudfoot tried again:

"is it pleasant to study in Paris? Mrs. Arty said you were an artist."


Then they were all silent, and the rest of the dinner Mr. Wrenn alternately discussed Olympia Johns with Istra and picnics with Nelly. There was an undertone of pleading in his voice which made Nelly glance at him and even become kind. With quiet insistence she dragged Istra into a discussion of rue de la Paix fashions which nearly united the shattered table and won Mr. Wrenn's palpitating thankfulness.

After dessert Istra slowly drew a plain gold cigarette-case from a brocade bag of silvery gray. She took out a match and a thin Russian cigarette, which she carefully lighted. She sat smoking in one of her best attitudes, pointed elbows on the table, coolly contemplating a huge picture called "Hunting the Stag" on the wall behind Mr. Wrenn.

Mrs. Arty snapped to the servant, "Annie, bring me my cigarettes." But Mrs. Arty always was penitent when she had been nasty, and—though Istra did not at once seem to know that the landlady had been nasty—Mrs. Arty invited her up to the parlor for after-dinner so cordially that Istra could but grant "Perhaps I will," and she even went so far as to say, "I think you're all to be envied, having such a happy family."

"Yes, that's so," reflected Mrs. Arty.

"Yes," added Mr. Wrenn.

And Nelly: "That's so."

The whole table nodded gravely, "Yes, that's so."

"I'm sure"—Istra smiled at Mrs. Arty—"that it's because a woman is running things. Now think what cat-and-dog lives you'd lead if Mr. Wrenn or Mr.—Popple, was it?—were ruling."

They applauded. They felt that she had been humorous. She was again and publicly invited up to the parlor, and she came, though she said, rather shortly, that she didn't play Five Hundred, but only bumblepuppy bridge, a variety of whist which Mr. Wrenn instantly resolved to learn. She reclined ("reclined" is perfectly accurate) on the red-leather couch, among the pillows, and smoked two cigarettes, relapsing into "No?"'s for conversation.

Mr. Wrenn said to himself, almost spitefully, as she snubbed Nelly, "Too good for us, is she?" But he couldn't keep away from her. The realization that Istra was in the room made him forget most of his melds at pinochle; and when Miss Proudfoot inquired his opinion as to whether the coming picnic should be held on Staten island or the Palisades he said, vaguely, "Yes, I guess that would be better."

For he was wanting to sit down beside Istra Nash, just be near her; he had to be! So he ventured over and was instantly regarding all the rest as outsiders whom his wise comrade and himself were studying.

"Tell me, Mouse dear, why do you like the people here? The peepul, I mean. They don't seem so very remarkable. Enlighten poor Istra."

"Well, they're awful kind. I've always lived in a house where the folks didn't hardly know each other at all, except Mrs. Zapp—she was the landlady—and I didn't like her very much. But here Tom Poppins and Mrs. Arty and—the rest—they really like folks, and they make it just like a home.... Miss Croubel is a very nice girl. She works for Wanamacy's—she has quite a big job there. She is assistant buyer in the—"

He stopped in horror. He had nearly said "in the lingery department." He changed it to "in the clothing department," and went on, doubtfully: "Mr. Duncan is a traveling-man. He's away on a trip."

"Which one do you play with? So Nelly likes to—well, make b'lieve—'magine?"

"How did you—"

"Oh, I watched her looking at you. I think she's a terribly nice pink-face. And just now you're comparing her and me."

"Gee!" he said.

She was immensely pleased with herself. "Tell me, what do these people think about; at least, what do you talk about?"


"'S-s-s-h! Not so loud, my dear."

"Say, I know how you mean. You feel something like what I did in England. You can't get next to what the folks are thinking, and it makes you sort of lonely."

"Well, I—"

Just then Tom Poppins rolled jovially up to the couch. He had carried his many and perspiring pounds over to Third Avenue because Miss Proudfoot reflected, "I've got a regular sweet tooth to-night." He stood before Istra and Mr. Wrenn theatrically holding out a bag of chocolate drops in one hand and peanut brittle in the other; and grandiloquently:

"Which shall it be, your Highness? Nobody loves a fat man, so he has to buy candy so's they'll let him stick around. Le's see; you take chocolates, Bill. Name your drink, Miss Nash." She looked up at him, gravely and politely—too gravely and politely. She didn't seem to consider him a nice person.

"Neither, thank you," sharply, as he still stood there. He moved away, hurt, bewildered.

Istra was going on, "I haven't been here long enough to be lonely yet, but in any case—" when Mr. Wrenn interrupted:

"You've hurt Tom's feelings by not taking any candy; and, gee, he's awful kind!"

"Have I?" mockingly.

"Yes, you have. And there ain't any too many kind people in this world."

"Oh yes, of course you' re right. I am sorry, really I am."

She dived after Tom's retreat and cheerfully addressed him:

"Oh, I do want some of those chocolates. Will you let me change my mind? Please do."

"Yes ma'am, you sure can!" said broad Tom, all one pleased chuckle, poking out the two bags.

Istra stopped beside the Five-Hundred table to smile in a lordly way down at Mrs. Arty and say, quite humanly:

"I'm so sorry I can't play a decent game of cards. I'm afraid I'm too stupid to learn. You are very lucky, I think."

Mr. Wrenn on the couch was horribly agitated.... Wasn't Istra coming back?

She was. She detached herself from the hubbub of invitations to learn to play Five Hundred and wandered back to the couch, murmuring: "Was bad Istra good? Am I forgiven? Mouse dear, I didn't mean to be rude to your friends."

As the bubbles rise through water in a cooking-pot, as the surface writhes, and then, after the long wait, suddenly the water is aboil, so was the emotion of Mr. Wrenn now that Istra, the lordly, had actually done something he suggested.

"Istra—" That was all he could say, but from his eyes had gone all reserve.

Her glance back was as frank as his—only it had more of the mother in it; it was like a kindly pat on the head; and she was the mother as she mused:

"So you have missed me, then?"

"Missed you—"

"Did you think of me after you came here? Oh, I know—I was forgotten; poor Istra abdicates to the pretty pink-face."

"Oh, Istra, don't. I—can't we just go out for a little walk so—so we can talk?"

"Why, we can talk here."

"Oh, gee!—there's so many people around.... Golly! when I came back to America—gee!—I couldn't hardly sleep nights—"

From across the room came the boisterous, somewhat coarse-timbred voice of Tom, speaking to Nelly:

"Oh yes, of course you think you're the only girl that ever seen a vodville show. We ain't never seen a vodville show. Oh no!"

Nelly and Miss Proudfoot dissolved in giggles at the wit.

Mr. Wrenn gazed at them, detached; these were not his people, and with startled pride he glanced at Istra's face, delicately carven by thought, as he stumbled hotly on.

"—just couldn't sleep nights at all.... Then I got on the job...."

"Let's see, you're still with that same company?"

"Yes. Souvenir and Art Novelty Company. And I got awfully on the job there, and so I managed to forget for a little while and—"

"So you really do like me even after I was so beastly to you in England."

"Oh, that wasn't nothing.... But I was always thinking of you, even when I was on the job—"

"It's gratifying to have some one continue taking me seriously.... Really, dear, I do appreciate it. But you mustn't—you mustn't—"

"Oh, gee! I just can't get over it—you here by me—ain't it curious!... "Then he persisted with the tale of his longing, which she had so carefully interrupted: "The people here are awful kind and good, and you can bank on 'em. But—oh—"

From across the room, Tom's pretended jeers, lighted up with Miss Proudfoot's giggles, as paper lanterns illumine Coney Island. From Tom:

"Yes, you're a hot dancer, all right. I suppose you can do the Boston and all them swell dances. Wah-h-h-h-h!"

"—but Istra, oh, gee! you're like poetry—like all them things a feller can't get but he tries to when he reads Shakespeare and all those poets."

"Oh, dear boy, you mustn't! We will be good friends. I do appreciate having some one care whether I'm alive or not. But I thought it was all understood that we weren't to take playing together seriously; that it was to be merely playing—nothing more."

"But, anyway, you will let me play with you here in New York as much as I can? Oh, come on, let's go for a walk—let's—let's go to a show."

"I'm awf'ly sorry, but I promised—a man's going to call for me, and we're going to a stupid studio party on Bryant Park. Bore, isn't it, the day of landing? And poor Istra dreadfully landsick."

"Oh, then," hopefully, "don't go. Let's—"

"I'm sorry, Mouse dear, but I'm afraid I can't break the date.... Fact, I must go up and primp now—"

"Don't you care a bit?" he said, sulkily.

"Why, yes, of course. But you wouldn't have Istra disappoint a nice Johnny after he's bought him a cunnin' new weskit, would you?... Good night, dear." She smiled—the mother smile—and was gone with a lively good night to the room in general.

Nelly went up to bed early. She was tired, she said. He had no chance for a word with her. He sat on the steps outside alone a long time. Sometimes he yearned for a sight of Istra's ivory face. Sometimes, with a fierce compassion that longed to take the burden from her, he pictured Nelly working all day in the rushing department store on which the fetid city summer would soon descend.

They did have their walk the next night, Istra and Mr. Wrenn, but Istra kept the talk to laughing burlesques of their tramp in England. Somehow—he couldn't tell exactly why—he couldn't seem to get in all the remarks he had inside him about how much he had missed her.

Wednesday—Thursday—Friday; he saw her only at one dinner, or on the stairs, departing volubly with clever-looking men in evening clothes to taxis waiting before the house.

Nelly was very pleasant; just that—pleasant. She pleasantly sat as his partner at Five Hundred, and pleasantly declined to go to the moving pictures with him. She was getting more and more tired, staying till seven at the store, preparing what she called "special stunts" for the summer white sale. Friday evening he saw her soft fresh lips drooping sadly as she toiled up the front steps before dinner. She went to bed at eight, at which time Istra was going out to dinner with a thin, hatchet-faced sarcastic-looking man in a Norfolk jacket and a fluffy black tie. Mr. Wrenn resented the Norfolk jacket. Of course, the kingly men in evening dress would be expected to take Istra away from him, but a Norfolk jacket—He did not call it that. Though he had worn one in the fair village of Aengusmere, it was still to him a "coat with a belt."

He thought of Nelly all evening. He heard her—there on the same floor with him—talking to Miss Proudfoot, who stood at Nelly's door, three hours after she was supposed to be asleep.

"No," Nelly was saying with evidently fictitious cheerfulness, "no, it was just a little headache.... It's much better. I think I can sleep now. Thank you very much for coming."

Nelly hadn't told Mr. Wrenn that she had a severe headache—she who had once, a few weeks before, run to him with a cut in her soft small finger, demanding that he bind it up.... He went slowly to bed.

He had lain awake half an hour before his agony so overpowered him that he flung out of bed. He crouched low by the bed, like a child, his legs curled under him, the wooden sideboard pressing into his chest in one long line of hot pain, while he prayed:

"O God, O God, forgive me, forgive me, oh, forgive me! Here I been forgetting Nelly (and I love her) and comparing her with Istra and not appreciating her, and Nelly always so sweet to me and trusting me so—O God, keep me away from wickedness!"

He huddled there many minutes, praying, the scorching pressure of the bedside growing more painful. All the while the camp-fire he had shared with Istra was burning within his closed eyes, and Istra was visibly lording it in a London flat filled with clever people, and he was passionately aware that the line of her slim breast was like the lip of a shell; the line of her pallid cheek, defined by her flame-colored hair, something utterly fine, something he could not express.

"Oh," he groaned, "she is like that poetry stuff in Shakespeare that's so hard to get.... I'll be extra nice to Nelly at the picnic Sunday.... Her trusting me so, and then me—O God, keep me away from wickedness!"

As he was going out Saturday morning he found a note from Istra waiting in the hall on the hat-rack:

Do you want to play with poor Istra tomorrow Sat. afternoon and perhaps evening, Mouse? You have Saturday afternoon off, don't you? Leave me a note if you can call for me at 1.30. I. N.

He didn't have Saturday afternoon off, but he said he did in his note, and at one-thirty he appeared at her door in a new spring suit (purchased on Tuesday), a new spring hat, very fuzzy and gay (purchased Saturday noon), and the walking-stick he had bought on Tottenham Court Road, but decently concealed from the boarding-house.

Istra took him to what she called a "futurist play." She explained it all to him several times, and she stood him tea and muffins, and recalled Mrs. Cattermole's establishment with full attention to Mrs. Cattermole's bulbous but earnest nose. They dined at the Brevoort, and were back at nine-thirty; for, said Istra, she was "just a bit tired, Mouse."

They stood at the door of Istra's room. Istra said, "You may come in—just for a minute."

It was the first time he had even peeped into her room in New York. The old shyness was on him, and he glanced back.

Nelly was just coming up-stairs, staring at him where he stood inside the door, her lips apart with amazement.

Ladies distinctly did not entertain in their rooms at Mrs. Arty's.

He wanted to rush out, to explain, to invite her in, to—to— He stuttered in his thought, and by now Nelly had hastened past, her face turned from them.

Uneasily he tilted on the front of a cane-seated rocking-chair, glaring at a pile of books before one of Istra's trunks. Istra sat on the bedside nursing her knee. She burst out:

"O Mouse dear, I'm so bored by everybody—every sort of everybody.... Of course I don't mean you; you're a good pal.... Oh—Paris is too complex—especially when you can't quite get the nasal vowels—and New York is too youthful and earnest; and Dos Puentes, California, will be plain hell.... And all my little parties—I start out on them happily, always, as naive as a kiddy going to a birthday party, and then I get there and find I can't even dance square dances, as the kiddy does, and go home—Oh damn it, damn it, damn it! Am I shocking you? Well, what do I care if I shock everybody!"

Her slim pliant length was flung out along the bed, and she was crying. Her beautiful hands clutched the corners of a pillow bitterly.

He crept over to the bed, patting her shoulder, slowly and regularly, too frightened of her mood even to want to kiss her.

She looked up, laughing tearfully. "Please say, 'There, there, there; don't cry.' It always goes with pats for weepy girls, you know.... O Mouse, you will be good to some woman some day."

Her long strong arms reached up and drew him down. It was his head that rested on her shoulder. It seemed to both of them that it was he who was to be petted, not she. He pressed his cheek against the comforting hollow of her curving shoulder and rested there, abandoned to a forlorn and growing happiness, the happiness of getting so far outside of his tight world of Wrennishness that he could give comfort and take comfort with no prim worried thoughts of Wrenn.

Istra murmured: "Perhaps that's what I need—some one to need me. Only—" She stroked his hair. "Now you must go, dear."

"You—It's better now? I'm afraid I ain't helped you much. It's kinda t' other way round."

"Oh yes, indeed, it's all right now! Just nerves. Nothing more. Now, good night."

"Please, won't you come to the picnic to-morrow? It's—"

"No. Sorry, but can't possibly."

"Please think it over."

"No, no, no, no, dear! You go and forget me and enjoy yourself and be good to your pink-face—Nelly, isn't it? She seems to be terribly nice, and I know you two will have a good party. You must forget me. I'm just a teacher of playing games who hasn't been successful at any game whatever. Not that it matters. I don't care. I don't, really. Now, good night."



They had picnic dinner early up there on the Palisades:

Nelly and Mr. Wrenn, Mrs. Arty and Tom, Miss Proudfoot and Mrs. Samuel Ebbitt, the last of whom kept ejaculating: "Well! I ain't run off like this in ten years!" They squatted about a red-cotton table-cloth spread on a rock, broadly discussing the sandwiches and cold chicken and lemonade and stuffed olives, and laughing almost to a point of distress over Tom's accusation that Miss Proudfoot had secreted about her person a bottle of rye whisky.

Nelly was very pleasant to Mr. Wrenn, but she called him neither Billy nor anything else, and mostly she talked to Miss Proudfoot, smiling at him, but saying nothing when he managed to get out a jest about Mrs. Arty's chewing-gum. When he moved to her side with a wooden plate of cream-cheese sandwiches (which Tom humorously termed "cold-cream wafers") Mr. Wrenn started to explain how he had come to enter Istra's room.

"Why shouldn't you?" Nelly asked, curtly, and turned to Miss Proudfoot.

"She doesn't seem to care much," he reflected, relieved and stabbed in his humble vanity and reattracted to Nelly, all at once. He was anxious about her opinion of Istra and her opinion of himself, and slightly defiant, as she continued to regard him as a respectable person whose name she couldn't exactly remember.

Hadn't he the right to love Istra if he wanted to? he desired to know of himself. Besides, what had he done? Just gone out walking with his English hotel acquaintance Istra! He hadn't been in her room but just a few minutes. Fine reason that was for Nelly to act like a blooming iceberg! Besides, it wasn't as if he were engaged to Nelly, or anything like that. Besides, of course Istra would never care for him. There were several other besideses with which he harrowed himself while trying to appear picnically agreeable. He was getting very much confused, and was slightly abrupt as he said to Nelly, "Let's walk over to that high rock on the edge."

A dusky afterglow filled the sky before them as they silently trudged to the rock and from the top of the sheer cliff contemplated the smooth and steely-gray Hudson below. Nelly squeaked her fear at the drop and clutched his arm, but suddenly let go and drew back without his aid.

He groaned within, "I haven't the right to help her." He took her arm as she hesitatingly climbed from the rock down to the ground.

She jerked it free, curtly saying, "No, thank you."

She was repentant in a moment, and, cheerfully:

"Miss Nash took me in her room yesterday and showed me her things. My, she's got such be-yoo-ti-ful jewels! La V'lieres and pearls and a swell amethyst brooch. My! She told me all about how the girls used to study in Paris, and how sorry she would be to go back to California and keep house."

"Keep house?"

Nelly let him suffer for a moment before she relieved him with, "For her father."

"Oh.... Did she say she was going back to California soon?"

"Not till the end of the summer, maybe."

"Oh.... Oh, Nelly—"

For the first time that day he was perfectly sincere. He was trying to confide in her. But the shame of having emotions was on him. He got no farther.

To his amazement, Nelly mused, "She is very nice."

He tried hard to be gallant. "Yes, she is interesting, but of course she ain't anywheres near as nice as you are, Nelly, be—"

"Oh, don't, Billy!"

The quick agony in her voice almost set them both weeping. The shared sorrow of separation drew them together for a moment. Then she started off, with short swift steps, and he tagged after. He found little to say. He tried to comment on the river. He remarked that the apartment-houses across in New York were bright in the sunset; that, in fact, the upper windows looked "like there was a fire in there." Her sole comment was "Yes."

When they rejoined the crowd he was surprised to hear her talking volubly to Miss Proudfoot. He rejoiced that she was "game," but he did not rejoice long. For a frightened feeling that he had to hurry home and see Istra at once was turning him weak and cold. He didn't want to see her; she was intruding; but he had to go—go at once; and the agony held him all the way home, while he was mechanically playing the part of stern reformer and agreeing with Tom Poppins that the horrors of the recent Triangle shirt-waist-factory fire showed that "something oughta be done—something sure oughta be."

He trembled on the ferry till Nelly, with a burst of motherly tenderness in her young voice, suddenly asked: "Why, you're shivering dreadfully! Did you get a chill?"

Naturally, he wanted the credit of being known as an invalid, and pitied and nursed, but he reluctantly smiled and said, "Oh no, it ain't anything at all."

Then Istra called him again, and he fumed over the slowness of their landing.

And, at home, Istra was out.

He went resolutely down and found Nelly alone, sitting on a round pale-yellow straw mat on the steps.

He sat by her. He was very quiet; not at all the jovial young man of the picnic properly following the boarding-house-district rule that males should be jocular and show their appreciation of the ladies by "kidding them." And he spoke with a quiet graciousness that was almost courtly, with a note of weariness and spiritual experience such as seldom comes into the boarding-houses, to slay joy and bring wisdom and give words shyness.

He had, as he sat down, intended to ask her to go with him to a moving-picture show. But inspiration was on him. He merely sat and talked.

When Mr. Wrenn returned from the office, two evenings later, he found this note awaiting him:

DEAR MOUSE,—Friend has asked me to join her in studio & have beat it. Sorry not see you & say good-by. Come see me sometime—phone before and see if I'm in—Spring xxx—address xx South Washington Sq. In haste, ISTRA.

He spent the evening in not going to the studio. Several times he broke away from a pinochle game to rush upstairs and see if the note was as chilly as he remembered. It always was.

Then for a week he awaited a more definite invitation from her, which did not come. He was uneasily polite to Nelly these days, and tremulously appreciative of her gentleness. He wanted to brood, but he did not take to his old habit of long solitary walks. Every afternoon he planned one for the evening; every evening found that he "wanted to be around with folks."

He had a sort of youthful defiant despair, so he jested much at the card-table, by way of practising his new game of keeping people from knowing what he was thinking. He took sophisticated pleasure in noting that Mrs. Arty no longer condescended to him. He managed to imitate Tom's writing on a card which he left with a bunch of jonquils in Nelly's room, and nearly persuaded even Tom himself that Tom was the donor. Probably because he didn't much care what happened he was able to force Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle to raise his salary to twenty-three dollars a week. Mr. Guilfogle went out of his way to admit that the letters to the Southern trade had been "a first-rate stunt, son."

John Henson, the head of the Souvenir Company's manufacturing department, invited Mr. Wrenn home to dinner, and the account of the cattle-boat was much admired by Mrs. Henson and the three young Hensons.

A few days later, in mid-June, there was an unusually cheerful dinner at the boarding-house. Nelly turned to Mr. Wrenn—yes, he was quite sure about it; she was speaking exclusively to him, with a lengthy and most merry account of the manner in which the floor superintendent had "called down" the unkindest of the aislesmen.

He longed to give his whole self in his answer, to be in the absolute community of thought that lovers know. But the image of Istra was behind his chair. Istra—he had to see her—now, this evening. He rushed out to the corner drug-store and reached her by telephone.

Yes-s, admitted Istra, a little grudgingly, she was going to be at the studio that evening, though she—well, there was going to be a little party—some friends—but—yes, she'd be glad to have him come.

Grimly, Mr. Wrenn set out for Washington Square.

Since this scientific treatise has so exhaustively examined Mr. Wrenn's reactions toward the esthetic, one need give but three of his impressions of the studio and people he found on Washington Square—namely:

(a) That the big room was bare, ill kept, and not comparable to the red-plush splendor of Mrs. Arty's, for all its pretension to superiority. Why, a lot of the pictures weren't framed! And you should have seen the giltness and fruit-borderness of the frames at Mrs. Arty's!

(b) That the people were brothers-in-talk to the inmates of the flat on Great James Street, London, only far less, and friendly.

(c) That Mr. Wrenn was now a man of friends, and if the "blooming Bohemians," as he called them, didn't like him they were permitted to go to the dickens.

Istra was always across the room from him somehow. He found himself glad. It made their parting definite.

He was going back to his own people, he was deciding.

As he rose with elaborate boarding-house apologies to the room at large for going, and a cheerful but not intimate "Good night" to Istra, she followed him to the door and into the dark long hallway without.

"Good night, Mouse dear. I'm glad you got a chance to talk to the Silver Girl. But was Mr. Hargis rude to you? I heard him talking Single Tax—or was it Matisse?—and he's usually rude when he talks about them."

"No. He was all right."

"Then what is worrying you?"

"Oh—nothing. Good ni—"

"You are going off angry. Aren't you?"

"No, but—oh, there ain't any use of our—of me being— Is there?"


"Matisse—the guy you just spoke about—and these artists here tonight in bobtail dress-suits—I wouldn't know when to wear one of them things, and when a swallow-tail—if I had one, even—or when a Prince Albert or—"

"Oh, not a Prince Albert, Mouse dear. Say, a frock-coat."

"Sure. That's what I mean. It's like that Matisse guy. I don't know about none of the things you're interested in. While you've been away from Mrs. Arty's—Lord, I've missed you so! But when I try to train with your bunch, or when you spring Matisse" (he seemed peculiarly to resent the unfortunate French artist) "on me I sort of get onto myself—and now it ain't like it was in England; I've got a bunch of my own I can chase around with. Anyway, I got onto myself tonight. I s'pose it's partly because I been thinking you didn't care much for my friends."

"But, Mouse dear, all this isn't news to me. Surely you, who've gipsied with me, aren't going to be so obvious, so banal, as to blame me because you've cared for me, are you, child?"

"Oh no, no, no! I didn't mean to do that. I just wanted—oh, gee! I dunno—well, I wanted to have things between us definite."

"I do understand. You're quite right. And now we're just friends, aren't we?"


"Then good-by. And sometime when I'm back in New York—I'm going to California in a few days—I think I'll be able to get back here—I certainly hope so—though of course I'll have to keep house for friend father for a while, and maybe I'll marry myself with a local magnate in desperation—but, as I was saying, dear, when I get back here we'll have a good dinner, nicht wahr?"

"Yes, and—good-by."

She stood at the top of the stairs looking down. He slowly clumped down the wooden treads, boiling with the amazing discoveries that he had said good-by to Istra, that he was not sorry, and that now he could offer to Nelly Croubel everything.

Istra suddenly called, "O Mouse, wait just a moment."

She darted like a swallow. She threw her arm about his shoulder and kissed his cheek. Instantly she was running up-stairs again, and had disappeared into the studio.

Mr. William Wrenn was walking rapidly up Riverside Drive, thinking about his letters to the Southern merchants.

While he was leaving the studio building he had perfectly seen himself as one who was about to go through a tumultuous agony, after which he would be free of all the desire for Istra and ready to serve Nelly sincerely and humbly.

But he found that the agony was all over. Even to save his dignity as one who was being dramatic, he couldn't keep his thoughts on Istra.

Every time he thought of Nelly his heart was warm and he chuckled softly. Several times out of nothing came pictures of the supercilious persons whom he had heard solving the problems of the world at the studio on Washington Square, and he muttered: "Oh, hope they choke. Istra's all right, though; she learnt me an awful lot. But—gee! I'm glad she ain't in the same house; I suppose I'd ag'nize round if she was."

Suddenly, at no particular street corner on Riverside Drive, just a street, he fled over to Broadway and the Subway. He had to be under the same roof with Nelly. If it were only possible to see her that night! But it was midnight. However, he formulated a plan. The next morning he would leave the office, find her at her department store, and make her go out to Manhattan Beach with him for dinner that night.

He was home. He went happily up the stairs. He would dream of Nelly, and—

Nelly's door opened, and she peered out, drawing her peignoir about her.

"Oh," she said, softly, "is it you?"

"Yes. My, you're up late."

"Do you—Are you all right?"

He dashed down the hall and stood shyly scratching at the straw of his newest hat.

"Why yes, Nelly, course. Poor—Oh, don't tell me you have a headache again?"

"No—I was awful foolish, of course, but I saw you when you went out this evening, and you looked so savage, and you didn't look very well."

"But now it's all right."

"Then good night."

"Oh no—listen—please do! I went over to the place Miss Nash is living at, because I was pretty sure that I ain't hipped on her—sort of hypnotized by her—any more. And I found I ain't! I ain't! I don't know what to say, I want to—I want you to know that from going to try and see if I can't get you to care for me." He was dreadfully earnest, and rather quiet, with the dignity of the man who has found himself. "I'm scared," he went on, "about saying this, because maybe you'll think I've got an idea I'm kind of a little tin god, and all I've got to do is to say which girl I'll want and she'll come a-running, but it isn't that; it isn't. It's just that I want you to know I'm going to give all of me to you now if I can get you to want me. And I am glad I knew Istra—she learnt me a lot about books and all, so I have more to me, or maybe will have, for you. It's —Nelly—promise you'll be—my friend—promise—If you knew how I rushed back here tonight to see you!"


She held out her hand, and he grasped it as though it were the sacred symbol of his dreams.

"To-morrow," she smiled, with a hint of tears, "I'll be a reg'lar lady, I guess, and make you explain and explain like everything, but now I'm just glad. Yes," defiantly, "I will admit it if I want to! I am glad!"

Her door closed.



Upon an evening of November, 1911, it chanced that of Mrs. Arty's flock only Nelly and Mr. Wrenn were at home. They had finished two hot games of pinochle, and sat with their feet on a small amiable oil-stove. Mr. Wrenn laid her hand against his cheek with infinite content. He was outlining the situation at the office.

The business had so increased that Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, the manager, had told Rabin, the head traveling-salesman, that he was going to appoint an assistant manager. Should he, Mr. Wrenn queried, try to get the position? The other candidates, Rabin and Henson and Glover, were all good friends of his, and, furthermore, could he "run a bunch of guys if he was over them?"

"Why, of course you can, Billy. I remember when you came here you were sort of shy. But now you're 'most the star boarder! And won't those others be trying to get the job away from you? Of course!"

"Yes, that's so."

"Why, Billy, some day you might be manager!"

"Say, that would be great, wouldn't it! But hones', Nell, do you think I might have a chance to land the assistant's job?"

"I certainly do."

"Oh, Nelly—gee! you make me—oh, learn to bank on myself—"

He kissed her for the second time in his life.

"Mr. Guilfogle," stated Mr. Wrenn, next day, "I want to talk to you about that assistant managership."

The manager, in his new office and his new flowered waistcoat, had acted interested when Our steady and reliable Mr. Wrenn came in. But now he tried to appear dignified and impatient.

"That—" he began.

"I've been here longer than any of the other men, and I know every line of the business now, even the manufacturing. You remember I held down Henson's job when his wife was sick."

"Yes, but—"

"And I guess Jake thinks I can boss all right, and Miss Leavenbetz, too."

"Now will you kindly 'low me to talk a little, Wrenn? I know a little something about how things go in the office myself! I don't deny you're a good man. Maybe some day you may get to be assistant manager. But I'm going to give the first try at it to Glover. He's had so much more experience with meeting people directly—personally. But you're a good man—"

"Yes, I've heard that before, but I'll be gol-darned if I'll stick at one desk all my life just because I save you all the trouble in that department, Guilfogle, and now—"

"Now, now, now, now! Calm down; hold your horses, my boy. This ain't a melodrama, you know."

"Yes, I know; I didn't mean to get sore, but you know—"

"Well, now I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to make you head of the manufacturing department instead of getting in a new man, and shift Henson to purchasing. I'll put Jake on your old job, and expect you to give him a lift when he needs it. And you'd better keep up the most important of the jollying-letters, I guess."

"Well, I like that all right. I appreciate it. But of course I expect more pay—two men's work—"

"Let's see; what you getting now?"


"Well, that's a good deal, you know. The overhead expenses have been increasing a lot faster than our profits, and we've—"


"—got to see where new business is coming in to justify the liberal way we've treated you men before we can afford to do much salary-raising—though we're just as glad to do it as you men to get it; but—"


"—if we go to getting extravagant we'll go bankrupt, and then we won't any of us have jobs.... Still, I am willing to raise you to twenty-five, though—"


Mr. Wrenn stood straight. The manager tried to stare him down. Panic was attacking Mr. Wrenn, and he had to think of Nelly to keep up his defiance. At last Mr. Guilfogle glared, then roared: "Well, confound it, Wrenn, I'll give you twenty-nine-fifty, and not a cent more for at least a year. That's final. Understand?"

"All right," chirped Mr. Wrenn.

"Gee!" he was exulting to himself, "never thought I'd get anything like that. Twenty-nine-fifty! More 'n enough to marry on now! I'm going to get twenty-nine-fifty!"

"Married five months ago to-night, honey," said Mr. Wrenn to Nelly, his wife, in their Bronx flat, and thus set down October 17, 1913, as a great date in history.

"Oh, I know it, Billy. I wondered if you'd remember. You just ought to see the dessert I'm making—but that's a s'prise."

"Remember! Should say I did! See what I've got for somebody!"

He opened a parcel and displayed a pair of red-worsted bed-slippers, a creation of one of the greatest red-worsted artists in the whole land. Yes, and he could afford them, too. Was he not making thirty-two dollars a week—he who had been poor! And his chances for the assistant managership "looked good."


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse