Part 6 out of 7
"Yes, he'd have liked that," he told himself. "Lots of expression and
those beautiful haunted shadows about the eyes." He laughed gently.
"Don't look so frightened. I don't bite. Just humour me, as Uncle
Winthrop is signalling you to do. You understand, don't you, that Uncle
Hugh was the romance and the adventure of my life? I'm still saturated
with him, but there was lots of him that I could never get through to.
There never was a creature better worth knowing, and he couldn't show
me, or else I had blind spots. There were vast tracts of undiscovered
country in him, as far as I was concerned--lands of wonder, east of the
sun and west of the moon--that sort of thing. But I knew that there was
a certain woman who must have been there, who held the heart of the
mystery, and to-day, when this incredible chance came--when you came--I
made up my mind that I was not going to be restrained nor baffled by the
customs of my tribe. I want the truth and I'm prepared to give it. From
the shoulder. If you will tell me everything you know about him I
promise to tell you everything I know. You'll want to--" The sound of
the closing door made him turn. The room behind him was empty. His
manner quieted instantly. "That's uncommonly tactful of them.... You
won't think that they meant any discourtesy by leaving?" he added,
anxiously. "They wouldn't do that."
"Oh, I'm sure not! Your uncle made me understand," faltered Mrs.
Shirley. "They knew you could speak more freely without them."
"He's wonderful with the wireless," Hugh agreed. "But they were in
terror, anyway, as to how freely I was about to speak before them. They
can't stand this. Everything really human seems pretty well alien to
Uncle Winthrop. He's exhibit A of the people who consider civilization
a mistake. And my aunt Maria is a truly good woman--charities and all
that--but if you put a rabbit in her brain it would incontinently curl
up and die in convulsions."
She laughed helplessly, and Hugh reported an advance.
"Nevertheless," he added quaintly, "we don't really dislike each other."
"I'm the last of the family, you see; I'm the future.... Can't we skip
the preliminaries?" he broke out. "You don't feel that I am a stranger,
do you?" He halted on the verge of the confidence that he found no
barrier in her advanced age. He knew plenty of women of forty who had
never grown up much and who met him on perfectly equal terms. This,
however, was a case by itself. He plunged back into the memories of
Uncle Hugh. He spoke of his charm, his outlook on life, sometimes
curiously veiled, often uncannily clairvoyant; his periods of restless
suffering tending to queer, unsocial impulses; then the flowering of an
interval of hard work and its reward of almost supernatural joy.
"He used to go around in a rainbow," said Hugh, "a sort of holy soap
bubble. I hardly dared to speak to him for fear of breaking it. It came
with a new inspiration, and while it lasted nothing on earth was so
important. Then when it was finished he never wanted to see the thing
"Go on," said his listener. Her grey eyes plumbed his with a child's
directness. He was conscious of his will playing on her. He was keeping
his part of the contract, but he was also breaking the way for hers. He
must not let them go for a moment, those grey eyes like a girl's that
grew absent-minded so easily. Only a little more and his mood would
curve around both them, a glamorous mist of feeling.
"You go on," he murmured. "Can't you see how much I want you to? Can't
you feel how much I'm the right person to know?"
"I could never tell any one. You want--"
"Anything, everything. You must have known him better than anybody in
he world did."
"I think so," she said, slowly "And I saw him alone only twice in my
For some time he had sat with his long fingers over his mouth, afraid of
checking her by an untimely word.
"Of course I was in his classes. You know he had an extraordinary
success; he struck twelve at once, as they say there. The French really
discovered him as a poet, just as Mallarme discovered Poe; some of them
used that parallel. And the girls--he was a matinee idol and a
cult--even the French girls. We went into that classroom thrilling as we
never went to any ball. I worked that winter for him harder than I had
ever worked in my life, and about Easter he began to single me out for
the most merciless fault-finding. That was his way of showing that he
considered you worth while. He had a habit of standing over you in
class, holding your paper like a knout. And once or twice--I called
myself a conceited little idiot--but once or twice--"
Hugh nodded. His pulses were singing like morning stars at the spectacle
of a new world.
"He used to say of a certain excited, happy feeling, a sort of fey
feeling, that you seemed to have swallowed a heavenly pigeon. And--well,
he looked like that. But I knocked my vanity on the head and told it,
'Down to the other dogs.' I was used to young men; I knew how little
such manifestations could mean. But after that I used to set little
lines in the things I wrote for him, very delicately, and sometimes I
fancied I had caught a fish. It was most exciting."
Hugh again impersonated a Chinese mandarin.
"You see, he allowed so few people to know him, he moved with such
difficulty in that formally laid-out small, professional world, with its
endless leaving of cards and showing yourself on the proper days. I
think they considered him a sort of Huron afflicted with genius, and
forgave him. He ran away from them, he fought them off. And to feel that
there was a magic spiderweb between this creature and me, new every day
and invisible to everybody else and dripping with poetry like dewdrops!
Can't you fancy the intoxication? I was nineteen.... I had engaged
myself to be married to Beverly Shirley. I had known him all my
life--before I left home--but I had absolutely no conviction of
disloyalty. This was different; this was another life."
"Another you," agreed Hugh, as one who took exotic states of mind for
"Well, yes.... It was one of the awful at-homes of Madame Normand's. She
took American girls _en pension_, and she was supposed to look after us
severely; but as she was an American herself, of course she gave us a
great deal of liberty. She was the wife of a _professeur_, and she had
rather an imposing _salon_, so she received just so often, and you had
to go or she never stopped asking you why. You have been to those French
"Where they serve music and syrup and little hard cakes, and you carry
away the impression of a lordly function because of the scenery and the
manners? Indeed yes!"
"I slid away after a while, out upon the iron balcony, filled with new
lilacs, that overhung the garden. Something had hurt my little feelings;
a letter hadn't come, perhaps. I remember how dark and warm the night
was, like a gulf under me, and the stars and the lights of Paris seemed
very much alike and rather disappointing. Then I heard his voice behind
me, and I was as overwhelmed as--as Daphne or Danae or one of those
pagan ladies might have been when the god came.
"He said, 'What are you doing, hanging over this dark, romantic chasm?'
And I just had presence of mind enough to play up.
"'Naturally, I'm waiting for a phantom lover.' Then the answer to that
flashed on me and I said in a hurry, 'I thought you never came to these
"'I came to see you'--he really said it--and then, 'And--am I
sufficiently demoniacal?' And he _had_ swallowed a pigeon.
"'Oh dear, no!' said I. 'You are much too respectable. You are from
"'And you from Virginia,' said he. 'I hear that a certain Stewart once
unjustifiably claimed kinship with your branch of the family and has
since been known as the Pretender.'
"'That is quite true,' said I. 'And I hear that once when the Ark ran
aground a little voice was heard piping: 'Save me! save me! I am a
Fowler of Boston!'
"That was the silly way we began. Isn't it incredible?"
"He could be silly--that was one of the lovable things," Hugh mused.
"And he could say the most nakedly natural things. But he generally used
the mandarin dialect. He thought in it, I suppose."
"No," the stranger corrected him. "He thought in thoughts. Brilliant
people always do. The words just wait like a--a--"
"Layette," said Hugh. "What else did he say?"
"The next I remember we were leaning together, all but touching. And he
was telling me about the little green gate."
Hugh's hand shut. "He always called it that. Was he thinking of it even
"He never was like a person of this world," said Hugh, under his breath.
"The loneliest creature I ever knew."
They fell silent, like two old friends whose sorrow is the same.
"He believed," Hugh went on, after a moment, "that when life became
intolerable you had a perfect right to take the shortest way out. And he
thought of it as a little green gate, swinging with its shadow in the
twilight so that a touch would let you into the sweetest, dimmest old
"But he loved life."
"Sometimes. The colour of it and the unexpectedness. He believed the
word didn't have any definite plan, but just wandered along the road and
picked up adventures. And he loved that. He said God made a new earth
every day and he rather fancied a new heaven oftener. But he got so
dead tired at the end, homesick for the underground.... I wonder ..."
The little woman was looking past him, straight into an evocation of a
vanished presence that was so real, so nearly tangible, that Hugh was
forced to lay violent hands upon his absurd impulse to glance over his
shoulder "I wouldn't let him," she said, in a tone the young man had
never heard before.
"You mean ..."
"I couldn't bear it. I made him promise me that he wouldn't. I can't
tell you that. We talked for a long time and the night was full of doom.
He was tired then, but that wasn't all. He felt what was coming--the
Shadow ... and he was in terror. What he dreaded most was that it might
change him in some way, make him something beastly and devilish--he who
had always loved whatever was lovely and merciful and of good report."
Hugh got up with a shudder. "Hush!" he said, sharply. "It's too ghastly.
Don't tell me any more about it." He wandered across the room, pulling a
leaf from the azaleas, stopping at the window for a long look out. The
wind was blowing some riotous young clouds over the sky like
inarticulate shouts. There was an arrogant bird in the elm; there were
pert crocus-buds in the window-boxes. The place was full of foolhardy
little dare-devils who trusted their fate and might never find it out.
After all, that was the way to live--as long as one was allowed. He
turned suddenly with his whimsical smile. "I look out o' window quite a
bit," he explained, "well, because of my aunt Maria." When he sat down
again in the Sheraton chair Mrs. Shirley shifted her story to the plane
of the smile.
"I don't know how late it was when Madame Normand popped her head out of
the balcony door."
"'Who was then surprised? It was the lady,' as dear old Brantome says?"
"It was everybody. The company had gone and Melanie the _bonne_ was
putting out the candles.
"'Miss Stewart and I have just discovered that we are very nearly
related,' said he.
"'But how delightful,' said Madame, thoroughly annoyed."
"And the other time," Hugh hinted. What he wanted to say was, "So you
prevented it, you kept him here, God bless you!" His natural resilience
had asserted itself. Vistas were opening. The Hugh who accepted life for
what it was worth was again in the ascendant, but he found a second to
call up the other Hugh, whose legal residence was somewhere near the
threshold of consciousness, to take notice. He had always known that
there must have been something in Uncle Hugh's girl.
"That was a few days later, the afternoon before I left Paris. I went
quite suddenly. Somebody was sick at home, and I had the chance to
travel with some friends who were going. He had sent me flowers--no, not
"Yes. Old Monsieur Normand was scandalized; it seems one doesn't send
yellow flowers to a _jeune fille_. To me it was the most incredibly
thoughtful and original thing. All the other girls had gone with Madame
to a very special piano recital, in spite of a drizzling rain. It had
turned cool, too, I remember, because there was a wood fire in the
little sitting-room--not the _salon_, but the girls' room. Being an
American, Madame was almost lavish about fires. And it was a most
un-French room, the most careless little place, where the second-best
piano lived, and the lilacs, when they were taken in out of the cold.
There were sweet old curtains, and a long sofa in front of the fireplace
instead of the traditional armchairs. Anybody's books and bibelots lay
about. I was playing."
"What?" This was important.
"What would a girl play, over twenty years ago, in Paris? In the
_crepuscule_, with the lilacs that _embaument_, as they say there, and
with a sort of panic in her mind? Because, after all, the man to whom
one is engaged is a man whom one knows very slightly."
"Absolutely," said Hugh.
"And I didn't want to leave Paris.... Of course I was playing Chopin
bits, with an ache in my heart to match, that I couldn't bear and was
enjoying to the utmost. What do girls play now? Then all of us had
attacks of Chopin. Madame used to laugh and say, 'I hear the harbour bar
still moaning,' and order that particular girl's favourite dessert. She
spoiled us. And Monsieur would say something about _si jeunesse savait_.
He was a nice old man, not very successful; his colleagues patronized
him. Oh yes he was obvious!
"And then Melanie opened the door and announced, '_Monsieur, le cousin
de Mademoiselle_.' I don't know what made her do it except a general
wish to be kind. She remembered from the other night, and, besides, she
hated to attempt English names; she made salmi of them."
Hugh had ceased to hold her eyes long ago. They looked into the window's
square of light. He had no wish to intrude his presence. She was finding
it natural to tell him, just as he had acknowledged her right to explore
the intimate places of his soul. Things simply happened that way
sometimes, and one was humbly thankful.
"'Go on,' he said. 'Don't stop.' He sat in a corner of the sofa, and for
a while the impetus of my start carried me on. Then the bottom dropped
out of Chopin. I went over and sat in the other corner. It was a long
sofa; it felt as long as the world.
"Do you remember that heart-breakingly beautiful voice of his that could
make you feel anything he was feeling? It was like magic. He said at
"'So you are going home to be married?'
"'Betty,' he said, 'are you happy, quite happy, about--everything?'
"'Oh yes!' I said. 'Oh yes, Professor Fowler!' The curious thing about
it was that I spoke the truth when I considered it seriously.
"He said, 'Then that's all right.' Then he laughed a little and said,
'Do you always call me Professor Fowler, even when you shut your door on
the world at night and are all alone with God and the silence?'
"'And Claudia Jones,' I added, stupidly.
"He considered that seriously and said, 'I didn't know about Claudia
Jones; she may inhibit even the silence and the other ingredient. I
suppose you call me Teacher.'
"I cried out at that. 'I might call you _cher maitre_, as they do her.'
"He said, 'That may do for the present.'
"'We looked into the fire and the lilacs filled the pause as adequately
as Chopin could have done. All at once he got up and came over to me--it
seemed the most natural thing in the world--across that wilderness of
"'I suppose,' he said, 'that you won't let me off that promise.'
"'No, no!' I cried, all my old panic flooding over me again. I threw my
hands out, and suddenly he had caught them in his and was holding me
half away from him, and he was saying, in that tragic voice of his:
"'No, no! But give me something to make it bearable.'"
"Allah, the compassionate!" sighed Hugh, in ecstasy. He had never dared
hope for all this. His very being went on tiptoe for fear of breathing
"We sat there for ages and ages, gazing into the fire, not saying a
word. Then he spoke ... every now and then. He said:
"'The horrible thing would have been never to have known you. Now that
I've touched you I'm magnetized for life. I can't lose you again.'
"'It isn't I,' I told him. 'It's only what you think me.'
"'You are the only creature outside of myself that I ever found myself
in,' he said. 'And I could look into you like Narcissus until I died.
You are home and Nirvana. That's what you are. When I look at you I
believe in God. You gallantest, most foolhardy, little, fragile thing,
you, you're not afraid of anything. You trust this rotten life, don't
you? You expect to find lovely things everywhere, and you will, just
because they'll spring up around your feet. You'll save your world like
all redeemers simply by being in it.'
"No woman ever had such things said to her as he said to me. But most
of the time we said nothing. There wasn't any past or future; there was
only the touch of his shoulder and his hands all around mine. It was
like coming in out of the cold; it was like being on a hill above the
sea, and listening to the wind in the pines until you don't know which
is the wind and which is you....
"It couldn't last forever. After a while something like a little point
of pain began worrying my mind.
"'But there won't be.... This is good-bye,' I cried.
"'Don't you believe it,' he said. 'God Himself couldn't make us say
good-bye again.' He got up and drew me with him. It was quite dark now
except for the fire, and his eyes ... they were like those of the Djinns
who were made out of elemental fire instead of earth. 'You'll come to me
in the blessed sunshine,' he said, 'and in music, and in the best
impulses of my own soul. If I were an old-fashioned lover I should
promise to wait for you in heaven.... Betty, Betty, I have you in heaven
now and forever!' ... I felt his cheek on mine. Then he was gone. That
was all; that was every bit of all."
"And he had that to live on for the rest of his life." Hugh broke the
silence under his breath. "Well, thank God he had _something_!"
The little woman fumbled in her bag for a handkerchief and shamelessly
dried her eyes. As she moved, a brown object fell from the corner of the
couch across her lap. Hugh held his hand out for the morocco portfolio.
"It seems to have the homing instinct," he observed; then, abruptly,
"Wait a moment; I'm going to call them back." He paused, as usual,
before his favourite confidant, the window. "The larger consciousness,
the Universal Togetherness," he muttered. "I really believe he must have
touched it that once. O Lord! how--" His spacious vocabulary gave it up.
When he followed his uncle and aunt into the room Mrs. Shirley came
forward, her thin veil again covering her face.
"I must go," she said. "Thank you once more for letting me come."
With a curious young touch of solemnity Hugh laid the brown case in her
hands. "This belongs to you," he said, "and I wanted them to see you
* * * * *
"And you intend to permit this, Winthrop?"
Miss Fowler turned on her brother. She had suppressed her emotions
before the intruder; she had even said some proper things without unduly
speeding the parting guest. But if you can't be hateful to your own
family, to whom, in the name of the domestic pieties, can you be
Mr. Fowler swiveled on her the glassy eye of one who does not suffer
fools gladly. "I permit anything," he responded, icily, "that will keep
that boy ... sane." He retired anew behind the monastic newspaper and
Miss Maria received a sudden chill apprehension that Winthrop was
looking much older lately. "But--" she faltered. Then she resolutely
returned to the baiting. "I suppose you recall her saying that she has a
daughter. Probably," admitted Miss Maria, grudgingly, "an attractive
"It might be a very good thing," said the world-weary voice, and left
her gasping. "Two excellent Virginia families." He faced his sister's
appalled expression. "He might do something much more impossible--marry
a cheap actress or go into a monastery. His behaviour to-day prepares me
for anything. And"--a note of difficulty came into what Hugh had once
called his uncle's chiselled voice--"you do not appear to realize,
Maria, that what Mrs. Shirley has done is rather a remarkable thing, a
thing that you and I, with our undoubted appreciation of the value of
money, should probably have felt that we could not afford to do."
Hugh came in blithely, bringing a spring-smelling whiff of outdoors with
him. "I got her a taxi," he announced, "and she asked me to come down to
their place for Easter. There's a hunting club. Oh cheer up, Aunt Maria!
At least she left the money behind."
"Look at my needle!" cried the long-suffering lady. "_You_ did that. I
must say, Hugh, I find your conduct most disrespectful."
"All right, I grovel," Hugh agreed, pleasantly. He picked up the cat and
rubbed her tenderly the wrong way.
"As for the money, I don't see how her conscience could have allowed her
to accept everything. And she married somebody else, too."
"So did Dante's girl. That doesn't seem to make all the difference.
Conscience?" Hugh went on, absently. "Conscience? Haven't I heard that
word somewhere before? You are the only person I know, Aunt Maria, who
has a really good, staunch, weather-proof one, because, like the laws of
the Medes and Persians, it altereth not."
"I should hope not, indeed," said Miss Fowler, half mollified.
Hugh smiled sleepily. The cat opened one yellow eye and moved mystified
whiskers. She profoundly distrusted this affectionate young admirer. Was
she being stroked the wrong way or ruffled the right way?
"Tiger, tiger, burning bright," murmured Hugh. "Puzzle, Kitty: find the
THE KITCHEN GODS
BY G.F. ALSOP
From _Century Magazine_
The lilies bloomed that day. Out in the courtyard in their fantastic
green-dragoned pots, one by one the tiny, ethereal petals opened.
Dong-Yung went rapturously among them, stooping low to inhale their
faint fragrance. The square courtyard, guarded on three sides by the
wings of the house, facing the windowless blank wall on the fourth, was
mottled with sunlight. Just this side of the wall a black shadow, as
straight and opaque as the wall itself, banded the court with darkness;
but on the hither side, where the lilies bloomed and Dong-Yung moved
among them, lay glittering, yellow sunlight. The little box of a house
where the gate-keeper lived made a bulge in the uniform blackness of the
wall and its shadow. The two tall poles, with the upturned baskets, the
devil-catches, rose like flagstaffs from both sides of the door. A huge
china griffon stood at the right of the gate. From beyond the wall came
the sounds of early morning--the click of wooden sandals on cobbled
streets and the panting cries of the coolies bringing in fresh
vegetables or carrying back to the denuded land the refuse of the city.
The gate-keeper was awake, brushing out his house with a broom of twigs.
He was quite bald, and the top of his head was as tanned and brown as
the legs of small summer children.
"Good morning, Honourable One," he called. "It is a good omen. The
lilies have opened."
An amah, blue-trousered, blue-jacketed, blue-aproned, cluttered across
the courtyard with two pails of steaming water.
"Good morning, Honourable One. The water for the great wife is hot and
heavy." She dropped her buckets, the water splashing over in runnels
and puddles at her feet, and stooped to smell the lilies. "It is an
From the casement-window in the right balcony a voice called:
"Thou dunce! Here I am waiting already half the day. Quicker! quicker!"
It sounded elderly and querulous a voice accustomed to be obeyed and to
dominate. The great wife's face appeared a moment at the casement. Her
eyes swept over the courtyard scene--over the blooming lilies, and
Dong-Yung standing among them.
"Behold the small wife, cursed of the gods!" she cried in her high,
shrill voice. "Not even a girl can she bear her master. May she eat
bitterness all her days!"
The amah shouldered the steaming buckets and splashed across the bare
boards of the ancestral hall beyond.
"The great wife is angry," murmured the gate-keeper. "Oh, Honourable
One, shall I admit the flower-girl? She has fresh orchids."
Dong-Yung nodded. The flower girl came slowly in under the guarded
gateway. She was a country child, with brown cheeks and merry eyes. Her
shallow basket was steadied by a ribbon over one shoulder, and caught
between an arm and a swaying hip. In the flat, round basket, on green
little leaves, lay the wired perfumed orchids.
"How many? It is an auspicious day. See, the lilies have bloomed. One
for the hair and two for the buttonholes. They smell sweet as the breath
of heaven itself."
Dong-Yung smiled as the flower-girl stuck one of the fragrant, fragile,
green-striped orchids in her hair, and hung two others, caught on
delicate loops of wire, on the jade studs of her jacket, buttoned on the
"Ah, you are beautiful-come-death!" said the flower-girl. "Great
happiness be thine!"
"Even a small wife can be happy at times." Dong-Yung took out a little
woven purse and paid over two coppers apiece to the flower-girl.
At the gate the girl and the gate-keeper fell a-talking.
"Is the morning rice ready?" called a man's voice from the room behind.
Dong-Yung turned quickly. Her whole face changed. It had been smiling
and pleased before at the sight of the faint, white lily-petals and the
sunlight on her feet and the fragrance of the orchids in her hair; but
now it was lit with an inner radiance.
"My beloved Master!" Dong-Yung made a little instinctive gesture toward
the approaching man, which in a second was caught and curbed by Chinese
etiquette. Dressed, as she was, in pale-gray satin trousers, loose, and
banded at the knee with wide blue stripes, and with a soft jacket to
match, she was as beautiful in the eyes of the approaching man as the
newly opened lilies. What he was in her eyes it would be hard for any
modern woman to grasp: that rapture of adoration, that bliss of worship,
has lingered only in rare hearts and rarer spots on the earth's surface.
Foh-Kyung came out slowly through the ancestral hall. The sunlight edged
it like a bright border. The floors were wide open, and Dong-Yung saw
the decorous rows of square chairs and square tables set rhythmically
along the walls, and the covered dais at the head for the guest of
honour. Long crimson scrolls, sprawled with gold ideographs, hung from
ceiling to floor. A rosewood cabinet, filled with vases, peach bloom,
imperial yellow, and turquoise blue, gleamed like a lighted lamp in the
shadowy morning light of the room.
Foh-Kyung stooped to smell the lilies.
"They perfume the very air we breathe. Little Jewel, I love our old
Chinese ways. I love the custom of the lily-planting and the day the
lilies bloom. I love to think the gods smell them in heaven, and are
gracious to mortals for their fragrance's sake."
"I am so happy!" Dong-Yung said, poking the toe of her slipper in and
out the sunlight. She looked up at the man before her, and saw he was
tall and slim and as subtle-featured as the cross-legged bronze Buddha
himself. His long thin hands were hid, crossed and slipped along the
wrists within the loose apricot satin sleeves of his brocaded garment.
His feet, in their black satin slippers and tight-fitting white muslin
socks, were austere and aristocratic. Dong-Yung, when he was absent,
loved best to think of him thus, with his hands hidden and his eyes
"The willow-leaves will bud soon," answered Dong-Yung, glancing over her
shoulder at the tapering, yellowing twigs of the ancient tree.
"And the beech-blossoms," continued Foh-Kyung. "'The earth is the
Lord's, and the fullness thereof.'"
"The foreign devil's wisdom," answered Dong-Yung.
"It is greater than ours, Dong-Yung; greater and lovelier. To-day,
to-day, I will go to their hall of ceremonial worship and say to their
holy priest that I think and believe the Jesus way."
"Oh, most-beloved Master, is it also permitted to women, to a small
wife, to believe the Jesus way?"
"I will believe for thee, too, little Lotus Flower in the Pond."
"Tell me, O Teacher of Knowledge--tell me that in my heart and in my
mind I may follow a little way whither thou goest in thy heart and in
Foh-Kyung moved out of the shadow of the ancestral hall and stood in the
warm sunlight beside Dong-Yung, his small wife. His hands were still
withheld and hidden, clasping his wrists within the wide, loose apricot
sleeves of his gown, but his eyes looked as if they touched her.
Dong-Yung hid her happiness even as the flowers hide theirs, within
silent, incurving petals.
"The water is cold as the chill of death. Go, bring me hot water--water
hot enough to scald an egg."
Foh-Kyung and Dong-Yung turned to the casement in the upper right-hand
wing and listened apprehensively. The quick chatter of angry voices
rushed out into the sunlight.
"The honourable great wife is very cross this morning." Dong-Yung
shivered and turned back to the lilies. "To-day perhaps she will beat me
again. Would that at least I had borne my lord a young prince for a
son; then perhaps--"
"Go not near her, little Jewel. Stay in thine own rooms. Nay, I have
sons a-plenty. Do not regret the childlessness. I would not have your
body go down one foot into the grave for a child. I love thee for
"Now my lord speaks truly, as do the foreign devils to the shameless,
open-faced women. I like the ways of the outside kingdom well. Tell me
more of them, my Master."
Foh-Kyung moved his hands as if he would have withdrawn them from his
apricot-coloured sleeves. Dong-Yung saw the withheld motion, and swayed
nearer. For a moment Dong-Yung saw the look in his eyes that engulfed
her in happiness; then it was gone, and he looked away past her, across
the opening lily-buds and the black rampart of the wall, at something
distant, yet precious. Foh-Kyung moved closer. His face changed. His
eyes held that hidden rapture that only Dong-Yung and the foreign-born
priest had seen.
"Little Jewel, wilt thou go with me to the priest of the foreign-born
faith? Come!" He withdrew his hand from his sleeve and touched Dong-Yung
on the shoulder. "Come, we will go hand in hand, thou and I, even as the
men and women of the Jesus thinking; not as Chinese, I before, and thou
six paces behind. Their God loves men and women alike."
"Is it permitted to a small wife to worship the foreign-born God?"
Dong-Yung lifted her eyes to the face of Foh-Kyung. "Teach me, O my Lord
Master! My understanding is but young and fearful--"
Foh-Kyung moved into the sunlight beside her.
"Their God loves all the world. Their God is different, little Flower,
from the painted images, full of blessings, not curses. He loves even
little girl babies that mothers would throw away. Truly his heart is
still more loving than the heart of a mother."
"And yet I am fearful--" Dong-Yung looked back into the shadows of the
guest-hall, where the ancestral tablets glowed upon the wall, and
crimson tapers stood ready before them. "Our gods I have touched and
"Nay, in the Jesus way there is no fear left." Foh-Kyung's voice dropped
lower. Its sound filled Dong-Yung with longing. "When the wind screams
in the chimneys at night, it is but the wind, not evil spirits. When the
summer breeze blows in at the open door, we need not bar it. It is but
the summer breeze from the rice-fields, uninhabited by witch-ghosts.
When we eat our morning rice, we are compelled to make no offering to
the kitchen gods in the stove corner. They cannot curse our food. Ah, in
the Jesus way there is no more fear!"
Dong-Yung drew away from her lord and master and looked at him
anxiously. He was not seeing her at all. His eyes looked beyond, across
the fragile, lily-petals, through the solid black wall, at a vision he
saw in the world. Dong-Yung bent her head to sniff the familiar sweet
springtime orchid hanging from the jade stud on her shoulder.
"Your words are words of good hearing, O beloved Teacher. Nevertheless,
let me follow six paces behind. I am not worthy to touch your hand. Six
paces behind, when the sun shines in your face, my feet walk in the
shadow of your garments."
Foh-Kyung gathered his gaze back from his visions and looked at his
small wife, standing in a pool of sunshine before him. Overhead the lazy
crows flew by, winging out from their city roosts to the rice-fields for
the day's food.
"Tea-boiled eggs!" cried a vender from beyond the wall. A man stopped at
the gate, put down his shoulder-tray of food, and bargained with the
ancient, mahogany-scalped gate-keeper. Faint odours of food frying in
oil stole out from the depths of the house behind him. And Dong-Yung,
very quiet and passive in the pose of her body, gazed up at Foh-Kyung
with those strange, secretive, ardent eyes. All around him was China,
its very essence and sound and smell. Dong-Yung was a part of it all;
nay, she was even the very heart of it, swaying there in the yellow
light among the lily-petals.
"Precious Jewel! Yet it is sweeter to walk side by side, our feet
stepping out into the sunlight together, and our shadows mingling
behind. I want you beside me."
The last words rang with sudden warmth. Dong-Yung trembled and
crimsoned. It was not seemly that a man speak to a woman thus, even
though that man was a husband and the woman his wife, not even though
the words were said in an open court, where the eyes of the great wife
might spy and listen. And yet Dong-Yung thrilled to those words.
An amah called, "The morning rice is ready."
Dong-Yung hurried into the open room, where the light was still faint,
filtering in through a high-silled window and the door. A round, brown
table stood in the center of the room. In the corner of the room behind
stood the crescentic, white plaster stove, with its dull wooden
kettle-lids and its crackling straw. Two cooks, country women, sat in
the hidden corner behind the stove, and poked in the great bales of
straw and gossiped. Their voices and the answers of the serving amah
filled the kitchen with noise. In their decorous niche at the upper
right hand of the stove sat the two kitchen gods, small ancient idols,
with hidden hands and crossed feet, gazing out upon a continually hungry
world. Since time was they had sat there, ensconced at the very root of
life, seemingly placid and unseeing and unhearing, yet venomously
watching to be placated with food. Opposite the stove, on the white
wall, hung a row of brass hooks, from which dangled porcelain spoons
with pierced handles. On a serving-table stood the piled bowls for the
day, blue-and-white rice patterns, of a thin, translucent ware, showing
the delicate light through the rice seeds; red-and-green dragoned bowls
for the puddings; and tiny saucer-like platters for the vegetables. The
tea-cups, saucered and lidded, but unhandled, stood in a row before the
polished brass hot-water kettle.
The whole room was full of a stirring, wakening life, of the crackling
straw fire, of the steaming rice, all white and separate-kerneled in its
great, shallow, black iron kettles lidded with those heavy hand-made
wooden lids while the boiling tea water hissed, and spat out a snake of
With that curious democracy of China, where high and low alike are
friendly, Dong-Yung hurried into her beloved kitchen.
"Has the master come?" asked the serving maid.
"Coming, coming," Dong-Yung answered, "I myself will take in his morning
rice, after I have offered the morning oblations to the gods."
Dong-Yung selected two of the daintiest blue-and-white rice-pattern
bowls. The cook lifted off the wooden lid of the rice-kettle, and
Dong-Yung scooped up a dipperful of the snow-white kernels. On the tiny
shelf before each god, the father and mother god of the household,
Dong-Yung placed her offering. She stood off a moment, surveying them in
pleased satisfaction--the round, blue bowls, with the faint tracery of
light; the complacent gods above, red and green and crimson, so
age-long, comfortably ensconced in their warm stove corner. She made
swift obeisance with her hands and body before those ancient idols. A
slant of sunshine swept in from the high windows and fell over her in a
shaft of light. The thoughts of her heart were all warm and mixed and
confused. She was happy. She loved her kitchen, her gods, all the
familiar ways of Chinese life. She loved her silken, satin clothes,
perfumed and embroidered and orchid-crowned, yet most of all she loved
her lord and master. Perhaps it was this love for him that made all the
rest of life so precious, that made each bowl of white rice an oblation,
each daily act a glorification. So she flung out her arms and bent her
head before the kitchen gods, the symbol of her ancient happiness.
"Dong-Yung, I do not wish you to do this any more."
Dong-Yung turned, her obeisance half arrested in mid-air. Foh-Kyung
stood in the doorway.
"My lord," stammered Dong-Yung, "I did not understand your meaning."
"I know that, little Flower in my House. The new meaning is hard to
understand. I, too, am but a blind child unused to the touch of the
road. But the kitchen gods matter no more; we pray to a spirit."
Foh-Kyung, in his long apricot-coloured garment, crossed the threshold
of the kitchen, crossed the shadow and sunlight that stripped the bare
board floor, and stood before the kitchen gods. His eyes were on a level
with theirs, strange, painted wooden eyes that stared forth inscrutably
into the eating centuries. Dong-Yung stood half bowed, breathless with a
quick, cold fear. The cook, one hand holding a shiny brown dipper, the
other a porcelain dish, stood motionless at the wooden table under the
window. From behind the stove peeped the frightened face of one of the
fire-tenders. The whole room was turned to stone, motionless, expectant,
awaiting the releasing moment of arousement--all, that is, but the
creeping sunshine, sliding nearer and nearer the crossed feet of the
kitchen gods; and the hissing steam fire, warming, coddling the hearts
of the gods. Sun at their feet, fire at their hearts, food before them,
and mortals turned to stone!
Foh-Kyung laughed softly, standing there, eye-level with the kitchen
gods. He stretched out his two hands, and caught a god in each. A
shudder ran through the motionless room.
"It is wickedness!" The porcelain dish fell from the hand of the cook,
and a thousand rice-kernels, like scattered pearls, ran over the floor.
"A blasphemer," the fire-tender whispered, peering around the stove with
terrified eyes. "This household will bite off great bitterness."
Foh-Kyung walked around the corner of the stove. The fire sparked and
hissed. The sunshine filled the empty niche. Not since the building of
the house and the planting of the tall black cypress-trees around it, a
hundred years ago, had the sunlight touched the wall behind the kitchen
Dong-Yung sprang into life. She caught Foh-Kyung's sleeve.
"O my Lord and Master, I pray you, do not utterly cast them away into
the burning, fiery furnace! I fear some evil will befall us."
Foh-Kyung, a green-and-gold god in each hand, stopped and turned. His
eyes smiled at Dong-Yung. She was so little and so precious and so
afraid! Dong-Yung saw the look of relenting. She held his sleeve the
"Light of my Eyes, do good deeds to me. My faith is but a little faith.
How could it be great unto thy great faith? Be gentle with my kitchen
gods. Do not utterly destroy them. I will hide them."
Foh-Kyung smiled yet more, and gave the plaster gods into her hands as
one would give a toy to a child.
"They are thine. Do with them as thou wilt, but no more set them up in
this stove corner and offer them morning rice. They are but painted,
plastered gods. I worship the spirit above."
Foh-Kyung sat down at the men's table in the men's room beyond. An amah
brought him rice and tea. Other men of the household there was none, and
he ate his meal alone. From the women's room across the court came a
shrill round of voices. The voice of the great wife was loudest and
shrillest. The voices of the children, his sons and daughters, rose and
fell with clear childish insistence among the older voices. The amah's
voice laughed with an equal gaiety.
Dong-Yung hid away the plastered green-and-gold gods. Her heart was
filled with a delicious fear. Her lord was even master of the gods. He
picked them up in his two hands, he carried them about as carelessly as
a man carries a boy child astride his shoulder; he would even have cast
them into the fire! Truly, she shivered with delight. Nevertheless, she
was glad she had hidden them safely away. In the corner of the kitchen
stood a box of white pigskin with beaten brass clasps made like the
outspread wings of a butterfly. Underneath the piles of satin she had
hidden them, and the key to the butterfly clasps was safe in her
Dong-Yung stood in the kitchen door and watched Foh-Kyung.
"Does my lord wish for anything?"
Foh-Kyung turned, and saw her standing there in the doorway. Behind her
were the white stove and the sun-filled, empty niche. The light flooded
through the doorway. Foh-Kyung set down his rice-bowl from his left hand
and his ivory chop-sticks from his right. He stood before her.
"Truly, Dong-Yung, I want thee. Do not go away and leave me. Do not
cross to the eating-room of the women and children. Eat with me."
"It has not been heard of in the Middle Kingdom for a woman to eat with
"Nevertheless, it shall be. Come!"
Dong-Yung entered slowly. The light in this dim room was all gathered
upon the person of Foh-Kyung, in the gleaming patterned roses of his
gown, in his deep amethyst ring, in his eyes. Dong-Yung came because of
his eyes. She crossed the room slowly, swaying with that peculiar grace
of small-footed women, till she stood at the table beside Foh-Kyung. She
was now even more afraid than when he would have cast the kitchen gods
into the fire. They were but gods, kitchen gods, that he was about to
break; this was the primeval bondage of the land, ancient custom.
"Give me thy hand and look up with thine eyes and thy heart."
Dong-Yung touched his hand. Foh-Kyung looked up as if he saw into the
ether beyond, and there saw a spirit vision of ineffable radiance. But
Dong-Yung watched him. She saw him transfigured with an inner light. His
eyes moved in prayer. The exaltation spread out from him to her, it
tingled through their finger-tips, it covered her from head to foot.
Foh-Kyung drooped her hand and moved. Dong-Yung leaned nearer.
"I, too, would believe the Jesus way."
In the peculiar quiet of mid-afternoon, when the shadows begin to creep
down from the eaves of the pagodas and zigzag across the rice-fields to
bed, Foh-Kyung and Dong-Yung arrived at the camp-ground of the
foreigners. The lazy native streets were still dull with the end of
labour. At the gate of the camp-ground the rickshaw coolies tipped down
the bamboo shafts, to the ground. Dong-Yung stepped out quickly, and
looked at her lord and master. He smiled.
"Nay, I do not fear," Dong-Yung answered, with her eyes on his face.
"Yet this place is strange, and lays a coldness around my heart."
"Regard not their awkward ways," said Foh-Kyung, as he turned in at the
gate; "in their hearts they have the secret of life."
The gate-keeper bowed, and slipped the coin, warm from Foh-Kyung's hand,
into his ready pocket.
"Walk beside me, little Wife of my Heart." Foh-Kyung stopped in the wide
gravelled road and waited for Dong-Yung. Standing there in the sunlight,
more vivid yet than the light itself, in his imperial yellow robes he
was the end of life, nay, life itself, to Dong-Yung. "We go to the house
of the foreign priest to seek until we find the foreign God. Let us go
side by side."
Dong-Yung, stepping with slow, small-footed grace, walked beside him.
"My understanding is as the understanding of a little child, beloved
Teacher; but my heart lies like a shell in thy hand, its words but as
the echo of thine. My honour is great that thou do not forget me in the
magnitude of the search."
Dong-Yung's pleated satin skirts swayed to and fro against the imperial
yellow of Foh-Kyung's robe. Her face coloured like a pale spring
blossom, looked strangely ethereal above her brocade jacket. Her heart
still beat thickly, half with fear and half with the secret rapture of
their quest and her lord's desire for her.
Foh-Kyung took a silken and ivory fan from an inner pocket and spread it
in the air. Dong-Yung knew the fan well. It came from a famous
jeweller's on Nanking Road, and had been designed by an old court poet
of long ago. The tiny ivory spokes were fretted like ivy-twigs in the
North, but on the leaves of silk was painted a love-story of the South.
There was a tea-house, with a maiden playing a lute, and the words of
the song, fantastic black ideographs, floated off to the ears of her
lover. Foh-Kyung spread out its leaves in the sun, and looked at it and
"Never is the heart of man satisfied," he said, "alone. Neither when the
willow fuzz flies in the spring, or when the midnight snow silvers the
palms. Least of all is it satisfied when it seeks the presence of God
above. I want thee beside me."
Dong-Yung hid her delight. Already for the third time he said those
words--those words that changed all the world from one of a loving
following-after to a marvelous oneness.
So they stepped across the lawn together. It was to Dong-Yung as if she
stepped into an unknown land. She walked on flat green grass. Flowers in
stiff and ordered rows went sedately round and round beneath a lurid red
brick wall. A strange, square-cornered, flat-topped house squatted in
the midst of the flat green grass. On the lawn at one side was a
white-covered table, with a man and a woman sitting beside it. The four
corners of the table-cloth dripped downward to the flat green grass. It
was all very strange and ugly. Perhaps it was a garden, but no one would
have guessed it. Dong-Yung longed to put each flower plant in a dragon
bowl by itself and place it where the sun caught its petals one by one
as the hours flew by. She longed for a narrow, tile-edged patch to guide
her feet through all that flat green expanse. A little shiver ran over
her. She looked back, down the wide gravelled way, through the gate,
where the gate-keeper sat, tipped back against the wall on his stool, to
the shop of the money-changer's opposite. A boy leaned half across the
polished wood counter and shook his fist in the face of the
money-changer. "Thou thief!" he cried. "Give me my two cash!" Dong-Yung
was reassured. Around her lay all the dear familiar things; at her side
walked her lord and master. And he had said they were seeking a new
freedom, a God of love. Her thoughts stirred at her heart and caught her
The foreigners rose to greet them. Dong-Yung touched the hand of an
alien man. She did not like it at all. The foreign-born woman made her
sit down beside her, and offered her bitter, strong tea in delicate,
lidless cups, with handles bent like a twisted flower-branch.
"I have been meaning to call for a long time, Mrs. Li," said the
"The great wife will receive thee with much honour," Dong-Yung answered.
"I am so glad you came with your husband."
"Yes," Dong-Yung answered, with a little smile. "The customs of the
foreign-born are pleasant to our eyes."
"I am glad you like them," said the foreign-born woman. "I couldn't bear
not to go everywhere with my husband."
Dong-Yung liked her suddenly on account of the look that sprang up a
moment in her eyes and vanished again. She looked across at the priest,
her husband, a man in black, with thin lips and seeing eyes. The eyes of
the foreign woman, looking at the priest, her husband, showed how much
she loved him. "She loves him even as a small wife loves," Dong-Yung
thought to herself. Dong-Yung watched the two men, the one in imperial
yellow, the one in black, sitting beside each other and talking.
Dong-Yung knew they were talking of the search. The foreign-born woman
was speaking to her again.
"The doctor told me I would die if I came to China, but John felt he had
a call. I would not stand in his way."
The woman's face was illumined.
"And now you are very happy?" Dong-Yung announced.
"And now I am very happy; just as you will be very happy."
"I am always happy since my lord took me for his small wife." Dong-Yung
matched her happiness with the happiness of the foreign-born woman,
proudly, with assurance. In her heart she knew no woman, born to eat
bitterness, had ever been so happy as she in all the worlds beneath the
heavens. She looked around her, beyond the failure of the foreign
woman's garden, at the piled, peaked roofs of China looking over the
wall. The fragrance of a blossoming plum-tree stole across from a
Chinese courtyard, and a peach-branch waved pink in the air. A wonder of
contentment filled Dong-Yung.
All the while Foh-Kyung was talking. Dong-Yung turned back from all the
greenness around her to listen. He sat very still, with his hands hid in
his sleeves. The wave-ridged hem of his robe--blue and green and purple
and red and yellow--was spread out decorously above his feet. Dong-Yung
looked and looked at him, so still and motionless and so gorgeously
arrayed. She looked from his feet, long, slim, in black satin slippers,
and close-fitting white muslin socks, to the feet of the foreign priest.
His feet were huge, ugly black things. From his feet Dong-Yung's eyes
crept up to his face, over his priestly black clothes, rimmed with stiff
white at wrist and throat. Yes, his face was even as the face of a
priest, of one who serves between the gods and men, a face of seeing
eyes and a rigid mouth. Dong-Yung shuddered.
"And so we have come, even as the foreign-born God tells us, a man and
his wife, to believe the Jesus way."
Foh-Kyung spoke in a low voice, but his face smiled. Dong-Yung smiled,
too, at his open, triumphant declarations. She said over his words to
herself, under her breath, so that she would remember them surely when
she wanted to call them back to whisper to her heart in the dark of some
night. "We two, a man and his wife"--only dimly, with the heart of a
little child, did Dong-Yung understand and follow Foh-Kyung; but the
throb of her heart answered the hidden light in his eyes.
The foreign-born priest stood up. The same light shone in his eyes. It
was a rapture, an exaltation. Suddenly an unheard-of thing happened. The
outside kingdom woman put her arms around Dong-Yung! Dong-Yung was
terrified. She was held tight against the other woman's shoulder. The
foreign-born woman used a strange perfume. Dong-Yung only half heard her
"We are like that, too. We could not be separated. Oh, you will be
Dong-Yung thought of the other woman. "In her heart she is humble and
seemly. It is only her speech and her ways that are unfitting."
"We are going into the chapel a moment," said the priest. "Will you
Dong-Yung looked at Foh-Kyung, a swift upward glance, like the sudden
sweep of wings. She read his answer in his eyes. He wanted her to come.
Not even in the temple of the foreign-born God did he wish to be without
A coolie called the foreign-born woman away.
The priest, in his tight trousers, and jacket, black and covered with a
multitude of round flat buttons, stood up, and led the way into the
house and down a long corridor to a closed door at the end. Dong-Yung
hurried behind the two men. At the door the priest stood aside and held
it open for her to pass in first. She hesitated. Foh-Kyung nodded.
"Do not think fearful things, little Princess," he whispered. "Enter,
and be not afraid. There is no fear in the worship of Jesus."
So Dong-Yung crossed the threshold first. Something caught her breath
away, just as the chanting of the dragon priests always did. She took a
few steps forward and stood behind a low-backed bench. Before her, the
light streamed into the little chapel through one luminous window of
coloured glass above the altar. It lay all over the grey-tiled floor in
roses and sunflowers of pink and god. A deep purple stripe fell across
the head of the black-robed priest. Dong-Yung was glad of that. It made
his robe less hideous, and she could not understand how one could serve
a god unless in beautiful robes. On the altar beneath the window of
coloured flowers were two tall silver candlesticks, with smooth white
tapers. A wide-mouthed vase filled with Chinese lilies stood between
them. The whole chapel was faintly fragrant with their incense. So even
the foreign-born worshipers lit candles, and offered the scent of the
lilies to their spirit God. Truly, all the gods of all the earth and in
the sky are lovers of lit candles and flowers. Also, one prays to all
The place was very quiet and peaceful, mottled with the gorgeous,
flowerlike splashes of colour. The waiting candles, the echoes of many
prayers, the blossom of worship filled the tiny chapel. Dong-Yung liked
it, despite herself, despite the strangeness of the imageless altar,
despite the clothes of the priest. She stood quite still behind the
bench flooded and filled with an all-pervading sense of happiness.
Foh-Kyung and the black-robed priest walked past her, down the little
aisle, to a shiny brass railing that went like a fence round before the
altar. The foreign-born priest laid one hand on the railing as if to
kneel down, but Foh-Kyung turned and beckoned with his chin to Dong-Yung
to come. She obeyed at once. She was surprisingly unafraid. Her feet
walked through the patterns of colour, which slid over her head and
hands, gold from the gold of a cross and purple from the robe of a king.
As if stepping through a rainbow, she came slowly down the aisle to the
waiting men, and in her heart and in her eyes lay the light of all love
Foh-Kyung caught her hand.
"See, I take her hand," he said to the priest, "even as you would take
the hand of your wife, proud and unashamed in the presence of your God.
Even as your love is, so shall ours be. Where the thoughts of my heart
lead, the heart of my small wife follows. Give us your blessing."
Foh-Kyung drew Dong-Yung to her knees beside him. His face was hidden,
after the manner of the foreign worshipers; but hers was uplifted, her
eyes gazing at the glass with the colours of many flowers and the shapes
of men and angels. She was happier than she had ever been--happier even
than when she had first worshiped the ancestral tablets with her lord
and master, happier even than at the feast of the dead, when they laid
their food offerings on the shaven grave-mounds. She felt closer to
Foh-Kyung than in all her life before.
She waited. The silence grew and grew till in the heart of it something
ominous took the place of its all-pervading peace. Foh-Kyung lifted his
face from his hands and rose to his feet. Dong-Yung turned, still
kneeling, to scan his eyes. The black-robed priest stood off and looked
at them with horror. Surely it was horror! Never had Dong-Yung really
liked him. Slowly she rose, and stood beside and a little behind
Foh-Kyung. He had not blessed them. Faintly, from beyond the walls of
the Christian chapel came the beating of drums. Devil-drums they were.
Dong-Yung half smiled at the long-known familiar sound.
"Your small wife?" said the priest. "Have you another wife?"
"Assuredly," Foh-Kyung answered. "All men have a great wife first; but
this, my small wife, is the wife of my heart. Together we have come to
seek and find the Jesus way."
The priest wiped his hand across his face. Dong-Yung saw that it was wet
with tiny round balls of sweat. His mouth had suddenly become one thin
red line, but in his eyes lay pain.
"Impossible," he said. His voice was quite different now, and sounded
like bits of metal falling on stone. "No man can enter the church while
living in sin with a woman other than his lawful wife. If your desire is
real, put her away."
With instant response, Foh-Kyung made a stately bow. "Alas! I have made
a grievous mistake. The responsibility will be on my body. I thought all
were welcome. We go. Later on, perhaps, we may meet again."
The priest spoke hurriedly.
"I do not understand your meaning. Is this belief of such light weight
that you will toss it away for a sinful woman? Put her away, and come
and believe." But Foh-Kyung did not hear his words. As he turned away,
Dong-Yung followed close behind her lord and master, only half
comprehending, yet filled with a great fear. They went out again into
the sunshine, out across the flat green grass, under the iron gateway,
back into the Land of the Flowery Kingdom. Foh-Kyung did not speak until
he put Dong-Yung in the rickshaw.
"Little Wife of my Heart," he said, "stop at the jeweller's and buy thee
new ear-rings, these ear-rings of the sky-blue stone and sea-tears, and
have thy hair dressed and thy gowns perfumed, and place the two red
circles on the smile of thy cheeks. To-night we will feast. Hast thou
forgotten that to-night is the Feast of the Lanterns, when all good
He stood beside her rickshaw, in his imperial yellow garment hemmed with
the rainbow waves of the sea, and smiled down into her eyes.
"But the spirit God of love, the foreign-born spirit God?" said
Dong-Yung. "Shall we feast to him too?"
"Nay, it is not fitting to feast to two gods at once," said Foh-Kyung.
"Do as I have said."
He left her. Dong-Yung, riding through the sun-splashed afternoon,
buying coloured jewels and flowery perfume and making herself beautiful,
yet felt uneasy. She had not quite understood. A dim knowledge advanced
toward her like a wall of fog. She pressed her two hands against it and
held it off--held it off by sheer mental refusal to understand. In the
courtyard at home the children were playing with their lighted animals,
drawing their gaudy paper ducks, luminous with candle-light, to and fro
on little standards set on four wheels. At the gate hung a tall
red-and-white lantern, and over the roof floated a string of candle-lit
balloons. In the ancestral hall the great wife had lit the red candles,
speared on their slender spikes, before the tablets. In the kitchen the
cooks and amahs were busy with the feast-cooking. Candles were stuck
everywhere on the tables and benches. They threw little pools of light
on the floor before the stove and looked at the empty niche. In the
night it was merely a black hole in the stove filled with formless
shadow. She wished--
"Dong-Yung, Flower in the House, where hast thou hidden the kitchen
gods? Put them in their place." Foh-Kyung, still in imperial yellow,
stood like a sun in the doorway.
"Put them back, little Jewel in the Hair. It is not permitted to worship
the spirit God. There are bars and gates. The spirit of man must turn
back in the searching, turn back to the images of plaster and paint."
Dong-Yung let the wall of fog slide over her. She dropped her
resistance. She knew.
"Nay, not the spirit of man. It is but natural that the great God does
not wish the importunings of a small wife. Worship thou alone the great
God, and the shadow of that worship will fall on my heart."
"Nay, I cannot worship alone. My worship is not acceptable in the sight
of the foreign God. My ways are not his ways."
Foh-Kyung's face was unlined and calm, yet Dong-Yung felt the hidden
agony of his soul, flung back from its quest upon gods of plaster and
"But I know the thoughts of thy heart, O Lord and Master, white and
fragrant as the lily-buds that opened to-day. Has thy wish changed?"
"Nay, my wish is even the same, but it is not permitted to a man of two
wives to be a follower of the spirit God."
Dong-Yung had known it all along. This knowledge came with no surprise.
It was she who kept him from the path of his desire!
"Put back the kitchen gods," said Foh-Kyung. "We will live and believe
and die even as our fathers have done. The gate to the God of love is
The feast was served. In the sky one moon blotted out a world of stars.
Foh-Kyung sat alone, smoking. Laughter and talk filled the women's wing.
The amahs and coolies were resting outside. A thin reed of music crept
in and out among the laughter and talk, from the reed flute of the cook.
The kitchen was quite empty. One candle on the table sent up a long
smoky tongue of flame. The fire still smouldered in the corner. A little
wind shook the cypress-branches without, and carried the scent of the
opened lilies into the room.
Dong-Yung, still arrayed for feasting, went to the pigskin trunk in the
corner, fitted the key from her belt into the carven brass wings of the
butterfly, and lifted out the kitchen gods. One in each hand, she held
them, green and gold. She put them back in their niche, and lifted up a
bowl of rice to their feet, and beat her head on the ground before them.
"Forgive me, O my kitchen gods, forgive my injurious hands and heart;
but the love of my master is even greater than my fear of thee. Thou and
I, we bar the gates of heaven from him."
When she had finished, she tiptoed around the room, touching the chairs
and tables with caressing fingers. She stole out into the courtyard, and
bent to inhale the lily fragrance, sweeter by night than by day. "An
auspicious day," the gate-keeper had said that morning. Foh-Kyung had
stood beside her, with his feet in the sunshine; she remembered the
light in his eyes. She bent her head till the fingers of the lily-petals
touched her cheek. She crept back through the house, and looked at
Foh-Kyung smoking. His eyes were dull, even as are the eyes of sightless
bronze Buddhas. No, she would never risk going in to speak to him. If
she heard the sound of his voice, if he called her "little Flower of the
House," she would never have the strength to go. So she stood in the
doorway and looked at him much as one looks at a sun, till wherever else
one looks, one sees the same sun against the sky.
In the formless shadow she made a great obeisance, spreading out her
arms and pressing the palms of her hands against the floor.
"O my Lord and Master," she said, with her lips against the boards of
the floor, softly, so that none might hear her--"O my Lord and Master, I
go. Even a small wife may unbar the gates of heaven."
First, before she went, she cast the two kitchen gods, green and gold,
of ancient plaster, into the embers of the fire. There in the morning
the cook-rice amahs found the onyx stones that had been their eyes. The
house was still unlocked, the gate-keeper at the feast. Like a shadow
she moved along the wall and through the gate. The smell of the lilies
blew past her. Drums and chants echoed up the road, and the sounds of
manifold feastings. She crept away down by the wall, where the moon laid
a strip of blackness, crept away to unbar the gates of heaven for her
lord and master.
APRIL 25TH, AS USUAL
By EDNA FERBER
From _Ladies Home Journal_
Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster always cleaned house in September and April. She
started with the attic and worked her purifying path down to the cellar
in strict accordance with Article I, Section I, Unwritten Rules for
House Cleaning. For twenty-five years she had done it. For twenty-five
years she had hated it--being an intelligent woman. For twenty-five
years, towel swathed about her head, skirt pinned back, sleeves rolled
up--the costume dedicated to house cleaning since the days of
What's-Her-Name, mother of Lemuel (see Proverbs)--Mrs. Brewster had gone
through the ceremony twice a year.
Furniture on the porch, woolens on the line, mattresses in the
yard--everything that could be pounded, beaten, whisked, rubbed,
flapped, shaken or aired was dragged out and subjected to one or all of
these indignities. After which, completely cowed, they were dragged in
again and set in their places. Year after year, in attic and in cellar,
things had piled up higher and higher--useless things, sentimental
things; things in trunks; things in chests; shelves full of things
wrapped up in brown-paper parcels.
And boxes--oh, above all, boxes; pasteboard boxes, long and flat, square
and oblong, each bearing weird and cryptic pencilings on one end;
cryptic, that, is to anyone except Mrs. Brewster and you who have owned
an attic. Thus "H's Fshg Tckl" jabberwocked one long slim box. Another
stunned you with "Cur Ted Slpg Pch." A cabalistic third hid its contents
under "Slp Cov Pinky Rm." To say nothing of such curt yet intriguing
fragments as "Blk Nt Drs" and "Sun Par Val." Once you had the code key
they translated themselves simply enough into such homely items as
Hosey's fishing tackle, canvas curtains for Ted's sleeping porch,
slip-covers for Pinky's room, black net dress, sun-parlour valence.
The contents of those boxes formed a commentary on normal American
household life as lived by Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster, of Winnebago,
Wisconsin. Hosey's rheumatism had prohibited trout fishing these ten
years; Ted wrote from Arizona that "the li'l' ol' sky" was his
sleeping-porch roof and you didn't have to worry out there about the
neighbours seeing you in your pyjamas; Pink's rose-cretonne room had
lacked an occupant since Pinky left the Winnebago High School for the
Chicago Art Institute, thence to New York and those amazingly successful
magazine covers that stare up at you from your table--young lady, hollow
chested (she'd need to be with that decolletage), carrying feather fan.
You could tell a Brewster cover at sight, without the fan. That leaves
the black net dress and sun-parlour valance. The first had grown too
tight under the arms (Mrs. Brewster's arms); the second had faded.
Now don't gather from this that Mrs. Brewster was an ample, pie-baking,
ginghamed old soul who wore black silk and a crushed-looking hat with a
palsied rose atop it. Nor that Hosea C. Brewster was spectacled and
slippered. Not at all. The Hosea C. Brewsters, of Winnebago, Wisconsin,
were the people you've met on the veranda of the Moana Hotel at
Honolulu, or at the top of Pike's Peak, or peering into the restless
heart of Vesuvius. They were the prosperous Middle-Western type of
citizen who runs down to Chicago to see the new plays and buy a hat, and
to order a dozen Wedgwood salad plates at Field's.
Mrs. Brewster knew about Dunsany and Georgette and alligator pears; and
Hosea Brewster was in the habit of dropping around to the Elks' Club, up
above Schirmer's furniture store on Elm Street, at about five in the
afternoon on his way home from the cold-storage plant. The Brewster
house was honeycombed with sleeping porches and sun parlours and linen
closets, and laundry chutes and vegetable bins and electric surprises
as well-to-do Middle Western home is likely to be.
That home had long ago grown too large for the two of them--physically,
that is. But as the big frame house had expanded, so had
they--intolerance and understanding humanness--until now, as you talked
with them, you felt that there was room and to spare of sun-filled
mental chambers, and shelves well stored with experience, and pantries
and bins and closets for all your worries and confidences.
But the attic! And the cellar! The attic was the kind of attic every
woman longs for who hasn't one and every woman loathes who has. "If I
only had some place to put things in!" wails the first. And, "If it
weren't for the attic I'd have thrown this stuff away long ago,"
complains the second. Mrs. Brewster herself had helped plan it. Hardwood
floored, spacious light, the Brewster attic revealed to you the social,
aesthetic, educational and spiritual progress of the entire family as
clearly as if a sociologist had chartered it.
Take, for example (before we run down to the cellar for a minute), the
crayon portraits of Gran'ma and Gran'pa Brewster. When Ted had been a
junior and Pinky a freshman at the Winnebago High School the crayon
portraits had beamed down upon them from the living-room wall. To each
of these worthy old people the artist had given a pair of hectic pink
cheeks. Gran'ma Brewster especially, simpering down at you from the
labyrinthian scrolls of her sextuple gold frame, was rouged like a
soubrette and further embellished with a pair of gentian-blue eyes
behind steel-bowed specs. Pinky--and in fact the entire Brewster
household--had thought these massive atrocities the last word in
artistic ornament. By the time she reached her sophomore year, Pinky had
prevailed upon her mother to banish them to the dining-room. Then two
years later, when the Chicago decorator did over the living-room and the
dining-room, the crayons were relegated to the upstairs hall.
Ted and Pinky, away at school, began to bring their friends back with
them for the vacations Pinky's room had been done over in cream enamel
and rose-flowered cretonne. She said the chromos in the hall spoiled the
entire second floor. So the gold frames, glittering undimmed, the checks
as rosily glowing as ever, found temporary resting-places in a
nondescript back chamber known as the serving room. Then the new
sleeping porch was built for Ted, and the portraits ended their
journeying in the attic.
One paragraph will cover the cellar. Stationary tubs, laundry stove.
Behind that, bin for potatoes, bin for carrots, bins for onions, apples,
cabbages. Boxed shelves for preserves. And behind that Hosea C.
Brewster's _bete noir_ and plaything, tyrant and slave--the furnace.
"She's eating up coal this winter," Hosea Brewster would complain. Or:
"Give her a little more draft, Fred." Fred, of the furnace and lawn
mower, would shake a doleful head. "She ain't drawin' good. I do' know
what's got into her."
By noon of this particular September day--a blue-and-gold Wisconsin
September day--Mrs. Brewster had reached that stage in the cleaning of
the attic when it looked as if it would never be clean and orderly
again. Taking into consideration Miz' Merz (Mis' Merz by-the-day, you
understand) and Gussie, the girl, and Fred, there was very little
necessity for Mrs. Brewster's official house-cleaning uniform. She might
have unpinned her skirt, unbound her head, rolled down her sleeves and
left for the day, serene in the knowledge that no corner, no chandelier,
no mirror, no curlicue so hidden, so high, so glittering, so ornate that
it might hope to escape the rag or brush of one or the other of this
relentless and expert crew.
Every year, twice a year, as this box, that trunk or chest was opened
and its contents revealed, Mis' Merz would say "You keepin' this, Miz'
"That? Oh, dear yes!" Or: "Well--I don't know. You can take that home
with you if you want it. It might make over for Minnie."
Yet why, in the name of all that's ridiculous, did she treasure the
funeral wheat wreath in the walnut frame? Nothing is more _passe_ than
a last summer's hat, yet the leghorn and pink-cambric-rose thing in the
tin trunk was the one Mrs. Brewster had worn when a bride. Then the
plaid kilted dress with the black velvet monkey jacket that Pinky had
worn when she spoke her first piece at the age of seven--well, these
were things that even the rapacious eye of Miz' Merz (by-the-day) passed
by unbrightened by covetousness.
The smell of soap and water, and cedar, and moth balls, and dust, and
the ghost of a perfumery that Pinky used to use pervaded the hot attic.
Mrs. Brewster, head and shoulders in a trunk, was trying not to listen
and not to seem not to listen to Miz' Merz' recital of her husband's
relations' latest flagrancy.
"'Families is nix,' I says. 'I got my own family to look out fuh,' I
says. Like that. 'Well,' s's he, 'w'en it comes to _that_,' s's he, 'I
guess I got some--'" Punctuated by thumps, spatterings, swashings and
much heavy breathing, so that the sound of light footsteps along the
second-floor hallway, a young clear voice calling, then the same
footsteps, fleeter now, on the attic stairway, were quite unheard.
Pinky's arm were around her mother's neck and for one awful moment it
looked as if both were to be decapitated by the trunk lid, so violent
had been Mrs. Brewster's start of surprise.
Incoherent little cries, and sentences unfinished.
"Pinky! Why--my baby! We didn't get your telegram. Did you--"
"No; I didn't. I just thought I--Don't look so dazed, mummy--You're all
smudged too--what in the world!" Pinky straightened her hat and looked
about the attic. "Why, mother! You're--you're house cleaning!" There was
a stunned sort of look on her face. Pinky's last visit home had been in
June, all hammocks, and roses, and especially baked things, and motor
trips into the country.
"Of course. This is September. But if I'd known you were coming--Come
here to the window. Let mother see you. Is that the kind of hat
they're--why, its a winter one, isn't it? Already! Dear me, I've just
got used to the angle of my summer one. You must telephone father."
Miz' Merz damply calicoed, rose from a corner and came forward, wiping a
moist and parboiled hand on her skirt. "Ha' do, Pinky? Ain't forgot your
old friends, have you?"
"It's Mrs. Merz!" Pinky put her cool, sweet fingers into the other
woman's spongy clasp. "Why, hello, Mrs. Merz! Of course when there's
house cleaning--I'd forgotten all about house cleaning--that there was
such a thing, I mean."
"It's got to be done," replied Miz' Merz severely.
Pinky, suddenly looking like one of her own magazine covers (in tailor
clothes), turned swiftly to her mother. "Nothing of the kind," she said
crisply. She looked about the hot, dusty, littered room. She included
and then banished it all with one sweeping gesture. "Nothing of the
kind. This is--this is an anachronism."
"Mebbe so," retorted Miz' Merz with equal crispness. "But it's got to be
cleaned just the same. Yessir; it's got to be cleaned."
They smiled at each other then, the mother and daughter. They descended
the winding attic stairs happily, talking very fast and interrupting
Mrs. Brewster's skirt was still pinned up. Her hair was bound in the
protecting towel. "You must telephone father. No, let's surprise him.
You'll hate the dinner--built around Miz' Merz; you know--boiled. Well,
you know what a despot she is."
It was hot for September, in Wisconsin. As they came out to the porch
Pinky saw that there were tiny beads of moisture under her mother's eyes
and about her chin. The sight infuriated her somehow. "Well, really,
Mrs. Brewster unpinned her skirt and smoothed it down and smiled at
Pinky, all unconscious that she looked like a plump, pink Sister of
Mercy with that towel bound tightly about her hair. With a swift
movement Pinky unpinned the towel, unwound it, dabbed with it tenderly
at her mother's chin and brow, rolled it into a vicious wad and hurled
it through the open doorway.
"Now just what does that mean?" said Mrs. Brewster equably. "Take off
your hat and coat, Pinky, but don't treat them that way--unless that's
the way they're doing in New York. Everything is so informal since the
war." She had a pretty wit of her own, Mrs. Brewster.
Of course Pinky laughed then, and kissed her mother and hugged her hard.
"It's just that it seems idiotic--your digging around in an attic in
this day and age! Why it's--it's--" Pinky could express herself much
more clearly in colours than in words. "There is no such thing as an
attic. People don't clean them any more. I never realized before--this
huge house. It has been wonderful to come back to, of course. But just
you and dad." She stopped. She raised two young fists high in important
anger. "Do you _like_ cleaning the attic?"
"Why, no. I hate it."
"Then why in the world--"
"I've always done it, Pinky. And while they may not be wearing attics in
New York, we haven't taken them off in Winnebago. Come on up to your
room, dear. It looks bare. If I'd known you were coming--the slip
"Are they in the box in the attic labeled 'Slp Cov Pinky Rum'?" She
succeeded in slurring it ludicrously.
It brought an appreciative giggle from Mrs. Brewster. A giggle need not
be inconsistent with fifty years, especially if one's nose wrinkles up
delightfully in the act. But no smile curved the daughter's stern young
lips. Together they went up to Pinky's old room (the older woman stopped
to pick up the crumpled towel on the hall floor). On the way they paused
at the door of Mrs. Brewster's bedroom, so cool, so spacious, all soft
greys and blues.
Suddenly Pinky's eyes widened with horror. She pointed an accusing
forefinger at a large dark object in a corner near a window. "That's the
old walnut desk! she exclaimed.
"I know it."
The girl turned, half amused, half annoyed. "Oh, mother dear! That's
the situation in a nutshell. Without a shadow of doubt, there's an
eradicable streak of black walnut in your grey-enamel make-up."
"Eradicable! That's a grand word, Pinky. Stylish! I never expected to
meet it out of a book. And fu'thermore, as Miz' Merz would say, I didn't
know there was any situation."
"I meant the attic. And it's more than a situation. It's a state of
Mrs. Brewster had disappeared into the depths of her clothes closet. Her
voice sounded muffled. "Pinky, you're talking the way they did at that
tea you gave for father and me when we visited New York last winter."
She emerged with a cool-looking blue kimono. "Here. Put this on.
Father'll be home at twelve-thirty, for dinner, you know. You'll want a
bath, won't you, dear?"
"Yes. Mummy, is it boiled--honestly?--on a day like this?"
"With onions," said Mrs. Brewster firmly.
Fifteen minutes later Pinky, splashing in a cool tub, heard the voice of
Miz' Merz, high-pitched with excitement and a certain awful joy: "Miz'
Brewster! Oh, Miz' Brewster! I found a moth in Mr. Brewster's winter
"Oh!" in choked accents of fury from Pinky; and she brought a hard young
fist down in the water--spat!--so that it splashed ceiling, hair and
Still, it was a cool and serene young daughter who greeted Hosea
Brewster as he came limping up the porch stairs. He placed the flat of
the foot down at each step, instead of heel and ball. It gave him a
queer, hitching gait. The girl felt a sharp little constriction of her
throat as she marked that rheumatic limp. "It's the beastly Wisconsin
winters," she told herself. Then, darting out at him from the corner
where she had been hiding: "S'prise! S'prise!"
His plump blond face, flushed with the unwonted heat went darkly red. He
dropped his hat. His arms gathered her in. Her fresh young cheek was
pressed against his dear, prickly one. So they stood for a long
"Need a shave, dad."
"Well gosh how did I know my best girl was coming!" He held her off.
"What's the matter, Pink? Don't they like your covers any more?"
"Not a thing, Hosey. Don't get fresh. They're redecorating my
studio--you know--plasterers and stuff. I couldn't work. And I was
lonesome for you."
Hosea Brewster went to the open doorway and gave a long whistle with a
little quirk at the end. Then he came back to Pinky in the wide-seated
porch swing. "You know," he said, his voice lowered confidentially, "I
thought I'd take mother to New York for ten days or so. See the shows,
and run around and eat at the dens of wickedness. She likes it for a
Pinky sat up, tense. "For a change? Dad, I want to talk to you about
that. Mother needs--"
Mrs. Brewster's light footstep sounded in the hall. She wore an
all-enveloping gingham apron. "How did you like your surprise, father?"
She came over to him and kissed the top of his head. "I'm getting dinner
so that Gussie can go on with the attic. Everything's ready if you want
to come in. I didn't want to dish up until you were at the table, so's
everything would be hot." She threw a laughing glance at Pinky.
But when they were seated, there appeared a platter of cold, thinly
sliced ham for Pinky, and a crisp salad, and a featherweight cheese
souffle, and iced tea, and a dessert coolly capped with whipped cream.
"But, mother, you shouldn't have--" feebly.
"There are always a lot of things in the house. You know that. I just
wanted to tease you."
Father Brewster lingered for an unwonted hour after the midday meal. But
two o'clock found him back at the cold-storage plant. Pinky watched him
go, a speculative look in her eyes.
She visited the attic that afternoon at four, when it was again neat,
clean, orderly, smelling of soap and sunshine. Standing there in the
centre of the big room, freshly napped, smartly coiffed, blue-serged,
trim, the very concentrated essence of modernity, she eyed with stern
deliberation the funeral wheat wreath in its walnut frame; the trunks;
the chests; the boxes all shelved and neatly inscribed with their "H's
Fshg Tckl" and "Blk Nt Drs."
"Barbaric!" she said aloud, though she stood there alone. "Medieval!
Mad! It has got to be stopped. Slavery!" After which she went downstairs
and picked golden glow for the living-room vases and scarlet salvia for
the bowl in the dining-room.
Still, as one saw Mrs. Brewster's tired droop at supper that night,
there is no denying that there seemed some justification for Pinky's
Hosea Brewster announced, after supper, that he and Fred were going to
have a session with the furnace; she needed going over in September
before they began firing up for the winter.
"I'll go down with you," said Pinky.
"No, you stay up here with mother. You'll get all ashes and coal dust."
But Pinky was firm. "Mother's half dead. She's going straight up to bed,
after that darned old attic. I'll come up to tuck you in, mummy."
And though she did not descend to the cellar until the overhauling
process was nearly completed she did come down in time for the last of
the scene. She perched at the foot of the stairs and watched the two
men, overalled, sooty, tobacco-wreathed and happy. When finally, Hosea
Brewster knocked the ashes out of his stubby black pipe, dusted his
sooty hands together briskly and began to peel his overalls, Pinky came
She put her hand on his arm. "Dad, I want to talk to you."
"Careful there. Better not touch me. I'm all dirt. G'night, Fred."
"Listen, dad. Mother isn't well."
He stopped then, with one overall leg off and the other on, and looked
at her. "Huh? What d'you mean--isn't well? Mother." His mouth was open.
His eyes looked suddenly strained.
"This house--it's killing her. She could hardly keep here eyes open at
supper. It's too much for her. She ought to be enjoying herself--like
those huge rooms. And you're another."
"Yes. A slave to his furnace. You said yourself to Fred, just now, that
it was all worn out, and needed new pipes or something--I don't know
what. And that coal was so high it would be cheaper using dollar bills
for fuel. Oh, I know you were just being funny. But it was partly true.
Wasn't it? Wasn't it?"
"Yeh, but listen here, Paula." He never called her Paula unless he was
terribly disturbed. "About mother--you said--"
"You and she ought to go away this winter--not just for a trip, but to
stay. You"--she drew a long breath and made the plunge--"you ought to
give up the house."
"Permanently. Mother and you are buried alive here. You ought to come to
New York to live. Both of you will love it when you are there for a few
days. I don't mean to come to a hotel. I mean to take a little
apartment, a furnished apartment at first to see how you like it--two
rooms and kitchenette, like a play-house."
Hosey Brewster looked down at his own big bulk. Then around the great
furnace room. "Oh, but listen--"
"No, I want you to listen first. Mother's worn out, I tell you. It isn't
as if she were the old-fashioned kind; she isn't. She loves the
theatres, and pretty hats, and shoes with buckles, and lobster, and
He broke in again: "Sure; she likes 'em for change. But for a steady
diet--Besides, I've got a business to 'tend to. My gosh! I've got a
"You know perfectly well that Wetzler practically runs the whole
thing--or could, if you'd let him." Youth is cruel like that, when it
wants its way.
He did not even deny it. He seemed suddenly old. Pinky's heart smote her
a little. "It's just that you've got so used to this great barracks you
don't know how unhappy it's making you. Why, mother said to-day that she
hated it. I asked about the attic--the cleaning and all--and she said
that she hated it."
"Did she say that, Paula?"
He dusted his hands together, slowly, spiritlessly. His eyes looked
pained and dull. "She did, h'm? You say she did?" He was talking to
himself, and thinking, thinking.
Pinky, sensing victory, left him. She ran lightly up the cellar stairs,
through the first-floor rooms and up to the second floor. Her mother's
bedroom door was open.
A little mauve lamp shed its glow upon the tired woman in one of the
plump, grey-enamel beds. "No, I'm not sleeping. Come here, dear. What in
the world have you been doing in the cellar all this time?"
"Talking to dad." She came over and perched herself on the side of the
bed. She looked down at her mother. Then she bent and kissed her. Mrs.
Brewster looked incredibly girlish with the lamp's rosy glow on her face
and her hair, warmly brown and profuse, rippling out over the pillow.
Scarcely a thread of grey in it. "You know, mother, I think dad isn't
well. He ought to go away."
As if by magic the youth and glow faded out of the face on the pillow.
As she sat up, clutching her nightgown to her breast, she looked
suddenly pinched and old. "What do you mean, Pinky! Father--but he isn't
"Not sick. I don't mean sick exactly. But sort of worn out. That
furnace. He's sick and tired of the thing; that's what he said to Fred.
He needs a change. He ought to retire and enjoy life. He could. This
house is killing both of you. Why in the world don't you close it up, or
sell it, and come to New York?"
"But we do. We did. Last winter--"
"I don't mean just for a little trip. I mean to live. Take a little
two-room apartment in one of the new buildings--near my studio--and
relax. Enjoy yourselves. Meet new men and women. Live! You're in a
rut--both of you. Besides, dad needs it. That rheumatism of his, with
these Wisconsin winters--"
"But California--we could go to California--"
"That's only a stop-gap. Get your little place in New York all settled,
and then run away whenever you like, without feeling that this great
bulk of a house is waiting for you. Father hates it; I know it."
"Did he ever say so?"
"Well, practically. He thinks you're fond of it. He--"
Slow steps ascending the stairs--heavy, painful steps. The two women
listened in silence. Every footfall seemed to emphasize Pinky's words.
The older woman turned her face toward the sound, her lips parted, her
eyes anxious, tender.
"How tired he sounds," said Pinky; "and old. And he's only--why, dad's
"Fifty-seven," snapped Mrs. Brewster sharply, protectingly.
Pinky leaned forward and kissed her. "Good night, mummy dear. You're so
tired, aren't you?"
Her father stood in the doorway.
"Good night, dear. I ought to be tucking you into bed. It's all turned
around, isn't it? Biscuits and honey for breakfast, remember."
So Pinky went off to her own room (_sans_ "slp cov") and slept soundly,
dreamlessly, as does one whose work is well done.
Three days later Pinky left. She waved a good-bye from the car platform,
a radiant, electric, confident Pinky, her work well done.
"_Au 'voir!_ The first of November! Everything begins then. You'll love
it. You'll be real New Yorkers by Christmas. Now, no changing your
And by Christmas, somehow, miraculously, there they were, real New
Yorkers; or as real and as New York as anyone can be who is living in a
studio apartment (duplex) that has been rented (furnished) from a lady
who turned out to be from Des Moines.
When they arrived, Pinky had four apartments waiting for their
inspection. She told them this in triumph and well she might, it being
the winter after the war when New York apartments were as scarce as
black diamonds and twice as costly.
Father Brewster, on hearing the price, emitted a long low whistle and
said: "How many rooms did you say?"
Two--and a kitchenette, of course."
"Well, then, all I can say is the furniture ought to be solid gold for
that; inlaid with rubies and picked out with platinum."
But it wasn't. In fact, it wasn't solid anything, being mostly of a very
impermanent structure and style. Pinky explained that she had kept the
best for the last. The thing that worried Father Brewster was that, no
matter at what hour of the day they might happen to call on the
prospective lessor, that person was always feminine and hatted. Once it
was eleven in the morning. Once five in the afternoon.
"Do these New York women wear hats in the house all the time?" demanded
Hosea Brewster worriedly. "I think they sleep in 'em. It's a wonder they
ain't bald. Maybe they are. Maybe that's why. Anyway, it makes you feel
like a book agent."
He sounded excited and tired. "Now, father!" said Mrs. Brewster,
They were in the elevator that was taking them up to the fourth and
(according to Pinky) choicest apartment. The building was what is known
as a studio apartment, in the West Sixties. The corridors were done in
red flagstones, with grey-tone walls. The metal doors were painted grey.
Pinky was snickering. "Now she'll say: 'Well, we've been very
comfortable here.' They always do. Don't look too eager."
"No fear," put in Hosey Brewster.
"It's really lovely. And a real fireplace. Everything new and good.
She's asking two hundred and twenty-five. Offer her one seventy-five.
She'll take two hundred"
"You bet she will," growled Hosea.
She answered the door--hatted; hatted in henna, that being the season's
chosen colour. A small dark foyer, overcrowded with furniture; a studio
living-room, bright, high-ceilinged, smallish; one entire side was
window. There were Japanese prints, and a baby grand piano, and a lot of
tables, and a davenport placed the way they do it on the stage, with its
back to the room and its arms to the fireplace, and a long table just
behind it, with a lamp on it, and books, and a dull jar thing, just as
you've seen it in the second-act library.
Hosea Brewster twisted his head around and up to gaze at the lofty
ceiling. "Feel's if I was standing at the bottom of a well," he
But the hatted one did not hear him. "No; no dining-room," she was
saying briskly. "No, indeed. I always use this gate-legged table. You
see? It pulls out like this. You can easily seat six--eight, in fact."
"Heaven forbid!" in fervent _sotto voce_ from Father Brewster.
"It's an enormous saving in time and labour."
"The--kitchen!" inquired Mrs. Brewster.
The hat waxed playful. "You'll never guess where the kitchen is!" She
skipped across the room. "You see this screen?" They saw it. A really
handsome affair, and so placed at one end of the room that it looked a
part of it. "Come here." They came. The reverse side of the screen was
dotted with hooks, and on each hook hung a pot, a pan, a ladle, a spoon.
And there was the tiny gas range, the infinitesimal ice chest, the
miniature sink. The whole would have been lost in one corner of the
Brewster's Winnebago china closet.
"Why, how--how wonderful!" breathed Mrs. Brewster.
"Isn't it? So complete--and so convenient. I've cooked roasts, steaks,
chops, everything, right here. It's just play."
A terrible fear seized upon Father Brewster. He eyed the sink and the
tiny range with a suspicious eye. "The beds," he demanded, "where are
She opened the little oven door and his heart sank. But, "They're
upstairs," she said. "This is a duplex, you know."
A little flight of winding stairs ended in a balcony. The rail was hung
with a gay mandarin robe. Two more steps and you were in the bedroom--a
rather breathless little bedroom, profusely rose-coloured, and with
whole battalions of photographs in flat silver frames standing about on
dressing table, shelf, desk. The one window faced a grey brick wall.
They took the apartment. And thus began a life of ease and gayety for
Mr. and Mrs. Hosea C. Brewster, of Winnebago, Wisconsin.
Pinky had dinner with them the first night, and they laughed a great
deal, what with one thing and another. She sprang up to the balcony, and
let down her bright hair, and leaned over the railing, _a la Juliet_,
having first decked Hosey out in a sketchy but effective Romeo costume,
consisting of a hastily snatched up scarf over one shoulder, Pinky's
little turban, and a frying pan for a lute. Mother Brewster did the
Nurse, and by the time Hosea began his limping climb up the balcony, the
turban over one eye and the scarf winding itself about his stocky legs,
they ended by tumbling in a heap of tearful laughter.
After Pinky left there came upon them, in that cozy, little, two-room
apartment, a feeling of desolation and vastness, and a terrible
loneliness such as they had never dreamed of in the great twelve-room
house in Winnebago. They kept close to each other. They toiled up the
winding stairs together and stood a moment on the balcony, feigning a
light-heartedness that neither of them felt.
They lay very still in the little stuffy rose-coloured room and the
street noises of New York came up to them--a loose chain flapping
against the mud guard of a Taxi; the jolt of a flat-wheeled Eighth
Avenue street car the roar of an L train; laughter; the bleat of a motor
horn; a piano in the apartment next door, or upstairs or down.
She thought, as she lay there, choking of the great gracious
grey-and-blue room at home, many-windowed, sweet-smelling, quiet. Quiet!
He thought, as he lay there, choking, of the gracious grey-blue room at
home; many-windowed, sweet-smelling, quiet. Quiet!
Then, as he had said that night in September: "Sleeping, mother?"
"N-no. Not yet. Just dozing off."
"It's the strange beds, I guess. This is going to be great, though.
"My, yes!" agreed Mrs. Brewster, heartily.
They awoke next morning unrefreshed. Pa Brewster, back home in
Winnebago, always whistled mournfully off key, when he shaved. The more
doleful his tune the happier his wife knew him to be. Also, she had
learned to mark his progress by this or that passage in a refrain.
Sometimes he sang, too (also off key), and you heard his genial roar all
over the house. The louder he roared, and the more doleful the tune, the
happier his frame of mind. Milly Brewster knew this. She had never known
that she knew it. Neither had he. It was just one of those subconscious
bits of marital knowledge that make for happiness and understanding.
When he sang "The Dying Cowboy's Lament" and came to the passage, "Oh,
take me to the churchyard and lay the sod o-o-over me," Mrs. Brewster
used to say: "Gussie, Mr. Brewster'll be down in ten minutes. You can
start the eggs."
In the months of their gay life in Sixty-seventh Street, Hosey Brewster
never once sang "The Dying Cowboy's Lament," nor whistled "In the Sweet
By-and-By." No; he whistled not at all, or, when he did, gay bits of
jazz heard at the theatre or in a restaurant the night before. He
deceived no one, least of all himself. Sometimes his voice would trail
off into nothingness, but he would catch the tune and toss it up again,
heavily, as though it were a physical weight.
Theatres! Music! Restaurants! Teas! Shopping! The gay life!
"Enjoying yourself, Milly?" he would say.
"Time of my life, father."
She had had her hair dressed in those geometrical, undulations without
which no New York audience feels itself clothed. They saw Pinky less
frequently as time went on and her feeling or responsibility lessened.
Besides, the magazine covers took most of her day. She gave a tea for
her father and mother at her own studio, and Mrs. Brewster's hat,
slippers, gown and manner equalled in line, style, cut and texture those
of any other woman present, which rather surprised her until she had
talked to five or six of them.
She and Hosey drifted together and compared notes.
"Say, Milly," he confided, "they're all from Wisconsin--or
approximately; Michigan and Minnesota, and Iowa, and around. Far's I can
make out there's only one New Yorker, really, in the whole caboodle of
"That kind of plain little one over there--sensible looking, with the
blue suit. I was talking to her. She was born right here in New York,
but she doesn't live here--that is, not in the city. Lives in some place
in the country, in a house."
A sort of look came into Mrs. Brewster's eyes. "Is that so? I'd like to
talk to her, Hosey. Take me over."
She did talk to the quiet little woman in the plain blue suit. And the
quiet little woman said: "Oh, dear, yes!" She ignored her r's