by Zona Gale
ARTIE CHERRY’S home,” they told one another. “Artie Cherry! Seen him?”
He appeared on the village main street early that evening, and from the bank corner to the drug corner held a reception.
“Land! Artie Cherry,” they said, “with his hat turned back like he had corn to sell.”
No such hat had been shown in the village—fine straw, black-banded, its brim lightly lifted. He wore gray clothes, a color avoided by the village because “it spots.” He wore a white waistcoat which the village called a boiled vest. And as for his soft shirt, silk—”I declare, don’t it look like a lady’s?”
So intimate is the secret knowledge of villages that the thought of every one now flew to Mis’ Cherry, the widow, who sold the Household Brand of everything—cleaning-powder, cold cream, glue. Hers was a difficult way and lonely, though from the time that her son Artie went off to the city he had sent her little presents—a gilt clock, a pink fan, beads, a pickle-dish, all kept in the parlor and exhibited. How she would flush and sparkle over them, the small, gray widow, with asthma and one high shoulder, and stumpy hands which now trembled a bit. What would she be saying when, for the first time in fifteen years, Artie had come home?
“Mis’ Cherry she’ll be near beside of herself,” the village said.
And because the secret knowledge of villages runs even deeper, the thought of many turned to Lulu Merrit, clerking “in at Ball’s,” the druggist. There had been “something” between Lulu and Artie; a few knew that Lulu had “mittened” him—the word still survives—because he refused a job in his cousin Hazleton’s factory at the county-seat and went adventuring off to the city instead. But Lulu had never looked at a man since, and if Artie Cherry had married, no one had ever heard of it from his mother.
“And, anyway,” said every one, “he couldn’t be married—not and dress like that.”
Artie Cherry strolled up the main street that night, executing the sensation which he had so long projected, and glorying. Only he who has lived for fifteen years in a hall bedroom and dined at lunch-counters, only he who has spent his life upon the footstool of occasion, only he who, in short, has been the principal unknown figure in a great city of great persons and has returned to be abruptly the center of a little world, can know how Artie Cherry gloried.
Wooden Kiefer, grocer’s assistant, brown, long, and curved, strode from a store and pumped at Artie’s arm. “Swipes!” cried Wooden. “Howrye? Good thing! What’s your trade?”
For this Artie had been waiting. Others were listening. He answered, negligently:
“Me? Oh, I’m still with the Duckbury plant. Grand old concern—yeah, the bicycle folks.”
There was a pause, which Artie may be said to have fostered.
“Makin’—makin’ bicycles, are you?” asked Wooden.
“Oh, well,” said Artie, “yes—you might say so. I’m in charge of the works.”
“Good enough!” exploded Wooden. “Lord! Your age, too, boy! Good enough!”
“In charge of the Duckbury works.” The word flew before him. There was no need for any to ask: “What’s your business?” “In some commercial proposition, are you?” They all knew swiftly—Artie Cherry had charge of the Duckbury bicycle concern. Well! Wooden followed Artie admiringly; and Artie, with a lordly air of the casual, bade him to a cigar. And though he knew that old story about Lulu and Artie, the good Wooden, neither able to resist exhibiting his friend to Lulu nor able to resist a chance to see her himself, led Artie to the place of Ball, the druggist, where Miss Lulu Merrit clerked. Only to see Wooden’s seeking eyes as he crossed the threshold told how all was in Wooden’s heart.
Lulu was “at the toilet goods.” As the two men entered she was ranging colored perfumes along the edge of the glass case—a red, a pink, a purple, uniform, tasteful, tall. But she varied it. Sometimes the bottles were indented, now two, now three, now one.
Lulu looked up and saw the two enter. To one she nodded and the other she noted. She did not recognize him, but instantly she caught his air of town. Indeterminately she was pleased that neither Ball nor the boy was in the store, that it was she who must cross to the cigar-case and minister.
As she crossed she glanced in the mirror on the post, at her small head with neck stiffly held, her fine face, still pretty but a bit flat and shadowed, and her white waist with crocheted insertion. She stirred her flat hair and wished that she had put on her crepe blouse after supper.
“I’d ought to know enough—” she concluded.
Wooden Kiefer waited until Lulu faced them across the cigar-case. Then he said:
“Lulie, you remember Artie Cherry, I guess, don’t you? Sure! Lulie Merrit, Art!”
Long, long had Artie Cherry dreamed this minute, to its obscurest second. But he never had dreamed it quite as it now eventuated. For what he did was merely to take the hand of Lulu, to laugh heartily, and to turn a long, slow red. Really, Lulu had the moment for her own. For, though the pink came to her face and she, too, laughed enjoyably, it was she who managed the time, “Glad to see you, I’m sure,” she said, and asked what brand. All the main street had done him homage. It took Lulu to take him for granted.
This Wooden Kiefer obscurely resented. He found in himself a divided loyalty. Lulu he had long adored, of late with faint hope, not to say expectation; but here was Artie back, and praise was his due.
“Whatje s’pose?” said Wooden. “Our friend Art he’s general manager the Duckbury bicycle works.”
“No, no!” Artie protested “I don’t own the works, you know, Wood. I’m only in charge of ’em.”
“Same thing,” said Wooden. “Ain’t it, Lulie? Can you beat it?”
“I heard he was,” said Lulu, separating heavies from lights.
“You did!” Artie Cherry looked startled and interrogatory. “I never knew anybody here thought about me,” he recovered.
“It has been a long time,” said Lulu. ” ‘S right.” She accepted his silver without looking at him. She recrossed, the store to the toilet goods and embarked on the sale of talcum to a charming creature who had changed to her crêpe blouse.
The two men went into the street.
And when the charming creature had gone away, appeased, Lulu turned back to the mirror on the post and stared at it, and stirred her flat hair.
“In charge of the works,” she thought. “In charge of ’em. …”
Of course she had never heard of this until that night.
Artie Cherry went home early that evening, not yet having had with his mother that which she called “a rill talk.”
As he neared her cottage, something unexpected came to meet him. He felt glad, and in some tide of well-being which had little to do with his importance. Yet all that he saw was her house in the trees, all that he heard was the loose porch board creaking as she rocked and waited for him. And he could smell the petunias in the bed around the martin-house, but he did not know what they were.
“Artie,” said his mother, “Mis’ Kiefer was just in here—Wooden’s ma. She says he told her you was general manager them bicycle works. Ain’t folks crazy?’
Artie sat on the top step and dropped his arm upon his mother’s knee. For a minute he was still.
“What ‘d you tell her?” he asked, at length.
“Me?” She laughed, and kept patting his hand. “I said you’d ought to been, long ago. Are you general manager, Artie?”
“No, no, ma,” he said, “I’m only in charge—I told ’em that. They like to talk big—” He broke off abruptly.
“In charge of ’em? You never told me so!” she said.
She was deeply excited, and bounced a bit in her chair. Gradually he explained to her all—the size, the wealth, the importance of the firm, the number of employees, the output.
“And you a-runnin’ it!” She grasped that much. “Oh, Artie! It’s just wonderful!”
“Me in charge,” he gently corrected her.
He sat silent, looking into the dark of the maples. She entered upon an account of her days. When Artie said, “I seen Lulu Merrit,” and seemed to like to talk about it, she sighed. If only Artie and Lulie could have … and settled down here to home.
“Say,” said Artie, “what smells so extra?”
“Might be mint,” said his mother. “Might be sweetbrier. Might be my rose geranium. …”
He was beset by quiet emotions which he could not classify or express.
“Say!” was the way he put it, and sniffed luxuriously.
They sat quiet for a time.
“I s’pose this seems awful tame after the city,” she said, at length.
“Don’t, ma!” Artie Cherry unexpectedly bade her.
It was toward ten o’clock next morning that she came hurrying to his room. He was still easefully abed, but watching a mother robin close to the upper sash, to which a grape-vine had almost mounted. He was thinking about Lulu Merrit.
“Seliin’ cigars—say! And, honest, she kind of looks like that robin.” So his thoughts ran.
“What do you think?” his mother cried at his door, standing sociably ajar to the ingrain-carpeted passage where a little yapping clock lived. Artie let his eye dwell fondly on her brown morning housework dress, too short for anything but home wear. It was so—with “What do you think?” that they had been wont to announce to each other the simple good tidings of their little history—decent standings in school, a fine catch of fish, or a fat mince pie cooling on the sill. It was nice, he thought, his mother saying that. And then the robin. And the clock. …
“Cousin Hazleton ‘ll be here to-night,” she announced, eyebrows high, lips left parted. And, “Ain’t that luck?” she wanted to know.
Artie frowned up at her. “Luck!” he said.
Cousin Hazleton was the one prosperous member of the Cherry family. Cousin Hazleton owned a knitting-factory at the county-seat. Cousin Hazleton employed forty men. But he had never given token of the slightest interest in Artie’s welfare since that unfortunate and early incident of Artie’s preference for the city and the world, as over against the county-seat and fifty cents a day, even with the will-o’-the-wisp of “more later.” At that period Cousin Hazleton had washed his hands of Artie. “Your smart son,” he always called Artie, with a sarcasm unconsciously nasal.
“Luck!” said Artie now. “I wish ‘t I wasn’t here. I wish ‘t he’d stay home. I wish ‘t—”
“What you talkin’?” his mother demanded. “And you looking so nice in your suit and all, and showing how you can succeed, with none of his old factory doing it!”
Here was a point, and Artie saw it. When he descended to breakfast he was planning to meet Cousin Hazleton and to dazzle him.
His mother had a fresh suggestion ripening in her eyes. “Artie,” she said, “let’s have Lulu Merrit over for tea to-night.”
“But Cousin Hazleton ‘ll be here,” he protested.
“Yes,” she said, reasonably. “The one company supper ‘ll do for both of them.”
So Lulu—in her crêpe blouse, which, it seemed, she had remembered that next day to put on in the forenoon itself—Lulu at the toilet goods, was invited by Mis’ Cherry; and, “What hour?” Lulu asked, breathlessly, lest there should not be time to press out first.
“I’m going to have supper sharp half past six,” Mis’ Cherry said, “but come earlier if you want to.”
Toward five o’clock, when the “through” was due, Artie Cherry once more paced the main street, immaculate, almost lustrous, and now swinging a stick. To this stick he gave little flourishes, forward and aft, as if he were making scroll designs about himself, for a finish. His elbow went rhythmic, in and out.
Cousin Hazleton was sixty, and crumpled. Hair, beard, clothes, and nerves were crumpled. And when, alighting from the crowded “through” and faring down the hot platform, he was accosted by the magnificent and leisurely Artie, pressed and shining (among the scrolls), Cousin Hazleton stopped, with an air of arresting many processes, regarded Artie’s outstretched hand, and inquired:
“Who the devil are you?”
“Don’t you know me, Cousin Hazleton?” asked Artie—oh, so modest.
“Ain’t Artie?” inquired this cousin, still arrested. “What? Why, you look like a dove! A dove!”
Artie laughed pleasantly, more and more indulgent as his cousin’s mottled, wrinkled array became manifest. As they went down the platform one would have said that Artie Cherry was the prospering man of the world, with Cousin Hazleton attendant.
Below the baggage-room there waited an ancient victoria and a resigned horse.
“Keep a carriage, do you?” inquired Cousin Hazleton, before he consented to enter.
“Livery’s less trouble, some thinks,” said Artie, gathering up the lines with an air magnificently casual. He had not driven for years, but the resigned horse was proof, miscellaneously proof.
“Good golly!” said Cousin Hazleton, aloud. He was an honest relative.
Cousin Hazleton’s idea of conversation was to collect facts about a town’s population, tax-rate, assessed valuation, and bonded indebtedness. He would have acquired these things rapidly, concerning the village, only that Artie knew none of them. Nor, the topic shifting to the city of the Duckbury plant, was Artie better informed.
“Say,” he said, after a fourth or fifth negation, “ask me about the theatrical season’s offerings, up in the city, and I can put you wise enough!”
“More fool you,” said Cousin Hazleton, and would say nothing else. He lowered his eyes and appeared to be contemplating Artie Cherry’s gray spats. As they reached Mis’ Cherry’s gate he lifted his eyes from this absorbed regard. “I thought,” said Cousin Hazleton, “your ma wrote to me you was with some bicycle-factory.”
“That’s it,” said Artie. “Big concern, Duckbury’s. Yearly output—”
Cousin Hazleton’s eyes rested upon Artie’s waistcoat. “Do you run the factory?” he inquired. His eye traveled on up to Artie’s cravat and turquoise pin. “Do you own the factory, maybe?” he mounted warmly.
“I’m only in charge of it, Cousin Hazleton,” said Artie, carelessly.
Cousin Hazleton’s class and generation let fall the chin to express astonishment. Of this sign of the effect which he had produced Artie was thrillingly conscious, elaborately unaware.
“I’ll just run in with your valise,” said Artie, masterfully, “and then I’ve got to call for the rest of the company. Careful, cousin.”
“Careful yourself,” said Cousin Hazleton, and turned, crumpily, to meet Mis’ Cherry. “Screw loose somewheres,” he said, aloud, instead of greeting her.
As Artie drove down the street on his way to call for Lulu, his lilt of the lines, his flash of the whip, expressed his sense of triumph, long overdue.
Lulu Merrit was waiting at the gate. When she was a young girl they always waited at the gate; and who shall say what starved impulse sent her steps between the cock’s-combs and the balsam of the borders, to wait under the locusts? She was in white, still, as it were, hot from the iron, and she wore no hat; but she did wear her white silk gloves and she carried her mother’s little white wedding-fan. When she saw Artie come driving over the wooden blocks in the maple shade, something lonely lifted up its voice within her in a kind of wailing silence, and then ceased. As if life “at the toilet goods,” at Ball’s, were not life at all.
Driving at Artie’s side, in the maple shade, she was as dumb as a little girl. Where was all that she had planned all day to say, as she set out the bottles, a red, a pink, a purple …?
“Here must seem awful slow to you,” she contrived, at length.
“Oh, well,” Artie commented, indulgently, “you do get kind of tied to the city rush,” he informed her.
“I s’pose you do,” said Lulu. These years “at the toilet goods” had rather leveled the conversational powers of Lulu. If she was asked if she had read a book, she was likely to reply, “No, but I’ve heard of it.” Or, if some one named a title to her, she would say, “That ought to be interesting.” She was becoming automatic in all her ways, was Lulu, clerking “in at Ball’s.” “I s’pose you do,” was her contribution now.
Artie, brows drawn, nodded. “Say yes,” he emphasized it. “Somepin doin’ all the whole time. You no sooner get one thing over than, say, there’s another. That’s the way it goes.”
“And with your responsible place and all,” said Lulu.
“It is a good deal to put onto a man,” he assented.
“Artie,” she said, and flushed, “I’m glad you made a success of it.”
“Yes. I couldn’t say it very well the other night, with Wooden there, and all.” She remembered that she had said “and all” once before, and she blushed. What would Artie think?
” ‘Fraid of making Wooden jealous?” he said, daringly. “It’s awful easy to see how old Wooden feels about you.”
She looked down. She was willing that Artie should return to find her with an adorer.
For no reason Artie sighed. He looked up the street, between the horse’s ears. He could not have told what he was feeling. Sitting hunched on the buggy seat, his clothes wrinkled ’round him, his head sunk on his shoulders, he looked less like the cosmopolite whose rôle he essayed. His eyes were honest and blue, and there was a crude yearning in his face as of one who seeks to no sure end. One cuff showed its full length below his sleeve. It was almost certain that under the fine hat his hair was rumpled at the back.
“This town’s good enough for me,” said Lulu Merrit, somehow managing to implicate Wooden in her choice; and she laughed heartily to cover she knew not what.
“Sometimes,” said Artie, dreamily, “I think so, too.”
“You don’t mean that!” cried Lulu.
He turned and looked at her. He had no idea what he meant, but he turned and looked at her. She did, she did look like a trim robin!
“I do, too, mean that,” he said.
It was true. Weighing the deference of the home town against the brute rush of the city, he had questioned that brute rush. The only point was, if he left it, how was he to retain the deference of the little town?
At Mis’ Cherry’s gate he handed her down in silence. She caught the odor of the barber shop, just touched with a cigar. (Why had she not bought one of the red or pink or purple bottles for her own, instead of rinsing out the one that she had cherished long and had emptied weeks ago?) She waited on the bricks while Artie tied the horse. The sun struck the low maple boughs and shone red through Artie’s ears. How manly his gray shoulders showed! With a quick look along the street (there behind Artie’s back), she rubbed her cheeks in such a fashion that—
It was a witching moment.
At supper Cousin Hazleton deliberately elected to question Artie Cherry regarding his occupation and his duties. He plied his inquiries as well as he could—among the agitated suggestions of Mis’ Cherry. Mis’ Cherry was one who never could hand a dish without finding herself perfectly articulate. No murmurings for her, no gestures, nothing taken for granted. It was, “Won’t you have some of the bread?” enunciated four-square to a waiting guest. In spite of a running fire of this, uttered to every guest for every dish, Cousin Hazleton persisted:
“You say that you’re in charge of the Duckbury bicycle works, my boy—if I understand it. Of what do your duties consist?”
His journey done, his face washed, and food before him, some of Cousin Hazleton’s crumple was uncreasing. He was nearly benign.
“Overseeing—general overseeing,” said Artie.
“Of the men?”
“Of everything. Seeing that everything is all right,” said Artie.
“Well-a, of the work?”
“Of the works,” said Artie. “Yes, mother, I believe I will try a little speck. There’s nothing like mother’s spiced plums, is there, Lulie?”
Feeling that the other guest was being omitted, Cousin Hazleton subsided, bided time, came to the top shortly with, “How many men under you?”
“Make ’em hot if you was to tell ’em they’re under me,” said Artie, laughing. “No sir-ee, that ‘d never do! My job, you understand, is sort of walking round on the q t—seein’ how everything goes.”
Cousin Hazleton pricked his ears. “Assistant to the general manager? Confidential overseer?” he comprehended.
“Oh,” said Artie, “you couldn’t say that! That sounds too grand. Just in gener’l charge—that’s me.”
Mis’ Cherry was vibrating her wings—she was in her best black net, and her white apron was etched in red in a pattern of well-filled nests, and cobwebs.
“Oh, if you knew,” said she, “how a mother’s heart rejoices when one of her own makes a success of it!” She spoke as if she had dozens.
Lulu ate, eyes lowered. “It is nice,” she assented, and in her gentle way she cursed herself. She was in a high tide of such feeling as it was hers to know—emotion of pride, emotion of homage, emotion of regret, of hungry longing for she knew not what, and all that she was able to say was, “It is nice.” What would Artie think?
“Tell us about how you live in the city!” she burst out at Artie, and crimsoned.
Arthur Othello Cherry leaned back in his chair and began to expand.
Here was the girl who had once refused his proposal of marriage because he had insisted on going off to seek the large unknown instead of accepting the small certainty.
Here was the cousin who had once offered him a job at fifty cents a day and had scorned him because he went “wildcating off to the city.” Artie was “too harum-scarum for him,” and a bad end had been abundantly prophesied.
Here was his mother beaming at him so happily that any invention seemed well bestowed.
And Artie cut loose.
He told them how he lived. Nice, brownstone front. Colored boy to open the door. White bath-room. Breakfast sent up to his room whenever he wanted it. Victrola.
“Take it after dinner,” said Artie, “and you whirlin’ outside in a taxicab, down the bullyvard—tell you what, it’s life.”
It was life. Lulu knew it.
“Goin’ to the theater—seeing all the big folks come in—makes you know what you miss, little town,” Artie said.
“Must,” Lulu breathed.
But Cousin Hazleton studied Artie. Artie Cherry was no fool, he could see that. Artie had turned out to be far better than he had ever dreamed—Cousin Hazleton, admitted that within himself. Yet by infallible signs Cousin Hazleton, employer of men, judged his relative. He would have classed him as fair material for a small-town business, by all means requiring lead and direction, though capable and faithful. But he would not have thought of his relative as the man in charge of a great activity. After a time of Artie’s talk Cousin Hazleton fell silent. At length a smile touched his mouth.
Mis’ Cherry, again vibrating, now led the way to the parlor. She wanted to show the gilt clock, the pink fan, the beads, and the pickle-dish containing the beads.
Cousin Hazleton, however, went off down-town to look at a piece of property—”prop’ity”—which, he said, he was thinking of buying. He refused to be accompanied. Mis’ Cherry craftily underwent an eclipse and busied herself in the kitchen. Lulu and Artie sat in the parlor alone.
And now no sooner were they alone together, Artie of the gay life and Lulu of the gray life at the toilet-goods counter at Ball’s, than Lulu, who had scorned this man for his venturesome bent and had repented ever since—Lulu began to burn with resentment. She discerned that Artie was glorying in the minute, and no love is proof against that. Should he, after all, come back here and triumph over her so gloriously?
Gradually Lulu’s frank eyes grew languid, their brows lifted, their lids drooped. She waited her chance, and at a pause she gave an airy laugh and descended flat-footed among Artie’s idols.
“Well, ma and I,” she said, “we live on the old place. We got loads of room all on the ground floor, and two full lots. We got a garden, and apple-trees, and currant-bushes, and seven Plymouth Rocks, and I have Saturday half-holiday. We take in the movies a couple o’ nights a week. And—and—and I guess that’s good enough for anybody,” she ended, defiantly.
Artie Cherry looked at her, sitting in his mother’s parlor. It was curious that a girl “at the toilet goods,” “in at Ball’s,” should have fostered that domestic look of hers (so like a home-keeping robin) . Into Artie’s eyes came something which was neither pride nor triumph.
“You bet,” said he.
But now Lulu was infinitely removed, laughed a great deal, avoided Artie’s awkward efforts at personality. He made few. He seemed to be thinking.
At nine o’clock the Cherry’s door-bell rang, and there stood Wooden Kiefer. He was clothed in his best and wore a shining expectancy. And when he had been ushered into the parlor, and Mis’ Cherry was lighting the lamp and holding up all conversation while she told them that this was the twenty-seventh chimney that she had had for it, Lulu Merrit waited her time, and then surprisingly said:
“Ready in just a minute, Wood. I had an engagement for the second show to the Gem,” she explained. “I thought it ‘d be time to leave by now …”
She ceased awkwardly. Wooden Kiefer covered the moment with a rumble of convenient laughter. Lulu went for her gloves—outspread on the spare-room bed. And before she had returned, in came Cousin Hazleton, and when he had heard Wooden’s name:
“Not Wedge Kiefer’s boy?” he cried. “Say, you are! Well, if you’re anything like your dad, you may be just the hair-pin I’m looking for. What’s your business?”
Wooden, modest and red, stood toying with a door-knob. “I’m—that is, I’m clerking in a grocery-store,” said he.
“Good enough,” averred Cousin Hazleton. “Looking for an opening, like enough?”
“Oh, sure!” Wooden laughed heartily at the mere idea of his having an opening.
“Well, now,” said Cousin Hazleton, “I may have just the thing for you. I’ll have a man round looking you up, one of these days, mebbe. Wedge Kiefer’s son—well, well!”
Lulu stood before Artie Cherry. “Good night, Artie,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it ever so much.”
Artie thirsted to be eloquent. “Same here,” he said, with ardent eye.
“You?” cried Lulu, with her wide look. “What? Such a quiet evening after all your city excitement? Wooden, imagine that!” (She said, “Ee-magine.”)
On which she left him.
Alone, Artie drove the resigned horse back to the barn. He had meant to drive Lulu through the dusky streets. He felt abandoned. He looked on all the little houses, tucked in their fifty feet of green, at the lights flashing out from upper windows, beneath sloping roofs and wide eaves, and he felt a little sick. From the stable he came home by the back way. Showing off seemed to have lost its savor.
As he entered the sitting-room, Cousin Hazleton was yawning aloud.
“Well, now,” he said, his yawn trembling all through his syllables, “I’ll get along to bed for a few hours. Then I’ll just slip out about one o’clock—got to catch that one-twenty. Got a deal on in the morning—” He pondered, contemplated Artie leaning his smooth gray length in a doorway, and Cousin Hazleton said: “Fact is, I’ve stopped off here to look at a piece of prop’ity I’m going to buy. We’re goin’ to open up a retail branch business here—yes, retail knit goods—introduce the stuff to the country trade better. And,” he added, engagingly, “I was after Artie’s city address. Thought of sending a man down to work you into the business, m’ boy, and shove you on up if you was any good. But with the gilt edges you’ve worked up for yourself in the city—say, you couldn’t afford to leave there for nothin’ in the world. I can see that, half an eye.”
Artie Cherry’s neck seemed to lose something of its substance. His head drooped forward a bit, but his eyes were immovably fixed upon his cousin. Artie made two efforts to speak, his chin doing all that was required of it, the words themselves halting. When he did speak his cousin had already turned away.
“How—how much would this here pay?” Artie Cherry asked, low.
“It wouldn’t work up to more ‘n twelve hunderd,” Cousin Hazleton said. “Not—not more ‘n enough to buy your clothes. And taxicabs. And the-ayter tickets. Well, sir, now I guess I’ll get m’ forty winks.”
He went away, but in the doorway he paused.
“I donno but Wedge Kiefer’s boy may be the man I’m looking for,” said he. “Good, sensible chap. I got my eye peeled in his di-rection. What d’ye think?”
“Wood’s—all—right,” said Artie Cherry, and was left standing alone in the parlor. Even Mis’ Cherry, as she removed the ruffled pillow-shams in the ground-floor spare-room, was abnormally silent and did not give the history of the pillow-sham pattern.
Artie went to his room. He sat down by his window—in the dark, for he did not like to light his lamp and disturb the mother robin. The scent of the mint and rose geranium and petunias in the garden filled the little room, and the warm darkness brooded on the maples.
After a long time the robin made a low, frightened note, and Artie Cherry drew back from the window. He had been whispering to himself, and his breath broke in something like a sob.
When the clock-that-lived-in-the-passage yapped out eleven Artie Cherry stole across to his mother’s room. He had taken off the magnificent shoes and the gray spats, the immaculate coat, the white waistcoat, the brilliant cravat, the turquoise pin. And as he passed beneath the kerosene-lamp turned low at the head of the stair he looked like a little boy, with hair rumpled at the back and loose, parted lips.
“Ma,” he said, at her door.
She was awake, or on the instant woke—in the manner of mothers. He went and sat on the edge of her bed.
“Ma,” said he, “you know what I told about bein’ in charge—to Duckbury’s?”
“Well, I’m—I’m—I’m the night watchman there.”
There was silence. In the darkness Artie Cherry closed his eyes and waited, breathing through parted lips, like a little boy who has been running fast.
His mother reached up from her bed and caught him. “Artie!” she said. “Artie! Oh, ain’t I glad!”
He thought that he couldn’t have got her word. “Glad?” he said over, stupidly.
“Now you can take Cousin Hazleton’s. I was laying here crying because you couldn’t. Because you was too grand to come home and work for him.”
“Ma!” he cried. “Ma!”
They sat there together until they heard Cousin Hazleton stirring. Then his mother gently pushed Artie from her, and he crept down, stocking-footed, and lit the lamp in the sitting-room. When Cousin Hazleton came in, drawing on his coat, Artie stood there waiting.
Then Artie told.
Cousin Hazleton was no easy father-confessor. In that smoky light his look was terrible.
“Then you lied about the brownstone-front life, too,” he observed.
No, no! Artie’s lodging-house was of brownstone. There was a little colored boy who swept and shoveled and tended door. There was a bath-room—he had to go two floors down to it from his fourth-floor back on account of the third floor being shut off private by the fortune-teller. Breakfast would be sent up—for five times what he paid for it on the avenoo. And down on the first floor was a victrola. He often heard it when he was passing.
“Lied about the taxicabs,” Cousin Hazleton pursued, categorically.
No, no! For Artie had a friend who was a taxicab-driver.
“Lied about the the-ay-ter, though.”
No again! For a part of his first season in town, fifteen years before, Artie had ushered.
“M—m—m!” said Cousin Hazleton, and looked out from under his crumpled brows.
Mercifully, the flame of the lamp streaked up in a cat’s-ear to the top of the chimney. Artie was still diligently attending to this when his cousin spoke again.
“I don’t know whether I can ever teach you to run my store or not,” he said. “But if you’re man enough for this, there must be somethin’ to you.”
“I hate my job like p-p-poison,” said Artie Cherry. “If you take me on, I’ll work like a d-d-dog.” Then the passion of the confessional seized him. “These clothes are everything I own in the world,” he cried, “only my two thousand.”
“Two thousand what?” Cousin Hazleton demanded.
“Why, dollars!” said Artie Cherry. “I ‘ain’t ever touched that, of course! I’ve saved that.”
Cousin Hazleton laughed aloud. “I guess,” he said, “you’re good enough for my cousin—when you get the edges off. And for my store, too, mebbe,” he added, and left for the one-twenty.
When Ball’s drug-store was opened next morning, Artie Cherry was waiting on the steps. He wore neither coat nor waistcoat, but looked like all the other boys getting down to work in the hot summer morning. Resolutely he sat down before the toilet goods, and there he was when she entered.
‘Well, what can I do for you?” asked Lulu—and here she was, in a white waist none too clean, and she told herself that she cared not an atom.
“You can marry me,” said Artie Cherry. “If I get a job in my cousin’s new store here in town, will you?”
She made him savor the last drop. “What? And leave all the big-bug times in the city?”
Artie Cherry looked in her eyes gravely, miserably, passionately. “I lied about a good deal of that,” said he.
“Honestly?” she cried, gladly.