Any one who has ever written for the magazines (nobody could
devise a more sweeping opening; it includes the iceman who does a
humorous article on the subject of his troubles, and the neglected
wife next door, who journalizes) knows that a story the scene of
which is not New York is merely junk. Take Fifth Avenue as a
framework, pad it out to five thousand words, and there you have
the ideal short story.
Consequently I feel a certain timidity in confessing that I do
not know Fifth Avenue from Hester Street when I see it, because
I've never seen it. It has been said that from the latter to the
former is a ten-year journey, from which I have gathered that they
lie some miles apart. As for Forty-second Street, of which musical
comedians carol, I know not if it be a fashionable shopping
thoroughfare or a factory district.
A confession of this kind is not only good for the soul, but for
the editor. It saves him the trouble of turning to page two.
This is a story of Chicago, which is a first cousin of New York,
although the two are not on chummy terms. It is a story of that
part of Chicago which lies east of Dearborn Avenue and south of
Division Street, and which may be called the Nottingham curtain
In the Nottingham curtain district every front parlor window is
embellished with a "Rooms With or Without Board" sign. The curtains
themselves have mellowed from their original
department-store-basement-white to a rich, deep tone of Chicago
smoke, which has the notorious London variety beaten by several
shades. Block after block the two-story-and-basement houses
stretch, all grimy and gritty and looking sadly down upon the five
square feet of mangy grass forming the pitiful front yard of each.
Now and then the monotonous line of front stoops is broken by an
outjutting basement delicatessen shop. But not often. The
Nottingham curtain district does not run heavily to delicacies. It
is stronger on creamed cabbage and bread pudding.
Up in the third floor back at Mis' Buck's (elegant rooms $2.50
and up a week. Gents preferred) Gertie was brushing her hair for
the night. One hundred strokes with a bristle brush. Anyone who
reads the beauty column in the newspapers knows that. There was
something heroic in the sight of Gertie brushing her hair one
hundred strokes before going to bed at night. Only a woman could
understand her doing it.
Gertie clerked downtown on State Street, in a gents' glove
department. A gents' glove department requires careful dressing on
the part of its clerks, and the manager, in selecting them, is
particular about choosing "lookers," with especial attention to
figure, hair, and finger nails. Gertie was a looker. Providence had
taken care of that. But you cannot leave your hair and finger nails
to Providence. They demand coaxing with a bristle brush and an
Now clerking, as Gertie would tell you, is fierce on the feet.
And when your feet are tired you are tired all over. Gertie's feet
were tired every night. About eight-thirty she longed to peel off
her clothes, drop them in a heap on the floor, and tumble,
unbrushed, unwashed, unmanicured, into bed. She never did it.
Things had been particularly trying to-night. After washing out
three handkerchiefs and pasting them with practised hand over the
mirror, Gertie had taken off her shoes and discovered a hole the
size of a silver quarter in the heel of her left stocking. Gertie
had a country-bred horror of holey stockings. She darned the hole,
yawning, her aching feet pressed against the smooth, cool leg of
the iron bed. That done, she had had the colossal courage to wash
her face, slap cold cream on it, and push back the cuticle around
Seated huddled on the side of her thin little iron bed, Gertie
was brushing her hair bravely, counting the strokes somewhere in
her sub-conscious mind and thinking busily all the while of
something else. Her brush rose, fell, swept downward, rose, fell,
"Ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety—— Oh, darn it!
What's the use!" cried Gertie, and hurled the brush across the room
with a crack.
She sat looking after it with wide, staring eyes until the brush
blurred in with the faded red roses on the carpet. When she found
it doing that she got up, wadded her hair viciously into a hard bun
in the back instead of braiding it carefully as usual, crossed the
room (it wasn't much of a trip), picked up the brush, and stood
looking down at it, her under lip caught between her teeth. That is
the humiliating part of losing your temper and throwing things. You
have to come down to picking them up, anyway.
Her lip still held prisoner, Gertie tossed the brush on the
bureau, fastened her nightgown at the throat with a safety pin,
turned out the gas and crawled into bed.
Perhaps the hard bun at the back of her head kept her awake. She
lay there with her eyes wide open and sleepless, staring into the
At midnight the Kid Next Door came in whistling, like one unused
to boarding-house rules. Gertie liked him for that. At the head of
the stairs he stopped whistling and came softly into his own third
floor back just next to Gertie's. Gertie liked him for that,
The two rooms had been one in the fashionable days of the
Nottingham curtain district, long before the advent of Mis' Buck.
That thrifty lady, on coming into possession, had caused a flimsy
partition to be run up, slicing the room in twain and doubling its
Lying there Gertie could hear the Kid Next Door moving about
getting ready for bed and humming "Every Little Movement Has a
Meaning of Its Own" very lightly, under his breath. He polished his
shoes briskly, and Gertie smiled there in the darkness of her own
room in sympathy. Poor kid, he had his beauty struggles, too.
Gertie had never seen the Kid Next Door, although he had come
four months ago. But she knew he wasn't a grouch, because he
alternately whistled and sang off-key tenor while dressing in the
morning. She had also discovered that his bed must run along the
same wall against which her bed was pushed. Gertie told herself
that there was something almost immodest about being able to hear
him breathing as he slept. He had tumbled into bed with a little
grunt of weariness.
Gertie lay there another hour, staring into the darkness. Then
she began to cry softly, lying on her face with her head between
her arms. The cold cream and the salt tears mingled and formed a
slippery paste. Gertie wept on because she couldn't help it. The
longer she wept the more difficult her sobs became, until finally
they bordered on the hysterical. They filled her lungs until they
ached and reached her throat with a force that jerked her head
"Rap-rap-rap!" sounded sharply from the head of her bed.
Gertie stopped sobbing, and her heart stopped beating. She lay
tense and still, listening. Everyone knows that spooks rap three
times at the head of one's bed. It's a regular high-sign with
Gertie's skin became goose-flesh, and coldwater effects chased
up and down her spine.
"What's your trouble in there?" demanded an unspooky voice so
near that Gertie jumped. "Sick?"
It was the Kid Next Door.
"N-no, I'm not sick," faltered Gertie, her mouth close to the
wall. Just then a belated sob that had stopped halfway when the
raps began hustled on to join its sisters. It took Gertie by
surprise, and brought prompt response from the other side of the
"I'll bet I scared you green. I didn't mean to, but, on the
square, if you're feeling sick, a little nip of brandy will set you
up. Excuse my mentioning it, girlie, but I'd do the same for my
sister. I hate like sin to hear a woman suffer like that, and,
anyway, I don't know whether you're fourteen or forty, so it's
perfectly respectable. I'll get the bottle and leave it outside
"No you don't!" answered Gertie in a hollow voice, praying
meanwhile that the woman in the room below might be sleeping. "I'm
not sick, honestly I'm not. I'm just as much obliged, and I'm dead
sorry I woke you up with my blubbering. I started out with the soft
pedal on, but things got away from me. Can you hear me?"
"Like a phonograph. Sure you couldn't use a sip of brandy where
it'd do the most good?"
"Well, then, cut out the weeps and get your beauty sleep, kid.
He ain't worth sobbing over, anyway, believe me."
"He!" snorted Gertie indignantly. "You're cold. There never was
anything in peg-tops that could make me carry on like the heroine
of the Elsie series."
"Lost your job?"
"No such luck."
"Well, then, what in Sam Hill could make a woman——"
"Lonesome!" snapped Gertie. "And the floorwalker got fresh
to-day. And I found two gray hairs to-night. And I'd give my next
week's pay envelope to hear the double click that our front gate
gives back home."
"Back home!" echoed the Kid Next Door in a dangerously loud
voice. "Say, I want to talk to you. If you'll promise you won't get
sore and think I'm fresh, I'll ask you a favor. Slip on a kimono
and we'll sneak down to the front stoop and talk it over. I'm as
wide awake as a chorus girl and twice as hungry. I've got two
apples and a box of crackers. Are you on?"
Gertie snickered. "It isn't done in our best sets, but I'm on.
I've got a can of sardines and an orange. I'll be ready in six
She was, too. She wiped off the cold cream and salt tears with a
dry towel, did her hair in a schoolgirl braid and tied it with a
big bow, and dressed herself in a black skirt and a baby blue
dressing sacque. The Kid Next Door was waiting outside in the hall.
His gray sweater covered a multitude of sartorial deficiencies.
Gertie stared at him, and he stared at Gertie in the sickly blue
light of the boarding-house hall, and it took her one-half of one
second to discover that she liked his mouth, and his eyes, and the
way his hair was mussed.
"Why, you're only a kid!" whispered the Kid Next Door, in
Gertie smothered a laugh. "You're not the first man that's been
deceived by a pig-tail braid and a baby blue waist. I could locate
those two gray hairs for you with my eyes shut and my feet in a
sack. Come on, boy. These Robert W. Chambers situations make me
Many earnest young writers with a flow of adjectives and a
passion for detail have attempted to describe the quiet of a great
city at night, when a few million people within it are sleeping, or
ought to be. They work in the clang of a distant owl car, and the
roar of an occasional "L" train, and the hollow echo of the
footsteps of the late passer-by. They go elaborately into
description, and are strong on the brooding hush, but the thing has
never been done satisfactorily.
Gertie, sitting on the front stoop at two in the morning, with
her orange in one hand and the sardine can in the other, put it
"If I was to hear a cricket chirp now, I'd screech. This isn't
really quiet. It's like waiting for a cannon cracker to go off just
before the fuse is burned down. The bang isn't there yet, but you
hear it a hundred times in your mind before it happens."
"My name's Augustus G. Eddy," announced the Kid Next Door,
solemnly. "Back home they always called me Gus. You peel that
orange while I unroll the top of this sardine can. I'm guilty of
having interrupted you in the middle of what the girls call a good
cry, and I know you'll have to get it out of your system some way.
Take a bite of apple and then wade right in and tell me what you're
doing in this burg if you don't like it."
"This thing ought to have slow music," began Gertie. "It's
pathetic. I came to Chicago from Beloit, Wisconsin, because I
thought that little town was a lonesome hole for a vivacious
creature like me. Lonesome! Listen while I laugh a low mirthless
laugh. I didn't know anything about the three-ply, double-barreled,
extra heavy brand of lonesomeness that a big town like this can
deal out. Talk about your desert wastes! They're sociable and snug
compared to this. I know three-fourths of the people in Beloit,
Wisconsin, by their first names. I've lived here six months and I'm
not on informal terms with anybody except Teddy, the landlady's
dog, and he's a trained rat-and-book-agent terrier, and not
inclined to overfriendliness. When I clerked at the Enterprise
Store in Beloit the women used to come in and ask for something we
didn't carry just for an excuse to copy the way the lace yoke
effects were planned in my shirtwaists. You ought to see the way
those same shirtwaist stack up here. Why, boy, the lingerie waists
that the other girls in my department wear make my best hand-tucked
effort look like a simple English country blouse. They're so
dripping with Irish crochet and real Val and Cluny insertions that
it's a wonder the girls don't get stoop-shouldered carrying 'em
"Hold on a minute," commanded Gus. "This thing is uncanny. Our
cases dovetail like the deductions in a detective story. Kneel here
at my feet, little daughter, and I'll tell you the story of my sad
young life. I'm no child of the city streets, either. Say, I came
to this town because I thought there was a bigger field for me in
Gents' Furnishings. Joke, what?"
But Gertie didn't smile. She gazed up at Gus, and Gus gazed down
at her, and his fingers fiddled absently with the big bow at the
end of her braid.
"And isn't there?" asked Gertie, sympathetically.
"Girlie, I haven't saved twelve dollars since I came. I'm no
tightwad, and I don't believe in packing everything away into a
white marble mausoleum, but still a gink kind of whispers to
himself that some day he'll be furnishing up a kitchen pantry of
"Oh!" said Gertie.
"And let me mention in passing," continued Gus, winding the
ribbon bow around his finger, "that in the last hour or so that
whisper has been swelling to a shout."
"Oh!" said Gertie again.
"You said it. But I couldn't buy a secondhand gas stove with
what I've saved in the last half-year here. Back home they used to
think I was a regular little village John Drew, I was so dressy.
But here I look like a yokel on circus day compared to the other
fellows in the store. All they need is a field glass strung over
their shoulder to make them look like a clothing ad in the back of
a popular magazine. Say, girlie, you've got the prettiest hair I've
seen since I blew in here. Look at that braid! Thick as a rope!
That's no relation to the piles of jute that the Flossies here
stack on their heads. And shines! Like satin."
"It ought to," said Gertrude, wearily. "I brush it a hundred
strokes every night. Sometimes I'm so beat that I fall asleep with
my brush in the air. The manager won't stand for any romping curls
or hooks-and-eyes that don't connect. It keeps me so busy being
beautiful, and what the society writers call 'well groomed,' that I
don't have time to sew the buttons on my underclothes."
"But don't you get some amusement in the evening?" marveled Gus.
"What was the matter with you and the other girls in the store?
Can't you hit it off?"
"Me? No. I guess I was too woodsy for them. I went out with them
a couple of times. I guess they're nice girls all right; but
they've got what you call a broader way of looking at things than I
have. Living in a little town all your life makes you narrow. These
girls!—Well, maybe I'll get educated up to their plane some day,
"No, you don't!" hissed Gus. "Not if I can help it."
"But you can't," replied Gertie, sweetly. "My, ain't this a
grand night! Evenings like this I used to love to putter around the
yard after supper, sprinkling the grass and weeding the radishes.
I'm the greatest kid to fool around with a hose. And flowers! Say,
they just grow for me. You ought to have seen my pansies and
nasturtiums last summer."
The fingers of the Kid Next Door wandered until they found
Gertie's. They clasped them.
"This thing just points one way, little one. It's just as plain
as a path leading up to a cozy little three-room flat up here on
the North Side somewhere. See it? With me and you married, and
playing at housekeeping in a parlor and bedroom and kitchen? And
both of us going down town to work in the morning just the same as
we do now. Only not the same, either."
"Wake up, little boy," said Gertie, prying her fingers away from
those other detaining ones. "I'd fit into a three-room flat like a
whale in a kitchen sink. I'm going back to Beloit, Wisconsin. I've
learned my lesson all right. There's a fellow there waiting for me.
I used to think he was too slow. But say, he's got the nicest
little painting and paper-hanging business you ever saw, and making
money. He's secretary of the K. P.'s back home. They give some
swell little dances during the winter, especially for the married
members. In five years we'll own our home, with a vegetable garden
in the back. I'm a little frog, and it's me for the puddle."
Gus stood up slowly. Gertie felt a little pang of compunction
when she saw what a boy he was.
"I don't know when I've enjoyed a talk like this. I've heard
about these dawn teas, but I never thought I'd go to one," she
"Good-night, girlie," interrupted Gus, abruptly. "It's the
dreamless couch for mine. We've got a big sale on in tan and black