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Full text of "Mr Bremble S Buttons A Novel"

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Mr. Bremble's Buttons 

****#**** 

A NOVEL 
BY 

Dorothy Langley 

******#** 

1947 
SIMON AND SCHUSTER, NEW YORK 

***#* 



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 
INCLUDING THE RIGHT OF REPRODUCTION 

IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN ANY FORM 

COPYRIGHT, 1947, BY DOROTHY LANGLEY 

PUBLISHED BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC. 

ROCKEFELLER CENTER, 12gO SIXTH AVENUE, 

NEWYORK20,N. Y. 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 
AMERICAN BOOK-STRATFORD PRESS, INC.. NEW YORK 



TO JOE, with gratitude and love 



The characters and situations in this book are wholly 
fictional and imaginative: do not portray, and are not 
intended to portray, any actual persons, organizations or 
parties. 



1 



HENRY, those marigolds need attention," said Amelia. 
Henry Bremble looked at her over his glasses. If there 
was one flower he hated more than another and he hated 
them all, though reluctantly admiring some of the things 
they did with themselves in the blossoming season it was 
the tall orange marigold, Calendula gigantica officinalis, of 
which there was great plenty in his garden. "What's the 
matter with them now?" he asked. 

Amelia looked patient. "I should think you could see for 
yourself. They need tying up. They're growing so fast, 
they're already flopping all over the place. It makes the 
whole garden look messy. I don't see how you can call your- 
self a gardener and never notice!" 

"I don't call myself a gardener," Mr. Bremble protested, 
not for the first time. "You call me one." 

He spoke resentfully, for Amelia had always been too 
quick for him and he had been helplessly gardening ever 
since the day when, early in their marriage, he had learned 
to his astonishment from her lips that he adored it. "Henry 
simply adores gardening," she had said, in his presence, to 
their next-door neighbor. "He's never so happy anywhere as 
he is right here among his buds and blossoms." She gave a 

3 



trill of purposeful, determined laughter, making her hus- 
band's head feel as though it had been severely patted. 

The neighbor, a man of genial girth, comfortably estab- 
lished in a canvas deck chair with a book and a julep, looked 
at Mr. Bremble with a good deal of concentrated dislike. 
"That so?" he said. 

Amelia nodded brightly. "It's such a lovely hobby, I 
always think." 

The loathly word came from her without loathing, and 
Henry Bremble, squarely confronted for the first time with 
the truth about what his marriage had gotten him into, stood 
aghast. He had been a cheerful, quiet, unassuming young 
man with a secret passion for quoting the English poets and 
an eager, sensitive consideration for others that caused him 
to quote them almost exclusively to himself. Aside from this 
trait, surely a harmless one, there had been nothing re- 
markable about him. But at least he had been a man. 
Amelia's words had turned him into a fugitive, and he had 
been fleeing from her ever since. 

He listened to her now as she went on about the mari- 
golds, progressing, after she had sufficiently reproved him, 
to the cooing patronage with which she made it a point to 
speak of flowers, children, and other properties generally 
assumed to be rare and exquisite beyond the power of 
ordinary speech to describe. "Such a brave little flower, I 
always think," she said now, of Calendula gigantica offi- 
cinalis, "and so grateful for every tiny thing one does for it. 
Shame on you, Henry, to neglect the poor little golden 
darlings the way you do!" 

Mr. Bremble closed his eyes. The poor little golden dar- 
lings! In his mind's eye he saw the marigolds tower above 
him, as some of them almost would when they reached their 

4 



blossoming height, for he was not of imposing stature, leer- 
ing at him with a hundred orange eyes. The poor little 
golden darlings. . . . 

He opened his eyes and took a good look at Amelia. It 
was unthinkable that she should coo. She was a large, solid 
woman and already, at thirty-seven, displayed an alarming 
resemblance to her mother, who also cooed when she 
thought it suitable. Mr. Bremble's mother-in-law reminded 
him inescapably of a parakeet not a parakeet on the hoof, so 
to speak, but a parakeet deceased (not recently) and stuffed 
by an incompetent taxidermist, so that the glistening but- 
tons she wore for eyes were always slightly askew. 

With a habit bred of years he fled from the thought of 
her and began busily separating the word "parakeet" into 
smaller words, pleased, beneath his irritation at Amelia's 
continuing rhapsodies about marigolds, at the number he 
was able to find without the aid of a pencil. "Pear, pare, reap, 
rape, take, rake, part, tear, park," his mind listed them 
nimbly under his surface attention to his wife. "Prate, rate, 
peer, rapt, trap, tape, taper, peat, pate, pert, kept " 

There would be a great many more if he allowed himself 
to use words of three letters, but this was beneath his dignity 
and against the rules of the game. Four letters was the 
minimum, proper nouns were not permitted, and he made 
nice distinctions between the exotic and the naturalized 
when it came to words taken over directly from foreign lan- 
guages. Such familiar forms as "adieu" and "gauche" were 
satisfactory, and he had recently, after some deliberation, 
admitted "ersatz," which he liked. 

This peculiar pastime had succeeded a long preoccupa- 
tion with crossword puzzles, unsatisfactory because nearly 
all the puzzles, as he found them in the daily papers and in 

5 



such magazines as Amelia considered suitable decorations 
for the Bremble living room, were too easy to afford him any 
feeling of accomplishment. Moreover, they repeated and 
repeated themselves, showing an irritating predilection for 
certain convenient words, such as "ai" (a three-toed sloth) 
and "aster" (a fall flower). "Ait" (a small river island) an- 
noyed him still more deeply, for no matter how often he saw 
it in print it looked ridiculous to him, continuing to sug- 
gest, in spite of all reason and many repetitions, a misspelling 
of "ate" (took nourishment, consumed). The English cross- 
words, when he could get hold of them, were better, but he 
seldom saw them. The English, he could not help feeling, 
did a great many things better than anyone else. Mr. Bremble 
loved England. He had never been there, but it always 
warmed him to think of it. 

His favorite channel of escape, however, was no longer 
either the crossword puzzle or the making of words out of 
words. He still employed both on occasion, when he could 
not get away from Amelia, but his real passion was a secret 
one for buttons. In their common bedroom, craftily hidden 
from Amelia at the bottom of a box of her own containing 
the accumulated gas and light receipts of fifteen years, he 
had a sizable collection of them, all sorts, shapes, and sizes, 
and with these in what privacy he could snatch for himself, 
he played a hundred fascinating games. He was an account- 
ant by profession and a modest experimenter in pure mathe- 
matics on the side, and the buttons, with their endless 
possibilities for arrangement and computation, excited him. 

He restricted himself sternly to the mathematical, again 
and again fighting down an impulse to name his buttons. 
Two of them, solid, shiny green lumps uncompromisingly 
carven, one a little larger than the other, represented to him 

6 



Amelia and her mother, and it was not easy to refrain from 
so entitling them. Besides, there was another, a very hand- 
some button of enamel and crystal, that he would have 
liked for namesake of his own, and to imagine it rolling 
about performing deeds of daring, such as rescuing a lady 
button who lived in an English cottage. 

But he would not, for he knew from his reading that this 
would indicate a serious neurosis, if not an actual psychotic 
condition. "That way madness lies," Mr. Bremble told him- 
self, and sighed. 

As women's clubs meet mostly in the daytime, his oppor- 
tunities to play with his buttons were rare. But once in a 
while Amelia went forth in the evening without him, to 
save the world by action of committee from whatever folly 
at the moment seemed to beset it. Amelia, like her mother, 
was a born committeewoman; she organized drives, headed 
crusades, telephoned endlessly. She called her altruistic fever 
"keeping abreast." If the English language contained one 
outworn phrase that did not form stock and staple of 
Amelia's daily conversation, Henry Bremble had yet to dis- 
cover what it was. "A penny saved is a penny earned," she 
would remark with the gusto of genius, and look at her hus- 
band as though she expected applause. Mr. Bremble, who 
had long since come to the conclusion that adages are like 
reversible rugs, quite as useful on one side as on the other, 
said nothing, disappointing her. 

But Amelia lived by adages. She was a woman of im- 
penetrable prejudice. All decent people, according to 
Amelia "decent people" was a favorite phrase of hers 
thought thus and so and acted accordingly. If Mr. Bremble, 
matching adages with her once in a great while, ventured to 
suggest that circumstances alter cases, she shook her head. 

7 



"Not where decent people are concerned, they don't," she 
said positively. "The trouble with most people, Henry, is 
that they simply don't think; they never delve beneath the 
surface of things. That's exactly what's the matter with you. 
Your thinking is superficial." She looked at him severely. 
"You don't try to get below the surface," she concluded, 
driving her point home. 

Mr. Bremble did not agree with her. It seemed to him that 
he spent his life below the surface, whatever the surface was. 
At any rate, he found himself frequently blinking at the 
light as Amelia, zealous for his good, hauled him up for an 
occasional look at it. Amelia's light did not appeal to him; it 
showed him a great many things he would rather not have 
seen. He was sorry that the world should be going to the 
dogs, as Amelia seemed to think, but he found it less dis- 
tressing, even so, than the spectacle of Amelia and her col- 
leagues crusading to save it. 

He retired, accordingly, to buttons, crossword puzzles, the 
making of words out of words, and his mandatory gardening. 
If they had had a child, he sometimes thought wistfully, it 
might have been otherwise. But it was impossible to imagine 
Amelia with a child, in spite of her dulcet tones when she 
spoke of children. Indeed, in especially resentful moments 
he had permitted himself to doubt that her solid, well- 
cared-for body contained the necessary arrangements. If it 
did, and she knew it, it must have been a great embarrass- 
ment to her. 

He tied up the aspiring marigolds as directed, and nod- 
ded meekly enough at her approval. "That's better," she 
conceded brightly, "isn't it, dear? Just look at them they're 
actually smiling at you." 

Mr. Bremble looked at the plants and quickly away. 

8 



"They'd better," he said grimly, not aloud. "The silly 
blighters," he added bitterly, giving full rein to the Anglo- 
philia within him. 

The marigolds had been attended to on Sunday, and on 
Monday morning, as usual, Mr. Bremble prepared to drive 
himself to the office of the large plumbing-supply corpora- 
tion that was his place of business. 

He backed the car out of the garage with his usual con- 
sciousness of taking his life in his hands. He did not like the 
car, had not wanted it, and was very much afraid to drive it. 

It was a trim green convertible sedan whose suave appear- 
ance belied its malevolent nature. Amelia, who drove with 
the same firm confidence that characterized her approaches 
to the housing problem, juvenile delinquency, home-school 
relations, and the reorganization of Europe, had been im- 
patient with his unwillingness to buy it. She had a small, 
smart coupe of her own, and it seemed to him unreasonable 
that he, a natural partaker of the hazards of public transpor- 
tation, should be forced by whim of hers to take on the in- 
finitely more horrible hazards of the independent motorist. 

To Amelia, however, the two-car status of the Bremble 
household was no whim but a matter of grave import, bear- 
ing heavily on her self-respect and her respect for the pros- 
perous suburban community in which she lived. "We can 
afford two cars now, Henry," she pointed out, "and you 
ought to be driving yourself to work every day, not rubbing 
shoulders with every Tom, Dick, and Harry on that miser- 
able bus. We owe it to ourselves and to the community to 
live like decent people, don't we?" 

Mr. Bremble, a little bewildered at what seemed to him 
a transition insufficiently led up to, considered this question 

9 



on its own merits and said that he supposed so. "I didn't 
know I wasn't/' he added plaintively. "What am I doing now 
that isn't living like decent people, Amelia?" 

She clucked with annoyance. "I'm talking about your 
buying yourself a car, Henry. You never listen to a word I say 
until I've said it at least a dozen times. Now will you please 
listen, this once, just for a minute? You need a car to drive 
yourself to work. Why don't you see about buying one?" 

"See about buying one?" he repeated vaguely, ' ' What for? 
I don't want a car. I don't even like them, Amelia. I " 

"It doesn't make any difference whether you like them or 
not/' Amelia informed him. "You would like them if you 
knew anything about them. Men always like to drive." 

The flat finality in her tone depressed him. He veered 
away from it by listing hastily, one after another, as many 
of Amelia's generalizations as he could manage before she 
spoke again: Men always like to drive. . , . Children owe 
something to their parents. ... A gentleman can always 
be judged by the condition of his nails. . . . Women who 
ape men are deliberately wrecking society. . . . 

Mr. Bremble pulled into the parking lot behind the 
plumbing house too late to escape the observation of Mr. 
Horace Widdinger, the head accountant and his immediate 
superior in office, who collaborated industriously with 
Amelia and her mother in making Mr. Bremble's life a hell. 

Mr. Widdinger, as always, was jovial. He took his fat cigar 
from his mouth as he climbed out of his own sedan and 
banged the door behind him. "Well, well, well!" he shouted, 
in a voice that, Mr. Bremble was sure, could be heard all 
over the building and for at least three blocks in any direc- 
tion outside it. "If it isn't Henrietta, right on time!" 

Upstairs, Mr. Bremble knew, everybody within earshot 

10 



would be snickering with enjoyment. Mr. Widdinger, well 
known and universally acknowledged as a wit, was im- 
mensely popular. Whether he merely addressed Mr. Breni- 
ble as Henrietta, or whether he went further and became 
confidential about a perfectly sweet crochet pattern he had 
seen in a woman's magazine, he was sure of applause in 
advance. "It's just the thing, dearie/' he would say con- 
fidentially, leaning over Mr. Bremble's twitching shoulder, 
"for that bare, ugly left-hand corner of your desk. You could 
whip it up in no time, and just think how it would soften the 
effect of these nasty old blotters and pencils, hey, Henrietta? 
Haw, haw, haw!" 

And Susy Jennings, the pretty file clerk, and Willy Wil- 
son, the red-haired office boy, and even old Prentiss himself, 
head of the corporationif he happened to be within hear- 
ingwould laugh and look at Mr. Bremble; and if he did 
not laugh too, they looked at him sourly, as who should say, 
"Can't you take a joke? Haven't you any sense of humor?" 
And he felt within himself that each of them completed 
these questions, jeeringly, "Henrietta?" 

Mr. Bremble had no gift of repartee. His English poets 
did not help him here. Sometimes, quivering with shame 
and anger but sitting silent and unresisting at his desk, he 
had recourse to what he remembered of Juvenal: 

Yet reach they first the goal, while by the throng 
Elbowed and jostled, we scarce creep along, 
Sharp strokes from poles, tubs, 

rafters doomed to feel. 

And plastered o'er with mud from head to heel, 
While the rude soldier gores us as he goes 
Or marks in blood his progress on our toes. 

11 



But even this blistering passage, though on first reading 
it he had trembled between terror and a sort of vicarious 
and vengeful delight, seemed to lose all its force when put 
to the test. 

Mr. Bremble, in fact, was helpless. He was helpless before 
cruelty of any kind, and before cruelty in the guise of humor 
he was thrice helpless. No matter how often he encountered 
it, it always surprised him. His mind seemed incapable of 
expecting it. There was a yellow light in Mr. Widdinger's 
eyes when jocosity took him, and in his own mind's eye Mr, 
Bremble saw the marigolds gloating from the garden. At 
his superior's explosive "Haw, haw, haw!" he saw the evil 
flowers break into a dance of hellish derision. He fled from 
the hateful sound far into himself, thinking wistfully and 
longingly of God. 

For Mr. Bremble believed in God. He spent too many 
hours in God's company not to. It was the one real mitiga- 
tion of his lot that almost every night, after he had gone to 
bed, God came and sat with him. They did not usually talk 
much, but nearly every time, though the only sound in the 
room was Amelia's gently whistling snore, Mr. Bremble 
went to sleep cradled in God's love like a child held close 
in its mother's arms. 

Once in a long while, too, he ran across God in the day- 
time. One Sunday he had even found Him sitting in church. 
"Oh, yes," God explained, seeing his surprise, "I drop in 
every once in a while sometimes just for a good laugh. I 
don't always get it, though. Sometimes I go away from here 
feeling pretty miserable, Henry. Pretty miserable." God 
sighed. 

Mr. Bremble set a high value on his companionship with 
God, although he was very careful not to make practical 



use of it. Once, to his speedy consternation, he had done so. 
Mr. Widdinger had been more than usually trying all day 
at the office, and Mr. Bremble in desperation had appealed 
to God. But he had not intended that Mr. Widdinger, who 
had a wife and three small children, should be stricken with 
typhoid fever; he was alarmed, and made haste to enter a 
protest, timid but agonized, against this too-emphatic form 
of co-operation. God heard him through without speaking. 
"You're a softy, Henry," He said at last. "Don't you know 
your Dickens? Discipline must be maintained." 

But the next day Mr. Widdinger was better. 

So nowadays, no matter how Amelia's proddings irked 
him or Mr. Widdinger's gaieties wore him down, Mr. 
Bremble kept it to himself and did the best he could. Now, 
as he hurried into the building with Mr. Widdinger's bray- 
ing laughter trailing after him like a torn trouser leg catch- 
ing at his ankle, he cast about wildly in his mind for a word 
to hide from himself his pain and his shame. "Mephi- 
stopheles," he muttered as he plunged for the revolving 
door. "Mist, pest, lest, heel, sole, mole, hole, shop, ship, 
poem, polit 



MRS. CHRISTOPHER COREY, that quintessential 
mother-in-law Mr. Bremble, who knew from his des- 
ultory researches that the mother-in-law legend antedated 
her by several centuries, was nevertheless unable to see how 
it could have done sospent a good deal of time at the home 
of the Brembles. She had little else to do, for her patient 
husband had long since died of patience, and Amelia, mar- 
ried and settled, was her only child. 

An additional attraction was the interest she and Amelia 
shared in club activities, although to Mr. Bremble it ap- 
peared that there was a substantial difference here between 
her and Amelia. Amelia's devotion to her clubs partook 
somehow of the love of a refugee for his refuge. She was 
passionate about the causes she supported and hysterical 
when they were criticized, although she had but a dim con- 
ception of their implications and would have been appalled 
at the idea of applying their basic principles to her own life. 

Mrs. Corey, on the other hand, was passionate about 
nothing on earth but chocolate creams and her evil-tem- 
pered little dog, Queenie. Mr. Bremble, who had loved all 
dogs until he met Queenie, was inspired by Queenie with the 
only genuine hatred of any living creature that had ever, 

14 



in all his life, attacked him. He could not tell whether he 
hated Queenie because she reminded him of his mother-in- 
law or whether he hated her because her own personality, as 
expressed in her censorious, glassy-eyed stare, was the essence 
of all hatefulness in visible and perfected form. The latter 
supposition carried the greater probability, for Mr. Bremble 
did not actually hate his mother-in-law, any more than he 
actually hated Amelia. Indeed, as a spectacle Mrs. Corey 
often fascinated him, and the only real resemblance between 
her and Queenie was the fact that they were both a good 
deal given to sniffing. 

Oddly enough, they sniffed nearly always in unison. Less 
oddly, perhaps, they sniffed most frequently after listening 
to the infrequent remarks of Mr. Bremble. Mr. Bremble, 
who talked as little as possible when they were present, was 
nevertheless impelled occasionally, sometimes by despera- 
tion, sometimes by mere civility, to say a few words on what- 
ever subject occupied the group at the moment; and on 
each and every occasion, after he had done so, there was a 
silence during which the eyes of Queenie and Mrs. Corey 
dwelt upon his face, then sought each other with a dry sur- 
mise, then returned as if by clockwork to Mr. Bremble; and 
at the conclusion of another prolonged stare they sniffed. 

Amelia, although she did not sniff, appeared to compre- 
hend the sniffs of Mrs. Corey and Queenie. Mr. Bremble 
had noticed that every time they sniffed Amelia's face took 
on the same expression an expression martyred yet patient, 
apologetic yet defiant. It was as though Mrs. Corey and the 
dog had said, "Look what you've married, Amelia," and as 
though Amelia replied resentfully, "Look what you've let 
me marry, and if you don't like it let's see you do something 
about itt" 

15 



Mr. Bremble had little doubt that when he was not pres- 
ent these mutual recriminations, veiled under varying thick- 
nesses of conventional politeness, took a more articulate 
form than sniffing afforded. More than once he had come 
upon Amelia and her mother whispering together, and at 
his appearance they had sprung apart. 

He could not persuade himself that their comments on his 
character, person, and proclivities were the invidious gen- 
eralizations made by a certain type of woman concerning 
the male sex at large. Amelia, to be sure, was given to such 
comments, announcing with incredible bluntness and much 
repetition that all men were selfish, egotistical, self-centered, 
tyrannical, ignorant, prejudiced, and insensitive. But she 
felt no need of secrecy, or even of reticence, in disclosing 
these opinions. She even seemed to expect Mr. Bremble to 
agree with them. He knew, therefore, that when she and her 
mother put their heads together it was not men in general, 
but Henry Bremble in particular, with whom they were 
occupied. 

Earlier in his marriage the knowledge had depressed him, 
for he was a conscientious man and would not willingly have 
hurt or failed Amelia. As time went on, however, this feel- 
ing was dulled. He had no way of knowing what they said of 
him, and therefore could do nothing to correct either their 
possible misapprehensions or his possible derelictions. 
Queenie was nearly always present on these occasions, and 
Mr. Bremble had more than once felt an impulse to take 
Queenie aside, much as he disliked her, and ask her what 
they said; but he had quelled the impulse each time, for fear 
she would tell him. 

Nowadays, accordingly, when he had the ill luck to sur- 
prise Amelia and her mother in a confidential exchange, he 

16 



made some excuse and withdrew as soon as possible, leaving 
them to it. He found it much too painful to remain, for 
Mrs. Corey, with what she innocently believed to be great 
shrewdness and diplomacy, was accustomed, if he did re- 
main, to begin talking to Amelia with hurried emphasis of 
the late Mr. Corey, referring to him throughout as "your 
daddy." 

This term from her oddly avian mouth impressed Mr* 
Bremble as more macabre than quaint. Although he had 
known, and still clearly remembered, the late Mr. Corey as 
a quiet, self-effacing gentleman who had risen even to sur- 
prise on only one occasion in his memory the occasion had 
been Mr. Bremble's engagement to Amelia, and the surprise 
had been that anyone should want to marry her he could 
not, hearing Mrs. Corey say "your daddy/' escape from a 
gruesome vision. He saw his late inoffensive friend and 
father-in-law as an aged and wambling daddy-long-legs 
driven helplessly from one side of a room to the other be- 
tween Amelia and her mother, with Queenie snarling con- 
temptuously from the side lines. Time and perspective had 
given Mr. Bremble a sorely convincing impression that the 
vision was a true one, and his tender conscience was thereby 
greatly disturbed. He wished that he had done more for Mr. 
Corey in his lifetime. 

Meditating on these matters as he drove home from the 
office after a day with Mr. Widdinger, Mr. Bremble was 
suddenly shocked to realize that he had forgotten an impor- 
tant commission of Amelia's. She had asked him to buy 
score cards for a bridge party, the last session of a tourna- 
ment currently being held by the League for Democracy, of 
which she was president, to raise funds for one of her many 
enterprises. 



He had protested uneasily that he knew but little of these 
and kindred matters and would be sure to get the wrong 
kind of card, but Amelia had been impatient with his re- 
luctance. "My goodness, Henry, it's a small enough thing 
to ask of you, I should think, and you right downtown all 
day. All you have to do is stop in at a stationery store during 
your lunch hour or after work, and buy them. I'll need let's 
see there'll be eight tables, that's thirty-two; just get three 
dozen, that'll make it safe if there should be an extra one. 
And try to pick out nice ones, even if they do cost a little 
more. Something suggestive of democracy. Mrs. Cable had 
such pretty ones when the ladies met with her; children 
dancing around a Maypole, really charming." 

Mr. Bremble admitted that this was a charming idea. 
"How many of them were Negro children?* ' he inquired 
curiously after a moment. 

Amelia stared at him. "What are you talking about?'* 

"You said something suggestive of " 

Amelia compressed her lips. "Really, Henry, there are 
times when it seems to me you're not quite bright. If you're 
just trying to be funny ** 

"I'm not/' Mr. Bremble protested. "I'm not a witty man, 
Amelia. Nobody knows that better than I do. I just 
meant " 

Amelia quivered. "Oh, you needn't think I don't under- 
stand you, Henry. This is just some more of your sneering at 
the good I'm trying to do, the work that means so much to 
me. Negro children, indeed!" 

Mr. Bremble, seeing her close to tears, at once retreated. 
Courage, he knew too well, was no more his strong point 
than wit was, and he hastened with all willingness to appease 
her. "Well, how would it be if I got some patriotic design, 

18 



the flag or a bar or two of 'The Star-Spangled Banner? 
Would that be all right, Amelia?" 

Amelia hesitated. "Well, it's not very original, of course, 
but I suppose it will do if you can't find anything better. If 
I had time I'd go down and get them myself, but I haven't, 
so for pity's sake do try to use a little ingenuity, Henry. 
These things are important, and naturally I want my party 
to be as nice as any of the others, especially as it's the last 
one in the tournament. The last time the League met with 
me Mrs. Carruthers made some remark about my decora- 
tions. Mother overheard her, fortunately, and told me about 
it, so I was warned in time, but even so I nearly lost the 
presidency when the officers came up for re-election." 

"Why?" asked Mr. Bremble in simple wonder. 

Amelia sighed. "Don't be so dense, Henry! Because 
Mrs. Carruthers has a following, that's why, and she's had 
her eye on the presidency ever since we organized. If I 
hadn't found out what was going on and had time to do 
something about it " 

She was becoming excited again, and Mr. Bremble again 
essayed to soothe her. "Well, but you raised the money just 
the same, didn't you, Amelia? The money you were having 
the party for?" 

Amelia expelled an exasperated breath. "Of course we 
raised the money. What has that got to do with it?" As Mr. 
Bremble did not reply, she plunged on, quivering, "I sup- 
pose it's no use on earth to expect you to understand me, 
Henry. I gave up all hope of that a long time ago. All I ask 
of you and surely it's little enoughis to get me those cards, 
if you can, and try to make a decent selection. Something 
suggestive of democracy, as I said, and three dozen, and 
above all a nice quality of paper, and silk tassels if possible. 



And be careful about getting too much red in them. It 
doesn't go with the living room/' 

Remembering the passion with which Amelia had given 
him these instructions, Mr. Bremble, at the wheel of the 
convertible, was more than a little disturbed that Mr. Wid~ 
dinger's attentions had taken his mind off what his wife 
considered so important. True, the party was still several 
weeks away, and he would have plenty of time to buy the 
cards, but that, Amelia would say, was not the point. The 
point was that he didn't care enough about her, had not con- 
sideration enough for her wishes, to do this small errand for 
her when she asked him. He thought momentarily of going 
back downtown, but a moment's reflection made it plain 
that the stationery shops would be closed for the day before 
he could reach them. Besides, he would be late for dinner, a 
sin almost beyond forgiveness so far as Amelia was con- 
cerned. 

Mr. Bremble sighed and went on his way toward home. 
Amelia received the news of his failure in sulphurous 
silence, but Mrs. Corey, who, with Queenie ensconced on 
her ample lap, was refreshing herself with a quarter of a 
pound of chocolates in anticipation of dinner, felt called 
upon to comment. "Your daddy," she said to Amelia after 
the silence had had sufficient time to make itself felt, "was 
always so dependable. Nothing was too much trouble, he 
always said, if it pleased the little woman/' Her bulging 
bosom, on which reposed a small piece of nut-crusted choc- 
olate, heaved in sentimental memory. "He always called me 
that, 'the little woman/ " 

Mr. Bremble doubted it. The phrase, he felt, would have 
come strangely from Mr. Corey's lips. Moreover, as he con- 
templated his mother-in-law's stiffly corseted figure, so 

SO 



oddly like Amelia's in spite of the difference in their years, 
he found himself doubtful that Mr. Corey or anybody else 
would have described her casually without first taking 
reasonable thought as a woman at all, much less a little one. 
In spite of all his marital experiences, Mr. Bremble's 
romantic mind persisted in his boyhood conception of 
woman as a bright and different being, willowy yet heroic, 
flowerlike, mysterious, and indomitable. A woman's hand, 
he felt sure, would be stretched out in friendliness or fun, 
and there would be laughter sometimes in her eyes. Lines 

he had loved at sight, and never forgotten, came back to 
t . 

She walks in beauty, like the night 
Of cloudless climes and starry skies, 
And all that's best of dark and bright 
Meet in her aspect and her eyes. . . . 

Amelia had made no response to Mrs. Corey's reminis- 
cence. Stony-eyed, she announced that dinner was ready. 
Mr. Bremble ate what little he could in the face of their 
united displeasure, and then escaped to the garden, mutter- 
ing something about weeding the nasturtium bed before it 
was dark. 

But when he had weeded the nasturtium bed and re- 
turned, hopefully, to the house, he found them whispering 
together and made haste to remove himself. "I think I'll 
take a little walk," he said. 

His walk led him, as usual, past the old Paterson place 
four or five blocks down his own street. The house had 
always attracted him, in spite of its neglected and rather 
dilapidated appearance. In the first place, it looked like a 
house that had grown there of itself, springing up as casually 

21 



and carelessly as the daffodils and irises that fringed its 
ragged garden. For the garden itself Mr. Bremble had a 
deep-laid affection; it was so different from the one he 
tended for Amelia. Amelia, he knew, would have clicked 
her tongue at this garden. There was not a marigold in it 
from one end to the other. 

Nevertheless, its wilderness ease made it charming to Mr. 
Bremble. He liked its grass-grown walks, its uneven borders; 
he admired the nonchalant persistence of its blossoms, which 
cheerfully elbowed their way up, year after year, through 
tangling weeds, to flower at last as exuberantly as if no weeds 
existed; and he liked the old-fashioned summerhouse, cov- 
ered with grapevines and wistaria, that stood inartistically 
in the middle of it, the unstable benches still creaking with 
every breeze of a timeless, gracious, unapologetic hospitality. 
They were benches on which a magazine could be left lying 
open, and there was a rustic table, long denuded of paint 
and none too steady on its legs, that would yet support a 
tray of glasses and a comfortable pipe. Mr. Bremble, who 
did not smoke, felt that if he had lived in the Paterson house 
he would have done so. 

The house, a rambling two-storied affair that managed 
by its peculiar magic still to look like a cottage, had been 
unoccupied for several years. Mr, Bremble had never 
been inside it, and yet, he felt, if he should go inside it 
there would be nothing unfamiliar about it. There was a 
paradox in his picture of the interior; he did not think of 
it as unfurnished, and yet he felt that nothing could be 
bought in a store that the house would not immediately 
reject. Nothing, that is, but books. 

There would be books in abundance and books of all 
kinds no picayune choosing here, no paltry fears; no shrink- 

22 



ing of the mind from critical diatribes, no unworthy feeling 
of inferiority or shame. Horatio Alger, no doubt, would 
stand cheek by jowl with Plato. 

And some of the flowers would have moved inside into 
bowls. "Why not/' he could imagine them asking, "why 
not have a change? Let's make the whole place beautiful 
inside and out, for today is the thing, after all, and if we 
don't live so long inside as we would on our stems, what 
matter? Spring will be coming around again in no time, 
and we'll be back, or, if we're not, the others." For a flower, 
Mr. Bremble thought, has little in common with man, who 
makes his short life bumpy with dissension and hideous 
with care, who sets preposterous value on the little and 
turns away with a shudder from the great. 

Aside from the books and the flowers there would be a 
staircase, wide and winding, up to the rooms of repose and 
down again to the rooms of comfort and laughter. And there 
would be a fireplace of this there was more substantial evi- 
dence than dreams, for its rugged gray stone chimney me- 
andered up one side of the house, in plain view of all and 
the fireplace would have a wide comfortable hearth, where 
a dog and children might lie and look into the fire. 

Mr. Bremble's mind, as always, faltered at the thought 
of children. Deeply as he loved the idea of a child, he was 
afraid of children themselves. They seemed to him so al- 
tered from the pattern. 

And what wonder if they were? Mr. Bremble thought of 
Amelia, who, he knew, if she had had children, would have 
been what is commonly spoken of as an ideal mother. True, 
he had found it always impossible to connect her with the 
idea of pregnancy and the generative process, for he knew 
her too well not to realize what an offense these would be 



to her; but once the child was in the world, with what per- 
sistence, what assiduity, would Amelia have bent herself 
to the task of making it over! 

She would not have been so crass about it, probably, as 
some mothers. She would not have yanked and slapped her 
child, as he had seen a woman do on the street last Christ- 
mas, merely because the child could not restrain her joy 
over the sparkling displays in the Yuletide windows. 

Mr. Bremble shuddered at the memory. The child had 
cried out repeatedly, "Oh, look, Mamma oh, look!" only 
to be silenced each time with a snarling "Shut up!" And 
she had tried, tried hard indeed, to obey. After each angry 
order .she had shrunk, and grown smaller in her shabby 
clothes, and let her soft face fall with a terrible meekness, 
and lost the joy and wonder from her eyes. But after a little 
time some new miracle would burst upon her, and she 
would forget and cry again, "Mamma, look!" Whereupon, 
and finally, the woman seized her and slapped her several 
times. "I told you to shut up, didn't I?" she gritted as she 
slapped. "Now I guess you know I meant what I said. No- 
body's interested in what you have to say, do you hear me?" 

Mr. Bremble, remembering, clenched his fists, for the 
woman had not been satisfied even then; she must needs 
look about her at her fellow-pedestrians, seeking admira- 
tion; she smirked. There surged over Mr. Bremble now, 
as there had surged at the time, a furious desire to stride 
forward and shake the woman till her teeth rattled, to slap 
her as she had slapped the child, to shout into her distorted 
face that, for all she knew, the whole world might some day 
have been interested in what that child had to say, if it 
hadn't been for her stupidity, her fathomless, fatheaded, un- 
forgivable stupidity and cruelty. He had not done anything 

34 



of the kind, of course, but it shamed him that he had not. 
He could hardly bear, even now, to think of it. 

No, Amelia would not have done the like of that. But 
would she not, armed in one hand with her sacred maternity 
and in the other with the cut-and-dried regulations set 
forth by the still more sacred organizations before whose 
altars she did daily worship, have torn down and battered 
out, just as effectively, every natural impulse the child 
knew? It was the organizations that appalled him, and in 
his mind he framed a bitter pun. His child would not have 
been slapped, she would have been beaten to death with 
clubs. 

On the whole, Mr. Bremble had no desire to be a parent. 

But he liked to think of children in the Paterson house. 
There, since nobody of Amelia's way of thinking would 
accept the house as a gift, they might grow like the flowers, 
in innocent beauty. There would be no quarreling, no 
venom, for them to seize upon and imitate as their only 
defense against a hostile world. There they would keep 
their delicious, untainted laughter how soon, how tragi- 
cally soon, thought Mr. Bremble, the laughter of children 
is changed to the cackling of demons! and the daily won- 
der of discovery and adventure. And, if they grew up so, 
would they not come f orth mighty? Would they not be poets 
and seers, statesmen of that better world toward which, hav- 
ing no true conception of it, Amelia and her friends believed 
themselves to be striving? 

He amused himself, as he walked toward the house, with 
his dream of the house's family. It would be no ordinary 
family, that one. He built it up in his mind somewhat on 
the lines of a picture he remembered from childhood, a 
picture of children with differing faces, yet surely brothers 



and sisters, clustered about the knees of someone who looked 
down upon them with amusement and blessing. And the 
eyes of the guardian did not falter in meeting the eyes of 
the black child or the yellow one, and the lips held the same 
understanding smile for all. 

Mr. Bremble knew quite well that the picture he had in 
mind was the familiar painting entitled "Christ Blessing 
Little Children." But some whimsical perversity of his own 
made him prefer to set a woman in the Saviour's place. She 
would be kind, that woman, and very merry, and she would 
be mother to the children's spirits no less than to their 
bodies. And somehow, by some mystical connection that 
partook not at all of ordinary marriage and parenthood, 
they would be her children, white and colored. Hers and 
Henry Bremble's. 

He had reached the house now and was about to halt, as 
was his custom, and lean upon the gatepost of the battered 
picket fence, and look and rest and dream his favorite 
dream, when suddenly his eye caught a blur of white in the 
summerhouse, and he stopped and stepped involuntarily 
backward a pace or two, wondering. 

There was a woman sitting in the summerhouse. 

She was alone and had apparently been reading, for an 
open book lay face down on her knee. But it was too dark 
to read now, and she sat there relaxed, a slender, restful 
figure in summer white, although it was only the middle 
of May. She had put flowers in a glass on the rickety table. 
Mr. Bremble could see them, pale and petaled in the dusk. 
He could not make out her face beyond a blur of dark hair 
and a pair of shadowy, reflective eyes. 

Having recovered from his first surprise, he became aware 
that smoke was rising from the fireplace chimney and that a 

26 



rich low voice, unmistakably Negro, was caroling in the 
kitchen to the subdued accompaniment of clattering china. 
The words of the song were melancholy, but the voice that 
sang them was opulent and throaty with joy. 

"Look down, look down that lonesome road 
Before you travel on" 

sang the voice exultantly. 
"Look up, look up, and face yo' Maker " 

The woman in the summerhouse stirred and sighed. 
Then she sank back into her chair and closed her eyes. 

"Weary totin' seek a load, 
Travelin* down that lonesome road " 

sang the voice now, and was 

abruptly still. Its cessation had the effect of breaking a spell, 
and Mr. Bremble, startled at the silence, looked again to 
see whether he had not imagined the song, and the smoke 
from the chimney, and the flowers on the table, and the 
woman on the summerhouse bench; but only the song had 
vanished, the rest remained. A moment later the kitchen 
door slapped to, and he saw the Negro girl come out with 
dishtowels and hang them on a line. 

Mr. Bremble turned himself about and started home, not 
knowing whether he was more interested or more disturbed 
that someone had come to live in the Paterson house. 



27 



r I ^HERE was a terrible and piteous story in the paper 
JL next evening. Mr. Bremble, picking up the journal as 
he entered the house, absent-mindedly carried it upstairs 
with him. A picture caught his eye, and for a moment he 
stood staring, unable to take it in. An Italian child had been 
beaten by his parents almost into insensibility, locked into 
a foul closet and deserted. Discovered after two days, he 
had been dragged forth and had his picture taken, crying, 
for the newspapers. There were bare patches on his broken 
scalp, where clumps of hair had been torn out by his father's 
hands. 

Mr. Bremble cast the paper aside, feeling sick. It was not 
the only story of the kind he had seen lately, but it was the 
only one that had a picture, or at least such a picture. Mr. 
Bremble felt a rasping in his throat. "Why does He allow it?" 
his mind involuntarily pleaded, and then he caught his 
breath in great dismay, for he saw that God was with him. 
God, however, did not seem offended. "I know how you 
feel, Henry," He said mildly enough. "You don't think I 
like this sort of thing, do you?" He paced the floor, frowning, 
for a moment. "It all happened a long, long time ago, you 



see, when I first had the idea o creating mankind. I had 
Satan helping Me then Lucifer his name was, before I had 
to throw him out. Giving free will to man was his idea, not 
Mine. He was a first-rate poet, damn his leathery hide, and 
he got Me all worked up. Gave Me a long harangue about 
the stupefying beauty of man's mind, the infinite possi- 
bilities of his spirit. Said if I'd agree to give My human 
creatures free will they'd grow to the stature of gods them- 
selves some day, so that they could rule My world in justice 
and kindness and truth, forever and ever amen, and all I'd 
have to do would be to sit back and see that it was good. 
Well, anybody likes to look forward to retiring some day." 
God paused. "Of course, I know now that it was just some 
more of his finagling. He knew that if I gave the idiots free 
will he'd be able to make plenty of use of it. But he sold Me 
on it; he sold Me. A bargain's a bargain." God shook His 
head despondently. "And what's come of it? War, hatred, 
cruelty, the torturing of women and children. And for what 
reasons, I ask you! Look at what they call the racial problem. 
Of all the crack-brained, dim-witted, prechaotic, incompre- 
hensible accumulations of nonsense the so-called mind of 
man has ever conceived . . . Why, all I was after when I 
made several different kinds of men was a little amusing 
variety; any half-baked artist could understand that. And 
they were good too, every one of 'em, if I do say it Myself. 
Each of them had his own gifts that none of the others had. 
I thought they could more or less swap 'round, you know, 
and learn from each other. Satan blister him! thought it 
was the best idea I ever had. He certainly sold Me down the 
river that time." 

"But " Mr. Bremble hesitated. "But can't You " 

God looked at Mr. Bremble keenly and kindly. "Carry 

29 



It through in spite of him, you mean? Make your mind easy, 
I'm going to. Here's a funny thing, Henry; I want you to 
remember it. A whole crop of evil may spring from a seed 
of good if you don't know how to plant the seed and tend it. 
Satan was a poet, and like all poets he had hold of something 
a lot bigger than he realized. Do you think he could have 
convinced Me-Me-it I hadn't recognized the truth in what 
he said? The mind of man is potentially divine; why 
shouldn't it be? I made it. The spirit of man has infinite 
possibilities; I created it from My own* Maybe if I'd held off 
a few thousand centuries on the free will business, until 
mankind had got a little farther along and then, on the 
other hand, maybe without free will you wouldn't have 
got as far as you have. What do you think?" 

Mr. Bremble said he didn't know. 

"Neither do I, just yet," admitted God. "But one thing 
I do know, and that is that no thorn-tailed, humpheaded 
poet is going to get the better of Menot in the long run. 
What wears Me down is his saying that in a couple of thou- 
sand years I'd be ready to retire. Couple of thousand years! 
A couple of hundred million would be more like it." 

There was a silence. God picked up the newspaper and 
laid His hand on the child's picture. It seemed to Henry 
Bremble that while the hand rested there the child's face 
cleared into innocence and fearless beauty, and that he 
looked out smiling. But a moment later God removed His 
hand, and the picture was as before. 

God laid the newspaper down on a chair. "As for that, 
Henry, and other stories like it/' He said gently and sadly, 
"you'll just have to make up your mind to suffer. If you 
didn't suffer at such a sight as that, you would be no part 
of Me, and the blackness of darkness would be your portion 



forever. Suffer then, and help wherever you can. It is all I 
ask of you." 

He was turning to go, but Mr. Bremble, breathless, de- 
tained Him. "It will be all right some day, for this child and 
and others?" he pleaded. "In another life, perhaps " 

But this was a question God would never answer. He 
paused at the threshold, looking a little stern. There was a 
faint mutter of thunder, though the sky outside was bright, 
and Henry Bremble lowered his eyes. 

He could not look up again, knowing that he had pre- 
sumed too far, but for a moment there was a majesty in 
the room that did not need to be seen to be acknowledged. 
The very furniture seemed aware of it. There was no wind, 
but the white curtain trembled at his side. Henry Bremble, 
his head bowed, awaited judgment. 

No bolt was loosed upon him, and after a time he knew 
the room to be empty of any presence but his own. God's 
disappearance had left, as always, a flatness. Mr. Bremble 
got up mechanically and went downstairs to his dinner, re- 
membering as he reached the lower hall that he had once 
more neglected to buy Amelia's score cards. 

Amelia herself, emerging from the kitchen to summon 
him to dinner, took one look at his guilty face and sighed. 
''Well?" she said in a tone of resignation. "I suppose you 
forgot those tally cards again?'* 

Mr. Bremble, self-consciously fingering the newspaper he 
had carried downstairs, confessed it. Amelia made an ex- 
asperated sound. "Honestly, Henry," she burst out, "I don't 
know what's the matter with you. I don't believe there's 
another woman in the world " But at this point her eye 
caught the newspaper with the picture, and she took it from 
him to look at it. "Tchk, tchk, tchk!" she exclaimed. "Did 

31 



you see this, Henry?" She compressed her lips and drew 
her brows together, but it seemed to Mr. Bremble that 
somehow, and for some quite inexplicable reason, she was 
not altogether ill-pleased. "If I've said it once, I've said it a 
thousand times we made a fatal mistake when we let down 
the bars of immigration in this country. That class of people 
will stop at nothing nothing!" 

She put the paper aside and returned to the agenda. "It 
does seem to me, Henry, that you might make a little effort 
now and then, especially for a thing like this tournament. 
It's very discouraging for me, working as I do to better con- 
ditions a little here and there, to have you act as if it all 
meant less than nothing. Haven't you any feeling for hu- 
manity at all?" 

Haven't you any -feeling for humanity at all? 

Mr. Bremble, who was of a meditative turn of mind, 
pondered awhile on this (to Amelia) strictly rhetorical ques- 
tion. It was not that Amelia really considered him heartless. 
She had intended, as usual, only to point out the difference 
between them. And this difference, so far as Mr. Bremble 
could determine it, consisted chiefly of the fact that Amelia 
thought of humanity in the mass and he discovered it only 
in the individual. Mr. Bremble regretfully admitted to him- 
self that humanity in the mass reminded him of nothing so 
much as the slugs in Amelia's garden. 

God too, he presumed to think, must find His humanity 
in the individual, for in the mass, seen from God's point of 
vantage, it must be even more sluglike than Henry Bremble 
found it. God, having hope for the eventual victory of man 
over man's limitations, must have seen much more than 
the blobs of living gelatine swarming over the harsh earth. 

32 



He must again and again have taken a slug in His hand, 
looked at it, breathed upon it, listened with His miraculous 
senses for the stir of the soul's life within it. And to Satan, 
who must have done the same, He could look across this 
larva of the future with a calm and certain challenge in 
His eyes. 

But Satan would not yield without a battle. They stood, 
the two gigantic figures, in Mr, Bremble's imagination, 
challenger and challenged, by no means lacking in respect 
the one for the other. And with good reason, both. Some 
lines of Byron came back to Mr. Bremble with force: 

And yet between His Darkness and His Brightness 
There passed a mutual glance of great politeness. 

Byron had meant Lucifer and the archangel, not Lucifer 
and God, but the idea was the same. How wonderful, 
thought Mr. Bremble wistfully, is that gift which makes a 
man a poet! How even Satan had gained in saturnine splen- 
dor when God so denominated him! 

Mr, Bremble, shifting his metaphor, went back painstak- 
ingly to the subject of humanity as it appeared to Amelia 
and her companions: Humanity, a lump. A malleable lump 
laid ready for the kneading; a lump to be pounded with 
norms and standards, stretched with admonitions, patted 
down with soothing adages and a modicum of physical com- 
fort, and massaged with education. But pound and stretch 
and twist and massage as they might, they would not get 
far without leaven that leaven which, Mr. Bremble's own 
experience told him, is developed only in silence, solitude 
and singleness of being. 

Surely, too, there was an eccentricity, if not an actual in- 
solence, in the fact that Amelia and her colleagues, thinking 

S3 



of humanity as a lump, yet dissociated themselves from the 
lump and became its kneaders. By what authority did they 
bake God's bread? Not by His own, most certainly, or the 
finished product would have been more palatable. 

What amazed Mr. Bremble was the almost universal ac- 
ceptance of Amelia, her crusading friends, and the standards 
by which they lived and wrought. If here and there a voice 
was raised in question, with what horrified assiduity was it 
silenced! 

Well, let it go. Perhaps humanity was not insulted by it 
after all. Perhaps humanity enjoyed it. Bread that is being 
kneaded cannot rise, of course; but, on the other hand, 
nobody expects it to. There might be advantages in that, 
thought Mr. Bremble, who himself was so yeasty within 
as to find it frequently inconvenient and even painful. 

And it was lonely. Oh, yes, it was certainly lonely. 



HE forgot the score cards again next day but was not 
taken to task for it, because he found, when he got 
home, that Amelia had a dinner guest. 

They were discussing with some warmth, when he came 
down to the table after freshening himself, the unwisdom 
of allowing foreigners to enter the United States and make 
themselves at home. The guest, Miss Nellie Preston, known 
long but vaguely to Mr. Bremble as Amelia's most intimate 
friend, agreed in carefully tempered terms all Miss Pres- 
ton's terms were carefully tempered that it had been un- 
wise to let down the bars. 

"That's just what I was saying to Henry, no longer ago 
than last night," Amelia replied with satisfaction. "Wasn't 
it, Henry? Those were my very words. We should never 
have let down the bars. Nobody believes in democracy more 
strongly than I do my goodness, I give three-fourths of my 
time to democratic causes but I always have said, and I 
always will say, that the line has to be drawn somewhere, 
doesn't it?" 

"America for Americans/' said Miss Preston judicially. 

"That's it. That's it exactly. Just what I've always said. 

35 



I suppose you ran into a lot of that other element in your 
work, don't you, Nellie?" 

Mr. Bremble realized, with a slight shock, that Miss Pres- 
ton was the only one of all Amelia's acquaintances whom 
Amelia ever addressed by her Christian name. The women 
who came to the house on errands connected with democ- 
racy and child welfare, or to play bridge for the raising of 
charitable funds, might as well have had no Christian names 
for all he knew or Amelia seemed to know. Mrs. Cable, 
Mrs. Carruthers, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Hyslop, Mrs. 
Courtland, Mrs. Prince. It was as though, by becoming a 
clubwoman, each of them had shed baptismal grace and put 
on instead the armor of organizational righteousness, snap- 
ping the title "Mrs." down over her eyes like a visor. 

"Well, yes, I do," Miss Preston admitted now, carefully, 
in answer to Amelia's question. "In a public school, you 
know, one meets with all kinds. You have to take them as 
they come." She lifted her spoon to her wide, traplike 
mouth, took in soup, and removed it again. "This is de- 
licious, Amelia," she said appreciatively. "Yes, I suppose at 
least forty per cent of my students this year are of foreiga 
extraction. Second generation, you know." 

"Imagine!" Amelia laid her own spoon on her plate. 
"Don't you find it fearfully trying, Nellie?" 

Miss Preston shrugged. "Well, as I say, you have to take 
them as they come. They're all over the place now, you 
know, and I suppose they have to go to school! It's the 
parents, really, who are the most trying. They seem to think 
the teachers are responsible for everything their children 
do or don't do, out of school as well as in. They're always, 
coming to school and complaining about things we have 

36 



nothing to do with. One of them came in today, just as I was 
leaving a Mrs. Perlberg " 

"Jewish," interrupted Amelia explanatorily. 

Miss Preston nodded. "Her boy has been cutting school 
lately, and she says it's because his father has old-country 
ideas and doesn't understand him and he's miserable con- 
fused, I think was the way she put it. ... Well, I was tired, 
after struggling with the lot of them all day, and I'm afraid 
I didn't mince my words with her. 'Mrs. Perlberg,' I said to 
her, 'I don't see what on earth you think I can do about 
Harold's cutting his classes. I am a teacher of English litera- 
ture, not a truant officer/ I said, 'and it's been my experi- 
ence, I may as well tell you, that when a student once begins 
cutting there's very little that can be done about it. You 
might as well try to stop an apple from rotting after it once 
gets started,' I told her." 

Amelia nodded approbation of this simile, and Miss Pres- 
ton continued. " 'Mrs. Perlberg/ I told her, 'my working 
day ends at three o'clock. What my students do after that 
time is none of my business. Whether Harold and his father 
understand each other or not is no concern of mine. You 
seem to be a woman of some education, Mrs. Perlberg/ I 
said, 'and it seems to me you ought to be able to manage 
your own family affairs, at least' Well, then she began to 
cry, of course, and started telling me all the usual things 
about Harold not being a bad boy and so on, and how one 
time she found him in the public library when he was sup- 
posed to be in school, and he was reading Shakespeare " 

Mr. Bremble started slightly, "Reading Shakespeare?" 

Miss Preston looked at him briefly. "That's what she said. 
Of course, one can use one's own good judgment when it 

37 



comes to believing it." She turned back to Amelia. "Well, 
I really had to laugh at that, Amelia. 'Mrs. Perlberg/ I 
said, 1 just wish you could have been here a few times 
during class, and watched me try to pound Shakespeare into 
Harold's headmaybe you'd have a better idea of Harold's 
interest in Shakespeare! Harold and Shakespeare,' I said, 
'may have something in common, Mrs. Perlberg, but I assure 
you that from the beginning of this term to the present 
moment I've seen no evidence of it!' I really had to laugh/* 

"Well, I should think so," Amelia agreed, laughing too. 
"The ideal Poor Nellie, I should think you'd just about 
die." 

"You have to take them as they come," Miss Preston said, 
finishing her soup. "I do sometimes, though. And they're 
not always so easily disposed of. You have to be pretty care- 
ful, for instance, with the Irish element." 

"Catholics," explained Amelia, with an understanding 
nod. 

"Well, yes, and politicians. 'And how!' as my students 
would say," Miss Preston smiled, apologizing as she thus 
unbent. "It's as much as your job is worth to offend one of 
them, and do they know it and do they take advantage of 
it! My 2 A class average dropped this month from sixty to- 
let me see thirty-seven, I think it was. Imagine!" 

"Class average?" asked Mr. Bremble, puzzled. 

Miss Preston favored him with another fleeting glance. 
"We grade on the curve/' she told him, and turned back to 
Amelia. "I'm thankful, anyway, that I'll be getting out of the 
treadmill for a few days, anyway, before long. State teachers* 
meeting, you know. A little change always does one good, 
and sometimes the addresses are really very inspiring. They 
have prominent guest speakers, educators, you know, from 

38 



various parts of the country, and one has an opportunity to 
hear about their methods. Methods change all the time, 
you know, in education." 

Amelia gave respectful assent. "I suppose they do. I was 
reading " 

"The last time I went to State," Miss Preston continued, 
"I came away really well, really inspired, if you don't mind 
my repeating myself." She laughed. "Dr. Elihu Summers, 
I think his name was, from somewhere in Connecticut, was 
really wonderful. I remember so well what he said about 
the necessity of keeping our educational methods abreast 
of progress in other fields. 'This is a scientific age/ he said, 
'and education, the queen of all sciences, must not be kept 
any longer from her throne. When we look back/ he said, 
*say to the age of Plato, and contemplate the progress we 
have made in such things as the measuring and tabulating 
of intelligence from infancy through college, the setting 
up of normal standards of achievement, the breaking down 
of arbitrary courses of study, the introduction of the play 
element into learning, we have every reason to congratulate 
ourselves; but all this is nothing/ he said, "before the glories 
to come/ He said he looked forward to a time when the 
education of a child, from kindergarten through the uni- 
versity, would be as much a matter of exact scientific for- 
mula as the building of an airplane motor/' She laughed 
deprecatingly. "Dr. Summers is always so modern in his 
comparisons they all are, in fact, right up to the minute. 
But isn't it a thrilling idea?" 

"Yes," said Amelia, "it is, Nellie, it really is." 

Miss Preston nodded. "It's things like that that compen- 
sate me when I'm tired or discouraged and I do get both 
tired and discouraged sometimes, Amelia, I assure you! for 

39 



having turned my back on a woman's normal life of marriage 
and motherhood and given myself towell, to the life of the 
mind. I think I might even say" Miss Preston deliberated 
"I think I might even say that in spite of all the splendid 
training I've had in teachers' college and the university I 
took my PhJX last summer, you know that the major part 
of all I know about teaching I've learned at these state 
gatherings." 

Miss Preston now subsided and applied herself with some 
diligence to her dinner. Mr. Bremble, pondering, sat silent. 
He knew little about modern education and realized that 
he could not pronounce upon it as an expert, but he was 
acutely aware that Miss Preston as an educator of the young 
did not appeal to him. Clackety-clack, thought Mr. Bremble 
resentfully. Clackety-clackety-clackety-clack, 

Casting his mind back over his own school days, he re- 
membered teachers he had liked and teachers he had dis- 
liked. He remembered the chalky smell of erasers being 
dusted, and the glint of a little gold star on his spelling 
paper when it was perfect, and the leap of the heart as the 
teacher pasted it on. But he could remember nothing of the 
things Miss Preston praised, and he had no conception what- 
ever of what she meant by grading on the curve. 

Indeed, what Mr. Bremble found himself remembering 
most vividly had nothing to do with school, but was an in- 
cident that went behind his school days, an incident occur- 
ring at a time, he now supposed, when he ought to have been 
in kindergarten, having his intelligence measured and a 
normal curve of achievement set up for him. 

There had been no kindergarten in his little home town. 
But he had been an insatiably curious and inquiring child, 

40 



urgently asking his mother at ever}' new sight, "What does 
it do, Mother? What does it do?" And his mother had told 
him what it did, whenever she happened to know, and he 
had taken the information away and pondered it. Accord- 
ingly, when first he noticed that people picked up books and 
papers and looked at them, sometimes for quite a while, he 
had tugged again at his mother's skirts, pointing to the book 
or the paper. "What does it do, Mother?" he had asked her. 

So she began teaching him to read. To little Henry 
Bremble it was a fascinating game, but for a time he made 
no connection between the printed characters and the life 
about him. Then one day she took him for a walk, and his 
roving eyes fell upon a bright new sign hanging over a 
cobbler's door. 

He tugged at his mother's skirt, pointing. "What does it 
do, Mother? What does it " 

But then he halted, spellbound, for before his eyes the 
sign spread, shaped itself, flickered, and made words. It 
made three words. The words said: "Shoes Shined Here." 

Little Henry Bremble stopped still in his tracks. His eyes 
widened. He trembled, and his mouth came slowly open. 
"Mother!" he breathed after a moment, incredulously. And, 
as she looked down at him, he whispered, "Mother, it reads 
what it does!" He yanked at her skin once more, ecstatically. 
"Mother, the sign, look there! It reads what it does!" 

He had been less than five years old at the time. But he 
still remembered the bursting radiance of that moment. It 
was certainly the moment in which he had learned to read. 
It was certainly the moment when he had set his grimy 
little hand on the knob of the long-locked door, when he 
had started on his stubby little feet down the long, shining 



corridor that was to lead him forth at last into the magic 
garden of the English poets, his comforters and his tormen- 
tors, his reproach and his delight. 

But it had little to do, he supposed, with education. There 
was not much method in it. 

The others had risen from the table and were looking at 
him. He rose hastily, dropping his napkin, and as he stooped 
to pick it up they went past him, murmuring, to the living 
room. "I'm so glad you could come tonight, Nellie," Amelia 
was saying affectionately. "You're such a stranger nowadays; 
I hardly ever see you." 

"I know," Miss Preston replied with a rueful smile. "And 
I miss you too, Amelia, very much. But teaching, you know, 
is a pretty serious business." They were out of the room now, 
but Mr. Bremble heard her patient sigh. "It's the parents, 
I tell you, Amelia, more than anything." 



* 



MR. BREMBLE had been, on the whole, rather for- 
tunate in his parents. He could not remember that 
they had ever bothered him much. To be sure, he could 
not remember, either, that he had ever thought much about 
them, and certainly he had never felt toward his father that 
swelling of admiration popularly supposed to cause the 
sprouting male to imitate his sire, to wish to be like him. 
The last thing he had ever wanted was to be like his father, 
who, though always gentle and amiable, had been a some- 
what ineffectual little man. Mr. Bremble himself had never 
felt ineffectual in his life. 

As he put this idea to himself, a pricking unease assailed 
him. Was it possible^ why, but was it possible, was it con- 
ceivablethat his father had never felt ineffectual either? 

He halted before this entirely new and rather uncom- 
fortable possibility. He saw the resultant syllogism only too 
clearly, and he could feel his ears slowly reddening. "Well, 
but" he protested resentfully. "Well, but " 

He blinked, startled, for it seemed to him that for the 
merest moment he saw God's face looking down benignly; 
and as he watched, and opened his mouth to make his pro- 

43 



test vocal, God's right eyelid unmistakably drooped and 
rose again. 

The astonishment he felt that God should have winked 
at him covered, for the time, his own confusion. Then, as 
the vision disappeared, he felt his ears redden again, but 
not unpleasantly, and a slow but increasing tremor spread 
over his face. "Well!" thought Mr. Bremble, smiling. "Well, 
what do you know about that!" And he laughed aloud. 

This revelation, or discovery, or whatever it was, made a 
surprising difference in Mr. Bremble's inner life. He could 
not tell why, but it gave a sparkle to existence. And, by some 
odd connection he could never then or thereafter fathom, 
it removed from him one of the heaviest inhibitions his life 
had hitherto known the inhibition against naming the but- 
tons in his button collection. 

Why shouldn't he name his buttons if he wanted to? He 
was amazed at his former hesitation, and could only suppose 
that he had been looking at the matter through Amelia's 
eyes, seeing it in the light of her interminable pronuncia- 
mentos. Undoubtedly, to Amelia, the christening of a set of 
buttons for one's family and acquaintances would have sig- 
nified a step toward madness, but why, he now asked him- 
self excitedly, should his, Henry Bremble's, activities be 
molded by Amelia's pattern? 

Mr. Bremble quite quivered with eagerness to get at his 
button collection. He thought yearningly of one particular 
button, a hideous small affair in black bone with scummy 
brownish edges, and he felt that he could scarcely wait to 
get his fingers on it. "Horace Widdinger!" he would call it, 
poking it ruthlessly about the table with a pencil. "Horace 
Widdinger!" The very thought of it made him swell with a 
conqueror's joy. 

44 



Fortune, for once, was in a favor-granting mood, for 
Memorial Day was about to dawn and there would be no 
work at the office. He could count on privacy for several 
hours at least, for Amelia and her mother would be going 
to take part in some civic demonstration or other in the early 
afternoon. 

The morning of Memorial Day hung heavy upon him. 
He spent some two hours of it working in the garden without 
being reminded to do so, which surprised Amelia but 
pleased her very much, so that she did not too vehemently 
insist on his going with her to the celebration. At eleven 
o'clock he could find no more to do. Dusting his hands to- 
gether, he cast a final invidious glance at the marigolds, 
went into the house, took a bath, dressed himself neatly, 
and went for a walk to kill the remaining time. 

As he turned, from long habit, in the direction of the old 
Paterson place, he was not sure whether he hoped again to 
see the woman in white, or whether he would not prefer 
to find the place uninhabited as before. He was assuredly 
glad that he had seen her once; she had made a charming 
and unforgettable picture. If he saw her again, or perhaps 
heard her speak, might not the picture be destroyed forever? 

Suppose he came upon her scolding her maid in the 
garden. . . . She had looked gentle and delicate enough to 
assure him that her scolding would not be couched in fish- 
wife language, but this, though something, was far from 
being enough. A scolding was a scolding in any language, 
and Mr. Bremble disliked scoldings. 

But he did see her again, and the Negro maid as well. 
They were sitting in the summerhouse together, shelling 
peas. 

Mr. Bremble slowed his steps. She was not scolding her 

45 



maid, for they were laughing. They made rather a pretty 
picture, sitting there so companionably, and the peas they 
were shelling seemed remarkably fine peas. Mr. Bremble 
knew that he was not near enough to smell the peas, and 
yet he did smell them sweet, promising and earth-born, 
with pods as green as emeralds and smooth as folded satin. 

His mind flew back to a German picture book his father 
had once brought him, a picture story of a little princess 
in a forest. Dew-maidens in pale blue gowns with little white 
caps and aprons had come and bathed the princess and 
brushed out her long smooth flowing golden hair, and then 
several attentive little bpys clothed in dark green moss had 
arrived with her breakfast a comb of honey with the sun- 
light slanting through it, tiny crullers in a brown earthen 
bowl, and a flagon of fresh sweet milk. Never had food so 
sung to Mr. Bremble until now. These peas, as he watched 
them pour through the dark hands and the white, had, like 
the princess's honeycomb, a look of sacrament, and for the 
second time in his life Mr. Bremble recognized food as the 
gift of God, and briefly bowed his head. 

He walked on, very slowly, so as not to miss anything-the 
hot sun blazing starlike through the cloudy, clinging vines, 
the crisp light sound of splitting pods, the two contrasted 
faces alight with enjoyment. As he drew near, the white 
woman said something and smiled, and the dark one flung 
back her head and emitted a rich, loud whoop of tropical 
glee. "Whooee!" she shouted breathlessly, between convul- 
sions. "Miss Iris, now ain't you a doozy!" 

The other woman laughed too, necessarily, but she put 
forth a cautioning hand. "It wasn't that funny, my dear 
Clarissa, lookout!" 

46 



But it was too late; the peas cascaded to the floor. Clarissa 
dived for them; so did Miss Iris; their heads collided sharply 
They recoiled, massaging the bumped areas, stared at each 
other, and laughed again before they bent, more carefully 
this time, to gather up the peas. 

Mr. Bremble turned around, smiling. He had another 
picture now, and he had better go home at once, before any- 
thing happened to spoil it. But he still walked slowly, dread- 
ing to pass the limit of the picket fence, whose very palings, 
slowly rotting in the sun, seemed to him invested with happy 
significance. He walked very slowly, indeed, and that was 
how he happened to find the button. 

The button lay half-hidden in the grass beside the walk. 
He picked it up and looked at it and knew it was hers. It 
was a large pearl button like a shallow inverted bowl; its 
surface was not broken by thread-holes in a trench, for it had 
a metal eyelet on its reverse side instead. It lay in Mr. 
Bremble's hand, smooth, lustrous and rich with enchant- 
ment, glowing now with rose, now with blue, now with 
violet or soft faint green; and sometimes, as he turned it, as 
white as milk in moonlight. It was the most beautiful but- 
ton, Mr. Bremble thought, that he had ever seen. And he 
would name it Miss Iris. 

His thought of returning it to her he put at once out of 
his mind. It was possible that she might miss it, though try 
as he might he could not conceive of her as ever standing 
in any real need of buttons. Her clothes, he felt, were like 
the house's furniture; they grew on her, they could not have 
been put together from pieces of cloth. His own need was 
surely far greater than hers. 

It was incredible, felt Mr. Bremble, that her name should 

47 



be Miss Iris. Anything so perfect was improbable on the 
face of it. But Miss Iris was what Clarissa had called her, 
and Miss Iris should be the button's name. 

He carried the button all the way home in his hand, not 
putting it into his pocket where he would lose the touch of 
it Perhaps, he thought, a little separate boxAmelia, who 
saved everything, must have small boxes around the house. 
And he would have all the afternoon to rummage. 

He found the box without difficulty, a small, square white 
one that must have contained what Amelia called costume 
jewelry, for it was lined with some pale satiny material. 
Miss Iris looked enchanting, lying on it. "Beautiful," Mr. 
Bremble murmured to himself, and from force of habit 
added, "Beau, belt, felt, left " 

But for the first time the word itself held more of satis- 
faction than the words he made out of it. He went back to it 
whole and rounded, and turned it back and forth in his 
mind as he had turned the button to and from the light. 
'Beautiful beautiful beautiful " he murmured again and 
again, scarcely aware, in the rapture of his dream, that the 
afternoon light was steadily descending. "Beautiful, beauti- 
ful, beautiful, beautiful " 

In the bottom of the common box, his dingy edges con- 
sorting in lewd complacency with the green and buxom 
curves of Mrs. Corey, lurked Horace Widdinger, evil but 
forgotten. 



48 



6 



r "i HE corporeal Mr. Widdinger, Mr. Bremble learned 
JL next day to his stunned delight, was taking an early 
vacation this year. He got away with only a few patronizing 
and hilarious last words and admonitions to his little friend 
Henrietta, who, he said, would be sure to miss him sorely 
and must be strengthened. 

"Ain't that right, Henrietta? Haw, haw, haw!" He turned 
to the rest of the staff to make sure of approval. "Makes a 
lot of difference to Henrietta when I'm not around, believe 
me. Three whole weeks he'll have to get along without me. 
He won't know what to do with himself." 

Mr. Bremble, busily making words out of words, said 
nothing. It was true enough that Mr. Widdinger's absence 
would make a substantial difference to him, but Mr. Wid- 
dinger was quite wrong in supposing that he would not 
know what to do with himself. Mr. Bremble knew quite 
well what he would do. He would breathe freely, for a 
change, not occasionally, between attacks, but all through 
his office day, while Mr. Widdinger was gone. He would 
seize upon the silence and the peace and eat them from his 
hands like cake. He would gloat upon them, feast upon them, 

49 



neglecting his work, if necessary, in order to do so. A little 
neglected work could always be caught up. But there would 
be no compensation for him if he wasted, for the sake of 
work or anything else, one hour, one moment, one ineffable 
second of the Edenic bliss he knew he would feel when Mr. 
Widdinger's coattails finally disappeared through the outer 
door of the office. 

There were always Amelia, Mrs. Corey, and Queenie, of 
course, but Amelia just now was too deep in her plans for 
the party to give him her attention as usual, and Mrs. Corey 
was nearly as deeply involved. Queenie, he remembered 
hopefully, was suffering at present from a sharp attack of 
asthma. The vacation this year promised to be even more 
delightful than usual. 

It was always more delightful than his own two weeks of 
leisure, for then he had Amelia with him, and usually her 
mother and the dog as well. This time there seemed nothing 
more annoying to expect than the ceaseless arguing of the 
women over party preparations, decorations, and the pos- 
sible effect upon this lady or that of each separate innovation 
Amelia or her mother thought of introducing to impress 
them. 

Mr. Bremble could not quite make out why the League 
for Democracy felt it important to whisper and comment 
on the shape of a napkin or the quality of the tassel on a 
score card, but he supposed there were aspects of democracy 
connected with these things that his mind was not capable 
of grasping. In any case, he had nothing to do with it all, 
and his conscience was clear. He had got Amelia the tally 
cards at last a little red schoolhouse design, surely safely 
emblematic of American tolerance, the melting pot, and 
the pioneer spirit and Amelia, relieved that he had not 

50 



indulged any of his own eccentric notions in buying them, 
had not been very severe at his forgetting to place no em- 
phasis on the color red. 

Everything, therefore, seemed to point toward his enjoy- 
ing Mr. Widdinger's vacation, and he was proportionately 
disturbed, on returning home at the end of its second day, 
to find his womenfolk sputtering with displeasure over 
something entirely new. 

At first, amid the excited babble of their voices, he could 
not distinguish the tumult from the theme; but later, as 
they became simultaneously more emphatic and more co- 
herent, he gathered that it concerned the church they at- 
tended. The new pastor of the church, a young man named 
Anderson, had closed its neighborhood mission to the poor. 
Mr. Bremble knew the pastor only by sight, a thin, earnest 
young man who was always in a hurry. 

He was somewhat surprised at Amelia's agitation. Him- 
self unchurched, he had no interest in formal religion be- 
yond a private, passionate devotion to the Anglican Book 
of Common Prayer, whose pure and lofty language never 
failed to stir him. There were some of the collects, notably 
the one for Ascension Day, that literally lifted him out of 
himself and into a sphere of steep and holy silence, where 
even the choiring of angels would have been amiss. "Grant, 
we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe 
Thy only-begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ to have as- 
cended into the heavens, so we may also in heart and mind 
thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell, who liveth 
and reigneth " 

It was not necessary, Mr. Bremble felt, to believe a word 
of what this language said in order to be so lifted and sub- 
limated by it. It was poetry, pure and simple, of the highest 

5* 



sort, and as poetry he regarded and loved it. Remembering 
it as Amelia and Mrs. Corey continued to ejaculate, he knew 
a moment of peace in the midst of it all. 

His surprise at the sudden hubbub in his home was due 
to the fact that Amelia, although a regular and conventional 
attendant at church on Sundays, should be exercised at all 
about the mission. She had never been a really passionate 
church worker, for her other clubs took far too much of her 
time. He had thought her scarcely more interested than 
himself. He had seldom heard her comment on the services 
beyond a perfunctory remark about the "lovely sermon" 
given them that morning by Mr. Curtis, young Mr. Ander- 
son's predecessor in office; but now he realized that he had 
heard no such comments lately. Probably Mr. Anderson had 
been suspect from the beginning. 

Such, apparently, was the case. "I never liked him, never/' 
Amelia declared vehemently, tapping an irritated foot 
against the floor. "I knew the minute I saw him he could 
never take Mr. Curtis's place." 

Mr. Bremble devoutly hoped not. He had too vivid a 
memory of Mr. Curtis, bowing and smiling and shaking 
hands, his unctuous voice proclaiming what his coarse-cut 
face and curving belly denied. "What made Anderson close 
the mission?'* he asked mildly in the first moment of com- 
parative silence. 

"He says the mission isn't far enough from the church to 
be needed. He says the mission people can just as well come 
to church and would prefer to. I've no doubt they would 
prefer to!" Amelia snapped, tapping her foot. "But what 
about the rest of us, I'd like to know? Does he imagine we're 
going to put up with being forced to associate every Sunday 
with the ragtag and bobtail from the other side of the tracks? 

5* 



If the session doesn't have something to say to him I miss 
my guess. He's been asking for it with every word he's 
spoken since the first day he ever stood up in that pulpit!" 

Mrs. Corey nodded ponderously. "Your daddy always 
used to say, 'Young people think all old people are fools, 
but old people know all young people are!* Don't worry ,. 
Amelia, my fine young laddy-buck will hear plenty from 
Judge Binns and Mr. Corbett about this latest crackpot 
notion of his, or I miss my guess, same as you." She nodded 
again, decisively, and looked with sudden anxiety at the 
drooping Queenie. "D'you think she'd eat a little milk toast, 
maybe, if you was to make it for her?" 

But Amelia had no time to consider Queenie. "And that's 
not all," she told her meditative husband. "Mr. Anderson 
came here here to this house he hadn't been gone ten 
minutes when you came and what for, if you please? He 
came to ask Mother and me to serve on a welcoming com- 
mitteel" 

Mr. Bremble knitted his brows. "A welcoming commit- 
tee?" 

"Yes, a welcoming committee!" Amelia shouted at him. 
"Are you deaf, Henry? He wanted us to organize some of 
the ladies to meet these people and help them get over their 
first embarrassment " 

"Embarrassment!" sniffed Mrs. Corey, her attention mo- 
mentarily distracted from the wheezing Queenie. "Hmff 
Dear me, that's too bad about their embarrassment, now 
isn't it? Yes 'a was!" she crooned to the restless dog. 

Mr. Bremble cleared his throat. "I suppose," he said 
mildly, "all things considered, it would be embarrassing for 
them " 

"Naturally it would be embarrassing for them!" Amelia 

53 



agreed with heat. "Entirely aside from the feelings of all the 
rest of us at such an outrage " 

Mr. Bremble could not forbear a timid protest. "Outrage, 
Amelia?" 

She glared at him. "Outrage is what I said, and outrage is 
exactly what I meant, Henry. Entirely aside from the out- 
rage to our feelings, what about those poor people them- 
selves? If he wants to be so all-fired generous with his invita- 
tions, he might at least stop and think what it will do to 
them. They'll be afraid to come, or, if they aren't, the rest 
of us certainly won't come, and where does he think he's 
going to get a congregation, I'd like to know? Who pays him 
his salary, just tell me that, if you can! Of all the insolence!" 

"What'd you tell him?" Mr. Bremble asked. "About the 
welcoming committee, I mean?" 

Mrs. Corey emitted a rich chuckle. "She told him all right, 
didn't she, Queenie?" she crooned fondly. "You bet she told 
him!" 

Amelia looked at her. "I was perfectly courteous, 
Mother," she said. Mrs. Corey chuckled again, and Amelia 
turned back to her husband. "What do you think I told 
him? I told him I was perfectly courteous, perfectly that 
maybe if he'd wait until he was dry behind the ears he'd 
have a clearer idea of what a congregation expects of a 
minister. I told him yes, he'd been correctly informed, I 
was active in a number of organizations, but they were all 
for right and recognized purposes, not for the tearing down 
of a church I've supported all my life, and my parents and 
grandparents before me, and that I'd always supposed stood 
for something in the community. I told him that if he 
imagined all he had to do was come to me and ask me to 

54 



serve on a welcoming committee to a lot of factory hands 
and their wives and I'd jump at the chance of tearing down 
everything I've helped to build up " 

She paused for very lack of breath, and a moment later, 
as Mr. Bremble did not reply, took herself offendedly off to 
the kitchen to prepare a belated dinner. Mrs. Corey, nursing 
Queenie, gathered herself up and followed. 

Mr. Bremble sat on in meditation for a time, and then 
rose suddenly, for he had caught sight of a sheet of paper 
fallen against the baseboard near the door. He picked it up 
and looked at it. 

It was a typewritten sheet, and for a moment he was 
puzzled, for the house did not contain a typewriter. The 
minister must have dropped it on his way out. 

He carried it quietly up to the bedroom and read it. It 
seemed to be a psalm of sorts, though none that he rec- 
ognized. 

Hasten my steps, O God; for I walk toward Thy temple. 
I lay in darkness, and the darkness was very great; the 
clouds and the blackness of night were about me on 
every side. 

But Thou hast set light upon the far horizon; Thou 
spreadest Thy day at my feet. 

The wind of the morning sweepeth the world, and the 
breath of Thy voice is in it. 

I said, I will ascend unto the Lord in the early part of 
the day; with a glad mind will I worship Him while it 
is yet morning. 

My soul praiseth Thee, O God, my soul praiseth Thee 
for Thy goodness; my soul is glad and giveth thanks for 
the multitude of Thy bounties. 

55 



Extend these bounties, O God, even to the poorest and 
meanest of Thy children; with Thine own hand feed 
them, and bring them before Thy countenance. Let the 
glory of Thy countenance shine upon them, that they 
may enter into their heritage. 

Look upon them, O God, and receive their petitions; 
for it is Thou only, O Lord, who takest away our 
hunger. 

The typing ended here, and Mr. Bremble, for a moment 
embarrassed as if he had caught himself peering in at a 
private window, laid it down on his knee and considered. 
Ought he to return it, perhaps, to Mr. Anderson? 

But no, he could not be sure it would not discomfit him. 
Better to let it be lost. Mr. Anderson was young. He would 
write other psalms, if he kept his ardor. 

It was not such a bad psalm, Mr. Bremble thought, though 
youthful. It held a quality he himself knew well the silent 
passion of solitude and thought. His own solitary musings 
could never have taken just this form, but the feeling be- 
hind them was as familiar as his own breath. It came from a 
world like the world he found within himself a peaceful 
world, unracked by contention, unsullied by hate. But it 
came, too, from a world in which courage stood shining. Mr. 
Anderson's world was a braver world than his own. 

He remembered the moment of God's recent visitation, 
when God had suddenly ascended from the comfortable 
level on which He usually conducted His visits to the awful 
majesty of an offended king. Was this perhaps the way Mr. 
Anderson knew him, this alone? If so, no wonder the poor 
young man looked anxious and strained. Mr. Bremble felt 
a wistful desire to introduce Mr. Anderson to God as he 

56 



knew Him, but he sensibly restrained it. God knew His own 
business best, and no doubt He had His own plans for Mr. 
Anderson. Mr. Bremble was sure He would have liked the 
young man's psalm. 

He read it over again, lingeringly, then deliberately tore 
it into bits and stuffed it into his pocket, to be disposed of 
next day at the office. ''Poor young fellow," he thought as 
he put it away, for none knew better than he that young 
Mr. Anderson, with not even a wife to stand by him, was 
pursuing a perilous way. "Yes, God would have liked it all 
right, I make no doubt. But I don't suppose the congrega- 
tion would." 



57 



t I ~1 HE rumblings and thunderings loosed about him by 

JL Mr. Anderson's imprudence died slowly, but they died, 
and Mr. Bremble, seeing Amelia and her mother go back to 
their bridge party planning with only an occasional outburst 
or scornful sniff directed churchward, drew a long breath. If 
it had to happen while Mr. Widdinger was away, it was a 
good thing, at least, that it had happened early. Most of the 
three weeks remained to him after all. 

But he had no sooner reached this conclusion than he 
became aware, in the unwonted quiet of the office, that some- 
thing was wrong. Willy Wilson looked sullen and defiant, 
and Susy Jennings looked frightened. Twice he saw her cry- 
ing against the hard green metal of her filing-cabinet, and 
three times she walked into him in the corridor, not even 
seeming to see him. And once, to his great discomfiture, 
he inadvertently came in upon a quarrel between them. 

"Din' I tell you?" Willy shouted, striding. "You answet 
me! Din' I tell you the guy was a low-down " 

"Oh, hush up, Willy/' Susy gulped, drying her eyes. "Yes; 
all right, all right, you told me, you told me " 

"Didn' I tell you a hundert thousan' times " 

58 



Willy stopped abruptly, seeing Mr. Bremble, and both of 
them turned away and pretended to work. 

Mr. Bremble, settling uneasily to his own tasks, told him- 
self that he had no concern with the troubles of Willy and 
Susy. Whatever it was that ailed them they probably de- 
served. In all likelihood it was nothing, if you came to con- 
sider it just another of the endless vitriolic outbursts nearly 
everyone he knew found it stimulating to produce. At least, 
Mr. Bremble supposed they found it stimulating; else why 
go on and on and on, tearing at each other like fighting 
cocks, spitting at each other like cats? He put the mattet 
decisively out of his mind. 

But he was not to escape, it seemed, so easily. All after 
noon, from time to time, he could feel Susy's eyes bent on 
his carefully turned back, and when at five o'clock he got up 
and was about to go home, she stopped him. Willy had flung 
himself out of the office at the stroke of the hour, still mut- 
tering with rage. 

"Mr. Bremble," said Susy Jennings faintly. 

He stiffened himself, turned round, and looked at her; 
and as he looked he knew that he was about to be dragged 
into yet another disturbance of his peace, and a serious one 
at that. Her shallow eyes held tragedy, no less. 

"Yes, Miss Jennings?" he replied dispassionately. 

"Mr. Bremble " She paused, hesitated, wrenched her 
mouth into the semblance of a smile. "I wish you'd call me 
Susy, Mr. Bremble." 

You do, do you? Mr. Bremble thought. But aloud he said, 
"Well, all right. I will if you want me to. What is it, Susy?" 

"Have you time to talk with me just a few minutes, Mr. 
Bremble?" Susy sank into the chair he had just vacated. "It 
won't take but a few minutes of your time. I thought I 

59 



thought " She swallowed. "You always seem so kind, Mr. 

Bremble, and I didn't know anyone else to go to. I I'm in 
trouble, Mr. Bremble/' 

A blush, not of the surface but seeming to rise from the 
lining of his vital organs, suffused Mr. Bremble as he re- 
alized, in one swift moment, what Susy's trouble was. His 
first reaction was a fastidious shrinking; his second, imme- 
diately engulfing the first, was an overwhelming fury. She 
had picked a fine person to apply to in a situation like that! 
For days, for months, for years even, had she not, at every 
possible opportunity, added the spiteful pin-flick of her 
laughter to the lash Mr. Widdinger wielded? Had she not 
gurgled like a junior devil in admiration of her overlord, 
that devil of devils, as he roasted Mr. Bremble on his pitch- 
fork? And now, when like any gutter-gamin of the slums, 
she had got herself "in trouble," did she not come crawling 
to him, who wanted nothing of her but her silence, on no 
strength but that of her impression that he always seemed 
kind? 

Mr. Bremble felt anything but kind. For a blazing mo- 
ment he felt like Jahve, that old grim God of battle and 
revenge, and he heard a deep strong voice cry out within 
him, "Let her be stoned with stones through the streets 
of the city, for she hath defiled My temple!" 

Long before this lightning rage subsided Susy had gone 
on with her tale. "And I have money, enough for an opera- 
tion, you know, he gave it to me before he left " 

A second shock, this time as cold as a wave of ice-water, 
struck Mr. Bremble, turning him to salty ice. He knew it as 
surely as if she had pronounced the name. Horace Wid- 
dinger. 

It was Horace Widdinger she was talking about. Horace 

60 



Widdinger had used her and finished with her and given 
her money, and she came to ask him, Henry Bremble, to 
tell her what to do. 

"If I just had some place I could go/' Susy wailed, wad- 
ding her handkerchief into a ball. "I don't want an opera- 
tionI'd rather have the baby, if I could just see how to do 
it! But I have to make a living, and I'm sick " 

"Where do your parents live?" Mr. Bremble asked sternly. 

"Ohio." She gulped, looking away from him. 

"Then hadn't you better go home and tell your mother?" 

"My mother? I'd die first." She looked at him, sneering. 
"I guess you don't know much about mothers, Mr. 
Bremble." 

He looked at her. She looked back at him. The sneer had 
left her face, and her shadowed eyes lay cupped in her face 
like basins, waiting for his alms to be dropped into them. "I 
guess I don't," he said dryly but not ungently. 

Susy swallowed again. "I just thought you might be able 
to tell me some place to go/' she said after a moment. "I 
won't go to one of those charity places. I'll have an opera- 
tion first. If I could get some place where they would let 
me help in the houseI thought maybe Mrs. Bremble " 

At this Mr. Bremble suppressed an insane desire to bark 
with laughter. You'd get small quarter from Amelia, my girl, 
he thought. But he said nothing. 

Susy drooped before him in the chair, the firm lines of 
her young body wilted and blurred with weakness. 

That was the crux of the matter, felt Mr. Bremble. What- 
ever she was or was not, she had a body, and bodies, he knew 
from sundry painful experiences of his own, could suffer. 
What was it women always said about childbirth some- 
thing about the Valley of the Shadow? Exaggerated, no 

61 



doubt, for woman's greater glory. Still, there must be a con- 
siderable amount of pain to account for the comparison in 
the first place. 

It was the body of Susy Jennings and not her child that 
swayed him. Little of good, he felt, could be accomplished 
by helping the child of Susy Jennings and Horace Wid- 
dinger into the world. But when it came to pain, excruciat- 
ing pain 

That this young flesh should be swollen and torn with 
anguish, that it should bleed and quiver and cry out, this 
was already inevitable; and was it not enough and more than 
enough? That the body of Susy Jennings, or of any other 
girl, should be submitted to the obscene horrors of the 
"operation" she spoke of so glibly Mr. Bremble closed 
his eyes. 

When he opened them again she was still looking at him, 
and in spite of all his grimness there was trust in her eyes. 
Incredibly, she still expected him to do something about it. 
But how was he to know what could be done? "I don't know 
just what to tell you to do about it, Susy," he said at last. 

She spread her handkerchief out upon her knee. "I just 
thought maybe some of your wife's friends " 

Mrs. Baker? Mrs. Cable? Mrs. Carruthers? Mrs. Prince? 
Again Mr. Bremble felt a tearing impulse to harsh laughter. 
"I don't think so," he said in measured tones, shaking his 
head. "No, I'm afraid not, Susy." 

She rose, putting the sodden handkerchief into her purse. 
"Well, would you justwould you just think about it, Mr. 
Bremble?" she pleaded desperately. "There's plenty of time 
yet, I think it's only three months " 

Mr. Bremble winced, but he nodded. "All right. I will if 
you want me to, Susy." 

6s> 



He thought perhaps he ought to reassure her, at least to 
the extent of patting her shoulder, but he found, when he 
had tried, that he could not touch her. 'Til think about it," 
he promised again, and went home. 

And he did think about it. The devil of it was that he 
could think of nothing else. Two nights later, after endless 
cogitation and two days of watching her mope about the 
office, looking at him from time to time with that madden- 
ing trust in her eyes, he cautiously sounded Amelia out on 
the subject. "Amelia," he said tentatively, over the evening 
paper. 

She looked up from the napkin she was embroidering for 
the tournament party. "Hm?" 

"These organizations you work with I was just wonder- 
ing." He paused and chose his words. "Do any of them have 
anything to do with taking care of girls who you know " 

Amelia pursed her lips. "Girls who go wrong, you mean? 
No, I'm thankful to say they don't. I've been mighty careful 
to steer clear of that sort of thing." 

"Make their own beds/' put in Mrs. Corey briskly, feeding 
Queenie a chocolate. "Let 'em lie in 'em. Isn't that right, 
Queenie?" She tilted Queenie's hairy face up for a resound- 
ing kiss, and turned to Amelia. "Remember, Amelia, that 
girl that used to work for me Bessie Brown? I sent her 
a-kitin' when I found out the fix she was in, didn't I? Your 
daddy didn't think I ought to. Men!" She sniffed con- 
temptuously, apparently unaware that she had publicized 
a disagreement with the infallibly agreeable Mr. Corey. 

Amelia nodded. "Yes, I remember. . . . What put such 
a thing into your head, Henry?" 

"Oh, I don't know. There are a good many stories in the 
papers," Mr. Bremble offered lamely. "Here's one right now, 

63 



in tonight's/' he added with a brief but fervent prayer of 
thanksgiving* "A girl " 

"Let me see it." Amelia took the paper and scanned it 
briefly. "Tchk, tchk, tchk!" She gave the paper back to Mr. 
Bremble in the manner of one ridding herself of offal. "Well, 
of course there are organizations that take care of things like 
that, though, as I say, I've always preferred to give whatever 
time and energy I have to helping decent people, not " 
Amelia checked herself. "There's an institution not fifty 
miles from here, the Helping Hand surely you must have 
heard of it, Henry that takes in such girls and gives them 
a place to live until after their babies are born. I've seen it 
I went there once with a committee of ladies. It's really 
quite a wonderful place." 

Mr. Bremble was interested. "What's it like?" 

Amelia's organizational interest kindled. "Well, it's a 
little like a hospital or a school, perhaps. Of course, as the 
girls aren't ill they're able to work, and there's no sense in 
pauperizing them " 

Mr. Bremble wrinkled his brow. "Pauperizing them?*' 

"Why, yes; giving them something for nothing. . That's 
never good, you know; it's one of the first principles of 
philanthropy. I remember one of the ladies said to me at the 
time how much better it was for them to be actively em- 
ployed and making some return for all that was done for 
them." 

"What sort of work do they do?" 

"Whatever needs to be done scrubbing, cleaning, cook- 
ing, or whatever is needed. The place runs like clockwork. 
I just thought to myself, as I stood there and watched them 
at work in their nice neat uniforms " 

"Uniforms?" 

64 



"Certainly, uniforms the institution has to pay for cloth- 
ing them, doesn't it? They wear a sort of gray cambric uni- 
form made like a Hoover apron." 

"All of them?" asked Mr. Bremble, dismayed. 

"Certainly. Where would be the sense or justice in making 
distinctions?" 

"But not all the time, surely," protested Mr. Bremble 
hopefully. "When they go out " 

"They don't go out. They aren't allowed to. Everything 
they need is supplied them by the Home. Well, as I was 
saying, I stood there and watched them a long time, and I 
thought to myself, it's probably the first time in their lives 
most of them ever looked halfway decent. But do you think 
they appreciate it? Not at all. The superintendent herself 
such an efficient woman told me they complain continu- 
ally because they aren't allowed lipstick and rouge. Now I 
ask you! But there's no satisfying that sort of people, what- 
ever you do for them, and when you go out of your way to 
help them you needn't expect any thanks, or even any com- 
mon courtesy. Lipstick, forsooth!" 

"Smearin* themselves like Jezebels," placidly contributed 
Mrs. Corey. 

Amelia nodded. "Oh, yes. You can see without half trying 
that they're only waiting until they get out of the Home to 
go right back to their former way of living. Of course, they 
aren't allowed to leave until six months after their babies 
are born, even if they give the babies out for adoption." 

"They aren't?" interrupted Mr. Bremble. "Why not?" 

Again Amelia showed impatience. "For goodness* sake, 
Henry, these things cost money! You've never looked into 
the cost of organizational activities, but I have, and I know 
what I'm talking about The institution loses several weeks 

65 



of every girl's services as it is, and of course that can't very 
well be avoided. If an organization gives a girl every comfort 
in a situation like that over a period of months, the least 
it can ask in return " 

Mr. Bremble cleared his throat. "Do the girls-would you 
say I mean, did you get the impression that they were con- 
tented there? Did they seem happy, Amelia?" 

"Happy?" Amelia laughed acidly. "Dear me, I'm sure I 
don't know, Henry. Their situation is one that hardly " 

Mr. Bremble amended his question. "Yes, I see what you 
mean, Amelia. Maybe 'hopeful' would be better. Do the 
girls seem to look forward to anything, planning their lives 
after they get out, or " 

"I saw no signs of it" Amelia shrugged. "But I dare say 
they have their plans of a sort" 

"You just bet they do," chortled Mrs. Corey. 

Mr. Bremble, unwontedly persistent, pushed his inquiry 
further. "You said they gave them every comfort, Amelia. 
Now it seems to me the biggest comfort you could give a 
girl like that would be to help her to see her future a little 
more clearly, to know what she wants to do, both for herself 
and for her baby." He paused. "Does the institution do any- 
thing about clearing matters up for them, so that they can 
be easy in their minds? I mean " 

"Certainly it does. There are chapel exercises every day, 
and attendance is compulsory unless a girl is actually too 
ill to attend. What more do you want?" 

"Well " Mr. Bremble hesitated. "I don't know, Amelia, 
but it seems to me it wouldn't do much harm to let them 
have their rouge and lipsticks if they want them. It all 
sounds a little dreary the way you describe it " 

66 



"Dreary!" Amelia bridled. "If dreariness is all they've got 
to complain of, let them thank their lucky stars!" 

"They're pretty young, most of them/' Mr. Bremble con- 
tinued patiently, "aren't they?" 

Amelia looked at him offendedly. "I'm sure I don't know. 
I suppose so." 

Mr. Bremble nodded, feeling his way cautiously. "Well, 
that's what I mean. They're cut off from all their natural 
pleasures for more than a year as it is, and of course that 
can't be helped. But it seems to me, maybe, that rouge and 
lipstick mean more to a young girl than just painting her 
face. One day I saw a young girl atat the office doing up 
her face after a fit of crying, and she looked like a different 
girl when she was through. If somebody had taken away her 
rouge and lipstick just then when she thought she needed 
them most, I imagine she'd have taken a great deal longer 
to get over whatever it was that bothered her." 

Amelia laughed airily. "Dear me, Henry, I had no idea 
you were such an expert in feminine psychology! I'm not 
saying you're entirely wrong where decent girls are con- 
cerned, but those creatures! If doing without rouge and 
lipstick makes them cry, I don't see that anybody else has 
any reason to be concerned. They'll probably be all the 
better for having their pride humbled a little." 

Mr. Bremble doubted it. That the humbling of pride 
might be salutary if it came from within he was prepared to 
admit, but he had never known any benefit to result from 
humiliation deliberately imposed. And on this subject, if 
on no other Mr. Bremble thought bitterly of Horace Wid- 
dinger he was qualified to have an opinion of his own. 

Amelia's picture of conditions at the Helping Hand, 

67 



though drawn with meager strokes, had been all too abun- 
dantly filled in by his ready imagination. He saw the hapless 
girls, tight and toiling; mutinous in their depressing gray 
uniforms; confined to their quarters month after weary 
month; eating the bitter bread of patronage and expected 
to say grace for it; hungry for friendship, for comfort, for 
reassurance, and finding them nowhere; licked from head 
to foot, from morning to night, by the blistering fires of 
shame. 

For if they had not been ashamed when they entered the 
Helping Hand, thought Mr. Bremble, surely they were all 
ashamed by now; nor need their shame have much to do with 
the catastrophe that had brought them there. Mr. Bremble, 
inwardly shuddering, recalled Amelia's bland announce- 
ment that she had stood there and looked at them a long 
time. And fed them peanuts, perhaps? God, he could almost 
think her capable of it. 

He tried to be fair. The Helping Hand was better than 
nothing, he supposed. But when he had admitted so much 
he could admit no more. 

Amelia, he could see, had no conception of the girls as 
girls. To her they were "creatures"; creatures who had done 
a thing she would not herself have done, and therefore out- 
side the pale not only of decency but almost of humanity. 

He had scarcely formulated the thought before she con- 
firmed it. "You're all wrong, Henry/* she said definitively, 
"in trying to judge these girls by ordinary standards. It's 
just what I'm always telling you, you never get below the 
surface. How in the world do you expect decent standards 
of morality to be maintained if you make no difference be- 
tween right and wrong? Whatever the girls at the Helping 
Hand have or don't have, they certainly have a great deal 

68 



more than they have any right to expect after their disgrace- 
ful behavior. Rouge and lipstick!" She twitched impatiently. 
"I suppose, if you were doing it, you'd give them silk stock- 
ings as well/' 

"I don't know but what I would," said Henry Bremble. 

Amelia looked at him severely over her glasses. "Don't be 
trivial, Henry. It's no laughing matter, and it's in very bad 
taste to joke about such things. Let's change the subject, 
or keep still if this is all we can find to talk about. How do 
you like this corner, Mother?" She held up the napkin. "I 
think it's quite pretty, myself." 

Mrs. Corey reached a fattened claw for the napkin and 
nodded. "'Tis," she agreed. "You got it right pretty, 
Amelia." 

Amelia, taking it back, smiled and relaxed. "I think so," 
she said complacently. "You watch Mrs. Carruthers when 
she sees them, Mother now remember." 



*8* 



MR. BREMBLE sank back in his chair, hiding behind 
the paper. He felt a renewed exasperation that Susy 
had appealed to him, surely the unlikeliest person she could 
have known, to help her with her problem. 

Sleep, for the most of that night, was impossible to him, 
and so it continued to be night after night, as one by one 
the golden, unrecapturable days of Horace Widdinger's 
vacation wore themselves away. He lost his appetite; he 
paced the floor. Amelia, becoming restive, reproved him for 
acting like a chicken with its head cut off, and repeatedly 
demanded his reasons for so doing. He could not work at his 
crosswords, he could not make words out of words, and he 
forgot his buttons altogether, even the beautiful one he had 
named Miss Iris. 

And the buttons, unfortunately, were by no means all he 
forgot. He forgot letters he was supposed to post, errands he 
was supposed to do, commissions he was supposed to execute, 
and responsive sounds he was supposed to make. He forgot 
to bring home Queenie's regular allowance of liver, al- 
though he knew that she and Mrs. Corey would be dining 
with him and Amelia. He forgot to wipe his feet before he 
stepped on Amelia's clean floor. He forgot, successively, 

70 



to hang up his dressing gown, to water the marigolds, to 
rinse out the bathtub, to mow the front lawn, and to get 
someone to mend the cellar door. And, as Mr. Widdinger's 
vacation wound to a close, and there was added to his mount- 
ing anxieties the certain knowledge that he would soon be 
forced to confront Mr. Widdinger, in the light of his recent 
knowledge, and be addressed waggishly by him as Henrietta, 
he reached the nadir of all ineptitude and forgot to kiss 
Amelia on the cheek before going to work. 

Naturally, Amelia was at her wits' end by this time, for he 
stubbornly refused to explain his erratic behavior. Her 
frightened, almost helpless "What's got into you, Henry?" 
became a daily refrain. 

Desperately, almost as a last resort, she tried her own 
panacea on him and made an attempt to drive him into an 
organization. "The Truth Seekers, Henry," she explained 
to him with a patience all but pathetic. "It has both men 
and women members, and it meets in the evening. It would 
be so good for you to lose yourself in work of that kind. 
Goodness knows I've very little time left over from all I do, 
but I'm willing to make the effort and go with you if you'll 
only " 

To her surprise, he reacted with positive violence. "My 
God, no!" 

She began to cry. "I don't see why you have to be so un- 
reasonable, Henry! To swear at me like that, without giving 
me time to tell you anything about it " 

"I know all I need to know," retorted Mr. Bremble. 
"Truth Seekers! My God!" 

Amelia stared at him through tears. "What possible ob- 
jection " 

Mr. Bremble withdrew into obstinate silence, refusing to 



make his objection vocal. Truth Seekers, indeed. ... If 
he knew anything at all, thought Mr, Bremble, he knew that 
nobody ever need bother to seek for Truth. It was Truth 
that did the seeking Truth, the huntress. He had felt her 
burning spear in his side too often. "Certainly not," he said, 
and would say no more. 

Amelia, baffled, ceased for the time to importune him. 
But after a number of days of doubt and suspicion, having 
seen no improvement in her husband's condition, she spent 
an hour deeply cogitating, consulted at some length with her 
mother and the imperturbable Queenie, and made up her 
mind to do something active about it. 

"They want me to consult a psychiatrist," Mr. Bremble 
said uneasily. 

"You don't say!" God raised his eyebrows. "What in time 
do they want you to do that for?" 

"I keep forgetting things/' Mr. Bremble explained. He 
looked appealingly and deprecatingly at his Companion. "I 
don't think they're such very important things, but Amelia 
does/' 

"I hate a psychiatrist/* God said morosely. "They take 
altogether too much upon themselves. Did you ever happen 
to see any of the magazines they publish, with those long 
strings of what do they call them? case reports?" 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. 

c< What I can't understand/' continued God, "is where in 
the world they find all those weird little boys they're always 
writing about. I've made millions of little boys in My time, 
and I certainly never made any that were anything like 
those, unless I was temporarily out of My mind. You don't 
suppose there's a black market in little boys, do you?" 

7* 



Mr. Bremble considered it. "I shouldn't think so," he 
said at last. 

God shook his head. "It's beyond Me/* He said gloomily. 
"Well, what are you going to do about it, Henry?" 

"I suppose 1*11 have to go," Mr. Bremble sighed. "Amelia 
says so." 

"Well, don't let them get you down." God rose, preparing 
to go. He smiled suddenly. "If I were you, Henry, I don't 
know but I'd have a good look first at some of those maga- 
zines. Then, when they start asking you questions, you can 
govern yourself accordingly. You might as well give them a 
run for their money, don't you think?" 

This seemed to Mr. Bremble an excellent idea. He turned 
it over and over in his mind, and the more he thought 
about it the better he liked it. There was a scientific library 
in the city, he knew, and no doubt it had plenty of the 
publications God had mentioned. 

Amelia was both surprised and pleased at the withdrawal 
of Mr. Bremble's objections to psychiatric treatment, for 
indeed he had objected plaintively and long. "You're doing 
the sensible thing, Henry," she told him approvingly. "In 
these days, with the almost miraculous resources of modern 
science at our command, why should we not take every ad- 
vantage of them? I shall send you, I think, to Dr. Percy Wil- 
loughby. He is an analyst as well as a practicing psychiatrist, 
and I have heard many of the ladies speak very highly of 
him." 

Mr. Bremble had no need to inquire who "the ladies" 
were. By this inclusive term Amelia always referred to her 
energetic co-workers in the several causes of democracy, 
dean politics, and the universal brotherhood of man (sub- 
ject to exception without notice). "The ladies" bounded all 

73 



sides of Amelia's consciousness; and, as she frequently 
pointed out to him, it was natural and right that they should 
do so, as anyone could see that they represented the only 
hope of the world for decency. 

"Men!" Amelia was accustomed to pronounce, her eyes 
burning with a crusader's light. "What have men ever done 
what, indeed, can they ever do, so long as they're the way 
they are to help make the world a better place to live in? 
For every welfare organization of men there are twenty 
organizations of women, all working devotedlygiving the 
best years of their lives to building up what men, in their 
selfishness and greed, keep tearing down " 

"Aren't there any of the ladies who are greedy and selfish, 
Amelia?" Mr. Bremble had once asked, not in any spirit of 
controversy but merely as a matter of mild curiosity. "Seems 
to me I've noticed " 

Amelia breathed hard. "There are women" she acknowl- 
edged, giving the' word the force of an opprobrious epithet, 
"who think of nothing but themselves, just like the men. 
But when I say 'the ladies' I'm not talking about creatures 
like that Mrs. Hadley!" 

Mr. Bremble was a little surprised at the sudden introduc- 
tion of this new theme. "Who is Mrs. Hadley?" he inquired. 

Amelia bitterly mimicked his tone. " 'Mrs. Hadley,' as 
you call her " 

Mr. Bremble felt that this venom was misdirected. "Why, 
you just called her that yourself, Amelia/' 

"Well, what if I did?" Amelia snorted. "I called her Mis. 
Hadley by courtesy only. She's supposed to be a widow. 
Whether she is or not I leave to her conscience. But nobody 
else knows one thing about her, Henry. Not one single 
thing!" 

74 



Mr. Bremble was puzzled. "Well, but why should any- 
body know anything about her, Amelia?" 

"Listen." Amelia leaned toward him. "Mrs. Cable and I 
went there to call, the very week after she moved into the 
old Paterson place" Mr. Bremble caught his breath "and 
asked her, as nicely as possible, if she wouldn't like to join 
a few of our working groups. We explained all about con- 
ditions and why such work is needed and how much more 
we can accomplish if we all work together in organizations, 
and all that. And all we got out of her was that she'd always 
been a little doubtful about the good actually accomplished 
by organizations, and that it seemed to her the ladies spent 
more time arguing among themselves than doing anything, 
and when they did do anything they were pretty patron- 
izing about it. Patronizing! " Amelia paused for breath. 

"Let me get this straight," Henry Bremble said patiently. 
"You said you 'explained all about conditions and why such 
work is needed/ I wish you'd explain it to me, too, Amelia. 
What conditions? What kind of work? I've sometimes felt, 
myself, that you and your mother and the other ladies are a 
little vague about it, except that it's supposed to be for 
democracy and " 

"Well, what more do you want?" Amelia cried out. "Isn't 
democracy good enough for you? Look here, Henry 
Bremble, if you think you're going to take sides with that 
woman against your own wife " 

Mr. Bremble made a hopeless gesture. "Now, now, 
Amelia, I'm not taking sides with anybody. Maybe you're 
right and maybe Mrs. Hadley is wrong. I don't know. I just 
wanted " 

"You just wanted to try to make me ridiculous, the very 
way she did that afternoon, asking silly questions and trying 

75 



to pin me down!" Amelia began to cry. "If that's the best 
you can do, Henry Bremble, I think it's about time you did 
go and see a psychiatrist! I only hope Dr. Willoughby will 
know what to make of you, for I certainly don't and neither 
does Mother. If Mother's said to me once she's said it a thou- 
sand times, 'I don't know what to make of that husband of 
yours, Amelia.' " She checked herself abruptly, drying her 
eyes. "I've made an appointment for you Tuesday after- 
noon with Dr. Willoughby, and if you know what's good 
for you, Henry Bremble, you'll be there. And no hanging 
back when he asks you questions, either. You co-operate 
with him." 

Mr. Bremble, whose intention was not only to co-operate 
with Dr. Willoughby but to give him the last full measure 
of co-operation, shaken, pressed down, and running over, 
assented. But beyond the assent he could not consider Dr. 
Willoughby now. His whole mind was filled with a new and 
promising project. It was true he had thought before now of 
Miss Iris's house as a possible shelter for Susy in her time of 
storm, but his old-fashioned reticence had made it unthink- 
able to speak of Susy's problem to a woman he supposed to 
be unmarried. If Miss Iris had been married, if she was a 
widow, he might be able to summon courage for the appeal. 

He grew increasingly excited at the idea. He wanted, more 
than any words could express, to help Susy, if only for the 
sake of ridding himself of the albatross she had hung around 
his unwilling neck. In another way he wanted, more than 
he liked to realize, to have speech with Miss Iris. But even 
now there was something in him that hesitated. Having two 
perfect pictures of her in his mind, he faltered before the 
possibility of losing them. 

76 



He arranged his bits of evidence in order. She was gentle, 
she was delicate, she liked the maid Clarissa and called her 
"my dear." She had not minded when Clarissa spilled the 
peas. She had not even, as Amelia would have done, said 
"Tchk, tchk, tchk!" And she disliked Amelia's organiza- 
tions and would have none of them. 

All very hopeful, as far as it went. Mr. Bremble's heart 
beat faster at the idea of going in at the picket gate, of talking 
with her. He tried to frame his story in advance, in words 
that could not possibly offend her, and he discovered in him- 
self an acrid feeling of offense that it was with such a story 
he must approach her. If he could have gone to her as a 
friend, and sat with her in the arbor under the grapes and 
wistaria, and talked with her of things that concerned them 
alone, or perhaps not talked at all 

Yes, that would have been another thing entirely. Never- 
theless he saw that, disagreeable as the prospect was, the 
thing must be carried through, for he had not been able to 
arrive at any other solution. "If 'twere done, 'twere well 
'twere done quickly," he quoted resolutely to himself, and 
that evening, under pretext of going for a walk, he set forth, 
quivering in heart and limb, to the ordeal. 

The days were lengthening rapidly, and it was barely 
twilight when he arrived. He had thought he would have 
to knock and go into the house, but he saw the light blur of 
her dress in the summerhouse as he approached. Well, per- 
haps the half-light would soften things, somehow, and ease 
him. Perhaps he could tell his story better in the summer- 
house. 

He had set his hand to the picket gate before he saw that 
she was not alone. There was a man in the arbor with her, 
unnoticeable at first because of his dark garments. 

77 



M r. Bremble hesitated, his hand still on the gate. Having 
keyed himself up to the interview, he felt completely at a 
loss to be thus checked. He had a panicky moment during 
which he doubted that he could ever rise to the effort again. 
But before he could turn away, the man, seeing him, rose 
and came toward him, calling him by name. "Mr. Bremble! 
I've been wanting to see you. Come in just a minute, won't 
you?" He came toward Mr. Bremble at a half-lope, his long 
legs spurning the blue grass of the garden. "I'm Walter 
Anderson. I don't know whether you remember me, but 
I'm pastor of the church your wife attends/' 

"Why, yes," Mr. Bremble replied, bewildered but courte- 
ous. "Of course, Mr. Anderson, I remember you. How are 
you?" 

The young man disregarded this inquiry. "Come in just 
a minute, won't you, and meet Mrs. Hadleyif you haven't 
already?' 1 He urged Mr. Bremble through the gate and to- 
ward the summerhouse. "I've been wanting to tell you, Mr. 
Bremble, how sorry I am about what happened at your 
house the other day. I'm afraid I rather upset Mrs. Bremble, 
and I wanted you to know I didn't mean to." 

He turned to Iris Hadley, who was now standing at the 
summerhouse door. "Iris, this is Mr. Bremble, a neigh- 
bor. I thought you'd like to meet him, and he was pass- 
ing by " 

"Why, of course," said Mrs. Hadley. She smiled at the 
harassed Mr. Bremble, offering him her hand. "Come in, 
Mr. Bremble, and have a cool drink. We're having lemon- 
ade, out of deference to Walter's cloth. Walter, will you call 
Clarissa oh, no, you needn't; here's a glass." 

She poured the lemonade as Mr. Bremble sat down on 
the edge of a bench, smiling at him again as she gave it to 



him. Walter Anderson seated himself astride the table and 
took a long draught from his own glass, setting it down to 
speak to Mrs. Hadley. "I was just apologizing to Mr. 
Bremble for setting Mrs. Bremble by the for getting Mrs. 
Bremble a bit upset." He grinned, with immense good 
humor, at Mr. Bremble. "I certainly stirred me up a hornet's 
nest when I closed that mission/' 

"I dare say you did," said Mr. Bremble, seeing that they 
were waiting for him to speak. "But I think you did right, 
Mr. Anderson." He paused a moment, searching for words. 
"Don't worry about Amelia's getting upset, Mr. Anderson. 
She's a little excitable now and then." 

They murmured placatively in response and then fell 
silent. The silence, it seemed to Mr. Bremble, was an ex- 
traordinary one. There was nothing in the least uncom- 
fortable about it. He wondered if they knew he had meant 
to come in; he thought they did. An overwhelming relief 
took him. He ceased to feel that the presence of a third 
person would hinder him; indeed, ever since he had read 
Mr. Anderson's psalm he had felt closely connected with 
this young man, and surely a minister would know how to 
take his story. 

He summoned all the resolution at his command and 
turned to his hostess. "The fact is, Mrs. Hadley," he ad- 
mitted, clearing his throat, "I was coming to see you anyway. 
I thought you might be able to give me some advice." 

"Yes, Mr. Bremble?" Her tone and manner encouraged 
him. 

"It's about a girl in the office where I work." Mr. Bremble 
shifted a little uneasily. If he could just get over the begin- 
ning . . . "You see," he went on painstakingly, "I'm an 
accountant in a plumbing concern " 

79 



"I see," said Mrs. Hadley gently, as he paused. "And you 
were coming to see me about a girl in your office?" 

"Yes," said Mr. Bremble, setting his glass down. "The 
the lemonade is delicious, Mrs. Hadley. Well, the fact is this 
girl-this girl's in trouble." 

They looked at him attentively, saying nothing. Neither 
of them seemed at all surprised or shocked, and Mr. Bremble 
took courage. "Susy Jennings, her name is," he went on. 
"She came into my office not long ago and told me " He 
hesitated again, blinked, and then, with a schoolboy's rush, 
broke into his story. 

They heard him through without interrupting. When 
he seemed to have no more to say they looked at each other, 
and Mrs. Hadley nodded. "Why, yes, Mr. Bremble," she 
said, "she can come here. Clarissa and I have plenty of room 
to spare, and we'll never eat half the vegetables out of the 
garden." She paused a moment, considering. "This would 
be a nice place for a baby, too." 

Mr. Bremble felt a flood of relief pour over him. "That's 
what I thought/* he managed to say at last. "I know it's ask- 
ing a good deal of you, Mrs. Hadley, but " 

"Why, no, it's not," said Iris Hadley reasonably. "Why 
should it be? I have all this room, and I have Clarissa Claris- 
sa's a glutton for work; she spoils me abominably. If she has 
somebody else to do for, maybe I'll save my soul yet; do you 
think so, Walter?" She laughed. "Walter's been very nice, 
but I always feel he regards me as a sloth and a sybarite. 
Don't you, Walter?" 

"Not at all," the young minister said absent-mindedly. 

"Well, as a sinner, anyhow. I hardly ever go to church," 
she explained to Mr. Bremble. "How can I get in touch with 

80 



Susy, Mr. Bremble? Shall I write to her, or go to see her? 
Which do you think would be easier for her?" 

Mr. Bremble pondered. "I I hardly know, Mrs. Hadley. 
I never thought of it. I could tell her about it tomorrow at 
the office." 

"Will you do that, then? And if she wants to come and 
see me, that's all right, and if she doesn't I'll go and see her. 
Or if she wants to pack up and come right out, Clarissa can 
have her room ready for her in no time/' 

Mr. Bremble drew a long breath. "I can't tell you how 
much I thank you, Mrs. Hadley," he said devoutly. 

Another silence fell. Mr. Bremble was so eased of his long- 
carried burden that he felt almost sleepy. It was he, at last, 
who broke the silence, telling them of the quarrel he had 
interrupted between Susy and Willy Wilson. "I got the 
impression that Willy was in love with Susy himself,'* he 
added tentatively. "Willy certainly was in a fury about it." 

Walter Anderson set down his glass. "He feeling any 
better yet?" 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Willy's a 
pretty peppery young fellow." He hesitated. "I've been a 
little worried for fear he might do something he oughtn't 
to do. You take a boy like that when he thinks he's being 
abused " 

Walter Anderson took a pencil from his pocket. "What 
did you say his name was?" 

"Willy Wilson." 

"Willy Wilson." Mr. Anderson wrote it down. "Do you 
know where he lives?" 

"I could find out, 5 ' said Mr. Bremble. 

"I wish you would. I'll look him up. Yes, Iris?" 

81 



"Yes/' said Mrs. Hadley, pouring lemonade, 

Mr. Bremble's worried face brightened. "I suppose you 
do a great deal of that sort of thing, Mr. Anderson?" 

"Here and there, xvhere I can." Anderson turned to Mrs. 
Hadley. "I think we've got young Allison about straight- 
ened out, Iris." 

"That's good," Mrs. Hadley said serenely. "More lemon- 
ade?" 

"Thanks." 

Mr. Bremble, who for some time had been feeling some- 
thing pushing at his attention, now caught hold o it. 
"There's another young boy I heard of," he ventured, "a 
boy named Harold Perlberg. He's playing truant from 
school-cutting classes, they call it to go to the public 
library and read Shakespeare." Mr. Bremble chuckled. "I 
never heard of a boy doing that before, did you?" 

"I certainly never did," replied Mrs. Hadley. "What an 
extraordinary thing!" 

Mr. Anderson had his notebook out again. "Harold Perl- 
berg? Know where he lives?" 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. "He goes to Austin High 
School, though. One of his teachers is a friend of my wife's. 
She says the boy's mother told her he'd been having trouble 
at home with his father." 

Mr. Anderson nodded, with an ironic glance at Mrs. Had- 
ley. "I dare say; it's the same old story," he said. "Well, I'll 
look them both up, Mr. Bremble, and thanks for telling me. 
Any more?" 

Mrs. Hadley laughed. "Take it easy, Walter/' she advised. 
"You can't save the whole world, you know not until next 
week, at least." 

Mr, Anderson laughed too. "Thanks, Iris she's awfully 

8s 



good forme," he explained to Mr. Bremble. "Keeps me from 
getting too big an idea of myself. Well, I've got to go. Bless 
you, Iris; you're a very nice woman, my dear." 

"I must go too," Mr. Bremble said, rising. "I certainly 
thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mrs. Hadley, for 
your kindness about Susy," he said again as she offered him 
her hand. 

"But didn't I tell you you're an instrument of Providence 
in the saving of my soul?" she smiled as he took it. "It's I who 
should be saying thanks to you. Must you really go, both 
of you? Well, good night and pleasant dreams." 



9 



PLEASANT dreams. Mr. Bremble, laying his head on his 
pillow beside the already slumbering Amelia, felt that 
no sleeping dream could be half so pleasant as the waking 
one that held him in its thrall. How little she had said, yet 
how perfect it all had been! He would not have changed a 
syllable of it. For just a moment one horror did attack him. 
He had not mentioned Horace Widdinger, and he wondered 
if Mrs. Hadley could possibly have thought 

He turned in his sudden panic to God, Who was there as 
always. God shook His head. "Shame on you, Henry!** he 
said. "I'm surprised at you. She's not that kind of a girl." 

It was with a greatly lightened heart, therefore, that Mr. 
Bremble set forth on Tuesday afternoon for his first inter- 
view with the psychiatrist. He was introduced by the 'office 
nurse to a slight, dark, remote-looking man with a pointed 
black beard and eyeglasses on a black ribbon. 

"Ah, yes, Mr. Bremble," said Dr. Willoughby, shaking 
hands. "If you'll just go into the inner office." He escorted 
Mr. Bremble in, himself pausing at the doorway. "Lie down 
on the couch," he suggested, "and make yourself quite com- 
fortable, Mr. Bremble. I'll be with you in just a moment." 
He disappeared. 



Mr. Bremble lay down on the couch and closed his eyes. 
In his new elation the whole situation amused him. The 
couch was far more comfortable, he was sure, than the classic 
forms of confessionalanother great advance in modern 
science, and highly commendable too. He felt about in his 
pockets for some cursory notes he had made, but decided 
that he would not need them. He had just removed his hand 
from his pocket when the doctor returned. 

"Now, Mr. Bremble," Dr. Willoughby's voice, appropri- 
ately soft and soothing, broke through the gentle silence. 
"I'd like to have you relax completely. Relax all your 
muscles, close your eyes that's right. Now, just as soon as 
you feel like it there's no hurry start talking." 

"What about?" asked Mr. Bremble interestedly. 

"What about? Oh, about any thing you like. Mrs. Bremble 
has given me the history of the case" Mr. Bremble smiled 
faintly to himself "so I think we needn't go into that now. 
Your childhood, perhaps, Mr. Bremble. We'll get to that 
eventually in any case, so it might be just as well to begin 
with it, don't you think so? When you were a child " 

Mr. Bremble shook his head doubtfully, keeping his eyes 
conscientiously closed. "I doubt if you'd get so very much 
out of that to help my present situation," he objected. "You 
see, when I was a child, Dr. Willoughby, I was a little girL" 

"Ah?" Dr. Willoughby leaned forward slightly, as Mr. 
Bremble could see from the shadow he cast against the win- 
dow curtain. "That's interesting. That's very interesting 
indeed. Go on, Mr. Bremble." 

"A very remarkable little girl," Mr. Bremble continued 
willingly enough. "A little girl of angelic beauty, though 
perhaps a trifle precocious. When I was two years old I fell 
in love with my great-aunt Emma." 

85 



"Just a minute, Mr. Bremble." The psychiatrist cleared 
his throat. "We're going a little too fast getting just a bit 
ahead of ourselves. Before we go into the emotional compli- 
cations, let's just get all our facts straight, shan't we? Now 
about your being a little girl, for instance. I think we'd 
better get that cleared up first. What was the attitude of your 
parents in the matter?" 

"Just about what you would expect," said Mr. Bremble. 
"They never had much sense, either of them." 

"Ah?" said the specialist, making notes. "Now, just cast 
your mind back, Mr. Bremble, and see if you can't remem- 
ber a little more about their feeling in the matter. I should 
say that in all probability they imagined you to be a little 
boy. Now didn't they?" 

"Of course they did/' said Mr. Bremble irritably. "So did 
everybody else, including the Presbyterian minister who 
baptized me. God, how I hated that man/' 

"We'll come back to him presently," Dr. Willoughby re- 
assured him, making notes. "Now, Mr. Bremble, how do 
you account for this strange mistake on the part of all your 
adult acquaintances, including your own parents? Isn't it 
just possible that they were right, after all, and that the 
mistake was your own?" 

Mr. Bremble wearily entreated him not to be silly. 

"Very well, Mr. Bremble," the physician responded sooth- 
ingly. "We'll just leave them alone for the present and go 
back to yourself, if you will. First let me ask you this: What 
made you so sure, yourself, that you were a girl? How did 
you know, after all, that you weren't a boy, Mr. Bremble?" 

Mr. Bremble raised himself on his elbow, turned round, 
and looked at his questioner severely. "Really, Dr. Wil- 
loughby!" he said. 

86 



The specialist coughed, cleared his throat, and motioned 
him back to the pillow with a magnetic hand. "Just rest 
while you talk, if you please, Mr. Bremble; it makes it much 
easier for " 

Mr. Bremble lay down again. "Very well," he said with 
a touch of asperity. "Though after that last question of 
yours I tell you frankly I think I'd be justified in asking to 
see your diploma." 

Dr. Willoughby ignored this. "You were saying, Mr. 
Bremble, about your great-aunt Emma " 

"I loved her/' Mr. Bremble said simply. "I loved her with 
a passion that threatened to unseat my reason. She was the 
only woman I ever really loved. She had six toes on her left 
foot, I remember; that may have had something to do with 
it. But, be that as it may, I loved her desperately and hope- 
lessly." He paused. "That's another reason I know I was a 
girl and couldn't have been intended to grow up into a man." 

"Ah?" Dr. Willoughby leaned forward again. "J ust how 
do you make that connection, Mr. Bremble?" 

"I should have thought a child would see it," said Mr. 
Bremble. "But, if you insist, I will explain. It was evident 
at the time, and it was demonstrated conclusively over a 
period of years thereafter, that no man could possibly have 
loved my great-aunt Emma and lived to tell the tale. Not," 
he added reasonably after a moment, "that any man ever 
tried it." 

"Except you?" Dr. Willoughby injected tentatively. 

Mr. Bremble was not to be caught. "I wasn't a man, I tell 
you," he pointed out firmly. "I was a little girl. But I loved 
her; Ah, the ecstasy of it, Dr. Willoughby! The wild, pagan 
delight of it! I had a little bow and arrow at the time, and 
though I live to be a thousand years old I can never forget 

87 



the rapture that shook my whole tiny body when I shot her 
-the ping of the arrow as it struck home, the way she leaped 

and yelped and turned upon me " 

"And then what happened?" Dr. Willoughby prompted 

him. 

Mr. Bremble raised a prohibitive hand. "Please, Dr. Wil- 
loughby/* he objected plaintively, "there are some things 
too intimate, too sacred for discussion. Let us not speak fur- 
ther of the matter, if you please." 

Dr. Willoughby hesitated. "Well, perhaps we have gone 
far enough for today, if you feel that way, Mr. Bremble," he 
admitted, rising. "But this last point you have raised is 
highly significant. It gives me hope that we are on the right 
track in discovering your difficulty. The ecstasy of the occa- 
sional child under chastisement is not entirely unfamiliar 
to the members of my profession." 

Mr. Bremble, who knew it wasn'tfor he had spent the 
whole of his Saturday afternoon at the scientific library, 
conning the Psychiatrist's Guide and Archives, with particu- 
lar attention to Volume xxxvii, page 1046, case report 20 
nodded briskly and agreed to return on the following Tues- 
day, He shook hands cordially with Dr. Willoughby and 
made his way triumphantly downstairs. 

The afternoon, he felt, had been highly rewarding. He 
didn't know when he had had so good a time. It had left 
him in a mood of heady adventure, so that he was ready to 
contemplate anything that might offer itself. As he got into 
the convertible and sped happily home to Amelia, he con- 
sidered successively the merits of driving the machine up 
the stairs of the plumbing concern and into the office, there- 
by giving the rest of the staff something to think about, at 
least; of halting in the middle of the street and loudly im- 

88 



ploring all and sundry to come and be saved from damna- 
tion; of running down a traffic policeman and, with a foot 
planted squarely on his stomach, writing out a ticket de- 
manding his appearance in court at a specified time, subject 
to heavy penalty if disregarded. 

None of these projects, however, was really adequate to 
his mood. For Mr. Bremble, having discovered in himself 
unexpected powers as a raconteur, and congratulating him- 
self on a certain trenchant fluency of speech he had never 
before attained, was drunk. He was so much drunker, in 
fact, than any man-made liquor could have left him, that 
if he had yielded to his momentary impulse to stop at the 
first bar he passed and have a couple, he would probably 
have left the establishment sobered from head to heels, a 
tragic and a disappointed man. 

Some deep-laid instinct must have warned him of this, 
for he did not yield to the impulse. He went straight home, 
feeling like a champagne bubble in a crowd of foaming com- 
panions. He remembered asJie set his key in the lock that 
this was the day of Amelia's bridge party, and that the latest 
lap of the historic tournament was doubtless still in full 
swing. 

A babble of female voices, as the door opened, confirmed 
this impression. Mr. Bremble rose on his tiptoes as he en- 
tered, closing the door noiselessly behind him. Stealthily he 
crept up the stairs; lurkingly he peered about him to make 
sure that no member of the altruistic revel downstairs had 
sneaked off to the upper floor to "do" her face afresh and to 
investigate the contents of Amelia's cupboards. 

There seemed to be nobody in sight or in hearing. Mr. 
Bremble drew a long sigh of relief and went into the room 
he shared with Amelia, meaning to lie down and lie low 



until the silence beneath him assured him that he might 
emerge to his dinner. 

But it was not to be. The bed was piled high with women's 
coats coats of every color and description, heaped upon 
one another in a gay jumble of wool and silk and fur and 
rayon and tweed and camel's hair, and lighted here and 
there, spectacularly, with buttons. 

Buttons. Into Mr. Bremble's already excited eyes there 
stole a lustful gleam. What buttons they were, of ivory and 
ebony and gold! What miracles of twisting and design! What 
flash of jewels half-hidden under fur! How seldom, into the 
life of the average humble collector, do these supernal 
moments come! 

It could not be that the ladies appreciated the buttons. 
They never appreciated anything that was worth having. 
No, they possessed this Aladdin's cave of treasure merely by 
virtue of being female; and what, Mr. Bremble asked him- 
self, could be sillier than that? A one-sided world it was, 
and a one-sided world it always had been; but surely it was 
the sheerest ineptitude if any man, confronted with an 
opportunity like this, should turn, like a poltroon, away. 

Mr. Bremble caught his breath and held it. For a full 
minute thus he stood in contemplation. Then suddenly, 
stealthily, as if of its own accord, his hand stole forth to 
the drawer of the dressing table. There, he knew, Amelia 
kept a pair of efficient scissors. One quick slash, another and 
another and yet another, and 

He moved upon the bed, scissors in hand. 



10 



BUT what on earth possessed you to do such a thing, 
Henry?" Amelia wailed for the hundredth time, wip- 
ing her streaming eyes with one of the embroidered napkins. 
"You know how I slaved over this party. You know what it 
meant to me. How can I ever hold up my head in the League 
again? I'll never be president again, that's one thing certain.'* 
She shuddered, gasped, flung down the wet napkin on a 
bridge table and took up another. "And I don't know what 
you mean by a button collection. You never told me you 
had a button collection. I never saw a sign of a button col- 
lection anywhere about the house, and if you keep it at the 
office " 

Mrs. Corey, an interested listener, cackled. "He don't 
keep it at the office/' she interjected, "does he, Queenie?" 

Queenie sniffed. Amelia burst into tears again, wailing 
afresh. "If I could see even a glimmer of sense in the whole 
miserable business!" she moaned. "But I just can't believe 
you'd do such a thing to me, Henry!" 

Mrs. Corey, who had information to offer, continued as 
though Amelia had not interrupted her. "No, sir, he don't 
keep his button collection at no office. If Amelia knew what 
was what, she'd look in her own things once in a while, 



wouldn't she, Queenie? Right upstairs In her own room, 
where she keeps all her receipts and letters." She kissed 
Queenie noisily and looked off into the distance, smirking. 
"Oh, my, yes! We know men's tricks, don't we, Queenie? 
They can't fool us. No, siree." 

Mr. Bremble, from the abyss of his wretchedness, looked 
at his mother-in-law with a reddening eye. He felt no sur- 
prise that she had rummaged through his bedroom, prob- 
ably months before, saving up what she had discovered until 
an appropriate moment for its use, this being exactly what 
he would have expected of her. But the realization that her 
prying old fingers, probably smeared with chocolate, had 
doubtless seized upon Miss Iris in her little white separate 
box, and that her evil old eyes had gloated thereon, by some 
devilish thaumaturgy divining its whole history and sig- 
nificancethis was another matter, this was sacrilege, and 
Henry Bremble's heart rocked yearningly toward murder. 

As usual, his murderous impulse died a-borning. In the 
first place, he knew and had known ever since the day God 
winked at him that he was not constructed for high and 
desperate emprise; and in the second, he was too weak, at 
the moment, even to rise from his chair. In reconnoitering 
the upstairs rooms before he made his raid upon the buttons 
he had forgotten the bathroom, and one of the ladies, emerg- 
ing therefrom, had caught sight of him as he severed the last 
one and had screamed. 

What followed the scream still beat at his senses like 
hammers the shrieks, the squeals, the tattoo of hurrying 
footsteps, the incredulity, the horror, the furious looks, the 
hysterical laughter, the snatching up of coats, the rattle of 
buttons as the frenzied women swooped to salvage their 
own, the secret victorious looks at Mrs. Corey and Amelia, 



Amelia's white, stunned face, the excited yaps of Queenie 
all remained, blending unbearably into a crescendo of ham- 
mer-strokes beating him down to nothing, and with every 
pound Amelia's tortured and torturing question, "Why 
why -why?" 

He had tried to tell her why at last, for he had not been 
able to bear the beating long. But he found he could not 
actually tell her why, because he didn't know. All he could 
tell her was that he had a collection of buttons; and as he 
made this feeble confession, knowing well how pungently 
he would later regret it, he knew also that Amelia would 
rightly think it one of those not infrequent explanations 
that explain nothing whatever. 

"Harridan," thought Mr. Bremble bitterly, looking at 
Mrs. Corey, for he found that he could not look at the suf- 
fering Amelia. "Hair, raid, darn, hard, rind, drain, rain, 
hind, hand " 

The gloom that settled over the Bremble household at 
that moment spread through the rooms and into the utter- 
most corners, covering everything. The days passed some- 
how, with Amelia alternately preserving an acrid silence 
and bursting forth irrepressibly into renewed lamentations 
and demands for satisfaction. 

Mr. Bremble could give her no satisfaction. He was sorry 
for her, for he could see that her suffering was real; and, 
although he had no doubt that her concern for her husband's 
sanity (which she repeatedly told him she doubted) was 
second to her anguish at the thought of losing both presi- 
dency and prestige in the League for Democracy and the 
other organizations to which she was devoted, he knew that 
she was to some extent concerned for him. 

93 



She had gone at once to Dr. Willoughby with the story, 
for on his next visit to the office Dr. Willoughby asked him, 
tactfully, about his hobbies. 

"Hobbies?*' repeated Mr. Bremble, playing for time. 

"Exactly/' said Dr. Willoughby, in his velvety voice. 
"Some little diversion, say, such as stamp collecting, for 
instance. Do you collect stamps by any chance, Mr. 
Bremble?" 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. "No." 

"Ah," said Dr. Willoughby. "I thought perhaps you 
might. Many prominent men, as you doubtless know, have 
done so. We find, Mr. Bremble, in my profession, that a 
hobby of some kind is an excellent thing for most persons, 
adding interest to life and ah, interest. Variety, that is to 
say. I'm sure you have a hobby of some kind, Mr. Bremble. 
Now haven't you?" 

Mr. Bremble appeared to consider the question. "I don't 
know whether you'd call it a hobby or not," he said after a 
moment, "but there's something I like to do." 

"I was sure of it," said the specialist, pleased and sym- 
pathetic. "And what is it you like to do, Mr. Bremble? Do 
you mind telling me?" 

"Not at all," said Mr. Bremble cordially. "I like to feel 
mosquito bites." 

There was a silence of some moments. At last Dr. Wil- 
loughby cleared his throat. "Ah to feel mosquito bites, Mr. 
Bremble? Now I confess that puzzles me a little. I wonder 
if you'd tell me just how you mean that." He laughed care- 
fully. "You know, Mr. Bremble, I don't believe I ever knew 
anyone before who liked to be bitten by mosquitoes." 

"I don't care so much about being bitten/' Mr. Bremble 
explained with painstaking exactness. "But if they don't 

94 



bite you how are you going to feel the bites? It stands to 
reason." 

There was another silence. "Just let me get clear on this, 
Mr. Bremble," Dr. Willoughby said after a time. "You say 
you don't care about being bitten by mosquitoes, and yet 
you like to feel the bites. Now isn't there a contradiction 
there, Mr. Bremble?" 

"I don't see any contradiction at all," said Mr. Bremble. 
"They come and bite me and go on about their business, 
and then I feel the bites as long as they last. That's all there 
is to it." 

Dr. Willoughby, after several minutes of cogitation, ad- 
vanced a theory. "I believe I'm beginning to understand, 
Mr. Bremble. You mean you like to feel the the swellings 
with your fingers. You feel these these little swellings with 
your fingers " 

"Naturally I feel them with my fingers, 1 ' Mr. Bremble 
interrupted testily. "What did you suppose I felt them with? 
And what do you mean by little swellings? I have no little 
swellings. I'm not made that way. I can safely say I've never 
had a mosquito bite in my life that was smaller than a silver 
quarter, and most of them are any amount bigger. You take 
a good healthy bite on the calf of the leg " Mr. Bremble 
suddenly raised himself on his elbow and looked at Dr. Wil- 
loughby. "Is this subject entirely unfamiliar to you, Dr. 
Willoughby?" 

Dr. Willoughby looked startled. "Why why, I'm afraid 
it is," he confessed suavely. "Just relax, Mr. Bremble, please. 
Yes, I must admit that I've never, as you might say, looked 
into " 

Mr. Bremble relaxed obediently. "Well, you ought to," 
he said somewhat severely. "You'd find it well worth your 

95 



while. Just let me point out to you, Dr. Willoughby, that 
there's all the difference in the world between a mosquito 
bite on the calf of the leg and a mosquito bite on the lower 
lip. Even if it's the same mosquito that does the biting/ 1 

"Indeed?" said Dr. Willoughby, making notes. 

"Dr. Willoughby," said Mr. Bremble, warming to his 
work, "just let me ask you this: Were you ever bitten by 
four or five dozen mosquitoes in as many places all at the 
same time?" 

"No," said Dr. Willoughby, entirely clear on this point. 

Mr. Bremble nodded, his eyes closed "I thought you 
probably hadn't been. Well, I have, and I speak as an expert 
when I say that it can be the most memorable experience of 
a man's entire career. Listen, Dr. Willoughby." He propped 
himself again on his elbow, disregarding the other's quieting 
gesture. "One July morning, two or three years ago it was 
early, not yet seven o'clock, as I remember I went out into 
the orchard to eat some cherries. The cherry trees were all 
quite young and small and stood together in a sort of thicket. 
It had rained the night before. I walked into the thicket and 
reached for the cherries I was wearing thin pajamas at the 
time and I do not exaggerate when I say that no fewer than 
sixty mosquitoes had bitten me, in as many different places, 
before I had so much as detached a single cherry from the 
tree." 

Dr. Willoughby winced. "I don't believe I should have 
enjoyed that," he said. 

Mr. Bremble lay down again. "Of course you wouldn't 
have enjoyed it. That's not the point. Nobody could have 
enjoyed it. I ran all the way from the orchard to the house, 
falling down three times before I got there, in the acutest 

96 



possible physical agony from head to foot. It was all I could 
do to keep from screaming under the torture of it." 

"That I can imagine/' said Dr. Willoughby. "But I still 
don't see where the pleasure comes in." 

Mr. Bremble opened his eyes and gave his mentor a 
censorious look. "It's your idea, is it, Dr. Willoughby, that 
we are put into this world solely for the purpose of obtain- 
ing pleasure?" 

Dr. Willoughby said nothing. 

"I should have thought that a man of your type," Mr. 
Bremble continued, "would see at once the infinite pos- 
sibilities for research and discovery in such a situation. 
There are as many nuances in mosquito bites, Dr. Wil- 
loughby, as there are in sunsets or any other natural mani- 
festation. Between the lush, luxurious opulence of a bite 
on the inner part of the forearm and the hard, parsimonious 
sharpness of a bite on one of the tendons at the back of the 
neck there is as wide a difference as there is between heaven 
and hell. And how, if you never have such an experience as 
mine, are you going to discover what a bite on the belly or 
well, in other places feels like? You can't. You never will. 
Your clothes protect you. Dr. Willoughby, that's one of the 
basic troubles in the world today people shrinking from 
the fullness of experience, people content to savor life only 
on its fringes, so to speak, and never probing deeper into 
the mysterious reaches of thought and sensation that lie 
beyond. But I should have thought a man in your profes- 
sion 

Mr. Bremble said no more, leaving Dr. Willoughby to 
be scorched by his meaningful silence. Whether the scientist 
was so scorched he had no way of knowing, for Dr. Wil- 

97 



loughby sat as usual behind him. But he felt that he had shot 
his bolt for the day, at least, and that, since his time in the 
office must be nearly up, he had left Dr. Willoughby but a 
meager hope of buttons. 

In this opinion he was soon confirmed. "I'm afraid, Mr. 
Bremble," said the physician, consulting his watch, "that 
our time is up for today. All this has been most interesting, 
very interesting indeed." He glanced with some awe at the 
notes he had made in his little black book. "Next time I'd 
like, if you will, to go into your other hobbies, for I'm sure 
you have others, Mr. Bremble." 

Mr. Bremble rose, a little precipitately, and reached for 
his hat. "Dr. Willoughby," he said from the safe vantage 
point of the office threshold, "I am sure you have no inten- 
tion of being offensive, but as a specialist you ought to know 
that no man can fritter away his time and attention on half 
a dozen projects and hope to accomplish anything with the 
one he is chiefly engaged in. Are you a jack of all trades, 
Dr. Willoughby? No? I thought not. Then kindly allow me 
to inform you that neither am I. Good afternoon, Dr. 
Willoughby." 

As he rolled home, exhausted but peaceful, in the con- 
vertible that day, Mr. Bremble's thoughts were given a fur- 
ther slight reprieve from Amelia and her continuing woe by 
the pleasant discovery that God had got into the car and was 
riding with him. "You outdid yourself that time, Henry," 
God said approvingly. "That'll teach him a thing or 
two. . . . How in tunket did you happen to cut those but- 
tons off the women's coats, Henry?" 

Mr. Bremble hung his head. "I don't know," he confessed. 
"It seemed a very good idea at the time." 

God seemed interested, even sympathetic. "Well, I know 

98 



how it is, of course, when you feel that way. But maybe you'd 
be better off to stop and think awhile next time, Henry. 
One of the lads wrote a book about that some time back 
Solomon, his name was. He said something like 'There is 
a way which seemeth good to a man, but the ends thereof 
are the ways of death!* " 

Mr. Bremble nodded. "I've heard of him. He was the 
wisest man on earth, wasn't he?" 

God nodded dejectedly. "I suppose he was. He asked Me 
for wisdom, so I gave it to him, and he worked up quite a 
reputation. But somehow" God sighed, for no reason that 
Mr. Bremble could see "somehow I never did like that 
boy so much after that/' 



99 



11 



HAVING delivered Susy Jennings into the haven of the 
old Paterson place and received, with much prickling 
discomfort, her exuberant expressions of gratitude, Mr. 
Bremble, having no further excuse to see Miss Iris, had 
fallen back into his dream of her. From the importunities of 
Amelia, from the probings of Dr. Willoughby, from the sear- 
ing pleasantries of Mr. Widdinger, and from the sniffings 
of Mrs. Corey and the intolerable Queenie, he fled to his 
dream of Miss Iris like a man plunging toward a mirage* 
It was not there, it could not be there in truth; had not he,. 
Henry Bremble, lived long enough in a desert to know a 
mirage when he saw one? But it did no harm if the parched 
throat and the burning skin were allowed now and then to 
drench themselves in the thought of blue water and sooth- 
ing winds. 

He thought of her, accordingly, and was eased. But he did 
not see her again until, as before, an external circumstance- 
brought their meeting about. And this time the external 
circumstance was Myrna. 

Myrna was the only child Mr. Bremble actually knew. On 
one of his walks he had passed her home, an untidy cottage* 

100 



just off the modest but comfortable neighborhood in which 
he and Amelia lived. She was playing jackstones on the side- 
walk, and he noticed that her knuckles were scraped and 
grimed from the concrete. 

When she saw him coming, she scrambled to her feet to 
let him pass. As she did so she gave him an oddly searching 
look. Mr. Bremble looked mildly back. Their gazes met and 
held in a long, candid moment of mutual appraisal; then 
suddenly the child pushed a bang of ginger hair from her 
forehead and smiled. "Hello," she said. 

"Hello," said Mr. Bremble. 

The child put her jacks and her ball into the pocket of the 
shabby red sweater she wore and fell into step with him, 
sliding her rough little hand into his. She did not say an- 
other word, nor did he. She walked with him two blocks in 
one direction and three in another, and when they had 
returned in this silent communion to the sidewalk of her 
home, she took out her jacks, still without a word, and 
squatted down again to play with them. 

Mr. Bremble was both pleased and flattered; and, when 
he had met her a few times more, he continued to be flat- 
tered, though no longer altogether pleased. There was some- 
thing about the child that disquieted him. On their second 
meeting, after a long and somewhat disconcerting stare of 
recognition and deliberation, as though she were consider- 
ing whether it was worth while to continue the acquaint- 
ance, she abruptly informed him that her name was Myrna 
Miller and that she was ten years old. 

"I'm named after Myrna Loy," she added, concealing 
nothing. "I'd sooner look like Lana Turner, though. Boy, 
issheR.B.1" 

"R. B.?" asked Mr. Bremble, puzzled. 

101 



"That means 'really built,' " explained Myrna. "She's a 
sweater girl/' 

She looked at Mr. Bremble anxiously. "You know what's 
a sweater girl?" 

"No," said Mr. Bremble, "I don't believe I do." 

"Oh," said Myrna, and spoke no more that evening. 

It was at this point that Mr. Bremble began to be dis- 
turbed; for, although he had been entirely honest when he 
said he did not know what a sweater girl was, he could not 
feel that Myrna's conversation was altogether appropriate 
to her age, and the next time he passed her house he looked 
at it somewhat closely, wondering what sort of parents the 
child might have. But he saw nothing of parents of any kind. 
Myrna, as usual, was alone. 

This time she sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, reading 
a photoplay magazine. "George brought me this/' she said, 
on seeing Mr. Bremble, and held up the magazine. 

"George?" 

"One of Mother's boy friends," Myrna explained. "He 
brings me all kinds of magazines and comic books. Nearly 
every time he comes." 

Mr. Bremble slowly took this in. "Is your mother a 
widow?" he asked diffidently, after a time. 

"What?" 

Mr. Bremble blushed. "Has your father ah gone to 
heaven?" 

Myrna laughed merrily. "Heck, no. My father travels. 
Is he a dope!" She paused, her candid eyes under the ginger 
bang surveying her friend's troubled face. "He don't like 
my mother to be so popular. My mother's awful popular. 
I like to read," she added suddenly. 

102 



"Do you?" 

Myrna nodded. 'Td sooner read than anything, I've read 
lots of booksEx- Wife and Heart's Torture and / Confess It 
and I don't know how many. I guess Fin a bookworm is what 
you'd call me/' She laughed again, airily but a little self- 
consciously. 

Mr. Bremble's discomfort was increasing. "Where 
where's your mother now?" he asked at length. 

"Out with George, I guess. Or Sandy, or some of 'em/' 
Myrna's recurrent taciturnity came upon her. She stretched 
her scrawny legs out in front of her and turned a page of the 
magazine. 

At this point in the proceedings Mr. Bremble had always 
tactfully withdrawn, but he could not quite do so this time; 
he lingered, hesitating. "She'll be back pretty soon, I guess," 
he ventured, "when it's time for you to go to bed, won't 
she?" 

"Maybe," Myrna replied absent-mindedly. "Not likely, 
though." And she pushed her hair behind her ears and gave 
herself up to her reading, 

Mr. Bremble, thus dismissed, went home. But the vision 
of Myrna alone in the dingy cottage had she had any supper, 
he wondered? would not leave him. And, although he knew 
nothing about what children read, he could not help feel- 
ing that the titles of the books she had recited were the re- 
verse of reassuring; so the next day, during his lunch hour, 
he went into a bookshop. 

"You you have books for children?" he asked shyly, 
a little daunted by the suave young saleswoman's towering 
pompadour. 

103 



"Certainly. Boys or girls?" 

''Whyah girls/* said Mr. Bremble, as though he were 
not quite sure. 

"And the age level?" 

"I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Bremble. 

The young lady with the pompadour looked bored. "How 
old is the child for whom you wished the books?" she eluci- 
dated, 

"Oh," said Mr. Bremble. "Why, she's about ten, I think. 

Yes, ten." 

The saleswoman nodded. "Will you come this way, 

please?" 

Mr. Bremble followed her meekly to a corner of the shop, 
where she waved him to a section variously labeled "Pre- 
school," "6 to 8," "8 to 10," "Junior," and "Adolescent." 
"Perhaps you would like to browse awhile?" the girl sug- 
gested blandly. 

"Browse?" Mr. Bremble knitted his eyebrows. "Oh, Oh 
ah, yes/' And he began pottering among the books, greatly 
relieved when the elegant presence had left him. But his 
researches were, on the whole, unsatisfactory; he could not 
tell exactly why, having only an impression that the books 
in the "8 to 10" section and the "Junior" section, although 
charming to look at and most beautifully illustrated, were 
lacking, somehow, in something extremely important. 

He found not one to his liking, and, having but a limited 
amount of time to spend, left the shop without making a 
purchase. A man was always at a disadvantage, he supposed, 
in deciding what would please a little girl. "Miss Iris would 
know," he thought as he turned back to the office. 

The slight tremor of his nerves as he thought of seeing 
Miss Iris did not decrease his uneasiness; indeed, it empha- 

104 



sized it. "She'll think I'm a nuisance," he thought, and 
winced; but he knew that he must see her again. 

So when he took his walk that evening he did not go past 
Myrna's. Instead, he took the course that would lead him 
past the Paterson place. He told himself, insistently and re- 
peatedly, that he would not go in, would not dream of go- 
ing in; he would just walk by, and if he happened to see her 
In the garden 

But it was Susy Jennings he saw first. Susy was leaning on 
the fence, idly playing with a long spear of grass. She was 
alone, and smiled with social cordiality at his approach. 

"Why, hello, Mr. Bremble!" she greeted him. "How's 
every little thing at the office these days?" 

Mr. Bremble, filled with the annoyance this girl never 
failed to bring forth in him, answered that the office was 
much about as usual. "How are you getting along, Susy?" 
he added politely. 

"Oh, fine. I like it here." She paused. "She's kind of funny, 
Mrs. Hadley is, but she's awfully good to me." 

"How do you mean, funny?" asked Mr. Bremble, piqued. 

"Oh, I don't knowshe's just different" Susy shrugged. 
She leaned across the fence, suddenly confidential. "Mr. 
Bremble, I guess you'll think this is a funny thing for me to 
say, but Clarissathat's Mrs. Hadley's colored maid she's 
been awfully good to me too." Susy laughed consciously, 
coloring a little. "I guess you think that sounds pretty funny, 
don't you, Mr. Bremble, me saying a coon's been good to me? 
But she has, anyhow." Susy looked at Mr. Bremble with an 
expression compounded of amusement and defiance. "But I 
know it must sound funny/' 

Mr. Bremble said nothing. 

"You know, I kind of like her," Susy added with another 

105 



self-conscious giggle. "I feel sort of sorry* for her, you know, 
being colored and all I guess we all have our troubles, don't 
we, Mr. Bremble? I was just thinking when you came along, 
I was thinking, well, here I am in trouble and everything, 
but look for the silver lining; anyways my baby won't be a 
nigger baby. That's something to be thankful for, isn't it?" 

Mr. Bremble, his gorge rising, took leave of her with what 
courtesy he could muster and walked on. At the far end of 
the Paterson grounds, he came upon Mrs. Hadley. She was 
cutting sweet peas; a great basket of them lay at her feet. 
She saw him and smiled. "Why, it's Mr. Bremble!" 

She came toward the fence, drawing off her gardening 
gloves, and gave him her hand. "Isn't this a priceless eve- 
ning?" 

Mr. Bremble, healed, conceded the beauty of the evening. 
They talked desultorily for a few moments about the 
weather, the sweet peas, and the need of rain, and little by 
little Mr. Bremble got round to Myrna and her reading. He 
did not tell Mrs. Hadley about Myrna's "popular" mother 
and her assorted boy friends, merely saying that the child 
had given him the impression that she was fond of reading 
and had nothing suitable to read. "I went down to Latimer's 
this noon, and tried to find her something, but " 

Iris Hadley laughed irrepressibly. "Don't tell me what 
you found, Mr. Bremble," she said gaily. "Let me tell you. 
You found beautiful books with beautiful pictures and 
beautiful bindings, and then you made the fatal mistake of 
trying to read them. Didn't you?" 

"Well," said Mr. Bremble doubtfully, "well, yes, I did." 

"And one of them was all about railroads, and one 
was about how the farmer rotates his crops, and one 
told how Victor Vitamin and Minnie Mineral fell in 

106 



love and were married in a beautiful, healthful salad." 
Mr. Bremble stared, incredulous. "How did you know?" 
Mrs. Hadley laughed again. "You and I were the lucky 
ones, Mr. Bremble, weren't we? When we were children, a 
story was a story. I think maybe I can help you out on what's 
her name? Myrna? I have a few of my old favorites still 
around. Between you and me, I still read them sometimes. 
But Myrna probably needs them more than I do. Won't you 
come in and let me find you a couple? Or would you rather 
just wait out here while I run and get them? I won't be a 
minute." 

Mr. Bremble hesitated. For a moment the temptation to 
go inside the house was a strong one, but his old reluctance 
to have his picture spoiled held him back. 'Til just wait out 
here, if you don't mind, Mrs. Hadley," he said. "This cer- 
tainly is kind of you." 

But she was gone, and in less than five minutes she re- 
turned carrying two books. "I used to love these/' she said 
as she gave them to him. "I hope Myrna will too. I tore out 
the flyleaves that had my name on them, so they'll be all 
hers." 

Mr. Bremble accepted the books, stammering his thanks. 
He could just make out the titles in the gathering dusk. 
Under the Lilacs was one, and The Green Fairy Book was 
the other. "I was looking for a fairy story," he told her, "and 
I did find one with a picture of a fairy on the back. But the 
story was just about a little girl who had a birthday and got 

a new dress and a box of paints and some drawing paper " 

"And when her birthday came, she put on her new dress 
and took her drawing paper and paints and the Birthday 
Fairy came and helped her paint pictures?" Mrs. Hadley 
finished for him, smiling. 

107 



Mr. Bremble gaped at her. She laughed. "It's not clair- 
voyance; T've seen that one too," she confessed. 'Toor in- 
fants, they certainly are dieted! No wonder they're all in 
love with Superman. Well, you try these on Myrna, Mr. 
Bremble, and if she's not past liking them I have more. Let 
me know, won't you?" 

Mr. Bremble thanked her again and went home, oddly 
comforted. Yet with all his comfort there was discontent. 
He had seen her again; he had talked with her again; she 
had told him so much, and he had told her nothing. It was 
the feeling he always had. With every word she spoke she 
told him something about herself, something, to him, price- 
less beyond imagination; but all his own words were com- 
monplace, of Susy Jennings and Willy Wilson and Myrna 
Miller, of weather and sweet peas and the need of rain. 

What it was he longed to tell her he had no idea, but the 
longing was as intense as if he had known. He was entirely 
innocent of any realization that what he secretly yearned 
for was to play Othello to her Desdemona, and beguile her 
with tales of adventure he had never had, of lands where 
men's heads do grow beneath their shoulders. There were 
galleons mixed up in Mr. Bremble's desire, and palm trees 
black against crimson skies, and jaguars swift as light and 
beautiful as sunrise. But when he would have told her, 
what happened? Up from nowhere, and planted squarely 
between them, sprang the dingy shape of a Susy Jennings, a 
Willy Wilson, or a Myrna Miller, and he could only prate 
of their several difficulties no earthly business of his, after 
all, he assured himself angrilyand mutter his bashful 
thanks and go on his way. 

His bashful thanks. Yes, thanks; she never failed him. He 
was beginning to feel that she would not fail him no mat- 

108 



ter what impossible thing he asked of her. She seemed to 
him, in her gay graciousness, the embodiment in sweet flesh 
of that idea which had all his life given him comfortthe 
idea of a woman with her hand stretched out, and peace and 
reassurance falling from it like scattered flowers. Prodigal 
she was in this her scattering, as though she knew the sup- 
ply would never fail. 

Was then the whole thing a part of his dream, he won- 
dered? Had he not imagined it all, the impossible perfec- 
tion? And, if he had not, through what hard ways had Iris 
Hadley come to gather her blossoms of love and understand- 
ing? Mr. Bremble knew well that these treasures are bought 
with a price, and when he thought of Iris Hadley paying 
that price he trembled. 

It brought forth in him no curiosity about her past life 
as lives are usually spoken of. He neither knew nor cared 
whether she were widowed, divorced, or, in contradiction of 
what he had heard, xjnmarried. He did not know or care to 
know what sort of husband she might have had, or whether 
there had ever been children. It was the biography of her 
soul that interested Mr. Bremble, and with regard to that 
his curiosity nearly burned him alive. That night, alone with 
God, he felt the question heavy within him and knew that 
it could not be hidden from his Companion. "What do You 
suppose " he ventured at last, half afraid. 

But God only smiled inscrutably, shaking His head. 
"Never look a gift horse in the mouth, Henry," He advised. 
"You'd better go to sleep now, don't you think?" 

Mr. Bremble sighed. When God would communicate He 
would, and when He wouldn't He wouldn't. There was 
nothing anybody could do about it. "Well, all right," he 
said meekly enough, turning over. 

109 



12 



HENRY BREMBLE, what have you been up to now?" 
Amelia demanded, breathing heavily, some two weeks 
later* 

He looked at her, mildly surprised. "Nothing that I know 
of, Amelia. Why?" 

Amelia sat down. "You had a visitor this afternoon," she 
said in a voice pregnant with significance. 

"A visitor?" 

"Yes, a visitor. The most extraordinary child a little 
guttersnipe from the other end of nowhere, I should say, 
from the way she looked. She said her name was Myrna or 
Morna or some such preposterous " 

"Myrna," said Mr. Bremble nervously. "What'd she 
want?" 

"She brought back two books she said you'd given her 
said you'd told her you could get her more if she wanted 
them. And when I told her you weren't home yet she 
wouldn't go away. Just sat there, looking stupid, and wait- 
ing. I told her it would be hours before you'd come home, 
but not a word would she say. Just sat there. And then the 
doorbell rang it turned out to be a vacuum cleaner sales- 
no 



man and while I was out of the room she tried to steal a 
dollar out of my purse/' 

Mr. Breinble blinked. "Myrna did?" 

"Myrna certainly did if that's what you call her. Now 
don't begin trying to tell me I was mistaken, Henry. I tell 
you she did; she had it in her hand when I got back. She 
made up some story about it falling out of the purse and 
she had just picked it up, but I never leave my purse un- 
snapped, as you know very well.'* Amelia sighed heavily. 
"Sometimes, Henry, I declare to you I'm at my wits' end to 
make you out! If you must make friends with children, you 
might at least pick out decent children. Buying books for a 
wretched little rat like that, on your salary! I don't care if 
they were second-hand books" Mr. Bremble remembered 
with a gust of thankfulness that Iris Hadley, that incom- 
parable woman, had torn out the flyleaves with her name on 
them "y u know very well you can't afford it. Well, I sent 
her packing then, believe me, and I hope the whole thing 
will be a lesson to you. I don't suppose even you will want 
to go on buying presents for an out-and-out little thief/* 

Mr. Bremble, when he was alone, thought the matter 
over. He was greatly puzzled. He would certainly not have 
said that Myrna was flawless, but he would have sworn that 
she was honest. There was a candor about her that was con- 
vincing. He could no more imagine her stealing from 
Amelia's purse than he could have imagined God doing the 
same. 

Yet he believed Amelia to be a truthful woman according 
to her lights. No matter how she disliked the child, she 
would not have trumped up such a story about her. Since 
Amelia said Myrna had tried to take the money, she must 
have done so. But why? 

111 



He was surprised, moreover, that Myrna had known 
where to come, for she had never asked him where he lived. 
He could only suppose that she had followed him home, in 
that watchful, silent way of hers, after one of their queer 
conversations, and that she had convinced Amelia this af- 
ternoonwho knew by what graphic description? that the 
man who had given her the books was Mr. Bremble. 

She had returned the books, too. That did not look like 
dishonesty. He had thought she understood the books were a 
gift and not a loan, but obviously she had not so understood, 
and had duly brought them back before she asked for more. 
This, Mr. Bremble felt, was authentic; this was Myrna as he 
knew her. The stealing of the dollar was not Myrna. 

He supposed he would never be able to find out the truth, 
for he knew that he would be too much embarrassed to ask 
her. But he did walk past the cottage in the hope of seeing 
Myrna, and when she caught sight of him she turned swiftly 
as if to run into the house. 

She halted in a moment, however, and came back out, 
her head hanging, her cheeks dusky with embarrassment, 
the very picture of conscious guilt. As she approached him, 
she visibly threw off her hangdog look and grew painfully 
airy, and when he reached the gate and paused, looking at 
her, she laughed. 

"I guess that lady told you about me and her pocketbook," 
she said lightly. 

Mr. Bremble nodded. "Yes, she did, Myma." 

"She got back too soon/' Myrna explained calmly. A 
spasm of some sort crossed her face; she Winked. "If she'd 'a' 
stayed out there with that ole salesman just another half a 
minute " She bit her lip, which was showing a tendency 

US! 



to tremble. "Aw, what do I care? I don't want to be in their 
old play anyhow. \Vhen I get big I'll be in a real play 111 
be in more plays " 

She gulped and fell silent, looking at him. Mr. Bremble 
hesitated. "What what was it you wanted the money for, 
Myrna?" 

"I wanted to join my mother and my daddy into the 
Modern Parents." Myrna flung back her bang and sniffed 
resentfully. "What do I care about their old tree and how 
many flowers it's got on it, I'd just like to know? They can 
take their old tree and " 

"Tree?" Mr. Bremble blinked now; there seemed to be 
no connecting thread of sense in what the child was telling 
him. "The Modern Parents?" 

Myrna gave a sigh of exasperation that would have done 
credit to Amelia herself. "Aw, they got a silly old tree up on 
the board at school," she explained, loftily, "and if your 
mother joins the Parents they put a bud on it, or if your 
father joins they put a bud, but if both of 'em join they put 
a whole flower." She essayed, somewhat painfully, to sneer. 
"Bunch o' babies, that's what they are." 

Mr. Bremble, still bewildered, sat down on the sidewalk. 
After a moment Myrna came and sat down morosely beside 
him. 

"Why didn't you ask your mother " Mr. Bremble be- 
gan. 

"I did, but she wasn't innarested/' Myrna sniffed again. 
"She said she wasn't innarested in joining any poky ole 
Modern Parents. She said she had a lot o' better things to 
do than that. And I couldn't ask Daddy because he isn't 
home. So I thought I'd join 'em in myself if I could get the 
money. It's fifty cents for your mother and fifty cents for 



your father. They don't care if anybody goes to the meet- 
ings or not. My teacher said our room would of had the best 
record in school if it hadn't been for me." 

"Best record?" Mr. Bremble prodded patiently. 

"Every single room in school has got one o' these ole 
baby-face trees," Myrna went on in a rigidly superior tone, 
"with buds and flowers on it, and every room tries to beat 
every other room, see? And if your parents don't join, the 
teacher doesn't like you, because she wants the room to have 
a good record. They make the buds and flowers out of gold 
paper/' Myrna added, her voice faltering a little, "and put 
your name on them in silver ink." 

"Well, but, Myrna,*' Mr. Bremble tried to comfort her, 
"surely no teacher would " 

"She does too," Myrna insisted, blinking furiously. "She 
just hates me because I spoiled our record for the room, 
and all the kids hate me too, but I don't care." She blinked 
several times in rapid succession. "They call me stingy-guts 
and ask me don't my mother have enough time off from her 
boy friends to join the Modern Parents, and they asked me 
was my father on the town! Everybody that gets a whole 
flower on the tree gets to be in the play." 

"The play?" 

"They're goin' to have a play at school when the drive 
is over, and everybody that gets a flower on the tree for 
both their mother and their daddy gets to be in it, and the 
one that has the best grades gets to be the Prince and the 
Princess!" Myrna kicked the grass contemptuously. "I al- 
ways had the best grades of any of the girls in my room till 
my teacher got mad at me," she stated defensively. 

"But " 

"She did too," Myraa contradicted him. "Yesterday all 

114 



my spelling words were right and she said I couldn't have a 
star because they weren't wrote written good enough! 
She said I blotted my paper, and I did not either blot my 
paper. I bet she blotted some ink onto it herself, the old " 
Myrna gulped. "The Princess gets to wear a gold crown with 
a star." 

Mr. Bremble felt a dismaying tendency of his own under- 
lip to tremble. He felt that, sometime in the near future, he 
was going to be very, very angry; so angry that even now he 
could feel a tidal w r ave of wrath rising within him. But at 
the moment his pity had the upper hand. He gulped as hard 
as Myrna herself had gulped, and she looked at him de- 
fiantly. "It's just a lot of baby-face stuff, isn't it?" she de- 
manded of him, holding his gaze indomitably with hers. 
"Isn't it a lot of baby-face stuff? Isn't it?" 

Mr. Bremble, clearing his throat, put his arm around her; 
and at that Myrna, without the slightest preliminary change 
of expression, opened her mouth and began to bawl, unre- 
strainedly, like a two-year-old baby. For a moment she 
bawled blindly, into the air; then, with a convulsive jerk, 
she flung herself against his shoulder and continued bawl- 
ing. 

Mr. Bremble was alarmed. "Sh, shh, Myrna/' he besought 
her in a frightened whisper, for he was sure that anybody 
who heard her and the whole world must certainly be hear- 
ing her would think he was torturing her to death. "Hush, 
Myrna, hush. Don't mind it. You're right it's just a lot of 
baby stuff " 

But at this Myrna bawled the louder. "It is not, either," 
he made out through her anguished bellows. "It is not, 
either! It's a 1-1-lovely play with fairies just like in that book 
you brought me, and I can't ever have a flower with my name 



on it on the tree, or even a bud, and everybody hates me, 
and I spoiled the record " 

Mr. Bremble, clasping her to him with one arm, took out 
his handkerchief, and tried to wipe her eyes. At first she re- 
sisted him furiously; then, suddenly collapsing, she sub- 
sided into moans and let him attend her, obediently blow- 
ing her nose when he told her to. 

As her sobs subsided he sat with his arm tight around her, 
patting her uncertainly with his other hand. At length she 
was quiet, save for a periodic sniff; she had rolled his hand- 
kerchief up Into a ball and unrolled it again. "Do you be- 
long to the Modern Parents?" she asked him, between two 
sniffs. 

"No, I don't/' said Mr. Bremble hastily, adding to him- 
self a measurably bitter "Thank God/' 

"I wisht I could of joined my mother and my daddy," said 
Myrna, but without enthusiasm, "so I could of had a flower/' 

"But you couldn't join for your mother and father, Myrna, 
if they " 

"Sure I could. Lots of kids do. They don't ask you. All you 
haf to do is write your mother's name on a blank they give 
you to take home, and pay the fifty cents/' 

Mr. Bremble cleared his throat. "Do they tell you at 
school what it's for, the Modern Parents, when they give you 
those blanks to take home?" 

Mynia shook her head. "They don't haf to tell us. Every- 
body knows what it's for/* 

"What is it for, Myrna?" he asked gently. 

"They have meetings at school/' said Myrna, "and talk 
about things. And we get to serve the refreshments/' 

"I see/' said Mr. Bremble grimly. 

116 



Myrna sniffed. "I wlsht I could of got that dollar and 
joined my mother and my daddy," she said again. 

The dreary, hopeless resignation in her voice was too 
much for Mr. Bremble; he acted against his conscience. He 
took out his wallet, removed from it a one-dollar bill, and 
gave it to Myrna. "This is for you, Myrna," he said un- 
steadily, "to do anything you want to. But if I were you I'd 
buy myself a book." 

Myrna's eyes were instantly starry. She shook her head. 
"But then I wouldn't get my flower!" she breathed excitedly. 
"Maybe I can even be the Princess now!" Her innocent gaze 
fell softly on his troubled face. "What's your name?" she 
suddenly demanded. 

"My name is Henry Bremble," said Mr. Bremble. 

"It's a nice name," said Myrna softly. "Can I kiss you?" 
She did so, gently and cautiously, and sat back much pleased. 
"My mother always kisses George when he gives her a pres- 
ent," she explained. 

Mr. Bremble's face twitched, but before he could reply 
Myrna was smitten with a brilliant idea. "Mr. Bremble," 
she cried ecstatically, "don't you want to join the Modern 
Parents too? Then I'd have a flower and a bud, both, and be 
ahead of everybody! They don't care if it isn't your parents," 
she hastily forestalled his possible objection. "They just 
want the names and the fifty centsor maybe you haven't 
got another fifty cents?" she added anxiously. 

Mr. Bremble gave her fifty cents, and she kissed him again. 
"Good-by," she cried rapturously, "I've got to go in now and 
find those blanks, Mr. what did you say your name was? 
I've got to write it down, you know, and your address, and 
I've forgotten what did you say it was?" 

117 



Mr. Bremble got up, putting his wallet back into his 
pocket. "Judas Iscariot," he said curtly, "26 Linden Ave- 
nue." 

Myrna paused on her dancing feet to look back at him. 
"How do you spell why, that's not what you said before, 
is it?" 

The anger which, a few short minutes ago, had threatened 
to engulf Mr. Bremble did not arise. Its place was taken by 
a sick distaste, a nausea so violent that it threatened physical 
manifestations. He prolonged his walk, not wishing to go 
home. He told himself that he would say nothing to Amelia, 
lest her answer make him sicker than he was, but he found 
it after all impossible to be silent, and two days later he 
gave in. 

"Do you happen to know much of anything about the 
Modern Parents Organization, Amelia?" he asked her that 
night as they prepared for bed. 

Amelia, who was suddenly and inexplicably in a good 
humor, laughed. "What a question, Henry! Why, I organ- 
ized it here in the first place. You certainly know or you 
ought to that IVe been membership captain for two years. 
The movement has already spread all over the state and 
they're talking about the state captaincy for me on the 
strength of my record." 

Mr. Bremble gazed at her. "What does a membership 
captain do?" he asked, much as he had asked his mother the 
same question about many other things, in his childhood. 

"Why, plan drives and things to increase the membership, 
of course. I've done pretty well, if I do say it myself." Amelia 
chuckled complacently. "This year, especially, in the spring 
drive we've been having. I had such a good idea, and it has 

118 



worked out far beyond my expectations. It makes use of the 
child's competitive instinct, you see. Each room has a pic- 
ture of a tree on the board, and each child who gets his father 
and mother to join gets a little gold flower so pretty pasted 
on the tree with his name on it. And then we're putting on 
a little play for the last day of school, and the children who 
stand best in their classes " 

"I see," said Mr. Bremble, who thought it judicious not 
to listen to more. "That was your own idea, Amelia?" 

"Entirely my own idea." Amelia beamed. "It's really nice, 
Henry, to find you taking an interest at last in the things 
I'm trying to do for child welfare. I do think Dr. Willoughby 
is doing you good. The children, bless their hearts, have had 
a world of fun out of the whole thing, and membership has 
increased by leaps and bounds forty per cent over last 
year's. I dare say it will be a national organization one day 
though that, of course, will have its drawbacks." 

"Why?" asked Mr. Bremble. 

"Oh, I don't know a national organization is always 
setting up rules and what not, and it tends to hamper one's 
ideas. Still, of course, it has great possibilities too." Amelia 
brightened, and Mr. Bremble, fascinated, watched her 
dream of national eminence take shape with her mounting 
elation. Her face was entirely clear now; she nodded. "Yes, 
it would be a great thing, Henry, and I guess there's no doubt 
it will happen. In a few years the Modern Parents will prob- 
ably have a membership of three or four million." 

Amelia finished braiding her hair and fastened it with a 
rubber band. "Didn't you hear me, Henry?" she asked him 
brightly. "I say the national membership of Modern Parents 
will probably go into the millions one of these days/' 

"I shouldn't be surprised," said Henry Bremble. 



13 



TV T EXT evening Mrs. Corey and Queenie came to dinner, 
JL 11 and Mr. Bremble, who had spent a fruitless day at the 
office trying to fathom Amelia's sudden blossoming into con- 
fidence and good spirits, received enlightenment. The two 
women were talking excitedly when he came in, and they 
took but little notice of him then or later, when they had 
seated themselves in their places at the table. 

"There she was, as big as life, Mother," Amelia recounted 
with what seemed to him remarkable gusto, "sitting in this 
booth at Melcher's with Tom Jenkins, a married man, mind 
you, with four children, and old enough almost to be her 
grandfather, flirting with him and making eyes at him for 
all she was worth. I tell you, I don't know what the younger 
generation is coming to." 

Amelia took several spoonfuls of soup with evident enjoy- 
ment. "It will be a bitter blow to her poor mother if she 
finds out about it," she added pleasantly, looking at Mrs. 
Corey, with, it seemed to Mr. Bremble, considerable signifi- 
cance. 

Mrs. Corey cackled appreciatively. "Shell find out about 
it all right," she assured her daughter, seeming to share 

120 



Amelia's satisfaction. "Some kind friend will tell her all 
about it, won't they, Queenie?" She fed the dog a chocolate 
from an open box at her side. 

"Well, somebody really ought to," Amelia said. She 
paused, as if considering the matter from all angles. "If she'd 
ever been particularly nice to me I'd feel I ought to tell her 
myself I'd certainly thank anyone who told me my daugh- 
ter was carrying on with married men! but the way things 
are I can hardly consider myself responsible, really. If she 
can't control her own daughter's actions and setting her- 
self up for such an authority on youth problems " 

Mrs. Corey cackled again. "Youth problems!" she re- 
peated, grinning with enjoyment. "My, you certainly got 
all those words down to a T, Amelia. Hasn't she, Queenie? 
Youth problems, blueprints for democracy, get down to the 
grass roots, and all work shoulder to shoulder for a better 
world " 

Amelia bridled, but she was too thoroughly pleased and 
stimulated really to take offense. "Well, what is wrong with 
any of those terms, Mother?" 

"I never said there was anything wrong with 'em, did I?" 
Mrs. Corey retorted. "I like 'em." She chuckled again. "I 
never heard a preacher in my life was the beat of you, 
Amelia, when you get down to the grass roots and start 
workin' shoulder to shoulder. My, my, my!" 

"That's the title of my next address to the League," 
Amelia said complacently, diverted for the moment from 
her promising scandal. " 'Shoulder to Shoulder A Blue- 
print for the Future.* Rather good, don't you think?" She 
paused to meditate. "I think I'll go over it before I give it, 
though. There are so many topics to deal with on a subject 
like that, I'm afraid I've rather neglected the problems of 

121 



modern youth. I think perhaps I'd better add something 

about that." 

"I would," said Mrs. Corey, for some reason finding this 
hilarious. "I certainly would if I was you, Amelia." 

"I may have something to say," Amelia continued, warm- 
ing, "about parents who set themselves up as authorities on 
youth problems and all the time their own daughters are 
running wild " 

"You do that, Amelia," said Mrs. Corey, grinning. 
''That'll fix her just about right, won't it, Queenie?" 

Mr. Bremble, who felt that he had been ignored long 
enough, put in a fretful question. "Fix whom?" he asked 
insistently. "I don't think it's very polite, Amelia, to talk 
all through dinner about something without telling me 
what it is. Whose daughter is running wild? What girl is it 
that's carrying on with " 

"We're talking about Margery Carruthers, Henry," ex- 
plained Amelia patiently. Her voice took on a pious tone of 
regret. "Poor Mrs. Carruthers hasn't an idea of what's go- 
ing on, and, as I said, it would certainly be the part of a 
friend to tell her. However, as she's never given me any rea- 
son to consider her my friend when I look back and re- 
member how she's worked to get that presidency away from 
me! However, that's neither here nor there. The thing, 
of course, is that poor young girl's f oolhardiness and danger." 
Amelia's eyes sparkled delightedly. "But I dare say her 
mother'll find it out soon enough. Those things get around, 
you know. You can see what a blow it's going to be to Mrs* 
Carruthers, the way she sets herself up as an authority and 
all " 

Mr. Bremble nodded slowly. "Yes," he said, "I see." And 
he pushed his soup plate away from him, for he saw, he was 



afraid, a great deal more than that He saw Amelia, that 
juggernaut of the organizational world, securely and tri- 
umphantly riding over the mangled body of her rival to 
reinstatement in the presidency of the League for De- 
mocracy. Mr. Bremble cared little what happened to either 
the body or the spirit of Mrs. Carruthers or any other mem- 
ber of the League, but when it came to Margery it was a 
different thing. 

Mr. Bremble liked Margery Carruthers. She was the only 
young person in his limited acquaintance who did not con- 
sider him to be, by mere virtue of his forty-one years of life, 
an abandoned and all but buried fossil. Margery was a 
pretty, gay young creature who flirted as naturally as she 
breathed, and with the same impartiality. She had often 
flirted with Mr. Bremble, filling him with surprise and dewy 
delight. He had no doubt whatever that if she had flirted 
with Tom Jenkins at Melcher's soda fountain, that same 
Mr. Jenkins, dry and dreary from the onslaughts of years 
of matrimonial weather, had known exactly the same sur- 
prise and delight and no more. As for Margery, she had 
probably never thought of the man again. She had, as was 
proper to her age and station, other fish to fry. 

All this, Mr. Bremble felt, should have been as obvious 
to Amelia as it was to him, even discounting that well-known 
streak of jealous dislike of middle age for joyous youth, of 
which he had more than once seen evidence in Amelia. 
Suppose, for instance, that it had been he, Henry Bremble, 
with whom she had discovered Margery flirting? She would 
not have given it a second thought. No, it was for the 
weapon, the weapon in her hand, the weapon thrust upon 
her at her moment of great need at the moment when all 
she valued was trembling in the balance that Amelia seized 

123 



the empty bladder of a harmless incident, set it to her lips, 
and blew it into menacing size for explosion. She would go 
about it cautiously, of course, not seeming to blow. But, 
looking at her across the dinner table that night, he saw that 
she had her lips already pursed. 

"You know, Mother," Amelia said now, with another sig- 
nificant glance at Mrs. Corey, "I did think maybe I'd call 
up Mrs. Cable after dinner, and see what she thinks about 
it She knows Mrs. Carruthers better than I do, and " 

Mrs. Corey laughed explosively into her glass of water and 
was taken by a fit of coughing. "Why'n't you call up Mrs. 
Baker?" she demanded, gasping, as soon as she could speak. 
"It'd be quicker." 

"Now, Mother!" Amelia's lips twitched in spite of her- 
self into a half-smile, but she quickly controlled them. 
"Shame on you, Mother. Do you think I want to make things 
worse than they already are, either for that poor silly little 
girl or for Mrs. Carruthers? You know what an awful gossip 
Mrs. Baker is and how she stretches things. By the time she 
got through with it, she'd have Margery and Tom Jenkins 
running oS to a hotel together/' There was a pregnant 
silence; the eyes of the two women met and held. "Mrs. 
Baker's quite a close friend of Mrs. Cable's, anyway/' Amelia 
added inconsequently after a moment. 

She rose from her place, unable to finish her dinner, and 
went to the telephone and called Mrs. Cable's number. Mrs. 
Corey, immediately bustling, gathered up Queenie and fol- 
lowed her. From where he sat Mr. Bremble could hear 
Amelia's voice take on the caressing accents customary with 
her in talking to the other ladies of the Better World or- 
ganizations. 

"Mrs. Cable?" cooed Amelia sweetly. "I do hope I'm not 

1*4 



interrupting your dinner. . . . Yes, this is Amelia Bremble, 
Mrs. Cable. I just thought I'd call you, because I've been 
terribly upset over something I saw downtown today, and I 
really didn't know what I ought to do about it. And I 
thought to myself, there's dear Mrs. Cable, always so under- 
standing and kind; maybe she could advise me. Mother 
thought so too. . . . Oh, no, no, no, dear, I'm not being 
sweet at all; when I'm in any trouble or perplexity, I think 
of you first thing yes, I do, I really mean it. Well, this was 
how it was, Mrs. Cable ** 

And Amelia lowered her voice. For a time Mr. Bremble 
could make nothing of the scraps he heard; then Amelia, 
somewhat relaxed, uttered a sudden little trill of laughter. 
"Oh, now, Mrs. Cable, I didn't say that! I didn't say anything 
at all about a hotel. If you'll just think back, my dear, you'll 
remember all I said was a public place." There was a pause. 
"Why, no, it's not the same thing at all, is it? Well, I didn't 
know that. Well, you bad thing, if you want to think it was 
a hotel I suppose there's nothing I can do about it." 

She trilled with laughter again. Mrs. Corey, hovering at 
her side, shook with suppressed merriment. 

"But I was just thinking, Mrs. Cable," Amelia went on 
after a moment, her voice rotundly regretful, "what a sad, 
sad thing this is going to be for our dear Mrs. Carruthers. 
So prominent in all kinds of good works, you know! I beg 
your pardon? Well, yes, that's what I was just saying to 
Henry at dinner; good works ought to begin at home. I may 
be old-fashioned in thinking so, but . . . Tell me, Mrs. 
Cable, how do you feel about excuse me for changing the 
subject, my dear, but you know I'm making a little address 
at the next meeting of the League, and this whole unpleas- 
ant incident has made me wonder if I ought not to say some- 

1*5 



thing about the quality of the leadership we can expect in 
our organizations. The standards, you know, that we must 
maintain if we are to keep our work on its present high level 
of achievement and worth? Don't you agree with me that 
that is pretty important? Well, I was sure you would. I 
was just saying to Henry before I called you, I'm sure Mrs. 
Cable would agree with me that we have to have leaders who 
stand for something in the community, whose lives are an 
open book for all to read. Henry,' I said, *I know Mrs. 
Cable. I've worked with her through thick and thin for 
three years now, and whenever there's a question of right 
and wrong and you find out which side is the right one, 
right there on that side you'll find Mrs. Cable every time!' 
Oh, yes, I did, and not for the first time either. Henry 
agrees with me, too; he always does. I beg your pardon? Oh, 
he's fine." 

Amelia stirred uncomfortably in her chair. "He's up and 
about again" Mr. Bremble started "not a bit the worse 
for his little illness, sharp as it was while it lasted. I beg your 
pardon? My dear, you don't mean you haven't heard? 
Why, yes, he was quite ill, very ill indeed. You can imagine 
how I felt that day of the party." She laughed. "I could have 
murdered him in his tracks, poor angel; but how was I to 
know that at that very moment he had a temperature of a 
hundred and five and was completely out of his head? We 
had a time here for a while, I can assure you! Yes, indeed. 
Yes, oh, yes. It was a dreadful experience, but it's all over 
now, I'm so thankful to say. . . . Well, I mustn't keep you 
any longer, Mrs. Cable, busy woman that you are. Oh, by 
the way!" Amelia's voice sank somewhat, but Mr. Bremble 
could still hear, "You won't speak of that little matter to 
anyone, Mrs. Cable, will you? Yes, of course I did know 

126 



that you wouldn't. I knew you'd understand that all I told 
you was said in the strictest confidence. You notice, for in- 
stance, that I didn't call up Mrs. Baker." Amelia laughed 
fondly into the telephone. "I'd never dream of telling Mrs. 
Baker a thing like that no, I'm sure it wouldn't be wise. We 
all love her, of course, and know what a dear she really is 
at heart, but her tongue does rather run away with the poor 
darling at times, doesn't it? Such a pity, because we all know 
there isn't an atom of malice in her Yes, isn't it? Well, 
good-by, Mrs. Cable." 

She hung up the receiver and, followed at a respectful 
distance by her mother and Queenie, re-entered the dining 
room, with the quiet satisfaction of a winning candidate, 
to attack her cooling dinner. As she sat down she metfor 
she could not well avoid them the hot and accusing eyes of 
her wordless husband. 

Amelia tossed her head. "I had to tell her something, 
didn't I?" she asked. 



127 



14 



MR. BREMBLE was given pause. In his first moment of 
privacy he got out his sabotaged button collection and 
meticulously examined Miss Iris's box for chocolate, but to 
his relief none could be detected. He drew a long breath 
and opened the box, turning the button about and about, 
and thinking. In the short time he had known Miss Iris he 
had firmly formed the habit of turning to her in all emer- 
gencies, but now, though he could not doubt her willing- 
ness, he knew that he could not possibly approach her. To 
confront her with the threat to Margery Carruthers would 
necessitate his telling her of Amelia, and the thought of re- 
vealing to her what Amelia had done was appalling beyond 
any contemplation. He could as easily have gone stark naked 
to the Paterson house for a call. 

Sorely indeed, and not for the first time, Mr. Bremble re- 
flected on the incredible callousness of women like Amelia, 
who did not seem to have the faintest inkling of realization 
that a man's wife, in her public character, is as much a part 
of himself as his right leg. If his own right leg had been cov- 
ered with festering sores and stripped bare for all the world 
to see, Mr. Bremble could not have felt a sharper humilia- 

1*8 



tion than he felt at the possibility that Amelia's political 
maneuverings should ever be seen in all their loathsome 
purulence by anybody, anybody at all, outside the four walls 

of his home. And that Miss Iris should see them! No, he 

could never tell her. 

Indeed, and entirely apart from any possible danger to 
Margery Carruthers' reputation, he could not bear to think 
in the same breath, as it were, of Miss Iris and Amelia. He 
did not want Miss Iris to know that Amelia existed. It was 
not of Amelia, he felt, that he wanted to tell her, or of 
anything else so corseted and swollen. The idea of swelling, 
the swelling of sores, obsessed him. He covered Miss Iris's 
box and put her away. 

He tried to put her away in his memory too, for his dream 
of talking with her had become a yearning, a very agony. 
With each fresh assault on his sensibilities, the cool, calm 
thought of her increased his inner frenzy. And he was so 
tired, so tired of feeling frenzied. 

He was tired, in fact, of everything he knew. Tired of 
Amelia and her organizational prattle; tired of Mrs. Corey 
and Queenie; tired unto death of the sight and the smell of 
chocolate, of the sight and smell of the clawlike hands that 
clutched it. He was tired of thinking of Susy and Willy and 
Myrna. He felt no satisfaction that he had possibly helped 
them. Nobody could help them to any perceptible extent; 
they were lost, as he himself was lost, in a trackless waste. 
Wherever they walked, they walked forever alone. What 
was the song he had once heard Clarissa singing? "You 
got to walk down a lonesome valley"? Well, the lonesome- 
ness, if that had been all, could perhaps be borne. But now, 
as he remembered Clarissa's song, he wondered if he had 
heard the words aright Loathsome valley, surely, would be 

129 



nearer. "You got to walk down a loathsome valley. . . ." 
His pleasure in his button collection, except for the but- 
ton Miss Iris, was being systematically ruined, as the sand- 
paper days scraped past him, by Amelia. Prompted, no 
doubt, by the counsel of Dr. Willoughby, she endeavored 
to turn his hobby, as she called it, into something construc- 
tive. She babbled endlessly of buttons, using terms he had 
never heard and had no desire to hear; she spoke of heral- 
dics and colonials and initials, of glint, steel, story, trade 
and square. She spoke of grapes and paisley, of pimpernels 
and scrimshaw. She dwelt on jet, perpetual, and paper- 
weight; and she had made a box and divided it into sec- 
tions and covered it with flowered cretonne, entreating him 
to classify his collection and label it. 

He could not doubt that she had put many hours of re- 
search into buttons, their history and their nature, and her 
almost tearful protests at his obduiacy distressed him. "I 
only want to help you, can't you see, Henry?" she would 
say, the lower of her two chins quivering. "I should think 
you'd be only too glad and grateful to have me take an in- 
terest in your hobby. Not many wives in my position would, 
after you'd shown so little consideration for their feelings, 
and as busy as I always am, as you very well know/' 

She paused, but quite as usual he did not answer. "I've 
always tried my best to be a good wife to you, Henry, and 
I'd always supposed, though you didn't say much, that you 
realized it. I've always tried to do my duty by you and I 
always will. Fd have gone into this button business long ago 
if you hadn't been so secretive about the whole thing, hiding 
all those buttons away like that and never saying a word. Dr. 
Willoughby says if you'd onlyHenry! Are you listening 
to me or aren't you?" 

130 



He would look at her mildly. "What did you say, 
Amelia?" 

At this she would catch her breath in an angry and 
frightened sob. "Henry Bremble, you haven't heard a word 
I've said! I declare, sometimes I think Dr. Willoughby's 
right and the only thing to do " 

She caught herself up then, hastily, and looked at him 
with fear in her eyes, lest he should realize her meaning. 
But Mr. Bremble, looking back at her apparently quite un- 
disturbed, knew very well what she meant, for he had more 
than once seen a sanitarium looming behind Dr. Wil- 
loughby's Oxford glasses. 

The first time he had seen it, it had frightened him. But 
his very fear enhanced the game he was playing. If the risk 
was heightened, the pleasure was heightened also. The 
thing had turned into an exciting obstacle race of a new 
and different kind, with himself, Henry Bremble, setting 
up the obstacles, and Dr. Willoughby warily climbing over 
them in pursuitnow seeming to gain on his quarry, now 
baffled and halted. In the course of a recent interview he had 
informed Dr. Willoughby, matter-of-factly, that God was 
and always had been a close personal friend of his and that 
many new buttons awaited him in God's heaven. 

This news had halted the good doctor perceptibly, for 
until now religious mania had seemed no part of Mr. Brem- 
ble's illness. It brought him to a standstill, in fact, for the 
whole body of evidence had to be reconsidered and rean- 
alyzed in the light of it. Mr. Bremble, with the momentary 
panting gaiety of a fox who has left the pack nonplussed 
and whimpering, had smiled with satisfaction as he lay 
quietly on the couch, his eyes closed, awaiting the next prob- 
ing question. 

13* 



He no longer depended on the Psychiatrist's Guide and 
Archives for inspiration. He had an endless fund within 
himself. Imagination, that most dangerous of toys, grows 
with the handling, and Mr. Bremble had played with it 
perhaps more intensely and recklessly than most. There 
were times, nowadays, when he himself scarcely knew that 
there were no buttons in heaven who could know such a 
thing positively, after all? or that his great-aunt Emma, 
never having had any corporeal existence, could probably 
not have had six toes on one of her feet? He had made up 
great-aunt Emma, to be sure. But who was to say that she 
did not even now exist in some untraveled sphere of crea- 
tion, treading her six-toed way under alien skies? Time and 
space and matter, nay life itself, were losing their signifi- 
cance to Mr. Bremble. What was the past? What was the 
present? What was the future? Who knew? 

Not Henry Bremble, certainly. For all Henry Bremble 
knew, the evangelical heaven of his Sunday-school days 
might be a stupendous reality, with all its gaudy garnishings 
of harps and halos and palm branches and streets of gold. 
He rather hoped it was. What a fine sight that would be on 
Judgment Day, and how bewildered Mrs. Corey and Dr. 
Willoughby would look in their halos! 

What a fine thing it would be, too, to see perdition spurt 
up in Amelia's garden, snapping off the heads of the mari- 
golds and whirling them up and away amid sparks of brim- 
stone! In Mr. Bremble's imagination the headless stems, 
writhing against their stakes in the fires of hell, assumed the 
look and character of so many Horace Widdingers, caught at 
last and put where they belonged. Could he not hear the 
flying heads, strangling in smoke, give tongue? "Henrietta, 

132 



help! Henrietta! For God's sake, Henrietta, do something! 
Save me!" 

But they would get no help from Henry Bremble. 

So, driven to dreams that were not at all of Miss Iris 
for he could not dream of her and go on enduring Mr. 
Bremble ventured farther and farther into that dim bourn 
from which, in a world peopled with Amelias and Dr. 
Willoughbys, no traveler has any too great a hope of return- 
ing. In a sanitarium, if sanitarium it was to be, he could 
perhaps, in a manner of speaking, take Miss Iris with him; 
and there, sitting on the green lawn with which he under- 
stood such places were often supplied, with only a bored 
attendant to deter him, he might be able to speak to her at 
last. He did not know whether they would let him have his 
buttons or his crossword puzzles, but they could not pos- 
sibly stop his making words out of words, and they could 
never take Miss Iris from him. 

Upon this subject he found God somewhat reticent. Al- 
though God, with His usual temperance and justice, seemed 
willing to consider its various aspects, He would not commit 
Himself to an opinion, "Well, now, I don't know about that, 
Henry," He would sometimes reply abstractedly to Mr. 
Bremble's thoughts. "I don't know but you'd be better off 
to forget the whole business, maybe." But this, or something 
like it, was as far as He would go. 

Mr. Bremble realized that much of his depression was 
due to his helplessness in the face of the thing Amelia had 
done to Margery Carruthers. But in spite of his helplessness 
he hesitated to approach God with his question, for he 
remembered, too vividly, God's displeasure at his active 
intercession for the Italian child who had been so cruelly 

133 



beaten. That intercession, certainly, had savored somewhat 
of prayer; and Mr. Bremble, who did not know what prayer 
was, was afraid of it. 

He had his theories, of course. Supposing God to be, as 
Mr. Bremble believed Him to be and as certain old cat- 
echisms set Him forth, "a Being infinite, eternal and un- 
changeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, 
goodness, and truth," Mr. Bremble felt strongly that the 
prayer of the believer was a brief one. Four words of one 
syllable each were enough to express it: Thy will be done. 
Anything less than this, thought Mr. Bremble, was doubt, 
and anything beyond it was impertinence. 

He had reached this conclusion after certain painful 
ponderings connected with the Italian child. He had gone 
beyond this limit, and offended. Having learned from God's 
own lips that God knew of the child's plight and was con- 
cerned, he had pressed for further reassurance; he had 
begged to be told that all would be well with the child 
from that time forth, not only in this world but in a sup- 
posable next one. The absurdity of this demand, in view of 
his personal knowledge and experience of God, had been 
apparent to him almost at once. 

Coming to his first and final conclusion as to the nature 
of prayer, Mr. Bremble had felt a little forlorn, but only 
for a very short time. As he dwelt more and more upon the 
idea, it became more and more exciting to him so exciting, 
in fact, that in the face of almost inevitable reprobation, he 
actually broached it on one occasion to Amelia. 

Amelia shook her head. "Don't be sacrilegious, Henry," 
she admonished him. "The idea of your wanting to cut the 
Lord's Prayer down to a single sentence!" 

"The Lord's Prayer?" Mr. Bremble repeated, stopped. 

134 



"Certainly, the Lord's Prayer. That's what you're quot- 
ing from, isn't it? The Lord's Prayer doesn't stop with 'Thy 
will be done. 1 It asks for a number of other things." 

"But it doesn't, Amelia." Mr. Bremble, in his eagerness 
to make someone else free of his experience, ventured to 
the point of flat contradiction. "All the other things are 
there, right in that one phrase. Don't you see, if God is good, 
they're all implied in it? If He's good and His will is done, 
we'll have our daily bread and all the rest of it; we'll forgive 
those who " 

Amelia smiled patronizingly. "The Lord's Prayer, as it 
stands, has given a good deal of satisfaction for a pretty long 
time/' she instructed him. "I'm sure I can't imagine what 
you think would be gained by mutilating it " 

"But I'm not " 

"And that's to say nothing at all of the comfort you'd 
be taking away from thousands of people who love that 
prayer and believe in it. I'm surprised at you, Henry. 'Thy 
will be done,' indeed! A fine comfort that would be, all 
by itself. Isn't there enough sadness in the world without 
going out of our way to attack the few things that bring 
relief? I must say I never cared much about the idea of 
resignation, anyway." 

Mr. Bremble sighed and gave it up. He had heard enough 
to know that never in a thousand years could he hope to 
make Amelia see that what she considered comfortless was 
not only comfort, but ecstasy; not loneliness, but peace; 
not resignation ah, never resignation but adventure! "We 
too take ship, O soul. . . . O daring joy, but safe! are they 
not all the seas of God? O farther, farther sail!" 

Amelia's soul, he feared, was not a sailor. There was 
nobody else with whom he could hope to share his discovery. 

135 



Naturally he would ha\e liked to ask God Himself about 
it, but the slight testiness of God's one reference to the 
subject had discouraged him. "I give you My word, Henry/* 
God had once observed, "to hear them praying at Me on 
Sundays, you'd think I was running a supply house of some 
kind. 'I want six loads of this and a couple of bundles of 
that/ they'll say, 'and for Thine own sake don't send me any 
more of this miserable worm-eaten stuff I've been kept on 
for years. Don't I deserve a little consideration after the life 
I've lived?' Well, now, who lives their lives for them? I don't. 
They won't let Me. Yet they seem to think it's all My fault 
they don't have any fun." God smiled. "It's a little wearing 
at times, but I suppose they mean well. I will say for you, 
Henry, you never make any attempt to run My own busi- 
ness for Mehardly ever, anyway/' 

So Mr. Bremble did not pray for Margery, but assumed 
as firmly as he could that God would manage without him. 
Nevertheless he could not rid himself of a feeling of guilty 
responsibility. By virtue of that same tie which made 
Amelia's disgrace his own, he felt that he, being married to 
her, had sinned. 

So deep into abstraction had he fallen that he was only 
faintly disturbed by the minor hubbub that broke out on 
Amelia's discovery that "that Mrs. Hadley" had a house 
guest. "It's some girl," Amelia told Mrs. Corey, whose beak- 
like nose was twitching with interest. * 'She's pregnantthe 
girl is, I mean. Of course, one doesn't have any way of know- 
ing what the situation really is. A good many young men are 
still overseas, you know. It may be a married niece or some- 
thing. I suppose it could be, Mother." 

Mrs. Corey shook her head. " 'Tain't likely," she pro- 

136 



nounced with a good deal of vigor. "Birds of a feather. You 
mark my words, Amelia, there's something corny there.'* 

Amelia laughed indulgently. "Don't you mean 'something 
fishy/ Mother?" 

"No, I don't mean 'something fishy/ " retorted Mrs. Corey 
stoutly. "I said 'something corny/ didn't I? Move with the 
times, Amelia." She appealed to Queenie, all but asleep on 
her lap. "Amelia's just an old stick-in-the-mud, ain't she, 
Queenie? Ain't she, Queenie, you nice old sweet girl you? 

Queenie made no reply, and Amelia smiled. "Oh, well, 
have it your own way, Mother. I suppose your age entitles 
you to do as you like about slang, if you must use slang at 
all " 

"That's all right about my age/' said Mrs. Corey trucu- 
lently. 

" but I must say," Amelia continued, still indulgent, 

"that I'm inclined to agree with you that there's something 
fishy " 

"Corny," interposed Mrs. Corey obstinately. 

" and always has been, not only about that girl but 

about Mrs. Hadley herself. I've had a feeling right from 
the start, as I've often told you, Mother, that she's no more 
married than than Queenie is," said Amelia, growing 
excited. "She hasn't got so much as a snapshot picture of 
any husband she ever happened to have about the house, at 
least in any of the parts of it I could see. And the day Mrs. 
Cable and I called on her, Mrs. Cable dropped a hint or 
two that we'd like to know a little about how the land lay, 
but she never seemed to take it in at all." 

"Didn't?" asked Mrs. Corey, interested. 

Amelia shook her head. "And I suppose she's being just 
as tight-mouthed about this girl. I saw the girl as I went by 

137 



there yesterday, sitting out in that old tumbledown shed- 
such an eyesore! it should have been pulled down years 
ago and I couldn't get away from the feeling I'd seen her 
somewhere. But for the life of me I couldn't remember 
where." Amelia knitted her brows. 

It was at this point in the conversation that Mr. Bremble 
felt faintly disturbed. If Amelia, who had no doubt seen 
Susy Jennings at some time in the plumbing office, suc- 
ceeded in dredging up the memory from its present oblivion, 
It might well be that some uncomfortable hours awaited 
him, for he knew Amelia's persistence in ferreting, once she 
had begun. He could not hope to conceal, from an Amelia 
enlightened as to Susy Jennings' identity, the fact of his own 
acquaintance with Mrs. Hadley. 

But it did not seem, after all, to matter much. Hardly 
anything, felt Mr. Bremble, mattered at all. He wondered 
why God thought the system worth continuing. 

"Oh, well, now/' said God unexpectedly, appearing from 
nowhere. "You must remember, after all, Henry, that I can 
see a little farther through it than you can." He paused as if 
in thought. "Sometimes, anyhow," He added somewhat rue- 
fully, and vanished. 



138 



15 



HIS next and last meeting with Miss Iris was entirely 
unexpected and, on the surface, at least, completely 
casual. Stopping in at noonday at a downtown department 
store on some errand of Amelia's, he came upon her with 
Susy Jennings, who vivaciously explained that they had been 
buying clothes for the expected baby. 

Susy's manner had shed entirely the traces it had once 
borne of shame for the situation in which she found herself. 
Indeed, it seemed to Mr. Bremble that she was no longer 
even embarrassed by it. Several weeks of residence at the 
old Paterson place, in the unreproachful atmosphere created 
by the serenity of her hostess and the warm, uncritical friend- 
liness of the maid Clarissa, had apparently relieved Susy 
once for all of any idea she might formerly have had that 
she had been delinquent in her responsibilities to herself, 
to her coming child, or to society. 

Mr. Bremble was old-fashioned enough to disapprove of 
this and fastidious enough to be offended by it. But he told 
himself, with scrupulous fairness, that Susy's present state of 
mind was certainly better, both for herself and for the child, 
than her former state of mind could possibly have been; and 

139 



also that it was more than probable that his distasteful reac- 
tion to it was due in large measure to his persistent dislike 
of Susy herself. 

If it had been Margery Carruthers, he asked himself, 
would he have felt the same? He could not answer this ques- 
tion satisfactorily, because he found it impossible really to 
visualize Margery in this dingy situation. Mr. Bremble knew 
little about the morals of the younger generation, but he 
did know something about taste, and he felt that Margery's 
good taste alone would have saved her from this. 

He looked at Susy as she stood chattering to him in the 
department store, unconsciously contrasting her with Miss 
Iris. Mrs. Hadley, cool and charming in lilac linen, her 
thoughtfully smiling face becomingly shadowed by a wide, 
thin black straw hat, embodied for him, as always, dignity 
and peace. Susy, her pert, pretty young face made up to a 
degree of elaboration that was grotesque in combination 
with the uncouth distortion of her body, was almost enough 
to make Mr. Bremble understand Amelia's disgust with the 
facts of life as they existed. 

For a moment, half shocked and half thrilled, he imagined 
Miss Iris herself in Susy's condition, and was overcome by 
such immediate reverence as would have made him take off 
his hat, had he not already done so. The picture fled in- 
stantly from the department store and established itself 
against a background of ripening corn. The sky overhead 
was deep and cloudless blue; birds twittered in the wild rose 
hedges along the fences; all nature breathed and smiled and 
visibly grew, and in the midst of it a woman grew rich with 
life. 

"And we found the cutest things you ever saw," Susy 
rattled on, "didn't we, Mrs. Hadley? We had them sent, or 

140 



I declare I'd have to open them right up here in the store and 
show you, Mr. Bremble. I do hope the baby's a girl. You can 
dress them so darling." 

Recalling the encounter in the light of what happened 
subsequently, Mr. Bremble remembered with sadness that 
Iris Hadley, in this the last interview he was to have with 
her, scarcely uttered a word. She stood restfully beside the 
counter, smiling, while Susy unburdened herself of her 
hopes and plans. If he had known, Mr. Bremble thought, 
that he was not to see Miss Iris again, would he not have 
seized her forcibly and borne her out of the department store 
and away, and left Susy gabbling alone to the counters and 
stools? 

For two days later the thunder was loosed again, and this 
time around Iris Hadley's head. 

"Bag and baggage," Amelia Bremble proclaimed trium- 
phantly, as Mr. Bremble came downstairs to dinner after 
washing up in the bathroom. "Maid and girl and all. So it 
looks, Mother, as though that's the end of our fine Mrs. 
Hadley." 

"And a fine thing too, if you ask me," nodded Mrs. Corey, 
eating a chocolate. " 'Tis a fine thing, sure enough, ain't it, 
Queenie?" 

Henry Bremble, with an iron band tightening around his 
heart, stared from one to the other. "What's happened now?" 
he asked them, almost roughly. 

Amelia looked at him in surprise. "Well, don't bite my 
head off, Henry," she requested. "Nothing's happened that 
anyone need regret. That Mrs. Hadley has left the neighbor- 
hood, that's all I understand she's left town as well and 
taken that disgraceful girl with her. I must say I'm relieved. 

141 



What happened early this morning was evidence enough 
that harm's already been done " 

"What happened early this morning?'* demanded Henry 
Bremble, over the block of sandstone in his throat. 

Amelia looked at him sharply. "Henry Bremble, what's 
the matter with you? Just alter that tone when you speak to 
me, if you don't mind. Why, what happened this morning, 
since you're so anxious to know, was that that miserable 
girls carryings-on got out, as such things always do, and got 
talked about until it got down to the very- children of the 
neighborhood, little Wallie Courtland and half a dozen 
others; and they hid in the bushes until she came out this 
morning and chased her back into the house and threw 
rotten apples at her. That's ail." 

Henry Bremble swallowed. "They threw " 

"They threw rotten apples at her. One of them must 
have thrown a rock as well; at least, they had the doctor there 
a little while later. Of course, I'm not saying it wasn't 
naughty of the children, but what can you expect when a 
girl so outrages all human decency as to " 

"Pretty cute of 'em, I thought it was," chortled Mrs. Corey. 
She nodded several times. "Oh, they're pretty cute, the 
young ones they know what's what, believe me. Don't take 
the little fellers long to see which way the wind blows. No, 
sir." 

"And, Henry/' added Amelia, suddenly dropping her de- 
fensive air and becoming confidential, "there's more to it 
than that, it seems, Mrs. Baker tells me there's been a man 
hanging around the old Paterson place for some time now, 
and he wasn't going to see that girl either; he was going to 
see Mrs. Hadley herself. And who do you think that man 
was, Henry? Just guess/' 



Mr. Bremble, who had no need to guess, said nothing. But 
Amelia's question was altogether rhetorical; she had no in- 
tention of waiting for his guesses. "Well, I'll tell you, Henry, 
because I don't suppose you'd guess in a thousand years. It 
was none other than Mr. Walter Anderson, a pastor, the 
pastor of our own church, if you please. And" Amelia's 
tone rose to the tone of one vindicated in all her previously 
formed opinions "not satisfied with visiting a disreputable 
woman in her disreputable house, with a disreputable girl 
and a disreputable colored woman What? Well, they all 
are, aren't they, or at least so many of them that anybody is 
justified in drawing her own conclusions? Anyway, they're 
gone, bag and baggage, lock, stock and barrel, and the house 
is empty again, just as it was before, and I hope it stays that 
way if that's the kind of tenants . . . But this is what I 
was going to tell you, Henry." Amelia's momentary annoy- 
ance at her husband's inarticulate gruntings disappeared 
again in the exciting interest of what she had to disclose. 
"Not only has Mr. Anderson been hanging around that 
house at nobody knows what hours and for nobody knows 
what purposes, but he wasn't satisfied, it seems, even with 
that. He was down at the station this afternoon to see them 
off, perfectly shameless. Right out in public, with every- 
body in town looking on " 

"Hell hear about that, or I'm much mistaken/' Mrs. 
Corey contributed, nodding. 

"I should think it would cost him his church," Amelia 
agreed, "and I must say I think it ought to. We ought never 
to have called him in the first place. But I must say I'm less 
concerned with Mr. Anderson than I am with the rest of it. 
It's such a relief to me to know that Mrs. Hadley is gone " 

Mr. Bremble tried to be silent, but his question was torn 

143 



from him. 'Isn't she coming back?" he croaked as Amelia 
paused. 

And Amelia, stabbed by the agonized urgency in his eyes, 
was at last distracted from her satisfaction and triumph. She 
stared at Mr. Bremble, and one of her hands went out to 
the arm o her mother 's chair. "How should I know whether 
she's coming back or not? And may I inquire, Henry Brem- 
ble, just what it is to you?" 

As he did not reply, Amelia's gimlet eyes widened, then 
narrowed, then flew open again. She clenched the hand that 
lay on her mother's chair arm and brought it down with a 
bang. "I knew I'd seen that girl somewhere before!" she 
cried. "So that's the way it was! Now you look here, Henry 
Bremble! No, you needn't try to get out of it, either; you 
look me in the face and tell me " 

Mr. Bremble reached for his hat and left the house. 

So passed, between meridian and midnight, the brief and 
tremulous dream of Henry Bremble: that he would one 
day open the gate in the picket fence, and go into the quiet 
of the garden, and sit with Iris Hadley in the summerhouse, 
and talk of things that concerned themselves alone, and 
watch her cool hands and her lovely eyes. He had never 
gone farther than that in all his dreaming* 

And now she was gone, and it was he who had caused her 
going. For the sake of Susy Jennings he had lost her. 

He walked, without even knowing he was walking, toward 
the Paterson house. He reached it in due time, and it was 
still there. The evening was a lovely one, soft with summer, 
but it seemed to Henry Bremble that no birds sang. Had she 
taken the birds too with her, and all light? For, although the 
sun had not yet quite disappeared under the horizon, and 

144 



all the surrounding streets lay wide with gold, there hung 
about the Paterson garden a shadow. The stillness of the 
place was the stillness of death. 

To Mr. Bremble, it seemed that Mrs. Hadley had not only 
left town but left the world. Mysteriously, as she had come 
without telling where she came from, so she had gone with- 
out anybody's knowing whither. He would never see her 
again. The world itself would never see her again. For a 
moment there was pale comfort in the thought that, leaving 
him, she had also left the world, returning to the pure and 
sunny realm that had given her birth. Wherever it was, 
thought Mr. Bremble, his thin face twitching; wherever 
it was. 

In his pain the long-remembered words of the greatest of 
his poets came and sang to him. "Farewell; thou art too dear 
for my possessing, And like enough thou know'st thine 
estimate " 

But, although the higher reaches of his spirit were soothed 
by his thankfulness that for a little time he had seen per- 
fection, touched it, cherished it in his mind, there were 
regions in Henry Bremble that twisted in torment. For 
what mean price had he thrown this perfection away! 

He shuddered inwardly at the thought of the children 
who had attacked Susy Jennings, and shuddered anew to 
remember that once, in a blazing moment, he himself had 
prayed, "Let her be stoned with stones through the streets 
of the city!" That moment of pitiless anger had been alien 
to his nature, he knew, and it could not but shame him now 
as he recalled it. 

But the thought of the children, the children! The little 
children, once so new from God . . . No, Mrs. Corey was 
right. It didn't take the little fellers long. 

145 



The weight of his woe at that moment seemed too great 
to bear. He could not bear it standing. He opened the gate 
and went into the garden, making his stumbling way toward 
the summerhouse. 

A book lay open, forgotten, on one of the benches. Its title, 
in blurred, broken gold, straggled athwart its worn blue 
binding. "Through the Looking Glass/' Mr. Bremble read, 
and sat down. He took the book in his hands, and from his 
eyes were wrenched some difficult tears. 



146 



16 



S I understand it, Mr. Bremble," said Dr. Willoughby, 
cautiously, near the end of their next interview, "you 
are not a churchgoing man." 

"That's right/' said Mr. Bremble. 

Dr. Willoughby cleared his throat. "Well, now, Mr. Brem- 
ble, as you surely know, I don't attach very much significance 
to that. I'd be the last person to deny that a man may stay 
away from church and yet be deeply and sincerely re- 
ligious " 

"Religious?" interrupted Mr. Bremble, puzzled. 

"Didn't you tell me you were a religious man, Mr. 
Bremble?" 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. "Not that I know of." And, 
as Dr. Willoughby did not immediately reply, being pre- 
sumably employed in entreating the god of psychiatrists to 
grant him patience, Mr. Bremble accommodatingly filled 
the gap with further comment. "I've always left religion to 
my wife. My wife is a religious woman, Dr. Willoughby," 
Mr. Bremble stated with sudden belligerence, "and neither 
you nor anybody else is going to suggest in my presence that 



she isn't. If you are bringing me here week after week, Dr. 
Willoughby, merely to criticize my wife and cast reflec- 
tions " 

"My dear Mr. Bremble!" protested the doctor, startled. 

"Surely I " 

"It's all very well," pursued Mr. Bremble relentlessly, "to 
say that no slight was intended, and try to make out that I've 
deliberately twisted your meaning. I haven't twisted your 
meaning, Dr. Willoughby. You are not going to cast asper- 
sions, in my presence, either upon my wife or upon religion, 
I respect religion, Dr. Willoughby, and I respect my wife, 
and I think such remarks would come from your lips a great 
deal more becomingly if you were a religious man yourself. 
Just let me ask you a candid question, Dr. Willoughby, and 
try, if you can, to give me a candid answer: Did you ever in 
your life raise enough money to carpet a parish hall for any 
church whatever, of any denomination?" 

"Mr. Bremble " 

"My wife did it in less than two weeks," said Mr. Bremble. 
"Did you ever organize a rallying drive for a Sunday school, 
Dr. Willoughby? Did it ever occur to you, in the whole 
course of your career, to sit down by yourself and work out 
a design for a medal to be given to the child who brought 
in the most new members?" 

"Mr. Bremble " 

"Well, it did to my wife. And my wife didn't stop with 
thinking of it, either. She sat down, in the midst of her 
multitudinous duties, and designed that medal, and had it 
made, and the membership of that Sunday school was in- 
creased in exactly six weeks to double its former size. Have 
you any achievements of that sort you can point to, Dr. 
Willoughby, to justify your assurance in criticizing my 
wife?" 

148 



"Mr. Bremble " 

"And if you haven't, and unless you can tell me and you 
certainly can't with a straight face that my wife has ever 
presumed to come down here and criticize the way you deal 
with your unfortunate patients, who are, after all, at your 
mercy" Mr. Bremble drew in a breath that was almost a 
sob "lying here on this couch, absolutely at your mercy, 
while you sit there and write down insulting things about 
their wives in that book of yours " 

"Really, Mr. Bremble " 

"And on the subject of couches," Mr. Bremble went on 
passionately, "as we both seem to be in the mood for frank- 
ness, allow me to say that I have never seen one in more 
wretched taste for the purpose it's supposed to serve. The 
color of the upholstery alone is enough to madden a man. 
I speak without prejudice in this matter, for in spite of a 
lifelong abhorrence of the color green, except as it exists 
in nature, I would not let my own tastes influence me to 
the extent of protesting. If you must have a green couch in 
your office, Dr. Willoughby, could you not at least have 
chosen a shade that is less reminiscent of moldy spinach?" 

Mr. Bremble, pausing for breath, looked interestedly 
around at Dr. Willoughby. "I never did like spinach myself/* 
he added conversationally. "Do you like spinach, by any 
chance, Dr. Willoughby?" 

Dr. Willoughby did not reply to the question. "I think, 
Mr. Bremble, we are somewhat confused here today. If you 
don't mind " 

"The sole virtue of spinach, so far as I can see," continued 
Mr. Bremble, "is that it serves very well as a background 
for hard-boiled eggs. Now in the matter of eggs I can speak 
conclusively, Dr. Willoughby. I see no eggs on this couch- 
not a single eggand yet anybody, the merest child indeed, 

149 



could see how it cries out for them. I am paying you a hand- 
some fee for this series of treatments, Dr. Willoughby, and 
the very least you can do is to put eggs on this couch before 
you ask me to associate myself any further with it. Eggs, do 
you understand me, Dr. Willoughby? Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!" 

Dr. Willoughby made an inarticulate sound. 

"You will find them," said Mr. Bremble kindly, "at any 
grocer's, or, failing that, at any hen's. They are oval in shape 
dear me, that's almost a pun, isn't it?" Mr. Bremble 
chuckled. "Imagine! As you are doubtless aware, Dr. Wil- 
loughby, the English word 'oval' is derived from the Latin 
'ovum,' signifying egg, and what I have just been telling you 
-rather foolishly, I must admit is that eggs are egg-shaped. 

Ha, ha! However, to continue: Having obtained your 

eggs, you put them into water I will not insist that it be 
heated beforehand, though if you were one-half as busy, 
Dr. Willoughby, as a man in your position ought to be, you 
would undoubtedly find it an advantage and leave them 
there, let us say, ten minutes by that abominably ugly clock 
you have in the corner " 

At this point Dr. Willoughby arose. "Mr. Bremble/' he 
said decisively, "our time, I am afraid, is up. I am sorry that 
the original issue should have become so confused. Indeed, 
I may say that I am somewhat alarmed. I had not anticipated 

so severe a " He checked himself and made a final note 

in his black book. "I think we must meet again, sooner than 
next Tuesday, if possible." 

"Any time at all/ 9 said Mr. Bremble graciously. 

" And go a little further into the matter we began on, 

Mr. Bremble. You specifically denied it today, in your per- 
haps understandable excitement at mistaking my meaning; 
but if you try hard I think you will remember that you cer- 
tainly told me you believed in God. Indeed, if I am not mis- 

150 



taken, Mr. Bremble, you claimed that God was and always 
had been your close personal friend." 

"God!" said Mr. Bremble, temporarily bewildered, his 
face slowly clearing. "Oh, is that what you meant! Dear me, 
Dr. Willoughby, I must apologize. Of course I told you that; 
I remember it well. But I didn't have the faintest notion 
you were asking me about God. I thought all along you were 
talking about religion." 

This more than usually ebullient effort had not tired Mr. 
Bremble. On the contrary, it had stimulated him. It seemed 
to him, however, that Dr. Willoughby had given him but a 
limp hand at parting, and he told himself with some concern 
that he was afraid he had wearied the honest fellow. "Too 
bad," thought Mr. Bremble as he climbed into the con- 
vertible, his heart singing a paean to the skies. "Really too 
bad of me. I must watch myself/' 

He felt so extraordinarily light and fleshless as he sat 
driving that he could hardly realize he was gripping the 
wheel. The bliss that filled him now was a sudden thing; 
it had come upon him at the heels of his darkest moment, 
the moment when he had sat in Iris Hadley's summerhouse, 
her book in his hands, and wept. 

He had carried the book home with him at last, to hold in 
his hands a little longer before destroying it. He knew that 
he must destroy it. He had not, of course, been able to escape 
Amelia's probings on the subject of Susy Jennings, and her 
compressed lips and smoldering eyes, as he haltingly con- 
fessed what he had done for the girl, carried promise of dire 
reprisal. Amelia for Amelia had said very little about it 
at the time; she seemed enraged beyond the limits of speech. 
But Mr. Bremble knew that her time would come. 

Alone in the house that evening, for Amelia and Mrs. 



Corey had gone forth again to a meeting, he took the book 
from its hiding-place and sat down with it. Its broken bind- 
ing fell open easily at page after page, but, although Mr. 
Bremble thought he read, the words meant nothing to him. 
There was a prefatory poem at the beginning; he did not 
remember it. The words passed lightly over the surface of 
his mind, unnoticeable above the dark tides of anguish 
beneath them. 

Without, the frost, the blinding snow, 
The storm-wind's moody madness. 
Within, the firelight's ruddy glow 
And childhood's nest of gladness. 
The magic words shall hold thee fast; 
Thou shalt not heed the raving blast. 

And though the shadow of a sigh 
May tremble through the story 
For happy summer days gone by 
And vanished summer glory, 
It shall not touch with breath of bale 
The pleasance of our fairy-tale. 

Blindly Mr. Bremble turned the pages backward to see 
the flyleaf. Perhaps Miss Iris's name, in her own hand, would 
be written there. His fingers trembled, then halted as though 
arrested by death. There was writing on the flyleaf indeed, 
but it began "Dear Mr. Bremble. . . ." 

Mr. Bremble shook from head to foot. She had known he 
would come, as she knew everything. 

The clear fine writing blurred before his eyes. "Dear Mr. 

Bremble " He could get no further. He read the three 

words over and over, his eyes stinging. She had remembered 
him. In her distress and flight she had remembered. 

15* 



"Oh, my God," thought Mr. Bremble. "Oh, my God." 
He passed his hand across his eyes and, strengthened, read: 

DEAR MR. BREMBLE: 

*I am leaving this note on the chance that you will find 
it. It seemed best to take Susy away at once. I am sorry, 
for I had expected to see you at least once more before 
leaving. I should have had to go in a little while anyway, 
for I recently heard that my husband, an officer in the 
RAF, reported some months ago as killed in action, is 
alive and recovering from his injuries. He is waiting for 
me in London now. 

Please do not worry at all about Susy; well take care of 
her, and the baby too, until she is on her feet again- 
longer if necessary. Think of us sometimes, as we shall 
think of you, and remember me as your sincere and 
grateful friend, 

IRIS HADLEY 

There was a postscript. Mr. Bremble, his plunging pulses 
beating in his ears, bent himself to read it. 

If there is ever anything you can do for my young 
cousin, Walter Anderson, I know you will do it, won't 
you, Mr. Bremble? I can never forget how much, in my 
most difficult time, it helped me to know you. Walter is 
young and impetuous, and he takes his Christianity 
literally; he may have need of you. I know you'll stand 
by him. 

That was all. 

Mr. Bremble felt that he did not quite understand. It 
was a dream then, nothing but a dream? But of course he 
had known it was, he told himself dazedly. But of course 
she had a husband, and a cousin; but of course she lived 
against the suffering earth, even as he did, and Dr. Wil- 

153 



loughby, and Amelia. Nevertheless he could not make it 
true. She was Miss Iris, dream and wraith and angel, and 
the book in his hands was hers, not made of paper. 

No, the book in his hands was a book; a book, and no 
more. The note on its flyleaf was merely a note, a woman's 
note, fragrant with her sweetness, but still no more than 
gracious words on paper. She had meant to be kind; she 
had been kind, indeed; her kindness never failed him. But 
if she had not written it, thought Mr. Bremble piteously 
oh, if only she had not written itl 

He rose stiffly and carried the book out to the incinerator 
in the garden. He could burn it now without agony; it was 
just a book. But he knew that if she had not written the note 
he could have burned it with joy a martyr's joy, a sacrificial 
ecstasy. 

He twisted up some newspapers from the box beside the 
incinerator, struck a match and set them afire, dropping the 
book upon them. It fell open almost at the end, and the 
hungry little flames, attacking the worn margin, lit up for 
a moment the words on the scorching page: And then . . . 
all sorts of things happened in a moment. The candles all 
grew up to the ceiling, looking something like a bed of 
rushes with fireworks at the top. As to the bottles, they each 
took a pair of plates, which they hastily fitted on as wings, 
and so, -with forks for legs, went fluttering about in all 
directions. . . . 

It was then that Mr. Bremble's bliss came on him. There 
was a moment in which he put out his hand to snatch the 
blazing book away from the fire, and then there was a mo- 
ment of blankness, in which he did not know the book was 
burning, or that he, Henry Bremble, stood watching it 
burn. The next instant there was a swirling sensation in the 
top of his head, and a sudden warmth and lightness along 

154 



his limbs, and in the next he made his escape into joy. 

This joy, coming upon him, had continued with amazing 
persistence. It filled him like bubbling spirits, yet lay all 
around him like sunshine. It danced on Amelia's spectacles, 
causing them to flicker enchantingly; it smote Queenie on 
one eye and not on the other, so that she gave him a one-eyed 
leer from the depths of her basket. At the office, it turned 
Horace Widdinger abruptly into a corkscrew; a merry cork- 
screw, a noisy corkscrew, but still a corkscrew too enticing 
in its blithe and spiraling curves to be anything but delight- 
ful. It did not make the world beautiful to Mr. Bremble, 
for the world could never be beautiful again now that 
beauty had gathered up her shimmering robes and gone; 
but it did make the world very funny, and Mr. Bremble, 
looking at it with the eyes of a child who sees for the first 
time an animated cartoon on the screen, watched it in a 
series of inward explosions of startled laughter. The car- 
toons had long since taught him that a solid stone wall can 
be crumpled by a mouse's paw into a small indefinite wad, 
only to burst forth an instant later into a charging elephant, 
but he had never hoped to be admitted into the sphere where 
such things took place. 

And now it was in that sphere that he spent his days. Fire 
hydrants, hitherto placid, danced before him. Horses, un- 
bending from the reticence of years, had speech with him 
both antic and profound. Buildings, policemen, telegraph 
poles, stray cats, and ash heaps, stirred from their ancient 
lethargy, showed him the tricks and many and wonderful 
they werewhich they had always before so jealously con- 
cealed. "But I knew it. I knew it all the time/' thought Mr. 
Bremble. 

Even Mrs. Corey unbent, coming out at last frankly with 
a fact she had always made a show of concealing, the fact 



that she had a beak instead of a nose. He had seen it lifting 
and falling when she laughed, a veritable beak, smooth, 
solid and impregnable, for who knew how many years on 
end? But always, until now, she had put on an air of un- 
awareness about it. To see her sitting there as bland as ever, 
well and truly beaked, and not caring in the least who knew 
it, was a stimulating experience to Mr. Bremble, Truth 
crushed to earth, he felt, would certainly rise again. 

There was a change in himself, he knew, to match these 
other changes. Only a short time ago, for example, it would 
have perturbed him, on meeting young Mr. Anderson in the 
street, to note that three flowers grew from the pastor's 
head. Yet there they were, a rose, an aster, and a daffodil, 
and remarkably fine specimens too. Not only was Mr. Brem- 
ble not perturbed, but he had an almost irresistible desire, 
which he restrained only by the utmost exercise of his 
natural diplomacy, to inquire of Mr. Anderson what top- 
dressing he used. 

No thing of all the things he saw, in fact, was the same for 
Henry Bremble except one, and that was the bed of mari- 
golds in Amelia's garden. Here he had one inexorable enemy 
still. No marigold of the whole nauseating crowd would 
change before his eyes to so much as a toadstool; there they 
stood, unyieldingly malevolent, invincibly yellow, and in- 
escapably marigolds, whatever he did or said. Tying them 
up periodically, he did his best to throttle them, but they 
were not so easily throttled as all that. If there was any 
change at all in their outward aspect, it was the change of 
growth; they never stopped growing, the devils, never, and 
not infrequently he thought he could see them doing it. 
Taller and taller and taller and taller and taller. 

One day, to his surprise, he found Miss Nellie Preston 
living among them. For purposes doubtless connected with 

156 



the life of the mind, she had assumed the outward appear- 
ance of a toad, but he was not deceived; he would have 
known those eyeglasses anywhere. He made a tentative feint 
at her with his trowel, and she leaped erratically backward 
and sidewise to escape him. 

Mr. Bremble nodded, the last of his doubts resolved. "She 
hops on the curve," he said. 

Two days later, after the memorable talk he had had with 
Dr. Willoughby about religion, he came home from the 
office, swimming in bliss, to find that Dr. Willoughby had 
been paying Amelia a call. The specialist greeted him, 
courteously but with some haste, on the front steps, and at 
once excused himself and went away. 

Mr. Bremble floated happily into the house, to be met 
with a silence that seemed to him out of tune. Amelia had 
obviously been crying, and it occurred to him to wonder if 
she had lost the presidency of the League for Democracy 
after all. Mrs. Corey bent upon him a gaze of more than 
usual brightness as he entered and sat down to his dinner, 
and even Queenie, from her mistress's lap, looked at him 
with a sort of suspicious awe in her one remaining eye. 

However, Mr. Bremble did not mind. He greeted his 
little family with great heartiness, seeing with some wonder 
that they were surprised by his tone. He ate his dinner with 
immense dispatch and relish, easily disregarding the fact 
that an occasional Brussels sprout, in a jesting mood, 
changed into soap in his mouth and had to be taken out 
and laid on the side of his plate. 

The women, he thought, seemed but little inclined to 
conversation. He himself was bursting with it, and yet he 
did not know exactly what to say while they looked so taken 
aback and sat so silent. Amelia in particular, as she sat there 

157 



now red-eyed and tremulous, would have frightened him in 
the weeks before the change, for she did not look much like 
Amelia at all smaller, somehow, and perhaps less firmly 
stayed. 

She did not frighten him now, but he was curious. "What's 
the matter, Amelia?" he asked her genially, casually remov- 
ing another chunk of soap from his mouth and laying it, 
without complaint, on the plate before him. 

Amelia caught her breath. "Henry," she said hesitatingly, 
in a voice of unaccustomed gentleness, "are you all right? 
Do you feel quite well?" 

"I feel fine/' said Mr. Bremble, helping himself to 
potatoes. 

"Henry," Amelia leaned forward a little, her face tense. 
"Henry, what did you tell Dr. Willoughby last Tuesday? 
What did you and he talk about that day?" 

"We had a fine talk," said Mr. Bremble, nodding. "All 
about religion, I think it was. He's a sound man, that Wil- 
loughby." 

Amelia, not relieved, pressed her hands together. "He 
came to see me this afternoon, Henry " 

Mr. Bremble nodded again. "I know. I met him on the 
porch/' 

"He seemed to think," Amelia went on, apparently feel- 
ing her way, "that you weren't that you weren't quite well 
these days, Henry. He seemed to think you might not be 
equal to well, to going to the office every day as you do/' 

"Nonsense!" replied Mr. Bremble, laughing heartily. 

As Amelia and her mother slowly recovered from this for 
when in that house had Henry Bremble laughed heartily? 
Amelia mustered her resources and tried again. "He 
seemed to feel, Henry, that you'd been a little confused " 

Mr. Bremble laughed again. "He did, did he? A rather 

158 



sensitive man, I'm afraid, Dr. Willoughby. But I'm sorry 
if I hurt his feelings. It didn't amount to anything, Amelia; 
it was just a trivial little misunderstanding between us. I 
took him wrong on something he said to me, or something 
like that. But I wouldn't dream of holding it against him." 
Mr. Bremble smiled reminiscently. "After all, he may only 
have been joking, you know, like these Brussels sprouts." 

"Brussels sprouts?" repeated Amelia faintly, casting a 
startled glance at the vegetable dish. "Brussels sprouts?" 

"They turn into soap," Mr. Bremble explained, "after I 
get them into my mouth. Don't they do it for you? No, I 
see they don't; you've eaten all yours," he continued chat- 
tily. "See?" He picked up a sprout from the side of his plate 
with a fork. "Soap," he explained, with a sunny and fatherly 
smile. 

Amelia burst into tears. Mrs. Corey, solicitous, dropped 
Queenie and rushed to her side. Mr. Bremble looked on, 
mildly amazed. "Why, it's all right, Amelia; they don't mean 
any harm in the world," he tried to soothe her. "They just 
want to have a little fun sometimes, like everybody else. 
Don't you see, Amelia?" 

But Amelia, who did not see, only wailed aloud and fled, 
and her mother went with her, and Queenie followed be- 
hind. Mr. Bremble shrugged his shoulders, trying to re- 
member what poet it was who had said that women were 
unpredictable. He had the impression that more than one, 
perhaps, had said something of the sort. In any case, he con- 
cluded, the poet had been right. And, as the ups and downs 
of women could not conceivably be any of his concern, he 
abstractedly picked up one of the lumps of soap, commanded 
it to turn itself back into a Brussels sprout, and, when it had 
obligingly done so, ate it. 

159 



17 



NOTHING immediate was done about Mr. Bremble. 
Dr. Willoughby, a conscientious and a cautious man, 
counseled patience and deliberation for yet a little while. 

"Humor him, Mrs. Bremble, just humor him," he ad- 
vised, on being visited by Amelia and told about the Brus- 
sels sprouts. "I won't attempt to conceal from you that things 
look a little serious, and that eventually something may have 
to be done, Mrs. Bremble, but in the meantime he's en- 
tirely amiable, you say?" 

Amelia nodded, wringing out her handkerchief. "Yes, 
doctor." 

"Well, just try playing along with him as far as you can. 
You might even try agreeing with him about these halluci- 
nations he has. He won't expect you to, and the element of 
surprise " 

Amelia, hysterically agreeing to do anything on earth Dr. 
Willoughby advised, wrung out her handkerchief and re- 
turned to her home; and if Mr. Bremble had not been far too 
deeply absorbed in his own new and idyllic existence to pay 
any attention to her, he would have been a good deal sur- 
prised at the assiduity with which, during the days that 
followed, she humored him. 

160 



He was, however, far too deeply absorbed to notice 
Amelia at all, beyond the requirements of ordinary courtesy. 
His time at home, at the office, and back and forth between 
them was only too full of incident and surprise. He was al- 
ways running into the unexpected and the unlikely, and one 
morning, as he drove the convertible toward the office, he 
ran into the most unexpected and unlikely sight of all the 
sight of Margery Carruthers, at this most improbable hour 
of the day, afoot and alone. 

Mr. Bremble pulled up the car at Margery's side. "Good 
morning," he greeted her cheerily. "A fine day, Margery. 
Margery, will you have a ride?" 

Margery, quickly responsive as always to his mood, smiled 
at him. "Why, thank you, kind sir/' she said, getting into 
the car. 

Mr. Bremble reached across her and shut the door with a 
masterful hand. "That being the case," he said as he started 
the car, "let me ask you a simple question, Margery. Will 
you marry me?" 

Margery, though for a moment startled, looked at her 
wrist watch. "If you can make it today, I will," she said 
after consideration. "I married Butch O'Malley yester- 
day and I'm marrying Spike Wienerwurtzel at three 
o'clock tomorrow, but I don't think" she looked at her 
watch again "that I have anything particular on for to- 
day." 

"Good," said Mr. Bremble. "Good. We advance, Mar- 
gery; we make progress; our progress is excellent. Tell me 
this one thing, Margery, now that you have made me the 
happiest of men. Did you ever hear the story about the nar- 
cissus?" 

"I don't think so," said Margery, knitting her brows. 

161 



"Stop me if you've heard it," said Mr. Bremble. "There 
once was a narcissus that grew in a garden of onions " 

Margery wrinkled her nose. "I don't think I'm going to 
like this story," she objected. 

"Like it or not, you're going to get it," said Mr. Bremble. 
"Shut up, please, and listen like the happy and fortunate 
woman I have made you. This narcissus, as I was saying, 
lived in an onion garden. She got along just fine with the 
onions until she grew up and bloomed." 

"Oh?" said Margery, casting a sidelong glance at Mr. 
Bremble. "She did?" 

"She certainly did," said Mr. Bremble stoutly. "But that 
may have been because they thought she was one of them- 
selves." 

"Well, maybe she thought so too," suggested Margery, 
though without much conviction. 

"Oh, no, she didn't," said Mr. Bremble. "She knew very 
well that she wasn't in the least like them, and only stayed 
there because that was where she had been planted. Or per- 
haps because it was just too much trouble to move." 

"She was lazy, this blighted blossom?" Margery inquired. 

"Don't call her a blighted blossom," said Mr. Bremble 
irritably. "At least not yet. At the time of which I speak, she 
was anything but blighted. She woke up one morning and 
there was a little puddle in the garden, not far from where 
she stood, and she saw herself in this puddle, and she was so 
pretty that it made her laugh. And, at that, some of the 
onions woke up and saw what had happened, and they be- 
gan to get excited and work themselves loose at the roots, 
and a most peculiar smell spread through the garden. I don't 
know whether the narcissus noticed it or not " 

162 



"She probably noticed it from time to time/* said Mar- 
gery, "but was too polite to say so." 

"I beg to differ with you/' said Mr. Bremble. "Politeness 
had nothing to do with it, or very little. You see, this fat- 
headed young flower " 

"I resent that," said Margery. 

"This pretty but immature blossom," Mr. Bremble 
amended his former severe language, "being very much in 
love with what she saw in the puddle, was quite unable to 
understand that the onions, seeing what she saw, would not 
like it as much as she did. It never occurred to her to imagine 
that any onion would think, because she nodded and smiled 
at a tired, fat old gentleman onion in the southwest corner 
of the garden, that she was in love with him instead of her- 
self, or that the aforementioned gentleman onion might 
think the same.'* 

"Oh, he didn't!" exclaimed Margery, revolted. 

"I am inclined to agree with you," said Mr. Bremble, 
"that he drew no such conclusion. The opinion was preva- 
lent chiefly among the lady onions and was much discussed 
at intervals between the graver matters that occupied the 
members of the League for the Propagation of Bigger and 
Better Onions. There was even a rumor that an under- 
ground movement for the suppression of all narcissi was in 
hand." 

Margery was silent. 

"I should like to be able to tell you, at this point," said 
Mr. Bremble regretfully, "that when the young narcissus 
heard this rumor she went away quietly in the night from 
the onion garden, to some place where there were other nar- 
cissi growing. But the fact is she lingered and lingered, 

163 



chiefly because she was under the impressioncall her fatu- 
ous if you will that one of the onions, a swollen, self- 
important female tuber prominent in the League, was her 
mother/' 

"And wasn't she?" asked Margery in a somewhat subdued 

tone. 

"I am not a horticulturist," said Mr. Bremble, "in spite of 
the fact that there have been efforts to make me one. I can 
only say that, so far as my experience goes, onions do not 
as a rule give birth to narcissi, and that if, by some odd 
chance, an onion should do so, I cannot think that con- 
tinued close association between them " 

"Be that as it may," said Margery a little hurriedly, "what 
did the narcissus do?" 

"As I heard the story,'* Mr. Bremble replied, shaking his 
head, "she did nothing. In fact, she never even thought of 
doing anything until it was too late. You see, the smell in 
the garden" Margery winced "was getting worse and 
worse all the time, and one morning the narcissus woke up 
and found herself " 

"No," said Margery faintly. "No, Mr. Bremble." 

"Found herself," went on Mr. Bremble inexorably, 
"smelling of onions. Well, after that there was only one thing 
to be done. She married, in her terror and uncertainty, the 
first halfway presentable onion who offered himself, and 
before long she had a crop of children. And every single one 
of them," Mr. Bremble concluded impressively, "was an 
onion/' 

"I didn't think I was going to like this story," said Mar- 
gery, "and I don't/' She was a little pale, but she smiled. 
"Will you let me out now, Mr. Bremble? I'll catch a bus 
back. And thank you. And good-by, if I don't see you again/' 

164 



Mr. Bremble, driving on, congratulated himself, for it 
seemed to him that he had done a remarkable thing. See, 
he thought, how sweet are the uses of adversity after all! He 
had not wanted to go to Dr. Willoughby, but now, because 
of his practice in telling stories to Dr. Willoughby, only see 
what a story he had been able to tell Margery. 

"It was a good story, Henry," agreed a familiar Voice at 
his side, "but don't you think you went a little farther than 
was strictly necessary?" 

Mr. Bremble looked worried. "I didn't mean to." 

"It may turn out all right, of course," God conceded. 
"But still it seems to me you might have had the narcissus 
look around a little first, Henry, and see if she couldn't find 
at least one more flower in the garden." 

For no reason at all, words flashed to Mr. Bremble: "I 
said, I will ascend unto the Lord in the early part of the day; 
with a glad mind will I worship Him while it is yet morn- 
ing." He was not sure, just then, where he had heard them, 
or read them, rather; for his mind, prodding in the debris 
of accumulated memories it held, tried hard to connect 
them with paper white paper, typewritten. Suddenly Mr. 
Bremble slowed down the convertible. 

"I never thought of that," he said in wonder. 

"Think of it now, Henry," God advised as He left him. 
"She's a pretty young narcissus to be traveling alone." 

Mr. Bremble turned his car about. In the distance, he 
thankfully saw Margery standing, a bright speck, still await- 
ing the arrival of the bus. He stepped on the accelerator. 

Margery saw him, as he stopped the car, and smiled. 'Tor- 
get something, Mr. Bremble?" 

"Yes," said Mr. Bremble. "Yes, I did, Margery. The fact 
is, I had a message for Mr. Anderson you know, young 

165 



Walter Anderson, pastor of the Community Church? Do 
you know him, by any chance?" 

Margery shook her head. "I've seen him, of course. But 
I've never met him." 

"You know where he lives, don't you? It's not far from 
your house/' 

Margery nodded. 

Mr, Bremble hesitated. "Would it be too much trouble 
for you, Margery, if you just stopped by the parsonage and 
gave him the message? It's it's pretty important." 

"Why, of course not," Margery agreed cordially. "I'll be 
glad to, Mr. Bremble. What is the message?" 

Mr. Bremble hesitated, for he had neglected to provide 
himself with a message. He spoke quickly to cover his con- 
fusion. "Tell him/' he said, "tell him" his mind strained, 
grasped, and seized the nebulous tow-rope. "Tell him Harold 
Perlberg's address is 1656 East Cedar. That's all." 

"Harold Perlberg's address is 1656 East Cedar," Margery 
repeated. "All right, Mr. Bremble; I'll see that he gets it/' 

Mr. Bremble was a little disturbed. "Don't telephone him, 
Margery, will you? I can't tell you why, but it's quite im- 
portant. I want you to see him and tell him yourself, if you 
will. If it isn't too much to ask." 

Margery smiled, amused in spite of her private distress 
at his embarrassed urgency. "Why, yes, of course, Mr. 
Bremble/' she said reassuringly. "I promise/' 

Mr. Bremble thoughtfully pursued his way to the plumb- 
ing office. Thoughtfully too, as he saw a group of men work- 
ing in a ditch from which they had discarded a number of 
stones of assorted sizes, he stopped the car, got out, and filled 
his pockets with them; and thus equipped went on to his 
office day. 

166 



He worked with tranquil enjoyment through most of the 
morning, greatly diverted by the playful behavior of his 
ledgers, which, like everything else nowadays, seemed whole- 
heartedly bent on giving him pleasure. Page after page, as 
he turned it, changed before his eyes into splendid parch- 
ment, most intricately and brilliantly illuminated in scarlet 
and purple and gold, like the old monks* manuscripts of 
which he had seen reproductions at the library. The poetry, 
however, did not belong to the period of the monks, and 
it was on a page of that most unmonklike of poets, Algernon 
Charles Swinburne, that Mr. Bremble lingered most fondly. 

Here life has death for neighbor, 
And far from eye or ear 
Wan waves and wet winds labor, 
Weak ships and spirits steer; 
They drive adrift, and whither 
They wot not who make thither; 
But no such winds blow hither, 
And no such things grow here. 

Mr. Bremble read it and closed his eyes. "Pale beyond 
porch and portal, Crowned with calm leaves she stands," he 
murmured. But it was Miss Iris he saw, not Proserpine. 
Crowned with calm leaves, and waiting. 

She waits for each and other, 
She waits for all men born; 
Forgets the earth her mother, 
The life of fruits and corn; 
And spring and seed and swallow 
Take wing for her and follow 
Where summer song rings hollow 
And flowers are put to scorn. 
167 



Mr. Bremble, rocking back and forth to this music like 
an empty shell on a pale high wave of silver, was unaware of 
the passage of time. Behind him the new file clerk pushed 
drawers in and out, and from time to time Willy Wilson, no 
longer furious, came into the room and went out again. He 
knew, vaguely, that they exchanged their customary banter, 
and he was glad. The file clerk, a pretty little brown-eyed 
creature with a sweet full-throated laugh, was much to his 
liking, and it pleased him to hope that she was also much to 
Willy's. Willy's consuming fury had long since been suc- 
ceeded by a brooding, not altogether cheerless calm, and 
his work in the office had greatly improved. But the com- 
ing of the new girl into the office, and her open-eyed ad- 
miration of Willy and all his works, had done what Mr. 
Anderson's earnest endeavors had still just fallen short of 
doing. Willy was himself again, and Mr. Bremble was glad. 

But he did not hear what Willy and the file clerk said. His 
mind, bathed sweetly in Swinburne's limpid song, rose and 
fell and rose again, unheeding. 

Then star nor sun shall waken, 
Nor any change of light, 
Nor sound of waters shaken, 
Nor any sound or sight; 
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal, 
Nor days nor things diurnal; 
Only the sleep eternal 
In an eternal night. 

The "things diurnal" roused him. He looked at the clock 
and then, startled, at the open door of Mr. Widdinger's of- 
fice. It was nearly time to go out of the office for lunch, and 
Mr. Widdinger had not come in. Mr. Bremble, perturbed, 

168 



put his hand into his pocket and fingered his stones 
anxiously. It would be too bad if Mr. Widdinger did not 
come in at all. But perhaps he would come after lunch, as he 
sometimes did. 

Mr. Bremble, brightening, feigned great industry, set- 
tling himself to wait the few remaining minutes until Willy 
and the file clerk should go off together to lunch. 

They were long, long minutes to Mr. Bremble. When at 
last they were over and the two young workers had gone, he 
rose from his chair in relief and went into Horace Wid- 
dinger's office. Mr. Widdinger's comfortable oak swivel 
chair stood, as usual, turned a little aside from the desk, 
and Mr. Bremble did not move it. In the dreamy and 
leisurely manner of a man who takes an almost sensual 
pleasure in his work, he began paving the seat of Mr. Wid- 
dinger's chair with the stones from his pockets, carefully 
turning the sharper edges uppermost. 

For Mr. Widdinger, no matter how much he had been be- 
having of late like a corkscrew, was yet a juicy and a well- 
fleshed man, and, like a great many other gentlemen of full 
habit, had a custom of flinging himself into his chair jo- 
cosely or pettishly, as the case might be, without looking at 
it beforehand. Mr. Bremble saw no reason to suppose that 
he would behave otherwise today. 

Finishing his task, he started to go downstairs; but at the 
door he paused, looking back at the chair. The stones were 
undoubtedly good ones, with many sharp edges, stones as 
good as though provided by the gods to serve his purpose. 
Mr. Bremble surveyed them with wistful pride for a long, 
long moment. How carefully he had selected them. How pa- 
tiently he had laid them in position. How gloatingly he had 
dreamed of the moment of impact. Ah, well . . . With 

169 



only one sigh, sharp indeed, of resignation, Mr. Bremble 
went back into the office, stopped briefly at his own desk, 
and covered the stones on Mr. Widdinger's chair with the 
thin and well-worn cushion from his own. 

This time he escaped the threshold and went downstairs. 
The unpaved parking lot, wet from a recent shower, was 
empty of human life. A few cars belonging to employees on 
the other floors of the plumbers' building stood about, but 
all were unoccupied. Mr. Bremble, turning the corner of 
the building to go to his own car, caught sight of a figure 
approaching the building from the opposite side, walking. 
By the bulk of the figure and the jaunty angle of the Panama 
hat it wore, he recognized it at once as Horace Widdinger. 

Mr. Bremble's spirits rose. This, he felt, was almost too 
much good fortune. He drew back behind the corner of the 
building, hastily scooped up a handful of mud from the 
ground, compressed it into a sticky mass, and waited. He 
must needs wait, for he did not trust his aim from too great 
a distance. He would wait, if he could, until the moment 
Mr. Widdinger reached the revolving door at the front of 
the building, and then 

Mr. Widdinger, a brisk pedestrian, was almost there. Mr. 
Bremble, peering around the corner of the wall, took care- 
ful aim. There was time for only one cast; it must fly true. 
He drew back his arm, most slowly, and let fling. A sharp 
yelp of surprise and outrage instantly blessed him. 

Mr. Bremble, beaming, dusted his hands together and got 
into the car. A moment later, Mr. Widdinger, holding a 
bedaubed handkerchief against his right temple, charged 
around the corner into the parking lot with murder in his 
eye. 

"Who threw that mud at me?" he bellowed, seeing Mr. 
Bremble. 

170 



"I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Bremble distantly. 

"Somebody in this damn lot threw some mud at me!" Mr. 
Widdinger shouted. He took the handkerchief away from 
his temple and showed it to Mr. Bremble. 

Mr. Bremble looked at the handkerchief and then about 
the lot, his gaze slowly returning to Mr. Widdinger's apo- 
plectic countenance. "There's nobody here/' he said quietly, 
"except us chickens." 

"Well, hell, you didn't throw it," snapped Mr. Widdinger 
contemptuously. His prawnlike eyes narrowed with sudden 
suspicion. "Or did you? By God, if you did, I'll " 

"I can tell you what I think, of course," Mr. Bremble in- 
terposed smoothly. "If you want my opinion for what it's 
worth, I should say it was probably Susy Jennings who threw 
it." 

"Susy Jen " Mr. Widdinger's mouth, comically ar- 
rested in mid-word, hung ajar, and his large ears reddened 
to the color of newly peeled beets. 

Mr. Bremble nodded. "And if you were thinking of re- 
porting the incident to Mr. Prentiss, Mr. Widdinger, let me 
advise you to do nothing of the kind. There would almost 
certainly be a searching inquiry. An excellent man, our 
good employer, but a bit strait-laced in moral matters. Al- 
most old-fashioned, wouldn't you say? Or don't you think 
so, Mr. Widdinger?" 

Mr. Widdinger, for the moment confounded, said 
nothing. 

"Well, good-by, Mr. Widdinger, for the present," said 
Mr. Bremble cordially. *'J ust S U P to y ur office and sit 
down and think it over. I must really go now. I have an im- 
portant engagement right after lunch." 



171 



18 



THE intoxication of Mr. Bremble's morning, with its 
poetry and its promise and its almost perfect achieve- 
ment, remained with him throughout his modest luncheon 
which, by the way, he hardly touched, so elated was he 
but it suffered a sudden eclipse a short time later. On his way 
from the coffee shop where he had lunched to the office of 
Dr. Willoughby, that happened to him which detached him 
from his new-found joy and plunged him, for a little time, 
back into his former state: the thin and wretched existence 
of Henry Bremble as his womenfolk and his world had 
known him. Driving the convertible past the County Build- 
ing, he saw and recognized a man with whom he had gone 
to school as a child. 

On the instant, his ecstasy departed, fled out of him ut- 
terly, leaving no trace. On the instant, that bitter refrain, 
"You got to walk down a loathsome valley," wailed up in 
his ears again. For that which stood and swayed upon the 
sidewalk, and had dried streaks of soup down its nauseating 
shirt-front, and scratched behind its grimy ear like a sick 
dog looking for fleas, and searched the eyes of passers-by with 
a tawdry hope of notice and largess, was yet undeniably, and 

172 



after these years, Frank Allen. Frank Allen the magnificent, 
the admired, the beloved, the daring. 

He was a little older than Henry Bremble and had been 
Henry's idol. The painfully restored Mr. Bremble saw him 
now, as he had seen him in loving memory many times, with 
his splendid young body stripped for a dive in the river. He 
saw the downward cleave through sparkling air; he saw 
Frank come up suddenly, dripping and grinning, flinging 
back his hair from his eyes; and heard the echo of Frank's 
exuberant yell: "Hey, come on, Henry what're you wait- 
ing for?" 

The heart of Mr. Bremble twisted within him. "Frank, 
Frank, Frank," it cried out harshly and dreadfully, "what 
were you waiting for? Not this! Not this!" 

But he stifled its voice as best he could and pulled the car 
to a halt against the curb. "Frank," he said indistinctly, 
leaning out of the window. "Frank?" 

The derelict turned and looked at him and nodded. 
"That's my name," he said, taking a step toward the car. 
"What's it to you, Mister?" 

"Don't you know me, Frank?" said Henry Bremble. 

The other came nearer, slowly shaking his head. "Can't 
say's I do. Why, say!" he suddenly exclaimed, his bleared 
eyes widening, "Looky here! You ain't little Henry Bremble, 

are you? Well, dog my cats if it ain't! How are you, 

Henry?" 

The two shook hands, and there was an awkward silence. 
It was Frank who broke it at last. "Long time no see," he re- 
marked. 

"Yes . . . I mean no," said Mr. Bremble. 

Frank made another effort. "Well, how you doin', Henry? 
Look pretty prosperous to me. Got your own buggy and 
everything." 



"Yes," said Mr. Bremble. He felt that courtesy demanded 
his asking Frank in return how he was doing, but the an- 
swer was too piteously apparent, and he could not. 

"Well, well, well!" said Frank after a moment. "Little 
Henry Bremble, after all these years! . . . You a married 
man, I reckon, Henry?" 

Mr. Bremble nodded. 

"That's one thing I never let myself in for, anyhow/' 
said Frank philosophically, and continued in a slightly 
changed tone, "I reckon you can see things ain't none too 
good with me, Henry." 

Mr. Bremble cleared his throat. 

"Been a coon's age now," went on Frank, "sence I had me 
any luck at all, Henry. Ain't had a job now for God only 
knows how long. Ain't even had anything to eat sence yes- 
terday morninY' 

With the last words a certain whine, easily recognizable 
as habitual, crept into Frank's tone, and the dirty hand he 
had laid on Mr. Bremble's car twitched anticipatorily. 
"Wouldn't like to help an old pal out a little, would you, 
Henry ol' boy ol' boy?" 

To Mr. Bremble, agitatedly searching his pocket for his 
wallet, the embarrassment of the moment, already almost 
intolerable, was intolerably increased by Frank's pains- 
taking attempt at lightness of tone. Mr. Bremble was afraid 
he was actually going to cry. The encounter, lasting less 
than five minutes, had stripped him of all his experience, 
all his manhood, and all his years but nine. He felt as he 
would have felt at the age of nine if he had suddenly seen 
Frank Allen stripped and befouled with slime. 

One horrified look then, and he would have fled; yes, cer- 
tainly fled, and wept . . . And to turn and flee was exactly 

174 



what he wanted to do now. Nothing on earth could help 
him but instant flight, nor did Henry Bremble care where 
that flight might lead him. 

Frank took the money, when Mr. Bremble finally got it 
out, with an eagerness he did not trouble to conceal. "Cer- 
tainly much obliged, Henry," he said. "Don't let me keep 
you if you got to go on somewhere. I know how it is with 
these here model citizens. They got their work to do, and it's 
important as all hell. Ain't that right, Henry?" 

He stuffed the money into the pocket of his noisome 
trousers. "No, don't let me keep you, Henry, if you got to 
go/' His own eagerness to be gone was blatantly uncon- 
cealed; his unsteady eyes even now wavered toward a tavern 
sign in the near distance. 

Mr. Bremble swallowed. "Well, maybe I better/' he said 
uncertainly, over an urgent feeling that there was some- 
thing he must do before he went. "Well, good-by, Frank, 
and better luck by the time we " He could not go on. 

"Sure, sure," said Frank encouragingly. "Swell seein' 
you, Henry. Never once thought, by golly, I'd ever set eyes 
on Henry Bremble again, Damn funny world, ain't it? May- 
be I'll be a millionaire when next we meet. Who knows?" 

Mr. Bremble, wincing at the words "when next we meet," 
for they were the ones he had not been able to say, at- 
tempted to smile in assent. He cleared his throat apolo- 
getically. "I would ask you to come home and have dinner 
with me, Frank," he mumbled, scarlet to the ears, "but my 
wife Amelia hasn't been any too well just lately " 

He faltered over the lie, and he knew Frank knew it. But 
there was no resentment in Frank's returning gaze. "Why, 
sure, Henry, sureI know how it is with the ladies. This 
ain't a very good time to ask me to dinner anyhowas you 

175 



see, I ain't got on my banquetin' suit today." Frank winked 
largely and stepped back, swaying, from the car. "Well, so 
long, Henry ol' boy ol' boy, and give my best to the missus 
and the kids " 

Mr. Bremble shook his head. 

"What no kids?" Frank looked at him somewhat quiz- 
zically, and Mr. Bremble, immediately sure that Frank's 
next comment would be on the ribald side, completing his 
agony, did not wait to hear it. He shook his head abruptly, 
leaned forward, and started the car as noisily as possible. 

The car, always alarmingly responsive to its driver's 
moods, lurched eccentrically. It was several minutes before 
he had it on a steady course and traversing its proper lane 
along the street. During these minutes his attention was 
necessarily given to the mechanism, but as soon as they were 
over, reaction set in, and shame. He had thought himself 
done with shame, and now look at him. 

In vain he told himself that Frank had wanted no more of 
him than the money he begged for. In vain he told himself 
that the man he had left was no longer Frank Allen at all. 
In vain he asked himself if he had not had enough of med- 
dling. In vain he reminded himself of Frank's eagerness to 
leave him. In vain he recalled to memory, in frantic suc- 
cession, the leer on Frank's face when he learned that his 
friend was childless, the way Frank's bloodshot eyes had 
yearned at the tavern, and the inexcusable soup stains on 
Frank's shirt. The inescapable fact remained that Frank had 
asked him, Henry Bremble, for bread, and had got for all 
response a very stone. 

Mr. Bremble pulled his mind away and tried to concen- 
trate on his driving. But never driver, surely, had so much to 
contend with, for he found the convertible suddenly 

176 



crowded with unbidden passengers. It seemed to him that 
everyone he knew was there except Miss Iris and the maid 
Clarissa. Amelia was there, and her mother, and Susy 
Jennings. Walter Anderson was there, holding Queenie 
austerely on his knees. Margery Carruthers was there. All 
these were crowded into the front seat with him; and in the 
back seat sat a chorus of lady leaguers, their heads shaking in 
unison, their mouths already open to cry "Shame!": Mrs. 
Courtland, Mrs. Carruthers, Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Hyslop, Mrs. 
Prince. 

"I couldn't help it," Mr. Bremble thought he shouted. "I 
tell you I couldn't help it!" 

Dr. Willoughby appeared from nowhere and inserted 
himself between Amelia and Mrs. Corey. "Really, Mr. 
Bremble " he began. 

"Is that the way you treat your childhood friends, Henry?" 
asked Amelia sadly. "Why didn't you bring poor Mr. Allen 
home to dinner? I've always tried to be a good wife to you, 
Henry " 

"You been a good enough wife for anybody, Amelia," 
Mrs. Corey put in, nodding. "It's just men's tricks, that's 
all. We know all about men's tricks, though, don't we, 
Queenie?" 

"Oh, shame. Oh, shame. Oh, shame," chanted the lady 
leaguers in the back seat, shaking their heads. 

"Well, my goodness, Mr. Bremble," piped Susy Jennings, 
"what got into you? You always seemed so kind " 

Mr. Bremble's hunted eyes sought Walter Anderson's, 
but the thin, ascetic features were suddenly stern. "A friend 
loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity," the 
minister intoned as from a distance, not looking at Mr. 
Bremble. And at these words Margery Carruthers' tender 

177 



lower lip quivered, and she drew in a hurt, small breath. 
"No, Mr. Bremble. No/' she whispered, and looked away. 

"But I tell you I couldn't help it!" shouted the be- 
leaguered Mr. Bremble, even louder than before, so it 
seemed to him. "I tell you " 

A solid additional figure wedged itself in, and bent upon 
him the righteous and eyeglassed gaze of Miss Nellie Pres- 
ton. "You can't pick and choose that way, Mr. Bremble," 
she told him decisively. "You have to take them as they 
come " 

A chaos of sounds, variegated but harsh, assailed Mr. 
Bremble's ears. All of them, it seemed to him, were shouting 
at once: "Men's tricks. ... A brother is born for adversity, 
isn't he, Queenie? . . . Is that the way you treat your child- 
hood friends? ... Is that the way, is that the way, is that 
the way you treat them? . . . Oh, no, Mr. Bremble, oh, 
no! . . . You always seemed so kind, Mr. Bremble. . . ." 

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" chanted the chorus steadily 
through it all. 

Mr. Bremble, in this extremity, cast his eyes upward and 
called upon God. And God appeared, and the tumult was 
suddenly still. The passengers in Mr. Bremble's car disap- 
peared as if blown away by a sudden wind, and Mr. Bremble 
was alone with God. 

God looked at him for a long, long time, it seemed, as 
though meditating some problem that required decision. 
Henry Bremble sat through what seemed to him a small 
eternity, waiting and waiting as the car rolled on. At last, 
between hope and fear, he saw God shake His head. 

"Well now, Henry," said God gently, looking disap- 
pointed, "I never thought you'd treat a man that way." 

And at that, the last straw, certainly the last straw, cer- 

178 



tainly the last conceivable wisp of any possible btraw, Henry 
Bremble succumbed. "My God, my God, why hast Thou for- 
saken me?" his soul cried out in torment as he pulled his 
car to a stop. 

But God was gone, and the empty street told him nothing. 
He peered through the windshield at it, but he could not 
see. The glass seemed suddenly and brutally opaque, as if 
of deliberate intention it joined with the rest of the world 
in shutting him out. He got out of the car and walked a few 
paces down the sidewalk. A gaunt, skulking dog, hungry 
and wary, darted out of an alley. Seeing Mr. Bremble, he 
stopped and stiffened. 

Mr. Bremble also stiffened. For a moment he wanted the 
dog's favor as he had never wanted anything in his life. He 
put out a shaking hand and made shift to whistle. And the 
dog, horrified at a condescension that in his unhappy experi- 
ence led to nothing more than the humiliation and torment 
of a tin can attached to his tail and left there until in des- 
peration he gnawed it off, uttered an agonized yelp of dread 
and aversion, thrust his threatened tail between his legs, 
and made off back down the alley as though the devil were 
after him. 

A cosmic anger rose in Mr. Bremble. He felt that he him- 
self rose with it, swelling. The very street shrank from him 
and beneath him. He towered above it. What had he been 
about, these months, these years, to suffer insult after insult 
unavenged? What had it brought him to, his cowardly 
shrinking? Why, to this: that he himself had turned from an 
old friend with loathing, and that the very dogs of the 
streets now justly spurned him. 

But no longer, thought Mr. Bremble, no longer. He grew 
and he grew; the street in which he stood was Lilliputian. 

179 



He could have picked it up like a paper napkin and 
crumpled it in his hand. As for the little human creatures 
that crawled along it, he could have crunched them, like 
so many shrimp, between his mighty jaws, and it was only 
because he had other things to do that they escaped. It was 
only because he had first to clear his name 

Mr. Bremble paused on the sidewalk, flexing his Gar- 
gantuan muscles and considering his table of agenda. It 
was an impressive table. It included forcing Dr. Willoughby 
down upon his green couch, and smothering him with sliced 
and hard-boiled eggs; sending Mrs. Corey summarily away 
to the aviary of her proper residence; blowing Queenie out 
of existence with one scornful puff; and picking apart the 
members of the League for Democracy and the Modern 
Parents Organization with a pair of small and time-consum- 
ing tweezers. It included dealing with Miss Nellie Preston 
through a complicated series of tortures, during each of 
which he would remind her that you have to take them as 
they come. If he had time he would send a large consign- 
ment of lipsticks to the Helping Hand, and if it forbade 
their use then let it beware. 

But first and foremost for in his new role he remained a 
man of integrity, and his prime concern must be to rid his 
own character of stain he knew that he must find Frank Al- 
len, good old Frank Allen, good old good old good old 
Frank Allen oT boy oP boy oY boy, and take him home to 
dinner, soup stains and all. Could he not hear Frank now, 
as he turned himself about and strode toward the con- 
vertible, shouting as he had shouted in times gone by, "Hey 
come on, Henry! What're you waiting for?" 

"I'm coming!" Mr. Bremble shouted in return. "I'm com- 

180 



ing, Frank. Ol' boy oY boy ol f boy. Just wait a minute, 
Frank oY boy; I'm coming." 

And with a wave of reassurance to the waiting Frank, who 
stood, dripping, up to his chin in bright water, Mr. Bremble 
got into the convertible, slammed the door, turned on the 
ignition, stepped on the starter, released the clutch, and, 
merrily making a superb U-turn where no U-turn was per- 
mitted, ran head-on into a heavy and advancing truck. 

There was a crash, a blinding light, a stopping. Mr. 
Bremble felt himself shot several miles upward, descending 
again to bound and rebound between earth and heaven. 
Eggs, buttons, and marigolds showered about him. 

He had just time to seize an egg in each hand and hurl 
them, one after the other, at the fugitive coattails of Dr. 
Willoughby, and to note with regret, as they found their 
mark, that he had forgotten to make sure they were boiled 
before he threw them. Too bad, he felt; a mean advantage 
to take. Too bad, too bad. 

The rest was silence. Silence, and all darkness. 



181 



19* 



HIS return to consciousness found him in what he dimly 
knew, in spite of the ringing of faraway bells in his ears, 
to be a hospital. Amelia and her mother were there, a nurse, 
and a doctor. From time to time Amelia sobbed aloud, and 
from time to time the doctor or the nurse laid a quiet hand 
upon his wrist. 

The hospital room seemed to Mr. Bremble a very small 
one. It had white walls, not of wood but of canvas. He 
thought curiously how odd it was that the room should be 
so small. 

It was not a straight room, either. It could not, thought 
Mr. Bremble, have been well built in the first place, or it 
would not now show this distressing tendency to go off at 
irrelevant angles. And surely no sensible contractor would 
consider a couple of laths and a few strips of canvas ade- 
quate materials for a shelter for any man, particularly a 
man as sick as Mr. Bremble. For he was sick, Henry Bremble; 
oh, yes, so sick. So sick. 

And so unutterably tired. Yes, that was the worst Mr. 
Bremble thought he had never been so tired in his life. He 
knew he ought in decency to call attention to the miser- 

182 



able job they had done of building the hospital, in order 
that it might be corrected for his successors, but he had not 
even the energy to speak, and, as for himself, the walls might 
be of canvas or of nothing. Mr. Bremble did not care. 

How still they were keeping everything. Except for 
Amelia's intermittent sobs and the tiny, tiny ticking of the 
watch on the nurse's wrist, there was absolutely no sound 
within the room. Not even why, yes, that was what he 
missed not even Queenie's asthmatic sniffing and snoring. 

Over his head a round white bowl containing a light bulb 
looked down at him with a cool and tolerant eye. The light 
in the bowl was not turned on at all. More negligence, Mr. 
Bremble told himself fretfully under his bandages, and 
noticed the bandages now for the first time since waking. 
They were all over him, the bandages, or so it seemed. He 
was literally swathed in gauze from head to foot, and there 
was something much heavier than gauze was it plaster, 
perhaps? hardening, slowly but relentlessly, around his 
ribs. 

They were trying to choke him, were they? They were 
going to sit there and wait while the plaster hardened, 
pressed in around him, squeezed the lifeblood whistling 
from his vitals? He might have known it, thought Mr. 
Bremble wearily, he might have known that they were all 
in the pay of Widdinger. 

Oysters, thought Mr. Bremble indifferently from the 
depths of his fatigue; oysters, all of them, the doctor, the 
nurse, Mrs. Corey, and Amelia. Oysters. Their smooth and 
shining shells protected them as nothing in all his life had 
protected Henry Bremble. No, he had not been protected; 
he had never had a sign of a shell to cover his nakedness; he 
had shivered naked and bare to every nail-shod foot that 

183 



chose to tread him down, to every vindictive hand that car- 
ried a stick to poke with. Why had he not, at least, been 
given a shell? Why had Amelia caused him to buy, not a car 
with a shell, but a flimsy convertible thing through whose 
frail fabric top, through whose fallible glass windshield, a 
man could be catapulted into flame by the merest touch of a 
grazing truck? 

Amelia sobbed convulsively again. The nurse went over 
and patted Amelia's hand. "There, there, my dear," she 
said. "There, there, there, there/' 

Mr. Bremble paid them but little attention, beyond notic- 
ing that Amelia somehow seemed to have cracked her shell a 
little. No doubt that was why the nurse was comforting her* 
One oyster, thought Mr. Bremble, comforting another; it 
was an odd sight to see, and an odd conceit altogether. He 
thought that God, in the cheerful and comradely days they 
had known together, would have smiled to see it. 

Those had been the days, thought Mr. Bremble with a 
stab of pain; good days, good nights, when God had come 
and sat on the edge of his bed and listened to him, patiently, 
while he thought his thoughts. 

Suddenly all that remained of Henry Bremble strained 
against the plaster. "Come back," he cried, and by the in- 
stant bending of the four figures toward him he knew that he 
had made himself heard. He tried to gesture them away, for 
he knew that what little strength he had was needed now 
for his effort to reach his God. "Come back oh, please come 
back," moaned Henry Bremble. 

Amelia flung herself at the bed, but was restrained by the 
nurse. "Oh, let me go to him, Miss Parsons, he's calling me/' 
she begged, but the nurse shook her head. Amelia sank back 
with a gasp and a sob, covering her face with her hands. 

184 



Mr. Bremble writhed within his plaster. Be still, he 
wanted to command them, be still, but he could not spare 
the time; there was so little. "Come back oh, please come 
back," he moaned in agony. 

There was no answer but multiple cackling laughter. He 
thought he recognized Mr. Widdinger's voice, and Susy 
Jennings' and Willy Wilson's. Yes, no doubt it would amuse 
them to see him now. It never failed to amuse them to see 
him helpless, like a turtle turned on its back and unable to 
right itself. 

But their laughter did not hurt him as before. He took 
note of it only in passing, as it were, with a moment of slight 
shock at the crassness of the official who had let them into the 
hospital, and a still more fleeting astonishment that he was 
not yet past being shocked by what Amelia called humanity. 
"You got to walk through a loathsome valley " 

But if at the end no God*awaited him? 

He labored against the plaster. "Oh God, please come " 

But he knew that he made no sound. The words, thrust from 
him with such effort, died in his rattling throat. The sound 
of bells 

He had heard the bells before, he now remembered, very 
faint, very thin, very far. Their chime seemed nearer now, 
and much more urgent. They were mocking him, perhaps, 
as everyone had mocked him. Or was it possible they were 
praying for him? For it seemed to Henry Bremble, as he 
lay there racked with yearning, that he heard in their rise 
and fall the words of his plea: "Please come . . . please 
come . . . please come . . . please come . . . please 
come. . . ." 

Too late, thought Mr. Bremble, oh, too late. No man 
could wait longer. No man could wait through another such 



eon of anguish. Bitterness came upon him in his dying, and 
he flung God's own words back into His face. "I never 
thought You'd treat a man that way," he said. 

Then suddenly he knew that God was in the room. God 
pushed aside the canvas walls and Amelia and her mother 
and the doctor and the nurse. He stood looking down at 
Mr. Bremble for a long moment. 

"You tired, Henry?" He said at last. 

Mr. Bremble nodded weakly. "Pretty tired." 

"Thought so. I reckon you're about due for a good long 
rest. Well, I've got a nice place in the country where you 
can get it. Got anybody any friends you want to say good- 
by to before we go?" 

Henry Bremble shook his head. "I never really had any 
friends but You," he murmured weakly. 

God smiled. ''Neither has anybody else, Henry. Ready?" 

He leaned over and touched Mr. Bremble lightly on the 
arm, and Mr. Bremble got up, feeling strong and swift, as 
though wine instead of blood ran in his veins. There was 
music somewhere, faint and far away. 

They walked to the door together, and Mr. Bremble 
glanced back. Mrs. Corey was supporting Amelia, who had 
tried to cast herself across Mr. Bremble's bed, weeping. "Oh, 
Mother," Amelia sobbed against Mrs. Corey's shoulder, "did 
you hear what he said to me, just before just before he 
went? He said 1 never really had any friends but you.* Oh, 
Mother. . . ." 

Mr. Bremble looked at God. God winked. They went out 
together, laughing, into blue air and the wild sweet caroling 
of bells. 



186 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Dorothy Langley narrowly missed being a native of the 
Philippine Islands and was born instead at Fort Brown, 
Texas, shortly after the return of her Army parents. 
Orphaned in infancy, she grew up in Southeast Missouri 
under the tutelage of her two grandmothers. The major 
part of her adult life has been spent in Chicago, but for the 
past year and a half she has lived in California. She is mar- 
ried and has a son and a daughter in college. 
Dorothy Langley's previous novel, Dark Medallion, won 
the Friends of American Writers annual award for the best 
novel by a Midwestern writer in 1945, 




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