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APR '50 j
Mr. Bremble's Buttons
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
"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.
"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
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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-
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
"America for Americans/' said Miss Preston judicially.
"That's it. That's it exactly. Just what I've always said.
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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,
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
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-
test vocal, God's right eyelid unmistakably drooped and
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
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
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
Mr. Bremble slowed his steps. She was not scolding her
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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-
"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?
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-
Mr. Bremble knitted his brows. "A welcoming commit-
"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
"Naturally it would be embarrassing for them!" Amelia
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,
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
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
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-
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
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.
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
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
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-
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 "
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
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
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-
It was Horace Widdinger she was talking about. Horace
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.
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
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-
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
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."
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
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,
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
"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 "
"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
"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
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
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 "
"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,
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
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
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, taking it back, smiled and relaxed. "I think so,"
she said complacently. "You watch Mrs. Carruthers when
she sees them, Mother now remember."
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,
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
To her surprise, he reacted with positive violence. "My
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-
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
"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
"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?"
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
"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
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
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
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
"You just wanted to try to make me ridiculous, the very
way she did that afternoon, asking silly questions and trying
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
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.
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-
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.
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
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
"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 "
"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
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
"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
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
Walter Anderson took a pencil from his pocket. "What
did you say his name was?"
"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?"
"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-
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
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.
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
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
"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."
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."
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."
"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.
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
"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
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
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
bite you how are you going to feel the bites? It stands to
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.
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
Mr. Bremble relaxed obediently. "Well, you ought to,"
he said somewhat severely. "You'd find it well worth your
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
"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
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
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-
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-
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-
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.
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
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/'
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-
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*
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,
"R. B.?" asked Mr. Bremble, puzzled.
"That means 'really built,' " explained Myrna. "She's a
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.
"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.
Mr. Bremble blushed. "Has your father ah gone to
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.
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-
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
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
"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
"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-
"Oh," said Mr. Bremble. "Why, she's about ten, I think.
The saleswoman nodded. "Will you come this way,
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-
"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-
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
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-
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
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
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
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.
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-
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.
HENRY BREMBLE, what have you been up to now?"
Amelia demanded, breathing heavily, some two weeks
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.
"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
"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-
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
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?
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
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,
"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
"Why didn't you ask your mother " Mr. Bremble be-
"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."
"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.
"She did too," Myraa contradicted him. "Yesterday all
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
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-
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
"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.
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
"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?"
Mr. Bremble got up, putting his wallet back into his
pocket. "Judas Iscariot," he said curtly, "26 Linden Ave-
Myrna paused on her dancing feet to look back at him.
"How do you spell why, that's not what you said before,
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
"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
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.
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-
Mrs. Corey cackled appreciatively. "Shell find out about
it all right," she assured her daughter, seeming to share
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
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
modern youth. I think perhaps I'd better add something
"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
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
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
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-
"Mrs. Cable?" cooed Amelia sweetly. "I do hope I'm not
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-
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,
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
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.
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-
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
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?"
He would look at her mildly. "What did you say,
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-
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,
help! Henrietta! For God's sake, Henrietta, do something!
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
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.
"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
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.
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-
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
"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
"That's all right about my age/' said Mrs. Corey trucu-
" but I must say," Amelia continued, still indulgent,
"that I'm inclined to agree with you that there's something
"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
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.
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
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
"And we found the cutest things you ever saw," Susy
rattled on, "didn't we, Mrs. Hadley? We had them sent, or
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
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.
"And a fine thing too, if you ask me," nodded Mrs. Corey,
eating a chocolate. " 'Tis a fine thing, sure enough, ain't it,
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.
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,
"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
from him. 'Isn't she coming back?" he croaked as Amelia
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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-
"Religious?" interrupted Mr. Bremble, puzzled.
"Didn't you tell me you were a religious man, Mr.
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-
"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
"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,
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-
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
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.
"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
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
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-
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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-
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
"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
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
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.
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,
"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
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.
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
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-
"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-
"I don't think so," said Margery, knitting her brows.
"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-
"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 "
"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
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,
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
"And wasn't she?" asked Margery in a somewhat subdued
"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
"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/'
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
"Who threw that mud at me?" he bellowed, seeing Mr.
"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
"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
"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."
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
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-
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,
The two shook hands, and there was an awkward silence.
It was Frank who broke it at last. "Long time no see," he re-
"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
"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-
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
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
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
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.
"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,
"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,
"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
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
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-
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
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.
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-
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.
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
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-
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,