Those That Are Joined Together
by Charles Hoy Fort
You are standing on an Eighth Avenue corner, looking down a side street toward the ugly bleak streak made by the Ninth Avenue elevated railroad. You see peddlers, right hands curving at the sides of their mouths, left hands holding pails of potatoes; a woman with a basket of wash, which is tucked under a sheet; many fire escapes that look like a jumbling of giant gridirons, when seen from the corner. You notice the signs over doorways, a gilded boot, a carpenter's sign projecting a little farther, glazier's sign of stained-glass squares trying to eclipse signs of shoemaker and carpenter, tailor's sign almost obscuring all of them. In the tailor-shop windows are prints of the latest fashions, labelled, "Types of American Gents." American gents, going to work, in overalls and sweaters, pause to enjoy the very latest in riding, golf, and hunting costumes, and perhaps go in to order a three-dollar pair of breeches. The tailor shop occupies the first floor of a three-story frame house -- a grimy- looking house; its grimy clapboards are stained by streaks of rain dribbling from the rusty fire-escape.
The McGibneys lived in the second-floor rooms. McGibney was log-shaped; he seemed as big around at his ankles as at his chest, and, though he wore collars, it was because everyone else wore collars, and not because his neck was perceptible. Close-cropped hair, a rather sharp nose, bright alert, eyes, cheeks red and all other parts of him pinkish. Mrs. McGibney was a plump, delicately featured little woman, who could express most amazing firmness upon her small features. When she had household cares, she worried; when she had household duties, she bustled. And it would surely please you to look at Mrs. McGibney when she worried; left forefinger beginning over the fingers of the right hand; left forefinger lodging on right little finger, Mrs. McGibney pausing to look into space, counting up to assure herself that the butcher had not cheated; forefinger beginning again and dealing with the grocer, this time; another fixed look into space to be sure the grocer had not imagined a can of tomatoes or a pound of flour. It would please you, because you would know that not one penny, worked so hard for by McGibney, would be wasted. When Mrs. McGibney bustles -- ah, now that is pretty! That means a very keen sense of responsibility, nothing shirked, nothing that will make McGibney's comfort neglected. Bustling to the over door, opening and shutting it; fingers dabbing at under lip and sizzling on underside of a flat iron; frying pan moved back on the stove; quick, short steps to the table to roll out breadcrumbs; dash to the window to sharpen a knife on the sill -- when Mrs. McGibney bustles!
Evening! Both of them in the cheerful kitchen. Very cheerful kitchen! Three conch-shells, like big pink ears, up on the mantelpiece, and four palm leaves, painted green, stuck in a flower pot, just like a bit of Florida. The dishpan, on the stove murmuring; a subdued rattle and good-naturedly growling of bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan, and dishes fluttering on them. The oil-cloth was bright and new-looking, except in the corner where heavy McGibney sat. There, chair legs had indented as if someone had beaten around at random with a hammer. And in his corner, reading the newspaper, sat McGibney, his wife sitting beside the table his elbow was on, frowning, puzzling, and counting her fingers. "Yes," said Mrs. McGibney, "I can keep expenses down to five dollars a week, but you mustn't charge on my book what you spend. I don't think I ought to mark down the cent for your newspaper, do you? I'm not going to have my book any more than it's got to be. I'll cross off this two cents for a stamp. Now, you know you oughtn't to charge me for that; it was for your own letter -- don't sit like that! How often have I told you you ruin the oil-cloth?"
McGibney not only continued to tilt back and dig into the oil-cloth but rocked himself on the hind legs of the chair; one is sometimes tempted to torment severe little women when they are too serious.
"Oh, I don't care; you're not harming me. Go ahead, if you feel like paying for new oil-cloth." McGibney could not sit straight without some demonstration to cover his accession; he put out fingers like tongs and pinched just above her knee. If you are an old married man, you know just how far from dignified and severe that immediately made McGibney. Then McGibney sat straight, sat as if he would have sat straight anyway.
A rap on the door. Mrs. McGibney put away her account book as if it were wrong to keep account-books; McGibney sat crooked as if it were wrong to sit straight. No matter what one is doing, one feels that someone else coming makes a difference. Mrs. McGibney started toward the door, went to the stove instead, and covered the dish-pan; started again but paused to twitch a curtain; finally got to the door and opened it, but had glanced back twice and had motioned to McGibney to put away a bag of crackers.
"Oh, it's you, Clara?" exclaimed Mrs. McGibney, "Why, come right in!"
Into the room came a stocky person, with a broad, flat, amiable face. Everything about her seemed to suggest that she was made to work hard and suffer, usually not complain, but, quite without reasoning, flash into short-lived rebellion against hardships now and then. Like your impression of peasantry more than a century ago, down-trodden, without leaders, should be your impression of Clara. In her heavy arms was a huge bundle, done up in a sheet, four corners of the sheet hanging loose at the top. She appeared to be carrying a monstrous turnip, all white, loose ends like white-turnip tops.
"Why, good evening!" said Clara awkwardly, turning to the right, turning to the left, with her huge bundle, looking for a place to set it down, but still clinging to it, her chin buried in the top of it, a big bundle making her look like a pouter-pigeon.
"Mrs. McGibney," said Clara, turning to the right, to the left, still clinging, "I don't like to ask you, knowing you ain't got accommodations, but could you lend me the loan of your ironing-board for the night? I've flew the coop on him for good and all this time, and tomorrow will get a room for myself; but, if you can let me have your ironing-board, I can sleep on it here, on the floor tonight. This is my wash, which I brought with me, not to leave him so much as a stitch that's mine. Would it be too much to ask for your ironing-board?"
"Why, put down that heavy bundle, Clara!" cried Mrs. McGibney, having dabbed at the bundle, but missed it; "It's sopping wet!"
"Sopping wet!" repeated Mrs. McGibney, as if pleased. And she was pleased, for here was an occasion for her to bustle around the room. Very much did Mrs. McGibney like to bustle around a room. And Clara, by the door, sat at the table at the other end of which McGibney sat.
"It's wet because I just took it off the line, not to leave him anything of mine," said Clara. She moved uneasily in her chair. And she winked, as if in physical distress.
"I can't move my line, because the rain's made it too tight," said Mrs. McGibney, "but we can hang up the wash here to dry. Ironing-board? Ironing-board, how are you!" She pounced upon the huge turnip, seizing turnip-tops, plucking them apart. "No, but we can make you comfortable in the front room, Clara." Sheet spread out and wash in a mound. "And you've carried this with you all the way up the streets? I'll fix up lines." Two parallel lines, rigged up one from each end of the table to the opposite wall, sheets thrown over them; kitchen looking like Monday morning in your back yard. Room divided into three compartments: Clara in one, by the door; middle one, including the table, reserved for Mrs. McGibney; McGibney isolated in the third. Mrs. McGibney hung wash on the backs of chairs, and, forgetting how picture frames collect dust, jumped up at corners of picture frames, with more wash. Then she returned to her chair, which was in the middle compartment.
"Not bothering you too much," began timid Clara. An expression of pain suddenly shot across her broad face. "Oh," she breathed, "I guess that must be in the tintypes! Anyway, don't bother about me. Oh! Yes, I'm sure it's the tintypes. Tintypes has such sharp corners, even if there is pink paper frames to them. I had nowhere else to carry my belongings, which I'd not leave behind, as I have flew the coop on him."
Clara stuck one foot out and lifted her skirt somewhat. Untied a handkerchief from somewhere, though I have heard that the material is usually more elastic -- never mind; in a most matter-of-fact way, Clara untied the handkerchief. As if it were the most natural thing in the world to do, and very serious about it, she delved and drew forth an alarm clock, a comb, shoe-strings, a looking-glass, a tea strainer, a box of matches, the tintypes --
"It was the tintypes!" cried Clara. "I knew, because they got such sharp corners and was sticking me, all the way over, most every step I took."
Mrs. McGibney and McGibney, who drew his sheet aside, stared at the astonishing collection on the table and then laughed heartily. Clara, looking calm and unintelligent, drew forth a can of baking powder. Nothing to laugh at she could see, but the others seemed amused, so she smiled sympathetically with them.
"Yes," said Clara, no longer timid, for it was her way to be awkward at first and then feel as much at home as anybody, "I've flew the coop on him forever. I've said I meant it before, but this time I do mean it. And he can be so nice when he wants to be. You know that yourself, Mrs. McGibney."
"He always seemed a perfect little gentleman whenever I saw him," declared Mrs. McGibney.
"It's a shame you two can't get along better!" was heard from behind McGibney's sheet. "I've always found Tommy all right."
And Clara exclaimed: "He's the nicest little man in the world! This time I have flew the coop on him forever." She smiled at her sheet, so that no one within hearing should be depressed, just because she had troubles.
"I don't know!" said Clara, with her broad, slow smile, "it's pretty hard for a woman to come home from her day's work, and find the man stretched on the floor before her sleeping it off. Isn't it?" she asked, as if by no means sure and wishing to hear what others thought.
From behind two sheets: "It certainly is hard!"
Rumbling up over McGibney's sheet: "You hadn't ought to put up with it! It is hard!"
"Isn't it!" cried Clara, as if crying. "There, I was right, after all! I thought, myself, it was hard, and here's others thinks the same. And then, when you're getting along nice, both working and laying by a little, and going to buy the brass lamp in Mason's window, and get a whole half-ton of coal instead of by the bag, which is robbery, and then he goes out to change the savings into one big bill which you'd never be tempted to break, and comes back in the morning without one cent--" Clara paused. She would not like to be ridiculed for regarding trifles too seriously. "I don't think he does right by me--does he?"
Both sheets agitated. Over both sheets: "He certainly didn't do right by you!"
"Does he!" cried Clara, almost excited, also triumphant, hearing her own suspicions verified.
"He oughter be ashamed of hisself!" rumbled McGibney.
Clara looked up, and there was a slow heavy frown, instead of a slow heavy smile.
"There's worse than him!" she said sharply.
"I'll never speak to him again!" declared Mrs. McGibney.
"You might speak to worse, Mrs. McGibney. I'm sure he always spoke most kind of you -- "
"How could he speak otherwise of me?" demanded Mrs. McGibney in quick anger.
"Now! Now! Now!" rumbled McGibney, thrusting his sheet aside and looking warningly at his wife.
"Not making you a sharp answer, Mrs. McGibney," pursued thick, slow, heavy Clara. "He never said nothing but kind words of you. There's lots worse than him, and he was always a good husband to me, excepting when he was bad, and I hope I'll never lay my two eyes onto him again."
And Mrs. McGibney looked at the McGibney sheet as if to say, "You'd best always keep quiet!" and her resentment was over, for she was fond of Clara and had known her many years.
"I'll get a pint of beer," said McGibney. "Can I leave youse two without there being a clinch? You like a little ale in it, don't you, Clara?"
"Don't never mind me!" said Clara restlessly. "I just remember I left the gas burning and him sleeping his buns off. Do you think the gas would go out and then start up again and not burning? I've heard tell of such cases. Not meaning to go back to him, maybe I'd better go back and turn the gas out."
"Do go back, Clara!" urged Mrs. McGibney, feeling through the sheet for Clara's hand and impulsively seizing Clara's nose, trying again for the hand, closing fingers upon Clara's ear, Clara leaning over, with head near her knees, "Give him another chance. A wife's place is at home. Don't mind what others tell you--your husband is dearer to you than all the rest of the world. Go back and make him promise to do better."
"I don't wish him no harm," said Clara, hesitatingly. "This time I've flew the coop on him forever, even if he is the nicest little man in the world when he had a mind to be -- if I thought the gas would go out on him, I might go back and turn down the gas, anyway."
Oh, then, here was a fine chance for Mrs. McGibney to bustle. Down came everything on the lines, as if it were Monday night in the back yard. Down came everything from the backs of chairs and from picture frames. Back into a bundle with everything! Big white turnip again, loose, sprawling turnip-tops.
"I might try him again for a week, anyway," decided Clara. Out and away and back home with her big white turnip and its pouter-pigeon effect, too bulky for her arms to go around, her chin lost in fluttering turnip-tops; back home with bundle, alarm clock, looking-glass, box of baking powder, and tintypes taken one almost impossible happy day at Coney Island.
An evening or two later. McGibney out for a walk. Mrs. McGibney up to her elbows in the washing that had driven him out, for, if he had remained in, he would have had to carry boilers of water to the stove from the sink in the hall. So McGibney had said, "Marietta, I ain't getting fresh air enough. I don't sleep good unless I take a little walk in the evening." Mrs. McGibney had to fill the boiler one dishpanful at a time and that was satisfactory to McGibney.
Rap on the door. Mrs. McGibney quickly concealed socks with holes in them and turned to the door. Vain little Mrs. McGibney! She paused to rummage through the wash until she found curtains. They were very fine lace curtains. The very fine curtains were placed where a caller would surely see them and note how very fine they were. Then Mrs. McGibney's hand slid around and around on the door knob, hand slippery with soap-suds, until the slipperiness wore off and she could open the door. She exclaimed: "Why, Tommy! Come right in." The "nicest little man in the world" was an uneasy, squirming, twisting, little man; bald-headed; Hebraic nose like a number six inclining at forty-five degrees; chin with a dimple looking like a bit gouged out of it; very neat; fussy. And a very polite little man, scraping, bowing, grinning.
"Sit down, Tommy. You won't have much room to stir. The old man is out, but will be back almost any minute. Sit down, but first I'll trouble you to fill the boiler for me, if you don't mind. How is Clara?"
Tommy seemed to scrape and bow to the boiler, before lifting it, seemed to scrape with his right foot and bow to the wash-tub as he passed it and went scraping and bowing down to the sink, filled the boiler, came back with it, set it on the stove and stood grinning, prepared to scrape and bow, if given half a chance to, until invited again to sit down.
"My!" said Mrs. McGibney, "The wash does gather on one so!"
Tommy opened his eyes wide and wrinkled his forehead to express profoundest sympathy. Not only with eyes and forehead, but with elbows, feet, knees and hands, it was his way to show how very attentively he listened to anyone speaking to him; ready to laugh heartedly at anything he might be expected to smile at; equally ready to commiserate with anybody.
"Are you feeling pretty well?" -- soap dabbed on a McGibney shirt. "How is -- ," laundry-brush up and down where the soap was, which was at elbows; McGibney would lean on elbows; " -- Clara? Is she -- ," up and down with the shirt on the washboard, " -- feeling pretty -- ," wringing out and dropping shirt on pile, on a newspaper, " -- well?" Pile too high and toppling over, top pieces falling on the floor outside the newspaper. Not a speck on them, but rubbing over for them, anyway.
"Oh, yes, ma'am. Clara is very well. I have left her."
"You've what? You've left her?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am!" said Tommy, head bobbing, shoulders, arms, knees, all of him bobbing. "I called to see would you keep these tintypes for me? I'm going to Maddy-gascar, where I hear there's openings."
"Why, Tommy, what's the matter?"
"She don't keep the house picked up -- not saying a word against her," answered Tommy. "These tintypes is mine, and she can have everything else; but these is mine, and it was my money paid for them down to Coney Island, me and her in them, and all I got in the world to care about, and will you keep them for me till I can send for them from Maddy-gascar?"
"Why, of course I'll do that, Tommy; but you know you'd never do such a thing as leave Clara. That would be very wrong of you."
"Oh, yes, indeed, ma'am, very wrong of me! Not saying one word against her, she lies in bed all day and won't so much as do any sweeping. There's never any cooking, and I'm tired to death of the delicatessens and rather go to Maddy-gascar and eat spiders, me going into the spider-web industry there. She don't do no wash like you, Mrs. McGibney, but just rinses out in cold water. She's so lazy she washes dishes by rubbing newspapers on them. That ain't so bad as when she does wash them; she washes clothes in the dish-pan and then washes dishes after them -- not that I'd say one word against her. So, would you mind the tintypes with her and me in them, ma'am? They're all I have to care about ma'am."
"Oh, now Tommy -- " But how could one possibly argue with Tommy? With eyes and forehead and elbows and knees, he would most emphatically agree with everything said to him.
"Your wife is a very good woman."
Of course she was! Best in the city! Best in the whole world! But would Mrs. McGibney care for the tintypes?
"It's very wrong of you, Tommy!"
Wrong? Shocking! Heartless! Wicked, shocking, heartless Tommy! Of course he was, and he admitted every word of it; but would Mrs. McGibney take care of the tintypes until he could send from "Maddy-gascar" for them?
Tommy left the tintypes on the mantelpiece, hoping he was disturbing nothing by so doing; imploring Mrs. McGibney not to bother with them if she thought they would take up too much room, begging her to throw them in the ashes or burn them, or jump on them if they should be the slightest annoyance to her; then away he went.
Back in five minutes. Well, after all, "Maddy-gascar" was pretty far away, and he had heard stories about the Esquimaux there, so he would take the tintypes back with him; Clara might wonder where they were. Five minutes later. Back again. Perhaps Mrs. McGibney had better not say anything to anyone about the tintype matter. Bowing, bobbing, scraping.
Oh, not a word would Mrs. McGibney say! Rest assured of that! Indeed, she had quite enough to do in attending to her own affairs. Mrs. McGibney promised to say nothing, and like a busy little housewife with too much to do to waste time gossiping, breathed not a word of it till McGibney came in.
"It's all Tommy's fault!" said McGibney.
"I'm afraid Clara is a good deal to blame," said Mrs. McGibney.
"Oh, yes, always stand up for the man, of course!"
"Oh, yes, take the woman's part every time, won't you?"
The next time the McGibneys saw Clara, there was no persuading her to go home. She had no home.
"Because," said Clara, "when we found there wasn't no use in our trying to get along together, we just broke up and gave away everything in the rooms and went down the stairs and down the stoop together. We didn't so much as say good-bye nor nothing; he went up the street and I went down."
"That's right!" declared McGibney. "When two people can't get along together, it's best for them to part, I say!"
"You say!" cried indignant Mrs. McGibney. And scornful Mrs. McGibney!
"Well, I'm entitled to speak, ain't I?" grumbled McGibney.
"No!" firmly. "Leastwise, not when you talk like that." She looked her scorn and continued:
"No, Clara, there's nobody dearer to any woman than her own husband." Looked at McGibney as if he were a pile of wash just toppled over into the ash-pan. "Your husband will be with you when others are far away." Looked at him as if he were two piles of wash toppled over into three ash-pans. "There ain't any luck in any such advice as he's giving you. I know how I love my own dear husband, and you know you're the same, and you'll find what the world is when you're alone in it." Glared her indignation, scorn, contempt for McGibney, who mumbled, with an air of sagacity, astonishing to himself:
"Ain't wimmen the queer things, though!"
"I've flown the coop on him forever!" said Clara, with her broad, amiable, unintelligible smile. "I got a little hall room for myself, and -- me go back to him? Oh, my! Is that a step on the stairs? I wouldn't wish it, not for the world, for him to find me here! I never want to see the face of him again!" Clara looked around for a place to hide; ran to the door of the front room, and, with her hand on the knob, stood listening.
"'Tain't him! It's someone going upstairs," she said, smiling her relief. "I'll never go back to him."
A week later. Clara again. And Clara was out of breath.
"Oh, Mrs. McGibney, has the man come yet? I thought I saw him over on Ninth Avenue, and I run clear around the block for fear he'd be after me and track me here. I was just buying a bit of furniture and going to start rooms for myself, when I get a few bits together. And is it too much to ask you to store them for me till I get rooms, Mrs. McGibney?"
"We're only too glad--," began Mrs. McGibney.
"Oh, on your life, don't stir! It's him! He mustn't know where I am, or he might try to get me back! I don't never want to see him again!" whispered Clara. "On your life, not giving no orders, don't stir, or he'll know you're in and see me here."
There was a rap on the door.
"Oh, my! Look out -- would he hear us?"
Out in the hall: "McGibney! Anyone know where McGibney lives?"
"Oh!" breathed Clara. "That's all right. It's the furniture men."
And two men from a Ninth Avenue furniture store came in with a bureau. At least they set it in the hall, and turned to hasten down the stairs; paused to do a little better than that, and rolled the bureau half way into the room; turned to run back to the store, but, in turning, thrust back with their heels, and pushed the bureau quite into the room, which was conscientious enough delivering of goods to suit anybody.
"I bought that!" said Clara, proudly. The bureau was rolled into the front room, and she helped, her hands caressing more than pushing. There was no back to the bureau. The varnish was worn off. Some one had broken open the top drawer, splintering the wood on each side of the keyhole.
"It's mine!" said Clara, rapturously. "It took three days of hard scrubbing on hands and knees, for me to buy that. It'll be every bit as good as new, with a few boards nailed on the back, and a little oil rubbed over it."
The bureau was rolled to a corner of the front room, but Clara could not leave it, hovering over it, stooping and pulling out drawers, one by one, gazing delightedly at the disgraceful old wreck.
"Yes!" said Clara. "The other day when I was scrubbing the restaurant floor, there was customers looking at me, and they says, `Look at that poor woman! Ain't some got hard lots in life!' They needn't of pitied me! I was earning that! Just a few boards and a little oil is all it needs, and I'll get as fine a home together as anybody's got -- what's that?"
Clara ran to the kitchen to listen.
"I'm so afraid he'll find me that I do be hearing sounds all the time!" she said. "Ain't that bureau something elegant? I'll have my own bit of a home and never see him again." Then, as McGibney came out to the kitchen, shutting the front-room door behind him, she asked:
"Ain't that sounds of excitement in the street? Maybe there's a fire!" Clara ran to the front room and pretended to look out the window. She had heard nothing; it was only a pretext to get back to the disgraceful old wreck. On her hands and knees she had earned it.
"Ain't it nice!" said Clara, ecstatically. "I got my eye on a gilt-framed mirror I'll buy next week. It's nice, ain't it?"
Clara went away. Back in five minutes.
"I guess maybe I left my rolled-up apron in the front room." Whether she had or not, she stood looking at the bureau; turned to go; looked again; moved it to get a better light on it; stepped toward the door; paused and looked back.
"I bought that!"
And she went away, leaving McGibney standing in the front room. With an expression of deep melancholy he stood looking at the clumsy, broken bureau. He looked at his best furniture surrounding it: fragile, gilded chairs, on a big rug better than any other rug in the neighborhood; a sideboard with French plate glass in it; the very fine curtains. He was a log-shaped man, and not remarkably aesthetic, but his eye was sorely offended.
"Oh, well," said the melancholy, log-shaped man, "if us poor folks don't help each other, who will?" And the eye of Mrs. McGibney was equally offended; but Mrs. McGibney was not melancholy, for here was an opportunity for her to bustle. Out with the sofa and around in front of the bureau! The standing lamp placed where it would help to conceal the bureau. To hide the bureau was quite a problem, but Mrs. McGibney rejoiced in it. She bustled.
The next Saturday night Clara bought a wicker rocking-chair. Fearful-looking old rocking-chair! Interstices of it filled with white paint; all paint worn off wherever arms, legs, and backs had rested on it.
"It's nice, ain't it?" said Clara, dreamily, fondly.
McGibney sat straight, as if he had just dug through the oilcloth and feared reprimanding. Then he fell back limply.
"Yes, ve-ry," he said, without enthusiasm.
"It'll fill out your front room nice, while I'm waiting for it, won't it?"
"Oh, ye-es; it'll be ve-ry nice."
"And so comfortable!" said Clara. She sat in the chair and clumsily rocked it. "Try it, Mrs. McGibney! You ain't got no idea how comfortable it is. You sit in it, Mr. McGibney. Just lie back and push with your feet and see what a comfort it is. My! I can just see myself in it, me with my shoes off and resting after the day. Such comfort in it! I don't guess I ever made such a bargain before. But what do you think? That mirror I was so set on was bought! That's mean, ain't it? I was awfully provoked when I heard it. Just the same, I got my eye on a stove that's fine and well worth the four dollars they ask for it. It's all nickel in front, and only one of the bricks broken, and can be fixed with five cents' worth of fire-clay. It'll look nice in your front room, won't it?"
"Ve-ry nice!" answered distressed McGibney.
Clara got up to go. Had to sink back and take another rock in the chair, so comfortable after the day's work, and one's shoes off. It was indeed worth scrubbing for! Up to go. Well, just one more rock -- away back and slowly down again, you know. And you, too, look again at it! My! But what a bargain! And Clara bought it! On her own hands and knees she had earned it. Before going away, Clara lingered at the door. Perhaps they would laugh at her if she should take another rock, but she might look at the chair for another moment.
"Ain't this pretty oil-cloth you got!" Looking only at the chair.
"I must get a kitchen table like yours." Looking only at her own rocking-chair. She left McGibney staring gloomily, but saying sturdily:
"Us poor folks must help each other!"
Mrs. McGibney bustled.
It was a different Clara when seen again. Her face was flushed; the unintelligent but soft eyes were like eyes that could not see outward things, as if they were engaged in the unusual occupation of looking within at her own mind. Convince Clara that she had a grievance, and thick, obstinate brooding replaced uncomplaining stolidity.
By force of habit, Clara's slow amiable smile flickered, but here eyes were as if turned upon brooding within.
"Someone's did that a-purpose!" said Clara, slowly, deliberately, staring, seeming to see neither McGibney nor Mrs. McGibney. "Me that thought I didn't have an enemy in the world! Where would I get a enemy, me always kind to everybody? I had my heart set on that stove that only needed a little fire-clay. Someone's bought it, just to annoy me. When the mirror went, I didn't think nothing of it, but the stove too, is to annoy me. They won't make nothing by that, and bad luck will come upon them for it."
"Why, Clara, it only happened that way," reasoned Mrs. McGibney. "Nobody would go and be as mean as that to you, specially as they'd have to spend money."
"It's tricks done me!" declared sullen, dogged Clara. "Oh, there's somebody at the door. Maybe it's him after me. Say I'm not here, Mrs. McGibney! On your life, don't let him find me! I got to work for my living, anyway, and I'll work for myself and not divide with no man. Never--oh, I guess it's the kitchen table!"
"A kitchen table, Clara?" demanded McGibney. "Did you say a kitchen table?"
"Yes!" said Clara, brightening. "It's nice! You can put it in the center of your front room and maybe have ornaments onto it. It's a very nice kitchen table."
Door opened; a table thrust into the room; heels flying down the stairs.
"Don't you think it's nice?" Clara asked eagerly.
"Nice?" repeated honest McGibney. "Oh, is that the table?"
Scratched legs to it; two plain boards forming the top of it; heads of nails sunk in the boards, and once filled with putty; putty fallen out.
Clara shook it to show that the legs were firm. She would varnish it and cover it with a beautiful table cover she had seen in the five-and-ten-cent store.
"Next week," said brightened Clara, "it's going to be portcheers. They're chenille and grand for a doorway. No room ain't complete without portcheers." She again shook the table to show how firm the legs were and then went away.
McGibney and Mrs. McGibney stood out on the front stoop of the rust-stained frame house, looking at the tailor, who was putting up a new sign: "Pants pressed, ten cents. Full-dress suits cleaned and pressed, one dollar." McGibney thought of "full-dress" suits and looked down the street, at rags and dirt and ashes. It was Saturday night, and they were going over to Ninth Avenue, to Paddy's Market. Along came Clara, reaching the stoop, half up the stoop before she saw the McGibneys.
"Oh, is it you?" said Clara, with only the beginning of the slow, amiable smile.
"The portcheers is gone!" she said, without excitement. "My heart was set on them--the portcheers has gone. Would you say to me, now, that it only happens that way, Mrs. McGibney? Is there somebody playing mean, low tricks on me, or ain't there? Does three times in succession just happen? The portcheers was bought last Monday. Was that only accident? Oh, but I came around to see would you lend fifty cents? There's a hatrack I want. It's meant for a front hall, but the mirror in it is nice and there's a bit of marble to it, and it'll look nice in my rooms, where, to my longest day, no man'll ever hang his hat on it, unless you, Mr. McGibney come and see me. I don't like to ask you for fifty cents, Mrs. McGibney, and you just going to do your bit of marketing."
"There's fifty dollars in the bank that you can have any time you say so, Clara!" exclaimed McGibney.
"We'd rather have you owing it than have it in the bank, Clara," said Mrs. McGibney, "because the bank might bust."
Clara looked embarrassed. "Don't you want to come look at the hat-rack?" she asked. "It'll set your front room off fine!" The McGibneys pinched each other's arms, as if saying, "Oh, Lord, preserve us!" All three went down the street toward Ninth Avenue, Clara preferring one side of the street; then, thinking the other side was darker, choosing the darker side so that if they should meet "him" he might not recognize them.
Torches on wagons, wagonloads of oranges, twenty for twenty-five cents; pairs of rabbits slung on headless barrels, plump rabbits hanging outside, furry rags, shot to pieces, inside the barrels; piles of soup greens and mounds of cabbages' cries of "Everything cheap! Only a few more left!" Paddy's Market! Then the second-hand furniture store, with bed springs and pillows outside it; stoves with covers and legs in the ovens; rolls of matting; everything second-hand, even crockery and tea-kettles. Clara went into the store, Mrs. McGibney having paused to dig a thumb-nail into potatoes to see whether they were frozen, McGibney lingering with her, because he would have to carry the potatoes.
Clara came back to the sidewalk. Again her eyes were unseeing. "The hat-rack," said Clara, staring at nothing visible, "is sold." I ain't been gone from here ten minutes. It's sold. Everything I got my heart on is sold. I don't know who's doing it, but they'll never have a day's luck for it."
"But what could I do, lady?" The furniture man came cringing out to her. "You know you didn't leave no deposit. Would you like to look at some mats for your front hall? You didn't leave no deposit, so what could I do? I got a very heavy, rich and elegant mat here for your front hall; though the number of the house is onto it."
"Look here, Jack," said McGibney. "Who's buying up all the things this lady looks at? Is it any particular party?"
"Come to think of it, it is," answered the furniture man. "He's a gent took the unfurnished rooms upstairs. `What's he look like?' Well, he bows most polite every time my wife waits on him, and I see his head was some bald---"
"Wait for me!" said Clara. "Up on the next floor, you say? Just only wait one minute for me, Mrs. McGibney, and I'll only go to tell him what I think of this latest meanness he's playing me. Then I'll be through with him forever. This is the last trick he'll play me!" And she went to the stairs leading to the rooms over the store.
"It must be Tommy," said McGibney.
"And I always took him for such a perfect little gentleman," was Mrs. McGibney's comment.
"Just wait a minute!" Clara had said; but, after several minutes, McGibney became uneasy.
"I'll go up and see," he said. "It maybe ain't Tommy, and Clara may start mixing it with some stranger that got as much right to the furniture as her."
But it was Tommy, for, as the McGibneys went up the stairs, Clara's words, plainly audible, told them so.
"Never!" they heard -- "Was it my dying day, I'd never forgive you. It was too cruel, and I'll never forget it."
"Ain't she the stubborn thing!" snapped Mrs. McGibney.
"Did I live to be as old as Mickthusalem, I'd not forgive you for it! Oh, Tommy, how could you go up the street when I went down? To treat me so! Don't never mind nothing else; play me tricks and scold me and don't do right nor anywheres near right, but how could you do that? Oh, Tommy, how could you go up the street when I went down? Me expecting your feet after me every second, me looking back at the corner. You going up, and me going down! Rob me of them portcheers I see you got there, and play me tricks with that mirror, and do like you want to about all the hall-racks in the world, but you never come to find me when I was hiding away! Have the red portcheers and welcome to everything my heart was set on, but you never come to me when I was hiding, and how could I tell you where I was hiding away? Oh, I been so unhappy without you, Tommy; there's nobody got any sympathy for a deserted wife, but just a jeer at her and say, `No wonder he left, if you take one look at her big platter face' -- but my eyes is nice and my hair is lovely I was always told. Take away the red portcheers my heart was set on, Tommy, and I know you don't love me, but we belong to each other, just the same, but don't -- oh, if you ain't looking to break my heart -- don't never again go up a street when I'm going down!"
The McGibneys saw them standing in the center of the room, arms about each other, hands patting each other's shoulder-blades.
Tommy began to whimper. Arms mothered him. Steady tapping away on his shoulder-blades. Then Tommy blubbered outright:
"Oh, Clara, I been missable! I been missable something fierce, living alone! I ain't ate nor slept, but been working straight along and got a good job and doing pretty good, and so much as a day's work you'll never have to do. No! Not if it's your longest day!" A bow and a bob and a scrape, for he had discovered the McGibneys standing irresolute in the hall. He continued to blubber, and he continued to tap away at shoulder-blades.
"But why didn't you come to find me, Tommy, when I was hiding away? I told the Finnigans and everybody, so you must've known where I was hiding away!"
Clara would not have seen a hundred McGibneys. Clara was tapping most mightily with both hands upon shoulder-blades.
"On account of the brass lamp!" blubbered Tommy. A bob and a bow and a scrape! "I done fierce bad spending our savings that was for the brass lamp, and I couldn't go find you where you was hid till I had that here, in this new home, for you to see, and be complete, and then you'd know I was sorry and it might prove I was going to do right. But it wasn't tricks, Clara! Honest, it wasn't tricks! Me standing on the other side of the street, and looking in the store window at you, and no overcoat, because I needed every cent to show I was going to do right. And you look at the mirror. I say, `Clara likes that mirror. Then Clara must have that!' Me standing with my toes all pinched up, as my shoes is bad, and you looking at them red portcheers. Then Clara must have red portcheers! Me jumping up and down, like I'm froze, but standing there every Saturday night to see what Clara likes and Clara's going to have that!" Bobbing, bowing, and scraping toward the hall, from Tommy; from Clara, rather a look of resentment toward the hall.
A final tap on shoulder-blades and:
"Why, come in and see where we're going to start up again!"
"Ain't it strange!" said calm, stolid Clara. "He's found me, after all!"
And from all four of them, and all four meaning every word:
"In all the world, there ain't nobody like your own! If it ain't but big enough to hold a trunk, there's no place like your own!"
"And," said supremely happy Tommy and Clara, "Now we'll celebrate!"
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