Interlude (Cohen)

Interlude  (1924) 
by Octavus Roy Cohen

Extracted from Everybody magazine, November 1924, pp. 59-76. Accompanying illustrations by Harry T. Fisk omitted.


When a Calm Business Girl Marries a Jazz King, Life Is Certain to Be Speeded Up in at Least One Household

By Octavus Roy Cohen

IT WAS no cause for wonderment that Ellen Shannon should fall in love. For twenty-three years she had had the instinct and the capacity, but it so happened that until Conrad Ellison slouched into her little music store and immodestly catalogued his fitness for the position which she had to offer, she had come in contact with the male sex only in the most casual and impersonal manner.

Ellen Shannon was not beautiful; she was not, perhaps, even pretty. Rather she was of that type of physical and personal attractiveness which is most aptly described as “sweet.” She was small and demure and very simple in her manner of dress, and there was an air of quiet, expectant wistfulness in her big brown eyes as though she knew that life had withheld much from her; withheld unjustly, for when the capacity for love has been implanted so deeply in a woman it is mockery that she should be denied the opportunity to exercise it.

It was not her nature consciously to attract men. As a matter of fact she was rather afraid of them; was more or less ill at ease in their society. She was sufficiently attractive to have drawn them to her had she tried, but she could not try—and would not have known what to do with them had they responded to deliberate allure on her part. Always she had known the impulse to mother a man, to feel that she was indispensable—and the jaunty, debonair self-sufficiency of the young male of her generation somewhat appalled her.

It was perhaps the desperation in Conrad Ellison's eyes which first riveted her attention. She knew afterward that she would in all probability have hired him even had he been less perfectly fitted to the job which she had to offer. She saw the grim finger of physical want poked mockingly through his air of indifference, understood the appeal in his gray eyes, caught the fear and the hope in his theatric smile. … It required a genuine effort on her part to be businesslike.

“You can play the piano?”

“I'll say!”

“And sing?”

“Well, I ain't any John Steel, maybe, but I throw a pretty wicked warble.”

Egotistic? She wasn't sure. But she was sure that he was very pathetically trying to impress upon her that he was neither needy nor seedy when her quiet, observant eyes told her that he was both.

Even at that she did not know the extent cf his necessity: she did not know, for instance, that he had not eaten satisfactorily for three days, or that he was so short of funds that he had selected foods which were calculated to destroy his appetite rather than to satisfy it; nor did she know that the snappy gray hat, the chamois gloves and the whippy little cane represent a hunger sacrifice on the altar of the God of Appearances. It was Ellison's shibboleth that nothing succeeds like success and that there is no employment for the down-and-outer. He fondly believed that the world was fooled—particularly this sweet-faced girl; and he retained that delusion because he could not read the mother light in her eyes nor sense the maternal instinct beneath her forcedly impersonal exterior.

THE job,” she went on softly, “isn't very wonderful. I have a small place here, just a little community music store. But I do need a young man with personality who can play jazz music and sing jazz lyrics. Do you think you can?”

His broad mouth expanded into a queerly attractive smile. “Try me!” he invited, and at her nod crossed to the upright piano near the sheet-music counter.

She found him peculiarly interesting. He was tall—a full inch more than six feet—and he walked with a loose-jointed, not ungraceful, lurch. His clothes, scarcely showing their touches of careful darning, were the last word in Rialto snap: a three-button-coat which fitted his long, slender body; trousers of extreme English type which left one with no illusions as to the lack of flesh on his inordinately long legs. His smile was engaging, almost too much so: it was the smile of a man who knows that he has personality and makes the mistake of abandoning naturalness in the desperate attempt to stretch that quality beyond its limit.

He selected at random a new number which bore the enlightening title “My Big Jazz Baby Is Home Again,” shrugged his narrow shoulders as he adjusted himself comfortably on the bench; then his long, slender fingers rippled the keys.

He played softly, with fine disregard of the print notes of the bass clef, inserting instead a toe-tickling improvisation. And then, as he reached the chorus, his touch became firmer and surer and louder, he flung back his head with a gesture which tossed his overlong, sandy hair from his forehead as he burst forth into the somewhat indiscreet words with a nasal tenor which was not entirely lacking in sweetness.

The spirit of the thing seemed to pervade him; he lost himself in the trivial music; his long, lithe body swayed and writhed with enthusiasm, his fingers discovered new and amazing twists and turns and runs, he crashed into unorthodox full-stops, uncalled-for crescendos and astonishing diminuendos. Ellen watched fascinatedly. The man had completely forgotten himself, just as a finished musician forgets himself in the rendition of a classic. It was plain to her that this was a classic to Conrad Ellison—it was his music. He smiled as he sang, smiled with an enjoyment which was not assumed. He was the spirit of jazz.

He slopped abruptly on an effective, tantalizing false note and as he swung from the keyboard to face her she saw the look of genuine pleasure leave his face and in its stead come the forced, appealing smile which said plainly as words: “I'm trying to make you believe I'd be doing you a favor by working here, but really I need the job. I'm hungry!”

What he actually said was: “Well, ain't I a darb?”

She nodded gravely. “That was very fine. I liked it.”

“I thought you would. I'm a syncopated lulu. Me and jazz were hatched from the same egg.” Then—as though he feared the actual test: “Do I land the posish?”

She experienced a distinct sense of embarrassment. “If you want it—” The look of gratitude which lighted his not unhandsome but rather vapid countenance, rewarded her instantly. “Of course,” she hastened to add, “the salary is small.”

“Money and me are enemies. Three squares is all I ask.”

“I can pay only eighteen dollars a week.”

“I'll take it.” He leaned forward with an eagerness she couldn't have resisted. “Shall we call it a deal?”


His hand shot forward. “Shake!”

Her soft little hand was lost in his: a new and delicious thrill pervaded her body and she withdrew her hand in sudden panic. She spoke to hide the confusion which confounded and amazed her.

“When can you start, Mr. Ellison?”

“Now,” he grinned, “or a little bit sooner. There's no time like the present except yesterday.”

THUS it was that Conrad Ellison came into the quiet, manless life of Ellen Shannon; it was thus that the little blind archer sped an arrow which pierced her heart and remained fixed there for all time; it was thus that, for the first time in her life, a man, a young personable man—was cast in daily contact with her; and it would have been strange indeed if the long dormant love instinct within the girl should not have been brought to life.

She did not fall in love with him at once; nor did she realize then, or ever, that it was propinquity which did the work. Ellen, unfortunately, had no standards by which to gauge a man: she had known scores of them, but the acquaintanceships had been dully impersonal. She knew men as members of the human race who wore pants and were, as a rule, pleasant customers.

It does not matter, either, that she would in all probability not have fallen in love with Ellison had she been a girl of many masculine friendships, for their personalities were as utterly dissimilar as their caste, their tastes and their early environment. She saw him at first only through her own eyes; eyes blinded by the birth pangs of her first love, a perspective distorted out of all proportion. She did not see his weaknesses: did not know that he was a man of few thoughts—and those of no considerable depth—or that he was vain and weak and vapid. She did know that he had few vices, and certainly he was considerate. He was courteous, too, in the twisted manner of the modern younger generation: flip and easy and familiar. But chiefly she did not see his shallow vanity.

His view of her was far less distorted than hers of him. He catalogued her immediately as a dead one, which, in his vocabulary, meant that she was a nice kid and straight as an arrow, but pepless. And pep, in the life of Conrad Ellison and his kind, is the cardinal virtue. Once he informed himself that she was “nice but dumb,” then quickly altered that verdict. “Nope, she ain't dumb. Real clever kid—uses her noodle for something besides hanging bobbed hair on. Class to that kid; but slower than an Arkansas freight.”

As a matter of fact, Ellison stood somewhat in awe of her. She had education, or so her four years at high school seemed to him: and there was an indefinable quality about her which he could not fathom. She was different from the run of flappers he knew: the slang of the moment came awkwardly from her lips—when, indeed, it came at all; and he could not understand the wistful, speculative light in her eyes.

But he did know that she was a clever little business woman, and he realized early in the game that he wasn't injuring that business a particle. Yet even he would have been surprised had he known what an excellent investment he was proving. Only Ellen knew that: learned of it as she worked over her books at night and saw that her sheet-music trade had doubled in a month.

It was that blatant personality of his. The neighborhood flappers flocked to the store, and they hovered over his piano. He was always pleasant to a pretty girl: seemed to take it for granted that she regarded him with undiluted approval. And it was his very cocksureness which appealed to them: he kidded with them on their own terms, knew their language, and apparently knew just how far he could go.

ELLISON rapidly became the rage with the young girls of the neighborhood. And they were the type that buys popular music: it became their habit to do all of their buying from him. Within six weeks Ellen was trebling her orders: she voluntarily raised his salary from eighteen to twenty-five dollars a week. She loved the smile with which he thanked her.

“Putting it over, ain't we?” (She wished he would call her “Kid” sometimes.) “You and I make a pretty snappy team, eh?”

“We're doing wonderfully,” she agreed, getting a secret thrill from the use of the word “we.” “I only hope it will continue.”

“Continue? It won't. It'll get better. I'm the original little business getter in this line. I've got those flappers eating out of my hand and calling me their sweet papa. They're my meat: I was born to handle 'em. Why, listen! There ain't no tellin' where you and I can take this business to. You'll be opening a Broadway shop inside of a year.”

She smiled gravely. “Perhaps.”

“There ain't no perhaps about it. Why, say! Ellen, you and I can knock 'em dead. Give us a chance and watch our smoke.”

It was Saturday night when that conversation occurred. Immediately thereafter they busied themselves closing up the shop. And as she transferred the money from the cash drawer to the little wall safe, he watched her speculatively, and in that moment an idea was born.

Conrad Ellison was a graduate of the school of sophistication: he was an advocate of the doctrine of the soft spot. And tonight it occurred to him very suddenly that Ellen Shannon represented his soft spot.

He had known that she was in love with him long before she permitted herself the luxury of such an admission. The knowledge astonished him until he thought it over soberly and reached the inevitable conclusion that he was just naturally irresistible. They all flopped for him sooner or later. But until tonight he had never regarded the phenomenon with more than amusement. She just simply wasn't his type: he had vaguely fancied himself married to an addle-pated young thing, living in a two-room apartment and eating in downtown restaurants when times were good and munching delicatessen at home when they weren't.

Even now the thought of a comfortable home made no particular appeal to him. He had never had one and therefore did not yearn. But only recently he had suffered through a period of financial stringency which frightened him. For the first time in his life he had known what it was to be genuinely hungry: actually counting pennies. He had never had much money—once he had had nearly a hundred dollars cash; once, and only once. It was not therefore unnatural that Ellen's little business appealed to him as a Gibraltar of financial certainty.

“Golly!” he reflected as the idea struck home. "Her husband would surely have one lead-pipe cinch.”

HE INVITED her to supper with him that night and they went to a very famous Broadway delicatessen which caters to a peculiarly picturesque midnight crowd: vaudeville artists, theatrical handy men, racetrack bookmakers and racetrack touts, chorus girls, gamblers, confidence men, with an occasional Rialto magnate and a more occasional sober-faced business man who knows instinctively that he has entered a place where he does not belong and yet does not know how to retreat.

The crowd in this delicatessen between eleven at night and two in the morning is there for the sober purpose of eating; but the shop has become a rendezvous, occupying a niche all its own. It is loud and blatant—and colorful. It's “Hello, Bill! Was you stung heavy on the fourth race today?” and “You Gertie, whenja get in?” and “Oh, me? I'm goin' on the Sunday night concert next week,” and “Hey, Ferd! 'Nother one of them turkey legs.” There is an atmosphere of easy-going familiarity and something of fraternity and the food is exceedingly good. But as Ellen entered the front door she knew that she did not belong.

The effect on Ellison was exactly the reverse: he belonged there as surely as a fish belongs in water. He strolled in jauntily, hung hat and topcoat and cane on a rack, and was fortunate enough to find a little booth where he ordered Swiss cheese sandwiches with rye bread for both, and for himself a bottle of near beer.

Ellen watched him with interest. In this place he was sure of himself, instinctively at home. The rather brusque waiters accorded him the same respect which they exhibited toward those who belonged. It is small wonder that he appeared to Ellen Shannon that night as a very metropolitan and wonderful young man—and it is small wonder, too, that she accepted his proposal of marriage.

She was happy and embarrassed and horribly ill at ease as he reached across the onyx-topped table and imprisoned her fluttering hand between both of his. His eyes were shining eagerly and there was no doubting the fact that he was genuinely happy. Not unmindful of the material advantages offered by marriage to her, he was yet fond of the girl: she had befriended him when he needed a friend; she was of a quality hitherto foreign to him; she was fairly pretty and very sweet and if she looked decidedly out of place in this exotic and unnatural atmosphere which he adored, that was a fault which he fancied could be very easily rectified.

“Oh, kid!” he bubbled. “Ain't we gonna knock 'em dead? Ain't we gonna take the world by the tail an' swing it around? Ain't we just?”

“Yes.” Her cheeks were stained crimson. The whole thing seemed unreal and unnatural. Was this Ellen Shannon seated here in an unfamiliar atmosphere facing a man who belonged—and to whom she was engaged? a man who held her hand and talk blithely of a future together? She was in a daze; but she knew that she was very happy and once her eyes filled with tears at thought that she would no longer be lonely. It was that horrible loneliness which had hurt so badly: there had been no one to trouble himself over her welfare, no one to whom it had mattered whether she was well or ill; no one vitally interested in her or her life.

Now that was all changed. The face bent close to hers across the table struck her as being handsome; the shallow young man very much of a god. The starved heart of her reached out for the warmth and the affection for which she had always had the capacity—with never a chance for its indulgence. She wanted to break down and cry from sheer happiness.

He took her home, and in the vestibule of her boarding-house in the West Seventies, he took her in his arms and kissed her. Alone on the sidewalk, he shook his head wonderingly.

“Awful queer kid! You'd 'a' thought I was trying to murder her the way she kissed me. Gee! She's got a heap to learn.” He lighted a cigarette and strolled toward Columbus Avenue. “She's sweet, though. Make a swell little wife for yours truly. Darned if I ain't nuts about her.”

Ellen Shannon glimpsed the reflection of her flaming cheeks and knew a happiness keener than she had believed possible. That night, before dropping off to sleep, she prayed to be made worthy of the gangling piano player to whom she was engaged.

THE engagement marked an epoch in her life. She blossomed under this opportunity for love; but somehow she did not completely lose herself. The instinct of repression had been too strongly implanted during years of loneliness. She seemed afraid to give without stint; but her happiness was so dazzling that even in the intimacies of engagement she did not awaken to the fact that he was not her kind: she saw substance where there was but shadow of substance; brain where there was merely superficial cleverness; depth where there was only cheap glibness.

As for Conrad Ellison, it is possible that he loved the girl as sincerely as he could love any woman. His capacity for love was as limited as hers was limitless. Most of all he was thoughtless: he would not have wounded her intentionally, but Ellison did very few things intentionally: he was a creature of impulse: his chief emotion during those days was one of satisfaction—and of safety.

One day he turned away from the piano, his narrow face wreathed in disgust. “That new number is the bunk,” he derided. “Anybody could write a better one.”

She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Why don't you write a song, dear?”

“Write one? Gosh! I've written a half-dozen.”

“They must be wonderful! Why don't you publish them?”

He smiled in superior fashion as he patted her hand. “Tried. Nothing doing. Tin Pan Alley is a closed corporation. They've got men down there grinding 'em out to order. No chance for the outsider. An' my stuff's got 'em all beat. Say—like to hear one?”

“Would I?”

He settled himself comfortably and rolled into the opening chords. “This is called 'It Ain't Your Figure, Sweetie; It's the Lovin' Way You Have.' Listen. …”

Judged by present-day jazz standards, it was an excellent number. It contained all the tried and true musical trickery which has caused jazz to become an international mania: its lyric was grossly suggestive—poorly conceived and poorly executed—but it unquestionably was as good as the average song hit. Familiar as she was with popular music, Ellen sincerely believed that it was the best she had ever heard. It was as good as the majority, and the fact that he had written it completed her illusion.

“You mean to say you couldn't get that published?”


“That's unbelievable. I never heard a better one. Why, Con! I never dreamed you could do it. You're marvelous.”

“I'll say! But they don't give a guy a chance—down yonder. Stick this number into print an' it'll sell a million copies: easy. Say! Do you really like it?”

“I love it, dear: love it!”

“Oh, gosh! That sure sounds swelegant.” He flowered joyously under her praise.

It happened that she was sincere in everything she said, but mere sincerity made small difference to him. The essential thing was that she said it. He played the song again and yet again, but now she was not listening. She stood back from the piano, gazing affectionately at the swaying, loose-jointed figure; the tossing hair; the easy air of assurance. Blinded by love, she was sure that this man was a genius—a genius of jazz; and impulsively she came to him and put her arms around him, her soft cheek against his. He reached up his left hand and gently patted her.

“Honey,” she said softly, “we're going to publish that number.”

He shook his head slowly. “Not a chance, sweetness. When the Alley crowd sees you're on the outside they take darn good care that you keep on looking in.”

“I'm not thinking of that, dear. I have a little money. We're going to publish that song: you and I. We're going to see that it gets its chance.”

FOR a moment he sat motionless. Then, quite slowly, he rose and faced her. There was a queer, wondering light in his eyes.

“You mean you are going to publish my song? You, with your own money?”

She nodded. And then she found her reward in the radiance which lighted his face. He crushed her to him and in that brief instant he really loved her. She, snuggling tight against his bony frame, the breath almost crushed from her body, knew that this moment was worth everything.

Two months later her little music shop flashed a window display of “It Ain't Your Figure, Sweetie; It's the Lovin' Way You Have.” It was cheaply printed and the cover lithographing was vile. But to Con Ellison it was perfect: there across the top was the line he had written: “Conrad Ellison's Latest Smashing Song Hit.” In the lower right hand corner was a picture of himself. He forgot that the “Conellen Music Company—Publishers” was himself and Ellen; forgot that the thing was privately printed. Conrad Ellison saw only the good things of life: achievement, even of this sort, was meat and drink to him. He stood somewhat in awe of himself.

“Gee!” he reflected. “I'm a song writer now, sure 'nough.”

The number sold slowly. Con plugged it in their shop; plugged it without abashment. But very few of the other shops would handle it. It was good, they said, but not unusual: they were overloaded. A few of them consented to stock the number on consignment, and managed to sell a few copies. Con tried to interest the phonograph record manufacturers, but met with no success and little encouragement. Surveying the situation some time after publication, they realized that they would just about break even: just that and no more.

But both were happy. And both were unconvinced of his mediocrity. A second number was published: “My Big Blonde Baby Ain't Goin' Away No More.” This started a trifle more auspiciously than the first. And three weeks after its publication Ellen Shannon became Mrs. Con Ellison.

The ceremony was quiet; Ellen's realization that she was married was disturbing. She experienced anew the thrill which had come to her the night of their engagement. It was difficult to believe that this was herself, that she was married—and to a man whom she worshiped. He was very gentle and tender and sweet; no bride could have asked greater consideration from her husband.

Immediately after the ceremony she had a long and serious talk with him. She was a trifle embarrassed at their situation, and she explained to him that in becoming her husband he had automatically attained an equal partnership in the little music store. No more salary of twenty-five dollars a week: the thing was half his. He was obtrusively grateful. His feelings were very close to the surface and she took her happiness from the genuine quality of his gratitude, never suspecting that within a week the thing would have become a status to him, something which was to be taken for granted.

THEY moved into a little two-room-and-kitchenette apartment two blocks removed from the music store. They bought inexpensive but attractive furniture on the instalment plan. Then, for two weeks, Ellen luxuriated in home-making: the buying of little gewgaws and knickknacks here and there—a bit of imitation tapestry, a picture, two cloisonné vases (which he thought were absurd), a piano lamp: a score and one of little things which converted the stuffy apartment into a home. It was so thrillingly different to her now—this home-making for a man, for her husband.

For about a month he enjoyed it. It was doggoned nice, he reflected, to come home of an evening to the cozy apartment whither she had preceded him; to sit down to a well-prepared dinner, to lounge around afterward and chat with her of things in general, but more particularly of himself. That was the one subject of which he never tired—and her idolatry of him grew with the passing of each day. His ego fed voraciously upon her uncompromising belief in his greatness: the little faults and frailties which cropped out in the early days of their married life she attributed to the stirrings of genius within him. Her belief in him was little short of superb, and so it was that less than six months after their marriage the Conellen Music Company published the third of his songs—a lilting, jazzy, whistly number with a broad lyric and the title, “I Need a New Sweet Mama for Saturday Night.”

Experience had taught Ellen more than a trifle. The printing and lithographing of the “Sweet Mama” number cost less and was better and more effective. They made a window of it and managed to place consignments in a half-dozen of the small Broadway music shops. By some unaccountable miracle the thing caught on. Con Ellison heard people whistling it on the streets: on those rare occasions he with difficulty suppressed the desire to rush up to them and proclaim himself the composer. He took to hanging around the shops which had stocked his number and volunteering to play and sing it for casual customers.

Then Ellen went in person to one of the largest of the phonograph record manufacturers. The day following, the chief executive delivered her and Con to the mercies of his musical expert. In a narrow little room, Con banged out the number on the piano and sang it with all the power at his command. It was exceedingly effective and when they left the place they carried with them a check for two hundred dollars and a copy of the contract they had signed giving over to the company all mechanical rights to this particular number.

It was issued a short time later as the reverse side of a record which had taken Broadway by storm. That was a regular practice of the big companies—to put an unknown cheap number on the reverse side of a hit. This enabled them to strike a balance in the cost of the record—a small price for the unknown thing as against the excessive royalty they were called upon to pay for the proven success.

The record sold voluminously on the reputation of the known number. Both numbers on the record were orchestra selections—both rendered by one of the most popular dance orchestras of the day. The orchestration of the “Sweet Mama” song had been cleverly done. But the proven hit, by one of the sure-fire Tin Pan Alley song writers and published by one of the largest and most influential of the music houses, failed to hold its own against “I Need a New Sweet Mama for Saturday Night.”

WITHIN a month the “Sweet Mama” foxtrot had duplicated the amazing success of “Dardanella” and “Poor Butterfly” of bygone days. The record sold as fast as the factory could turn it out. It was whistled everywhere; dance orchestras played it; Tin Pan Alley sat up and took notice. It desired to know who this man Ellison was, and where he was, and why he never before had been heard from. But even before it pressed its inquiries the phonograph company sent for Con Ellison and paid him five hundred dollars to make a vocal record of the number.

It was typical of the man that he did not experience the faintest qualm of stage fright. It was typical, too, that he took his success for granted. From a financial standpoint they did well. It was plain that by the time the financial returns were in—and recognizing the illimitable handicaps attendant upon their lack of distribution facilities—they would have cleared more than five thousand dollars on the number. It was stupendous, amazing, glorious—and Ellen experienced for the third time in a year a happiness which few people know even once.

In the first place Con acquired a beatitude which surpassed understanding. For the first time in his life he was a celebrity, a personage. He had business cards engraved: “Conrad Ellison—Composer of 'I Need a New Sweet Mama for Saturday Night.'” He basked contentedly in the unstinted adulation of his wife; but it was not long before that palled slightly. Con was instinctively of the Rialto. He spent more than four hundred dollars for a new outfit of clothes, the first fine clothes he had ever owned. Ellen gasped when she saw him in them: they were not at all what she would have selected. They shrieked at the casual observer, they commanded attention; and a puzzled frown creased her forehead as she noticed that they became him better than quieter clothes would have done.

One night Con went alone to the famous Broadway delicatessen where he had proposed marriage to Ellen. It became bruited about that the author of the “Sweet Mama” song was in the place. Almost instantly he became the center of a vociferously admiring group. He expanded gloriously under the broadside of crude flattery: he could no more resist than he could have vaulted the Woolworth Building. It was his evening of supreme happiness.

And that night he did not get home until four, o'clock in the morning. He had the grace to be somewhat abashed as he slunk into the tiny apartment, and he was sincerely grateful that Ellen asked no questions. But the next morning he fled from the reproachful look in her fine, quiet eyes and he vowed that he had attended his last wild party.

He was a creature of good intentions, but the second night after that he convinced himself that it would be bad business to refuse the invitation. Several of the most successful song writers in the country were included in the party list. Some one suggested that he bring along the little wife, but he laughed the suggestion aside. He knew that Ellen was a dead one where wild parties were concerned; not that she wasn't a good sport and all that, but she certainly didn't fit into this gay life. Not Ellen: she was a home body.

He was not dishonest with her. It was not Conrad Ellison's way to be dishonest with any one except himself. He telephoned and told her frankly that he had been invited to a party with several of the country's most successful song writers and that he knew it would be good business to accept.

She caught the nuance of pleading in his voice and bade him go and have a go time. He told her that e was a darned good kid and rushed away to join the others, proclaiming loudly that he had the swellest little wife in the world—and then he promptly forgot her. Nothing vicious about him, nothing bad: he was simply weak and vain and swept from all semblance of balance by this tidal wave of success and popularity.

WEEKS passed. Wild parties, lasting until early morning, became the rule rather than the exception. He no longer asked her permission: he eased his own conscience by believing that his attendance was necessary to their future. He spoke of the midnight revelry only occasionally when she was present, and then, with ridiculous and exquisite naïveté, generally prefaced his remarks with: “Now, a man of my prominence in the song-writing world ….” On these occasions she tried to conceal from him the wistfulness of her heart: she trusted him; it was such a pity, though, that he was so weak in the face of praise. It was to him what whisky is to the dipsomaniac. And she—well, she couldn't praise him fulsomely as these shallow, insincere, success-worshiping friends did: she knew him too well, her love for him was too deep. She felt that he should know how she felt—and on the few occasions now when she essayed to tell him how great he was, she could see plainly that her praise was pallid by comparison with the boisterous enthusiasm of his new friends.

She did not begrudge him his success: she was more genuinely proud of him than he was of himself, but she was intensely jealous of its effect upon her happiness. No longer did she work around her little apartment with a song on her lips: the music shop which had meant so much to her for so many years, lost much of its significance.

She felt that they were drifting apart: she recognized the futility of any effort she might make to hold him. She loved him none the less, but the fact was driven home to her that they were cast in different molds: she saw his weaknesses now, where before she had seen only his strength. The veil was removed from before her eyes. It made no slightest difference in the quality of her love; that was something which had come to her late and all-powerfully: nothing that he could ever do could cause it to waver. But she found herself wishing that his success would pass before it was too late, and that she would have him to herself again. She prayed for that—and hated herself for her prayer.

With the passing of the weeks he was less and less in her society, and he did not bother with explanations. Once or twice he asked half-heartedly if she would join them, and seemed to be piqued at her refusal. On one somber occasion she tried it and proved a wet blanket. That was her last attempt. She could not vie with the overpainted, blasé, strident-voiced females or tolerate the easy, blatant familiarity of the men. They were coarse and she hated coarseness, yet she was amazed to see that her husband blended perfectly: it was his crowd, his type; and he was in a seventh heaven of delight in the delusion that he was being a regular fellow.

And so he attended his parties, consorted with his new-found friends, basked in the spotlight, wallowed in shallow flattery—while she directed the business and struggled to renew for him the attractiveness of the little apartment. She was a lonely girl during those days—fearfully lonely; more lonely than she had ever been in the barren years before she experienced the flowering of love. She hated herself for criticizing him; and it was not until the day he told her of his new number that her eyes were fully opened to the horrid potentialities of the situation.

HIS forced geniality at dinner warned her: that, and the fact that he was obviously ill at ease. He was unnaturally good-humored; he called her Old Kid and Sweet Mama. But she was not fooled. A foreboding of evil was with her, and it became certainty when, after dinner, he took her on his knee and snuggled his head against her breast—for all the world like a big, naughty boy who anticipates punishment.

“My Old Lady feeling peppy tonight?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Be kind of glad to hear some good news about her Daddy?”

“Always, sweetheart: you know that.”

“Sure I do, Kid—sure I do. That's why I didn't tell you anything beforehand: saved it all up for one grand big surprise.”

He paused awkwardly, and then: “It's about 'My Snugglin' Baby.'”

He felt her figure grow tense under his touch: “My Snugglin' Baby” was his supreme effort. It was a number which contained all the elements of a sure-fire hit; they expected great things of the song, in view of Con's new reputation and the greater ease with which distribution would be effected. Too, they had expected that it would put the Conellen Music Company firmly on its feet. Ellen did not know what was coming, but she was afraid. At last she voiced the query:

“What about it, dear?”

He drew from his pocket a long, legal-looking document and flipped it open before her eyes. “Read that, hon. Ain't it the tomcat's whiskers?”

She read. After all, it was unnecessary to read far beyond the preamble. The words blurred before her eyes, but the portent stood out starkly.

It was a formal contract between the Exclusive Music Publishing Company, party of the first part, and Conrad Ellison, Composer and Lyricist, party of the second part, for a term of ten years from the date of execution. It gave to the Exclusive sole rights to all musical compositions of any sort from the pen of Conrad Ellison, but did not bind them to publish. Save for the fact that the terms were fair and that it carried an advance cash payment of five thousand dollars, it was just such a contract as a man of Con's lack of perception would have signed. It was a strictly unilateral document: they gambled five thousand dollars on him—and they sewed him hand and foot. He guaranteed to deliver for their approval a minimum of eight numbers a year: in the event of rejection by them the numbers would represent so much deadwood.

But it was not that which cut Ellen to the quick: it was the fact that the document which he held before her eyes represented a barrier between them. It was incontrovertible evidence of bad faith on his part. Without argument, without consultation, he had destroyed the Conellen Music Company. Nor was it the destruction of that sentimental dream of hers—their company publishing his song successes—so much as it was the cowardly way in which he had proceeded. And it was cowardly: the transaction must have been in process of negotiation for some time—the contract itself attested that fact.

ELLEN knew that her sound business sense would have prompted her to accede to the idea of an association with the Exclusive had she been consulted. It was a tremendously big and successful house, with a great executive at its head, and enormous resources for plugging potential hits. Of course she would have insisted upon a better contract. But all of those details paled into nothingness before the hurt he had inflicted upon her by failure to consult. That was the barb that stung beyond belief.

She returned it to him without a word, slipped from his knee and walked quietly into the bedroom. He stared after her in amazement, his lower jaw drooping. Doggone Ellen! He never could understand her. Why hadn't she created a scene? He had been all primed for that. But just to walk away—no recrimination, no bitterness—confound it! It wasn't fair. He deluded himself into believing that he was a very much injured young man. He flung across the room after her and opened the bedroom door. She was standing at the window, staring down at the seethe of traffic in the street below, and sight of her pathetic little figure merely fanned to fury the flames of his unreasoning resentment.

“Well,” he snapped, “I guess you're sore.”

She answered quietly, without turning. “No, Con; I'm not sore. Just hurt.”

“Oh! Hurt, is it? Well, it seems to me that when a guy has just put a big deal across his wife ought to enthuse a little. Here I come home all pepped up an' flash a big contract on you an' you run off by yourself an' say you're hurt. What right have you got to be hurt, anyway? I guess I'm the one that ought to be hurt. I guess I got a right to expect my wife to be glad I'm successful.”

He was lashing himself into a very righteous anger. The girl heard the words with a startling lack of emotion: beneath the pain of it there was nothing; a void had come into her life; she was numb.

“Please don't let's talk about it, Con. I can't enthuse—not now.”

“Swell wife, you are—I don't think!” The man was actually making himself believe that he was the injured person. “You're a preach, I say! I guess it don't mean anything to you that Abe Rothstein, head of Exclusive, says I'm the greatest little ol' song writer that ever jimmied his way into Tin Pan Alley. I guess that don't mean anything to you, huh?”

“Nothing special: not tonight.”

“I thought not. I guess you wanted me to be a bum always, like I was when I took that lousy job in your music joint. I guess you'd rather have had me stick to your rotten little publishing business so that you'd get some of the gravy: I guess that's what you're sore about—”

“That's what you would naturally think, isn't it, Con?”

“Sure I would. And why shouldn't I? You know as well as me this number is going to be a knockout—an' you hate to see it slip through your fingers. Well, I ain't dumb; not by a darn sight, I ain't. An' by gosh! If you ain't gonna get pepped up over this success oi mine I know where I can find a gang that is.” He waved his hand with an insouciance which he did not feel. “Ta-ta, Kid.”

The door slammed belligerently behind him: she saw his long, lean figure emerge from the apartment house, hail a taxi and then saw the taxi disappear in the traffic. It headed downtown: she knew what that meant—the delicatessen where he had proposed to her; that delicatessen and the futile, insincere crowd which gathered there with ever a word of fulsome praise and a hearty slap on the back for the success of the moment.

At first she was conscious of no distinct emotion. Then a great pity came to her, a pity which vied with her sorrow: pity for him—he was so weak, so boyish, so thoroughly irresponsible. It never occurred to her, even in this hour of travail and disillusionment, that she did not love him. That was something over which she had no control. And she realized tonight that he needed her, needed her more keenly than he had that day when he sought a job—hungry and threadbare and hopeless. She knew that her love was about to be tried—and she knew that she would not be found wanting. But oh, the hurt of it!

THE months which followed were not happy ones. “My Snugglin' Baby” was brought out by Exclusive with a great fanfare of trumpets and aggressive plugging. It caught on like wild-fire and smashed all previous sales records. Its jazzy, lilting melody was whistled the length and breadth of the land: great vaudeville stars exploited it from the stages of the best variety houses; the phonograph people reported stupendous sales; money poured into Conrad Ellison's pocket like water.

He was at home very little, principally because he was uncomfortable in the presence of his wife. She never criticized; never stooped to reproach him. He scrupulously turned over to her one-half of his income, after deducting their living expenses—it was not until months later that he learned she had been depositing her share to the credit of his personal account at his bank. And when he did learn that, he couldn't understand. There were a great many things about Ellen which he failed to understand.

For instance he knew that she knew of the wild parties which were becoming the rule rather than the exception in his life: she knew of his intimate association with men and women whom he should not have associated with; she knew of all that and she did not protest. And, failing to understand her, he became resentful. Instinct told him that he was wrong, but such intelligence as he possessed had been swept away by the flood tide of success and cheap, tawdry popularity. It was only when he was away from the reproachful light in her quiet, observant brown eyes that he could, as he expressed it, “let loose.” And letting loose was his pet diversion.

He wrote another number. It duplicated the astounding success of “My Snugglin' Baby.” There was no questioning the fact that he was a genius. He had no analytic ability: he was Jazz—he loved it and he wrote what he loved, believing sincerely that it was the finest music in the world. And, measured by the standards of mere material success, the public agreed with him.

He and Ellen saw very little of each other: they seldom went out together. Once Abe Rothstein gave a great dinner in the largest private dining-room of a mammoth hotel in honor of Conrad Ellison, and Ellen was forced to attend. She selected her dress with meticulous care: it was simple but handsome. Her instinct had been for an inexpensive dress, for she knew that she would wear it only once, but she was keenly alive to any injustice that she might do her husband in public.

She found herself seated next to Rothstein, and, much to her surprise, she liked the man. He was big and paunchy and florid and he had a loud, coarse humor which was somehow not objectionable. It was when he engaged her in conversation that she saw a different side: she knew in a moment that he was intensely human.

“I guess you got a great pride about your husband, ain't you, Mrs. Ellison?”

“Yes, I am very proud of him.”

“He's a genius, that boy: a genius. Pos-i-tive-ly. Every number a hit and every hit a record-breaker. I guess you and him has got more'n you ever expected to have, hey?”

“Yes.” She did not know that there was a queer wistfulness in her tone. “I guess we have.”

“Ach!" He turned suddenly and faced her: his kindly little eyes gleamed understandingly. “So-o. It's that way, is it?”

“What way?” She looked up, startled. He patted her hand.

“It's goin' to be all right, Mrs. Ellison. With a smart boy like Con, it's bound to be all right. Don't you worry. Of course it ain't only natural that all this here success should turn his head a little bit. But he's a good boy, Mrs. Ellison; an' I guess any boy which has got the genius he has, ain't such a damn fool he wouldn't appreciate a little wife like you.”

They faced each other without speaking. and in the glance of mutual understanding which passed between them, Ellen knew that she had found a firm friend and a stanch ally. That knowledge helped in the dark days which followed.

SUCCESS bred success: song followed song, and each of them tickled the popular fancy. Then Con was offered one of the spot positions at a great Sunday night vaudeville concert in New York. Ellen attended, with Abe Rothstein and Abe's ponderous wife. They saw Con strut onto the stage, totally devoid of stage fright; they heard his announcement that he was the greatest popular song writer in the world and that he was about to regale them with several of his own compositions; they saw him signal his accompanist and then throw himself bodily into the syncopations of his latest sensational hit. It was as though he knew that the public would like him—that it must like him—and he gave unstintedly of himself. To use the vernacular, the audience ate it up. He was, in theatrical parlance, a riot. As Abe Rothstein finished applauding, he turned to the girl at his side; then he touched her arm.

“Don't you go to cryin', Mrs. Ellison. Things ain't so bad as they might be.”

“I'm not crying about that. … I'm just a little fool—”

“I understand,” he said softly. “I guess I got an unusually good understanding.”

“Yes,” she nodded “I believe you have.”

The day following, Con accepted three weeks of Broadway circuit time, headlining two of the bills and holding a feature spot in the third—the biggest vaudeville house in the country. They paid him five hundred dollars a week and within four days of his first week he developed all the temperament of an old-time vaudeville headliner.

He wrote two more numbers: both were successful. And with the astounding repetition of his triumphs, he came to be the center of a loud-mouthed crowd who believed he was the greatest man in Broadway, and had no hesitancy in telling him so.

He dressed as he had always wanted to dress: extreme clothes, handsomely tailored. His haberdashery was howling in its loudness, but Con thought it wonderful. He was the outstanding figure of a wild crowd: women made much of him; they petted and flattered him and he could not have resisted them had he tried. But it was not in the man to avoid the spotlight; he frankly loved it—and the quiet eyes of his wife were vaguely disturbing: he didn't like to be near them. He didn't know why; but, as he expressed it, they got his goat.

Not once did she remonstrate; not once did she register an objection to the life he was living. She was reasonably certain that he was a moral man, she knew that even yet he had not become addicted to liquor. He was weak, too weak to know that the adulation in which he basked was of his accomplishment rather than of himself.

It was inevitable that he should realize the impossibility of his domestic conditions. The idea of a man of his prominence always ill at ease before his wife! The other women he knew thought he was the swellest feller in the world and they told him so freely and unreservedly. There was one girl in particular—great little ol' kid, she was; and some pumpkins of a dancer. Now if she only ever got her chance in the two-a-day, or a great musical comedy! There was a frail who had confidence in his ability: she wanted him to write a musical comedy in which she could be starred. What a knockout, eh? Great idea! Matter of fact, what a perfect team they'd make! Alongside of Freda Jocelyn, Ellen was a back number. Freda was a live one, a peppy kid. Oh, boy!

THE Freda Jocelyn complex, too, was inevitable. Ellen felt no personal animosity against Freda. It just happened; had it not been Freda, it would have been some other woman. But the night that Con came to her and told her he wanted a divorce in order that he might marry Freda, Ellen knew that she had been wrong in believing that she was beyond the point of being hurt by him.

“We just don't hit it off together,” he explained awkwardly. “We ain't the same kind, that's all. I guess you've done your best—well, if you have, so have I. You needn't worry about the alimony: we'll settle all that in advance. There just ain't a bit of sense in us staying tied up to one another.”

She had anticipated the blow and fought it all out in advance. She knew Freda Jocelyn: knew Freda's type—no more vicious than Con himself was vicious; but empty, thoughtless, living always in the present. She was just the type of girl who would spell ruination for Con: she'd suck him dry. This was the time Con needed her. He might not want her, but he needed her, and so she shook her head slowly.

“No, Con; I won't divorce you.”

“What?” He was dumfounded.

“I won't divorce you, and you can't divorce me. I understand about Miss Jocelyn; and I understand you even better. I think we'd better not get a divorce.”

He raved. He stamped up and down the tiny living-room. He called her unjust and unreasonable. He told her everything he could think of—but he couldn't quite bring himself to the point of declaring that he did not love her. That, somehow, would have seemed sacrilege. But before he stormed out of the apartment he informed her that, divorce or no divorce, he wasn't going to live with her any longer. He was through, finished and done. She couldn't—or wouldn't—live his life, and he'd be just everlastingly gosh-darned if he'd live hers. They were through with each other; and when she came to her senses about that divorce thing she could send for him.

So he left her; but bitter as the scene had been, it did not carry the sting which had been hers the night he signed his contract with Exclusive. It was on that day she had lost him; and this was merely evidence of her loss.

The little music shop assumed a new significance. She was very glad that she had never sold it out or closed its doors. It gave her a feeling of independence: it afforded the possibility of fighting her battle in her own way. She was very grateful indeed that economic necessity could not force capitulation. But it was hard to return night after night to the apartment where she had been so happy with him; she remembered the thousand and one little touches which she had put there in the effort to make a home which he would love, and which would bring him back to her.

CONRAD leased an elaborate place and furnished it with shrieking ornateness. Money meant nothing to him now—he had more than he knew what to do with: the future did not bother him at all. His confidence in himself was superb. He had everything—but he wasn't happy.

Frankly, he was unable to understand Ellen. She apparently had made no slightest effort to adjust herself to the new order of things. There wasn't anything radically wrong with her, but she just didn't have his speed. And so, fired with the zest of his new independence, he rapidly developed into a picturesque figure in certain Rialto circles. He was constantly surrounded by mealy-mouthed courtiers who applauded the manner in which he strutted his stuff.

Approbation did not pall upon him. His long, lanky figure was to be seen everywhere that night life flourished; he was the gayest member of any party—and he was a liberal spender. His own ornate apartment knew many wild evenings. Yet he continued to succeed. In vaudeville circles he was more than a little in demand. Once or twice Ellen went to the theater to watch him and inevitably she came away somewhat heartsick, for she saw no change from the carefree, thoughtless man who could not stand success nor probe beneath the surface of his friends' sincerity.

Ellen became morose. Months passed and there came no overture from Con. If he was discontented, he gave no evidence of that fact. She spent evening after evening alone, in silent communion. She wondered whether she was being fair to him in refusing the divorce he wished. If they were to continue to live apart, her attitude was patently unfair, and she loved him too genuinely to be unfair. It was only that she felt his absolute freedom would be the worst thing in the world for him: she felt, without egotism, that he needed her. The separation itself was a bitter pain, but divorce would be worse. She knew the man, knew that the minute a decree was granted he would marry some other woman—if not Freda Jocelyn, then another girl of the type; and that would mark the end.

She was not jealous of Freda or of any other woman: it was merely that the irrevocability of marriage to one of them frightened her. Con did not have the stuff with which to come back. As a matter of fact what he needed now was misfortune. Things had been coming his way too easily. He needed a lesson. … Suddenly her eyes widened and she rose abruptly and crossed to the window. It always helped her to think when she could gaze down into the street.

The following day she called at the office of Exclusive and sent in her card to Abe Rothstein. He dismissed a man with whom he was discussing an important business matter, and bade her enter. As the door closed behind her, he hoisted his great, ungainly figure from the swivel chair and waddled across the room, both hands extended in unmistakably hearty greeting.

“Well, if it ain't my little friend, Mrs. Ellison. I'm awful glad to see you, Mrs. Ellison. Have a seat, huh—and tell me all about it.”

She seated herself. It was not difficult to talk to this man: she knew that he would understand. And so she came straight to the point.

“You know, of course, that Con and I have been separated for months?”

“Yeh. Yeh, I know that—sure. And I ain't sayin' that Con ain't a good song writer, y'understand; but he certainly is foolish when it comes to not appreciating a fine little wife like you. He certainly is.”

She met his eyes squarely. “I love my husband, Mr. Rothstein: I cannot help but feel that he loves me. If he doesn't then I am wrong not to grant him his freedom; if I am right, then it is a shame that we should continue to live as we are. So I've come to you for advice and for help.”

He rubbed moist palms together. “Ain't I told you once, Mrs. Ellison, that I was your friend? You just go right ahead and tell me all the things you're thinking.”

She did. She started in a slow, embarrassed manner and gradually lost her reserve in the realization of this man's vast comprehension.

IT WAS a great favor Ellen was asking him, a stupendous, impossible thing from a business standpoint; but he inspired her with the courage to request the impossible—and he granted it with regal readiness. There were tears in her eyes as she took his hand.

“You are wonderful, Mr. Rothstein. I'll never forget.”

“Shuh! It ain't nothin'—really. Just a little favor. And I guess I owe Con something anyway, don't I? Now you run along home, and if this thing don't work, why, I guess the best thing you got to do is be sorry.”

That evening she telephoned Con at the hour she knew he would be home dressing for dinner. She thrilled to the note of eagerness which she fancied was in his voice, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she made her tone calm and impersonal. She told him briefly that she wished him to be at her apartment not later than seven-thirty.

“But Ellen, I've got a heavy date for tonight.”

“By seven-thirty, Con.” And she hung up the receiver.

It was an agonizing wait, but at seven-thirty the buzzer sounded and she let him into the apartment. She wanted to cry at sight of him: tall and lean and graceful—in the latest cut of dinner jacket, a too-large white flower in his buttonhole; hat set at a rakish angle. She could see too that he was quite pleased with the appearance he made. She led the way into the tiny living-room. Her face was chalky and her voice came with difficulty.

“Con,” she said, “I understand that you are considering four weeks of vaudeville time.”

“I'll say. I'm an awful hit—”

She did not equivocate. “You are not to accept it.”

“What?” He sat up very straight. “Say! Ellen—”

“You are not to accept that vaudeville engagement, or any other, during the term of your contract with Exclusive.”

He laughed. “Aw! Say, Kid—ain't that stepping kind of lively? What have you got to do with—”

“Furthermore, Con”—the words were flowing a trifle more easily now—“I may as well tell you that you have published your last song under that contract. As a song writer and as a vaudeville artist you are through so long as that contract lasts.”

A tense silence fell between them. The supercilious, amused smile died slowly from his lips. He met her level, serious eyes and knew that a whip was being cracked. He did not understand how or why. The thing was absurd on the face of it; but unquestionably she knew whereof she spoke.

“Suppose you tell me what all these wise cracks mean, Ellen.”

In answer, she extended for his inspection a formal document. “That, Con, is an assignment to Mrs. Conrad Ellison of your contract with Exclusive. For eight years you are tied up with me. Either I publish your songs or no one publishes them. You will fill vaudeville engagements only when I say so—if I do. And it means this, Con: I'm not going to publish your songs and I'm not going to grant permission for stage appearances. Your career is ended.”

He knew the girl: he did not question the accuracy of her statements, amazing as they were. “How—how did you get that contract?” he asked painfully.

“From Mr. Rothstein.”

“The dirty bum!”

“No!” Her voice cracked sharply across the room. “He is a great man, Con. He understands.”

The lean lower jaw drooped pathetically.

“You ain't really gonna crab me just when I'm started? You ain't really gonna do that, are you, Ellen?”


Then he became angry. “So this is the way you hit back at me, is it? Swell wife, you are—stabbing me in the back like this! I guess I might have expected it. … Well, anyway, it don't go: see? I'm gonna consult my lawyer—I reckon he'll know how to get around that. He'll fix it—”

“The best contract lawyers in New York have already been consulted, Con. The assignment is valid.”

The man stared. There was a deep hurt—and a new respect—in his eyes. He couldn't understand, but he did sense that there was something beneath it all. The thing was inconceivable. He winced in the face of disaster. Why, the thing would make him a laughing-stock!

“What do you want?” he snarled. “What do you expect to get out of this?”


“Nothing! Huh! I guess I'm sap enough to believe that. Well, whatever you think you're gonna get—you ain't gonna get it. God! I never thought you'd do me this way. I thought you was in love with me—”

“Did you really think so, Con?”

“Yeh—” His voice trailed off, and a queer, puzzled expression crossed his face. “Ain't you?”

A warm glow suffused her at his tone. “Does this look like it?” She designated the contract in her hand.

“No, it don't. I'll say. But”—again that note of doubt crept into his voice—“I would have sworn that you cared something."

He left her then and the next day had a stormy and thoroughly unsatisfactory interview with Abe Rothstein. He then visited his lawyer and handed over to that gentleman's inspection a copy of the assignment from Rothstein to Ellen. The verdict was discouraging.

For a week she did not see him; neither, for that matter, did many of his cronies. He retired to the seclusion of his apartment and for the first time in his life gave himself over to the unnatural effort of sustained thought.

He could not understand, but be did grope for a meaning. One thing he did know, and that was that he was licked. He had never thought it of Ellen. Why, he thought she loved him! It was amazing to learn that she didn't. Gosh! That was funny. It occurred to him that perhaps he hadn't been entirely fair to Ellen. It was a new angle of thought: Con had never been prone to criticize himself.

OF COURSE things couldn't go on this way. Too, his pride was hurt at the idea that she no longer cared. He determined grimly that he would not go to her, but he went just the same; appeared at the music store one morning trying to look debonair and resembling only a little boy who has been soundly whipped and is trying to conceal the fact from his friends.

Much of his cocksure jauntiness was gone. He was depressed and tractable.

“Here I am, Ellen.”


“What do you want me to do?”

She looked up in surprise. “Nothing.”

“Nothing? Don't you want to publish any songs of mine? I've got one swell number—”

“No, Con. You're through as a song writer.”

The narrow shoulders sagged. But he did not protest.

“You don't love me any more, do you, Ellen?”

She raged against the hot flush which dyed her cheeks. “I don't think you have any right to ask that.”

He stared at her for a moment. “No-o; I don't guess I have. But it didn't seem like you could or you wouldn't be doing me this way.”

“That's so. … It doesn't seem as though I still love you, does it?”

“I'll say not. But I can't understand it; you used to think I was something great. Now listen, Ellen—”

“I'd rather not talk of the past, Con. Suppose you run along. …”

But he did not run along. Instead he hovered uncertainly about the doorway. A few minutes later a customer came in and asked for a certain popular number. Impulsively Con elbowed his way to the piano, flipped open the pages of the desired song, rippled his long fingers over the keyboard and sent his sweet, nasal tenor echoing through the shop. Nor did he see his wife turn suddenly away and hurry toward the little room in the rear where she might clear the mist from her eyes.

NOTHING was ever definitely said between them, but Con remained in the shop. When those of the neighbors who knew him came in to buy, he summoned a pitiful bravado and tried to make them believe that he was doing the store a great favor by condescending to work there for a while—just helping a poor thing along by his greatness. Alone with Ellen, however, his attitude contained nothing of braggadocio. When he fancied he was unobserved, he sat on the piano stool and followed her with his eyes. He was doing a great deal of thinking these days—and he was learning many things which hitherto had been unsuspected.

No personalities were indulged in: they did not discuss the bizarre situation. Between them there was a scrupulous politeness which amounted almost to formality: neither quite understood the other, and both were considerably in doubt as to themselves.

Con was a pathetic figure, but he was game. Only he knew how he suffered; and he did not cringe. Whatever his mental processes, whatever end he had in mind, he kept to himself; and now it was Ellen who grew puzzled and ill at ease.

It was a situation which could not continue indefinitely: it was too unnatural—and there had been too much between them in the past. But it was Ellen who broke and not Con; it was she who recognized the impossibility and the hopelessness of the thing. There was nothing else she could do. At least there was some satisfaction in the knowledge that for one month he had forsaken the companionship which had so injured him—but she couldn't see that the new order of things had effected any material change. True, he was subdued and somber—and he was different; but this could not go on. She saw with greater clarity that it was unfair to him, and so, one month exactly from the day he had come back to the shop, she went to him. They were alone in the store.

“You just received an offer for a Sunday night concert, didn't you, Con?”


“Well—you may accept it.”

He rose abruptly from the piano bench. “You mean it?”


“Doggone! Say, Ellen! That's white of you.” His face was transformed. On the instant much of his old joyousness returned. “Gee! I'm much obliged—”

She turned away. “Let's don't discuss it, Con.”

Saturday afternoon she mentioned the subject once again. She had been thinking a great deal that week: there were dark circles of sleeplessness under her eyes, and she was tired—very, very tired.

“Stop by the apartment Sunday evening, will you, Con? I want to have a little chat with you. I won't keep you long.”

He nodded quietly. Sunday evening she saw him leave a taxi in front of the modest apartment house. A hopeless light came into her eyes at sight of him, for she saw that he was the same old Con. The natty suit was there and the yellow overcoat and gloves, with cane to match, and he wore a huge chrysanthemum in his buttonhole. He was again in his element.

ELLEN had fought her battle and knew that she had lost. After all, it had been a hopeless fight; waiting for the sound of the buzzer, she knew that her final decision was the right one.

He breezed into the apartment. “Hello, Kid!”—his old-time jauntiness. “Say, I got you a couple of third-row seats. How about drifting down there tonight?”

“No—” She choked.

“Aw, say! Why don't you look in on the show?”

“What's the use?”

“Use a plenty.” She realized with surprise that he, too, was embarrassed. “I want you to—that's the use.”

She shook her head. “No, Con—I can't go. And there's something else I want you to know before you leave here: You're free, Con. You see, I know now that nothing has been gained. You are you, and I can't make you over: nobody can. So tomorrow I'm going to destroy that contract assignment from Mr. Rothstein. You can go ahead with your song writing, and he'll publish the numbers. You can accept all the vaudeville engagements you want—”

He was staring at her queerly.

“And the important thing, Con, is this: You want to divorce me. For some absurd reason I refused to grant the divorce. Well, I've changed my mind. You can have your freedom whenever you want.” She crossed to the window. “Now please go, Con: I'd rather we didn't talk any more this evening.”

But Conrad Ellison didn't go. There was a new light in his eyes, and in his brain a crystallization of the thoughts which had been puzzling him so during the last six weeks. He was no more analytic than before; but his instinct was at work and Conrad Ellison was essentially a creature of instinct. He didn't call it instinct—he described his impulses as hunches. And Con had a hunch right now.

He rose slowly, and slowly he crossed the room. He had a hunch that there was a great hunger in his heart; he had a hunch that he had treated Ellen horribly; he had an overpowering, irresistible hunch that he wanted to take her in his arms as he had done the night when they came to this apartment as bride and groom. …

He played his hunch. His face was dead-white and his elongated body was trembling violently as he swung her forcibly about so that her tired, wistful eyes met his squarely.

“Ellen,” he started. Then his lips went dry and all he could say was, “Oh, Ellen!”

She stood rigidly before him, afraid to believe the evidence of her senses. Nor did she quite believe when Con slipped suddenly to his knees, encircled her waist with his arms and broke into sobs.

“Oh, honey! I've been so awful wrong. And I've been so dumb—thinking that I didn't love you any more—”

Ellen knew that she had won; won gloriously when drab defeat seemed inevitable. She placed her hands on the long, wavy hair of her husband and her light kiss told him that he was forgiven.

They sat side by side on the lounge. The room was shrouded in darkness; no word broke the magic silence. Her tiny hand was held tight in his big one, her shoulder resting gently against his.

It was she who remembered the time. She crossed the room to the electric button. “You must go, Con: you'll be late.

RELUCTANTLY he donned overcoat and hat. Then, at the door, he turned. His face was flushed and his eyes wavered uncertainly. It was the first time she had seen real embarrassment in his manner. Although his voice was very low, she missed no single syllable of his request.

“I'm going now, dear,” he said. “But—I—I just want to know if you'll let me come back after the show. I want to come back to you—”

She put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him.

“Whenever you come to me, Con,” she said softly, “you will find me waiting.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1959, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 63 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.