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Oh, La-La!

By Agnes Boulton Burton

Was you talking about th' artistic temper'ment? Say, Hermione, old dear, don't pull that stuff on me! Honest to Gawd, I had one experience with them nuts, and I ain't settled down to a regular life yet. Life in the chorus is one grand dream, dearie, compared to th' complicated existence practiced by some of them that has more temper'ment than common sense.

Was I interested personal? Was I? Yes, dearie, I have to confess that I wasn't no little outsider in the little drama. You know me, Al, and unlike them there scientists, th' first principle with me is MAN rather than monkey. Well, o' course, dearie, I might as well admit to you, I had fell, and fell hard . . .

You know, chicken, there comes a time in th' life of us chorus girls when we yearns after something different. Life seems of a sameness, as the poet says, and all the fellers make love after the same old style, without leavin' nothin' to the imagination, as it were. That there's a great stunt, dearie, lemme tell you—leavin' things to th' imagination. It kinda leads yu on an' on . . . At th' same time, I kinda feel that that was what got me in wrong. Say, us poor girls sometimes don't know what to do in this world, do we?

How did it start? It started, love, with me breaking a date with a guy from Yonkers. We had met, see, and I was explainin' to him that Rector's or the Knickerbocker was my favorite place for dining, when he explains that he has it all arranged for a table at a quiet little table d’hôte, where we could talk and then a movie after. Well, it ain't in me, kid, to play a guy for a sucker, but I did think after coming in all th' way from Yonkers and telling me all the time what a regular feller he was—Well, anyhow, dearie, we parted, I having had a coupla cocktails before perhaps having something to do with it. Them small-town guys do sometimes get me sore . . .

Somehow I felt kinda disgusted with life, being left all alone there on the street corner where we had been arguing; and it was at that very moment, dearie, that I felt a yearning for something different to come and fill up the empty spaces of my soul. No, Hermione, there is no use for you to look at me sarcastic like that, I was not thinking of dinner, nor was I dreaming of another cocktail. Them words may seem peculiar to you, but one learns to express oneself in them terms, dearie, and I must say at times they come in very useful . . . Oh, Hermi, sometimes I kinda wish I'd had th' artistic temper'ment myself, things mighta turned out different. There was something about him . . . but wait till I tell you how we met. Darling, have you ever just looked into a feller's eyes, an' felt . . . felt . . . oh, you know, kid. As he says, deep speaking to deep . . .

Well, lemme get back to my story. Someone had been tellin' me about a joint way downtown which was termed Th' Mad Pup. All at once I decides to beat it down there, having remembered that it was said a girl could go there alone and unmolested. So I gets on a 'bus . . .

Coo-coo, darling! Have you ever wandered down to where th' purple-tinted personality of them that was born different to th' common masses sits around all night discussing whose wife has been flirting with whose husband? Or the whyfore of the where? Well—say! Honest kid, I didn't get it . . .

I kinda floats in with my chin up in th' air, an', of course, everybody stares. There was a lot of long tables up against th' wall, no table covers or nothing, an' th' wall kinda looked to me as though somebody's been throwing a paint pot at it. But I ain't goin' to describe it. You go down some day . . .

I finds a place against th' wall, and spreads out my paper napkin. Right in front of me was a newspaper spread out, and held by a coupla long white hands. In a minute th' paper descended, and I looks into th' eyes of him.

I guess th' first thing I noticed about him was that he looked kinda sad. Then I seen that his hair was sorta long and wavy—real dago black, it was. But his clothes was all right, only kinda sloppy, an' he had some funny kinda pin in his tie.

But them eyes, Hermione! He gave me th' saddest look—at th' same time as though he was noticing everything about me. Then he sighs and goes back to his paper.

Pretty soon he was passing me th' sugar, and I must say I smiled my sweetest at him, from which I gotta kind o' wistful response. Then he goes back to his paper, which same makes me a bit sore, because, honest, I ain't used to being treated that way. And at that, when I compares myself to them dames that was sitting around smoking cigarettes, why say, kid, I was all to th' candy. I was wearin' that little red hat—

But pretty soon I notices that he was kinda looking every time he'd think I wouldn't see. And, honest, kid, I was lonely . . . Y'understand me when I tell you that although I did speak th' first word, it was one entirely proper.

"Pardon," I says. "But I see you have th' evening paper. What," I says, "is th' latest on th' war? I'm so interested!"

With that he puts th' paper down and kinda stares.

"Th' war?" he says, just as though he didn't know what I was talking about. "Oh, th' war! Really, I never read about the war. It makes a demand on my sympathy," he says "that I feel I cannot meet. I'd much rather look at your little red hat."

Well, o' course that gives me a chanst to laugh and display th' dimple in my chin (And, oh, dearie, I must tell you now that he said, after that, that there dimple was a little well for Love to be drownded in! Ain't that th' cutest?)

"Oh," I comes back right off. "I'm so glad you like this hat. I bought it," I says, "really so very reasonable! Only twenty-five dollars at Maison Marie's."

He kinda stared at me a moment as though he didn't know what to say, and then he clears his throat.

"It is like a crimson battle-field above a field of yellow corn," he says. "Your hair, of course, is th' corn. And what wonderful eyes you have!"

"Th' better to see you with, my dear!" I comes back. And with that he blushes.

"It is easy to see you are not a Villager," he retorts, somewhat as though insulting me. "You uptown slummers irritate me, really," he goes on, growing rather scornful. "You society women, who, becoming bored with your gowns, your clubs, your lovers, descend upon the Village in search of a new sensation! Now that you have succeeded in intriguing me," he says, as though he was going to cry, "I suppose you will flee the Village forever."

Well, honest, dearie, I didn't know what he was gettin' at. But I must say, he kinda interested me, there being something violent in his manner. So I asks him what he means by th' Village, on which same word he appears to always put special emphisis.

Pretty soon I gets on to th' fact that he means this here Greenwich Village, which same, dearie, is th' abode of th' squirrel family of New York, in other words, bohemia, where artists, writers, and all that bunch get together and hang out.

An' say, can you imagine him thinking I was a society dame? That kinda tickled me.

Well, kiddo, we leaves the Mad Pup, arm in arm, and he says to me, "Let us walk about the Square and commune with Nature."

Can you imagine? He took hold of my arm an' started walkin' real slow, an' take it from me, dearie, I gotta thrill right down my spine. I was real quiet an' sorta different there in th' Square . . .

Pretty soon he sighed again and gave my arm a little squeeze.

"I would like to go with you to a quiet little café," he says sorta dreamy. "We could order a liquor, and have a nice little chat. But, ah—" he continues, shaking his head, "'Tis but an idle dream. I spent my last cent for the simple meal which you seen me just devour," he says.

Now, honest, dearie, I know you're gonna laugh, but he got me kinda thinkin' I'd like one of them shady little joints, too . . . You get me, kid?

Did I tell you that I had a pocket full of bills, girlie?

Sure, this was last spring when I was second from th' end in "Chickens." Twenty-five per was my special drag, dearie.

Coo-coo, darling!

They ain't no use of me going into detail about that evening, which was th' first I ever spent with him. We told each other the story of our lives . . . An' you know, dearie, what that means.

Honest, he acted kinda different from all th' men I ever met. Say, Hermione, did you ever hear of psycho-analysis?

No, chicken, it ain't a new kind of love, but it means the same thing . . . Anyway he was some kid. Oh, them eyes . . .

He got me real interested telling about them Yogis, kinda Indian Fakers you know, Hermione, them that you see in th' pictures with turbans on . . .

He says he studied their art, see, and that he discovered he had a wonderful supernatural gift. He says it often terrorized him, this here gift did . . . an' he had to keep suppressin' it . . .

He says that if he would only let it loose and exercise its terrible force, why he could work wonders and . . . and . . . so on.

Well, dearie, I was getting real excited, thinking maybe he was a mind reader, or something like that. I begs an' begs him to tell me what it was.

But he keeps on sayin' no . . . That he must keep his secret to himself . . .

Honest, kid, I got awful excited!

I kept askin' and askin' and finally he grabs both my hands and looks into my eyes and says:

"Very well, then, you shall know. Do you feel it?"

Honest, babe, I screams and jumps away from him. I kinda thought I might get some sorta shock . . .

"Did you feel it?" he asks again.

I can see you're lookin' interested, Hermi, old thing, just as I was. Well, I won't linger longer in tellin' you, babe, that th' wonderful power with which he was endowered was a mysterious fascination which he had over women. That's th' way he told it to me, anyhow . . .

He said if he used it, no woman could resist him . . .

But he said it wasn't really right of him to use it consciously . . . O' course, as he says, what he done without meaning wasn't his fault . . .

I'm just telling you this, see dearie, to kinda put you on to his line of talk . . .

About one o'clock, hon, we was wanderin' round Washington Square to see if we could find a 'bus . . .

But he drags me down on a bench beside him.

"Ah!" he says. "Do you realize that I am homeless!"

Then, dearie, he goes on to explain that he has been turned out by his landlady this very day. Th' park bench, he says, shall be his bed . . .

Honest, I felt real sorry for him.

An' he kept looking at me as though he thought I could suggest something —or somewhere.

Sudden it comes to my mind that Alma Teck is in Boston. Alma has th' room next to mine, and as we was wearing each others things a lot an' being pretty good pals, why she had left th' key with me.

Honest, I couldn't bear to think of him setting out all night on th' park bench!

So I tells him about Alma's room.

He lifts my hand and kisses it.

"My wonder girl!" he says. An' say, dearie, I'll admit that he had me goin'!

So we settles it that he was to sneak up and spend th' night in Alma's room.

Say, dearie; have you ever crawled into bed thinking that at last you had hit th' real thing? . . . Well, that was me . . . Him and I parted at th' door, but before I left he grabbed me and say . . . say . . . Honest, he give me th' thrills, he seemed so awful sincere . . . an' yet, kinda wild at th' same time. I can't just describe it to you, Hermione old dear, but it's some combination . . .

So I goes to bed, an' dreams about him, o' course when I do fall asleep, which wasn't very soon. An' say, I'd noticed that there was a button off his coat, old thing. . . Can yu imagine, an' me laying there plannin' to sew it on

Well, th' next morning I gets up and dresses sorta in a hurry, thinking perhaps that'd he'd be worrying account of it bein' so late. You know me, dear, ten o'clock is early . . .

So I knocks kinda gentle, but there ain't no reply. Then I begins to think that perhaps he has got up to look for a job, him having no money as he said th' night before.

Next I gets kinda scared and began to wonder if he coulda gone off with Alma's toilet set . . .

Anyway, I opens th' door real quiet and peeks in. There he lay in bed, with th' covers up to his chin, sleepin' like a baby.

Have you ever noticed how nice these here dark men with kinda pale skins look in bed, Hermione?

Honest . . . !

Oh, well, I better get back to my story.

Pretty soon he must have sorta felt me lookin' at him, for he opens them, eyes kinda slow and smiles at me. No, Hermione dear, he did not ask where he was . . . He just smiles and says something like this:

"My one love! Her whose soul met mine last night through th' darkness!"

Can them with th' artistic temper'ment get off th' talk? They can!

Can you blame me, Hermione, for fallin' into them arms which was outheld for me?

But pretty soon he says that yum-yum-yum he is gettin' hungry. Yes, girlie, he says it just like that. Then he sighs . . .

O' course I knew at once that he was regrettin' that he had no money, but that he wouldn't say no more. So I kisses him again and says I'll be back in a minute.

Then I beats it around the corner on Eighth Avenue, and comes back with a can of coffee an' a dozen rolls.

He said the coffee was filthy, but, dearie, he drank it, and et most of th' rolls. Can you imagine me sitting there on the edge of the bed, feedin' him . . . An' him feedin' me compliments? Gee, was I th' poor simp?

After we was finished he asks me to excuse him while he gets dressed. So I goes back to my room, and fools around, waiting. After about an hour he opens the door an' comes in. An' say, honest, kid, he was nice lookin' . . .

Of course, then I have to beat it back to Alma's room and make up th' bed, and so on.

When I come back he was smoking one of my cigarettes, with his feet stuck up on th' window sill.

Pretty soon we gets to talking and I asks him what he does. He looks at me kinda regretful, as though I was making a remark that I shouldn't. Then he says that he is a poet.

You know me, Hermi, I am kinda practical, and I only thinks that I was helping him when I tells him that I am acquainted with th' editor of th' Broadway Revue.

"Yu could write a poem or two an' I'd take it over," I says. "An' maybe he'll buy it."

But, dearie, he only waves his hand in th' air, kinda scornful like.

"I will not prostitute my work," he says. "No, never—never—"

Then he tells me how much stuff he could sell if only he would consent to write for th' common herd.

Pretty soon he had smoked up all my cigarettes an' I had to run down to th' corner to get a coupla boxes . . .

Well, dearie, there ain't no use in telling you no more details, and it ain't in me to discribe th' way that boy could make love. Honest, old thing, there wasn't nothing I wouldn't ha' done for him. I got a letter from Alma telling that she would be in Boston a week longer, an' for me to be sure an feed her pet canary, which same she had left in th' room.

So every night he sleeps in Alma's room, an' the rest of `th' time he stays in with me. Of course, when I was at th' theatre he'd go out, or maybe sit round and write some poems. There was one about me went something like this—

You . . .
Oh you
With blue eyes
Eyes of blue
Heavenly true . . .
Eyes of blue.

Anyway, it was kinda sweet . . . He used to call me his Tiger Cat, an' his Jungle Lily, an' a lotta things like that . . . Gee . . . ! There was one other poem I remember, 'bout Tiger Cat:

Tiger Cat . . .
Slimly supple.
Devoid of fat . . .
With tigress eyes . . .
And tigress cries!
Tiger Cat . . .
My Tiger Cat!

Honest, kid, when he read me that there poem I thought I was gonna faint. Imagine me inspiring something wonderful like that . . .

Yes, dearie, you needn't look at me like that, I was buyin' th' meals. But lemme tell you, girlie, he had it all planned out how we was to be married . . .

You can imagine how far gone I was when I tell you that I was quite willin' to tie up with a guy that didn't have a cent . . . Oh, Boy!

Honest, sometimes I think that them was th' happiest days of my life. As he told me, why a woman don't really love a man until she lends him money . . .

You needn't sneer, Hermione, he usta say he'd pay it all back.

What am I weepin' for? I ain't! Gimme your handkerchief a moment, will you, chicken . . . No, I ain't cryin', Hermione, but sometimes I think that in spite o' what happened, I mighta been able to hold him if I'd had more of th' artistic temperment . . .

What happened?

Wait a moment, dearie, an' I'll tell you. Oh, God, Hermione, is life always thus?

One morning, after he had been there pretty near a week, him and me was settin' by th' table drinkin' coffee. I was feelin' kinda sick that morning, so I had let him go out, see, and get th' stuff. He'd just been back a minute, see . . .

Sudden there comes a real determined knock on th' door. I jumps, thinking it must be th' landlady, who I must say did suspect things, but who so far had said nothing, owing to th' fact that I had plastered her hand with a five dollar bill.

I runs to th' door, and ask what's wanted, see, and a voice which I couldn't tell was man's or woman's, asks to see me just a moment . . .

Well, chicken, I knows then it wasn't th' landlady so I unbolts th' door, thinkin' I would step outside.

But no sooner was the bolt pulled, than th' door opens with a rush, which same, dearie, almost upset me onto th' floor.

"Matilda!" screams George, jumpin' up. Had I forgot to tell you, dearie, that his name was George Lemot?

There, love, stood a dame that, I must say, would, never have seen her fiftieth birthday again. She had on a little round patent leather hat, and her face was all hard and wrinkled and brown. Then she wore furs, girlie, that musta cost a million dollars, and her suit, although made very mannish, was some class. And she carried a gold mesh bag that looked like it was chock full of yellowbacks.

"So this is where you are!" she says, not givin' me a look. "Get your hat at once and come with me," she says. But, dearie, I could see that, although she was tryin' to be real hard, there was a break in her voice. An' say—you oughta seen George. He—honest, Hermi dear, he wasn't paying no more attention to me than if I was a fly.

Yes, girlie, it was in them moments I first realized th' bitterness of this life here below . . . Me, who had always taken things kinda easy, too . . .

"Come with you?" he says. "No!" Then he folds his arms and stands there lookin' like Napoleon, with just a little hair, dearie, fallin' into one eye.

Th' dame looks kinda staggered. Then she sees me watchin' her, and she says, like she was real troubled:

"Pardon me, my dear," she says, "—if I sit down." An' with that she plumps down in th' rocker, openin' them furs of hers. "And don't think I'm annoyed with you," she goes on (yes, dearie, can you beat it?) "because I'm not—not—not at all. I know George toot well," she says, "to blame any one but him!" An' with that, chicken, she pulls a handkerchief out of her muff and begins to wipe her eyes!

"Oh, do you!" says George, kinda nasty. But still, girlie, I seen that it was her he was looking at, and not th' poor chicken that bought his cigarette and meals for him the last week. An' say, lemme tell you, I was getting a bit sore at this old dame, setting there an' sayin' she wasn't annoyed at me! I felt I'd kinda like to know what part she played in George's young life.

"Me an' Mister Lemot is going to be married!" I says. haughty. Hadn't he told me so often enough, Hermione? An' him, chicken, th' only man without money I'd ever been willin' to tie up with? "If that ain't reason enough for a man to be havin' breakfast in a lady's room, why what is?" I says. "And now—" I goes on—you can imagine how, dearie, real upstage—"May I ask whose company it is I have the pleasure of receiving at this hour of th' day?"

"Married!" she says, real shocked like. She looks at me and shakes her head. "Poor child! Is that what he has been telling you?"

Yes, Hermione, them was her words.

He, whom honest I had really loved, was standin' there, whistlin' through his teeth as much as to say he didn't care a damn.

"He is my husband!" she goes on, looking at him for a moment sorta proud.

Oh, Hermione, them words will never be wiped from my memory! Her husband! . . . I can't see, Hermione, why you've gotta laugh. But lemme go on . . .

"Oh, you bore me!" says George. Yes, dearie, he says it just like that. But I seen he was kinda watching her all th' time . . . sorta as if he was waiting to see what she'd say next.

"George," she says, "come home! Everything is waiting for you—your studio, your books, your piano. We miss you so, George—" an' with that she begins, dearie, to weep, "me and your books, an' your piano—"

"No!" says him whose cigarettes I had been buyin'. "You know what I told you. I will never come back!" And, dearie, at them words my heart leapt, although I seen he was payin' no attention to me. But wait

With that th' old dame kinda catches her breath.

"I give in to you, Georgie," she says, straightening up, and fastening her furs. "Them debts you was so thoughtless as to run up will all be paid. In fact, they have been paid," she says with a sigh. "Now—come!"

But, oh, dearie, that wasn't enough to satisfy him who had th' soul of a poet! Them artistic temper'ments, as I have said before, would sometimes come in handy to a chorus girl.

"That will not help me in the future," he says, looking real gloomy.

"And I'm doubling your allowance," she adds, looking at me an' shakin' her head. I must say, Hermione, I kinda liked th' old girl for the way she sorta took me into her confidence.

Yes, dearie, can you imagine how I suffered when that little drammer was bein' acted out before me?

Th' next thing, he was askin' me in a kinda sorrowful tone, where was his hat?

Dearie . . . that parting! Honest, I never felt so bad in all my life!

But after he'd been gone about a minute he comes running back . . . You can know I hated to have him see me with my eyes all red, but he walked right in, me havin' forgot to lock th' door.

And, oh, chicken, he pokes a ten dollar yellowback at me, at th' same time grabbin' my other hand and givin' it a squeeze.

"Here!" he says. "Good-by, my sweetheart . . . my Tiger Cat! Good-by forever." An' with that he dashes back to the door, "I know you understand!" he says, real sad, and beats it . . .

No, Hermione dear, I never seen him again. As I say, if he'd been sincere . . .

But lemme tell you about that ten bucks, dearie. D'you know what I did? I let it lay there, until th' maid come in to clean up, and then, old thing, I told her to sweep it up with th' rest of th' dirt, an' keep it if she wanted to . . .

I must say I'd like a chance to meet him again some day just to tell him that . . .

Breezy Stories, January, 1918.

 

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