“I’M A FORTY-EIGHTER!” said the oldest Mr. Albert Alberger on the morning of his ninetieth birthday. “I'm a Forty-Eighter, and don’t you fergit it, Brudie! Don’t you once ever fergit it for one second ever once at all!”
|Illustration by Arthur I. Keller|
“That isn’t ‘airs.’” Albert protested. “Everybody has their cards.”
“Business cards, yes. Caller’s cards, no! I got good eyesight — anyway, I got good enough through my spegtickles to see if it ain’t a caller’s card. Hand it to me, you Brudie.”
The youngest Alberger picked up the card and placed it upon the extended palm of his grandfather, whereupon the latter shuffled to the strong light of the open window.
“Caller’s card! Didn’t I knew it?” he cried. “You got a new name?” he demanded, after a second scrutiny of the card. “You got a double name?”
“It’s nothing at all,” said the young man. “I don’t see what you’re so cross about.”
“Look!” the grandfather exclaimed. “You read dot card! Speak it out loud, I ask you!”
The grandson, irked but obedient, read aloud what was engraved upon the card: “Mr. Albert Alberger, Second.”
“I hear it!” his grandfather cried fiercely. “What you put on behind you?”
“What you put on behind you?”
“You mean ‘Second,’ gran’pa?”
“What means it —‘Second’?”
“Why, that’s nothing,” said Albert. “It’s only so’s people can tell you and papa and me apart.”
“So!” the old man shouted. “You expect nobody can tell me and your papa from you unless you got a ‘Mister’ in front of you and a ‘Second’ stuck on behind you, sittin’ on a caller’s card? You want to be a aristocracy, I guess so! What you expect I come to America for? To git granchilten born to grow up makin’ monkey-shines? No, sir, you’re wrong, I’ll show you! I marched wit’ a gun against monkey-shines! I tell you I’m a Forty-Eighter!”
“Well, what you expect me to do?” young Albert inquired plaintively. “I got to have a name of my own, don’t I? You’re Albert Alberger, aren’t you?”
“And papa’s Albert Alberger, Junior?”
“Well, I got a right to something, haven’t I? I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s the law I got to be Albert Alberger, Second.”
“Listen!” said his grandfather. “It’s plendy fer you peoble can say, ‘He’s dot young Alberger fella from “Albergers’ Imported Wines, Bowling and Beer-Garden.” Ain’t it plendy enough you’re from Albergers’?”
“No, it certainly is not!” the young man replied with emphasis.
“Chunior,’ dot’s all right,” the ancient man continued. “Second,’ dot’s aristocracy!”
In the grandson’s opinion, this ruling was consistent with the unreasonable character of Mr. Albert Alberger, First; and young Albert had learned that, no matter how impulsively the old man spoke, he never afterward confessed a change of view; therefore the only way to deal with him was to reach a deadlock as soon as possible, and allow matters to remain in that state. Accordingly, young Albert said:
“Well, anyhow, I’m going to keep the ‘Second’ on my name; and I’m going to keep the calling-cards, too.”
“What you do?” the grandfather cried angrily. “You go pay calls on some silly female monkeys on Maple Street? What else you got ‘em for, I bet you! You want to go cut some shines on Maple Street!”
Albert’s face had become pink, and his hand shook a little as he extended it in a warning gesture. “Now, you look out!” he cried, with sudden huskiness. “You be careful how you talk! I’m not going to stand everything around here! I got a right to go calling on Maple Street if I want to.”
Upon this the countenance of the nonagenarian gave a demonstration of its plasticity. Already remarkable as a bit of eccentric modelling, it ran through a series of such radical alterations in contour that the oldest Alberger seemed to be giving impersonations of a whole gallery of elderly men, none of them much resembling himself, except in the matter of age. Subsequently he chewed with incredible rapidity upon nothing, the process shortening his face appallingly. Then, all at once, he became placid.
“So you want to git mat, iss it?” he said; and sat down in the chair by the open window. “How olt are you, Brudie?”
“I’m twenty years old.”
“So? It’s a shame!”
“Why is it ‘a shame’?”
“Because twendy years olt you ought to know anyhow a little!” replied the exasperating antique.
Certainly his grandson found him exasperating. “What don’t I know?” he demanded hotly. “Just you tell me anything I don’t know!”
That touched a coil of mirth within the breast of Albert the First. He cackled and called upon his God. “Chust tell me anyt’ing I don’t know’!” he echoed in falsetto. “Dot’s a putty smart fella, I tell you! One day I ask dot fella if he reads Heine’s poems yet, and he finks I’m talkin’ about dose adwertisement rhymes Heinie Glotz puts in noos-papers about his carpet-store!’ He laughed again, then abruptly leaned forward and shook his cane at young Albert. “You noodle!” he cried. “All you know iss to spent money on caller’s cards and stick some crazy yella chammy gluffs on your hants, and try to be a smart Alecks aristocracy! I know where you go! Me and your papa was out riting in dot surrey-wagon, and didn’t we saw you? Aba! we seen you sittin against a hammick in olt Wilkinses yard — dot olt cheater of a C. B. Wilkins, what I wouldn’t wiped my shoe on when he was alife, because I got too much rispect for my shoe — we see you, and we see who sits in dot hammick! All on top she’s got yella hair and a hat cost forty dollars, and no sense in her head; only monkeyshines smart Alecks aristocracy and – ”
“That’ll be enough!” young Albert shouted. “That’ll be enough from you!”
“No, it won’t! I – ”
But the youth’s blood was up; it was up so high that his face showed blotches of a colour almost carmine against its general flush of pink. “I’ll just show you it’s enough!” he cried. “You don’t get to talk any more like that to me!”
And to make this declaration entirely convincing, he ran out to the street.
The room where he had left his grandfather was the “sitting room” of the three surviving Albergers. They dwelt in the rear of the brick building, the forepart of which was the somewhat Gothic hall, containing the bar, the bowling-alleys, the wine-tables, and the cigar-cases. The window in the “sitting room” looked forth upon the neat beer-garden; and at this moment Albert Alberger, Junior, worked therein with trowel and rake; from time to time giving over his own labour to direct that of an amateur painter, professionally a waiter, who was painting some tubs for plants a pleasant green. The oldest Alberger, again chewing frenziedly upon nothing, turned his head to blink at these May-time preparations for the coming outdoor season.
“You heert dot fella?” he inquired of Albert, Junior, whose cylindrical, good-natured head — lifted, after the transplanting of a vine — was now upon a level with the window-sill. “You heert how dot fella hollers and goes on?”
Albert, Junior, laughed. “You got to have anyway some excitement on your birthday, don’t you, papa!” he said. “If you don’t get it no other way, you got to start a scrap with Brudie.”
“He’s a noodle!” the ancient asserted with conviction. “Better for us it been his brudder Herman what got well, when dot scarlet-feefer was. You know where dot smart Alecks goes today, all dressed up in his yella chammy gluffs wit’ a spegglespotted silk necktie? Wilkinses! Wilkinses on Maple Street; dot’s where he goes!”
“Oh, well, papa,” said Albert, Junior, “that needn’t mean nothing so much. I wouldn’t care if he went there a couple times with some of the other young fellas his age — maybe to a party, or something like that — so long he didn’t go reg’lar. Once or twice, that’s no harm.”
“Once or twice! What about once or twice a day?”
“Well, I wouldn’t like it,” the son admitted. “Maybe p’raps I’ll talk to him about it, one these days.”
“I guess so! What about how he sit by dot hammick we saw him?”
“I’ll have a talk with him, papa.”
“Wilkinses!” the old man cried. “I tell you I wouldn’t wipe my shoe on Wilkinses! You want to know, I’ll tell you, I got no use for dot whole Maple Street fit-out! Kit-gluff show-off peoble!”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” the younger Alberger said. “There’s some pretty good citizens livin’ there. Henry Glotz is buildin’ a house on Maple Street right now. He goes with them people a good deal.”
Albert the First was but the more embittered. “Dot’s fine!” he returned. “Glotz, he’s gittin’ monkey-shines in his noodle, too, is he? You want to know what Maple Street iss?”
“Oh, I guess I know, papa.”
“No, you don’t!” the old man said sharply. “You ain’t seen it like I haf. You ain’t no Forty-Eighter and you ain’t no SixtyTwo-er, neither! Listen, Albert, I tell you! I tell you what Maple Street iss.”
Albert, Junior, rested his arm upon the window-sill. “Well, go on, papa,” he said, humouring the elder’s mood. “I got time.”
“Maple Street, dot’s Wilkinses!” Albert the First declared emphatically. “And Wilkinses iss aristocracy smart Alecks monkey-shines. What you expect I help make so much trouble for, in Chermany in Forty-Eight? Well, I’ll tell you, Albert: dot was for freedom. Well, we couldn’t git no freedom in Chermany. Instead o’ freedom I tell you I hat to light out, quick! So, I come to America — to here where I got already a cousin — and I go to work for him in his beer-saloon. He got a little place; right here where I’m sittin’, it was. I sticked here when he died, and year by year I builted up dot fine splendit bissness we got here now. Didn’t I?”
“Of course you did, papa.”
“Well, how big a popalation was our town when I come here because I can’t get no freedom in Chermany? She was fourteen hundut peoble. Yes, sir, chust fourteen hundut. Fine peoble, too; no monkey-shines and noodles, Albert. All peoble what did plendy work; all peoble dot says ‘How-dy’-do, good-morning; how’s your family?’ Nobody tries to be smart Alecks; nobody gits stuck up — everybody goes along good, and everybody iss neighbours. Fine peoble, Albert! Well, sir, she begins to grow; she svells oud. Fifteen hundut? No — ! She comes fifty hundut; all time svellin’ oud pigger; — and here comes Wilkinses!
“Dot olt one, G. B. Wilkins, he’s a cheater and a windbag; he’s a great kit-gluff fella, and makes speeches. A year after he come here he schwindelt seven, eight hundut dollars from some farmers on a real-estate, and putty soon he git in Conguss. Next, he comes back and sits up some more real-estating, him and his son, and builted ‘em a show-off house on Maple Street. Den dey git some noodles to built some more show-off houses on Maple Street, and rite up and down in carridges, and cut monkey-shines. Well, we got someding else on our hants, dose times, because Abe’aham Lincoln he says America ain’t got freedom yet. Dot’s when you was a baby, Albert, and by Chemminy! I didn’t want to go — but I wanted to lif in a country dot hat all freedom, so I went. In sixty-two I went. Yes, sir, I went amarching wi’t der boys, and helped let hell into Chonny Rebs.
“Well, when I come home, our town she’s still a-svellin’ oud. Bei Gott, I seen her svell oud from fourteen hundut to sixty-one t’ousand, where she iss now — and all dot time Maple Street gits worse and worse. Wilkinses got some more showoff peoble to built show-off houses on Maple Street. More and more dey got ‘em. Soon as a show-off family comes to lif in our town, dey got to go and lif on Maple Street! Dose peoble iss all kit-gluff noodles! Olt C. B. Wilkins, he’s dead long time; so’s his son; but plendy Wilkinses left on Maple Street, and Wilkinses iss head of all dem kit-gluff noodles. Dot yellahair, ain’t she a Wilkinses? Hah! I bet you! You want Brudie turning into a noodle? Fine he’ll be arount Albergers!
“Look at dot fine glass o’ peoble iss Albergers’ customers; fine family trade; peoble wit’ good sense and good senses’ manners. How long you fink dose peoble goin’ to haf any respects fer Albergers’ if Albergers’ cuts up shines wit’ yella gluffs and goes chasm’ after Maple Streeters? You raised Brudie good, Albert; but I tell you, you let him turn into a Maple Street noodle and he ain’t fit to be in Albergers’. No, sir! If he’s a Maple Streeter he ain’t fit to be a ‘Merican citizen!”
The expression of Albert, Junior, had become serious during this discourse. “You’re right,” he said. “Brudie’s got to cut it out. I’ll talk to him.”
“How long you goin’ to wait?” the ancient demanded. “Besites his yella chammy gloves he hat today a yella walkin’ cane!”
The brow of Albert, Junior, darkened indeed. “I’ll get after him right off,” he said. “You bet I’ll settle with him before things goes too far!”
He might have felt that things had already gone rather far with young Albert if the latter could have been disclosed to his view at that moment. Young Albert, in fact, had just emerged from the doorway of a corner drugstore at the upper end of Maple Street, and had seized the kid-gloved hand of a passing Wilkins. The manner of Albert was violent; that of Miss Wilkins showed surprise neither at his vehemence nor at the encounter. It was a rendezvous.
She was about Albert’s age; not more than a year younger; a fragile, expensive little creature, almost touchingly sweet to look at, and, like spun sugar, not to be handled at all. How well she herself understood this was made plain by the haste of her effort to withdraw her fingers from the bulky enclosure of Albert’s chamois glove. However, she had no strength, and could only lift her shoulder and jerk her aim in protest.
“Let go, Albert,” she said pettishly, in a charming voice. “Let go!”
“All right,” he laughed, obeying. “I wasn’t trying to hold your hand — not on the street.”
“Not anywhere!” she exclaimed, his implication finding little favour with her.
Albert’s ample face was tactless enough to exhibit a great deal of mystification. “What’s the matter?” he inquired, as they walked slowly on together. “You didn’t mind it last Tuesday night when we were sitting out on your porch in the moonli – ”
“Hush!” she said crisply. “You mustn’t talk like that.”
“Why not, when it’s the tru – ”
“Hush!” she insisted. “Saying things like that isn’t nice! I don’t like it.”
“I don’t see what I’ve done to make you treat me so different, today, all at once,” said Albert, beginning to be offended. “What’s the matter, Anita?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Well, then, why do you go and get cross when I happen to mention —”
Anita Wilkins uttered a sharp sound of impatience. “If you say any more, Albert,” she cried, “I’ll turn around, right here on the street, and not walk another step with you!”
After an inner conflict, Albert contained himself in silence.
This was his first sight of Anita since a walk they had taken on the morning after the sentimental Tuesday evening he had thought proper to recall to her mind, and during that previous stroll Anita’s mood had been complaisant, even fond. In fact, when they reached the outskirts of the town her small hand had been so friendly as to place itself voluntarily within his own, for a moment or two, without explanation.
Since then, throughout a week which seemed everlasting, he had been looking forward to a repetition of this pleasant event; looking forward also to other repetitions. He thought she would probably be more celestially definite, this time, about how often she thought of him. She had admitted, on their Wednesday walk, that it was “so often, she wondered how much it meant,” and a further admission, just as they parted, sent him home by way of the rushing heavens: “Oftener than about anybody else in the world, Albert!”
Now here was a change with a vengeance! She not only jerked her hand away from him, but scolded him; even threatened “to turn around, right here on the street,” and make him an ignominious figure to the eyes of any beholder. Albert’s breast heaved; the muscles of his large face moved threateningly, and his eyes blinked. These symptoms, ten years earlier, would have indicated to those who knew him that he was about to weep with loud vocal demonstrations; but he never went quite that far now, of course. He was puzzled; more hurt than puzzled; angrier than hurt; and he stalked beside Miss Wilkins in sore dignity, inadequate phrases forming in his mind.
His impulse was to tell her, with all possible bitterness of enunciation, that he wasn’t used to being treated like a dog by anybody, and that he didn’t propose to get used to it, either! He might have followed the impulse had there not fallen a gentle touch upon his arm; three white-kid fingers rested for a caressing instant upon his sleeve; an appealing whisper fell ineffably upon his ear:
“Don’t be cross wif’ me, boy?”
And he looked down upon a small, glowing face which almost touched his shoulder and smiled wistfully, asking forgiveness.
“You cross wif’ Nita, boy?”
He was not. Instantly he was not. This small Anita was the perfect mistress of little enchantments; she was always ready with cunning to compass her desires, and just now her desire was to soothe this bulky lover; for she was tender-hearted, and could never bear to see any animal rage or suffer — not even a big boy. When she did not behold the suffering, it did not matter so much; but Albert’s was poignantly visible. For reasons decidedly her own, she had planned to discourage him thoroughly today; but her too gentle heart betrayed her, and she was unable to aggrieve him further while he was yet in her sight and she must be a witness of his distress. So she decided to find another way: Albert was too vivid.
“You’re not cross, Albert, boy?”
“I was just pretending,” he said. “I just thought I’d let you think I was cross.”
And he made bold to clasp for an instant the fingers that had touched his sleeve; the which she suffered him, and smiled. “Did you wait long at the drugstore for me?” she asked. “I think it’s better, our meeting somewhere like this, than your coming to the house very often; don’t you, Albert?”
“Yes, I guess it is,” he said; and for a little while they walked without speaking, inwardly preoccupied. What went on in their two minds just then was odd enough; for Anita was remembering how careful she had been that her family did not become too inquisitive about Albert and discover his origin; and Albert was thinking that he would have to bring about no inconsiderable alterations in Anita before she would become acceptable to his father and grandfather. He had not a suspicion that her relatives might have some prejudices against himself, which is further witness to the delicacy of Anita and to that tender heart of hers. It was actually Albert’s impression that she had divined the attitude of his own family toward Maple Street noodles.
“She knows when I get home they might ask me where I been,” he thought. ‘Then, if I been to her house, I either have to lie or get in trouble; but if I met her outside and don’t have to say I been to her house, then I’ll be all right.” This was a high compliment to Anita, one of the kind that lovers pay: it invested her with the powers of a seeress, since he had never mentioned the Alberger viewpoint to her. “It’s better, meeting like this,” he thought. “I can go to her house enough after I teach her to be more the kind of woman they’d like. Then they’ll think she’s fine.”
The vision in his mind was of an Anita made over in a fashion suitable to Albergers’: an Anita weighing about sixty muscular pounds more than the lady now walking beside him — a saving, industrious Anita, hearty with the customers, anxious to please the family trade, and a capable hand with Swiss-cheese sandwiches, roll’m-ups, and all the wursts. That was the picture which, rather hazily, in his mind’s eye, he formed of the intricate little person, Anita Wilkins.
The unfortunate Albert was capable of this vision, even while he beheld before him what she did to her father’s fourthousand-dollar income: the New York hat that looked as if some burlesquing boy had made it for a joke on his sister; the misshapen blouse, trimmed with mink; the futurist skirt; the trifling gaiters; the foolishly pretty shoes, twinkling with highlights. The vision of an Alberger Anita was in his mind’s eye even when the end of her mink tippet blew into his physical eye; even when she lifted her hand to adjust the tippet, and he saw the crusted miracle of a watch she wore on her white-kid wrist. Albert’s visions were somewhat exorbitant; there was poesy in him, evidently.
“I cut something out o’ the paper Sunday to show you,” he said presently. “I didn’t know whether you’d seen it.” He handed her the clipping:
“Owing to a business opportunity, Mr. Henry Wilkins, Fifth, has returned from college and will reside with his parents in this city.”
“Oh, yes, I saw it,” said Anita, tossing the clipping away. “Of course I knew Cousin Henry was home.”
“Pretty good joke, isn’t it?” said Albert.
“1 don’t see why.”
“Oh, it’s all over town he got fired because he couldn’t keep up in his studies. That’s why there was a ‘business opportunity’ for Mr. Henry Wilkins, Fifth!”
Anita frowned. “You’re entirely mistaken,” she said. “Henry’s father insisted on his going into business.” And as Albert shouted jeeringly, she added, “If you laugh when I tell you things, I’ll think you’re rather rude.”
“Well, I can get along without laughing for a minute; it’s nothing to me,” he said. “Anyway, we got Henry Wilkins, Fifth, to thank for introducing us to each other. Just a little over four months ago, the night after Christmas; that’s when it was.”
“I wasn’t thinking much about going to that Charity Ball,” he said, plunging, as lovers will, into reminiscences of “how it happened.” “And then I says to myself, ‘Believe I’ll go see if there’s any good-lookers there.’ So when I got there, I saw you. I had to hunt around to find somebody that knew you, so finally I ran across Henry. I traded him a bicycle once, when we were in high school. So he introduced you to me.”
“No, he introduced you to me, Albert.”
“Yes,” said Albert. “That was a pretty important night for you and me, Anita; but I guess he never knew that, when he was introducing us! I got something else I want to show you.” And he offered for her inspection a card, twin to that which had caused so much emotion within his grandfather.
“Albert Alberger, Second,” she read. “But, Albert, it’s printed.”
“You ought to’ve had it engraved.”
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“Oh, nobody has cards printed,” she informed him. “That isn’t a bit nice.”
Albert had thought to please her, and he was piqued. He was additionally annoyed when, before he could pursue the subject, the lady he escorted was hailed from the rear, and an exquisite youth appeared, panting.
“I’ve just been to your house, ‘Nita,” said Henry Wilkins, Fifth, adjusting his step to his cousin’s, but not to Albert’s. “Aunt Marjie told me you’d gone walking, and I’ve been running all over this end of town to find you. Why don’t you leave word at the house which way you’re going when you know I’m in town?”
Anita looked startled; and a slight agitation became audible in her voice, though all she said was, “Why, Henry Wilkins!”
“Well, why don’t you?” Henry insisted.
Albert frowned heavily; he was naturally disturbed by the intrusion, and he was annoyed by the high-handed, ignoring way in which it was made. It seemed to him a violation of actual rights which people ought to have sense enough to recognize; and he cast about in his mind for some means to demonstrate that Anita was no longer public property, and that, even for cousins, she did not “leave word,” at home, where she was going — not when she was going to walk with Albert Alberger, Second!
Henry paid no attention whatever to him, but continued, to Anita: “You knew I was in town three days ago. Why haven’t you called me up? It was your place to do something first, don’t you think, after the way you haven’t answered my letters lately?”
This had a happy effect upon Albert. His irritation vanished at once; he was delighted, and a merry mood took him. Henry’s complaint proved clearly that Anita had something better to think of than answering letters from Maple Street noodles. For, when he looked at Henry Wilkins, Fifth, Albert suddenly agreed with his grandfather, at least about the male population of the pretentious thoroughfare. Henry was a slim youth, as beautiful and cold as the moon. He was fair, with hair of a silver blond; and his expression was infantile in its rapt unconsciousness of all the universe save Henry and what affected him.
“Where you going?” he said. “Let’s go back to the house. I want to talk to you.”
“Hello, Swink!” said Albert gaily.
“Hellow, Deitsh!” Henry carelessly returned. “Anita, let’s go back to — ”
“What in the world are those names you’re calling each other?” Anita cried; and she managed to add a nervous but placative laugh to the interruption.
“We called him ‘Deitsh’ at high school,” said Henry. “Didn’t you hear what I said? How much farther are you — ”
“‘Swink’s’ always been his nickname,” Albert explained. “I hear you just got fired from college, Swink.” And he laughed boisterously, appealing confidently to Anita. “Didn’t I tell you it was all over town he got fired because he was so dumb he couldn’t keep up?”
Henry was able to ignore this jocular attack, though it rather strained his capacity for ignoring things, especially as Albert had but stated the lamentable fact. Anita, on the contrary, flushed deeper, and suddenly wheeled about, facing homeward.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s do go back!”
“Where can I get a chance to have a talk with you alone?” Henry added, turning with her.
Albert turned also; but he was not quick, and he found himself a step behind them — a step which he took with vigour, placing himself between the cousins, instead of going to Anita’s unescorted left. “Well,” he said, “I guess I just as soon go back, too. We can’t get much more good out o’ this walk now.”
The cold young Henry seemed not so cold at this. It was with an easily visible amount of heat, in fact, that, after saving himself from a fall (Albert’s shoulder having brushed him heavily), he passed to Anita’s left. All three faces were flushed: Henry’s with indignation; Anita’s with anxiety; Albert’s with triumph.
“I guess it’s all right so far as I’m concerned,” Albert said, “if you want to go back to the house. One way or another — go walking or sit in the house and chatter — it hardly makes any difference to us, does it, Anita?”
She gave him a dark glance; then she gave her cousin an appealing one. “Oh, it might,” she said. “I don’t know. I guess so. Yes, it would.” For the moment she was disconcerted, and with reason. She had not looked for this encounter. “Cousin Henry,” she said, making a pathetic effort, “did you find everybody all well at your house when you got home?”
Henry was not inclined to ease matters; he stalked beside her, furious. “Never mind,” he said. “I’ll talk to you when we get alone.”
Albert laughed a laugh of contempt, not ill-natured, merely triumphant. “Come around some other day then,” he said. “Up to then, fall in behind! You’re too late to get on the bandwagon!”
Henry breathed rapidly, almost audibly, but attempted no retort; and Albert was in high fettle. He laughed loudly again, and, reaching behind Anita, slapped Henry upon the back.
“You’re too late for the band-wagon!” he cried. “Fall in with the kids behind, old Swinkie!”
“You keep your hands off me!” Mr. Wilkins commanded dangerously.
“You get mad and I’ll turn you upside down and spank you!” shouted the uproarious Albert. “If anybody gets mad it ought to be me. Shouldn’t it, Anita?”
Scarlet, she made no reply, but hurried the faster toward home, while Albert gaily pressed the question:
“Shouldn’t it be me if anybody has to get mad? Here he thinks he ought to get mad while he’s the one comes spoiling a walk I’m taking with my girl!”
“Albert!” she gasped miserably.
“Well, I’m not mad,” he laughed; and he stretched forth his hand, offering Henry another good-natured slap; but Henry evaded the gift, muttering savagely. The yellow chamois glove paused in air, then with a second thought rested upon Anita’s shoulder. “We aren’t mad at him, are we, Anita?”
As Anita jerked her shoulder free of that possessive hand, her expression indicated that she considered the moment a tragic one. The two words she spoke, however, lacked every dramatic quality, though the tone was sufficiently emotional.
“Oh, my!” she said.
They had reached her gateway. “Come in, Henry,” she said, breathlessly. “Albert, I’ll write you a note and – ”
“Oh, I just as soon come in,” he said. “It don’t matter so much, once in a while.”
She opened her lips to speak, but proved to be incapable. With a blanched face she turned, and followed by the two young men, scampered unhappily to the front door of the house, opened it, and passed within.
The three stood in a broad, old-fashioned hall — a hall with a white-and-black tiled floor, black walnut newel and staircase, dismaying draperies, antlers with hats on them; all haunted by a faint smell of apples.
Anita spoke in haste, and her voice was a tremulous ghost of itself. “Albert,” she said, “will you please go in the reception-room?”
“I don’t care,” he responded. “Go and talk with him a while, if Swinkie’s got some family stuff he wants to tell you. It’s nothing to me, so long as he knows he’s too late for the bandwagon. Don’t take too much time, though: we don’t want all our afternoon spoiled for us.” And he passed cheerfully through the doorway whither her impatient hand urged him. Henry had already gone into the library on the other side of the hall, and the stricken lady proceeded to follow Henry. Tears twinkled upon her lashes the instant she had closed the door, and she seemed inclined to shed them upon her cousin’s shoulder; but he stepped back with convincing haste, avoiding her.
“What did that Dutchman mean?” he demanded. “Nice thing for a man to come back to, isn’t it? Find the girl he’s engaged to – ”
“But we aren’t engaged,” she protested, moaning softly as she acquiesced in his rejection of a shoulder whereon to weep. “We aren’t engaged, Henry.”
“No, dear; you know we aren’t. We’re not exactly engaged,” she added, weeping more. “I’ve never been exactly engaged to anybody in my life.”
“Well, that Dutchman thinks you’re engaged to him, doesn’t he?”
“No!” she wailed, sinking into a chair. “Of course he doesn’t. He never acted such a crazy way before! I don’t know what was the matter with him!”
“I do,” said Henry. “Nothing could be much plainer!”
“He thinks you’re going to marry him.”
The unhappy girl stifled a scream. “No, no, no!” she cried. “How could he?”
“Because you’ve been flirting with him.”
“No, no, no, Henry!” she protested, huskily. “I haven’t ever done anything like flirt with him. Sometimes I have flirted; I admit that. I did last summer, and told you all about it. Don’t you remember?” In the excess of her candour she lifted her wet eyes to his. “But never since this Christmas, when I found out you cared. Never, Henry!”
“Then what’s he mean, calling you his ‘girl’?”
“I don’t know, Henry. It’s just his German way, I think. I’ve hardly seen anything of him at all: he’s only been here to call three or four times. I’ve always been almost icy with him. For a while — and you were so far away, Henry — I did think he was rather nice, and sort of big and good-looking and — ”
Henry interrupted her violently. “Aha!” he cried. “I see!”
“Henry!” she wailed. “I only mean good-looking in his way —not a way that appeals to me at all! You’ve just got to believe me, Henry. Henry, you do believe me?” And she seized his hand, clinging to it and leaving tears upon it.
Henry began to be shaken. “You can’t fool me,” he said. “I know you’ve been cooin’ around that Dutchman; but there’s one way you could make me think it didn’t amount to much.”
“Go in there and make him understand you never want to see him around the place again.”
She dropped his hand and uttered a subdued shriek. “Oh, I couldn’t! I couldn’t, Henry! It would hurt his feelings awfully, and you know perfectly well I can’t see people suffer. I can’t, Henry.”
Henry intelligently made for the door.
“Stop!” she cried, running to place herself in his way. “You shan’t go, Henry! You mustn’t be so mean to me!”
“Then do what I say.”
She saw that he meant it inexorably; she gulped, shivered, sighed brokenly, and bowed her head in resignation. “You wouldn’t mind, Henry,” she said feebly, “if I had mamma do it for me?”
“No,” said Henry. “I think that would be better. It’d do him lots o’ good.”
“I won’t be long,” whispered Anita, and the tender prophecy of a smile might have been seen through the mist of her tears as she tiptoed out of the door.
In the room where Albert waited he discovered the origin of the faint odour noticeable in the hall — a silver bowl of big, polished red apples on a centre-table. He looked upon these with a pleasant interest, and, seating himself at ease, ate two. He was just finishing the second when a lady of fifty entered the room so quietly that she startled him, and he sat open mouthed, staring, the remnants of the apple in his hand.
She was so gentlewomanly she might have dressed herself in the character of ‘gentlewoman’ for a fancy-dress party. Her delicate head — a religious, elderly replica of Anita’scompleted a simple harmony otherwise composed of gray silk, ivory lace, and a cameo. Her voice was almost as quiet and quick as the noiseless step of her invisible feet.
“You are Mr. Alberger,” she said, but did not await his confirmation of the statement. “Anita introduced you to me on the porch one evening, but it was dark. I am her mother. I’m very sorry to have something to say which may be a little awkward for both you and myself, Mr. Alberger.”
“Ma’am?” he said. “Isn’t Anita coming in here pretty soon? I was just waiting for her.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly. “I came to say that it will be better for you not to wait. Anita is chatting with her cousin.”
|"I'm very sorry to have something to say |
which may be a little awkward ... "
Illustration by Arthur I. Keller
“I beg your pardon.”
“That Henry Wilkins! She isn’t crazy enough about him to spend the whole – ”
“She hasn’t any such ideas in her head, Mr. Alberger. Both she and her cousin are too young to think of such things yet. I’m afraid I must make it clear,” Mrs. Wilkins continued, with an accession of primness. “What I am saying concerns nobody except yourself.”
Albert coughed uncomfortably; he was becoming conscious of a destiny overhanging and about to fall upon him ponderously. He felt a strong dislike for this ominous lady. “Well, does something seem to be the matter?” he asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Very much so,” she returned. “I think I must be quite frank with you. You see, when Anita met you she had no idea who you were, Mr. Alberger.”
“Who I was?” he echoed, utterly puzzled.
“She asked you to call, without knowing who you were,” Mrs. Wilkins went on, in her quick, quiet way. “She tells me you came several times before you mentioned definitely who you were. When you did mention it she ought to have told her father and me at once; but Anita is very tender-hearted, and she put off telling us, because she knew that we could take no possible course except to end the acquaintance instantly. I know how sensitive she is to the giving of pain, but I think she was very wrong not to tell us who you were as soon as she found out. She says herself that keeping such a thing secret from us has weighed more and more on her conscience until today, when she felt that she couldn’t bear it any longer. She has just come to me in my room and told me who you were, Mr. Alberger.”
“Who I am?’ said Albert. He was dazed; most of what she said amazed and staggered him; he could not discern her meaning. But “end the acquaintance instantly” — that stood out with a sinister intelligibility, and frightened him. “She felt she must put the matter entirely in my hands,” Mrs. Wilkins informed him.
“Look here!” said Albert. “You got me all mixed up. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Did she get you to come in here to tell me she wants to sit in there and talk to Swink Wilkins, now he’s got fired and come back to — ”
Mrs. Wilkins interrupted him firmly. “I see I shall have to be even painfully frank, Mr. Alberger. You entirely misunderstand your own position. When I heard your name mentioned by Anita, I did not connect it with a place I have often — too often — heard of: the Alberger — ” she paused, reluctant to use distasteful words, then compelled herself to go on — “the Alberger saloon!” she said.
“Well,” said Albert, “I don’t see what’s the matter. Albergers’ isn’t a saloon, though; not as you name saloons. Our place is a wine-house and bowling-alleys and garden, and it’s got the best business in the city. I guess you don’t hardly mean Anita thinks she’s too good for Albergers’?”
Mrs. Wilkins looked suddenly faint. For a moment she was unable to reply; then she found a voice much louder than she had been using. “Your father is a German saloonkeeper!” she cried.
“All right,” said Albert, fiercely. “What comes next?”
“I think you should understand without my saying any more, Mr. Alberger.”
Mrs. Wilkins looked him full in the eye. “Anita begs me to request you,” she said, “that as she was under a misapprehension about you in asking you to call here, you will be good enough not to mention to anybody that you have ever been in this house.”
This was, in truth, slightly over-interpreting Anita, but the young man seemed to call for extraordinary clearness of diction; and aside from something which Mrs. Wilkins thought of as “social strata,” she had a profound horror of all traffickers in liquor.
“If my husband were here this afternoon,” she said, “he would probably insist on your giving your word to grant Anita’s request. He would ask you please not to speak to her upon the street — and not to mention her. I hope it will be unnecessary for him ever to have to approach you upon the subject.”
She would have said a little more, but Albert’s eyes, fixed upon her own, were becoming visibly bloodshot and unbearable. He was slow, but at last he understood her meaning to the full, and he understood Anita’s.
Mrs. Wilkins moved backward nervously. “1 think your hat – ” she began, but decided not to make the suggestion more definite.
There was no need. Albert picked up his hat and stick from the table, where they lay by the bowl of apples; he put his hat on his head, and stamped vehemently out of the house. At the gate he turned.
There was the flicker of a curtain at a window downstairs; and this movement, though inconsiderable and brief, disclosed the fact that Henry Wilkins, Fifth, and Anita, over Henry’s shoulder, were watching the passionate departure. They saw that he saw them, and, with a little confusion, decided to become invisible; upon which Albert, discovering that he held the remains of an apple embedded in a clinched palm of chamois, hurled this missive at the window, and departed, swiftly.
He reached the stable behind Albergers’ Garden in time to unloose his emotions privately, or at least before a public consisting of no more than the mild horse and introspective cow there enclosed with him. He broke his stick into short pieces; he hurled the yellow gloves into the mire of the stalls, and trampled them down there. He used many words, both whole and broken, and uttered sounds that were not words at all. At last his reddened eyes lifted to a rafter, then slowly descended to the cow’s halter of rope.
The combination of materials was gloomily suggestive; but Albert was young, and after a while he went up to the loft, and lay in the hay, brooding, until supper-time.
His father and Albert the First were already seated when young Albert came to the table. They let him begin his meal; then the ancient man nodded sagely to his son, who nodded back, and said:
“Brudie, I got to talk to you.”
“Dot’s right,” said the ancient. “Gif it to him, hot, too!”
But before the son could obey, rebellion flamed from the grandson. He set down his coffee-cup, and banged the table with his fist alarmingly. “You better not!” he cried. “I won’t stand not one word! I don’t have to take it from anybody. I want to get out o’ this place.”
His two elders stared, incredulous; they looked at each other blankly, then more blankly at young Albert. Finally the grandfather seemed to have solved the riddle. He began to nod his fine old head; he nodded and nodded.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Didn’t I knew it? Didn’t I tolt you? You put it off too long, and let him keep goin’ wit’ Maple Streeters, till it’s happened to him. Dose peoble, you know what dey are?”
“I’ll tell you what they are!” young Albert shouted. “They’re Americans!”
“No, sir!” the old man answered, straining his thin voice with the emphasis he demanded of it. “It’s because you’ve gone crazy you say so: nobody can’t make Maple Streeters Americans. Maple Streeters iss monkey-shines, and monkeyshines ain’t Americans. I’m a Forty-Eighter and I’m a Sixty-Two-er! I been an American sixty-eight years; dot’s long enough to know who besides me iss Americans, ain’t it? You been goin’ by Maple Street till you’re crazy; you’re spoilt; you’re turned into a noodle! It’s happened.”
“It’s a falsehood!” bellowed young Albert.
“Why is it?” his father asked angrily. “Didn’t you just say you want to leave Albergers’?”
“I didn’t! I want to leave this blame town!”
“Where you want to go, Brudie?” his father inquired, in complete astonishment.
Albert sat sullen for a moment; then with lowered eyes he said: “I’d like to go to Germany.”
“For a visit?” asked Albert, Junior. “You want to go and study something maybe?”
“No!” the boy returned fiercely. “I want to go live there!”
The Forty-Eighter hammered the table with knife and spoon; he burst into uproarious laughter which ran into falsetto and choked him. “You Brudie!” he said at last. “You go and lif in Chermany — see how you like it. Why, you can’t speak good Cherman!”
“I’d learn it then.”
“You better not!” cried the old man. “Pretty quick you’d say someding if it’s understood you git in jail!”
“Why would I?”
“You couldn’t help it! You got always used to speak what you want to, ain’t you? Here, if you want to cuss somebody, you cuss him. In Chermany, if you want to cuss der Kaiser, you’d cuss him. In Chermany you expect a man can open his mout’ to speak what he feels like? What am I a Forty-Eighter for, you Brudie?”
“I don’t know,” the youth said sullenly. “I wish you’d stayed there and been a reg’lar German!”
Old Alberger laughed again. “In America you stand up for Chermany; in Chermany you’d stand up for America — ”
“You think I would?” Albert interrupted hotly. “It’s why I’d like to go and live in Germany — because I hate them damned Americans!”
Again the elder two sat amazed. “You hate who, Brudie?” the grandfather asked, leaning toward him, across the table.
“I hate them damned Americans,” Albert repeated; and his passion increased.
“You hate me? Ain’t I an American?”
“You’re not!” shouted Albert; and he struck the table again with his fist. “Maple Streeters, they’re Americans! You’re a German! You’re a German saloonkeeper!”
“Yes, sir. Go on,” said old Alberger, nodding. “What comes next?”
Albert threw down his napkin and leaped to his feet. “I’m a German!” he bellowed. “And I wish to God you’d had sense enough to stay in Germany where you belonged, and not come over and get me born here where I got to make myself sick lookin’ at Americans! That dirty Maple Street ain’t nothing but Americans!”
He fled, noises of a vehement character marking his path through the farther chambers of the apartment. “Well, sir,” said the Forty-Eighter, “he’s gone crazy, but I guess we don’t got to worry so much. Anyway, he ain’t no Maple Streeter!”
And a little later, observing how young Albert rather morosely but efficiently managed the bowling-alleys in the somewhat Gothic hall, Albert the First addressed Albert, Junior, again upon the subject. “I guess he don’t start for Chermany tonight, not chust yet a while! I expect — well, me and you, we ought – ”
He lowered his voice to a whisper as a group of customers jovially approached; and Albert, Junior, was uncertain of his father’s words, but he understood the old man’s meaning, which was that both of them ought to be very kind to Brudie for a while. The final phrase of the Forty-Eighter was more distinct, however.
“Because Brudie, he’s in a hell of a pickle!” his son understood him to say.
– Everybody’s Magazine, September 1916