Call It Sleep VIII

WHEN he came home, his father had already risen. Naked above the waist, the upper half of his heavy underwear hanging below his knees, he stood before the sink, drying the gleaming razor between the pinched ends of a towel. Under the blue mantle-light, his shaven face was stone-grey, harsher yet handsomer. The broad spindles and mounds of muscles along his arm and shoulders knotted powerfully as he moved. The muscles on his breast and smooth belly were square and flat. A few dark hairs curled over the white skin of his chest. He was powerful, his father, much more powerful than he looked fully dressed. It seemed to David, standing there before the door that he had never seen him before. And he stood there almost in awe until the single cursory glance his father cast at him, pricked him into motion and he walked waveringly toward his mother. She smiled.

“And now my second man,” she said lightly. “Come! To your labors.”

Looking round while he shed his coat and sweater, he saw that the kitchen was immaculate. The stove had been polished. The linoleum, newly mopped, glistened warmly. The windows were stainless against the blue twilight. The table, already set, had been covered with his favorite cloth, white, with narrow gold lines crossing in broad squares. He unbuttoned his shirt, removed it, slid out of his underwear just as his father was wrestling into his, and glancing at his own slender, puny arms, glanced up in time to see the last flicker of long sinews before the naked arm was sheathed. How long would it be, he wondered, before those knots appeared above his own elbow and those tough, taut braids on his own forearm. He wished it were soon, wished it were today, this minute. Strong, how strong his father was, stronger than he’d ever be. A twinge of envy and despair ran through him. He’d never have those tendons, those muscles that even beneath the thick undershirt, bulged and flattened between shoulder and armpit, No, he’d never be that strong, and yet he had to be, he had to be. He didn’t know why, but he had to be!

“Good warm water,” said his mother filling a basin in the sink. “Now that we’ve a fire in the stove.”

She pulled up a chair before the sink. David climbed up and began washing. Behind him, they were silent a few seconds and then he heard above the water he splashed about his ears, a crackling sound that reminded him of frozen wash bending. And his father’s growl.

“One needs a wedge to get into these sleeves. Do they starch them with plaster?”

“Apparently! I don’t know why they do it.” She paused. “But only this once! And if we suit him, only once more!”

“Hmph!” he grunted while the crackling continued. “Let it come soon! If she thinks I of all people would throw obstacles in her way, she’s out of her head. I wouldn’t wear this plaster shirt if I didn’t hope to get rid of her. You can tell her that for me if that’s why she’s been so secretive.”

“It wasn’t because of that, Albert. She wasn’t afraid you would interfere. But after all, these things happen—well—not very often in a woman’s life, and she wasn’t sure. Besides, she was a little frightened—a widower, a wife in her grave—a little ashamed, you see.”

“Pph! I’d call her fortunate if she were his sixth wife! And as far as he’s concerned, a Russian doesn’t know better and doesn’t deserve better. But these underhanded wiles—Dentists four nights a week, gold-teeth, powder, mirrors! That fidgeting! Only God knew what she was up to!”

“They weren’t so underhanded, Albert!” While she spoke, she pointed out to David, who had turned with dripping face, the towel beside the clean white shirt on the washtub. “Love, marriage, whatever one calls it, does that to one, makes one uncertain, wary. One wants to appear better than one is.”

“It did that to you I suppose.”

“Yes.” She seemed hesitant. “Of course!”


“Of course!” she reiterated, and then laughing. “You know how the old song goes: In this way and that, one beguiles the groom.”

“Beguiles!” The lean, grey features sharpened. “Beguiles!” And then looking away absently, “Much to beguile—a Russian and a widower.”

“But Albert!” she smiled slyly. “A Russian-Jew is also a man.”

“I grant you.”

“And she’ll make him a good wife. Bertha is shrewd and what counts more she isn’t shy. Clothes, she has no use for. And with a candy store of her own,” she laughed, “there will be nothing for her to spend money on. From what she’s told me, that’s the kind of wife this Nathan wants.”

“If she ever owns a candy-store and if she runs it the way she keeps her room there, then God help her customers. Here when she leaves hair-pins on the floor as thick as a stubble, all one can do is tread on them; there, they’ll eat them, mark me. They’ll be in every tray. And that red fox-tail she wears in her hair, they’ll find it in the ice-cream. Has she ever put anything back where it belonged? Does she ever do anything with care? And the meals she’ll cook him, Almighty God! With that rash, blind haste of hers, his stomach will be like mine the years before you came.”

“Oh, she’ll learn, Albert! She’ll learn! She’ll have to! I couldn’t cook either before I married! After all we had servants when I was a girl—they did all the house-keeping, house-cleaning, cooking.”

“Bah!” he interrupted her contemptuously. “I don’t believe it. She’ll never learn anything! And what does she know about children? Nothing! What a life they’ll lead her! And she them. Two half-grown wenches on her hands the day she marries! Strangers to her. Hi! What a bedlam! A fate to befall one’s enemies! Well!” He shrugged impatiently. “All I ask is to have it over with soon!”

David who had gotten on his clean shirt and tie by this time, maneuvered about to catch his mother’s eye. She opened them wide in pleasure.

“Look how he gleams, your son!”

Impassively, his father’s eyes rested on him, a moment, and away. “Why doesn’t he comb his hair?”

“I’ll do it!” She went quickly to the sink, wet the comb and passed it caressingly through his hair. “It was browner when you were very young, my son. My handsome son!”

His father reached out for the grey milk-route book that lay on the ice-box, opened it impassively, let the page ruffle under his fingers, (David remembered the ink stains once engraved upon them) and scowled.

“This belongs in my coat.” He said abruptly, and was silent.

About half an hour later, Aunt Bertha and the newcomer arrived. Being present when a stranger was introduced to his father was always an ordeal for David, and this time it seemed more trying than ever. Aunt Bertha was flustered and red with embarrassment, which made her speech and her movements all the more hectic; so that her clipped, flighty, whirlwind of words and gestures caused his father to grow as stiff and aloof as if he were carved from stone. When the two men shook hands, his father merely grunted in reply to the greeting, and never meeting the other’s eyes, glared grimly over his shoulders. Mr. Sternowitz, disconcerted, cast a quick, bewildered glance at Aunt Bertha who stabbed her brother-in-law first with a frown of pucker-nosed hate, and then replied with a reassuring, I-told-you-so smile. That dread moment over, at the suggestion of David’s mother, they sat down, and seated, relaxed guardedly.

While conversation, in which David’s father took no part, circulated about the room in short nervous spurts, concerned chiefly with dentists and with the difference between Aunt Bertha’s “absah” and Mr. Sternowitz’s “ulster,” David examined the newcomer. He was, as Aunt Bertha had said, a little man, very long-nosed, blue-eyed, and sallow. A pale, narrow mustache, the tips of which he kept trying to draw down and bite, followed the margin of thin lips. His ears were overly large, soft-looking and fuzzy almost as red plush. In his small mouth as he spoke, gold teeth gleamed, and his sallow brow that knitted easily into long wrinkles, crept up in quick perspectives into the brownish kinky hair. Above his mustache, his face appeared good-natured, meek yet shrewd, below it, despite the small mouth and receding chin, he gave one the impression of peevish stubbornness. Altogether he looked rather insignificant and even a little absurd. And David scrutinizing him felt increasingly disappointed not so much for himself but for his aunt’s sake.

After lauding the dentist—both he and Aunt Bertha had been present the evening an old woman had come to the office to test out her newly-made plates, and after eating a pear and a heavily poppy-seeded roll, had gone away satisfied—Mr. Sternowitz drifted to the leggings business and prophesied that it would soon disappear under earth. Children were wearing far less leggings than before. And it was because of the uncertainty of his future earnings, he informed them hesitantly, that he thought a man’s wife ought to have an independent income—with which Aunt Bertha emphatically concurred. Uncertain at first, but continually spurred on and encouraged by Aunt Bertha and David’s mother, Mr. Sternowitz gradually lost some of his apprehension at the other man’s chill taciturnity and began to speak more freely. However, whenever his eyes met David’s father’s, the expression on his face tended to freeze into one of ingratiating self-effacement. David sympathized with him. He guessed that like himself, Mr. Sternowitz felt the necessity of continually humbling himself before the relentless, unwinking scrutiny of those eyes, the grey unrelaxing visage. Everyone had to bow down before his father, except Aunt Bertha, and as Mr. Sternowitz’s humility and self-deprecation increased, she became more chagrined and defiant.

David’s mother had begun serving supper when Mr. Sternowitz, taking a preliminary nip at his mustache said, “My father was a servant!”

Up till now Aunt Bertha had given vent to her impatience by merely clicking her tongue against the roof of the mouth. But now apparently deciding on more strenuous measures, she inquired in a barbed tone, “And in rainy weather he carried two children on his back to the cheder. Didn’t he, Nathan?”

“Yes.” Mr. Sternowitz lifted hurt eyes from his plate. “So he did. I think I told you.”

“Well, do you have to blare it out to everyone the first time you meet them? Won’t it keep? Isn’t it dry enough? Why don’t you tell us about your mother’s cousin who was a doctor? That’s something to brag about!”

Above his mustache, Mr. Sternowitz looked crushed. “I didn’t think of it,” he said apologetically. But below it, as if some belated impulse thrust it out, his small chin worked its way forward. And he looked confidentially at David’s father. “But he was a servant!” he maintained.

“Yes! Tell them everything!” Aunt Bertha tossed her head resentfully. “And your mother was blind when she bore you and purblind during your infancy. And she fed you vinegar instead of sugar-water. That’s why you’re so homely!”

“One has to speak about something,” he maintained persistently. “Especially if everyone else is quiet.”

“Ach! There’s a forest of somethings!” Aunt Bertha countered fretfully. “I suppose when I go to see your relatives, you’ll expect me to tell them in the first gasp that the only suitor I ever had—” Here she began to gesticulate and grimace violently—“Was a man who s-s-stammered. And when the marriage-broker said to him, Speak! Ox! What does he say, but, D-d-did y-your g-g-grand-m-mother l-like ch-ch-ch-cheese. Bah! Well I won’t!” she concluded breathlessly.

“Have mercy, Bertha!” her sister said “What difference will it make whether he tells it sooner or later. We’re bound to know one another.”

“Perhaps!” was her significant retort.

Dejected, Mr. Sternowitz peeped up furtively from his plate first at David’s father, still unsmiling and aloof, and then at Aunt Bertha, petulant. Then he blinked embarrassedly, tried to laugh, but without success, and uncertainly, “What did you say? I mean you—to—to the suitor?”

“I said, you’ll have to ask my grandmother.” She screwed her lips together tartly. “She’s dead.”

“Ai!” Mr. Sternowitz gnawed his mustache and looked around half-rueful, half-pleased. “She’s going to lead me a fearful life, no? And even if I am a father of children, nothing will help me. Now, my first wife was older than I. But she had no tongue and she submitted. It may be that I’ll have a younger one this time and—”

“And there won’t be any third!” Aunt Bertha grinned maliciously.

“No,” he acquiesced obediently. And then as if to reassure himself, “We’re not married yet, no?”


“What was the matter with your mother?” David’s mother asked after a pause.

Mr. Sternowitz, slice of bread in one hand had begun slowly and aimlessly to fish in his vest pockets with the other. “No one knew. The doctors” he shrugged, drew out a pearl-handled pen-knife, “they didn’t know.” His eyes met Aunt Bertha’s. Her severe scowl swept down from his face to the knife. With an oddly remote movement, his neck bent stiffly and he stared at the knife also, turning it round and round as though he had never seen it before. “Er! They didn’t know!” And sighing, “Woe me! A fearful life!” He dropped the knife back into his pocket and bit off too large a mouthful so that speech was engulfed in an oozy palatal smacking.

Aunt Bertha suddenly smiled, fondly, benevolently. “Champ it down, Nathan, my star, then you can tell what happened—or shall I?”

His temples bulging, Mr. Sternowitz chewed faster and shook his head hurriedly. He meant to speak.

“It was this way,” Aunt Bertha ignored him. “He’ll make a yarn of it as long as an ant climbing a mountain. His mother was going blind and so when the doctors couldn’t cure her, his father took her to a rabbi and he cured her. No, Nathan?”

“Yes.” Mr. Sternowitz swallowed glumly.

“Who was the rabbi they took her to?” asked David’s mother.

Mr. Sternowitz cheered up. “Not one of those polite, wellbred rabbis, have no fear. Is it right,” he turned to David’s father for approval, “that a rabbi should allow Russian officers to visit his daughters? Or that they should be ‘fency pipple’ and not wear white socks and high shoes and trim their beards and their ringlets. Ha? No!” He seemed to interpret the other man’s steady gaze. “That’s what I believe. The more ‘fency’ they become, the less of God’s power do they have. Reb Leibish, this rabbi, was so pious that he made his wife turn over the whole day’s receipts to charity. He would keep no money over-night—not even a kopek. Not Reb Leibish! He hated the joys of life. He never accepted the Thursday invitation for the sabbath. He fasted twice a week. That’s what I call a rabbi! And when my father brought her to him, he didn’t say, Go home, I’ll pray to God for a remedy. No. He had God by his side. He said to my father, Let her go! Take your hands away! And then he said, Come here, my daughter! And she said, Where? I can’t see! And he cried out. Look at me! Open your eyes! The Almighty gives you light! And she opened her eyes and she saw! That’s a rabbi!”

“How well she must have seen,” Aunt Bertha patted her mouth vigorously—the sign of expiation for mockery, “if she gave you vinegar instead of sugar-water.”

“Not all at once,” Mr. Sternowitz protested. “But little by little, she saw. When I left Pskov she could see fairly well, but she squinted and—Look!” he laughed and pointed at David. “Look how he’s staring at me. Isn’t that wonderful?”

David ducked his head in intense embarrassment. It was true. Without knowing why he had been strangely stirred by Mr. Sternowitz’s short narrative. He had been staring at him, hoping he would go on. But now he suddenly felt ashamed, feeling all eyes upon him and especially his father’s. He stared down at his plate.

“Do you want to ask me something?” Mr. Sternowitz inquired indulgently.


“Sweet Golem with the big eyes!” his aunt teased. “You’ll have to get him a pair of leggins, Nathan. Winter is coming.”

“Indeed, yes! I’ll steal a pair and finish them at home. We must get his size. Such a quiet, quiet child!” he nodded approvingly. “Like—” His glance veered for a moment to David’s father and then retreated hastily to Aunt Bertha again. “Like my daughters,” he said jocularly. “No, Bertha?”

“To the dot!” was her derisive answer. “But they’ll mind me, don’t forget that.”

“What else!” he grinned. “Just as they mind me? How old is he, did you say?”

“This one?” His mother patted his head. “Seven and a few months.”

“He’s well grown, no evil eye!” he dropped his fork and knocked on the table. “Mine are ten and eleven and they’re no taller. Perhaps we’ll match him with one of mine yet.”

“Speaking of matches,” Aunt Bertha suddenly placed a warning finger across her lips. “Nothing must be said to the ‘dentistka’, do you hear, Nathan? Else she’ll sniff around for a marriage-broker’s bounty. A turd I’ll give her!”

“Have you reached that stage already?” her sister laughed. “May joy go with you then.”

“I?” Mr. Sternowitz put out his palms. “I haven’t reached it. She’s reached it—headlong!”

“Is that so?” Aunt Bertha bridled. “Didn’t you tell me last night you were already looking for a candy-store—in a good location—at a corner maybe—and at a reasonable price—and for me! Didn’t you? If you think I’m yanking you too hard toward the canopy, then don’t have Rachel’s engagement ring reset. Pooh I can wait!” The scattering motion of her hand scattered Mr. Sternowitz away. “He’s like all men. He thinks first of how he can use you, then in good time when he’s going to marry you. You can’t have the one without the other with me.”

“Wait! Wait!” Mr. Sternowitz halted her. “What have I said that you burn so! I said that we didn’t hold the yard-stick at a marriage yet. I meant we weren’t engaged yet, that’s all. I was thinking that if I gave you a ring—”

“If you give me the ring!” Aunt Bertha wagged her head mockingly.

“When I give you the ring then! When I give you the ring it will be better that you take it off before going to the dentist’s, you understand? There won’t be any trouble and nobody’ll speak through the nose and we’ll save fifty dollars.”

“Now you’re talking like a sage!” said Aunt Bertha approvingly. “Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

“Well,” said Mr. Sternowitz uncomfortably. “Only give me room to breathe!”

“Have you found a candy-store that suits you?” asked David’s mother. “I mean have you any in mind?”

“No, not yet.” Mr. Sternowitz replied. “I really haven’t begun to look for them seriously—naturally. But now I will. I know something about them. My cousin had one and I spent whole nights there. There’s only one trouble. Most candy-stores have only two rooms in the back. That’s all right for two people. But we—I mean I—have two children. They’re with my sister now. So when I take them to live with me we’ll need at least three rooms.”

“It’s going to be a hard life,” David’s mother shook her head, “living in the back of a store that way. The hurry and the noise! Wouldn’t it be better to get rooms somewhere else? In the same house, perhaps?”

“If we live somewhere else,” said Mr. Sternowitz, “there go half of the profits. Why throw away money on rent when you can get it free? A place to sleep in is all we need—and a place to eat a breakfast and a supper.”

“I don’t care where we live,” said Aunt Bertha, “as long as we make money. Money, cursed money! What if it is a little uncomfortable. I never refused pot-roast because it got between my teeth. Now is the time to save. Later when we’ve sold the store and made a little money, we’ll talk again.”

“That’s what I think also,” Mr. Sternowitz rubbed his hands.

“Well, hurry to the jeweler then!” She rocked back and forth dreamily. “A little while we’ll struggle; we’ll pee in the dark. And then we’ll have a home. And when we’ll have a home we’ll have a decent home. Thick furniture with red legs such as I see in the store windows. Everything covered with glass. Handsome chandeliers! A phonograph! We’ll work our way up! ‘Stimm hitt’ like bosses! What bliss to wake up in the morning without chilling the marrow! A white sink! A toilet inside! A bath-tub! A genuine bath-tub for my suffering hide in July! A bathtub! Not that radish grate there,” she pointed to the washtubs. “Everytime I take a bath, it stamps a cluster of cherries on my rump!”

Heavy lidded, David’s father frowned, nostrils twitching. David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the soles of his shoe.

“You hear, Nathan?” As usual, whenever his father’s wrath was kindling, Aunt Bertha never seemed to realize it. And now as before, she launched out unheeding upon a sea of extravagant vision. And almost intoned. “We’ll have a white bath-tub! Hot water! A white bath-tub! Let it be the smoothest in the land! Let it be the slipperiest in the land! Like snot let it be slippery—”

“As you were wont to have in your old home.” David’s father broke his silence with deliberate words.

“So we did!” retorted Aunt Bertha, and with all the resentment of one jarred while drowsy. “Even though it did look like a coffin, it was made of tin and smoother than that sidewalk there! I thought when I came to this golden land, there would be something better to bathe in than a box full of stony burrs that scuff your—”

“Yes, I know! I know!” he interrupted harshly. “You’re very delicately made!”

“And I’ll get a better one!” she added vindictively. “I’ll not be content with a cold water flat. I’ll not live on a top-floor that was meant for goyim and paupers! This is a land where a Jew can make his fortune if he’s got it in him—not to sit piously at a horse’s tail all his life!”

“Bertha!” her sister exclaimed. “Bertha! Have you lost your senses! Don’t make this event fatal!”

By some extraordinary act of will, David’s father controlled himself. He spoke through his teeth—“The sooner you’re on the road to your fortune, the better I’ll like it. And don’t think,” he added with biting significance, “that if I don’t go to your wedding I won’t dance!”

Mr. Sternowitz was looking from one to the other with diffident, half-frightened eyes. “Ai, Bertha!” he attempted lightness. “Are you awful! Over—over a bath-tub to get so enraged! Come, what is a bath-tub!”

“A bath-tub is a bath-tub.” She pouted sullenly. “What a bright suitor I’ve got!”

Mr. Sternowitz squirmed, blinked, dared not look at anyone. The hard-won relaxation of a few moments ago was destroyed entirely and everyone was on guard again. Nor was there any hope of the tension ever easing, since dinner was almost over, and there would be nothing more to divert one. David’s mother assayed a few vague remarks. They went unanswered. In the strained silence, Aunt Bertha, who looked close to tears, kept muttering under her breath—“Begrudges me everything.… His spite, his sour silence … God blacken his destiny.” David looked around fearfully, hardly daring to think of what might happen. Finally, Mr. Sternowitz, after several preliminary coughs, thrust out his chin and smiled with forced and wavering heartiness.

“I’ll tell you Bertha,” he said. “Let us go for a walk. After such a fine dinner, nothing could be better, what? And we can step into one or two stores on the way.”

“Anything!” she answered defiantly. “So long as we get away from here!”

Both rose, rather precipitately, and with a toss of her head, Aunt Bertha hurried into the front room to get their coats, leaving Mr. Sternowitz stranded in the kitchen. He looked about as though trapped, mumbled something about the dinner and watched the front-room door anxiously. In a few seconds, Aunt Bertha returned and both got into their coats. As she fitted her wide hat on over her red hair, Aunt Bertha raised her eyes to the overhanging brim and then stared beyond it at the wall—where the new picture hung.

David started. That was it! Now he remembered! The thing he was searching for! That he forgot down stairs! Funny—

She approached, scrutinized it. “Look, Nathan,” she beckoned him, “what fine corn grows in my sister’s garden. I didn’t see it before.” She turned questioningly to David’s mother.

“I was wondering when someone would notice it,” she laughed. “Perhaps in my haste I hung it too high.”

“Quite pretty,” Aunt Bertha looked at herself in her pocket-book mirror. “Are you starting a museum?”

“No. It was just a whim. And I found the ten cents to gratify it. Wasted money, I suppose.” She looked up at the picture.

“Well, we must go,” said Aunt Bertha resolutely. “I’ll be back later, sister.”

Good-nights were exchanged. Aunt Bertha and David’s father, the former fervid, the latter stony, crossed snubbing glances. Invited by David’s mother to pay them many visits, Mr. Sternowitz accepted without too much zest, and after a bare smile from David’s father, crowded out of the door in Aunt Bertha’s lee. Silence followed. His father tilted his chair back against the wall with a violent thump and stared morosely at the ceiling. His mother cleared the dishes carefully, impinging on a look of anxiety, a look of abstraction. David wished they would talk. Silence only made his father more ominous. But the silence continued, and David feeling himself caught as if in talons of stress dared not move—at least not until his father spoke and eased the strain—and for escape meanwhile, could only stare at the new picture his mother had bought.

He began to wonder vaguely why it had followed him all afternoon, why it had tugged at the mind from the ambush of the mind. It was strange. Like someone trailing you behind a wall. And never know what it was until a few minutes ago. Funny. And then find out it isn’t anything—only a picture of long green corn and blue flowers under it. Maybe it was because she had been so happy when she looked for the nail. She laughed when she hung it up. Maybe that was it. He didn’t know why she was laughing. And she had said he had seen it too, real ones, long ago in Europe. But she said he couldn’t remember. So maybe he was trying to remember the real ones instead of the picture ones. But how? If— No. Funny. Getting mixed and mixed and—

His father straightened suddenly, shoes and chair legs rapping the oil cloth smartly. His anger would break now! David stared at him half-welcoming the easing of the strain, half-terrified of the consequences.

“The vulgar jade!” he snapped. “The slut! How could you both have come from one mother! She and her dirty mouth and her bath-tubs and her manners. A million bath-tubs couldn’t clean her. She and her bath-tubs! Who asked her to come here anyway! I’ve controlled myself long enough. I’ll throw her out of this house yet!”

His mother had hung up the dish-rag and had turned slowly as though loath to undertake the task of appeasing him and stood silent, placing no obstacles in the path of his anger.

“Stabbing me in the back about my earnings. Boasting of the fortune she’ll make and the palaces she’ll live in! Making a fool of me before a stranger. As though I loafed, as though I didn’t sweat for my bread as honestly and as much as any man! But I’ll repay her, don’t fret! No one can treat me that way. I’ve a notion to get up this moment and throw all her belongings out into the hall!”

“They’ll be gone soon enough, Albert. Just be patient a little longer.”

“Be patient with that wasp!”

“You see, she was frightened. She thought perhaps you had maimed her chances of marriage.”

“I? I maim her chances? I’d rather maim her! And that filthy, clapping tongue of hers. She never moves it but my flesh begins to crawl—as though she were scattering vermin on me. Maim her chances! I want to get rid of her!”

“She doesn’t want to stay here any longer than necessary either.”

“She’d better not. And him! He’s harmless. I might have pitied him. I might have thought, the poor idiot, he doesn’t know what he’s getting. Perhaps she’s hidden her true self from him. But now I despise him! A weakling! After what he’s seen and heard to want to marry that—that vile mouth! It would shame the water-carrier in a Russian bath! To give his children into the keeping of such a one. He deserves nothing but scorn!”

“Let him look out for that. Surely he’s old enough and has seen enough and experienced enough to know what he wants. Perhaps he can even learn to handle her, one can never tell.”

“Handle her! That button-hole maker. It takes a whip hand! I say he’d best begin digging his grave. But what do I care?” He shook his head savagely as though enraged at himself for showing any concern about Aunt Bertha’s future. “Let her marry anyone, and anyone her. Let her listen to that fool’s drivel about blindness and vinegar all her life. But if she thinks she can make light with me because she has a man with her, she’d better be careful. She’s jesting with the angel of death!”

“Just don’t mind her, Albert! Please! Let her go her own way. She’ll let you go yours. I know! She’ll probably not bring him here any more than she can help. They’re already talking about rings.”

“Well, as long as she stays here, she’d better be careful or I’ll shorten her stay.” He snuffed grimly through his nostrils, stared darkly before him at the opposite wall. His eyes lit on the picture. He frowned. “On what heap did you find that?”

“That?” Her eyes traveled upward. “On a pushcart on Avenue C. I thought I couldn’t make more than a ten-cent mistake, so I bought it. You don’t like it?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps I would if you had gotten it for some other occasion. But now—” He scowled. “Why did you get a picture of corn anyway?”

“Green,” she said mildly. “Austrian lands. What would you have chosen?”

“Something alive.” He reached for the newspaper. “A herd of cattle drinking such as I’ve seen in the stores. Or a prize bull with a shine to his flanks and the black fire in his eyes.”

“That ought not to be difficult. I’m sure I could find you one of those as well.”

“You’d better let me get it,” he said curtly. And flapping the newspaper open, leaned over it. “I’m apt to be a better judge.”

She lifted her brow resignedly and then glanced at David with a faint, significant smile as though letting him share with her the knowledge that his father had been mollified and danger was over. She turned back to the sink.