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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter IV - DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH
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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter IV - DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH Post by :jmenet Category :Long Stories Author :Edna Ferber Date :March 2011 Read :1884

Click below to download : Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter IV - DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH (Format : PDF)

Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter IV - DAWN DEVELOPS A HEIMWEH

It's hard trying to develop into a real Writer Lady in
the bosom of one's family, especially when the family
refuses to take one seriously. Seven years of newspaper
grind have taught me the fallacy of trying to write by
the inspiration method. But there is such a thing as a
train of thought, and mine is constantly being derailed,
and wrecked and pitched about.

Scarcely am I settled in my cubby-hole, typewriter
before me, the working plan of a story buzzing about in
my brain, when I hear my name called in muffled tones, as
though the speaker were laboring with a mouthful of
hairpins. I pay no attention. I have just given my
heroine a pair of calm gray eyes, shaded with black
lashes and hair to match. A voice floats down from the
upstairs regions.

"Dawn! Oh, Dawn! Just run and rescue the cucumbers
out of the top of the ice-box, will you? The iceman's
coming, and he'll squash 'em."

A parting jab at my heroine's hair and eyes, and I'm
off to save the cucumbers.

Back at my typewriter once more. Shall I make my
heroine petite or grande? I decide that stateliness
and Gibsonesque height should accompany the calm gray
eyes. I rattle away happily, the plot unfolding itself
in some mysterious way. Sis opens the door a little and
peers in. She is dressed for the street.

"Dawn dear, I'm going to the dressmaker's. Frieda's
upstairs cleaning the bathroom, so take a little squint
at the roast now and then, will you? See that it doesn't
burn, and that there's plenty of gravy. Oh, and Dawn--
tell the milkman we want an extra half-pint of cream
to-day. The tickets are on the kitchen shelf, back of
the clock. I'll be back in an hour."

"Mhmph," I reply.

Sis shuts the door, but opens it again almost

"Don't let the Infants bother you. But if Frieda's
upstairs and they come to you for something to eat, don't
let them have any cookies before dinner. If they're
really hungry they'll eat bread and butter."

I promise, dreamily, my last typewritten sentence
still running through my head. The gravy seems to have
got into the heroine's calm gray eyes. What heroine
could remain calm-eyed when her creator's mind is filled
with roast beef? A half-hour elapses before I get back
on the track. Then appears the hero--a tall blond youth,
fair to behold. I make him two yards high, and endow him
with a pair of clothing-advertisement shoulders.

There assails my nostrils a fearful smell of
scorching. The roast! A wild rush into the kitchen. I
fling open the oven door. The roast is mahogany-colored,
and gravyless. It takes fifteen minutes of the most
desperate first-aid-to-the-injured measures before the
roast is revived.

Back to the writing. It has lost its charm. The
gray-eyed heroine is a stick; she moves like an Indian
lady outside a cigar shop. The hero is a milk-and-water
sissy, without a vital spark in him. What's the use of
trying to write, anyway? Nobody wants my stuff. Good
for nothing except dubbing on a newspaper!

Rap! Rap! Rappity-rap-rap! Bing! Milk!

I dash into the kitchen. No milk! No milkman! I
fly to the door. He is disappearing around the corner of
the house.

"Hi! Mr. Milkman! Say, Mr. Milkman!" with frantic

He turns. He lifts up his voice. "The screen door
was locked so I left youse yer milk on top of
the ice-box on the back porch. Thought like the hired
girl was upstairs an' I could git the tickets to-morra."

I explain about the cream, adding that it is wanted
for short-cake. The explanation does not seem to cheer
him. He appears to be a very gloomy and reserved
milkman. I fancy that he is in the habit of indulging in
a little airy persiflage with Frieda o' mornings, and he
finds me a poor substitute for her red-cheeked

The milk safely stowed away in the ice-box, I have
another look at the roast. I am dipping up spoonfuls of
brown gravy and pouring them over the surface of the
roast in approved basting style, when there is a rush, a
scramble, and two hard bodies precipitate themselves upon
my legs so suddenly that for a moment my head pitches
forward into the oven. I withdraw my head from the oven,
hastily. The basting spoon is immersed in the bottom of
the pan. I turn, indignant. The Spalpeens look up at me
with innocent eyes.

"You little divils, what do you mean by shoving your
old aunt into the oven! It's cannibals you are!"

The idea pleases them. They release my legs
and execute a savage war dance around me. The Spalpeens
are firm in the belief that I was brought to their home
for their sole amusement, and they refuse to take me
seriously. The Spalpeens themselves are two of the
finest examples of real humor that ever were perpetrated
upon parents. Sheila is the first-born. Norah decided
that she should be an Irish beauty, and bestowed upon her
a name that reeks of the bogs. Whereupon Sheila, at the
age of six, is as flaxen-haired and blue-eyed and stolid
a little German madchen as ever fooled her parents, and
she is a feminine reproduction of her German Dad. Two
years later came a sturdy boy, and they named him Hans,
in a flaunt of defiance. Hans is black-haired, gray-eyed
and Irish as Killarny.

"We're awful hungry," announces Sheila.

"Can't you wait until dinner time? Such a grand

Sheila and Hans roll their eyes to convey to me that,
were they to wait until dinner for sustenance we should
find but their lifeless forms.

"Well then, Auntie will get a nice piece of bread and
butter for each of you."

"Don't want bread an' butty!" shrieks Hans. "Want

"Cooky!" echoes Sheila, pounding on the kitchen table
with the rescued basting spoon.

"You can't have cookies before dinner. They're bad
for your insides."

"Can too," disputes Hans. "Fwieda dives us tookies.
Want tooky!" wailingly.

"Please, ple-e-e-ease, Auntie Dawnie dearie,"
wheedles Sheila, wriggling her soft little fingers in my

"But Mother never lets you have cookies before
dinner," I retort severely. "She knows they are bad for

"Pooh, she does too! She always says, `No, not a
cooky!' And then we beg and screech, and then she says,
`Oh, for pity's sake, Frieda, give 'em a cooky and send
'em out. One cooky can't kill 'em.'" Sheila's imitation
is delicious.

Hans catches the word screech and takes it as his
cue. He begins a series of ear-piercing wails. Sheila
surveys him with pride and then takes the wail up in a
minor key. Their teamwork is marvelous. I fly to the
cooky jar and extract two round and sugary confections.
I thrust them into the pink, eager palms. The wails
cease. Solemnly they place one cooky atop the other,
measuring the circlets with grave eyes.

"Mine's a weeny bit bigger'n yours this time,"
decides Sheila, and holds her cooky heroically while Hans
takes a just and lawful bite out of his sister's larger

"The blessed little angels! " I say to myself,
melting. "The dear, unselfish little sweeties!" and give
each of them another cooky.

Back to my typewriter. But the words flatly refuse
to come now. I make six false starts, bite all my best
finger-nails, screw my hair into a wilderness of
cork-screws and give it up. No doubt a real Lady Writer
could write on, unruffled and unhearing, while the iceman
squashed the cucumbers, and the roast burned to a
frazzle, and the Spalpeens perished of hunger. Possessed
of the real spark of genius, trivialities like milkmen
and cucumbers could not dim its glow. Perhaps all
successful Lady Writers with real live sparks have cooks
and scullery maids, and need not worry about basting, and
gravy, and milkmen.

This book writing is all very well for those who have
a large faith in the future and an equally large bank
account. But my future will have to be hand-carved, and
my bank account has always been an all too small pay
envelope at the end of each week. It will be months
before the book is shaped and finished. And my
pocketbook is empty. Last week Max sent money for the
care of Peter. He and Norah think that I do not know.

Von Gerhard was here in August. I told him
that all my firm resolutions to forsake newspaperdom
forever were slipping away, one by one.

"I have heard of the fascination of the newspaper
office," he said, in his understanding way. "I believe
you have a heimweh for it, not?"

"Heimweh! That's the word," I had agreed. "After
you have been a newspaper writer for seven years--and
loved it--you will be a newspaper writer, at heart and by
instinct at least, until you die. There's no getting
away from it. It's in the blood. Newspaper men have
been known to inherit fortunes, to enter politics, to
write books and become famous, to degenerate into press
agents and become infamous, to blossom into personages,
to sink into nonentities, but their news-nose remained a
part of them, and the inky, smoky, stuffy smell of a
newspaper office was ever sweet in their nostrils."

But, "Not yet," Von Gerhard had said, "It unless you
want to have again this miserable business of the sick
nerfs. Wait yet a few months."

And so I have waited, saying nothing to Norah and
Max. But I want to be in the midst of things. I miss
the sensation of having my fingers at the pulse of the
big old world. I'm lonely for the noise and the rush and
the hard work; for a glimpse of the busy local room just
before press time, when the lights are swimming in a smoky
haze, and the big presses downstairs are thundering their
warning to hurry, and the men are breezing in from their
runs with the grist of news that will be ground finer and
finer as it passes through the mill of copy-readers' and
editors' hands. I want to be there in the thick of the
confusion that is, after all, so orderly. I want to be
there when the telephone bells are zinging, and the
typewriters are snapping, and the messenger boys are
shuffling in and out, and the office kids are scuffling
in a corner, and the big city editor, collar off, sleeves
rolled up from his great arms, hair bristling wildly
above his green eye-shade, is swearing gently and smoking
cigarette after cigarette, lighting each fresh one at the
dying glow of the last. I would give a year of my life
to hear him say:

"I don't mind tellin' you, Beatrice Fairfax, that
that was a darn good story you got on the Millhaupt
divorce. The other fellows haven't a word that isn't

All of which is most unwomanly; for is not marriage
woman's highest aim, and home her true sphere? Haven't
I tried both? I ought to know. I merely have been
miscast in this life's drama. My part should have been
that of one who makes her way alone. Peter, with his thin,
cruel lips, and his shaking hands, and his haggard face
and his smoldering eyes, is a shadow forever blotting out
the sunny places in my path. I was meant to be an old
maid, like the terrible old Kitty O'Hara. Not one of the
tatting-and-tea kind, but an impressive, bustling old
girl, with a double chin. The sharp-tongued Kitty O'Hara
used to say that being an old maid was a great deal like
death by drowning--a really delightful sensation when you
ceased struggling.

Norah has pleaded with me to be more like other women
of my age, and for her sake I've tried. She has led me
about to bridge parties and tea fights, and I have tried
to act as though I were enjoying it all, but I knew that
I wasn't getting on a bit. I have come to the conclusion
that one year of newspapering counts for two years of
ordinary, existence, and that while I'm twenty-eight in
the family Bible I'm fully forty inside. When one day
may bring under one's pen a priest, a pauper, a
prostitute, a philanthropist, each with a story to tell,
and each requiring to be bullied, or cajoled, or bribed,
or threatened, or tricked into telling it; then the end
of that day's work finds one looking out at the world
with eyes that are very tired and as old as the world

I'm spoiled for sewing bees and church sociables and
afternoon bridges. A hunger for the city is upon me.
The long, lazy summer days have slipped by. There is an
autumn tang in the air. The breeze has a touch that is

Winter in a little northern town! I should go mad.
But winter in the city! The streets at dusk on a frosty
evening; the shop windows arranged by artist hands for
the beauty-loving eyes of women; the rows of lights like
jewels strung on an invisible chain; the glitter of brass
and enamel as the endless procession of motors flashes
past; the smartly-gowned women; the keen-eyed, nervous
men; the shrill note of the crossing policeman's whistle;
every smoke-grimed wall and pillar taking on a mysterious
shadowy beauty in the purple dusk, every unsightly blot
obscured by the kindly night. But best of all, the
fascination of the People I'd Like to Know. They pop up
now and then in the shifting crowds, and are gone the
next moment, leaving behind them a vague regret.
Sometimes I call them the People I'd Like to Know and
sometimes I call them the People I Know I'd Like, but it
means much the same. Their faces flash by in the crowd,
and are gone, but I recognize them instantly as belonging
to my beloved circle of unknown friends.

Once it was a girl opposite me in a car--a girl with
a wide, humorous mouth, and tragic eyes, and a hole in
her shoe. Once it was a big, homely, red-headed giant of
a man with an engineering magazine sticking out of his
coat pocket. He was standing at a book counter reading
Dickens like a schoolboy and laughing in all the right
places, I know, because I peaked over his shoulder to
see. Another time it was a sprightly little, grizzled
old woman, staring into a dazzling shop window in which
was displayed a wonderful collection of fashionably
impossible hats and gowns. She was dressed all in rusty
black, was the little old lady, and she had a quaint cast
in her left eye that gave her the oddest, most sporting
look. The cast was working overtime as she gazed at the
gowns, and the ridiculous old sprigs on her rusty black
bonnet trembled with her silent mirth. She looked like
one of those clever, epigrammatic, dowdy old duchesses
that one reads about in English novels. I'm sure she had
cardamon seeds in her shabby bag, and a carriage with a
crest on it waiting for her just around the corner. I
ached to slip my hand through her arm and ask her what
she thought of it all. I know that her reply would have
been exquisitely witty and audacious, and I did so long
to hear her say it.

No doubt some good angel tugs at my common sense,
restraining me from doing these things that I am tempted
to do. Of course it would be madness for a woman to
address unknown red-headed men with the look of an
engineer about them and a book of Dickens in their hands;
or perky old women with nutcracker faces; or girls with
wide humorous mouths. Oh, it couldn't be done, I
suppose. They would clap me in a padded cell in no time
if I were to say:

"Mister Red-headed Man, I'm so glad your heart is
young enough for Dickens. I love him too--enough to read
him standing at a book counter in a busy shop. And do
you know, I like the squareness of your jaw, and the way
your eyes crinkle up when you laugh; and as for your
being an engineer--why one of the very first men I ever
loved was the engineer in `Soldiers of Fortune.'"

I wonder what the girl in the car would have said if
I had crossed over to her, and put my hand on her arm and
spoken, thus:

"Girl with the wide, humorous mouth, and the tragic
eyes, and the hole in your shoe, I think you must be an
awfully good sort. I'll wager you paint, or write, or act,
or do something clever like that for a living. But from
that hole in your shoe which you have inked so carefully,
although it persists in showing white at the seams, I
fancy you are stumbling over a rather stony bit of Life's
road just now. And from the look in your eyes, girl, I'm
afraid the stones have cut and bruised rather cruelly.
But when I look at your smiling, humorous mouth I know
that you are trying to laugh at the hurts. I think that
this morning, when you inked your shoe for the dozenth
time, you hesitated between tears and laughter, and the
laugh won, thank God! Please keep right on laughing, and
don't you dare stop for a minute! Because pretty soon
you'll come to a smooth easy place, and then won't you be
glad that you didn't give up to lie down by the roadside,
weary of your hurts?"

Oh, it would never do. Never. And yet no charm
possessed by the people I know and like can compare with
the fascination of those People I'd Like to Know, and
Know I Would Like.

Here at home with Norah there are no faces in the
crowds. There are no crowds. When you turn the corner
at Main street you are quite sure that you will see the
same people in the same places. You know that Mamie
Hayes will be flapping her duster just outside the door
of the jewelry store where she clerks. She gazes up and
down Main street as she flaps the cloth, her bright eyes
keeping a sharp watch for stray traveling men that may
chance to be passing. You know that there will be the
same lounging group of white-faced, vacant-eyed youths
outside the pool-room. Dr. Briggs's patient runabout
will be standing at his office doorway. Outside his
butcher shop Assemblyman Schenck will be holding forth on
the subject of county politics to a group of red-faced,
badly dressed, prosperous looking farmers and townsmen,
and as he talks the circle of brown tobacco juice which
surrounds the group closes in upon them, nearer and
nearer. And there, in a roomy chair in a corner of the
public library reference room, facing the big front
window, you will see Old Man Randall. His white hair
forms a halo above his pitiful drink-marred face. He was
to have been a great lawyer, was Old Man Randall. But on
the road to fame he met Drink, and she grasped his arm,
and led him down by-ways, and into crooked lanes, and
finally into ditches, and he never arrived at his goal.
There in that library window nook it is cool in summer,
and warm in winter. So he sits and dreams, holding an
open volume, unread, on his knees. Some times he writes,
hunched up in his corner, feverishly scribbling at
ridiculous plays, short stories, and novels
which later he will insist on reading to the tittering
schoolboys and girls who come into the library to do
their courting and reference work. Presently, when it
grows dusk, Old Man Randall will put away his book, throw
his coat over his shoulders, sleeves dangling, flowing
white locks sweeping the frayed velvet collar. He will
march out with his soldierly tread, humming a bit of a
tune, down the street and into Vandermeister's saloon,
where he will beg a drink and a lunch, and some man will
give it to him for the sake of what Old Man Randall might
have been.

All these things you know. And knowing them, what is
left for the imagination? How can one dream dreams about
people when one knows how much they pay their hired girl,
and what they have for dinner on Wednesdays?

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