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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XVI - JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDING HOUSE
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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XVI - JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDING HOUSE Post by :malistor Category :Long Stories Author :Edna Ferber Date :March 2011 Read :2143

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Dawn O'hara, The Girl Who Laughed - Chapter XVI - JUNE MOONLIGHT, AND A NEW BOARDING HOUSE

There was a week in which to scurry about for a new home.
The days scampered by, tripping over one another in their
haste. My sleeping hours were haunted by nightmares of
landladies and impossible boarding-house bedrooms.
Columns of "To Let, Furnished or Unfurnished" ads filed,
advanced, and retreated before my dizzy eyes. My time
after office hours was spent in climbing dim stairways,
interviewing unenthusiastic females in kimonos, and
peering into ugly bedrooms papered with sprawly and
impossible patterns and filled with the odors of
dead-and-gone dinners. I found one room less impossible
than the rest, only to be told that the preference was to
be given to a man who had "looked" the day before.

"I d'ruther take gents only," explained the ample
person who carried the keys to the mansion. "Gents goes
early in the morning and comes in late at night, and
that's all you ever see of 'em, half the time. I've
tried ladies, an' they get me wild, always yellin' for
hot water to wash their hair, or pastin' handkerchiefs
up on the mirr'r or wantin' to butt into the kitchen to
press this or that. I'll let you know if the gent don't
take it, but I got an idea he will."

He did. At any rate, no voice summoned me to that
haven for gents only. There were other landladies--
landladies fat and German; landladies lean and Irish;
landladies loquacious (regardless of nationality);
landladies reserved; landladies husbandless, wedded,
widowed, divorced, and willing; landladies slatternly;
landladies prim; and all hinting of past estates wherein
there had been much grandeur.

At last, when despair gripped me, and I had horrid
visions of my trunk, hat-box and typewriter reposing on
the sidewalk while I, homeless, sat perched in the midst
of them, I chanced upon a room which commanded a glorious
view of the lake. True, it was too expensive for my slim
purse; true, the owner of it was sour of feature; true,
the room itself was cavernous and unfriendly and
cold-looking, but the view of the great, blue lake
triumphed over all these, although a cautious inner voice
warned me that that lake view would cover a multitude of
sins. I remembered, later, how she of the sour visage
had dilated upon the subject of the sunrise over the water.
I told her at the time that while I was passionately fond
of sunrises myself, still I should like them just as well
did they not occur so early in the morning. Whereupon
she of the vinegar countenance had sniffed. I loathe
landladies who sniff.

My trunk and trusty typewriter were sent on to my new
home at noon, unchaperoned, for I had no time to spare at
that hour of the day. Later I followed them, laden with
umbrella, boxes, brown-paper parcels, and other
unfashionable moving-day paraphernalia. I bumped and
banged my way up the two flights of stairs that led to my
lake view and my bed, and my heart went down as my feet
went up. By the time the cavernous bedroom was gained
I felt decidedly quivery-mouthed, so that I dumped my
belongings on the floor in a heap and went to the window
to gaze on the lake until my spirits should rise. But it
was a gray day, and the lake looked large, and wet and
unsociable. You couldn't get chummy with it. I turned
to my great barn of a room. You couldn't get chummy with
that, either. I began to unpack, with furious energy.
In vain I turned every gas jet blazing high. They only
cast dim shadows in the murky vastness of that awful
chamber. A whole Fourth of July fireworks display, Roman
candles, sky-rockets, pin-wheels, set pieces and all,
could not have made that room take on a festive air.

As I unpacked I thought of my cosy room at Knapfs',
and as I thought I took my head out of my trunk and sank
down on the floor with a satin blouse in one hand, and a
walking boot in the other, and wanted to bellow with
loneliness. There came to me dear visions of the
friendly old yellow brocade chair, and the lamplight, and
the fireplace, and Frau Nirlanger, and the Pfannkuchen.
I thought of the aborigines. In my homesick mind their
bumpy faces became things of transcendent beauty. I
could have put my head on their combined shoulders and
wept down their blue satin neckties. In my memory of
Frau Knapf it seemed to me that I could discern a dim,
misty halo hovering above her tightly wadded hair. My
soul went out to her as I recalled the shining
cheek-bones, and the apron, and the chickens stewed in
butter. I would have given a year out of my life to have
heard that good-natured, "Nabben'." One aborigine had
been wont to emphasize his after-dinner arguments with a
toothpick brandished fiercely between thumb and finger.
The brandisher had always annoyed me. Now I thought of
him with tenderness in my heart and reproached myself for
my fastidiousness. I should have wept if I had not had
a walking boot in one hand, and a satin blouse in the
other. A walking boot is but a cold comfort. And my
thriftiness denied my tears the soiling of the blouse.
So I sat up on my knees and finished the unpacking.

Just before dinner time I donned a becoming gown to
chirk up my courage, groped my way down the long, dim
stairs, and telephoned to Von Gerhard. It seemed to me
that just to hear his voice would instill in me new
courage and hope. I gave the number, and waited.

"Dr. von Gerhard?" repeated a woman's voice at the
other end of the wire. "He is very busy. Will you leave
your name?"

"No," I snapped. "I'll hold the wire. Tell him that
Mrs. Orme is waiting to speak to him."

"I'll see." The voice was grudging.

Another wait; then--"Dawn!" came his voice in glad
surprise.

"Hello!" I cried, hysterically. "Hello! Oh, talk!
Say something nice, for pity's sake! I'm sorry that I've
taken you away from whatever you were doing, but I
couldn't help it. Just talk please! I'm dying of
loneliness."

"Child, are you ill?" Von Gerhard's voice was so
satisfyingly solicitous. "Is anything wrong? Your voice
is trembling. I can hear it quite plainly. What has
happened? Has Norah written--"

"Norah? No. There was nothing in her letter to
upset me. It is only the strangeness of this place. I
shall be all right in a day or so."

"The new home--it is satisfactory? You have found
what you wanted? Your room is comfortable?"

"It's--it's a large room," I faltered. "And there's
a--a large view of the lake, too."

There was a smothered sound at the other end of the
wire. Then--"I want you to meet me down-town at seven
o'clock. We will have dinner together," Von Gerhard
said, "I cannot have you moping up there all alone all
evening."

"I can't come."

"Why? "

"Because I want to so very much. And anyway, I'm
much more cheerful now. I am going in to dinner. And
after dinner I shall get acquainted with my room.
There are six corners and all the space under the bed
that I haven't explored yet."

"Dawn!"

"Yes?"

"If you were free to-night, would you marry me? If
you knew that the next month would find you mistress of
yourself would you--"

"Ernst!"

"Yes?"

"If the gates of Heaven were opened wide to you, and
they had `Welcome!' done in diamonds over the door, and
all the loveliest angel ladies grouped about the doorway
to receive you, and just beyond you could see awaiting
you all that was beautiful, and most exquisite, and most
desirable, would you enter?"

And then I hung up the receiver and went in to
dinner. I went in to dinner, but not to dine. Oh,
shades of those who have suffered in boarding-houses--
that dining room! It must have been patterned after the
dining room at Dotheboys' hall. It was bare, and
cheerless, and fearfully undressed looking. The diners
were seated at two long, unsociable, boarding-housey
tables that ran the length of the room, and all the women
folks came down to dine with white wool shawls wrapped
snugly about their susceptible black silk shoulders. The
general effect was that of an Old People's Home. I found
seat after seat at table was filled, and myself the
youngest thing present. I felt so criminally young that
I wondered they did not strap me in a high chair and ram
bread and milk down my throat. Now and then the door
would open to admit another snuffly, ancient, and
be-shawled member of the company. I learned that Mrs.
Schwartz, on my right, did not care mooch for shteak for
breakfast, aber a leedle l'mb ch'p she likes. Also that
the elderly party on my left and the elderly party on my
right resented being separated by my person.
Conversation between E. P. on right, and E. P. on left
scintillated across my soup, thus:

"How you feel this evening Mis' Maurer, h'm?"

"Don't ask me."

"No wonder you got rheumatism. My room was like a
ice-house all day. Yours too?"

"I don't complain any more. Much good it does.
Barley soup again? In my own home I never ate it, and
here I pay my good money and get four time a week barley
soup. Are those fresh cucumbers? M-m-m-m. They
haven't stood long enough. Look at Mis' Miller. She
feels good this evening. She should feel good.
Twenty-five cents she won at bridge. I never seen how
that woman is got luck."

I choked, gasped, and fled.

Back in my own mausoleum once more I put things in
order, dragged my typewriter stand into the least murky
corner under the bravest gas jet and rescued my tottering
reason by turning out a long letter to Norah. That
finished, my spirits rose. I dived into the bottom of my
trunk for the loose sheets of the book-in-the-making,
glanced over the last three or four, discovered that they
did not sound so maudlin as I had feared, and straightway
forgot my gloomy surroundings in the fascination of
weaving the tale.

In the midst of my fine frenzy there came a knock at
the door. In the hall stood the anemic little serving
maid who had attended me at dinner. She was almost
eclipsed by a huge green pasteboard box.

"You're Mis' Orme, ain't you? This here's for you."

The little white-cheeked maid hovered at the
threshold while I lifted the box cover and revealed the
perfection of the American beauty buds that lay there,
all dewy and fragrant. The eyes of the little maid
were wide with wonder as she gazed, and because I had
known flower-hunger I separated two stately blossoms
from the glowing cluster and held them out to her.

"For me!" she gasped, and brought her lips down to
them, gently. Then--"There's a high green jar downstairs
you can have to stick your flowers in. You ain't got
nothin' big enough in here, except your water pitcher.
An' putting these grand flowers in a water pitcher--why,
it'd be like wearing a silk dress over a flannel
petticoat, wouldn't it?"

When the anemic little boarding-house slavey with the
beauty-loving soul had fetched the green jar, I placed
the shining stems in it with gentle fingers. At the
bottom of the box I found a card that read: "For it is
impossible to live in a room with red roses and still be
traurig"

How well he knew! And how truly impossible to be sad
when red roses are glowing for one, and filling the air
with their fragrance!

The interruption was fatal to book-writing. My
thoughts were a chaos of red roses, and anemic little
maids with glowing eyes, and thoughtful young doctors
with a marvelous understanding of feminine moods. So I
turned out all the lights, undressed by moonlight, and,
throwing a kimono about me, carried my jar of roses to
the window and sat down beside them so that their
exquisite scent caressed me.

The moonlight had put a spell of white magic upon the
lake. It was a light-flooded world that lay below my
window. Summer, finger on lip, had stolen in upon the
heels of spring. Dim, shadowy figures dotted the benches
of the park across the way. Just beyond lay the silver
lake, a dazzling bar of moonlight on its breast. Motors
rushed along the roadway with a roar and a whir and were
gone, leaving a trail of laughter behind them. From the
open window of the room below came the slip-slap of cards
on the polished table surface, and the low buzz of
occasional conversation as the players held postmortems.
Under the street light the popcorn vender's cart made a
blot on the mystic beauty of the scene below. But the
perfume of my red roses came to me, and their velvet
caressed my check, and beyond the noise and lights of the
street lay that glorious lake with the bar of moonlight
on its soft breast. I gazed and forgave the sour-faced
landlady her dining room; forgave the elderly parties
their shawls and barley soup; forgot for a moment
my weary thoughts of Peter Orme; forgot everything except
that it was June, and moonlight and good to be alive.

All the changes and events of that strange, eventful
year came crowding to my mind as I crouched there at the
window. Four new friends, tried and true! I conned
them over joyously in my heart. What a strange contrast
they made! Blackie, of the elastic morals, and the still
more elastic heart; Frau Nirlanger, of the smiling lips
and the lilting voice and the tragic eyes--she who had
stooped from a great height to pluck the flower of love
blooming below, only to find a worthless weed sullying
her hand; Alma Pflugel, with the unquenchable light of
gratefulness in her honest face; Von Gerhard, ready to
act as buffer between myself and the world, tender as a
woman, gravely thoughtful, with the light of devotion
glowing in his steady eyes.

"Here's richness," said I, like the fat boy in
Pickwick Papers. And I thanked God for the new energy
which had sent me to this lovely city by the lake. I
thanked Him that I had not been content to remain a
burden to Max and Norah, growing sour and crabbed with
the years. Those years of work and buffeting had made of
me a broader, finer, truer type of womanhood--had caused
me to forget my own little tragedy in contemplating the
great human comedy. And so I made a little prayer there
in the moon-flooded room.

"O dear Lord," I prayed, and I did not mean that it
should sound irreverent. "O dear Lord, don't bother
about my ambitions! Just let me remain strong and well
enough to do the work that is my portion from day to day.
Keep me faithful to my standards of right and wrong. Let
this new and wonderful love which has come into my life
be a staff of strength and comfort instead of a burden of
weariness. Let me not grow careless and slangy as the
years go by. Let me keep my hair and complexion and
teeth, and deliver me from wearing soiled blouses and
doing my hair in a knob. Amen."

I felt quite cheerful after that--so cheerful that
the strange bumps in the new bed did not bother me as
unfamiliar beds usually did. The roses I put to sleep in
their jar of green, keeping one to hold against my cheek
as I slipped into dreamland. I thought drowsily, just
before sleep claimed me:

"To-morrow, after office hours, I'll tuck up my
skirt, and wrap my head in a towel and have a
housecleaning bee. I'll move the bed where the
wash-stand is now, and I'll make the chiffonnier swap
places with the couch. One feels on friendlier
terms with furniture that one has shoved about a little.
How brilliant the moonlight is! The room is flooded with
it. Those roses--sweet!--sweet!--"

When I awoke it was morning. During the days that
followed I looked back gratefully upon that night, with
its moonlight, and its roses, and its great peace.

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