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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFanny Herself - Chapter 6
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Fanny Herself - Chapter 6 Post by :Bogdan_Ionita Category :Long Stories Author :Edna Ferber Date :March 2011 Read :2108

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Fanny Herself - Chapter 6

Theodore came home at twelve o'clock that night. He had
gone to Bauer's studio party after all. It was the first
time he had deliberately disobeyed his mother in a really
big thing. Mrs. Brandeis and Fanny had nibbled fudge all
evening (it had turned out deliciously velvety) and had gone
to bed at their usual time. At half past ten Mrs. Brandeis
had wakened with the instinctive feeling that Theodore was
not in the house. She lay there, wide awake, staring into
the darkness until eleven. Then she got up and went into
his room, though she knew he was not there. She was not
worried as to his whereabouts or his well-being. That same
instinctive feeling told her where he was. She was very
angry, and a little terrified at the significance of his
act. She went back to bed again, and she felt the blood
pounding in her head. Molly Brandeis had a temper, and it
was surging now, and beating against the barriers of her

She told herself, as she lay there, that she must deal with
him coolly and firmly, though she wanted to spank him. The
time for spankings was past. Some one was coming down the
street with a quick, light step. She sat up in bed,
listening. The steps passed the house, went on. A half
hour passed. Some one turned the corner, whistling
blithely. But, no, he would not be whistling, she told
herself. He would sneak in, quietly. It was a little after
twelve when she heard the front door open (Winnebago rarely
locked its doors). She was surprised to feel her heart
beating rapidly. He was trying to be quiet, and was making
a great deal of noise about it. His shoes and the squeaky
fifth stair alone would have convicted him. The imp
of perversity in Molly Brandeis made her smile, angry as she
was, at the thought of how furious he must be at that stair.

"Theodore!" she called quietly, just as he was tip-toeing
past her room.


"Come in here. And turn on the light."

He switched on the light and stood there in the doorway.
Molly Brandeis, sitting up in bed in the chilly room, with
her covers about her, was conscious of a little sick
feeling, not at what he had done, but that a son of hers
should ever wear the sullen, defiant, hang-dog look that
disfigured Theodore's face now.


A pause. "Yes."


"I just stopped in there for a minute after the concert. I
didn't mean to stay. And then Bauer introduced me around to
everybody. And then they asked me to play, and--"

"And you played badly."

"Well, I didn't have my own violin."

"No football game Saturday. And no pocket money this week.
Go to bed."

He went, breathing hard, and muttering a little under his
breath. At breakfast next morning Fanny plied him with
questions and was furious at his cool uncommunicativeness.

"Was it wonderful, Theodore? Did he play--oh--like an

"Played all right. Except the `Swan' thing. Maybe he
thought it was too easy, or something, but I thought he
murdered it. Pass the toast, unless you want it all."

It was not until the following autumn that Theodore went
to New York. The thing that had seemed so impossible was
arranged. He was to live in Brooklyn with a distant cousin
of Ferdinand Brandeis, on a business basis, and he was to
come into New York three times a week for his lessons. Mrs.
Brandeis took him as far as Chicago, treated him to an
extravagant dinner, put him on the train and with difficulty
stifled the impulse to tell all the other passengers in the
car to look after her Theodore. He looked incredibly grown
up and at ease in his new suit and the hat that they had
wisely bought in Chicago. She did not cry at all (in the
train), and she kissed him only twice, and no man can ask
more than that of any mother.

Molly Brandeis went back to Winnebago and the store with her
shoulders a little more consciously squared, her jaw a
little more firmly set. There was something almost terrible
about her concentrativeness. Together she and Fanny began a
life of self-denial of which only a woman could be capable.
They saved in ways that only a woman's mind could devise;
petty ways, that included cream and ice, and clothes, and
candy. It was rather fun at first. When that wore off it
had become a habit. Mrs. Brandeis made two resolutions
regarding Fanny. One was that she should have at least a
high school education, and graduate. The other that she
should help in the business of the store as little as
possible. To the first Fanny acceded gladly. To the second
she objected.

"But why? If you can work, why can't I? I could help you a
lot on Saturdays and at Christmas time, and after school."

"I don't want you to," Mrs. Brandeis had replied, almost
fiercely. "I'm giving my life to it. That's enough. I
don't want you to know about buying and selling. I don't
want you to know a bill of lading from a sales slip when you
see it. I don't want you to know whether f. o. b. is a
wireless signal or a branch of the Masons." At which
Fanny grinned. No one appreciated her mother's humor more
than she.

"But I do know already. The other day when that fat man was
selling you those go-carts I heard him say. `F. o. b.
Buffalo,' and I asked Aloysius what it meant and he told

It was inevitable that Fanny Brandeis should come to know
these things, for the little household revolved about the
store on Elm Street. By the time she was eighteen and had
graduated from the Winnebago high school, she knew so many
things that the average girl of eighteen did not know, and
was ignorant of so many things that the average girl of
eighteen did know, that Winnebago was almost justified in
thinking her queer. She had had a joyous time at school, in
spite of algebra and geometry and physics. She took the
part of the heroine in the senior class play given at the
Winnebago opera house, and at the last rehearsal electrified
those present by announcing that if Albert Finkbein (who
played the dashing Southern hero) didn't kiss her properly
when the curtain went down on the first act, just as he was
going into battle, she'd rather he didn't kiss her at all.

"He just makes it ridiculous," she protested. "He sort of
gives a peck two inches from my nose, and then giggles.
Everybody will laugh, and it'll spoil everything."

With the rather startled elocution teacher backing her she
rehearsed the bashful Albert in that kiss until she had
achieved the effect of realism that she thought the scene
demanded. But when, on the school sleighing parties and hay
rides the boy next her slipped a wooden and uncertain arm
about her waist while they all were singing "Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells," and "Good Night Ladies," and "Merrily We Roll
Along," she sat up stiffly and unyieldingly until the arm,
discouraged, withdrew to its normal position. Which two
instances are quoted as being of a piece with what
Winnebago termed her queerness.

Not that Fanny Brandeis went beauless through school. On
the contrary, she always had some one to carry her books,
and to take her to the school parties and home from the
Friday night debating society meetings. Her first love
affair turned out disastrously. She was twelve, and she
chose as the object of her affections a bullet-headed boy
named Simpson. One morning, as the last bell rang and they
were taking their seats, Fanny passed his desk and gave his
coarse and stubbly hair a tweak. It was really a love
tweak, and intended to be playful, but she probably put more
fervor into it than she knew. It brought the tears of pain
to his eyes, and he turned and called her the name at which
she shrank back, horrified. Her shock and unbelief must
have been stamped on her face, for the boy, still smarting,
had snarled, "Ya-as, I mean it,

It was strange how she remembered that incident years after
she had forgotten important happenings in her life.
Clarence Heyl, whose very existence you will have failed to
remember, used to hover about her uncertainly, always
looking as if he would like to walk home with her, but never
summoning the courage to do it. They were graduated from
the grammar school together, and Clarence solemnly read a
graduation essay entitled "Where is the Horse?" Automobiles
were just beginning to flash plentifully up and down Elm
Street. Clarence had always been what Winnebago termed
sickly, in spite of his mother's noodle soup, and coddling.
He was sent West, to Colorado, or to a ranch in Wyoming,
Fanny was not quite sure which, perhaps because she was not
interested. He had come over one afternoon to bid her good-
by, and had dangled about the front porch until she went
into the house and shut the door.

When she was sixteen there was a blond German boy whose
taciturnity attracted her volubility and vivacity. She
mistook his stolidness for depth, and it was a long time
before she realized that his silence was not due to the
weight of his thoughts but to the fact that he had nothing
to say. In her last year at high school she found herself
singled out for the attentions of Harmon Kent, who was the
Beau Nash of the Winnebago high school. His clothes were
made by Schwartze, the tailor, when all the other boys of
his age got theirs at the spring and fall sales of the
Golden Eagle Clothing Store. It was always nip and tuck
between his semester standings and his track team and
football possibilities. The faculty refused to allow
flunkers to take part in athletics.

He was one of those boys who have definite charm, and
manner, and poise at seventeen, and who crib their exams off
their cuffs. He was always at the head of any social plans
in the school, and at the dances he rushed about wearing in
his coat lapel a ribbon marked Floor Committee. The
teachers all knew he was a bluff, but his engaging manner
carried him through. When he went away to the state
university he made Fanny solemnly promise to write; to come
down to Madison for the football games; to be sure to
remember about the Junior prom. He wrote once--a badly
spelled scrawl--and she answered. But he was the sort of
person who must be present to be felt. He could not project
his personality. When he came home for the Christmas
holidays Fanny was helping in the store. He dropped in one
afternoon when she was selling whisky glasses to Mike Hearn
of the Farmers' Rest Hotel.

They did not write at all during the following semester, and
when he came back for the long summer vacation they met on
the street one day and exchanged a few rather forced
pleasantries. It suddenly dawned on Fanny that he was
patronizing her much as the scion of an aristocratic line
banters the housemaid whom he meets on the stairs. She bit
an imaginary apron corner, and bobbed a curtsy right there
on Elm Street, in front of the Courier office and walked
off, leaving him staring. It was shortly after this that
she began a queer line of reading for a girl--lives of
Disraeli, Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Mozart--distinguished Jews
who had found their religion a handicap.

The year of her graduation she did a thing for which
Winnebago felt itself justified in calling her different.
Each member of the graduating class was allowed to choose a
theme for a thesis. Fanny Brandeis called hers "A Piece of
Paper." On Winnebago's Fox River were located a number of
the largest and most important paper mills in the country.
There were mills in which paper was made of wood fiber, and
others in which paper was made of rags. You could smell the
sulphur as soon as you crossed the bridge that led to the
Flats. Sometimes, when the wind was right, the pungent odor
of it spread all over the town. Strangers sniffed it and
made a wry face, but the natives liked it.

The mills themselves were great ugly brick buildings, their
windows festooned with dust webs. Some of them boasted high
detached tower-like structures where a secret acid process
went on. In the early days the mills had employed many
workers, but newly invented machinery had come to take the
place of hand labor. The rag-rooms alone still employed
hundreds of girls who picked, sorted, dusted over the great
suction bins. The rooms in which they worked were gray with
dust. They wore caps over their hair to protect it from the
motes that you could see spinning and swirling in the watery
sunlight that occasionally found its way through the gray-
filmed window panes. It never seemed to occur to them that
the dust cap so carefully pulled down about their heads
did not afford protection for their lungs. They were pale
girls, the rag-room girls, with a peculiarly gray-white

Fanny Brandeis had once been through the Winnebago Paper
Company's mill and she had watched, fascinated, while a pair
of soiled and greasy old blue overalls were dusted and
cleaned, and put through this acid vat, and that acid tub,
growing whiter and more pulpy with each process until it was
fed into a great crushing roller that pressed the moisture
out of it, flattened it to the proper thinness and spewed it
out at last, miraculously, in the form of rolls of crisp,
white paper.
On the first day of the Easter vacation Fanny Brandeis
walked down to the office of the Winnebago Paper Company's
mill and applied at the superintendent's office for a job.
She got it. They were generally shorthanded in the rag-
room. When Mrs. Brandeis heard of it there followed one of
the few stormy scenes between mother and daughter.

"Why did you do it?" demanded Mrs. Brandeis.

"I had to, to get it right."

"Oh, don't be silly. You could have visited the mill a
dozen times."

Fanny twisted the fingers of her left hand in the fingers of
her right as was her way when she was terribly in earnest,
and rather excited.

"But I don't want to write about the paper business as a

"Well, then, what do you want?"

"I want to write about the overalls on some railroad
engineer, perhaps; or the blue calico wrapper that belonged,
maybe, to a scrub woman. And how they came to be spotted,
or faded, or torn, and finally all worn out. And how the
rag man got them, and the mill, and how the girls sorted
them. And the room in which they do it. And the bins. And
the machinery. Oh, it's the most fascinating, and--and sort
of relentless machinery. And the acid burns on the
hands of the men at the vats. And their shoes. And then
the paper, so white. And the way we tear it up, or crumple
it, and throw it in the waste basket. Just a piece of
paper, don't you see what I mean? Just a piece of paper,
and yet all that--" she stopped and frowned a little, and
grew inarticulate, and gave it up with a final, "Don't you
see what I mean, Mother? Don't you see what I mean?"

Molly Brandeis looked at her daughter in a startled way,
like one who, walking tranquilly along an accustomed path,
finds himself confronting a new and hitherto unsuspected
vista, formed by a peculiar arrangement of clouds, perhaps,
or light, or foliage, or all three blended. "I see what you
mean," she said. "But I wish you wouldn't do it. I--I wish
you didn't feel that you wanted to do it."

"But how can I make it real if I don't?"

"You can't," said Molly Brandeis. "That's just it. You
can't, ever."

Fanny got up before six every morning of that Easter
vacation, and went to the mill, lunch box in hand. She came
home at night dead-tired. She did not take the street car
to and from the mill, as she might have, because she said
the other girls in the rag-room walked, some of them from
the very edge of town. Mrs. Brandeis said that she was
carrying things too far, but Fanny stuck it out for the two
weeks, at the end of which period she spent an entire Sunday
in a hair-washing, face-steaming, and manicuring bee. She
wrote her paper from notes she had taken, and turned it in
at the office of the high school principal with the feeling
that it was not at all what she had meant it to be. A week
later Professor Henning called her into his office. The
essay lay on his desk.

"I've read your thesis," he began, and stopped, and cleared
his throat. He was not an eloquent man. "Where did you
get your information, Miss Brandeis?"

"I got it at the mill."

"From one of the employees?"

"Oh, no. I worked there, in the rag-room."

Professor Henning gave a little startled exclamation that he
turned hastily into a cough. "I thought that perhaps the
editor of the Courier might like to see it--it being
local. And interesting."

He brought it down to the office of the little paper
himself, and promised to call for it again in an hour or
two, when Lem Davis should have read it. Lem Davis did read
it, and snorted, and scuffled with his feet in the drift of
papers under his desk, which was a way he had when enraged.

"Read it!" he echoed, at Professor Henning's question.
"Read it! Yes, I read it. And let me tell you it's
socialism of the rankest kind, that's what! It's anarchism,
that's what! Who's this girl? Mrs. Brandeis's daughter--of
the Bazaar? Let me tell you I'd go over there and tell her
what I think of the way she's bringing up that girl--if she
wasn't an advertiser. `A Piece of Paper'! Hell!" And to
show his contempt for what he had read he wadded together a
great mass of exchanges that littered his desk and hurled
them, a crumpled heap, to the floor, and then spat tobacco
juice upon them.

"I'm sorry," said Professor Henning, and rose; but at the
door he turned and said something highly unprofessorial.
"It's a darn fine piece of writing." And slammed the door.
At supper that night he told Mrs. Henning about it. Mrs.
Henning was a practical woman, as the wife of a small-town
high school principal must needs be. "But don't you know,"
she said, "that Roscoe Moore, who is president of the
Outagamie Pulp Mill and the Winnebago Paper Company,
practically owns the Courier?"

Professor Henning passed a hand over his hair, ruefully,
like a school boy. "No, Martha, I didn't know. If I knew
those things, dear, I suppose we wouldn't be eating sausage
for supper to-night." There was a little silence between
them. Then he looked up. "Some day I'm going to brag about
having been that Brandeis girl's teacher."

Fanny was in the store a great deal now. After she finished
high school they sent Mattie away and Fanny took over the
housekeeping duties, but it was not her milieu. Not that
she didn't do it well. She put a perfect fury of energy and
care into the preparation of a pot roast. After she had
iced a cake she enhanced it with cunning arabesques of
jelly. The house shone as it never had, even under Mattie's
honest regime. But it was like hitching a high-power engine
to a butter churn. There were periods of maddening
restlessness. At such times she would set about cleaning
the cellar, perhaps. It was a three-roomed cellar, brick-
floored, cool, and having about it that indefinable cellar
smell which is of mold, and coal, and potatoes, and onions,
and kindling wood, and dill pickles and ashes.

Other girls of Fanny's age, at such times, cleaned out their
bureau drawers and read forbidden novels. Fanny armed
herself with the third best broom, the dust-pan, and an old
bushel basket. She swept up chips, scraped up ashes,
scoured the preserve shelves, washed the windows, cleaned
the vegetable bins, and got gritty, and scarlet-cheeked and
streaked with soot. It was a wonderful safety valve, that
cellar. A pity it was that the house had no attic.

Then there were long, lazy summer afternoons when there was
nothing to do but read. And dream. And watch the town go
by to supper. I think that is why our great men and women
so often have sprung from small towns, or villages. They
have had time to dream in their adolescence. No cars to
catch, no matinees, no city streets, none of the teeming,
empty, energy-consuming occupations of the city child.
Little that is competitive, much that is unconsciously
absorbed at the most impressionable period, long evenings
for reading, long afternoons in the fields or woods. With
the cloth laid, and the bread cut and covered with a napkin,
and the sauce in the glass bowl, and the cookies on a blue
plate, and the potatoes doing very, very slowly, and the
kettle steaming with a Peerybingle cheerfulness, Fanny would
stroll out to the front porch again to watch for the
familiar figure to appear around the corner of Norris
Street. She would wear her blue-and-white checked gingham
apron deftly twisted over one hip, and tucked in, in
deference to the passers-by. And the town would go by--Hen
Cody's drays, rattling and thundering; the high school boys
thudding down the road, dog-tired and sweaty in their
football suits, or their track pants and jersies, on their
way from the athletic field to the school shower baths; Mrs.
Mosher flying home, her skirts billowing behind her, after a
protracted afternoon at whist; little Ernie Trost with a
napkin-covered peach basket carefully balanced in his hand,
waiting for the six-fifteen interurban to round the corner
near the switch, so that he could hand up his father's
supper; Rudie Mass, the butcher, with a moist little packet
of meat in his hand, and lurching ever so slightly, and
looking about defiantly. Oh, Fanny probably never realized
how much she saw and absorbed, sitting there on Brandeis'
front porch, watching Winnebago go by to supper.

At Christmas time she helped in the store, afternoons and
evenings. Then, one Christmas, Mrs. Brandeis was ill for
three weeks with grippe. They had to have a helper in the
house. When Mrs. Brandeis was able to come back to the
store Sadie left to marry, not one of her traveling-men
victims, but a steady person, in the paper-hanging way,
whose suit had long been considered hopeless. After that
Fanny took her place. She developed a surprising knack
at selling. Yet it was not so surprising, perhaps, when one
considered her teacher. She learned as only a woman can
learn who is brought into daily contact with the outside
world. It was not only contact: it was the relation of
buyer and seller. She learned to judge people because she
had to. How else could one gauge their tastes,
temperaments, and pocketbooks? They passed in and out of
Brandeis' Bazaar, day after day, in an endless and varied
procession--traveling men, school children, housewives,
farmers, worried hostesses, newly married couples bent on
house furnishing, business men.

She learned that it was the girls from the paper mills who
bought the expensive plates--the ones with the red roses and
green leaves hand-painted in great smears and costing two
dollars and a half, while the golf club crowd selected for a
gift or prize one of the little white plates with the faded-
looking blue sprig pattern, costing thirty-nine cents. One
day, after she had spent endless time and patience over the
sale of a nondescript little plate to one of Winnebago's
socially elect, she stared wrathfully after the retreating
back of the trying customer.

"Did you see that? I spent an hour with her. One hour! I
showed her everything from the imported Limoges bowls to the
Sevres cups and saucers, and all she bought was that
miserable little bonbon dish with the cornflower pattern.

Mrs. Brandeis spoke from the depths of her wisdom.

"Fanny, I didn't miss much that went on during that hour,
and I was dying to come over and take her away from you,
but I didn't because I knew you needed the lesson, and I
knew that that McNulty woman never spends more than
twenty-five cents, anyway. But I want to tell you now
that it isn't only a matter of plates. It's a matter of
understanding folks. When you've learned whom to show
the expensive hand-painted things to, and when to
suggest quietly the little, vague things, with what you
call the faded look, why, you've learned just about all
there is to know of human nature. Don't expect it, at
your age."

Molly Brandeis had never lost her trick of chatting with
customers, or listening to them, whenever she had a moment's
time. People used to drop in, and perch themselves on one
of the stools near the big glowing base burner and talk to
Mrs. Brandeis. It was incredible, the secrets they revealed
of business, and love and disgrace; of hopes and
aspirations, and troubles, and happiness. The farmer women
used to fascinate Fanny by their very drabness. Mrs.
Brandeis had a long and loyal following of these women. It
was before the day when every farmhouse boasted an
automobile, a telephone, and a phonograph.

A worn and dreary lot, these farmer women, living a skimmed
milk existence, putting their youth, and health, and looks
into the soil. They used often to sit back near the stove
in winter, or in a cool corner near the front of the store
in summer, and reveal, bit by bit, the sordid, tragic
details of their starved existence. Fanny was often shocked
when they told their age--twenty-five, twenty-eight, thirty,
but old and withered from drudgery, and child-bearing, and
coarse, unwholesome food. Ignorant women, and terribly
lonely, with the dumb, lack-luster eyes that bespeak
monotony. When they smiled they showed blue-white, glassily
perfect false teeth that flashed incongruously in the ruin
of their wrinkled, sallow, weather-beaten faces. Mrs.
Brandeis would question them gently.

Children? Ten. Living? Four. Doctor? Never had one in
the house. Why? He didn't believe in them. No proper
kitchen utensils, none of the devices that lighten the
deadeningly monotonous drudgery of housework. Everything
went to make his work easier--new harrows, plows, tractors,
wind mills, reapers, barns, silos. The story would come
out, bit by bit, as the woman sat there, a worn, unlovely
figure, her hands--toil-blackened, seamed, calloused,
unlovelier than any woman's hands were ever meant to be--
lying in unaccustomed idleness in her lap.

Fanny learned, too, that the woman with the shawl, and with
her money tied in a corner of her handkerchief, was more
likely to buy the six-dollar doll, with the blue satin
dress, and the real hair and eye-lashes, while the Winnebago
East End society woman haggled over the forty-nine cent
kind, which she dressed herself.

I think their loyalty to Mrs. Brandeis might be explained by
her honesty and her sympathy. She was so square with them.
When Minnie Mahler, out Centerville way, got married, she
knew there would be no redundancy of water sets, hanging
lamps, or pickle dishes.

"I thought like I'd get her a chamber set," Minnie's aunt
would confide to Mrs. Brandeis.

"Is this for Minnie Mahler, of Centerville?"

"Yes; she gets married Sunday."

"I sold a chamber set for that wedding yesterday. And a set
of dishes. But I don't think she's got a parlor lamp. At
least I haven't sold one. Why don't you get her that? If
she doesn't like it she can change it. Now there's that
blue one with the pink roses."

And Minnie's aunt would end by buying the lamp.

Fanny learned that the mill girls liked the bright-colored
and expensive wares, and why; she learned that the woman
with the "fascinator" (tragic misnomer!) over her head
wanted the finest sled for her boy. She learned to keep her
temper. She learned to suggest without seeming to suggest.
She learned to do surprisingly well all those things that
her mother did so surprisingly well--surprisingly because
both the women secretly hated the business of buying and
selling. Once, on the Fourth of July, when there was a
stand outside the store laden with all sorts of fireworks,
Fanny came down to find Aloysius and the boy Eddie absent on
other work, and Mrs. Brandeis momentarily in charge. The
sight sickened her, then infuriated her.

"Come in," she said, between her teeth. "That isn't your

"Somebody had to be there. Pearl's at dinner. And Aloysius
and Eddie were--"

"Then leave it alone. We're not starving--yet. I won't
have you selling fireworks like that--on the street. I
won't have it! I won't have it!"

The store was paying, now. Not magnificently, but well
enough. Most of the money went to Theodore, in Dresden. He
was progressing, though not so meteorically as Bauer and
Schabelitz had predicted. But that sort of thing took time,
Mrs. Brandeis argued. Fanny often found her mother looking
at her these days with a questioning sadness in her eyes.
Once she suggested that Fanny join the class in drawing at
the Winnebago university--a small fresh-water college.
Fanny did try it for a few months, but the work was not what
she wanted; they did fruit pictures and vases, with a book,
on a table; or a clump of very pink and very white flowers.
Fanny quit in disgust and boredom. Besides, they were busy
at the store, and needed her.

There came often to Winnebago a woman whom Fanny Brandeis
admired intensely. She was a traveling saleswoman,
successful, magnetic, and very much alive. Her name was
Mrs. Emma McChesney, and between her and Mrs. Brandeis there
existed a warm friendship. She always took dinner with Mrs.
Brandeis and Fanny, and they made a special effort to give
her all those delectable home-cooked dishes denied her in
her endless round of hotels.

"Noodle soup!" she used to say, almost lyrically.

"With real hand-made, egg noodles! You don't know what it
means. You haven't been eating vermicelli soup all through
Illinois and Wisconsin."

"We've made a dessert, though, that--"

"Molly Brandeis, don't you dare to tell me what you've got
for dessert. I couldn't stand it. But, oh, suppose,
SUPPOSE it's homemade strawberry shortcake!"

Which it more than likely was.

Fanny Brandeis used to think that she would dress exactly as
Mrs. McChesney dressed, if she too were a successful
business woman earning a man-size salary. Mrs. McChesney
was a blue serge sort of woman--and her blue serge never was
shiny in the back. Her collar, or jabot, or tie, or cuffs,
or whatever relieving bit of white she wore, was always of
the freshest and crispest. Her hats were apt to be small
and full of what is known as "line." She usually would try
to arrange her schedule so as to spend a Sunday in
Winnebago, and the three alert, humor-loving women, grown
wise and tolerant from much contact with human beings, would
have a delightful day together.

"Molly," Mrs. McChesney would say, when they were
comfortably settled in the living-room, or on the front
porch, "with your shrewdness, and experience, and brains,
you ought to be one of those five or ten thousand a year
buyers. You know how to sell goods and handle people. And
you know values. That's all there is to the whole game of
business. I don't advise you to go on the road. Heaven
knows I wouldn't advise my dearest enemy to do that, much
less a friend. But you could do bigger things, and get
bigger results. You know most of the big wholesalers, and
retailers too. Why don't you speak to them about a
department position? Or let me nose around a bit for you."

Molly Brandeis shook her head, though her expressive eyes
were eager and interested. "Don't you think I've thought of
that, Emma? A thousand times? But I'm--I'm afraid.
There's too much at stake. Suppose I couldn't succeed?
There's Theodore. His whole future is dependent on me for
the next few years. And there's Fanny here. No, I guess
I'm too old. And I'm sure of the business here, small as it

Emma McChesney glanced at the girl. "I'm thinking that
Fanny has the making of a pretty capable business woman

Fanny drew in her breath sharply, and her face sparkled into
sudden life, as always when she was tremendously interested.

"Do you know what I'd do if I were in Mother's place? I'd
take a great, big running jump for it and land! I'd take a
chance. What is there for her in this town? Nothing!
She's been giving things up all her life, and what has it
brought her?"

"It has brought me a comfortable living, and the love of my
two children, and the respect of my townspeople."

"Respect? Why shouldn't they respect you? You're the
smartest woman in Winnebago, and the hardest working."

Emma McChesney frowned a little, in thought. "What do you
two girls do for recreation?"

"I'm afraid we have too little of that, Emma. I know Fanny
has. I'm so dog-tired at the end of the day. All I want is
to take my hairpins out and go to bed."

"And Fanny?"

"Oh, I read. I'm free to pick my book friends, at least."

"Now, just what do you mean by that, child? It sounds a
little bitter."

"I was thinking of what Chesterfield said in one of his
Letters to His Son. `Choose always to be in the society of
those above you,' he wrote. I guess he lived in Winnebago,
Wisconsin. I'm a working woman, and a Jew, and we
haven't any money or social position. And unless she's a
Becky Sharp any small town girl with all those handicaps
might as well choose a certain constellation of stars in the
sky to wear as a breastpin, as try to choose the friends she
really wants."

From Molly Brandeis to Emma McChesney there flashed a look
that said, "You see?" And from Emma McChesney to Molly
Brandeis another that said, "Yes; and it's your fault."

"Look here, Fanny, don't you see any boys--men?"

"No. There aren't any. Those who have any sense and
initiative leave to go to Milwaukee, or Chicago, or New
York. Those that stay marry the banker's lovely daughter."

Emma McChesney laughed at that, and Molly Brandeis too, and
Fanny joined them a bit ruefully. Then quite suddenly,
there came into her face a melting, softening look that made
it almost lovely. She crossed swiftly over to where her
mother sat, and put a hand on either cheek (grown thinner of
late) and kissed the tip of her nose. "We don't care--
really. Do we Mother? We're poor wurkin' girruls. But
gosh! Ain't we proud? Mother, your mistake was in not
doing as Ruth did."


"In the Bible. Remember when What's-his-name, her husband,
died? Did she go back to her home town? No, she didn't.
She'd lived there all her life, and she knew better. She
said to Naomi, her mother-in-law, `Whither thou goest I will
go.' And she went. And when they got to Bethlehem, Ruth
looked around, knowingly, until she saw Boaz, the catch of
the town. So she went to work in his fields, gleaning, and
she gleaned away, trying to look just as girlish, and
dreamy, and unconscious, but watching him out of the corner
of her eye all the time. Presently Boaz came along, looking
over the crops, and he saw her. `Who's the new damsel?'
he asked. `The peach?'"

"Fanny Brandeis, aren't you ashamed?"

"But, Mother, that's what it says in the Bible, actually.
`Whose damsel is this?' They told him it was Ruth, the
dashing widow. After that it was all off with the Bethlehem
girls. Boaz paid no more attention to them than if they had
never existed. He married Ruth, and she led society. Just
a little careful scheming, that's all."

"I should say you have been reading, Fanny Brandeis," said
Emma McChesney. She was smiling, but her eyes were serious.
"Now listen to me, child. The very next time a traveling
man in a brown suit and a red necktie asks you to take
dinner with him at the Haley House--even one of those roast
pork, queen-fritter-with-rum-sauce, Roman punch Sunday
dinners--I want you to accept."

"Even if he wears an Elks' pin, and a Masonic charm, and a
diamond ring and a brown derby?"
"Even if he shows you the letters from his girl in
Manistee," said Mrs. McChesney solemnly. "You've been
seeing too much of Fanny Brandeis."

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Fanny Herself - Chapter 7 Fanny Herself - Chapter 7

Fanny Herself - Chapter 7
Theodore had been gone six years. His letters, all toobrief, were events in the lives of the two women. They readand reread them. Fanny unconsciously embellished them withfascinating details made up out of her own imagination."They're really triumphs of stupidity and dullness," shesaid one day in disgust, after one of Theodore's long-awaited letters had proved particularly dry and sparse. "Just think of it! Dresden, Munich, Leipsic, Vienna,Berlin, Frankfurt! And from his letters you would neverknow he had left Winnebago. I don't believe he actuallysees anything of these cities--their people, and the queerhouses, and the streets.

Fanny Herself - Chapter 5 Fanny Herself - Chapter 5

Fanny Herself - Chapter 5
There was no hard stock in Brandeis' Bazaar now. Thepacking-room was always littered with straw and excelsiordug from hogsheads and great crates. Aloysius lorded itover a small red-headed satellite who disappeared insidebarrels and dived head first into huge boxes, coming upagain with a lamp, or a doll, or a piece of glassware, likea magician. Fanny, perched on an overturned box, used towatch him, fascinated, while he laboriously completed awater set, or a tea set. A preliminary dive would bring upthe first of a half dozen related pieces, each swathed intissue paper. A deft twist on the