Page images
PDF
EPUB

got it quite. Don't play it like grand opera-see. It's got a wowlike this-SWEET MAMA!"

From a corner Constance CorthIwai e wat hed them with amusement. She looked like a cat luxuriously gorging itself with cream. There was on her face exactly that complacent, contented, and cynical expression.

The next morning he came down late. They had kept him at the piano a long time the night before, and besides not for years had he risen early. He found the house deserted as it had been the afternoon before. Not until the butler told him they were all out riding did he remember dimly that something had been said about riding, that they had suggested he come along.

Out on the porch there were Sunday papers and warm sunshine. Levering settled himself in a comfortable, soft-cushioned wicker chair and picking up a paper turned to the Broadway page, where he found a flattering notice of the Club Levering activities during the past week. Yes, it was a triumph. Such a notice! "Quaintest night-club in town." "Levering's songs draw the élite."

[ocr errors][merged small]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

swank . . . kind of shabby. Not a patch on lots of places. . . . And come to think of it, the people ain't such classy dressers. . such classy dressers. . . . Not much jewelry on the dames. . . . That English duke's dinner-jacket didn't fit so damn good. fit so damn good. . . . Slow kind of crowd; he didn't get 'em at all. . . . Now when he'd sung that nifty song it didn't go so big that Corthwaite dame had acted kinda queer, seemed like she'd almost sneered. . . . But, foolishness . . . she liked him fine, and she liked his stuff,

too.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

to spend Sunday. . .

He picked up another sheet of the paper, but his attention wandered, and it fluttered from his hand. "What the hell's the matter with me?"

It was very still out there. Levering had never felt such stillness. It pressed on his ear-drums. He could fairly hear the silence. There was no way to escape from one's self in such quiet. He was acutely uncomfortable. This was nothing like the Lowensteins' place! Why, Sunday morning at this hour there would be a crowd of good fellows drinking high-balls and singing and telling jokes, and the marble pool would be full of people, and like as not some one would climb up one of those Italian statues of old Lowenstein's and stick a bathing-cap on its head. Sure, there'd be things doing all right.

But this stillness that screamed at you, and this funny little garden,

and no footman in livery, and no marble statues-hell! This wasn't such a place, and yet

him and left him alone and outside. He tried to reassure himself. There were all kinds of people in the world,

The stillness gives you funny and this was America, and he was as ideas! good as anybody.

Now, old Lowenstein, he can't be all wrong but Constance Corthwaite's place can't be wrong at all. This place is right-for her brand of people. And the house-now, the house must be right too. It wasn't what he liked himself, but it was right. It was bound to be right. It wasn't as if she didn't always get the best. She could have anything in the world, and she knew what was right-and she had this. And if this was right, the Club Levering was wrong. He turned a little cold at the thought. The club was his creation, it was his dream, it was, in fact, himself, and it was wrong!

He stooped and picked up a sheet of the newspaper and folded it gently and exactly.

She's

Corthwaite she knows. the kind that don't make mistakes about houses.

He was not soothed and comforted in the sunlight now. He was acutely and miserably fighting with doubt and distrust. For if the Club LevFor if the Club Levering was wrong, then he was wrong. He had missed. He was cheated. He was being shown a land that he could never enter, and desolately, and suddenly now, he thought it was the only land worth entering.

Oh, the terrible, silent scorn of this house, in its rightness, scorn for him and his land and his dream! Hal Levering was a poet. It seemed to him now that the house behind him had drawn together and was straining to get away from him, just as the people in it strained away from

"It ain't so; I'm as good as any of 'em. What'd they ask me here for if I ain't? You big clown you, they asked you here to sing your jazz songs, and so's they could get a good laugh outa you. That's what it was for, you big dummy. Didn't you see that Corthwaite girl sneering? Sure you did. But you wouldn't admit it! These people are right, and you're wrong, Hal Levering. You're a Jew. No, that ain't it either. It's because you ain't a Jew

that's it-because you're pretending you ain't. Because you ain't real. That's it. They got their own names and their own people and the things they've always had, but youyou You're what they call a dirty Jew.

"That's what it is about them that's different-it ain't just that they got different styles in architecture-but they ain't pretending nothing. They don't have to."

He remembered the smile that had curled Constance Corthwaite's lips the night before. It grew, it spread, the image of curving lips blotted out all the warm world, and he was alone before them, his heart sick with the humiliation of the degraded artist.

Hal Levering rose from his chair, trembling a little, very white, just as the riding-party came strolling through the box-hedge.

He looked down at them from the steps of the porch. They came toward him like sublime creatures oblivious of his presence and of his

pain, ignoring him as they would your stuff was awful. We wouldn't always ignore him.

race.

They were talking about some one named Coperbesby. He heard Constance Corthwaite's clear voice say: "He has the most intense sense of A fierce and proud belief in the Jew, and if you don't understand that he is a Jew, that everything he does is racial and unsullied, you can't understand his music at all." Somebody laughed and laughed and said: "Shush! Your other Jew friend will hear you."

Levering turned and, blundering against the door, went slowly out of the sun, through the big quiet hall and upstairs. His room had been put in order, and he hated to disarrange it, but he had to hurry, hurry so that he could go quickly, and when you pack in a hurry things get mussed up in spite of you.

22

The first thing his cronies at the club asked him was if he had had a good time at the Corthwaite place. Bennie Bernstein, the orchestra leader, Mimi Deland, the specialty dancer, and her lean effeminate partner, surrounded him as soon as he appeared that Monday night. "Did you have a good time?" they asked him.

"Sure, fine, fine."

Mimi Deland looked at him curiously. “Well, you don't look it." He turned on her her furiously. "What do you mean, I don't look it? What do you want me to do? Sing a song about it?"

keep open a week with him around." "Pretty bad, huh?" pleased. "Lousy!"

It was time for his first song. As he stepped to the door that led him to the spot-lights and the applause, he said over his shoulder, "Don't worry about me getting the weekend habit; I won't."

"Gee," remarked Deland as he slammed the door on them, "I wonder what they did to him. He's back early too."

He finished his song, and Bennie dipped his violin to his orchestra, and they began the opening bars of "Abie's an Irisher Now."

At the sound of the first notes, Levering stiffened as though he had been stung; then, turning on his heel, he called harshly, "Don't play that song to-night-or ever again." After which he walked stiffly off the floor, refusing his encore, while the music stopped in the middle of a bar, jarred to a silence that held until Bennie shattered it with his music. again.

23

It was several weeks before Constance Corthwaite came again to the Club Levering. She was quite sure, of course, when Hal Levering fled from her house without a word to any of them, that he had somehow realized his position; but that was not what had kept her from the club. She had been away. Now, to-night she was in town again and a little. bored, and as Hal Levering had once

She shrugged. "No," simply. "But amused her she came to his place in don't chew my ear off."

"Say, don't get the week-end habit," said Bennie jovially. "That bird you had here last night doing

the hope that he might again. He was a hired performer; if she had hurt his feelings, well-she was sorry, but she had no intention of staying away

as long as he could give her a moment's entertainment.

The club had not been doing well for the last few weeks. Even Bennie Bernstein's saucy music did not hold the crowds. The reason, of course, was that another man was in Hal Levering's place.

Constance Corthwaite listened to one of his colorless offerings, and then called him to her table. "Where," she asked, "is Levering? Isn't he going to be to-night?"

"Nope, he's left for good."
"Really,

Hal

here

how disappointing!

Where has he gone?"

"Say, lady, you'll never believe me when I tell you; it's the funniest thing you ever heard! You know the money he was getting herefifteen hundred a week and a rakeoff, and he part owner at that"Really?"

"Sure. Well, he came in here one day, nobody expecting it at all, and told 'em he was through-just like that. Through. Told 'em he was going back and be a real Jew, going to give his talent to his people. Can you beat it? They thought he had gone crazy, of course. Fifteen hundred a week and a rake-off—and do you know what he's done?" The objectionable young man paused dramatically. "Say, he's studying to be a cantor in a synagogue-can you beat that?-can you?"

[ocr errors][merged small]

but soon the rumors died away, and all that was left of Levering at his old stamping-ground was the flashing red and green sign of the club. Business had fallen off; new places had each in turn engaged the fickle attentions of the city's night-lovers, and the Club Levering was patronized by only a few stragglers. And then the management decided to make one more bid for popular favor with a new revue.

Bennie Bernstein labored at his piano just as he had the afternoon of Levering's greatest triumph a year before, but the other performers were new. No one now tried to fill Hal's shoes; they had to depend on a speeding chorus to cover up a palpable lack. And as Bennie sweated to get the rehearsal into full swing, the servicedoor opened and a familiar voice sang out: "Hel-lo, Bennie, how've you been? Making the grade O.K., huh?" It was Hal Levering.

"My God-Hal!" and Bennie leaped from his stool and seized Levering by the shoulders. The other performers gathered around, and to Hal again was given the once so sweet chorus of praise.

"Cut it out-cut it out. Let's get to work here. We gotta give 'em something to knock 'em off their chairs!"

Bennie looked at Levering in astonishment. Was he really coming back? It was too good to be true, but here he was, and Bennie ran over to the piano joyfully. His nimble fingers flew up and down the keyboard, and then, triumphantly, he hammered out the first bars of "Abie's an Irisher Now." Levering, who had been chatting with the chef, who had come running from the

kitchen, whirled about with a white the Song of Solomon, set to a wail

face.

"Bennie!" His voice stopped the music with the player's hands suspended in the air, such was its savage earnestness. "Never again that number, Bennie. Levering's a Jewisher now. Don't forget that, hey?" Hal patted his friend on the shoulder. "S'all right, Bennie, but there's been some changes made."

The rehearsal went on under Levering's direction, and when he was satisfied with it he turned to the piano and handed Bernstein several sheets of manuscript.

ing accompaniment, that died away to a whisper, rose, swelled, and died away again. It was thrilling, strange, but "Can even Hal Levering get away with that stuff in a nightclub?" wondered Bennie.

One or two jazz numbers followed, and Hal called off rehearsal. The word spread that Levering was back, and that night, when the lights were dimmed and the chorus twinkled through the opening number, the place was crowded beyond seating capacity.

There was no sight of Levering "Here's some new numbers that until after Buck and Wing, those I'm going to try," he said.

"Hot dog!" Bennie murmured, as he bent his expert gaze on the neatly written sheets. Then an expression of bewilderment spread over his face. What was this stuff Hal was pulling? He glanced sideways at Levering, who was standing at the edge of the platform, his back turned. With a shake of his head, Bennie played a few bars; then Levering joined in, a new softness, a thrilling timbre, in his rich voice. Again the few in the room stopped their chatter and listened with puzzled expressions, which changed into real wonder and reluctant admiration as Hal sang: "Set me as a seal upon thine heart,

[ocr errors][merged small]

whirling cloggers, had done their turn. Then he appeared, and a burst of applause, punctuated by the staccato click of the little wooden hammers on the tables, showed that he still had a loyal following.

Bennie, at the piano, nervously settled himself, waiting for the noise to cease. Then Hal broke into one of his new songs, those songs that are as famous now as "Eli, Eli." The reaction of the crowd was amazing. Some wept, some applauded, others sat silent, wondering. It was so unexpected, so sudden, that before they realized it Hal had bowed quietly and left the room.

Later he sang several jazz songs, but after the applause he did not join his patrons at their tables; he left the room in spite of clamorous shouts of "C'mere, Hal," "Have a lil one with us, Hal?" "Draw up a chair, Hal."

Sitting at one of the tables were Lord and Lady Greville, Nancy Bromley, and John Taylor. If Levering had noticed the presence of these companions of his week-end

« PreviousContinue »