Rosika the Hose
MARGIT SZABO was a little edgy as she talked to Erszabet Kovacs in the potato patch. Erszabet had come to get a pail of milk, and it was early — before Rosika had gone to the business college, or Piroska to the button factory, or Yolande to the suspenders factory, and Wilmonz, Kati, Ilka, Lenke, and Ollidar to school. Mr. Szabo was sharpening the hand scythe to cut meadow grass, with little four-year-old Jeno beside him. And all the others were hurrying in preparation for their departures of the day.
‘Your Rosika is nineteen already,’ said Erszabet contemplatively, drawing her bright head shawl well over her ears to keep out the sharp autumn cool of Connecticut. ‘And two offers you have refused for her yesterday!’
‘Yes,’ answered Margit Szabo, with a stream of words in the rich Hungarian tongue which these people used among themselves. ‘The offers were not good enough. The best good Hungarian farmers we must have for our fine girls.’
‘But, besides Rosika, your Piroska is seventeen already!’ Erszabet added. ‘And your Yolande, she is sixteen, and Lenke fifteen.’
‘Lenke?’ cried Margit in dismay. ‘Do not say the name of Lenke! She is too young. The older two, Rosika and Piroska, yes. They are old enough to marry. And maybe, too, Yolande,’ agreed Mrs. Szabo, her eyes sparkling. ‘But Lenke — no!’
Margit Szabo, mother of nine, standing in the potato patch beside the tall spare Erszabet, looked as rotund as her wooden washtub. And she was as clean and fresh and weathered, too. Her face was full of humor, her quick, small, comely hands full of gesture, her classically cut mouth equally ready for laughter or invective.
‘With your Rosika,’ Erszabet counseled, ‘you should make it like the old days in Hungary, Margit — “in spite of peace, in spite of war, a maid must go when she’s asked for.’”
‘No, no, no, Ersza!’ Margit cried. ‘We shall wait. I shall mate my six Hungarian daughters with six fine Hungarian sons!’
‘Yoi, yoi, yoi,’ Erszabet rejoined. ‘At home you could talk so. But Hungary is far away, and the Danube, and the customs of our youth. Ye came here for freedom for yourself, Margit. Well, here is freedom also forthe young. In America the young mate where they will. And mind me, Margit — watch your flock! There are not only Americans here who hunt among us for our fine Hungarian girls. But there are Italians, too, and English, and French, and Greeks!’
‘Greeks!’ Mrs. Szabo spat the word. ‘What are they? Greeks? And French and Italians — dagos, wops, guineas! What are these, Ersza?’
Mrs. Szabo put into Erszabet’s hand a milk pail foaming full.
‘Ah, Greeks!’ she spat again, as her tall, blooming eldest daughter, Rosika, came out of the farmhouse, and stood talking to her father.
And what a Rose was Rosa! Though only nineteen, she was gorgeous as midsummer. In the quiet country landscape she was like a sudden burst of music from a band, in which the sound would come out of the flower-shaped mouths of the brass trumpets in colors!
For, though the Szabos lived on a New England farm, Rosika was not the boyish American girl with the long slow seasons of the temperate zones of life. She was of the heart of Hungary, of those full races whose women have a short season — a bloom time suddenly and ravishingly beautiful, and no autumn, but upon the heels of spring a long hard winter.
But who recks of winter when the spring is here? Rosa had health and nourishment, and she expected love. That happy moment for which God created the world in six days was Rosa’s now.
As she turned out of the front gate, and down the road toward the business college, Mrs. Szabo went back into the big, fragrant, whitewashed kitchen, still muttering from her lovely mouth incoherent bitternesses in Hungarian, about ‘dagos and wops and guineas, frogs and cockneys, Americans and Greeks.’
Beside the village green in front of the business college, as Rosika approached it, stood a delivery cart, and written upon the cart, in letters a foot high, was the legend, ICARUS XENOPHON, CONFECTIONER, NEW BRITAIN, CONNECTICUT.
To the casual eye this would have been an ordinary delivery cart. But Rosa’s eye was not casual. She wondered curiously what nationality the name ‘Icarus Xenophon’ could represent, for she had never met with it before among all the foreign-born around the great manufacturing centre of Bridgeport.
On the seat of the cart was a stringy, leather-colored boy, shouting some foreign language to the sleek fat horse in the shafts. And beside the boy was a very distinguished person. Swarthy he was, as a richly brown Havana cigar. His body was inclined decidedly to be prosperous, yet he was still too youthful to be corpulent, and awkward he would never be.
As Rosa came abreast of the cart, this bronze, well-dressed person stepped down over the bright red wheel and on to the pavement in front of her. His bold black eyes took in all of her youth and beauty that were so abundantly there for the taking. His dark small hands, with a big diamond sparkling on one finger, made an involuntary gesture of approval. He stood and stared, the burnished effrontery of his eyes gradually melting to entrealy.
And Rosa was no less spellbound. She was noting that his hands were neither the whitish color nor the awkward big shape of the American grocery boy’s hands. She was fascinated by their smooth shapeliness, with the sparkling diamond ring.
Then Rosa’s eyes suddenly turned in confusion from his as they seemed to draw her to him. She blushed as red as a ribbon, and turned violently into the path leading to the business college.
But the confectioner from New Britain was instantly beside her.
‘Pardon me,’ he said. ‘I see you are going to the business college.’
His voice was like thick whipped cream. Rosa could no more place his accent than his name. He was strange and new to her. He took off his brown felt hat, and his hair was beautiful in the sunshine, lying in shiny black waves, glossy with grooming.
‘The business college is just beginning me,’ Rosika stammered.
‘And when will it be finishing you?’ he asked, his black eyes glistening.
‘Not until six months,’ she answered.
‘I will wait,’ he said, planting his small feet firmly on the sidewalk.
‘You will wait here?’ Rosa said. ‘For six months?’
Xenophon’s suave face broke up into laughter. It made him look much younger. Though Rosa was sure he was very old — perhaps thirty!
‘I have come to the business college to-day,’ he said, ‘to have recommended to me a stenographer. For my business in New Britain. It grows too much for me to write all the letters myself.’
Rosa’s eyes shone and sparkled. Was it possible that stenographers were snatched up off the sidewalk in front of the business college like this? And this only her first week!
‘In April I will be a stenographer,’ she said conclusively.
Then, encouraged by Xenophon’s friendliness, and remembering that, her father having turned down two suitors for her yesterday, she had made up her mind to be ‘on her own ’ like an American girl, she became friendly too.
‘It was my wish to go to the Academy in Milford and learn to be a lady,’ she said. ‘But my mother said, “Of what use is a lady?” My mother wished me to go to the factory and learn to make suspenders in English — like my sister Yolande. But my father was afraid I might fall in love with the American suspenders men.’
‘Do you — fall in love easily?’ Xenophon asked, a little flurry in his eyes.
‘I have never had a chance,’ Rosa answered.
The swarthy gentleman fairly scintillated.
‘Hungarian girls are not permitted to fall in love until after they are married,’ Rosika explained. ‘But already my father has refused five suitors for me, including the American boy who delivers the groceries, and who now makes eyes at my fourth sister, Lenke. And I, for myself, I am tired of waiting.’
‘For that no one could blame you,’ agreed Icarus. ‘How many sisters have you?’
‘Five,’ Rosika replied. ‘In the village we are called “the Six Beautiful Sisters.” And we also have three brothers, Wilmonz, Ollidar, and Jeno.’
With more of this conversation, between intimate informations, Xenophon managed to make the hard-andfast arrangement that Rosa was hired, to be his stenographer the very minute she was anybody’s. He even intimated that at a pinch his business might not require a full-six-months stenographer, that she might, in fact, have the job now and finish learning to be a stenographer on the typewriter in his soda shop.
Rosa was trying to listen carefully to what he said, but all the time he talked she felt herself being drawn mysteriously nearer to him, until, when she tried to thank him for his offer, she found her hand in his! At first she only felt a little warm tingle in her fingers, where his fingers clasped them tightly. Then she had the social consciousness to snatch her hand away.
‘ Who — who are you ? ’ she exclaimed suddenly, in Hungarian, startled into her mother tongue.
And Icarus laughed, and replied in some strange language which she in her turn did not understand.
‘I mean,’ she repeated then, carefully, in English, ‘whence do you come? Of what race are you?’
And he answered, ‘I am Greek.’
Rosa’s joy was frozen in her veins. She could not have been more terrified.
Why Rosika feared this strange unknown race she could not have told, but antipathy had been inbred for generations. The very word ‘Greek’ had never been spoken calmly in the potato patches, in the farmyards, or in the peasant cottages of her ancestors; it had been spat — Greek!
But Rosa was even more fascinated than she was frightened — which is not at all unusual. And when Xenophon drove off in the red-wheeled cart she stood looking after him, the slip of paper with his name and address clasped close against her breast.
Her first thought alone was that now she was in love like an American girl, without benefit of parents, and it made her heart pound until she could hear it plainly. For Rosika’s was not the cool, amber, apple-cider blood of New England, but it was warm like the Tokay wine from the famous vineyards of the land where she was born. Even the colors of her were not New England, though color all over she was, cream and milk color, berry and russet. Her eyes were the impenetrable Slav blue of the blue Danube, and her mouth was the sleepy red of the poppies that grow in the cornfields eastward, toward the steppes of Russia.
On the way home that evening Rosika caught up, along the country road, with her sister Piroska, from her day’s work at the button factory. Abreast of each other, the inquiring expressions of Rosika’s azure eyes and Piroska’s eyes of silver gray changed back and forth like the shuffling of a bright deck of cards. And Rosa reached out, snatched under the neck of Piroska’s sweater with competent fingers, and pulled out a bright ribbon.
At the end of the ribbon was a shining locket. And when Piroska opened it Rosa could see why Piroska, who was called the Silver Sister of the six, had lately grown more like a slim silver princess than ever. For the face in the locket was surely that of a prince.
‘Are — are you in love with him?’ Rosa asked in an awestruck voice. ‘But I am seeing that you are. What is his name?’
‘Quo Vadis is his name.’
‘Quo Wadis? Quo Wadis?’ Rosa mouthed the words inquiringly.
‘He says it’s a Latin name,’ Piroska explained. ‘He says it means in Latin, “Where are you going?”’
‘You mean, if you marry him, your name will be Mrs, Where Are You Going?’
Piroska drew in a big breath, with a cold douche of fog down her throat. ‘My name shall be Piroska Quo Vadis. And I think it is a beautiful name.’
‘Surely the name is not of Hungary,’ Rosa said. ‘Tell me, of what race is this Quo Wadis?’
Piroska shivered in her thin green sweater, snapping the locket shut.
‘He is,’ she said, ‘Italian — the tailor — in Bridgeport.’
‘Italian? A tailor? A wop? A wop tailor!’ Rosa’s voice stuck in her throat like a fishbone. ‘And this is what you would bring upon us, Piroska — that your children should be wops!’
Indignant, Piroska ran on ahead where she could not hear. And when she was out of sight Rosika was left alone in the fog that now shut out everything. It was a close, soft, eerie world, with Rosa so solitary in the centre of it that she could hear her own heartbeats. Or was that the beating of a horse’s hoofs she heard! A horse, with a cart behind. And, as far as Rosa was concerned, were there not only one horse and one cart in all the world ?
She stepped off the road, and the cart loomed up, shapeless in the fog, huge, devouring the atmosphere. And the owner was out over the wheel again, beside Rosa. For how could a mere Sound fog hide such a shining two from each other?
And, more than that, something was going to happen which Rosa did not know about — and therefore for which she was not responsible. Icarus took her in his arms.
‘The day has been long, so long,’ he said brokenly. ‘All day have I driven my horse up and down the roads from Bridgeport to New Haven, thinking what to do. And I could not go back to New Britain without you!’
‘G-go — go to New Britain?’ Rosa’s teeth chattered, as she dragged herself out of his reach. ‘ I am g-g-going home.’
‘But, my pearl. My Rosika. My Rose. Do you not love me? As I love you?’
And Rosika did not know—although she knew, quite unexpectedly and suddenly, that she would die if he left her.
‘Is — is love like this?’ she asked. ‘Are people — like this always — when they love?’
He took off her bright woolen cap, and smoothed back her damp hair with trembling hands.
‘All are the same when they love,’ he said.
‘Then I am seeing now why my father wishes to do all the talking when the suitors come to propose!’
Xenophon laughed, and drew the diamond ring from his finger. Rosa looked on in amazement.
‘For—for me?’ she asked incredulously, as he reached for her hand.
‘Of course for you — for my wife, Mrs. Xenophon! Once you are wearing my ring, you are promised to me. And not even your father can part us.’
‘But I dare not wear the ring,’ she said. ‘My mother would burst it from me if she saw it. But,’ eagerly, ‘I could wear it on a ribbon around my neck!’
‘Wear it then on a ribbon, until we are married,’ Xenophon consented. ‘Until next Sunday.’
‘Next Sunday? Oh no, no, no!’ Rosa answered in dismay. ‘That could not be for long — for many weeks, months — years.’
‘Is not until Sunday a year?’ the Greek answered, ‘Ah, my pearl, life is short.’
But how could Rosika tell this delectable person that, diamond ring and all, he would be persona non grata to her family? How could she tell him that she was meant fora fine Hungarian farmer, and none other whatever, much less a Greek? How could she tell him that even the word ‘Greek’ was not spoken, but spat, in her family?
And so with laughs, and promises, and warm shaking hands, they tied the sparkling ring with a bit of cord Icarus had in his pocket, and dropped it down out of sight inside the neck of Rosa’s woolen dress.
‘Oh, my Rosika, my Rose,’ he whispered in her ear. ‘How long shall I be waiting alone in my soda shop in New Britain! For when you come I shall give you golden goblets to drink from, and emerald plates!’
Rosa turned first one pretty ear and then the other to his murmuring lips, for there was enough Mother Eve in her to teach her a way with a lover; so that when Icarus left her he was the most unhappy completely happy man in New England.
But, even with all Rosika’s cleverness, probably the delivery cart never would have turned and gone back in the fog the way it had come unless she had promised to begin being the stenographer of the soda shop the next day, instead of waiting for the business college to finish her.
As for Rosa, was there any reason why she should go to school any more to learn to be a stenographer when she had a stenographer’s job already? And as for Icarus, the Greek knew deeply that he was a lucky man. His heart beat faster than his horse’s hoofs as he turned at last toward New Britain, with Rosa’s promise to come to-morrow morning to be the stenographer of his soda shop.
As the dusk descended deeper and deeper, and the fog rolled in from the Sound, Mrs. Szabo was feeling even more uneasy than she had felt all day. As she went into the closed, cold summer kitchen to dish out the supper of pot cheese and milk, with great thick slices of rye bread, she was complaining again to herself, as in the morning.
‘Yoi, yoi, yoi,’ she murmured. ‘ ’T is time my Yolande was home from making suspenders in English. And far past time for Rosika from the business college, and Piroska from the button factory. Italians!’ she muttered, brandishing the big sharp knife over the loaf of rye bread. ‘Greeks!’
Then the Szabo sisters began to pop like electric lights into the large farmhouse kitchen, its bare white corners filled with soft shadows. First there came Piroska, and, seeing her enter without really looking at her, Margit thought it was Rosa, her figure was already so large.
Piroska was as scintillating as Rosa was blooming. She was shiny all over, even her voice. Very white and flawless was her skin, sparkling and very light gray her eyes. She was taller already than Rosa, and slender as the sapling of the silver birch.
After Piroska, in poured all the others. Yolande, the Madonnaesque, with Kati and Ilka, and the two older boys from school. Then last, as always, there was Lenke, who was fifteen and in the first year of the high school. Lenke, who was tawmy as a leopardess, and ready to spring avidly upon any crumbs of life that overflowed the fingers of her older sisters.
Margit feared even that Lenke, who was fourth, would be the first one married. And she could not keep from laughing, even in dismay.
For what a life was the life of the mother of six beautiful daughters! And how Margit loved it all. For joy and color still meant as much to the eager, youthful, healthy Margit as to the most life-loving of her flock.
There was lackwar too for supper — prune jam with nuts and fat round raisins in it. Everybody was at the table already when Rosa took her place. And, in spite of all her efforts to depress herself, Rosa looked so happy that it was as if a golden halo shone all around her head.
Lenke sat between Jeno and Wilmonz, near enough to Mrs. Szabo for a long-arm slap. And at this moment long, feline, invisible antennse like a cat’s fairly stuck out in front of her inquisitive nose and waved in the air toward her two older sisters. For psychic Lenke could feel that there was something forward. But she could not make out what it was, and was finally forced to bend her efforts upon her jam and bread.
Then came the exciting news.
‘Mommo,’ said Rosa, out of a clear sky. ‘I have got a stenographer’s job already. By a shop at 223 Elm Street, in New Britain.’
All eyes turned, as one, upon Rosa.
‘And you only one week at the business college!’ exclaimed Stefan Szabo from the head of his table.
’Yes, Poppo,’ she said. ‘A shopkeeper who needs someone to help him write his letters, and at the same time learn to be a stenographer on his typewriter at New Britain, has offered me a job. To begin to-morrow morning!’
Mrs. Szabo’s bright eyes were just as inquisitive as Lenke’s.
‘A stenographer of what are you already?’ she demanded uneasily.
‘A stenographer of a confectionery shop.’
‘Yes? Yes? Zo? A confectionery shop? And that might be well,’ her father said.
‘Does it sell ice cream?’ piped Lenke.
‘Yes, it does,’ Rosa snapped. ‘But I pray you never get any of it.’
‘Oh, you do pray it, do you? Well, “a dog’s barking goes not up to heaven,”’ quoted Lenke nimbly.
‘Mommo!’ Rosa cried in a fright, as well she might. ‘If Lenke is going to hang around the confectionery shop of which I am the stenographer, all will be lost. Once they see there are six Szabo sisters all wanting to be given treats of ice cream, I would no longer be employed by Mr. Xenophon!’
‘Mr. Xenophon! Xenophon?’ exclaimed Yolande, the Madonnaesque, she who was learning to make suspenders in English. ‘What a strange name.’
‘Well, did I name him?’ asked Rosa.
‘There, there,’ said Mrs. Szabo fairly, as all eyes were rounding accusingly at Rosa. ‘Did Rosa name him?’
‘And, Rosa, what will you be paid for what you are not worth?’ asked Wilmonz, the oldest brother, between bites of rye bread.
Rosa was taken aback. With all Icarus had had to say to her, and all she had had to say to him, the amount of her salary had not been so much as mentioned. But this was no time for scruples. So she answered, ‘I shall be paid twelve dollars a week.’
And her voice was very gentle, for she was thinking she could not be indignant with Icarus for forgetting to mention her salary, when he had been only too busy imploring her to take half his whole shop.
Respect and awe greeted Rosa’s announcement of the sum. It was the salary of a lady’s job, twelve dollars a week! But it was only right, for being the stenographer of a confectionery shop. They all knew that.
‘Xenophon?’ inquired Mrs. Szabo politely. ‘Is that a Turco name?’
‘A Turk name!’ stammered Rosa, red in the face. ‘Of course, Mommo, it is not a Turco name. It’s a Greek name.’
‘Greek!’ spat Mrs. Szabo. ‘A Greek name you are the stenographer of the soda shop of? And his wife, Rosika?’ she demanded. ‘Mr. Xenophon’s wife, Mrs. Xenophon? Is she Greek?’
Rosa was almost balked by this question. But what had to be had to be.
‘Of course Mrs. Xenophon is Greek,’ she said firmly. And to make it sound more convincing, she added, ‘And very beautiful.’
There were sighs of relief up and down both sides of the table. For the word ‘Greek’ had put a strain on the Szabo psychology at a point where it was little able to bear it. But Xenophon being safely married, — and to a beautiful wife, — everybody now turned back to the business in hand, the jam business. Everybody except Mrs. Szabo, whose nimble mind was still revolving as fast as the minute hand on a watch.
‘So Mrs. Xenophon is beautiful,’ said Mrs. Szabo pleasantly. ‘How nice. And I suppose she is rich, too.’
‘Oh yes, she is very rich,’ Rosa acquiesced eagerly. And again, to make it convincing, she added, ‘She is so rich she never drinks plain water — only soda water.’
That settled the Szabos for a while. It gave everybody at the table something to think about. Only the gleam in Lenke’s eyes told that she needed no time in which to think — that her mind was made up already. And Rosa knew, in her elbows, that the first afternoon Lenke could evade the family she would come leaping limberly to the soda shop in New Britain! Oh, why had n’t she said she was the stenographer of some other sort of shop?
After all the other Szabos had gone to bed that night, Rosa sat dreaming beside the big bare kitchen table, until at last even Mrs. Szabo fell asleep, contenting herself with calling out to Rosa in English, ‘There you go burning your candle on both sides.’
As Rosa rode on the trolley the next morning to New Britain her heart thumped. When she entered the confectionery shop Xenophon was alone, for he had thrust the customers out of the shop and had given his young assistant from Salonika the whole day off for a holiday.
Icarus had been working in the shop since dawn. The glass show cases, which shone like diamonds, had been pushed back a little to make the middle aisle wider for Rosa to walk upon. Fresh garlands of colored tissue paper were festooned above the bright bottles of sweet syrups. The glistening white soda fountain was rubbed and polished. And, as a last touch, the whole place was sprayed with the perfume Xenophon used on his hair.
The confectionery shop was therefore easily the finest thing Rosa had ever seen. And from Xenophon’s arms Rosika’s charming blue eyes looked upon all, and liked all they looked upon.
‘But ah, my Rosika, my Rose,’ Icarus began at once, his lips murmuring against hers. ‘ Can we not close the shop now for to-day, and go together without waiting to the Greek Catholic priest?’
‘Greek Catholic?’ Rosika cried, aghast. She had not thought of this complication. ‘Greek Catholic? But I am Roman Catholic.’
‘You will be Greek, however, when you are married to me, is it not?’ Icarus asked innocently.
‘Greek I am not!’ Rosika cast in his fine white even teeth. ‘And Greek I shall never be! Am I not already your stenographer? And is it not enough? Whether I shall ever be your wife depends upon your own behavior.
‘Besides,’ Rosika added, ‘I shall have a great wedding. Is it for such as I to hurry to the side door of the priest ? ’
But Icarus caught her fiercely against him. ‘But, Rosika, my Rose, my white swan, do not leave me.’
He held her close in his arms, his face against hers, and all the will went out of her into him. For that is the way with such things. And she murmured, ‘I — shall never leave you — if you are loving me — so much.’
And by noon Rosa and Icarus had only come to this — that part they could not. So Rosa went to pray in a Roman Catholic church, and Icarus went to pray in a Greek Catholic church. And their prayers came to the same thing, as true prayer always does everywhere. For they each prayed for the miracle of love, and they both received it.
In the afternoon, this being the amiable state of Connecticut, where preliminaries are unnecessary, Rosika and Icarus were married by the justice of the peace at Greenwich. In the train going back from Greenwich to Milford, two hours later than Rosika was expected at home, the bride had no false modesty about cuddling against the bridegroom on the brown plush seat — he with both his arms about her, the fragrance of her hair against his face, and on her finger the new gold wadding ring.
But Rosa had no intention of causing the Szabos at home any sorrow she could save them, and also she meant to keep Icarus for herself; and she had succeeded in making it part of the bargain that she should have time to tell her family of the elopement gradually — that Icarus should keep the wedding ring, and the diamond ring, and all the coral jewelry he had bought for her this afternoon, and she should go home, and pretend for a while to be no more than the stenographer of the soda shop.
When Rosa lifted the latch of the kitchen door and saw her father waiting up for her, he whose habit it was to go to roost with the chickens, she forced a smile upon her lips, though in her heart the tears were falling, falling. For it is always so with love.
But Rosika’s latenesses followed ever more thickly. Almost every evening of the next two weeks she was late to supper; twice she went to spend the night with her cousin in Bridgeport.
Then there came, inevitably, the day when Lenke ran home all the way from the village with the news she had heard. ‘Listen, Mommo!’ Lenke cried. ‘Listen to that which I have but now discovered — about Rosika!’
‘Come, Lenke, to your dinner,’ said Mrs. Szabo shortly. ‘There is napkin pudding with château sauce flooding it.’
‘But, Mommo!’ insisted Lenke, and poured into Margit’s reddening ears the tale she had to tell.
‘I thought, Lenke Szabo, I told you not to go near that soda shop,’ was all Margit said, though her heart was bursting against, her breast.
‘I did n’t go,’ Lenke explained. ‘Have I said that it was I myself who saw Rosika kiss the Greek in the soda shop? I was told by those who saw her do it! And what do you suppose Mrs. Xenophon will do, Mommo, when she finds it out?’
What the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon would do, Margit refused to discuss. And the next night Rosa sent word home again — late — that she was staying the night with her cousin in Bridgeport. And Margit sat all night on the steps of the farmhouse, awake; for Rosa was not at her cousin’s when Wilmonz was sent to inquire there.
Early the next morning, Margit was on the trolley for New Britain. Piroska and Lenke were with her, and Wilmonz and Ollidar. Mr. Szabo and Yolande both steadfastly refused to be a party to this early morning march, standing out loyally that Rosika had only gone with some girl to the movie, and had found herself caught too late to go on to her cousin’s afterward. For of one thing Stefan Szabo was certain — his own blood. And Yolande, the Madonnaesque, was much like her father.
But Margit bore forward, every drop of her blood straining. In a street of New Britain near the soda shop Margit annexed a large policeman, who listened with the greatest avidity to all she had to say — Rosa’s beauty, the Greek’s perfidy, the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon’s ignorance of the whole thing.
And when the Irish policeman saw how comely Margit was as she told the tale, how beautiful Piroska was, and how full of strange attractiveness the tawny Lenke, he could hardly wait to see Rosika. The more he heard, the greater grew his indignation. The lowdown Greek! The shoe-shining, sodaselling, banana man! Forward, march!
Mrs. Szabo made her cohorts wait outside on the sidewalk, while she entered the soda shop alone. And it happened that Rosa had gone out of the shop at the back door at the moment her mother entered at the front, so that Xenophon and the assistant from Salonika, two unprotected Greeks, were in the shop when the Hungarian mother burst in upon them.
‘You! So it is you!’ Margit shrieked in English as she entered the door, pointing at Icarus, waving her short, rounded, pretty arms, bare below her tight sleeves to the elbow. ‘I have come to tell Mrs. Xenophon, your wife, the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon, what you are!’
Xenophon was struck dumb. Mrs. Xenophon was certainly beautiful, so this was no case of mistaken identity. The Greek blinked his glowing black eyes into Margit’s almond-shaped eyes in which Tatar ancestry gleamed fiercely.
‘Yes!’ continued Margit at the top of her voice, as that was the Szabo method of making English intelligible, ‘you are untrue to your beautiful wife!’
Of all things, this was a false accusation, for Icarus would have gladly laid down his life for the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon. And, stung with injustice, he shouted back now as loudly as he was shouted at.
‘To my beautiful wife I am not untrue!’ he cried. ‘Nor shall ever be!’
Mrs. Szabo shook like an aspen leaf at this barefaced denial. She even forgot that she must speak in English, and poured out the vials of her wrath upon the Greek in Hungarian. She made an excellent job of it, if only he could have understood a word she said.
And when Margit saw that she would have to begin all over again in English, she was more furious than ever.
‘Son of a horse!’ she shrieked, her pretty mouth as red as Rosa’s. ‘ Bloody dog!’ she shouted. ‘You, Mr. Xenophon, are a wamp. A male wamp! I can see it in your eye!’
‘You cannot see a wamp in my eye. I am a confectioner.’
‘A wamp I am saying you are. A wamp, a wamp!’ Margit repeated louder, believing if only she could say it loudly enough he must understand her.
Then in upon this familiar family struggle with the English language came Rosa, through the back door. At the sight which greeted her eyes, there fell pell-mell from her hands upon the floor the lunch she had been buying for herself and Xenophon — a fresh brown loaf from the bakery next door, round red radishes out of season, a big garlic head, some slices of sausage, and two oranges.
The oranges and the garlic head rolled, and bumped against Margit’s nervous feet. She gave them a quick kick that sent them flying across the floor straight against Xenophon’s feet, and he contemptuously kicked them back again, whereupon Rosa, seeing her mother and her husband kicking back and forth upon the floor the lunch she had selected with such care, burst into tears.
Mrs. Szabo had now given up the unequal struggle with the word ‘vamp’ in English. But she was scarcely more fortunate with her second effort.
‘ Wermin! ’ she shouted at Icarus. ‘Wermin is what I say you are.’
She advanced one catlike step at a time toward him at each reiteration of the word, ‘Wermin, wermin, wermin!’
And Icarus backed a step to her every advance, until he backed himself up against the show case, and there had to make his stand.
‘Wermin!’ Margit announced so close under his nose that physical encounter seemed unavoidable, when Rosa put in a word hopefully.
‘Vermin, she means,’ Rosa explained. ‘She can’t say her v in English.’
But this did not seem to help the situation, and the Greek’s color grew garnet beneath his swarthy skin. Not being able to back any farther, he shouted ‘Wixen!’ at the pretty woman in front of him, to which Rosa’s explanation, ‘He means vixen,’ added no olive branch.
Then suddenly Icarus began to discern the strong family resemblance between the small and attractive ‘wixen ’ and the tall and beautiful Rosa, and it dawned upon the hapless Greek that this was his Hungarian mother-in-law.
He had a wild idea of offering her an ice-cream soda. But at this moment she ran to the door and poked out her head. And in poured her camp followers — the Irish policeman first, sticking out his chest; Piroska, shrinking; then lean and hungry Lenke, looking for ice cream; and after her Wilmonz and Ollidar.
Mrs. Szabo pointed a shaking finger at Icarus. ‘There he is. Pinch him,’ she said in perfectly good English to the Irish policeman.
But the policeman seemed less aggressive than he had been on the street. He removed his cap, staring at Rosa.
‘He makes me veep, the vasp!’ Margit said, again pointing to Icarus.
Lenke caught her mother’s hand. ‘Don’t say “veep” and “vasp” in English!’ she hissed. ‘If you can’t say “weep” and “wasp,” you should say nothing!’
‘Say nothing? But I do veep. For there’s nothing left for Rosika but to take the weil!’
The assistant from Salonika had lined up beside Xenophon; the populace from the street had pushed into the shop. And Rosa’s cheeks floated two red flags; her eyes were blue steel. She looked past her mother, and fastened her hypnotic gaze upon the brown and limber Lenke.
‘Have I not forbidden you to come to my soda shop, Lenke Szabo?’ she cried. ‘Take that one out!’ she commanded the Irish policeman. ‘That small brown one.’
Lenke slunk behind her mother’s skirts.
‘As for you, my mother,’ said Rosa, and fished down in the bosom of her frock as she talked, ‘I have something here for you.’
What fine hands she had, as she fished in her bodice! And how she was hung all over with jewelry! The necklace of corals Icarus had given her, in three loops, the bracelets, the brooch, the pendant earrings, the diamond!
At last she drew out with difficulty a handful of papers, considerably crumpled.
‘See!’ she cried. ‘I am married in English! It is I myself who am the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon!’
Icarus, at the soda fountain behind the beautiful Mrs. Xenophon’s back, was slyly ‘jerking’ a soda for Lenke and showing Wilmonz and Ollidar how to dish out ice cream for themselves.
And thus it came about that the Szabos, recognizing an accomplished fact, had to content themselves with demanding that the marriage be performed all over again by the village priest of their own choosing.
And whoever was fortunate enough to be passing the chapel in Milford, Connecticut, at high noon on the next Sunday saw one of the most engaging scenes imaginable; saw Rosika, wearing a new plum-colored frock with plumcolored satin slippers and plum-colored silk stockings to match, and on her head a hat of plum-colored velvet with Catawba-colored flowers and yellow lace; and, walking beside Rosika, a happy Greek; and following them a large wedding procession, including the other five of the six beautiful sisters.
And hanging at a distance upon the flank of the procession, gazing upon the lovely Piroska, the second sister of the six, could be seen veritably one of Mussolini’s giovanetti — a young Italian as flawless of face as a Guido Reni Saint Michael, and as chinless as an olive — one Pietro Quo Vadis by name, the ‘wop tailor’ from Rridgeport.