She entered finally, sidling in among the chairs.
A great mound of gray yarn, uncut skein after uncut skein of it, rose off the brocade divan, more of them piled in systematic pyramids on three chairs. She dropped at sight of it to the floor beside the couch, burying her face in its fluff, grasping it in handfuls, writhing into it. Surges of merciful sobs came sweeping through and through her.
After a while, with a pair of long amber-colored needles, she fell to knitting with a fast, even furious ambidexterity, her mouth pursing up with a driving intensity, her boring gaze so concentrated on the thing in hand that her eyes seemed to cross.
Dawn broke upon her there, her hat still cockily awry, tears dried in a vitrified gleaming down her cheeks. Beneath her flying fingers, a sleeveless waistcoat was taking shape, a soldier’s inner jacket against the dam of trenches. At sunup it lay completed, spread out as if the first of a pile. The first noises of the city began to rise remotely. A bell pealed off somewhere. Day began to raise its conglomerate voice. On her knees beside the couch there, the second waistcoat was already taking shape beneath the cocksure needles.
The old pinkly moist look had come out in her face.
One million boys “out there” were needing chest-protectors!
When the two sides of every story are told, Henry VIII. may establish an alibi or two, Shylock and the public-school system meet over and melt that too, too solid pound of flesh, and Xantippe, herself the sturdier man than Socrates, give ready, lie to what is called the shrew in her. Landladies, whole black-bombazine generations of them—oh, so long unheard!—may rise in one Indictment of the Boarder: The scarred bureau-front and match-scratched wall-paper; the empty trunk nailed to the floor in security for the unpaid bill; cigarette-burnt sheets and the terror of sudden fire; the silent newcomer in the third floor back hustled out one night in handcuffs; the day-long sobs of the blond girl so suddenly terrified of life-about-to-be and wringing her ringless hands in the fourth-floor hall-room; the smell of escaping gas and the tightly packed keyhole; the unsuspected flutes that lurk in boarders’ trunks; towels, that querulous and endless paean of the lodger; the high cost of liver and dried peaches, of canned corn and round steak!
Tired bombazine procession, wrapped in the greasy odors of years of carpet-sweeping and emptying slops, airing the gassy slit of room after the coroner; and padding from floor to floor on a mission of towels and towels and towels!
Sometimes climbing from floor to floor, a still warm supply of them looped over one arm, Mrs. Kaufman, who wore bombazine, but unspotted and with crisp net frills at the throat, and upon whose soft-looking face the years had written their chirography in invisible ink, would sit suddenly, there in the narrow gloom of her halls, head against the balustrade. Oftener than not the Katz boy from the third floor front would come lickety-clapping down the stairs and past her, jumping the last four steps of each flight.