From the author of The Future Homemakers of America comes the hilarious and moving story of one unstoppable woman's unforgettable ride through an ever-changing century.... What hope is there for Poppy Minkel? She has kinky hair, big ears, skin that's too sallow, and an appetite for fun. Poppy's mother, Dora, despairs of ever finding her a husband, despite the lure of the family fortune offered by Minkel's Mighty Fine Mustard. Correctness, duty, and Dora Minkel Ear Correcting Bandages are the weapons in this husband hunt-and they serve as torture to a girl who has her own hazy ideas about beauty, love, and marriage. After the sudden death of her father, Poppy's rebelliousness bursts into full bloom. From one World War to the next, from New York to Paris, she'll invent her own extraordinary life with never a moment of self-doubt...as acclaimed author Laurie Graham treats us to a rollicking, exhilarating celebration of passion over prudence.
Release date: December 2, 2008
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 370
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The Great Husband Hunt
It was just as well I had ripped off my Ear Correcting Bandages. Had I been bound up in my usual bedtime torture-wear, I would never have heard my mother's screams.
The bandages were part of my preparation for the great husband hunt. I was only fifteen years old, but my mother recognized a difficult case when she saw one. She had taken up the challenge the day after my twelfth birthday and never spared herself since.
“The early bird, Poppy,” she always said, when I complained. “The early bird.”
And so, assisted by my aunt, she began an all-fronts campaign to catch me a worm.
I was forbidden candy and other waist-thickening substances. I was enrolled for classes in piano, singing and cotillion dancing, and spent an hour every day in a backboard, during which I practiced French pronunciation whilst a series of Irish maids tried to straighten my hair, or at least, defeat its natural wiriness into the kind of soft loose curls preferred by husbands.
On alternate days my neck was painted with Gomper's Patent Skin Whitener, to coax out of it a certain oriental tinge. The label advised using the paste no oftener than once a week. But as my mother said, what did they know? They hadn't seen my neck.
As to my nose, she knew the limits of home improvements. I was to go to a beauty doctor in Cincinnati, as soon as I was sixteen, and have a little cartilage shaved off.
Meanwhile she applied herself to the correction of my protruding ears. She designed an adjustable bandeau to hold them flat against my skull while I slept and had the Irish girl make them up for me in a selection of nightwear colors.
“So you can choose, you see?” Ma explained. “According to your frame of mind.”
And, gauging my frame of mind all too well, my aunt informed me that some day, when I had grown in wisdom, I would be grateful for their efforts.
The alternative to all this was that I would be left an old maid.
I knew what an old maid was. My cousin Addie was being one up in Duluth, Minnesota, riding around all day with her dogs and not wearing corsets. And I knew what marriage was too. My sister Honey had recently married Harry Glaser and as soon as the marrying was done she had to leave home and put up her hair. As far as I could see she wasn't allowed to play with her dolls anymore, and she had hardly any time for cutting out pretty things for her scrapbook. She had to go to tea parties all the time, but never appear too eager about cake, and whenever she came to call Ma would make mysterious inquiries.
“Honey,” she'd whisper, “how are Things? Are you still using the Lysol?”
To avoid the fate that had befallen Honey, I decided on stealthy sabotage rather than outright rebellion. As long as things appeared to be satisfactory my mother took them to be satisfactory. Surface was her preferred level. Hidden depths were unattractive to her, therefore she behaved as though they did not exist. So, every night, I took off my ear correctors, but only after the house had fallen dark and silent.
Then, that night, someone came to the front door and rang the bell with great persistence. I thought it had to be a stranger. Anyone who knew us knew the hours we kept. They knew our disapproval of nightlife and lobster suppers and men who rolled home incapable of putting a key neatly in a keyhole.
I heard the Irish slide back the bolt, eventually, and voices. And then, leaning up on my elbow, holding my breath so as not to miss anything, I heard my ma scream. This signaled excitement. The late visitors were Aunt Fish and Uncle Israel Fish, come straight from the opera, still in their finery, because they had seen newsboys selling a late extra edition with reports of a tragedy at sea. “At sea” was where my pa was, sailing home from Europe.
Aunt Fish was my mother's sister and she always seemed as at home in our parlor as she did in her own. By the time I had pulled on my wrapper and run downstairs she had already arranged Ma on a couch and was administering sal volatile.
“Are you sure he sailed, Dora?” she kept asking, but my mother wasn't sure of anything. “Maybe he didn't sail. Maybe business kept him in London.”
My father had been in Berlin and London, inspecting his subsidiaries.
“Israel will go to the shipping offices,” Aunt Fish said. “Israel, go to the shipping offices.”
Uncle Israel was stretched out with a cigarette.
“Nothing to be done at this hour,” he said. Aunt Fish turned and looked at him.
He left immediately. And my mother, released from the constraints of being seen by her brother-in-law dressed only in her nightgown, collapsed anew.
“Poppy,” said Aunt Fish, “don't just stand there. Be a comfort to your mother.” And so while she plagued the Irish for a facecloth soaked in vinegar, and more pillows, and a jug of hot chocolate, I stood by my mother's side and wondered what kind of comforting to do.
I tried stroking her arm, but this appeared to irritate her. I looked at her, with my head set at a compassionate angle, but that didn't please her either. I was altogether relieved when Aunt Fish returned from harassing our help and resumed her post as couch-side comforter.
I said, “Aunt Fish, is Pa lost at sea?” and Ma resumed her wailing.
“Poppy!” said Aunt Fish. “Don't you have even an ounce of sense? Your poor mother has received a terrible shock. If you can't be quiet and sensible, then please return to your bed.”
I'm sure it wasn't me that had rung the doorbell in the middle of the night with news of shipwrecks.
“And send the Irish in, to build up the fire,” she shouted after me.
We had stopped bothering with names for our Irish maids. They never stayed long enough to make it worth learning a new one.
“And Poppy,” my mother called weakly, from her couch, “don't forget to strap down your ears.”
I lay awake, waiting to hear Uncle Israel's return, but eventually I must have dozed, and then it was morning. But it was not like any other morning. Our family was suddenly part of a great drama. The first edition of the Herald reported that though Pa's ship had been in a collision, all hands were saved and she was now being towed into Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Aunt Fish returned, having changed into a morning gown, and then Uncle Israel, with news that the White Star Line was chartering a train to take relatives up to Halifax to be reunited with their loved ones.
I said, “I'll go. Let me go.” This provided my aunt with further reasons to despair of me.
“For heaven's sakes, child!” she sighed, and Uncle Israel winked at me.
“Out of the question, Pops,” she said. “Too young, you see. But why not write a little note? I'll see he gets it as soon he sets foot on land.”
“There's no need for you to go, Israel,” my mother said. The morning's brighter news had restored her appetite and she was eating a pile of toast and jam. “I can always send Harry, if it isn't convenient to you.”
“Of course it's convenient,” said Aunt Fish. “It's Israel's place to go.”
I went to the escritoire and started composing my letter to Pa, but I was still more haunted by the idea that he might have drowned than I was uplifted by the prospect that he was safe. I had no sooner written the words “Please, never go away again” than I burst into inappropriate and inconsiderate tears and was sent to my room.
Soon after, my sister arrived with her husband. Honey came up to my room and lay on my bed beside me.
“Don't cry, Pops,” she said. “Pa's safe. And you don't want to get swollen eyes.”
I said, “Why did he have to go across an ocean, anyhow?”
“Why, because that's what men do,” she said.
I said, “Would you allow Harry?”
“Allow?” she said. “It isn't my place to allow. Besides, I know everything Harry does is for the very best.”
I had often suspected that marrying had caused a softening of Honey's brain.
Uncle Israel left that afternoon on the special train to Halifax. And Harry went downtown, first to his broker with instructions to buy stock in the Marconi wireless company whose wonderful shipboard radio had helped save so many lives and bring comforting news to the waiting families. Then he went to the White Star offices to inquire when the passengers might be expected back in New York.
Honey and I were pasting scraps, just like old times, when Harry walked in, looking smaller and flatter and grayer than usual. He scratched his head.
“It's gone,” he said. “The Titanic has sunk, with heavy losses. A boat called the Carpathia is bringing the survivors home.”
It was eight o'clock. Up in Massachusetts Uncle Israel's train was stopped, directed into a siding and reversed. There had been, he was told, a change of plan.
My cheeks were hot from the fire, but something deathly cold touched me. My mother fainted onto a couch. My sister uttered a terrible little cry. And Harry studied the pattern on the parlor rug.
“Marconi stock closed up one hundred and twenty points,” he said, to no one in particular.
My grandpa Minkel and his brother Meyer arrived in Great Portage, Minnesota, in 1851 intending to set up as fur traders, but they were too late. The beaver pelt business was finished. They stayed on though and changed their plans and did well enough trading in lumber to build a fine house on top of a hill in Duluth. From Grandpa Minkel's house you could see clear to Wisconsin. So they said.
Meyer and his wife were never blessed with children. This was somehow due to the accidental firing of a Winchester '73, but I was never allowed to know the details. So when Grandpa headed south, looking to buy a spread and turn farmer, he left behind one of his own boys, Jesse, as a kind of secondhand son. Gave him away near enough, though he was a grown man and might well have had plans of his own. Grandpa took his other boy, Abe, to Iowa to be a mustard farmer. And that was my pa.
Uncle Jesse stayed where he was put, married one of the Zukeman girls and had a number of obedient children, plus Cousin Addie, the one who refused to knuckle down to marriage. Grandpa Minkel grew so much mustard he had to buy a factory. Grandma Minkel told him he should make mustard that had a fine flavor but a short life, and she was right. Folks just had to keep coming back for more and Minkel's Mighty Fine Mustard did so well Grandma and Grandpa had to send Pa to New York City, to invest the profits and keep his finger on the quickening pulse of finance.
My mother's people were Plotzes. They sold feathers and goose down in Cedar Rapids. She married Pa in 1890 and came with him to New York soon after, in a delicate condition with my sister Honey. Ma took to her new life as if to the city born. She sent directly for her sister Zillah and fixed her up with Israel Fish, and from then on a veil fell over the Iowa period of their lives. Cedar Rapids had been a mere accident of birth, and was never discussed. As far as Ma and Aunt Fish were concerned everything from the Hudson shore to the Pacific Ocean was nothing but a social wilderness.
Minkel's Mighty Fine Mustard was to be found on every discerning table and the profits were invested in railroads and mining, and the consequence was Honey and I were mustard heiresses, more or less.
Pa, though, kept his finger on more than the pulse of finance, and was often absent from his own table, indulging, as I had overheard discussed by my mother and Aunt Fish, in “a man's needs.” I understood these to be cigars and blintzes, two things that were not permitted at home. For these comforts Pa went elsewhere. We lived on West 76th Street. My mother bore the impediment of this address as bravely as she could. Pa and Uncle Israel Fish assured her that before too long New York society would abandon their houses on Fifth Avenue and follow her there.
“We're setting a trend, Dora,” Pa used to say.
But my mother didn't want to set trends. On the steep climb to good society, novelty was one of those hazards that could pitch us all back down where we'd started. Her plan was to keep us as unremarkable as possible. Correct and unremarkable. Let no Minkel be a protruding nail. I don't think Pa ever appreciated what a close watch Ma kept over our reputation and standing. And no matter how much she protested, he bought that rose pink low-stoop house and encouraged the architect to add as many turrets and finials as could be accommodated.
My aunt, who still lived safely within visiting distance of The Right People, should the call ever come, said, “Never fear, Dora. Marriage may be a sacred institution, but if Abe tries to drag you any further into the wilderness, you may depend on having a home with us.”
On evenings when Pa was home, a fire was lit in the library and I was allowed to sit in there with him and look at the things on the shelves of the vitrine. He had a beaver skull, and a rock of fool's gold, and an Ojibway Indian necklace, and a little silk cap, brought by Grandpa Minkel from Germany. There was a rubber plant, and a stuffed osprey, and books. I was allowed to take them down off the shelf and read them, as long as I sat in a good light and didn't scowl or screw up my eyes. Careless reading can cause the setting in of ugly, permanent facial lines. For this reason my mother never risked opening a book.
When the lamps and the fire were lit and Pa and I sat, cozily turning the pages, it was the best of times. I hated to hear him clear his throat and take out his watch. It meant my time was nearly up and he was preparing to go out into the night.
“Pa,” I'd say, “don't go for a blintz tonight.”
But he'd snap shut his watchcase and go anyhow. I wasn't altogether sure what a blintz was, but I knew Pa's favorite kind was cherry, and I liked the sound of that. I knew, too, that for the best blintzes you had to go to Delancey Street, a dangerous place teeming with something Ma called “the element.” I worried that one of those nights Pa wouldn't come home. Murdered by “the element,” and all for a cherry blintz.
It was Tuesday night when Harry brought the news. There was no sleep. Honey cried until she made herself sick. Aunt Fish said she had always doubted the flotation principle. Harry steadied himself with a hot buttered rum, advising us against plunging into despair before the list of survivors had been published. And the Irish, who could hardly keep her eyes open, was kept from her bed, letting out the side seams on Ma's mourning wear. Unaccountably, every gown had shrunk in the years since Grandpa Minkel's passing.
Wednesday, there was still no news and Ma was on her second bottle of Tilden's Extract, a tonic she usually only resorted to in order to face the rigors of giving a dinner. By Thursday our house was in a permanent state of receiving. Mrs. Schwab and Mrs. Lesser called, and the Misses Stone and Mrs. Teller. Maids came with soup. And Uncle Israel drove down to Broadway three times in search of information and came back with none.
Aunt Fish was exasperated with him. “Go back, Israel,” she said, “and stay there until they tell you something.”
My poor uncle. Sometimes he seemed to be as much of a disappointment to my aunt as I was. Once again, it was Harry who delivered the goods. He called by telephone, a device my mother had never wanted in the house because of the extra work it would heap upon her. She refused to answer it, and Honey would never do anything Ma wouldn't do, so I was the one to take the call.
“Poppy!” Ma chided. She was at a loss to know what to do with me. Two whole days had passed without my hair being straightened or my slouch corrected, but she was too distracted to insist. And now there I was, crossing the room at an unseemly pace, snatching up the hated telephone and chewing my fingernails.
“Tonight,” Harry said. He was breathless. “The Carpathia's expected tonight.”
Aunt Fish loosened Ma's collar.
“Bear up now, Dora,” she said. “Israel will represent you. There's sure to be a crowd and it'll take a man of Israel's standing to get to the head of the queue.”
“Harry will go,” was all Ma would say. “Harry will go.”
Harry didn't realize he had a passenger in the back of his automobile. I waited until he turned onto Columbus before I emerged from under the pile of blankets Ma and Honey had had brought out. They seemed to imagine Pa might still be wet from the sinking.
“What the hell are you doing there?” he said. “Get out! Get out at once!”
“Make me,” I challenged him.
“Oh please, Poppy,” he whined. “You're going to get me into hot water.”
For all his talk of turning around and taking me home, he carried right on driving. He knew who'd win if it came to a fight. Harry's trouble was he didn't have any backbone.
I said, “When Pa steps off that boat I want to be sure the first thing he sees is my face.”
“There you go,” he said. “Getting your hopes up. Well don't come crying to me. I never invited you along.”
Around 32nd Street we began to see people. Hundreds of them hurrying down to the Cunard pier. Harry parked the Simplex and we joined the crowds. There was thunder rolling in over the Palisades and the Carpathia was on her way up the Hudson, with tugs and skiffs and anything else that would float swarming around her and blasts of magnesium light flashing from the newsmen's cameras. She was making slow progress, and then word came up she had paused, down by Pier 32, so that certain items could be taken off. Lifeboats. Property of the White Star Line.
Harry whispered, “They'll fetch a pretty penny, as curios.”
But they didn't. As I heard years later, they were picked clean by human vultures before anyone could start the bidding, and the name Titanic was rubbed off them with emery paper and that was the end of that.
Slowly the Carpathia came home. Some people had cards bearing the name of the ones they were hoping to see. I wished I had thought to make a card. They held them up, praying for a wave or a smile, but nobody at the rail was smiling or waving.
It was half past eight by the time they began to warp her in, and then the thunderstorm broke. We waited another hour, in the rain, until she was moored and the gangplank was lowered, and lists of survivors were finally posted. That was when I got separated from Harry.
There was such a crush I could scarcely breathe and I was wet to the skin.
“Please,” I asked the man in front of me, “can you see if Minkel is there?”
But he gave me an elbow in the ribs and I never saw him again. A woman said she'd find out for me if I gave her a dollar, but I didn't have a dollar. And so I just found a place to lean, against the customs shed, figuring the best thing was to stand still and allow Pa to spot me easily.
Then a Cunard porter noticed me.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he said. “Is it First Class you're looking for?”
I said, “Mr. Abraham Minkel. I can't pay you though. I don't come into my money until I'm twenty-one. But my father will tip you.”
He touched his cap and disappeared, and I didn't expect to see him again. A sense of service was a thing of the past, as Ma and Aunt Fish often remarked, and everyone expected something in their grubby hand before they'd stir themselves.
And so I waited, shivering, wondering at the uselessness of Harry Glaser, trying to draw up a balance sheet of my standing at home. I believed my crimes of disobedience, ingratitude and impropriety might just be offset by the triumph of being the one to bring home Pa.
The ladies from First Class began to file into the echoing shed. There were children, too. Some were crying, most were silent, and the ladies still had on their hats. “How odd,” I thought. “A sinking must be a good deal gentler than I imagined.” And then this happened. I saw a face I knew.
The very moment I looked at her, she sensed it and looked back at me, quite directly. Then she turned her head away and disappeared into the crowd. I was still puzzling how an Irish, dismissed without references, could have sailed First Class and in such Parisian style, when the Cunard boy reappeared beside me.
“Miss,” he said, “I'm afraid to say I couldn't find a Mr. Abraham Minkel listed, but Mrs. Minkel is there, alive and well. You should be seeing her any moment now.”
But the women had all disembarked. The men filed through next, but my pa was not amongst them. They all had downcast eyes, and a hurried step, and somewhere in the crowd I heard somebody hiss. Being a survivor isn't necessarily a happy condition, I realized later. There would always be the question, hanging in the air, too awful to ask, “And how were you so fortunate? What other poor soul paid for your life with his? Or hers?” If you were an able-bodied man, it would have been better form to perish nobly.
“Not spotted her yet, Miss?” the porter asked. “Well, that's a mystery.”
He was now taking more interest in my case than I liked. He was like a stray dog, eagerly padding along at my side, on the strength of one brief expression of gratitude.
I said, “It's not a mystery. It was a cruel mistake. There was no Mrs. Minkel. Only my pa, but he's not here. Is there another boat? Are there more following on?”
He looked away.
“I don't think so, Miss,” he whispered. “I don't think so at all.”
People milled around us, plucking at him, wanting his attention.
“My pa's lost,” I said. I knew it.
And he was glad enough then to make his getaway.
A woman said, “There's to be a service of thanksgiving. Right away.”
What did I care? Thanksgiving for what?
“Not just thanksgiving,” she said, reading my expression. “To pray for the ones that were lost as well. A prayer is never wasted.”
The third-class passengers had been directed to another shed, and a group of them were leaving, and some first-class ladies, too, walking to the nearest church.
Over the heads of a hundred people I thought I saw the feather trim of the Irish's hat, and I decided at that moment to add another item to the list of my transgressions. I abandoned all thoughts of Harry Glaser and followed the throng, walking as quickly as I could so as to catch up, trying to remember whether I had ever known her name.
We had had any number of Marys, several Annes and a Videlma Teresa who broke, against stiff competition, all previous records for brevity of employment with us, but on the whole, their names disappeared. They were, to a girl, impertinent, uncouth and given to “carrying on” so that Ma often predicted her death would be certified as “caused by Irish.”
I had never been in a church before. Ma and Aunt Fish had formulated a plan for their concerted rise in New York society, and a key decision had been to keep a low profile vis-à-vis God.
“Religion gives rise to intemperate opinions, Dora,” Aunt Fish advised, “and a hostess does well to keep those from her table.”
So we avoided any association with God as carefully as we avoided cold drafts, and, with regard to this, nothing could have made Ma happier than Honey's choice of Harry Glaser as a husband.
“A good thing about Harry,” I had often heard her say, “is that he doesn't go in for religion.”
I knew therefore, as we came to the doors of St. Peter's Episcopalian church, to expect dangerous excesses inside, and I resolved to stay in command of myself. I kept my eyes downcast for five minutes at least, for fear of coming face to face with this God who was too controversial to have to dinner.
All around me grown men wept and crumbled, and candles were lit, and a song was sung, in poor cracked voices, for those in peril on the sea.
“Too late now for that,” I thought, aching for the smell of my pa's hair tonic. But I liked being there, closer to people who had been saved from the dark and deep. I liked how determined they had been to walk to 20th Street and pray when they might have gone home directly and been cosseted with warm milk and cake.
She was kneeling, across the other side of the church, busy with some Irish hocus-pocus. I kept her in my sights and moved a couple of times, to get nearer to her, squeezing past people who complained and people who were too lost in their sorrow to notice. I had remembered her name.
When the singing and praying was over I moved quickly, to be sure of blocking her path as she made to leave.
“Nellie,” I said, “is it you?”
She gave me a stubborn look I recognized, but her face colored. She may have been dressed by Mr. Worth, but she still had the look of a maid caught trying on her mistress's gown.
I said, “My pa was on the Titanic. Did you see him, by any chance?”
Still she resisted me, and I felt my chance slipping away, to know the worst, or to find new hope.
“Please, Nellie,” I begged. “Can you tell me anything at all?”
Her pertness dissolved.
“I'm so sorry, Miss Poppy,” she said. “I'm so sorry for your loss. He went back for my muff. I begged him not to, but he would go…”
We stood face to face but at cross purposes, and people flowed around us, away, out of the church and back into life.
“…it was my Persian broadtail muff,” she said, “and it was an awful cold night.”
I said, “So you did see him? Were you close to him? Did he say anything?”
“He said ‘Go to the boat station, Nellie. I'll come to you there.’”
Then her tears started.
“He lived and died a gentleman,” she said. “Whatever people may say, there were no irregularities between us. I was there by way of secretary to him.”
I said, “How could you be? Mr. Levi was his secretary. And anyway, can you read?”
“I can,” she said. “Well. I was more of an assistant. A personal assistant. There was no one could take away his headaches the way I could. And that's how things stood. I'd swear to it on the good book.”
They always said that when they were lying. Next thing she'd be asking for wages still owed.
I said, “Where do you live? Where are you going?”
“To my sister,” she said. “Or maybe to my cousin.”
The slipperiness of the Irish. How right my mother was.
It was a long walk home. Three miles, I now know, but then I had no idea of distance or time. My shoes rubbed holes in my stockings and my toes were pinched and sore, but I pressed on as fast as I could. I knew the streets were full of robbers and murderers and women who drank sherry wine.
It wasn't exactly fear kept me hurrying along. Now my pa had died, dead seemed an easy thing to be. Still, I wasn't sure I'd be as brave as he had been. “Go to the boat station, Nellie.” When the moment came, I might squawk, or not quite die, and lie in agony in the gutter.
I knew, too, I'd be the subject of a full inquiry at home, and I preferred to face it as soon as possible. There was no predicting what grief would make of Ma. She might forgive all, in a fit of tenderness, or she might turn on me, like a wounded beast. In any event, it has always been my nature to take whatever I have coming to me as quickly as possible.
As I passed the New Theater, nearly home, I heard an automobile chugging toward me and I knew it was a search party in the shape of Harry Glaser. He all but threw me into the car. I didn't think he had it in him.
“You damned fool,” was all he could say. “You goddamned fool!”
I said, “You were the one abandoned me. I waited for you. And does Honey know you use language?”
“Don't we have hard enough times ahead of us with your ma,” he said, “without you disappearing and putting me in a bad odor? What's your game?”
I said, “I lost you in the crowd, that's all. Why are you so afraid of Ma? What did she say? What's my punishment?”
“Consider yourself mighty lucky,” he said. “So far you haven't been missed, but you're not home and dry yet. You've still got to get back into the house and into your bed, and I suppose you'll be expecting my help? You're a brat, no two ways.”
“Harry,” I said, “a porter told me there was a Minkel on the list of survivors. Did you see that?”
“No,” he said. “I definitely did not, and neither did you if you know what's good for you. Anyway, it was clearly a clerical error.”
A lamp was burning in the parlor, but it was only Uncle Israel Fish, smoking a last cigarette. He appeared in the doorway as I tiptoed up the stairs but seemed not to notice me. We only see what we expect to see, I suppose. It was another lesson for me, and I had learned so many in just one day. I listed them as I lay in bed, too tired for sleep.
1. My pa was not indestructible.
2. Personal assistants got Persian lamb muffs and trips to Europe.
3. I was blessed with powers of invisibility.
4. Harry Glaser was a half-wit, my sister married him, therefore I would be expected to marry a half-wit, therefore I would not marry.
I got up, lit a candle, and one by one I committed to its flame my ear-correcting bandeaux. First the pink one, then the apricot, then the eau-de-Nil. They created an interesting and rather satisfying smell.
It was Aunt Fish who came into my room next morning. She was wearing her black bombazine.
“Poppy,” she said, gravely, “a terrible sadness has come to this house, so you must now make great efforts to be a good girl, for your dear mother's sake.”
I said, “I'm sure I always do try to be good.”
“There is all the difference in the world between trying and succeeding,” she said, “and quibbling with me is not a promising way to begin.”
I said, “I know Pa is drowned, Aunt Fish. I know Ma is a poor widow now.”
She leapt up and knotted the ends of her shawl in despair.
“That is prec
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