We rubber plants form the connecting link between the vegetable
kingdom and the decorations of a Waldorf-Astoria scene in a Third
Avenue theatre. I haven't looked up our family tree, but I believe
we were raised by grafting a gum overshoe on to a 30-cent table
d'hote stalk of asparagus. You take a white bulldog with a Bourke
Cockran air of independence about him and a rubber plant and there
you have the fauna and flora of a flat. What the shamrock is to
Ireland the rubber plant is to the dweller in flats and furnished
rooms. We get moved from one place to another so quickly that the
only way we can get our picture taken is with a kinetoscope. We are
the vagrant vine and the flitting fig tree. You know the proverb:
"Where the rubber plant sits in the window the moving van draws up
to the door."
We are the city equivalent to the woodbine and the honeysuckle. No
other vegetable except the Pittsburg stogie can withstand as much
handling as we can. When the family to which we belong moves into
a flat they set us in the front window and we become lares and
penates, fly-paper and the peripatetic emblem of "Home Sweet Home."
We aren't as green as we look. I guess we are about what you would
call the soubrettes of the conservatory. You try sitting in the
front window of a $40 flat in Manhattan and looking out into the
street all day, and back into the flat at night, and see whether you
get wise or not--hey? Talk about the tree of knowledge of good and
evil in the garden of Eden--say! suppose there had been a rubber
plant there when Eve--but I was going to tell you a story.
The first thing I can remember I had only three leaves and belonged
to a member of the pony ballet. I was kept in a sunny window, and
was generally watered with seltzer and lemon. I had plenty of fun
in those days. I got cross-eyed trying to watch the numbers of the
automobiles in the street and the dates on the labels inside at the
Well, then the angel that was molting for the musical comedy lost his
last feather and the company broke up. The ponies trotted away and I
was left in the window ownerless. The janitor gave me to a refined
comedy team on the eighth floor, and in six weeks I had been set in
the window of five different flats I took on experience and put out
two more leaves.
Miss Carruthers, of the refined comedy team--did you ever see her
cross both feet back of her neck?--gave me to a friend of hers who
had made an unfortunate marriage with a man in a store. Consequently
I was placed in the window of a furnished room, rent in advance,
water two flights up, gas extra after ten o'clock at night. Two of
my leaves withered off here. Also, I was moved from one room to
another so many times that I got to liking the odor of the pipes the
I don't think I ever had so dull a time as I did with this lady.
There was never anything amusing going on inside--she was devoted
to her husband, and, besides leaning out the window and flirting with
the iceman, she never did a thing toward breaking the monotony.
When the couple broke up they left me with the rest of their goods at
a second-hand store. I was put out in front for sale along with the
jobbiest lot you ever heard of being lumped into one bargain. Think
of this little cornucopia of wonders, all for $1.89: Henry James's
works, six talking machine records, one pair of tennis shoes, two
bottles of horse radish, and a rubber plant--that was me!
One afternoon a girl came along and stopped to look at me. She had
dark hair and eyes, and she looked slim, and sad around the mouth.
"Oh, oh!" she says to herself. "I never thought to see one up here."
She pulls out a little purse about as thick as one of my leaves and
fingers over some small silver in it. Old Koen, always on the
lockout, is ready, rubbing his hands. This girl proceeds to turn
down Mr. James and the other commodities. Rubber plants or nothing
is the burden of her song. And at last Koen and she come together at
39 cents, and away she goes with me in her arms.
She was a nice girl, but not my style. Too quiet and sober looking.
Thinks I to myself: "I'll just about land on the fire-escape of a
tenement, six stories up. And I'll spend the next six months looking
at clothes on the line."
But she carried me to a nice little room only three flights up in
quite a decent street. And she put me in the window, of course. And
then she went to work and cooked dinner for herself. And what do you
suppose she had? Bread and tea and a little dab of jam! Nothing
else. Not a single lobster, nor so much as one bottle of champagne.
The Carruthers comedy team had both every evening, except now and
then when they took a notion for pig's knuckle and kraut.
After she had finished her dinner my new owner came to the window
and leaned down close to my leaves and cried softly to herself for a
while. It made me feel funny. I never knew anybody to cry that way
over a rubber plant before. Of course, I've seen a few of 'em turn
on the tears for what they could get out of it, but she seemed to be
crying just for the pure enjoyment of it. She touched my leaves like
she loved 'em, and she bent down her head and kissed each one of 'em.
I guess I'm about the toughest specimen of a peripatetic orchid on
earth, but I tell you it made me feel sort of queer. Home never was
like that to me before. Generally I used to get chewed by poodles
and have shirt-waists hung on me to dry, and get watered with coffee
grounds and peroxide of hydrogen.
This girl had a piano in the room, and she used to disturb it with
both hands while she made noises with her mouth for hours at a time.
I suppose she was practising vocal music.
One day she seemed very much excited and kept looking at the clock.
At eleven somebody knocked and she let in a stout, dark man with
towsled black hair. He sat down at once at the piano and played
while she sang for him. When she finished she laid one hand on her
bosom and looked at him. He shook his head, and she leaned against
the piano. "Two years already," she said, speaking slowly--"do you
think in two more--or even longer?"
The man shook his head again. "You waste your time," he said,
roughly I thought. "The voice is not there." And then he looked at
her in a peculiar way. "But the voice is not everything," he went
on. "You have looks. I can place you, as I told you if--"
The girl pointed to the door without saying anything, and the dark
man left the room. And then she came over and cried around me again.
It's a good thing I had enough rubber in me to be water-proof.
About that time somebody else knocked at the door. "Thank goodness,"
I said to myself. "Here's a chance to get the water-works turned
off. I hope it's somebody that's game enough to stand a bird and a
bottle to liven things up a little." Tell you the truth, this little
girl made me tired. A rubber plant likes to see a little sport now
and then. I don't suppose there's another green thing in New York
that sees as much of gay life unless it's the chartreuse or the
sprigs of parsley around the dish.
When the girl opens the door in steps a young chap in a traveling cap
and picks her up in his arms, and she sings out "Oh, Dick!" and stays
there long enough to--well, you've been a rubber plant too,
sometimes, I suppose.
"Good thing!" says I to myself. "This is livelier than scales and
weeping. Now there'll be something doing."
"You've got to go back with me," says the young man. "I've come two
thousand miles for you. Aren't you tired of it yet. Bess? You've
kept all of us waiting so long. Haven't you found out yet what is
"The bubble burst only to-day," says the girl. "Come here, Dick, and
see what I found the other day on the sidewalk for sale." She brings
him by the hand and exhibits yours truly. "How one ever got away up
here who can tell? I bought it with almost the last money I had."
He looked at me, but he couldn't keep his eyes off her for more than
a second. "Do you remember the night, Bess," he said, "when we stood
under one of those on the bank of the bayou and what you told me
"Geewillikins!" I said to myself. "Both of them stand under a rubber
plant! Seems to me they are stretching matters somewhat!"
"Do I not," says she, looking up at him and sneaking close to his
vest, "and now I say it again, and it is to last forever. Look,
Dick, at its leaves, how wet they are. Those are my tears, and it
was thinking of you that made them fall."
"The dear old magnolias!" says the young man, pinching one of my
leaves. "I love them all."
Magnolia! Well, wouldn't that--say! those innocents thought I was a
magnolia! What the--well, wasn't that tough on a genuine little old
New York rubber plant?