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Title: You Can't Go Home Again (1947)
Author: Thomas Wolfe
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Language:  English
Date first posted: February 2007
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Title: You Can't Go Home Again (1947)
Author: Thomas Wolfe




_There came to him an image of man's whole life upon the earth. It
seemed to him that all man's life was like a tiny spurt of flame that
blazed out briefly in an illimitable and terrifying darkness, and that
all man's grandeur, tragic dignity, his heroic glory, came from the
brevity and smallness of this flame. He knew his life was little and
would be extinguished, and that only darkness was immense and
everlasting. And he knew that he would die with defiance on his lips, and
that the shout of his denial would ring with the last pulsing of his
heart into the maw of all-engulfing night._



CONTENTS

BOOK 1. THE NATIVE'S RETURN

1. The Drunken Beggar on Horseback
2. Fame's First Wooing
3. The Microscopic Gentleman from Japan
4. Some Things Will Never Change
5. The Hidden Terror
6. The Home-coming
7. Boom Town
8. The Company
9. The City of Lost Men

BOOK II THE WORLD THAT JACK BUILT

10. Jack at Morn
11. Mrs. Jack Awake
12. Downtown
13. Service Entrance
14. Zero Hour
15. The Party at Jack's
16. A Moment of Decision
17. Mr. Hirsch Could Wait
18. Piggy Logan's Circus
19. Unscheduled Climax
20. Out of Control
21. Love Is Not Enough

BOOK III. AN END AND A BEGINNING

22. A Question of Guilt
23. The Lion Hunters
24. Man-Creating and Man-Alive
25. The Catastrophe
26. The Wounded Faun

BOOK IV. THE QUEST OF THE FAIR MEDUSA

27. The Locusts Have No King
28. The Fox
29. "The Hollow Men"
30. The Anodyne
31. The Promise of America

BOOK V. EXILE AND DISCOVERY

32. The Universe of Daisy Purvis
33. Enter Mr. Lloyd McHarg
34. The Two Visitors
35. A Guest in Spite of Himself
36. The House in the Country
37. The Morning After

BOOK VI. "I HAVE A THING TO TELL YOU"

38. The Dark Messiah
39. "One Big Fool"
40. Last Farewell
41. Five Passengers for Paris
42. The Family of Earth
43. The Capture
44. The Way of No Return

BOOK VII. A WIND IS RISING, AND THE RIVERS FLOW

45. Young Icarus
46. Even Two Angels Not Enough
47. Ecclesiasticus
48. Credo




BOOK I THE NATIVE'S RETURN



1. The Drunken Beggar on Horseback


It was the hour of twilight on a soft spring day towards the end of April
in the year of Our Lord 1929, and George Webber leaned his elbows on the
sill of his back window and looked out at what he could see of New York.
His eye took in the towering mass of the new hospital at the end of the
block, its upper floors set back in terraces, the soaring walls salmon
coloured in the evening light. This side of the hospital, and directly
opposite, was the lower structure of the annexe, where the nurses and the
waitresses lived. In the rest of the block half a dozen old brick houses,
squeezed together in a solid row, leaned wearily against each other and
showed their backsides to him.

The air was strangely quiet. All the noises of the city were muted here
into a distant hum, so unceasing that it seemed to belong to silence.
Suddenly, through the open windows at the front of the house came the
raucous splutter of a truck starting up at the loading platform of the
warehouse across the street. The heavy motor warmed up with a
full-throated roar, then there was a grinding clash of gears, and George
felt the old house tremble under him as the truck swung out into the
street and thundered off. The noise receded, grew fainter, then faded
into the general hum, and all was quiet as before.

As George leaned looking out of his back window a nameless happiness
welled within, him and he shouted over to the waitresses in the hospital
annexe, who were ironing out as usual their two pairs of drawers and
their flimsy little dresses. He heard, as from a great distance, the
faint shouts of children playing in the streets, and, near at hand, the
low voices of the people in the houses. He watched the cool, steep
shadows, and saw how the evening light was moving in the little squares
of yards, each of which had in it something intimate, familiar, and
revealing--a patch of earth in which a pretty woman had been setting out
flowers, working earnestly for hours and wearing a big straw hat and
canvas gloves; a little plot of new-sown grass, solemnly watered every
evening by a man with a square red face and a bald head; a little shed or
playhouse or workshop for some business man's spare-time hobby; or a
gay-painted table, some easy lounging chairs, and a huge bright-striped
garden parasol to cover it, and a good-looking girl who had been sitting
there all afternoon reading, with a coat thrown over her shoulders and a
tall drink at her side.

Through some enchantment of the quiet and the westering light and the
smell of April in the air, it seemed to George that he knew these people
all around him. He loved this old house on Twelfth Street, its red brick
walls, its rooms of noble height and spaciousness, its old dark woods and
floors that creaked; and in the magic of the moment it seemed to be
enriched and given a profound and lonely dignity by all the human beings
it had sheltered in its ninety years. The house became like a living
presence. Every object seemed to have an animate vitality of its
own--walls, rooms, chairs, tables, even a half-wet bath towel hanging
from the shower ring above the tub, a coat thrown down upon a chair, and
his papers, manuscripts, and books scattered about the room in wild
confusion.

The simple joy he felt at being once more a part of such familiar things
also contained an element of strangeness and unreality. With a sharp stab
of wonder he reminded himself, as he had done a hundred times in the last
few weeks, that he had really come home again--home to America, home to
Manhattan's swarming rock, and home again to love; and his happiness was
faintly edged with guilt when he remembered that less than a year before
he had gone abroad in anger and despair, seeking to escape what now he
had returned to.

In his bitter resolution of that spring a year ago, he had wanted most of
all to get away from the woman he loved. Esther Jack was much older than
he, married and living with her husband and grown daughter. But she had
given George her love, and given it so deeply, so exclusively, that he
had come to feel himself caught as in a trap. It was from that that he
had wanted to escape--that and the shameful memory of their savage
quarrels, and a growing madness in himself which had increased in
violence as she had tried to hold him. So he had finally left her and
fled to Europe. He had gone away to forget her, only to find that he
could not; he had done nothing but think of her all the time. The memory
of her rosy, jolly face, her essential goodness, her sure and certain
talent, and all the hours that they had spent together returned to
torture him with new desire and longing for her.

Thus, fleeing from a love that still pursued him, he had become a
wanderer in strange countries. He had travelled through England, France,
and Germany, had seen countless new sights and people, and--cursing,
whoring, drinking, brawling his way across the continent--had had his
head bashed in, some teeth knocked out, and his nose broken in a
beer-hall fight. And then, in the solitude of convalescence in a Munich
hospital, lying in bed upon his back with his ruined face turned upwards
towards the ceiling, he had had nothing else to do but think. There, at
last, he had learned a little sense. There his madness had gone out of
him, and for the first time in many years he had felt at peace within
himself.

For he had learned some of the things that every man must find out for
himself, and he had found out about them as one has to find out--through
error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood
and his own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an
idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and
confused. As he lay there in the hospital he had gone back over his life,
and, bit by bit, had extracted from it some of the hard lessons of
experience. Each thing he learned was so simple and obvious, once he
grasped it, that he wondered why he had not always known it. All
together, they wove into a kind of leading thread, trailing backwards
through his past, and out into the future. And he thought that now,
perhaps, he could begin to shape his life to mastery, for he felt a sense
of new direction deep within him, but whither it would take him he could
not say.

And what had he learned? A philosopher would not think it much, perhaps,
yet in a simple human way it was a good deal. Just by living, by making
the thousand little daily choices that his whole complex of heredity,
environment, conscious thought, and deep emotion had driven him to make,
and by taking the consequences, he had learned that he could not eat his
cake and have it, too. He had learned that-in spite of his strange body,
so much off scale that it had often made him think himself a creature set
apart, he was still the son and brother of all men living. He had learned
that he could not devour the earth, that he must know and accept his
limitations. He realised that much of his torment of the years past had
been self-inflicted, and an inevitable part of growing up. And, most
important of all for one who had taken so long to grow up, he thought be
had learned not to be the slave of his emotions.

Most of the trouble he had brought upon himself, he saw, had come from
leaping down the throat of things. Very well, he would look before he
leaped hereafter. The trick was to get his reason and his emotions
pulling together in double harness, instead of letting them fly off in
opposite directions, tearing him apart between them. He would try to give
his head command and see what happened: then if head said, "Leap!"--he'd
leap with all his heart.

And that was where Esther came in, for he had really not meant to come
back to her. His head had told him it was better to let their affair end
as it had ended. But no sooner had he arrived in New York than his heart
told him to call her up--and he had done it. Then they had met again, and
after that things followed their own course.

So here he was, back with Esther--the one thing he had once been sure
would never happen. Yes, and very happy to be back. That was the queerest
part of it. It seemed, perversely, that he ought to be unhappy to be
doing what his reason had told him not to do. But he was not. And that
was why, as he leaned there musing on his window-sill while the last
light faded and the April night came on, a subtle worm was gnawing at his
conscience and he wondered darkly at how great a lag there was between
his thinking and his actions.

He was twenty-eight years old now, and wise enough to know that there are
sometimes reasons of which the reason knows nothing, and that the
emotional pattern of one's life, formed and set by years of living, is
not to be discarded quite as easily as one may throw away a battered hat
or worn-out shoe. Well, he was not the first man to be caught on the
horns of this dilemma. Had not even the philosophers themselves been
similarly caught? Yes--and then written sage words about it:

"A foolish consistency," Emerson had said, "is the hobgoblin of little
minds."

And great Goethe, accepting the inevitable truth that human growth does
not proceed in a straight line to its goal, had compared the development
and progress of mankind to the reelings of a drunken beggar on horseback.

What was important, perhaps, was not that the beggar was drunk and
reeling, but that he was mounted on his horse, and, however unsteadily,
was going somewhere.

This thought was comforting to George, and he pondered it for some time,
yet it did not altogether remove the edge of guilt that faintly tinged
his contentment. There was still a possible flaw in the argument: His
inconsistency in coming back-to Esther--was it wise or foolish?...Must
the beggar on horseback for ever reel?

Esther awoke as quick and sudden as a bird. She lay upon her back and
stared up at the ceiling straight and wide. This was her body and her
flesh, she was alive and ready in a moment.

She thought at once of George. Their reunion had been a joyous
re-discovery of love, and all things were made new again. They had taken
up the broken fragments of their life and joined them together with all
the intensity and beauty that they had known in the best days before he
went away. The madness that bad nearly wrecked them both had now gone out
of him entirely. He was' still full of his, unpredictable moods and
fancies, but she had not seen a trace of the old black fury that used to
make him lash about and beat his knuckles bloody against the wall. Since
he returned he had seemed quieter, surer, in better control of himself,
and in everything he did he acted as if he wanted to show her that he
loved her. She had never known such perfect happiness. Life was good.

Outside, on Park Avenue, the people had begun to move along the pavements
once more, the streets of the city began to fill and thicken. Upon the
table by her bed the little dock ticked eagerly its pulse of time as if
it hurried forward for ever like a child towards some imagined joy, and a
clock struck slowly in the house with a measured, solemn chime. The
morning sun steeped each object in her room with casual light, and in her
heart she said, "It is now."

Nora brought coffee and hot rolls, and Esther read the paper. She read
the gossip of the theatre, and she read the names of the cast that had
been engaged for the new German play that the Community Guild was going
to do in the autumn, and she read that "Miss Esther Jack has been engaged
to design the show". She laughed because they called her "Miss", and
because she could see the horrified look on _his_ face when he read
it, and because she remembered his expression when the little tailor
thought she was his wife, and because it gave her so much pleasure to see
her name in the paper--"Miss Esther Jack, whose work has won her
recognition as one of the foremost modern designers."

She was feeling gay and happy and pleased with herself, so she put the
paper in her bag, together with some other clippings she had saved, and
took them with her when she went down-town to Twelfth Street for her
daily visit to George. She handed them to him, and sat opposite to watch
his face as he read them. She remembered all the things they had written
about her work:

"...subtle, searching, and hushed, with a wry and rueful humour of its
own..."

"...made these old eyes shine by its deft, sure touch of whimsey as
nothing else in this prodigal season of dramatic husks has done..."

"...the gay insouciance of her unmannered settings, touched with those
qualities which we have come to expect in all her ardent services to that
sometimes too ungrateful jade, the drama..."

"...the excellent fooling that is implicit in these droll sets, elvishly
sly, mocking, and, need we add or make apology for adding, expert?..."

She could hardly keep from laughing at the scornful twist of his mouth
and the mocking tone of his comment as he bit off the phrases.

"'Elvishly sly!' Now isn't that too God-damned delightful!" he said with
mincing precision. "'Made these old eyes shine!' Why, the quaint little
bastard!...'That sometimes too ungrateful jade!' Oh, deary me,
now!...'And need we add--!' I am swooning, sweetheart: pass the garlic!"

He threw the papers on the floor with an air of disgust and turned to her
with a look of mock sternness that crinkled the corners of his eyes.

"Well," he said, "do I get fed, or must I starve here while you wallow in
this bilge?"

She could control herself no longer and shrieked with glee. "I didn't do
it!" she gasped. "I didn't write it! I can't help it if they write like
that! Isn't it awful?"

"Yes, and you hate it, don't you?" he said. "You lap it up! You arc
sitting there licking your lips over it now, gloating on it, and on my
hunger! Don't you know, woman, that I haven't had a bite to eat all day?
Do I get fed, or not? Will you put your deft whimsey in a steak?"

"Yes," she said. "Would you like a steak?"

"Will you make these old eyes shine with a chop and a delicate dressing
of young onions?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes."

He came over and put his arms about her, his eyes searching hers in a
look of love and hunger. "Will you make me one of your causes that is
subtle, searching, and hushed?"

"Yes," she said. "Whatever you like, I will make it for you."

"Why will you make it for me?" he asked.

It was like a ritual that both of them knew, and they fastened upon each
word and answer because they were so eager to hear it from each other.

"Because I love you. Because I want to feed you and to love you."

"Will it be good?" he said.

"It will be so good that there will be no words to tell its goodness,"
she said. "It will be good because I am so good and beautiful, and
because I can do everything better than any other woman you will ever
know, and because I love you with all my heart and soul, and want to be a
part of you."

"Will this great love get into the food you cook for me?"

"It will be in every morsel that you eat. It will feed your hunger as
you've never been fed before. It will be like a living miracle, and will
make you better and richer as long as you live. You will never forget it.
It will be a glory and a triumph."

"Then this will be such food as no one ever ate before," he said. "Yes,"
she said.-"It will be."

And it was so. There was never anything like it in the world before.
April had come back again.

So now they were together. But things were not quite the same between
them as they had once been. Even on the surface they were different. No
longer now for them was there a single tenement and dwelling place. From
the first day of his return he had flatly refused to go back to the house
on Waverly Place which the two of them had previously shared for work and
love and living. Instead, he had taken these two large rooms on Twelfth
Street, which occupied the whole second floor of the house and could be
made into one enormous room by opening the sliding doors between them.
There was also a tiny kitchen, just big enough to turn around in. The
whole arrangement suited George perfectly because it gave him both space
and privacy. Here Esther could come and go as she liked; here they could
be alone together whenever they wished; here they could feed at the heart
of love.

The most important thing about it, however, was that this was his place,
not _theirs_, and that fact re-established their relations on a
different level. Henceforth he was determined not to let his life and
love be one. She had her world of the theatre and of her rich friends
which he did not want to belong to, and he had his world of writing which
he would have to manage alone. He would keep love a thing apart, and
safeguard to himself the mastery of his life, his separate soul, his own
integrity.

Would she accept this compromise? Would she take his love, but leave him
free to live his life and do his work? That was the way he told her it
must be, and she said yes, she understood. But could she do it? Was it in
a woman's nature to be content with all that a man could give her, and
not for ever want what was not his to give? Already there were little
portents that made him begin to doubt it.

One morning when she came to see him and was telling him with spirit and
great good humour about a little comedy she had witnessed in the street,
suddenly she stopped short in the middle of it, a cloud passed over her
face, her eyes became troubled, and she turned to him and said:

"You do love me, don't you, George?"

"Yes," he said. "Of course. You know I do."

"Will you never leave me again?" she asked, a little breathless. "Will
you go on loving me for ever?"

Her abrupt change of mood and her easy assumption that he or any human
being could honestly pledge himself to anyone or anything for ever struck
him as ludicrous, and he laughed.

She made an impatient gesture with her hand. "Don't laugh, George," she
said. "I need to know. Tell me. Will you go on loving me for ever?"

Her seriousness, and the impossibility of giving her an answer annoyed
him now, and he rose from his chair, stared down blankly at her for a
moment, and then began pacing back and forth across the room. He paused
once or twice and turned to her as if to speak, but, finding it hard to
say what he wanted to say, he resumed his nervous pacing.

Esther followed him with her eyes; their expression betraying her mixed
feelings, in which amusement and exasperation were giving way to alarm.

"What have I done now?" she thought. "God, was there ever anybody like
him! You never can tell what he'll do! All I did was ask him a simple
question and he acts like this! Still, it's better than the way he used
to act. He used to blow up and call me vile names. Now he just stews in
his own juice and I can't tell what he's thinking. Look at him--pacing
like a wild animal in a cage, like a temperamental and introspective
monkey!"

As a matter of fact, in moments of excitement George did look rather like
a monkey. Barrel-chested, with broad, heavy shoulders, he walked with a
slight stoop, letting his arms swing loosely, and they were so long that
they dangled almost to the knees, the big hands and spatulate fingers
curving deeply in like paws. His head, set down solidly upon a short
neck, was carried somewhat forward with a thrusting movement, so that his
whole figure had a prowling and half-crouching posture. He looked even
shorter than he was, for, although he was an inch or two above the middle
height, around five feet nine or ten, his legs were not quite
proportionate to the upper part of his body. Moreover, his features were
small--somewhat pug-nosed, the eyes set very deep in beneath heavy brows,
the forehead rather low, the hair beginning not far above the brows. And
when he was agitated or interested in something, he had the trick of
peering upward with a kind of packed attentiveness, and this, together
with his general posture, the head thrust forward, the body prowling
downwards, gave him a distinctly simian appearance. It was easy to see
why some of his friends called him Monk.

Esther watched him a minute or two, feeling disappointed and hurt that he
had not answered her. He stopped by the front window and stood looking
out, and she went over to him and quietly put her arm through his. She
saw the vein swell in his temple, and knew there was no use in speaking.

Outside, the little Jewish tailors were coming from the office of their
union next door and were standing in the street. They were pale, dirty,
and greasy, and very much alive. They shouted and gesticulated at one
another, they stroked each other gently on the cheek in mounting fury,
saying tenderly in a throttled voice: "Nah! Nah! Nah!" Then, still
smiling in their rage, they began to slap each other gently in the face
with itching finger-tips. At length they screamed and dealt each other
stinging slaps. Others cursed and shouted, some laughed, and a few said
nothing, but stood darkly, sombrely apart, feeding upon their entrails.

Then the young Irish cops charged in among them. There was something
bought and corrupt about their look. They had brutal and brainless faces,
full of pride. Their jaws were loose and coarse, they chewed gum
constantly as they shoved and thrust their way along, and they kept
saying:

"Break it up, now! Break it up! All right! Keep movin'!"

The motors roared by like projectiles, and people were passing along the
pavement. There were the faces George and Esther had never seen before,
and there were the faces they had always seen, everywhere: always
different, they never changed; they welled up from the sourceless springs
of life with unending fecundity, with limitless variety, with incessant
movement, and with the monotony of everlasting repetition. There were the
three girl-friends who pass along the streets of life for ever. One had a
cruel and sensual face, she wore glasses, and her mouth was hard and
vulgar. Another had the great nose and the little bony features of a rat.
The face of the third was full and loose, jeering with fat rouged lips
and oily volutes of the nostrils. And when they laughed, there was no
warmth or joy in the sound: high, shrill, ugly, and hysterical, their
laughter only asked the earth to notice them.

In the street the children played. They were dark and strong and violent,
aping talk and toughness from their elders. They leaped on one another
and hurled the weakest to the pavement. The policemen herded the noisy
little tailors along before them, and they went away. The sky was blue
and young and vital, there were no clouds in it; the trees were budding
into leaf; the sunlight fell into the street, upon all the people there,
with an innocent and fearless life.

Esther glanced at George and saw his face grow twisted as he looked. He
wanted to say to her that we are all savage, foolish, violent, and
mistaken; that, full of our fear and confusion, we walk in ignorance upon
the living and beautiful earth, breathing young, vital air and bathing in
the light of morning, seeing it not because of the murder in our hearts.

But he did not say these things. Wearily he turned away from the window.

"There's for ever," he said. "There's your for ever."



2. FAME'S FIRST WOOING


In spite of the colourings of guilt that often tinged his brighter moods,
George was happier than he had ever been. There can be no doubt about
that. He exulted in the fact. The old madness had gone out of him, and
for long stretches at a time he was now buoyed up by the glorious
belief--not by any means a new one with him, though it was much stronger
now than it had ever been before--that he was at last in triumphant
control of his destiny. From his early childhood, when he was living like
an orphan with his Joyner relatives back in Libya Hill, he had dreamed
that one day he would go to New York and there find love and fame and
fortune. For several years New York had been the place that he called
home, and love was his already; and now he felt, with the assurance of
deep conviction, that the time for fame and fortune was at hand.

Anyone is happy who confidently awaits the fulfilment of his highest
dreams, and in that way George Was happy. And, like most of us when
things are going well, he took the credit wholly to himself. It was not
chance or luck or any blind confluence of events that had produced the
change in his spirits: his contentment and sense of mastery were the
reward of his own singular and peculiar merit, and no more than his just
due. Nevertheless fortune had played a central part in his transformation.
A most incredible thing had happened.

He had been back in New York only a few days when Lulu Scudder, the
literary agent, telephoned him in great excitement. The publishing house
of James Rodney & Co. was interested in his manuscript, and Foxhall
Edwards, the distinguished editor of this great house, wanted to talk to
him about it. Of course, you couldn't tell about these things, but it was
always a good idea to strike while the iron was hot. Could he go over
right away to see Edwards?

As he made his way uptown George told himself that it was silly to be
excited, that probably nothing would come of it. Hadn't one publisher
already turned the book down, saying that it was no novel? That publisher
had even written---and the words of his rejection had seared themselves
in. George's brain--"The novel form is not adapted to such talents, as
you have." And it was still the same manuscript. Not a line of it had
been changed, not a word cut, in spite of hints from Esther and Miss
Scudder that it was too long for any publisher to handle. He had
stubbornly refused to alter it, insisting that it would have to be
printed as it was or not at all. And he had left the manuscript with Miss
Scudder and gone away to Europe, convinced that her efforts to find a
publisher would prove futile.

All the time he was abroad it had nauseated him to think of his
manuscript, of the years of work and sleepless nights, he had put into
it, and of the high hopes that bad sustained him through it; and he had
tried, not to think of it, convinced now that it was no good, that he
himself was no good, and that all his hot ambitions and his dreams of
fame were the vapourings of a shoddy aesthete without talent. In this, he
told himself, he was just like most of the other piddling instructors at
the School for Utility Cultures, from which he had fled, and to which he
would return to resume his classes in English composition when his leave
of absence expired. They talked for ever about the great books they were
writing, or were going to write, because, like him, they needed so
desperately to find some avenue of escape from the dreary round of
teaching, reading themes, grading papers, and trying to strike a spark in
minds that had no flint in them. He had stayed in Europe almost nine
months, and no word had come from Miss Scudder, so he had felt confirmed
in all his darkest forebodings.

But now she said the Rodney people were interested. Well, they had taken
their time about it. And what did "interested" mean? Very likely they
would tell him they had detected in the book some slight traces of a
talent which, with careful nursing, could be schooled to produce, in
time, a publishable book. He had heard that publishers sometimes had a
weather eye for this sort of thing and that they would often string an
aspiring author along for years, giving him just the necessary degree, of
encouragement to keep him from abandoning hope altogether and to make him
think that they had faith in his great future if only he would go on
writing book after rejected book until he "found himself". Well, he'd
show them that he was not their fool! Not by so much as a flicker of an
eyelash would he betray his disappointment, and he would commit himself
to nothing!

If the traffic policeman on the corner noticed a strange young man in
front of the office of James Rodney & Co. that morning, he would never
have guessed at the core of firm resolution with which this young man had
tried to steel himself for the interview that lay before him. If the
policeman saw him at all, he probably observed him with misgiving,
wondering whether he ought not to intervene to prevent the commission of
a felony, or at any rate whether he ought not to speak to the young man
and hold him in conversation until the ambulance could arrive and take
him to Bellevue for observation.

For, as the young man approached the building at a rapid, loping stride,
a stern scowl upon his face and his lips set in a grim line, he had
hardly crossed the street and set his foot upon the kerb before the
publisher's building when his step faltered, he stopped and looked about
him as if not knowing what to do, and then, in evident confusion, forced
himself to go on. 'But now his movements were uncertain; as if his legs
obeyed his will with great reluctance. He lunged ahead, then stopped,
then lunged again and made for the door, only to halt again in a paroxysm
of indecision as he came up to it. He stood there facing the door for a
moment, clenching and unclenching his hands, then looked about him
quickly, suspiciously, as though he expected to find somebody watching
him. At last, with a slight shudder of resolution, he thrust his hands
deep into his pockets, turned deliberately, and walked on past the door.

And now he moved slowly, the line of his mouth set grimmer than before,
and his head was carried stiffly forward from the shoulders as if he were
trying to hold himself to the course he had decided upon by focusing on
some distant object straight before him. But all the while, as he went
along before the entrance and the show windows filled with books which
flanked it on both sides, he peered sharply out of the corner of his eye
like a spy who had to find out what was going on inside the building
without letting the passers-by observe his interest. He walked to the end
of the block and turned about and then came back, and again as he passed
in front of the publishing house he kept his face fixed straight ahead
and looked stealthily out of the corner of his eye. For fifteen or twenty
minutes he repeated this strange manoeuvred, and each time as he
approached the door he-would hesitate and half turn as if about to enter,
and then abruptly go on as before.

Finally, as he came abreast of the entrance for perhaps the fiftieth
time, he quickened his stride and seized the door-knob--but at once, as
though it had given him an electric shock, he snatched his hand away and
backed off, and stood on the kerb looking up at the house of James Rodney
& Co. For several minutes more he stood there, shifting uneasily on his
feet and watching all the upper windows as for a sign. Then, suddenly,
his jaw muscles tightened, he stuck out his under lip in desperate
resolve, and he bolted across the pavement, hurled himself against the
door, and disappeared inside.

An hour later, if the policeman was still on duty at the corner, he was
no doubt as puzzled and mystified as before by the young man's behaviour
as he emerged from the building. He came out slowly, walking
mechanically, a dazed look on his face, and in one of his hands, which
dangled loosely at his sides, he held a crumpled slip of yellow paper. He
emerged from the office of James Rodney & Co. like a man walking in a
trance. With the slow and thoughtless movements of an automaton, he
turned his steps uptown, and, still with the rapt and dazed look upon his
face, he headed north and disappeared into the crowd..

It was, late afternoon and the shadows were slanting swiftly eastwards
when George Webber came to his senses somewhere in the wilds of the upper
Bronx. How he got there he never knew. All he could remember was that
suddenly he felt hungry and stopped and looked about him and realized
where he was. His dazed look gave way to one of amazement and
incredulity, and his mouth began W stretch in a broad grin. In his hand
he still held the rectangular slip of crisp yellow paper, and slowly he
smoothed out the wrinkles and examined it carefully.

It was a cheque for five hundred dollars. His book bad been accepted, and
this was an advance against his royalties.

So he was happier than he had ever been in all his life. Fame, at last,
was knocking at his door and wooing him with her sweet blandishments, and
he lived in a kind of glorious delirium. The next weeks and months were
filled with the excitement of the impending event. The book would not be
published till the autumn, but meanwhile there was much work to do.
Foxhall Edwards had made some suggestions for cutting and revising the
manuscript, and, although George at first objected, he surprised himself
in the end by agreeing with Edwards, and he undertook to do what Edwards
wanted.

George had called his novel, _Home to Our Mountains_, and in it he
had packed everything he knew about his home town in Old Catawba and the
people there. He had distilled every line of it out of his own experience
of life. And, now that the issue was decided, he sometimes trembled when
he thought that it would be only a matter of months before the whole
world knew what he had written. He loathed the thought of giving pain to
anyone, and that he might do so had never occurred to him till now. But
now it was out of his hands, and he began to feel uneasy. Of course it
was fiction, but it was made as all honest fiction must be, from the
stuff of human life. Some people might recognize themselves, and be
offended, and then what would he do? Would he have to go around in smoked
glasses and false whiskers? He comforted himself with the hope that his
characterisations were not so true as, in another mood, he liked to think
they, were, and he thought that perhaps no one would notice anything.

_Rodney's Magazine_, too, had become interested in the young author
and was going to publish a story, a chapter from the book, in their next
number. This news added immensely to his excitement. He was eager to see
his name in print, and in the happy interval of expectancy he felt like a
kind of universal Don Juan, for he literally loved everybody--his fellow
instructors at the school, his drab students, the little shopkeepers in
all the stores, even the nameless hordes that thronged the streets.
Rodney's, of course, was the greatest and the finest publishing house in
all the world, and Foxhall Edwards was the greatest editor and the finest
man that ever was. George had liked him instinctively from the first, and
now, like an old and intimate friend, he was calling him Fox. George knew
that Fox believed in him, and the editor's faith and confidence, coming
as it had come, at a time when George had given up all hope, restored his
self-respect and charged him with energy for new work.

Already his next novel was begun and was beginning to take shape within
him. He would soon have to get it out of him. He dreaded the prospect of
buckling down in earnest to write it, for he knew the agony of it. It was
like demoniacal possession, driving him with an alien force much greater
than his own. While the fury of creation was upon him, it meant sixty
cigarettes a day, twenty cups of coffee, meals snatched anyhow and
anywhere and at whatever time of day or night he happened to remember he
was hungry. It meant sleeplessness, and miles of walking to bring on the
physical fatigue without which he could not sleep, then nightmares,
nerves, and exhaustion in the morning. As he said to Fox:

"There are better ways to write a book, but this, God help me, is mine,
and you'll have to learn to put up with it."

When _Rodney's Magazine_ came out with the story, George fully
expected convulsions of the earth, falling meteors, suspension of traffic
in the streets, and a general strike. But nothing happened. A few of his
friends mentioned it, but that was all. For several days he felt let
down, but then his common sense reassured him that people couldn't really
tell much about a new author from a short piece in a magazine. The book
would show them who he was and what he could do. It would be different
then. He could afford to wait a little longer for the fame which he was
certain would soon be his.

It was not until later, after the first excitement had worn off and
George had become accustomed to the novelty of being an author whose book
was actually going to be published, that he began to learn a little about
the unknown world of publishing and the people who inhabit it--and not
till then did he begin to understand and appreciate the teal quality of
Fox Edwards. And it was through Otto Hauser--so much like Fox in his
essential integrity, so sharply contrasted to him in other respects--that
George got his first real insight into the character of his editor.

Hausa Was a reader at Rodney's, and probably the best publisher's reader
in America. He might have been a publisher's editor--a rare and good
one--had he been driven forward by ambition, enthusiasm, daring,
tenacious resolution, and that eagerness to seek and find the best which
a great editor must have. But Hauser was content to spend his days
reading ridiculous manuscripts written by ridiculous people on all sorts
of ridiculous subjects "The Breast Stroke," "Rock Gardens for Everybody,"
"The Life and Times of Lydia Pinkham," "The New Age of Plenty"--and once
in a while something that had the fire of passion, the spark of genius,
the glow of truth.

Otto Hauser lived in a tiny apartment near First Avenue, and he invited
George to drop in one evening. George went, and they spent the evening
talking. After that he returned again and again because he liked Otto,
and also because he was puzzled by the contradictions of his qualities,
especially by something aloof, impersonal, and withdrawing in his nature
which seemed so out of place beside the clear and positive elements in
his character.

Otto did all the housekeeping himself. He had tried having cleaning women
in from time to time, but eventually he had dispensed entirely with their
services. 'They were not clean and tidy enough to suit him, and their
casual and haphazard disarrangements of objects that had been placed
exactly where he wanted them annoyed his order-loving soul. He hated
clutter. He had only a few books--a shelf or two--most of them the latest
publications of the house of Rodney, and a few volumes sent him by other
publishers. Usually he gave his books away as soon as he finished reading
them because he hated clutter, and books made clutter. Sometimes he
wondered if he didn't hate books, too. Certainly he didn't like to have
many of them around: the sight of them irritated him.

George found him a curious enigma. Otto Hauser was possessed of
remarkable gifts, yet he was almost wholly lacking in those qualities
which cause a man to "get on" in the world. In fact, he didn't want to
"get on". He had a horror of "getting on", of going any further than he
bad already gone. He wanted to be a publisher's reader, and nothing more.
At James Rodney & Co. he did the work they put into his hands. He did
punctiliously what he was required to do. He gave his word, when he was
asked to give it, with the complete integrity of his quiet soul, the
unerring rightness of his judgment, the utter finality of his Germanic
spirit. But beyond that he would not go.

When one of the editors at Rodney's, of whom there were several besides
Foxhall Edwards, asked Hauser for his opinion, the ensuing conversation
would go something like this:

"You have read the manuscript?"

"Yes," said Hauser, "I have read it."

"What did you think of it?"

"I thought it was without merit."

"Then you do not recommend its publication?"

"No, I do not think it is worth publishing."

Or:

"Did you read that manuscript?"

"Yes," Hauser would say. "I read it."

"Well, what did you think of it? (Confound it, can't the fellow say what
he thinks without having to be asked all the timer)"

"I think it is a work of genius."

Incredulously: "You _do!_"

"I do, yes. To my mind there is no question about it."

"But look here, Hauser--" excitedly--"if what you say is true, this
boy--the fellow who wrote it--why, he's just a kid--no one ever heard of
him before--comes from somewhere out West--Nebraska, Iowa, one of those
places--never been anywhere, apparently--if what you say is true, we've
made a discovery!"

"I suppose you have. Yes. The book is a work of genius."

"But--(Damn it
all, what's wrong with the man anyway? Here he makes a discovery like
this--an astounding statement of this sort--and shows no more enthusiasm
than if he were discussing a cabbage head!)--but, see here, then!
You--you mean there's something wrong with it?"

"No, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think it is a
magnificent piece of writing."

"But--(Good Lord, the fellow is a queer fish!)--but you mean to say
that--that perhaps it's not suitable for publication in its present
form?"

"No. I think it's eminently publishable."

"But it's overwritten, isn't it?"

"It _is_ overwritten. Yes."

"I thought so, too," said the editor shrewdly. "Of course, the fellow
shows he knows very little about writing. He doesn't know how he does it,
he repeats himself continually, he is childish and exuberant and
extravagant, and he does ten times too much of everything.. We have a
hundred other writers who know more about writing than he does."

"I suppose we have, yes," Hauser agreed. "Nevertheless, he is a man of
genius, and they are not. His, book is a work of genius, and theirs are
not."

"Then you think we ought to publish him?"

"I think so, yes."

"But--(Ah, here's the catch, maybe--the thing he's holding back on!)--but
you think this is all he has to say?--that he's written himself out in
this one book?--that he'll never be able to write another?"

"No. I think nothing of the sort. I can't say, of course. They may kill
him, as they often do----"

"(God, what a gloomy Gus the fellow is!)"

"--but on the basis of this book, I should say there's no danger of his
running dry. He should have fifty books in him."

"But--(Good Lord! What _is_ the catch?)--but then you mean you don't
think it's time for such a book as this in America yet?"

"No, I don't mean that. I think it _is_ time."

"Why?"

"Because it has happened. Iris always time when it happens."

"But some of our best critics say it's not time."

"I know they do. However, they are wrong. It is simply not their time,
that's all."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean, their time is critic's time. The book is creator's time. The two
times are not the same."

"You think, then, that the critics are behind the time?"

"They are behind creator's time, yes."

"Then they may not see this book as the work of genius which you say it
is. Do you think they will?"

"I can't say. Perhaps not. However, it doesn't matter."

"Doesn't _matter!_ Why, what do you mean?"

"I mean that the thing is good, and cannot be destroyed. Therefore it
doesn't matter what anyone says."

"Then--Good Lord, Hauser!--if what you say is true, we've made a great
discovery!"

"I think you have. Yes."

"But--but--is that _all_ you have to say?"

"I think so, yes. What else _is_ there to say?"

Baffled: "Nothing--only, I should think _you_ would be excited about
it!" Then, completely defeated and resigned: "Oh, _all_ right!
_All_ right, Hauser! Thanks very much!"

The people at Rodney's couldn't understand it. They didn't know what to
make of it. Finally, they had given up trying, all except Fox
Edwards--and Fox would never give up trying to understand anything. Fox
still came by Hauser's office--his little cell--and looked in on him.
Fox's old grey hat would be pushed back on his head, for he never took it
off when he worked, and there would be a look of troubled wonder in his
sea-pale eyes as he bent over and stooped and craned and stared at
Hauser, as if he were regarding for the first time some fantastic monster
from the marine jungles of the ocean. Then he would turn and walk away,
hands hanging to his coat lapels, and in his eyes there would be a look
of utter astonishment.

Fox couldn't understand it yet. As for Hauser himself, he had no answers,
nothing to tell them.

It was not until George Webber had become well acquainted with both men
that be began to penetrate the mystery. Foxhall Edwards and Otto
Hauser--to know them both, to see them working in the same office, each
in his own way, was to understand them both as perhaps neither could have
been understood completely by himself. Each man, by being what he was,
revealed to George the secret springs of character which had made the two
of them so much alike--and so utterly different.

There may have been a time when an intense and steady flame had been
alive in the quiet depths of Otto Hauser's spirit. But that was before he
knew what it was like to be a great editor. Now he had seen it for
himself, and he wanted none of it. For ten years he had watched Fox
Edwards, and he well knew what was needed: the pure flame living in the
midst of darkness; the constant, quiet, and relentless effort of the will
to accomplish what the pure flame burned for, what the spirit knew; the
unspoken agony of that constant effort as it fought to win through to its
clear purpose and somehow to subdue the world's blind and brutal force of
ignorance, hostility, prejudice, and intolerance which were opposed to
it--the fools of age, the fools of prudery, the fools of genteelness,
fogyism, and nice-Nellyism, the fools of bigotry, Philistinism, jealousy,
and envy, and, worst of all, the utter, sheer damn fools of nature!

Oh, to burn so, so to be consumed, exhausted, spent by the passion
of this constant flame! And for what? For _what?_ And _why?_
Because some obscure kid from Tennessee, some tenant farmer's son from
Georgia, or some country doctor's boy in North Dakota--untitled,
unpedigreed, unhallowed by fools' standards--had been touched with
genius, and so had striven to give a tongue to the high passion of his
loneliness, to wrest from his locked spirit his soul's language and a
portion of the tongue of his unuttered brothers, to find a channel in the
blind immensity of this harsh land for the pent tides of his creation,
and to make, perhaps, in this howling wilderness of life some carving and
some dwelling of his own--all this before the world's fool-bigotry,
fool-ignorance, fool-cowardice, fool-faddism, fool-mockery, fool-stylism,
and fool-hatred for anyone who was not corrupted, beaten, and a fool had
either quenched the hot, burning passion with ridicule, contempt, denial,
and oblivion, or else corrupted the strong will with the pollutions of
fool-success. It was for this that such as Fox must burn and suffer--to
keep that flame' of agony alive in the spirit of some inspired and
stricken boy until the world of fools had taken it into their custody,
and betrayed it!

Otto Hauser had seen it all.

And in the end what was the reward for such a one as Fox? To achieve the
lonely and unhoped-for victories one by one, and to see the very fools
who had denied them acclaim them as their own. To lapse again to search,
to silence, and to waiting while fools greedily pocketed as their own the
coin of one man's spirit, proudly hailed as their discovery the treasure
of another's exploration, loudly celebrated their own vision as they took
unto themselves the fulfilment of another's prophecy. Ah, the heart must
break at last--the heart of Fox, as well as the heart of genius, the lost
boy; the frail, small heart of man must falter, stop at last from
beating; but the heart of folly would beat on for ever.

So Otto Hauser would have none of it. He would grow hot over nothing. He
would try to see the truth for himself, and let it go at that.

This was Otto Hauser as George came to know him. In the confidence of
friendship Otto held up a mirror to his own soul, affording a clear,
unposed reflection of his quiet, unassuming, and baffling integrity; but
in the same mirror he also revealed, without quite being aware of it, the
stronger and more shining image of Fox Edwards.

George knew how fortunate he was to have as his editor a man like Fox.
And as time went on, and his respect and admiration for the older man
warmed to deep affection, he realized that Fox had become for him much
more than editor and friend. Little by little it seemed to George that he
had found in Fox the father he had lost and had long been looking for.
And so it was that Fox became a second father to him--the father of his
spirit.



3. The Microscopic Gentleman from Japan


In the old house where George lived that year Mr. Katamoto occupied the
ground floor just below him, and in a little while they got to know each
other very well. It might be said that their friendship began in
mystification and went on to a state of security and staunch
understanding.

Not that Mr. Katamoto ever forgave George when he erred. He was always
instantly ready to inform him that he had taken a false step again (the
word is used advisedly), but he was so infinitely patient, so
unflaggingly hopeful of George's improvement, so unfailingly good-natured
and courteous, that no one could possibly have been angry or failed to
try to mend his ways. What saved the situation was Katamoto's gleeful,
childlike sense of humour. He was one of those microscopic gentlemen from
Japan, scarcely five feet tall, thin and very wiry in his build, and
George's barrel chest, broad shoulders, long, dangling arms, and large
feet seemed to inspire his comic risibilities from the beginning. The
first time they met, as they were just passing each other in the hall,
Katamoto began to giggle when he saw George coming; and as they came
abreast, the little man flashed a great expanse of gleaming teeth, wagged
a finger roguishly, and said:

"Tramp-ling! Tramp-ling!"

For several days, whenever they passed each other in the hall, this same
performance was repeated. George thought the words were very mysterious,
and at first could not fathom their recondite meaning or understand why
the sound of them was enough to set Katamoto off in a paroxysm of mirth.
And yet when he would utter them and George would look at him in a
surprised, inquiring kind of way, Katamoto would bend double with
convulsive laughter and would stamp at the floor like a child with a tiny
foot, shrieking hysterically! "Yis--yis--yis! You are tramp-ling!"--after
which he would flee away.

George inferred that these mysterious references to "tramp-ling" which
always set Katamoto off in such a fit of laughter had something to do
with the bigness of his feet, for Katamoto would look at them quickly and
slyly as he passed, and then giggle. However, a fuller explanation was
soon provided. Katamoto came upstairs one afternoon and knocked at
George's door. When it was opened, he giggled and flashed his teeth and
looked somewhat embarrassed.. After a moment, with evident hesitancy, he
grinned painfully and said:

"If you ple-e-eze, sir! Will you--have some tea--with me--yis?" He spoke
the words very slowly, with a deliberate formality, after which he
flashed a quick, eager, and ingratiating smile.

George told him he would be glad to, and got his coat and started
downstairs with him. Katamoto padded swiftly on ahead, his little feet
shod in felt slippers that made no sound. Half-way down the stairs, as if
the noise of George's heavy tread had touched his funny-bone again,
Katamoto stopped quickly, turned and pointed at George's feet, and
giggled coyly: "Tramp-ling! You are trampling!" Then he turned and fairly
fled away down the stairs and down the hall, shrieking like a gleeful
child. He waited at the door to usher his guest in, introduced him to the
slender, agile little Japanese girl who seemed to stay there all the
time, and finally brought George back into his studio and served him tea.

It was an amazing place. Katamoto bad redecorated the fine old rooms and
fitted them up according to the whims of his curious taste. The big back
room was very crowded, intricate, and partitioned off into several small
compartments with beautiful Japanese screens. He had also constructed a
flight of stairs and a balcony that extended around three sides of the
room, and on this balcony George could see a couch. The room was crowded
with tiny chairs and tables, and there was an opulent-looking sofa and
cushions. There were a great many small carved objects and bric-à-brac,
and a strong smell of incense.

The centre of the room, however, had been left entirely bare save for a
big strip of spattered canvas and an enormous plaster figure. George
gathered that he did a thriving business turning out sculptures for
expensive speak-easies, or immense fifteen-foot statues of native
politicians which were to decorate public squares in little towns, or in
the state capitals of Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wyoming. Where and
how he had learned this curious profession George never found out, but he
had mastered it with true Japanese fidelity, and so well that his
products were apparently in greater demand than those of American
sculptors. In spite of his small size and fragile build, the man was a
dynamo of energy and could perform the labours of a Titan. God knows how
he did it--where he found the strength.

George asked a question about the big plaster cast in the centre of the
room, and Katamoto took him over and showed it to him, remarking as he
pointed to the creature's huge feet:

"He is--like you!...He is tramp-ling!...Yis!...He is tramp-ling!"

Then he took George up the stairs on to the balcony, which George
dutifully admired.

"Yis?--You like?" He smiled at George eagerly, a little doubtfully, then
pointed at his couch and said: "I sleep here!" Then he pointed to the
ceiling, which was so low that George had to stoop. "You sleep there?"
said Katamoto eagerly.

George nodded.

Katamoto went on again with a quick smile, but with embarrassed hesitancy
and a painful difficulty in his tone that had not been there before:

"I here," he said, pointing, "you there--yis?"

He looked at George almost pleadingly, a little desperately--and suddenly
George began to catch on.

"Oh! You mean I am right above you--" Katamoto nodded with instant
relief--"and sometimes when I stay up late you hear me?"

"Yis! Yis!" He kept nodding his head vigorously. "Sometimes--" he smiled
a little painfully--"sometimes--you will be tramp-ling!" He shook his
finger at George with coy reproof and giggled.

"I'm awfully sorry," George said. "Of course, I didn't know you slept
so near--so near the ceiling. When I work late I pace the floor. It's a
bad habit. I'll do what I can to stop it."

"Oh, no-o!" he cried, genuinely distressed. "I not want--how you say
it?--change your life!...If you ple-e-ese, sir! Just little thing--not
wear shoes at night!" He pointed at his own small felt-shod feet and
smiled up at George hopefully. "You like slippers yis?" And he smiled
persuasively again.

After that, of course, George wore slippers. But sometimes he would
forget, and the next morning Katamoto would be rapping at his door
again. He was never angry, he was always patient and good-humoured,
he was always beautifully courteous--but he would always call
George to account. "You were tramp-ling!" he would cry. "Last
night--again--tramp-ling!" And George would tell him he was sorry and
would try not to do it again, and Katamoto would go away giggling,
pausing to turn and wag his finger roguishly and call out once more,
"Tramp-ling!"--after which he would flee downstairs, shrieking with
laughter.

They were good friends.

In the months that followed, again and again George would come in the
house to find the hall below full of sweating, panting movers, over whom
Katamoto, covered from head to foot with clots and lumps of plaster,
would hover prayerfully and with a fearful, pleading grin lest they mar
his work, twisting his small hands together convulsively, aiding the work
along by slight shudders, quick darts of breathless terror, writhing and
shrinking movements of the body, and saying all the while with an
elaborate, strained, and beseeching courtesy:

"Now, if--_you_--gentleman--a little!..._You_...yis--yis--yis-s!" with a
convulsive grin. "_Oh-h-h_! Yis--yis-s! If you _ple-e-ese_, sir!...If
you would down--a little--yis-s!--yis-s!--yis-s!" he hissed softly with
that prayerful and pleading grin.

And the movers would carry out of the house and stow into their van the
enormous piecemeal fragments of some North Dakota Pericles, whose size
was so great that one wondered how this dapper, fragile little man could
possibly have fashioned such a leviathan.

Then the movers would depart, and for a space Mr. Katamoto would loaf and
invite his soul. He would come out in the backyard with his girl, the
slender, agile little Japanese--who looked as, if she had some Italian
blood in her as well--and for hours at a time they would play at
handball. Mr. Katamoto would knock the ball up against the projecting
brick wall of the house next door, and every time he scored a point he
would scream with laughter, clapping his small hands together, bending
over weakly and pressing his hand against his stomach, and staggering
about with delight and merriment. Choking with laughter, he would cry out
in a high, delirious voice as rapidly as he could:

"Yis, yis, yis! Yis, yis, yis! Yis, yis, yis!"

Then he would catch sight of George looking at him from the window, and
this would set him off again, for he would wag his finger and fairly
scream:

"You were tramp-ling!...Yis, yis, yis!...Last night--again tramp-ling!"

This would reduce him to such a paroxysm of mirth that he would stagger
across the court and lean against the wall, all caved in, holding his
narrow stomach and shrieking faintly.

It was now the full height of steaming summer, and one day early in
August George came home to find the movers in the house again. This time
it was obvious that a work of more than usual magnitude was in transit.
Mr. Katamoto, spattered with plaster, was of course hovering about in the
hall, grinning nervously and fluttering prayerfully around the husky
truckmen. As George came in, two of the men were backing slowly down the
hall, carrying between them an immense head, monstrously jowled and set
in an expression of farseeing statesmanship. A moment later three more
men backed out of the studio, panting and cursing as they grunted
painfully around the flowing fragment of a long frock coat and the vested
splendour of a bulging belly. The first pair had now gone back in the
studio, and when they came out again they were staggering beneath the
trousered shank of a mighty leg and a booted Atlantean hoof, and as they
passed, one of the other men, now returning for more of the statesman's
parts, pressed himself against the wall to let them by and said:

"Jesus! If the son-of-a-bitch stepped on you with that foot, he wouldn't
leave a grease spot, would he, Joe?"

The last piece of all was an immense fragment of the Solon's arm and
fist, with one huge forefinger pointed upwards in an attitude of solemn
objurgation and avowal.

That figure was Katamoto's masterpiece; and George felt as he saw it pass
that the enormous upraised finger was the summit of his art and the
consummation of his life: Certainly it was the apple of his eye. George
had never seen him before in such a state of extreme agitation. He fairly
prayed above the sweating men: It was obvious that the coarse indelicacy
of their touch made him shudder. The grin was frozen on his face in an
expression of congealed terror. He writhed, he wriggled, he wrung his
little hands, he crooned to them. And if anything had happened to that
fat, pointed finger, George felt sure that he would have dropped dead on
the spot.

At length, however, they got everything stowed away in their big van
without mishap and drove off with their Ozymandias, leaving Mr. Katamoto,
frail, haggard, and utterly exhausted, looking at the kerb. He came back
into the house and saw George standing there and smiled wanly at him.

"Tramp-ling," he said feebly, and shook his finger, and for the first
time there was no mirth or energy in him.

George had never seen him tired before. It had never occurred to him that
he could get tired. The little man had always been so full of
inexhaustible life. And now, somehow, George felt an unaccountable
sadness to see him so weary and so strangely grey. Katamoto was silent
for a moment, and then he lifted his face and said, almost tonelessly,
yet with a shade of wistful eagerness:

"You see statue--yis?"

"Yes, Kato, I saw it."

"And you like?"

"Yes, very much."

"And--" he giggled a little and made a shaking movement with his
hands--"you see foot?"

"Yes."

"I sink," he said, "he will be tramp-ling--yis?"--and he made laughing
sound.

"He ought to," George said, "with a hoof like that. It's almost as big as
mine," he added, as an afterthought.

Katamoto seemed delighted with this observation, for he laughed shrilly
and said: "Yis! Yis!"--nodding his head emphatically. He was silent for
another moment, then hesitantly, but with an eagerness that he could not
conceal, he said:

"And you see finger?"

"Yes, Kato."

"And you like?"--quickly, earnestly.

"Very much."

"Big finger--yis?"--with a note of rising triumph in his "Very big,
Kato."

"And _pointing_--yis?" he said ecstatically, grinning from ear to
ear and pointing his own small finger heavenward.


"Yes, pointing."

He sighed contentedly. "Well, zen," he said, with the appeased' air of a
child, "I'm glad you like."

For a week or so after that George did not see Katamoto again or even
think of him. This was the vacation period at the School for Utility
Cultures, and George was devoting every minute of his time, day and,
night, to a fury of new writing. Then one afternoon; a long passage
completed and the almost illegible pages of his swift scrawl tossed in a
careless heap upon the floor, he sat relaxed, looking out of his back
window, and suddenly he thought of Katamoto again. He remembered that he
had not seen him recently, and it seemed strange that he had not even
heard the familiar thud of the little ball against the wall outside or
the sound of his high, shrill laughter. This realisation, with its sense
of loss, so troubled him that he went downstairs immediately and pressed
Katamoto's bell.

There was no answer. All was silent. He waited, and no one came. Then he
went down to the basement and found the janitor and spoke to him. He said
that Mr. Katamoto had been ill, No, it was not serious, he thought, but
the doctor had advised a rest, a brief period of relaxation from his
exhausting labours, and had sent him for care and observation to the
near-by hospital.

George meant to go to see him, but he was busy with his writing and kept
putting it off. Then one morning, some ten days later, coming back home
after breakfast in a restaurant, he found a moving van backed up before
the house. Katamoto's door was open, and when he looked inside the moving
people had already stripped the apartment almost bare. In the centre of
the once fantastic room, now empty, where Katamoto had performed his
prodigies of work, stood a young Japanese, an acquaintance of the
sculptor, whom George had seen there several times before. He was
supervising the removal of the last furnishings.

The young Japanese looked up quickly, politely, with a toothy grin of
frozen courtesy as George came in. He did not speak until George asked
him how Mr. Katamoto was. And then, with the same toothy, frozen grin
upon his face, the same impenetrable courtesy, he said that Mr. Katamoto
was dead.

George was shocked, and stood there for a moment, knowing there was
nothing more to say, and yet feeling somehow, as people always feel on
these occasions, that there was something that, he _ought_ to say.
He looked at the young Japanese and started to speak, and found himself
looking into the inscrutable, polite, untelling eyes of Asia.

So he said nothing more. He just thanked the young man and went out.



4. Some Things Will Never Change


Out of his front windows George could see nothing except the sombre bulk
of the warehouse across the street. It was an old building, with a bleak
and ugly front of rusty, indurated brown and a harsh webbing of
fire-escapes, and across the whole width of the facade stretched a
battered wooden sign on which, in faded letters, one could make out the
name--"The Security Distributing Corp." George did not know what a
distributing corporation was, but every day since he had come into this
street to live, enormous motor-vans had driven up before this dingy
building and had backed snugly against the worn plankings of the loading
platform, which ended with a sharp, sheared emptiness four feet above the
pavement. The drivers and their helpers would leap from their seats, and
instantly the quiet depths of the old building would burst into a furious
energy of work, and the air would be filled with harsh cries:

"Back it up, deh! Back it up! Cuh-_mahn_! Cuh-_mahn_! Givvus a
hand, youse guys! Hey-y! _You!_"

They looked at one another with hard faces of smiling derision, quietly
saying "Jesus!" out of the corners of their mouths. Surly, they stood
upon their rights, defending truculently the narrow frontier of their
duty:

"Wadda I care where it goes! Dat's yoeh look-out! Wat t'hell's it got to
do wit _me?_"

They worked with speed and power and splendid aptness, furiously,
unamiably, with high, exacerbated voices, spurred and goaded by their
harsh unrest.

The city was their stony-hearted mother, and from her breast they had
drawn a bitter nurture. Born to brick and asphalt, to crowded tenements
and swarming streets, stunned into sleep as children beneath the sudden
slamming racket of the elevated trains, taught to fight, to menace, and
to struggle in a world of savage violence and incessant din, they had had
the city's qualities stamped into their flesh and movements, distilled
through all their tissues, etched with the city's acid into their tongue
and brain and vision. Their faces were tough and seamed, the skin thick,
dry, without a hue of freshness or of colour. Their pulse beat with the
furious rhythm of the city's stroke: ready in an instant with a curse,
metallic clangours sounded from their twisted lips, and their hearts were
filled with a dark, immense, and secret pride.

Their souls were like the asphalt visages of city streets. Each day the
violent colours of a thousand new sensations swept across them, and each
day all sound and sight and fury were erased from their unyielding
surfaces. Ten thousand furious days had passed about them, and they had
no memory. They lived like creatures born full-grown into present time,
shedding the whole accumulation of the past with every breath, and all
their lives were written in the passing of each actual moment.

And they were sure and certain, for ever wrong, but always confident.
They had no hesitation, they confessed no ignorance or error, and they
knew no doubts. They began each morning with a gibe, a shout, an oath of
hard impatience, eager for the tumult of the day. At noon they sat
strongly in their seats and, through fumes of oil and hot machinery,
addressed their curses to the public at the tricks and strategies of
cunning rivals, the tyranny of the police, the stupidity of pedestrians,
and the errors of less skilful men than they. Each day they faced the
perils of the streets with hearts as calm as if they were alone upon a
country road. Each day, with minds untroubled, they embarked upon
adventures from which the bravest men bred in the wilderness would have
recoiled in terror and desolation.

In the raw days of early spring they had worn shirts of thick black wool
and leather jackets, but now, in summer, their arms were naked, tattooed,
brown, and lean with the play of whipcord muscles. The power and
precision with which they worked stirred in George a deep emotion of
respect, and also touched him with humility. For whenever he saw it, his
own life, with its conflicting desires, its uncertain projects and
designs, its labours begun in hope and so often ended in incompletion, by
comparison with the lives of these men who, had learned to use their
strength and talents perfectly, seemed faltering, blind, and baffled.

At night, too, five times a week, the mighty vans would line up at the
kerb in an immense and waiting caravan. They were covered now with great
tarpaulins, small green lamps were burning on each side, and the drivers,
their faces faintly lit with the glowing points of cigarettes, would be
talking quietly in the shadows of their huge machines. Once George had
asked one of the drivers the destination of these nightly journeys, and
the man had told him that they went to Philadelphia, and would return
again by morning.

The sight of these great vans at night, sombre, silent, yet alive with
powerful expectancy as their drivers waited for the word to start, gave
George a sense of mystery and joy. These men were part of that great
company who love the night, and he felt a bond of union with them. For he
had always loved the night more dearly than the day, and the energies of
his life had risen to their greatest strength in the secret and exultant
heart of darkness.

He knew the joys and labours of such men as these. He could see the
shadowy procession of their vans lumbering through the sleeping towns,
and feel the darkness, the cool fragrance of the country, on his face. He
could see the drivers hunched behind the wheels, their senses all alert
in the lilac dark, their eyes fixed hard upon the road to curtain off
the loneliness of the land at night. And he knew the places where they
stopped to eat, the little all-night lunch-rooms warm with greasy light,
now empty save for the dozing authority of the aproned Greek behind the
counter, and now filled with the heavy shuffle of the drivers' feet, the
hard and casual intrusions of their voices.

They came in, flung themselves upon the row of stools, and gave their
orders. And as they waited, their hunger drawn into sharp focus by the
male smells of boiling coffee, frying eggs and onions, and sizzling
hamburgers, they took the pungent, priceless, and uncostly solace of a
cigarette, lit between cupped hand and strong-seamed mouth, drawn deep
and then exhaled in slow fumes from the nostrils. They poured great gobs
and gluts of thick tomato ketchup on their hamburgers, tore with
blackened fingers at the slabs of fragrant bread, and ate with jungle
lust, thrusting at plate and cup with quick and savage gulpings.

Oh, he was with them, of them, for them, blood brother of their joy and
hunger to the last hard swallow, the last deep, ease of sated bellies,
the last slow coil of blue expiring from their grateful lungs. Their
lives seemed glorious to him in the magic dark of summer. They swept
cleanly through the night into the first light and bird song of the
morning, into the morning of new joy upon the earth; and as he thought of
this it seemed to him that the secret, wild, and lonely heart of man was
young and living in the darkness, and could never die.

* * * * *

Before him, all that summer of 1929, in the broad window of the
warehouse, a man sat at a desk and looked out into the street, in a
posture that never changed. George saw him there whenever he glanced
across, yet he never saw him do anything but look out of the window with
a fixed, abstracted stare. At first the man had been such an unobtrusive
part of his surroundings that he had seemed to fade into' them, and had
gone almost unnoticed. Then Esther, having observed him there, pointed to
him one day and said merrily:

"There's our friend in the Distributing Corp again! What do you suppose
he distributes? I've never seen him do anything! Have you noticed
him--hah?" she cried eagerly. "God! It's the strangest thing I ever saw!"
She laughed richly, made a shrug of bewildered protest, and, after a
moment, said with serious wonder: "Isn't it queer? What do you suppose a
man like that can do? What do you suppose he's thinking of?"

"Oh, I don't know," George said indifferently. "Of nothing, I suppose."

Then they forgot the man and turned to talk of other things, yet from
that moment the man's singular presence was pricked out in George's mind
and he began to watch him with hypnotic fascination, puzzled by the
mystery of his immobility and his stare.

And after that, as soon as Esther came in every day, she would glance
across the street and cry out in a jolly voice which had in it the note
of affectionate satisfaction and assurance that people have when they see
some familiar and expected object:

"Well, I see our old friend, The Distributing Corp, is still looking out
of his window! I wonder what he's thinking of to-day."

She would turn away, laughing. Then, for a moment, with her childlike
fascination for words and rhythms, she gravely meditated their strange
beat, silently framing and pronouncing with her lips a series of
meaningless sounds--"Corp-Borp-Forp-Dorp-Torp"--and at length singing out
in a gleeful chant, and with an air of triumphant discovery:

"The Distributing Corp, the Distributing Corp,
He sits all day and he does no Worp!"

George protested that her rhyme made no sense, but she threw back her
encrimsoned face and screamed with laughter.

But after a while they stopped laughing about the man. For, obscure as
his employment seemed, incredible and comical as his indolence had been
when they first noticed it, there came to be something impressive,
immense, and formidable in the quality of that fixed stare. Day by day, a
thronging traffic of life and business passed before him in the street;
day by day, the great vans came, the drivers, handlers, and packers
swarmed before his eyes, filling, the air with their oaths and cries,
irritably intent upon their labour but the man in the window never looked
at them, never gave any, sign that he heard them, never seemed to be
aware of their existence--he just sat there and looked out, his eyes
fixed in an abstracted stare.

In the course of George Webber's life, many things of no great importance
in themselves had become deeply embedded in his memory, stuck there like
burs in a scottie's tail; and always they were little things which, in an
instant of clear perception, had riven his heart with some poignant flash
of meaning. Thus he remembered, and would remember for ever, the sight of
Esther's radiant, earnest face when, unexpectedly one night, he caught
sight of it as it flamed and 'vanished in a crowd of grey, faceless faces
in Times Square. So, too, he remembered two deaf mutes he had seen
talking on their fingers in a subway train; and a ringing peal of
children's laughter in a desolate street at sunset; and the waitresses in
their dingy little rooms across the backyard, washing, ironing, and
rewashing day after day the few adornments of their shabby finery, in
endless preparations for a visitor who never came.

And now, to his store of treasured trivia was added the memory of this
man's face--thick, white, expressionless, set in its stolid and sorrowful
stare. Immutable, calm, impassive, it became for him the symbol of a kind
of permanence in the rush and sweep of chaos in the city, where all
things come and go and pass and are so soon forgotten. For, day after
day, as he watched the man and tried to penetrate his mystery, at last it
seemed to him that he had found the answer.

And after that, in later years, whenever he remembered the man's face,
the time was fixed at the end of a day in late summer. Without-violence
or heat, the last rays of the sun fell on the warm brick of the building
and painted it with a sad, unearthly light. In the window the man sat,
always looking out. He never wavered in his gaze, his eyes were calm and
sorrowful, and on his face was legible the exile of an imprisoned spirit.

That man's face became for him the face of. Darkness and of Time. It
never spoke, and yet it had a voice--a voice that seemed to have the
whole earth in it. It was the voice of evening and of night, and in it
were the blended tongues of all those men who have passed through the
heat and fury of the day, and who now lean quietly upon the sills of
evening. In it was the whole vast hush and weariness that comes upon the
city at the hour of dusk, when the chaos of another day is ended, and
when everything--streets, buildings, and eight million people--breathe
slowly, with a tired and sorrowful joy. And in that single tongueless
voice was the knowledge of all their tongues.

"Child, child," it said, "have patience and belief, for life is many
days, and each present hour will pass away. Son, son, you have been mad
and drunken, furious and wild, filled with hatred and despair, and all
the dark confusions of the soul--but so have we. You found the earth too
great for your one life, you found your brain and sinew smaller than the
hunger and desire that fed on them--but it has been this way with all
men. You have stumbled on in darkness, you have been pulled in opposite
directions, you have faltered, you have missed the way--but, child, this
is the chronicle of the earth. And now, because you have known madness
and despair, and because you will grow desperate again before you come to
evening, we who have stormed the ramparts of the furious earth and been
hurled back, we who have been maddened by the unknowable and bitter
mystery of love, we who have hungered after fame and savoured all of
life, the tumult, pain, and frenzy, and now sit quietly by our windows
watching all that henceforth never more shall touch us--we call upon you
to take heart, for we can swear to you that these things pass.

"We have outlived the shift and glitter of so many fashions, we have seen
so many things that come and go, so many words forgotten, so many flames
that flared and were destroyed; yet we know now we are strangers whose
footfalls have not left a print upon the endless streets of life. We
shall not go into the dark again, nor suffer madness, nor admit despair:
we have built a wall about us now. We shall not hear the docks of time
strike out on foreign air, nor wake at morning in some alien land to
think of home: our wandering is over, and our hunger fed. 0 brother, son,
and comrade, because we have lived so long and seen so much, we are
content to make our own a few things now, letting millions pass.

"Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean
down your ear upon the earth, and listen.

"The voice of forest water in the night, a woman's laughter in the dark,
the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday
in hot meadows, the delicate web of children's voices in bright
air--these things will never change.

"The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the
innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbours, the feathery blur
and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and
goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and
tongueless cry--these things will always be the same.

"All things belonging to the earth will never change--the leaf, the
blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the
trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of
lovers long since buried in the earth--all things proceeding from the
earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon
the earth--these things will always be the same, for they come up from
the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts for
ever. Only the earth endures, but it endures for ever.

"The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and
death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a
pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time,
under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will
be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth
again, for ever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April."



5. The Hidden Terror


Hand looked at the yellow envelope curiously and turned it over and over
in his hand. It gave him a feeling of uneasiness and suppressed
excitement to see his name through the transparent front. He was not used
to receiving telegrams. Instinctively he delayed opening it because he
dreaded what it might contain. Some forgotten incident in his childhood
made him associate telegrams with bad news. Who could have sent it? And
what could it be about? Well, open it, you fool, and find out!

He ripped off the flap and took out the message. He read it quickly,
first glancing at the signature. It was from his Uncle Mark Joyner:

"YOUR AUNT MAW DIED LAST NIGHT STOP FUNERAL THURSDAY IN LIBYA HILL STOP
COME HOME IF YOU CAN."

That was all. No explanation of what she had died of. Old age, most
likely. Nothing else could have killed her. She hadn't been sick or' they
would have let him know before this.

The news shook him profoundly. But it was not grief he felt so much as a
deep sense of loss, almost impersonal in its quality--a sense of loss and
unbelief such as one might feel to discover suddenly that some great
force 'in nature had ceased to operate. He couldn't take it in. Ever
since his mother had died when he was only eight years old, Aunt Maw had
been the most solid and permanent fixture in his boy's universe. She was
a spinster, the older sister of his mother and of his Uncle Mark, and she
had taken charge of him and brought him up with all the inflexible zeal
of her puritanical nature. She had done her best to make a Joyner of him
and a credit to the narrow, provincial, mountain clan to which she
belonged.-In this she had failed, and his defection from the ways of
Joyner righteousness had caused her deep pain. He had known this for a
long time; but now he realised, too, more clearly than he had, ever done
before, that she had never faltered in her duty to him as she saw it. As
he thought about her life the felt an inexpressible pity for her, and a
surge of tenderness and affection almost choked him.

As far back as he could remember, Aunt Maw had seemed to him an ageless
crone, as old as God. He could still hear her voice--that croaking
monotone which had gone on and on in endless stories of her past,
peopling his childhood world with the whole host of Joyners dead and
buried in the hills of Zebulon in ancient days before the Civil War. And
almost every tale she had told him was a chronicle of sickness, death,
and sorrow. She had known about all the Joyners for the last hundred
years, and whether they had died of consumption, typhoid fever,
pneumonia, meningitis, or pellagra, and she had relived each incident in
their lives with an air of croaking relish. From her he had got a picture
of his mountain kinsmen that was constantly dark with the terrors of
misery and sudden death, a picture made ghostly at frequent intervals by
supernatural revelations. The Joyners, so she thought, had been endowed
with occult powers by the Almighty, and weft for ever popping up on
country roads and speaking to people as they passed, only to have it turn
out later that they had been fifty miles away at the time. They were for
ever hearing voices and receiving premonitions. If a neighbour died
suddenly, the Joyners would flock from miles around 'to sit up with the
corpse, and in the flickering light of pine logs on the hearth they would
talk unceasingly through the night, their droning voices punctuated by
the crumbling of the ash as they told how they had received intimations
of the impending death a week before it happened.

This was the image of the Joyner world which Aunt Maw's tireless memories
had built up in the mind and spirit of the boy. And he had felt somehow
that although other men would live their day and die, the Joyners were a
race apart, not subject to this law. They fed on death and were
triumphant over it, and the Joyners would go on for ever. But now Aunt
Maw the oldest and most death-triumphant Joyner of them all, was dead...

The funeral was to be on Thursday. This was Tuesday. If he took the train
to-day, he would arrive to-morrow. He knew that all the Joyners from the
hills of Zebulon County in Old Catawba would be gathering even now to
hold their tribal rites of death and sorrow, and if he got there so soon
he would not be able to escape the horror of their brooding talk. It
would be better to wait a day and turn up just before the funeral.

It was now early September. The new term at the School for Utility
Cultures would not begin until after the middle of the month, George had
not been back to Libya Hill in several years, and he thought he might
remain a week or so to see the town again. But he dreaded the prospect of
staying with his Joyner relatives, especially at a time like this. Then
he remembered Randy Shepperton, who lived next door. Mr. and Mrs.
Shepperton were both dead now, and the older girl had married and moved
away. Randy had a good job in the town and lived on in the family place
with his sister Margaret, who kept house for him. Perhaps they could put
him up. They would understand his feelings. So he sent a telegram to
Randy, asking for his hospitality, and telling what train he would arrive
on.

By the next afternoon, when George went to Pennsylvania Station to catch
his train, he had recovered from the first shock of Aunt Maw's death. The
human mind is a fearful instrument of adaptation, and in nothing is this
more clearly shown than in its mysterious powers of resilience,
self-protection, and self-healing. Unless an event completely shatters
the order of one's life, the mind, if it has youth and health and time
enough, accepts the inevitable and gets itself ready for the next
happening like a grimly dutiful American tourist who, on arriving at a
new town, looks around him, takes his bearings, and says, "Well, where do
I go from here?" So it was with George. The prospect of the funeral
filled him with dread, but that was still a day off; meanwhile he had a
long train ride ahead of him, and he pushed his sombre feelings into the
background and allowed himself to savour freely the eager excitement
which any journey by train always gave him.

The station, as he entered it, was murmurous with the immense and distant
sound of time. Great; slant beams of mottled light fell ponderously
athwart the station's floor, and the calm voice of time hovered along the
walls and ceiling of that mighty room, distilled out of the voices and
movements of the people who swarmed beneath. It had the murmur of a
distant sea, the languorous lapse and flow of waters on a beach. It was
elemental, detached, indifferent to the lives of men. They contributed to
it as drops of rain contribute to a river that draws its flood and
movement majestically from great depths, out of purple hills at evening.

Few buildings are vast enough to hold the sound of time, and now it
seemed to George that there was a superb fitness in the fact that the one
which held it better than all others should be a railway station. For
here, as nowhere else on earth, men were brought together for a moment at
the beginning or end of their innumerable journeys, here one saw their
greetings and farewells, here, in a single instant, one got the entire
picture of the human destiny. Men came and went, they passed and
vanished, and all were moving through the moments of their lives to
death, all made small tickings in the sound of time--but the voice of
time remained aloof and unperturbed, a drowsy and eternal murmur below
the immense and distant roof.

Each man and woman was full of his own journey. He had one way' to go,
one end to reach, through all the shifting complexities of the crowd. For
each it was his journey, and he cared nothing about the journeys of the
others. Here, as George waited, was a traveller who was afraid that he
would miss his train. He was excited, his movements were feverish and
abrupt, he shouted to his porter, he went to the window to buy his
ticket, he had to wait in line, he fairly pranced with nervousness and
kept looking at the clock. Then his wife came quickly towards him over
the polished floor. When she was still some distance off, she shouted:

"Have you got the tickets? We haven't much time! We'll miss the train!"

"Don't I know it?" he shouted back in an annoyed tone. "I'm doing the
best I can!"' Then he added bitterly and loudly: "We may make it if this
man in front of me ever gets done buying his ticket!"

The man in front turned on him menacingly. "Now wait a minute,
_wait_ a minute!" he said. "You're not the only one who has to make
a train, you know! I was here before you were! You'll have to wait your
tarn like everybody else!"

A quarrel now developed between them. The other travellers who were
waiting for their tickets grew angry and began to mutter. The ticket
agent drummed impatiently on his window and peered out at them with a
sour visage. Finally some young tough down the line called out in tones
of whining irritation:

"Aw, take it outside f' Chris' sake! Give the rest of us a chance! You
guys are holdin' up the line!"

At last the man got his tickets and rushed towards his porter, hot and
excited. The negro waited suave and smiling, full of easy reassurance:

"You folks don't need to hurry now. You got lotsa time to make that
train. It ain't goin' away without you."

Who were these travellers for whom time lay coiled in delicate twists of
blue steel wire in each man's pocket? Here were a few of them: a homesick
nigger going back to Georgia; a rich young man from an estate on the
Hudson who was going to visit his mother in Washington; a district
superintendent, and three of his agents, of a farm machinery company, who
had been attending a convention of district leaders in the city; the
president of a bank in an Old Catawba town which was tottering on the
edge of ruin, who had come desperately, accompanied by two local
politicians, to petition New York bankers for a loan; a Greek with tan
shoes, a cardboard valise; a swarthy face, and eyes glittering with
mistrust, who had peered in through the ticket seller's window, saying:
"How mucha you want to go to Pittsburgh, eh?"; an effeminate young man
from one of the city universities who was going to make his weekly
lecture on the arts of the theatre to a dub of ladies in Trenton, New
Jersey; a lady poetess from a town in Indiana who had been to New York
for her yearly spree of "bohemianism"; a prize-fighter and his manager on
their way to a fight in St. Louis; some Princeton boys just back from a
summer in Europe, on their way home for a short visit before returning to
college; a private soldier in the United States army, with the cheap,
tough, and slovenly appearance of a private soldier in the United States
army; the president of a state university in the Middle West who had just
made an eloquent appeal for funds to the New York alumni; a young married
couple from Mississippi, with everything new--new clothes, new
baggage--and a shy, hostile, and bewildered look; two little Filipinos,
brown as berries and with the delicate bones of birds, dressed with the
foppish perfection of manikins; women from the suburban towns of New
Jersey who had come to the city to shop; women and girls from small towns
in the South and West, who had come for holidays, sprees, or visits; the
managers and agents of clothing stores in little towns all over the
country who had come to the city to buy new styles and fashions; New
Yorkers of a certain class, flashily dressed, sensual, and with a high,
hard finish, knowing and assured, on their way to vacations in Atlantic
City; jaded, faded, bedraggled women, scolding and jerking viciously at
the puny arms of dirty children; swarthy, scowling, and dominant-looking
Italian men with their dark, greasy, and flabby-looking women, sullen but
submissive both to lust and beatings; and smartly-dressed American women,
obedient to neither bed nor whip, who had assertive, harsh voices, bold
glances, and the good figures but not the living curves, either of body
or of spirit, of love, lust, tenderness, or any female fullness of the
earth whatever.

There were all sorts and conditions of men and travellers: poor people
with the hard, sterile faces of all New Jerseys of the flesh and spirit;
shabby and beaten-looking devils with cheap suitcases containing a tie, a
collar, and a shirt, who had a look of having dropped for ever off of
passing trains into the dirty cinders of new towns and the hope of some
new fortune; the shabby floaters and drifters of the nation; suave,
wealthy, and experienced people who had been too far, too often, on too
many costly trains and ships, and who never looked out of windows any
more; old men and women from the country on first visits to their
children in the city, who looked about them constantly and suspiciously
with the quick eyes of birds and animals, alert, mistrustful, and afraid.
There were people who saw everything, and people who saw nothing; people
who were weary, sullen, sour, and people who laughed, shouted, and were
exultant with the thrill of the voyage; people who thrust and jostled,
and people who stood quietly and watched and waited; people with amused,
superior looks, and people who glared and bristled pugnaciously. Young,
old, rich, poor, Jews, Gentiles, Negroes, Italians, Greeks,
Americans--they were all there in the station, their infinitely varied
destinies suddenly harmonised and given a moment of intense and sombre
meaning as they were gathered into the murmurous, all-taking unity of
time.

George had a berth in car K19. It was not really different in any respect
from any other pullman car, yet for George it had a very special quality
and meaning. For every day K19 bound together two points upon the
continent--the great city and the small town of Libya Hill where he had
been born, eight hundred miles away. It left New York at one-thirty-five
each afternoon, and it arrived in Libya Hill at eleven-twenty the next
morning.

The moment he entered the pullman he was transported instantly from the
vast allness of general humanity in the station into the familiar
geography of his home town. One might have been away for years and never
have seen 'an old familiar face; one might have wandered to the far ends
of the earth; one might have got with child a mandrake root, or heard
mermaids singing, or known the words and music of what songs the Sirens
sang; one might have lived and worked alone for ages in the canyons of
Manhattan until the very memory of home was lost and far as in a dream:
yet the moment that he entered K19 it all came back again, his feet
touched earth, and he was home.

It was uncanny. And what was most wonderful and mysterious about it was
that one could come here to this appointed meeting each day at
thirty-five minutes after one o'clock, one could come here through the
humming traffic of the city to the gigantic portals of the mighty
station, one could walk through the concourse for ever swarming with its
bustle of arrival and departure, one could traverse the great expanses of
the station, peopled with Everybody and haunted by the voice of time--and
then, down those steep stairs, there in the tunnel's depth, underneath
this hive-like universe of life, waiting in its proper place, no whit
different outwardly from all its other grimy brethren, was K19.

The beaming porter took his bag with a cheerful greeting: "Yes, suh,
Mistah Webbah! Glad to see you, suh! Comin' down to see de folks?"

And as they made their way down the green aisle to his seat, George told
him that he was going home to his aunt's funeral. Instantly the negro's
smile was blotted out, and his face took on an expression of deep
solemnity and respect.

"I'se sorry to hear dat, Mistah Webbah," he said, shaking his head. "Yes,
suh, I'se pow'ful sorry to hear you say dat."

Even before these words, were out of mind, another voice from the seat
behind was raised in greeting, and George did not have to turn to know
who it was. It was Sol Isaacs, of The Toggery, and George knew that he
had been up to the city on a buying trip, a pilgrimage that he made four
times a year. Somehow the knowledge of this commercial punctuality warmed
the young man's heart, as did the friendly beak-nosed face, the gaudy
shirt, the bright neck-tie, and the dapper smartness of the light grey
suit--for Sol was what is known as "a snappy dresser".

George looked around him now to see if there were any others that he
knew. Yes, there was the tall, spare, brittle, sandy-complexioned figure
of the banker, Jarvis Riggs, and on the seat opposite, engaged in
conversation with him, were two other local dignitaries. He recognized
the round-featured, weak amiability of the Mayor, Baxter Kennedy; and,
sprawled beside him, his long, heavy shanks thrust out into the aisle,
the bald crown of his head with its tonsured fringe of black hair thrown
back against the top of the seat, his loose-jowled face hanging heavy as
he talked, was the large, well-oiled beefiness of Pa on Flack, who
manipulated the politics of Libya Hill and was called "Parson" because he
never missed a prayer-meeting at the Campbellite Church. They were
talking earnestly and loudly, and George could overhear fragments of
their conversation:

"Market Street--oh, give me Market Street any day!"

"Gay Rudd is asking two thousand a front foot for his. He'll get it, too.
I wouldn't take a cent less than twenty-five, and I'm not selling
anyway."

"You mark my word, she'll go to three before another year is out! And
that's not Al! That's only the beginning!"

Could this be Libya Hill that they were talking about? It didn't sound at
all like the sleepy little mountain town he had known all his life. He
rose from his seat and went over to the group.

"Why, hello, Webber! Hello, son!" Parson Flack screwed up his face into
something that was meant for an ingratiating smile and showed his big
yellow teeth. "Glad to see you. How are you, son?"

George shook hands all round and stood beside them a moment.

"We heard you speaking to the porter when you came in," said the Mayor,
with a look of solemn commiseration on his weak face. "Sorry, son. We
didn't know about it. We've been away a week. Happen suddenly?...Yes,
yes, of course. Well, your aunt was pretty old. Got to expect that sort
of thing at her time of life. She was a good woman, a good woman. Sorry,
son, that such a sad occasion brings you home."

There was a short silence after this, as if the others wished it
understood that the Mayor had voiced their sentiments, too. Then, this
mark of respect to the dead being accomplished, Jarvis Riggs spoke up
heartily:

"You ought to stay around a while, Webber. You wouldn't know the town.
Things are booming down our way. Why, only the other day Mack Judson paid
three hundred thousand for the Draper Block. The building is a dump, of
course--what he paid for was the land. That's five thousand a foot.
Pretty good for Libya Hill, eh? The Reeves estate has bought up all the
land on Parker Street below Parker Hill. They're going to build the whole
thing up with business property. That's the way it is all over town.
Within a few years Libya Hill is going to be the largest and most
beautiful city in the state. You mark my words."

"Yes," agreed Parson Flack, nodding his head ponderously, knowingly, "and
I hear they've been trying to buy your uncle's property on South Main
Street, there at the corner of the Square. A syndicate wants to tear down
the hardware store and put up a big hotel. Your uncle wouldn't sell. He's
smart."

George returned to his seat feeling confused and bewildered. He was going
back home for the first time in several years, and he wanted to see the
town as he remembered it. Evidently he would find it considerably
changed. But what was this that was happening to it? He couldn't make it
out. It disturbed him vaguely, as one is always disturbed and shaken by
the sudden realisation of Time's changes in something that one has known
all one's life.

The train had hurtled like a projectile through its tube beneath the
Hudson River to emerge in the dazzling sunlight of a September afternoon,
and now it was racing across the flat desolation of the Jersey meadows.
George sat by the window and saw the smouldering dumps, the bogs, the
blackened factories slide past, and felt that one of the most wonderful
things in the world is the experience of being on a train. It is so
different from watching a train go by. To anyone outside, a speeding
train is a thunderbolt of driving rods, a hot hiss of steam, a blurred
flash of coaches, a wall of movement and of noise, a shriek, a wail, and
then just emptiness and absence, with a feeling of "There goes
everybody!" without knowing who anybody is. And all of a sudden the
watcher feels the vastness and loneliness of America, and the nothingness
of all those little lives burled past upon the immensity of the
continent. But if one is _inside_ the train, everything is
different. The train itself is a miracle of man's handiwork, and
everything about it is eloquent of human purpose and direction. One feels
the brakes go on when the train is coming to a river, and one knows that
the old gloved hand of cunning is at the throttle. One's own sense of
manhood and of mastery is heightened by being on a train. And all the
other people, how real they are! One sees the fat black porter with his
ivory teeth and the great swollen gland on the back of his neck, and one
warms with friendship for him. One looks at all the pretty girls with a
sharpened eye and an awakened pulse. One observes all the other
passengers with lively interest, and feels that he has known them for
ever. In the morning most of them will be gone out of his life; some will
drop out silently at night through the dark, drugged snoring of the
sleepers; but now all are caught upon the wing and held for a moment in
the peculiar intimacy of this pullman-car which has become their common
home for a night.

Two travelling salesmen have struck up a chance acquaintance in the
smoking-room, entering immediately the vast confraternity of their trade,
and in a moment they are laying out the continent as familiarly as if it
were their own backyard. They tell about running into So-and-So in St.
Paul last July, and----

"Who do you suppose I met coming out of Brown's Hotel in Denver just a
week ago?"

"You don't mean it! I haven't seen old Joe in years!"

"And Jim Withers--they've transferred him to the Atlanta office!"

"Going to New Orleans?"

"No, I'll make it this trip. I was there in May."

With such talk as this one grows instantly familiar. One enters naturally
into the lives of all these people, caught here for just a night and
hurtled down together across the continent at sixty miles an hour, and
one becomes a member of the whole huge family of the earth.

Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America--that we
are fixed and certain only when we are in movement. At any rate, that is
how it seemed to young George Webber, who was never so assured of his
purpose as when he was going somewhere on a train. And he never had the
sense of home so much as when he felt that he was going there. It was
only when he got there that his homelessness began.

At the far end of the car a man stood up and started back down the aisle
towards the washroom. He walked with a slight limp and leaned upon a
cane, and with his free hand he held on to the backs of the seats to
brace himself against the lurching of the train. As he came abreast of
George, who sat there gazing out the window, the man stopped abruptly. A
strong, good-natured voice, warm, easy, bantering, unafraid,
unchanged--exactly as it was when it was fourteen years of age--broke
like a flood of living light upon his consciousness:

"Well I'll be dogged! Hi, there, Monkus! Where you goin'?"

At the sound of the old jesting nickname George looked up quickly. It was
Nebraska Crane. The square, freckled, sunburned visage had the same
humorous friendliness it had always had, and the tar-black Cherokee eyes
looked out with the same straight, deadly fearlessness. The big brown paw
came out and they clasped each other firmly. And, instantly, it was like
coming home to a strong and friendly place. In another moment they were
seated together, talking with the familiarity of people whom no gulf of
years and distance could alter or separate.

George had seen Nebraska Crane only once in all the years since he
himself had first left Libya Hill and gone away to college. But he had
not lost sight of him. Nobody had lost sight of Nebraska Crane. That
wiry, fearless little figure of the Cherokee boy who used to comedown the
hill on Locust Street with the bat slung over his shoulder and the
well-oiled fielder's mitt protruding from his hip-pocket had been
prophetic of a greater destiny, for Nebraska had become a professional
baseball player, he had crashed into the big leagues, and his name had
been emblazoned in the papers every day.

The newspapers had had a lot to do with his seeing Nebraska that other
time. It was in August 1925, just after George had returned to New York
from his first trip abroad. That very night, in fact, a little before
midnight, as he was seated in a Childs Restaurant with smoking
wheatcakes, coffee, and an ink-fresh copy of next morning's
_Herald-Tribune_ before him, the headline jumped out at him: "Crane
Slams Another Homer". He read the account of the game eagerly, and felt a
strong desire to see Nebraska again and to get back in his blood once
more the honest tang of America. Acting on a sudden impulse, he decided
to call him up. Sure enough, his name was in the book, with an address
way up in the Bronx. He gave the number and waited. A man's voice
answered the phone, but at first he didn't recognise it.

"Hello!...Hello!...Is Mr. Crane there?...Is that you, Bras?"

"Hello." Nebraska's voice was hesitant, slow, a little hostile, touched
with the caution and suspicion of mountain people when speaking to a
stranger. "Who is that?...Who?...Is that _you_, Monk?"--suddenly and
quickly, as he recognised who it was. "Well I'll be dogged!" he cried.
His tone was delighted, astounded, warm with friendly greeting now, and
had the somewhat high and faintly howling quality that mountain people's
voices often have when they are talking to someone over the telephone:
the tone was full, sonorous, countrified, and a little puzzled, as if he
were yelling to someone on an adjoining mountain peak on a gusty day in
autumn when the wind was thrashing through the trees. "Where'd you come
from? How the hell are you, boy?" he yelled before George could answer.
"Where you been all this time, anyway?"

"I've been in Europe. I just got back this morning."

"Well I'll be dogged!"--still astounded, delighted, full of howling
friendliness. "When am I gonna see you? How about comin' to the game
to-morrow? I'll fix you up. And say," he went on rapidly, "if you can
stick aroun' after the game, I'll take you home to meet the wife and kid.
How about it?"

So it was agreed. George went to the game and saw Nebraska knock another
home run, but he remembered best what happened afterwards. When the
player had had his shower and had dressed, the two friends left the ball
park, and as they went out a crowd of young boys who had been waiting at
the gate rushed upon them. They were those dark-faced, dark-eyed,
dark-haired little urchins who spring up like dragon seed from the grim
pavements of New York, but in whose tough little faces and raucous voices
there still remains, curiously, the innocence and faith of children
everywhere.

"It's Bras!" the children cried. "Hi, Bras! Hey, Bras!" In a moment they
were pressing round him in a swarming horde, deafening the ears with
their shrill cries, begging, shouting, tugging at his sleeves, doing
everything they could to attract his attention, holding dirty little
scraps of paper towards him, stubs of pencils, battered little
note-books, asking him to sign his autograph.

He behaved with the spontaneous warmth and kindliness of his character.
He scrawled his name out rapidly on a dozen grimy bits of paper,
skilfully working his way along through the yelling, pushing, jumping
group, and all the time keeping up a rapid fire of banter, badinage, and
good-natured reproof:

"All right--give it here, then!...Why don't you fellahs pick on somebody
else once in a while?...Say, boy!" he said suddenly, turning to look down
at one unfortunate child, and pointing an accusing finger at him--"What
you doin' aroun' here again, to-day? I signed my name fer you at least a
dozen times!"

"No sir, Misteh Crane!" the urchin earnestly replied. "Honest--not me!"

"Ain't that right?" Nebraska said, appealing to the other children.
"Don't this boy keep comin' back here every day?"

They grinned, delighted at the chagrin of their fellow petitioner. "Dat's
right, Misteh Crane! Dat guy's got a whole book wit' nuttin' but yoeh
name in it!"

"Ah-h!" the victim cried, and turned upon his betrayers bitterly. "What
youse guys tryin' to do--get wise or somep'n? Honest, Misteh Crane!"--he
looked up earnestly again at Nebraska--"Don't believe 'em! I jest want
yoeh ottygraph! Please, Misteh Crane, it'll only take a minute!"

For a moment more Nebraska stood looking down at the child with an
expression of mock sternness; at last he took the outstretched note-book,
rapidly scratched his name across a page, and handed it back. And as he
did so, he put his big paw on the urchin's head and gave it a clumsy pat;
then, gently and playfully, he shoved it from him, and walked off down
the street.

The apartment where Nebraska lived was like a hundred thousand others in
the Bronx. The ugly yellow brick building had a false front, with
meaningless little turrets at the corners of the roof, and a general air
of spurious luxury about it. The rooms were rather small and cramped, and
were made even more so by the heavy, over-stuffed Grand Rapids furniture.
The walls of the living-room, painted a mottled, rusty cream, were bare
except for a couple of sentimental coloured prints, while the place of
honour over the mantel was reserved for an enlarged and garishly tinted
photograph of Nebraska's little son at the age of two, looking straight
and solemnly out at all comers from a gilded oval frame.

Myrtle, Nebraska's wife, was small and plump, and pretty in a doll-like
way. Her corn-silk hair was frizzled in a halo about her face, and her
chubby features were heavily accented by rouge and lipstick. But she was
simple and natural in her talk and bearing, and George liked her at once.
She welcomed him with a warm and friendly smile and said she had heard a
lot about him.

They all sat down. The child, who was three or four years old by this
time, and who had been shy, holding on to his mother's dress and peeping
out from behind her, now ran across the room to his father and began
climbing all over him. Nebraska and Myrtle asked George a lot of
questions about himself, what he had been doing, where he had been, and
especially what countries he had visited in Europe. They seemed to think
of Europe as a place so far away that anyone who had actually been there
was touched with an unbelievable aura of strangeness and romance.

"Whereall did you go over there, anyway?" asked Nebraska.

"Oh, everywhere, Bras," George said--"France, England, Holland, Germany,
Denmark, Sweden, Italy--all over the place."

"Well I'll be dogged!"--in frank astonishment. "You sure do git aroun',
don't you?"

"Not the way _you_ do, Bras. You're travelling most of the time."

"_Who--me?_ Oh, hell, I don't git anywhere--just the same ole
places. Chicago, St. Looie, Philly--I seen 'em all so often I could find
my way blindfolded!" He waved them aside with a gesture of his hand.
Then, suddenly, he looked at George as though he were just seeing him for
the first time, and he reached over and slapped him on the knee and
exclaimed: "Well I'll be dogged! Hot+ you doin', anyway, Monkus?"

"Oh, can't complain. How about you? But I don't need to ask that. I've
been reading all about you in the papers."

"Yes, Monkus," he said. "I been havin' a good year. But, boy!"--he shook
his head suddenly and grinned--"Do the ole dogs feel it!" He was silent a
moment, then he went on quietly:

"I been up here since 1919--that's seven years, and it's a long time in
this game. Not many of 'em stay much longer. When you been shaggin' flies
as long as that you may lose count, but you don't need to count--your
legs'll tell you."

"But, good Lord, Bras, _you're_ all right! Why, the way you got
around out there to-day you looked like a colt!"

"Yeah," Nebraska said, "maybe I _looked_ like a colt, but I felt
like a plough horse." He fell silent again, then he tapped his friend
gently on the knee with his brown hand and said abruptly: "No, Monkus.
When you been in this business as long as I have, you know it."

"Oh, come on, Bras, quit your kidding!" said George, remembering that the
player was only two years older than himself. "You're still a young man.
Why, you're only twenty-seven!"

"Sure, sure," Nebraska answered quietly. "But it's like I say. You cain't
stay in this business much longer than I have. Of course, Cobb an'
Speaker an' a few like that--they was up here a long time. But eight
years is about the average, an' I been here seven already. So if I can
hang on a few years more, I won't have no kick to make...Hell!" he said
in a moment, with the old hearty ring in his voice, "I ain't got no kick
to make, no-way. If I got my release to-morrow, I'd still feel I done all
right...Ain't that so, Buzz?" he cried genially to the child, who had
settled down on his knee, at the same time seizing the boy and cradling
him comfortably in his strong arm. "Ole Bras has done all right, ain't
he?"

"That's the way me an' Bras feel about it," remarked Myrtle, who during
this conversation had been rocking back and forth, placidly ruminating on
a wad of gum. "Along there last year it looked once or twice as if Bras
might git traded. He said to me one day before the game, 'Well, ole lady,
if I don't git some hits to-day somethin' tells me you an' me is goin' to
take a trip.' So I says, 'Trip where?' An' he says, 'I don't know, but
they're goin' to sell me down the river if I don't git goin', an'
somethin' tells me it's now or never!' So I just looks at him," continued
Myrtle placidly, "an' I says, 'Well, what do you want me to do? Do you
want me to come to-day or not?' You know, gener'ly, Bras won't let me
come when he ain't hittin'--he says it's bad luck. But he just looks at
me a minute, an' I can see him sort of studyin' it over, an' all of a
sudden he makes up his mind an' says, 'Yes, come on if you want to; I
couldn't have no more bad luck than I been havin', no-way, an' maybe it's
come time fer things to change, so you come on.' Well, I went--an' I
don't know whether I brought him luck or not, but somethin' did," said
Myrtle, rocking in her chair complacently.

"Dogged if she didn't!" Nebraska chuckled. "I got three hits out of four
times up that day, an' two of 'em was home runs!"

"Yeah," Myrtle agreed, "an' that Philadelphia fast-ball thrower was
throwin' 'em, too."

"He sure was!" said Nebraska.

"I know," went on Myrtle, chewing placidly, "because I heard some of the
boys say later that it was like he was throwin' 'em up there from out of
the bleachers, with all them men in shirt-sleeves right behind him, an'
the boys said half the time they couldn't even see the ball. But Bras
must of saw it--or been lucky--because he hit two home runs off of him,
an' that pitcher didn't like it, either. The second one Bras got, he went
stompin' an' tearin' around out there like a wild bull. He sure did look
mad," said Myrtle in her customary placid tone.

"Maddest man I ever seen!" Nebraska cried delightedly. "I thought he was
goin' to dig a hole plumb through to China...But that's the way it was.
She's right about it. That was the day I got goin'. I know one of the
boys said to me later, 'Bras,' he says, 'we all thought you was goin' to
take a ride, but you sure dug in, didn't you?' That's the way it is in
this game. I seen Babe Ruth go fer weeks when he couldn't hit a balloon,
an' all of a sudden he lams into it. Seems like he just cain't miss from
then on."

All this had happened four years ago. Now the two friends had met again,
and were seated side by side in the speeding train, talking and catching
up on one another. When George explained the reason for his going home,
Nebraska turned to him with open-mouthed astonishment, genuine concern
written in the frown upon his brown and homely face.

"Well, what d'you know about that!" he said. "I sure am sorry, Monk." He
was silent while he thought about it, and embarrassed, not knowing what
to say. Then, after a moment: "Gee!"--he shook his head--"your aunt was
one swell cook! I never will fergit it! Remember how she used to feed us
kids--every danged one of us in the whole neighbourhood?" He paused, then
grinned up shyly at his friend: "I sure wish I had a fistful of them good
ole cookies of hers right this minute!"

Nebraska's right ankle was taped and bandaged; a heavy cane rested
between his knees. George asked him what had happened.

"I pulled a tendon," Nebraska said, "an' got laid off. So I thought I
might as well run down an' see the folks. Myrtle, she couldn't come--the
kid's got to git ready fer school."

"How are they?" George asked.

"Oh, fine, fine. All wool an' a yard wide, both of 'em!" He was silent
for a moment, then he looked at his friend with a tolerant Cherokee grin
and said: "But I'm crackin' up, Monkus. Guess I cain't stan' the gaff
much more."

Nebraska was only thirty-one now, and George was incredulous. Nebraska
smiled good-naturedly again:

"That's an ole man in baseball, Monk. I went up when I was twenty-one. I
been aroun' a long time."

The quiet resignation of the player touched his friend with sadness. It
was hard and painful for him to face the fact that this strong and
fearless creature, who had stood in his life always for courage and for
victory, should now be speaking with such ready acceptance of defeat.

"But, Bras," he protested, "you've been hitting just as well this season
as you ever did! I've read about you in the papers, and the reporters
have all said the same thing."

"Oh, I can still hit 'em," Nebraska quietly agreed. "It ain't the hittin'
that bothers me. That's the last thing you lose, anyway. Leastways, it's
goin' to be that way with me, an' I talked to other fellahs who said it
was that way with them." After a pause he went on in a low tone: "If this
ole leg heals up in time, I'll go on back an' git in the game again an'
finish out the season. An' if I'm lucky, maybe they'll keep me on a
couple more years, because they know I can still hit. But, hell," he
added quietly, "they know I'm through. They already got me all tied up
with string."

As Nebraska talked, George saw that the Cherokee in him was the same now
as it had been when he was a boy. His cheerful fatalism had always been
the source of his great strength and courage. That was why he had never
been afraid of anything, not even death. But, seeing the look of regret
on George's face, Nebraska smiled again and went on lightly:

"That's the way it is, Monk. You're good up there as long as you're good.
After that they sell you down the river. Hell, I ain't kickin'. I been
lucky. I had ten years of it already, an' that's more than most. An' I
been in three World's Serious. If I can hold on fer another year or
two--if they don't let me go or trade me--I think maybe we'll be in
again. Me an' Myrtle has figgered it all out. I had to help her people
some, an' I bought a farm fer Mama an' the Ole Man--that's where they
always wanted to be. An' I got three hundred acres of my own in
Zebulon--all paid fer, too!--an' if I git a good price this year fer my
tobacco, I Stan' to clear two thousand dollars. So if I can git two years
more in the League an' one more good World's Serious, why"--he turned his
square face towards his friend and grinned his brown and freckled grin,
just as he used to as a boy--"we'll be all set."

"And--you mean you'll be satisfied?"

"Huh? Satisfied?" Nebraska turned to him with a puzzled look. "How do you
mean?"

"I mean after all you've seen and done, Bras--the big cities and the
crowds, and all the people shouting--and the newspapers, and the
headlines, and the World's Series--and--and--the first of March, and St.
Petersburg, and meeting all the fellows again, and spring training----"

Nebraska groaned.

"Why, what's the matter?"

"Spring trainin'."

"You mean you don't like it?"

"Like it! Them first three weeks is just plain hell. It ain't bad when
you're a kid. You don't put on much weight durin' the winter, an' when
you come down in the spring it only takes a few days to loosen up an' git
the kinks out. In two weeks' time you're loose as ashes. But wait till
you been aroun' as long as I have!" He laughed loudly and shook his head.
"Boy! The first time you go after a grounder you can hear your joints
creak. After a while you begin to limber up--you work into it an' git the
soreness out of your muscles. By the time the season starts, along in
April, you feel pretty good. By May you're goin' like a house a-fire, an'
you tell yourself you're good as you ever was. You're still goin' strong
along in June. An' then you hit July, an' you git them double-headers in
St. Looie! Boy, oh boy!" Again he shook his head and laughed, baring big
square teeth. "Monkus," he said quietly, turning to his companion, and
now his face was serious and he had his black Indian look--"you ever been
in St. Looie in July?"

"No."

"All right, then," he said very softly and scornfully. "An' you ain't
played _ball_ there in July. You come up to bat with sweat bustin'
from your ears. You step up an' look out there to where the pitcher ought
to be, an' you see four of him. The crowd in the bleachers is out there
roastin' in their shirt-sleeves, an' when the pitcher throws the ball it
just comes from nowheres--it comes right out of all them shirt-sleeves in
the bleachers. It's on top of you before you know it. Well, anyway, you
dig in an' git a toe-hold, take your cut, an' maybe you connect. You
straighten out a fast one. It's good fer two bases if you hustle. In the
old days you could've made it standin' up. But now--boy!" He shook his
head slowly. "You cain't tell me nothin' about that ball park in St.
Looie in July! They got it all growed out in grass in April, but after
July first"--he gave a short laugh--"hell!--it's paved with concrete! An'
when you git to first, them dogs is sayin', 'Boy, let's stay here!' But
you gotta keep on goin'--you know the manager is watchin' you--you're
gonna ketch hell if you don't take that extra base, it may mean the game.
An' the boys up in the press-box, they got their eyes glued on you,
too--they've begun to say old Crane is playin' on a dime--an' you're
thinkin' about next year an' maybe gittin' in another Serious--an' you
hope to God you don't git traded to St. Looie. So you take it on the lam,
you slide into second like the Twentieth Century comin' into the Chicago
yards--an' when you git up an' feel yourself all over to see if any of
your parts is missin', you gotta listen to one of that second baseman's
wisecracks: 'What's the hurry, Bras? Afraid you'll be late fer the
Veterans' Reunion?'"

"I begin to see what you mean, all right," said George.

"See what I mean? Why, say! One day this season I ast one of the boys
what month it was, an' when he told me it was just the middle of July, I
says to him: 'July, hell! If it ain't September I'll eat your hat!' 'Go
ahead, then,' he says, 'an' eat it, because it ain't September,
Bras--it's July.' 'Well,' I says, 'they must be havin' sixty days a month
this year--it's the longest damn July I ever felt!' An' lemme tell you, I
didn't miss it fer, either--I'll be dogged if I did! When you git old in
this business, it may be only July, but you think it's September." He was
silent for a moment. "But they'll keep you in there, gener'ly, as long as
you can hit. If you can smack that ole apple, they'll send you out there
if they've got to use glue to keep you from fallin' apart. So maybe I'll
git in another year or two if I'm lucky. So long's I can hit 'em, maybe
they'll keep sendin' me out there till all the other players has to grunt
every time ole Bras goes after a ground ball!" He laughed. "I ain't that
bad yet, but soon's I am, I'm through."

"You won't mind it, then, when you have to quit?"

He didn't answer at once. He sat there looking out the window at the
factory-blighted landscape of New Jersey. Then he laughed a little
wearily:

"Boy, this may be a ride on the train to you, but to me--say!--I covered
this stretch so often that I can tell you what telephone post we're
passin' without even lookin' out the window. Why, hell yes!"--he laughed
loudly now, in the old infectious way--"I used to have 'em numbered--now
I got 'em _named!_"

"And you think you can get used to spending all your time out on the farm
in Zebulon?"

"Git used to it?" In Nebraska's voice there was now the same note of
scornful protest that it had when he was a boy, and for a moment he
turned and looked at his friend with an expression of astonished disgust.
"Why, what are you talkin' about? That's the greatest life in the world!"

"And your father? How is he, Bras?"

The player grinned and shook his head: "Oh, the Ole Man's happy as a
possum. He's doin' what he wanted to do all his life."

"And is he well?"

"If he felt any better he'd have to go to bed. Strong as a bull," said
Nebraska proudly. "He could wrastle a bear right now an' bite his nose
off! Why, hell yes!" the player went on with an air of conviction--"he
could take any two men I know to-day an' throw 'em over his shoulder!"

"Bras, do you remember when you and I were kids and your father was on
the police force, how he used to wrestle all those professionals that
came to town? There were some good ones, too!"

"You're damn right there was!" said the player, nodding his head. "Tom
Anderson, who used to be South Atlantic champion, an' that fellah
Petersen--do you remember him?"

"Sure. They called him the Bone-Crushing Swede--he used to come there all
the time."

"Yeah, that's him. He used to wrastle all over the country--he was way up
there, one of the best in the business. The Ole Man wrastled him three
times, an' throwed him once, too!"

"And that big fellow they called the Strangler Turk----"

"Yeah, an' he was good, too! Only he wasn't no Turk--he only called
hisself one. The Ole Man told me he was some kind of Polack or Bohunk
from the steel mills out in Pennsylvania, an' that's how he got so
strong."

"And the Jersey Giant----"

"Yeah----"

"And Cyclone Finnegan----"

"Yeah----"

"And Bull Dakota--and Texas Jim Ryan--and the Masked Marvel? Do you
remember the Masked Marvel?"

"Yeah--only there was a whole lot of them--guys cruisin' all over the
country callin' theirselves the Masked Marvel. The Ole Man wrastled two
of 'em. Only the real Masked Marvel never came to town. The Ole Man told
me there was a real Masked Marvel, but he-was too damn good, I guess, to
come to Libya Hill."

"Do you remember the night, Bras, up at the old City Auditorium, when
your father was wrestling one of these Masked Marvels, and we were there
in the front row rooting for him, and he got a strangle hold on this
fellow with the mask, and the mask came off--and the fellow wasn't the
Masked Marvel at all, but only that Greek who used to work all night at
the Bijou Café for Ladies and Gents down by the depot?"

"Yeah--haw-haw!" Nebraska threw back his head and laughed loudly. "I'd
clean fergot that damn Greek, but that's who it was! The whole crowd
hollered frame-up an' tried to git their money back--I'll swear, Monk!
I'm glad to see you!" He put his big brown hand on his companion's knee.
"It don't seem no time, does it? It all comes back!"

"Yes, Bras"--for a moment George looked out at the flashing landscape
with a feeling of sadness and wonder in his heart--"it all comes back."

George sat by the window and watched the stifled land stroke past him. It
was unseasonably hot for September, there had been no rain for weeks, and
all afternoon the contours of the eastern seaboard faded away into the
weary hazes of the heat. The soil was parched and dusty, and under a
glazed and burning sky coarse yellow grasses and the withered stalks of
weeds simmered and flashed beside the tracks. The whole continent seemed
to be gasping for its breath. In the hot green depths of the train a
powder of fine cinders beat in through the meshes of the screens, and
during the pauses at stations the little fans at both ends of the car
hummed monotonously, with a sound that seemed to be the voice of the heat
itself. During these intervals when the train stood still, enormous
engines steamed slowly by on adjacent tracks, or stood panting, passive
as great cats, and their engineers wiped wads of blackened waste across
their grimy faces, while the passengers fanned feebly with sheaves of
languid paper or sat in soaked and sweltering dejection.

For a long time George sat alone beside his window. His eyes took in
every detail of the changing scene, but his thoughts were turned inward,
absorbed in recollections which his meeting with Nebraska Crane had
brought alive again. The great train pounded down across New Jersey,
across Pennsylvania, across the tip of Delaware, and into Maryland. The
unfolding panorama of the land was itself like a sequence on the scroll
of time. George felt lost and a little sick. His talk with his boyhood
friend had driven him back across the years. The changes in Nebraska and
his quiet acceptance of defeat had added an undertone of sadness to the
vague, uneasy sense of foreboding which he had got from his conversation
with the banker, the politician, and the Mayor.

At Baltimore, when the train slowed to a stop in the gloom beneath the
station, he caught a-momentary glimpse of a face on the platform as it
slid past his window. All that he could see was a blur of thin, white
features and a sunken mouth, but at the corners of the mouth he thought
he also caught the shadow of a smile--faint, evil, ghostly--and at sight
of it a sudden and unreasoning terror seized him. Could that be Judge
Rumford Bland?

As the train started up again and passed through the tunnel on the other
side of the city, a blind man appeared at the rear of the car. The other
people were talking, reading, or dozing, and the blind man came in so
quietly that none of them noticed him enter. He took the first seat at
the end and sat down. When the train emerged into the waning sunlight of
this September day, George looked round and saw him sitting there. He
just sat quietly, gripping a heavy walnut walking-stick with a frail
hand, the sightless eyes fixed in vacancy, the thin and sunken face
listening with that terrible intent stillness that only the blind know,
and around the mouth hovered that faint suggestion of a smile, which,
hardly perceptible though it was, had in it a kind of terrible vitality
and the mercurial attractiveness of a ruined angel. It was Judge Rumford
Bland!

George had not seen him in fifteen years. At that time he was not blind,
but already his eyes were beginning to fail. George remembered him as he
was then, and remembered, too, how the sight of the man, frequently to be
seen prowling the empty streets of the night when all other life was
sleeping and the town was dead, had struck a nameless terror into his
boy's heart. Even then, before blindness had come upon him, some
nocturnal urge had made him seek deserted pavements beneath the blank and
sterile corner lights, past windows that were always dark, past doors
that were for ever locked.

He came from an old and distinguished family, and, like all his male
ancestors for one hundred years or more, he had been trained in the
profession of the law. For a single term he had been a police-court
magistrate, and from then on was known as "Judge" Bland. But he had
fallen grievously from the high estate his family held. During the period
of George Webber's boyhood he still professed to be a lawyer. He had a
shabby office in a disreputable old building which he owned, and his name
was on the door as an attorney, but his living was earned by other and
more devious means. Indeed, his legal skill and knowledge had been used
more for the purpose of circumventing the law and defeating justice than
in maintaining them. Practically all his "business" was derived from the
negro population of the town, and of this business the principal item was
usury.

On the Square, in his ramshackle two-storey building of rusty brick, was
"the store". It was a second-hand furniture store, and it occupied the
ground floor and basement of the building. It was, of course, nothing but
a blind for his illegal transactions with the negroes. A hasty and
appalled inspection of the mountainous heap of ill-smelling junk which it
contained would have been enough to convince one that if the owner had to
depend on the sale of his stock he would have to close his doors within a
month. It was incredible. In the dirty window was a pool table, taken as
brutal tribute from some negro billiard parlour. But what a pool table!
Surely it had not a fellow in all the relics in the land. Its surface was
full of lumps and dents and ridges. Not a pocket remained without a hole
in the bottom big enough to drop a baseball through. The green
cloth-covering had worn through or become unfixed in a dozen places. The
edges of the table and the cloth itself were seared and burnt with the
marks of innumerable cigarettes. Yet this dilapidated object was by all
odds the most grandiose adornment of the whole store.

As one peered back into the gloom of the interior he became aware of the
most fantastic collection of nigger junk that was ever brought together
in one place. On the street floor as well as in the basement it was piled
up to the ceiling, and all jumbled together as if some gigantic
steam-shovel had opened its jaws and dumped everything just as it was.
There were broken-down rocking-chairs, bureaus with cracked mirrors and
no bottoms in the drawers, tables with one, two, or three of their legs
missing, rusty old kitchen stoves with burnt-out grates and elbows of
sooty pipe, blackened frying pans encased in the grease of years, flat
irons, chipped plates and bowls and pitchers, washtubs, chamber-pots, and
a thousand other objects, all worn out, cracked, and broken.

What, then, was the purpose of this store, since it was filled with
objects of so little value that even the poorest negroes could get slight
use from them? The purpose, and the way Judge Rumford Bland used it, was
quite simple:

A negro in trouble, in immediate need of money to pay a police-court
fine, a doctor's bill, or some urgent debt, would come to see Judge
Bland. Sometimes he needed as little as five or ten dollars, occasionally
as much as fifty dollars, but usually it was less than that. Judge Bland
would then demand to know what security he had. The negro, of course, had
none, save perhaps a few personal possessions and some wretched little
furniture--a bed, a chair, a table, a kitchen stove. Judge Bland would
send his collector, bulldog, and chief lieutenant--a ferret-faced man
named Clyde Beals--to inspect these miserable possessions, and if he
thought the junk important enough to its owner to justify the loan, he
would advance the money, extracting from it, however, the first
instalment of his interest.

From this point on, the game was plainly and flagrantly usurious. The
interest was payable weekly, every Saturday night. On a ten-dollar loan
Judge Bland extracted interest of fifty cents a week; on a twenty-dollar
loan, interest of a dollar a week; and so on. That is why the amount of
the loans was rarely as much as fifty dollars. Not only were the contents
of most negro shacks less than that, but to pay two dollars and a half in
weekly interest was beyond the capacity of most negroes, whose wage, if
they were men, might not be more than five or six dollars a week, and if
they were women--cooks or house-servants in the town--might be only three
or four dollars. Enough had to be left them for a bare existence or it
was no game. The purpose and skill of the game came in lending the negro
a sum of money somewhat greater than his weekly wage and his consequent
ability to pay back, but also a sum whose weekly interest was within the
range of his small income.

Judge Bland had on his books the names of negroes who had paid him fifty
cents or a dollar a week over a period of years, on an original loan of
ten or twenty dollars. Many of these poor and ignorant people were unable
to comprehend what had happened to them. They could only feel mournfully,
dumbly, with the slave-like submissiveness of their whole training and
conditioning, that at some time in the distant past they had got their
money, spent it, and had their fling, and that now they must pay
perpetual tribute for that privilege. Such men and women as these would
come to that dim-lit place of filth and misery on Saturday night, and
there the Judge himself, black-frocked, white-shirted, beneath one dingy,
fly-specked bulb, would hold his private court:

"What's wrong, Carrie? You're two weeks behind in your payments. Is fifty
cents all you got this week?"

"It doan seem lak it was three weeks. Musta slipped up somewheres in my
countin'."

"You didn't slip up. It's three weeks. You owe a dollar fifty. Is this
all you got?"

With sullen apology: "Yassuh."

"When will you have the rest of it?"

"Dey's a fellah who say he gonna give me----"

"Never mind about that. Are you going to keep up your payments after this
or not?"

"Dat's whut Ah wuz sayin'. Jus' as soon as Monday come, an' dat
fellah----"

Harshly: "Who you working for now?"

"Doctah Hollandah----"

"You cooking for him?"

Sullenly, with unfathomable negro mournfulness: "Yassuh."

"How much is he paying you?"

"Three dollahs."

"And you mean you can't keep up? You can't pay fifty cents a week?"

Still sullen, dark, and mournful, as doubtful and confused as jungle
depths of Africa: "Doan know...Seem lak a long time since Ah started
payin' up----"

Harshly, cold as poison, quick as a striking snake: "You've never started
paying up. You've paid nothing. You're only paying interest, and behind
in that."

And still doubtfully, in black confusion, fumbling and fingering and
bringing forth at last a wad of greasy little receipts from the battered
purse: "Doan know, seem lak Ah got enough of dese to've paid dat ten
dollahs up long ago. How much longer does Ah have to keep on payin'?"

"Till you've got ten dollars...All right, Carrie: here's your receipt.
You bring that extra dollar in next week."

Others, a little more intelligent than Carrie, would comprehend more
dearly what had happened to them, but would continue to pay because they
were unable to get together at one time enough money to release them from
their bondage. A few would have energy and power enough to save their
pennies until at last they were able to buy back their freedom. Still
others, after paying week by week and month by month, would just give up
in despair and would pay no more. Then, of course, Clyde Beals was on
them like a vulture. He nagged, he wheedled, and he threatened; and if,
finally, he saw that he could get no more money from them, he took their
household furniture. Hence the chaotic pile of malodorous junk which
filled the shop.

Why, it may be asked, in a practice that was so flagrantly, nakedly, and
unashamedly usurious as this, did Judge Rumford Bland not come into
collision with the law? Did the police not know from what sources, and in
what ways, his income was derived?

They knew perfectly. The very store in which this miserable business was
carried on was within twenty yards of the City Hall, and within fifty
feet of the side entrance to the town calaboose, up whose stone steps
many of these same negroes had time and again been hauled and mauled and
hurled into a cell. The practice, criminal though it was, was a common
one, winked at by the local authorities, and but one of many similar
practices by which unscrupulous white men all over the South feathered
their own nests at the expense of an oppressed and ignorant people. The
fact that such usury was practised chiefly against "a bunch of niggers"
to a large degree condoned and pardoned it in the eyes of the law.

Moreover, Judge Rumford Bland knew that the people with whom he dealt
would not inform on him. He knew that the negro stood in awe of the
complex mystery of the law, of which he understood little or nothing, or
in terror of its brutal force. The law for him was largely a matter of
the police, and the police was a white man in a uniform, who had the
power and authority to arrest him, to beat him with his fist or with a
club, to shoot him with a gun, and to lock him up in a small, dark cell.
It was not likely, therefore, that any negro would take his troubles to
the police. He was not aware that he had any rights as a citizen, and
that Judge Rumford Bland had violated those rights; or, if he was aware
of rights, however vaguely, he was not likely to ask for their protection
by a group of men at whose hands he had known only assault, arrest, and
imprisonment.

Above the shambles of the nigger junk, upon the second floor, were Judge
Bland's offices. A wooden stairway, worn by the tread of clay-booted
time, and a hand-rail, loose as an old tooth, smooth, besweated by the
touch of many a black palm, led up to a dark hallway. Here, in Stygian
gloom, one heard the punctual monotone of a single and regularly repeated
small drop of water dripping somewhere in the rear, and caught the
overpowering smell of the tin urinal. Opening off of this hall-way was
the glazed glass of the office door, which bore the legend in black
paint, partly flaked off:

RUMFORD BLAND
ATTORNEY AT LAW

Within, the front room was furnished with such lumber as lawyers use. The
floor was bare, there were two roll-top desks, black with age, two
bookcases with glass doors, filled with battered volumes of old pigskin
brown, a spittoon, brass-bodied and capacious, swimming with tobacco
juice, a couple of ancient swivel chairs, and a few other nondescript
straight-backed chairs for visitors to sit and creak in. On the walls
were several faded diplomas--Pine Rock College, Bachelor of Arts; The
University of Old Catawba, Doctor of Laws; and a certificate of The Old
Catawba Bar Association. Behind was another room with nothing in it but
some more bookcases full of heavy tomes in musty calf bindings, a few
chairs, and against the wall a plush sofa--the room, it was whispered,
"where Bland took his women". Out front, in the windows that looked on
the Square, their glass unwashed and specked with the ghosts of flies
that died when Gettysburg was young, were two old, frayed, mottled-yellow
window shades, themselves as old as Garfield, and still faintly marked
with the distinguished names of "Kennedy and Bland". The Kennedy of that
old law firm had been the father of Baxter Kennedy, the Mayor, and his
partner, old General Bland, had been Rumford's father. Both bad been dead
for years, but no one had bothered to change the lettering.

Such were the premises of Judge Rumford Bland as George Webber remembered
them. Judge Rumford Bland--"bondsman", "furniture dealer", usurious
lender to the blacks. Judge Rumford Bland--son of a brigadier of
infantry, C.S.A., member of the bar, wearer of immaculate white and
broadcloth black.

What had happened to this man that had so corrupted and perverted his
life from its true and honourable direction? No one knew. There was no
question that he possessed remarkable gifts. In his boyhood George had
heard the more reputable attorneys of the town admit that few of them
would have been Judge Bland's match in skill and ability had he chosen to
use his talents in an honest way.

But he was stained with evil. There was something genuinely old and
corrupt at the sources of his life and spirit. It had got into his blood,
his bone, his flesh. It was palpable in the touch of his thin, frail hand
when he greeted you, it was present in the deadly weariness of his tone
of voice, in the dead-white texture of his emaciated face, in his lank
and lustreless auburn hair, and, most of all, in his sunken mouth, around
which there hovered constantly the ghost of a smile. It could only be
called the ghost of a smile, and yet, really, it was no smile at all. It
was, if anything, only a shadow at the corners of the mouth. When one
looked closely, it was gone. But one knew that it was always there--lewd,
evil, mocking, horribly corrupt, and suggesting a limitless vitality akin
to the humour of death, which welled up from some secret spring in his
dark soul.

In his early manhood Judge Bland had married a beautiful but dissolute
woman, whom he shortly divorced. The utter cynicism that marked his
attitude towards women was perhaps partly traceable to this source. Ever
since his divorce he had lived alone with his mother, a stately,
white-haired lady to whom he rendered at all times a faithful,
solicitous, exquisitely kind and gentle duty. Some people suspected that
this filial devotion was tinged with irony and contemptuous resignation,
but certainly the old lady herself had no cause to think so. She occupied
a pleasant old house, surrounded with every comfort, and if she ever
guessed by what dark means her luxuries had been assured, she never spoke
of it to her son. As for women generally, Judge Bland divided them
brutally into two groups--the mothers and the prostitutes--and, aside
from the single exception in his own home, his sole interest was in the
second division.

He had begun to go blind several years before George left Libya Hill, and
the thin, white face, with its shadowy smile, had been given a sinister
enhancement by the dark spectacles which he then wore. He was under
treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and made trips
there at intervals of six weeks, but his vision was growing steadily
worse, and the doctors had already told him that his condition was
practically hopeless. The malady that was destroying his sight had been
brought on by a loathsome disease which he thought had been checked long
since, and which he frankly admitted had been engendered in his eyes.

In spite of all these sinister and revolting facts of character, of
spirit, and of person, Judge Bland, astonishing as it may seem, had
always been an enormously attractive figure. Everyone who met him knew at
once that the man was bad. No, "bad" is not the word for it. Everyone
knew that he was evil--genuinely, unfathomably evil--and evil of this
sort has a grandeur about it not unlike the grandeur of supreme goodness.
And indeed, there was goodness in him that had never altogether died. In
his single term upon the bench as a police-court magistrate, it was
universally agreed that Judge Bland had been fair and wise in his
disposal of swift justice. Whatever it was that had made this fact
possible--and no one pretended to understand it--the aura of it still
clung to him. And it was for just this reason that people who met him
were instantly, even if they fought against it, captivated, drawn close
to him, somehow made to like him. At the very moment that they met him,
and felt the force of death and evil working in him, they also felt--oh,
call it the phantom, the radiance, the lost soul, of an enormous virtue.
And with the recognition of that quality came the sudden stab of
overwhelming regret, the feeling of "What a loss! What a shame!" And yet
no one could say why.

As the early dusk of approaching autumn settled swiftly down, the train
sped southward towards Virginia. George sat by the window watching the
dark shapes of trees flash by, and thought back over all that he had ever
known about Judge Rumford Bland. The loathing and terror and mysterious
attraction which the man had always had for him were now so great that he
felt he could not sit alone there any longer. Midway in the car the other
people from Libya Hill had gathered together in a noisy huddle. Jarvis
Riggs, Mayor Kennedy, and Sol Isaacs were sitting down or sprawling on
the arms of the seats, and Parson Flack was standing in the aisle,
leaning over earnestly as he talked, with arms outstretched on the backs
of the two seats that enclosed the group. In the centre of this huddle,
the focus of all their attention, was Nebraska Crane. They had caught him
as he went by, and now they had him cornered.

George rose and went over to join them, and as he did so he glanced again
in the direction of Judge Bland. He was dressed with old-fashioned
fastidiousness, just as he had always dressed, in loose-fitting garments
of plain and heavy black, a starched white shirt, a low collar and a
black string neck-tie, and a wide-brimmed Panama hat which he had not
removed. Beneath the brim of the hat his once auburn hair was now a dead,
and lifeless white. This and the sightless eyes were the only changes in
him. Otherwise he looked just as he had looked fifteen years ago. He had
not stirred since he came in. Ha sat upright, leaning a little forward on
his cane, his blindly staring eyes fixed before him, his white and sunken
face held in an attitude of intense, listening stillness.

As George joined the group in the middle of the car, they were excitedly
discussing property values--all of them, that is, except Nebraska Crane.
Parson Flack would bend over earnestly, showing his big teeth in a smile
and tell about some recent deal, and what a certain piece of land had
sold for--"Right out there on Charles Street, not far from where you used
to live, Bras!" To each of these new marvels the player's response was
the same:

"Well I'll be dogged!" he said, astounded. "What d'you know about that!"

The banker now leaned forward and tapped Nebraska confidentially on the
knee. He talked to him persuasively, in friendly wise, urging him to
invest his savings in the real estate speculations of the town. He
brought up all his heaviest artillery of logic and mathematics, drawing
forth his pencil and note-book to figure out just how much a given sum of
money could be increased if it was shrewdly invested now in this or that
piece of property, and then sold when the time was right.

"You can't go wrong!" said Jarvis Riggs, a little feverishly. "The town
is bound to grow. Why, Libya Hill is only at the beginning of its
development. You bring your money back home, my boy, and let it go to
work for you! You'll see!"

This went on for some time. But in the face of all their urgings Nebraska
remained his characteristic self. He was respectful and good-natured, but
a little dubious, and fundamentally stubborn.

"I already got me a farm out in Zebulon," he said, and, grinning--"It's
paid fer, too! When I git through playin' baseball, I'm comin' back an'
settle down out there an' farm it. It's three hundred acres of the
purtiest bottom land you ever seen. That's all I want. I couldn't use no
more."

As Nebraska talked to them in his simple, homely way, he spoke as a man
of the earth for whom the future opened up serenely, an independent,
stubborn man who knew what he wanted, a man who was firmly rooted,
established, secure against calamity and want. He was completely detached
from the fever of the times--from the fever of the boom-mad town as well
as from the larger fever of the nation. The others talked incessantly
about land, but George saw that Nebraska Crane was the only one who still
conceived of the land as a place on which to live, and of living on the
land as a way of life.

At last Nebraska detached himself from the group and said he was going
back to take a smoke. George started to follow him. As he passed down the
aisle behind his friend and came abreast of the last seat, suddenly a
quiet, toneless voice said:

"Good evening, Webber."

He stopped and spun round. The blind man was seated there before him. He
had almost forgotten about him. The blind man had not moved as he spoke.
He was still leaning a little forward on his cane, his thin, white face
held straight before him as if he were still listening for something.
George felt now, as he had always felt, the strange fascination in that
evil shadow of a smile that hovered about the corners of the blind man's
mouth. He paused, then said:

"Judge Bland."

"Sit down, son." And like a child under the spell of the Pied Piper, he
sat down. "Let the dead bury their dead. Come sit among the blind."

The words were uttered tonelessly, yet their cruel and lifeless contempt
penetrated nakedly throughout the car. The other men stopped talking and
turned as if they had received an electric shock. George did not know
what to say; in the embarrassment of the moment he blurted out:

"I--I--there are a lot of people on the train from home. I--I've been
talking to them--Mayor Kennedy, and----"

The blind man, never moving, in his terrible toneless voice that carried
to all ears, broke in:

"Yes, I know. As eminent a set of sons-of-bitches as were ever gathered
together in the narrow confines of a single pullman-car."

The whole car listened in an appalled silence. The group in the middle
looked at one another with fear in their eyes, and in a moment they began
'talking feverishly again.

"I hear you were in France again last year," the voice now said. "And did
you find the French whores any different from the homegrown variety?"

The naked words, with their toneless evil, pierced through the car like a
flash of sheer terror. All conversation stopped. Everyone was stunned,
frozen into immobility.

"You'll find there's not much difference," Judge Bland observed calmly
and in the same tone. "Syphilis makes the whole world kin. And if you
want to lose your eyesight, you can do it in this great democracy as well
as anywhere on earth."

The whole car was as quiet as death. In another moment the stunned faces
turned towards one another, and the men began to talk in furtive
whispers.

Through all of this the expression on that white and sunken face had
never altered, and the shadow of that ghostly smile still lingered around
the mouth. But now, low and casually, he said to the young man:

"How are you, son? I'm glad to see you." And in that simple phrase,
spoken by the blind man, there was the suggestion of a devilish humour,
although his expression did not change a bit.

"You--you've been in Baltimore, Judge Bland?"

"Yes, I still come up to Hopkins now and then. It does no good, of
course. You see, son," the tone was low and friendly now, "I've gone
completely blind since I last saw you."

"I didn't know. But you don't mean that you----"

"Oh, utterly! Utterly!" replied Judge Bland, and all at once he threw his
sightless face up and laughed with sardonic glee, displaying blackened
rims of teeth, as if the joke was too good to be kept. "My dear boy, I
assure you that I am utterly blind. I can no longer distinguish one of
our most prominent local bastards two feet off--_Now, Jarvis_!" he
suddenly cried out in a chiding voice in the direction of the unfortunate
Riggs, who had loudly resumed his discussion of property values--"you
_know_ that's not true! Why, man, I can tell by the look in your
eyes that you're lying!" And again he lifted his face and was shaken by
devilish, quiet laughter. "Excuse the interruption, son," he went on. "I
believe the subject of our discourse was bastardy. Why, can you believe
it?"--he leaned forward again his long fingers playing gently on the
polished ridges of his stick--"where bastardy is concerned, I find I can
no longer trust my eyes at all. I rely exclusively on the sense of
smell. And"--for the first time his face was sunken deliberately in
weariness and disgust--"it is enough. A sense of smell is all you need."
Abruptly changing now, he said: "How are the folks?"

"Why--Aunt Maw's dead. I--I'm going home to the funeral."

"Dead, is she?"

That was all he said. None of the usual civilities, no expression of
polite regret, just that and nothing more. Then, after a moment:

"So you're going down to bury her." It was a statement, and he said it
reflectively, as though meditating upon it; then--"And do you think you
can go home again?"

George was a little startled and puzzled: "Why--I don't understand. How
do you mean, Judge Bland?"

There was another flare of that secret, evil laughter. "I mean, do you
think you can really go _home_ again?" Then, sharp, cold,
peremptory--"Now answer me! Do you think you can?"

"Why--why yes! Why--" the young man was desperate, almost frightened now,
and, earnestly, beseechingly, he said--"why look here, Judge Bland--I
haven't done anything--honestly I haven't!"

Again the low, demonic laughter: "You're _sure_?"

Frantic now with the old terror which the man had always inspired in him
as a boy: "Why--why of course I'm sure! Look here, Judge Bland--in the
name of God, what have I done?" He thought desperately of a dozen wild,
fantastic things, feeling a sickening and overwhelming consciousness of
guilt, without knowing why. He thought: "Has he heard about my book? Does
he know I wrote about the town? Is that what he means?"

The blind man cackled thinly to himself, enjoying with evil tenderness
his little cat's play with the young man: "The guilty fleeth where no man
pursueth. Is that it, son?"

Frankly distracted: "Why--why--I'm not guilty!" Angrily: "Why damn it,
I'm not guilty of anything!" Passionately, excitedly: "I can hold up my
head with any man! I can look the whole damn world in the eye! I make no
apologies to----"

He stopped short, seeing the evil ghost-shadow of a smile at the corners
of the blind man's mouth. "That disease!" he thought--"the thing that
ruined his eyes--maybe--maybe--why, yes--the man is crazy!" Then he
spoke, slowly, simply:

"Judge Bland." He rose from the seat. "Good-bye, Judge Bland." The smile
still played about the blind man's mouth, but he answered with a new note
of kindness in his voice:

"Good-bye, son." There was a barely perceptible pause. "But don't forget
I tried to warn you."

* * * * *

George walked quickly away with thudding heart and trembling limbs. What
_had_ Judge Bland meant when he asked, "Do you think you can go home
again?" And what had been the meaning of that evil, silent, mocking
laughter? What had he heard? What did he know? And these others--did they
know, too?

He soon learned that his fear and panic in the blind man's presence were
shared by all the people in the car. Even the passengers who had, never
seen Judge Bland before had heard his naked, brutal words, and they were
now horrified by the sight of him. As for the rest, the men from Libya
Hill, this feeling was greatly enhanced, sharpened by all that they knew
of him. He had pursued his life among them with insolent shamelessness.
Though he still masked in all the outward aspects of respectability, he
was in total disrepute, and yet he met the opinion of the town with such
cold and poisonous contempt that everyone held him in a kind of terrified
respect. As for Parson Flack, Jarvis Riggs, and Mayor Kennedy, they were
afraid of him because his blind eyes saw straight through them. His
sudden appearance in the car, where none had expected to meet him, had
aroused in all of them a sense of stark, underlying terror.

As George went into the washroom suddenly, be came upon the Mayor
cleaning his false teeth in the basin. The man's plump face, which George
had always known in the guise of cheerful, hearty amiability, was all
caved in. Hearing a sound behind him, the Mayor turned upon the newcomer.
For a moment there was nothing but nameless fright in his weak brown
eyes. He mumbled frantically, incoherently, holding his false teeth in
his trembling fingers. Like a man who did not know what he was doing, he
brandished them in a grotesque yet terrible gesture indicative of--God
knows what!--but despair and terror were both in it. Then he put the
teeth into his mouth again, smiled feebly, and muttered apologetically,
with some counterfeit of his usual geniality:

"Ho, ho!--well, son! You caught me that time, all right! A man can't talk
without his teeth!"

The same thing was now apparent everywhere. George saw it in the look of
an eye, the movement of a hand, the give-away expression of a face in
repose. The merchant, Sol Isaacs, took him aside and whispered:

"Have you heard what they're saying about the bank?" He looked around
quickly and checked himself, as if afraid of the furtive sound of his own
voice. "Oh, everything's O.K.! Sure it is! They just went a little too
fast there for a while! Things are rather quiet right now--but they'll
pick up!"

Among all of them there was the same kind of talk that George had heard
before. "It's worth all of that," they told each other eagerly. "It'll
bring twice as much in a year's time." They caught him by the lapel in
the most friendly and hearty fashion and said he ought to settle down in
Libya Hill and stay for good--"Greatest place on earth, you know!" They
made their usual assured pronouncements upon finance, banking, market
trends, and property values. But George sensed now that down below all
this was just utter, naked, frantic terror--the terror of men who know
that they are ruined and are afraid to admit it, even to themselves.

It was after midnight, and the great train was rushing south across
Virginia in the moonlight. The people in the little towns lay in their
beds and heard the mournful whistle, then the sudden roar as the train
went through, and they turned over restlessly and dreamed of fair and
distant cities.

In K19 most of the passengers had retired to their berths. Nebraska Crane
had turned in early, but George was still up, and so, too, were the
banker, the Mayor, and the political boss. Crass, world-weary,
unimaginative fellows that they were, they were nevertheless too excited
by something of the small boy in them that had never died to go to bed at
their usual hour aboard a train, and were now drawn together for
companionship in the smoke-fogged washroom. Behind the green curtains the
complex of male voices rose and fell in talk as they told their endless
washroom stories. Quietly, furtively, with sly delight, they began to
recall unsavoury anecdotes remembered from the open and shameless life of
Judge Rumford Bland, and at the end of each recital there would be a
choking burst of strong laughter.

When the laughter and the slapping of thighs subsided, Parson Flack
leaned forward again, eager to tell another. In a voice that was subdued,
confidential, almost conspiratorial, he began:

"And do you remember the time that he----?"

Swiftly the curtain was drawn aside, all heads jerked up, and Judge Bland
entered.

"Now, Parson"--said he in a chiding voice--"remember what?" Before the
blind, cold stare of that emaciated face the seated men were silent.
Something stronger than fear was in their eyes.

"Remember _what?_" he said again, a trifle harshly. He stood before
them erect and fragile, both hands balanced on the head of the cane which
he held anchored to the floor in front of him. He turned to Jarvis Riggs:
"Remember when you established what you boasted was 'the fastest-growing
bank in all the state'--and weren't too particular what it grew on?" He
turned back to Parson Flack: "Remember when one of 'the boys', as you
like to call them--you always look out for 'the boys', don't you,
Parson?--remember when one of 'the boys' borrowed money from 'the
fastest-growing bank' to buy two hundred acres on that hill across the
river?"--he turned to the Mayor--"and sold the land to the town for a new
cemetery?...Though why," he turned his face to Parson Flack again, "the
dead should have to go so far to bury their dead I do not know!"

He paused impressively, like a country lawyer getting ready to launch his
peroration to a jury.

"Remember _what?_"--the voice rose suddenly, high and sharp. "Do I
remember, Parson, how you've run the town through all these years? Do I
remember what a good thing you've made of politics? You've never aspired
to public office, have you, Parson? Oh, no--you're much too modest. But
you know how to pick the public-spirited citizens who do aspire, and
whose great hearts pant with eagerness to serve their fellow men! Ah,
yes. It's a very nice little private business, isn't it, Parson? And all
'the boys' are stockholders and get their cut of the profits--is that the
way of it, Parson?...Remember _what?_ he cried again. Do I
remember now the broken fragments of a town that waits and fears and
schemes to put off the day of its impending ruin? Why, Parson, yes--I can
remember all these things. And yet I had no part in them, for, after all,
I am a humble man. Oh--with a deprecating nod--a little nigger
squeezing here and there, a little income out of Niggertown, a few
illegal lendings, a comfortable practice in small usury--yet my wants
were few, my tastes were very simple. I was always satisfied with, say, a
modest five per cent a week. So I am not in the big money, Parson. I
remember many things, but I see now I have spent my substance, wasted all
my talents in riotous living--while pious Puritans have virtuously
betrayed their town and given their whole-souled services to the ruin of
their fellow men."

Again there was an ominous pause, and when he went on his voice was low,
almost casual in its toneless irony:

"I am afraid I have been at best a giddy fellow, Parson, and that my old
age will be spent in memories of trivial things--of various merry widows
who came to town, of poker chips, racehorses, cards, and rattling dice,
of bourbon, Scotch, and rye--all the forms of hellishness that saintly
fellows, Parson, who go to prayer-meeting every week, know nothing of. So
I suppose I'll warm my old age with the memories of my own
sinfulness--and be buried at last, like all good men and true, among more
public benefactors in the town's expensive graveyard on the hill...But I
also remember other things, Parson. So can you. And maybe in my humble
sphere I, too, have served a purpose--of being the wild oat of more
worthy citizens."

They sat in utter silence, their frightened, guilty eyes all riveted upon
his face, and each man felt as if those cold, unseeing eyes had looked
straight through him. For a moment more Judge Bland just stood there,
and, slowly, without a change of muscle in the blankness of his face, the
ghostly smile began to hover like a shadow at the corners of his sunken
mouth.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said. He turned, and with his walking-stick
he caught and held the curtain to one side. "I'll be seeing you."

All through the night George lay in his dark berth and watched the old
earth of Virginia as it stroked past him in the dream-haunted silence of
the moon. Field and hill and gulch and stream and wood again, the
everlasting earth, the huge illimitable earth of America, kept stroking
past him in the steep silence of the moon.

All through the ghostly stillness of the land, the train made on for ever
its tremendous noise, fused of a thousand sounds, and they called back to
him forgotten memories: old songs, old faces, old memories, and all
strange, wordless, and unspoken things men know and live and feel, and
never find a language for--the legend of dark time, the sad brevity of
their days, the unknowable but haunting miracle of life itself. He heard
again, as he had heard throughout his childhood, the pounding wheel, the
tolling bell, the whistle-wail, and he remembered how these sounds,
coming to him from the river's edge in the little town of his boyhood,
had always evoked for him their tongueless prophecy of wild and secret
joy, their glorious promises of new lands, morning, and a shining city.
But now the lonely cry of the great train was speaking to him with an
equal strangeness of return. For he was going home again.

The undertone of terror with which he had gone to bed, the sadness of the
foreshadowed changes in the town, the sombre prospect of the funeral
to-morrow, all combined to make him dread his homecoming, which so many
times in the years since he had been away he had looked forward to some
day with hope and exultation. It was all so different from what he
thought it would be. He was still only an obscure instructor at one of
the universities in the city, his book was not yet published, he was not
by any standard which his native town could know--"successful", "a
success". And as he thought of it, he realised that, almost more than
anything, he feared the sharp, appraising eye, the worldly judgments, of
that little town.

He thought of all his years away from home, the years of wandering in
many lands and cities. He remembered how many times he had thought of
home with such an intensity of passion that he could close his eyes and
see the scheme of every street, and every house upon each street, and the
faces of the people, as well as recall the countless things that they had
said and the densely-woven fabric of all their histories. To-morrow he
would see it all again, and he almost wished he had not come. It would
have been easy to plead the excuse of work and other duty. And it was
silly, anyhow, to feel as he did about the place.

But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had
he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy,
if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills
around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All
that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men
come home again.

The train rushed onward through the moonlit land.



6. The Home-coming


When he looked from the windows of the train next morning the hills were
there. They towered immense and magical into the blue weather, and
suddenly the coolness was there, the winy sparkle of the air, and the
shining brightness. Above him loomed huge shapes, the dense massed green
of the wilderness, the cloven cuts' and gulches of the mountain passes,
the dizzy steepness, with the sudden drops below. He could see the little
huts stuck to the edge of bank and hollow, toy-small, far below him in
the gorges. The everlasting stillness of the earth now met the intimate,
toiling slowness of the train as it climbed up round the sinuous curves,
and he had an instant sense of something refound that he had always
known--something far, near, strange, and so familiar--and it seemed to
him that he had never left the hills, and all that had passed in the
years between was like a dream.

At last the train came sweeping down the long sloping bend into the
station, But even before it had come to a full halt George had been
watching out of the windows and had seen Randy Shepperton and his sister
Margaret waiting for him on the platform. Randy, tall and
athletic-looking, was teetering restlessly from one foot to another as
his glance went back and forth along the windows of the train in search
of him. Margaret's strong, big-boned figure was planted solidly, her
hands clasped loosely across her waist, and her eyes were darting from
car to car with swift intensity. And as George swung down from the steps
of the pullman and, valise in hand, strode towards the platform across
the rock ballast of the roadbed and the gleaming rails, he knew
instantly, with that intuitive feeling of strangeness and recognition;
just what they would say to him at the moment of their meeting.

Now they had seen him. He saw Margaret speak excitedly to her brother and
motion towards his approaching figure. And now Randy was coming on the
run, his broad hand extended in a gesture of welcome, his rich tenor
shouting greetings as he came:

"How are you, boy?" he shouted. "Put it there!" he cried heartily as he
came up, and vigorously wrung him by the hand. "Glad to see you, Monk!"

Still shouting greetings, he reached over and attempted to take the
valise. The inevitable argument, vehement, good-natured, and protesting,
began immediately, and in another moment Randy was in triumphant
possession and the two were walking together towards the platform, Randy
saying scornfully all the time in answer to the other's protests:

"Oh, for God's sake, forget about it! I'll let you do as much for me when
I come up to the Big Town to visit you!...Here's Margaret!" he said as
they reached the platform. "I know she'll be glad to see you!"

She was waiting for him with a broad smile on her homely face. They had
grown up together as next-door neighbours, and were almost like brother
and sister. As a matter of fact, when George had been ten and Margaret
twelve, they had had one of those idyllic romances of childhood in which
each pledged eternal devotion to the other and took it for granted that
they would marry when they grew up. But the years had changed all that.
He had gone away, and she had taken charge of Randy when her parents
died; she now kept house for him, and had never married. As he saw her
standing there with the warm smile on her face, and with something
vaguely spinsterish in her look in spite of her large, full-breasted
figure and her general air of hearty good nature, he felt a sudden
stirring of pity and old affection for her.

"Hello, Margaret!" he said, somewhat thickly and excitedly. "How are you,
Margaret?"

They shook hands, and he planted a clumsy kiss on her face. Then,
blushing with pleasure, she stepped back a pace and regarded him with the
half bantering expression she had used so often as a child.

"Well, well, well!" she said. "You haven't changed much, George! A little
stouter, maybe, but I reckon I'd have known you!"

They spoke now quietly about Aunt Maw and about the funeral, saying the
strained and awkward things that people always say when they talk of
death. Then, this duty done, there was a little pause before they resumed
their natural selves once more.

The two men looked at each other and grinned. When they had been boys
together Randy had seemed to George more like Mercutio than anybody he
had ever known. He had had a small, lean head, well shaped, set closely
with blond hair; he had been quick as a flash, light, wiry, active, with
a wonderful natural grace in everything he did; his mind and spirit had
been cleat, exuberant, incisive, tempered like a fine Toledo blade. In
college, too, he had been the same: he had not only done well in his
classes, but had distinguished himself as a swimmer and as quarter-back
on the football team.

But now something caught in George's throat as he looked at him and saw
what time had done. Randy's lean, thin face was deeply furrowed, and the
years had left a grey deposit at his temples. His hair was thinning back
on both sides of the forehead, and there were little webbings of fine
wrinkles at the corners of the eyes. It saddened George and somehow made
him feel a bit ashamed to see how old and worn he looked. But the thing
he noticed most was the expression in Randy's eyes. Where they had once
been clear and had looked out on the world with a sharp and level gaze,
they were now troubled, and haunted by some deep preoccupation which he
could not quite shake off even in the manifest joy he felt at seeing his
old friend again.

While they stood there, Jarvis Riggs, Parson Flack, and the Mayor came
slowly down the platform talking earnestly to one of the leading real
estate operators of the town, who had come down to meet them. Randy saw
them and, still grinning, he winked at George and prodded him in the
ribs.

"Oh, you'll get it now!" he cried in his old extravagant way. "At all
hours, from daybreak to three o'clock in the morning--no holds barred!
They'll be waiting for you when you get there!" he chortled.

"Who?" said George.

"Haw-w!" Randy laughed. "Why, I'll bet they're all lined up there on the
front porch right now, in a reception committee to greet you and to cut
your throat, every damned mountain grill of a real estate man in town!
Old Horse-face Barnes, Skin-'em-alive Mack Judson, Skunk-eye Tim Wagner,
The Demon. Promoter, and Old Squeeze-your-heart's-blood Simms, The Widder
and Orphan Man from Arkansas--they're all there!" he said gloatingly.
"She told them you're a prospect, and they're waiting for you! It's your
turn now!" he yelled. "She told them that you're on the way, and they're
drawing lots right now to see which one gets your shirt and which one
takes the pants and B.V.D.s! Haw-w!"--and he poked his friend in the ribs
again.

"They'll get nothing out of me," George said, laughing, "for I haven't
got it to begin with.

"That doesn't matter!" Randy yelled. "If you've got an extra collar
button, they'll take that as the first instalment, and then--haw-w!
they'll collect your cuff-links, socks, and your suspenders in easy
payments as the years roll on!"

He stood there laughing at the astounded look on his friend's face. Then,
seeing his sister's reproving eye, he suddenly prodded her in the ribs,
at which she shrieked in a vexed manner and slapped at his hand.

"I'll vow, Randy!" she cried fretfully. "What on earth's the matter with
you? Why, you act like a regular idiot! I'll vow you do!"

"Haw-w!" he yelled again. Then, more soberly, but still grinning: "I
guess we'll have to sleep you out over the garage, Monk, old boy. Dave
Merrit's in town, and he's got the spare room." There was a slight note
of deference in his voice as he mentioned Merrit's name, but he went on
lightly: "Or if you like--haw-w!--there's a nice room at Mrs. Charles
Montgomery Hopper's, and she'd be glad to have you!"

George looked rather uncomfortable at the mention of Mrs. Charles
Montgomery Hopper. She was a worthy lady and he remembered her well, but
he didn't want to stay at her boarding-house. Margaret saw his expression
and laughed:

"Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! You see what you're in for, don't you? The prodigal
comes home and we give him his choice of Mrs. Hopper or the garage! Now
is that life or not?"

"I don't mind a bit," protested George. "I think the garage is swell. And
besides"--they all grinned at each other again with the affection of
people who know each other so well that they are long past knowledge--"if
I get to helling around at night, I won't feel that I'm disturbing you
when I come in...But who is Mr. Merrit, anyway?"

"Why," Randy answered, and now he had an air of measuring his words with
thoughtful deliberation, "he--he's the Company's man--my boss, you know.
He travels around to all the branches to check up and see that
everything's O.K. He's a fine fellow. You'll like him," said Randy
seriously. "We've told him all about you and he wants to meet you."

"And we knew you wouldn't mind," Margaret said. "You know, it's business,
he's with the Company, and of course it's good policy to be as nice to
him as we can." But then, because such designing was really alien to her
hospitable and whole-hearted spirit, she added: "Mr. Merrit is all right.
I like him. We're glad to have him, anyway."

"Dave's a fine fellow," Randy repeated. "And I know he wants to see
you...Well," he said, and the preoccupied look was in his eyes again, "if
we're all ready, let's get going. I'm due back at the office now.
Merrit's there, of course. Suppose I run you out to the house and drop
you, then I'll see you later."

This was agreed upon. Randy grinned once more--a little nervously, George
thought--and picked up the valise and started rapidly across the station
platform towards his car, which was parked at the kerb.

At the funeral that afternoon the little frame house which old Lafayette
Joyner--Aunt Maw's father, and George Webber's grandfather--had built
with his own hands years ago looked just as it had always looked when
George had lived there as a boy. Nothing about it had been changed. Yet
it seemed smaller, meaner, more shabby than he remembered it. It was set
some distance back from the street, between the Shepperton house on one
side and the big brick house in which his Uncle Mark Joyner lived on the
other. The street was lined with cars, many of them old and decrepit and
covered with the red clay of the hills. In the yard in front of the house
many men stood solemnly knotted in little groups, talking quietly, their
bare heads and stiff Sunday clothes of austere black giving them an air
of self-conscious shyness and restraint.

Inside, the little rooms were jammed with people, and the hush of death
was on the gathering, broken now and then by muffled coughs and by
stifled sobs and sniffles. Many of them were Joyners, who for three days
had been coming in from the hills--old men and women with the marks of
toil and pain upon their faces, cousins, in-laws, distant relatives of
Aunt Maw. George had never seen some of them before, but they all bore
the seal of the Joyner clan upon them, the look of haunting sorrow and
something about the thin line of the lips that proclaimed their grim
triumph in the presence of death.

In the tiny front room, where on wintry nights Aunt Maw had always sat by
the light of a kerosene lamp before a flickering fire, telling the boy
her endless stories of death and sorrow, she now lay in her black coffin,
the top and front of which were open to display as much of her as
possible to the general view. And instantly, as George entered, he knew
that one of her main obsessions in life had been victorious over death. A
spinster and a virgin all her years, she had always had a horrible fear
that, somehow, some day, some man would see her body. As she grew older
her thoughts had been more and more preoccupied with death, and with her
morbid shame lest someone see her in the state of nature after she was
dead. For this reason she had a horror of undertakers, and had made her
brother, Mark, and his wife, Mag, solemnly promise that no man would see
her unclothed corpse, that her laying out would be done by women, and,
above all else, that she was not to be embalmed. By now she had been dead
three days--three days of long hot sun and sultriness--and it seemed to
George a grim but fitting ending that the last memory he would have of
that little house, which in his childhood had been so filled with the
stench of death-in-life, should now be the stench of death itself.

Mark Joyner shook hands cordially with his nephew and said he was glad he
had been able to come down. His manner was simple, dignified, and
reserved, eloquently expressive of quiet grief, for he had always been
genuinely fond of his older sister. But Mag, his wife, who for fifty
years had carried on a nagging, internecine warfare with Aunt Maw, had
appointed herself chief mourner and was obviously enjoying the role.
During the interminable service, when the Baptist minister in his
twanging, nasal voice recited his long eulogy and went back over the
events of Aunt Maw's life, Mag would break forth now and then in fits of
loud weeping and would ostentatiously throw back her heavy black veil and
swab vigorously with her handkerchief at her red and swollen eyes.

The minister, with the unconscious callousness of self-righteousness,
rehearsed again the story of the family scandal. He told how George
Webber's father had abandoned his wife, Amelia Joyner, to live in open
shame with another woman, and how Amelia had shortly, afterwards "died of
a broken heart". He told how "Brother Mark Joyner and his God-fearing
wife, Sister Maggie Joyner," had been filled with righteous wrath and had
gone to court and wrested the motherless boy from the sinful keeping of
his father; and how "this good woman who now lies dead before us" had
taken charge of her sister's son and brought him up in a Christian home.
And he said be was glad to see that the young man who had been the
recipient of this dutiful charity had come home again to pay his last
debt of gratitude at the bier of the one to whom he owed so much.

Throughout all this Mag continued to choke and sputter with histrionic
sorrow, and George sat there biting his lips, his eyes fixed on the
floor, perspiration streaming from him, his jaws clenched hard, his face
purple with shame and anger and nausea.

The afternoon wore on, and at last the service was over. People began to
issue from the house, and the procession formed for the long, slow ride
to the cemetery. With immense relief George escaped from the immediate
family group and went over to Margaret Shepperton, and the two of them
took possession of one of the limousines that had been hired for the
occasion.

Just as the car was about to drive off and take its place in the line, a
woman opened the door and got in with them. She was Mrs. Delia Flood, an
old friend of Aunt Maw's. George had known her all his life.

"Why, hello there, young man," she said to George as she climbed in and
sat down beside him "This would've been a proud day for your Aunt Maw if
she could've known you'd come all the way back home to be here at her
funeral. She thought the world of you, boy." She nodded absent-mindedly
to Margaret. "I saw you had an empty place here, so I said, 'It's a pity
to let it go to waste. Hop right in,' I said. 'Don't stand on ceremony.
It might as well be you,' I said, 'as the next fellow.'"

Mrs. Delia Flood was a childless widow well past middle age, short,
sturdy, and physically stolid, with jet black hair and small, piercing
brown eyes, and a tongue that was never still. She would fasten upon
anyone she could catch and corner, and would talk on and on in a steady
monotone that had neither beginning nor end. She was a woman of property,
and her favourite topic of conversation was real estate. In fact, long
before the present era of speculation and sky-rocketing prices, she had
had a mania for buying and selling land, and was a shrewd judge of
values. With some sixth sense she had always known what direction the
development of the growing town was likely to take, and when things
happened as she predicted, it was usually found that she had bought up
choice sites which she was able to sell for much more than she had paid
for them. She lived simply and frugally, but she was generally believed
to be well off.

For a little while Mrs. Flood sat in contemplative silence. But as the
procession moved off and slowly made its way through the streets of the
town, she began to glance sharply out of the windows on both sides, and
before long, without any preliminary, she launched forth in a commentary
on the history of every piece of property they passed. It was constant,
panoramic, and exhaustive. She talked incessantly, gesturing briefly and
casually with her hand, only pausing from time to time to nod
deliberately to herself in a movement of strong affirmation.

"You see, don't you?" she said, nodding to herself with conviction,
tranquilly indifferent whether they listened or not so long as the
puppets of an audience were before her. "You see what they're goin' to do
here, don't you? Why, Fred Barnes, Roy Simms, and Mack Judson--all that
crowd--why, yes--here!--say!"--she cried, frowning meditatively--"wasn't
I reading it? Didn't it all come out in the paper--why, here, you know, a
week or two ago--how they proposed to tear down that whole block of
buildings there and were goin' to put up the finest garage in this part
of the country? Oh, it will take up the whole block, you know, with a
fine eight-storey building over it, and storage space upstairs for more
cars, and doctors' offices--why, yes!--they're even thinkin' of puttin'
in a roof garden and a big restaurant on top. The whole thing will cost
'em over half a million dollars before they're done with it--oh, paid two
thousand dollars a foot for every inch of it!" she cried. "But pshaw! Why
those are Main Street prices--you can get business property up in the
centre of town for _that!_ I could've told 'em--but hm!"--with a
scornful little tremor of the head--"they didn't want it anywhere but
here--no, sir! They'll be lucky if they get out with their skins!"

George and Margaret offered no comment, but Mrs. Flood appeared not to
notice, and as the procession crossed the bridge and turned into Preston
Avenue she went on:

"See that house and lot over there! I paid twenty-five thousand for it
two years ago, and now it's worth fifty thousand if it's worth a penny.
Yes, and I'll get it, too. But pshaw! See here!"--she shook her head
emphatically. "They couldn't pull a trick like that on _me!_ I saw
what he was up to! Yes! Didn't Mack Judson come to me? Didn't he try to
trade with me? Oh, here along, you know, the first part of last April,"
she said impatiently, with a dismissing gesture of her hand, as if all
this must be perfectly clear to everyone. "All that crowd that's in with
him--they were behind him--I could see it plain as day. Says: 'I'll tell
you what I'll do. We know you're a good trader, we respect your judgment,
and we want you in,' he says, 'and just to have you with us, why, I'll
trade you three fine lots I own up there on Pinecrest Road in Ridgewood
for that house and lot of yours on Preston Avenue.' Says: 'You won't have
to put up a cent. Just to get you in with us I'll make you an even swap!'
'Well,' I said, 'that's mighty fine of you, Mack, and I appreciate the
compliment. If you want that house and lot on Preston Avenue,' I said,
'why, I reckon I can let you have it. You know my price,' I said. 'It's
fifty thousand. What are those lots in Ridgewood worth?'--came right out
and asked him, you know. 'Why,' he says, 'it's hard to say. I don't know
just exactly what they are worth,' he says. 'The property up there is
goin' up all the time.' I looked him straight in the eye and said to him:
'Well, Mack, I know what those lots _are_ worth, and they're not
worth what you paid for 'em. The town's movin' the other way. So if you
want my house and lot,' I said, 'just bring me the cash and you can have
it. But I won't swap with you.' That's exactly what I told him, and of
course that was the end of it. He's never mentioned it again. Oh, yes, I
saw what he was up to, all right."

Nearing the cemetery, the line of cars passed a place where an unpaved
clay road went upwards among fields towards some lonely pines. The dirt
road, at the point where it joined the main highway, was flanked by two
portalled shapes of hewn granite blocks set there like markers of a
splendid city yet unbuilt which would rise grandly from the hills that
swept back into the green wilderness from the river. But now this ornate
entrance and a large billboard planted in the field were the only
evidences of what was yet to be. Mrs. Flood saw the sign.

"Hah? What's that?" she cried out in a sharply startled tone. "What does
it say there?"

They all craned their necks to see it as they passed, and George read
aloud the legend on the sign:

RIVERCREST
DEDICATED TO ALL THE PEOPLE
OF THIS SECTION AND TO THE GLORY
OF THE GREATER CITY THEY WILL BUILD

Mrs. Flood took in the words with obvious satisfaction. "Ah-hah!" she
said, nodding her head slowly, with deliberate agreement. "That's just
exactly it!"

Margaret nudged George and whispered in his ear:

"Dedicated!" she muttered scornfully--then, with mincing refinement: "Now
ain't that nice? Dedicated to cutting your throat and bleeding you white
of every nickel that you've got!"

They were now entering the cemetery, and the procession wound slowly in
along a circling road and at length came to a halt near the rounded crest
of the hill below the Joyner burial plot. At one corner of the plot a
tall locust tree was growing, and beneath its shade all the Joyners had
been buried. There was the family monument--a square, massive chunk of
grey, metallic granite, brilliantly burnished, with "JOYNER" in raised
letters upon its shining surface. On the ends were inscriptions for old
Lafayette and his wife, with their names and dates; and, grouped about
them, in parallel rows set on the gentle slope, were the graves of
Lafayette's children. All these had smaller individual monuments, and on
each of these, below the name and dates of birth and death, was some
little elegiac poem carved in a Bowing script.

At one side of the burial plot the new-dug grave gaped darkly in the raw
earth, and beside it was a mound of loose yellow clay. Ranged above it on
the hill were several rows of folding chairs. Towards these the people,
who were now getting out of the cars, began to move.

Mark and Mag and various other Joyners took the front rows, and George
and Margaret, with Mrs. Flood still close beside them, found chairs at
the back. Other people--friends, distant relatives, and mere
acquaintances--stood in groups behind.

The lot looked out across a mile or two of deep, dense green, the wooded
slopes and hollows that receded towards the winding river, and straight
across beyond the river was the central business part of town. The spires
and buildings, the old ones as well as some splendid new ones--hotels,
office buildings, garages, churches, and the scaffolding and concrete of
new construction which exploded from the familiar design with glittering
violence--were plainly visible. It was a fine view.

While the people took their places and waited for the pallbearers to
perform their last slow and heavy service up the final ascent of the
hill, Mrs. Flood sat with her hands folded in her lap and gazed out over
the town. Then she began shaking her head thoughtfully, her lips pursed
in deprecation and regret, and in a low voice, as if she were talking to
herself, she said:

"Hm! Hm! Hm! Too bad, too bad, too bad!"

"What's that, Mrs. Flood?" Margaret leaned over and whispered. "What's
too bad?"

"Why, that they should ever have chosen such a place as this for the
cemetery," she said regretfully. She had lowered her voice to a stage
whisper, and those round her could hear everything she said. "Why, as I
told Frank Candler just the other day, they've gone and deliberately
given away the two best building sites in town to the niggers and the
dead people! That's just exactly what they've done! I've always said as
much--that the two finest building sites in town for natural beauty are
Niggertown and Highview Cemetery. I could've told 'em that long years
ago--they should've known it themselves if any of 'em could have seen an
inch beyond his nose--that some day the town would grow up and this would
be valuable property! Why, why on earth! When they were lookin' for a
cemetery site--why on earth didn't they think of findin' one up there on
Buxton Hill, say, where you get a beautiful view, and where land is not
so valuable? But this!" she whispered loudly. "This, by rights, is
building property! People could have fine homes here! And as for the
niggers, I've always said that they'd have been better off if they'd been
put down there on those old flats in the depot section. Now it's too
late, of course--nothin' can be done--but it was certainly a serious
mistake!" she whispered, and shook her head. "I've always known it!"

"Well, I guess you're right," Margaret whispered in reply. "I never
thought of it before, but I guess you're right." And she nudged George
with her elbow.

The pallbearers had set the coffin in its place, and the minister now
began to read the brief and movingly solemn commitment service. Slowly
the coffin was lowered in its grave. And as the black lid disappeared
from sight George felt such a stab of wordless pain and grief as he had
never known. But he knew even as he felt it that it wasn't sorrow for
Aunt Maw. It was an aching pity for himself and for all men living, and
in it was the knowledge of the briefness of man's days, and the smallness
of his life, and the certain dark that comes too swiftly and that has no
end. And he felt, too, more personally, now with Aunt Maw gone and no
one left in all his family who was close to him, that one whole cycle of
time had closed for him. He thought of the future opening blankly up
before him, and for a moment he had an acute sense of terror and despair
like that of a lost child, for he felt now that the last tie that had
bound him to, his native earth was severed, and he saw himself as a
creature homeless, uprooted, and alone, with no door to enter, no place
to call his own, in all the vast desolation of the planet.

The people had now begun to move away and to walk back slowly towards
their cars. The Joyners, however, kept their seats until the last
spadeful of earth was heaped and patted into place. Then they arose,
their duty done. Some of them just stood there now, talking quietly in
their drawling voices, while others sauntered among the tombstones,
bending over to read the inscriptions and straightening up to recall and
tell each other some forgotten incident in the life of some forgotten
Joyner. At last they, too, began to drift away.

George did not want to go back with them and be forced to hear the
shreds of Aunt Maw's life torn apart and pieced together again, so he
linked his arm through Margaret's and led her over the brow of the hill
to the other side. For a little while they stood in the slanting light,
silent, their faces to the west, and watched the great ball of the sun
sink down behind the rim of distant mountains. And the majestic beauty of
the spectacle, together with the woman's quiet presence there beside him,
brought calm and peace to the young man's troubled spirit.

When they came back, the cemetery appeared to be deserted. But as they
approached the Joyner plot they saw that Mrs. Delia Flood was still
waiting for them. They had forgotten her, and realised now that she could
not go without them, for there was only one car on the gravelled roadway
below and the hired chauffeur was slumped behind his wheel, asleep. In
the fast-failing light Mrs. Flood was wandering among the graves,
stopping now and then to stoop and peer closely at an inscription on a
stone. Then she would stand there meditatively and look out across the
town, where the first lights were already beginning to wink on. She
turned to them casually when they came up, as though she had taken no
notice of their absence, and spoke to them in her curious fragmentary
way, plucking the words right out of the middle of her thoughts.

"Why, to think," she said reflectively, "that he would go and move her!
To think that any man could be so hard-hearted! Oh!" she shuddered with a
brief convulsive pucker of revulsion. "It makes my blood run cold to
think of it--and everybody told him so!--they told him so at the time--to
think he would have no more mercy in him than to go and move her from the
place where she lay buried!"

"Who was that, Mrs. Flood?" George said absently. "Move who?"

"Why, Amelia, of course--your _mother_, child!" she said
impatiently, and gestured briefly towards the weather-rusted stone.

He bent forward and read again the familiar inscription:

Amelia Webber, née Joyner

and below her dates the carved verse:

Still is the voice we knew so well,
Vanished the face we love,
Flown her spirit pure to dwell
With angels up above.
Ours is the sorrow, ours the pain,
And ours the joy alone
To clasp her in our arms again
In Heaven, by God's throne.

"That's the thing that started all this movin'!" Mrs. Flood was saying.
"Nobody'd ever have thought of comin' here if it hadn't been for Amelia!
And here," she cried fretfully, "the woman had been dead and in her grave
more than a year when he gets this notion in his head he's got to move
her--and you couldn't reason with him! Why, your uncle, Mark
Joyner--that's who it was! You couldn't argue with him!" she cried with
vehement surprise. "Why, yes, of course! It was back there at the time
they were havin' all that trouble with your father, child. He'd left
Amelia and gone to live with that other woman--but I _will_ say this
for him!" and she nodded her head with determination. "When Amelia died,
John Webber did the decent thing and buried her himself--claimed
her as his wife and buried her! He'd bought a plot in the old
cemetery, and that's where he put her. But then, more than a year
afterwards--_you_ know, child--when Mark Joyner had that trouble
with your father about who was to bring you up--yes, and took it to the
courts and won!--why, that's when it was that Mark took it in his head to
move Amelia. Said he wouldn't let a sister of his lie in Webber earth! He
already had this plot, of course, way over here on this hill where
nobody'd ever thought of goin'. It was just a little private buryin'
ground, then--a few families used it, that was all."

She paused and looked out thoughtfully over the town, then after a moment
she went on:

"Your Aunt Maw, she tried to talk to Mark about it, but it was like
talkin' to a stone wall. She told me all about it at the time. But no,
sir!" she shook her head with a movement of strong decision. "He'd made
up his mind and he wouldn't budge from it an inch! 'But see here, Mark,'
she said. 'The thing's not right! Amelia ought to stay where she's
buried!' She didn't like the looks of it, you know. 'Even the dead have
got their rights,' she said. 'Where the tree falls, there let it
lie!'--that's what she told him. But no! He wouldn't listen--you couldn't
talk to him. He says: 'I'll move her if it's the last thing I ever live
to do! I'll move her if I have to dig her up myself and carry the coffin
on my back all the way to the top of that hill across the river! That's
where she's goin',' he says, 'and you needn't argue any more!' Well, your
Aunt Maw saw then that he had his mind made up and that it wouldn't do
any good to talk to him about it. But oh! an awful mistake! an
_awful_ mistake!" she muttered, shaking her head slowly. "All that
movin' and expense for nothin'! If he felt that way, he should've brought
her over here in the first place, when she died! But I guess it was the
lawsuit and all the bad blood it stirred up that made him feel that way,"
she now said tranquilly..."And that's the reason all these other people
are buried here"--she made a sweeping gesture with her arm--"that's what
started it, all right! Why, of course! When the old cemetery got filled
up and they had to look round for a new site--why, one of those fellows
in Parson Flack's gang at City Hall, he remembered the rumpus about
Amelia and thought of all these empty acres way out here beside the old
buryin' ground. He found he could buy 'em cheap, and that's what he did.
That's exactly how it was," she said. "But I've always regretted it. I
was against it from the start."

She fell silent again, and stood looking with solemn-eyed memory at the
weather-rusted stone.

"Well, as I say, then," she went on calmly, "when your Aunt Maw saw he
had his mind made up and that there was no use to try to change
him--well, she went out to the old cemetery the day they moved her, and
she asked me to go with her, you know. Oh, it was one of those raw, windy
days you get in March! The very kind of day Amelia died on. And old Mrs.
Wrenn and Amy Williamson--they had both been good friends of Amelia's--of
course they went along, too. And, of course, when we got there, they were
curious--they wanted to have a look, you know," she said calmly,
mentioning this grisly desire with no surprise whatever. "And they tried
to get me to look at it, too. Your Aunt Maw got so sick that Mark had to
take her home in the carriage, but I stood my ground. 'No,' I said, 'you
go on and satisfy your curiosity if that's what you want to do, but I
won't look at it!' I said, 'I'd rather remember her the way she was.'
Well, sir, they went ahead and did it then. They got old Prove--you know,
he was that old nigger man that worked for Mark--they got him to open up
the coffin, and I turned my back and walked away a little piece until
they got through lookin'," she said tranquilly. "And pretty soon I heard
'em comin'. Well, I turned round and looked at 'em, and let me tell you
somethin'," she said gravely, "their faces were a study! Oh, they turned
pale and they trembled! 'Well, are you satisfied?' I said. 'Did you find
what you were lookin' for?' 'Oh-h! says old Mrs. Wrenn, pale as a ghost,
shakin' and wringin' her hands, you know. 'Oh, Delia!' she says, 'it was
awful! I'm sorry that I looked!' she says. 'Ah-ha!' I said. 'What did I
tell you? You see, don't you?' And she says: 'Oh-h, it was all gone!--all
gone!--all rotted away to nothin' so you couldn't recognise her! The face
was all gone until you could see the teeth! And the nails had all grown
out long! But Delia!' she says, 'the hair!--the hair! Oh, I tell you
what;' she says, 'the hair was beautiful! It had grown out until it
covered everything--the finest head of hair I ever saw on anyone! But the
rest of it--oh, I'm sorry that I looked!' she says. 'Well, I thought so!
I thought so!' I said. 'I knew you'd be sorry, so I wouldn't look!'...But
that's the way it was, all right," she concluded with the quiet
satisfaction of omniscience.

Through this recital George and Margaret had stood transfixed, a look of
horror on their faces, but Mrs. Flood did not notice them. She stood now
looking down at Amelia's tombstone, her lips puckered thoughtfully, and
after a little while she said:

"I don't know _when_ I've thought of Amelia and John Webber--both of
'em dead and in their graves through all these years. She lies here, and
he's all alone in his own lot over there on the other side of town, and
that old trouble that they had seems very far away. You know," she said,
looking up and speaking with a tone of deep conviction, "I believe that
they have joined each other and are reconciled and happy. I believe I'll
meet them some day in a Higher Sphere, along with all my other
friends--all happy, and all leading a new life."

She was silent for a moment, and then, with a movement of strong
decision, she turned away and looked out towards the town, where the
lights were now burning hard and bright and steady in the dusk.

"Come, now!" she cried briskly and cheerfully. "It's time we were goin'
home! It's gettin' dark!"

The three of them walked in silence down the slope towards the waiting
car. As they came up to it and were about to get in, Mrs. Flood stopped
and laid her hand on George's shoulder in a warm and easy gesture.

"Young man," she said, "I've been a long time livin' on this earth, and
as the fellow says, the world do move! You've got your life ahead of you,
and lots to learn and many things to do--but let me tell you somethin',
boy!" and all at once she looked at him in a straight and deadly fashion.
"Go out and see the world and get your fill of wanderin'," she cried,
"and then come back and tell me if you've found a better place than home!
I've seen great changes in my time, and I'll see more before I die. There
are great things yet in store for us--great progress, great
inventions--it will all come true. Perhaps I'll not live to see it, but
you will! We've got a fine town here, and fine people to make it go--and
we're not done yet. I've seen it all grow up out of a country
village--and some day we will have a great city here."

She waited an instant as if she expected him to answer and corroborate
her judgment, and when he merely nodded to show that he had heard her,
she took it for agreement and went on:

"Your Aunt Maw always hoped that you'd come home again. And you
_will!_" she said. "There's no better or more beautiful place on
earth than in these mountains--and some day you'll come home again to
stay."



7. Boom Town


During the week that followed Aunt Maw's funeral George renewed his
acquaintance with his home town, and it was a disconcerting experience.
The sleepy little mountain village in which he had grown up--for it had
been hardly more than that then--was now changed almost beyond
recognition. The very streets that he had known so well, and had
remembered through the years in their familiar aspect of early-afternoon
emptiness and drowsy lethargy, were now foaming with life, crowded with
expensive traffic, filled with new faces he had never seen before.
Occasionally he saw somebody that he knew, and in the strangeness of it
all they seemed to him like lights shining in the darkness of a lonely
coast.

But what he noticed chiefly--and once he observed it he began watching
for it, and it was always there--was the look on the people's faces. It
puzzled him, and frightened him, and when he tried to find a word to
describe it, the only thing he could think of was--madness. The nervous,
excited glitter in the eyes seemed to belong to nothing else but madness.
The faces of natives and strangers alike appeared to be animated by some
secret and unholy glee. And their bodies, as they darted, dodged, and
thrust their way along, seemed to have a kind of leaping energy as if
some powerful drug was driving them on. They gave him the impression of
an entire population that was drunk--drunk with an intoxication which
never made them weary, dead, or sodden, and which never wore of, but
which incited them constantly to new efforts of leaping and thrusting
exuberance.

The people he had known all his life cried out to him along the streets,
seizing his hand and shaking it, and saying: "Hi, there, boy! Glad to see
you home again! Going to be with us for a while now? Good! I'll be seeing
you! I've got to go on now--got to meet a fellow down the street to sign
some papers! Good to see you, boy!" Then, having uttered this tempestuous
greeting without a pause and without the loss of a stride, pulling and
dragging him along with them 'as they wrung his hand, they vanished.

On all sides he heard talk, talk, talk--terrific and incessant. And the
tumult of voices was united in variations of a single chorus--speculation
and real estate. People were gathered in earnestly chattering groups
before the drug-stores, before the post office, before the Court House
and the City Hall. They hurried along the pavements talking together with
passionate absorption, bestowing half-abstracted nods of greeting from
time to time on passing acquaintances.

The real estate men were everywhere. Their motors and buses roared
through the streets of the town and out into the country, carrying crowds
of prospective clients. One could see them on the porches of houses
unfolding blueprints and prospectuses as they shouted enticements and
promises of sudden wealth into the ears of deaf old women. Everyone was
fair game for them--the lame, the halt, and the blind, Civil War veterans
or their decrepit pensioned widows, as well as high school boys and
girls, negro truck drivers, soda jerkers, elevator boys, and bootblacks.

Everyone bought real estate; and everyone was "a real estate man" either
in name or practice. The barbers, the lawyers, the grocers, the butchers,
the builders, the clothiers--all were engaged now in this single interest
and obsession. And there seemed to be only one rule, universal and
infallible--to buy, always to buy, to pay whatever price was asked, and
to sell again within two days at any price one chose to fix. It was
fantastic. Along all the streets in town the ownership of the land was
constantly changing; and when the supply of streets was exhausted, new
streets were feverishly created in the surrounding wilderness; and even
before these streets were paved or a house had been built upon them, the
land was being sold, and then resold, by the acre, by the lot, by the
foot, for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A spirit of drunken waste and wild destructiveness was everywhere
apparent. The fairest places in the town were being mutilated at untold
cost. In the centre of town there had been a beautiful green opulent with
rich lawns and lordly trees, with beds of flowers and banks of
honeysuckle, and on top of it there had been an immense, rambling, old
wooden hotel. From its windows one could look out upon the vast panorama
of mountain ranges in the smoky distance.

George could remember its wide porches and comfortable rockers, its
innumerable eaves and gables, its labyrinth of wings and corridors, its
great parlours and their thick red carpets, and the lobby with its old
red leather chairs, hollowed and shaped by the backs of men, and its
smell of tobacco and its iced tinkle of tall drinks. It had a splendid
dining-room filled with laughter and quiet voices, where expert negroes
in white jackets bent and scraped and chuckled over the jokes of the rich
men from the North as with prayerful grace they served them delicious
foods out of old silver dishes. George could remember, too, the smiles
and the tender beauty of the rich men's wives and daughters. As a boy he
had been touched with the unutterable mystery of all these things, for
these wealthy travellers had come great distances and had somehow brought
with them an evocation of the whole golden and unvisited world, with its
fabulous cities and its promise of glory, fame, and love.

It had been one of the pleasantest places in the town, but now it was
gone. An army of men and shovels had advanced upon this beautiful green
hill and had levelled it down to an ugly flat of clay, and had paved it
with a desolate horror of white concrete, and had built stores and
garages and office buildings and parking spaces--all raw and new--and
were now putting up a new hotel beneath the very spot where the old one
had stood. It was to be a structure of sixteen storeys, of steel and
concrete and pressed brick. It was being stamped out of the same mould,
as if by some gigantic biscuit-cutter of hotels, that had produced a
thousand others like it all over the country. And, to give a
sumptuous--if spurious--distinction to its patterned uniformity, it was
to be called The Libya-Ritz.

One day George ran into Sam Pennock, a boyhood friend and a classmate at
Pine Rock College. Sam came down the busy street swiftly at his anxious,
lunging stride, and immediately, without a word of greeting, he broke
hoarsely into the abrupt and fragmentary manner of speaking that had
always been characteristic of him, but that now seemed more feverish than
ever:

"When did you get here?...How long are you going to stay?...What do you
think of the way things look here?" Then, without waiting for an answer,
he demanded with brusque, challenging, and almost impatient scornfulness:
"Well, what do you intend to do--be a two-thousand-dollar-a-year
school-teacher all your life?"

The contemptuous tone, with its implication of superiority--an
implication he had noticed before in the attitude of these people, big
with their inflated sense of wealth and achievement--stung George to
retort sharply:

"There are worse things than teaching school! Being a paper millionaire
is one of them! As for the two thousand dollars a year, you really get
it, Sam! It's not real estate money, it's money you can spend. You can
buy a ham sandwich with it."

Sam laughed. "You're right!" he said. "I don't blame you. It's the
truth!" He began to shake his head slowly. "Lord, Lord!" he said.
"They've all gone clean out of their heads here...Never saw anything like
it in my life...Why, they're all crazy-as a loon!" he exclaimed. "You
can't talk to them...You can't reason with them...They won't listen to
you...They're getting prices for property here that you couldn't get' in
New York."

"Are they _getting_ it?"

"Well," he said, with a falsetto laugh, "they get the first five hundred
dollars...You pay the next five hundred thousand on time."

"How much time?"

"God!" he said. "I don't know...All you want, I reckon...For ever!...It
doesn't matter...You sell it next day for a million."

"On time?"

"That's it!" he cried, laughing. "You make half a million just like that."

"On time?"

"You've got it!" said Sam. "On time...God! Crazy, crazy, crazy," he kept
laughing and shaking his head. "That's the way they make it."

"Are you making it, too?"

At once his manner became feverishly earnest: "Why, it's the damnedest
thing you ever heard of!" he said. "I'm raking it in hand over
fist!...Made three hundred thousand dollars in the last two months...Why,
it's the truth!...Made a trade yesterday and turned round and sold the
lot again not two hours later...Fifty thousand dollars just like that!"
he snapped his fingers. "Does your uncle want to sell that house on
Locust Street where your Aunt Maw lived?...Have you talked to him about
it?...Would he consider an offer?"

"I suppose so, if he gets enough."

"How much does be want?" he demanded impatiently. "Would he take a
hundred thousand?"

"Could you get it for him?"

"I could get it within twenty-four hours," he said. "I know a man who'd
snap it up in five minutes...I tell you what I'll do, Monk, if you
persuade him to sell--I'll split the commission with you...I'll give you
five thousand dollars."

"All right, Sam, it's a go. Could you let me have fifty cents on
account?"

"Do you think he'll sell?" he asked eagerly.

"Really, I don't know, but I doubt it. That place was my grandfather's.
It's been in the family a long time. I imagine he'll want to keep it."

"Keep it! What's the sense in keeping it?...Now's the time when things
are at the peak. He'll never get a better offer!"

"I know, but he's expecting to strike oil out in the backyard any time
now," said George with a laugh.

At this moment there was a disturbance among the tides of traffic in the
street. A magnificent car detached itself from the stream of humbler
vehicles and moved in swiftly to the kerb, where it came to a smooth
stop--a glitter of nickel, glass, and burnished steel. From it a gaudily
attired creature stepped down to the pavement with an air of princely
indolence, tucked a light Malacca cane carelessly under its right armpit,
and slowly and fastidiously withdrew from its nicotined fingers a pair of
lemon-coloured gloves, at the same time saying to the liveried chauffeur:

"You may go, James. Call for me again in hal-luf an houah!" The
creature's face was thin and sunken. Its complexion was a deathly
sallow--all except the nose, which was bulbous and glowed a brilliant
red, showing an intricate network of enlarged purple veins. Its toothless
jaws were equipped with such an enormous set of glittering false teeth
that the lips could not cover them, and they grinned at the world with
the prognathous bleakness of a skeleton. The whole figure, although heavy
and shambling, had the tottering appearance which suggested a stupendous
debauchery. It moved forward with its false, bleak grin, leaning heavily
upon the stick, and suddenly George recognised that native ruin which had
been known to him since childhood as Tim Wagner.

J. Timothy Wagner--the "J" was a recent and completely arbitrary addition
of his own, appropriated, no doubt, to fit his ideas of personal
grandeur, and to match the eminent position in the town's affairs to
which he had belatedly risen--was the black sheep of one of the old,
established families in the community. At the time George Webber was a
boy, Tim Wagner had been for so long the product of complete disillusion
that there was no longer any vestige of respect attached to him.

He had been pre-eminently the town sot. His title to this office was
unquestioned. In this capacity he was even held in a kind of affection.
His exploits were notorious, the subjects of a hundred stories. One
night, for example, the loafers in McCormack's pharmacy had seen Tim
swallow something and then shudder convulsively. This process was
repeated several times, until the curiosity of the loafers was aroused.
They began to observe him furtively but closely, and in a few minutes Tim
thrust out his hand slyly, fumbled round in the gold-fish bowl, and
withdrew his hand with a wriggling little shape between his fingers. Then
the quick swallow and the convulsive shudder were repeated.

He had inherited two fortunes before his twenty-fifth year and had run
through them both. Hilarious stories were told of Tim's celebrated
pleasure tour upon the inheritance of the second fortune. He had
chartered a private car, stocked it plentifully with liquor, and selected
as his travelling companions the most notorious sots, vagabonds, and
tramps the community could furnish. The debauch had lasted eight months.
This party of itinerant bacchuses had made a tour of the entire country.
They had exploded their empty flasks against the ramparts of the Rocky
Mountains, tossed their empty kegs into San Francisco Bay, strewn the
plains with their beer bottles. At last the party had achieved a
condition of exhausted satiety in the nation's capital, where Tim, with
what was left of his inheritance, had engaged an entire floor at one of
the leading hotels. Then, one by one, the exhausted wanderers had drifted
back to town, bringing tales of bacchanalian orgies that had not been
equalled since the days of the Roman emperors, and leaving Tim finally in
solitary possession of the wreckage of empty suites.

From that time on he had slipped rapidly into a state of perpetual
sottishness. Even then, however, he had retained the traces of an
attractive and engaging personality. Everyone had had a tolerant and
unspoken affection for him. Save for the harm he did himself, Tim was an
inoffensive and good-natured creature.

His figure on the streets of the town at night had been a familiar one.
From sunset on, he might be found almost anywhere. It was easy to tell
what progressive state of intoxication he had reached simply by observing
his method of locomotion. No one ever saw him stagger. He did not weave
drunkenly along the pavement. Rather, when he approached the saturation
point, he walked very straight, very rapidly, but with funny little short
steps. As he walked he kept his face partly lowered, glancing quickly and
comically from side to side, with little possumlike looks. If he
approached complete paralysis, he just stood quietly and leaned against
something--a lamppost or a door-way or the side of a building or the
front of the drugstore. Here he would remain for hours in a state of
solemn immobility, broken only by an occasional belch. His face, already
grown thin and flabby-jowled, with its flaming beacon of a nose, would at
these times be composed in an expression of drunken gravity, and his
whole condition would be characterised by a remarkable alertness,
perceptiveness, and control. He rarely degenerated into complete
collapse. Almost always he could respond instantly and briskly to a word
of greeting.

Even the police had had a benevolent regard for him, and they had
exercised a friendly guardianship over him. Through long experience and
observation, every policeman on the force was thoroughly acquainted with
Tim's symptoms. They could tell at a glance just what degree of
intoxication he had reached, and if they thought he had crossed the final
border line and that his collapse in door-way or gutter was imminent,
they would take charge of him, speaking to him kindly, but with a stern
warning:

"Tim, if you're on the streets again to-night, we're going to lock you
up. Now you go on home and go to bed."

To this Tim would nod briskly, with instant and amiable agreement: "Yes,
sir, yes, sir. Just what I was going to do, Captain Crane, when you spoke
to me. Going home right this minute. Yes, sir."

With these words he would start off briskly across the street, his legs
making their little fast, short steps and his eyes darting comically from
side to side, until he had vanished round the corner. Within ten or
fifteen minutes, however, he might be seen again, easing his way along
cautiously in the dark shadow of a building, creeping up to the corner,
and peeking round with a sly look on his face to see if any of the
watchdogs of the law were in sight.

As time went on and his life lapsed more and more into total vagabondage,
one of his wealthy aunts, in the hope that some employment might
partially retrieve him, had given him the use of a vacant lot behind some
buildings in the business section of the town, a short half-block from
Main Street. The motor-car had now come in sufficient numbers to make
parking laws important, and Tim was allowed by his aunt to use this lot
as parking space for cars and to keep the money thus obtained. In this
employment he succeeded far better than anyone expected. He had little to
do except stay on the premises, and this was not difficult for him so
long as he was plentifully supplied with corn whisky.

During this period of his life some canvassers at a local election, had
looked for Tim to enrol him in the interest of their candidate, but they
had been unable to find out where he lived. He had not; lived, of course,
with any member of his family for years, and investigation failed to
disclose that he had a room anywhere. The question then began to go
round: "Where does Tim Wagner live? Where does he sleep?" No one could
find out. And Tim's own answers, when pressed for information, were slyly
evasive.

One day, however, the answer came to light. The motor-car had come, and
come so thoroughly that people were even getting buried by motor-car. The
day of the horse-drawn hearse had passed for ever. Accordingly, one of
the local undertaking firms had told Tim he could have their old
horse-drawn hearse if he would only take it off their premises. Tim had
accepted the macabre gift and had parked the hearse in his lot. One day
when Tim was absent the canvassers came back again, still persistent in
their efforts to learn his address so they could enrol him. They noticed
the old hearse, and, seeing that its raven curtains were so closely drawn
that the interior was hidden from view, they decided to investigate.
Cautiously they opened the doors of the hearse. A cot was inside. There
was even a chair. It was completely furnished as a small but adequate
bedroom.

So at last his secret had been found out. Henceforth all the town knew
where he lived.

That was Tim Wagner as George had known him fifteen years ago. Since then
he had been so constantly steeped in alcohol that his progressive
disintegration had been marked, and he had lately adopted the fantastic
trappings of a clown of royalty. Everyone knew all about him, and
yet--the fact was incredible!--Tim Wagner had now become the supreme
embodiment of the town's extravagant folly. For, as gamblers will stake a
fortune on some moment's whimsey of belief, thrusting their money into a
stranger's hand and bidding him to play with it because the colour of his
hair is lucky, or as racetrack men will rub the hump upon a cripple's
back to bring them luck, so the people of the town now listened
prayerfully to every word Tim Wagner uttered. They sought his opinion in
all their speculations, and acted instantly on this suggestions. He had
become--in what way and for what reason no one knew--the high priest and
prophet of this insanity of waste.

They knew that he was diseased and broken, that his wits were always
addled now with alcohol, but they used him as men once used divining
rods. They deferred to him as Russian peasants once deferred to the
village idiot. They now believed with an absolute and unquestioning faith
that some power of intuition in him made all his judgments infallible.

It was this creature who had just alighted at the kerb a little beyond
George Webber and Sam Pennock, full of drunken majesty and bleary-eyed
foppishness. Sam turned to him with a movement of feverish eagerness,
saying to George abruptly:

"Wait a minute! I've got to speak to Tim Wagner about something! Wait
till I come back!"

George watched the scene with amazement. Tim Wagner, still drawing the
gloves off of his fingers with an expression of bored casualness, walked
slowly over towards the entrance of McCormack's drug-store--no longer
were his steps short and quick, for he leaned heavily on his cane--while
Sam, in an attitude of obsequious entreaty, kept at his elbow, bending
his tall form towards him and hoarsely pouring out a torrent of
questions:

"...Property in West Libya...Seventy-five thousand dollars...Option
expires to-morrow at noon...Joe Ingram has the piece above mine...Won't
sell...Holding for hundred fifty...Mine's the best location...But Fred
Bynum says too far from main road...What do you think, Tim?...Is it worth
it?"

During the course of this torrential appeal Tim Wagner did not even turn
to look at his petitioner. He gave no evidence whatever that he heard
what Sam was saying. Instead, he stopped, thrust his gloves into his
pocket, cast, his eyes round slyly in a series of quick glances, and
suddenly began to root into himself violently with a clutching hand. Then
he straightened up like a man just coming out of a trance, and seemed to
become aware for the first time that Sam was waiting.

"What's that? What did you say, Sam?" he said rapidly. "How much did they
offer you for it? Don't sell, don't sell!" he said suddenly and with
great emphasis. "Now's the time to buy, not to sell. The trend is
upwards. Buy! Buy! Don't take it. Don't sell. That's my advice!"

"I'm not selling, Tim," Sam cried excitedly. "I'm thinking of buying."

"Oh--yes, yes, yes!" Tim muttered rapidly. "I see, I see." He turned now
for the first time and fixed his eyes upon his questioner. "Where did you
say it was?" he demanded sharply. "Deepwood? Good! Good! Can't go wrong!
Buy! Buy!"

He started to walk away into the drug-store, and the lounging idlers
moved aside deferentially to let him pass. Sam rushed after him
frantically and caught him by the arm, shouting:

"No, no, Tim! It's not Deepwood! It's the other way...I've been telling
you...It's West Libya!"

"What's that?" Tim cried sharply. "West Libya? Why didn't you say so?
That's different. Buy! Buy! Can't go wrong! Whole town's moving in that
direction. Values double out there in six months. How much do they want?"

"Seventy-five thousand," Sam panted. "Option expires tomorrow...Five yeas
to pay it up."

"Buy! Buy!" Tim barked, and walked off into the drug-store.

Sam strode back towards George, his eyes blazing with excitement.

"Did you hear him? Did you hear what he said?" he demanded hoarsely. "You
heard him, didn't you?...Best damned judge of real estate that ever
lived...Never known to make a mistake!...'Buy! Buy! Will double in value
in six months!'...You were standing right here"--he said hoarsely and
accusingly, glaring at George--"you heard what he said, didn't you?"

"Yes, I heard him."

Sam glanced wildly about him, passed his hand nervously through his hair
several times, and then said, sighing heavily and shaking his head in
wonder:

"Seventy-five thousand dollars' profit in one deal!...Never heard
anything like it in my...life! Lord, Lord!" he cried. "What are we
coming to?"

Somehow the news had got round that George had written a book and that it
would soon be published. The editor of the local paper heard of it and
sent a reporter to interview him, and printed a story about it.

"So you've written a book?" said the reporter. "What kind of a book is
it? What's it about?"

"Why--I--I hardly know how to tell you," George stammered. "It--it's a
novel----"

"A Southern novel? Anything to do with this part of the country?"

"Well--yes--that is--it's about the South, all right--about an Old
Catawba family--but----"

LOCAL BOY WRITES ROMANCE OF THE OLD SOUTH

George Webber, son of the late John Webber and nephew of Mark Joyner,
local hardware merchant, has written a novel with a Libya Hill background
which the New York house of James Rodney & Co. will publish this
autumn.

When interviewed last night, the young author stated that his book was a
romance of the Old South, centring about the history of a distinguished
antebellum family of this region. The people of Libya Hill and environs
will await the publication of the book with special interest, not only
because many of them will remember the author, who was born and brought
up here, but also because that stirring period of Old Catawba's past has
never before been accorded its rightful place of honour in the annals of
Southern literature.

"We understand you have travelled a great deal since you left home. Been
to Europe several times?"

"Yes, I have."

"In your opinion, how does this section of the country compare with other
places you have seen?"

"Why--why--er--why _good!_...I mean, _fine!_ That is----"

LOCAL PARADISE COMPARES FAVOURABLY

In answer to the reporter's question as to how this part of the country
compared to other places he had seen, the former Libya man
declared:

"There is no place I have ever visited--and my travels have taken me to
England, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, to
say nothing of the south of France, the Italian Riviera, and the Swiss
Alps--which can compare in beauty with the setting of my native
town.

"We have here," he said enthusiastically, "a veritable Paradise of
Nature. Air, climate, scenery, water, natural beauty, all conspire to
make this section the most ideal place in the whole world to
live."

"Did you ever think of coming back here to live?"

"Well--yes--I _have_ thought of it--but--you see----"

WILL SETTLE AND BUILD HERE

When questioned as to his future plans, the author said:

"For years, my dearest hope and chief ambition has been that one day I
should be able to come back here to live. One who has ever known the
magic of these hills cannot forget them. I hope, therefore, that the time
is not far distant when I may return for good.

"Here, I feel, as nowhere else," the author continued wistfully, "that I
will be able to and the inspiration that I must have to do my work.
Scenically, climatically, geographically, and in every other way, the
logical spot for a modern renaissance is right here among these hills.
There is no reason why, in ten years' time, this community should not be
a great artistic colony, drawing to it the great artists, the music and
the beauty lovers, of the whole world, as Salzburg does now. The
Rhododendron Festival is already a step in the right direction.

"It shall be a part of my purpose from now on," the earnest young author
added, "to do everything in my power to further this great cause, and to
urge all my writing and artistic friends to settle hereto make Libya Hill
the place it ought to be--The Athens of America."

"Do you intend to write another book?"

"Yes--that is--I hope so. In fact--"

"Would you care to say anything about it?"

"Well--I don't know--it's pretty hard to say----"

"Come on, son, don't be bashful. We're all your home folks here...Now,
take Longfellow. _There_ was a great writer! You know what a young
fellow with your ability ought to do? He ought to come back here and do
for this section what Longfellow did for New England..."

PLANS NATIVE SAGA

When pressed for details about the literary work he hopes to do
hereafter, the author became quite explicit:

"I want to return here," he said, "and commemorate the life, history, and
development of Western Catawba in a series of poetic legends comparable
to those with which the poet Longfellow commemorated the life of the
Acadians and the folklore of the New England countryside. What I have in
mind is a trilogy that will begin with the early settlement of the region
by the first pioneers, among them my own forebears, and will trace the
steady progress of Libya Hill from its founding and the coming of the
railroad right down to its present international prominence and the proud
place it occupies to-day as 'The Gem City of the Hills'."

George writhed and swore when he read the article. There was hardly an
accurate statement in it. He felt angry and sheepish and guilty all at
the same time.

He sat down and wrote a scathing letter to the paper, but when he had
finished he tore it up. After all, what good would it do? The reporter
had spun his story out of nothing more substantial than his victim's
friendly tones and gestures, a few words and phrases which he had blurted
out in his confusion, and, above all, his reticence to talk about his
work; yet the fellow had obviously been so steeped in the booster spirit
that he had been able to concoct this elaborate fantasy--probably without
quite knowing that it was a fantasy.

Then, too, he reflected, people would take an emphatic denial of the
statements that had been attributed to him as evidence that he was a
sorehead, full of conceit about his book. You couldn't undo the effect of
a thing like this with a simple negative. If he gave the lie to all that
gush, everybody would say he was attacking the town and turning against
those who had nurtured him. Better let bad enough alone.

So he did nothing about it. And after that, strangely enough, it seemed
to George that the attitude of people changed towards him. Not that they
had been unfriendly before. It was only that he now felt they approved of
him. This in itself gave him a quiet sense of accomplishment, as if the
stamp of business confirmation had been put upon him.

Like all Americans, George had been amorous of material success, so it
made him happy now to know that the people of his home town believed he
had got it, or at any rate was at last on the highroad to it. One thing
about the whole affair was most fortunate. The publisher who had accepted
his book had an old and much respected name; people knew the name, and
would meet him on the street and wring his hand and say:

"So your book is going to be published by James Rodney & Co.?"

That simple question, asked with advance knowledge of the fact, had a
wonderful sound. It had a ring, not only of congratulation that his book
was being published, but also of implication that the distinguished house
of Rodney had been fortunate to secure it. That was the way it sounded,
and it was probably also the way it was meant. He had the feeling,
therefore, that in the eyes of his own people he had "arrived". He was no
longer a queer young fellow who had consumed his substance in the deluded
hope that he was--oh, loaded word!--"a writer". He _was_ a writer.
He was not only a writer, but a writer who was about to be published, and
by the ancient and honourable James Rodney & Co.

There is something good in the way people welcome success, or
anything--no matter what--that is stamped with the markings of success.
It is not an ugly thing, really. People love success because to most of
them it means happiness, and, whatever form it takes, it is the image of
what they, in their hearts, would like to be. This is more true in
America than anywhere else. People put this label on the image of their
heart's desire because they have never had an image of another kind of
happiness. So, essentially, this love of success is not a bad thing, but
a good thing. It calls forth a general and noble response, even though
the response may also be mixed with self-interest. People are happy for
_your_ happiness because they want so much to be happy themselves.
Therefore it's a good thing. The idea behind it is good, anyhow. The only
trouble with it is that the direction is misplaced.

That was the way it seemed to George. He had gone through a long and
severe period of probation, and now he was approved. It made him very
happy. There is nothing in the world that will take the chip off of one's
shoulder like a feeling of success. The chip was off now, and George
didn't want to fight anybody. For the first time he felt that it was good
to be home again.

Not that he did not have his apprehensions. He knew what he had written
about the people and the life of his home town. He knew, too, that he had
written about them with a nakedness and directness which, up to that
time, had been rare in American fiction. He wondered how they would take
it. Even when people congratulated him about the book he could not
altogether escape a feeling of uneasiness, for he was afraid of what they
would say and think after the book came out and they had read it.

These apprehensions took violent possession of him one night in a most
vivid and horrible dream. He thought he was running and stumbling over
the blasted heath of some foreign land, fleeing in terror from he knew
not what. All that he knew was that he was filled with a nameless shame.
It was wordless, and as shapeless as a smothering fog, yet his whole mind
and soul shrank back in an agony of revulsion and self-contempt. So
overwhelming was his sense of loathing and guilt that he coveted the
place of murderers on whom the world had visited the fierceness of its
wrath. He envied the whole list of those criminals who had reaped the
sentence of mankind's dishonour--the thief, the liar, the trickster, the
outlaw, and the traitor--men whose names were anathema and were spoken
with a curse, but which _were_ spoken; for _he_ had committed a
crime for which there was no name, _he_ was putrescent with a taint
for which there was neither comprehension nor cure, he was rotten with a
vileness of corruption that placed him equally beyond salvation or
vengeance, remote alike from pity, love, and hatred, and unworthy of a
curse. Thus he fled across the immeasurable and barren heath beneath a
burning sky, an exile in the centre of a planetary vacancy which, like
his own shameful self, had no place either among things living or among
things dead, and in which there was neither vengeance of lightning nor
mercy of burial; for in all that limitless horizon there was no shade or
shelter, no curve or bend, no hill or tree or hollow: there was only one
vast, naked eye--searing and inscrutable--from which there was no escape,
and which bathed his defenceless soul in its fathomless depths of shame.

And then, with bright and sharp intensity, the dream changed, and
suddenly he found himself among the scenes and faces he had known long
ago. He was a traveller who had returned after many years of wandering to
the place he had known in his childhood. The sense of his dreadful but
nameless corruption still hung ominously above him as he entered the
streets of the town again, and he knew that he had returned to the
springs of innocence and health from whence he came, and by which he
would be saved.

But as he came into the town he became aware that the knowledge of his
guilt was everywhere about him. He saw the men and women he had known in
childhood, the boys with whom he had gone to school, the girls he had
taken to dances. They were engaged in all their varied activities of life
and business, and they showed their friendship towards one another, but
when he approached and offered his hand in greeting they looked at him
with blank stares, and in their gaze there was no love, hatred, pity,
loathing, or any feeling whatsoever. Their faces, which had been full of
friendliness and affection when they spoke to one another, went dead;
they gave no sign of recognition or of greeting; they answered him
briefly in toneless voices, giving him what information he asked, and
repulsed every effort he made towards a resumption of old friendship with
the annihilation of silence and that blank and level stare. They did not
laugh or mock or nudge or whisper when he passed; they only waited and
were still, as if they wanted but one thing--that he should depart out of
their sight.

He walked on through the old familiar streets, past houses and places
that lived again for him as if he had never left them, and by people who
grew still and waited until he had gone, and the knowledge of wordless
guilt was rooted in his soul. He knew that he was obliterated from their
lives more completely than if he had died, and he felt that he was now
lost to all men.

Presently he had left the town, and was again upon the blasted heath, and
he was fleeing across it beneath the pitiless sky where flamed the naked
eye that pierced him with its unutterable weight of shame.



8. The Company


George considered himself lucky to have the little room over the
Shepperton garage. He was also glad that his visit had overlapped that of
Mr. David Merrit, and that Mr. Merrit had been allowed to enjoy
undisturbed the greater comfort of the Shepperton guest room, for Mr.
Merrit had filled him with a pleasant glow at their first meeting. He was
a ruddy, plump, well-kept man of forty-five or so, always ready with a
joke and immensely agreeable, with pockets bulging with savoury cigars
which he handed out to people on the slightest provocation. Randy had
spoken of him as "the Company's man," and, although George did not know
what the duties of a "Company's man" were, Mr. Merrit made them seem very
pleasant.

George knew, of course, that Mr. Merrit was Randy's boss, and he learned
that Mr. Merrit was in the habit of coming to town every two or three
months. He would arrive like a benevolent, pink-cheeked Santa Claus,
making his jolly little jokes, passing out his fat cigars, putting his
arm round people's shoulders, and, in general, making everyone feel good.
As he said himself:

"I've got to turn up now and then just to see that the boys are behaving
themselves, and not taking in any wooden nickels."

Here he winked at George in such a comical way that all of them had to
grin. Then he gave George a big cigar.

His functions seemed to be ambassadorial. He was always taking Randy and
the salesmen of the Company out to lunch or dinner, and, save for brief
visits to the office, he seemed to spend most of his time inaugurating
an era of good feeling and high living. He would go around town and meet
everybody, slapping people on the back and calling them by their first
names, and for a week after he had left the business men of Libya Hill
would still be smoking his cigars. When he came to town he always stayed
"out of the house", and one knew that Margaret would prepare her best
meals for him, and that there would be some good drinks. Mr. Merrit
supplied the drinks himself, for he always brought along a plentiful
store of expensive beverages. George could see at their first meeting
that he was the kind of man who exudes an aura of good fellowship, and
that was why it was so pleasant to have Mr. Merrit staying in the house.

Mr. Merrit was not only a nice fellow. He was also "with the Company",
and George soon realised that "the Company" was a vital and mysterious
force in all their lives. Randy had gone with it as soon as he left
college. He had been sent to the main office, up North somewhere, and had
been put through a course of training. Then he had come back South and
had worked his way up from salesman to district agent--an important
member of the sales organisation.

"The Company", "district agent", "the sales organisation"--mysterious
titles all of them, but most comforting. During the week George was in
Libya Hill with Randy and Margaret, Mr. Merrit was usually on hand at
meal times, and at night he would sit out on the front porch with them
and carry on in his jolly way, joking and laughing and giving them all a
good time. Sometimes he would talk shop with Randy, telling stories about
the Company and about his own experiences in the organisation, and before
long George began to pick up a pretty good idea of what it was all about.

The Federal Weight, Scales, and Computing Company was a far-flung empire
which had a superficial aspect of great complexity, but in its essence it
was really beautifully simple. Its heart and soul--indeed, its very
life--was its sales organisation.

The entire country was divided into districts, and over each district an
agent was appointed. This agent, in turn, employed salesmen to cover the
various portions of his district. Each district also had an "office man"
to attend to any business that might come up while the agent and his
salesmen were away, and a "repair man" whose duty it was to overhaul
damaged or broken-down machines. Together, these comprised the agency,
and the country was so divided that there was, on the average, an agency
for every unit of half a million people in the total population. Thus
there were two hundred and sixty or seventy agencies through the nation,
and the agents with their salesmen made up a working force of from twelve
to fifteen hundred men.

The higher purposes of this industrial empire, which the employees almost
never referred to by name, as who should speak of the deity with coarse
directness, but always with a just perceptible lowering and huskiness of
the voice as "the Company"--these higher purposes were also beautifully
simple. They were summed up in the famous utterance of the Great Man
himself, Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, who invariably repeated it every year
as a peroration to his hour-long address before the assembled members of
the sales organisation at their national convention. Standing before them
at the close of each year's session, he would sweep his arm in a gesture
of magnificent command towards an enormous map of the United States of
America that covered the whole wall behind him, and say:

"There's your market! Go out and sell them!"

What could be simpler and more beautiful than this? What could more
eloquently indicate that mighty sweep of the imagination which has been
celebrated in the annals of modern business under the name of "vision"?
The words had the spacious scope and austere directness that have
characterised the utterances of great leaders in every epoch of man's
history. It is Napoleon speaking to his troops in Egypt: "Soldiers, from
the summit of yonder pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you." It is
Captain Perry: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." It is Dewey at
Manila Bay: "You may fire when ready, Gridley." It is Grant before
Spottsylvania Court House: "I propose to fight it out on this line, if it
takes all summer."

So when Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, waved his arm at the wall and said:
"There's your market! Go out and sell them!"--the assembled captains,
lieutenants, and privates in the ranks of his sales organisation knew
that there were still giants in the earth, and that the age of romance
was not dead.

True, there had once been a time when the aspirations of the Company had
been more limited. That was when the founder of the institution, the
grandfather of Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, had expressed his modest hopes
by saying: "I should like to see one of my machines in every store, shop,
or business that needs one, and that can afford to pay for one." But the
self-denying restrictions implicit in the founder's statement had long
since become so out of date as to seem utterly mid-Victorian. Mr. David
Merrit admitted it himself. Much as he hated to speak ill of any man, and
especially the founder of the Company, he had to confess that by the
standards of 1929 the old gentleman had lacked vision.

"That's old stuff now," said Mr. Merrit, shaking his head and winking at
George, as though to take the curse off of his treason to the founder by
making a joke of it. "We've gone way beyond that!" he exclaimed with
pardonable pride. "Why, if we waited nowadays to sell a machine to
someone who _needs_ one, we'd get nowhere." He was nodding now at
Randy, and speaking with the seriousness of deep conviction. "We don't
wait until he _needs_ one. If he says he's getting along all right
without one, we make him buy one anyhow. We make him see the need, don't
we, Randy? In other words, we _create_ the need."

This, as Mr. Merrit went on to explain, was what is known in more
technical phrase as "creative salesmanship" or "creating the market". And
this poetic conception was the inspired work of one man--none other than
the present head of the Company, Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, himself. The
idea had come to him in a single blinding flash, born full-blown like
Pallas Athene from the head of Zeus, and Mr. Merrit still remembered the
momentous occasion as vividly as if it had been only yesterday. It was at
one of the meetings of the assembled parliaments of the Company that Mr.
Appleton, soaring in an impassioned flight of oratory, became so
intoxicated with the grandeur of his own vision that he stopped abruptly
in the middle of a sentence and stood there as one entranced, gazing out
dreamily into the unknown vistas of magic Canaan; and when he at last
went on again, it was in a voice surcharged with quivering emotion:

"My friends," he said, "the possibilities of the market, now that we see
how to create it, are practically unlimited!" Here he was silent for a
moment, and Mr. Merrit said that the Great Man actually paled and seemed
to stagger as he tried to speak, and that his voice faltered and sank to
an almost inaudible whisper, as if he himself could hardly comprehend the
magnitude of his own conception. "My friends"--he muttered thickly, and
was seen to clutch the rostrum for support--"my friends--seen
properly"--he whispered, and moistened his dry lips--"seen properly--the
market we shall create being what it is"--his voice grew stronger, and
the clarion words now rang forth--"there is no reason why one of our
machines should not be in the possession of every man, woman, and child
in the United\ States!" Then came the grand, familiar gesture to the map:
"There's your market, boys! Go out and sell them!"

Henceforth this vision became the stone on which Mr. Paul S. Appleton,
III, erected the magnificent edifice of the true church and living faith
which was called "the Company". And in the service of this vision Mr.
Appleton built up an organisation which worked with the beautiful
precision of a locomotive piston. Over the salesman was the agent, and
over the agent was the district supervisor, and over the district
supervisor was the district manager, and over the district manager was
the general manager, and over the general manager was--if not God
himself, then the next thing to it, for the agents and salesmen referred
to him in tones of proper reverence as "P. S. A."

Mr. Appleton also invented a special Company Heaven known as the Hundred
Club. Its membership was headed by P. S. A., and all the ranks of the
sales organisation were eligible, down to the humblest salesman. The
Hundred Club was a social order, but it was also a good deal more than
that. Each agent and salesman had a "quota"--that is to say, a certain
amount of business which was assigned to him as the normal average of his
district and capacity. A man's quota differed from another's according to
the size of his territory, its wealth, and his own experience and
ability. One man's quota would be sixty, another's eighty, another's
ninety or one hundred, and if he was a district agent, his quota would be
higher than that of a mere salesman. Each man, however, no matter how
small or how large his quota might be, was eligible for membership in the
Hundred Club, the only restriction being that he must average one hundred
per cent of his quota. If he averaged more--if he got, say, one hundred
and twenty per cent of his quota--there were appropriate honours and
rewards, not only social but financial as well. One could be either high
up or low down in the Hundred Club, for it had almost as many degrees of
merit as the Masonic order.

The unit of the quota system was "the point", and a point was forty
dollars' worth of business. So if a salesman had a quota of eighty, this
meant that he had to sell the products of the Federal Weight, Scales, and
Computing Company to the amount of at least $3200 every month, or almost
$40,000 a year. The rewards were high. A salesman's commission was from
fifteen to twenty per cent of his sales; an agent's from, twenty to
twenty-five per cent. Beyond this there were bonuses to be earned by
achieving or surpassing his quota. Thus it was possible for an ordinary
salesman in an average district to earn from $6,000 to $8,000 a year,
while an agent could earn from $12,000 to $15,000, and even more if his
district was an exceptionally good one.

So much for the rewards of Mr. Appleton's Heaven. But what would Heaven
be if there were no Hell? So Mr. Appleton was forced by the logic of the
situation to invent a Hell, too. Once a man's quota was fixed at any
given point, the Company never reduced it. Moreover, if a salesman's
quota was eighty points and he achieved it during the year, he must be
prepared at the beginning of the new year to find that his quota had been
increased to ninety points. One had to go onwards and upwards constantly,
and the race was to the swift.

While it was quite true that membership in the Hundred Club was not
compulsory, it was also true that Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, was a
theologian who, like Calvin, knew how to combine free will and
predestination. If one did not belong to the Hundred Club, the time was
not far distant when one would not belong to Mr. Appleton. Not to belong
to it was, for agent or salesman, the equivalent of living on the other
side of the railroad tracks. If one failed of admission to the Company
Heaven, or if one dropped out, his fellows would begin to ask guardedly:
"Where's Joe Klutz these days?" The answers would be vague, and in the
course of time Joe Klutz would be spoken of no more. He would fade into
oblivion. He was "no longer with the Company".

Mr. Paul S. Appleton, III, never had but the one revelation--the one
which Mr. Merrit so movingly described--but that was enough, and he never
let its glories and allurements grow dim. Four times a year, at the
beginning of each quarter, he would call his general manager before him
and say: "What's the matter, Elmer? You're not getting the business! The
market is _there!_ You know what you can do about it--or else...!"
Thereupon the general manager would summon the district managers one by
one and repeat to them the words and manner of P. S. A., and the district
managers would reenact the scene before each of the district supervisors,
who would duplicate it to the agents, who would pass it on to the
salesmen, who, since they had no one below them, would "get out and
hustle--or else!" This was called "keeping up the morale of the
organisation."

As Mr. David Merrit sat on the front porch and told of his many
experiences with the Company, his words conveyed to George Webber a great
deal more than he actually said. For his talk went on and on in its vein
of mellow reminiscence, and Mr. Merrit made his little jokes and puffed
contentedly at one of his own cigars, and everything he said carried an
overtone of "What a fine and wonderful thing it is to be connected with
the Company!"

He told, for example, about the splendid occasion every year when all the
members of the Hundred Club were brought together for what was known as
"The Week of Play". This was a magnificent annual outing conducted "at
the Company's expense". The meeting place might be in Philadelphia or
Washington, or in the tropic opulence of Los Angeles or Miami, or it
might be on board a chartered ship--one of the small but luxurious
twenty-thousand-tonners that ply the transatlantic routes--bound to
Bermuda or Havana. Wherever it was, the Hundred Club was given a free
sweep. If the journey was by sea, the ship was theirs--for a week. All
the liquor in the world was theirs, if they could drink it--and Bermuda's
coral isles, or the unlicensed privilege of gay Havana. For that one week
everything on earth that money could buy was at the command of the
members of the Hundred Club, everything was done on the grand scale, and
the Company--the immortal, paternal, and great-hearted Company--"paid for
everything".

But as Mr. Merrit painted his glowing picture of the fun they had on
these occasions, George Webber saw quite another image. It was an image
of twelve or fifteen hundred men--for on these pilgrimages, by general
consent, women (or, at any rate, wives) were debarred--twelve or fifteen
hundred men, Americans, most of them in their middle years, exhausted,
overwrought, their nerves frayed down and stretched to the breaking
point, met from all quarters of the continent "at the Company's expense"
for one brief, wild, gaudy week of riot. And George thought grimly what
this tragic spectacle of business men at play meant in terms of the
entire scheme of things and the plan of life that had produced it. He
began to understand, too, the changes which time had brought about in
Randy.

The last day of his week in Libya Hill, George had gone to the station to
buy his return ticket and he stopped in at Randy's office a little before
one o'clock to go home to lunch with him. The outer salesroom, with its
shining stock of scales and computing machines imposingly arrayed on
walnut pedestals, was deserted, so he sat down to wait. On one wall hung
a gigantic coloured poster. "August Was the Best Month in Federal
History," it read. "_Make September a Better One_! The Market's
There, Mr. Agent. The Rest Is Up to You!"

Behind the salesroom was a little partitioned Space which served Randy as
an office. As George waited, gradually he became aware of mysterious
sounds emanating from beyond the partition. First there was the rustle of
heavy paper, as if the pages of a ledger were being turned, and
occasionally there would be a quick murmur of hushed voices,
confidential, ominous, interspersed with grunts and half-suppressed
exclamations. Then all at once there were two loud bangs, as of a large
ledger being slammed shut and thrown upon a desk or table, and after a
moment's silence the voices rose louder, distinct, plainly audible.
Instantly he recognised Randy's voice--low, grave, hesitant, and deeply
troubled. The other voice he had never heard before.

But as he listened to that voice he began to tremble and grow white about
the lips. For its very tone was a foul insult to human life, an ugly
sneer whipped across the face of decent humanity, and as he realised that
that voice, these words, were being used against his friend, he had a
sudden blind feeling of murder in his heart. And what was so perplexing
and so troubling was that this devil's voice had in it as well a
curiously familiar note, as of someone he had known.

Then it came to him in a flash--it was Merrit speaking! The owner of that
voice, incredible as it seemed, was none other than that plump,
well-kept, jolly-looking man who had always been so full of hearty
cheerfulness and good spirits every time he had seen him.

Now, behind that little partition of glazed glass and varnished wood,
this man's voice had suddenly become fiendish. It was inconceivable, and
as George listened he grew sick, as one does in some awful nightmare when
he visions someone he knows doing some perverse and abominable act. But
what was most dreadful of all was Randy's voice, humble, low, submissive,
modestly entreating. Merrit's voice would cut across the air like a gob
of rasping phlegm, and then Randy's voice--gentle, hesitant, deeply
troubled--would come in from time to time in answer.

"Well, what's the matter? Don't you want the job?"

"Why--why, yes, you know I do, Dave--haw-w"--and Randy's voice lifted
a little in a troubled and protesting laugh.

"What's the matter that you're not getting the business?"
"Why--haw-w!"--again the little laugh, embarrassed and troubled--"I
_thought_ I was----"

"Well, you're not!" that rasping voice cut in like a knife. "This
district ought to deliver thirty per cent more business than you're
getting from it, and the Company is going to have it, too--or else! You
deliver or you go right out on your can! See? The Company doesn't give a
damn about you! It's after the business! You've been around a long time,
but you don't mean a damn bit more to the Company than anybody else! And
you know what's happened to a lot of other guys who got to feeling they
were too big for their job--don't you?"

"Why--why, yes, Dave--but--haw-w!" the little laugh
again"--but--honestly, I never thought----"

"We don't give a damn what you never thought!" the brutal voice ripped
in. "I've given you fair warning now! You get the business or out you
go!"

The glazed glass door burst open violently and Merrit came striding out
of the little partitioned office. When he saw George, he looked startled.
Then he was instantly transformed. His plump and ruddy face became
wreathed in smiles, and he cried out in a hearty tone:

"Well, well, well Look who's here! If it's not the old boy himself!"

Randy had followed him out, and Merrit now turned and winked humorously
at him, in the manner of a man who is carrying on a little bantering
byplay:

"Randy," he said, "I believe George gets better looking from day to day.
Has he broken any hearts yet?"

Randy tried to smile, grey-faced and haggardly.

"I bet you're burning them up in the Big Town," said Merrit, turning back
to George. "And, say, I read that piece in the paper about your book.
Great stuff, son! We're all proud of you!"

He gave George a hearty slap on the back and turned away with an air of
jaunty readiness, picked up his hat, and said cheerfully:

"Well, what d'ya say, folks? What about one of Margaret's famous meals,
out at the old homestead? Well, you can't hurt my feelings. I'm ready if
you are. Let's go!"

And, smiling, ruddy, plump, cheerful, a perverted picture of amiable good
will to all the world, he sauntered through the door. For a moment the
two old friends just stood there looking at each other, white and
haggard, with a bewildered expression in their eyes. In Randy's eyes
there was also a look of shame. With that instinct for loyalty which was
one of the roots of his soul, he said:

"Dave's a good fellow...You--you see, he's got to do these
things...He--he's with the Company."

George didn't say anything. For as Randy spoke, and George remembered all
that Merrit had told him about the Company, a terrific picture flashed
through his, mind. It was a picture he had seen in a gallery somewhere,
portraying a long line of men stretching from the Great Pyramid to the
very portals of great Pharaoh's house, and great Pharaoh stood with a
thonged whip in his hand and applied it unmercifully to the bare back and
shoulders of the man in front of him, who was great Pharaoh's chief
overseer, and in the hand of the overseer was a whip of many tails which
he unstintedly applied to the quivering back of the wretch before him,
who was the chief overseer's chief lieutenant, and in the lieutenant's
hand a whip of rawhide which he laid vigourously on the quailing body of
his head sergeant, and in the sergeant's hand a wicked flail with which
he belaboured a whole company of groaning corporals, and in the hands of
every corporal a knotted lash with which to whack a whole regiment of
slaves, who pulled and hauled and bore burdens and toiled and sweated and
built the towering structure of the pyramid.

So George didn't say anything. He couldn't. He had just found out
something about life that he had not known before.



9. The City of Lost Men


Late that afternoon George asked Margaret to go with him to the cemetery,
so she borrowed Randy's car and drove him out. On the way they stopped at
a florist's and bought some chrysanthemums, which George placed on Aunt
Maw's grave. There had been a heavy rain during the week and the new-made
mound had sunk an inch or two, leaving a jagged crack round its edges.

As he laid the flowers on the damp, raw earth, suddenly it struck him as
strange that he should be doing it. He was not a sentimental person, and
for a moment it puzzled him that he should be making this gesture. He
hadn't planned to do it. He had simply seen the florist's window as they
drove along and, without thinking, had stopped and got the flowers, and
now there they were.

Then he realised why he had done it--and why he had wanted to come back
to the cemetery at all. This visit to Libya Hill, which he had dreamed
about so many times as his home-coming, and which had not turned out in
any way as he had thought it would be, was really his leave-taking, his
farewell. The last tie that had bound him to his native earth was
severed, and he was going out from here to make a life for himself as
each man must--alone.

And now, once again, the dusk was falling in this place, and in the
valley below the lights were beginning to come on in the town. With
Margaret at his side, he stood there and looked down upon it, and she
seemed to understand his feelings, for she was quiet and said nothing.
Then, in a low voice, George began to speak to her. He needed to tell
someone all that he had thought and felt during his week at borne. Randy
was not available, and Margaret was the only one left to whom he could
talk. She listened without interruption as he spoke about his book and
his hopes for it, telling her as well as he could what kind of book it
was, and how much he feared that the town would not like it. She pressed
his arm reassuringly, and the gesture was more eloquent than any words
could be.

He did not say anything about Randy and Merrit. There was no need to
alarm her unduly, no sense in robbing her of that security which is so
fundamental to a woman's peace and happiness. Sufficient unto the day...

But he spoke at length about the town itself, telling her all that he had
seen of its speculative madness, and how it had impressed him. What did
the future hold for that place and its people? They were always talking
of the better life that lay ahead of them and of the greater city they
would build, but to George it seemed that in all such talk there was
evidence of a strange and savage hunger that drove them on, and that
there was a desperate quality in it, as though what they really hungered
for was ruin and death. It seemed to him that they _were_ ruined,
and that even when they laughed and shouted and smote each other on the
back, the knowledge of their ruin was in them.

They had squandered fabulous sums in meaningless streets and bridges.
They had torn down ancient buildings and erected new ones large enough to
take care of a city of half a million people. They had levelled hills and
bored through mountains, making magnificent tunnels paved with double
roadways and glittering with shining tiles--tunnels which leaped out on
the other side into Arcadian wilderness. They had flung away the earnings
of a lifetime, and mortgaged those of a generation to come. They had
ruined their city, and in doing so had ruined themselves, their children,
and their children's children.

Already the town had passed from their possession. They no longer owned
it. It was mortgaged under a debt of fifty million dollars, owned by
bonding companies in the North. The very streets they walked on had been
sold beneath their feet. They signed their names to papers calling for
the payment of fabulous sums, and resold their land the next day to other
madmen who signed away their lives with the same careless magnificence.
On paper, their profits were enormous, but their "boom" was already over
and they would not see it. They were staggering beneath obligations to
pay which none of them could meet--and still they bought.

And when they had exhausted all their possibilities of ruin and
extravagance that the town could offer, they had rushed out into the
wilderness, into the lyrical immensities of wild earth where there was
land enough for all men living, and they had staked off little plots and
wedges in the hills as one might try to stake a picket fence out in the
middle of the ocean. They had given fancy names to all these foolish
enterprises--"Wild Boulders"--"Shady Acres"--"Eagle's Crest". They had
set prices on these sites of forest, field, and tangled undergrowth that
might have bought a mountain, and made charts and drawings showing
populous communities of shops, houses, streets, roads, and clubs in
regions where there was no road, no street, no house, and which could not
be reached in any way save by a band of resolute pioneers armed with
axes. These places were to be transformed into idyllic colonies for
artists and writers and critics; and there were colonies as well for
preachers, doctors, actors, dancers, golf players, and retired locomotive
engineers. There were colonies for everyone, and, what is more, they sold
the lots--to one another!

But under all this flash and play of great endeavour, the paucity of
their designs and the starved meagreness of their lives were already
apparent. The better life which they talked about resolved itself into a
few sterile and baffled gestures. All they really did for themselves was
to build uglier and more expensive homes, and buy new cars, and join a
country club. And they did all this with a frenzied haste, because--it
seemed to George--they were looking for food to feed their hunger and had
not found it.

As he stood upon the hill and looked out on the scene that spread below
him in the gathering darkness, with its pattern of lights to mark the
streets and the creeping pin-pricks of the thronging traffic, he
remembered the barren night-time streets of the town he had known so well
in his boyhood. Their dreary and unpeopled desolation had burned its acid
print upon his memory. Bare and deserted by ten o'clock at night, those
streets had been an aching monotony, a weariness of hard lights and empty
pavements, a frozen torpor broken only occasionally by the footfalls of
some prowler--some desperate, famished, lonely man who hoped past hope
and past belief for some haven of comfort, warmth, and love there in the
wilderness, for the sudden opening of a magic door into some secret,
rich, and more abundant life. There had been many such, but they had
never found what they were searching for. They had been dying in the
darkness--without a goal, a certain purpose, or a door.

And that, it seemed to George, was the way the thing had come. That was
the way it had happened. Yes, it was there--on many a night long past and
wearily accomplished, in ten thousand little towns and in ten million
barren streets where all the passion, hope, and hunger of the famished
men beat like a great pulse through the fields of darkness--it was there
and nowhere else that all this madness had been brewed.

As he remembered the bleak, deserted streets of night which he had known
here fifteen years before, he thought again of Judge Rumford Bland, whose
solitary figure ranging restlessly through the sleeping town had been so
familiar to him and had struck such terror in his heart. Perhaps he was
the key to this whole tragedy. Perhaps Rumford Bland had sought his life
in darkness not because of something evil in him--though certainly there
was evil there--but because of something good that had not died.
Something in the man had always fought against the dullness of provincial
life, against is predudice, its caution, its smugness, its sterility, and
its lack of joy. He had looked for something better in the night, for a
place of warmth and fellowship, a moment of dark mystery, the thrill of
imminent and unknown adventure, the excitement of the hunt, pursuit,
perhaps the capture, and then the fulfilment of desire. Was it possible
that in the blind man whose whole life had become such a miracle of open
shamelessness, there had once been a warmth and an energy that had sought
for an enhancement of the town's cold values, and for a joy and a beauty
that were not there, but that lived in himself alone? Could that be what
had wrecked him? Was he one of the lost men--lost, really, only because
the town itself was lost, because his gifts had been rejected, his
energies unused, the shoulder of his strength finding no work to bend
to--because what he had had to give of hope, intelligence, curiosity, and
warmth had found no place there, and so were lost?

Yes, the same thing that explained the plight the town had come to might
also explain Judge Rumford Bland. What was it he had said on the train:
"Do you think you can 'go home again?" And: "Don't forget I tried to warn
you." Was this, then, what he had meant? If so, George understood him
now.

Around them in the cemetery as George thought these things and spoke of
them, the air brooded with a lazy, drowsy warmth. There was the last
evening cry of robins, and the thrumming bullet noises in undergrowth and
leaf, and broken sounds from far away--a voice in the wind, a boy's
shout, the barking of a dog, the tinkle of a cowbell. There was the
fragrance of intoxicating odours--the resinous smell of pine, and the
smells of grass and warm sweet clover. All this was just as it had always
been. But the town of his childhood, with its quiet streets and the old
houses which had been almost obscured below the leafy spread of trees,
was changed past recognition, scarred now with hard patches of bright
concrete and raw dumps of new construction. It looked like a battlefield,
cratered and shell torn with savage explosions of brick, cement, and
harsh new stucco-And in the interspaces only the embowered remnants of
the old and pleasant town remained--timid, retreating, overwhelmed--to
remind one of the liquid leather shuffle in the quiet streets at noon
when the men came home to lunch, and of laughter and low voices in the
leafy rustle of the night. For this was lost!

An old and tragic light was shining faintly on the time-enchanted hills.
George thought of Mrs. Delia Flood, and what she had said of Aunt Maw's
hope that some day he'd come home again to stay.. And as he stood there
with Margaret quietly by his side the old and tragic light of fading day
shone faintly on their faces, and all at once it seemed to him that they
were fixed there like a prophecy with the hills and river all round them,
and that there was something lost, intolerable, foretold and come to
pass, something like old time and destiny--some magic that he could not
say.

Down by the river's edge, in darkness now, he heard the bell, the
whistle, and the pounding wheel of the night express coming into town,
there to pause for half an hour and then resume its northward journey. It
swept away from them, leaving the lonely thunder of its echoes in the
hills and the flame-flare of its open firebox for a moment, and then just
heavy wheels and rumbling cars as the great train pounded on the rails
across the river--and, finally, nothing but the silence it had left
behind. Then, farther off and almost lost in the traffic of the town, he
heard again and for the last time its wailing cry, and it brought to him
once more, as it had done for ever in his childhood, its wild and secret
exultation, its pain of going, and its triumphant promise of morning, new
lands, and a shining city. And something in his heart was saying, like a
demon's whisper that spoke of flight and darkness: "Soon! Soon! Soon!"

Then they got in the car and drove rapidly away from the great hill of
the dead, the woman towards the certitude of lights, the people, and the
town; the man towards the train, the city, and the unknown future.




BOOK II



The World that Jack Built


_Back in New York the autumn term at the School for Utility cultures
had begun, and George Webber took up again the old routine of academic
chores. He hated teaching worse than ever, and found that even in his
classes he was thinking about his new book and looking forward eagerly to
his free hours when he could work upon it. It was hardly more than just
begun, but for some reason the writing was going well, and George knew
from past experience that he'd better take advantage of every moment
while the frenzy of creation was upon him. He felt, too, almost
desperately, that he ought to get as much of the new book written as he
could before the first was published. That event, at once so desired and
dreaded, now loomed before him imminently. He hoped the critics would be
kind, or at least would treat his novel with respect. Fox Edwards said it
ought to have a good critical reception, but that you couldn't tell
anything about sales: better not think too much about it.

George was seeing Esther Jack every day, just as always, but in his
excitement over the approaching publication of Home to Our Mountains and
his feverish absorption in the new writing he was doing, she no longer
occupied the forefront of his thoughts and feelings. She was aware of
this and resented it, as women always do. Perhaps that's why she invited
him to the party, believing that in such a setting she would seem more
desirable to him and that thus she could recapture the major share of his
attention. At any rate, she did invite him. It was to be an elaborate
affair. Her family and all her richest and most brilliant friends were to
be there, and she begged him to come.

He refused. He told her he had his work to do. He said he had his world
and she had hers, and the two could never be the same. He reminded her of
their compromise. He repeated that he did not want to belong to her
world, that he had seen enough of it already, and that if she insisted on
trying to absorb him in her life she was going to destroy the foundation
on which their whole relationship had rested since he had come back to
her.

But she kept after him and brushed his arguments aside. "Sometimes you
sound just like a fool, George!" she said impatiently. "Once you get an
idea in your head, you cling to it in the face of reason itself Really,
you ought to go out more. You spend too much time cooped up here in your
rooms," she said. "It's unhealthy! And how can you expect to be a writer
if you don't take part in the life round you? I know what I'm talking
about," she said, her face flushed with eager seriousness. "And, besides,
what has all this nonsense about your world and my world got to do with
us? Words, words, words! Stop being silly, and listen to me. I don't ask
much of you. Do as I say this once, just to please me."

In the end she beat him down and he yielded. "All right," he muttered at
last, defeated, without enthusiasm. "I'll go."

So September slid into October, and now the day of the great party had
dawned. Later, as George looked back upon it, the date took on an ominous
significance, for the brilliant party was staged exactly a week before
the thunderous crash in the Stock Market which marked the end of an
era._



10. Jack at Morn


At seven twenty-eight Mr. Frederic Jack awoke and began to come alive
with all his might. He sat up and yawned strongly, stretching his arms
and at the same time bending his slumber-swollen face into the plump
muscle-hammock of his right shoulder, a movement coy and cuddlesome.
"Eee-a-a-a-ach!" He stretched deliciously out of thick, rubbery sleep,
and for a moment he sat heavily upright rubbing at his eyes with the
clenched backs of his fingers. Then he flung off the covers with one
determined motion and swung to the floor. His toes groped blindly in soft
grey carpet stuff, smooth as felt, for his heelless slippers of red
Russian leather. These found and slipped into, he padded noiselessly
across the carpet to the window and stood, yawning and stretching again,
as he looked out with sleepy satisfaction at a fine, crisp morning.
Instantly he knew that it was October 17th, 1929, and the day of the
party. Mr. Jack liked parties. Nine floors below him the cross street lay
gulched in steep morning shadow, bluish, barren, cleanly ready for the
day. A truck roared past with a solid rattling heaviness. An ash-can was
banged on the pavement with an abrupt slamming racket. Upon the pavement
a little figure of a man, foreshortened from above and covered by its
drab cone of grey, bobbed swiftly along, turned the corner into Park
Avenue, and was gone, heading southward towards work.

Below Mr. Frederick Jack the cross street was a narrow bluish lane
between sheer cliffs of solid masonry, but to the west the morning
sunlight, golden, young, immensely strong and delicate, cut with
sculptured sharpness at the walls of towering buildings. It shone with an
unearthly rose-golden glow upon the upper tiers and summits of soaring
structures whose lower depths were still sunk in shadow. It rested
without violence or heat upon retreating pyramids of steel and stone,
fumed at their peaks with fading wisps of smoke. It was reflected with
dazzling brilliance from the panes of innumerable lofty windows, and it
made the wall surfaces of harsh white-yellow brick look soft and warm,
the colour of rose petals.

Among the man-made peaks that stood silhouetted against the sky in this
early sun were great hotels and clubs and office buildings bare of life.
Mr. Jack could look straight into high office suites ready for their
work: the morning light shaped patterns out of pale-hued desks and
swivel-chairs of maple, and it burnished flimsy partition woods and thick
glazed doors. The offices stood silent, empty, sterile, but they also
seemed to have a kind of lonely expectation of the life that soon would
well up swiftly from the streets to fill and use them. In the eerie
light, with the cross street still bare of traffic and the office
buildings empty, suddenly it seemed to Mr. Jack as if all life had been
driven or extinguished from the city and as if those soaring obelisks
were all that remained of a civilization that had been fabulous and
legendary.

With a shrug of impatience he shook off the moment's aberration and
peered down into the street again. It was empty as before, but already
along Park Avenue the bright-hued cabs were drilling past the
intersection like beetles in flight, most of them headed downtown in the
direction of Grand Central Station. And everywhere, through that shining,
living light, he could sense the slow-mounting roar of another furious
day beginning. He stood there by his window, a man-mite poised high in
the air upon a shelf of masonry, the miracle of God, a plump atom of
triumphant man's flesh, founded upon a rock of luxury at the centre of
the earth's densest web--but it was as the Prince of Atoms that he stood
there and surveyed the scene, for he had bought the privileges of space,
silence, light, and steel-walled security out of chaos with the ransom of
an emperor, and he exulted in the price he paid for them. This grain of
living dust had seen the countless insane accidents of shape and movement
that daily passed the little window of his eye, but he felt no doubt or
fear. He was not appalled.

Another man, looking out upon the city in its early-morning nakedness,
might have thought its forms inhuman, monstrous, and Assyrian in their
insolence. But not Mr. Frederick Jack. Indeed, if all those towers had
been the monuments of his own special triumph, his pride and confidence
and sense of ownership could hardly have been greater than they were. "My
city," he thought. "Mine." It filled his heart with certitude and joy
because he had learned, like many other men, to see, to marvel, to
accept, and not to ask disturbing questions. In that arrogant boast of
steel and stone he saw a permanence surviving every danger, an answer,
crushing and conclusive, to every doubt.

He liked what was solid, rich, and spacious, made to last. He liked the
feeling of security and power that great buildings gave him. He liked
especially the thick walls and floors of this apartment house. The boards
neither creaked nor sagged when he walked across them; they were as solid
as if they had been hewn in one single block from the heart of a gigantic
oak. All this, he felt, was as it should be.

He was a man who liked order in everything. The rising tide of traffic
which now began to stream below him in the streets was therefore pleasing
to him. Even in the thrust and jostle of the crowd his soul rejoiced, for
he saw order everywhere. It was order that made the millions swarm at
morning to their work in little cells, and swarm again at evening from
their work to other little cells. It was an order as inevitable as the
seasons, and in it Mr. Jack read the same harmony and permanence which he
saw in the entire visible universe round him.

Mr. Jack turned and glanced about his room. It was a spacious chamber,
twenty feet each way and twelve feet high, and in these noble proportions
was written quietly a message of luxurious wellbeing and assurance. In
the exact centre of the wall that faced the door stood his bed, a chaste
four-poster of the Revolutionary period, and beside it a little table
holding a small clock, a few books, and a lamp. In the centre of another
wall was an antique chest of drawers, and tastefully arranged about the
room were a gate-legged table, with a row of books and the latest
magazines upon it, two fine old Windsor chairs, and a comfortable,
well-padded east chair. Several charming French prints hung on the walls.
On the floor was a thick and heavy carpet of dull grey. These were all
the furnishings. The total effect was one of modest and almost austere
simplicity, subtly combined with a sense of spaciousness, wealth, and
power.

The owner of this room read its message with pleasure, and turned once
more to the open window. With fingers pressed against his swelling
breast, he breathed in a deep draught of the fresh, living air of
morning. It was laden with the thrilling compost of the city, a fragrance
delicately blended of many things. There was, strangely, the smell of
earth, moist and somehow flowerful, tinged faintly with the salt reek of
tidal waters and the fresh river smell, rank and a little rotten, and
spiced among these odours was the sultry aroma of strong boiling coffee.
This incense-laden air carried a tonic threat of conflict and of danger,
and a leaping, winelike prophecy of power, wealth, and love. Mr. Jack
breathed in this vital ether slowly, with heady joy, sensing again the
unknown menace and delight it always brought to him.

All at once a trembling, faint and instant, passed in the earth below
him. He paused, frowning, and an old unquiet feeling to which he could
not give a name stirred in his heart. He did not like things to shake and
tremble. When he had first come here to live and had awaked at morning
thinking he felt a slight vibration in the massive walls around him, a
tremor so brief and distant that he could not be certain of it, he had
asked a few questions of the doorman who stood at the Park Avenue
entrance of the building. The man told him that the great apartment house
had been built across two depths of railway tunnels, and that all Mr.
Jack had felt was the vibration that came from the passing of a train
deep in the bowels of the earth. The man assured him that it was all
quite safe, that the very trembling in the walls, in fact, was just
another proof of safety.

Still, Mr. Jack did not like it. The news disturbed him vaguely. He would
have liked it better if the building had been anchored upon the solid
rock. So now, as he felt the slight tremor in the walls once more, he
paused, frowned, and waited till it stopped. Then he smiled.

"Great trains pass under me," he thought. "Morning, bright morning, and
still they come--all the boys who have dreamed dreams in the little
towns. They come for ever to the city. Yes, even now they pass below me,
wild with joy, mad with hope, drunk with their thoughts of victory. For
what? For what? Glory, huge profits, and a girl! All of them come looking
for the same magic wand. Power. Power. Power."

Thoroughly awake now, Mr. Jack closed the window and moved briskly across
his chamber to the bathroom.' He liked lavish plumbing, thick with creamy
porcelain and polished silver fixtures. For a moment he stood before the
deep wash-basin with bared lips, looking at himself in the mirror, and
regarding with considerable satisfaction the health and soundness of his
strong front teeth. Then he brushed them earnestly with stiff, hard
bristles and two inches of firm, thick paste, turning his head from side
to side round the brush and glaring at his image in the glass until he
foamed agreeably at the mouth with a lather that tasted of fresh mint.
This done, he spat it out and let running water wash it down the drain,
and then he rinsed his mouth and throat with gently biting antiseptic.

He liked the tidy, crowded array of lotions, cream, unguents, bottles,
tubes, jars, brushes, and shaving implements that covered the shelf of
thick blue glass above the basin. He lathered his face heavily with a
large silver-handled shaving-brush, rubbing the lather in with firm
finger-tips, brushing and stroking till his jaws were covered with a
smooth, thick layer of warm shaving cream. Then he took the razor in his
hand and opened it. He used a straight razor, and he always kept it in
excellent condition. At the crucial moment, just before the first long
downward stroke, he flourished slightly forward with his plump arms and
shoulders, raising the glittering blade aloft in one firm hand, his legs
widened stockily, crouching gently at the knees, his lathered face craned
carefully to one side and upwards, and his eyes rolled towards the
ceiling, as if he were getting braced and ready beneath a heavy burden.
Then, holding one cheek delicately between two arched fingers, he
advanced deliberately upon it with the gleaming blade. He grunted gently,
with satisfaction, at the termination of the stroke. The blade had mown
smoothly, leaving a perfect swath of pink, clean flesh across his face
from cheek to jowl. He exulted in the slight tug and rasping pull of wiry
stubble against the deadly sharpness of the razor, and in the relentless
sweep and triumph of the steel.

And while he shaved Mr. Jack occupied his mind with pleasant thoughts of
all the good things in his life.

He thought about his clothes. Elegant in dress, always excellently
correct, he wore fresh garments every day. No cotton touched him. He
bought underclothes of the finest silk, and he had more than forty suits
from London. Every morning he examined his wardrobe studiously, choosing
with care and with a good eye for harmony the shoes, socks, shirt, and
necktie he would wear, and before he selected a suit he was sometimes
lost in thought for several minutes. He loved to open wide the door of
his great closet and see his suits hanging there in rows in all their
groomed and regimented elegance. He liked the strong, clean smell of
honest cloth, and in those forty several shapes and colours he saw as
many pleasing reflections and variations of his own character. They
filled him, as did everything about him, with a sense of morning
confidence, joy, and vigour.

For breakfast he would have orange juice, two leghorn eggs, soft boiled,
two slices of crisp, thin toast, and tasty little segments of pink
Praguer ham, which looked so pretty on fresh parsley sprigs. And he would
have coffee, strong coffee, cup after cup of it. So fortified, he would
face the world with cheerful strength, ready for whatever chance the day
might bring him.

The smell of earth which he had caught in the air this morning was good,
and the remembrance of it laid a soothing unction on his soul. Although
city-bred, Mr. Jack was as sensitive to the charms of Mother Earth as any
man alive. He liked the cultivated forms of nature--the swarded lawns of
great estates, gay regiments of brilliant garden flowers, and rich masses
of clumped shrubbery. All these things delighted him. The call of the
simple life had grown stronger every year, and he had built a big country
house in Westchester County.

He liked the more expensive forms of sport. He would frequently go out in
the country to play golf, and he loved bright sunlight on the rich velvet
of the greens and the new-mown smell of fairways. And afterwards, when he
had stood below the bracing drive of the shower and had felt the sweat of
competition wash cleanly from his well-set form, he liked to loaf upon
the cool veranda of the club and talk about his score, joke and laugh,
pay or collect his bets, and drink good Scotch with other men of note.
And he liked to watch his country's flag flap languidly upon the tall
white pole because it looked so pretty there.

Mr. Jack also liked the ruder and more natural forms of beauty. He liked
to see tall grasses billowing on a hillside, and he liked old shaded
roads that wound away to quietness from driven glares of speed and
concrete. He was touched by the cosmic sadness of leafy orange, gold, and
russet brown in mid-October, and he had seen the evening light upon the
old red of a mill and felt deep stillness in his heart ("all--could
anyone believe it?--within thirty miles of New York City"). On those
occasions the life of the metropolis had seemed very far away. And often
he had paused to pluck a flower or stand beside a brook in thought. But
after sighing with regret as, among such scenes, he thought of the haste
and folly of man's life, Mr. Jack always came back to the city. For life
was real, and life was earnest, and Mr. Jack was a business man.

He was a business man, so of course he liked to gamble. What is business
but a gamble? Will prices go up or down? Will Congress do this or that?
Will there be war in some far corner of the earth, and a shortage of some
essential raw material? What will the ladies wear next year--big hats or
little ones, long dresses or short? You make your guess and back it with
your money, and if you don't guess right often enough you don't remain a
business man. So Mr. Jack liked to gamble, and he gambled like the
business man he was. He gambled every day upon the price of stocks. And
at night he often gambled at his club. It was no piker's game he played.
He never turned a hair about a thousand dollars. Large sums did not appal
him. He was not frightened by Amount and Number. That is why he liked
great crowds. That is why the beetling cliffs of immense and cruel
architectures lapped his soul in strong security. When he saw a
ninety-storey building he was not one to fall down grovelling in the
dust, and beat a maddened brain with fists, and cry out: "Woe! 0 woe is
me!" No. Every cloud-lost spire of masonry was a talisman of power, a
monument to the everlasting empire of American business. It made him feel
good. For that empire was his faith, his fortune, and his life. He had a
fixed place in it.

Yet his neck was not stiff, nor his eye hard. Neither was he very proud.
For he had seen the men who lean upon their sills at evening, and those
who swarm from rat holes in the ground, and often he had wondered what
their lives were like.

Mr. Jack finished shaving and rinsed his glowing face, first with hot
water, then with cold. He dried it with a fresh towel, and he rubbed it
carefully with a fragrant, gently stinging lotion. This done, he stood
for a moment, satisfied, regarding his image, softly caressing the velvet
texture of dose-shaved, ruddy cheeks with stroking fingertips. Then he
turned briskly away, ready for his bath.

He liked the morning plunge in his great sunken tub, the sensual warmth
of sudsy water, and the sharp, aromatic cleanness of the bath salts. He
had an eye for aesthetic values, too, and he liked to loll back in the tub
and watch the dance of water spangles in their magic shift and play upon
the creamy ceiling. Most of all, he liked to come up pink and dripping,
streaked liberally with tarry-scented soap, and then he loved the
stinging drive and shock of needled spray, the sense of hardihood and
bracing conflict, and he liked the glow of abundant health as he stepped
forth, draining down upon a thick cork mat, and vigorously rubbed himself
dry in the folds of a big, crashy bath towel.

All this he now anticipated eagerly as he let fall with a full thud the
heavy silver-headed waste-pipe stopper. He turned the hot-water tap on as
far as it would go, and watched a moment as the tumbling water began
smokily to fill the tub with its thick boiling gurgle. Then, scuffing the
slippers from his feet, he rapidly stripped off his silk pyjamas. He felt
with pride the firm-swelling flexor muscle of his upper arm, and observed
with keen satisfaction the reflection in the mirror of his plump,
well-conditioned body. He was well-moulded and solid-looking, with hardly
a trace of unwholesome fat upon him--a little undulance, perhaps, across
the kidneys, a mere suggestion of a bay about the waist, but not enough
to cause concern, and far less than he had seen on many men twenty years
his junior. Content, deep and glowing, filled him. He turned the water
off and tested it with a finger, which he jerked back with an exclamation
of hurt surprise. In his self-absorption he had forgotten the cold water,
so now he turned it on and waited while it seethed with tiny milky
bubbles and sent waves of trembling light across the hot blue surface of
his bath. At last he tried it with a cautious toe and found it tempered
to his liking. He shut the water off.

And now, stepping back a pace or two, he gripped the warm tiling of the
floor with his bare toes, straightened up with military smartness, drew
in a deep breath, and vigorously began his morning exercises. With
stiffened legs he bent strongly towards the floor, grunting as his
groping finger-tips just grazed the tiling. Then he swung into punctual
rhythms, counting: "One!--Two!--Three!--Four!" as his body moved. And
all the time while his arms beat their regular strokes through the air,
his thoughts continued to amble down the pleasant groove that his life
had worn for them.

To-night was the great party, and he liked the brilliant gaiety of such
gatherings. He was a wise man, too, who knew the world and the city
well, and, although kind, he was not one to miss the fun of a little
harmless byplay, the verbal thrust and parry of the clever ones, or the
baiting of young innocents by those who were wily at the game. Something
of the sort could usually be counted on when all kinds of people were
brought together at these affairs. It gave a spice and zest to things.
Some yokel, say, fresh from the rural districts, all hands and legs and
awkwardness, hooked and wriggling on a cruel and cunning word--a woman's,
preferably, because women were so swift and deft in matters of this
nature. But there were men as well whose skill was great--pampered
lap-dogs of rich houses, or feisty, nimble-witted little she-men whose
mincing tongues were always good for one or two shrewd thrusts of poison
in a hayseed's hide. There was something in the face of a fresh-baited
country boy as it darkened to a slow, smouldering glow of shame,
surprise, and anger and sought with clumsy and inept words to retort upon
the wasp which had stung it and winged away--something so touching--that
Mr. Jack, when he saw it, felt a sense of almost paternal tenderness for
the hapless victim, a delightful sense of youth and innocence in himself.
It was almost as if he were revisiting his own youth.

But enough was enough. Mr. Jack was neither a cruel nor an immoderate
man. He liked the gay glitter of the night, the thrill and fever of high
stakes, and the swift excitements of new pleasures. He liked the theatre
and saw all the best plays, and the better, smarter, wittier revues--the
ones with sharp, satiric lines, good dancing, and Gershwin music. He
liked the shows his wife designed because she designed them, he was proud
of her, and he enjoyed those evenings of ripe culture at the Guild. He
also went to prize-fights in his evening clothes, and once when he came
home he had the red blood of a champion on the white boiled bosom of his
shirt. Few men could say as much.

He liked the social swim, and the presence of the better sort of actors,
artists, writers, and wealthy, cultivated Jews round his table. He had a
kind heart and a loyal nature. His purse was open to a friend in need. He
kept a lavish table and a royal cellar, and his family was the apple of
his eye.

But he also liked the long velvet backs of lovely women, and the flash of
jewellery about their necks. He liked women to be seductive, bright with
gold and diamonds to set off the brilliance of their evening gowns. He
liked women cut to fashion, with firm breasts, long necks, slender legs,
flat hips, and unsuspected depth and undulance. He liked their faces
pale, their hair of bronze-gold wire, their red mouths thin, a little
cruel, their eyes long, slanting, cat-grey, and lidded carefully. He
liked a frosted cocktail shaker in a lady's hands, and he liked a voice
hoarse-husky, city-wise, a trifle weary, ironic, faintly insolent, that
said:

"Well! What happened to you, darling? I thought that You would never get
here."

He liked all the things that men are fond of. All of them he had enjoyed
himself, each in its proper time and place, and he expected everyone to
act as well as he. But ripeness with Mr. Jack was everything, and he
always knew the time to stop. His ancient and Hebraic spirit was tempered
with a classic sense of moderation. He prized the virtue of decorum
highly. He knew the value of the middle way.

He was not a man to wear his heart upon his overcoat, nor risk his life
on every corner, nor throw himself away upon a word, nor spend his
strength on the impulse of a moment's wild belief. This was such madness
as the Gentiles knew. But, this side idolatry and madness he would go as
far for friendship's sake as any man. He would go with a friend up to the
very edge of ruin and defeat, and he would even try to hold him back. But
once he saw a man was mad, and not to be persuaded by calm judgment, he
was done with him. He would leave him where he was, although regretfully.
Are matters helped if the whole crew drowns together with a single
drunken sailor? He thought not. He could put a world of sincere meaning
in the three words: "What a pity!"

Yes, Mr. Frederick Tack was kind and temperate. He had found life
pleasant, and had won from it the secret of wise living. And the secret
of wise living was founded in a graceful compromise, a tolerant
acceptance. If a man wanted to live in this world without getting his
pockets picked, he had better learn how to use his eyes and ears on what
was going on around him. But if he wanted to live in this world without
getting hit over the head, and without all the useless pain, grief,
terror, and bitterness that mortify human flesh, he had also better learn
how not to use his eyes and ears. This may sound difficult, but it had
not been so for Mr. Jack. Perhaps some great inheritance of suffering,
the long, dark ordeal of his race, had left him, as a precious
distillation, this gift of balanced understanding. At any rate, he had
not learned it, because it could not be taught: he had been born with it.

Therefore, he was not a man to rip the sheets in darkness or beat his
knuckles raw against a wall. He would not madden furiously in the
envenomed passages of night, nor would he ever be carried smashed and
bloody from the stews. A woman's ways were no doubt hard to bear, but
love's bitter mystery had broken no bones for Mr. Jack, and, so far as he
was concerned, it could not murder sleep the way an injudicious wiener
schitzel could, or that young Gentile fool, drunk again, probably,
ringing the telephone at one a.m. to ask to speak to Esther.

Mr. Jack's brow was darkened as he thought of it. He muttered wordlessly.
If fools are fools, let them be fools where their folly will not injure
or impede the slumbers of a serious man.

Yes, Men could rob, lie, murder, swindle, trick, and cheat--the whole
world knew as much. And women--well, they were women, and there was no
help for that. Mr. Jack had also known something of the pain and folly
that twist the indignant soul of youth--it was too bad, of course, too
bad. But regardless of all this, the day was day and men must work, the
night was night and men must sleep, and it was, he felt,
_intolerable_----

"One!"

Red of face, he bent stiffly, with a grunt, until his fingers grazed the
rich cream tiling of the bathroom floor.

--_intolerable!_----

"Two!"

He straightened sharply, his hands at his sides.

--_that a man with serious work to do_----

"Three!"

His arms shot up to full stretching height above his head, and came
swiftly down again until he held clenched fists against his breast.

--_should be pulled out of his bed in the middle of the night by a
crazy young fool!_----

"Four!"

His closed fists shot outwards in a strong driving movement, and came
back to his sides again.

--_It was intolerable, and, by God, be had half a mind to tell her
so!_

His exercises ended, Mr. Jack stepped carefully into the luxurious sunken
tub and settled his body slowly in its crystal-blue depths. A sigh, long,
lingering, full of pleasure, expired upon his lips.



11. Mrs. Jack Awake


Mrs. Jack awoke at eight o'clock. She awoke like a child, completely alert
and alive, instantly awake all over and with all sleep shaken clearly
from her mind and senses the moment that she opened her eyes. It had been
so with her all her life. For a moment she lay flat on her back and
stared straight up at the ceiling.

Then with a vigorous and jubilant movement she flung the covers off of
her small and opulent body, which was clothed with a long, sleeveless
garment of thin yellow silk. She bent her knees briskly, drew her feet
from beneath the covers, and straightened out flat again. She surveyed
her small feet with a look of wonder and delight. The sight of her toes
in perfect and solid alignment and of their healthy, shining nails filled
her with pleasure.

With the same expression of childlike wonder and vanity she slowly lifted
her left arm and began to revolve the hand deliberately before her
fascinated eyes. She observed with tender concentration how the small and
delicate wrist obeyed each command of her will, and she gazed raptly at
the graceful, winglike movement of the hand and at the beauty and firm
competence that were legible in its brown, narrow back and in the shapely
fingers.. Then she lifted the other arm as well, and turned both hands
upon their wrists, still gazing at them with a tender concentration of
delight.

"What magic!" she thought. "What magic and strength are in them! God, how
beautiful they are, and what things they can do! The design for
everything I undertake comes out of me in the most wonderful and exciting
way. It is all distilled and brewed inside of me--and yet nobody ever
asks me how it happens! First, it is all one piece--like something solid
in the head," she thought comically, now wrinkling her forehead with an
almost animal-like expression of bewildered difficulty. "Then it all
breaks up into little particles, and somehow arranges itself, and then it
starts to _move!_" she thought triumphantly. "First I can feel it
coming down along my neck and shoulders, and then it is moving up across
my legs and belly, then it meets and joins together like a star. Then it
flows out into my arms until it reaches down into my finger-tips--and
then the hand just does what I want it to. It makes a line, and
everything I want is in that line. It puts a fold into a piece of cloth,
and no one else on earth could put it in that way, or make it look the
same. It gives a turn to the spoon, a prod to the fork, a dash of pepper
when I cook for George," she thought, "and there's a dish the finest chef
on earth could never equal--because it's got me in it, heart and soul and
all my love," she thought with triumphant joy. "Yes! And everything I've
ever done has been the same--always the clear design, the line of life,
running like a thread of gold all through me back to the time I was a
child."

Now, having surveyed her deft and beautiful hands, she began deliberately
to inspect her other members. Craning her head downwards, she examined
the full outlines of her breasts, and the smooth contours of her stomach,
thighs, and legs. She stretched forth her hands and touched them with
approval. Then she put her hands down at her sides again and lay
motionless, toes evenly in line, limbs straight, head front, eyes staring
gravely at the ceiling--a little figure stretched out like a queen for
burial, yet still warm, still palpable, immensely calm and beautiful, as
she thought:

"These are my hands and these are my fingers, these are my legs and hips,
these are my fine feet and my perfect toes--this is my body."

And suddenly, as if the inventory of these possessions filled her with an
immense joy and satisfaction, she sat up with a shining face and placed
her feet firmly on the floor. She wriggled into a pair of slippers, stood
up, thrust her arms out and brought the hands down again behind her head,
yawned, and then put on a yellow quilted dressing-gown which had been
lying across the foot of the bed.

Esther had a rosy, jolly, delicate face of noble beauty. It was small,
firm, and almost heart-shaped, and in its mobile features there was a
strange union of child and woman. The instant anyone met her for the
first time he felt: "This woman must look exactly the way she did when
she was a child. She can't have changed at all." Yet her face also bore
the markings of middle age. It was when she was talking to someone and
her whole countenance was lighted by a merry and eager animation that the
child's face was most clearly visible.

When she was at work, her face was likely to have the serious
concentration of a mature and expert craftsman engaged in an absorbing
and exacting labour, and it was at such time that she looked oldest. It
was then that one noticed the somewhat fatigued and minutely wrinkled
spaces round her eyes and some strands of grey that were beginning to
sprinkle her dark-brown hair.

Similarly, in repose, or when she was alone, her face was likely to have
a sombre, brooding depth. Its beauty then was profound and full of
mystery. She was three parts a Jewess, and in her contemplative moods the
ancient, dark, and sorrowful quality of her race seemed to take complete
possession of her. She would wrinkle her brow with a look of perpelexity
and grief, and in the cast of her features there would be a fatal
quality, as of something priceless that was lost and irrecoverable. This
look, which she did not wear often, had always troubled George Webber
when he saw it because it suggested some secret knowledge buried deep
within the woman whom he loved and whom he believed he had come to know.

But the way she appeared most often, and the way people remembered her
best, was as a glowing, jolly, indomitably active and eager little
creature in whose delicate face the image of the child peered out with
joyfulness and immortal confidence. Then her apple-cheeks would glow with
health and freshness, and when she came into a room she filled it with
her loveliness and gave to everything about her the colour of morning
life and innocence.

So, too, when she went out on the streets, among the thrusting throngs of
desolate and sterile people, her face shone forth like a deathless flower
among their dead, grey flesh and dark, dead eyes. They milled past her
with their indistinguishable faces set in familiar expressions of inept
hardness, betraying cunning without an end, guile without a purpose,
cynical knowledge without faith or wisdom, yet even among these hordes of
the unburied dead some would halt suddenly in the dreary fury of their
existence and would stare at her with their harassed and driven eyes. Her
whole figure with its fertile curves, opulent as the earth, belonged to
an order of humanity so different from that of their own starved
barrenness that they gazed after her like wretches trapped and damned in
hell who, for one brief moment, had been granted a vision of living and
imperishable beauty.

As Mrs. Jack stood there beside her bed, her maidservant, Nora Fogarty,
knocked at the door and entered immediately, bearing a tray with a tall
silver coffee-pot, a small bowl of sugar, a cup, saucer, and spoon, and
the morning _Times_. The maid put the tray down on a little table
beside the bed, saying in a thick voice:

"Good maar-nin', Mrs. Jack."

"Oh, hello, Nora!" the woman answered, crying out in the eager and
surprised tone with which she usually responded to a greeting. "How are
you--hah!" she asked, as if she were really greatly concerned, but
immediately adding: "Isn't it going to be a nice day? Did you ever see a
more beautiful morning in your life?"

"Oh, _beautiful_, Mrs. Jack!" Nora answered. "Beautiful!"

The maid's voice had a respectful and almost unctuously reverential tone
of agreement as she answered, but there was in it an undernote of
something sly, furtive, and sullen, and Mrs. Jack looked at her swiftly
now and saw the maid's eyes, inflamed with drink and irrationally
choleric, staring back at her. Their rancour, however, seemed to be
directed not so much at her mistress as at the general family of the
earth. Or, if Nora's eyes did swelter with a glare of spite more personal
and direct, her resentment was blind and instinctive: it just smouldered
in her with an ugly truculence, and she did not know the reason for it.
Certainly it was not based on any feeling of class inferiority, for she
was Irish, and a papist to the bone, and where social dignities were
concerned she thought she knew on which side condescension lay.

She had served Mrs. Jack and her family for more than twenty years, and
had grown slothful on their beauty, but in spite of a very affectionate
devotion and warmth of old Irish feeling she had never doubted for a
moment that they would ultimately go to hell, together with other pagans
and all alien heathen tribes whatever. Just the same, she had done pretty
well by herself among these prosperous infidels. She had a "cushy" job,
she always fell heir to the scarcely-worn garments of Mrs. Jack and her
sister Edith, and she saw to it that the policeman who came to woo her
several times a week should lack for nothing in the way of food and drink
to keep him contented and to forestall any desire he might have to stray
off and forage in other pastures. Meanwhile, she had laid by several
thousand dollars, and had kept her sisters and nieces back in County Cork
faithfully furnished with a titillating chronicle (sprinkled with pious
interjections of regret and deprecation and appeals to the Virgin to
watch over her and guard her among such infidels) of high life in this
rich New World that had such pickings in it.

No--decidedly this truculent resentment which smouldered in her eyes had
nothing to do with caste. She had lived here for twenty years, enjoying
the generous favour of a very good, superior sort of heathen, and growing
used to almost all their sinful customs, but she had never let herself
forget where the true way and the true light was, nor her hope that she
would one day return into the more civilised and Christian precincts of
her own kind.

Neither did the grievance in the maid's hot eyes come from a sense of
poverty, the stubborn, silent anger of the poor against the rich, the
feeling of injustice that decent people like herself should have to fetch
and carry all their lives for idle, lazy wasters. She was not feeling
sorry for herself because she had to drudge with roughened fingers all
day long in order that this fine lady might smile rosily and keep
beautiful. Nora knew full well that there was no task in all the
household range of duties, whether of serving, mending, cooking,
cleaning, or repairing, which her mistress could not do far better and
with more dispatch than her.

She knew, too, that every day in the great city which roared all about
her own dull ears this other woman was going back and forth with the
energy of a dynamo, buying, ordering, fitting, cutting, and
designing--now on the scaffolds with the painters, beating them at their
own business in immense, draughty, and rather dismal rooms where her'
designs were wrought out into substance, now sitting cross-legged among
great bolts of cloth and plying a needle with a defter finger than any on
the flashing hands of the pallid tailors all about her, now searching and
prying indefatigably through a dozen gloomy little junk shops until she
unearthed triumphantly the exact small ornament which she must have. She
was always after her people, always pressing on, formidably but with good
humour, keeping the affair in hand and pushing it to its conclusion in
spite of the laziness, carelessness, vanity, stupidity, indifference, and
faithlessness of those with whom she had to work--painters, actors,
scene-shifters, bankers, union bosses, electricians, tailors, costumers,
producers, and directors. Upon this whole motley and, for the most part,
shabbily inept crew which carried on the crazy and precarious affair
known as "show business", she enforced the structure, design, and
incomparably rich colour of her own life. Nora knew about all this.

The maid had also seen enough of the hard world in which her mistress
daily strove and conquered to convince herself that even if she had had
any of the immense talent and knowledge that her mistress possessed, she
did not have in all her lazy body as much energy, resolution, and power
as the other woman carried in the tip of her little finger. And this
awareness, so far from arousing any feeling of inferiority in her, only
contributed to her self-satisfaction, making her feel that it was Mrs.
Jack, not herself, who was really the working woman, and that
she--enjoying the same food, the same drink, the same shelter, even the
same clothing--would not swap places with her for anything on earth.

Yes, the maid knew that she was fortunate and had no cause for complaint;
yet her grievance, ugly and perverse, glowered implacably in her inflamed
and mutinous eyes. And she could not have found a word or reason for it.
But as the two women faced each other no word was needed. The reason for
it was printed in their flesh, legible in everything they did. It was not
against Mrs. Jack's wealth, authority, and position that the maid's
rancour was directed, but against something much more personal and
indefinable--against the very tone and quality of the other woman's life.
For within the past year there had come over the maid a distempered sense
of failure and frustration, an obscure but powerful feeling that her life
had somehow gone awry and was growing into sterile and fruitless age
without ever having come to any ripeness. She was baffled and tormented
by a sense of having missed something splendid and magnificent in life,
without knowing at all what it was. But whatever it was, her mistress
seemed marvellously somehow to have found it and enjoyed it to the full,
and this obvious fact, which she could plainly see but could not define,
goaded her almost past endurance.

Both women were about the same age, and so nearly the same size that the
maid could wear any of her mistress's garments without alteration. But if
they had been creatures from separate planetary systems, if each had been
formed by a completely different protoplasm, the contrast between them
could not have been more extreme.

Nora was not an ill-favoured woman. She had a mass of fairly abundant
black hair which she brushed over to the side. Her face, had it not been
for the distempered look which drink and her own baffled fury had now
given it, would have been pleasant and attractive. There was warmth in
it, but there was also a trace of that wild fierceness which belongs to
something lawless in nature, at once coarse and delicate, murderous,
tender, and savagely ebullient. She still had a trim figure, which wore
neatly the well-cut skirt of rough green plaid which her mistress had
given her (for, because of her long service, she was recognised as a kind
of unofficial captain to the other maids and was usually not required to
wear maid's uniform). But where the figure of the mistress was small of
bone and fine of line and yet at the same time lavish and seductive, the
figure of the maid was, by contrast, almost thick and clumsy-looking. It
was the figure of a woman no longer young, fresh, and fertile, but
already heavied, thickened, dried, and hardened by the shock, the wear,
the weight, and the slow accumulation of intolerable days and merciless
years, which take from people everything, and from which there is no
escape.

No--no escape, except for _her_, the maid was thinking bitterly,
with a dull feeling of inarticulate outrage, and for _her_, for
_her_, there was never anything but triumph. For _her_ the years
brought nothing but a constantly growing success. And why? Why?

It was here, upon this question, that her spirit halted like a wild beast
baffled by a sheer and solid blank of wall. Had they not both breathed
the same air, eaten the same food, been clothed by the same garments, and
sheltered by the same roof? Had she not had as much--and as good--of
everything as her mistress? Yes--if anything she had had the better of
it, for she would _not_ drive _herself_ from morning to night,
she thought with contemptuous bitterness, the way her mistress did.

Yet here she stood, baffled and confused, glowering sullenly into the
shining face of the other woman's glorious success--and she saw it, she
knew it, she felt its outrage, but she had no word to voice her sense of
an intolerable wrong. All she knew was that she had been stiffened and
thickened by the same years that had given the other woman added grace
and suppleness, that her skin had been dried and sallowed by the same
lights and weathers that had added lustre to the radiant beauty of the
other, and that even now her spirit was soured by her knowledge of ruin
and defeat while in the other woman there coursed for ever an exquisite
music of power and control, of health and joy.

Yes, she saw it plainly enough. The comparison was cruelly and terribly
true, past the last atom of hope and disbelief. And as she stood there
before her mistress with the weary distemper in her eyes, enforcing by a
stern compulsion the qualities of obedience and respect into her voice,
she saw, too, that the other woman read the secret of her envy and
frustration, and that she pitied her because of it. And for this Nora's
soul was filled with hatred, because pity seemed to her the final and
intolerable indignity.

In fact, although the kind and jolly look on Mrs. Jack's lovely face had
not changed a bit since she had greeted the maid, her eye had observed
instantly all the signs of the unwholesome fury that was raging in the
woman, and with a strong emotion of pity, wonder, and regret she was
thinking:

"She's been at it again! This is the third time in a week that she's been
drinking. I wonder what it is--I wonder what it is that happens to that
kind of person."

Mrs. Jack did not know clearly what she meant by "that kind of person",
but she felt momentarily the detached curiosity that a powerful, rich,
and decisive character may feel when he pauses for a moment from the
brilliant exercise of a talent that has crowned his life with triumphant
ease and success almost every step of the way, and notes suddenly, and
with surprise, that most of the other people in the world are fumbling
blindly and wretchedly about, eking out from day to day the flabby
substance of grey lives. She realised with regret that such people are so
utterly lacking in any individual distinction that each seems to be a
small particle of some immense and vicious life-stuff rather than a
living creature who is able to feel and to inspire love, beauty, joy,
passion, pain, and death. With a sense of sudden discovery the mistress
was feeling this as she looked at the servant who had lived with her
familiarly for almost twenty years, and now for the first time she
reflected on the kind of life the other woman might have had.

"What is it?" she kept thinking. "What's gone wrong with her? She never
used to be this way. It has all happened within the last year. And Nora
used to be so pretty, too!" she thought, startled by the memory. "Why,
when she first came to us she was really a very handsome girl. Isn't it a
shame," she thought indignantly, "that she should let herself go to seed
like this--a girl who's had the chances that she's had! I wonder why she
never married. She used to have half a dozen of those big policemen on
the string, and now there's only one who still comes faithfully. They
were all mad about her, and she could have had her pick of them!"

All at once, as she was looking at the servant with kindly interest, the
woman's breath, foul with a stale whisky stench, was blown upon her, and
she got suddenly a rank body smell, strong, hairy, female, and unwashed.
She frowned with revulsion, and her face began to burn with a glow of
shame, embarrassment, and acute distaste.

"God, but she stinks!" she thought, with a feeling of horror and disgust.
"You could cut the smell round her with an axe! The nasty things!" she
thought, now including all the servants in her indictment. "I'll bet they
never wash--and here they are all day long with nothing to do, and they
could at least keep clean! My God! You'd think these people would be so
glad to be here in this lovely place with the fine life we've made for
them that they would be a little proud of it and try to show that they
appreciate it! But no! They're just not good enough!" she thought
scornfully, and for a moment her fine mouth was disfigured at one corner
by an ugly expression.

It was an expression which had in it not only contempt and scorn, but
also something almost racial--a quality of arrogance that was too bold
and naked, as if it were eager to assert its own superiority. This ugly
look rested only for a second, and almost imperceptibly, about the edges
of her mouth, and it did not sit well on her lovely face. Then it was
gone. But the maid had seen it, and that swift look, with all its
implications, had stung and whipped her tortured spirit to a frenzy.

"Oh, yes, me fine lady!" she was thinking. "It's too good fer the likes
of us ye are, ain't it? Oh me, yes, an' we're very grand, ain't we? What
wit' our fine clothes an' our evenin' gowns an' our forty pairs of
hand-made shoes! Jesus, now! Ye'd think she was some kind of centipede to
see the different pairs of shoes she's got! An' our silk petticoats an'
step-ins that we have made in Paris, now! Yes! That makes us very fine,
don't it? It's not as if we ever did a little private monkey-business on
the side, like ordinary people, is it? Oh, me, no! We are gathered
together wit' a friend fer a little elegant an' high-class entertainment
durin' the course of the evenin'! But if it's some poor girl wit'out an
extra pair of drawers to her name, it's different, now! It's: 'Oh! you
nasty thing! I'm disgusted wit' you!'...Yes! An' there's many a fine lady
livin' on Park Avenoo right now who's no better, if the truth was told!
That I know! So just take care, me lady, not to give yerself too many
airs!" she thought with rancorous triumph...

"Ah! if I told all that I know! 'Nora,' she says, 'if anyone calls when
I'm not here, I wish ye'd take the message yerself. Mr. Jack don't like
to be disturbed.'...Jesus! From what I've seen there's none of 'em that
likes to be disturbed. It's love and let love wit' 'em, no questions ast
an' the divil take the hindmost, so long as ye do it in yer leisure
hours. But if ye're twenty minutes late fer dinner, it's where the hell
have ye been, an' what's to become of us when ye neglect yer family in
this way?...Sure," she thought, warming with a flush of humour and a more
tolerant and liberal spirit, "it's a queer world, ain't it? An' these are
the queerest of the lot! Thank God I was brought up like a Christian in
the Holy Church, an' still have grace enough to go to Mass when I have
sinned! But then----"

As often happens with people of strong but disordered feelings, she was
already sorry for her flare of ugly temper, and her affections were now
running warmly in another direction:

"But then, God knows, there's not a better-hearted sort of people in the
world! There's no one I'd rather work fer than Mrs. Jack. They'll give ye
everything they have if they like ye. I've been here twenty years next
April, an' in all that time no one has ever been turned away from the
door who needed food. Sure, there's far worse that go to Mass seven days
a week--yes, an' would steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes if they
got the chance! It's a good home we've been given here--as I keep tellin'
all the rest of 'em," she thought with virtuous content, "an' Nora
Fogarty's not the one to turn an' bite the hand that's feedin' her--no
matter what the rest of 'em may do!"

All this had passed in the minds and hearts of the two women with the
instancy of thought. Meanwhile, the maid, having set the tray down on the
little table by the bed, had gone to the windows, lowered them, raised
the blinds to admit more light, slightly adjusted the curtains, and was
now in the bathroom drawing the water in the tub, an activity signalised
at first by the rush of tumbling waters, and later by a sound more quiet
and sustained as she reduced the flow and tempered the boiling fluid to a
moderate heat.

While this was going on, Mrs. Jack had seated herself on the edge of her
bed, crossed her legs jauntily, poured out a cup of black steaming coffee
from the tall silver pot, and opened the newspaper which lay folded on
the tray. And now, as she drank her coffee and stared with blank,
unseeing eyes at the print before her, there was a perplexed frown on her
face, and she was slipping one finger in and out of a curious and ancient
ring which she wore on her right hand. It was a habit which she performed
unconsciously, and it always indicated a state of impatience and
nervousness, or the troubled reflection of a mind that was rapidly
collecting itself for a decisive action. So, now, her first emotions of
pity, curiosity, and regret having passed, the practical necessity of
doing something about Nora was pressing at her.

"That's where Fritz's liquor has been going," she thought. "He's been
furious about it...She's got to stop it. If she keeps on at this rate,
she'll be no good for anything in another month or two...God! I could
kill her for being such a fool!" she thought. "What gets into these
people, anyway?" Her small and lovely face now red with anger, the space
between her troubled eyes cleft deeply by a frown, she determined to
speak plainly and sternly to the maid without any more delay.

This decision being made, she was conscious instantly of a sense of great
relief and a feeling almost of happiness, for indecision was alien to the
temper of her soul. The knowledge of the maid's delinquency had been
nagging at her conscience for some time, and now she wondered why she had
ever hesitated. Yet, when the maid came back into the room again and
paused before going out, as if waiting for further orders, and looked at
her with a glance that now seemed affectionate and warm, Mrs. Jack felt
acute embarrassment and regret as she began to speak, and, to her
surprise, she found herself beginning in a hesitant and almost apologetic
tone.

"Oh, Nora!" she said somewhat excitedly, slipping the ring rapidly on and
off her finger. "There's something I want to talk to you about."

"Yes, Mrs. Jack," Nora answered humbly, and waited respectfully. "It's
something Miss Edith wanted me to ask you," she went on quickly, somewhat
timidly, discovering to her amazement that she was beginning her reproof
quite differently from the way she had intended.

Nora waited in an attitude of studious and submissive attention.

"I wonder if you or any of the other girls remember seeing a dress Miss
Edith had," she said, and went on quickly--"one of those dresses she
brought back last year from Paris. It had a funny grey-green kind of
colour and she used to wear it in the morning when she went to business.
Do you remember--hah?" she said sharply.

"Yes, ma'am," said Nora with a solemn, wondering air. "I've seen it, Mrs.
Jack."

"Well, Nora, she can't find it. It's gone."

"Gone?" said Nora, staring at her with a stupid and astonished look.

But even as the servant repeated the word, a furtive smile played round
her mouth, betraying her sullen humour, and a look of sly triumph came in
her eyes. Mrs. Jack read the signs instantly:

"Yes! She knows where it is!" she thought. "Of course she knows! One of
them has taken it! It's perfectly disgraceful, and I'm not going to stand
it any longer!"--and a wave of indignation, hot and choking, boiled up in
her. "Yes, gone! It's gone, I tell you!" she said angrily to the staring
maid. "What's become of it? Where do you think it's gone to?" she asked
bluntly.

"I don't know, Mrs. Jack," Nora answered in a slow, wondering tone. "Miss
Edith must have lost it."

"Lost it! Oh, Nora, don't be stupid!" she cried furiously. "How could she
lose it? She's been nowhere. She's been here all the time. And the dress
was here, too, hanging in her closet, up to a week ago! How can you lose
a dress?" she cried impatiently. "Is it just going to crawl off your back
and walk away from you when you're not looking?" she said sarcastically.
"You know she didn't lose it! Someone's taken it!"

"Yes, ma'am," Nora said with dutiful acquiescence. "That's what I think,
too. Someone must have sneaked in here when all of yez was out an' taken
it. Ah, I tell ye," she remarked with a regretful movement of the head,
"it's got so nowadays ye never know who to trust and who not to," she
observed sententiously. "A friend of mine who works fer some big people
up at Rye was tellin' me just the other day about a man that came there
wit' some kind of a floor-mop he had to sell--ast to try it out an' show
'em how it worked upon their floors, ye know, an' a finer,
cleaner-lookin' boy, she says, ye wouldn't see again in yer whole
lifetime. 'An' my God! she says--I'm tellin' ye just the way she told it
to me, Mrs. Jack--'I couldn't believe me own ears when they told me later
what he'd done! If he'd been me own brother I couldn't have been more
surprised!' she says.--Well, it just goes to show ye that----"

"Oh, Nora, for heaven's sake!" Mrs. Jack cried with an angry and
impatient gesture. "Don't talk such rot to me! Who would come in here
without your knowing it? You girls are here all day long, there's only
the elevator and the service entrance, and you see everyone who comes in!
And besides, if anyone ever took the trouble to break in, you know he
wouldn't stop with just one dress. He'd be after money or jewellery or
something valuable that he could sell."

"Well, now, I tell ye," Nora said, "that man was here last week to fix
the refrigerator. I says to May at the time: 'I don't like the look of
him,' I says. 'There's somethin' in his face that I don't like. Keep yer
eye on him,' I says, 'because----'"

"_Nora!_"

At the sharp warning in her mistress's voice the maid stopped suddenly,
looked quickly at her, and then was silent, with a dull flush of shame
and truculence upon her face. Mrs. Jack stared back at her with a look of
burning indignation, then she burst out with open, blazing anger.

"Look here!" Mrs. Jack cried furiously. "I think it's a dirty shame the
way you girls are acting! We've been good to you! Nora," and now her
voice grew gentler with pity, "there are no girls in this town who've
been better treated than you have."

"Don't I know it, Mrs. Jack," Nora answered in a lilting and earnest
tone, but her eyes were sullenly hostile and resentful. "Haven't I always
said the same? Wasn't I sayin' the same thing meself to Janie just the
other day? 'Sure,' I says, 'but we're the lucky ones! There's no one in
the world I'd rather work fer than Mrs. Jack. Twenty years,' I says,
'I've been here, an' in all that time,' I says, 'I've never heard a cross
word from her. They're the best people in the world,' I says, 'an' any
girl that gets a job wit' 'em is lucky!' Sure, don't I know all of
ye"--she cried richly--"Mr. Jack an' Miss Edith an' Miss Alma? Wouldn't I
get down on me knees right now an' scrub me fingers to the bone if it
would help ye any?"

"Who's asking you to scrub your fingers to the bone?" Mrs. Jack cried
impatiently. "Lord, Nora, you girls have it pretty soft. There's mighty
little scrubbing that you've had to do!" she said. "It's the rest of us
who scrub!" she cried. "We go out of here every morning--six days in the
week--and work like hell----"

"Don't I know it, Mrs. Jack?" Nora broke in. "Wasn't I sayin' to May just
the other day----"

"Oh, damn what you said to May!" For a brief moment Mrs. Jack looked at
the servant with a straight, burning face. Then she spoke more quietly to
her. "Nora, listen to me," she said. "We've always given you girls
everything you ever asked for. You've had the best wages anyone can get
for what you do. And you've lived here with us just the same as the rest
of us, for you know very well that----"

"Sure," Nora interrupted in a richly sentimental tone. "It hasn't been
like I was _workin'_ here at all! Ye couldn't have treated me any
better if I'd been one of the family!"

"Oh, one of the family my eye!" Mrs. Jack said impatiently. "Don't make
me laugh! There's no one in the family--unless maybe it's my daughter,
Alma--who doesn't do more in a day than you girls do in a week! You've
lived the life of Riley...here! The life of Riley!" she repeated, almost
comically, and then she sat looking at the servant for a moment, a
formidable little dynamo trembling with her indignation, slowly clenching
and unclenching her small hands at her sides. "Good heavens, Nora!" she
burst out in a furious tone. "It's not as if we ever begrudged you
anything! We've never denied you anything you asked for! It's not the
value of the dress! You know very well that Miss Edith would have given
it to any one of you if you had gone to her and asked her for it!
But--oh, it's intolerable!--intolerable!" she exclaimed suddenly in
uncontrollable anger--"that you should have no more sense or decency than
to do a thing like that to people who have always been your friends!"

"Sure, an' do ye think I'd be the one who'd do a thing like that?" cried
Nora in a trembling voice. "Is it me ye're accusin', Mrs. Jack, when I've
lived here wit' yez all this time? They could take me right hand"--in her
rush of feeling she held the member up--"an' chop it from me arm before
I'd take a button that belonged to one of yez. An' that's God's truth,"
she added solemnly. "I swear it to ye as I hope to live an' be forgiven
fer me sins!" she declared more passionately as her mistress started to
speak. "I never took a pin or penny that belonged to any one of yez--an'
so help me God, that's true! An' yes! I'll swear it to ye be everything
that's holy!" she now cried, tranced in a kind of ecstasy of sacred vows.
"By the soul an' spirit of me blessed mother who is dead----"

"Ah, Nora!" Mrs. Jack said pityingly, shaking her head and turning away,
and, in spite of her indignation, breaking into a short laugh at the
extravagance of the servant's oaths. And she thought with a bitter,
scornful humour: "God! You can't talk to her! She'll swear a thousand
oaths and think that makes everything all right! Yes! and will drink
Fritz's whisky and go to Mass if she has to crawl to get there--and cross
herself with holy water--and listen to the priest say words she cannot
understand--and come out glorified--to act like this when she knows that
one of the girl's is taking things that don't belong to her! What strange
and magic things these oaths and ceremonies are!" she thought. "They give
a kind of life to people who have none of their own. They make a kind of
truth for people who have found none for themselves. Love, beauty,
everlasting truth, salvation--all that we hope and suffer for on earth is
in them for these people. Everything that the rest of us have to get with
our blood and labour, and by the anguish of our souls, is miraculously
accomplished for _them_, somehow," she thought ironically, "if they
can only swear to it 'by the soul an' spirit of me blessed mother who is
dead.'"

"--An' so help me God, by all the Blessed Saints, an' by the Holy Virgin,
too!" she heard Nora's voice intoning; and, wearily, she turned to the
maid again and spoke to her softly, with an almost pleading earnestness:

"Nora, for God's sake have a little sense," she said. "What is the use of
all this swearing by the Virgin and the Saints, and getting up and going
out to Mass, when all you do is come back home to swill down Mr. Jack's
whisky? Yes, and deceive the people who have been the best friends you
ever had!" she cried out bitterly. Then, seeing the old mutinous look
flaring again in the maid's sullen and distempered eyes, she went on
almost tearfully: "Nora, try to have a little wisdom. Is this all you've
been able to get from life--to come in here and act this way and blow
your stinking breath on me, when all we've ever done has been to help
you?" Her voice was trembling with her pity and her sense of passionate
outrage, yet her anger was more than personal. She felt that the maid had
betrayed something decent and inviolable in life--a faith and integrity
in human feeling that should be kept and \honoured everywhere.

"Well, ma'am," said Nora with a toss of her black head, "as I was sayin',
if it's me ye're accusing'----"

"No, Nora. Enough of that." Mrs. Jack's voice was sad, tired, dispirited,
but its tone was also firm and final. She made a little dismissing
gesture with her hand. "You may go now. I don't need anything more."

The maid marched to the door, her head held high, her stiff back and neck
eloquently expressive of outraged innocence and suppressed fury. Then she
paused, her hand upon the knob, and half-turned as she delivered her
parting shot.

"About Miss Edith's dress"--she said with another toss of her head--"if
it's not lost, I guess it'll turn up. Maybe one of the girls borrowed it,
if ye know what I mean."

With this, she closed the door behind her and was gone.

Half an hour later Mr. Frederick Jack came walking down the hall with his
copy of the _Herald-Tribune_ under his arm. He was feeling in very
good humour. By now he had completely forgotten his momentary annoyance
at the telephone call that had awakened him in the middle of the night.
He rapped lightly at his wife's door and waited. There was no answer.
More faintly, listening, he rapped again.

"Are you there?" he said.

He opened the door and entered noiselessly.

She was already deeply absorbed in the first task of her day's work. On
the other side of the room, with her back to him, she was seated at a
small writing-desk between the windows with a little stack of bills,
business letters, and personal correspondence on her left hand, and an
open cheque-book on her right. She was vigorously scrawling off a note.
As he advanced towards her she put down the pen, swiftly blotted the
paper, and was preparing to fold it and thrust it in an envelope when he
spoke.

"Good morning," he said in the pleasant, half-ironic tone that people use
when they address someone who is not aware of their presence.

She jumped and turned round quickly.

"Oh, hello, Fritz!" she cried in her jolly voice. "How are youhah?"

He stooped in a somewhat formal fashion, planted a brief, friendly, and
perfunctory kiss on her cheek, and straightened up, unconsciously
shrugging his shoulders a little, and giving his sleeves and the bottom
of his coat a tug to smooth out any wrinkle that might have appeared to
disturb the faultless correctness of his appearance. While his wife's
quick glance took in every detail of his costume for the day--his shoes,
socks, trousers, coat, and tie, together with the perfection of his
tailored form and the neat gardenia in his buttonhole--her face, now bent
forward and held firmly in one cupped hand in an attitude of eager
attentiveness, had a puzzled and good-natured look which seemed to say:
"I can see that you are laughing at me about something. What have I done
now?"

Mr. Jack stood before her, feet apart and arms akimbo, regarding her with
an expression of mock gravity, in which, however, his good humour and
elation were apparent.

"Well, what is it?" she cried excitedly.

In answer, Mr. Jack produced the newspaper which he had been holding
folded back in one hand, and tapped it with his index finger, saying:

"Have you seen this?"

"No. Who is it?"

"It's Elliot in the _Herald-Tribune_. Like to hear it?"

"Yes. Read it. What does he say?"

Mr. Jack struck a pose, rattled the paper, frowned, cleared his throat in
mock solemnity, and then began in a slightly ironic and affected tone,
intended to conceal his own deep pleasure and satisfaction, to read the
review.

"'Mr. Shulberg has brought to this, his latest production, the full
artillery of his distinguished gifts for suave direction. He has paced it
brilliantly, timed it--word, scene, and gesture--with some of the most
subtly nuanced, deftly restrained, and quietly persuasive acting that
this season has yet seen. He has a gift for silence that is eloquent--oh,
devoutly eloquent!--among all the loud but for the most part meaningless
vociferation of the current stage. All this your diligent observer is
privileged to repeat with more than customary elation. Moreover, Mr.
Shulberg has revealed to us in the person of Montgomery Mortimer the
finest youthful talent that this season has discovered. Finally----'"

Mr. Jack cleared his throat solemnly--"Ahem, ahem!"--flourished his arms
forward and rattled the paper expressively, and stared drolly at his wife
over the top of it. Then he went on:

"'Finally, he has given us, with the distinguished aid of Miss Esther
Jack, a faultless and unobtrusive _décor_ which warmed these ancient
bones as they have not been warmed for many a Broadway moon. In these
three acts, Miss Jack contributes three of the most effective settings
she has ever done for the stage. Hers is a talent that needs make
obeisance to no one. She is, in fact, in the studied opinion of this
humble but diligent observer, the first designer of her time.'"

Mr. Jack paused abruptly, looked at her with playful gravity, his head
cocked over the edges of the paper and said: "Did you say something?"

"God!" she yelled, her happy face flushed with laughter and excitement.
"Did you hear it? Vat is dees?" she said comically, making a Jewish
gesture with her hands--"an ovation?--What else does he say--hah?" she
asked, bending forward eagerly.

Mr. Jack proceeded:

"'It is therefore a pity that Miss Jack's brilliant talent should not
have had better fare to feed on than was given it last evening at the
Arlington. For the play itself, we must reluctantly admit, was
neither----'"

"Well," said Mr. Jack, stopping abruptly and putting down the paper, "the
rest of it is you know"--he shrugged slightly--"sort of soso. Neither
good nor bad. He sort of pans it.--But _say!_" he cried, with
jocular indignation. "I like the nerve of that guy! Where does he get
this Miss Esther Jack stuff? Where do I come in?" he said. "Don't I get
any credit at all for being your husband? You know," he said, "I'd like
to get in somewhere if it's only a seat in the second balcony. Of
course"--and now he began to speak in the impersonal manner that people
often use when they are being heavily sarcastic, addressing himself to
the vacant air as if some invisible auditor were there, and as if he
himself were only a detached observer--"of course, he's nothing but her
husband, anyway. What is he? _Bah!_" he said scornfully and
contemptuously. "Nothing but a business man who doesn't deserve to have
such a brilliant woman for his wife! What does be know about art? Can he
appreciate her? Can he understand anything she does? Can he say--what is
it this fellow says?" he demanded, suddenly looking at the paper with an
intent stare and then reading from it again in an affected tone--"'a
faultless and unobtrusive _décor_ which warmed these ancient bones
as they have not been warmed for many a Broadway moon.'"

"I know," she said with pitying contempt, as if the florid words of the
reviewer aroused in her no other emotion, although the pleasure which the
reviewer's praise had given her was still legible in her face. "I know.
Isn't it pathetic? They're all so fancy, these fellows! They make me
tired!"

"'Hers is a talent that needs make obeisance to no one,'" Mr. Jack
continued. "Now that's a good one! Could her husband think of a thing
like that? No!" he cried suddenly, shaking his head with a scornful laugh
and waving a plump forefinger sideways before him. "Her husband is not
smart enough!" he cried. "He is not good enough! He's nothing but a
business man! He can't appreciate her!"--and all at once, to her
amazement, she saw that his eyes were shot with tears, and that the
lenses of his spectacles were being covered with a film of mist.

She stared at him wonderingly, her face bent towards him in an expression
of startled and protesting concern, but at the same moment she was
feeling, as she had often felt; that there was something obscure and
strange in life which she had never been able to find out about or to
express. For she knew that this unexpected and reasonless display of
strong feeling in her husband bore no relation whatever to the review in
the paper. His chagrin at having the reviewer refer to her as "Miss" was
nothing more than a playful and jocular pretence. She knew that he was
really bursting with elation because of her success.

With a sudden poignant and wordless pity--for whom, for what, she could
not say--she had an instant picture of the great chasms downtown where he
would spend his day, and where, in the furious drive and turmoil of his
business, excited, prosperous-looking men would seize his arm or clap him
on the back and shout:

"Say, have you seen to-day's _Herald-Tribune_? Did you read what it
had to say about your wife? Aren't you proud of her? Congratulations!"

She could also see his ruddy face beginning to blush and burn brick-red
with pleasure as he received these tributes, and as he tried to answer
them with an amused and tolerant smile, and a few casual words of
acknowledgment as if to say:

"Yes, I think I did see some mention of her. But of course you can hardly
expect me to be excited by a thing like that. That's an old story to us
now. They've said that kind of thing so often that we're used to it."

When he came home that night he would repeat all that had been said to
him, and although he would do it with an air of faintly cynical
amusement, she knew that his satisfaction would be immense and solid. She
knew, too, that his pride would be enhanced by the knowledge that the
wives of these rich men--handsome Jewesses most of them, as
material-minded in their quest for what was fashionable in the world of
art as were their husbands for what was profitable in the world of
business--would also read of her success, would straightway go to witness
it themselves, and then would speak of it in brilliant chambers of the
night, where the glowing air would take on an added spice of something
exciting and erotic from their handsome and sensual-looking faces.

All this she thought of instantly as she stared at this plump,
grey-haired, and faultlessly groomed man whose eyes had suddenly, and for
no reason that she knew, filled with tears, and whose mouth now had the
pouting, wounded look of a hurt child. And her heart was filled with a
nameless and undefinable sense of compassion as she cried warmly, in a
protesting voice:

"But, Fritz! You know I never felt like that! You know I never said a
thing like that to you! You know I love it when you like anything I do!
I'd rather have your opinion ten times over than that of these newspaper
fellows! What do they know anyway?" she muttered scornfully.

Mr. Jack, having taken off his glasses and polished them, having blown
his nose vigorously and put his glasses on again, now lowered his head,
braced his thumb stiffly on his temple and put four plump fingers across
his eyes in a comical shielding position, saying rapidly in a muffled,
apologetic voice:

"I know! I know! It's all right! I was only joking," he said with an
embarrassed smile. Then he blew his nose vigorously again, his face lost
its expression of wounded feeling, and he began to talk in a completely
natural, matter-of-fact tone, as if nothing he had done or said had been
at all unusual. "Well," he said, "how do you feel? Are you pleased with
the way things went last night?"

"Oh, I suppose so," she answered dubiously, feeling all at once the vague
discontent that was customary with her when her work was finished and the
almost hysterical tension of the last days before a theatrical opening
was at an end. Then she continued: "I think it went off pretty well,
don't you? I thought my sets were sort of good--or did you think so?" she
asked eagerly. "No," she went on in the disparaging tone of a child
talking to itself, "I guess they were just ordinary. A long way from my
best--hah?" she demanded.

"You know what I think," he said. "I've told you. There's no one who can
touch you. The best thing in the show!" he said strongly. "They were by
far the best thing in the show--by far! by _far!_" Then, quietly, he
added: "Well, I suppose you're glad it's over. That's the end of it for
this season, isn't it?"

"Yes," she said, "except for some costumes that I promised Irene
Morgenstein I'd do for one of her ballets. And I've got to meet some of
the Arlington company for fittings again this morning," she concluded in
a dispirited tone.

"What, again! Weren't you satisfied with the way they looked last night?
What's the trouble?"

"Oh"--she said with disgust--"what do you think's the trouble, Fritz?
There's only one trouble! It never changes! It's always the same! The
trouble is that there are so many half-baked fools in the world who'll
never do the thing you tell them to do! That's the trouble! God!" she
said frankly, "I'm too good for it! I never should have given up my
painting. It makes me sick sometimes!" she burst out with warm
indignation. "Isn't it a shame that everything I do has to be wasted on
those people?"

"What people?"

"Oh, you know," she muttered, "the kind of people that you get in the
theatre. Of course there are some good ones--but God!" she exclaimed,
"most of them are such trash! Did you see me in this, and did you read
what they said about me in that, and wasn't I a knockout in the other
thing?" she muttered resentfully. "God, Fritz, to listen to the way they
talk you'd think the only reason a play ever gets produced is to give
them a chance to strut around and show themselves off upon a stage! When
it ought to be the most wonderful thing in the world! Oh, the magic you
can make, the things you can do with people if you want to! It's like
nothing else on earth!" she cried. "Isn't it a shame no more is done with
it?"

She was silent for a moment; sunk in her own thoughts, then she said
wearily:

"Well, I'm glad this job's at an end. I wish there was something else I
could do. If I only knew how to do something else, I'd do it. Really, I
would," she said earnestly. "I'm tired of it. I'm too good for it," she
said simply, and for a moment she stared moodily into space.

Then, frowning in a sombre and perturbed way, she fumbled in a wooden box
upon the desk, took from it a cigarette, and lighted it. She got up
nervously and began to walk about the room with short steps, frowning
intently while she puffed at the cigarette, and holding it in the rather
clumsy but charming manner of a woman who rarely smokes.

"I wonder if I'll get any more shows to do next season," she muttered
half to herself, as if scarcely aware of her husband's presence. "I
wonder if there'll be anything more for me. No one has spoken to me yet,"
she said gloomily.

"Well, if you're so tired of it, I shouldn't think you'd care," he said
ironically, and then added: "Why worry about it till the time comes?"

With that he stooped and planted another friendly and perfunctory kiss on
her cheek, gave her shoulder a gentle little pat, and turned and left the
room.



12. Downtown


Mr. Jack had listened to his wife's complaint with the serious attention
which stories of her labours, trials, and adventures in the theatre
always aroused in him. For, in addition to the immense pride which he
took in his wife's talent and success, he was like most rich men of his
race, and particularly those who were living every day, as he was, in the
glamorous, unreal, and fantastic world of speculation, strongly attracted
by the glitter of the theatre.

The progress of his career during the forty years since he first came to
New York had been away from the quieter, more traditional, and, as it now
seemed to him, duller forms of social and domestic life, to those forms
which were more brilliant and gay, filled with the constant excitement of
new pleasures and sensations, and touched with a spice of uncertainty and
menace. The life of his boyhood--that of his family, who for a hundred
years had carried on a private banking business in a little town--now
seemed to him impossibly stodgy. Not only its domestic and social
activities, which went on as steadily and predictably as a clock from
year to year, marked at punctual intervals by a ritual of dutiful visits
and countervisits among relatives, but its business enterprise also, with
its small and cautious transactions, now seemed paltry and uninteresting.

In New York he had moved on from speed to speed and from height to
height, keeping pace with all the most magnificent developments in the
furious city that roared in constantly increasing crescendo about him.
Now, even in the world in which he lived by day, the feverish air of
which he breathed into his lungs exultantly, there was a glittering,
inflamed quality that was not unlike that of the night-time world of the
theatre in which the actors lived.

At nine o'clock in the morning of every working day, Mr. Jack was hurled
downtown to his office in a shining projectile of machinery, driven by a
chauffeur who was a literal embodiment of New York in one of its most
familiar aspects. As the driver prowled above his wheel, his dark and
sallow face twisted bitterly by the sneer of his thin mouth, his dark
eyes shining with an unnatural lustre like those of a man who is under
the stimulation of a powerful drug, he seemed to be--and was--a creature
which this furious city had created for its special uses. His tallowy
flesh seemed to have been compacted, like that of millions of other men
who wore grey hats and had faces of the same lifeless hue, out of a
common city-substance--the universal grey stuff of pavements, buildings,
towers, tunnels, and bridges. In his veins there seemed to flow and
throb, instead of blood, the crackling electric current by which the
whole city moved. It was legible in every act and gesture the man made.
As his sinister figure prowled above the wheel, his eyes darting right
and left, his hands guiding the powerful machine with skill and
precision, grazing, cutting, flanking, shifting, insinuating, sneaking,
and shooting the great car through all but impossible channels with
murderous recklessness, it was evident that the unwholesome chemistry
that raced in him was consonant with the great energy that was pulsing
through all the arteries of the city.

Yet, to be driven downtown by this creature in this way seemed to
increase Mr. Jack's anticipation and pleasure in the day's work that lay
before him. He liked to sit beside his driver and watch him. The fellow's
eyes were now sly and cunning as a cat's, now hard and black as basalt.
His thin face pivoted swiftly right and left, now leering with crafty
triumph as he snaked his car ahead round some cursing rival, now from the
twisted corner of his mouth snarling out his hate loudly at other drivers
or at careless pedestrians: "Guh-wan, ya screwy bast-ed! Guh-wan!" He
would growl more softly at the menacing figure of some hated policeman,
or would speak to his master out of the corner of his bitter mouth,
saying a few words of grudging praise for some policeman who had granted
him privileges:

"Some of dem are all right," he would say. "You know!"--with a
constricted accent of his high, strained voice. "Dey're not all basteds.
Dis guy"--with a jerk of his head towards the policeman who had nodded
and let him pass--"dis guy's all right. I know him--sure! sure!--he's a
bruddeh of me sisteh-in-law!"

The unnatural and unwholesome energy of his driver evoked in his master's
mind an image of the world he lived in that was theatrical and
phantasmal. Instead of seeing himself as one man going to his work like
countless others in the practical and homely light of day, he saw himself
and his driver as two cunning and powerful men pitted triumphantly
against the world; and the monstrous architecture of the city, the
phantasmagoric chaos of its traffic, the web of the streets swarming with
people, became for him nothing more than a tremendous backdrop for his
own activities. All of this--the sense of menace, conflict, cunning,
power, stealth, and victory, and, above everything else, the sense of
privilege--added to Mr. Jack's pleasure, and even gave him a heady joy as
he rode downtown to work.

And the feverish world of speculation in which he worked, and which had
now come to have this theatrical cast and colour, was everywhere
sustained by this same sense of privilege. It was the privilege of men
selected from the common run because of some mysterious intuition they
were supposed to have--selected to live gloriously without labour or
production, their profits mounting incredibly with every ticking of the
clock, their wealth increased fabulously by a mere nod of the head or the
shifting of a finger. This being so, it seemed to Mr. Jack, and, indeed,
to many others at the time--for many who were not themselves members of
this fortunate class envied those who were--it seemed, then, not only
entirely reasonable but even natural that the whole structure of society
from top to bottom should be honeycombed with privilege and dishonesty.

Mr. Jack knew, for example, that one of his chauffeurs swindled him
constantly. He knew that every bill for petrol, oil, tyres, and
overhauling was padded, that the chauffeur was in collusion with the
garage owner for this purpose, and that he received a handsome percentage
from him as a reward. Yet this knowledge did not disturb Mr. Jack. He
actually got from it a degree of cynical amusement. Well aware of what
was going on, he also knew that he could afford it, and somehow this gave
him a sense of power and security. If he ever entertained any other
attitude, it was to shrug his shoulders indifferently as he thought:

"Well, what of it? There's nothing to be done about it. They all do it.
If it wasn't this fellow, it would be someone else."

Similarly, he knew that some of the maids in his household were not above
"borrowing" things and "forgetting" to return them. He was aware that
various members of the police force as well as several red-necked firemen
spent most of their hours of ease in his kitchen or in the maids'
sitting-room. He also knew that these guardians of the public peace and
safety ate royally every night of the choicest dishes of his own table,
and that their wants were cared for even before his family and his guests
were served, and that his best whisky and his rarest wines were theirs
for the taking.

But beyond an occasional burst of annoyance when he discovered that a
case of real Irish whisky (with rusty sea-stained markings on the bottles
to prove genuineness) had melted away almost overnight, a loss which
roused his temper only because of the rareness of the thing lost, he said
very little. When his wife spoke to him about such matters, as she
occasionally did, in a tone of vague protest, saying: "Fritz, I'm sure
those girls are taking things they have no right to. I think it's
perfectly dreadful, don't you? What do you think we ought to do about
it?"--his usual answer was to smile tolerantly, shrug, and show his
palms.

It cost him a great deal of money to keep his family provided with
shelter, clothing, service, food, and entertainment, but the fact that a
considerable part of it was wasted or actually filched from him by his
retainers caused him no distress whatever. All of this was so much of a
piece with what went on every day in big business and high finance that
he hardly gave it a thought. And his indifference was not the bravado of
a man who felt that his world was trembling on the brink of certain ruin
and who was recklessly making merry while he waited for the collapse.
Quite the contrary. He gave tolerant consent to the extravagance and
special privilege of those who were dependent on his bounty, not because
he doubted, but because he felt secure. He was convinced that the fabric
of his world was woven from threads of steel, and that the towering
pyramid of speculation would not only endure, but would grow constantly
greater. Therefore the defections of his servants were mere peccadillos,
and didn't matter.

In all these ways Mr. Frederick Jack was not essentially different from
ten thousand other men of his class and position. In that time and place
he would have been peculiar if these things had not been true of him. For
these men were all the victims of an occupational disease--a kind of mass
hypnosis that denied to them the evidence of their senses. It was a
monstrous and ironic fact that the very men who had created this world in
which every value was false and theatrical saw themselves, not as
creatures tranced by fatal illusions, but rather as the most knowing,
practical, and hard-headed men alive. They did not think of themselves as
gamblers, obsessed by their own fictions of speculation, but as brilliant
executives of great affairs who at every moment of the day "had their
fingers on the pulse of the nation." So when they looked about them and
saw everywhere nothing but the myriad shapes of privilege, dishonesty,
and self-interest, they were convinced that this was inevitably "the way
things are".

It was generally assumed that every man had his price, just as every
woman had hers. And if, in any discussion of conduct, it was suggested to
one of these hard-headed, practical men that So-and-So had acted as he
did for motives other than those of total self-interest and calculating
desire, that he had done thus and so because he would rather endure pain
himself than cause it to others whom he loved, or was loyal because of
loyalty, or could not be bought or sold for no other reason than the
integrity of his own character--the answer of the knowing one would be to
smile politely but cynically, shrug it off, and say:

"All right. But I thought you were going to be intelligent. Let's talk of
something else that we both understand."

Such men could not realise that their own vision of human nature was
distorted. They prided themselves on their "hardness" and fortitude and
intelligence, which had enabled them to accept so black a picture of the
earth with such easy tolerance. It was not until a little later that the
real substance of their "hardness" and intelligence was demonstrated to
them in terms which they could grasp. When the bubble of their unreal
world suddenly exploded before their eyes, many of them were so little
capable of facing harsh reality and truth that they blew their brains out
or threw themselves from the high windows of their offices into the
streets below. And of those who faced it and saw it through, many a one
who had been plump, immaculate, and assured now shrank and withered into
premature and palsied senility.

All that, however, was still in the future. It was very imminent, but
they did not know it, for they had trained themselves to deny the
evidence of their senses. In that mid-October of 1929 nothing could
exceed their satisfaction and assurance. They looked about them and, like
an actor, saw with their eyes that all was false, but since they had
schooled themselves to accept falseness as normal and natural, the
discovery only enhanced their pleasure in life.

The choicest stories which these men told each other had to do with some
facet of human chicanery, treachery, and dishonesty. They delighted to
match anecdotes concerning the delightful knaveries of their chauffeurs,
maids, cooks, and bootleggers, telling of the way these people cheated
them as one would describe the antics of a household pet.

Such stories also had a great success at the dinner-table. The ladies
would listen with mirth which they made an impressive show of trying to
control, and at the conclusion of the tale they would say:
"I--think--that--is--simp-ly--price-less!" (uttered slowly and
deliberately, as if the humour of the story was almost beyond belief),
or: "Isn't it in-cred-ible!" (spoken with a faint rising scream of
laughter), or: "Stop! You know he didn't!" (delivered with a ladylike
shriek). They used all the fashionable and stereotyped phrases of people
"responding" to an "amusing" anecdote, for their lives had become so
sterile and savourless that laughter had gone out of them.

Mr. Jack had a story of his own, and he told it so well and so frequently
that it went the rounds of all the best dinner-tables in New York.

A few years before, when he was still living in the old brownstone house
on the West Side, his wife was giving one of the open-house patties which
she gave every year to the members of the "group" theatre for which she
worked. At the height of the gaiety, when the party was in full swing and
the actors were swarming through the rooms, gorging themselves to their
heart's content on the bountiful food and drink, there was suddenly a
great screaming of police sirens in the neighbourhood, and the sound of
motors driven to their limit and approaching at top speed. The sirens
turned into the street, and to the alarm of Mr. Jack and his guests, who
now came crowding to the windows, a high-powered truck flanked by two
motor-cycle policemen pulled up before the house and stopped.
Immediately, the two policemen, whom Mr. Jack instantly recognised as
friends of his maids, sprang to the ground, and in a moment more, with
the assistance of several of their fellows who got out of the truck, they
had lifted a great barrel from the truck and were solemnly rolling it
across the pavement and up the stone steps into the house. This barrel,
it turned out, was filled with beer. The police were contributing it to
the party, to which they had been invited (for when the Jacks gave a
party to their friends, the maids and cooks were also allowed to give a
party to the policemen and firemen in the kitchen). Mr. Jack, moved by
this act of friendship and generosity on the part of the police, desired
to pay them for the trouble and expense the beer had cost them, but one
of the policemen said to him:

"Forget about it, boss. It's O.K. I tell you how it is," he then said,
lowering his voice to a tone of quiet and confidential intimacy. "Dis
stuff don't cost us nuttin', see? Nah!" he vigorously declared. "It's
given to us. Sure! It's a commission dey give us," he added delicately,
"for seein' dat dere stuff goes troo O.K. See?"

Mr. Jack saw, and he told the story many times. For he was really a good
and generous man, and an act like this, even when it came from those who
had drunk royally at his expense for years and had consumed the value of
a hundred barrels of beer, warmed and delighted him.

Thus, while he could not escape sharing the theatrical and false view of
life which was prevalent everywhere about him, he had, along with that,
as kind and liberal a spirit as one was likely to meet in the course of a
day's journey. Of this there was constant and repeated evidence. He would
act instantly to help people in distress, and he did it again and
again--for actors down on their luck, for elderly spinsters with schemes
for the renovation of the stage that were never profitable, for friends,
relatives, and superannuated domestics. In addition to this, he was a
loving and indulgent father, lavishing gifts upon his only child with a
prodigal hand.

And, strangely, for one who lived among all the constantly shifting
visages of a feverish and unstable world, he had always held with
tenacious devotion to one of the ancient traditions of his race--a belief
in the sacred and inviolable stability of the family. Through this
devotion, in spite of the sensational tempo of city life with its menace
to every kind of security, he had managed to keep his family together.
And this was really the strongest bond which now connected him with his
wife. They had long since agreed to live their own individual lives, but
they had joined together in a common effort to maintain the unity of
their family. And they had succeeded. For this reason and on this ground
Mr. Jack respected and had a real affection for his wife.

Such was the well-groomed man who was delivered to his place of business
every morning by his speed-drunk and city-hardened chauffeur. And within
a hundred yards of the place where he alighted from his car ten thousand
other men much like him in dress and style, in their general beliefs, and
even, perhaps, in kindness, mercy, and tolerance, were also descending
from their thunderbolts and were moving into another day of legend,
smoke, and fury.

Having been set down at their doors, they were shot up in swift elevators
to offices in the clouds. There they bought, sold, and traded in an
atmosphere fraught with frantic madness. This madness was everywhere
about them all day long, and they themselves were aware of it. Oh, yes,
they sensed it well enough. Yet they said nothing. For it was one of the
qualities of this time that men should see and feel the madness all round
them and never mention it--never admit it even to themselves.



13. Service Entrance


The great apartment house in which the Jacks lived was not one of those
structures which give to the Island of Manhattan its startling and
fabulous quality--those cloud-soaring spires whose dizzy vertices and
clifflike façades seem to belong to the sky rather than to the earth.
These are the special shapes which flash in the mind of a European when
he thinks about New York, and which in-bound travellers, looking from a
liner's deck, see in all their appalling and inhuman loveliness sustained
there lightly on the water. This building was none of these.

It was--just a building. It was not beautiful, certainly, but it was
impressive because of its bulk, its squareness, its sheer mass. From the
outside, it seemed to be a gigantic cube of city-weathered brick and
stone, punctured evenly by its many windows. It filled an entire block,
going through one street to the next.

When one entered it, however, one saw that it had been built in the form
of a hollow square about a large central court. This court was laid out
on two levels. The lower and middle part was covered with loose gravel,
and raised above this level was a terrace for flower-beds, with a broad
brick pavement flanking it on all four sides. Beyond the walk there was a
span of arches which also ran the whole way round the square, giving the
place something of the appearance of an enormous cloister. Leading off
this cloister at regular intervals were the entrances to the apartments.

The building was so grand, so huge, so solid-seeming, that it gave the
impression of having been hewn from the everlasting rock itself. Yet this
was not true at all. The mighty edifice was really tubed and hollowed
like a giant honeycomb. It was set on monstrous steel stilts, pillared
below on vacancy, and sustained on curving arches. Its nerves, bones, and
sinews went down below the level of the street to an underworld of
storeyed basements, and below all these, far in the tortured rock, there
was the tunnel's depth.

When dwellers in this imperial tenement felt a tremor at their feet, it
was only then that they remembered there were trains beneath them--sleek
expresses arriving and departing at all hours of the day and night. Then
some of them reflected with immense satisfaction on the cleverness with
which New York had reversed an order that is fixed and immutable
everywhere else in America, and had made it fashionable to live, not
merely "beside the tracks", but on top of them.

A little before seven o'clock that October evening, old John, who ran one
of the service elevators in the building, came walking slowly along Park
Avenue, ready to go on duty for his night's work. He had reached the
entrance and was just turning in when he was accosted by a man of thirty
or thereabouts who was obviously in a state of vinous dilapidation.

"Say, Bud----"

At the familiar words, uttered in a tone of fawning and yet rather
menacing ingratiation, the face of the older man reddened with anger. He
quickened his step and tried to move away, but the creature plucked at
his sleeve and said in a low voice:

"I was just wonderin' if you could spare a guy a----"

"Na-h!" the old man snapped angrily. "I can't spare you anything! I'm
twice your age and I always had to work for everything I got! If you was
any good you'd do the same!"

"Oh yeah?" the other jeered, looking at the old man with eyes that had
suddenly gone hard and ugly.

"Yeah!" old John snapped back, and then turned and passed through the
great arched entrance of the building, feeling that his repartee had been
a little inadequate, though it was the best he had been able to manage on
the spur of the moment. He was still muttering to himself as he started
along the colonnade that led to the south wing.

"What's the matter, Pop?" It was Ed, one of the day elevator men who
spoke to him. "Who got your goat?"

"Ah-h," John muttered, still fuming with resentment, "it's these
panhandling bums! One of 'em just stopped me outside the building and
asked if I could spare a dime! A young fellow no older than you are,
tryin' to panhandle from an old man like me! He ought to be ashamed of
himself! I told him so, too. I said: 'If you was any good you'd work for
it!'"

"Yeah?" said Ed, with mild interest.

"Yeah," said John. "They ought to keep those fellows away from here. They
hang round this neighbourhood like flies at a molasses barrel. They got
no right to bother the kind of people we got here."

There was just a faint trace of mollification in his voice as he spoke of
"the kind of people we got here". One felt that on this side reverence
lay. "The kind of people we got here" were, at all odds, to be protected
and preserved.

"That's the only reason they hang round this place," the old man went on.
"They know they can play on the sympathy of the people in this building.
Only the other night I saw one of 'em panhandle Mrs. Jack for a dollar. A
big fellow, as well and strong as you are! I'd a good notion to tell her
not to give him anything! If he wanted work, he could go and get him a
job the same as you and me! It's got so if ain't safe for a woman in the
house to take the dog round the block. Some greasy bum will be after her
before she gets back. If I was the management I'd put a stop to it. A
house like this can't afford it. The kind of people we got here don't
have to stand for it!"

Having made these pronouncements, so full of outraged propriety and his
desire to protect "the kind of people we got here" from further invasions
of their trusting sanctity by these cadging frauds, old John, somewhat
appeased, went in at the service entrance of the south wing, and in a few
minutes he was at his post in the service elevator, ready for the night's
work.

John Enborg had been born in Brooklyn more than sixty years before, the
son of a Norwegian seaman and an Irish serving-girl. In spite of this
mixed parentage, one would have said without hesitation that he was "old
stock" American--New England Yankee, most likely. Even his physical
structure had taken on those national characteristics which are perhaps
the result, partly of weather and geography, partly of tempo, speech, and
local custom--a special pattern of the nerves and vital energies wrought
out upon the whole framework of flesh and bone, so that, from whatever
complex sources they are derived, they are recognised instantly and
unmistakably as "American".

In all these ways old John was "American". He had the dry neck--the lean,
sinewy, furrowed neck that is engraved so harshly with so much weather.
He had the dry face, too, seamed and squeezed of its moisture; the dry
mouth, not brutal, certainly, but a little tight and stiff and woodenly
inflexible; and the slightly outcropping lower jaw, as if the jarring
conflicts in the life around him had hardened the very formations of the
bone into this shape of unyielding tenacity. He was not much above the
average height, but his whole body had the same stringy leanness of his
neck and face, and this made him seem taller. The old man's hands were
large and bony, corded with heavy veins, as if he had done much work with
them. Even his voice and manner of talking were distinctively "American".
His speech was spare, dry, nasal, and semi-articulate. It could have
passed with most people as the speech of a Vermonter, although it did not
have any pronounced twang. What one noticed about it especially was its
Yankee economy and tartness, which seemed to indicate a chronic state of
sour temper. But he was very far from being an ill-natured old man,
though at times he did appear to be. It was just his way. He had a dry
humour and really loved the rough and ready exchange of banter that went
on among the younger elevator men around him, but he concealed his softer
side behind a mask of shortness and sarcastic denial.

This was evident now as Herbert Anderson came in. Herbert was the night
operator of the passenger elevator in the south entrance. He was a
chunky, good-natured fellow of twenty-four or five, with two pink,
mottled, absurdly fresh spots on his plump cheeks. He had lively and
good-humoured eyes, and a mass of crinkly brownish hair of which one felt
he was rather proud. He was John's special favourite in the whole
building, although one might not have gathered this from the exchange
that now took place between them.

"Well, what do you say, Pop?" cried Herbert as he entered the service
elevator and poked the old man playfully in the ribs. "You haven't seen
anything of two blondes yet, have you?"

The faint, dry grin about John Enborg's mouth deepened a little almost to
a stubborn line, as he swung the door to and pulled the lever.

"Ah-h," he said sourly, almost in disgust, "I don't know what you're
talkin' about!"

The car descended and stopped, and he pulled the door open at the
basement floor.

"Sure you do!" Herbert flung back vigorously as he walked over to the
line of lockers, peeled off his coat, and began to take off his collar
and tie. "You know those two blondes I been tellin' you about, doncha,
Pop?" By this time he was peeling the shirt off his muscular shoulders,
then he supported himself with one hand against the locker while he
stooped to take off his shoe.

"Ah-h," said the old man, sour as before, "you're always tellin' me about
something. I don't even pay no attention to it. It goes in one ear and
out the other."

"Oh yeah?" said Herbert with a rising, ironical inflection. He bent to
unlace his other shoe.

"Yeah," said John dryly.

From the beginning the old man's tone had been touched with this note of
dry disgust, yet somehow he gave the impression that he was secretly
amused by Herbert's chatter. For one thing, he made no move to depart.
Instead, he had propped himself against the side of the open elevator
door, and, his old arms folded loosely into the sleeves of the worn grey
alpaca coat which was his "uniform", he was waiting there with the
stubborn little grin round his mouth as if he was enjoying the debate and
was willing to prolong it indefinitely.

"So that's the kind of guy you are?" said Herbert, stepping out of his
neatly-pressed trousers and arranging them carefully on one of the
hangers which he had taken from the locker. He hung the coat over the
trousers and buttoned it. "Here I go and get you all fixed up and you run
out on me. O.K., Pop." His voice was now shaded with resignation. "I
thought you was a real guy, but if you're goin' to walk out on a party
after I've gone to all the trouble, I'll have to look for somebody else."

"Oh yeah?" said old John.

"Yeah," said Herbert in the accent proper to this type of repartee. "I
had you all doped out for a live number, but I see I picked a dead one."

John let this pass without comment. Herbert stood for a moment in his
socks and underwear, stiffening his shoulders, twisting, stretching,
bending his arms upwards with tense muscular effort, and ending by
scratching his head.

"Where's old Organisin' Hank?" Herbert said presently. "Seen him
to-night?"

"Who?" said John, looking at him with a somewhat bewildered expression.

"Henry. He wasn't at the door when I come in, and he ain't down here.
He's gonna be late."

"Oh!" The word was small but it carried a heavy accent of disapproval.
"Say!" The old man waved a gnarled hand stiffly in a downward gesture of
dismissal. "That guy's a pain in the neck!" He spoke the words with the
dry precision old men have when they try to "keep up with" a younger man
by talking unaccustomed slang. "A pain in the neck!" he repeated. "No, I
ain't seen him to-night."

"Oh, Hank's all right when you get to know him," said Herbert cheerfully.
"You know how a guy is when he gets all burned up about somethin'--he
gets too serious about it--he thinks everybody else in the world ought to
be like he is. But he's O.K. He's not a bad guy when you get him talkin'
about somethin' else."

"Yeah!" cried John suddenly and excitedly, not in agreement, but by way
of introduction to something he had just remembered. "You know what he
says to me the other day? 'I wonder what all the rich mugs in this house
would do,' he says, 'if they had to get down and do a hard day's work for
a livin' once in a while.' That's what he says to me! 'And these old
bitches'--yeah!" cried John, nodding his head angrily--"'these old
bitches,' he says, 'that I got to help in and out of cars all night long,
and can't walk up a flight of stairs by themselves--what if they had to
get down on their hands and knees and scrub floors like your mother and
my mother did?' That's the way he goes on all the time!" cried John
indignantly--"and him a-gettin' his livin' from the people in this house,
and takin' tips from them--and then talkin' about them like he
does!--Nah-h!" John muttered to himself and rapped his fingers on the
wall. "I don't like that way of talkin'! If he feels that way, let him
get out! I don't like that fellow."

"Oh," said Herbert easily and indifferently, "Hank's not a bad guy, Pop.
He don't mean half of it. He's just a grouch."

By this time, with the speed and deftness born of long experience, he was
putting on the starched shirt-front which was a part of his uniform on
duty, and buttoning the studs. Stooping and squinting in the small mirror
that was hung absurdly low on the wall, he said half-absently:

"So you're goin' to run out on me and the two blondes? You can't take it,
hunh?"

"Ah-h," said old John with a return to his surly dryness, "you don't know
what you're talkin' about. I had more girls in my day than you ever
thought of."

"Yeah?" said Herbert.

"Yeah," said John. "I had blondes and brunettes and every other kind."

"Never had any red-heads, did you, Pop?" said Herbert, grinning. "Yeah, I
had red-heads, too," said John sourly. "More than you had, anyway."

"Just a rounder, hunh?" said Herbert. "Just an old petticoat-chaser."

"Nah-h, I ain't no rounder or no petticoat-chaser. Hm!" John grunted
contemptuously. "I've been a married man for forty years. I got grown-up
children older'n you are!"

"Why, you old two-timer!" Herbert exclaimed, and turned on him with mock
indignation. "Braggin' to me about your blondes and red-heads, and then
boastin' that you're a family man! Why, you----"

"Nah-h," said John, "I never done no such thing. I wasn't talkin' about
now--but _then!_ That's when I had 'em--forty years ago."

"Who?" said Herbert innocently. "Your wife and children?"

"Ah-h," said John disgustedly, "get along with you. You ain't goin' to
get my _goat_. I've forgot more about life than you ever heard of,
so don't think you're goin' to make a monkey out of me with your smart
talk."

"Well, you're makin' a big mistake this time, Pop," said Herbert with an
accent of regret. He had drawn on the neat grey trousers of his uniform,
adjusted his broad white stock, and now, half squatting before the
mirror, he was carefully adjusting the coat about his well-set shoulders.
"Wait till you see 'em--these two blondes. I picked one of 'em out just
for you."

"Well, you needn't pick out any for me," said John sourly. "I got no time
for such foolishness."

At this point Henry, 'the night doorman, came hurriedly in from the
stairway and began rattling the key in his locker door.

"What do you say, pal?" Herbert turned to him and cried boisterously. "I
leave it to you. Here I get Pop all dated up with a couple of hot blondes
and he runs out on me. Is that treatin' a guy right or not?"

Henry did not answer. His face was hard and white and narrow, his eyes
had the look and colour of blue agate, and he never smiled. He took off
his coat and hung it in the locker.

"Where were you?" he said.

Herbert looked at him, startled.

"Where was I _when?_" he said.

"Last night."

"That was my night off," said Herbert.

"It wasn't _our_ night off," said Henry. "We had a meetin'. They was
askin' about you." He turned and directed his cold eyes towards the old
man. "And you, too," he said in a hard tone. "You didn't show up either."

Old John's face had frozen. He had shifted his position and begun to drum
nervously and impatiently with his old fingers upon the side of the
elevator. This quick, annoyed tapping betrayed his tension, but his eyes
were flinty as he returned Henry's look, and there was no mistaking his
dislike of the doorman. Theirs was, in fact, the mutual hostility that is
instinctive to two opposite types of personality.

"Oh yeah?" John said in a hard voice.

Henry answered briefly: "Yeah." And then, holding his cold look levelled
like a pointed pistol, he said: "You come to the union meetin's like
everybody else, see? Or you'll get bounced out. You may be an old man,
but that goes for you like it does for all the rest."

"Is that so?" said John sarcastically.

"Yeah, that's so." His tone was flat and final.

"Jesus!" Herbert's face was red with crestfallen embarrassment, and he
stammered out an excuse. "I forgot all about it--honest I did! I was just
goin'----"

"Well, you're not supposed to forget," said Henry harshly, and he looked
at Herbert with an accusing eye.

"I--I'm all up on my dues," said Herbert feebly.

"That ain't the question. We ain't talkin' about dues." For the first
time there was indignant passion in the hard voice as he went on
earnestly: "Where the hell do you suppose we'd be if everybody ran out on
us every time we hold a meetin'? What's the use of anything if we ain't
goin' to stick together?"

He was silent now, looking almost sullenly at Herbert, whose red face had
the hang-dog air of a guilty schoolboy. But when Henry spoke again his
tone was gentler and more casual, and somehow it suggested that
underneath his hard exterior he had a genuine affection for his errant
comrade.

"I guess it's O.K. this time," he said quietly. "I told the guys you had
a cold and I'd get you there next time."

He said nothing more, and began swiftly to take off his clothes.

Herbert looked flustered but relieved. For a moment he seemed about to
speak, but changed his mind. He stooped and took a final appraising look
at himself in the small mirror, and then, walking quickly towards the
elevator with a return of his former buoyancy, he said:

"Well, Pop, O.K.--let's go!" He took his place in the car and went on
with a simulation of regret: "Too bad you're goin' to miss out on the
blondes, Pop. But maybe you'll change your mind when you get a look at
'em."

"No, I won't change my mind, neither," said John with sour implacability
as he slammed the door. "About them or about you."

Herbert looked at the old man and laughed, the pink spots in his cheeks
flushed with good humour, his lively eyes dancing.

"So that's the kind of guy you think I am?" he said, and gently poked the
old fellow in the ribs with his closed fist. "So you don't believe me,
hunh?"

"Ah-h, I wouldn't believe you on a stack of bibles," said John grouchily.
He pushed the lever forwards and the elevator started up. "You're a lot
of talk--that's what you are. I don't listen to anything you say:" He
stopped the elevator and opened the heavy door.

"So that's the kind of friend you are?" said Herbert, stepping out into
the corridor. Full of himself, full of delight with his own humour, he
winked at two pretty, rosy-cheeked Irish maids who were waiting to go up,
and, jerking his thumb towards the old man, he said: "What are you goin'
to do with a guy like this, anyway? I go and get him all dated up with a
blonde and he won't believe me when I tell him so. He calls me a big
wind."

"Yeah, that's what he is," said the old man grimly to the smiling girls.
"He's a lot of wind. He's always talkin' about his girls and I bet he
never had a girl in his life. If he saw a blonde he'd run like a rabbit."

"Just a pal!" said Herbert with mock bitterness, appealing to the maids.
"O.K., then, Pop. Have it your own way. But when those blondes get here,
tell 'em to wait till I come back. You hear?"

"Well, you'd better not be bringin' any of 'em round here," said John. He
shook his white, head doggedly and his whole manner was belligerent, but
it was evident that he was enjoying himself hugely. "I don't want any of
'em comin' in this building--blondes or brunettes or red-heads or any of
'em," he muttered. "If they do, you won't find 'em when you come back.
I'll tell 'em to get out. I'll handle 'em for you, all right."

"_He's_ a friend of mine!" said Herbert bitterly to the two girls,
and jerked his thumb towards the old man again. He started to walk away.

"I don't believe you, anyhow," John called after his retreating figure.
"You ain't got no blondes. You never did have...You're a momma's boy!" he
cried triumphantly as an afterthought, as if he had now hit upon the
happiest inspiration of the evening. "That's what you are!"

Herbert paused at the door leading into the main corridor and looked back
menacingly at the old man, but the look was belied by the sparkle in his
eyes.

"Oh yeah?" he shouted.

He stood and glared fiercely at the old fellow for a moment, then winked
at the two girls, passed through the door, and pressed the button of the
passenger elevator, whose operator he was to relieve for the night.

"That fellow's just a lot of talk," said John sourly as the maids stepped
into the service car and he closed the door. "Always gassin' about the
blondes he's goin' to bring round--but I ain't never seen none of 'em.
Nah-h!" he muttered scornfully, almost to himself as the car started up.
"He lives with his mother up in the Bronx, and he'd be scared stiff if a
girl ever looked at him."

"Still, Herbert ought to have a girl," one of the maids said in a
practical tone of voice. "Herbert's a nice boy, John."

"Oh, he's all right, I guess," the old man muttered grudgingly. "And a
nice-looking boy, too," the other maid now said.

"Oh, he'll do," said John; and then abruptly: "What are you folks doin'
to-night, anyway? There's a whole lot of packages waitin' to come up."

"Mrs. Jack is having a big party," one of the girls said. "And, John,
will you bring everything up as soon as you can? There may be something
there that we need right away."

"Well," he said in that half-belligerent, half-unwilling tone that was an
inverted attribute of his real good nature. "I'll do the best I can.
Seems like all of them are givin' their big parties to-night," he
grumbled. "It goes on sometimes here till two or three o'clock in the
morning. You'd think all some people had to do was give parties all the
time. It'd take a whole regiment of men just to carry up the packages.
Yeah!" he muttered to himself. "And what d'you get? If you ever got so
much as a word of thanks----"

"Oh, John," one of the girls now said reproachfully, "you know Mrs. Jack
is not like that! You know yourself----"

"Oh, she's all right, I reckon," said John, unwillingly as before, yet
his tone had softened imperceptibly. "If all of them was like her," he
began--but then the memory of the panhandler came back to him, and he
went on angrily: "She's too kind-hearted for her own good! Them
panhandling bums--they swarm round her like flies every time she leaves
the building. I saw one the other night get a dollar out of her before
she'd gone twenty feet. She's crazy to put up with it. I'm goin' to tell
her so, too, when I see her!"

The old man's face was flushed with outrage at the memory. He had opened
the door on the service landing, and now, as the girls stepped out, he
muttered to himself again:

"The kind of people we got here oughtn't to have to put up with
it...Well, then, I'll see," he said concedingly, as one of the maids
unlocked the service door and went in. "I'll get the stuff up to you."

For a second or two after the inner door had closed behind the maids, the
old man stood there looking at it--just a dull, blank sheet of painted
metal with the apartment number on it--and his glance, had anyone seen
it, would somehow have conveyed an impression of affectionate regard.
Then he closed the elevator door and started down.

Henry, the doorman, was just coming up the basement stairway as the old
man reached the ground floor. Uniformed, ready for his night's work, he
passed the service elevator without speaking. John called to him.

"If they try to deliver any packages out front," he said, "you send 'em
round here."

Henry turned and looked at the old man unsmilingly, and said curtly:
"What?"

"I say," repeated John, raising his voice a trifle shrilly, for the man's
habitual air of sullen harshness angered him, "if they try to make any
deliveries out front, send 'em back to the service entrance."

Henry continued to look at him without speaking, and the old man added:

"The Jacks are givin' a party to-night. They asked me to get everything
up in a hurry. If there are any more deliveries, send 'em back here."

"Why?" said Henry in his flat, expressionless voice, still staring at
him.

The question, with its insolent suggestion of defied
authority--_someone's_ authority, his own, the management's, or the
authority of "the kind of people we got here"--infuriated the old man. A
wave of anger, hot and choking, welled up in him, and before he could
control himself he rasped out:

"Because that's where they ought to come--that's why! Haven't you been
workin' around places of this kind long enough to know how to do? Don't
you know the kind of people we got here don't want every Tom, Dick, and
Harry with a package to deliver runnin' up in the front elevator all the
time, mixin' in with all the people in the house?"

"Why?" said Henry with deliberate insolence. "Why don't they?"

"Because," old John shouted, his face now crimson, "if you ain't got
sense enough to know that much, you ought to quit and get a job diggin'
ditches somewhere! You're bein' paid to know it! That's part of your job
as doorman in a house like this! If you ain't got sense enough by now to
do what you're supposed to do, you'd better quit--that's why!--and give
your job to somebody who knows what it's all about!"

Henry just looked at him with eyes that were as hard and emotionless as
two chunks of agate. Then:

"Listen," he said in a toneless voice. "You know what's goin' to happen
to you if you don't watch out? You're gettin' old, Pop, and you'd better
watch your step. You're goin' to be caught in the street some day
worryin' about what's goin' to happen to the people in this place if they
have to ride up in the same elevator with a delivery boy. You're goin' to
worry about them gettin' contaminated because they got to ride up in the
same car with some guy that carries a package. And you know what's goin'
to happen, to you, Pop? I'll tell you what's goin' to happen. You'll be
worryin' about it so much that you ain't goin' to notice where you're
goin'. And you're goin' to get hit, see?"

The voice was so unyielding in its toneless savagery that for a
moment--just for a moment--the old man felt himself trembling all over.
And the voice went on:

"You're goin' to get hit, Pop. And it ain't goin' to be by nothin' small
or cheap. It ain't goin' to be by no Ford truck or by no taxi-cab. You're
goin' to get hit by somethin' big and shiny that cost a lot of dough.
You'll get hit by at least a Rolls Royce. And I hope it belongs to one of
the people in this house. You'll die like any other worm, but I want you
to push off knowin' that it was done expensive--by a big Rolls Royce--by
one of the people in this house. I just want you to be happy, Pop."

Old John's face was purple. The veins in his forehead stood out like
corded ropes. He tried to speak, but no words came. At length, all else
having failed him, he managed to choke out the one retort which, in all
its infinitely variable modulations, always served perfectly to convey
his emotions.

"Oh yeah!" he snarled dryly, and this time the words were loaded with
implacable and unforgiving hate.

"Yeah!" said Henry tonelessly, and walked off.



14. Zero Hour


Mrs. Jack came from her room a little after eight o'clock and walked
along the broad hallway that traversed her big apartment from front to
rear. Her guests had been invited for half-past eight, but long
experience in these matters told her that the party would not be going at
full swing until after nine. As she walked along the corridor at a brisk
and rapid little step she felt a tense excitement, not unpleasurable,
even though it was now sharpened by the tincture of an apprehensive
doubt.

Would all be ready? Had she forgotten anything? Had the girls followed
her instructions? Or had they slipped up somewhere? Would something now
be lacking?

A wrinkled line appeared between her eyes, and unconsciously she began to
slip the old ring on and off her finger with a quick movement of her
small hand. It was the gesture of an alert and highly able person who had
come to have an instinctive mistrust of other people less gifted than
herself. There was impatience and some scorn in it, a scorn not born of
arrogance or any lack of warm humanity, but one that was inclined to say
a trifle sharply: "Yes, yes, I know! I understand all that. There's no
need telling me that kind of thing. Let's get to the point. What can you
do? What have you done? Can I depend on you to do everything that's
necessary?" So, as she walked briskly down the hall, thoughts too sharp
and quick for definition were darting across the surface of her mind like
flicks of light upon a pool.

"I wonder if the girls remembered to do everything I told them," she was
thinking. "Oh, Lord! If only Nora hasn't started drinking again!--And
Janie! She's good as gold, of course, but God, she is a fool!--And
Cookie! Well, she can cook, but after that she doesn't know April from
July. And if you try to tell her anything she gets flustered and begins
to gargle German at you. Then it's worse than if you'd never spoken to
her at all.--As for May--well, all you can do is to hope and pray." The
line between her troubled eyes deepened, and the ring slipped on and off
her finger more rapidly than ever. "You'd think they'd realise how well
off they are, and what a good life they lead here! You'd think they'd try
to show it!" she thought indignantly. But almost instantly she was
touched with a feeling of tender commiseration, and her mind veered back
into its more usual channel: "Oh, well, poor things! I suppose they do
the best they can. All you can do is to reconcile yourself to it--and
realise that the only way you can get anything done right is to do it
yourself."

By this time she had reached the entrance to the living-room and was
looking quickly about, assuring herself by a moment's swift inspection
that everything was in its proper place. Her examination pleased her. The
worried expression about her eyes began to disappear. She slipped the
ring back on her hand and let it stay there, and her face began to take
on the satisfied look of a child when it regards in silence some object
of its love and self-creation and finds it good.

The big room was ready for the party. It was just quietly the way she
always liked to have it. The room was so nobly proportioned as to be
almost regal, and yet it was so subtly toned by the labour of her
faultless taste that whatever forbidding coldness its essential grandeur
may have had was utterly subdued. To a stranger this living-room would
have seemed not only homelike in its comfortable simplicity, but even, on
closer inspection, a trifle shabby. Almost everything in it was somewhat
worn. The coverings of some of the chairs and couches had become in
places threadbare. The carpet that covered the floor with its pattern of
old, faded green showed long use without apology. An antique gate-legged
table sagged a little under the weight of its pleasant shaded lamp and
its stacks of books and magazines. Upon the mantel, a creamy slab of
marble, itself a little stained and worn, was spread a green and faded
strip of Chinese silk, and on top of it was a lovely little figure in
green jade, its carved fingers lifted in a Chinese attitude of
compassionating mercy. Over the mantel hung a portrait of herself in her
young loveliness at twenty, which a painter now dead and famous had made
long ago.

On three sides of the room, bookshelves extended a third of the way up
the walls, and they were crowded with friendly volumes whose backs bore
the markings of warm human hands. Obviously they had been read and read
again. The stiff sets of tooled and costly bindings that often ornament
the libraries of the rich with unread awe were lacking here. Nor was
there any evidence of the greedy and revolting mania of the professional
collector. If there were first editions on these utilitarian shelves,
they were here because their owner had bought them when they were
published, and bought them to be read.

The crackling pine logs on the great marble hearth cast their radiance
warmly on the covers of these worn books, and Mrs. Jack had a sense of
peace and comfort as she looked at the rich and homely compact of their
colours. She saw her favourite novels and histories, plays, poems, and
biographies, and the great books of decoration and design, of painting,
drawing, and architecture, which she had assembled in a crowded lifetime
of work, travel, and living. Indeed, all these objects, these chairs and
tables, these jades and silks, all the drawings and paintings, as well as
the books, had been brought together at different times and places and
fused into a miracle of harmony by the instinctive touch of this woman's
hand. It is no wonder, therefore, that her face softened and took on an
added glow of loveliness as she looked at her fine room. The like of it,
as she well knew, could nowhere else be found.

"Ah, here it is," she thought. "It is living like a part of me. And God!
How beautiful it is!" she thought. "How warm--how true! It's not like a
rented place--not just another room in an apartment. No"--she glanced
down the spacious width of the long hall--"if it weren't for the elevator
there, you'd think it was some grand old house.' I don't know--but--" a
little furrow, this time of reflectiveness and effort, came between her
eyes as she tried to shape her meaning--"there's something sort of
grand--and simple--about it all."

And indeed there was. The amount of simplicity that could be purchased
even in, those times for a yearly rental of fifteen thousand dollars was
quite considerable. As if this very thought had found an echo in her
mind, she went on:

"I mean when you compare it with some of these places that you see
nowadays--some of the God-awful places where all those rich people live.
There's simply no comparison! I don't care how rich they are,
there's--there's just something here that money cannot buy."

As her mind phrased the accusing words about "the God-awful places where
all those rich people live," her nostrils twitched and her face took on
an expression of sharp scorn. For Mrs. Jack had always been contemptuous
of wealth. Though she was the wife of a rich man and had not known for
years the economic necessity of work, yet it was one of her unshakable
convictions that she and her family could not possibly be described as
"rich". "Oh, not _really_," she would say. "Not the way people are
who really _are_." And she would look for confirmation, not at the
hundred and thirty million people there impossibly below her in the
world's hard groove, but at the fabulous ten thousand who were above her
on the moneyed heights, and who, by the comparison, were "really rich".

Besides, she was "a worker". She had always been "a worker". One look at
the strength, the grace, the swiftness of those small, sure hands were
enough to tell the story of their owner's life, which had always been a
life of work. From that accomplishment stemmed deep pride and the
fundamental integrity of her soul. She had needed the benefit of no man's
purse, the succour of no man's shielding strength. "Is not my help within
me?" Well, hers was. She had made her own way. She had supported herself.
She had created beautiful and enduring things. She had never known the
meaning of laziness. Therefore it is no wonder that she never thought of
herself as being "rich". She was a worker; she had worked.

But now, satisfied with her inspection of the big room, she turned
quickly to investigate other things. The living room gave on the
dining-room through glass doors, which were closed and curtained filmily.
Mrs. Jack moved towards them and threw them open. Then she stopped short,
and one hand flew to her bosom. She gasped out an involuntary little
"Oh!" of wonder and delight. It was too beautiful! It was quite too
beautiful! But it was just the way she expected it to look--the way it
looked for all of her parties. None the less, every time she saw it, it
was like a grand and new discovery.

Everything had been arranged to perfection. The great dining table glowed
faultlessly, like a single sheet of walnut light. In its centre, on a
doily of thick lace, stood a large and handsome bowl blossoming with a
fragrant harvest of cut flowers. At the four corners, in orderly array,
there were big stacks of Dresden plates and gleaming rows of old and
heavy English silver, knives and forks and spoons. The ancient Italian
chairs had been drawn away and placed against the walls. This was to be a
buffet supper. The guests could come and help themselves according to
their taste, and on that noble table was everything to tempt even the
most jaded palate.

Upon an enormous silver trencher at one end there was a mighty roast of
beef, crisply browned all over. It had just been "begun on" at one side,
for a few slices had been carved away to leave the sound, rare body of
the roast open to the inspection of anyone who might be attracted by its
juicy succulence. At the opposite end, upon another enormous trencher,
and similarly carved, was a whole Virginia Ham, sugar-cured and baked and
stuck all over with pungent cloves. In between and all round was a
staggering variety of mouth-watering delicacies. There were great bowls
of mixed green salads, and others of chicken salad, crab meat, and the
pink, milky firmness of lobster claws, removed whole and perfect from
their shells. There were platters containing golden slabs of smoked
salmon, the most rare and delicate that money could buy. There were
dishes piled with caviar, both black and red, and countless others loaded
with _hors d'oeuvres_--with mushrooms, herring, anchovies, sardines,
and small, toothsome artichokes, with pickled onions and with pickled
beets, with sliced tomatoes and with devilled eggs, with walnuts,
almonds, and pecans, with olives and with celery. In short, there was
almost everything that anyone could desire.

It was a gargantuan banquet. It was like some great vision of a feast
that has been made immortal in legendary. Few "rich" people would have
dared venture on a "supper" such as this of Mrs. Jack's, and in this fear
of venturing they would have been justified. Only Mrs. Jack could do a
thing like this; only she could do it right. And that is why her parties
were famous, and why everyone who had been invited always came. For,
strange to tell, there was nowhere on that lavish board a suggestion of
disorder or excess. That table was a miracle of planning and of right
design. Just as no one could look at it and possibly want anything to be
added, so could no one here have felt that there was a single thing too
much.

And everywhere in that great dining-room, with its simplicity and
strength, there was evident this same faultless taste, this same style
that never seemed to be contrived, that was so casual and so gracious and
so right. At one side the great buffet glittered with an array of flasks,
decanters, bottle, syphons, and tall glasses, thin as shells. Elsewhere,
two lovely Colonial cupboards stood like Graces with their splendid wares
of china and of porcelain, of cut-glass and of silver, of grand old
plates and cups and saucers, tureens and bowls, jars and pitchers.

After a quick, satisfied appraisal of everything, Mrs. Jack walked
rapidly across the room and through the swinging door that led to the
pantry and the kitchen and the servants' quarters. As she approached, she
could hear the laughter and excited voices of the maids, broken by the
gutturally mixed phrases of the cook. She burst upon a scene of busy
order and of readiness. The big, tiled kitchen was as clean and spotless
as a hospital laboratory. The great range with its marvellous hood,
itself as large as those one sees in a big restaurant, looked as if it
had been freshly scrubbed and oiled and polished. The vast company of
copper cooking vessels--the skillets and kettles, the pots and pans of
every size and shape, from those just large enough to hold an egg to
those so huge it seemed that one might cook in them the rations of a
regiment--had been scoured and rubbed until Mrs. Jack cloud see her face
in them. The big table in the centre of the room was white enough to have
served in a surgeon's office, and the shelves, drawers, cupboards, and
bins looked as if they had just been gone over with sandpaper. Above the
voices of the girls brooded the curiously quiet, intent, dynamic hum of
the mammoth electric refrigerator, which in its white splendour was like
a jewel.

"Oh, this!" thought Mrs. Jack. "This is quite the most perfect thing of
all! This is the best room in the house! I love the others--but is there
anything in the world so grand and beautiful as a fine kitchen? And how
Cookie keeps the place! If I could only paint it! But no--it would take a
Breughel to do it! There's no one nowadays to do it justice----"

"Oh, Cookie!" Now she spoke the words aloud. "What a lovely cake!"

Cook looked up from the great layer cake on the table to which she had
been adding the last prayerful tracery of frosted icing, and a faint
smile illuminated the gaunt, blunt surface of her Germanic face.

"You like him, yes?" said Cook. "You think he is nice?"

"Oh, Cook!" cried Mrs. Jack in a tone of such childlike earnestness that
Cook smiled this time a little more broadly than before. "It is the most
_beautiful_--the most _wonderful_!--" She turned away with a
comical shrug of despair as if words failed her.

Cook laughed gutturally with satisfaction, and Nora, smiling, said:

"Yes, Mrs. Jack, that it is! It's just what I was after tellin' her
meself."

Mrs. Jack glanced swiftly at Nora and saw with relief that she was clean
and plain and sober. Thank heaven she had pulled herself together! She
hadn't taken another drink since morning--that was easy to see. Drink
worked on her like poison, and you could tell the moment that she'd had a
single one.

Janie and May, passing back and forth between the kitchen and the maid's
sitting-room in their trim, crisp uniforms and with their smiling pink
faces, were really awfully pretty. Everything had turned out perfectly,
better than she could possibly have expected. Nothing had been forgotten.
Everything was in readiness. It ought to be a glorious party.

At this moment the buzzer sounded sharply. Mrs. Jack looked startled and
said quickly:

"The door-bell rang, Janie." Then, almost to herself: "Now who do you
suppose--?"

"Yes'm," said Janie, coming to the door of the maids' sitting-room. "I'll
go, Mrs. Jack."

"Yes, you'd better, Janie. I wonder who--" she cast a puzzled look up at
the clock on the wall, and then at the little shell of platinum on her
wrist. "It's only eight-fifteen! I can't think any of them would be this
early. Oh!"--as illumination came--"I think, perhaps, it's Mr. Logan. If
it is, Janie, show him in. I'll be right out."

"Yes, Mrs. Jack," said Janie, and departed.

And Mrs. Jack, after another quick look about the kitchen, another smile
of thanks and approbation for Cookie and her arts, followed her.

It was Mr. Logan. Mrs. Jack encountered him in the entrance hall where he
had just paused to set down two enormous black suitcases, each of which,
from the bulging look of them, carried enough weight to strain strong
muscles. Mr. Logan's own appearance confirmed this impression. He had
seized the biceps of one muscular arm with the fingers of his other hand,
and with a rueful look upon his face was engaged in flexing the aching
member up and down. As Mrs. Jack approached he turned, a thickset, rather
burly-looking young man of about thirty, with bushy eyebrows of a reddish
cast, a round and heavy face smudged ruddily with the shaven grain of his
beard, a low, corrugated forehead, and a bald head gleaming with
perspiration, which he proceeded to mop with his handkerchief.

"Gosh!" said Mr. Piggy Logan, for by this affectionate title was he known
to his more intimate acquaintance. "Gosh!"--the expletive came out again,
somewhat windy with relief. At the same time he released his aching arm
and offered his hostess a muscular and stubby hand, covered thickly on
the back up to the very fingernails with large freckles.

"You must be simply dead!" cried Mrs. Jack. "Why didn't you let me know
you had so much to carry? I'd have sent a chauffeur. He could have
handled everything for you."

"Oh, it's quite all right," said Piggy Logan. "I always manage everything
myself. You see, I carry all of it right here--my whole equipment." He
indicated the two ponderous cases. "That's it," he said, "everything I
use--the whole show. So naturally," he smiled at her quickly and quite
boyishly, "I don't like to take any chances. It's all I've got. If
anything went wrong--well, I'd just rather do it myself and then I know
where I am."

"I know," said Mrs. Jack, nodding her head with quick understanding. "You
simply can't depend on others. If anything went wrong--and after all the
years you must have put in making them! People who've seen it say it's
simply marvellous," she went on. "Everyone is so thrilled to know you're
going to be here. We've heard so much about it--really all you hear
around New York these days is----"

"Now--" said Mr. Logan abruptly, in a manner that was still courteous but
that indicated he was no longer paying any attention to her. He had
become all business, and now he walked over to the entrance of the
living-room and was looking all about with thoughtful speculation. "I
suppose it's going to be in here, isn't it?" he said.

"Yes--that is, if you like it here. If you prefer, we'll use another
room, but this is the largest one we have."

"No, thank you," crisply, absently. "This is quite all right. This will
do very nicely...Hm!" meditatively, as he pressed his full lower lip
between two freckled fingers. "Best place, I should think, would be over
there," he indicated the opposite wall, "facing the door here, the people
all round on the other three sides...Hm! Yes...Just about the centre
there, I should think, posters on the bookshelves...We can clear all this
stuff away, of course," he make a quick but expansive gesture with his
hand which seemed to dispose of a large part of the furnishings. "Yes!
That ought to do it very well!...Now, if you don't mind," he turned to
her rather peremptorily and said: "I'll have to change to costume. If you
have a room----"

"Oh, yes," she answered quickly, "here, just down the hall, the first
room on the right. But won't you have a drink and something to eat before
you start? You must be terribly----"

"No, thank you," said Mr. Logan crisply. "It's very nice of you," he
smiled swiftly under his bushy brows, "but I never take anything before a
performance. Now"--he crouched, gripped the handles of the big cases, and
heaved mightly--"if you'll just--excuse me," he grunted.

"Is there anything we can do?" Mrs. Jack asked helpfully.

"No--thank you--nothing," Mr. Logan somewhat gruntingly replied, and
began to stagger down the hall with his tremendous freight. "I can--get
along--quite nicely--thank you," he grunted as he staggered through the
door of the room to which she had directed him; and then, more faintly:
"Nothing--at all."

She heard the two ponderous bags hit the floor with a leaden thump, and
then Mr. Logan's long, expiring "Whush!" of exhausted relief.

For a moment after the young man's lurching departure, his hostess
continued to look after him with a somewhat dazed expression, touched
faintly with alarm. His businesslike dispatch and the nonchalance with
which he had suggested widespread alterations in her beloved room filled
her with vague apprehension. But--she shook her head and reassured
herself with sharp decision--it was bound to be all right. She had heard
so many people speak of him: he was really all the rage this year,
everyone was talking of his show, there had been write-ups of him
everywhere. He was the darling of all the smart society crowd--all those
"rich" Long Island and Park Avenue people. Here the lady's nostrils
curved again in a faint dilation of patronising scorn; nevertheless, she
could not help feeling a pleasant sense of triumph that she had landed
him.

Yes, Mr. Piggy Logan was the rage that year. He was the creator of a
puppet circus of wire dolls, and the applause with which this curious
entertainment had been greeted was astonishing. Not to be able to discuss
him and his little dolls intelligently was, in smart circles, akin to
never having heard of Jean Cocteau or Surrealism; it was like being
completely at a loss when such names as Picasso and Brancusi and Utrillo
and Gertrude Stein were mentioned. Mr. Piggy Logan and his art were
spoken of with the same animated reverence that the knowing used when
they spoke of one of these.

And, like all of these, Mr. Piggy Logan and his art demanded their own
vocabulary. To speak of them correctly one must know a language whose
subtle nuances were becoming more highly specialised month by month, as
each succeeding critic outdid his predecessor and delved deeper into the
bewildering complexities, the infinite shadings and associations, of Mr.
Piggy Logan and his circus of wire dolls.

True, at the beginning there had been those among the cognoscenti--those
happy pioneers who had got in at the very start of Mr. Piggy Logan's
vogue--who had characterised his performance as "frightfully amusing".
But that was old stuff, and anyone who now dared to qualify Mr. Logan's
art with such a paltry adjective as "amusing" was instantly dismissed as
a person of no cultural importance. Mr. Logan's circus had ceased to be
"amusing" when one of the more sophisticated columnists of the daily
press discovered that "not since the early Chaplin has the art of tragic
humour through the use of pantomime reached such a faultless elevation."

After this, the procession formed on the right, and each newcomer paid
his tribute with a new and more glittering coin. The articles in the
daily press were followed by others in all the smarter publications, with
eulogistic essays on Mr. Logan and pictures of his little dolls. Then the
dramatic critics joined the chorus, and held up the offerings of the
current stage to a withering fire of comparative criticism. The leading
tragedians of the theatre were instructed to pay special attention to Mr.
Logan's clown before they next essayed the role of Hamlet.

The solemn discussions broke out everywhere. Two eminent critics engaged
in a verbal duel of such adeptive subtlety that in the end it was said
there were not more than seven people in the civilised world who could
understand the final passages at arms. The central issue of this battle
was to establish whether Mr. Piggy Logan, in his development, had been
influenced more by the geometric cubism of the early Picasso or by the
geometric abstractions of Brancusi. Both schools of thought had their
impassioned followers, but it was finally conceded that the Picassos had
somewhat the better of it.

One word from Mr. Logan himself might have settled the controversy, but
that word was never spoken. Indeed, he said very little about the hubbub
he had caused. As more than one critic significantly pointed out, he had
"the essential simplicity of the great artist--an almost childlike
_naïveté_ of speech and gesture that pierces straight to the heart
of reality." Even his life, his previous history, resisted investigations
of the biographers with the impenetrability of the same baffling
simplicity. Or, as another critic clearly phrased it: "As in the life of
almost all great men of art, there is little in Logan's early years to
indicate his future achievement. Like almost all supremely great men, he
developed slowly--and, it might almost be said, unheeded--up to the time
when he burst suddenly, like a blazing light, upon the public
consciousness."

However that may be, Mr. Piggy Logan's fame was certainly blazing now,
and an entire literature in the higher aesthetics had been created about
him and his puppets. Critical reputations had been made or ruined by
them. The last criterion of fashionable knowingness that year was an
expert familiarity with Mr. Logan and his dolls. If one lacked this
knowledge, he was lower than the dust. If one had it, his connoisseurship
in the arts was definitely established and his eligibility for any
society of the higher sensibilities was instantly confirmed.

To a future world--inhabited, no doubt, by a less acute and understanding
race of men--all this may seem a trifle strange. If so, that will be
because the world of the future will have forgotten what it was like to
live in 1929.

In that sweet year of grace one could admit with utter nonchalance that
the late John Milton bored him and was a large "stuffed shirt". "Stuffed
shirts", indeed, were numerous in the findings of the critical gentry of
the time. The chemises of such inflated personalities as Goethe, Ibsen,
Byron, Tolstoy, Whitman, Dickens, and Balzac had been ruthlessly
investigated by some of the most fearless intellects of the day and found
to be largely filled with straw wadding. Almost everything and everybody
was in the process of being debunked--except the debunkers and Mr. Piggy
Logan and his dolls.

Life had recently become too short for many things that people had once
found time for. Life was simply too short for the perusal of any book
longer than two hundred pages. As for _War and Peace_--no doubt all
"they" said of it was true--but as for oneself--well, one had tried, and
really it was quite too--too--oh, well, life simply was too short. So
life that year was far too short to be bothered by Tolstoy, Whitman,
Dreiser, or Dean Swift. But life was not too short that year to be
passionately concerned with Mr. Piggy Logan and his circus of wire dolls.

The highest intelligences of the time--the very subtlest of the chosen
few--were bored by many things. They tilled the waste land, and erosion
had grown fashionable. They were bored with love, and they were bored
with hate. They were bored with men who worked, and with men who loafed.
They were bored with people who created something, and with people who
created nothing. They were bored with marriage, and with single
blessedness. They were bored with chastity, and they were bored with
adultery. They were bored with going abroad, and they were bored with
staying at home. They were bored with the great poets of the world, whose
great poems they had never read. They were bored with hunger in the
streets, with the men who were killed, with the children who starved, and
with the injustice, cruelty, and oppression all round them; and they were
bored with justice, freedom, and man's right to live. They were bored
with living, they were bored with dying, but--they were _not_ bored
that year with Mr. Piggy Logan and his circus of wire dolls.

And the Cause of all this tumult? The generating Force behind this mighty
sensation in the world of Art? As one of the critics so aptly said: "It
is a great deal more than just a new talent that has started just another
'movement': it is rather a whole new universe of creation, a whirling
planet which in its fiery revolutions may be expected to throw off its
own sidereal systems." All right; _It_, then--the colossal Genius
which had started all this--what was It doing now?

It was now enjoying the privacy of one of the lovely rooms in Mrs. Jack's
apartment, and, as if It were utterly unaware of the huge disturbance It
had made in the great world, It was calmly, quietly, modestly,
prosaically, and matter-of-factly occupied in peeling off Its own
trousers and pulling on a pair of canvas pants.

While this momentous happening was taking place, events were moving
smoothly to their consummation in other quarters of the house. The
swinging door between the dining-room and the kitchen domain kept
slatting back and forth as the maids passed in and out to make the final
preparations for the feast. Janie came through the dining-room bearing a
great silver tray filled with bottles, decanters, a bowl of ice, and
tall, lovely glasses. As she set the tray down upon a table in the
living-room, the shell-thin glasses chimed together musically, and there
was a pleasant jink of bottles and the cold, clean rattle of cracked ice.

Then the girl came over towards the hearth, removed the big brass screen,
and knelt before the dancing flames. As she jabbed at the logs with a
long brass poker and a pair of tongs there was a shower of fiery sparks,
and the fire blazed and crackled with new life. For just a moment she
stayed there on her knees in a gesture of sweet maiden grace. The fire
cast its radiance across her glowing face, and Mrs. Jack looked at her
with a softened glance, thinking how sweet and clean and pretty she was.
Then the maid arose and put the screen back in its place.

Mrs. Jack was arranging anew a vase of long-stemmed roses on a small
table in the hall and glancing briefly at herself in the mirror above,
turned and walked briskly and happily down the broad, deep-carpeted
hallway towards her own room. Her husband was just coming from his room.
He was fully dressed for the evening. She looked him over with an expert
eye, and saw how well his clothes fit him and how he wore them as if they
had grown on him.

His manner, in contrast to hers, was calm and sophisticated, wise and
knowing. One knew just to look at him that he took excellent care of
himself. Here was a man, one felt, who, if he was experienced in the
pleasures of the flesh, knew how far to go, and beyond what point lay
chaos, shipwreck, and the reef. His wife, taking all this in with a swift
and comprehensive glance that missed nothing, despite her air of
half-bewildered innocence, was amazed to see how much he knew, and a
little troubled to think that he knew even more, perhaps, than she could
see or fathom.

"Oh, hello," he said, in a tone of suave courtesy as he bent and kissed
her lightly on one cheek.

For just the flick of an instant she was conscious of a feeling of
distaste, but then she remembered what a perfect husband he had been, how
thoughtful, how good, how devoted, and how, no matter what the unfathomed
implications of his eyes might be, he had said nothing--and for all that
anyone could prove, had seen nothing. "He's a sweet person," she was
thinking as she responded brightly to his greeting:

"Oh, hello, darling. You're all ready, aren't you?...Listen"--she spoke
rapidly--"will you look out for the bell and take care of anyone who
comes? Mr. Logan is changing his costume in the guest room--won't you
look out for him if he needs anything? And see if Edith's ready. And when
the guests begin to come you can send the women to her room to take off
their wraps--oh, just tell Nora--she'll attend to it! And you'll take
care of the men yourself--won't you, dear? You can show them back to your
room. I'll be out in a few minutes. If only everything!"--she began in a
worried tone, slipping the ring quickly from her finger and slipping it
back again. "I do hope everything's all right!"

"But _isn't_ it?" he said blandly. "Haven't you looked?"

"Oh, everything looks perfect!" she cried. "It's really just too
beautiful! The girls have behaved wonderfully--only"--the little furrow
of nervous tension came between her eyes--"do keep an eye on them, won't
you, Fritz? You know how they are if somebody's not round. Something's so
likely to go wrong. So please do watch them, won't you, dear? And look
out for Mr. Logan. I do hope--" she paused with a look of worried
abstraction in her eyes.

"You do hope what?" he said pointedly, with just the suggestion of an
ironic grin round the corners of his mouth.

"I do hope he won't"--she began in a troubled tone, then went on
rapidly--"He said something about--about clearing away some of the things
in the living-room for his show." She looked at him rather helplessly;
then, catching the irony of his faint grin, she coloured quickly and
laughed richly. "God! I don't know what he's going to do. He brought
enough stuff with him to sink a battleship!...Still, I suppose it's going
to be all right. Everyone's been after him, you know. Everyone's thrilled
at the chance of seeing him. Oh, I'm sure it'll be all right. Don't you
think so--hah?"

She looked earnestly at him with an expression of such droll, beseeching
inquiry that, unmasked for a moment, he laughed abruptly as he turned
away, saying:

"Oh, I suppose so, Esther. I'll look after it."

Mrs. Jack went on down the hall, pausing just perceptibly as she passed
her daughter's door. She could hear the girl's voice, clear, cool, and
young, humming the jaunty strains of a popular tune:

"You're the cream in my coffee--you're the salt in my stew-w----"

A little smile of love and tenderness suffused the woman's face as she
continued down the hall and entered the next door, which was her own
room.

It was a very simple, lovely room, hauntingly chaste, almost needlessly
austere. In the centre of one wall stood her narrow little wooden bed, so
small and plain and old that it seemed it might almost have served as the
bed of a medieval nun, as perhaps it had. Beside it stood the little
table with its few books, a telephone, a glass and a silver pitcher, and
in a silver frame a photograph of a girl in her early twenties--Mrs.
Jack's daughter, Alma.

Beside the door as one entered there was an enormous old wooden wardrobe,
which she had brought from Italy. This contained all her beautiful
dresses and her wonderful collection of winglike little shoes, all of
them made by hand to fit her perfect little feet. On the opposite wall,
facing the door, between two high windows, stood her writing-desk.
Between the bed and the windows there was a small drawing-table. It was a
single board of white, perfect wood, and on it, arranged with faultless
precision, were a dozen sharpened pencils, a few feathery brushes, some
crisp sheets of tracing paper on which geometric designs were legible, a
pot of paste, a ruler, and a little jar of golden paint. Exactly above
this table, hanging from the wall in all the clean beauty of their
strength and accuracy, were a triangle and a square.

At the foot of the bed there was a chaise-longue covered with a flowered
pattern of old faded silk. There were a few simple drawings, on the
walls, and a single painting of a strange, exotic flower. It was such a
flower as never was, a dream flower which Mrs. Jack had painted long ago.

Along the wall opposite the bed stood two old chests. One of them, a
product of the Pennsylvania Dutch, was carved and coloured in quaint and
cheerful patterns, and this contained old silks and laces and the noble
Indian saris which she often loved to wear. The other was an old chest of
drawers, with a few silver toilet articles and a square mirror on its
top.

Mrs. Jack crossed the room and stood before the mirror looking at
herself. First she bent forward a little and stared at her face long and
earnestly with an expression of childlike innocence. Then she began to
turn about, regarding herself from first one angle, then another. She put
her hand up to her temple and smoothed her brow. Obviously she found
herself good, for her eyes now took on an expression of rapt complacency.
There was open vanity in her look as she brooded with smouldering
fascination on the thick bracelet around her arm--a rich and sombre chain
of ancient India, studded with dull and curious gems. She lifted her chin
and looked at her neck,, tracing out with her finger-tips the design of
an old necklace which she wore. She surveyed her smooth arms, her bare
back, her gleaming shoulders, and the outlines of her breasts and figure,
touching, patting, and half-unconsciously arranging with practiced
touches the folds of her simple, splendid gown.

She lifted her arm again and with hand extended, the other hand upon her
hip, she turned about once more in her orbit of self-worship. Slowly she
turned, still rapt in contemplation of her loveliness, then she gasped
suddenly with surprise and fright, and uttered a little scream. Her hand
flew to her throat in a gesture of alarm as she realised that she was not
alone and, looking up, saw her daughter standing there.

The girl, young, slender, faultless, cold, and lovely, had entered
through the bathroom that connected the two rooms, and was standing in
the door, having paused there, frozen to immobility as she caught her
mother in the act. The mother's face went blood-red. For a long moment
the two women looked at each other, the mother utterly confused and
crimson with her guilt, the daughter cold and appraising with the irony
of sophisticated mirth. Then something quick and instant passed between
them in their glance.

Like one who has been discovered and who knows that there is nothing more
to say, the mother suddenly threw back her head and laughed, a rich,
full-throated, woman's yell of free acknowledgement, unknown to the race
of man.

"Well, Mother, was it good?" said the girl, now grinning faintly. She
walked over and kissed her.

Again the mother was shaken with her hysteria of helpless laughter. Then
both of them, freed from the necessity of argument by that all-taking
moment, were calm again.

Thus was enacted the whole tremendous comedy of womankind. No words were
needed. There was nothing left to say. All had been said there in that
voiceless instant of complete and utter understanding, of mutual
recognition and conspiracy. The whole universe of sex had been nakedly
revealed for just the flick of a second in all its guile and its
overwhelming humour. And the great city roared on unwittingly round that
secret cell, and no man in its many millions was any the wiser about
this primal force more strong than cities and as old as earth.



15. The Party at Jack's


Now the guests were beginning to arrive. The electric thring of the
door-bell broke sharply and persistently on accustomed quietness. People
were coming in and filling the place with the ease and familiarity of old
friends. In the hallway and in the rooms at the front there arose now a
confused medley of many voices--the rippling laughter and quick, excited
tones of the women mingled with the deeper, more vibrant sonorities of
the men. It was a mixture smooth as oil, which fused and mounted
steadily. With every sharp ringing of the bell, with every opening and
closing of the door, there were new voices and new laughter, a babel of
new greetings, new gaiety, and new welcomes.

The whole place--all the rooms front to back--was now thrown open to the
party. In the hall, in the bedrooms, in the great living-room, and in the
dining-room, people were moving in and out, circulating everywhere in
beautiful and spontaneous patterns. Women were coming up to Mrs. Jack and
embracing her with the affectionate tenderness of old friendship. Men,
drawn together in solemn discussion or in the jesting interplay of wit,
were going in and out of Mr. Jack's room.

Mrs. Jack, her eyes sparkling with joy, was moving about everywhere,
greeting people and stopping to talk to everyone. Her whole manner had a
quality of surprised delight, as of a person who feels that wonders will
never cease. Although she had invited all these people, she seemed, as
she spoke to each in turn, as if she was taken aback by the happiness of
an unexpected and unhoped-for encounter with an old friend whom she had
not seen for a long time. Her voice, as she talked, grew a trifle higher
with its excitement, even at times a little shrill, and her face glowed
with pleasure. And her guests smiled at her as people smile at a happy
and excited child.

Many were moving about now with glasses in their hands. Some were leaning
against walls talking to each other. Distinguished-looking men were
propped with their elbows on the mantel in the casual earnestness of
debate. Beautiful women with satiny backs were moving through the crowd
with velvet undulance. The young people were gathered together in little
parties of their own, drawn to one another by the magic of their youth.
Everywhere people were laughing and chattering, bending to fill glasses
with frosty drinks, or moving around the loaded temptations of the
dining-table and the great buffet with that "choosy" look, somewhat
perturbed and doubtful, which said plainly that they would like to taste
it all but knew they couldn't. And the smiling maids were there to do
their bidding, and to urge them to have just a little more. All in all,
it was a wonderful scene of white and black and gold and power and wealth
and loveliness and food and drink.

Mrs. Jack glanced happily through the crowded rooms. It was, she knew, a
notable assemblage of the best, the highest, and the fairest the city had
to offer. And others were arriving all the time. At this moment, in fact,
Miss Lily Mandell came in, and the tall, smouldering beauty swung away
along the hall to dispose of her wraps. She was followed almost at once
by Mr. Lawrence Hirsch, the banker. He casually gave his coat and hat to
one of the maids, and, groomed and faultless, schooled in power, be bowed
greetings through the throng towards his hostess. He shook hands with her
and kissed her lightly on one cheek, saying with that cool irony that was
a portion of the city style:

"You haven't looked so lovely, darling, since the days when we used to
dance the can-can together."

Then, polished and imperturbable, he turned away--a striking figure. His
abundant hair was prematurely white, and, strangely, it gave to his clear
and clean-shaven face a look of almost youthful maturity. His features, a
little worn but assured, were vested in unconscious arrogance with the
huge authorities of wealth. He moved, this weary, able son of man, among
the crowd and took his place, assuming, without knowing he assumed, his
full authorities.

Lily Mandell now returned to the big room and made her way languidly
towards Mrs. Jack. This heiress of Midas wealth was tall and dark, with a
shock of black hair. Her face, with its heavy-lidded eyes, was full of
pride and sleepy eloquence. She was a stunning woman, and everything
about her was a little startling. The dress she wore was a magnificent
gown fashioned from a single piece of dull golden cloth, and had been so
designed to display her charms that her tall, voluptuous figure seemed
literally to have been poured into it. It made her a miracle of
statuesque beauty, and as she swayed along with sleepy undulance, the
eyes of all the men were turned upon her. She bent over the smaller
figure of her hostess, kissed her, and, in a rich, yolky voice full of
genuine affection, said:

"Darling, how are you?"

By now, Herbert, the elevator boy, was being kept so busy bringing up new
arrivals that one group hardly had time to finish with its greetings
before the door would open and a new group would come in. There was
Roderick Hale, the distinguished lawyer. Then Miss Roberta Heilprinn
arrived with Mr. Samuel Fetzer. These two were old friends of Mrs. Jack's
"in the theatre", and her manner towards them, while not more cordial or
affectionate than that towards her other guests, was a shade more direct
and casual. It was as if one of those masks--not of pretending but of
formal custom--which life imposes upon so many human relations had here
keen sloughed off. She said simply: "Oh, hello, Bertie. Hello, Sam." The
shade indefinable told everything: they were "show people"--she and they
had "worked together".

There were a good many show people. Two young actors from the Community
Guild Theatre escorted the Misses Hattie Warren and Bessie Lane, both of
them grey-haired spinsters who were directors of the theatre. And, in
addition to the more gifted and distinguished people, there were a number
of the lesser fry, too. There was a young girl who was understudy to a
dancer at one of the repertory theatres, and another woman who was the
seamstress and wardrobe mistress there, and still another who had once
been Mrs. Jack's assistant in her own work. For, as success and fame had
come to Mrs. Jack, she had not forgotten her old friends. Though she was
now a celebrity herself, she had thus escaped the banal and stereotyped
existence that so many celebrities achieve. She loved life too well to
cut herself off from the common run of warm humanity. In her own youth
she had known sorrow, insecurity, hardship, heartbreak, and disillusion,
and she had never forgotten it. Nor had she forgotten any of the people
her life had ever touched. She had a rare talent for loyal and abiding
friendships, and most of the people who were here to-night, even the most
famous ones, were friends who she had known for many years, some of them
since childhood.

Among the guests who now came streaming in was a mild, sad-faced woman
named Margaret Ettinger. She was married to a profligate husband and had
brought him with her. And he, John Ettinger, had brought along a buxom
young woman who was his current mistress. This trio provided the most
bizarre and unpleasantly disturbing touch to an otherwise distinguished
gathering.

The guests were still arriving as fast as the elevator could bring them
up. Stephen Hook came in with his sister, Mary, and greeted his hostess
by holding out to her a frail, limp hand. At the same time he turned half
away from her with an air of exaggerated boredom and indifference, an
almost weary disdain, as he murmured:

"Oh, hello, Esther...Look"--he half-turned towards her again, almost as
if this were an afterthought--"I brought you this." He handed her a book
and turned away again. "I thought it was rather interesting," he said in
a bored tone. "You might like to look at it."

What he had given her was a magnificent volume of Peter Breughel's
drawings--a volume that she knew well, and the cost of which had
frightened even her. She looked quickly at the flyleaf and saw that in
his fine hand he had written primly: "For Esther--from Stephen Hook". And
suddenly she remembered that she had mentioned to him casually, a week or
two before, her interest in this book, and she understood now that this
act, which in a characteristic way he was trying to conceal under a mask
of laboured indifference, had come swift and shining as a beam of light
out of the depths of the man's fine and generous spirit. Her face burned
crimson, something choked her in the throat, and her eyes grew hot with
tears.

"Oh, Steve!" she gasped. "This is simply the most beautiful--the most
wonderful----"

He seemed fairly to shrink away from her. His white, flabby face took on
an expression of disdainful boredom that was so exaggerated it would have
seemed comical if it had not been for the look of naked pleading in his
hazel eyes. It was the look of a proud, noble, strangely twisted and
tormented man--the look almost of a frightened child, who, even while it
shrank away from the companionship and security it so desperately needed
and wanted, was also pleading pitifully: "For God's sake, help me if you
can! I am afraid!"

She saw that look in his eyes as he turned pompously away from her, and
it went through her like a knife. In a flash of stabbing pity she felt
the wonder, the strangeness, and the miracle of living.

"Oh, you poor tormented creature," she was thinking. "What is wrong with
you? What are you afraid of? What's eating on you anyway?...What a
strange man he is!" she thought more tranquilly. "And how fine and good
and high!"

At this moment, as if reading her own thoughts, her daughter, Alma, came
to the rescue. Cool, poised, lovely, the girl came across the room, moved
up to Hook, and said casually:

"Oh, hello, Steve. Can I get you a drink?"

The question was a godsend. He was extremely fond of the girl. He liked
her polished style, her elegance, her friendly yet perfectly impenetrable
manner. It gave him just the foil, the kind of protection, that he so
desperately needed. He answered her at once.

"What you have to say quite fascinates me," he murmured in a bored tone
and moved over to the mantel, where he leaned as spectator and turned his
face three-quarters away from the room, as if the sight of so many
appallingly dull people was more than he could endure.

The elaborately mannered indirection of his answer was completely
characteristic of Stephen Hook, and provided a key to his literary style.
He was the author of a great many stories, which he sold to magazines to
support himself and his mother, and also of several very fine books. The
books had established his considerable and deserved reputation, but they
had had almost no sale. As he himself had ironically pointed out, almost
everyone, apparently, had read his books and no one had bought them. In
these books, just as in his social manner, he tried to mask his shyness
and timidity by an air of weary disdain and by the intricate artifice and
circumlocution of an elaborately mannered style.

Mrs. Jack, after staring rather helplessly at Hook, turned to his sister,
a jolly-faced spinster with twinkling eyes and an infectious laugh who
shared her brother's charm but lacked his tormented spirit, and
whispered:

"What's wrong with Steve to-night? He looks as if he's been seeing
ghosts."

"No--just another monster," Mary Hook replied, and laughed. "He had a
pimple on his nose last week and he stared at it so much in the mirror
that he became convinced it was a tumour. Mother was almost crazy. He
locked himself in his room and refused to come out or talk to anyone for
days and days. Four days ago he sent her a note leaving minute
instructions for his funeral and burial--he has a horror of being
cremated. Three days ago he came out in his pyjamas and said good-bye to
all of us. He said his life was overall was ended. To-night he thought
better of it and decided to dress and come to your party."

Mary Hook laughed again good-naturedly and, with a humorous shrug and a
shake of her head, moved away into the crowd. And Mrs. Jack, still with a
rather troubled look on her face, turned to talk to old Jake Abramson,
who had been holding her hand and gently stroking it during the last part
of this puzzled interlude.

The mark of the fleshpots was plain upon Jake Abramson. He was old,
subtle, sensual, weary, and he had the face of a vulture. Curiously
enough, it was also a strangely attractive face. It had so much patience
in it, and a kind of wise cynicism, and a weary humour. There was
something paternal and understanding about him. He looked like an
immensely old and tired ambassador of life who had lived so long, and
seen so much, and been so many places, that even his evening clothes were
as habitual as his breath and hung on him with a weary and accustomed
grace as if he had been born in them.

He had taken off his top-coat and his silk hat and given them to the
maid, and then had come wearily into the room towards Mrs. Jack. He was
evidently very fond of her. While she had been talking to Mary Hook he
had remained silent and had brooded above her like a benevolent vulture.
He smiled beneath his great nose and kept his eyes intently on her face;
then he took her small hand in his weary old clasp and began to stroke
her smooth arm. It was a gesture frankly old and sensual, jaded, and yet
strangely fatherly and gentle. It was the gesture of a man who had known
and possessed many pretty women and who still knew how to admire and
appreciate them, but whose stronger passions had now passed over into a
paternal benevolence.

And in the same way he now spoke to her.

"You're looking nice!" he said. "You're looking pretty!" He kept smiling
vulturesquely at her and stroking her arm. "Just like a rose she is!" the
old man said, and never took his weary eyes from her face.

"Oh, Jake!" she cried excitedly and in a surprised tone, as if she had
not known before that he was there. "How nice of you to come! I didn't
know you were back. I thought you were still in Europe."

"I've been and went," he declared humorously.

"You're looking awfully well, Jake," she said. "The trip did you lots of
good. You've lost weight. You took the cure at Carlsbad, didn't you?"

"I didn't take the cure," the old man solemnly declared, "I took the
die-ett." Deliberately he mispronounced the word.

Instantly Mrs. Jack's face was suffused with crimson and her shoulders
began to shake hysterically. She turned to Roberta Heilprinn, seized her
helplessly by the arm, and clung to her, shrieking faintly:

"God! Did you hear him? He's been on a diet! I bet it almost killed him!
The way he loves to eat!"

Miss Heilprinn chuckled fruitily and her oil-smooth features widened in
such a large grin that her eyes contracted to closed slits.

"I've been die-etting ever since I went away," said Jake. "I was sick
when I went away--and I came back on an English boat," the old man said
with a melancholy and significant leer that drew a scream of laughter
from the two women.

"Oh, Jake!" cried Mrs. Jack hilariously. "How you must have suffered! I
know what you used to think of English food!"

"I think the same as I always did," the old man said with resigned
sadness--"only ten times more!"

She shrieked again, then gasped out, "Brussels sprouts?"

"They still got 'em," said old Jake solemnly. "They still got the same
ones they had ten years ago. I saw Brussels sprouts this last trip that
ought to be in the British Museum...And they still got that good fish,"
he went on with a suggestive leer.

Roberta Heilprinn, her bland features grinning like a Buddha, gurgled:
"The Dead Sea fruit?"

"No," said old Jake sadly, "not the Dead Sea fruit--that ain't dead
enough. They got boiled flannel now," he said, "and that good
sauce!...You remember that _good_ sauce they used to make?" He
leered at Mrs. Jack with an air of such insinuation that she was again
set off in a fit of shuddering hysteria:

"You mean that awful...tasteless...pasty..._goo_...about the colour
of a dead lemon?"

"You got it," the old man nodded his wise and tired old head in weary
agreement. "You got it...That's it...They still make it...So I've been
die-etting all the way back!" For the first time his tired old voice
showed a trace of animation. "Carlsbad wasn't in it compared to the
die-etting I had to do on the English boat!" He paused, then with a glint
of cynic humour in his weary eyes, he said: "It was fit for nothing but a
bunch of goys!"

This reference to unchosen tribes, with its evocation of humorous
contempt, now snapped a connection between these three people, and
suddenly one saw them in a new way. The old man was smiling thinly, with
a cynical intelligence, and the two women were shaken utterly by a
paroxysm of understanding mirth. One saw now that they really were
_together_, able, ancient, immensely knowing, and outside the world,
regardant, tribal, communitied in derision and contempt for the
unhallowed, unsuspecting tribes of lesser men who were not party to their
knowing, who were not folded to their seal. It passed--the instant
showing of their ancient sign. The women just smiled now, quietly: they
were citizens of the world again.

"But Jake! You poor fellow!" Mrs. Jack said sympathetically. "You must
have hated it!" Then she cried suddenly and enthusiastically as she
remembered: "Isn't Carlsbad just too beautiful?...Did you know that Bert
and I were there one time?" As she uttered these words she slipped her
hand affectionately through the arm of her friend, Roberta, then went on
vigorously, with a jolly laugh and a merry face: "Didn't I ever tell you
about that time, Jake?...Really, it was the most wonderful
experience!...But God!" she laughed almost explosively--"Will you ever
forget the first three or four days, Bert?" She appealed to her smiling
friend. "Do you remember how hungry we got? How we thought we couldn't
possibly hold out? Wasn't it dreadful?" she said, and then went on with a
serious and rather puzzled air as she tried to explain it: "But then--I
don't know--it's funny--but somehow you get used to it, don't you, Bert?
The first few days are pretty awful, but after that you don't seem to
mind. I guess you get too weak, or something...I know Bert and I stayed
in bed three weeks--and really it wasn't bad after the first few days."
She laughed suddenly, richly. "We used to try to torture each other by
making up enormous menus of the most delicious food we knew. We had it
all planned out to go to a swell restaurant the moment our cure was over
and order the biggest meal we could think of!...Well!" she
laughed--"would you believe it?--the day the cure was finished and the
doctor told us it would be all right for us to get up and eat--I know we
both lay there for hours thinking of all the things we were going to
have. It was simply wonderful!" she said, laughing and making a fine
little movement with her finger and her thumb to indicate great delicacy,
her voice squeaking like a child's and her eyes wrinkling up to dancing
points. "In all your life you never heard of such delicious food as Bert
and I were going to devour! We resolved to do everything in the greatest
style!...Well, at last we got up and dressed. And God!" she cried. "We
were so weak we could hardly stand up, but we wore the prettiest clothes
we had, and we had chartered a Rolls Royce for the occasion and a
chauffeur in livery! In all your _days_," she cried with her eyes
twinkling, "you've never seen such swank! We got into the car and were
driven away like a couple of queens. We told the man to drive us to the
swellest, most expensive restaurant he knew. He took us to a beautiful
place outside of town. It looked like a chateau!" She beamed rosily round
her. "And when they saw us coming they must have thought we were royalty
from the way they acted. The flunkies were lined up, bowing and scraping,
for half a block. Oh, it was thrilling! Everything we'd gone through and
endured in taking the cure seemed worth it...Well!" she looked round her
and the breath left her body audibly in a sigh of complete
frustration--"would you believe it?--when we got in there and tried to
eat we could hardly swallow a bite! We had looked forward to it so
long--we had planned it all so carefully--and all we could eat was a
soft-boiled egg--and we couldn't even finish that! It filled us up right
to here--" she put a small hand level with her chin. "It was so tragic
that we almost wept!...Isn't it a strange thing? I guess it must be that
your stomach shrinks up while you're on the diet. You lie there day after
day and think of the enormous meal you are going to devour just as soon
as you get up--and then when you try it you're not even able to finish a
soft-boiled egg!"

As she finished, Mrs. Jack shrugged her shoulders and lifted her hands
questioningly, with such a comical look on her face that everybody round
her laughed. Even weary and jaded old Jake Abramson, who had really paid
no attention to what she was saying but had just been regarding her with
his fixed smile during the whole course of her animated dialogue, now
smiled a little more warmly as he turned away to speak to other friends.

Miss Heilprinn and Mrs. Jack, left standing together in the centre of the
big room, offered an instructive comparison in the capacities of their
sex. Each woman was perfectly cast in her own role. Each had found the
perfect adaptive means by which she could utilise her full talents with
the least waste and friction.

Miss Heilprinn looked the very distinguished woman that she was. Hers was
the talent of the administrator, the ability to get things done, and one
knew at a glance that in the rough and tumble of practical affairs this
bland lady was more than a match for any man. She suggested oil--smooth
oil, oil of tremendous driving power and generating force.

Along Broadway she had reigned for years as the governing brain of a
celebrated art theatre, and her business acuity had wrung homage even
from her enemies. It had been her function to promote, to direct, to
control, and in the tenuous and uncertain speculations of the theatre to
take care not to be fleeced by the wolves of Broadway. The brilliance of
her success, the power of her will, and the superior quality of her metal
were written plain upon her. It took no very experienced observer to see
that in the unequal contest between Miss  Heilprinn and the wolves of
Broadway it had been the wolves who had been worsted.

In that savage and unremitting warfare, which arouses such bitter
passions and undying hatreds that eyes become jaundiced and lips so
twisted that they are never afterwards able to do anything but writhe
like yellowed scars on haggard faces, had Miss Heilprinn's face grown
hard? Had her mouth contracted to a grim line? Had her jaw out-jutted
like a granite crag? Were the marks of the wars visible anywhere upon
her? Not at all. The more murderous the fight, the blander her face. The
more treacherous the intrigues in which Broadway's life involved her, the
more mellow became the fruity lilt of her good-humoured chuckle. She had
actually thriven on it. Indeed, as one of her colleagues said: "Roberta
never seems so happy and so unconsciously herself as when she is playing
about in a nest of rattlesnakes."

So, now, as she stood there talking to Mrs. Jack, she presented a very
handsome and striking appearance. Her grey hair was combed in a
pompadour, and her suave and splendid gown gave the finishing touch to
her general air of imperturbable assurance. Her face was almost
impossibly bland, but it was a blandness without hypocrisy. Nevertheless,
one saw that her twinkling eyes, which narrowed into such jolly slits
when she smiled, were sharp as flint and missed nothing.

In a curious way, Mrs. Jack was a more complex person than her smooth
companion. She was essentially not less shrewd, not less accomplished,
not less subtle, and not less determined to secure her own ends in this
hard world, but her strategy had been different.

Most people thought her "such a romantic person". As her friends said,
she was "so beautiful", she was "such a child", she was "so good". Yes,
she was all these things. For she had early learned the advantages of
possessing a rosy, jolly little face and a manner of slightly bewildered
surprise and naive innocence. When she smiled doubtfully yet
good-naturedly at her friends, it was as if to say: "Now I know you're
laughing at me, aren't you? I don't know what it is. I don't know what
I've done or said now. Of course I'm not clever the way you are--all of
you are so frightfully smart--but anyway I have a good time, and I like
you all."

To many people that was the essential Mrs. Jack. Only a few knew that
there was a great deal more to her than met the eye. The bland lady who
now stood talking to her was one of these. Miss Roberta Heilprinn missed
no artifice of that almost unconsciously deceptive innocence. And perhaps
that is why, when Mrs. Jack finished her anecdote and looked at old Jake
Abramson so comically and questioningly, Miss Heilprinn's eye twinkled a
little brighter, her Buddhistic smile became a little smoother, and her
yolky chuckle grew a trifle more infectious. Perhaps that is also why,
with a sudden impulse of understanding and genuine affection, Miss
Heilprinn bent and kissed the glowing little cheek.

And the object of this caress, although she never changed her expression
of surprised and delighted innocence, knew full well all that was going
on in the other woman's mind. For just a moment, almost imperceptibly,
the eyes of the two women, stripped bare of all concealing artifice, met
each other. And in that moment there was matter for Olympian laughter.

While Mrs. Jack welcomed her friends and beamed with happiness, one part
of her mind remained aloof and preoccupied. For someone was still absent,
and she kept thinking of him.

"I wonder where he is," she thought. "Why doesn't he come? I hope he
hasn't been drinking." She looked quickly over the brilliant gathering
with a troubled eye and thought impatiently: "If only he liked parties
more! If only he enjoyed meeting people--going out in the evening! Oh,
well--he's the way he is. It's no use trying to change him. I wouldn't
have him any different."

And then he arrived.

"Here he is!" she thought excitedly, looking at him with instant relief.
"And he's all right!"

George Webber had, in fact, taken two or three stiff drinks before he
left his rooms, in preparation for the ordeal. The raw odour of cheap gin
hung on his breath, his eyes were slightly bright and wild, and his
manner was quick and a trifle more feverish than was his wont. Just the
same he was, as Esther had phrased it to herself, "all right".

"If only people--my friends--everyone I know--didn't affect him so," she
thought. "Why is it, I wonder. Last night when he telephoned me he talked
so strange! Nothing he said made any sense! What could have been wrong
with him? Oh, well--it doesn't matter now. He's here. I love him!"

Her face warmed and softened, her pulse beat quicker, and she went to
meet him.

"Oh, hello, darling," she said fondly. "I'm so glad you're here at last.
I was beginning to be afraid you were going to fail me after all."

He greeted her half fondly and half truculently, with a mixture of
diffidence and pugnacity, of arrogance and humility, of pride, of hope,
of love, of suspicion, of eagerness, of doubt.

He had not wanted to come to the party at all. From the moment she had
first invited him he had brought forward a barrage of objections. They
had argued it back and forth for days, but at last she had won and had
exacted his promise. But as the time approached he felt himself
hesitating again, and last night he had paced the floor for hours in an
agony of self-recrimination and indecision. At last, around one o'clock,
he had seized the telephone with desperate resolve and, after waking the
whole household before he got her, he had told her that he was not
coming. Once more he repeated all his reasons. He only half-understood
them himself, but they had to do with the incompatibility of her world
and his world, and his belief, which was as much a matter of instinctive
feeling as of conscious thought, that he must keep his independence of
the world she belonged to if he was to do his work. He grew almost
desperate as he tried to explain it to her, because he couldn't seem to
make her understand what he was driving at. In the end she became a
little desperate, too. First she was annoyed, and told him for God's sake
to stop being such a fool. Then she became hurt and angry and reminded
him of his promise.

"We've been over all of this a dozen times!" she said shrilly, and there
was also a tearful note in her voice. "You promised, George--you know you
did! And now everything's arranged. It's too late to change it now. You
can't let me down like this!"

This appeal was too much for him. He knew, of course, that the party had
not been planned for him and that no arrangements would be upset if he
failed to appear. No one but Esther would even be aware of his absence.
But he had given his promise to come, however reluctantly, and he saw
that the only issue he had succeeded in raising in her mind was the
simple one of whether he would keep his word. So once more, and finally,
he had yielded. And now he was here, full of confusion, and wishing with
all his heart that he was anywhere else.

"I'm sure you're going to have a good time," Esther was saying to him
eagerly. "You'll see--" and she squeezed his hand. "There are lots of
people I want you to meet. But you must be hungry. Better get yourself
something to eat first. You'll find plenty of things you like. I planned
them especially for you. Go in the dining-room and help yourself. I'll
have to stay here a little while to welcome all these people."

After she left him to greet some new arrivals, George stood there
awkwardly for a moment with a scowl on his face and glanced about the
room at the dazzling assemblage. In that attitude he cut a rather
grotesque figure. The low brow with its frame of short black hair, the
burning eyes, the small, packed features, the long arms dangling to the
knees, and the curved paws gave him an appearance more simian than usual,
and the image was accentuated by his not-too-well-fitting dinner jacket.
People looked at him and stared, then turned away indifferently and
resumed their conversations.

"So!" he thought with somewhat truculent self-consciousness--"These are
her fine friends! I might have known it!" he muttered to himself, without
knowing at all what it was he might have known. The poise, assurance, and
sophistication of all these sleek faces made him fancy a slight where
none was offered or intended. "I'll show them!" he growled absurdly
beneath his breath, not having the faintest idea what he meant by that.

With this, he turned upon his heel and threaded his way through the
brilliant throng towards the dining-room.

"I _mean!_...You _know!_..."

At the sound of the words, eager, rapid, uttered in a rather hoarse yet
strangely seductive tone of voice, Mrs. Jack smiled at the group to whom
she had been talking. "There's Amy!" she said.

Then, as she turned and saw the elflike head with its unbelievable
harvest of ebony curls, the snub nose and the little freckles, and the
lovely face so radiant with an almost boyish quality of animation and
enthusiasm, she thought:

"Isn't she beautiful! And--and--there is something so sweet, so--so good
about her!"

Even as her mind framed its spontaneous tribute to the girlish apparition
with the elflike head, Mrs. Jack knew that it was not true. No; Amy
Carleton was many things, but no one could call her good. In fact, if she
was not "a notorious woman", the reason was that she had surpassed the
ultimate limits of notoriety, even for New York. Everybody knew her, and
knew all about her, yet what the truth was, or what the true image of
that lovely counterfeit of youth and joy, no one could say.

Chronology? Well, for birth she had had the golden spoon. She had been
born to enfabled wealth. Hers had been the childhood of a dollar
princess, kept, costly, cabined, pruned, confined. A daughter of
"Society", her girlhood had been spent in rich schools and in travel, in
Europe, Southampton, New York, and Palm Beach. By eighteen she was
"out"--a famous beauty. By nineteen she was married. And by twenty she
was divorced, her name tainted. It had been a sensational case which
fairly reeked. Even at that time her conduct had been so scandalous that
her husband had had no difficulty in winning a decree.

Since that time, seven years before, her career had defied the
measurements of chronology. Although she was now only in her middle
twenties, her life seemed to go back through aeons of iniquity. Thus one
might remember one of the innumerable scandals that had been connected
with her name, and then check oneself suddenly with a feeling of stunned
disbelief. "Oh, no! It can't be! That happened only three short years
ago, and since then she's--why she's--" And one would stare in
stupefaction at that elflike head, that snub nose, that boyishly eager
face, like one who realised that he was looking at the dread Medusa, or
at some enchantress of Circean cunning whose life was older than the ages
and whose heart was old as hell.

It baffled time, it turned reality to phantasmal shapes. One could behold
her as she was to-night, here in New York, this freckled, laughing image
of happy innocence--and before ten days had made their round one might
come upon her again in the corruptest gatherings of Paris, drugged
fathoms deep in opium, foul-bodied and filth-bespattered, cloying in the
embraces of a gutter rat, so deeply rooted in the cesspool that it seemed
she must have been bred on sewage and had never known any other life.

Since her first marriage and divorce, she had been married twice again.
The second marriage had lasted only twenty hours, and had been annulled.
The third had ended when her husband shot himself.

And before and after that, and in between, and in and out, and during it
and later on, and now and then, and here and there, and at home and
abroad, and on the seven seas, and across the length and breadth of the
five continents, and yesterday and to-morrow and for ever--could it be
said of her that she had been promiscuous? No, that could not be said of
her. For she had been as free as air, and one does not qualify the
general atmosphere with such a paltry adjective as "promiscuous". She had
just slept with everybody--with white, black, yellow, pink, green, or
purple--but she had never been promiscuous.

It was, in romantic letters, a period that celebrated the lady who was
lost, the lovely creature in the green hat who was "never let off
anything". Her story was a familiar one: she was the ill-starred heroine
of fate, a martyr to calamitous mischance, whose ruin had been brought
about through tragic circumstances which she could not control, and for
which she was not responsible.

Amy Carleton had her apologists who tried to cast her in this role. The
stories told about her "start upon the downward path" were numerous. One
touching version dated the beginning of the end from the time when, an
innocent and fun-loving girl of eighteen, she had, in a moment of daring,
lighted a cigarette at a dinner party in Southampton, attended by a large
number of eminent dowagers. The girl's downfall, according to this tale,
had been brought about by this thoughtless and harmless little act. From
that moment on--so the story went--the verdict of the dowagers was
"thumbs down" on Amy. The evil tongues began to wag, scandal began to
grow, her reputation was torn to shreds. Then, in desperation, the
unhappy child did go astray: she took to drink, from drink to lovers,
from lovers to opium, from opium to--everything.

All this, of course, was just romantic nonsense. She was the victim of a
tragic doom indeed, but she herself had fashioned it. With her the fault,
as with dear Brutus, lay not in her stars, but in herself. For, having
been endowed with so many rare and precious things that most men
lack--wealth, beauty, charm, intelligence, and vital energy--she lacked
the will, the toughness, to resist. So, having almost all, but lacking
this, she was the slave to her advantages. Her wealth had set a premium
on every whim, and no one had ever taught her to say no.

In this she was the child of her own time. Her life expressed itself in
terms of speed, sensational change, and violent movement, in a feverish
tempo that never drew from its own energies exhaustion or surcease, but
mounted constantly to insane excess. She had been everywhere and "seen
everything"--in the way one might see things from the windows of an
express train travelling eighty miles an hour. And, having quickly
exhausted the conventional kaleidoscope of things to be seen, she had
long since turned to an investigation of things more bizarre and sinister
and hidden. Here, too, her wealth and powerful connections opened doors
to her which were closed to other people.

So, now, she possessed an intimate and extensive acquaintance among the
most sophisticated and decadent groups in "Society", in all the great
cities of the world. And her cult of the unusual had led to an
exploration of the most shadowy border lines of life. She had an
acquaintanceship among the underworld of New York, London, Paris, and
Berlin which the police might have envied. And even with the police her
wealth had secured for her dangerous privileges. In some way, known only
to persons who control great power, financial or political, she had
obtained a police card and was privileged to a reckless licence in the
operation of her low-slung racing car. Although she was near-sighted, she
drove it at murderous speed through the seething highways of Manhattan,
and as it flashed by she always got the courtesy of a police salute. All
this in spite of the fact that she had demolished one car and killed a
young man who had been driving with her, and in spite of the further fact
that the police knew her as one who had been present at a drinking party
at which one of the chieftains of the underworld had been slain.

It seemed, therefore, that her wealth and power and feverish energy could
get her anything she wanted in any country of the world. People had once
said: "What on earth is Amy going to do next!" But now they said: "What
on earth is there left for her to do?" If life is to be expressed solely
in terms of velocity and sensation, it seemed there was nothing left for
her to do. Nothing but more speed, more change, more violence, more
sensation--until the end. And the end? The end could only be destruction,
and the mark of destruction was already apparent upon her. It was written
in her eyes--in her tormented, splintered, and exploded vision. She had
tried everything in life--except living. And she could never try that now
because she had so long ago, and so irrevocably, lost the way. So there
was nothing left for her to do except to die.

"If only"--people would think regretfully, as Mrs. Jack now thought as
she looked at that elfin head--"oh, if only things had turned out
differently for her!"--and then would seek back desperately through the
labyrinthine scheme to find the clue to her disorder, saying: "Here--or
here--or here--it happened here, you see!--If Only--!"

If only men were so much clay, as they are blood, bone, marrow, passion,
feeling! If they only were!

"I _mean!_...You _know!_..." With these words, so indicative of
her undefined enthusiasm and inchoate thought, Amy jerked the cigarette
away from her lips, laughed hoarsely and eagerly, and turned to her
companions as if fairly burning with a desire to communicate to them
something that filled her with exuberant elation. "I _mean!_" she
cried again--"when you compare it with the stuff they're doing
nowadays!--I _mean_!--there's simply no comparison!" Laughing
jubilantly, as if the thought behind these splintered phrases must be
perfectly clear to everyone, she drew furiously upon her cigarette again
and jerked it from her lips.

The group of, young people of which Amy was the radiant centre, and which
included not only the young Japanese who was her current lover but also
the young Jew who had been his most recent predecessor, had moved over
towards the portrait of Mrs. Jack above the mantel, and were looking up
at it. The portrait deserved the praise that was now being heaped upon
it. It was one of the best examples of Henry Mallows' early work.

"When you look at it and _think_ how long ago that was!"--cried Amy
jubilantly, gesturing towards the picture with rapid thrusts of her
cigarette--"and how beautiful she was _then_!--and how beautiful she
is now!" she cried exultantly, laughed hoarsely, then cast her grey-green
eyes round her in a glance of feverish exasperation--"I
_mean!_"--she cried again, and drew impatiently on her
cigarette--"there's _simply_ no comparison!" Then, realising that
she had not said what she had wanted to say, she went on: "Oh, I
_mean!_"--she said in a tone almost of desperation and tossed her
cigarette angrily away into the blazing fire--"the whole thing's
obvious!" she muttered, leaving everyone more bewildered than before.
With a sudden and impulsive movement she turned towards Stephen Hook, who
was still leaning with his elbow on one corner of the mantel, and
demanded: "How long has it been, Steve?...I _mean!_--it's been
twenty years ago, hasn't it?"

"Oh, quite all of that," Hook answered in his cold, bored voice. In his
agitation and embarrassment he moved still farther away until he almost
had his back turned upon the group. "It's been nearer thirty, I should
think," he tossed back over his shoulder, and then with an air of casual
indifference he gave the date. "I should think it was done in
nineteen-one or two--wasn't it, Esther?" he said, turning to Mrs. Jack,
who had now approached the group. "Around nineteen-one, wasn't it?"

"What's that?" said Mrs. Jack, and then went on immediately, "Oh, the
picture! No, Steve. It was done in nineteen"--she checked herself so
swiftly that it was not apparent to anyone but Hook--"in nineteen-six."
She saw just the trace of a smile upon his pale, bored face and gave him
a quick, warning little look, but he just murmured:

"Oh...I had forgotten it was as late as that."

As a matter of fact, he knew the exact date, even to the month and day,
when it had been finished. And, still musing on the vagaries of the sex,
he thought: "Why will they be so stupid! She must understand that to
anyone who knows the least thing about Mallows' life the date is as
familiar as the fourth of July!"

"Of course," Mrs. Jack was saying rapidly, "I was just a child when it
was made. I couldn't have been more than eighteen at the time--if I was
that."

"Which would make you not more than forty-one now," thought Hook
cynically--"if you are that! Well, my dear, you were twenty when he
painted you--and you had been married for more than two years...Why do
they do it!" he thought impatiently, and with a feeling of sharp
annoyance. He looked at her and caught a quick expression--startled,
almost pleading--in her eyes. He followed her glance, and saw the awkward
figure of George Webber standing ill at ease in the doorway leading from
the dining-room. "Ah! It's this boy!" he thought. "She's told him then
that--" and, suddenly, remembering her pleading look, he was touched with
pity. Aloud, however, he merely murmured indifferently:

"Oh, yes, you couldn't have been very old."

"And God!" exclaimed Mrs. Jack, "but I was beautiful!"

She spoke the words with such innocent delight that they lost any trace
of objectionable vanity they might have had, and people smiled at her
affectionately. Amy Carleton, with a hasty little laugh, said
impulsively:

"Oh, Esther! Honestly, you're the _most_...1 But I
_mean!_"--she cried impatiently, with a toss of her dark head, as if
answering some invisible antagonist--"she _is_!"

"In all your days," said Mrs. Jack, her face suffused with laughter, "you
never saw the like of me! I was just like peaches and cream. I'd have
knocked your eye out!"

"But, _darling!_ You do _now!_" cried Amy. "What I mean to say
is--darling, you're the _most_...! Isn't she, Steve?" She laughed
uncertainly, turning to Hook with feverish eagerness.

And he, seeing the ruin, the loss, the desperation in her splintered
eves, was sick with horror and with pity. He looked at her disdainfully,
with weary, lidded eyes, said: "What?" quite freezingly, and then turned
away, saying with an accent of boredom: "Oh."

Beside him was the smiling face of Mrs. Jack, and, above, the portrait of
the lovely girl that she had been. And the anguish and the mystery of
time stabbed through him.

"My God, here she is!" he thought. "Still featured like a child, still
beautiful, still loving someone--a boy!--almost as lovely now as she was
then when Mallows was a boy!"

1901! Ah, Time! The figures reeled in a drunken dance and he rubbed his
hand before his eyes. In 1901! How many centuries ago was that? How many
lives and deaths and floods, how many million days and nights of love, of
hate, of anguish and of fear, of guilt, of hope, of disillusion and
defeat here in the geologic aeons of this monstrous catacomb, this
riddled isle!--In 1901! Good God! It was the very Prehistoric Age of Man!
Why, all _that_ had happened several million years ago! Since then
so much had begun and ended and been forgotten--so many untold lives of
truth, of youth, of old age, so much blood and sweat and agony had gone
below the bridge--why, he himself had lived through at least a hundred
lives of it. Yes, he had lived and died through so many births and deaths
and dark oblivions of it, had striven, fought, and hoped, and been
destroyed through so many centuries of it, that even memory had
failed--the sense of time had been wiped out--and all of it now seemed to
have happened in a timeless dream. 1901! Looked at from here and now, it
was a kind of Grand Canyon of the human nerves and bones and blood and
brain and flesh and words and thought, all timeless now, all congealed,
all solidified in an unchanging stratum there impossibly below, mixed
into a general geologic layer with all the bonnets, bustles, and old
songs, the straw hats and the derbies, the clatter of forgotten hooves,
the thunder of forgotten wheels upon forgotten cobbles--all merged
together now with the skeletons of lost ideas in a single stratum of the
sunken world--while _she_----

--She! Why, surely she had been a part of it with him!

She had turned to speak to another group, and he could hear her saying:

"Oh yes, I knew Jack Reed. He used to come to Mabel Dodge's place. We
were great friends...That was when Alfred Stieglitz had started his
salon----"

Ah, all these names! Had he not been with these as well? Or, was it but
another shape, a seeming, in this phantasmal shadow-show of time? Had he
not been beside her at the launching of the ship? Had they not been
captives together among Thracian faces? Had he not lighted tapers to the
tent when she had come to charm remission from the lord of Macedon?--All
these were ghosts--save she! And she--devouring child of time--had of
this whole huge company of ghosts alone remained immortal and herself,
had shed off the chrysalis of all these her former selves as if each life
that she had lived was nothing but an outworn garment, and now stood
here--_here_! Good God!--upon the burnt-out candle-end of time--with
her jolly face of noon, as if she had just heard of this brave new world
on Saturday--and would see if _all_ of it was really true to-morrow!

Mrs. Jack had turned back once more at the sound of Amy's voice and had
bent forward to listen to the girl's disjointed exclamations as if, by
giving more concentrated attention, she could make sense of what the girl
was trying to say.

"I _mean!_...You _know!_...But Esther! Darling, you're the
most...! It's the most...! I mean, when I look at both of you, I simply
can't"--cried Amy with hoarse elation, her lovely face all sunning over
with light--"Oh, what I _mean_ to say is"--she cried, then shook her
head strongly, tossed another cigarette away impatiently, and cried with
the expiration of a long sigh--"Gosh!"

Poor child! Poor child! Hook turned pompously away to hide the naked
anguish in his eyes. So soon to grow, to go, to be consumed and die like
all of us! She was, he felt, like him, too prone to live her life upon
the single instant, never saving out anything as a prudent remnant for
the hour of peril or the day of ruin--too prone to use it all, to give it
all, burning herself out like last night's moths upon a cluster of hard
light!

Poor child! Poor child! So quick and short and temporal, both you and I,
thought Hook--the children of a younger kind! While these! He looked
about him at the sensual volutes of strong nostrils curved with scornful
mirth. These others of this ancient chemistry--unmothed, re-born, and
venturesome, yet wisely mindful of the flame--these others shall endure!
Ah, Time!

Poor child!



16. A Moment of Decision


George Webber had helped himself generously to the sumptuous feast so
temptingly laid out in the dining-room, and now, his hunger sated, he had
been standing for a few minutes in the doorway surveying the brilliant
scene in the great living-room. He was trying to make up his mind whether
to plunge boldly in and find somebody to talk to, or whether to put off
the ordeal a little longer by lingering over the food. He thought with
regret that there were still a few dishes that he had not even tasted. He
had already eaten so much, however, that he knew he could not make a
convincing show of taking more, so there seemed to be nothing for it but
to screw up his courage and make the best of the situation.

He had just reached this conclusion, with a feeling of "Now you're in for
it!"--when he caught a glimpse of Stephen Hook, whom he knew and liked,
and with a great sense of relief he started towards him. Hook was leaning
on the mantel, talking with a handsome woman. He saw George coming and
extended his soft, plump hand sideways, saying casually:

"Oh. How are you?...Look." His tone, as always when he did something that
was prompted by the generous and sensitive warmth of his spirit, was
deliberately indifferent and masked with an air of heavy boredom. "Have
you a telephone? I was trying to get you the other day. Can't you come
and have lunch with me some time?"

As a matter of fact, this idea had never occurred to him until that
moment. Webber knew that he had thought of it in an instant reflex of
sympathy to put him at his ease, to make him feel less desperately
shipwrecked in these glittering, sophisticated tides, to give him
something "to hold on to". Ever since he had first met Hook and had seen
his desperate shyness and the naked terror in his eyes, he had understood
the kind of man he was. He had never been deceived by the show of aloof
weariness or the elaborately mannered speech. Beneath these disguises he
had felt the integrity, the generosity, the nobility, the aspiration in
the man's tortured soul. So, now, with profound gratitude, he reached out
and shook his hand, feeling as he did so like a bewildered swimmer
seizing on the one thing that could sustain him in these disturbing and
unfathomed currents which were edged somehow with menace. He stammered
out a hasty greeting, said he would be delighted to go to lunch with him
some time--any time--any time at all; and he took a place beside Hook as
though he meant to stay there for the rest of the evening.

Hook talked to him a little while in his casual way and introduced the
woman. George tried to engage her in conversation, but, instead of
answering his remarks, she just looked at him coolly and said nothing.
Embarrassed by this behaviour, George looked round him as if searching
for someone, and in a final effort to say something, to give some show of
ease and purpose which he did not feel, he blurted out:

"Have--have you seen Esther anywhere about?"

As he said the words he knew how stiff and clumsy they sounded, and how
absurd, too, for Mrs. Jack, as anyone could see, was standing talking to
some of the guests not ten feet away. And the woman, as if she had been
waiting for just such an opening, now answered him at once. Turning to
him with a bright, superior smile, she said with cool unfriendliness:

"About? Yes, I think you'll find her about--just about there," nodding in
the direction of Mrs. Jack.

It was not a very witty remark. To George it seemed almost as stupid as
his own words had been. He knew, too, that the unfriendliness behind it
was impersonal--just the mark of fashion, a willingness to sacrifice
manners to the chance of making a smart retort. Why, then, did his face
now flush with anger? Why did he double up his fist and turn upon the
trivial and smiling creature with such smouldering menace that it seemed
he was about to commit a physical assault upon her?

In the very instant that he assumed this belligerent attitude he realised
that he was acting like a baffled clodhopper, and this consciousness made
him feel ten times the yokel that he looked. He tried to think of telling
words with which to answer her, but his mind was paralysed and he was
conscious only of the burning sensation in his face and neck. He knew
that his ill-fitting coat was sticking out round his collar, that he was
cutting a sorry figure, and that the woman--"That damned bitch!" he
muttered to himself--was laughing at him. So, defeated and discomfited
utterly, not so much by the woman as by his own ineptitude, he turned and
stalked away, hating himself, the party, and, most of all, his folly in
coming.

Well, he hadn't wanted to come! That was Esther's doing! She was
responsible for this! It was all her fault! Full of confusion and
irrational anger at everything and everybody, he backed himself against
the wall on the opposite side of the room and stood there clenching and
unclenching his fists and glaring round him.

But the violence and the injustice of his feelings soon began to have a
calming and sobering effect upon him. Then he saw the absurdity of the
whole episode, and began to laugh and mock inwardly at himself.

"So this is why you didn't want to come!" he thought scornfully. "You
were afraid some silly fool of an ill-bred woman would make an inane
remark that would prick your delicate hide! God, what a fool you are!
Esther was right!"

But _had_ she been right, really? He had made such an issue of it
with his talk about the work he had to do as a novelist, and how he had
to keep clear of her world in order to do it. Was all that just a way of
rationalising his sense of social inadequacy? Had he gone to such lengths
of theorising merely to spare his tender ego the ridicule and humiliation
of such a scene as he had just precipitated?

No, that was not the answer. There was more to it than that. By now he
had cooled off enough to be able to look at himself objectively, and all
at once he realised that he had never got clear in his own mind what he
had meant when he had talked to Esther about her world and his world. He
had used the phrases as symbols of something real, something important
that he had felt instinctively but had never put into words. And that's
why he hadn't been able to make her understand. Well, what was it? What
had he been afraid of? It wasn't only that he didn't like big parties and
knew himself to be unschooled in the social graces that such occasions
demanded. That was a part of it--yes. But it was only a part--the
smallest part, the petty, personal part. There was something
else--something impersonal, something much bigger than himself, something
that mattered greatly to him and that would not be denied. What was it
now? Better face it and try to get it straight.

Completely cool now, and fascinated by the inner problem which the
ridiculous little incident had brought into sharp focus, he began to look
about him at the people in the room. He watched their faces closely and
tried to penetrate behind the social masks they wore, probably, boring,
searching as for some clue that might lead him to an answer to his
riddle. It was, he knew, a distinguished gathering. It included
brilliant, successful men and beautiful women. They were among the best
and highest that the city had to offer. But as he looked them over with
an alert eye and with all his sensitivities keenly awakened by his
present purpose, he saw that there were some among them who wore quite
another hue.

That fellow there, for instance! With his pasty face and rolling eyes and
mincing ways, and hips that wiggled suggestively as he walked--could
there be any doubt at all that he was a member of nature's other sex?
Webber knew that people of this fellow's type and gender were privileged
personalities, the species being regarded tenderly as a cross between a
lap-dog and a clown. Almost every fashionable hostess considered them
essential functionaries at smart gatherings like this. Why was it, George
wondered. Was it something in the spirit of the times that had let the
homosexual usurp the place and privilege of a hunch-backed jester of an
old king's court, his deformity become a thing of open jest and ribaldry?
However it had come about, the thing itself was indubitable. The mincing
airs and graces of such a fellow, his antics and his gibes, the spicy
sting of his feminine and envenomed wit, were the exact counterparts of
the malicious quips of ancient clowns. So, now. As this simpering fellow
minced along, the powdered whiteness of his parchment face held languidly
to one side, the weary eyes half-closed and heavy-lidded, he would pause
from time to time to wave with a maidenly gesture of his wrist at various
people of his acquaintance in different parts of the big room, saying as
he did so:

"Oh, hello!..._There_ you are!...You _must_ come over!"

The effect of all this was so irresistible that the ladies shrieked with
laughter, and the gentlemen spluttered and guffawed.

And that woman over there in the corner, the one with the mannish haircut
and angular lines and hard, enamelled face, holding the hand of that
rather pretty and embarrassed young girl--a nymphomaniac if ever he saw
one.

At the sound of the splintered phrases: "I _mean!_...You
_know!_"--Webber turned and saw the dark curls of Amy Carleton. He
knew who she was, and he knew her story, but even if he had not known he
thought he would have guessed a part of it by the tragic look of lost
innocence in her face. But what he noticed chiefly now was the group of
men who followed her about, among them the young Jew and the young
Japanese--and the sight made him think of a pack of dogs trailing after a
bitch in heat. It was so open, so naked, so shameless that it almost made
him sick.

His eye took in John Ettinger, standing a little apart with his wife and
his mistress, and he read their relationship unmistakably in their
bearing towards each other.

At these repeated signs of decadence in a society which had once been the
object of his envy and his highest ambition, Webber's face had begun to
take on a look of scorn. Then he saw Mr. Jack moving suavely among his
guests, and suddenly, with a rush of blood to his face, he thought about
himself. Who was _he_ to feel so superior? Did they not all know who
be was, and why he was here?

Yes, all these people looked at one another with untelling eyes. Their
speech was casual, quick, and witty. But they did not say the things they
knew. And they knew everything. They had seen everything. They had
accepted everything. And they received every new intelligence now with a
cynical and amused look in their untelling eyes. Nothing shocked them any
more. It was the way things were. It was what they had come to expect of
life.

Ah, there he had it! That was part of the answer. It was not so much what
they did, for in this there was no appreciable difference between
themselves and him. It was their attitude of acceptance, the things they
thought and felt about what they did, their complaisance about themselves
and about their life, their loss of faith in anything better. He himself
had not yet come to that, he did not want to come to it. This was one of
the reasons, he now knew, why he did not want to be sealed to this world
that Esther belonged to.

Still, there could be no question that these people were an honoured
group. They had stolen no man's ox or ass. Their gifts were valuable and
many, and had won for them the world's grateful applause.

Was not the great captain of finance and industry, Lawrence Hirsch, a
patron of the arts as well, and a leader of advanced opinion? Yes. His
views on child labour, share-cropping, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti,
and other questions that had stirred the indignation of the intellectual
world were justly celebrated for their enlightenment and their
liberalism. Who should cavil, then, at the fact that a banker might
derive a portion of his income from the work of children in the textile
factories of the South?--that another part of it might be derived from
the labour of share-croppers in the tobacco fields?--that still another
might come from steel mills in the Middle West where armed thugs had been
employed to shoot into the ranks of striking workers? A banker's business
was to invest his money wherever he could get the best return. Business
was business, and to say that a man's social views ought to come between
him and his profits was cavilling, indeed! As for Mr. Hirsch himself, he
had his devoted champions even among the comrades of the left, who were
quick to point out that theoretical criticism of this sort was childish.
The sources of Mr. Hirsch's wealth and power, whatever they might be,
were quite accidental and beside the point. His position as a liberal, "a
friend of Russia", a leader of advanced social opinion, a searching
critic, indeed, of the very capitalist class to which he belonged, was so
well known as to place him in the very brain and forehead of enlightened
thought.

As for these others in the illustrious company that Webber now saw on
every side, not one of them had ever said: "Let them eat cake!" When the
poor had starved, these had suffered. When the children toiled, these had
bled. When the oppressed, the weak, the stricken and betrayed men had
been falsely accused and put to death, these tongues had been lifted in
indignant protest--if only the issue had been fashionable! These had
written letters to the press, carried placards upon Beacon Hill, joined
parades, made contributions, lent the prestige of their names to form
committees of defence.

All this was indubitably true. But as he thought about it now, Webber
also felt that such as these might lift their voices and parade their
placards till the crack of doom, but that in the secret and entrenched
resources of their lives they had all battened on the blood of common
man, and wrung their profits from the sweat of slaves, like any common
overseer of money and of privilege that ever lived. The whole tissue of
these princely lives, he felt, these lesbic and pederastic loves, these
adulterous intrigues, sustained in mid-air now, floating on the face of
night like a starred veil, had none the less been spun from man's common
dust of sweated clay, unwound out of the entrails of man's agony.

Yes, that was it! That was the answer! That was the very core of it!
Could he as a novelist, as an artist, belong to this high world of
privilege without taking upon himself the stultifying burden of that
privilege? Could he write truthfully of life as he saw it, could he say
the things he must, and at the same time belong to this world of which he
would have to write? Were the two things possible? Was not this world of
fashion and of privilege the deadliest enemy of art and truth? Could he
belong to the one without forsaking the other? Would not the very
privilege that he might gain from these, the great ones of the city, come
between him and the truth, shading it, tempering it, and in the end
betraying it? And would he then be any different from a score of others
who had let themselves be taken into camp, made captive by false visions
of wealth and ease, and by the deadly hankering for respectability--that
gilded counterfeit which so often passes current for the honest coin of
man's respect?

That was the danger, and it was real enough. It was, he knew, no mere
phantom of his distempered and suspicious mind. Had it not happened over
and over again? Think of all the young writers, among them some of the
best, who had won acclaim for the promise of their genius, and then had
left their promise unfulfilled because they had traded their birthright
for just such a mess of the world's pottage. They, too, had begun as
seekers after truth, but had suffered some eclipse of vision and had
ended as champions of some special and limited brand of truth. They were
the ones who became the special pleaders for things as they are, and
their names grew fat and sleek in the pages of the _Saturday Evening
Post_ and the women's magazines. Or they became escapists and sold
themselves to Hollywood, and were lost and sunk without a trace. Or,
somewhat differently, but following the same blind principle, they
identified themselves with this or that group, clique, faction, or
interest in art or politics, and led forlorn and esoteric little cults
and isms. These were the innumerable small fry who became literary
Communists, or single-taxers, or embattled vegetarians, or believers in
salvation through nudism. Whatever they became--and there was no limit to
their variety--they were like the blind men with the elephant: each one
of them had accepted some part of life for the whole, some fragmentary
truth or half-truth for truth itself, some little personal interest for
the large and all-embracing interest of mankind. If that happened to him,
how, then, could he sing America?

The problem was clearing up now. In the exhilaration of this moment of
sharp vision the answers to his questions were beginning to come through.
He was beginning to see what he must do. And as he saw the end of the
road down which, willingly, hopefully, even joyfully, he had been
travelling with Esther, he saw, too--swiftly, finally, irrevocably--that
he must break with her and turn his back upon this fabulous and
enchanting world of hers--or lose his soul as an artist. That is what it
came down to.

But even in the very instant that he saw it, and knew that it was so, and
accepted it, he was overwhelmed with such a sudden sense of loss that he
all but cried out in his pain and love. Was there, then, no simple truth
and certainty to be found anywhere? Must one for ever be stretched out on
the rack? Forever in his youth he had envisioned the starred face of the
night with high exaltation and noble inspiration, longing to dream great
dreams and think great thoughts in the company of the world's most
honoured great. And now, in this very moment of the dream come true, with
the ones he had always envied from afar surrounding him here 'on every
side--now to have the selfless grandeur turn to dust, and to see great
night itself a reptile coiled and waiting at the heart of life! To find
no ear or utterance anywhere for all the blazing, baffled certitudes of
youth! To find man's faith betrayed and his betrayers throned in honour,
themselves the idols of his bartered faith! To find truth false and
falsehood truth, good evil, evil good, and the whole web of life so
changing, so mercurial!

It was all so different from the way he had once thought it would be--and
suddenly, convulsively, forgetful of his surroundings, he threw out his
arms in an instinctive gesture of agony and loss.



17. Mr. Hirsch Could Wait


Esther had seen George's gesture and wondered what it meant. She
disengaged herself from the people to whom she had been talking and came
over to him, a frown of tender solicitude on her face.

"Darling," she said eagerly, taking his hand and looking at him
earnestly, "how are you getting along? Are you all right?"

In his confusion and anguish he could not answer her for a moment, and
when he did, the guilty knowledge of the decision he had just arrived at
made him lash out angrily as though in self-defence.

"Who said I wasn't all right?" he demanded harshly. "Why shouldn't I be?"
And, instantly, seeing her gentle face, he was filled with baffled and
furious regret.

"Oh, all right, all right," she said hastily and placatingly. "I just
wanted to know if--are you having a good time?" she said, with a little
forced smile. "Don't you think it's a nice party--hah? You want to meet
anyone? You must know some of the people here."

Before he had a chance to say anything more Lily Mandell came weaving
through the crowded room to Mrs. Jack's side.

"0 Esther, darling," she said in a drowsy tone, "I wonder if you've
heard--" Seeing the young man, she paused. "Oh, hello. I didn't know
_you_ were here." There was a note of protest in her voice.

These two had met before, but only casually. They shook hands. And all at
once Mrs. Jack's face was glowing with happiness. She put her own hands
in a firm clasp upon those of the man and woman, and whispered:

"My two. Two of the people that I love best in the whole world. You must
know and love each other as I do you."

In the grip of her deep emotion she fell silent, while the other two
remained clumsily holding hands. After a moment, awkwardly, they let
their hands drop to their sides and stood ill at ease, looking at each
other.

Just then Mr. Lawrence Hirsch sauntered up. He was calm and assured, and
did not seem to be following anyone. His hands in he trouser pockets of
his evening clothes, a man fashionably at ease, urbanely social, a casual
ambler from group to group in this brilliant gathering, informed, alert,
suave, polished, cool, detached--he was the very model of what a great
captain of finance, letters, arts, and enlightened principles should be.

"0 Esther," he said, "I must tell you what we have found out about the
case." The tone was matter-of-fact and undisturbed, carrying the
authority of calm conviction. "Two innocent men were put to death. At
last we have positive proof of it--evidence that was never allowed to
come to light. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Vanzetti could
not have been within fifty miles of the crime."

Mr. Hirsch spoke quietly, and did not look at Miss Mandell.

"But how horrible!" cried Mrs. Jack, righteous anger blazing up in her as
she turned to Mr. Hirsch. "Isn't it dreadful to know that such things can
happen in a country like this! It's the most damnable thing I ever heard
of!"

For the first time, now, Mr. Hirsch turned to Miss Mandell, casually, as
if he had only just become aware of her presence. "Yes, isn't it?" he
said, including her with charming yet not over-zealous intimacy within
the range of his quiet enthusiasm. "Don't you think--?"

Miss Mandell did not actually step on him. She just surveyed him slowly,
with a smouldering look of loathing. "_What!_" she said. Then to
Mrs. Jack: "_Really!_ I simply can't--" She shrugged helplessly,
despairingly, and moved away, a miracle of sensual undulance.

And Mr. Hirsch--he did not follow her, not even with a glance. Nor did he
show by so much as the flicker of a lash that he had seen or heard or
noticed anything. He went on talking in his well-modulated tones to Mrs.
Jack.

In the middle of what he was saying, suddenly he noticed George Webber.
"Oh, hello," he said. "How are you?" He detached one hand from his
elegant pocket and for a moment bestowed it on the young man, then turned
back again to Mrs. Jack, who was still burning with hot indignation over
what she had heard.

"These miserable people who could be guilty of such a thing!" she
exclaimed. "These despicable, horrible, rich people! It's enough to make
you want a revolution!" she cried.

"Well, my dear," said Mr. Hirsch with cool irony, "you may have your wish
gratified. It's not beyond the realm of possibility. And if it comes,
_that_ case may still return to plague them yet. The trials, of
course, were perfectly outrageous, and the judge should have been
instantly dismissed."

"To think that there are people living who could do a thing like that!"
cried Mrs. Jack. "You know," she went on earnestly and somewhat
irrelevantly, "I have always been a Socialist. I voted for Norman Thomas.
You see," she spoke very simply and with honest self-respect, "I've
always been a worker. All my sympathy is on their side."

Mr. Hirsch's manner had become a trifle vague, detached, as if he were no
longer paying strict attention. "It is a _cause célèbre_," he said,
and, seeming to like the sound of the words, he repeated them
portentously: "A _cause célèbre_."

Then, distinguished, polished, and contained, with casual hands
loose-pocketed beneath his tails, he sauntered on. He moved off in the
general direction of Miss Mandell. And yet he did not seem to follow her.

For Mr. Lawrence Hirsch was wounded sorrowfully. But he could wait.

"Oh, _Beddoes! Beddoes!_"

At these strange words, so exultantly spoken that they rang round the
walls of the great room, people halted in the animation of their talk
with one another and, somewhat startled, looked in the direction from
which the sounds had proceeded.

"Oh, _Beddoes_ by all means!" the voice cried even more exuberantly
than before. "Hah-hah-hah! _Beddoes!_"--there was gloating in the
laugh. "Everyone must, of course, they simply must!"

The speaker was Mr. Samuel Fetzer. He was not only an old friend of Mrs.
Jack's, but apparently he was also a familiar of many of the people
there, because when they saw who it was they smiled at one another and
murmured: "Oh, it's Sam," as if that explained everything.

In the world to which he belonged Mr. Samuel Fetzer was known as "the
book-lover" _par excellence_. His very appearance suggested it. One
needed only to look at him to know that he was an epicure, a taster of
fine letters, a collector and connoisseur of rare editions. One could see
with half an eye that he was the kind of fellow you might expect to find
on a rainy afternoon in a musty old bookshop, peering and poking and
prowling round the stacks with a soft, cherubic glow on his ruddy
features, and occasionally fingering with a loving hand some tattered old
volume. He made one think somehow of a charming thatched cottage in the
English countryside--of a pipe, a shaggy dog, a comfortable chair, a warm
nook by the blazing fire, and an old book and a crusty bottle--a bottle
of old port! In fact, the exultant way in which he now pronounced the
syllables of "_Beddoes!_" suggested a bottle of old port. He fairly
smacked his lips over the word, as if he had just poured himself a glass
of the oldest and rarest vintage and taken his first appraising sip.

His whole appearance confirmed this impression of him. His pleasant,
sensitive, glowing face, which wore a constant air of cherubic elation,
and his high bald forehead were healthily browned and weathered as if he
spent much time tramping in the open air. And, in contrast to the other
guests, who were all in formal evening dress, he had on tan, thick-soled
English walking shoes, woollen socks, grey flannel trousers, a trifle
baggy but fashionably Oxonian, a tweed coat of brownish texture, a soft
white shirt, and a red tie. One would have said, at sight of him, that he
must have just come in from a long walk across the moors, and that now,
pleasantly tired, he was looking forward with easeful contemplation to an
evening spent with his dog, beside his fire, with a bottle of old port,
and Beddoes. One would never have guessed the truth--that he was an
eminent theatrical director whose life since childhood had been spent in
the city, along Broadway and among the most highly polished groups of
urban society.

He was talking now to Miss Mandell. She had wandered over to him after
leaving Mrs. Jack, and had asked him the provocative question which had
touched off his extraordinary demonstration of enthusiasm. Miss Mandell
was herself somewhat of an adept in the arts--a delver into some of the
rarer obscurities. She was forever asking people what they thought of
William Beckford's _Vathek_, the plays of Cyril Tourneur, the
sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, or--as now--the works of Beddoes.

What she had said, to be exact, was: "Did you ever read anything by a man
named Beddoes?"

Miss Mandell had the habit of putting her questions that way, and she
would even use the same form of oblique reference when she spoke of the
more famous objects of her aesthetic interest. Thus she would inquire
what one knew about "a man named Proust", or "a woman named Virginia
Woolf". The phrase, accompanied as it always was by a dark and
smouldering look, carried an air of "There's more to this than meets the
eye". It made Miss Mandell appear to be a person of profound and subtle
knowingness, and one whose deep and devious searchings had gone so far
beyond the platitudes that might be found in the _Encyclopadia
Britannica_ and other standard works that there was really no way left
for her to learn anything new except, possibly, through a quiet talk with
Mr. T. S. Eliot--or, since he wasn't handy, through an occasional
tentative yet not very optimistic question addressed to someone of
superior intelligence like oneself. And after one had answered Miss
Mandell and had poured forth whatever erudition one commanded on the
subject of her interest, her usual comment would be a simple and
non-committal "Um". This always produced a very telling effect. For as
Miss Mandell murmured "Um" and wandered off, the victim was left
flattened out, feeling that he had emptied himself dry and still had been
found childishly superficial and pathetically wanting.

Not so, however, Mr. Samuel Fetzer. If Miss Mandell had hoped to work
this technique on him when she wove her languorous way to his side and
casually asked: "Did you ever read anything by a man named Beddoes?"--she
was in for a rude surprise. She had caught a tartar--a cherubic tartar,
it is true, a benevolent tartar, an exultant, exuberant, elated
tartar--but a. tartar nevertheless. For Mr. Fetzer had not only
_read_ Beddoes: he felt that he had rather _discovered_ Beddoes.
Beddoes was one of Mr. Fetzer's philobiblic pets. So he was not
only ready for Miss Mandell: it almost seemed as if he had been waiting
for her. She had hardly got the words out of her mouth before he fairly
pounced upon her, and his pleasant face lit up all over with a look of
cherubic glee as he cried:

"Oh, _Beddoes!_" The name rang out with such explosive enthusiasm
that Miss Mandell recoiled as if someone had thrown a lighted firecracker
at her feet, "_Beddoes!_" he chortled. "_Beddoes!_"--he smacked
his lips. "Hah-hah-hah! _Beddoes!_"--he cast back his head, shook
it, and chuckled gloatingly. Then he told her about Beddoes' birth, about
his life, about his death, about his family, and his friends, about his
sisters and his cousins and his aunts, about things that were well known
about Beddoes, and about other things that no one in the world except Mr.
Samuel Fetzer had ever known about Beddoes. "Oh, _Beddoes!_" cried
Mr. Fetzer for the sixteenth time. "I love _Beddoes!_ Everybody must
read _Beddoes!_ _Beddoes_ is----"

"But he _was_ insane, wasn't he?" The quiet, well-bred voice was
that of Mr. Lawrence Hirsch, who had just wandered up casually, as if
attracted by the noise of cultural enthusiasm, and without seeming to
follow anyone. "I mean," he turned with an air of gracious explanation to
Miss Mandell, "it's an interesting example of the schizophrenic
personality, don't you think?"

She looked at him for a long moment as one might look at a large worm
within the core of a chestnut that one had hoped was sound.

"Um," said Miss Mandell, and with an expression of drowsy loathing on her
face she moved away.

Mr. Hirsch did not follow her. Perfectly possessed, he had already
shifted his glance back to the glowing Mr. Fetzer.

"I mean," he continued, with that inflection of interested inquiry which
is the mark everywhere of a cultivated intelligence, "it always seemed to
me that it was a case of misplaced personality--an Elizabethan out of his
time. Or do you think so?"

"Oh, absolutely!" cried Mr. Fetzer, with instant and enthusiastic
confirmation. "You see, what I have always maintained----"

Mr. Hirsch appeared to be listening carefully. He really was not
following anyone. He kept his eyes focused on Mr. Samuel Fetzer's face,
but something in their expression indicated that his mind was elsewhere.

For Mr. Lawrence Hirsch was wounded sorrowfully. But he could wait.

So it went all evening. Mr. Hirsch moved from group to sophisticated
group, bowing, smiling suavely, exchanging well-bred pleasantries with
all he met. Always he was imperturbable, authoritatively assured, on his
aesthetic toes. And his progress through that brilliant assemblage was
marked by a phosphorescent wake composed of the small nuggets of
enlightenment which he dropped casually as he passed. Here it was a
little confidential gossip about Sacco and Vanzetti, there a little
first-hand information from Wall Street, now a sophisticated jest or so,
again an amusing anecdote about what happened only last week to the
President, or a little something about Russia, with a shrewd observation
on Marxian economy--and to all of this a little Beddoes had been added
for good measure. It was all so perfectly informed and so alertly modern
that it never for a moment slipped into cliche, but always represented
the very latest mode in everything, whether art, letters, politics, or
economics. It was a remarkable performance, an inspiring example of what
the busy man of affairs can really accomplish if he only applies himself.

And, in addition to all this, there was Miss Mandell. He never seemed to
follow her, but wherever she went he was not far behind. One always knew
that he was there. All evening long, whenever he came up to any group and
honoured it with one of his apt observations, and then, turning casually
and discovering that Miss Mandell was among the company, made as if to
include her in the intimate circle of his auditors, she would just give
him a smouldering look and walk away. So it was no wonder that Mr.
Lawrence Hirsch was wounded sorrowfully.

Still, he did not beat his breast, or tear his hair, or cry out: "Woe is
me!" He remained himself, the man of many interests, the master of
immense authorities. For he could wait.

He did not take her aside and say: "Thou art fair, my love; behold, thou
art fair, thou hast doves' eyes." Nor did he say: "Tell me, 0 thou whom
my soul loveth, where thou feedest." He did not remark to her that she
was beautiful as Tirzah, or comely as Jerusalem, or terrible as an army
with banners. He did not ask anyone to stay him with flagons, or comfort
him with apples, or confess that he was sick of love. And as for saying
to her: "Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor; thy
belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies," the idea had never
occurred to him.

Though he did not cry out to her in his agony, what he was thinking was:
"Flaunt me with your mockery and scorn, spurn me with your foot, lash me
with your tongue, trample me like a worm, spit upon me like the dust of
which I am composed, revile me to your friends, make me crawl far and
humbly--do anything you like, I can endure it. But, oh, for God's sake,
notice me! Speak to me with just a word--if only with hate! Stay near me
for just a moment, make me happy with just a touch--even if the nearness
is but loathing, and the touch a blow! Treat me in any way you will But I
beg you, 0 beloved that thou art"--out of the corner of his eye he
followed her lavish undulations as she turned and walked away again--"in
God's name, let me see you know that I am here!"

But he said nothing. He showed nothing of what he felt. He was
sorrowfully wounded, but he could wait. And no one but Miss Mandell knew
how long she intended to keep him waiting.



18. Piggy Logan's Circus


The hour had now arrived for Mr. Piggy Logan and his celebrated I circus
of wire dolls. Till now he had kept himself secreted in the guest-room,
and as he made his entrance there was a flurry of excited interest in the
brilliant throng. People in the dining-room crowded to the door, holding
tinkling glasses or loaded plates in their hands, and even old Jake
Abramson let his curiosity draw him away from the temptations of the
table long enough to appear in the doorway gnawing at a chicken leg.

Mr. Piggy Logan was attired for his performance in a costume that was
simple yet extraordinary. He had on a thick blue turtleneck sweater of
the kind that was in favour with college heroes thirty years ago. Across
the front of it--God knows why--was sewn an enormous home-made Y. He wore
old white canvas trousers, tennis sneakers, and a pair of battered knee
pads such as were formerly used by professional wrestlers. His head was
crowned with an ancient football helmet, the straps securely fastened
underneath his heavy jowls. Thus arrayed, he came forward, staggering
between his two enormous valises.

The crowd made way for him and regarded him with awe. Mr. Logan grunted
under his burden, which he dropped with a thump in the middle of the
living-room floor, and breathed an audible sigh of relief. Immediately he
began pushing back the big sofa and all the chairs and tables and other
furniture until the centre of the room was clear. He rolled back the rug,
and then started taking books from the shelves and dumping them on the
floor. He looted half a dozen shelves in different parts of the room and
in the vacant spaces fastened up big circus posters, yellow with age,
which showed the familiar assortment of tigers, lions, elephants, clowns,
and trapeze performers, and bore such descriptive legends as "Barnum &
Bailey--May 7th and 8th," "Ringling Brothers--July 31st."

The gathering watched him curiously as he went about this labour of
methodical destruction. When he had finished he came back to his valises
and began to take out their contents. There were miniature circus rings
made of rounded strips of tin or copper which fitted neatly together.
There were trapezes and flying swings. And there was an astonishing
variety of figures made of wire to represent all the animals and
performers. There were clowns and trapeze artists, acrobats and tumblers,
horses and bareback lady riders. There was almost everything that one
could think of to make a circus complete, and all of it was constructed
of wire.

Mr. Logan was down on his knee-pads extremely busy with his work, his
mind as completely focused on it as though he had been alone in the room.
He rigged up his trapezes and swings and took meticulous care in
arranging each of the little wire figures of elephants, lions, tigers,
horses, camels, and performers. He was evidently of a patient turn of
mind, and it took him half an hour, or more to set everything up. By the
time he had finished his labours and had erected a little sign which
said: "Main Entrance", all the guests, who at first had watched him
curiously, had grown tired of waiting and had resumed their interrupted
talking, eating, and drinking.

At length Mr. Logan was ready, and signified his willingness to begin by
a gesture to his hostess. She clapped her hands as loudly as she could
and asked for silence and attention.

But just then the door-bell rang, and a lot of new people were ushered in
by Nora. Mrs. Jack looked somewhat bewildered, for the new arrivals were
utter strangers. For the most part they were young people. The young
women had that unmistakable look of having gone to Miss Spence's School,
and there was something about the young men which indicated that they
were recently out of Yale and Harvard and Princeton, and were members of
the Racquet Club, and were now connected with investment brokers in Wall
Street.

With them was a large and somewhat-decayed looking lady of advanced
middle age. She had evidently been a beauty in her palmy days, but now
everything about her--arms, shoulders, neck, face, and throat--was blown,
full, and loose, and made up a picture of corrupted elegance. It was a
picture of what Amy Carleton _might_ look like thirty years from
now, if she were careful and survived. One felt unpleasantly that she had
lived too long in Europe, probably on the Riviera, and that somewhere in
the offing there was something with dark, liquid eyes, a little
moustache, and pomaded hair--something quite young and private and
obscene and kept.

This lady was accompanied by an elderly gentleman faultlessly attired in
evening dress, as were all the others. He had a cropped moustache and
artificial teeth, which were revealed whenever he paused to lick his thin
lips lecherously and to stutter out: "What? What?"--as he began to do
almost at once. Both of these people looked exactly like characters who
might have been created by Henry James if he had lived and written in a
later period of decay.

The whole crowd of newcomers streamed in noisily, headed by a spruce
young gentleman in white tie and tails whose name was shortly to be made
known as Hen Walters. He was evidently a friend of Mr. Logan. Indeed,
they all seemed to be friends of Mr. Logan. For as Mrs. Jack, looking
rather overwhelmed at this invasion, advanced to greet them and was
dutifully murmuring her welcome, all of them swarmed right past her,
ignoring her completely, and stormed into the room shouting vociferous
gaieties at Mr. Logan. Without rising from his knee-pads, he grinned at
them fondly and with a spacious gesture of his freckled hand beckoned
them to a position along one wall. They crowded in and took the place he
had indicated. This forced some of the invited guests back into the far
corners, but the new arrivals seemed not to mind this at all. Indeed,
they paid not the slightest attention to anybody.

Then somebody in the group saw Amy Carleton and called across to her. She
came over and joined them, and seemed to know several of them. And one
could see that all of them had heard of her. The debutantes were polite
but crisply detached. After the formalities of greeting they drew away
and eyed Amy curiously and furtively, and their looks said plainly: "So
this is she!"

The young men were less reserved. They spoke to her naturally, and Hen
Walters greeted her quite cordially in a voice that seemed to be burbling
with suppressed fun. It was not a pleasant voice: it was too moist, and
it seemed to circulate round a nodule of fat phlegm. With the gleeful
elation which marked his whole manner he said loudly:

"Hello, Amy! I haven't seen you for an age. What brings you here?" The
tone indicated, with the unconscious arrogance of his kind, that the
scene and company were amusingly bizarre and beyond the pale of things
accepted and confirmed, and that to find anyone he knew in such a place
was altogether astounding.

The tone and its implications stung her sharply. As for herself, she had
so long been the butt of vicious gossip that she could take it with good
nature or complete indifference. But an affront to someone she loved was
more than she could endure. And she loved Mrs. Jack. So, now, her
green-gold eyes flashed dangerously as she answered hotly:

"What brings me here--of _all_ places! Well, it's a very good place
to be--the best I know...And I _mean!_"--she laughed hoarsely,
jerked the cigarette from her mouth, and tossed her black curls with
furious impatience--"I _mean!_ After all, I _was_ invited, you
know!"

Instinctively, with a gesture of protective warmth, she had slipped her
arm round Mrs. Jack, who, wearing a puzzled frown upon her face, was
standing there as if still a little doubtful of what was happening.

"Esther, darling," Amy said, "this is Mr. Hen Walters--and some of his
friends." For a moment she looked at the cluster of young débutantes and
their escorts, and then turned away, saying to no one in particular, and
with no effort to lower her voice: "God, aren't they simply dreadful!...I
_mean!_...You _know!_"--she addressed herself now to the elderly
man with the artificial teeth--"Charley--in the name of God, what
are you trying to do?...You old cradle-snatcher, you!...I
_mean_!--after all, it's not _that_ bad, is it?" She surveyed
the group of girls again and turned away with a brief, hoarse laugh. "All
these little Junior League bitches!" she muttered. "God!...How do you
stand it, anyway--you old bastard!" She was talking now in her natural
tone of voice, good-naturedly, as though there was nothing in the least
unusual in what she Was saying. Then with another short laugh she added:
"Why don't you come to see me any more?"

He licked his lips nervously and bared his artificial teeth before he
answered:

"Wanted to see you, Amy, for ever so long...What?...Intended to stop
in...Matter of fact, did stop by some time ago, but you'd just
sailed...What?...You've been away, haven't you?...What?"

As he spoke in his clipped staccato he kept licking his thin lips
lecherously, and at the same time he scratched himself, rooting obscenely
into the inner thigh of his right leg in a way that suggested he was
wearing woollen underwear. In doing so he inadvertently pulled up his
trouser leg and it stayed there, revealing the tops of his socks and a
portion of white meat.

Meanwhile Hen Walters was smiling brightly and burbling on to Mrs. Jack:

"So nice of you to let us all come in"--although she, poor lady, had had
nothing at all to do with it. "Piggy told us it would be all right. I
hope you don't mind."

"But no-o--not at all!" she protested, still with a puzzled look. "Any
friends of Mr. Logan's...But won't you all have a drink, or something to
eat? There's loads----"

"Oh, _heavens_, no!" burbled Mr. Walters. "We've all been to Tony's
and we simply _gorged_ ourselves! If we took another mouthful, I'm
absolutely positive we should explode!"

He uttered these words with such ecstatic jubilation that it seemed he
might explode at any moment in a large, moist bubble. "Well, then, if
you're sure," she began.

"Oh, _absolutely!_" cried Mr. Walters rapturously. "But we're
holding up the show!" he exclaimed. "And, after all, that's what we're
here to see. It would simply be a tragedy to miss it...0 Piggy!" he
shouted to his friend, who had been cheerfully grinning all the while and
crawling about on his knee-pads. "Do begin! Everyone's simply dying to
see it!...I've seen it a dozen times myself," he announced gleefully to
the general public, "and it becomes more fascinating every time...So if
you're ready, please begin!"

Mr. Logan was ready.

The new arrivals held their position along one wall, and the other people
now withdrew a little, leaving them to themselves. The audience was thus
divided into two distinct halves--the people of wealth and talent on one
side, and those of wealth and fashion or "Society" on the other.

On a signal from Mr. Logan, Mr. Walters detached himself from his group,
came over, arranged the tails of his coat, and knelt down gracefully
beside his friend. Then, acting on instructions, he read aloud from a
typewritten paper which Mr. Logan had handed to him. It was a whimsical
document designed to put everybody in the right mood, for it stated that
in order to enjoy and understand the circus one must make an effort to
recover his lost youth and have the spirit of a child again. Mr. Walters
read it with great gusto in a cultivated tone of voice which almost ran
over with happy laughter. When he had finished, he got up and resumed his
place among his friends, and Mr. Logan then began his performance.

It started, as all circuses should, with a grand procession of the
performers and the animals in the menagerie. Mr. Logan accomplished this
by taking each wire figure in his thick hand and walking it round the
ring and then solemnly out again. Since there was a great many animals
and a great many performers, this took some time, but it was greeted at
its conclusion with loud applause.

Then came an exhibition of bareback riders. Mr. Logan galloped his wire
horses into the ring and round and round with movements of his hand. Then
he put the riders on top of the wire horses, and, holding them firmly in
place, he galloped these round too. Then there was an interlude of
clowns, and he made the wire figures tumble about by manipulating them
with his hands. After this came a procession of wire elephants. This
performance gained particular applause because of the clever way in which
Mr. Logan made the figures imitate the swaying, ponderous lurch of
elephants--and also because people were not always sure what each act
meant, and when they were able to identify something, a pleasant little
laugh of recognition would sweep the crowd and they would clap their
hands to show they had got it.

There were a good many acts of one kind or another, and at last the
trapeze performers were brought on. It took a little while to get this
act going because Mr. Logan, with his punctilious fidelity to reality,
had first to string up a little net below the trapezes. And when the act
did begin it was unconscionably long, chiefly because Mr. Logan was not
able to make it work. He set the little wire figures to swinging and
dangling from their perches. This part went all right. Then he tried to
make one little figure leave its trapeze, swing through the air, and
catch another figure by its downswept hands. This wouldn't work. Again
and again the little wire figure soared through the air, caught at the
outstretched hands of the other doll--and missed ingloriously. It became
painful. People craned their necks and looked embarrassed. But Mr. Logan
was not embarrassed. He giggled happily with each new failure and tried
again. It went on and on. Twenty minutes must have passed while Mr. Logan
repeated his attempts. But nothing happened. At length, when it became
obvious that nothing was going to happen, Mr. Logan settled the whole
matter himself by taking one little figure firmly between two fat
fingers, conveying it to the other, and carefully hooking it on to the
other's arms. Then he looked up at his audience and giggled cheerfully,
to be greeted after a puzzled pause by perfunctory applause.

Mr. Logan was now ready for the grand climax, the _pièce de
rèsistance_ of the entire occasion. This was his celebrated
sword-swallowing act. With one hand he picked up a small rag doll,
stuffed with wadding and with crudely painted features, and with the
other hand he took a long hairpin, bent it more or less straight, forced
one end through the fabric of the doll's mouth, and then began patiently
and methodically to work it down the rag throat. People looked on with
blank faces, and then, as the meaning of Mr. Logan's operation dawned on
them, they smiled at one another in a puzzled, doubting way.

It went on and on until it began to be rather horrible. Mr. Logan kept
working the hairpin down with thick, probing fingers, and when some
impediment of wadding got in his way he would look up and giggle
foolishly. Halfway down he struck an obstacle that threatened to stop him
from going any farther. But he persisted--persisted horribly.

It was a curious spectacle and would have furnished interesting material
for the speculations of a thoughtful historian of life and customs in
this golden age. It was astounding to see so many intelligent men and
women--people who had had every high and rare advantage of travel,
reading, music, and aesthetic cultivation, and who were usually so
impatient of the dull, the boring, and the trivial--patiently assembled
here to give their respectful attention to Mr. Piggy Logan's exhibition.
But even respect for the accepted mode was wearing thin. The performance
had already lasted a weary time, and some of the guests were beginning to
give up. In pairs and groups they would look at one another with lifted
eyebrows, and quietly would filter out into the hall or in the
restorative direction of the dining-room.

Many, however, seemed determined to stick it out. As for the young
"Society" crowd, all of them continued to look on with eager interest.
Indeed, as Mr. Logan went on probing with his hairpin, one young woman
with the pure, cleanly chiselled face so frequently seen in members of
her class turned to the young man beside her and said:

"I think it's _frightfully_ interesting--the way he does that. Don't
you?"

And the young man, evidently in the approved accent, said briefly:
"Eh!"--an ejaculation which might have been indicative of almost
anything, but which was here obviously taken for agreement. This
interchange between them had taken place, like all the conversations in
the group, in a curiously muffled, clipped speech. Both the girl and the
young man had barely opened their mouths--their words had come out
between almost motionless lips. This seemed to be the fashionable way of
talking among these people.

As Mr. Logan kept working and pressing with his hairpin, suddenly the
side of the bulging doll was torn open and some of the stuffing began to
ooze out. Miss Lily Mandell watched with an expression of undisguised
horror and, as the doll began to lose its entrails, she pressed one hand
against her stomach in a gesture of nausea, said "Ugh!"--and made a hasty
exit. Others followed her. And even Mrs. Jack, who at the start of the
performance had slipped on a wonderful jacket of gold thread and seated
herself cross-legged on the floor like a dutiful child, squarely before
the maestro and his puppets, finally got up and went out into the hall,
where most of her guests were now assembled.

Almost no one was left to witness the concluding scenes of Mr. Piggy
Logan's circus except the uninvited group of his own particular friends.

Out in the hall Mrs. Jack found Lily Mandell talking to George Webber.
She approached them with a bright, affectionate little smile and queried
hopefully:

"Are you enjoying it, Lily? And you, darling?"--turning fondly to
George--"Do you like it? Are you having a good time?" Lily answered in a
tone of throaty disgust:

"When he kept on pushing that long pin into the doll and all its
insides began oozing out--ugh!"--she made a nauseous face--"I simply
couldn't stand it any longer! It was horrible! I had to get out! I
thought I was going to puke!"

Mrs. Jack's shoulders shook, her face reddened, and she gasped in a
hysterical whisper:

"I know! Wasn't it awful!"

"But what is it, anyway?" said the attorney, Roderick Hale, as he came up
and joined them.

"Oh, hello, Rod!" said Mrs. Jack. "What do you make of it Hale?"

"I can't make it out," he said, with an annoyed look into the
living-room, where Piggy Logan was still patiently carrying on. "What is
it all supposed to be, anyway? And who is this fellow?" he said in an
irritated tone, as if his legal and fact-finding mind was annoyed by a
phenomenon he could not fathom. "It's like some puny form of decadence,"
he murmured.

Just then Mr. Jack approached his wife and, lifting his shoulders in a
bewildered shrug, said:

"What is it? My God, perhaps _I'm_ crazy!"

Mrs. Jack and Lily Mandell bent together, shuddering helplessly as women
do when they communicate whispered laughter to one another.

"Poor Fritz!" Mrs. Jack gasped faintly.

Mr. Jack cast a final bewildered look into the living-room, surveyed the
wreckage there, then turned away with a short laugh:

"I'm going to my room!" he said with decision. "Let me know if he leaves
the furniture!"



19. Unscheduled Climax


At the conclusion of Mr. Logan's performance there was a ripple of
applause in the living-room, followed by the sound of voices. The
fashionable young people clustered round Mr. Logan, chattering
congratulations. Then, without paying attention to anybody else, and
without a word to their hostess, they left.

Other people now gathered about Mrs. Jack and made their farewells. They
began to leave, singly and in pairs and groups, until presently no one
remained except those intimates and friends who are always the last to
leave a big party--Mrs. Jack and her family, George Webber, Miss Mandell,
Stephen Hook, and Amy Carleton. And, of course, Mr. Logan, who was busy
amid the general wreckage he had created, putting his wire dolls back
into his two enormous valises.

The atmosphere of the whole place was now curiously changed. It was an
atmosphere of absence, of completion. Everybody felt a little bit as one
feels in a house the day after Christmas, or an hour after a wedding, or
on a great liner at one of the Channel ports when most of the passengers
have disembarked and the sorrowful remnant know that the voyage is really
over and that they are just marking time for a little while until their
own hour comes to depart.

Mrs. Jack looked at Piggy Logan and at the chaos he had made of her fine
room, and then glanced questioningly at Lily Mandell as if to say: "Can
you understand all this? What has happened?" Miss Mandell and George
Webber surveyed Mr. Logan with undisguised distaste. Stephen Hook
remained aloof, looking bored. Mr. Jack, who had come forth from his room
to bid his guests good-bye and had lingered by the elevator till the last
one had gone, now peered in through the hall door at the kneeling figure
in the living-room, and with a comical gesture of uplifted hands said:
"What is it?"--leaving everybody convulsed with laughter.

'But even when Mr. Jack came into the room and stood staring down
quizzically, Mr. Logan did not look up. He seemed not to have heard
anything. Utterly oblivious of their presence, he was happily absorbed in
the methodical task of packing up the litter that surrounded him.

Meanwhile the two rosy-cheeked maids, May and Janie, were busily clearing
away glasses, bottles, and bowls of ice, and Nora started putting the
books back on their shelves. Mrs. Jack looked on rather helplessly, and
Amy Carleton stretched herself out flat on the floor with her hands
beneath her head, closed her eyes, and appeared to go to sleep. All the
rest were obviously at a loss what to do, and just stood and sat around,
waiting for Mr. Logan to finish and be gone.

The place had sunk back into its wonted quiet. The blended murmur of the
unceasing city, which during the party had been shut out and forgotten,
now penetrated the walls of the great building and closed in once more
upon these lives. The noises of the street were heard again.

Outside, below them, there was the sudden roar of a fire truck, the rapid
clanging of its bell. It turned the corner into Park Avenue and the
powerful sound of its motors faded away like distant thunder. Mrs. Jack
went to the window and looked out. Other trucks now converged upon the
corner from different directions until four more had passed from sight.

"I wonder where the fire can be," she remarked with detached curiosity.
Another truck roared down the side street and thundered into Park. "It
must be quite a big one--six engines have driven past. It must be
somewhere in this neighbourhood."

Amy Carleton sat up and blinked her eyes, and for a moment all of them
were absorbed in idle speculation about where the fire might be. But
presently they began to look again at Mr. Logan. At long last his labours
seemed to be almost over. He began to close the big valises and adjust
the straps.

Just then Lily Mandell turned her head towards the hall, sniffed sharply,
and suddenly said:

"Does anyone smell smoke?"

"Hah? What?" said Mrs. Jack. And then, going into the hall, she cried
excitedly: "But yes! There is quite a strong smell of smoke out here! I
think it would be just as well if we got out of the building until we
find out what's wrong." Her face was now burning with excitement. "I
suppose we'd better," she said. "Everybody come on!" Then: "0 Mr.
Logan!"--she raised her voice, and now for the first time he lifted his
round and heavy face with an expression of inquiring innocence--"I say--I
think perhaps we'd all better get out, Mr. Logan, until we find out where
the fire is! Are you ready?"

"Yes, of course," said Mr. Logan cheerfully. "But fire?"--in a puzzled
tone. "What fire? Is there a fire?"

"I think the building is on fire," said Mr. Jack smoothly, but with an
edge of heavy irony, "so perhaps we'd better all get out--that is, unless
you prefer to stay."

"Oh no," said Mr. Logan brightly, getting clumsily to his feet. "I'm
quite ready, thank you, except for changing my clothes--"

"I think that had better wait," said Mr. Jack.

"Oh, the girls!" cried Mrs. Jack suddenly, and, snapping the ring on and
off her finger, she trotted briskly towards the dining-room,
"Nora--Janie--May! Girls! We're all going downstairs--there's a fire
somewhere in the building. You'll have to come with us till we find out
where it is."

"Fire, Mrs. Jack?" said Nora stupidly, staring at her mistress.

Mrs. Jack saw at a glance her dull eye and her flushed face, and thought:
"She's been at it again! I might have known it!" Then aloud, impatiently:

"Yes, Nora, fire. Get the girls together and tell them they'll have to
come along with us. And--oh!--Cook!" she cried quickly. "Where is Cookie?
Go get her, someone. Tell her she'll have to come, too!"

The news obviously upset the girls. They looked helplessly at one another
and began to move aimlessly round, as if no longer certain what to do.

"Shall we take our things, Mrs. Jack?" said Nora, looking at her dully.
"Will we have time to pack?"

"Of course not, Nora!" exclaimed Mrs. Jack, out of all patience. "We're
not moving out! We're simply going downstairs till we can learn where the
fire is and how bad it is!...And Nora, please get Cook and bring her with
you! You know how rattled and confused she gets!"

"Yes'm," said Nora, staring at her helplessly. "An' will that be all
mum?---I mean"--and gulped--"will we be needin' anything?"

"For heaven's sake, Nora--_no!_...Nothing except your coats. Tell
the girls and Cook to wear their coats."

"Yes'm," said Nora dumbly, and after a moment, looking fuddled and
confused, she went uncertainly through the dining-room to the kitchen.

Mr. Jack meanwhile, had gone out into the hall and was ringing the
elevator bell. There, after a short interval, his family, guests, and
servants joined him. Quietly he took stock of them:

Esther's face was flaming with suppressed excitement, but her sister,
Edith, who had hardly opened her mouth all evening and had been so
inconspicuous that no one had noticed her, was her usual pale, calm self.
Good girl, Edith! His daughter, Alma, he observed with satisfaction, was
also taking this little adventure in her stride. She looked cool,
beautiful, a bit bored by it all. The guests, of course, were taking it
as a lark--and why not?--_they_ had nothing to lose. All except that
young Gentile fool--George What's-his-name. Look at him now--all screwed
up and tense, pacing back and forth and darting his feverish glances in
all directions. You'd think it was _his_ property that was going up
in smoke!

But where was that Mr. Piggy Logan? When last seen, he was disappearing
into the guest-room. Was the idiot changing his clothes after all?--Ah,
here he comes! "At least," thought Mr. Jack humorously, "it must be he,
for if it isn't who in the name of God is it?"

The figure that Mr. Logan now cut as he emerged from the guest-room and
started down the hall was, indeed, a most extraordinary one. All of them
turned to look at him and saw that he was taking no chances of losing his
little wire dolls or his street clothes in any fire. Still wearing the
"costume" that he had put on for his performance, he came grunting along
with a heavy suitcase in each hand, and over one shoulder he had slung
his coat, vest, and trousers, his overweight tan shoes were tied together
by their laces and hung suspended round his neck, where they clunked
against his chest as he walked, and on his head, perched on top of the
football helmet, was his neat grey hat. So accoutred, he came puffing
along, dropped his bags near the elevator, then straightened up and
grinned cheerfully.

Mr. Jack kept on ringing the bell persistently, and presently the voice
of Herbert, the elevator boy, could be heard shouting up the shaft from a
floor or two below:

"All right! All right! I'll be right up, folks, as soon as I take down
this load!"

The sound of other people's voices, excited, chattering, came up the
shaft to them; then the elevator door banged shut and they could hear the
car going down.

There was nothing to do but wait. The smell of smoke in the hallway was
getting stronger all the time, and although no one was seriously alarmed,
even the phlegmatic Mr. Logan was beginning to feel the nervous tension.

Soon the elevator could be heard coming up again. It mounted
steadily--and then suddenly stopped somewhere just below them. Herbert
could be heard working his lever and fooling with the door. Mr. Jack rang
the bell impatiently. There was no response. He hammered on the door.
Then Herbert shouted up again, and he was so near that all of them could
hear every word:

"Mr. Jack, will you all please use the service elevator. This one's, out
of order. I can't go any farther."

"Well, that's that," said Mr. Jack.

He put on his derby, and without another word started down the hall
towards the service landing. In silence the others followed him.,

At this moment the lights went out. The place was plunged in inky
blackness. There was a brief, terrifying moment when the women caught
their breaths sharply. In the darkness the smell of smoke seemed much
stronger, more acrid and biting, and it was beginning to make their eyes
smart. Nora moaned a little, and all; the servants started to mill round
like stricken cattle. But they calmed down at the comforting assurance in
Mr. Jack's quiet voice speaking in the dark:

"Esther," he said calmly, "we'll have to light candles. Can you tell' me
where they are?"

She told him. He reached into a table drawer, pulled out a flashlight,
and went through a door that led to the kitchen. Soon he reappeared with
a box of tallow candles. He gave one to each person and lighted them.

They were now a somewhat ghostly company. The women lifted their candles
and looked at one another with an air of bewildered surmise. The faces of
the maids and Cookie, in the steady flame that each held before her face,
looked dazed and frightened. Cookie wore a confused, fixed smile and
muttered jargon to herself. Mrs. Jack, deeply excited, turned
questioningly to George, who was at her side:

"Isn't it strange?" she whispered. "Isn't it the strangest thing? I
mean--the party--all the people--and then this." And, lifting her candle
higher, she looked about her at the ghostly company.

And, suddenly, George was filled with almost unbearable love and
tenderness for her, because he knew that she, like himself, felt in her
heart the mystery and strangeness of all life. And his emotion was all
the more poignant because in the same instant, with sharp anguish, he
remembered his decision, and knew that they had reached the parting of
the ways.

Mr. Jack flourished his candle as a signal to the others and led the
procession down the hall. Edith, Alma, Miss Mandell, Amy Carleton, and
Stephen Hook followed after him. Mr. Logan, who came next, was in a
quandary. He couldn't manage both his baggage and his light, so after a
moment of indecision he blew out his candle, set it on the floor, seized
his valises, gave a mighty heave, and, with neck held stiff to keep his
hat from tumbling off of the football helmet, he staggered after the
retreating figures of the women. Mrs. Jack and George came last, with the
servants trailing behind.

Mrs. Jack had reached the door that opened on to the service landing when
she heard a confused shuffling behind her in the line, and when she
glanced back along the hallway she saw two teetering candles disappearing
in the general direction of the kitchen. It was Cook and Nora.

"Oh Lord!" cried Mrs. Jack in a tone of exasperation and despair. "What
on earth are they trying to do?..._Nora!_" She raised her voice
sharply. Cook had already disappeared, but Nora heard her and turned in a
bewildered way. "Nora, where _are_ you going?" shouted Mrs. Jack
impatiently.

"Why--why, mum--I just thought I'd go back here an' get some things,"
said Nora in a confused and thickened voice.

"No you _won't_, either!" cried Mrs. Jack furiously, at the same
time thinking bitterly: "She probably wanted to sneak back there to get
another drink!"

"You come right along with us!" she called sharply. "And where is Cook?"
Then, seeing the two bewildered girls, May and Janie, milling round
helplessly, she took them by the arm and gave them a little push towards
the door. "You girls get along!" she cried. "What are you gawking at?"

George had gone back after the befuddled Nora, and, after seizing her and
herding her down the hall, had dashed into the kitchen to find Cook. Mrs.
Jack followed him with her candle held high in her hand, and said
anxiously:

"Are you there, darling?" Then, calling out loudly: "Cook! _Cook!_
Where are you?"

Suddenly Cook appeared like a spectral visitant, still clutching her
candle and flitting from room to room down the narrow hall of the
servants' quarters. Mrs. Jack cried out angrily:

"Oh, Cookie! What _are_ you doing? You've simply got to come on now!
We're waiting on you!" And she thought to herself again, as she had
thought so many times before: "She's probably an old miser. I suppose
she's got her wad hoarded away back there somewhere. That's why she hates
to leave."

Cook had disappeared again, this time into her own room. After a brief,
fuming silence Mrs. Jack turned to George. They looked at each other for
a moment in that strange light and circumstance, and suddenly both
laughed explosively.

"My God!" shrieked Mrs. Jack. "Isn't it the damnedest----"

At this moment Cook emerged once more and glided away down the hall. They
yelled at her and dashed after her, and caught her just as she was about
to lock herself into a bathroom.

"Now Cook!" cried Mrs. Jack angrily. "Come on now! You simply must!"

Cook goggled at her and muttered some incomprehensible jargon in an
ingratiating tone.

"Do you hear, Cook?" Mrs. Jack cried furiously. "You've got to come now!
You can't stay here any longer!"

"_Augenblick!_ _Augenblick!_" muttered Cook cajolingly.

At last she thrust something into her bosom, and, still looking longingly
behind her, allowed herself to be prodded, pushed, and propelled down the
servants' hall, into the kitchen, through the door into the main hallway,
and thence out to the service landing.

All the others were now gathered there, waiting while Mr. Jack tested the
bell of the service elevator. His repeated efforts brought no response,
so in a few moments he said coolly:

"Well, I suppose there's nothing for us to do now except to walk down."

Immediately he headed for the concrete stairs beside the elevator shaft,
which led, nine flights down, to the ground floor and safety. The others
followed him. Mrs. Jack and George herded the servants before them and
waited for Mr. Logan to get a firm grip on his suitcases and start down,
which at length he did, puffing and blowing and letting the bags bump
with loud thuds on each step as he descended.

The electric lights on the service stairways were still burning dimly,
but they clung to their candles with an instinctive feeling that these
primitive instruments were now more to be trusted than the miracles of
science. The smoke had greatly increased. In fact, the air was now so
dense with floating filaments and shifting plumes that breathing was
uncomfortable.

From top to bottom the service stairs provided an astounding spectacle.
Doors were opening now on every floor and other tenants were coming out
to swell the tide of refugees. They made an extraordinary
conglomeration--a composite of classes, types, and characters that could
have been found nowhere else save in a New York apartment house such as
this. There were people in splendid evening dress, and beautiful women
blazing with jewels and wearing costly wraps. There were others in
pyjamas who had evidently been awakened from sleep and had hastily put on
slippers, dressing-gowns, kimonos, or whatever garments they could snatch
up in the excitement of the moment. There were young and old, masters and
servants, a mixture of a dozen races and their excited babel of strange
tongues. There were German cooks and French maids, English butlers and
Irish serving girls. There were Swedes and Danes and Italians and
Norwegians, with a sprinkling of White Russians. There were Poles and
Czechs and Austrians, Negroes and Hungarians. All of these poured out
helter-skelter on the landing-stages of the service stairway, chattering,
gesticulating, their interests all united now in their common pursuit of
safety.

As they neared the ground floor, helmeted firemen began to push their way
up the stairs against the tide of downward-moving traffic. Several
policemen followed them and tried to allay any feelings of alarm or
panic.

"It's all right, folks! Everything's O.K.!" one big policeman shouted
cheerfully as he went up past the members of the Jack party. "The fire's
over now!"

These words, spoken to quiet the people and to expedite their orderly
progress from the building, had an opposite effect from that which the
policeman had intended. George Webber, who was bringing up the end of the
procession, paused upon hearing these reassuring words, called to the
others, and turned to retrace his way upstairs again. As he did so, he
saw that the policeman was about to throw a fit. From the landing half a
flight above, he was making agonised faces and frantic gestures at George
in a silent and desperate entreaty to him not to come back any farther or
to encourage the others to come back, but to leave the building as
quickly as possible. The others had looked round when George had called,
and had witnessed this pantomime--so now, genuinely alarmed for the first
time, they turned again and fled down the stairs as fast as they could
go.

George himself, seized with the same momentary panic, was hastening after
them when he heard some tapping and hammering noises from the shaft of
the service elevator. They seemed to come from up above somewhere. For
just a moment he hesitated and listened. The tapping began, then
stopped...began again...stopped again. It seemed to be a signal of some
kind, but he couldn't make it out. It gave him an eerie feeling. A chill
ran up his spine. He broke out in goose flesh. Stumbling blindly, he fled
after the others.

As they came out into the great central court-yard of the building, their
moment's terror dropped away from them as quickly as it had come upon
them. They filled their lungs with the crisp, cold air, and so immediate
was their sense of release and relief that each one of them felt a new
surge of life and energy, a preternaturally heightened aliveness. Mr.
Logan, his round face streaming with perspiration and his breath coming
in loud snorts and wheezes, summoned his last remaining strength and,
ignoring the tender shins of those about him, bumped and banged his
burdened way through the crowd and disappeared. The others of Mr. Jack's
party remained together, laughing and talking and watching with alert
interest everything that was going on round them.

The scene of which they were a part was an amazing one. As if it had been
produced by the combining genius of a Shakespeare or a Breughel, the
whole theatre of human life was in it, so real and so miraculously
compressed that it had the nearness and the intensity of a vision. The
great hollow square formed by the towering walls of the building was
filled with people in every conceivable variety of dress and undress. And
from two dozen entry ways within the arched cloisters that ran round the
court on all four sides, new hordes of people were now constantly
flooding out of the huge honeycomb to add their own colour and movement
and the babel of their own tumultuous tongues to the pageantry and the
pandemonium already there. Above this scene, uplifted on the arches of
the cloisters, the mighty walls soared fourteen storeys to frame the
starry heavens. In the wing where Mr. Jack's apartment was the lights
were out and all was dark, but everywhere else those beetling sides were
still blazing with their radiant squares of warmth, their many cells
still burning with all the huge deposit of their just-departed life.

Except for the smoke that had been in some of the halls and stairways,
there was no sign of fire. As yet, few people seemed to comprehend the
significance of the event which had so unceremoniously dumped them out of
their sleek nests into the open weather. For the most part they were
either bewildered and confused or curious and excited. Only an occasional
person here and there betrayed any undue alarm over the danger which had
touched their lives and fortunes.

Such a one now appeared at a second-floor window on the side of the court
directly opposite the Jacks' entry. He was a man with a bald head and a
pink, excited face, and it was instantly apparent that he was on the
verge of emotional collapse. He threw open the window and in a tone
shaken by incipient hysteria cried out loudly:

"Mary!...Mary!" His voice rose almost to a scream as he sought for her
below.

A woman in the crowd came forward below the window, looked up, and said
quietly:

"Yes, Albert."

"I can't find the key!" he cried in a trembling voice. "The door's
locked! I can't get out!"

"Oh, Albert," said the woman more quietly and with evident embarrassment,
"don't get so excited, dear. You're in no danger--and the key is bound to
be there somewhere. I'm sure you'll find it if you look."

"But I tell you it isn't here!" he babbled. "I've looked, and it's not
here! I can't find it!...Here, you fellows!" he shouted to some firemen
who were dragging a heavy hose across the gravelled court. "I'm locked
in! I want out of here!"

Most of the firemen paid no attention to him at all, but one of them
looked up at the man, said briefly: "O.K., chief!"--and then went on
about his work.

"Do you hear me?" the man screamed. "You firemen, you! I tell you...1"

"Dad...Dad"--a young man beside the woman on the ground now spoke up
quietly--"don't get so excited. You're in no danger there. All the fire
is on the other side. They'll let you out in a minute when they can get
to you."

Across the court, at the very entrance from which the Jacks had issued, a
man in evening clothes, accompanied by his chauffeur, had been staggering
in and out with great loads of ponderous ledgers. He had already
accumulated quite a pile of them, which he was stacking up on the gravel
and leaving under the guardianship of his butler. From the beginning this
man had been so absorbed in what he was doing that he was completely
unconscious of the milling throng round him. Now, as he again prepared to
rush into the smoke-filled corridor with his chauffeur, he was stopped by
the police.

"I'm sorry, sir," the policeman said, "but you can't go in there again.
We've got orders not to let anybody in."

"But I've got to!" the man shouted. "I'm Philip J. Baer!" At the sound of
this potent name, all those within hearing distance instantly recognised
him as a wealthy and influential figure in the motion picture industry,
and one whose accounts had recently been called into investigation by a
board of governmental inquiry. "There are seventy-five millions dollars'
worth of records in my apartment," he shouted, "and I've got to get them
out! They've got to be saved!"

He tried to push his way in, but the policeman thrust him back.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Baer," he said obdurately, "but we have our orders. You
can't come in."

The effect of this refusal was instantaneous and shocking. The one
principle of Mr. Baer's life was that money is the only thing that counts
because money can buy anything. That principle had been flouted. So the
naked philosophy of tooth and claw, which in moments of security and
comfort was veiled beneath a velvet sheath, now became ragingly
insistent. A tall, dark man with a rapacious, beak-nosed face, he became
now like a wild animal, a beast of prey. He went charging about among the
crowds of people, offering everyone fabulous sums if they would save his
cherished records. He rushed up to a group of firemen, seizing one of
them by the arm and shaking him, shouting:

"I'm Philip J. Baer--I live in there! You've got to help me! I'll give
any man here ten thousand dollars if he'll get my records out!"

The burly fireman turned his weathered face upon the rich man. "On your
way, brother!" he said.

"But I tell you!" Mr. Baer shouted. "You don't know who I am! I'm----"

"I don't care who you are!" the fireman said. "On your way now! We've got
work to do!"

And, roughly, he pushed the great man aside.

Most of the crowd behaved very well under the stress of these unusual
circumstances. Since there was no actual fire to watch, the people
shifted and moved about, taking curious side looks at one another out of
the corners of their eyes. Most of them had never even seen their
neighbours before, and now for the first time they had an opportunity to
appraise one another. And in a little while, as the excitement and their
need for communication broke through the walls of their reserve, they
began to show a spirit of fellowship such as that enormous beehive of
life had never seen before. People who, at other times, had never deigned
so much as to nod at each other were soon laughing and talking together
with the familiarity of long acquaintance.

A famous courtesan, wearing a chinchilla coat which her aged but wealthy
lover had given her, now took off this magnificent garment and, walking
over to an elderly woman with a delicate, patrician face, she threw the
coat over this woman's thinly covered shoulders, at the same time saying
in a tough but kindly voice:

"You wear this, dearie. You look cold."

And the older woman, after a startled expression had crossed her proud
face, smiled graciously and thanked her tarnished sister in a sweet tone.
Then the two women stood talking together like old friends.

A haughty old Bourbon of the Knickerbocker type was seen engaged in
cordial conversation with a Tammany politician whose corrupt plunderings
were notorious, and whose companionship, in any social sense, the Bourbon
would have spurned indignantly an hour before.

Aristocrats of ancient lineage who had always held to a tradition of
stiff-necked exclusiveness could be seen chatting familiarly with the
plebeian parvenus of the new rich who had got their names and money, both
together, only yesterday.

And so it went everywhere one looked. One saw race-proud Gentiles with
rich Jews, stately ladies with musical-comedy actresses, a woman famous
for the charities with a celebrated whore.

Meanwhile the crowd continued to watch curiously the labours of the
firemen. Though no flames were visible, there was plenty of smoke in some
of the halls and corridors, and the firemen had dragged in many lengths
of great white hose which now made a network across the court in all
directions. From time to time squadrons of helmeted men would dash into
the smoky entries of the wing where the lights were out and would go
upstairs, their progress through the upper floors made evident to the
crowd below by the movement of their flashlights at the darkened windows.
Others would emerge from the lower regions of basements and subterranean
passages, and would confer intimately with their chiefs and leaders.

All at once somebody in the waiting throng noticed something and pointed
towards it. A murmur ran through the crowd, and all eyes were turned
upwards searchingly to one of the top-floor apartments in the darkened
wing. There, through an open window four floors directly above the Jack's
apartment, wisps of smoke could be seen curling upwards.

Before very long the wisps increased to clouds, and suddenly a great
billowing puff of oily black smoke burst through the open window,
accompanied by a dancing shower of sparks. At this the whole crowd drew
in its collective breath in a sharp intake of excitement--the strange,
wild joy that people always feel when they see fire.

Rapidly the volume of smoke increased. That single room on the top floor
was apparently the only one affected, but now the black and oily-looking
smoke was billowing out in belching folds, and inside the room the smoke
was coloured luridly by the sinister and unmistakable glow of fire.

Mrs. Jack gazed upwards with a rapt and fascinated expression. She turned
to Hook with one hand raised and lightly clenched against her breast, and
whispered slowly:

"Steve--isn't it the strangest--the most----?" She did not finish. With
her eyes full of the deep sense of wonder that she was trying to convey,
she just stood with her hand loosely clenched and looked at him.

He understood her perfectly--too well, indeed. His heart was sick with
fear, with hunger, and with fascinated wonder. For him the whole scene
was too strong, too full of terror and overwhelming beauty to be endured.
He was sick with it, fainting with it. He wanted to be borne away, to be
sealed hermetically somewhere, in some dead and easeful air where he
would be free forever more of this consuming fear that racked his flesh.
And yet he could not tear himself away. He looked at everything with sick
but fascinated eyes. He was like a man mad with thirst who drinks the
waters of the sea and sickens with each drop he drinks, yet cannot leave
off drinking because of the wetness and the coolness to his lips. So he
looked and loved it all with the desperate ardour of his fear. He saw the
wonder of it, the strangeness of it, the beauty and the magic and the
nearness of it. And it was so much more real than anything imagination
could contrive that the effect was overpowering. The whole thing took on
an aura of the incredible.

"It can't be true," he thought. "It's unbelievable. But here it is!"

And there it was. He didn't miss a thing. And yet he stood there
ridiculously, a derby hat upon his head, his hands thrust into the
pockets of his overcoat, the velvet collar turned up round his neck, his
face, as usual, turned three-quarters away from the whole world, his
heavy-lidded, wearily indifferent eyes surveying the scene with Mandarin
contempt, as if to say: "Really, what is this curious assembly? Who are
these extraordinary creatures that go milling about me? And why is
everyone so frightfully eager, so terribly earnest about everything?"

A group of firemen thrust past him with the dripping brass-nozzled end of
a great hose. It slid through the gravel like the tough-scaled hide of a
giant boa constrictor, and as the firemen passed him, Hook heard their
booted feet upon the stones and he saw the crude strength and the simple
driving purpose in their coarse faces. And his heart shrank back within
him, sick with fear, with wonder, with hunger, and with love at the
unconscious power, joy, energy, and violence of life itself.

At the same moment a voice in the crowd--drunken, boisterous, and too
near--cut the air about him. It jarred his ears\, angered him, and made
him timorously hope it would not come closer. Turning slightly towards
Mrs. Jack, in answer to her whispered question, he murmured in a bored
tone:

"Strange?...Um...yes. An interesting revelation of the native
_moeurs_."

Amy Carleton seemed really happy. It was as if, for the first time that
evening, she had found what she was looking for. Nothing in her manner or
appearance had changed. The quick, impetuous speech, the broken,
semi-coherent phrases, the hoarse laugh, the exuberant expletives, and
the lovely, dark, crisp-curled head with its snub nose and freckled face
were just the same. Still there was something different about her. It was
as if all the splintered elements of her personality had now, in the
strong and marvellous chemistry of the fire, been brought together into
crystalline union. She was just as she had been before, except that her
inner torment had somehow been let out, and wholeness let in.

Poor child! It was now instantly apparent to those who knew her that,
like so many other "lost" people, she would not have been lost at all--if
only there could always be a fire. The girl could not accept getting up
in the morning or going to bed at night, or doing any of the accustomed
things in their accustomed order. But she could and did accept the fire.
It seemed to her wonderful. She was delighted with everything that
happened. She threw herself into it, not as a spectator, but as a vital
and inspired participant. She seemed to know people everywhere, and could
be seen moving about from group to group, her ebony head bobbing through
the crowd, her voice eager, hoarse, abrupt, elated. When she returned to
her own group she was full of it all.

"I _mean!_...You _know!_" she burst out. "These firemen
here!"--she gestured hurriedly towards three or four helmeted men as they
dashed into a smoke-filled entry with a tube of chemicals--"when
you think of what they have to _know_!--of what they have to
_do_!--I went to a big fire once!"--she shot out quickly in
explanatory fashion--"a guy in the department was a friend of mine!--I
_mean!_"--she laughed hoarsely, elatedly--"when you _think_ of
what they have to----"

At this point there was a splintering crash within. Amy laughed
jubilantly and made a quick and sudden little gesture as if this answered
everything.

"After _all_, I mean!" she cried.

While this was going on, a young girl in evening dress had wandered
casually up to the group and, with that freedom which the fire had
induced among all these people, now addressed herself in the flat, nasal,
and almost toneless accents of the Middle West to Stephen Hook:

"You don't think it's very bad, do you?" she said, looking up at the
smoke and flames that were now belching formidably from the top-floor
window. Before anyone had a chance to answer, she went on: "I _hope_
it's not bad."

Hook, who was simply terrified at her raw intrusion, had turned away from
her and was looking at her sideways with eyes that were almost closed.
The girl, getting no answer from him, spoke now to Mrs. Jack:

"It'll be just too bad if anything is wrong up there, won't it?" Mrs.
Jack, her face full of friendly reassurance, answered quickly in a gentle
voice.

"No, dear," she said, "I don't think it's bad at all." She looked up with
trouble in her eyes at the billowing mass of smoke and flame which now,
to tell the truth, looked not only bad but distinctly threatening; then,
lowering her perturbed gaze quickly, she said to the girl encouragingly:
"I'm sure everything is going to be all right."

"Well," said the girl, "I hope you're right...Because," she added,
apparently as an afterthought as she turned away, "that's Mama's room,
and if she's up there it'll be just too bad, won't it?--I mean, if it is
too bad."

With this astounding utterance, spoken casually in a flat voice that
betrayed no emotion whatever, she moved off into the crowd.

There was dead silence for a moment. Then Mrs. Jack turned to Hook in
alarm, as if she were not certain she had heard aright.

"Did you hear?--" she began in a bewildered tone.

"But there you _are!_" broke in Amy, with a short, exultant laugh.
"What I _mean_ is--the whole thing's _there!_"



20. Out of Control


Suddenly all the lights in the building went out, plunging the court in
darkness save for the fearful illumination provided by the bursts of
flame from the top-floor apartment. There was a deep murmur and a
restless stir in the crowd. Several young smart alecks in evening clothes
took this opportunity to go about among the dark mass of people,
arrogantly throwing the beams of their flashlights into the faces of
those they passed.

The police now began to move upon the crowd, and, good-naturedly but
firmly, with outstretched arms, started to herd everybody back, out of
the court, through the arches, and across the surrounding streets. The
streets were laced and criss-crossed everywhere with bewildering skeins
of hose, and all normal sounds were lost in the powerful throbbing of the
fire-engines. Unceremoniously, like driven cattle, the residents of the
great building were forced back to the opposite pavements, where they had
to take their places among the humbler following of the general public.

Some of the ladies, finding themselves too thinly clad in the cold night
air, sought refuge in the apartments of friends who lived in the
neighbourhood. Others, tired of standing round, went to hotels to wait or
to spend the night. But most of the people hung on, curious and eager to
what the outcome might be. Mr. Jack took Edith, Alma, Amy, and two or
three young people of Amy's acquaintance to a near-by hotel for drinks.
The others stayed and looked on curiously for a while. But presently Mrs.
Jack, George Webber, Miss Mandell, and Stephen Hook repaired to a
drug-store that was close at hand. They sat at the counter, ordered
coffee and sandwiches, and engaged in eager chatter with other refugees
who now filled the store.

The conversation of all these people was friendly and casual. Some were
even gay. But in their talk there was also now a note of perturbation--of
something troubled, puzzled, and uncertain. Men of wealth and power had
been suddenly dispossessed from their snug nests with their wives,
families, and dependents, and now there was nothing they could do but
wait, herded homelessly into drug-stores and hotel lobbies, or huddled
together in their wraps on street corners like shipwrecked voyagers,
looking at one another with helpless eyes. Some of them felt, dimly, that
they had been caught up by some mysterious and relentless force, and that
they were being borne onwards as unwitting of the power that ruled them
as blind flies fastened to a revolving wheel. To others came the image of
a tremendous web in which they felt they had become enmeshed--a web whose
ramifications were so vast and complicated that they had not the faintest
notion where it began or what its pattern was.

For in the well-ordered world in which these people lived, something had
gone suddenly wrong. Things had got out of control. They were the lords
and masters of the earth, vested with authority and accustomed to
command, but now the control had been taken from them. So they felt
strangely helpless, no longer able to command the situation, no longer
able even to find out what was happening.

But, in ways remote from their blind and troubled kenning, events had
been moving to their inexorable conclusion.

* * * * *

In one of the smoky corridors of that enormous hive, two men in boots and
helmets had met in earnest communion.

"Did you find it?"

"Yes."

"Where is it?"

"It's in the basement, chief. It's not on the roof at all--a draught is
taking it up a vent. But it's down there." He pointed with his thumb.

"Well, then, go get it. You know what to do."

"It looks bad, chief. It's going to be hard to get."

"What's the trouble?"

"If we flood the basement, we'll also flood two levels of railroad
tracks. You know what that means."

For a moment their eyes held each other steadily. Then the older man
jerked his head and started for the stairs.

"Come on," he said. "We're going down."

Down in the bowels of the earth there was a room where lights were
burning and it was always night.

There, now, a telephone rang, and a man with a green eyeshade seated at a
desk answered it.

"Hello...Oh, hello, Mike."

He listened carefully for a moment, suddenly jerked forward taut with
interest, and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth.

"The hell you say!...Where? Over track thirty-two?...They're going to
flood it!...Hell!"

Deep in the honeycombs of the rock the lights burned green and red and
yellow, silent in the eternal dark, lovely, poignant as remembered grief.
Suddenly, all up and down the faintly gleaming rails, the green and
yellow eyes winked out and flashed to warning red.

A few blocks away, just where the network of that amazing underworld of
railroad yards begins its mighty flare of burnished steel, the Limited
halted swiftly, but so smoothly that the passengers, already standing to
debark, felt only a slight jar and were unaware that anything unusual had
happened.

Ahead, however, in the cab of the electric locomotive which had pulled
the great train the last miles of its span along the Hudson River, the
engineer peered out and read the signs. He saw the shifting patterns of
hard light against the dark, and swore:

"Now what the hell?"

And as the great train slid to a stop, the current in the third rail was
shut off and the low whine that always came from the powerful motors of
the locomotive was suddenly silenced. Turning now across his instruments
to another man, the engineer spoke quietly:

"I wonder what the hell has happened," he said.

For a long time the Limited stood a silent and powerless thing of steel,
while a short distance away the water flooded down and flowed between the
tracks there like a river. And five hundred men and women who had been
caught up from their lives and swiftly borne from cities, towns, and
little hamlets all across the continent were imprisoned in the rock,
weary, impatient, frustrated--only five minutes away from the great
station that was the end and goal of their combined desire. And in the
station itself other hundreds waited for them--and went on
waiting--restless, wondering, anxious, knowing nothing about the why of
it.

Meanwhile, on the seventh landing of the service stairs in the evacuated
building, firemen had been working feverishly with axes. The place was
dense with smoke. The sweating men wore masks, and the only, light they
had was that provided by their torchlights.

They had battered open the doorway of the elevator shaft, and one of them
had lowered himself down on to the roof of the imprisoned car half a
floor below and was now cutting into the roof with his sharp axe.

"Have you got it, Ed?"

"Yeah--just about...I'm almost through...This next one does it, I think."

The axe smashed down again. There was a splintering crash. And then:

"O.K...Wait a minute...Hand me down the flashlight, Tom."

"See anything?"

In a moment, quietly:

"Yeah...I'm going in...Jim, you better come down, too. I'll need you."

There was a brief silence, then the man's quiet voice again:

"O.K...I've got it...Here, Jim, reach down and get underneath the
arms...Got it?...O.K...Tom, you better reach down and help Jim...Good."

Together they lifted it from its imprisoned trap, looked at it for a
moment in the flare of their flashlights, and laid it down, not ungently,
on the floor--something old and tired and dead and very pitiful.

Mrs. Jack went to the window of the drug-store and peered out at the
great building across the street.

"I wonder if anything's happening over there," she said to her friends
with a puzzled look on her face. "Do you suppose it's over? Have they got
it out?"

The dark immensity of those towering walls told nothing, but there were
signs that the fire was almost out. There were fewer lines of hose in the
street, and one could see firemen pulling them in and putting them back
in the trucks. Other firemen were coming from the building, bringing
their tools and stowing them away. All the great engines were still
throbbing powerfully, but the lines that had connected them with the
hydrants were uncoupled, and the water they were pumping now came from
somewhere else and was rushing in torrents down all the gutters. The
police still held the crowd back and would not yet permit the tenants to
return to their apartments.

The newspapermen, who had early arrived upon the scene, were now
beginning to come into the drug-store to telephone their stories to the
papers. They were a motley crew, a little shabby and threadbare, with
battered hats in which their Press cards had been stuck, and some of them
had the red noses which told of long hours spent in speak-easies.

One would have known that they were newspapermen even without their Press
cards. The signs were unmistakable. There was something jaded in the eye,
something a little worn and tarnished about the whole man, something that
got into his face, his tone, the way he walked, the way he smoked a
cigarette, even into the hang of his trousers, and especially into his
battered hat, which revealed instantly that these were gentlemen of the
Press.

It was something wearily receptive, wearily cynical, something that said
wearily: "I know, I know. But what's the story? What's the racket?"

And yet it was something that one liked, too, something corrupted but
still good, something that had once blazed with hope and aspiration,
something that said: "Sure. I used to think I had it in me, too, and I'd
have given my life to write something good. Now I'm just a whore. I'd
sell my best friend out to get a story. I'd betray your trust, your
faith, your friendliness, twist everything you say around until any
sincerity, sense, or honesty that might be in your words was made to
sound like the maunderings of a buffoon or a clown--if I thought it would
make a better story. I don't give a damn for truth, for accuracy, for
facts, for telling anything about you people here, your lives, your
speech, the way you look, the way you really are, the special quality,
tone, and weather of this moment--of this fire--except insofar as they
will help to make a story. What I went to get is the special 'angle' on
it. There has been grief and love and fear and ecstasy and pain and death
to-night: a whole universe of living has been here enacted. But all of it
doesn't matter a damn to me if I can only pick up something that will
make the customers sit up tomorrow and rub their eyes--if I can tell 'em
that in the excitement Miss Lena Ginster's pet boa constrictor escaped
from its cage and that the police and fire departments are still looking
for it while Members of Fashionable Apartment House Dwell in Terror...So
there I am, folks, with yellow fingers, weary eyeballs, a ginny breath,
and what is left of last night's hangover, and I wish to God I could get
to that telephone to send this story in, so the boss would tell me to go
home, and I could step round to Eddy's place for a couple more highballs
before I call it another day. But don't be too hard on me. Sure, I'd sell
you out, of course. No man's name or any woman's reputation is safe with
me--if I can make a story out of it--but at bottom I'm not such a bad
guy. I have violated the standards of decency again and again, but in my
heart I've always wanted to be decent. I don't tell the truth, but
there's a kind of bitter honesty in me for all that. I'm able to look
myself in the face at times, and tell the truth about myself and see just
what I am. And I hate sham and hypocrisy and pretence and fraud and
crookedness, and if I could only be sure that to-morrow was going to be
the last day of the world--oh, Christ!--what a paper we'd get out in the
morning! And, too, I have a sense of humour, I love gaiety, food, drink,
good talk, good companionship, the whole thrilling pageantry of life. So
don't be too severe on me. I'm really not as bad as some of the things I
have to do."

Such, indefinably yet plainly, were the markings of these men. It was as
if the world which had so soiled them with its grimy touch had also left
upon them some of its warm earthiness--the redeeming virtues of its rich
experience, its wit and understanding, the homely fellowship of its
pungent speech.

Two or three of them now went round among the people in the drug-store
and began to interview them. The questions that they asked seemed
ludicrously inappropriate. They approached some of the younger and
prettier girls, found out if they lived in the building, and immediately
asked, with naive eagerness, whether they were in the Social Register.
Whenever any of the girls admitted that she was, the reporters would
write down her name and the details of her parentage.

Meanwhile, one of the representatives of the Press, a rather
seedy-looking gentleman with a bulbous red nose and infrequent teeth, had
called his City Desk on the telephone and, sprawled in the booth with his
hat pushed back on his head and his legs sticking out through the open
door, was reporting his findings. George Webber was standing with a group
of people at the back of the store, near the booth. He had noticed the
reporter when he first came in, and had been fascinated by something in
his seedy, hard-boiled look; and now, although George appeared to be
listening to the casual chatter around him, he was really hanging with
concentrated attention on every word the man was saying:

"...Sure, that's what I'm tellin' yuh. Just take it down...The police
arrived," he went on importantly, as if fascinated by his own
journalese--"the police arrived and threw a cordon round the building."
There was a moment's pause, then the red-nosed man rasped out irritably:
"No, no, no! Not a squadron! A cordon!...What's 'at?..._Cordon_, I
say! C-o-r-d-o-n--cordon!...For Pete's sake!" he went on in an aggrieved
tone. "How long have you been workin' on a newspaper, anyway? Didn't yuh
ever hear of a cordon before?...Now get this. Listen----" he went on in a
careful voice, glancing at some scrawled notes on a piece of paper in his
hand. "Among the residents are included many Social Registerites and
others prominent among the younger set...What? How's that?" he said
abruptly, rather puzzled. "Oh!"

He looked round quickly to see if he was being overheard, then lowered
his voice and spoke again:

"Oh, sure! _Two!_...Nah, there was only two--that other story was
all wrong. They found the old dame...But that's what I'm tellin' yuh! She
was all alone when the fire started--see! Her family was out, and when
they got back they thought she was trapped up there. But they found her.
She was down in the crowd. That old dame was one of the first ones
out...Yeh--only two. Both of 'em was elevator men." He lowered his voice
a little more, then, looking at his notes, he read carefully: "John
Enborg...age sixty-four...married...three children...lives in Jamaica,
Queens...You got that?" he said, then proceeded: "And Herbert
Anderson...age twenty-five...unmarried...lives with his mother...841
Southern Boulevard, the Bronx...Have yuh got it? Sure. Oh, sure!"

Once more he looked round, then lowered his voice before he spoke again:

"No, they couldn't get 'em out. They was both on the elevators, goin' up
to get the tenants--see!--when some excited fool fumbled for the light
switches and grabbed the wrong one and shut the current off on
'em...Sure. That's the idea. They got caught between the floors...They
just got Enborg out," his voice sank lower. "They had to use axes...Sure.
Sure." He nodded into the mouthpiece. "That's it--smoke. Too late when
they got to him...No, that's all. Just those two...No, they don't know
about it yet. Nobody knows. The management wants to keep it quiet if they
can...What's that? Hey!--speak louder, can't yuh? You're mumblin' at me!"

He had shouted sharply, irritably, into the instrument, and now listened
attentively for a moment.

"Yeh, it's almost over. But it's been tough. They had trouble gettin' at
it. It started in the basement, then it went up a flue and out at the
top...Sure, I know," he nodded. "That's what made it so tough. Two levels
of tracks are right below. They were afraid to flood the basement at
first--afraid to risk it. They tried to get at it with chemicals, but
couldn't...Yeh, so they turned off the juice down there and put the water
on it. They probably got trains backed up all the way to Albany by
now...Sure, they're pumpin' it out. It's about over, I guess, but it's
been tough...O.K., Mac. Want me to stick around?...O.K.," he said, and
hung up.



21. Love Is Not Enough


The fire was over. Mrs. Jack and those who were with her went out on the
street when they heard the first engine leaving. And there on the
pavement were Mr. Jack, Edith, and Alma. They had met some old friends at
the hotel and had left Amy and her companions with them.

Mr. Jack looked in good spirits, and his manner showed, mildly and
pleasantly, that he had partaken of convivial refreshment. Over his arm
he was carrying a woman's coat, which he now slipped round his wife's
shoulders, saying:

"Mrs. Feldman sent you this, Esther. She said you could send it back
to-morrow."

All this time she had had on nothing but her evening dress. She had
remembered to tell the servants to wear their coats, but both she and
Miss Mandell had forgotten theirs.

"How sweet of her!" cried Mrs. Jack, her face beginning to glow as she
thought how kind everyone was in a time of stress. "Aren't people good?"

Other refugees, too, were beginning to straggle back now and were
watching from the corner, where the police still made them wait. Most of
the fire-engines had already gone, and the rest were throbbing quietly
with a suggestion of departure. One by one the great trucks thundered
away. And presently the policemen got the signal to let the tenants
return to their rooms.

Stephen Hook said good night and walked off, and the others started
across the street towards the building. From all directions people were
now streaming through the arched entrances into the court, collecting
maids, cooks, and chauffeurs as they came. An air of disorder and
authority had been re-established among them, and one could hear masters
and mistresses issuing commands to their servants. The cloister-like
arcades were filled with men and women shuffling quietly into their
entryways.

The spirit of the crowd was altogether different now from what it had
been a few hours earlier. All these people had recaptured their customary
assurance and poise. The informality and friendliness that they had shown
to one another during the excitement had vanished. It was almost as if
they were now a little ashamed of the emotions which had betrayed them
into injudicious cordialities and unwonted neighbourliness. Each little
family group had withdrawn frigidly into its own separate entity and was
filing back into its own snug cell.

In the Jacks' entry a smell of smoke, slightly stale and acrid, still
clung to the walls, but the power had been restored and the elevator was
running again. Mrs. Jack noticed with casual surprise that the doorman,
Henry, took them up, and she asked if Herbert had gone home. He paused
just perceptibly, and then answered in a flat tone:

"Yes, Mrs. Jack."

"You all must be simply worn out!" she said warmly, with her instant
sympathy. "Hasn't it been a thrilling evening?" she went on eagerly. "In
all your life did you ever know of such excitement, such confusion, as we
had to-night?"

"Yes, ma'am," the man said, in a voice so curiously unyielding that she
felt stopped and baffled by it, as she had many times before. And she
thought:

"What a strange man he is! And what a difference between people! Herbert
is so warm, so jolly, so human. You can talk to _him_. But this
one--he's so stiff and formal you can never get inside of him. And if you
try to speak to him, he snubs you--puts you in your place as if he
doesn't want to have anything to do with you."

She felt wounded, rebuffed, almost angry. She was herself a friendly
person, and she liked people round her to be friendly, too--even the
servants. But already her mind was worrying loosely at the curious enigma
of the doorman's personality:

"I wonder what's wrong with him," she thought. "He seems always so
unhappy, so disgruntled, nursing some secret grievance all the time. I
wonder what has done it to him. Oh, well, poor thing, I suppose the life
he leads is enough to turn anyone sour--opening doors and calling cabs
and helping people in and out of cars and answering questions all night
long. But then, Herbert has it even worse--shut up in this stuffy
elevator and riding up and down all the time where he can't see anything
and where nothing ever happens--and yet he's always so sweet and so
obliging about everything!"

And, giving partial utterance to her thoughts, she said:

"I suppose Herbert had a harder time of it to-night than any of you,
getting all these people out."

Henry made no answer whatever. He simply seemed not to have heard her. He
had stopped the elevator and opened the door at their own landing, and
now said in his hard, expressionless voice: "This is your floor, Mrs.
Jack."

After they got out and the car had gone down, she was so annoyed that she
turned to her family and guests with flaming cheeks, and said angrily:

"Honestly, that fellow makes me tired! He's such a grouch! And he's
getting worse every day! It's got so now he won't even answer when you
speak to him!"

"Well, Esther, maybe he's tired out to-night," suggested Mr. Jack
pacifically. "They've all been under a pretty severe strain, you know."

"So I suppose that's _our_ fault?" said Mrs. Jack ironically. And
then, going into the living-room and seeing again the chaos left there by
Mr. Logan's performance, she had a sudden flare of her quick and jolly
wit, and with a comical shrug said: "Vell, ve should have a fire
sale!"--which restored her to good humour.

Everything seemed curiously unchanged--curiously, because so much had
happened since their excited departure. The place smelled close and
stale, and there was still a faint tang of smoke. Mrs. Jack told Nora to
open the windows. Then the three maids automatically resumed their
interrupted routine and quickly tidied up the room.

Mrs. Jack excused herself for a moment and went into her own room. She
took off the borrowed coat and hung it in the closet, and carefully
brushed and adjusted her somewhat disordered hair.

Then she went over to the window, threw up the sash as far as it would
go, and filled her lungs full of the fresh, invigorating air. She found
it good. The last taint of smoke was washed clean and sweet away by the
cool breath of October. And in the white light of the moon the spires and
ramparts of Manhattan were glittering with cold magic. Peace fell upon
her spirit. Strong comfort and assurance bathed her whole being. Life was
so solid and splendid, and so good.

A tremor, faint and instant, shook her feet. She paused, startled;
waited, listening...Was the old trouble with George there again to shake
the deep perfection of her soul? He had been strangely quiet to-night.
Why, he had hardly said two words all evening. What was the matter with
him?...And what was the rumour she had heard this night? Something about
stocks falling. During the height of the party she had overheard Lawrence
Hirsch say something like that. She hadn't paid any attention at the
time, but now it came back. "Faint tremors in the market"--that's what he
had said. What was this talk of tremors?

--Ah, there it was a second time! What was it?

--Trains again!

It passed, faded, trembled delicately away into securities of eternal
stone, and left behind the blue dome of night, and of October. The smile
came back into her eyes. The brief and troubled frown had lifted. Her
look as she turned and started towards the living-room was almost dulcet
and cherubic--the look of a good child who ends the great adventure of
another day.

Edith and Alma had retired immediately on coming in, and Lily Mandell,
who had gone into one of the bedrooms to get her wraps, now came out
wearing her splendid cape.

"Darling, it has been too marvellous," she said throatily, wearily,
giving Mrs. Jack an affectionate kiss. "Fire, smoke, Piggy Logan,
everything--I've simply adored it!"

Mrs. Jack shook with laughter.

"Your parties are too wonderful!" Miss Mandell concluded. "You never know
what's going to happen next!"

With that she said her good-byes and left.

George was also going now, but Mrs. Jack took him by the hand and said
coaxingly:

"Don't go yet. Stay a few minutes and talk to me."

Mr. Jack was obviously ready for his bed. He kissed his wife lightly on
the cheek, said good night casually to George, and went to his room.
Young men could come, and young men could go, but Mr. Jack was going to
get his sleep.

Outside, the night was growing colder, with a suggestion of frost in the
air. The mammoth city lay fathoms deep in sleep. The streets were
deserted, save for an occasional taxi-cab that drilled past on some
urgent nocturnal quest. The pavements were vacant and echoed hollowly to
the footfalls of a solitary man who turned the corner into Park and
headed briskly north towards home and bed. The lights were out in all the
towering office buildings, except for a single window high up in the face
of a darkened cliff which betrayed the presence of some faithful slave of
business who was working through the night upon a dull report that had to
be ready in the morning.

At the side entrance of the great apartment house, on the now empty cross
street, one of the dark green ambulances of the police department had
slid up very quietly and was waiting with a softly throbbing motor. No
one was watching it.

Shortly a door which led down to a basement opened. Two policemen came
out, bearing a stretcher, which had something sheeted on it that was very
still. They slid this carefully away into the back of the green
ambulance.

A minute later the basement door opened again and a sergeant emerged. He
was followed by two more men in uniform who carried a second stretcher
with a similar burden. This, too, was carefully disposed of in the same
way.

The doors of the vehicle dicked shut. The driver and another man walked
round and got into the front seat. And after a hushed word or two with
the sergeant, they drove off quietly, turning the corner with a subdued
clangour of bells.

The three remaining officers spoke together for a moment longer in
lowered voices, and one of them wrote down notes in his little book. Then
they said good night, saluted, and departed, each walking off in a
different direction to take up again his appointed round of duty.

Meanwhile, inside the imposing front entrance, under a light within the
cloistered walk, another policeman was conferring with the doorman,
Henry. The doorman answered the questions of the officer in a toneless,
monosyllabic, sullen voice, and the policeman wrote down the answers in
another little book.

"You say the younger one was unmarried?"

"Yes."

"How old?"

"Twenty-five."

"And where did he live?"

"In the Bronx."

His tone was so low and sullen that it was hardly more than a mutter, and
the policeman lifted his head from the book and rasped out harshly:

"_Where?_"

"_The Bronx!_" said Henry furiously.

The man finished writing in his book, put it away into his pocket, then
in a tone of casual speculation he said:

"Well, I wouldn't want to live up there, would you? It's too damn far
away."

"Nah!" snapped Henry. Then, turning impatiently away, he began: "If
that's all you want----"

"That's _all_," the policeman cut in with brutal and ironic
geniality. "That's all, _brother_."

And with a hard look of mirth in his cold eyes, he swung his nightstick
behind him and watched the retreating figure of the doorman as it went
inside and disappeared in the direction of the elevator.

* * * * *

Up in the Jack's living-room, George and Esther were alone together.
There was now an air of finality about everything. The party was over,
the fire was over, all the other guests had gone.

Esther gave a little sigh and sat down beside George. For a moment she
looked round her with an expression of thoughtful appraisal. Everything
was just the same as it had always been. If anyone came in here now, he
would never dream that anything had happened.

"Wasn't it all strange?" she said musingly. "The party--and then the
fire!...I mean, the _way_ it happened." Her tone had grown a little
vague, as if there was something she could not quite express. "I don't
know, but the way we were all sitting here after Mr. Logan's
performance...then all of a sudden the fire-engines going past...and we
didn't know...we thought they were going somewhere else. There was
something so--sort of weird--about it." Her brow was furrowed with her
difficulty as she tried to define the emotion she felt. "It sort of
frightens you, doesn't it?--No, not the fire!" she spoke quickly. "That
didn't amount to anything. No one got hurt. It was terribly exciting,
really...What I mean is"--again the vague and puzzled tone--"when you
think of how..._big_...things have got...I mean, the way people live
nowadays...in these big buildings...and how a fire can break out in the
very house you live in, and you not even know about it...There's
something sort of _terrible_ in that, isn't there?...And God!" she
burst out with sudden eagerness. "In all your life did you ever see the
like of them? I mean the kind of people who live here--they way they all
looked as they poured out into the court?"

She laughed and paused, then took his hand, and with a rapt look on her
face she whispered tenderly:

"But what do they matter?...They're all gone now...The whole world's
gone...There's no one left but you and I...Do you know," she said
quietly, "that I think about you all the time? When I wake up in the
morning the first thought that comes into my head is you. And from that
moment on I carry you round inside me all day long--here." She laid her
hand upon her breast, then went on in a rapt whisper: "You fill my life,
my heart, my spirit, my whole being. Oh, do you think there ever was
another love like ours since the world began--two other people who ever
loved each other as we do? If I could play, I'd make of it great music.
If I could sing, I'd make of it a great song. If I could write, I'd make
of it a great story. But when I try to play or write or sing, I can think
of nothing else but you...Did you know that I once tried to write a
story!" Smiling, she inclined her rosy face towards his: "Didn't I ever
tell you?" He shook his head.

"I was sure that it would make a wonderful story," she went on eagerly.
"It seemed to fill me up. I was ready to burst with it. But when I tried
to write it, all that I could say was: 'Long, long into the night I
lay--thinking of you.'"

She laughed suddenly, richly.

"And that's as far as I could get. But wasn't it a grand beginning for a
story? And now at night when I try to go to sleep, that one line of the
story that I couldn't write comes back to me and haunts me, and keeps
ringing in my ears. 'Long, long into the night I lay--thinking of you.'
For that's the story."

She moved closer to him, and lifted her lips to his.

"Ah, dearest, that's the story. In the whole world there's nothing more.
Love is enough."

He could not answer. For as she spoke he knew that for him it was not the
story. He felt desolate and tired. The memory of all their years of love,
of beauty and devotion, of pain and conflict, together with all her faith
and tenderness and noble loyalty--the whole universe of love which had
been his, all that the tenement of flesh and one small room could
hold--returned to rend him in this instant.

For he had learned to-night that love was not enough. There had to be a
higher devotion than all the devotions of this fond imprisonment. There
had to be a larger world than this glittering fragment of a world with
all its wealth and privilege. Throughout his whole youth and early
manhood, this very world of beauty, ease, and luxury, of power, glory,
and security, had seemed the ultimate end of human ambition, the
furthermost limit to which the aspirations of any man could reach. But
to-night, in a hundred separate moments of intense reality, it had
revealed to him its very core. He had seen it naked, with its guards
down. He had sensed how the hollow pyramid of a false social structure
had been erected and sustained upon a base of common mankind's blood and
sweat and agony. So now he knew that if he was ever to succeed in writing
the books he felt were in him, he must turn about and lift his face up to
some nobler height.

He thought about the work he wanted to do. Somehow the events which he
had witnessed here to-night had helped to resolve much of his inner chaos
and confusion. Many of the things which had been complex before were now
made simple. And it all boiled down to this: honesty, sincerity, no
compromise with truth--those were the essentials of any art--and a
writer, no matter what else he had, was just a hack without them.

And that was where Esther and this world of hers came in. In America, of
all places, there could be no honest compromise with special privilege.
Privilege and truth could not lie down together. He thought of how a
silver dollar, if held close enough to the eye, could blot out the sun
itself. There were stronger, deeper tides and currents running in America
than any which these glamorous lives to-night had ever plumbed or even
dreamed of. Those were the depths that he would like to sound.

As he thought these things, a phrase that had been running through his
head all evening, like an overtone to everything that he had seen and
heard, now flashed once more into his consciousness:

--He who lets himself be whored by fashion will be whored by time.

Well, then--a swift thrust of love and pity pierced him as Esther
finished speaking and he looked down at her enraptured, upturned face--it
must be so: he to his world, she to hers.

But to-night. He could not tell her so to-night. To-morrow----

Yes, to-morrow he would tell her. It would be better so. He would tell it
to her straight, the way he understood it now--tell it so she could not
fail to understand it, too. But tell it--get it over with--to-morrow.

And to make it easier, for her as well as for himself, there was one
thing he would not tell her. It would be surer, swifter, kinder, not to
tell her that he loved her still, that he would always love her, that no
one else could ever take her place. Not by so much as a glance, a single
word, the merest pressure of the hand, must he let her know that this was
the hardest thing he would ever have to do. It would be far better if she
did not know that, for if she knew, she'd never understand----

--Never understand to-morrow----

--That a tide was running in the hearts of men----

--And he must go.

They said little more that night. In a few minutes he got up, and with a
sick and tired heart he went away.




BOOK III. AN END AND A BEGINNING



_When a cicada comes out of the ground to enter the last stage of its
life cycle, it looks more like a fat, earth-stained grub-worm than a
winged thing. Laboriously it climbs up the trunk of a tree, pulling
itself along on legs that hardly seem to belong to it, for they move with
painful awkwardness as though the creature had not yet got the hang of
how to use them. At last it stops in its weary climb and clings to the
bark by its front feet. Then, suddenly, there is a little popping sound,
and one notices that the creature's outer garment has split down the
back, as neatly as though it had come equipped with a zipper. Slowly now
the thing inside begins to emerge, drawing itself out through the opening
until it has freed its body, head, and all its members. Slowly, slowly,
it accomplishes this amazing task, and slowly creeps out into a patch of
sun, leaving behind the brown and lifeless husk from which it came.

The living, elemental protoplasm, translucent, pale green now, remains
motionless for a long time in the sun, but if one has the patience to
watch it further, one will see the miracle of change and growth enacted
before his very eyes. After a while the body begins to pulse with life,
it flattens out and changes colour like a chameleon, and from small
sprouts on each side of the back the wings commence to grow. Quickly,
quickly now, they lengthen out--one can see it happening!--until they
become transparent fairy wings, iridescent, shimmering in the sun. They
begin to quiver delicately, then more rapidly, and all at once, with a
metallic whirring sound, they cut the air and the creature flashes off, a
new-born thing released into a new element.

America, in the autumn of 1929, was like a cicada. It had come to an end
and a beginning. On October 24th, in New York, in a marble-fronted
building down in Wall Street, there was a sudden crash that was heard
throughout the land. The dead and outworn husk of the America that had
been had cracked and split right down the back, and the living, changing,
suffering thing within--the real America, the America that had always
been, the America that was yet to be--began now slowly to emerge. It came
forth into the light of day, stunned, cramped, crippled by the bonds of
its imprisonment, and for a long time it remained in a state of suspended
animation, full of latent vitality, waiting, waiting patiently, for the
next stage of its metamorphosis.

The leaders of the nation had fixed their gaze so long upon the illusions
of a false prosperity that they had forgotten what America looked like.
Now they saw it--saw its newness, its raw crudeness, and its
strength--and turned their shuddering eyes away. "Give us back our
well-worn husk," they said, "where we were so snug and comfortable." And
then they tried word-magic. "Conditions are fundamentally sound," they
said--by which they meant to reassure themselves that nothing now was
really changed, that things were as they always had been, and as they
always would be, for ever and ever, amen.

But they were wrong. They did not know that you can't go home again.
America bad come to the end of something, and to the beginning of
something else. But no one knew what that something else would be, and
out of the change and the uncertainty and the wrongness of the leaders
grew fear and desperation, and before long hunger stalked the streets.
Through it all there was only one certainty, though no one saw it yet.
America was still America, and whatever new thing came of it would be
American.

George Webber was just as confused and fearful as everybody else. If
anything, he was more so, because, in addition to the general crisis, he
was caught in a personal one as well. For at this very time he, too, had
come to an end and a beginning. It was an end of love, though not of
loving; a beginning of recognition, though not of fame. His book was
published early in November, and that event, so eagerly awaited for so
long, produced results quite different from any he had expected. And
during this period of his life he learned a great deal that he had never
known before, but it was only gradually, in the course of the years to
come, that he began to realise how the changes in himself were related to
the larger changes in the world around him._


22. A Question of Guilt


Throughout George Webber's boyhood in the little town of Libya Hill, when
the great vision of the city burned for ever in his brain, he had been
athirst for glory and had wanted very much to be a famous man. That
desire had never changed, except to become stronger as he grew older,
until now he wanted it more than ever. Yet, of the world of letters in
which he dreamed of cutting a great figure, he knew almost nothing. He
was now about to find out a few things that were to rob his ignorance of
its bliss.

His novel, _Home to Our Mountains_, was published the first week in
November 1929. The date, through the kind of accidental happening which
so often affects the course of human events, and which, when looked back
on later, seems to have been attended by an element of fatality,
coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the Great American
Depression.

The collapse of the Stock Market, which had begun in late October, was in
some ways like the fall of a gigantic boulder into the still waters of a
lake. The suddenness of it sent waves of desperate fear moving in
ever-widening circles throughout America. Millions of people in the
far-off hamlets, towns, and cities did not know what to make of it. Would
its effects touch them? They hoped not. And the waters of the lake closed
over the fallen boulder, and for a while most Americans went about their
day's work just as usual.

But the waves of fear had touched them, and life was not quite the same.
Security was gone, and there was a sense of dread and ominous foreboding
in the air. It was into this atmosphere of false calm and desperate
anxiety that Webber's book was launched.

It is no part of the purpose of this narrative to attempt to estimate the
merits or deficiences of _Home to Our Mountains_. It need only be
said here that it was a young man's first book, and that it had a good
many of the faults and virtues of the kind of thing it was. Webber had
done what so many beginning writers do: he had written it out of the
experience of his own life. And that got him into a lot of trouble.

He was to become convinced as he grew older that if one wants to write a
book that has any interest or any value whatever, he has got to write it
out of the experience of life. A writer, like everybody else must use
what he has to use. He can't use something that he hasn't got. If he
tries to--and many writers have tried it--what he writes is no good.
Everybody knows that.

So Webber had drawn upon the experience of his own life. He had written
about his home town, about his family and the people he had known there.
And he, had done it in a manner of naked directness and reality that was
rather rare in books. That was really what caused the trouble.

Every author's first book is important. It means the world to him.
Perhaps he thinks that what he has done has never been done before.
Webber thought so. And in a way he was right. He was still very much
under the influence of James Joyce, and what he had written was a
_Ulysses_ kind of book. People at home, whose good opinion he
coveted more than that of all the rest of the world combined, were
bewildered and overwhelmed by it. They, of course, had not read
_Ulysses_. And Webber had not read people. He thought he had, he
thought he knew what they were like, but he really didn't. He hadn't
learned what a difference there is between living with them and writing
about them.

A man learns a great deal about life from writing and publishing a book.
When Webber wrote his, he had ripped off a mask that his home town had
always worn, but he had not quite understood that he was doing it. Only
after it was printed and published did he fully realise the fact. All he
had meant and hoped to do was to tell the truth about life as he had
known it. But no sooner was the thing done--the proofs corrected, the
pages printed beyond recall--than he knew that he had not told the truth.
Telling the truth is a pretty hard thing. And in a young man's first
attempt, with the distortions of his vanity, egotism, hot passion, and
lacerated pride, it is almost impossible. _Home to Our Mountains_
was marred by all these faults and imperfections. Webber knew this better
than anybody else, and long before any reader had a chance to tell him
so. He did not know whether he had written a great book--sometimes he
thought he had, or at least that there were elements of greatness in it.
He did know that it was not altogether a true book. Still, there was
truth in it. And this was what people were afraid of. This was what made
them mad.

As the publication day drew near, Webber felt some apprehension about the
reception of his novel in Libya Hill. Ever since his trip home in
September he had had a heightened sense of uneasiness and anxiety. He had
seen the boom-mad town tottering on the brink of ruin. He had read in the
eyes of people on the streets the fear and guilty knowledge of the
calamity that impended and that they were still refusing to admit even to
themselves. He knew that they were clinging desperately to the illusion
of their paper riches, and that madness such as this was unprepared to
face reality and truth in any degree whatever.

But even if he had been unaware of these special circumstances of the
moment, he would still have had some premonitory consciousness that he
was in for something. For he was a Southerner, and he knew that there was
something wounded in the South. He knew that there was something twisted,
dark, and full of pain which Southerners have known with all their
lives--something rooted in their souls beyond all contradiction, about
which no one had dared to write, of which no one had ever spoken.

Perhaps it came from their old war, and from the ruin of their great
defeat and its degraded aftermath. Perhaps it came from causes yet more
ancient--from the evil of man's slavery, and the hurt and shame of human
conscience in its struggle with the fierce desire to own. It came, too,
perhaps, from the lusts of the hot South, tormented and repressed below
the harsh and outward patterns of a bigot and intolerant theology, yet
prowling always, stirring stealthily, as hushed and secret as the
thickets of swamp-darkness. And most of all, perhaps, it came out of the
very weather of their lives, out of the forms that shaped them and the
food that fed them, out of the unknown terrors of the skies above them,
out of the dark, mysterious pineland all round them with its haunting
sorrow.

Wherever it came from, it was there--and Webber knew it.

But it was not only in the South that America was hurt. There was another
deeper, darker, and more nameless wound throughout the land. What was it?
Was it in the record of corrupt officials and polluted governments,
administrations twisted to the core, the huge excess of privilege and
graft, protected criminals and gangster rule, the democratic forms all
rotten and putrescent with disease? Was it in "puritanism"--that great,
vague name: whatever it may be? Was it in the bloated surfeits of
monopoly, and the crimes of wealth against the worker's life? Yes, it was
in all of these, and in the daily tolling of the murdered men, the lurid
renderings of promiscuous and casual slaughter everywhere throughout the
land, and in the pious hypocrisy of the Press with its swift-forgotten
prayers for our improvement, the editorial moaning while the front page
gloats.

But it is not only at these outward forms that we must look to find the
evidence of a nation's hurt. We must look as well at the heart of guilt
that beats in each of us, for there the cause lies. We must look, and
with our own eyes see, the central core of defeat and shame and failure
which we have wrought in the lives of even the least of these, our
brothers. And why must we look? Because we must probe to the bottom of
our collective wound. As men, as Americans, we can no longer cringe away
and lie. Are we not all warmed by the same sun, frozen by the same cold,
shone on by the same lights of time and terror here in America? Yes, and
if we do not look and see it, we shall be all damned together.

So George Webber had written a book in which he had tried, with only
partial success, to tell the truth about the little segment of life that
he had seen and known. And now he was worried about what the people back
in his home town would think of it. He thought a few of them would "read
it". He was afraid there would be "talk". He supposed that there might
even be a protest here and there, and he tried to prepare himself for it.
But when it came, it went so far beyond anything he had feared might
happen that it caught him wholly unawares and almost floored him. He had
felt, but had not _known_ before, how naked we are here in America.

It was a time when the better-known gentlemen and lady authors of the
South were writing polished bits of whimsey about some dear Land of Far
Cockaigne, or ironic little comedies about the gentle relics of the Old
Tradition in the South, or fanciful bits about Negro mongrels along the
Battery in Charleston, or, if passion was in the air, amusing and
light-hearted tales about the romantic adulteries of dusky brethren and
their "high-yaller gals" on a plantation somewhere. There wasn't much
honesty or essential reality in these books, and the people who wrote
them had not made much effort to face the facts in the life round them.
One wrote about Cockaigne because it was far enough away to be safe; and
if one wanted to write about adultery, or about crime and punishment of
any sort, it was a good deal safer to let it happen to a group of darkies
than to the kind of people one had to live with every day.

_Home to Our Mountains_ was a novel that did not fit into any of
these standardised patterns. It didn't seem to have much pattern at all.
The people of Libya Hill hardly knew what to make of it at first. Then
they recognised themselves in it. From that point on, they began to live
it all over again. People who had never bought a book before bought this
one. Libya Hill alone bought two thousand copies of it. It stunned them,
it overwhelmed them, and in the end it made them fight.

For George Webber had used the scalpel in a way that that section of the
country was not accustomed to. His book took the hide off of the whole
community, and as a result of this it also took the hide off of George
Webber.

In Libya Hill, a day or two before the publication of the book, Margaret
Shepperton met Harley McNabb on the street. They exchanged greetings and
stopped to talk.

"Have you seen the book?" he said.

"Yes, George sent me an advance copy," she answered, beaming at him, "and
he signed it for me, too. But I haven't read it. It just came this
morning. Have you seen it?"

"Yes," he said. "We have a review copy in the office."

"What do you think of it?" She looked at him with the expression of a
large and earnest woman who lets herself be governed considerably by the
opinion of those round her mean--"now you've been to college, Harley,"
she began jestingly, but also rather eagerly. "It may be deep stuff to
me--but you ought to know--you're educated--you ought to be a judge about
these things. What I mean is, do you think it's good?"

He was silent for a moment, his lean hand fingering the bowl of his
blackened briar, on which he puffed thoughtfully. Then:

"Margaret," he said, "it's pretty rough...Now don't get excited," he
added quickly as he saw her large face contract with anxiety and concern.
"No use getting excited about it--but"--he paused, puffing on his pipe,
his eyes staring off into vacancy--"there--there are some pretty rough
things in it. It's--it's pretty frank, Margaret."

She felt the gathering in her of sharp tensions, a white terror,
personal, immediate, as she said almost hoarsely:

"About me? About _me_, Harley? Is that what you mean? Are there
things in it--about _me?_" Her face was tortured now, and she felt
an indescribable sense of fear and guilt.

"Not only about you," he said. "About--well, Margaret, about
everybody--about a lot of people here in town...You've known him all your
life, haven't you? You see--well--he's put in everybody he ever knew.
Some of it is going to be pretty hard to take."

For a moment, in a phrase she was fond of using, she "went all to
pieces". She began to talk wildly, incoherently, her large features
contorted under the strain:

"Well, now, I'm sure I don't know what he's got to say about me!...Well,
now, if anyone feels _that_ way--" without knowing how anyone felt.
"What I mean to say is, I certainly don't feel that I've got anything to
be ashamed of...You know me, Harley," she went on eagerly, almost
beseechingly, "I'm _known_ in this town--I've got friends
here--everybody knows me...Well, I certainly have nothing to conceal."

"I know you haven't, Margaret," he said. "Only--well, there's going to be
talk."

She felt emptied out, hollow, her knees were weak. His words had almost
knocked her over. If he said it, it must be so, even though she did not
yet understand what it was he had said. She only knew that she was in the
book, and that Harley didn't like it; and his opinion stood for
something, for a great deal, in her own eyes and in the eyes of the whole
town. He represented what her mind called, somewhat vaguely, "the
high-brow element". He had always been "a fine man". He stood for truth,
for culture, for learning, and for high integrity. So she looked at him
with her bewildered face and stricken eyes, and, just as a young soldier,
with his entrails shot out in his hands, speaks to the commander of his
life, saying in his deadly fear and peril: "Is it bad, General? Do you
think it's bad?"--so now she said hoarsely to the editor, hanging on his
words:

"Harley, do you think it's bad?"

He looked away again into blue vacancy and puffed gravely on his pipe
before he answered:

"It's pretty bad, Margaret...But don't worry. We'll see what happens."

Then he was gone, leaving her alone there, bleakly staring at the
pavement of the small, familiar street. Unseen motes of the familiar life
swept round her, the pale light of the sun fell on her, and she remained
there staring with gaunt face. How much time went by she did not know,
but all at once----

"0 Margaret!"

At the lush voice, sugared with the honey of its owner's sweetness, she
turned, blindly smiling, and stiffly blurted out a word of greeting.

"Aren't you just so proud of him? He always liked you better than
_anybody_ else! Aren't you simply thrilled to _death?_" The
voice rose to a honeyed lilt, and in the pale light the face was now
shaped into the doelike contours of a china doll. "I'll declayah! I'm so
_thrilled!_ I know you must be walkin' on ayah! Why, I just cain't
_wait!_ I'm just _dyin'_ to _read_ it! I know that _you're_
the proudest thing that _evah_ lived!"

Margaret stammered out something through stiff, smiling lips, and then
was left alone again, her big gaunt face strained into vacancy. She went
about the business that had brought her to town. She went through the
motions automatically. And all the while she was thinking:

"So, he's written about us! That's what it is!" Her mind rushed furiously
on through a chaos of unresolved emotions. "Well, I'm sure I don't know
what it's all about, but there's one thing certain--_my_ conscience
is clear. If anyone thinks they've got anything on _me_, they're
very much mistaken...Now, if he wants to criticise _me_"--in her
mind the word implied a derogatory appraisal of a person's life and
conduct--"why he can go right ahead. I've lived all my life in this town,
and everybody knows--no matter what anybody says--that I've never done
anything immoral." By this word she meant solely and simply a deviation
from the standards of sexual chastity. "Now I'm sure I don't know what
Harley meant by its being hard to take and people will talk, but I know
_I've_ got nothing to be ashamed about..."

Her mind was full of frantic questions. A hundred apprehensions, fears,
and terrors swept through her. But through it all there were shafts of
stubborn strength and loyalty:

"Whatever it's about, I know there can't be any harm in it. We've all
done things we're sorry for, but we're not bad people, any of us. No one
I know is really very bad. He couldn't harm us if he wanted to. And," she
added, "he wouldn't want to."

To her brother, Randy, when he came home that night, she said:

"Well, we're in for it!...I saw Harley McNabb on the street and he said
the book is pretty bad...Now, I don't know what he said about
_you_--Ho! Ho! Ho!--but my conscience is clear!"

Randy followed her back to the kitchen and they talked about it long and
earnestly while Margaret cooked supper. They were both puzzled and
bewildered by what McNabb had said. Neither of them had yet read the
book, so they searched their memories for all sorts of things that might
be in it, but they couldn't imagine what it was. Supper was late that
night, and when Margaret brought it to the table it was burned.

Three weeks later, in New York, George sat in the back room of his dismal
flat on Twelfth Street, reading his morning mail. He had always wanted
letters. Now he had them. It seemed to him that all the letters he had
been waiting for all his life, all the letters he had longed for, all the
letters that had never come, had now descended in a flood.

He remembered all the years, all the weary and unnumbered days and hours
of waiting, after he had first left home for college. He remembered that
first year away from home, his freshman year, and how it seemed to him
that he was always waiting for a letter that never came. He remembered
how the students gathered for their mail twice a day, at noon and then
again at night when they had finished dinner. He remembered the dingy
little post office on the main street of the little college town, and the
swarm of students shuffling in and out--the whole street dense with them,
the dingy little post office packed with them, opening their boxes,
taking out their mail, milling round the delivery window.

Everyone, it seemed, got letters except himself.

Here were boys packed in the corners, leaning against the walls, propped
up against trees, squatted on steps and porch rails and the verandas of
fraternity houses, walking oblivious across the village street--all
immersed, all reading, all buried in their letters. Here was the boy who
had only one girl and wanted no one but the girl he had, who had wormed
himself away into a corner, just out of contact with that noisy and
good-natured crowd, where he read slowly, carefully, word for word, the
letter that she wrote him every day. Here was another lad, a sleek and
handsome youth, one of the Casanovas of the campus, walking along and
skimming the contents of a dozen scented epistles, shuffling through the
pages and responding with a touch of complaisant satisfaction to the
gibes of his fellows over his latest conquest. Here were boys reading
letters from their friends, from boys in other colleges, from older
brothers and from younger sisters, from fathers, mothers, and from
favourite aunts and uncles. From all these people these boys received the
tokens of friendship, kinship, fellowship, and love--the emotions that
give a man his place, that secure him in the confident, brave knowledge
of his home, that wall his soul about with comfort, and that keep him
from the desolation of an utter nakedness, from the dreadful sense of his
atomic nullity in the roofless openness of life.

It seemed to him that everyone had this, except himself.

And, later, he remembered his first years in the city, his years of
wandering, his first years of living utterly alone. Here, too, even more
than in his college days, it seemed to him that he was always waiting for
a letter that never came. That was the time when he had eaten out his
heart at night in the cell-like privacy of little rooms. That was the
time when he had beaten his knuckles raw and bloody at the walls that
hemmed him in. That was the time--and it was ten thousand times of
longing, disappointment, bitter grief, and loneliness--when his unresting
mind had written to himself the letters that never came. Letters from the
noble, loyal, and gracious people he had never known. Letters from the
heroic and great-hearted friends that he had never had. Letters from the
faithful kinsmen, neighbours, schoolmates who had all forgotten him.

Well, he had them now--all of them--and he had not foreseen it.

He sat there in his room and read them, numb in the city's roar. Two
shafts of light sank through the windows to the floor. Outside, the cat
crept trembling at his merciless stride along the ridges of the back-yard
fence.

Anonymous, in pencil, on a sheet of ruled tablet paper:

"Well author old lady Flood went away to Florida yestiddy after a
so-called _litterary_ book arrived from a so-called author that she
thought she knew. Oh God how can you have this crime upon your soal. I
left your pore dere aunt Maggie lying on her back in bed white as a sheet
where she will never rise again where you have put her with your murder
pen. Your dere friend Margaret Shepperton who was always like a sister to
you is ruined and disgraced for _life_ you have made her out no
better than a wanton woman. You have murdered and disgraced your friends
never come back _here_ you are the same as _dead_ to all of us
we never want to see your face again. I never believed in _linch_
law but if I saw a mob drag that _monkeyfied karkus_ of yours across
the Public Square I would not say a _word_. How can you sleep at
night with this crime upon your soal. Destroy this _vile_ and
_dirty_ book at once let no more copies be published the crime that
you have done is worse than Cain."

On a postcard, sealed in an envelope:

"We'll kill you if you ever come back here. You know who."

From an old friend:

"My dear boy,

"What is there to say? It has come, it is here, it has happened--and
now I can only say, as that good woman who brought you up and now lies
dead and buried on the hill would have said: '0 God! If I had only
known!' For weeks I have waited for nothing else except the moment when
your book should come and I should have it in my hands. Well, it has come
now. And what is there to say?

"You have crucified your family in a way that would make the agony of
Christ upon the Cross seem light in the comparison. You have laid waste
the lives of your kinsmen, and of dozens of your friends, and to us who
loved you like our own you have driven a dagger to the heart, and twisted
it, and left it fixed there where it must always stay."

From a sly and hearty fellow who thought he understood:

"...if I had known you were going to write this kind of book, I could
have told you lots of things. Why didn't you come to me? I know dirt
about the people in this town you never dreamed of."

Letters like this last one hurt him worst of all. They were the ones that
made him most doubt his purpose and accomplishment. What did such people
think he had been trying to write--nothing but an encyclopaedia of
pornography, a kind of prurient excavation of every buried skeleton in
town? He saw that his book had unreefed whole shoals of unsuspected
bitterness and malice in the town and set evil tongues to wagging. The
people he had drawn upon to make the characters in his book writhed like
hooked fish on a line, and the others licked their lips to see them
squirm.

Those who were the victims of all this unleashed malice now struck back,
almost to a man, at the hapless author--at him whom they considered to be
the sole cause of their woe. Day after day their letters came, and with a
perverse satisfaction in his own suffering, a desire to take upon himself
now all the searing shame that he had so naively and so unwittingly
brought to others, he read and re-read every bitter word of every bitter
letter, and his senses and his heart were numb.

They said at first that he was a monster against life, that he had fouled
his own nest. Then they said he had turned against the South, his mother,
and spat upon her and defiled her. Then they levelled against him the
most withering charge they could think of, and said he was "not
Southern". Some of them even began to say that he was "not American".
This was really rather hard on him, George thought with a wry, grim
humour, for if he was not American, he was not anything at all.

And during those nightmarish first weeks following the publication of his
book, only two rays of warmth and comforting assurance came to him from
anyone he knew.

One was a letter from Randy Shepperton. As a boy, and later as a student
at college, Randy had possessed a spirit that always burned with the
quick, pure flame of a Mercutio. And now, in spite of what life had done
to him--the evidence of which George had seen in his troubled eyes and
deeply furrowed face--his letter showed that he was still essentially the
same old Randy. What he wrote was full of understanding about the book;
he saw its purpose clearly, and he gave, George thought, a shrewd
appraisal of its accomplishment and its weaknesses; and he ended with a
generous burst of pride and honest pleasure in the thing itself. Not a
word about personalities, not a breath of all the gossip in the town, not
even a hint that he had recognised himself among the portraits George had
drawn.

The other ray of comfort was of quite another kind. One day the telephone
rang, and it was Nebraska Crane howling his friendship over the wire:

"Hi, there, Monkus! That you? How you makin' out, boy?"

"Oh, all right, I guess," George answered, in a tone of resignation which
he could not conceal even in the pleasure that he felt at hearing the
hearty ring of the familiar voice.

"You sound sorta down in the mouth," said Nebraska, full of immediate
concern. "What's the matter? Ain't nothin' wrong with you, is there?"

"Oh, no. No. It's nothing. Forget it." Then, shaking off the mood that
had been with him for days, he began to respond with something of the
warmth he felt for his old friend. "God, I'm glad to hear from you, Bras!
I can't tell you how glad I am! How are you, Bras?"

"Oh, cain't complain," he shouted lustily. "I think maybe they're gonna
give me a contrack for one more year. Looks like it, anyways. If they do,
we'll be all set."

"That's swell, Bras! That's wonderful!...And how is Myrtle?"

"Fine! Fine!...Say"--he howled--"she's here now! She's the one put me up
to callin' you. I never woulda thought of it. You know _me!_...We
been readin' all about you--about that book you wrote. Myrtle's been
tellin' me about it. She's cut out all the pieces from the papers...That
sure went over big, didn't it?"

"It's doing pretty well, I suppose," said George without enthusiasm. "It
seems to be selling all right, if that's what you mean."

"Well, now, I knowed it!" said Nebraska. "Me an' Myrtle bought a copy...I
ain't read it yet," he added apologetically.

"You don't have to."

"I'm _goin'_ to, I'm _goin'_ to," he howled vigorously. "Just
as soon as I git time."

"You're a damned liar!" George said good-naturedly. "You know you never
will!"

"Why, I _will!_" Nebraska solemnly declared. "I'm just waitin' till
I git a chance to settle down...Boy, you shore do write 'em long, don't
you?"

"Yes, it _is_ pretty long."

"Longest darn book I ever seen!" Nebraska yelled enthusiastically. "Makes
me tard just to tote it roun'!"

"Well, it made me tired to write it."

"Dogged if I don't believe you! I don't see how you ever thought up all
them words...But I'm gonna read it!...Some of the boys on the Club know
about it already. Jeffertz was talkin' to me about it the other day."

"Who?"

"Jeffertz--Matt Jeffertz, the ketcher."

"Has _he_ read it?"

"Naw, he ain't read it yet, but his wife has. She's a big book-reader an'
she knows all about you. They knowed I knowed you, an' that's how come he
tells me--"

"Tells you what?" George broke in with a feeling of sudden panic.

"Why, that you got _me_ in there!" he yelled. "Is that right!"
George reddened and began to stammer:

"Well, Bras, you see----"

"Well, that's what Matt's wife said!" Nebraska shouted at the top of his
lungs, without waiting for an answer. "Said I'm in there so's anyone
would know me!...What'd you say about me, Monk? You sure it's me?"

"Well--you see, now, Bras--it was like this----"

"What's eatin' on you, boy? It _is_ me, ain't it?...Well, what d'you
know?" he yelled with evident amazement and delight. "Ole Bras right
there in the book!" His voice grew low and more excited as, evidently
turning to Myrtle, he said: "It's _me_, all right!" Then, to George
again: "Say, Monk"--solemnly--"you shore do make me feel mighty proud!
That's what I called you up to tell you."



23. The Lion Hunters


In New York his book got a somewhat better reception than it 'enjoyed
back home. The author was unknown. Nobody had any advance reason to care
about what he had written one way or another. Though this was not exactly
an asset, at least it gave the book a chance to be considered on its
merits.

Surprisingly enough, it got pretty good reviews in most of the leading
newspapers and magazines. That is, they were the kind of reviews that his
publisher called "good". They said nice things about the book and made
people want to buy it. George himself could have wished that some of the
reviewing gentry, even some of those who hailed him as "a discovery" and
studded their sentences with superlatives, had been a little more
discriminating in what they said of him. Occasionally he could have asked
for a little more insight into what he had been driving at. But after
reading the letters from his former friends and neighbours he was in no
mood to quarrel with anybody who felt disposed to speak him a soft and
gentle word, and on the whole he had every reason to be well pleased with
his press.

He read the notices avidly, feverishly, and sooner or later he must have
seen them all, for his publisher showed him the clippings as they came in
from every section of the country. He would take great bunches of them
home to devour. When his eager eye ran upon a word of praise it was like
magic to him, and he would stride about his room in a delirium of joy.
When he read a savage, harsh, unfavourable review, he felt crushed: even
though it came from some little rural paper in the South, his fingers
would tremble, his face turn pale, and he would wad it up in his hand and
curse it bitterly.

Whenever a notice of his work appeared in one of the best magazines or
weekly journals, he could hardly bring himself to read it; neither could
he go away from it and leave it unread. He would approach it as a man
creeps stealthily to pick a snake up by the tail, his heart leaping at
the sight of his name. He would scan the last line first, then with a
rush of blood to his face he would plunge into it at once, devouring the
whole of it as quickly as he could. And if he saw that it was going to be
"good", a feeling of such powerful joy and exultancy would well up in his
throat that he would want to shout his triumph from the windows. If he
saw that the verdict was going to be "thumbs down", he would read on with
agonised fascination, and his despair would be so great that he would
feel he was done for, that he had been exposed to the world as a fool and
a failure, and that he would never be able to write another line.

After the more important reviews appeared, his mail gradually took on a
different complexion. Not that the flood of damning letters from home had
ceased, but now, along with them, began to come messages of another kind,
from utter strangers who had read his novel and liked it. The book was
doing pretty well, it seemed. 'It even appeared on some of the
best-seller lists, and then things really began to happen. Soon his box
was stuffed with fan mail, and the telephone jingled merrily all day long
with invitations from wealthy and cultivated people who wanted him for
lunch, for tea, for dinner, for theatre parties, for week-ends in the
country--for anything at all if he would only come.

Was this Fame at last? It looked so, and in the first flush of his eager
belief he almost forgot about Libya Hill and rushed headlong into the
welcoming arms of people he had never seen before. He accepted
invitations right and left, and they kept him pretty busy. And each time
he went out it seemed to him that he was on the very point of capturing
all the gold and magic he had ever dreamed of finding, and that now he
was really going to take a place of honour among the great ones of the
city, in a life more fortunate and good than any he had ever known. He
went to each encounter with each new friend as though some wonderful and
intoxicating happiness were impending for him.

But he never found it. For, in spite of all the years he had lived in New
York, he was still a country boy, and he did not know about the lion
hunters. They are a peculiar race of people who inhabit the upper jungles
of Cosmopolis and subsist entirely on some rarefied and ambrosial
ectoplasm that seems to emanate from the arts. They love art dearly--in
fact, they dote on it--and they love the artists even more. So they spend
their whole lives running after them, and their favourite sport is
trapping literary lions. The more intrepid hunters go after nothing but
the full-grown lions, who make the most splendid trophies for exhibition
purposes, but others--especially the lady hunters--would rather bag a
cub. A cub, once tamed and housebroken, makes a nice pet--much nicer than
a lap dog--because there's just no limit to the beguiling tricks a gentle
hand can teach him.

For a few weeks George was quite the fair-haired boy among these wealthy
and cultivated people.

One of his new-found friends told him about an aesthetic and high-minded
millionaire who was panting with eagerness to meet him. From others came
further confirmation of the fact.

"The man is mad about your work," people would say to him. "He's crazy to
meet you. And you ought to go to see him, because a man like that might
be of great help to you."

They told George that this man had asked all kinds of questions about
him, and had learned that he was very poor and had to work for a small
salary as an instructor in the School for Utility Cultures. When the
millionaire heard this, his great heart began to bleed for the young
author immediately. It was intolerable, he said, that such a state of
affairs should exist. America was the only country in the world where it
would be permitted. Anywhere in Europe--yes, even in poor little
Austria!--the artist would be subsidised, the ugly threat of poverty that
hung over him would be removed, his best energies would be released to do
his finest work--and, by God, he was going to see that this was done for
George!

George had never expected anything like this to happen, and he could not
see why such a thing should be done for any man. Nevertheless, when he
thought of this great-hearted millionaire, he burned with eagerness to
meet him and began to love him like a brother.

So a meeting was arranged, and George went to see him, and the man was
very fine to him. The millionaire had George to his house for dinner
several times and showed him off to all of his rich friends. And one
lovely woman to whom the millionaire introduced the poor young author
took him home with her that very night and granted him the highest favour
in her keeping.

Then the millionaire had to go abroad on brief but urgent business.
George went to the boat to see him off, and his friend shook him
affectionately by the shoulder, called him by his first name, and told
him that if there was anything he wanted, just to let him know by cable
and he would see that it was done. He said he would be back within a
month at most, and would be so busy that he wouldn't have time to write,
but he would get in touch with George again as soon as he returned. With
this he wrung George by the hand and sailed away.

A month, six weeks, two months went by, and George heard nothing from the
man. It was well into the new year before he saw him again, and then by
accident.

A young lady had invited George to have lunch with her at an expensive
speak-easy. As soon as they entered the place George saw his millionaire
friend sitting alone at one of the tables. Immediately George uttered a
cry of joy and started across the room to meet him with his hand
outstretched, and in such precipitate haste that he fell sprawling across
an intervening table and two chairs. When he picked himself up from the
floor, the man had drawn back with an expression of surprise and
perplexity on his face, but he unbent sufficiently to take the young
man's proffered hand and to say coolly, in an amused and tolerant voice:

"Ah--it's our writer friend again? How are you?"

The young man's crestfallen confusion and embarrassment were so evident
that the rich man's heart was quite touched. His distant manner thawed
out instantly, and now nothing would do but that George should bring the
young lady over to the millionaire's table so that they could all have
lunch together.

During the course of the meal the man became very friendly and attentive.
It seemed he just couldn't do enough for George. He kept helping him to
various dishes and filling his glass with more wine. And whenever George
turned to him he would find the man looking at him with an expression of
such obvious sympathy and commiseration that finally he felt compelled to
ask him what the trouble was.

"Ah," he said, shaking his head with a doleful sigh, "I was mighty sorry
when I read about it."

"Read about what?"

"Why," he said, "the prize."

"What prize?"

"But didn't you read about it in the paper? Didn't you see what
happened?"

"I don't know what you are talking about," said George, puzzled. "What
did happen?"

"Why," he said, "you didn't get it."

"Didn't get what?"

"The prize!" he cried--"the prize!"--mentioning a literary prize that was
awarded every year. "I thought you would be sure to get it, but"--he
paused a moment, then went on sorrowfully--"they gave it to another
man...You got mentioned...you were runner-up...but"--he shook his head
gloomily--"you didn't get it."

So much for his gocd friend, the millionaire. George never saw him again
after that. And yet, let no one say that he was ever bitter.

Then there was Dorothy.

Dorothy belonged to that fabulous and romantic upper crust of New York
"Society" which sleeps by day and begins to come awake at sunset and
never seems to have any existence at all outside of the better-known hot
spots of the town. She had been expensively educated for a life of
fashion, she had won a reputation in her set for being quite an
intellectual because she had been known to read a book, and so, of
course, when George Webber's novel was listed as a best seller she bought
it and left it lying around in prominent places in her apartment. Then
she wrote the author a scented note, asking him to come and have a
cocktail with her. He did, and at her urging he went back to see her
again and again.

Dorothy was no longer as young as she had been, but she was well built,
had kept her figure and her face, and was not a bad-looking wench. She
had never married, and apparently felt she did not need to, for it was
freely whispered about that she seldom slept alone. One heard that she
had bestowed her favours not only upon all the gentlemen of her own set,
but also upon such casual gallants as the milkmen on her family's estate,
stray taxi-drivers, writers of da-da, professional bicycle riders,
wasteland poets, and plug-ugly bruisers with flat feet and celluloid
collars. So George had expected their friendship to come quickly to its
full flower, and he was quite surprised and disappointed when nothing
happened.

His evenings with Dorothy turned out to be quiet and serious
_tête-à-têtes_ devoted to highly intellectual conversation. Dorothy
remained as chaste as a nun, and George began to wonder whether she had
not been grossly maligned by evil tongues. He found her intellectual
and aesthetic interests rather on the dull side, and was several times on
the point of giving her up in sheer boredom. But always she would pursue
him, sending him notes and letters written in a microscopic hand on paper
edged with red, and he would go back again, partly out of curiosity and a
desire to find out what it was the woman was after.

He found out. Dorothy asked him to dine with her one night at a
fashionable restaurant, and on this occasion she brought along her
current sleeping companion, a young Cuban with patent-leather hair.
George sat at the table between them. And while the Cuban gave his
undivided attention to the food before him, Dorothy began to talk to
George, and he learned to his chagrin that she had picked him out of all
the world to be the victim of her only sacred passion.

"I love you, Jawge," she leaned over and whispered loudly in her rather
whiskified voice. "I love you--but mah love for you is pewer!" She looked
at him with a soulful expression. "_You_, Jawge--I love you for
your _maind_," she rumbled on, "for your _spirit!_ But Miguel!
Miguel!"--here her eyes roved over the Cuban as he sat tucking the food
away with both hands--"Miguel--I love him for his _bawd-y_! He has
no maind, but he has a fa-ine bawd-y," she whispered lustfully, "a fa-ine
beaut-iful bawd-y--so slim--so boyish--so _La-tin_!"

She was silent for a moment, and when she went on it was in a tone of
foreboding:

"I wantcha to come with us to-naight, Jawge!" she said abruptly. "I don't
know what is going to happen," she said ominously, "and I wantcha
_nee-ah_ me."

"But what is going to happen, Dorothy?"

"I don't know," she muttered. "I just don't know. Anything might
happen!...Why, last night I thought that he was _gone!_ We had a
fight and he walked out on me! These La-tins are so _proud_, so
_sen-sitive!_ He caught me looking at another man, and he got up and
left me flat!...If he left me I don't know what I'd do, Jawge," she
panted. "I think I'd _die!_ I think I'd _kill_ myself!"

Her eye rested broodingly upon her lover, who at this moment was bending
forward with bared teeth towards the tines of his uplifted fork on which
a large and toothsome morsel of broiled chicken was impaled. Feeling
their eyes upon him, he looked up with his fork poised in mid-air, smiled
with satisfaction, then seized the bit of chicken in his jaws, took a
drink to wash it down, and wiped his moist lips with a napkin. After that
he elegantly lifted one hand to shield his mouth, inserted a finger-nail
between his teeth, detached a fragment of his victuals, and daintily
ejected it upon the floor, while his lady's fond eye doted on him. Then
he picked up the fork again and resumed his delightful gastronomic
labours.

"I shouldn't worry about it, Dorothy," George said to her. "I don't think
he's going to leave you for some time."

"I should _die!_" she muttered. "I really think that it would
_kill_ me!...Jawge, you've _got_ to come with us to-naight!
I just wantcha to be _nee-ah_ me! I feel so safe--so _secure_--when
you're around! You're so _sawlid_, Jawge--so _comfawtin_'!" she
said. "I wantcha to be theah to _tawk_ to me--to hold mah hand
and _comfawt_ me--if anything should happen," she said, at the
same time putting her hand on his and squeezing it.

But George did not go with her that night, nor any night thereafter. This
was the last he saw of Dorothy. But surely none can say that he was ever
bitter.

Again, there was the rich and beautiful young widow whose husband had
died just a short time before, and who mentioned this sad fact in the
moving and poignantly understanding letter she wrote to George about his
book. Naturally, he accepted her kind invitation to drop in for tea. And
almost at once the lovely creature offered to make the supreme sacrifice,
first beginning with an intimate conversation about poetry, then looking
distressed and saying it was very hot in here and did he mind if she took
off her dress, then taking it off, and everything else as well, until she
stood there as God made her, then getting into bed and casting the mop of
her flaming red hair about on the pillow, rolling her eyes in frenzied
grief, and crying out in stricken tones: "0 Algernon! Algernon!
Algernon!"--which was the name of her departed husband.

"0 Algernon!" she cried, rolling about in grief and shaking her great mop
of flaming hair--"Algie, darling, I am doing it for you! Algie, come back
to me! Algie, I love you so! My pain is more than I can bear!
Algernon!--No, no, poor boy!" she cried, seizing George by the arm as he
started to crawl out of bed, because, to tell the truth, he did not know
whether she had gone mad or was playing some wicked joke on him. "Don't
go!" she whispered tenderly, clinging to his arm. "You just don't
understand! I want to be so good to you--but everything I do or think or
feel is Algernon, Algernon, Algernon!"

She explained that her _heart_ was buried in her husband's grave,
that she was really "a dead woman" (she had already told him she was a
great reader of psychologies), and that the act of love was just an act
of devotion to dear old Algie, an effort to be with him again and to be
"a part of all this beauty."

It was very fine and high and rare, and surely no one will think that
George would sneer at a beautiful emotion, although it was too fine for
him to understand. Therefore he went away, and never saw this lovely and
sorrowful widow any more. He knew he was not fine enough. And yet, not
for a moment should you think that he was ever bitter.

Finally, there was another girl who came into George Webber's life during
this period of his brief glory, and her he understood. She was a
beautiful and brave young woman, country-bred, and she had a good job,
and a little apartment from which you could see the East River, the
bridges, and all the busy traffic of the tugs and barges. She was not too
rare and high for him, although she liked to take a part in serious
conversations, to know worth-while people with liberal minds, and to keep
up her interest in new schools and modern methods for the children.
George became quite fond of her, and would stay all night and go away at
daybreak when the streets were empty, and the great buildings went
soaring up haggardly, incredibly, as if he were the first man to discover
them, in the pale, pure, silent light of dawn.

He loved her well; and one night, after a long silence, she put her arms
round him, drew him down beside her, and kissed him, whispering:

"Will you do something for me if I ask you to?"

"Darling, anything!" he said. "Anything you ask me, if I can!" She held
him pressed against her for a moment in the dark and living silence.

"I want you to use your influence to get me into the Cosmopolis Club,"
she whispered passionately----

And then dawn came, and the stars fell.

This was the last he saw of the great world of art, of fashion, and of
letters.

And if it seems to anyone a shameful thing that I have written thus of
shameful things and shameful people, then I am sorry for it. My only
object is to set down here the truthful record of George Webber's life,
and he, I feel quite sure, would be the last person in the world to wish
me to suppress any chapter of it. So I do not think that I have written
shamefully.

The only shame George Webber felt was that at one time in his life, for
however short a period, he broke bread and sat at the same table with any
man when the living warmth of friendship was not there; or that he ever
traded upon the toil of his brain and the blood of his heart to get the
body of a scented whore that might have been better got in a brothel for
some greasy coins. This was the only shame he felt. And this shame was so
great in him that he wondered if all his life thereafter would be long
enough to wash out of his brain and blood the last pollution of its
loathsome taint.

And yet, he would not have it thought that he was bitter.



24. Man-Creating and Man-Alive


It must be abundantly clear by now that George Webber was never bitter.
What cause had he for bitterness? When he fled from the lion hunters he
could always go back to the loneliness of his dismal two-room flat in
Twelfth Street, and that is what he did. Also, he still had the letters
from his friends in Libya Hill. They had not forgotten him. For four
months and more after the publication of his hook they continued to write
him, and all of them took pains to let him know exactly what place he
held in their affections.

Throughout this time George heard regularly from Randy Shepperton. Randy
was the only one that George had left to talk to, so George, in answering
Randy, unburdened himself of everything he t bought and felt. Everything,
that is, except upon a single topic--the rancour of his fellow-townsmen
against the author who had exposed them naked to the world. Neither of
the friends had ever mentioned it. Randy had set the pattern for evasion
in his first letter, feeling that it was better to ignore the ugly gossip
altogether and to let it die down and be forgotten. As for George, he had
been too overwhelmed by it, too sunk and engulfed in it, to be able to
speak of it at first. So they had chiefly confined themselves to the book
itself, exchanging their thoughts and afterthoughts about it, with
comments on what the various critics had said and left unsaid.

But by early March of the new year the flow of damning mail was past its
flood and was thinning to a trickle, and one day Randy received from
George the letter that he feared would have to come:

"I have spent most of my time this past week," George wrote "reading and
re-reading all the letters that my erstwhile friends and neighbours have
written me since the book came out. And now that the balloting is almost
over and most of the vote is in, the result is startling and a little
confusing. I have been variously compared to Judas Iscariot, Benedict
Arnold, and Caesar's Brutus. I have been likened to the bird that fouls
its own nest, to a viper that an innocent populace had long nurtured in
its bosom, to a carrion crow preying upon the blood and bones of his
relatives and friends, and to an unnatural ghoul to whom nothing is
sacred, not even the tombs of the honoured dead. I have been called a
vulture, a skunk, a hog, deliberately and lustfully wallowing in the
mire, a defiler of pure womanhood, a rattlesnake, a jackass, an
alley-cat, and a baboon. Although my imagination has been strained trying
to conceive of a creature who combined in himself all of these
interesting traits--it would be worth any novelist's time to meet such a
chap!--there have been moments when I have felt that maybe my accusers
are right..."

Behind this semblance of facetiousness, Randy could see that he was
sincerely disturbed, and, knowing the capacity of George's soul for
self-torture, he could pretty well imagine how deep and sore the extent
of his full suffering might be. He revealed it almost immediately:

"Great God! What is it I have done? Sometimes I am overwhelmed by a sense
of horrible and irrevocable guilt! Never before have I realised as I have
this past week how terrible and great may be the distance between the
Artist and the Man.

"As the artist, I can survey my work with a clear conscience. I have the
regrets and dissatisfactions that every writer ought to have: the book
should have been better, it failed to measure up to what I wanted for it.
But I am not ashamed of it. I feel that I wrote it as I did because of an
inner necessity, that I _had_ to do it, and that by doing it I was
loyal to the only thing in me which is worth anything.

"So speaks Man-Creating. Then, instantly, it all changes, and from
Man-Creating I become simply Man-Alive--a member of society, a friend and
neighbour, a son and brother of the human race. And when I look at what I
have done from this point of view, suddenly I feel lower than a dog. I
see all the pain and anguish I have caused to people that I know, and I
wonder how I could have done it, and how there could possibly be any
justification for it--yes, even if what I wrote had been as great as
_Lear_, as eloquent as _Hamlet_.

"Believe me--incredible as it may sound--when I tell you that during
these weeks I have even derived a kind of grotesque and horrible pleasure
from reading those letters which simply abused, cursed, or threatened me.
There is, I found, a bitter relief in having someone curse me with every
foul name he can think of or invent, or tell me he will put a bullet
through my brain if I ever set foot in the streets of Libya Hill again.
At any rate, I feel that the poor devil got some satisfaction out of
writing it.

"But the letters that drive the blade into my heart and twist it round
are those which neither curse nor threaten--the letters written by
stunned and stricken people who never did me any wrong, whose whole
feeling towards me was one of kindly good will and belief, who did not
know me _as I am_, and who write me now straight out of the
suffering heart of man, with their spirits quivering, stripped, whipped
by naked shame, to ask me over and over again in their bewilderment that
terrible and insistent question: 'Why did you do it? Why? Why? Why?'

"And as I read their letters I no longer know why. I can't answer them.
As Man-Creating, I thought I knew, and thought, too, that the answer was
all-sufficient. I wrote about them with blunt directness, trying to put
in every relevant detail and circumstance, and I did it because I thought
it would be cowardly not to write that way, false to withhold or modify.
I thought that the Thing Itself was its own and valid reason for being.

"But now that it is done, I am no longer sure of anything. I am troubled
by the most maddening doubts and impossible regrets. I have moments when
I feel that I would give my life if I could _un-write_ my book,
_un-print_ its pages. For what has it accomplished, apparently,
except to ruin my relatives, my friends, and everyone in town whose life
was ever linked with mine? And what is there for me to salvage out of all
this wreckage?

"'The integrity of the artist,' you may say.

"Ah, yes--if I could only soothe my conscience with that solacement! For
what integrity is there that is not tainted with human frailty? If only
I could tell myself that every word and phrase and incident in the book
had been created at the top of my bent and with the impartial judgment
of unrancorous detachment! But I know it is not true. So many words
come back to me, so many whip-lash phrases, that must have been
written in a spirit that had nothing to do with art or my integrity. We
are such stuff as dust is made of, and where we fail--we fail! Is there,
then, no such thing as a pure spirit in creation?

"In all the whole wretched experience there is also a grim and horrible
humour. It is insanely comical to find in almost all these letters that I
am being cursed for doing things I did not do and for saying things I did
not say. It is even more ludicrous to hear myself grudgingly praised for
having the one thing that I have not got. Few of these letters--even
those which threaten hanging, and those which deny me the remotest scrap
of talent (except a genius for obscenity)--fail to commend me for what
their writers call 'my memory'. Some of them accuse me of sneaking round
as a little boy of eight with my pockets stuffed with notebooks, my ears
fairly sprouting from my head and my eyes popping out, in my effort to
spy upon and snatch up every word and act and phrase among my virtuous
and unsuspecting fellow-townsmen.

"'It's the dirtiest book I ever read,' one citizen cogently remarks, 'but
I'll have to give you credit for one thing--you've got a wonderful
memory.'

"And that is just exactly what I have _not_ got. I have to see a
thing a _thousand times_ before I see it once. This thing they call
my memory, this thing they think they can themselves remember, is nothing
that they ever saw. It is rather something that _I_ saw after
looking at the thing a thousand times, and this is what they _think_
they can remember."

Randy paused in his reading of the letter, for he suddenly realised that
what George said was literally true. In the weeks since the book was
published, he himself had seen it proved over and over again.

He knew that there was scarcely a detail in George's book that was
precisely true to fact, that there was hardly a page in which everything
had not been transmuted and transformed by the combining powers of
George's imagination; yet readers got from it such an instant sense of
reality that many of them were willing to swear that the thing described
had been not only "drawn from life", but was the actual and recorded
fact. And that was precisely what had made the outcry and denunciation so
furious.

But not only that. It was funny enough to hear people talking and arguing
with each other out of a savage conviction that scenes and incidents in
the book were literally true because they may have had some basis in
remembered fact. It was even more grotesque to hear them testify, as some
of them now did, that they had been witnesses to events which he knew to
be utter fabrications of the author's imagination.

"Why," they cried, when final proof of anything was wanted, "he's got it
all in! He's written it all down, just the way it happened! Nothing's
changed a bit! Look at the Square!"

They always came back to the Square, for the Square had occupied a
prominent place in _Home to Our Mountains_. George had pictured it
with such intensity of vision that almost every brick and windowpane and
cobblestone became imprinted on the reader's mind. But what was this
Square? Was it the town Square of Libya Hill? Everybody said it was.
Hadn't the local newspaper set it down in black and white that "our
native chronicler has described the Square with a photographic eye"? Then
people had read the book for themselves and had agreed.

So it was useless to argue with them--useless to point out to them how
Webber's Square differed from their own, unless to mention a hundred
items of variation. They had been pitiful in their anger when t hey first
discovered that art had imitated life; now they were ludicrous in their
ignorance that life was also imitating art.

With a smile and a shake of the head, Randy turned back to the letter:

"In God's name, what _have_ I done?" George concluded. "Have I
really acted according to some inner truth and real necessity, or did my
unhappy mother conceive and give birth to a perverse monster who has
defiled the dead and betrayed his family, kinsmen, neighbours, and the
human race? What should I have done? What ought I to do now? If there is
any help or answer in you, for Christ's sake let me have it. I feel like
a dead leaf in a hurricane. I don't know where to turn. You alone can
help me. Stay with me--write me--tell me what you think.

"Yours ever,

"GEORGE."

George's suffering had been so palpable in every sentence of his letter
that Randy had winced in reading it. He had felt the naked anguish of his
friend's raw wound almost as if it had been his own. But he knew that
neither he nor any other man could give the help answer that George
sought. He would have to find it somehow in himself. That was the only
way he had ever been able to learn anything.

So when Randy drafted his reply he deliberately made his letter as casual
as he could. He did not want to let it seem that he attached too much
importance to the town's reaction. He said that he did not know what he
would do if he were George, since he was not a writer, but that he had
always supposed a writer had to write about the life he knew. To cheer
George up, he added that the people of Libya Hill reminded him of
children who had not yet been told the facts of life. They still
believed, apparently, in the stork. Only people who knew nothing about
the world's literature could be surprised or shocked to learn where every
good book came from.

And then, in a kind of mild parenthesis, he said that Tim Wagner, the
town's most celebrated souse, noted for his wit in his rare intervals of
sobriety, had been a warm supporter of the book from the beginning, but
had made one reservation: "Why, hell! If George wants to write about a
horse-thief, that's all right. Only the next time I hope he don't give
his street address. And there ain't no use in throwing in his telephone
number, too."

Randy knew this would amuse George, and it did. In fact, George told him
later that it was the most sound and valuable critical advice that he had
ever had.

Randy ended his letter by assuring George that even if he was a writer,
he still considered him a member of the human race. And he added, in what
he hoped would be a comforting postscript, that there were other angry
mutterings abroad. He had heard a rumour, whispered by one of the
town's leading business men with a great air of hush-hush and
please-don't-breathe-a-word-of-this-to-anyone, that Mr. Jarvis Riggs, the
president of Libya Hill's largest bank and past hero of infallibilities,
was tottering on the brink of ruin.

"So you see," Randy concluded, "if that godly gentleman is capable of
imperfection, there may still be hope of pardon even in creatures as vile
as you."



25. The Catastrophe


A day or two after receiving Randy's reply, George was reading the _New
York Times_ one morning when his eye was caught by a small news item
on an inside page. It occupied only a scant two inches or so at the
bottom of a column, but the Libya Hill date line leaped out at him:

BANK FAILS IN SOUTH

LIBYA HILL, 0. C., Mar. 12--The Citizens Trust Company of this city
failed to open its doors for business this morning, and throughout the
day, as news of its closing spread, conditions of near-panic mounted
steadily here and in all the surrounding region. The bank was one of the
largest in western Old Catawba and for years had been generally regarded
as a model of conservative management and financial strength. The cause
of its failure is not yet known. It is feared that the losses of the
people of this community may be extensive.

The alarm occasioned by the closing of the bank was heightened later in
the day by the discovery of the sudden and rather mysterious death of
Mayor Baxter Kennedy. His body was found with a bullet through his head,
and all the available evidence seems to point to suicide. Mayor Kennedy
was a man of exceptionally genial and cheerful disposition, and is said
to have had no enemies.

Whether there is any connection between the two events which have so
profoundly disturbed the accustomed calm of this mountain district is not
known, although their close coincidence has given rise to much excited
conjecture.

"So," thought George, laying down the paper with a stunned and thoughtful
air, "it has come at last!...What was it that Judge Rumford Bland had
said to them?"

The whole scene in the Pullman wash-room came back to him. He saw again
the stark and speechless terror in the faces of Libya Hill's leaders and
rulers as the frail but terrible old blind man suddenly confronted them
and held them with his sightless eyes and openly accused them of ruining
the town. As George remembered this and sat there thinking about the news
he had just read, he felt quite sure there must be some direct relation
between the failure of the bank and the Mayor's suicide.

* * * * *

There was, indeed. Things had been building up to this double climax for
a long time.

Jarvis Riggs, the banker, had come from a poor but thoroughly respectable
family in the town. When he was fifteen his father died and he had to
quit school and go to work to support his mother. He held a succession of
small jobs until, at eighteen, he was offered a modest but steady
position in the Merchants National Bank.

He was a bright young fellow and a "hustler", and step by step he worked
his way up until he became a teller. Mark Joyner kept a deposit at the
Merchants National and used to come home and talk about Jarvis Riggs. In
those days he had none of the brittle manner and pompous assurance that
were to characterise him later, after he had risen to greatness. His
hair, which was afterwards to turn a dead and lifeless sandy colour, had
glints of gold in it then, his cheeks were full and rosy, he had a bright
and smiling face, and it was always briskly and cheerfully--"Good
morning, Mr. Joyner!" or "Good morning, Mr. Shepperton!"--when a customer
came in. He was friendly, helpful, courteous, eager to please, and withal
businesslike and knowing. He also dressed neatly and was known to be
supporting his mother. All these things made people like him and respect
him. They wanted to see him succeed. For Jarvis Riggs was a living
vindication of an American legend--that of the poor boy who profits from
the hardships of his early life and "makes good". People would nod
knowingly to one another and say of him:

"That young man has his feet on the ground."

"Yes," they would say, "he's _going_ somewhere."

So when, along about 1912, the word began to go round that a small group
of conservative business men were talking of starting a new bank, and
that Jarvis Riggs was going to be its cashier, the feeling was most
favourable. The backers explained that they were not going to compete
with the established banks. It was simply their feeling that a growing
town like Libya Hill, with its steady increase in population and in its
business interests, could use another bank. And the new bank, one
gathered, was to be conducted according to the most eminently approved
principles of sound finance. But it was to be a progressive bank, too,
forward-looking bank, mindful of the future, the great, golden,
magnificent future that Libya Hill was sure to have--that it was even
heresy to doubt. In this way it was also to be a young man's bank. And
this was where Jarvis Riggs came in.

It is not too much to say that the greatest asset the new enterprise had
from the beginning was Jarvis Riggs. He had played his cards well. He had
offended no one, he had made no enemies, he had always remained modest,
friendly, and yet impersonal, as if not wishing to intrude himself too
much on the attention of men who stood for substance and authority in the
town's life. The general opinion was that he knew what he was doing. He
had learned about life in the highly-thought-of "university of hard
knocks", he had learned business and banking in "the hard school of
experience", so everybody felt that if Jarvis Riggs was going to be
cashier of the new bank, then the new bank was pretty sure to be all
right.

Jarvis himself went around town and sold stock in the bank. He had no
difficulty at all. He made it quite plain that he did not think anyone
was going to make a fortune. He simply sold the stock as a safe and sound
investment, and that was how everybody felt about it. The bank was
modestly capitalised at $25,000, and there were 250 shares at $100 each.
The sponsors, including Jarvis, took 100 shares between them, and the
remaining 150 shares were divided among "a selected group of leading
business men". As Jarvis said, the bank was really "a community project
whose first and only purpose is to serve the community", so no one was
allowed to acquire too large an interest.

This was the way the Citizens Trust Company got started. And in no time
at all, it seemed, Jarvis Riggs was advanced from cashier to
vice-president, and then to president. The poor boy had come into his
own.

In its early years the bank prospered modestly and conservatively. Its
growth was steady but not spectacular. After the United States entered
the war, it got its share of the nation's prosperity. But after the war,
in 1921, there was a temporary lull, a period of "adjustment". Then the
1920's began in earnest.

The only way to explain what happened then is to say that there was "a
feeling in the air". Everybody seemed to sense a prospect of quick and
easy money. There was thrilling and rapid expansion in all directions,
and it seemed that there were possibilities of wealth, luxury, and
economic power hitherto undreamed of just lying around waiting for anyone
who was bold enough to seize them.

Jarvis Riggs was no more insensible to these beckoning opportunities than
the next man. The time had come, he decided, to step out and show the
world what he could do. The Citizens Trust began to advertise itself as
"the fastest-growing bank in the state". But it did not advertise what it
was growing on.

That was the time when the political and business clique which dominated
the destinies of the town, and which had put amiable Baxter Kennedy in
the Mayor's office as its "front", began to focus its activities round
the bank. The town was burgeoning rapidly and pushing out into the
wilderness, people were confident of a golden future, no one gave a
second thought to the reckless increase in public borrowing. Bond issues
involving staggering sums were being constantly "floated" until the
credit structure of the town was built up into a teetering inverted
pyramid and the citizens of Libya Hill no longer owned the streets they
walked on. The proceeds of these enormous borrowings were deposited with
the bank. The bank, for its part, then returned these deposits to the
politicians, or to their business friends, supporters, allies, and
adherents--in the form of tremendous loans, made upon the most flimsy and
tenuous security, for purposes of private and personal speculation. In
this way "The Ring", as it was called, which had begun as an inner circle
of a few ambitious men, became in time a vast and complex web that wove
through the entire social structure of the town and involved the lives of
thousands of people. And all of it now centred in the bank.

But the weaving of this complicated web of frenzied finance and
speculation and special favours to "The Ring" could not go on for ever,
though there were many who thought it could. There had to come a time
when the internal strains and stresses became too great to sustain the
load, a time when there would be ominous preliminary tremors to give
warning of the crash that was to come. Just when this time arrived is
pretty hard to say. One can observe a soldier moving forward in a battle
and see him spin and tumble, and know the moment he is hit. But one
cannot observe so exactly the moment when a man has been shot down by
life.

So it was with the bank and with Jarvis Riggs. All that one can be sure
of is that their moment came. And it came long before the mighty roar of
tumbling stocks in Wall Street echoed throughout the nation. That event,
which had its repercussions in Libya Hill as elsewhere, was not the prime
cause of anything. What happened in Wall Street was only the initial
explosion which in the course of the next few years was to set off a
train of lesser explosions all over the land--explosions which at last
revealed beyond all further doubting and denial the hidden pockets of
lethal gases which a false, vicious, and putrescent scheme of things had
released beneath the surface of American life.

Long before the explosion came that was to blow _him_ sky-high, and
the whole town with him, Jarvis Riggs had felt the tremors in the thing
he had created, and he knew he was a doomed and ruined man. Before long
others knew it, too, and knew that they were ruined with him. But they
would not let themselves believe it. They did not dare. Instead, they
sought to exorcise the thing they feared by pretending it wasn't there.
Their speculations only grew madder, fiercer.

And then, somehow, the cheerful, easy-going Mayor found out what some of
those round him must have known for months. That was in the spring of
1928, two years before the failure of the bank. At that time he went to
Jarvis Riggs and told him what he knew, and then demanded to withdraw the
city's funds. The banker looked the frightened Mayor in the eye and
laughed at him.

"What are you afraid of, Baxter?" he said. "Are you showing the white
feather now that the pinch is on? You say you are going to withdraw the
deposits of the city? All right--withdraw them. But I warn you, if you do
the bank is ruined. It will have to close its doors to-morrow. And if it
closes its doors, where is your town? Your precious town is also ruined."

The Mayor looked at the banker with a white face and stricken eyes.
Jarvis Riggs leaned forward and his tones became more persuasive:

"Pull out your money if you like, and wreck your town. But why not play
along with us, Baxter? We're going to see this thing through." He was
smiling now, and wearing his most winning manner. "We're in a temporary
depression--yes. But six months from now we'll be out of the woods. I
know we will. We're coming back stronger than ever. You can't sell Libya
Hill short," he said, using a phrase that was in great vogue just then.
"We've not begun to see the progress we're going to make. But the
salvation and future of this town rests in your hands. So make up your
mind about it. What are you going to do?"

The Mayor made up his mind. Unhappy man.

Things drifted along. Time passed. The sands were running low.

By the autumn of 1929 there began to be a vague rumour going about that
all was not well at the Citizens Trust. George Webber had heard it
himself when he went home in September. But it was a nebulous thing, and
as often as not the person who whispered it fearfully would catch himself
and say:

"Oh, pshaw! There's nothing in it. There couldn't be! You know how people
talk."

But the rumour persisted through the winter, and by early March it had
become a disturbing and sinister contagion. No one could say where it
came from. It seemed to be distilled like a poison out of the mind and
heart and spirit of the whole town.

On the surface there was nothing to account for it. The Citizens Trust
maintained its usual appearance of solid substance, businesslike
efficiency, and Greek-templed sanctity. Its broad plate-glass windows
opening out upon the Square let in a flood of light, and the whole
atmosphere was one of utter clarity. The very breadth of those windows
seemed to proclaim to the world the complete openness and integrity of
the bank's purpose. They seemed to say:

"Here is the bank, and here are all the people in the bank, and all the
people in the bank are openly at work. Look, citizens, and see for
yourselves. You see there is nothing hidden here. The bank is Libya, and
Libya is the bank."

It was all so open that one did not have to go inside to know what was
going on. One could stand on the pavement outside and look in and see
everything. To the right were the tellers' cages, and to the left there
was a railed-off space in which the officers sat at their sumptuous
mahogany flat-topped desks. At the largest of these desks, just inside
the low enclosure, sat Jarvis Riggs himself. There he sat, talking
importantly and pompously, as though laying down the law, to one of his
customers. There he sat, briskly reading through the pile of papers on
his desk. There he sat, pausing in his work now and then to look up at
the ceiling in deep thought, or to lean back in his swivel-chair and
gently rock in meditation.

It was all just as it had always been.

Then it happened.

March 12, 1930 was a day that will be long remembered in the annals of
Libya Hill. The double tragedy set the stage as nothing else could have
done for the macabre weeks to follow.

If all the fire-bells in town had suddenly begun to ring out their alarm
at nine o'clock that morning, the news could not have spread more rapidly
that the Citizens Trust Company was closed. Word of it leapt from mouth
to mouth. And almost instantly, from every direction, white-faced men and
women came running towards the Square. There were housewives with their
aprons on, their hands still dripping dishwater; workmen and mechanics
with their warm tools in their hands; hatless business men and clerks;
young mothers carrying babies in their arms. Everyone in town, it seemed,
had dropped whatever he was doing and rushed out in the streets the
moment the news had reached him.

The Square itself was soon a seething mass of frenzied people.
Frantically, over and over, they asked each other the same questions: Was
it really true? How had it happened? How bad was it?

In front of the bank itself the crowd was quieter, more stunned. To this
spot, sooner or later, they all came, drawn by a common desperate hope
that they would yet be able to see with their own eyes that it was not
so. Like a sluggish current within that seething mass the queue moved
slowly past, and as the people saw those locked and darkened doors they
knew that all hope was gone. Some just stared with stricken faces, some
of the women moaned and wailed, from the eyes of strong men silent tears
coursed down, and from the mouths of others came the rumble of angry
mutterings.

For their ruin had caught up with them. Many of the people in that throng
had lost their life savings. But it was not only the bank's depositors
who were ruined. Everyone now knew that their boom was over. They knew
that the closing of the bank had frozen all their speculations just as
they were, beyond the possibility of extricating themselves. Yesterday
they could count their paper riches by ten thousands and by millions;
to-day they owned nothing, their wealth had vanished, and they were left
saddled with debts that they could never pay.

And they did not yet know that their city government was bankrupt,
too--that six million dollars of public money had been lost behind those
closed and silent doors.

It was a little before noon on that ill-omened day that Mayor Kennedy was
found dead. And, just to put the final touch of gruesome irony upon the
whole event, a blind man found him.

Judge Rumford Bland testified at the inquest that he left his front
office, upstairs in the ramshackle building that he owned there on the
Square, and went out in the hall, heading in the direction of the toilet,
where he proposed to perform an essential function of nature. It was dark
out there, he said with his ghostly smile, and the floors creaked, but
this didn't matter to him--he knew the way. He said he couldn't have lost
his way even if he had wanted to. At the end of the hall he could hear a
punctual drip of water, dropping with its slow, incessant monotone; and
besides, there was the pervasive smell of the tin urinal--all he had to
do was to follow his nose.

He arrived in darkness and pushed open the door, and suddenly his foot
touched something. He leaned over, his white, thin fingers groped down,
and all at once they were plunged--wet, warm, sticky reeking--into the
foundering mass of what just five minutes before had been the face and
brains of a living man.

--No, he hadn't heard the shot--there was all that infernal commotion out
in the Square.

--No, he had no idea how he had got there--walked it, he supposed--the
City Hall was only twenty yards away.

--No, he couldn't say why His Honour should have picked that spot to blow
his brains out--there was no accounting for tastes--but if a man wanted
to do it, that was probably as good a place as any.

So it was that weak, easy-going, procrastinating, good-natured Baxter
Kennedy, Mayor of Libya Hill, was found--all that was left of him--in
darkness, by an evil old blind man.

In the days and weeks that followed the closing of the bank, Libya Hill
presented a tragic spectacle the like of which had probably never before
been seen in America. But it was a spectacle that was to be repeated over
and over again, with local variations, in many another town and city
within the next few years.

The ruin of Libya Hill was much more than the ruin of the bank and the
breakdown of the economic and financial order. True, when the bank
failed, all that vast and complicated scheme of things which had been
built upon it, the ramifications of which extended into every element of
the community's life, toppled and crashed. But the closing of the bank
was only like the action of a rip-cord which, once jerked, brought the
whole thing down, and in doing so laid bare the deeper and more corrosive
ruin within. And this deeper ruin--the essence of the catastrophe--was
the ruin of the human conscience.

Here was a town of fifty thousand people who had so abdicated every
principle of personal and communal rectitude, to say nothing of common
sense and decency, that when the blow fell they had no inner resources
with which to meet it. The town almost literally blew its brains out.
Forty people shot themselves within ten days, and others did so later.
And, as so often happens, many of those who destroyed themselves were
among the least guilty of the lot. The rest--and this was the most
shocking part of it--suddenly realising their devastating guilt to such a
degree that they could not face the results of it, now turned like a pack
of howling dogs to rend each other. Cries of vengeance rose up from all
their throats, and they howled for the blood of Jarvis Riggs. But these
cries proceeded not so much from a conviction of wounded justice and
deceived innocence as from their opposites. It was the sublime, ironic,
and irrevocable justice of what had happened to them, and their knowledge
that they alone had been responsible for it, that maddened them. From
this arose their sense of outrage and their cries of vengeance.

What happened in Libya Hill and elsewhere has been described in the
learned tomes of the overnight economists as a breakdown of "the system,
the capitalist system". Yes, it was that. But it was also much more than
that. In Libya Hill it was the total disintegration of what, in so many
different ways, the lives of all these people had come to be. It went
much deeper than the mere obliteration of bank accounts, the extinction
of paper profits, and the loss of property. It was the ruin of men who
found out, as soon as these symbols of their outward success had been
destroyed, that they had nothing left--no inner equivalent from which
they might now draw new strength. It was the ruin of men who, discovering
not only that their values were false but that they had never had any
substance whatsoever, now saw at last the emptiness and hollowness of
their lives. Therefore they killed themselves; and those who did not die
by their own hands died by the knowledge that they were already dead.

How can one account for such a complete drying up of all the spiritual
sources in the life of a people? When one observes a youth of eighteen on
a city street and sees the calloused scar that has become his life, and
remembers the same youth as he was ten years before when he was a child
of eight, one knows what has happened though the cause be hidden. One
knows that there came a time when life stopped growing for that youth and
the scar began; and one feels that if he could only find the reason and
the cure, he would know what revolutions are.

In Libya Hill there must have been a time when life stopped growing and
the scar began. But the learned economists of "the system" do not bother
about this. For them, it belongs to the realm of the metaphysical--they
are impatient of it, they will not trouble with it, they want to confine
the truth within their little picket fence of facts. But they cannot. It
is not enough to talk about the subtle complications of the credit
structure, the intrigues of politics and business, the floating of bond
issues, the dangers of inflation, speculation, and unsound prices, or the
rise and decline of banks. When all these facts are added up, they still
don't give the answer. For there is something more to say.

So with Libya Hill:

One does not know at just what moment it began, but one suspects that it
began at some time long past in the lone, still watches of the night,
when all the people lay waiting in their beds in darkness. Waiting for
what? They did not know. They only hoped that it would happen--some
thrilling and impossible fulfilment, some glorious enrichment and release
of their pent lives, some ultimate escape from their own tedium.

But it did not come.

Meanwhile, the stiff boughs creaked in the cold bleakness of the corner
lights, and the whole town waited, imprisoned in its tedium.

And sometimes, in furtive hallways, doors opened and closed, there was a
padding of swift, naked feet, the stealthy rattling of brass casters, and
behind old battered shades, upon the edge of Nigger-town, the dull and
fetid quickenings of lust.

Sometimes, in grimy stews of night's asylumage, an oath, a blow, a fight.

Sometimes, through the still air, a shot, the letting of nocturnal blood.

And always, through broken winds, the sounds of shifting engines in the
station yards, far off, along the river's edge--and suddenly the thunder
of great wheels, the tolling of the bell, the loneliness of the whistle
cry wailed back, receding towards the North, and towards the hope, the
promise, and the memory of the world unfound.

Meanwhile, the boughs creaked bleakly in stiff light, ten thousand men
were waiting in the darkness, far off a dog howled, and the Court-House
bell struck three.

No answer? Impossible?...Then let those--if such there be--who have not
waited in the darkness, find answers of their own.

But if speech could frame what spirit utters, if tongue could tell what
the lone heart knows, there would be answers somewhat other than those
which are shaped by the lean pickets of rusty facts. There would be
answers of men waiting, who have not spoken yet.

* * * * *

Below the starred immensity of mountain night old Rumford Bland, he that
is called "The Judge", strokes his sunken jaws reflectively as he stands
at the darkened window of his front office and looks out with sightless
eyes upon the ruined town. It is cool and sweet to-night, the myriad
promises of life are lyric in the air. Gem-strewn in viewless linkage on
the hills the lights make a bracelet for the town. The blind man knows
that they are there, although he cannot see them. He strokes his sunken
jaws reflectively and smiles his ghostly smile.

It is so cool and sweet to-night, and spring has come. There never was a
year like this, they say, for dogwood in the hills. There are so many
thrilling, secret things upon the air to-night--a burst of laughter, and
young voices, faint, half-broken, and the music of a dance--how could one
know that when the blind man smiles and stroke's his sunken jaws
reflectively, he is looking out upon a ruined town?

The new Court-House and City Hall are very splendid in the dark to-night.
But he has never seen them--they were built since he went blind. Their
fronts are bathed, so people say, in steady, secret light just like the
nation's dome at Washington. The blind man strokes his sunken jaws
reflectively. Well, they _should_ be splendid--they cost enough.

Beneath the starred immensity of mountain night there is something
stirring in the air, a rustling of young leaves. And round the grass
roots there is something stirring in the earth to-night. And below the
grass roots and the sod, below the dew-wet pollen of young flowers, there
is something alive and stirring. The blind man strokes his sunken jaws
reflectively. Aye, there below, where the eternal worm keeps vigil, there
is something stirring in the earth. Down, down below, where the worm
incessant through the ruined house makes stir.

What lies there stir-less in the earth to-night, down where the worm
keeps vigil?

The blind man smiles his ghostly smile. In his eternal vigil the worm
stirs, but many men are rotting in their graves to-night, and sixty-four
have bullet fractures in their skulls. Ten thousand more are lying in
their beds to-night, living as shells live. They, too, are dead, though
yet unburied. They have been dead so long they can't remember how it was
to live. And many weary nights must pass before they can join the buried
dead, down where the worm keeps vigil.

Meanwhile, the everlasting worm keeps vigil, and the blind man strokes
his sunken jaws, and slowly now he shifts his sightless gaze and turns
his back upon the ruined town.



26. The Wounded Faun


Ten days after the failure of the bank in Libya Hill, Randy Shepperton
arrived in New York. He had made up his mind suddenly, without letting
George know, and the motives that brought him were mixed. For one thing,
he wanted to talk to George and see if he couldn't help to get him
straightened out. His letters had been so desperate that Randy was
beginning to be worried about him. Then, too, Randy felt he just had to
get away from Libya Hill for a few days and out of that atmosphere of
doom and ruin and death. And he was free now, there was nothing to keep
him from coming, so he came.

He arrived early in the morning, a little after eight o'clock, and took a
taxi from the station to the address on Twelfth Street and rang the bell.
After a long interval and another ringing of the bell, the door lock
clicked and he entered the dim-lit hall. The stairs were dark and the
whole house seemed sunk in sleep. His footfalls rang out upon the
silence. The air had a close, dead smell compounded of many elements,
among which he could distinguish the dusty emanations of old wood and
worn plankings and the ghostly reminders of many meals long since eaten.
The light was out on the second-floor landing and the gloom was Stygian,
so he groped along the wall until he found the door and rapped loudly
with his knuckles.

In a moment the door was almost jerked off its hinges, and George, his
hair dishevelled, his eyes red with sleep, an old bathrobe flung hastily
over his pyjamas, stood framed in the opening, blinking out into the
darkness. Randy was a little taken back by the change in his appearance
in the six months since he had last seen him. His face, which had always
had a youthful and even childish quality, had grown older and sterner.
The lines had deepened. And now his heavy lip stuck out at his caller
with a menacing challenge, and his whole pug-nosed countenance had a
bulldog look of grim truculence.

When Randy recovered from his first surprise he cried out heartily:

"Now wait a minute! Wait a minute! Don't shoot! I'm not that fellow at
all!"

At the unexpected sound of the familiar voice George looked startled,
then his face broke into a broad smile of incredulity and delight. "Well,
I'll be damned!" he cried, and with that he seized hold of Randy, wrung
him vigorously by the hand, almost dragged him into the room, and then
held him off at arm's length while he grinned his pleasure and amazement.

"That's better," said Randy in a tone of mock relief. "I was afraid it
might be permanent."

They now clapped each other on the back and exchanged those boisterous
and half-insulting epithets with which two men who have been old friends
like to greet each other when they meet. Then, almost at once, George
asked Randy eagerly about the bank. Randy told him. George listened
intently to the shocking details of the catastrophe. It was even worse
than he had supposed, and he kept firing questions at Randy. At last
Randy said:

"Well, that's just about the whole story. I've told you all I know. But
come, we can talk about that later. What I want to know is--how the hell
are _you?_ You're not cracking up, too, are you? Your last letters
made me a little uneasy about you."

In their joy at seeing one another again and their eagerness to talk,
they had both remained standing by the door. But now, as Randy put his
casual finger on George's sore spot, George winced and began to pace back
and forth in an agitated way without answering.

Randy saw that he looked tired. His eyes were bloodshot, as if he had not
slept well, and his unshaved face made him look haggard. The old bathrobe
he was wearing had all the buttons missing, and the corded rope that
belonged to it was also gone and George had lashed a frayed necktie round
the middle to hold the thing together. This remarkable garment added to
his general appearance of weariness and exhaustion. His features as he
strode about the room had the contracted intensity of nervous strain, and
as he looked up quickly Randy saw the worry and apprehension in his eyes.

Suddenly he paused and faced Randy squarely, and with a grim set to his
jaws said:

"All right, let me have it! What are they saying now?"

"Who? What is who saying?"

"The people back home. That's what you meant, isn't it? From what they've
written me and said to my face, I can imagine what they're saying behind
my back. Let's have it and get it over with. What are they saying now?"

"Why," said Randy, "I don't know that they're saying anything. Oh, they
said plenty at first--just the kind of thing they wrote you. But since
the bank failed I don't think I've heard your name mentioned. They've got
too much real trouble to worry about now."

George looked incredulous, and then relieved. For a moment he studied the
floor and said nothing. But as his sense of relief spread its soothing
balm upon his agitated spirit he looked up and smiled broadly at his
friend, and then, realising for the first time that Randy was standing
there with his back against the door, he suddenly remembered his duties
as a host and burst out impulsively and warmly:

"God, Randy, I'm glad to see you! I can't get over it! Sit down. Sit
down! Can't you find a chair somewhere? For Christ's sake, where
_are_ all the chairs in this dump?"

With that he went over to a chair that was piled high with manuscript and
books, brushed these things off unceremoniously on to the floor, and
shoved the chair across the room towards his friend.

He apologised now for the coldness of the place, explaining unnecessarily
that the door-bell had got him out of bed, and telling Randy to keep his
overcoat on and that it would be warmer in a little while. Then he
vanished through a doorway into a noisome cubby-hole, turned on a faucet,
and came back with a coffee-pot full of water. This he proceeded to pour
into the spout of the radiator that stood below a window. When this was
done, he got down on his hands and knees, peered about underneath, struck
a match, turned some sort of valve, and applied the flame. There was an
immediate blast, and pretty soon the water began to rattle and gurgle in
the pipes.

"It's gas," he said, as he clambered to his feet. "That's the worst thing
about this place--it gives me headaches when I have to spend long hours
working here."

While this operation had been going on, Randy took a look round. The
room, which was really two large rooms thrown together when the
sliding-doors that joined them were pushed into the wall, as now, seemed
as big as a barn. The windows at the front gave on to the street, and
those at the rear looked out over some bleak little squares of backyard
fences to another row of buildings. The first impression Randy got was
one of staleness: the whole apartment had that unmistakable look and
feeling of a place where someone has lived and where something has been
finished so utterly that there is no going back to it. It was not merely
the disorder everywhere--the books strewn around, the immense piles of
manuscript, the haphazard scattering of stray socks, shirts and collars,
old shoes, and unpressed trousers inside out. It was not even the dirty
cup and saucer filled with old cigarette-butts, all of them stained with
rancid coffee, which was set down in the vast and untidy litter of the
table. It was just that life had gone out of all these things--they were
finished--all as cold and tired and stale as the old dirty cup and the
exhausted butts.

George was living in the midst of this dreary waste with a kind of
exasperated and unhappy transciency. Randy saw that he had caught him on
the wing, in that limbo of waiting between work which is one of the most
tormenting periods a writer can know. He was through with one thing, and
yet not really ready to settle down in earnest to another. He was in a
state of furious but exhausted ferment. But it was not merely that he was
going through a period of gestation before going on with his next book.
Randy realised that the reception of his first, the savagery of the
attack against him in Libya Hill, the knowledge that he had done
something more than write a book--that he had also torn up violently by
the roots all those ties of friendship and sentiment that bind a man to
home--all of this, Randy felt, had so bewildered and overwhelmed him that
now he was caught up in the maelstrom of the conflict which he had
himself produced. He was not ready to do another piece of work because
his energies were still being absorbed and used up by the repercussions
of the first.

Moreover, as Randy looked round the room and his eye took in the various
objects that contributed to its incredible chaos, he saw, in a dusty
corner, a small green smock or apron, wrinkled as though it had been
thrown aside with a gesture of weary finality, and beside it, half-folded
inwards, a single small and rather muddy overshoe. The layer of dust upon
them showed that they had lain there for months. These were the only
poignant ghosts, and Randy knew that something which had been there in
that room had gone out of it for ever--that George was done with it.

Randy saw how it was with George, and felt that almost any decisive act
would be good for him. So now he said:

"For God's sake, George, why don't you pack up and clear out of all this?
You're through with it--it's finished--it'll only take you a day or two
to wind the whole thing up. So pull yourself together and get out. Move
away somewhere--anywhere--just to enjoy the luxury of waking up in the
morning and finding none of this round you."

"I know," said George, going over to a sagging couch and tossing back the
pile of foul-looking bedclothes that covered it and flinging himself down
wearily. "I've thought of it," he said.

Randy did not press the point. He knew it would be no use. George would
have to work round to it in his own way and in his own good time.

George shaved and dressed, and they went out for breakfast. Then they
returned and talked all morning, and were finally interrupted by the
ringing of the telephone.

George answered it. Randy could tell by the sounds which came from the
transmitter that the caller was female, garrulous, and unmistakably
Southern. George did nothing for a while but blurt out polite banalities:

"Well now, that's fine...I certainly do appreciate it...That's mighty
nice of you...Well now, I'm certainly glad you called. I hope you will
remember me to all of them." Then he was silent, listening intently, and
Randy gathered from the contraction of his face that the conversation had
now reached another stage. In a moment he said slowly, in a
somewhat puzzled tone: "Oh, he is?...He did?...Well"--somewhat
indefinitely--"that's mighty nice of him...Yes, I'll remember...Thank you
very much...Good-bye."

He hung up the receiver and grinned wearily.

"That," he said, "was one of the I-just-called-you-up-to-tell-you-that-
I've-read-it-all-every-word-of-it-and-I-think-it's-perfectly-grand
people--another lady from the South." As he went on his voice
unconsciously dropped into burlesque as he tried to imitate the
unction of a certain type of Southern female whose words drip
molasses mixed with venom:

"'Why, I'll declayah, we're _all_ just so proud of yew-w! I'm just
simply thrilled to _daith!_ It's the most wondaful thing I
_evah_ read! Why it _is!_ Why, I nevah _dreamed_ that anyone
could have such a wondaful command of lang-widge!'"

"But don't you like it just a little?" asked Randy. "Even if it's laid on
with a trowel, you must get some satisfaction from it."

"God!" George said wearily, and came back and fell upon the couch. "If
you only knew! That's only one out of a thousand! That telephone
there"--he jerked a thumb towards it--"has played a tune for months now!
I know them all--I've got 'em classified! I can tell by the tone of the
voice the moment they speak whether it's going to be type B or group X."

"So the author is already growing jaded? He's already bored with his
first taste of fame?"

"_Fame?_"--disgustedly. "That's not fame--that's just plain damn
rag-picking!"

"Then you don't think the woman was sincere?"

"Yes"--his face and tone were bitter now--"she had all the sincerity of a
carrion crow. She'll go back and tell them that she talked to me, and by
the time she's finished with me she'll have a story that every old hag in
town can lick her chops and cackle over for the next six months."

It sounded so unreasonable and unjust that Randy spoke up quickly:

"Don't you think you're being unfair?"

George's head was down dejectedly and he did not even look up; with his
hands plunged in his trouser pockets he just snorted something
unintelligible but scornful beneath his breath.

It annoyed and disappointed Randy to see him acting so much like a
spoiled brat, so he said:

"Look here! It's about time you grew up and learned some sense It seems
to me you're being pretty arrogant. Do you think you can afford to be? I
doubt if you or any man can go through life successfully playing the
spoiled genius."

Again he muttered something in a sullen tone.

"Maybe that woman was a fool," Randy went on. "Well, a lot of people are.
And maybe she hasn't got sense enough to understand what you wrote in the
way you think it should be understood. But what of it? She gave the best
she had. It seems to me that instead of sneering at her now, you could be
grateful."

George raised his head: "You heard the conversation, then?"

"No, only what you told me."

"All right, then--you didn't get the whole story. I wouldn't mind if
she'd just called up to gush about the book, but, look here!"--he leaned
towards Randy very earnestly and tapped him on the knee. "I don't want
you to get the idea that I'm just a conceited fool. I've lived through
and found out about something these last few months that most people
never have the chance to know. I give you my solemn word for it, that
woman didn't call up because she liked my book and wanted to tell me so.
She called up," he cried bitterly, "to pry round, and to find out what
she could about me, and to pick my bones."

"Oh, look here now--" Randy began impatiently.

"Yes, she did, too! I know what I'm talking about!" he said earnestly.
"Here's what you didn't hear--here's what she was working round to all
the time--it came out at the end. I don't know who she is, I never heard
of her before--but she's a friend of Ted Reeve's wife. And apparently he
thinks I put him in the book, and has been making threats that he's going
to kill me if I ever go back home."

This was true; Randy had heard it in Libya Hill.

"That's what it was about," George sneered bitterly--"that woman's call.
That's what most of the calls are about. They want to talk to the Beast
of the Apocalypse, feel him out, and tell him: 'Ted's all right! Now
don't you believe all those things, you hear! He was upset at first--but
he sees the whole thing now, the way you meant it--and everything's all
right.' That's what she said to me, so maybe I'm not the fool you think I
am!"

He was so earnest and excited that for a moment Randy did not answer him.
Besides, making allowances for the distortion of his feelings, he could
see some justice in what George said.

"Have you had many calls like that?" Randy asked.

"Oh"--wearily--"almost every day. I think everyone who has been up here
from home since the book was published has telephoned me. They go about
it in different ways. There are those who call me up as if I were some
kind of ghoul: 'How are you?'--in a small, quiet tone such as you might
use to a condemned man just before they lead him to the death chamber at
Sing Sing--'Are you all right?' And then you get alarmed, you begin to
stammer and to stumble round, 'Why, yes? Yes, I'm fine! Fine,
thanks!'--meanwhile, beginning to feel yourself all over just to see if
you're all there. And then they say in that same still voice: 'Well, I
just wanted to know...I just called up to find out...I hope you're all
right.'"

After looking at Randy for a moment in a tormented and bewildered way, he
burst out in an exasperated laugh:

"It's been enough to give a hippopotamus the creeps! To listen to them
talk, you'd think I was Jack the Ripper! Even those who call up to laugh
and joke about it take the attitude that the only reason I wrote the book
was to see how much dirt and filth I could dig up on people I didn't
like. Yes!" he cried bitterly. "My greatest supporters at home seem to be
the disappointed little soda-jerkers who never made a go of it and the
frustrated hangers-on who never got into the Country Club. 'You sure did
give it to that son-of-a-bitch, Jim So-and-so!' they call me up to tell
me. 'You sure did burn him up! I had to laugh when I read what you said
about him--boy!' Or: 'Why didn't you say something about that bastard,
Charlie What's-his-name? I'd have given anything to see you take him for
a ride!'...Jesus God!" He struck his fist upon his knee with furious
exasperation. "That's all it means to them: nothing but nasty gossip,
slander, malice, envy, a chance of getting back at someone--you'd think
that none of them had ever read a book before. Tell me," he said
earnestly, bending towards Randy, "isn't there anyone there--anyone
besides yourself--who gives a damn about the book itself? Isn't there
anyone who has read it as a book, who sees what it was about, who
understands what I was trying to do?"

His eyes were full of torment now. It was out at last--the thing Randy
had dreaded and wanted to avoid. He said:

"I should think you'd know more about that by this time than anyone.
After all, you've had more opportunity than anyone else to find out."

Well, that was out, too. It was the answer that he had to have, that he
had feared to get. He stared at Randy for a minute or two with his
tormented eyes, then he laughed bitterly and began to rave:

"Well, then, to hell with it! To hell with all of it!" He began to curse
violently. "The small two-timing bunch of crooked sons-ofbitches! They
can go straight to hell! They've done their best to ruin me!"

It was ignoble and unworthy and untrue. Randy saw that he was lashing
himself into a fit of violent recrimination in which all that was worst
and weakest m him was coming out--distortion, prejudice, and self-pity.
These were the things he would have to conquer somehow or belost. Randy
stopped him curtly:

"Now, no more of that! For God's sake, George, pull yourself together! If
a lot of damn fools read your book and didn't understand it, that's not
Libya Hill, that's the whole world. People there are no different from
people anywhere. They thought you wrote about them--and the truth is, you
did. So they got mad at you. You hurt their feelings, and you touched
their pride. And, to be blunt about it, you opened up a lot of old
wounds. There were places where you rubbed salt in. In saying this, I'm
not like those others you complain about: you know damn wel! I understand
what you did and why you had to do it. But just the same, there were some
things that you did not have to do--and you'd have had a better book if
you hadn't done them. So don't whine about it now. And don't think you're
a martyr."

But he had got himself primed into a mood of martyrdom. As Randy looked
at him sitting there, one hand gripping his knee, his face sullen, his
head brooding down between his hulking shoulders, he could see how this
mood had grown upon him. To begin with, he had been naive not to realise
how people would feel about some of the things he had written. Then, when
the first accusing letters came, he had been overwhelmed and filled with
shame and humility and guilt over the pain he had caused. But as time
went on and the accusations became more vicious and envenomed, he had
wanted to strike back and defend himself. When he saw there was no way to
do that--when people answered his explanatory letters only with new
threats and insults--he had grown bitter. And finally, after taking it
all so hard and torturing himself through the whole gamut of emotions, he
had sunk into this morass of self-pity.

George began to talk now about "the artist", spouting all the
intellectual and aesthetic small change of the period. The artist, it
seemed, was a kind of fabulous, rare, and special creature who lived on
"beauty" and "truth" and had thoughts so subtle that the average man
could comprehend them no more than a mongrel could understand the moon he
bayed at. The artist, therefore, could achieve his "art" only through a
constant state of flight into some magic wood, some province of
enchantment.

The phrases were so spurious that Randy felt like shaking him. And what
annoyed him most was the knowledge that George was really so much better
than this. He must know how cheap and false what he was saying really
was. At last Randy said to him quietly:

"George, of all the people I have ever known, you are the least qualified
to play the wounded faun."

But he was so immersed in his fantasy that he paid no attention. He just
said: "Huh?"--and then was off again. Anybody who was "a real artist," he
said, was doomed to be an outcast from society. His inevitable fate was
to be "driven out by the tribe."

It was all so wrong that Randy lost patience with him:

"For Christ's sake, George, what's the matter with you? You're talking
like a fool!" he said. "You haven't been driven out of anywhere! You've
only got yourself in a little hot water at home! Here you've been ranting
your head off about 'beauty' and 'truth'! God! Why in hell, then, don't
you stop lying to yourself? Can't you see? The truth is that for the
first time in your life you've managed to get a foothold in the thing you
want to do. Your book got some good notices and has had a fair sale.
You're in the right spot now to go on. So where have you been driven? No
doubt all those threatening letters have made you feel like an exile from
home, but hell, man!--you've been an exile for years. And of your own
accord, too! You know you've had no intention of ever going back there to
live. But just as soon as they started yelling for your scalp, you fooled
yourself into believing you'd been driven out by force! And, as for this
idea of yours that a man achieves 'beauty' by escaping somewhere from the
life he knows, isn't the truth just the opposite? Haven't you written me
the same thing yourself a dozen times?"

"How do you mean?" he said sullenly.

"I mean, taking your own book as an example, isn't it true that every
good thing in it came, not because you withdrew from life, but because
you got into it--because you managed to understand and use the life you
knew?"

He was silent now. His face, which had been screwed up into a morose
scowl, gradually began to relax and soften, and at last he looked up with
a little crooked smile.

"I don't know what comes over me sometimes," he said. He shook his head
and looked ashamed of himself and laughed. "You're right, of course," he
went on seriously. "What you say is true. And that's the way it has to
be, too. A man must use what he knows--he can't use what he doesn't
know...And that's why some of the critics make me mad," he added bluntly.

"How's that?" asked Randy, glad to hear him talking sense at last. "Oh,
you know," he said, "you've seen the reviews. Some of them said the book
was 'too autobiographical'."

This was surprising. And Randy, with the outraged howls of Libya Hill
still ringing in his ears, and with George's outlandish rantings in
answer to those howls still echoing in the room, could hardly believe he
had heard him aright. He could only say in frank astonishment:

"Well, it _was_ autobiographical--you can't deny it."

"But not 'too autobiographical'," George went on earnestly. "If the
critics had just crossed those words out and written in their place 'not
autobiographical enough', they'd have hit it squarely. That's where I
failed. That's where the real fault was." There was no question that he
meant it, for his face was twisted suddenly with a grimace, the scar of
his defeat and shame. "My young hero was a stick, a fool, a prig, a snob,
as Dedalus was--as in my own presentment of the book I was. There was the
weakness. Oh, I know--there were lots of autobiographical spots in the
book, and where it was true I'm not ashamed of it, but the hitching-post
I tied the horses to wasn't good enough. It wasn't true autobiography.
I've learned that now, and learned why. The failure comes from the false
personal. There's the guilt. That's where the young genius business gets
in--the young artist business, what you called a while ago the wounded
faun business. It gets in and it twists the vision. The vision may be
shrewd, subtle, piercing, within a thousand special frames accurate and
Joycean--but within the larger one, false, mannered, and untrue. And the
large one is the one that matters."

He meant it now, and he was down to solid rock. Randy saw the measure of
his suffering. And yet, now as before, he seemed to be going to extremes
and taking it too hard. In some such measure all men fail, and Randy
said:

"But was anything ever as good as it could be? Who succeeded anyway?"

"Oh, plenty did!" he said impatiently. "Tolstoy when he wrote _War and
Peace_. Shakespeare when he wrote _King Lear_. Mark Twain in the
first part of _Life on the Mississippi_. Of course they're not as
good as they might have been--nothing ever is. Only, they missed in the
right way: they might have put the shot a little further--but they were
not hamstrung by their vanity, shackled by their damned
self-consciousness. That's what makes for failure. That's where I
failed."

"Then what's the remedy?"

"To use myself to the top of my bent. To use everything I have. To milk
the udder dry, squeeze out the last drop, until there is nothing left.
And if I use myself as a character, to withhold nothing, to try to see
and paint myself as I am--the bad along with the good, the shoddy
alongside of the true--just as I must try to see and draw every other
character. No more false personal, no more false pride, no more pettiness
and injured feelings. In short, to kill the wounded faun."

Randy nodded: "Yes. And what now? What comes next?"

"I don't know," he answered frankly. His eyes showed his perplexity.
"That's the thing that's got me stumped. It's not that I don't know what
to write about.--God!" he laughed suddenly. "You hear about these fellows
who write one book and then can't do another because they haven't got
anything else to write about!"

"You're not worried about that?"

"Lord, no! My trouble's all the other way round! I've got too much
material. It keeps backing up on me"--he gestured round him at the
tottering piles of manuscript that were everywhere about the room--"until
sometimes I wonder what in the name of God I'm going to do with it
all--how I'm going to find a frame for it, a pattern, a channel, a way to
make it flow!" He brought his fist down sharply on his knee and there was
a note of desperation in his voice. "Sometimes it actually occurs to me
that a man may be able to write no more because he gets drowned in his
own secretions!"

"So you're not afraid of ever running dry?"

He laughed loudly. "At times I almost hope I will," he said. "There'd be
a kind of comfort in the thought that some day--maybe after I'm forty--I
would dry up and become like a camel, living on my hump. Of course, I
don't really mean that either. It's not good to dry up--it's a form of
death...No, that's not what bothers me. The thing I've got to find out is
the way!" He was silent a moment, staring at Randy, then he struck his
fist upon his knee again and cried: "The _way!_ The _way!_ Do
you understand?"

"Yes," said Randy, "I think I do. But how?"

George's face was full of perplexity.. He was silent, trying to phrase
his problem.

"I'm looking for a way," he said at last. "I think it may be something
like what people vaguely mean when they speak of fiction. A kind of
legend, perhaps. Something--a story--composed of all the knowledge I
have, of all the living I've seen. Not the facts, you understand--not
just the record of my life--but something truer than the facts--something
distilled out of my experience and transmitted into a form of universal
application. That's what the best fiction is, isn't it?"

Randy smiled and nodded encouragement. George was all right. He needn't
have worried about him. He would work his way out of the morass. So Randy
said cheerfully:

"Have you started the new book yet?"

He began to talk rapidly, and again Randy saw worried tension in his
eyes.


"Yes," he said, "I've written a whole lot. These ledgers here"--he
indicated a great stack of battered ledgers on the table--"and all this
manuscript"--he swept his arms in a wide gesture round the room--"they
are full of new writing. I must have written half a million words or
more."

Randy then made the blunder which laymen so often innocently make when
they talk to writers.

"What's it about?" he said.

He was rewarded with an evil scowl. George did not answer. He began to
pace up and down, thinking to himself with smouldering intensity. At last
he stopped by the table, turned and faced Randy, and, with the redemptive
honesty that was the best thing in him, bluntly said:

"No, I haven't started my new book yet!...Thousands of words"--he whacked
the battered ledgers with a flattened palm--"hundreds of ideas, dozens of
scenes, of scraps, of fragments--but no book!...And"--the worried lines
about his eyes now deepened--"time goes by! It has been almost five
months since the other book was published, and now"--he threw his arms
out towards the huge stale chaos of that room with a gesture of
exasperated fury--"here I am! Time gets away from me before I know that
it has gone! Time!" he cried, and smote his fist into his palm and stared
before him with a blazing and abstracted eye as though he saw a
ghost--"Time!"

His enemy was Time. Or perhaps it was his friend. One never knows for
sure.

Randy stayed in New York several days, and the two friends talked from
morning till night and from night till morning. Everything that came into
their heads they talked about. George would stride back and forth across
the floor in his restless way, talking or listening to Randy, and
suddenly would pause beside the table, scowl, look round him as though he
were seeing the room for the first time, bring down his hand with a loud
_whack_ on a pile of manuscript, and boom out:

"Do you know what the reason is for all these words I've written? Well,
I'll tell you. It's because I'm so damned lazy!"

"It doesn't look like the room of a lazy man to me," said Randy,
laughing.

"It is though," George answered. "That's why it looks this way. You
know"--his face grew thoughtful as he spoke--"I've got an idea that a
lot of the work in this world gets done by lazy people. That's the reason
they work--because they're so lazy."

"I don't follow you," said Randy, "but go on--spill it--get it off your
chest."

"Well," he said, quite seriously, "it's this way: you work because you're
afraid not to. You work because you have to drive yourself to such a fury
to begin. That part's just plain hell 1 It's so hard to get started that
once you do you're afraid of slipping back. You'd rather do anything than
go through all that agony again--so you keep going--you keep going faster
all the time--you keep going till you couldn't stop even if you wanted
to. You forget to eat, to shave, to put on a clean shirt when you have
one. You almost forget to sleep, and when you do try to you
can't--because the avalanche has started, and it keeps going night and
day. And people say: 'Why don't you stop some time? Why don't you forget
about it now and then? Why don't you take a few days off?' And you don't
do it because you can't--you can't stop yourself--and even if you could
you'd be afraid to because there'd be all that hell to go through getting
started up again. Then people say you're a glutton for work, but it isn't
so. It's laziness--just plain, damned, simple laziness, that's all."

Randy laughed again. He had to--it was so much like George--no one else
could have come out with a thing like that. And what made it so funny was
that he knew George saw the humour of it, too, and yet was desperately in
earnest. He could imagine the weeks and months of solemn cogitation that
had brought George to this paradoxical conclusion, and now, like a whale
after a long plunge, he was coming up to spout and breathe.

"Well, I see your point," Randy said. "Maybe you're right. But at least
it's a unique way of being lazy."

"No," George answered, "I think it's probably a very natural one. Now
take all those fellows that you read about," he went on excitedly
--"Napoleon--and--and Balzac--and Thomas Edison"--he burst out
triumphantly--"these fellows who never sleep more than an hour or two at
a time, and can keep going night and day--why, that's not because they
love to work! It's because they're really lazy--and afraid not to work
because they _know_ they're lazy! Why, hell yes!" he went on
enthusiastically. "I know that's the way it's been with all those
fellows! Old Edison now," he said scornfully, "going round pretending to
people that he works all the time because he _likes_ it!"

"You don't believe that?"

"Hell, no!"--scornfully. "I'll bet you anything you like that if you
could really find out what's going on in old Edison's mind, you'd find
that he wished he could stay in bed every day until two o'clock in the
afternoon! And then get up and scratch himself! And then lie around in
the sun for a while! And hang round with the boys down at the village
store, talking about politics, arid who's going to win the World Series
next autumn!"

"Then what keeps him from it, if that's what he wants to do?"

"Why," he cried impatiently, "_laziness!_ That's all. He's afraid to
do it because he knows he's so damned lazy! And he's ashamed of being
lazy, and afraid he'll get found out! That's why!"

"Ah, but that's another thing! Why is he ashamed of it?"

"Because," he said earnestly, "every time he wants to lie in bed until
two o'clock in the afternoon, he hears the voice of his old man----"

"His old man?"

"Sure. His father." He nodded vigorously.

"But Edison's father has been dead for years, hasn't he?"

"Sure--but that doesn't matter. He hears him just the same. Every time he
rolls over to get an extra hour or two, I'll bet you he hears old Pa
Edison hollering at him from the foot of the stairs, telling him to get
up, and that he's not worth powder enough to blow him sky high, and that
when he was _his_ age, he'd been up four hours already and done a
whole day's work--poor, miserable orphan that he was!"

"Really, I didn't know that. Was Edison's father an orphan?"

"Sure--they all are when they holler at you from the foot of the stairs.
And school was always at least six miles away, and they were always
barefooted, and it was always snowing. God!" he laughed suddenly. "No
one's old man ever went to school except under polar conditions. They all
did. And that's why you get up, that's why you drive yourself, because
you're afraid not to--afraid of 'that damned Joyner blood in you.'...So
I'm afraid that's the way it's going to be with me until the end of my
days. Every time I see the _Ile de France_ or the _Aquitania_ or
the _Berengaria_ backing into the river and swinging into line on
Saturday, and see the funnels with their racing slant, and the white
breasts of the great liners, and something catches at my throat, and
suddenly I hear mermaids singing--I'll also hear the voice of the old man
yelling at me from as far as back as I can remember, and telling me I'm
not worth the powder to blow me up. And every time I dream of tropic
isles, of plucking breadfruit from the trees, or of lying stretched out
beneath a palm-tree in Samoa, fanned by an attractive lady of those
regions clad in her latest string of beads--I'll hear the voice of the
old man. Every time I dream of lying sprawled out with Peter Breughel in
Cockaigne, with roast pigs trotting by upon the hoof, and with the funnel
of a beer bung in my mouth--I'll hear the voice of the old man. Thus
conscience doth make cowards of us all. I'm lazy--but every time I
surrender to my baser self, the old man hollers from the stairs."

George was full of his own problems and talked about them constantly.
Randy was an understanding listener. But suddenly one day, towards the
end of Randy's visit, the thought struck George as strange that his
friend should be taking so much time off from his job. He asked Randy
about it. How had he managed it?

"I haven't got a job," Randy answered quietly with his little embarrassed
laugh. "They threw me out."

"You mean to say that that bastard Merrit--" George began, hot with
instant anger.

"Oh, don't blame him," Randy broke in. "He couldn't help it. The
higher-ups were on his tail and he had to do it. He said I wasn't getting
the business, and it's true--I wasn't. But what the Company doesn't know
is that nobody can get the business any more. It isn't there, and hasn't
been for the last year or so. You saw how it was when you were home.
Every penny anybody could get hold of went into real estate speculation.
That was the only business they had left down there. And now, of course,
that's gone, too, since the bank failed."

"And do you mean to say," George commented, speaking the words slowly and
with emphasis--"do you mean to say that Merrit seized that moment to
throw you out on your ear? Why, the dirty----"

"Yes," said Randy. "I got the sack just a week after the bank closed. I
don't know whether Merrit figured that was the best time to get rid of me
or whether it just happened so. But what's the difference? It's been
coming for a long time. I've seen it coming for a year or more. It was
just a question of when. And believe me," he said with quiet emphasis,
"I've been through hell. I lived from day to day in fear and dread of it,
knowing it was coming and knowing there wasn't anything I could do to
head it off. But the funny thing is, now it's happened I feel relieved."
He smiled his old clear smile. "It's the truth," he said. "I never would
have had the guts to quit--I was making pretty good money, you know--but
now that I'm out, I'm glad. I'd forgotten how it felt to be a free man.
Now I can hold my head up and look anybody in the eye and tell the Great
Man, Paul S. Appleton himself, to go to the devil. It's a good feeling. I
like it."

"But what are you going to do, Randy?" asked George with evident concern.

"I don't know," said Randy cheerfully. "I haven't any plans. All the
years I was with the Company I lived pretty well, but I also managed to
save a little something. And, luckily, I didn't put it in the Citizens
Trust, or in real estate either, so I've still got it. And I own the old
family house. Margaret and I can get along all right for a while. Of
course, jobs that pay as well as the one I had don't turn up round every
corner, but this is a big country and there's always a place for a good
man. Did you ever hear of a good man who couldn't find work?" he said.

"Well, you can't be too sure of that," said George, shaking his head
dubiously. "Maybe I'm wrong," he went on, pausing and frowning
thoughtfully, "but I don't think the Stock Market crash and the bank
failure in Libya Hill were isolated events. I'm coming to feel," he said,
"that we may be up against something new--something that's going to cut
deeper than anything America has experienced before. The papers are
beginning to take it seriously. They're calling it a depression.
Everybody seems to be scared."

"Oh, pshaw!" said Randy with a laugh. "You are feeling low. That's
because you live in New York. Here the Stock Market is everything. When
it's high, times are good; when it's low, they're bad. But New York is
not America."

"I know," said George. "But I'm not thinking about the Stock Market. I'm
thinking about America...Sometimes it seems to me," he continued slowly,
like a man who gropes his way in darkness over an unfamiliar road, "that
America went off the track somewhere--back round the time of the Civil
War, or pretty soon afterwards. Instead of going ahead and developing
along the line in which the country started out, it got shunted off in
another direction--and now we look round and see we've gone places we
didn't mean to go. Suddenly we realise that America has turned into
something ugly--and vicious--and corroded at the heart of its power with
easy wealth and graft and special privilege...And the worst of it is the
intellectual dishonesty which all this corruption has bred.
People are _afraid_ to think straight--_afraid_ to face
themselves--_afraid_ to look at things and see them as they are.
We've become like a nation of advertising men, all hiding behind catch
phrases like 'prosperity' and 'rugged individualism' and 'the American
way'. And the real things like freedom, and equal opportunity, and the
integrity and worth of the individual--things that have belonged to the
American dream since the beginning--they have become just words, too. The
substance has gone out of them--they're not real any more...Take your own
case. You say you feel free at last because you've lost your job. I don't
doubt it--but it's a funny kind of freedom. And just how free _are_
you?"

"Well, free enough to suit me," said Randy heartily. "And, funny or not,
I'm freer than I've ever been before. Free enough to take my time and
look round a bit before I make a new connection. I don't want to get in
with another outfit like the old one. I'll land on my feet," he said
serenely.

"But how are you going to do it?" asked George. "There can't be anything
for you in Libya Hill, with the bottom dropped out of everything down
there."

"Hell, I'm not wedded to the place!" said Randy. "I'll go anywhere.
Remember, I've been a salesman all my life--I'm used to travelling round.
And I have friends in the game--in other lines--who'll help me. That's
one good thing about being a salesman: if you can sell one thing, you can
sell anything, and it's easy to switch products. I know my way round," he
concluded with strong confidence. "Don't you worry about me."

They said very little more about it. And when Randy left, his parting
words at the station were:

"Well, so long, fellow! _You're_ going to be all right. But don't
forget to kill that wounded faun! As for me, I don't know just what the
next move is, but I'm on my way!"

With that he got aboard his train, and was gone.

But George wasn't too sure about Randy. And the more he thought about
him, the less sure he became. Randy had certainly not been licked by what
had happened to him, and that was good; but there was something about his
attitude--his cheerful optimism in the face of disaster--that seemed
spurious. He had the clearest head of anybody George knew, but it was
almost as if he had shut off one compartment of his brain and wasn't
using at. It was all very puzzling.

"There are tides in the affairs of men," George thought
musingly--"definite periods of ebb and flow...And when they come, they
come, and can't be held back by wishing."

That was it, perhaps. It seemed to George that Randy was caught in the
ebb and didn't know it. And that was what made it so queer and
puzzling--that _he_, of all people, shouldn't know it.

Also, he had spoken about not wanting to get mixed up with another outfit
like the old one. Did he think the fearful pressures he had been subject
to were peculiar to the company he had been working for, and that their
counterparts existed nowhere else? Did he suppose he could escape those
conditions just by changing jobs? Did he believe it was possible by such
a shift to enjoy all the glorious advantages he had ever dreamed of as a
bright, ambitious youth--high income and good living far beyond what most
men are accustomed to--and to do it without paying the cost in other
ways?

"What will you have? quoth God; pay for it, and take it," said Emerson,
in that wonderful essay on "Compensation" that every American ought to be
required by law to read...Well, that was true. One always paid for it...

Good Lord! Didn't Randy know you can't go home again?

The next few years were terrible ones for all America, and especially
terrible for Randy Shepperton.

He didn't get another job. He tried everything, but nothing worked. There
just weren't any jobs. Men were being let off by the thousands
everywhere, and nowhere were new ones being taken on.

After eighteen months his savings were gone, and he was desperate. He had
to sell the old family house, and what he got for it was a mere pittance.
He and Margaret rented a small apartment, and for another year or so, by
careful management, they lived on what the house had brought them. Then
that, too, was gone. Randy was on his uppers now. He fell ill, and it was
an illness of the spirit more than of the flesh. At last, when there was
nothing else to do, he and Margaret moved away from Libya Hill and went
to live with the older sister who was married, and stayed there with her
husband's family--dependents on the bounty of these kindly strangers.

And at the end of all of this, Randy--he of the clear eyes and the quick
intelligence--he who was nobody's fool--he who thought he loved the truth
and had always been able to see straight to the heart of most
things--Randy went on relief.

And by that time George thought he understood it. Behind Randy's tragedy
George thought he could see a personal devil in the form of a very bright
and plausible young man, oozing confidence and crying: "Faith!" when
there was no faith, and dressed like a travelling salesman. Yes,
salesmanship had done its job too well. Salesmanship--that commercial
brand of special pleading--that devoted servant of self-interest--that
sworn enemy of truth. George remembered how Randy had been able to look
at _his_ alien problem and see it in the abstract, whole and clear,
because there was no self-interest to cast its shadow on his vision. He
could save others--himself he could not save, because he could no longer
see the truth about himself.

And it seemed to George that Randy's tragedy was the essential tragedy of
America. America--the magnificent, unrivalled, unequalled, unbeatable,
unshrinkable, supercolossal, 99-and-44-one-hundredths-per-cent-pure,
schoolgirl-complexion, covers-the-earth, I'd-walk-a-mile-for-it,
four-out-of-five-have-it, his master's-voice, askthe-man-who-owns-one,
blueplate-special home of advertising, salesmanship, and special pleading
in all its many catchy and beguiling forms.

Had not the real rulers of America--the business men--been wrong about
the depression from the start? Had they not pooh-poohed it and tried to
wipe it out with words, refusing to see it for what it was? Had they not
kept saying that prosperity was just round the corner--long after
"prosperity", so-called, had vanished, and the very corner it was
supposed to be round had flattened out and bent into a precipitate
downward curve of hunger, want, and desperation?

Well, Randy had been right about the wounded faun. For George knew now
that his own self-pity was just his precious egotism coming between him
and the truth he strove for as a writer. What Randy didn't know was that
business also had its wounded fauns. And they, it seemed, were a species
that you could not kill so lightly. For business was the most precious
form of egotism--self-interest at its dollar value. Kill that with truth,
and what would be left?

A better way of life, perhaps, but it would not be built on business as
we know it.




BOOK IV. THE QUEST OF THE FAIR MEDUSA



_George took Randy's advice and moved. He did not know where to go. All
he wanted was to get away as far as possible from Park Avenue, from the
aesthetic jungles of the lion hunters, from the half-life of wealth and
fashion that had grown like a parasite upon the sound body of America. He
went to live in Brooklyn.

He had made a little money from his book, so now he paid his debts and
quit the job he held as a teacher at the School for Utility Cultures.
From this time on, he earned his precarious living solely by what he
wrote.

For four years he lived in Brooklyn, and four years in Brooklyn are a
geologic age--a single stratum of grey time. They were years of poverty,
of desperation, of loneliness unutterable. All about him were the poor,
the outcast, the neglected and forsaken people of America, and he was one
of them. But life is strong, and year after year it went on round him in
all its manifold complexity, rich with its unnoticed and unrecorded
little happenings. He saw it all, be took it all in hungrily as part of
his experience, he recorded much of it, and in the end he squeezed it dry
as he tried to extract its hidden meanings.

And what was he like inside while these grey years were slipping by? What
was he up to, what was he doing, what did he want?

That's rather hard to tell, because he wanted so many things, but the
thing he wanted most was Fame. Those were the years of his concentrated
quest of that fair Medusa. He had had his little taste of glory, and it
was bitter in his mouth. He thought the reason was that he had not been
good enough--and he had not been good enough. Therefore he thought that
what be had had was not Fame at all, but only a moment's notoriety. He
had been a seven-day wonder--that was all.

Well, he had learned some things since he wrote his first book. He would
try again.

So he lived and wrote, and wrote and lived, and lived there by himself in
Brooklyn. And when he had worked for hours at a stretch, forgetting food
and sleep and everything, he would rise from his desk at last and stagger
forth into the night-time streets, reeling like a drunkard with his
weariness. He would eat his supper at a restaurant, and then, because his
mind was feverish and he knew he could not sleep, he would walk to
Brooklyn Bridge and cross It to Manhattan, and ferret out the secret
heart of darkness in all the city's ways, and then at dawn come back
across the Bridge once more, and so to bed in Brooklyn.

And in these nightly wanderings the old refusals dropped away, the old
avowals stood. For then, somehow, it seemed to him that he who had been
dead was risen, be who had been lost was found again, and be who in his
brief day of glory bad sold the talent, the passion, and the belief of
youth into the keeping of the fleshless dead, until his heart was
corrupted and all hope gone, would win his life back bloodily, in
solitude and darkness. And be felt then that things would be for him once
more as they had been, and he saw again, as be bad once seen, the image
of the shining city. Far-flung, and blazing into into tiers of jewelled
light, it burned forever in his vision as he walked the Bridge, and
strong tides were bound round it, and the great ships called. So he
walked the Bridge, always be walked the Bridge.

And by his side was that stern friend, the only one to whom be spoke what
in his secret heart he most desired. To Loneliness he whispered:
"Fame!"--and Loneliness replied: "Aye, brother, wait and see."_



27. The Locusts Have No King


The tragic light of evening falls upon the huge and rusty jungle of South
Brooklyn. It falls without glare or warmth upon the faces of all the men
with dead eyes and flesh of tallow-grey as they lean upon their
window-sills at the sad, hushed end of day.

If at such a time you walk down this narrow street, between the mean and
shabby houses, past the eyes of all the men who lean there quietly at
their open windows in their shirt-sleeves, and turn in at the alley here
and follow the two-foot strip of broken concrete pavement that skirts the
alley on one side, and go to the very last shabby house down at the end,
and climb up the flight of worn steps to the front entrance and knock
loudly at the door with your bare knuckles (the bell is out of order) and
then wait patiently until someone comes, and ask whether Mr. George
Webber lives here, you will be informed that he most certainly does, and
that if you will just come in and go down this stairway to the basement
and knock at the door there on your right, you will probably find him in.
So you go down the stairway to the damp and gloomy basement hall, thread
your way between the dusty old boxes, derelict furniture, and other
lumber stored there in the passage, rap on the door that has been
indicated to you, and Mr. Webber himself will open it and usher you right
into his room, his home, his castle.

The place may seem to you more like a dungeon than a room that a man
would voluntarily elect to live in. It is long and narrow, running
parallel to the hall from front to rear, and the only natural light that
enters it comes through two small windows rather high up in the wall,
facing each other at the opposite ends, and these are heavily guarded
with iron bars, placed there by some past owner of the house to keep the
South Brooklyn thugs from breaking in.

The room is furnished adequately but not so luxuriously as to deprive it
of a certain functional and Spartan simplicity. In the back half there is
an iron bed with sagging springs, a broken-down dresser with a cracked
mirror above it, two kitchen chairs, and a steamer trunk and some old
suitcases that have seen much use. At the front end, under the yellow
glow of an electric light suspended from the ceiling by a cord, there is
a large desk, very much scarred and battered, with the handles missing on
most of the drawers, and in front of it there is a straight-backed chair
made out of some old, dark wood. In the centre, ranged against the walls,
where they serve to draw the two ends of the room together into aesthetic
unity, stand an ancient gate-legged table, so much of its dark green
paint flaked off that the dainty pink complexion of its forgotten youth
shows through all over, a tier of book-shelves, unpainted, and two large
crates or packing-cases, their thick top boards pried off to reveal great
stacks of ledgers and of white and yellow manuscript within. On top of
the desk, on the table, on the book-shelves, and all over the floor are
scattered, like fallen leaves in autumn woods, immense masses of loose
paper with writing on every sheet, and everywhere are books, piled up on
their sides or leaning crazily against each other.

This dark cellar is George Webber's abode and working quarters. Here, in
winter, the walls, which sink four feet below the level of the ground,
sweat continuously with clammy drops of water. Here, in summer, it is he
who does the sweating.

His neighbours, he will tell you, are for the most part Armenians,
Italians, Spaniards, Irishmen, and Jews--in short, Americans. They live
in all the shacks, tenements, and slums in all the raw, rusty streets and
alleys of South Brooklyn.

And what is that you smell?

Oh, that! Well, you see, he shares impartially with his neighbours a
piece of public property in the vicinity; it belongs to all of them in
common, and it gives to South Brooklyn its own distinctive atmosphere. It
is the old Gowanus Canal, and that aroma you speak of is nothing but the
huge symphonic stink of it, cunningly compacted of unnumbered separate
putrefactions. It is interesting sometimes to try to count them. There is
in it not only the noisome stenches of a stagnant sewer, but also the
smells of melted glue, burned rubber, and smouldering rags, the odours of
a boneyard horse, long dead, the incense of putrefying offal, the
fragrance of deceased, decaying cats, old tomatoes, rotten cabbage, and
prehistoric eggs.

And how does he stand it?

Well, one gets used to it. One can get used to anything, just as all
these other people do. They never think of the smell, they never speak of
it, they'd probably miss it if they moved away.

To this place, then, George Webber has come, and here "holed in" with a
kind of dogged stubbornness touched with desperation. And you will not be
far wrong if you surmise that he has come here deliberately, driven by a
resolution to seek out the most forlorn and isolated hiding spot that he
could find.

* * * * *

Mr. Marple, a gentleman who has a room on the second floor, comes
stumbling down the darkened basement stairway with a bottle in his hand
and knocks upon George Webber's door.

"Come in!"

Mr. Marple comes in, introduces himself, does the right thing with the
bottle, sits down, and begins to make talk.

"Well, now, Mr. Webber, how d'yah like that drink I mixed for yah?"

"Oh, I like it, I like it."

"Well, now, if yah don't, I want yah t'come right out an' say so."

"Oh, I would, I would."

"I mean I'd like to know. I'd appreciate yah tellin' me. What I mean is,
I made that stuff myself from a little private formuler I got--I wouldn't
buy no stuff from a bootlegger--I wouldn't take no chance wit' the
bastards. I buy the alcohol that goes into that drink from a place I
know, an' I always know what I'm gettin'--d'yah know what I mean?"

"Yes, I certainly do."

"But I'd like to know what yah think of it, I'd appreciate yah tellin'
me."

"Oh, it's fine, it couldn't be better."

"I'm glad yah like it, an' you're sure I didn't disturb yah?"

"Oh, no, not at all."

"Because I was on my way in when I sees your light there in the winder,
so I says to myself, now that guy may think I've got an orful nerve
buttin' in like this but I'm gonna stop an' get acquainted an' ast him if
he'd like a little drink."

"I'm glad you did."

"But if I disturbed yah I wantcha t'say so."

"Oh, no, not at all."

"Because here's the way it is wit' me. I'm interested in youman
nature--I'm a great student of psychology--I can read faces the minute I
look at a guy--it's somethin' that I always had--I guess that's why I'm
in the insurance game. So when I sees a guy that interests me I wanta get
acquainted wit' him an' get his reactions to things. So when I sees your
light I says to myself, he may tell me to get the hell outa there but
there ain't no harm in tryin'."

"I'm glad you did."

"Now Mr. Webber, I think I'm a pretty good judge of character----"

"Oh, I'm sure you are."

"--an' I been lookin' at yah an' sorta sizin' yah up while yah been
sittin' there. Yah didn't know I was sizin' yah up but that's what I been
doin' all the time yah been sittin' there because I'm a great student of
youman nature, Mr. Webber, an' I gotta size up all grades an' classes
every day in my business--_you_ know--I'm in the insurance game. An'
I wanna ast yah a question. Now if it's too personal I wantcha t'come
right out an' say so, but if yah don't mind answerin' I'm gonna ast it to
yah."

"Not at all. What is it?"

"Well, Mr. Webber, I already reached my own conclusions, but I'm gonna
ast it to yah just t'see if it don't bear me out. Now what I'm gonna ast
yah--an' yah don't have to answer if yah don't want to--is--What's your
line?--What business are yah in? Now yah don't need to tell me if it's
too personal."

"Not at all. I'm a writer."

"A _what?_"

"A writer. I wrote a book once. I'm trying to write another one now."

"Well now, it may surprise yah but that's just what I figgered out
myself. I says to myself, now there's a guy, I says, that's in some kind
of intelleckshul work where he's got t'use his head. He's a writer or a
newspaperman or in the advertisin' business. Y'see I've always been a
great judge of youman nature--that's _my_ line."

"Yes, I see."

"An' now I wanna tell yah somethin' else, Mr. Webber. You're doin' the
thing yah was cut out for, you're doin' the thing yah was born to do,
it's what yah been preparin' to do all your life sinct yah was a kid--am
I right or wrong?"

"Oh, I guess you're right."

"An' that's the reason you're gonna be a big success at it. Stick to
writin', Mr. Webber. I'm a great judge of youman nature an' I know what
I'm talkin' about. Just stick to the thing yah always wanted to be an'
yah'll get there. Now some guys never find theirselves. Some guys never
know what they wanna be. That's the trouble wit' some guys. Now wit' me
it's different. I didn't find myself till I was a grown man. You'd have
t'laugh, Mr. Webber, if I told yah what it was I wanted t'be when I was a
kid."

"What was it, Mr. Marple?"

"Say, Mr. Webber--y'know it's funny--yah won't believe me--but up to the
time I was about twenty years old, a grown man, I was crazy to be a
railway engineer. No kiddin'. I was nuts about it. An' I'd a-been just
crazy enough to've gone ahead an' got a job on the railway if the old man
hadn't yanked me by the collar an' told me t'snap out of it. Yah know I'm
a Down-Easter by birth--don't talk like it any more--I been here too
long--but that's where I grew up. My old man was a plumber in Augusta,
Maine. So when I tells him I'm gonna be a locomotive engineer he boots me
one in the seat of the pants an' tells me I ain't no such thing. 'I've
sent yah to school,' he says, 'you've had ten times the schoolin' that I
had, an' now yah tell me that you're gonna be a railway hogger. Well,
you're not,' the old man says, 'you're gonna be one member of the fambly
that's comin' home at night wit' clean hands an' a white collar. Now you
get the hell outa here an' hunt yah up a job in some decent high-class
business where yah'll have a chanct t'advance an' associate wit' your
social ekals.' Jesus! It was a lucky thing for me he took that stand or
I'd never a-got where I am to-day. But I was good an' sore about it at
the time. An' say, Mr. Webber--you're gonna laugh when I tell yah this
one--I ain't actually over the darn thing yet. No kiddin'. When I see one
of these big engines bargin' down the track I still get that funny crawly
feelin' I usta have when I was a kid an' looked at 'em. The guys at the
office had t'laugh about it when I told 'em, an' now when I come in they
call me Casey Jones.--Well, what d'yah say yah have another little
snifter before I go?"

"Thanks, I'd like to, but maybe I'd better not. I've still got a little
work I ought to do before I turn in."

"Well now, Mr. Webber, I know just how it is. An' that's the way I had
yah sized up from the first. That guy's a writer, I says, or in some sort
of intelleckshul occupation where he's got to use his head--was I right
or wrong?"

"Oh, you were right."

"Wel!, I'm glad to've metcha, Mr. Webber. Don't make yourself a stranger
round here. Yah know, a guy gets sorta lonely sometimes. My wife died
four years ago so I been livin' upstairs here ever sinct--sorta figgered
that a single guy didn't need no more room than I got here. Come up to
see me. I'm interested in youman nature an' 1 like to talk to people an'
get their different reactions. So any time yah feel like chewin' the rag
a bit, drop in."

"Oh, I will, I will."

"Good night, Mr. Webber."

"Good night, Mr. Marple."

Good night. Good night. Good night.

Across the basement hall, in another room similar to George Webber's,
lived an old man by the name of Wakefield. He had a son somewhere in New
York who paid his rent, but Mr. Wakefield rarely saw his son. He was a
brisk and birdy little man with a chirping, cheerful voice; and, although
he was almost ninety, he always seemed to be in good health and was still
immensely active. His son had provided him with a room to live in, and he
had a little money of his own--a few dollars a month from a
pension--enough to supply his meagre wants; but he lived a life of utter
loneliness, seeing his son only on the occasion of a holiday or a rare
visit, and the rest of the time living all by himself in his basement
room.

Yet he had as brave and proud a spirit as any man on earth. He longed
desperately for companionship, but he would have died rather than admit
he was lonely. So independent was he, and so sensitive, that, while he
was always courteous and cheerful, his tone when he responded to a
greeting was a little cold and distant, lest anyone should think he was
too forward and eager. But, once satisfied of one's friendliness, no one
could respond more warmly or more cordially than old man Wakefield.

George grew fond of him and liked to talk with him, and the old man would
invite him eagerly into his part of the basement and proudly display his
room, which he kept with a soldierlike neatness. He was a veteran of the
Union Army in the Civil War, and his room was filled with books, records,
papers, and old clippings bearing on the war and on the part his regiment
had played in it. Although he was alert and eager towards the life round
him, and much too brave and hopeful a spirit to live mournfully in the
past, the Civil War had been the great and central event in old man
Wakefield's life. Like many of the men of his generation, both North and
South, it had never occurred to him that the war was not the central
event in everyone's life. Because it was so with him, he believed that
people everywhere still lived and thought and talked about the war all
the time.

He was a leading figure in the activities of his Grand Army Post, and was
always bustling about with plans and projects for the coming year. It
seemed to him that the Grand Army organisation, whose thinning ranks of
old and feeble men he still saw with the proud eyes of forty or fifty
years before, was the most powerful society in the nation, and that its
word of warning or stern reproof was enough to make all the kings of the
earth quake and tremble in their boots. He was bitterly scornful and
would bristle up immediately at mention of the American Legion: he
fancied slights and cunning trickery on the part of this body all the
time, and he would ruffle up like a rooster when he spoke of the
Legionnaires, and say in an angry, chirping voice:

"It's jealousy! Nothing in the world but sheer tar-nation
_jealousy_--that's what it is!"

"But why, Mr. Wakefield? Why should they be jealous of you?"

"Because we reely did some soldierin'--that's why!" he chirped angrily.
"Because they know we fit the Rebels--yes! and _fit_ 'em good--and
_licked_ 'em, too!" he cackled triumphantly--"in a war that
_was_ a war!...Pshaw!" he said scornfully, in a lowered voice,
looking out the window with a bitter smile and with eyes that had
suddenly grown misty. "What do these fellows know about a war?--Some
_bob-tail--raggedy--two-by-two_--little _jackleg_ feller--of a
_Legionnary!_" He spat the words out with a malignant satisfaction,
breaking at the end into a vindictive cackle. "Standin' to their necks
all day in some old trench and never gettin' within ten miles of the
enemy!" he sneered. "If they ever saw a troop of cavalry, I don't know
what they'd make of it! I reckon they'd think it was the circus come to
town!" he cackled. "A war! A _war!_ Hell-fire, that warn't no war!"
he cried derisively. "If they wanted to see a war, they should've been
with us at the Bloody Angle! But, pshaw!" he said. "They'd a-run like
rabbits if they'd been there! The only way you could a-kept 'em would've
been to tie 'em to a tree!"

"Don't you think they could have beaten the Rebels, Mr. Wakefield?"

"Beat 'em?" he shrilled. "_Beat_ 'em! Why, boy, what are you talkin'
about?...Hell! If Stonewall Jackson ever started for that gang, he'd run
'em ragged! Yes, sir! They'd light out so fast they'd straighten out all
the bends of the road as they went by!" cried old man Wakefield,
cackling. "Pshaw!" he said quietly and scornfully again. "They couldn't
do it! It ain't in 'em!...But I'll tell you this much!" he cried suddenly
in an excited voice. "We're not goin' to put up with it much longer! The
boys have had just about as much of it as they can stand! If they try to
do us like they done last year--pshaw!" he broke off again, and looked
out the window shaking his head--"Why it's all as plain as the nose on
your face! It's jealousy--just plain, confounded _jealousy_--that's
all in the world it is!"

"What is, Mr. Wakefield?"

"Why, the way they done us last year!" he cried. "Puttin' us way back
there at the tail-end of the _pee_-rade, when by all the rights--as
everybody knows--we should've come first! But we'll fix 'em!" he cried
warningly. "We've got a way to fix 'em!" he said with a triumphant shake
of the head. "I know the thing we're goin' to do _this_ year," he
cried, "if they try another trick like that on us!"

"What are you going to do, Mr. Wakefield?"

"Why," he cackled, "we won't _pee_-rade! We simply won't
_pee_-rade! We'll tell 'em they can hold their derned _pee_-rade
without us!" he chirped exultantly. "And I reckon that'll
fix 'em! Oh yes! That'll bring 'em round, or I miss _my_ guess!" he
crowed.

"It ought to, Mr. Wakefield."

"Why, boy," he said solemnly, "if we ever did a thing like that, there
would be a wave of protest--a _wave_ of protest"--he cried with a
sweeping gesture of the arm, as his voice rose strongly--"from here to
Californy!...The people wouldn't _stand_ for it!" he cried. "They'd
make _those_ fellers back down in a hurry!"

And as George left him, the old man would come with him to the door,
shake his hand warmly and, with an eager and lonely look in his old eyes,
say:

"Come again, boy! I'm always glad to see you!...I got stuff in
here--photygraphs an' books, an' such as that about the war--that you
ain't seen yet. No, nor no one else!" he cackled. "For no one else has
got 'em!...Just let me know when you're comin' an' I'll be here."

Slowly the years crept by and George lived alone in Brooklyn. They were
hard years, desperate years, lonely years, years of interminable writing
and experimentation, years of exploration and discovery, years of grey
timelessness, weariness, exhaustion, and self-doubt. He had reached the
wilderness period of his life and was hacking his way through the jungles
of experience. He had stripped himself down to the brutal facts of self
and work. These were all he had.

He saw himself more clearly now than he had ever done before, and, in
spite of living thus alone, he no longer thought of himself as a rare and
special person who was doomed to isolation, but as a man who worked and
who, like other men, was a part of life. He was concerned passionately
with reality. He wanted to see things whole, to find out everything he
could, and then to create out of what he knew the fruit of his own
vision.

One criticism that had been made of his first book still rankled in his
mind. An unsuccessful scribbler turned critic had simply dismissed the
whole book as a "barbaric yawp", accusing Webber of getting at things
with his emotions rather than with his brains, and of being hostile
towards the processes of the intellect and "the intellectual point of
view." These charges, if they had any truth in them, seemed to George to
be the kind of lifeless half-truth that was worse than no truth at all.
The trouble with the so-called "intellectuals" was that they were not
intellectual enough, and their point of view more often than not had no
point, but was disparate, arbitrary, sporadic, and confused.

To be an "intellectual" was, it seemed, a vastly different thing from
being intelligent. A dog's nose would usually lead him towards what he
wished to find, or away from what he wished to avoid: this was
intelligent. That is, the dog had the sense of reality in his nose. But
the "intellectual" usually had no nose, and was lacking in the sense of
reality. The most striking difference between Webber's mind and the mind
of the average "intellectual" was that Webber absorbed experience like a
sponge, and made use of everything that he absorbed. He really learned
constantly from experience. But the "intellectuals" of his acquaintance
seemed to learn nothing. They had no capacity for rumination and
digestion. They could not reflect.

He thought over a few of them that he had known:

There was Haythorpe, who when George first knew him was an esthete of the
late baroque in painting, writing all the arts, author of one-act costume
plays--"Gesmonder! Thy hands pale chalices of hot desire!" Later he
became an esthete of the primitives--the Greek, Italian, and the German;
then esthete of the nigger cults--the wood sculptures, coon songs,
hymnals, dances, and the rest; still later, esthete of the comics--of
cartoons, Chaplin, and the Brothers Marx; then of Expressionism; then of
the Mass; then of Russia and the Revolution; at length, esthete of
homo-sexuality; and finally, death's esthete--suicide in a graveyard in
Connecticut.

There was Collingswood, who, fresh out of Harvard, was not so much the
esthete of the arts as of the mind. First, a Bolshevik from Beacon Hill,
practitioner of promiscuous, communal love as the necessary answer to
"bourgeois morality"; then back to Cambridge for post-graduate study at
the feet of Irving Babbitt--Collingswood is now a Humanist, the bitter
enemy of Rousseau, Romanticism, and of Russia (which is, he now thinks,
Rousseau in modern form); the playwright, next--New Jersey, Beacon Hill,
or Central Park seen in the classic unities of the Greek drama; at
length, disgusted realist--"all that's good in modern art or letters is
to be found in advertisements"; then a job as a scenario writer and two
years in Hollywood--all now is the moving picture, with easy money, easy
love affairs, and drunkenness; and finally, back to Russia, but with his
first love lacking--no sex triflings now, my comrades--we who serve the
Cause and wait upon the day lead lives of Spartan abstinence--what was
the free life, free love, enlightened pleasure of the proletariat ten
years ago is now despised as the contemptible debauchery of "bourgeois
decadence".

There was Spurgeon from the teaching days at the School for Utility
Cultures--good Spurgeon--Chester Spurgeon of the Ph.D.--Spurgeon of "the
great tradition"--thin-lipped Spurgeon, ex-student of Professor Stuart
Sherman, and bearer-onwards of the Master's Torch. Noble-hearted
Spurgeon, who wrote honeyed flatteries of Thornton Wilder and his
_Bridge_--"The tradition of the Bridge is Love, just as the
tradition of America and of Democracy is Love. Hence"--Spurgeon
hences--Love grows Wilder as the years Bridge on across America. Oh,
where now, good Spurgeon, "intellectual" Spurgeon--Spurgeon whose thin
lips and narrowed eyes were always so glacial prim on Definitions? Where
now, brave intellect, by passion uninflamed? Spurgeon of the flashing
mind, by emotion unimpulsed, is now a devoted leader of the intellectual
Communists (See Spurgeon's article entitled: "Mr. Wilder's Piffle", in
the _New Masses_).--So, Comrade Spurgeon, hail! Hail, Comrade
Spurgeon--and most heartily, my bright-eyed Intellectual, farewell!

Whatever George Webber was, he knew he was not an "intellectual". He was
just an American who was looking hard at the life round him, and sorting
carefully through all the life he had ever seen and known, and trying to
extract some essential truth out of this welter of his whole experience.
But, as he said to his friend and editor, Fox Edwards:

"What _is_ truth? No wonder jesting Pilate turned away. The truth,
it has a thousand faces--show only one of them, and the _whole_
truth flies away! But how to show the whole? That's the question...

"Discovery in itself is not enough. It's not enough to find out what
things are. You've also got to find out where they come from, where each
brick fits in the wall."

He always came back to the wall.

"I think it's like this," he said. "You see a wall, you look at it so
much and so hard that one day you see clear through it. Then, of course,
it's not just one wall any longer. It's every wall that ever was."

He was still spiritually fighting out the battle of his first book, and
all the problems it had raised. He was still searching for a way. At
times he felt that his first book had taught him nothing--not even
confidence. His feelings of hollow desperation and self-doubt seemed to
grow worse instead of better, for he had now torn himself free from
almost every personal tie which had ever bound him, and which formerly
had sustained him in some degree with encouragement and faith. He was
left, therefore, to rely almost completely on his own resources.

There was also the insistent, gnawing consciousness of work itself, the
necessity of turning towards the future and the completion of a new book.
He was feeling, now as never before, the inexorable pressure of time. In
writing his first book, he had been unknown And obscure, and there had
been a certain fortifying strength in that, for no one had expected
anything of him. But now the spotlight of publication had been turned
upon him, and he felt it beating down with merciless intensity. He was
pinned beneath the light--he could not crawl out of it. Though he had not
won fame, still he was known now. He had been examined, probed, and
talked about. He felt that the world was looking at him with a critic
eye.

It had been easy in his dreams to envision a long and fluent sequence of
big books, but now he was finding it a different matter to accomplish
them. His first book had been more an act of utterance than an act of
labour. It was an impassioned expletive of youth--something that had been
pent up in him, something felt and seen and imagined and put down at
white-hot heat. The writing of it had been a process of spiritual and
emotional evacuation. But that was behind him now, and he knew he should
never try to repeat it. Henceforth his writing would have to come from
unending labour and preparation.

In his effort to explore his experience, to extract the whole, essential
truth of it, and to find a way to write about it, he sought to recapture
every particle of the life he knew down to its minutest details. He spent
weeks and months trying to put down on paper the exactitudes of countless
fragments--what he called: "the dry, caked colours of America"--how the
entrance to a subway looked, the design and webbing of the elevated
structure, the look and feel of an iron rail, the particular shade of
rusty green with which so many things are painted in America. Then he
tried to pin down the foggy colour of the brick of which so much of
London is constructed, the look of an English doorway, of a French
window, of the roofs and chimney-pots of Paris, of a whole street in
Munich--and each of these foreign things he then examined in contrast to
its American equivalent.

It was a process of discovery in its most naked, literal, and primitive
terms. He was just beginning really to see thousands of things for the
first time, to see the relations between them, to see here and there
whole series and systems of relations. He was like a scientist in some
new field of chemistry who for the first time realises that he has
stumbled upon a vast new world, and who will then pick out identities,
establish affiliations, define here and there the outlines of sub-systems
in crystalline union, without yet being aware what the structure of the
whole is like, or what the final end will be.

The same processes now began to inform his direct observation of the life
round him. Thus, on his nocturnal ramblings about New York, he would
observe the homeless men who prowled in the vicinity of restaurants,
lifting the lids of garbage cans and searching round inside for morsels
of rotten food. He saw them everywhere, and noticed how their numbers
increased during the hard and desperate days of 1932. He knew what kind
of men they were, for he talked to many of them; he knew what they had
been, where they had come from, and even what kind of scraps they could
expect to dig out of the garbage cans. He found out the various places
all over the city where such men slept at night. A favourite rendezvous
was a corridor of the subway station at Thirty-third Street and Park
Avenue in Manhattan. There one night he counted thirty-four huddled
together on the cold concrete, wrapped up in sheathings of old newspaper.

It was his custom almost every night, at one o'clock or later, to walk
across the Brooklyn Bridge, and night after night, with a horrible
fascination, he used to go to the public latrine or "comfort station"
which was directly in front of the New York City Hall. One descended to
this place down a steep flight of stairs from the street, and on bitter
nights he would find the place crowded with homeless men who had sought
refuge there. Some were those shambling hulks that one sees everywhere,
in Paris as well as New York, in good times as well as bad--old men, all
rags and bags and long white hair and bushy beards stained dirty yellow,
wearing tattered overcoats in the cavernous pockets of which they
carefully stored away all the little rubbish they lived on and spent
their days collecting in the streets--crusts of bread, old bones with
rancid shreds of meat still clinging to them, and dozens of
cigarette-butts. Some were the "stumble bums" from the Bowery, criminal,
fumed with drink or drugs, or half insane with "smoke". But most of them
were just flotsam of the general ruin of the time--honest, decent,
middle-aged men with faces seamed by toil and want, and young men, many
of them mere boys in their teens, with thick, unkempt hair. These were
the wanderers from town to town, the riders of freight trains, the
thumbers of rides on highways, the uprooted, unwanted male population of
America. They drifted across the land and gathered in the big cities when
winter came, hungry, defeated, empty, hopeless, restless, driven by they
knew not what, always on the move, looking everywhere for work, for the
bare crumbs to support their miserable lives, and finding neither work
nor crumbs. Here in New York, to this obscene meeting-place, these
derelicts came, drawn into a common stew of rest and warmth and a little
surcease from their desperation.

George had never before witnessed anything to equal the indignity and
sheer animal horror of the scene. There was even a kind of devil's comedy
in the sight of all these filthy men squatting upon those open, doorless
stools. Arguments and savage disputes and fights would sometimes break
out among them over the possession of these stools, which all of them
wanted more for rest than for necessity. The sight was revolting,
disgusting, enough to render a man forever speechless with very pity.

He would talk to the men and find out all he could about them, and when
he could stand it no more he would come out of this hole of filth and
suffering, and there, twenty feet above it, he would see the giant
hackles of Manhattan shining coldly in the cruel brightness of the winter
night. The Woolworth Building was not fifty yards away, and, a little
farther down were the silvery spires and needles of Wall Street, great
fortresses of stone and steel that housed enormous hanks. The blind
injustice of this contrast seemed the most brutal part of the whole
experience, for there, all round him in the cold moonlight, only a few
blocks away from this abyss of human wretchedness and misery, blazed the
pinnacle of power where a large portion of the entire world's wealth was
locked in mighty vaults.

They were now dosing up the restaurant. The tired waitresses were racking
the chairs upon the tables, completing the last formalities of their hard
day's work in preparation for departure. At the cash register the
proprietor was totting up the figures of the day's take, and one of the
male waiters hovered watchfully near the table, in a manner politely
indicating that while he was not in a hurry he would be glad if the last
customer would pay his bill and leave.

George called for his check and gave the man some money. He took it and
in a moment returned with the change. He pocketed his tip and said:
"Thank you, sir." Then as George said good night and started to get up
and leave, the waiter hesitated and hung round uncertainly as if there
was something he wanted to say but scarcely knew whether he ought to say
it or not.

George looked at him inquiringly, and then, in a rather embarrassed tone,
the waiter said:

"Mr. Webber...there's...something I'd like to talk over with you
sometime...I--I'd like to get your advice about something--that is, if
you have time," he added hastily and almost apologetically.

George regarded the waiter with another inquiring look,-in which the man
evidently read encouragement, for now he went on quickly, in a manner of
almost beseeching entreaty:

"It's--it's about a story."

The familiar phrase awakened countless weary echoes in Webber's memory.
It also resolved that hard and honest patience with which any man who
ever sweated to write a living line and to earn his bread by the hard,
uncertain labour of his pen will listen, as an act of duty and
understanding, to any other man who says he has a tale to tell. His mind
and will wearily composed themselves, his face set in a strained smile
of mechanical anticipation, and the poor waiter, thus encouraged, went
on eagerly:

"It's--it's a story a guy told me several years ago. I've been thinking
about it ever since. The guy was a foreigner," said the waiter
impressively, as if this fact was enough to guarantee the rare colour and
fascinating interest of what he was about to reveal. "He was an
Armenian," said the waiter very earnestly. "Sure! He came from over
there!" He nodded his head emphatically. "And this story that he told me
was an _Armenian_ story," said the waiter with solemn emphasis, and
then paused to let this impressive fact sink in. "It was a story that he
knew about--he told it to me--and I'm the only other guy that knows about
it," said the waiter, and paused again, looking at his patron with a very
bright and feverish eye.

George continued to smile with wan encouragement, and in a moment the
waiter, after an obvious struggle with his soul, a conflict between his
desire to keep his secret and to tell it, too, went on:

"Gee! You're a writer, Mr. Webber, and you know about these things. I'm
just a dumb guy working in a restaurant--but if I could put it into
words--if I could get a guy like you who knows how it's done to tell the
story for me--why--why"--he struggled with himself, then burst out
enthusiastically--"there'd be a fortune in it for the both of us!"

George felt his heart sink still lower. It was turning out just as he
knew it would. But he still continued to smile pallidly. He cleared his
throat in an undecided fashion, but then said nothing. And the waiter,
taking silence for consent, now pressed on impetuously:

"Honest, Mr. Webber--if I could get somebody like you to help me with
this story--to write it down for me the way it ought to be-I'd--I'd"--for
a moment the waiter struggled with his lower nature, then magnanimity got
the better of him and he cried out with t he decided air of a man who is
willing to make a generous bargain and stick to it--"I'd go fifty-fifty
with him! I'd--I'd be willing to give him half!...And there's a fortune
in it!" he cried. "I go to the movies and I read _True Story
Magazine_--and I never seen a story like it! It's got 'em all beat!
I've thought about it for years, ever since the guy told it to me--and I
know I've got a gold mine here if I could only write it
down!...It's--it's----"

Now, indeed, the waiter's struggle with his sense of caution became
painful to watch. He was evidently burning with a passionate desire to
reveal his secret, but he was also obviously tormented by doubts and
misgivings lest he should recklessly give away to a comparative stranger
a treasure which the other might appropriate to his own use. I I is
manner was very much that of a man who has sailed strange seas and seen,
in some unknown coral island, the fabulous buried cache of forgotten
pirates' plundering, and who is now being torn between two desperate
needs--his need of partnership, of outward help, and his imperative need
of secrecy and caution. The fierce interplay of these two powers discrete
was waged there on the open battlefield of the waiter's countenance. And
in the end he took the obvious way out. Like an explorer who will take
from his pocket an uncut gem of tremendous size and value and cunningly
hint that in a certain place he knows of there are many more like it, the
waiter decided to tell a little part of his story without revealing it.

"I--I can't tell you the whole thing to-night," he said apologetically.
"Some other night, maybe, when you've got more time. But just to give you
an idea of what's in it"--he looked round stealthily to make sure he was
in no danger of being overheard, then bent over and lowered his voice to
an impressive whisper--"just to give you an idea, now--there's one scene
in the story where a woman puts an advertisement in the paper that she
will give a ten-dollar gold piece and as much liquor as he can drink to
any man who comes round to see her the next day!" After imparting this
sensational bit of information, the waiter regarded his patron with
glittering eyes. "Now!" said the waiter, straightening up with a gesture
of finality. "You never heard of anything like that, did you? You ain't
never seen _that_ in a story!"

George, after a baffled pause, admitted feebly that he had not. Then,
when the waiter continued to regard him feverishly, with a look that made
it plain that he was supposed to say something more, he inquired
doubtfully whether this interesting event had really happened in Armenia.

"Sure!" cried the waiter, nodding vigorously. "That's what I'm telling
you! The whole thing happens in Armenia!" He paused again, torn fiercely
between his caution and his desire to go on, his feverish eyes almost
burning holes through his questioner. "It's--it's--" he struggled for a
moment more, then surrendered; abjectly--"well, I'll tell you," he said
quietly, leaning forward, with his hands resting on the table in an
attitude of confidential intimacy. "The idea of the story runs like
this. You got this rich dame to begin with, see?"

He paused and looked at George inquiringly. George did not: know what was
expected of him, so he nodded to show that his min had grasped this
important fact, and said hesitatingly:

"In Armenia?"

"Sure! Sure!" The waiter nodded. "This dame comes from over there--she's
got a big pile of dough--I guess she's the richest dame in Armenia. And
then she falls for this guy, see?" he went on. "He's nuts about her, and
he comes to see her every night. The way the guy told it to me, she lives
up at the top of this big house--so every night the guy comes and climbs
up there to see her--oh, a hell of a long ways up"--the waiter
said--"thirty floors or more!"

"In Armenia?" George asked feebly.

"Sure!" cried the waiter, a little irritably. "That's where it all takes
place! That's what I'm telling you!"

He paused and looked searchingly at George, who finally asked, with just
the proper note of hesitant thoughtfulness, why the lover had had to
climb up so far.

"Why," said the waiter impatiently, "because the dame's old man wouldn't
let him in! That was the only way the guy could get to her! The old man
shut her up way up there at the top of the house because he didn't want
the dame to get married!...But then," he went on triumphantly, "the old
man dies, see? He dies and leaves all his dough to this dame--and then
she ups and marries this guy!"

Dramatically, with triumph written in his face, the waiter paused to let
this startling news soak into the consciousness of his listener. Then he
continued:

"They lived together for a while--the dame's in love with him--and for a
year or two they're sitting pretty. But then the guy begins to
drink--he's a booze hound, see?--only she don't know it--she's been able
to hold him down for a year or two after they get married...Then he
begins to step out again...The first thing you know he's staying out all
night and running round with a lot of hot blondes, see?...Well, then, you
see what's coming now, don't you?" said the waiter quickly and eagerly.

George had no notion, but he nodded his head wisely.

"Well, that's what happens," said the waiter. "The first thing you know
the guy ups and leaves the dame and takes with him a lot of her dough and
joolry...He just disappears--just like the earth had opened and swallowed
him up!" the waiter declared, evidently pleased with his poetic simile.
"He leaves her cold, and the poor dame's almost out of her head. She does
everything--she hires detectives--she offers rewards--she puts ads in the
paper begging him to come back...But it's no use--she can't find him--the
guy's lost...Well, then," the waiter continued, "three years go by while
the poor dame sits and eats her heart out about this guy...And
then"--here he paused impressively, and it was evident that he was now
approaching the crisis--"then she has an idea!" He paused again, briefly,
to allow this extraordinary accomplishment on the part of his heroine to
be given due consideration, and in a moment, very simply and quietly, he
concluded: "She opens up a night club."

The waiter fell silent now, and stood at ease with his hands clasped
quietly before him, with the modest air of a man who has given his all
and is reasonably assured it is enough. It now became compellingly
apparent that his listener was supposed to make some appropriate comment,
and that the narrator could not continue with his tale until this word
had been given. So George mustered his failing strength, moistened his
dry lips with the end of his tongue, and finally said in a halting voice:

"In--in Armenia?"

The waiter now took the question, and the manner of its utterance, as
signs of his listener's paralyzed surprise. He nodded his head
victoriously and cried:

"Sure! You see, the dame's idea is this--she knows the guy's a booze
hound and that sooner or later he'll come to a place where there's lots
of bar-flies and fast women. That kind always hang together--sure they
do!...So she opens up this joint--she sinks a lot of dough in it--it's
the swellest joint they got over there. And then she puts this ad in the
paper."

George was not sure that he had heard aright, but the waiter was looking
at him with an expression of such exuberant elation that he took a chance
and said:

"What ad?"

"Why," said the waiter, "this come-on ad that I was telling you about.
You see, that's the big idea--that's the plan the dame dopes out to get
him back. So she puts this ad in the paper saying that any man who comes
to her joint the next day will be given a ten-dollar gold piece and all
the liquor he can drink. She figures that will bring him. She knows the
guy is probably down and out by this time and when he reads this ad he'll
show up...And that's just what happens. When she comes down next morning
she finds a line twelve blocks long outside, and sure enough, here's this
guy the first one in the line. Well, she pulls him out of the line and
tells the cashier to give all the rest of 'em their booze and their ten
bucks, but she tells this guy he ain't gonna get nothing. 'What's the
reason I ain't?' he says--you see, the dame is wearing a heavy veil so he
don't recognise her. Well, she tells him she thinks there's something
phoney about him--gives him the old line, you know--tells him to come
upstairs with her so she can talk to him and find out if he's O.K...Do
you get it?"

George nodded vaguely. "And then what?" he said.

"Why," the waiter cried, "she gets him up there--and then"--he leaned
forward again with fingers resting on the table, and his voice sank to an
awed whisper--"_she--takes--off--her--veil!_"

There was a reverential silence as the waiter, still leaning forward with
his fingers arched upon the table, regarded his listener with bright eyes
and a strange little smile. Then he straightened up slowly, stood erect,
still smiling quietly, and a long, low sigh like the coming on of evening
came from his lips, and he was still. The silence drew itself out until
it became painful, and at length George squirmed wretchedly in his chair
and asked:

"And then--then what?"

The waiter was plainly taken aback. He stared in frank astonishment,
stunned speechless by the realisation that anybody could be stupid.

"Why"--he finally managed to say with an expression of utter
disillusion--"that's _all!_ Don't you see? That's all there is! The
dame takes off her veil--he recognises her--and there you
are!...She's found him!...She's got him back!...They're together
again!..._That's_ the story!" He was hurt, impatient, almost angry
as he went on: "Why, anybody ought to be able to see----"

"Good night, Joe."

The last waitress was just going out and had spoken to the waiter as she
passed the table. She was a blonde, slender girl, neatly dressed Her
voice was quiet and full of the casual familiarity of her daily work and
association; it was a pleasant voice, and it was a little tired. Her
face, as she paused a moment, was etched in light and shadow, and there
were little pools of violet beneath her clear grey eyes. Her face had the
masklike fragility and loveliness, the almost hair-drawn fine-MSS, that
one often sees in young people who have lived in the great city and who
have never had wholly enough of anything except work and their own hard
youth. One felt instantly sorry for the girl, because one knew that her
face would not long be what it was now.

The waiter, interrupted in the flood of his impassioned argument, had
been alittle startled by the casual intrusion of the girl's low voice
turned towards her. When he saw who it was, his manner changed at once,
and his own seamed face softened a little with instinctive and
unconscious friendliness.

"Oh, hello, Billie. Good night, kid."

She went out, and the sound of her brisk little heels clacked away on the
hard pavement. For a moment more the waiter continued to look after her,
and then, turning back to his sole remaining customer with a queer,
indefinable little smile hovering in the hard lines about his mouth, he
said very quietly and casually, in the tone men use to speak of things
done and known and irrecoverable:

"Did you see that kid?...She came in here about two years ago and got a
job. I don't know where she came from, but it was some little hick town
somewhere. She'd been a chorus girl--a hoofer in some cheap road
show--until her legs gave out...You find a lot of 'em in this game--the
business is full of 'em...Well, she worked here for about a year, and
then she began going with a cheap gigolo who used to come in here. You
know the kind--you can smell 'em a mile off--they stink. I could've told
her! But, hell, what's the use? They won't listen to you--you only get
yourself in dutch all round--they got to find out for themselves--you
can't teach 'em. So I left it alone--that's the only way...Well, six or
eight months ago, some of the girls found out she was pregnant. The boss
let her out. He's not a bad guy--but, hell, what can you expect? You
can't keep 'em round a place like this when they're in that condition,
can you?...She had the kid three months ago, and then she got her job
back. I understand she's put the kid in a home somewhere. I've never seen
it, but they say it's a swell kid, and Billie's crazy about it--goes out
there to see it every Sunday...She's a swell kid, too."

The waiter was silent for a moment, and there was a far-off look of
tragic but tranquil contemplation in his eyes. Then, quietly, wearily, he
said:

"Hell, if I could tell you what goes on here every day--the things you
see and hear--the people you meet and all that happens. Jesus, I get sick
and tired of it. Sometimes I'm so fed up with the whole thing that I
don't care if I never see the joint again. Sometimes I get to thinking
how swell it would be not to have to spend your whole life waiting on a
lot of mugs--just standing round and waiting on 'em and watching 'em come
in and out...and feeling sorry for some little kid who's fallen for some
dope you wouldn't wipe your feet on...and wondering just how long it'll
be before she gets the works...Jesus, I'm fed up with it!"

Again he was silent. His eyes looked off into the distance, and his face
was set in that expression of mildly cynical regret and acceptance that
one often notices in people who have seen much of life, and experienced
its hard and seamy side, and who know that there is very little they can
do or say. At last he sighed deeply, shook himself, threw off the mood,
and resumed his normal manner.

"Gee, Mr. Webber," he said with a return of his former eagerness, "it
must be great to be able to write books and stories--to have the gift of
gab--all that flow of language--to go anywhere you like--to work when you
want to! Now, take that story I was telling you about," he said
earnestly. "I never had no education--but if I could only get some guy
like you to help me--to write it down the way it ought to be--honest, Mr.
Webber, it's a great chance for somebody--there's a fortune in it--I'd go
fifty-fifty!" His voice was pleading now. "A guy I knew one time, he told
it to me--and me and him are the only two that knows it. The guy was an
Armenian, like I said, and the whole thing happened over there...There'd
be a gold mine in it if I only knew how to do it."

It was long after midnight, and the round disc of the moon was sinking
westward over the cold, deserted streets of slumbering Manhattan.

The party was in full swing now.

The gold and marble ballroom of the great hotel had been converted into a
sylvan fairyland. In the centre a fountain of classic nymphs and fauns
sent up its lighted sprays of water, and here and there about the floor
were rustic arbors with climbing roses trailing over them, heavy with
scented blossoms. Flowering hot-house trees in tubs were banked round the
walls, the shining marble pillars were wreathed about with vines and
garlands, and overhead gay lanterns had been strung to illuminate the
scene with their gentle glow. The whole effect was that of an open
clearing in a forest glade upon Midsummer Night where Queen Titania had
come to hold her court and revels.

It was a rare, exotic spectacle, a proper setting for the wealthy,
carefree youth for whom it had been planned. The air was heavy with the
fragrance of rich perfumes, and vibrant with the throbbing, pulsing
rhythms of sensuous music. Upon the polished floor a hundred lovely girls
in brilliant evening gowns danced languidly in the close embrace of
pink-cheeked boys from Yale and Harvard, their lithe young figures
accentuated smartly by the black and white of faultless tailoring.

This was the coming-out party of a fabulously rich young lady, and the
like of it had not been seen since the days before the market crashed.
The papers had been full of it for weeks. It was said that her father had
lost millions in the debacle, but it was apparent that he still had a few
paltry dollars left. So now he was doing the right thing, the expected
thing, the necessary and inescapable thing, for his beautiful young
daughter, who would one day inherit all that these ruinous times had left
him of his hard-earned savings. To-night she was being "presented to
Society" (whose members had known her since her birth), and all "Society"
was there.

And from this night on, the girl's smiling face would turn up with
monotonous regularity in all the rotogravure sections of the Sunday
papers, and daily the nation would be kept posted on all the momentous
trivia of her life--what she ate, what she wore, where she went, who went
with her, what night clubs had been honoured by her presence, what
fortunate young gentleman had been seen accompanying her to what race
track, and what benefits she had sponsored and poured tea for. For one
whole year, from now until another beautiful and rich young lady from
next season's crop of beautiful and rich young ladies was chosen by the
newspaper photographers to succeed her as America's leading debutante,
this gay and care-free creature would be for Americans very much what a
royal princess is for Englishmen, and for very much the same
reason--because she was her father's daughter, and because her father was
one of the rulers of America. Millions would read about her every move
and envy her, and thousands would copy her as far as their means would
let them. They would buy cheap imitations of her costly dresses, hats,
and underclothes, would smoke the same cigarettes, use the same
lipsticks, eat the same soups, sleep on the same mattresses that she had
allowed herself to be pictured wearing, smoking, using, eating, and
sleeping on in the handsome coloured advertisements on the back covers of
magazines--and they would do it, knowing full well that the rich young
lady had set these fashions for a price--was she not her father's
daughter?--all, of course, for the sake of sweet charity and commerce.

Outside the great hotel, on the Avenue in front of it and on all the side
streets in the near vicinity, sleek black limousines were parked. In some
of them the chauffeurs slouched dozing behind their wheels. Others had
turned on their inside lights and sat there reading the pages of the
tabloids. But most of them had left their cars and were knotted together
in little groups, smoking, talking, idling the time away until their
services should be needed again.

On the pavement near the entrance of the hotel, beside the huge marquee
which offered shelter from the wind, the largest group of them, neat in
their liveried uniforms, had gathered in debate. They were discussing
politics and theories of international economy, and the chief disputants
were a plump Frenchman with a waxed moustache, whose sentiments were
decidedly revolutionary, and an American, a little man with corky legs, a
tough, seamed face, the beady eyes of a bird, and the quick, impatient
movements of the city. As George Webber came abreast of them, brought
thither by the simple chance of his nightly wanderings, the argument had
reached its furious climax, and he stopped a while to listen.

The scene, the situation, and the contrast between the two principal
debaters made the whole affair seem utterly grotesque. The plump
Frenchman, his cheeks glowing with the cold and his own excitement, was
dancing about in a frenzy, talking and gesticulating volubly. He would
lean forward with thumb and forefinger uplifted and closed daintily in a
descriptive circle--a gesture that eloquently expressed the man's
conviction that the case he had been presenting for immediate and bloody
world revolution was complete, logical, unshakable, and beyond appeal.
When any of the others interposed an objection, he would only grow more
violent and inflamed.

At last his little English began to break down under the strain imposed
upon it. The air about him fairly rang with objurgations, expletives,
impassioned cries of "_Mais oui!...Absolument!...C'est la
vérité!_"--and with laughs of maddened exasperation, as if the
knowledge that anyone could be so obtuse as not to see it as he saw it
was more than he could endure.

"_Mais non! Mais non!_" he would shout. "_Vous avez tort!...Mais
c'est stupide!_" he would cry, throwing his plump arms up in a gesture
of defeat, and turning away as if he could stand it no longer and was
departing--only to return immediately and begin all over again.

Meanwhile, the chief target of this deluge, the little American with the
corky legs and the birdy eyes, let him go on. He just leaned up against
the building, took an occasional puff at his cigarette, and gave the
Frenchman a steady look of cynical impassivity. At last he broke in to
say:

"O.K...O.K., Frenchy...When you get through spoutin', maybe I'll have
somethin' to say."

"_Seulement un mot!_" replied the Frenchman, out of breath. "One
vord!" he cried impressively, drawing himself up to his full five feet
three and holding one finger in the air as if he were about to deliver
Holy Writ--"I 'ave to say one vord more!"

"O.K.! O.K.!" said the corky little American with cynical weariness.
"Only don't take more than an hour and a half to say it!"

Just then another chauffeur, obviously a German, with bright blue eyes
and a nut-cracker face, rejoined the group with an air of elated
discovery.

"Noos! I got noos for you!" he said. "I haf been mit a drifer who hass in
Rooshia liffed, and he says that conditions there far _worser_
are----"

"_Non! Non!_" the Frenchman shouted, red in the face with anger and
protest. "_Pas vrai!...Ce n'est par possible!_"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," the American said, tossing his cigarette away
with a gesture of impatience and disgust. "Why don't you guys wake up?
This ain't Russia! You're in America! The trouble with you guys," he went
on, "is that you've been over there all your life where you ain't been
used to nothin'--and just as soon as you get over here where you can live
like a human bein' you want to tear it all down."

At this, others broke in, and the heated and confused dialogue became
more furious than ever. But the talk just went round and round in
circles.

George walked away into the night.

The lives of men who have to live in our great cities are often
tragically lonely. In many more ways than one, these dwellers in the hive
are modern counterparts of Tantalus. They are starving to death in the
midst of abundance. The crystal stream flows near the lips but always
falls away when they try to drink of it. The vine, rich-weighted with its
golden fruit, bends down, comes near, but springs back when they reach to
touch it.

Melville, at the beginning of his great fable, _Moby Dick_, tells
how the city people of his time would, on every occasion that was
afforded them, go down to the dock, to the very edges of the wharf, and
stand there looking out to sea. In the great city of to-day, however,
there is no sea to look out to, or, if there is, it is so far away, so
inaccessible, walled in behind such infinite ramifications of stone and
steel, that the effort to get to it is disheartening. So now, when the
city man looks out, he looks out on nothing but crowded vacancy.

Does this explain, perhaps, the desolate emptiness of city youth--those
straggling bands of boys of sixteen or eighteen that one can always see
at night or on a holiday, going along a street, filling the air with
raucous jargon and senseless cries, each trying to outdo the others with
joyless catcalls and mirthless quips and jokes which are so feeble, so
stupidly inane, that one hears them with strong mixed feelings of pity
and of shame? Where here, among these lads, is all the merriment, high
spirits, and spontaneous gaiety of youth? These creatures, millions of
them, seem to have been born but half-made up, without innocence, born
old and stale and dull and empty.

Who can wonder at it? For what a world it is that most of them were born
into! They were suckled on darkness, and weaned on violence and noise.
They had to try to draw out moisture from the cobble-stones, their true
parent was a city street, and in that barren universe no urgent sails
swelled out and leaned against the wind, they rarely knew the feel of
earth beneath their feet and no birds sang, t heir youthful eyes grew
hard, unseeing, from being stopped for ever by a wall of masonry.

In other times, when painters tried to paint a scene of awful desolation,
they chose the desert or a heath of barren rocks, and there would try to
picture man in his great loneliness--the prophet in the desert,
Elijah being fed by ravens on the rocks. But for a modern painter, the
most desolate scene would be a street in almost any one of our great
cities on a Sunday afternoon.

Suppose a rather drab and shabby street in Brooklyn, not quite tenement
perhaps, and lacking therefore even the gaunt savagery of I overty, but a
street of cheap brick buildings, warehouses, and garages, with a cigar
store or a fruit stand or a barber shop on the corner. Suppose a Sunday
afternoon in March--bleak, empty, slaty grey. And suppose a group of men,
Americans of the working class, dressed in t heir "good" Sunday
clothes--the cheap machine-made suits, the new cheap shoes, the cheap
felt hats stamped out of universal grey. Just suppose this, and nothing
more. The men hang round the corner before the cigar store or the closed
barber shop, and now and then, through the bleak and empty street, a
motor-car goes flashing past, and in the distance they hear the cold
rumble of an elevated train. For hours they hang round the corner,
waiting--waiting--waiting----

For what?

Nothing. Nothing at all. And that is what gives the scene its special
quality of tragic loneliness, awful emptiness, and utter desolation.
Every modern city man is familiar with it. And yet--and yet----

It is also true--and this is a curious paradox about America--that these
same men who stand upon the corner and wait around on Sunday afternoons
for nothing are filled at the same time with an almost quenchless hope,
an almost boundless optimism, an almost indestructible belief that
something is bound to turn up, something is sure to happen. This is a
peculiar quality of the American soul, and it contributes largely to the
strange enigma of our life, which is so incredibly mixed of harshness and
of tenderness, of innocence and of crime, of loneliness and of good
fellowship, of desolation and of exultant hope, of terror and of courage,
of nameless fear and of soaring conviction, of brutal, empty, naked,
bleak, corrosive ugliness, and of beauty so lovely and so overwhelming
that the tongue is stopped by it, and the language for it has not yet
been uttered.

How explain this nameless hope that seems to lack all reasonable
foundation? I cannot. But if you were to go up to this fairly
intelligent-looking truck-driver who stands and waits there with his
crowd, and if you put to him your question, and if he understood what you
were talking about (he wouldn't), and if he were articulate enough to
frame in words the feelings that are in him (he isn't)--he might answer
you with something such as this:

"Now is duh mont' of March, duh mont' of March--now it is Sunday
afternoon in Brooklyn in duh mont' of March, an' we stand upon cold
corners of duh day. It's funny dat dere are so many corners in duh mont'
of March, here in Brooklyn where no corners are. Jesus! On Sunday in duh
mont' of March we sleep late in duh mornin' den we get up an' read duh
papers--dub funnies an' duh sportin' news. We eat some chow. An' den we
dress up in duh afternoon, we leave our wives, we leave dub funnies
littered on duh floor, an' go outside in Brooklyn in duh mont' of March
an' stand around upon ten t'ousand corners of duh day. We need a corner
in, duh mont' of March, a wall to stand to, a shelter an' a door. Dere
must be some place inside in duh mont' of March, but we never found it.
So we stand around on corners where duh sky is cold an' ragged still wit'
winter, in our good clothes we stand around wit' a lot of udder guys we
know, before dub, barber shop, just lookin' for a door."

Ah, yes, for in summer:

It is so cool and sweet to-night, a million feet are walking here across
the jungle web of Brooklyn in the dark, and it's so hard now to remember
that it ever was the month of March in Brooklyn and that we couldn't find
a door. There are so many million doors tonight. There's a door for
everyone to-night, all's open to the air, all's interfused to-night:
remote the thunder of the elevated trains on Fulton Street, the rattling
of the cars along Atlantic Avenue, the glare of Coney Island seven miles
away, the mob, the racket, and the barkers shouting, the cars
swift-shuttling through the quiet streets, the people swarming in the
web, lit here and there with livid blurs of light, the voices of the
neighbours leaning at their windows, harsh, soft, all interfused. All's
illusive in the liquid air to-night, all mixed in with the radios that
blare from open windows. And there is something over all to-night,
something fused, remote, and trembling, made of all of this, and
yet not of it, upon the huge and weaving ocean of the night in
Brooklyn--something that we had almost quite forgotten in the month of
March. What's this?--a sash raised gently?--a window?--a near voice on
the air?--something swift and passing, almost captured, there
below?--there in the gulf of night the mournful and yet thrilling voices
of the tugs?--the liner's blare? Herethere--some otherwhere--was it a
whisper?--a woman's call?--a sound of people talking behind the screens
and doors in Flatbush? It trembles in the air throughout the giant web
to-night, as fleeting as a step--near--as soft and sudden as a woman's
laugh. The liquid air is living with the very whisper of the thing that
we are looking for to-night throughout America--the very thing that
seemed so bleak, so vast, so cold, so hopeless, and so lost as we waited
in out good clothes on ten thousand corners of the day in Brooklyn in the
month of March.

If George Webber had never gone beyond the limits of the neighbourhood in
which he lived, the whole chronicle of the earth would have been there
for him just the same. South Brooklyn was a universe.

The people in the houses all round him, whose lives in the cold, raw days
of winter always seemed hermetic, sterile, and remote, as shut out from
him as though they were something sealed up in a tin, became in spring
and summer so real to him it seemed that he had known them from his
birth. For, as the days and nights grew warmer, everybody kept their
windows open, and all the dwellers in these houses conducted their most
intimate affairs in loud and raucous voices which carried to the street
and made the casual passer-by a confidant of every family secret.

God knows he saw squalor and filth and misery and despair enough,
violence and cruelty and hate enough, to crust his lips for ever with the
hard and acrid taste of desolation. He found a sinister and demented
Italian grocer whose thin mouth writhed in a servile smile as he cringed
before his customers, and the next moment was twisted in a savage snarl
as he dug his clawlike fingers into the arm of his wretched little son.
And on Saturdays the Irishmen would come home drunk, and then would beat
their wives and cut one another's throats, and the whole course and
progress of their murderous rages would be published nakedly from their
open windows with laugh, shout, scream, and curse.

But he found beauty in South Brooklyn, too. There was a tree that leaned
over into the narrow alley where he lived, and George could stand at his
basement window and look up at it and watch it day by day as it came into
its moment's glory of young and magic green. And then towards sunset, if
he was tired, he could lie down to rest awhile upon his iron bed and
listen to the dying birdsong in the tree. Thus, each spring, in that one
tree, he found all April and the earth. He also found devotion, love, and
wisdom in a shabby little Jewish tailor and his wife, whose dirty
children were always tumbling in and out of the dingy suffocation of his
shop.

In the infinite variety of such common, accidental, oft-unheeded things
one can see the web of life as it is spun. Whether we wake at morning in
the city, or lie at night in darkness in the country towns, or walk the
streets of furious noon in all the dusty, homely, and enduring lights of
present time, the universe round us is the same. Evil lives for ever--so
does good. Man alone has knowledge of these two, and he is such a little
thing.

For what is man?

First, a child, soft-boned, unable to support itself on its rubbery legs,
befouled with its excrement, that howls and laughs by turns, cries for
the moon but hushes when it gets its mother's teat; a sleeper, eater,
guzzler, howler, laugher, idiot, and a chewer of its toe; a little tender
thing all blubbered with its spit, a reacher into fires, a beloved fool.

After that, a boy, hoarse and loud before his companions, but afraid of
the dark; will beat the weaker and avoid the stronger; worships strength
and savagery, loves tales of war and murder, and violence done to others;
joins gangs and hates to be alone; makes heroes out of soldiers, sailors,
prize-fighters, football players, cowboys, gunmen, and detectives; would
rather die than not out-try and out-dare his companions, wants to beat
them and always to win, shows his muscle and demands that it be felt,
boasts of his victories and will never own defeat.

Then the youth: goes after girls, is foul behind their backs among the
drug-store boys, hints at a hundred seductions, but gets pimples on his
face; begins to think about his clothes, becomes a fop, greases his hair,
smokes cigarettes with a dissipated air, reads novels, and writes poetry
on the sly. He sees the world now as a pair of legs and breasts; he knows
hate, love, and jealousy; he is cowardly and foolish, he cannot endure to
be alone; he lives in a crowd, thinks with the crowd, is afraid to be
marked off from his fellows by an eccentricity. He joins clubs and is
afraid of ridicule; he is bored and unhappy and wretched most of the
time. There is a great cavity in him, he is dull.

Then the man: he is busy, he is full of plans and reasons, he has work.
He gets children, buys and sells small packets of everlasting earth,
intrigues against his rivals, is exultant when he cheats them. He wastes
his little three score years and ten in spendthrift and ingloriousliving;
from his cradle to his grave he scarcely sees the sun or moon or stars;
he is unconscious of the immortal sea and earth; he talks of he future
and he wastes it as it comes. If he is lucky, he saves money. At the end
his fat purse buys him flunkeys to carry him where his shanks no longer
can; he consumes rich food and golden wine that his wretched stomach has
no hunger for; his weary and lifeless eyeslook out upon the scenery of
strange lands for which in youth his heart was panting. Then the slow
death, prolonged by costly doctors, and finally the graduate undertakers,
the perfumed carrion, the suave ushers with palms outspread to leftwards,
the fast motor hearses, and the earth again.

This is man: a writer of books, a putter-down of words, a painter of
pictures, a maker of ten thousand philosophies. He grows passion-site
over ideas, he hurls scorn and mockery at another's work, he finds the
one way, the true way, for himself, and calls all others false--yet in
the billion books upon the shelves there is not one that can tell him how
to draw a single fleeting breath in peace and comfort. He makes histories
of the universe, he directs the destiny of nations, but he does not know
his own history, and he cannot direct his own destiny with dignity or
wisdom for ten consecutive minutes.

This is man: for the most part a foul, wretched, abominable creature, a
packet of decay, a bundle of degenerating tissues, a creature that gets
old and hairless and has a foul breath, a hater of his kind, a cheater, a
scorner, a mocker, a reviler, a thing that kills and murders in a mob or
in the dark, loud and full of brag surrounded by his fellows, but without
the courage of a rat alone. He will cringe for a coin, and show his
snarling fangs behind the giver's back; he will cheat for two sous, and
kill for forty dollars, and weep copiously in court to keep another
scoundrel out of jail.

This is man, who will steal his friend's woman, feel the leg of his
host's wife below the table-cloth, dump fortunes on his whores, bow down
in worship before charlatans, and let his poets die. This is man, who
swears he will live only for beauty, for art, for the spirit, but will
live only for fashion, and will change his faith and his convictions as
soon as fashion changes. This is man, the great warrior with the flaccid
gut, the great romantic with the barren loins, the eternal knave
devouring the eternal fool, the most glorious of all the animals, who
uses his brain for the most part to make himself a stench in the nostrils
of the Bull, the Fox, the Dog, the Tiger, and the Goat.

Yes, this is man, and it is impossible to say the worst of him, for the
record of his obscene existence, his baseness, lust, cruelty, and
treachery, is illimitable. His life is also full of toil, tumult, and
suffering. His days are mainly composed of a million idiot,
repetitions--in goings and comings along hot streets, in sweatings and
freezings, in the senseless accumulation of fruitless tasks, in decaying
and being patched, in grinding out his life so that he may buy bad food,
in eating bad food so that he may grind his life out in distressful
defecations. He is the dweller in that ruined tenement who, from one
moment's breathing to another, can hardly forget the bitter weight of his
uneasy flesh, the thousand diseases and distresses of his body, the
growing incubus of his corruption. This is man, who, if he can remember
ten golden moments of joy and happiness out of all his years, ten moments
unmarked by care, unseamed by aches or itches, has power to lift himself
with his expiring breath and say: "I have lived upon this earth and known
glory!"

This is man, and one wonders why he wants to live at all. A third of his
life is lost and deadened under sleep; another third is given to a
sterile labour; a sixth is spent in all his goings and his comings, in
the moil and shuffle of the streets, in thrusting, shoving, pawing. How
much of him is left, then, for a vision of the tragic stars? How much of
him is left to look upon the everlasting earth? How much of him is left
for glory and the making of great songs? A few snatched moments only from
the barren glut and suck of living.

Here, then, is man, this moth of time, this dupe of brevity and numbered
hours, this travesty of waste and sterile breath. Yet if the gods could
come here to a desolate, deserted earth where only the ruin of man's
cities remained, where only a few marks and carvings of his hand were
legible upon his broken tablets, where only a wheel lay rusting in the
desert sand, a cry would burst out of their hearts and they would say:
"He lived, and he was here!"

Behold his works:

He needed speech to ask for bread--and he had Christ! He needed songs to
sing in battle--and he had Homer! He needed words to curse his
enemies--and he had Dante, he had Voltaire, he had Swift! He needed cloth
to cover up his hairless, puny flesh against the seasons--and he wove the
robes of Solomon, he made the garments of great kings, he made the samite
for the young knights! He needed walls and a roof to shelter him--and he
made Blois! He needed a temple to propitiate his God--and he made
Chartres and Fountains Abbey! He was born to creep upon the earth--and he
made great wheels, he sent great engines thundering down the rails, he
launched great wings into the air, he put great ships upon the angry sea!

Plagues wasted him, and cruel wars destroyed his strongest sons, but
fire, flood, and famine could not quench him. No, nor the inexorable
grave--his sons leaped shouting from his dying loins. The shaggy bison
with his thews of thunder died upon the plains; the fabled mammoths of
the unrecorded ages are vast scaffoldings of dry, insensate loam; the
panthers have learned caution and move carefully among tall grasses to
the water-hole; and man lives on amid the senseless nihilism of the
universe.

For there is one belief, one faith, that is man's glory, his triumph, his
immortality--and that is his belief in life. Man loves life, and, loving
life, hates death, and because of this he is great, he is glorious, he is
beautiful, and his beauty is everlasting. He lives below the senseless
stars and writes his meanings in them. He lives in fear, in toil, in
agony, and in unending tumult, but if the blood foamed bubbling from his
wounded lungs at every breath he drew, he would still love life more
dearly than an end of breathing. Dying, his eyes burn beautifully, and
the old hunger shines more fiercely in them--he has endured all the hard
and purposeless suffering, and still he wants to live.

Thus it is impossible to scorn this creature. For out of his strong
belief in life, this puny man made love. At his best, he _is_ love.
Without him there can be no love, no hunger, no desire.

So this is man--the worst and best of him--this frail and petty thing who
lives his day and dies like-all the other animals, and is forgotten. And
yet, he is immortal, too, for both the good and evil that he does live
after him. Why, then, should any living man ally himself with death, and,
in his greed and blindness, batten on his brother's blood?



28. The Fox


During all these desperate years in Brooklyn, when George lived and
worked alone, he had only one real friend, and this was his editor,
Foxhall Edwards. They spent many hours together, wonderful hours of
endless talk, so free and full that it combed the universe and bound the
two of them together in bonds of closest friendship. It was a friendship
founded on many common tastes and interests, on mutual liking and
admiration of each for what the other was, and on an attitude of respect
which allowed unhampered expression of opinion even on those rare
subjects which aroused differences of views and of belief. It was,
therefore, the kind of friendship that can exist only between two men. It
had in it no element of that possessiveness which always threatens a
woman's relations with a man, no element of that physical and emotional
involvement which, while it serves nature's end of bringing a man and
woman together, also tends to thwart their own dearest wish to remain so
by throwing over their companionship a constricting cloak of duty and
obligation, of right' and vested interest.

The older man was not merely friend but father to the younger. Webber,
the hot-blooded Southerner, with his large capacity for sentiment and
affection, had lost his own father many years before and now had found a
substitute in Edwards. And Edwards, the reserved New Englander, with his
deep sense of family and inheritance, had always wanted a son but had had
five daughters, and as time went on he made of George a kind of foster
son. Thus each, without quite knowing that he did it, performed an act of
spiritual adoption.

So it was to Foxhall Edwards that George now turned whenever his
loneliness became unbearable. When his inner turmoil, confusion, and
self-doubts overwhelmed him, as they often did, and his life went dead
and stale and empty till it sometimes seemed that all the barren
desolation of the Brooklyn streets had soaked into his very blood and
marrow--then he would seek out Edwards. And he never went to him in vain.
Edwards, busy though he always was, would drop whatever he was doing and
would take George out to lunch or dinner, and in his quiet, casual,
oblique, and understanding way would talk to him and draw him out until
he found out what it was that troubled him. And always in the end,
because of Edward's faith in him, George would be healed and find himself
miraculously restored to self-belief.

What manner of man was this great editor and father-confessor and true
friend--he of the quiet, shy, sensitive, and courageous heart who often
seemed to those who did not know him well an eccentric, cold, indifferent
fellow--he who, grandly christened Foxhall, preferred to be the simple,
unassuming Fox?

The Fox asleep was a breathing portrait of guileless innocence. He slept
on his right side, legs doubled up a little, hands folded together
underneath the ear, his hat beside him on the pillow. Seen so, the
sleeping figure of the Fox was touching--for all his five and forty
years, it was so plainly boylike. By no stretch of fancy the old hat
beside him on the pillow might have been a childish toy brought to bed
with him the night before--and this, in fact, it was!

It was as if, in sleep, no other part of Fox was left except the boy.
Sleep seemed to have resumed into itself this kernel of his life, to have
excluded all transitions, to have brought the man back to his acorn,
keeping thus inviolate that which the man, indeed, had never lost, but
which had passed through change and time and all the accretions of
experience--and now had been restored, unwoven back into the single
oneness of itself.

And yet it was a guileful Fox, withal. Oh, guileful Fox, how innocent in
guilefulness and in innocence how full of guile! How straight in cunning,
and how cunning-straight, in all directions how strange-devious, in all
strange-deviousness how direct! Too straight for crookedness, and for
envy too serene, too fair for blind intolerance, too just and seeing and
too strong for hate, too honest for base dealing, too high for low
suspiciousness, too innocent for all the scheming tricks of swarming
villainy--yet never had been taken in a horse trade yet!

So, then, life's boy is he, life's trustful child; life's
guileful-guileless Fox is he, but not life's angel, not life's fool. Will
get at all things like a fox--not full-tilt at the fences, not head-on,
but through coverts peering, running at fringes of the wood, or by the
wall; will swing round on the pack and get behind the hounds, cross them
up and be away and gone when they are looking for him where he's not--he
will not mean to fox them, but he will.

Gets round the edges of all things the way a fox does. Never takes the
main route or the worn handle. Sees the worn handle, what it is, says:
"Oh," but knows it's not right handle though most used: gets right handle
right away and uses it. No one knows how it is done, neither knows the
Fox, but does it instantly. It seems so easy when Fox does it, easy as a
shoe, because he has had it from his birth. It is a genius.

Our Fox is never hard or fancy, always plain. He makes all plays look
easy, never brilliant; it seems that anyone can do it when Fox does it.
He covers more ground than any other player in the game, yet does not
seem to do so. His style is never mannered, seems no style at all; the
thrilled populace never holds its breath in hard suspense when he takes
aim, because no one ever saw the Fox take aim, and yet he never misses.
Others spend their lives in learning to take aim: they wear just the
proper uniform for taking aim, they advance in good order, they signal to
the breathless world for silence--"We are taking aim!" they say, and then
with faultless style and form, with flawless execution, they bring up
their pieces, take aim--and _miss!_ The great Fox never seems to
take aim, and never misses. Why? He was just born that way--fortunate, a
child of genius, innocent and simple--and a Fox!

"And ah!--a cunning Fox!" the Aimers and the Missers say. "A damned
subtle, devilish, and most cunning Fox!" they cry, and grind their teeth.
"Be not deceived by his appearance--'tis a cunning Fox! Put not your
faith in Foxes, put not your faith in this one, he will look so shy, and
seem so guileless and so bewildered--but he will never miss!"

"But how"--the Aimers and the Missers plead with one another in
exasperation--"how does he do it? What has the fellow got? He's nothing
much to look at--nothing much to talk to. He makes no appearance! He
never goes out in the world--you never see him at receptions, parties,
splendid entertainments--he makes no effort to meet people--no, or to
talk to them! He hardly talks at all!...What has he got? Where does it
come from? Is it chance or luck? There is some mystery----"

"Well, now," says one, "I'll tell you what my theory is----"

Their heads come close, they whisper craftily together until----

"No!" another cries. "It is not that. I tell you what he does, it's----"

And again they whisper close, argue and deny, get more confused than
ever, and finally are reduced to furious impotence:

"Bah!" cries one. "How does the fellow do it, anyway? How does he get
away with it? He seems to have no sense, no knowledge, no experience. He
doesn't get round the way we do, lay snares and traps. He doesn't seem to
know what's going on, or what the whole thing's all about--and yet----"

"He's just a _snob!_" another snarls. "When you try to be a good
fellow, he high-hats you! You try to kid him, he just looks at you! He
never offers to shake hands with you, he never slaps you on the back the
way real fellows do! You go out of your way to be nice to him--to show
him you're a real guy and that you think he is, too--and what does he do?
He just looks at you with that funny little grin and turns away--and
wears that damned hat in the office all day long--I think he
_sleeps_ with it! He never asks you to sit down--and gets up while
you're talking to him--leaves you cold--begins to wander up and down
outside, staring at everyone he sees--his own associates--as if he were
some half-wit idiot boy--and wanders back into his office twenty minutes
later--stares at you as if he never saw your face before--and jams that
damned hat farther down round his ears, and turns away--takes hold of his
lapels--looks out the window with that crazy grin--then looks at you
again, looks you up and down, stares at your face until you wonder if
you've changed suddenly into a baboon--and turns back to the window
without a word--then stares at you again--finally _pretends_ to
recognise you, and says: 'Oh, it's you!'...I tell you he's a snob, and
that's his way of letting you know you don't _belong!_ Oh, I know
about him--I know what he is! He's an old New Englander--older than God,
by God! Too good for anyone but God, by God!--and even God's a little
doubtful! An aristocrat--a rich man's son--a Groton-Harvard boy--too fine
for the likes of us, by God!--too good for the 'low bounders' who make up
this profession! He thinks we're a bunch of business men and
Babbitts--and that's the reason that he looks at us the way he
does--that's the reason that he grins his grin, and turns away, and
catches at his coat lapels, and doesn't answer when you speak to him--"

"Oh, no," another quickly interrupts. "You're wrong there! The reason
that he grins that grin and turns away is that he's trying hard to
hear--the reason that he doesn't answer when you speak to him is that
he's deaf----"

"Ah, deaf!" says still another in derision. "Deaf, hell! Deaf as a Fox,
_he_ is! That deafness is a stall--a trick--a gag! He hears you when
he wants to hear you! If it's anything he wants to hear, _he'll_
hear you though you're forty yards away and talking in a whisper! He's a
Fox, I tell you!"

"Yes, a Fox, a Fox!" they chorus in agreement. "That much is certain--the
man's a Fox!"

So the Aimers and the Missers whisper, argue, and deduce. They lay siege
to intimates and friends of Fox, ply them with flattery and strong drink,
trying thus to pluck out the heart of Fox's mystery. They find out
nothing, because there's nothing to find out, nothing anyone can tell
them. They are reduced at length to exasperated bafflement and finish
where they started. They advance to their positions, take aim--and miss!

And so, in all their ways, they lay cunning snares throughout the coverts
of the city. They lay siege to life. They think out tactics, crafty
stratagems. They devise deep plans to bag the game. They complete
masterly flanking operations in the night-time (while the great Fox
sleeps), get in behind the enemy when he isn't looking, are sure that
victory is within their grasp, take aim magnificently--and fire--and
shoot one another painfully in the seats of their expensive pants!

Meanwhile, the Fox is sleeping soundly through the night, as sweetly as a
child.

Night passes, dawn comes, eight o'clock arrives. How to describe him now
as he awakes?

A man of five and forty years, not really seeming younger, yet always
seeming something of the boy. Rather, the boy is there within that frame
of face, behind the eyes, within the tenement of flesh and bone--not
imprisoned, just held there in a frame--a frame a little worn by the
years, webbed with small wrinkles round the eyes--invincibly the same as
it has always been. The hair, once fair and blond, no longer fair and
blond now, feathered at the temples with a touch of grey, elsewhere
darkened by time and weather to a kind of steel-grey--blondness really
almost dark now, yet, somehow, still suggesting fair and blond. The head
well set and small, boy's head still, the hair sticking thick and close
to it, growing to a V in the centre of the forehead, then back straight
and shapely, full of natural grace. Eyes pale blue, full of a strange
misty light, a kind of far weather of the sea in them, eyes of a New
England sailor long months outbound for China on a clipper ship, with
something drowned, sea-sunken in them.

The general frame and structure of the face is somewhat lean and long and
narrow--face of the ancestors, a bred face, face of people who have
looked the same for generations. A stern, lonely face, with the enduring
fortitude of granite, face of the New England seacoast, really his
grandfather's face, New England statesman's face, whose bust sits there
on the mantel, looking at the bed. Yet something else has happened on
Fox's face to transfigure it from the primeval nakedness of granite: in
its essential framework, granite still, but a kind of radiance and warmth
of life has enriched and mellowed it. A light is burning in the Fox,
shining outwards through the face, through every gesture, grace, and
movement of the body, 'something swift, mercurial, mutable, and tender,
something buried and withheld, but passionate--something out of his
mother's face, perhaps,' or out of his father's or his father's
mother's--something that subdues the granite with warmth--something from
poetry, intuition, genius, imagination, living, inner radiance, and
beauty. This face, then, with the shapely head, the pale, far-misted
vision of the eyes, held in round bony cages like a bird's, the strong,
straight nose, curved at the end, a little scornful and patrician,
sensitive, sniffing, swift-nostriled as a hound's--the whole face with
its passionate and proud serenity might almost be the face of a great
poet, or the visage of some strange and mighty bird.

But now the sleeping figure stirs, opens its eyes and listens, rouses,
starts up like a flash.

"What?" says Fox.

The Fox awake now.

"FOXHALL MORTON EDWARDS."

The great name chanted slowly through his brain--someone had surely
spoken it--it filled his ears with sound--it rang down solemnly through
the aisles of consciousness--it was no dream--the very walls were singing
with its grave and proud sonorities as he awoke.

"What?" cried Fox again.

He looked about him. There was no one there. He shook his head as people
do when they shake water from their ears. He inclined his good right ear
and listened for the sound again. He tugged and rubbed his good right
ear--yes, it was unmistakable--the good right ear was ringing with the
sound.

Fox looked bewildered, puzzled, searched round the room again with
sea-pale eyes, saw nothing, saw his hat beside him on the pillow, said,
"Oh," in a slightly puzzled tone, picked up the hat and jammed it on his
head, half-covering the ears, swung out of bed and thrust his feet into
his slippers, got up, pyjamaed and behatted, walked over to the door,
opened it, looked out, and said:

"What? Is anybody there?--Oh!"

For there was nothing--just the hall, the quiet, narrow hall of morning,
the closed door of his wife's room, and the stairs.

He closed the door, turned back into his room, still looking puzzled,
intently listening, his good right ear half-turned and searching for the
sounds.

Where had they come from then? The name--he thought he heard it still,
faintly now, mixed in with many other strange, confusing noises. But
where? From, what direction did they come? Or had he heard them? A long,
droning sound, like an electric fan--perhaps a motor in the street? A
low, retreating thunder--an elevated train, perhaps? A fly buzzing? Or a
mosquito with its whining bore? No, it could not be: it was morning,
spring-time, and the month of May.

Light winds of morning fanned the curtains of his pleasant room. An old
four-poster bed, a homely, gay old patch-quilt coverlet, an old chest of
drawers, a little table by his bed, piled high with manuscripts, a glass
of water and his eyeglasses, and a little ticking clock. Was that what he
had heard? He held it to his ear and listened. On the mantel, facing him,
the bust of his grandfather, Senator William Fox-hall Morton, far-seeing,
sightless, stern, lean, shrewd with decision; a chair or two, and on the
wall an engraving of Michelangelo's great Lorenzo Medici. Fox looked at
it and smiled.

"A _man_," said he in a low voice. "The way a man _should_
look!" The figure of the young Caesar was mighty-limbed, enthroned;
helmeted for war; the fine hand half-supporting the chin of the grand
head, broodingly aware of great events and destiny; thought knit to
action, poetry to fact, caution to boldness, reflection to decision--the
Thinker, Warrior, Statesman, Ruler all conjoined in one. "And what a man
_should_ be," thought Fox.

A little puzzled still, Fox goes to his window and looks out, pyjamaed
and behatted still, the fingers of one hand back upon his hips, a
movement lithe and natural as a boy's. The head goes back, swift nostrils
sniff, dilate with scorn. Light winds of morning fan him, gauzy curtains
are blown back.

And outside, morning, and below him, morning, sky-shining morning all
above, below, around, across from him, cool-slanting morning, gold-cool
morning, and the street. Black fronts of rusty brown across from him, the
flat fronts of Turtle Bay.

Fox looks at morning and the street with sea-pale eyes, as if he never
yet had seen them, then in a low and husky voice, a little hoarse,
agreeable, half-touched with whisper, he says with slow recognition,
quiet wonder, and--somehow, somewby--resignation:

"Oh...I see."

Turns now and goes into his bathroom opposite, surveys himself in the
mirror with the same puzzled, grave, and sea-pale wonder, looks at his
features, notes the round cages that enclose his eyes, sees Boy-Fox
staring gravely out at him, bethinks him suddenly of Boy-Fox's ear, which
stuck out at right angles forty years ago, getting Boy-Fox gibes at
Groton--so jams hat farther down about the ear, so stick-out ear that's
stick-out ear no longer won't stick out!

So standing, he surveys himself for several moments, and finding out at
length that this indeed is he, says, as before, with the same slightly
puzzled, slow, and patiently resigned acceptance:

"Oh. I see."

Turns on the shower faucet now--the water spurts and hisses in jets of
smoking steam. Fox starts to step beneath the shower, suddenly observes
pyjamas on his person, mutters slowly--"Oh-h!"--and takes them off.
Unpyjamaed now, and as God made him, save for hat, starts to get in under
shower with hat on--and remembers hat, remembers it in high confusion, is
forced against his will to acknowledge the unwisdom of the procedure--so
snaps his fingers angrily, and, in a low, disgusted tone of acquiescence,
says:

"Oh, well, then! _All_ right!"

So removes his hat, which is now jammed on so tightly that he has to take
both hands and fairly wrench and tug his way out of it, hangs the
battered hulk reluctantly within easy reaching distance on a hook upon
the door, surveys it for a moment with an undecided air, as if still not
willing to relinquish it--and then, still with a puzzled air, steps in
beneath those hissing jets of water hot enough to boil an egg!

Puzzled no longer, my mad masters, ye may take it, Fox comes out on the
double-quick, and loudly utters: "Damn!"--and fumes and dances, snaps his
fingers, loudly utters "Damn!" again--but gets his water tempered to his
hide this time, and so, without more peradventure, takes his shower.

Shower done, hair brushed at once straight back _around_ his
well-shaped head, on goes the hat at once. So brushes teeth, shaves with
a safety razor, walks out naked but behatted into his room, starts to go
downstairs, remembers clothing--"Oh!"--looks round, bepuzzled, sees
clothing spread out neatly on a chair by womenfolks the night
before--fresh socks, fresh underwear, a clean shirt, a suit, a pair of
shoes. Fox never knows where they come from, wouldn't know where to look,
is always slightly astonished when he finds them. Says "Oh!" again, goes
back and puts clothes on, and finds to his amazement that they fit.

They fit him beautifully. Everything fits the Fox. He never knows what he
has on, but he could wear a tow-sack, or a shroud, a sail, a length of
canvas--they would fit the moment that he put them on, and be as well the
elegance of faultless style. His clothes just seem to grow on him:
whatever he wears takes on at once the grace, the dignity, and the
unconscious ease of his own person. Never exercises much, but never has
to; loves to take a walk, is bored by games and plays none; has same
figure that he had at twenty-one--five feet ten, one hundred and fifty
pounds, no belly and no fat, the figure of a boy.

Dressed now, except for necktie, picks up necktie, suddenly observes it,
a very gay one with blue polka dots, and drops it with dilating nostrils,
muttering a single word that seems to utter volumes:

"_Women!_"

Then searches vaguely on a tie rack in his closet, finds a modest grey
cravat, and puts it on. So, attired now, picks up a manuscript, his
pince-nez glasses, opens the door, and walks out in the narrow hall.

His wife's door closed and full of sleep, the air touched subtly with a
faint perfume. The Fox sniffs sharply, with a swift upward movement of
his head, and, looking with scorn, mixed with compassion, pity,
tenderness, and resignation, inclines his head in one slow downward
movement of decision, and says:

"_Women!_"

So, down the narrow, winding staircase now, his head thrown sharply back,
one hand upon his lapel, the other holding manuscript, and reaches second
floor. Another narrow hall. Front, back and to the side, three more
closed doors of sleep and morning, and five daughters----

"_Women!_"

Surveys the door of Martha, the oldest, twenty, a----

_Woman!_

And next the door of Eleanor, aged eighteen, and Amelia, just sixteen,
but----

Women!

And finally, with a gentle scorn, touched faintly with a smile, the door
of the two youngest, Ruth, fourteen, little Ann, just seven, yet----

_Women!_

So, sniffing sharply the woman-laden air, descends now to the first
floor, enters living-room, and scornfully surveys the work of----

_Women!_

The carpets are rolled up, the morning sunlight slants on the bare
boards. The chairs, the sofas, and upholstery have been ripped open, the
stuffing taken out. The place smells of fresh paint. The walls, brown
yesterday, are robin's-egg blue this morning. Buckets of paint are
scattered round the floor. Even the books that lined the walls have been
taken from the tall, indented shelves. The interior decorators are at
their desperate work again, and all because of----

_Women!_

Fox sniffs the fresh paint with sharp disgust, crosses the room, mounts
winding steps, which also have been painted robin's-egg blue, and goes
out on the terrace. Gay chairs and swings and tables, gay-striped
awnings, and in an ash-tray several cigarette-butts with tell-tale prints
upon them----

_Women!_

The garden backs of Turtle Bay are lyrical with tender green, with
birdsong and the hidden plash of water--the living secret of elves' magic
embedded in the heart of the gigantic city--and beyond, like some sheer,
terrific curtain of upward-curving smoke, the frontal cliff of the
sky-waving towers.

Fox sniffs sharply the clean green fragrance of the morning, sea-pale
eyes are filled with wonder, strangeness, recognition. Something
passionate and far transforms his face--and something rubs against his
leg, moans softly. Fox looks down into the melancholy, pleading eyes of
the French poodle. He observes the ridiculous barbering of the
creature--the fuzzy muff of kinky wool around the shoulders, neck, and
head, the skinned nakedness of ribs and loins, wool-fuzzy tail again,
tall, skinny legs--a _half_-dressed female creature with no wool at
all just where the wool is needed most--no dog at all, but just a
frenchified parody of dog--an absurd travesty of all the silly fashions,
mannerisms, conquettishness, and irresponsibility of a----

_Woman!_

Fox turns in disgust, leaves terrace, descends steps to the living-room
again, traverses barren boards, threads way round the disembowelled
furnishings, and descends the stairs to the basement floor.

"What's _this?_"

In entrance hall below, a lavish crimson carpet where yesterday there was
a blue one, cream-white paint all over walls to-day, which yesterday were
green, the wall all chiselled into, a great sheet of mirror ready to be
installed where yesterday no mirror was.

Fox traverses narrow hallway, past the kitchen, through the
cloakroom--this, too, redolent of fresh paint--and into little cubbyhole
that had no use before.

"Good God, what's _this?_"

Transfigured now to Fox's "cosy den" (Fox wants no "cosy den"--will have
none!), walls are painted, bookshelves built, a reading lamp and easy
chairs in place, the Fox's favourite books (Fox groans!) transplanted
from their shelves upstairs and brought down here where Fox can never
find them.

Fox bumps his head against the low doorway in going out, traverses narrow
hall again, at last gets into dining-room. Seats himself at head of the
long table (six women make a long table!), looks at the glass of orange
juice upon his plate, does nothing to it, makes no motion towards it,
just sits there waiting in a state of patient and resigned dejection, as
who should say: "It's no one but the Old Grey Mule."

Portia enters--a plump mulatto, nearing fifty, tinged so imperceptibly
with yellow that she is almost white. She enters, stops, stares at Fox
sitting motionless there, and titters coyly. Fox turns slowly, catches
his coat lapels, and looks at her in blank astonishment. She drops her
eyelids shyly, tittering, and spreads plump fingers over her fat mouth.
Fox surveys her steadily, as if trying to peer through her fingers at her
face, then with a kind of no-hope expression in his eyes, he says slowly,
in a sepulchral tone:

"Fruit salad."

And Portia, anxiously:

"What fo' you doesn't drink yo' orange juice, Mistah Edwands? Doesn't you
like it?"

"Fruit salad," repeats Fox tonelessly.

"What fo' you always eat dat ole fruit salad, Mistah Edwahds? What fo'
you wants dat ole canned stuff when we fixes you de nice fresh orange
juice?"

"Fruit salad," echoes Fox dolefully, utter resignation in his tone.

Portia departs protesting, but presently fruit salad is produced and put
before him. Fox eats it, then looks round and up at Portia, and, still
with no-hope resignation in his voice, says low and hoarsely:

"Is that--_all_?"

"Why, no suh, Mistah, Edwahds," Portia replies. "You can have anything
you likes if you jest lets us know. We nevah knows jest what you's goin'
to awdah. All las' month you awdahed fish fo' brek-fus'--is _dat_
what you wants?"

"Breast of guinea-hen," says Fox tonelessly.

"Why, _Mistah_ Edwahds!" Portia squeals. "Breas' of guinea-hen fo'
_brek_-fus'?"

"Yes," says Fox, patient and enduring.

"But, Mistah Edwahds!" Portia protests. "You know you doesn't want breas'
of guinea-hen fo' _brek_-fus'!"

"Yes," says Fox in his hopeless tone, "I do." And he regards her steadily
with sea-misted eyes, with proud and scornful features, eloquent with
patient and enduring bitterness as if to say: "Man is born of
_woman_ and is made to mourn."

"But Mistah Edwahds," Portia pleads with him, "fokes don't eat breas' of
guinea-hen fo' _brek_-fus'! Dey eats ham an' aiggs, an' toast an'
bacon--things like dat."

Fox continues to regard her fixedly.

"Breast of guinea-hen," he says wearily, implacably as before.

"B-b-b-but, Mistah Edwahds," Portia stammers, thoroughly demoralised by
this time, "we ain't _got_ no breas' of guinea-hen."

"We had some night before last," says Fox.

"Yes, suh, yes, suh!" Portia almost tearfully agrees. "But dat's all
gone! We et up all dere was!...Besides, you been eatin' breas' of
guinea-hen ev'ry night fo' dinnah de las' two weeks, an' Miz Edwands--she
say you had enough--she say de chillun gettin' tired of it--she tol' us
to get somep'n else!...If you tol' us dat you wanted guinea-hen fo'
brek-fus', we'd a-had it. But you nevah tol' us, Mista Edwahds." Portia
is on the verge of open tears by now. "You nevah tells us what you
wants--an' dat's why we nevah knows. One time you wanted cream chicken
fo' yo' brek-fus' ev'ry mawnin' fo' a month...Den you changed roun' to
codfish balls, an' had dat fo' a long, long time...An' now it's
guinea-hen," she almost sobs--"an' we ain't _got_ none, Mistah
Edwahds. You nevah tol' us what you wanted. We got ham an' aiggs--we got
bacon--we got--",

"Oh, well," says Fox wearily, "bring what you have, then--anything you
like."

He turns away full of patient scorn, enduring and unhoping
bitterness--and "aiggs" are brought him. Fox eats them with relish;
toast, too, three brown slices, buttered; and drinks two cups of strong
hot coffee.

Just at half-past eight something entered the dining-room as swift and
soundless as a ray of light. It was a child of fourteen years, a creature
of surpassing loveliness, the fourth daughter of the Fox, named Ruth. It
was the Fox in miniature: a little creature, graceful as a bird, framed
finely as some small and perfect animal. The small, lean head was shaped
and set exactly as the head of Fox, the dark blonde hair grew cleanly to
it, the child's face was of an ivory transparency, the features and the
sensitivity of expression were identical with those of Fox, transformed
to femininity, and the lines of the whole face were cut and moulded with
the exquisite delicacy of a cameo.

The shyness of this little girl was agonising; it was akin to terror. She
entered the room breathlessly, noiselessly, stricken, with her head
lowered, her arms held to her side, her eyes fixed on the floor. The
ordeal of passing by her father, and of speaking to him, was obviously a
desperate one; she glided past as if she almost hoped to escape notice.
Without raising her eyes, she said: "Good morning, daddy," in a timid
little voice, and was about to duck into her chair, when Fox looked up
startled, got up quickly, put his arms round her, and kissed her. In
answer to his kiss, she pecked her cheek towards him like a bird, still
keeping her eyes desperately on the floor.

The face of Fox was illuminated by a radiant tenderness as, in a low,
deaf, slightly hoarse tone, he said:

"Good morning, darling."

Still without looking at him, stricken, desperate, she tried to get away
from him, yet, even in the act, her affection for the Fox was eloquent.
Her heart was beating like a trip-hammer, her eyes went back and forth
like a frightened fledgling's, she wanted to vanish through the walls,
dart out of doors, turn into a shadow--anything, _anything_, if only
she could utterly escape notice, having no one look at her, pay any
attention to her, above all, _speak_ to her. So she fluttered there
in his embrace like a dove caught in a snare, tried to get away from him,
was in a state of agony so acute and sensitive that it was painful to
watch her or to do anything that would in any way increase the
embarrassment and desperate shyness of this stricken little girl.

Fox's embrace tightened round her as she tried to escape, and he grew
full of solicitude and anxiety as he looked at her.

"Darling!" he whispered, in a low and troubled tone. He shook her gently.
"_What_, darling?" he demanded. "_Now_ what?" he finally demanded,
with a touch of the old scorn.

"But _nothing_, daddy!" she protested, her timid little voice rising
in a note of desperate protest. "_Nothing_, daddy!" She squirmed a
little to get free. Reluctantly Fox let her go. The child ducked right
down into her chair, still with her eyes averted, and concluded with a
little gasping laugh of protest: "You're so _funny_, daddy!"

Fox resumed his seat and still continued to regard her sternly, gravely,
with alarmed solicitude, and a little scorn. She shot a frightened look
at him and ducked her head down towards her plate.

"Is anything _wrong?_" said Fox, in a low voice.

"But _naturally--not!_"--a protesting and exasperated little gasp of
laughter. "Why should anything be _wrong?_ Honestly, you're so
_strange_, daddy!"

"Well, then," said Fox, with patient resignation.

"But _nothing!_ I keep _telling_ you, there's _nothing!_
That's what I've told you from the _feerst!_"

All of the children of the Fox say "feerst" for "first", "beerst" for
"burst", "theerst" for "thirst". Why, no one knows. It seems to be a
tribal accent, not only among all of Fox's children, but among all of
their young cousins on the Fox's side. It is almost as if they were
creatures of some isolated family, immured for generations on some lonely
island, cut off from the world, and speaking some lost accent that their
ancestors spoke three hundred years ago. Moreover, their tone is
characterised by a kind of _drawl_--not the languorous drawl of the
deep South, but a protesting drawl, a wearied-out, exasperated
drawl, as if they have almost given up hope of making Fox--or
_someone_--understand what ought to be obvious without any
explanation whatsoever. Thus:

"But _nothing_, daddy! I've told you that from the _f-e-e-r-s-t!_"

"Well, then, what _is_ it, darling?" Fox demanded. "Why do you
_look_ like that?"--with an emphatic downward movement of the head.

"But look like _what?_" the child protested. "Oh, _daddy_,
honestly"--she gasped, with a little strained laugh, and looked away--"I
don't know what you're talking about."

Portia brought smoking oatmeal and put it down before her, and the girl,
saying timidly: "Good morning, Portia," ducked her head and began to eat
hastily.

Fox continued to look at the child sternly, gravely, with a troubled
expression in his eyes. Looking up suddenly, she put down her spoon, and
cried:

"But, _daddy--wha-a-t?_"

"Are those scoundrels going to be here again to-day?" said Fox.

"Oh, daddy, _what_ scoundrels?...Honestly!" She twisted in her
chair, gasped a little, tried to laugh, picked up her spoon, started to
go on eating, then put her spoon down again.

"Those scoundrels," said the Fox, "that--you _women_"--he inclined
his head with scornful emphasis--"have brought in to destroy my home."

"But _who_ are you _talking_ about?" she protested, looking
round like a hunted animal for a means of escape. "I don't know who you
_mean_."

"I mean," said Fox, "those interior decorating _fellows_"--here his
voice was filled with the dismissal of an unutterable contempt--"that you
and your _mother_ have imported to wreck the house."

"But _I_ had nothing to do with it!" the girl protested. "Oh, daddy,
you're _so_-----" she broke off, squirmed, and turned away with a
little laugh.

"So--_what?_" said Fox, low, hoarse, and scornful.

"Oh, I don't know--so--so _stra-a-nge!_ You say such funny
_thi-i-ngs!_"

"Have you _women_," Fox went on, "decided when you're going to let
me have a little peace in my own house?"

"Let you have a little _pe-a-ce?_...What have _I_ done? If you
don't want the decorators, why don't you speak to _mo-o-ther?_"

"_Because_"--Fox inclined his head with a slow, ironic
emphasis upon the word--"_because_--I--don't--count! I'm only
the--Old--Grey--Mule--among six women--and, of course, _anything_
is good enough for me!"

"But what have _we_ done? We haven't done anything to you! Why do
you act so _p-e-e-r_-secuted?...Oh, daddy, honestly!" She squirmed
desperately, tried to laugh, turned away, and ducked her head down
towards her plate again.

Sitting back in his chair, one hand clasped upon the arm, his whole being
withdrawn, remote, in an attitude eloquent of deep, unhoping patience,
Fox continued to regard the child gravely for a moment. Then he thrust
his hand into his pocket, pulled his watch out and looked at it, glanced
at the child again, and shook his head in a movement packed with stern
reproach and silent accusation.

She looked up, quick and startled, laid her spoon down, and gasped:

"_Now_ what? What are you shaking your _he-a-ad_ for? What is
it _now?_"

"Is your mother up?"

"But _naturally_, I don't _kno-o-w!_"

"Are your sisters up?"

"But, _da-a-dy_, how can I tell?"

"Did you get to bed early?"

"Ye-e-e-s," in a drawl of protest.

"What time did your sisters get to bed?"

"But, of course, I have no way of _kno-o-wing!_ Why don't you ask
_the-e-m?_"

Fox looked at the watch again, then at the child, and shook his head once
more.

"Women!" he said quietly, and put the watch back into his pocket.

The child by now has finished with her oatmeal--all she wants of it. Now
she slides out of her chair and, with face averted, tries to glide past
Fox, out of the room. Fox gets up quickly, puts his arms round her, says
in a low, quick, worried tone:

"Oh, _darling_, where are you going?"

"But to _sch-o-o-ol_, of course!"

"_Darling_, stay and _eat_ your breakfast!"

"But I've _e-e-a-ten!_"

"Oh, you _haven't!_" whispers Fox impatiently.

"But I've eaten all I _wa-a-a-nt!_"

"You haven't eaten _anything!_" he whispers scornfully.

"But I don't _want_ any more," she protests, looks desperately
about, and struggles to free herself. "Oh, let me _go-o-o_, daddy!
I'll be _late!_"

"Then _be_ late!" whispers the great watch-watcher and head-shaker
scornfully. "_Stay_ and _eat_ your _breakfast!_"--punctuating
these decisive words with slow nods of emphasis.

"But I _ca-a-n't!_ I've got to read a _pa-a-per_."

"A--what?"

"A _t-e-e-r-m_ paper--for Miss Allen's class--it comes at nine
o'clock."

"Oh," says Fox slowly, "I see." In a low, almost inaudible tone,
"On--_Whitman?_"

"Ye-e-e-s."

"Oh...Did you read the book I gave you--the one with his war diary and
notes?"

"Ye-e-e-s."

"Astonishing!" whispers Fox. "Isn't it _astonishing?_ You can see
just how he _did_ it, can't you? He--he _got right up_ on everything,"
Fox whispers, "just as if he were the thing itself--as if it were happening
to _him!_"

"Ye-e-e-s." She looks desperately around, then with averted eyes blurts
out: "You were right about the other thing, too."

"What other thing?"

"About night--how there's so much night and darkness in himhis--his
feeling for night."

"Oh," Fox whispers slowly, his sea-pale eyes misted with reflection. "Did
you tell about that, too?"

"Ye-e-s. It's _tr-u-e_. After you told me, I read him again, and
it's _tr-u-e_."

Shy, desperate, timid, stricken as she is, she nevertheless knows it's
true when it's true.

"That's _fine!_" Fox whispers, and shakes his head sharply with
immense satisfaction. "I'll bet it's _good!_"

The girl's ivory features flush crimson. Like Fox, she loves praise, yet
cannot stand to have it spoken. She squirms, is terrified, is hoping
against hope----

"I don't _kno-o-w_," she gasps. "Miss Allen didn't like the last
paper I wrote--what I said about Mark Twain."

"Then," Fox whispers, low and scornfully, "let Miss Allen _not_ like
it. That was a _fine_ paper," he whispers. "What--what you said
about the River was just right."

"I _kno-o-w!_ And that was the part she didn't like. She didn't seem
to know what I was talking about--said it was immature and not sound, and
gave me a 'C'."

"Oh," says Fox absently, thinking all the time with an immense
satisfaction of the spirit: "What a girl this _is!_ She has a
_fine_ mind. She--she _understands_ things!"

"You see, darling," Fox whispers gently, coming back to Miss Allen, "it's
not their fault. These people do the best they can--but--but they just
can't seem to _understand_," he whispers. "You see, Miss Allen is
an--an academic kind of person--I guess, kind of an old maid,
_really_," he whispers, with an emphatic movement of the head--"and
that kind of person, darling, just wouldn't be able to understand what
Whitman and Mark Twain and Keats are like...It's--it's a shame," Fox
mutters, and shakes his head, his eyes troubled with regret--"it's a
shame we've got to hear about these people first in--in
schools--from--from people like Miss Allen. You see, darling," Fox says
gently, his face cocked sideways, his good ear pointing towards the girl,
his language simple as a shoe, his face keen, shrewd, thoughtful, and
absorbed, and radiant as a blade of light, as it always is when interest
and reflection hold the wise serpent of his brain--"you see, darling,
schools are all right, _really_--but the _Thing_ they do is
different from the _Thing_ that Keats and Whitman and Mark Twain
do...People like that really have no place in schools. A--a
_school_," Fox whispers, "is an _academic_ kind of place, you
see--and the people that you find in schools are academic people--and
these other kind of people--the _poets_," whispers Fox, "are not
academic people--they're--they're really _against_ what the academic
people do--they are people who--who _discover_ things for
themselves," Fox whispers, "who burst through and make another world--and
the academic people cannot understand them--so that's why what the
academic people say about them is--_is not much good_," Fox
whispers. For a moment he is silent, then shakes his head and mutters in
a low tone of profound regret: "It's a _pity!_ Too _bad_ you've
got to hear about it first in schools--but--but just do the best you
can with it--get what you can from it--and--and when _those
people_"--whisper mixed with understanding, pity, and contempt--"have
gone as far as they can go, just forget about the _rest_ they tell
you."

"I _kno-o-w_! But, really, daddy, when Miss Allen starts drawing
charts and diagrams upon the blackboard, showing how they _did_
it--it's--it's _aw-w-full_ I can't _be-e-ar_ it--it just makes
everything so,--_te-er-rible_!...Oh, daddy, let me go!" She squirms
to free herself again, her tender features tortured with
self-consciousness. "_Please_, daddy! I've got to! I'll be
_late!_"

"How are you going?"

"But _naturally_, the way I always go."

"By taxi?"

"But of _course_ not, I take the _str-e-e-t_ car."

"Oh...What street car?"

"The Lexington A-a-a-venue."

"Alone?" says Fox in a low, grave, troubled tone.

"But, of _course_, daddy!"

He looks at her sternly with a sorrow-troubled face, and shakes his head.

"But what's wrong with taking the _str-e-e-t_ car? Oh, daddy, you're
_so-o_--" she squirms, looks off indefinitely, her face touched by a
smile of agonised embarrassment. "_Please_, daddy! Let me
_go-o-o!_ I tell you I'll be _late!_"

She pushes a little to release herself, he kisses her, and lets her go
reluctantly.

"Good-bye, darling"--low, hoarse, tender, troubled with grave solicitude.
"You _will_ take care, won't you?"

"But, of _course!_" A little agonised laugh. "There's nothing to
take _care_." Then, suddenly, in a timid little voice: "Good-bye,
daddy"--and she is gone, swiftly, silently, like fading light.

Fox, hands upon his hips, with a look half-trouble and half-tenderness,
follows her with sea-pale eyes until she has gone. Then he turns back to
the table, sits down again, and picks up the paper.

News.



29. "The Hollow Men"


Fox picks up the paper and settles back to read it with keen relish. The
paper is the _Times_. (He read the _Tribune_ late last night:
waited up for it, would not miss it, has never missed it, could not sleep
if he had not read it.) Morning now, Fox reads the _Times_.

How does he read the _Times?_

He reads it the way Americans have always read the paper. He also reads
it as few Americans have ever read the paper--with nostrils sensitive,
dilating with proud scorn, sniffing for the news behind the news.

He loves it--even loves the _Times_--loves Love unlovable--and don't
we all? Ink-fresh papers, millions of them--ink-fresh with morning,
orange juice, waffles, eggs and bacon, and cups of strong hot coffee. How
fine it is, here in America, at ink-fresh, coffee-fragrant morning, to
read the paper!

How often have we read the paper in America! How often have we seen it
_blocked_ against our doors! Little route-boys fold and block it,
so to throw it--and so we find it and unfold it, crackling and ink-laden,
at our doors. Sometimes we find it tossed there lightly with
flat _plop_; sometimes we find it thrown with solid, whizzing
_whack_ against the clapboards (clapboards here, most often, in
America); sometimes, as now in Turtle Bay, servants find just freshly
folded sheets laid neatly down in doorways, and take them to the table
for their masters. No matter how it got there, we always find it.

How we do love the paper in America! How we do love the paper, all!

Why do we love the paper in America? Why do we love the paper, all?

Mad masters, I will tell ye why.

Because the paper is "the news" here in America, and we love the
_smell_ of news. We love the smell of news that's "fit to print". We
also love the smell of news _not_ fit to print. We love, besides,
the smell of _facts_ that news is made of. Therefore we love the
paper because the news is so fit-printable--so unprintable--and so
fact-printable.

Is the news, then, like America? No, it's not--and Fox, unlike the rest
of you, mad masters, turns the pages knowing it is just the news and not
America that he reads there in his _Times_.

The news is _not_ America, nor is America the _news_--the news
is _in_ America. It is a kind of light at morning, and at evening,
and at midnight in America. It is a kind of growth and record and
excrescence of our life. It is not good enough--it does not tell our
story--yet it is the news!

Fox reads (proud nose sharp-sniffing with a scornful relish):

An unidentified man fell or jumped yesterday at noon from the
twelfth storey of the Admiral Francis Drake Hotel, corner of Hay and
Apple Streets, in Brooklyn. The man, who was about thirty-five years old,
registered at the hotel about a week ago, according to the police, as C.
Green. Police are of the opinion that this was an assumed name. Pending
identification, the body is being held at the King's County
Morgue.

This, then, is news. Is it also the whole story, Admiral Drake? No! Yet
we do not supply the whole story--we who have known all the lights and
weathers of America--as Fox supplies it now:

Well, then, it's news, and it happened in your own hotel, brave Admiral
Drake. It didn't happen in the Penn-Pitt at Pittsburgh, nor the Phil-Penn
at Philadelphia, nor the York-Albany at Albany, nor the Hudson-Troy at
Troy, nor the Libya-Ritz at Libya Hill, nor the Clay-Calhoun at Columbia,
nor the Richmond-Lee at Richmond, nor the George Washington at Easton,
Pennsylvania, Canton, Ohio, Terre Haute, Indiana, Danville, Virginia,
Houston, Texas, and ninety-seven other places; nor at the Abraham Lincoln
at Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut, Wilmington,
Delaware, Cairo, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Los Angeles,
California, and one hundred and thirty-six other towns; nor at the Andrew
Jackson, the Roosevelt (Theodore or Franklin--take your choice), the
Jefferson Davis, the Daniel Webster, the Stonewall Jackson, the U.S.
Grant, the Commodore Vanderbilt, the Waldorf-Astor, the Adams House, the
Parker House, the Palmer House, the Taft, the McKinley, the Emerson
(Waldo or Bromo), the Harding, the Coolidge, the Hoover, the Albert G.
Fall, the Harry Daugherty, the Rockefeller, the Harriman, the Carnegie or
the Frick, the Christopher Columbus or the Leif Ericsson, the
Ponce-de-Leon or the Magellan, in the remaining eight hundred and
forty-three cities of America--but at the Francis Drake, brave
Admiral--your own hotel--so, of course, you'll want to know what
happened.

"An unidentified man"--well, then, this man was an American. "About
thirty-five years old" with "an assumed name"--well, then, call him C.
Green as he called himself ironically in the hotel register. C. Green,
the unidentified American, "fell or jumped," then, "yesterday at
noon...in Brooklyn"--worth nine lines of print in to-day's
_Times_--one of seven thousand who died yesterday upon this
continent--one of three hundred and fifty who died yesterday in this very
city (see dense, close columns of obituaries, page 15: begin with
"Aaronson", so through the alphabet to "Zorn"). C. Green came here "a
week ago"----

And came from where? From the deep South, or the Mississippi Valley, or
the Middle West? From Minneapolis, Bridgeport, Boston, or a little town
in Old Catawba? From Scranton, Toledo, St. Louis, or the desert whiteness
of Los Angeles? From the pine barrens of the Atlantic coastal plain, or
from the Pacific shore?

And so--was _what_, brave Admiral Drake? Had seen, felt, heard,
smelled, tasted--_what_? Had known--_what_?

Had known all our brutal violence of weather: the burned swelter of July
across the nation, the smell of the slow, rank river, the mud, the bottom
lands, the weed growth, and the hot, coarse, humid fragrance of the corn.
The kind that says: "Jesus, but it's hot!"--pulls off his coat, and mops
his face, and goes in shirt-sleeves in St. Louis, goes to August's for a
Swiss on rye with mustard, and a mug of beer. The kind that says: "Damn!
It's hot!" in South Carolina, slouches in shirt-sleeves and straw hat
down South Main Street, drops into Evans Drug Store for a dope, says to
the soda jerker: "Is it hot enough fer you to-day, Jim?" The kind that
reads in the paper of the heat, the deaths, and the prostration, reads it
with a certain satisfaction, hangs on grimly day by day and loses sleep
at night, can't sleep for heat, is tired in the morning, says: "Jesus! It
can't last for ever!" as heat lengthens into August, and the nation gasps
for breath, and the green that was young in May now mottles, fades and
bleaches, withers, goes heat-brown. Will boast of coolness in the
mountains, Admiral Drake. "Always cool at night! May get a little warm
around the middle of the day, but you'll sleep with blankets every
night."

Then summer fades and passes, and October comes. Will smell smoke then,
and feel an unsuspected sharpness, a thrill of nervous, swift elation, a
sense of sadness and departure. C. Green doesn't know the reason, Admiral
Drake, but lights slant and shorten in the afternoon, there is a misty
pollen of old gold in light at noon, a murky redness in the lights of
dusk, a frosty stillness, and the barking of the dogs; the maples flame
upon the hills, the gums are burning, bronze the oak leaves and, the
aspens yellow; then come the rains, the sodden dead-brown of the fallen
leaves, the smoke-stark branches--and November comes.

Waiting for winter in the little towns, and winter comes. It is really
the same in big towns and the cities, too, with the bleak enclosure of
the winter multiplied. In the commerce of the day, engaged and furious,
then darkness, and the bleak monotony of "Where shall we go? What shall
we do?" The winter grips us, closes round each house--the stark, harsh
light encysts us--and C. Green walks the streets. Sometimes hard lights
burn on him, Admiral Drake, bleak faces stream beneath the lights,
amusement signs are winking. On Broadway, the constant plaze of sterile
lights; in little towns, no less, the clustered raisins of hard light on
Main Street. On Broadway, swarming millions up to midnight; in little
towns, hard lights and frozen silence--no one, nothing, after ten
o'clock. But in the hearts of C. Greens everywhere, bleak boredom,
undefined despair, and "Christ! Where shall I go now? When will winter
end?"

So longs for spring, and wishes it were Saturday, brave Admiral Drake.

Saturday night arrives with the thing that we are waiting for. Oh, it
will come to-night; the thing that we have been expecting all our lives
will come to-night, on Saturday! 'On Saturday night across America we are
waiting for it, and ninety million Greens go moth-wise to the lights to
find it. Surely it will come to-night! So Green goes out to find it, and
he finds--hard lights again, saloons along Third Avenue, or the Greek's
place in a little town--and then hard whisky, gin, and drunkenness, and
brawls and fights and vomit.

Sunday morning, aching head.

Sunday afternoon, and in the cities the chop-suey signs wink on and flash
their sterile promises of unborn joy.

Sunday night, and the hard stars, and the bleak enclosures of our wintry
weather--the buildings of old rusty brick, in cold enclosed, the fronts
of old stark brown, the unpainted houses, the deserted factories,
wharves, piers, warehouses, and office buildings, the tormented
shabbiness of Sixth Avenues; and in the smaller towns, bleak Main
Streets, desolate with shabby store fronts and be-raisined clusters of
lamp standards, and in the residential streets of wooden houses (dark by
ten o'clock), the moaning of stark branches, the stiff lights,
limb-bepatterned, shaking at street corners. The light shines there with
wintry bleakness on the clapboard front and porch of a shabby house where
the policeman lives--blank and desolate upon the stuffy, boxlike little
parlour where the policeman's daughter amorously receives--and
_almost_--not _quite_--gives. Hot, fevered, fearful, and insatiate,
it is all too close to the cold street light--too creaking,
panting, flimsy-close to others in the flimsy house--too close to the
policeman's solid and slow-creaking tread--yet somehow valiant, somehow
strong, somehow triumphant over the stale varnish of the little parlour,
the nearness of the street, the light, the creaking boughs, and papa's
tread--somehow triumphant with hot panting, with rose lips and tender
tongue, white underleg and tight-locked thighs--by these intimacies of
fear and fragrant hot desire will beat the ashen monotone of time and
even the bleak and grey duration of the winter out.

Does this surprise you, Admiral Drake?

"But Christ!"--Green leaves the house, his life is bitter with desire,
the stiff light creaks. "When will it end?" thinks Green. "When will
spring come?"

It comes at last unhoped for, after hoping, comes when least expected,
and when given up. In March there is a day that's almost spring, and C.
Green, strong with will to have it so, says: "Well, it's here"--and it is
gone like smoke. You can't look spring too closely in the eye in March.
Raw days return, and blown light, and gusty moanings of the wind. Then
April comes, and small, soaking rain. The air is wet and raw and chilled,
but with a smell of spring now, a smell of earth, of grass exploding in
small patches, here and there a blade, a bud, a leaf. And spring comes,
marvellous, for a day or two--"It's here!" Green thinks. "It's here at
last!"--and he is wrong again. It goes, chill days and greyness and
small, soaking rains return. Green loses hope. "There is no spring!" he
says. "You never get spring any more; you jump from winter into
summer--we'll have summer now and the hot weather before you know it."

Then spring comes--explodes out of the earth in a green radiance--comes
up overnight! It's April twenty-eighth--the tree there in the city
backyard is smoke-yellow, feathered with the striplings of young leaf!
It's April twenty-ninth--the leaf, the yellow, and the smoke have
thickened overnight. April thirtieth--you can watch it grow and thicken
with your eye! Then May the first--the tree's in leaf now, almost full
and dense, young, feather-fresh! The whole spring has exploded from the
earth!

All's explosive with us really, Admiral Drake--spring, the brutal summer,
frost, October, February in Dakota with fifty-one below, spring floods,
two hundred drowning along Ohio bottoms, in Missouri, in New England, all
through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee. Spring shot at us
overnight, and everything with us is vast, explosive, floodlike. A few
hundred dead in floods, a hundred in a wave of heat, twelve thousand in a
year by murder, thirty thousand with the motor-car--it all means nothing
here. Floods like this would drown out France; death like this would
plunge England in black mourning; but in America a few thousand C. Greens
more or less, drowned, murdered, killed by motor-cars, or dead by jumping
out of windows on their heads--well, it just means nothing to us--the
next flood, or next week's crop of death and killings, wash it out. We do
things on a large scale, Admiral Drake.

The tar-smell in the streets now, children shouting, and the smell of
earth; the sky shell-blue and faultless, a sapphire sparkle everywhere;
and in the air the brave stick-candy whippings of a flag. C. Green thinks
of the baseball games, the raw-hide arm of Lefty Grove, the resilient
crack of ashwood on the horsehide ball, the waiting pockets of the
well-oiled mitts, the warm smell of the bleachers, the shouted gibes of
shirt-sleeved men, the sprawl and monotone of inning after inning.
(Baseball's a dull game, really; that's the reason that it is so good. We
do not love the game so much as we love the sprawl and drowse and
shirt-sleeved apathy of it.) On Saturday afternoon, C. Green goes out to
the ball park and sits there in the crowd, awaiting the sudden sharpness
and the yell of crisis. Then the game ends and the crowd flows out across
the green turf of the playing-field. Sunday, Green spends the day out in
the country in his flivver, with a girl.

Then summer comes again, heat-blazing summer, humid, murked with mist,
sky-glazed with brutal weariness--and C. Green mops his face and sweats
and says: "Jesus! Will it never end?"

This, then, is C. Green "thirty-five years old"--"unidentified"--and an
American. In what way an American? In what way different from the men
_you_ knew, old Drake?

When the ships bore home again and Cape St. Vincent blazed in Spaniard's
eye--or when old Drake was returning with his men, beating coastwise from
strange seas abreast, past the Scilly Isles towards the slant of evening
fields, chalk cliffs, the harbour's arms, the town's sweet cluster and
the spire--where was Green?

When, in red-oak thickets at the break of day, coon-skinned, the huntsmen
of the wilderness lay for bear, heard arrows rattling in the laurel
leaves, the bullets' whining _plunk_, and waited with cocked musket
by the tree--where was Green?

Or when, with strong faces turning towards the setting sun, hawk-eyed and
Indian-visaged men bore gun-stocks on the western trails and sternly
heard the fierce war-whoops around the Painted Buttes--where, then, was
Green?

Was never there with Drake's men in the evening when the sails stood in
from the Americas! Was never there beneath the Spaniard's swarthy eye at
Vincent's Cape! Was never there in the red-oak thicket in the morning!
Was never there to hear the war-cries round the Painted Buttes!

No, no. He was no voyager of unknown seas, no pioneer of western trails.
He was life's little man, life's nameless cypher, life's man-swarm atom,
life's American--and now he lies disjected and exploded on a street in
Brooklyn!

He was a dweller in mean streets, was Green, a man-mote in the jungle of
the city, a resident of grimy steel and stone, a mole who burrowed in
rusty brick, a stunned spectator of enormous salmon-coloured towers, hued
palely with the morning. He was a renter of shabby wooden houses in a
little town, an owner of a raw new bungalow on the outskirts of the town.
He was a waker in bleak streets at morning, an alarm-clock watcher,
saying: "Jesus, I'll be late."--a fellow who took short cuts through the
corner lot, behind the advertising signs; a fellow used to concrete
horrors of hot day and blazing noon; a man accustomed to the tormented
hodge-podge of our architectures, used to broken pavements, ash-cans,
shabby store fronts, dull green paint, the elevated structure, grinding
traffic, noise, and streets be-tortured with a thousand bleak and dismal
signs. He was accustomed to the gas tanks going out of town, he was an
atom of machinery in an endless flow, going, stopping, going to the
winking of the lights; he tore down concrete roads on Sundays, past the
hot-dog stands and filling-stations; he would return at darkness; hunger
lured him to the winking splendour of chop-suey signs; and midnight found
him in The Coffee Pot, to prowl above a mug of coffee, tear a coffee-cake
in fragments, and wear away the slow grey ash of time and boredom with
other men in grey hats and with skins of tallow-grey, at Joe the Greek's.

C. Green could read (which Drake could not), but not too accurately;
could write, too (which the Spaniard couldn't), but not too well. C.
Green had trouble over certain words, spelled them out above the coffee
mug at midnight, with a furrowed brow, slow-shaping lips, and "Jesus!"
when news stunned him--for he read the news. Preferred the news with
pictures, too, girls with voluptuous legs crossed sensually, dresses
above the knees, and plump dolls' faces full of vacant lechery. Green
liked news "hot"--not as Fox knows it, not subtly sniffing with
strange-scornful nostrils for the news _behind_ the news--but
straight from the shoulder--socko!--biff!--straight off the griddle, with
lots of mustard, shapely legs, roadside wrecks and mutilated bodies,
gangsters' molls and gunmen's hideouts, tallow faces of the night that
bluntly stare at flashlight lenses--this and talk of "heart-balm",
"love-thief", "sex-hijacker"--all of this liked Green.

Yes, Green liked the news--and now, a bit of news himself (nine lines of
print in _Times_), has been disjected and exploded on a Brooklyn
pavement!

Well, such was our friend, C. Green, who read, but not too well; and
wrote, but not too easily; who smelled, but not too strongly; felt, but
not too deeply; saw, but not too clearly--yet had smelled the tar in May,
smelled the slow, rank yellow of the rivers, and the clean, coarse corn;
had seen the slants of evening on the hill-flanks in the Smokies, and the
bronze swell of the earth, the broad, deep red of Pennsylvania barns,
proud-proportioned and as dominant across the fields as bulls; had felt
the frost and silence in October; had heard the whistles of the train
wail back in darkness, and the horns of New Year's Eve, and--"Jesus!
There's another year gone by! What now?"

No Drake was he, no Spaniard, no coon-skin cap, no strong face burning
west. Yet, in some remote and protoplasmic portion, he was a little of
each of these. A little Scotch, perhaps, was Green, a little Irish,
English, Spanish even, and some German--a little of each part, all
compacted and exploded into nameless atom of America!

No. Green--poor little Green--was not a man like Drake. He was just a
cinder out of life--for the most part, a thinker of base thoughts, a
creature of unsharpened, coarse perceptions. He was meagre in the hips,
he did not have much juice or salt in him. Drake gnawed the beef from
juicy bones in taverns, drank tankards of brown ale, swore salty curses
through his whiskers, wiped his mouth with the back of his hard hand,
threw the beef bone to his dog, and pounded with his tankard for more
ale. Green ate in cafeterias, prowled at midnight over coffee and a
doughnut or a sugar-coated bun, went to the chop-suey joint on Saturday
nights and swallowed chow mein, noodle soup, and rice. Green's mouth was
mean and thin and common, it ran to looseness and a snarl; his skin was
grey and harsh and dry; his eyes were dull and full of fear. Drake was
self-contained: the world his oyster, seas his pastures, mighty distances
his wings. His eyes were sea-pale (like the eyes of Fox); his ship was
England. Green had no ship, he had a motor-car, and tore down concrete
roads on Sunday, and halted with the lights against him with the million
other cinders hurtling through hot space. Green walked on level concrete
sidewalks and on pavements grey, through hot and grimy streets past rusty
tenements. Drake set his sails against the west, he strode the buoyant,
sea-washed decks, he took the Spaniard and his gold, and at the end he
stood in to the sweet enfoldments of the spire, the clustered town, the
emerald fields that slope to Plymouth harbour--then Green came!

We who never saw brave Drake can have no difficulty conjuring up an image
of the kind of man he was. With equal ease we can imagine the bearded
Spaniard, and almost hear his swarthy oaths. But neither Drake nor
Spaniard could ever have imagined Green. Who could have foreseen him,
this cypher of America, exploded now upon a street in Brooklyn?

Behold him, Admiral Drake! Observe the scene now! Listen to the people!
Here is something strange as the Armadas, the gold-laden cargoes of the
bearded Spaniards, the vision of unfound Americas!

What do you see here, Admiral Drake?

Well, first, a building--your own hotel--such a building as the folk of
Plymouth never saw. A great block of masonry, pale-hued, grimy-white,
fourteen storeys tall, stamped in an unvarying pattern with many windows.
Sheeted glass below, the store front piled with medicines and toilet
articles, perfumes, cosmetics, health contrivances. Within, a soda
fountain, Admiral Drake. The men in white with monkey caps, soda jerkers
sullen with perpetual overdriven irritation. Beneath the counter, pools
of sloppy water, filth, and unwashed dishes. Across the counter, Jewesses
with fat, rouged lips consuming ice-cream sodas and pimento sandwiches.

Outside upon the concrete sidewalk lies the form of our exploded friend,
C. Green. A crowd has gathered round--taxi-drivers, passersby, hangers-on
about the subway station, people working in the neighbourhood, and the
police. No one has dared to touch exploded Green as yet--they stand there
in a rapt and fascinated circle, looking at him.

Not much to look at either, Admiral Drake; not even those who trod your
gory decks would call the sight a pretty one. Our friend has landed on
his head--"taken a nose dive", as we say--and smashed his brains out at
the iron base of the second lamp-post from the corner. (It is the same
lamp-post as heretofore described, to be found throughout America--a
"standard", standardised, supporting five hard grapes of frosted glass.)

So here Green lies, on the concrete sidewalk all disjected. No head is
left, the head is gone now, head's exploded; only brains are left. The
brains are pink, and almost bloodless, Admiral Drake. (There's not much
blood here--we shall tell you why.) But brains exploded are somewhat like
pale sausage meat, fresh-ground. Brains are stuck hard to the lamp-post,
too; there is a certain driven emphasis about them, as if they had been
shot hydraulically out of a force-hose against the post.

The head, as we have said, is gone completely; a few fragments of the
skull are scattered round--but of the face, the features,
forehead--nothing! They have all been blown _out_, as by some inner
explosion. Nothing is left but the back of the skull, which curiously
remains, completely hollowed out and vacant, and curved over, like the
rounded handle of a walking-stick.

The body, five feet eight or nine of it, of middling weight, is lying--we
were going to say "face downwards"; had we not better say "stomach
downwards"?--on the sidewalk. It is well-dressed, too, in cheap, neatly
pressed, machine-made clothes: tan shoes and socks with a clocked
pattern, suit of a light texture, brownish-red in hue, a neat
canary-coloured shirt with attached collar--obviously C. Green had a nice
feeling for proprieties! As for the body itself, save for a certain
indefinable and curiously "disjected" quality, one could scarcely tell
that every bone in it is broken. The hands are still spread out,
half-folded and half-clenched, with a still-warm and startling eloquence
of recent life. (It happened just four minutes ago!)

Well, where's the blood, then, Drake? You're used to blood; you'd like to
know. Well, you've heard of casting bread upon the waters, Drake, and
having it return--but never yet, I'll vow, of casting blood upon the
streets--and having it run away--and then come back to you! But here it
comes now, down the street--down Apple Street, round the corner into Hay,
across the street now towards C. Green, the lamp-post, and the crowd!--a
young Italian youth, blunt-featured, low-browed, and bewildered, his
black eyes blank with horror, tongue mumbling thickly, arm held firmly by
a policeman, suit and shirt all drenched with blood, and face
be-spattered with it! A stir of sudden interest in the crowd, sharp
nudges, low-toned voices whispering:

"Here he is! Th' guy that 'got it'!...Sure, that's him--you know him,
that Italian kid that works inside in the news-stand--he was standin'
_deh_ beside the post! Sure, _that's_ the guy!--talkin' to another
guy--he got it all! _That's_ the reason you didn't see more
blood--_this_ guy got it!--Sure! The guy just missed him by six
inches!--Sure! I'm tellin' you I _saw_ it, ain't I? I looked up an'
saw him in the air! He'd a hit this guy, but when he saw that he was
goin' to hit the lamp-post, he put out his hands an' tried to keep away!
_That's_ the reason that he didn't hit this guy!...But this guy
heard him when he hit, an' turned round--and zowie!--he got all of it
right in his face!"

And another, whispering and nudging, nodding towards the horror-blank,
thick-mumbling Italian boy: "Jesus! Look at th' guy, will yuh!...He don't
know what he's doing!...He don't know yet what happened to him!...Sure!
He got it _all_. I tell yuh! He was standin' deh beside the post,
wit a package undehneath one ahm--an' when it happened--when he got
it--he just stahted runnin'...He don't know yet what's happened!...That's
what I'm tellin' yuh--th' guy just stahted runnin' when he got it."

And one policeman (to another): "...Sure, I yelled to Pat to stop him. He
caught up with him at Borough Hall...He just kept on runnin'--he don't
know yet what happened to him."

And the Italian youth, thick-mumbling: "...Jeez! W'at
happened?...Jeez!...I was standin' talkin' to a guy--I heard it
hit...Jeez!...W'at happened, anyway?...I got it all oveh me!...Jeez!...I
just stahted runnin'...Jeez! I'm sick!"

Voices: "Here, take 'im into the drug-store!...Wash 'im off!...That guy
needs a shot of liquor!...Sure! Take him into the drug-stoeh
_deh!_..._They'll_ fix him up!"

The plump, young, rather effeminate, but very intelligent young Jew who
runs the news-stand in the corridor, talking to everyone round him,
excitedly and indignantly: "...Did I _see_ it? Listen! I saw
_everything!_ I was coming across the street, looked up, and saw him
in the air!..._See_ it?..._Listen!_ If someone had taken a big
ripe water-melon and dropped it on the street from the twelfth floor
you'd have some idea what it was like!..._See_ it! I'll tell the
world I saw it! I don't want to see anything like _that_ again!"
Then excitedly, with a kind of hysterical indignation: "Shows no
consideration for other people, that's all _I've_ got to say! If a
man is going to do a thing like that, why does he pick a place like
_this_--one of the busiest corners in Brooklyn?...How did _he_
know he wouldn't hit someone? Why, if that boy had been standing six
inches nearer to the post, he'd have killed him, as sure as you
live!...And here he does it right in front of all these people who have
to look at it! It shows he had no consideration for other people! A man
who'd do a thing like that..."

(Alas, poor Jew! As if C. Green, now past considering, had considered
nice "considerations".)

A taxi-driver, impatiently: "That's what I'm tellin' yuh!...I watched him
for _five_ minutes before he jumped. He crawled out on the
window-sill an' stood there for five minutes, makin' up his mind!...Sure,
I saw him! Lots of people saw him!" Impatiently, irritably:-"Why didn't
we _do_ somethin' to stop him? F'r Chri' sake, what was there to do?
A guy who'd do a thing like that is nuts to start with! You don't think
he'd listen to anything _we_ had to say, do you?...Sure, we
_did_ yell at him!...Jesus!...We was almost _afraid_ to yell at
him--we made motions to him to get back--tried to hold his attention
while the cops sneaked round the corner into the hotel...Sure, the cops
got there just a second after he jumped--I don't know if he jumped when
he heard 'em comin', or what happened, but Christ!--he stood there
gettin' ready for five minutes while we watched!"

And a stocky little Czech-Bohemian, who works in the delicatessen-fruit
store on the corner, one block down: "Did I _hear_ it! Say, you
could have heard it for six blocks! Sure! _Everybody_ heard it! The
minute that I heard it, I knew what had happened, too! I come runnin'!"

People press and shuffle in the crowd. A man comes round the corner,
presses forward to get a better look, runs into a-little fat, baldheaded
man in front of him who is staring at the Thing with a pale, sweating,
suffering, fascinated face, by accident knocks off the little' fat man's
straw hat. The new straw hat hits the pavement dryly, the little fat,
bald-headed man scrambles for it, clutches it, and turns round on the man
who has knocked it off, both of them stammering frantic apologies:

"Oh, excuse me!...'Scuse me!...'Scuse me!...Sorry!"

"Quite all right...All right!...All right."

Observe now, Admiral, with what hypnotic concentration the people are
examining the grimy-white facade of your hotel. Watch their faces and
expressions. Their eyes go travelling upwards slowly--up--up--up. The
building seems to widen curiously, to be distorted, to flare out
wedgelike till it threatens to annihilate the sky, overwhelm the will,
and crush the spirit. (These optics, too, American, Admiral Drake.) The
eyes continue on past storey after storey up the wall until they finally
arrive and come to rest with focal concentration on that single open
window twelve floors up. It is no jot different from all the other
windows, but now the vision of the crowd is fastened on it with a fatal
and united interest. And after staring at it fixedly, the eyes come
travelling slowly down again--down--down--down--the faces strained a
little, mouths all slightly puckered as if something set the teeth on
edge--and slowly, with fascinated measurement--down--down--down--until
the eyes reach sidewalk, lamp-post, and--the Thing again.

The pavement finally halts all, stops all, answers all. It is the
American pavement, Admiral Drake, our universal city sidewalk, a wide,
hard stripe of grey-white cement, blocked accurately with dividing lines.
It is the hardest, coldest, cruellest, most impersonal pavement in the
world: all of the indifference, the atomic desolation, the exploded
nothingness of one hundred million nameless "Greens" is in it.

In Europe, Drake, we find worn stone, all hollowed out and rubbed to
rounded edges. For centuries the unknown lives of men now buried touched
and wore this stone, and when we see it something stirs within our
hearts, and something strange and dark and passionate moves our souls,
and--"They were here!" we say.

Not so, the streets, the sidewalks, the paved places of America. Has
_man_ been here? No. Only unnumbered nameless Greens have swarmed
and passed here, and none has left a mark.

Did ever the eye go seaward here with searching for the crowded sail,
with longing for the strange and unknown coasts of Spain? Did ever beauty
here come home to the heart and eyes? Did ever, in the thrusting crowd,
eye look to eye, and face to face, and heart to heart, and know the
moment of their meeting--stop and pause, and be oblivious in this place,
and make one spot of worn pavement sacred stone? You won't believe it,
Admiral Drake, but it is so--these things _have_ happened on the
pavements of America. But, as you see yourself, they have not left their
mark.

You, old Drake, when last your fellow townsmen saw you at the sailing of
the ships, walked with the crowd along the quay, past the spire and
cluster of the town, down to the cool lap of the water; and from your
deck, as you put out, you watched the long, white, fading arm of your own
coast. And in the town that you had left were streets still haunted by
your voice. There was your worn tread upon the pavement, there the tavern
table dented where you banged your tankard down. And in the evening, when
the ships were gone, men waited for your return.

But no return is here among us in America. Here are no streets still
haunted by departed men. Here is no street at all, as you knew streets.
Here are just our cement Mobways, unannealed by time! No place in Mobway
bids you pause, old Drake. No spot in Mob-way bids you hold your mind a
moment in reflection, saying: "He was here!" No square of concrete slab
says: "Stay, for I was built by men." Mobway never knew the hand of man,
as your streets did. Mobway was laid down by great machines, for one sole
purpose--to unimpede and hurry up the passing of the feet.

Where did Mobway come from? What produced it?

It came from the same place where all our mobways come from--from
Standard Concentrated Production Units of America, No. 1. This is where
all our streets, sidewalks, and lamp-posts (like the one on which Green's
brains are spattered) come from, where all our white-grimy bricks (like
those of which your hotel is constructed) come from, where the red
facades of our standard-unit tobacco stores (like the one across the
street) come from, where our motor-cars come from, where our drug-stores
and our drug-store windows and displays come from, where our soda
fountains (complete, with soda jerkers attached) come from, where our
cosmetics, toilet articles, and the fat, rouged lips of our Jewesses come
from, where our soda water, slops and syrups, steamed spaghetti,
ice-cream, and pimento sandwiches come from, where our clothes, our hats
(neat, standard stamps of grey), our faces (also stamps of grey, not
always neat), our language, conversation, sentiments, feelings, and
opinions come from. All these things are made for us by Standard
Concentrated Production Units of America, No. 1.

So here we are, then, Admiral Drake. You see the street, the sidewalk,
the front of your hotel, the constant stream of motor-cars, the
drug-store and the soda fountain, the tobacco store, the traffic lights,
the cops in uniform, the people streaming in and out of the subway, the
rusty, pale-hued jungle of the buildings, old and new, high and low.
There is no better place to see it, Drake. For this is Brooklyn--which
means ten thousand streets and blocks like this one. Brooklyn, Admiral
Drake, is the Standard Concentrated Chaos No. 1 of the Whole Universe.
That is to say, it has no size, no shape, no heart, no joy, no hope, no
aspiration, no centre, no eyes, no soul, no purpose, no direction, and no
anything--just Standard Concentrated Units everywhere--exploding in all
directions for an unknown number of square miles like a completely
triumphant Standard Concentrated Blot upon the Face of the Earth. And
here, right in the middle--no, that is wrong, for Standard Concentrated
Blots don't have a middle--but, if not in the middle, at least right
slap-bang out in the open, upon a minute portion of his magnificent
Standard Concentrated Blot, where all the Standard Concentrated Blotters
can stare at him, and with the brains completely out of him----

--Lies Green!

And this is bad--most bad--oh, _very_ bad--and should not be
allowed! For, as our young Jewish friend has just indignantly proclaimed,
it "shows no consideration for other people"--which means, for other
Standard Concentrated Blotters. Green has no right to go falling in this
fashion in a public place. He has no right to take unto himself any
portion of this Standard Concentrated Blot, however small. He has no
business _being_ where he is at all. A Standard Concentrated Blotter
is not supposed to _be_ places, but to _go_ places.

You see, dear Admiral, this is not a street to amble in, to ride along,
to drift through. It is a channel--in the words of the Standard
Concentrated Blotter-Press, an "artery". This means that it is not a
place where one drives, but a place where one is driven--not really a
street at all, but a kind of tube for a projectile, a kind of groove for
millions and millions of projectiles, all driven past incessantly, all
beetling onwards, bearing briefly white slugged blurs of driven flesh.

As for the sidewalk, this Standard Concentrated Mobway is not a place to
walk on, really. (Standard Concentrated Blotters have forgotten how to
walk.) It is a place to swarm on, to weave on, to thrust and dodge on, to
scurry past on, to crowd by on. It is not a place to stand on, either.
One of the earliest precepts in a Concentrated Blotter's life is: "Move
on there! Where th' hell d'you think you are, anyway--in a cow pasture?"
And, most certainly, it is not a place to lie on, to sprawl out on.

But look at Green! Just _look_ at him! No wonder the Jewish youth is
angry with him!

Green has wilfully and deliberately violated every Standard Concentrated
Principle of Blotterdom. He has not only gone and dashed his brains out,
but he has done it in a public place--upon a piece of Standard
Concentrated Mobway. He has messed up the sidewalk, messed up another
Standard Concentrated Blotter, stopped traffic, taken people from their
business, upset the nerves of his fellow Blotters--and now _lies_
there, all _sprawled_ out, in a place where he has no right to
_be_. And, to make his crime unpardonable, C. Green has----

--Come to Life!

Consider _that_, old Drake! We can understand some measure of
_your_ strangeness, because we heard you swearing in the tavern and
saw your sails stand to the west. Can you now do the same for _us?_
Consider strangeness, Drake--and look at Green! For you have heard it
said by your own countryman, and in your living generation: "The times
have been that, when the brains were out, the man would die." But now,
old Drake, what hath Time wrought? There is surely here some strangeness
in us that you could never have foretold. For the brains are "out"
now--and the man has----

--Come to Life!

What's that, Admiral? You do not understand it? Small wonder, though it's
really very simple:

For just ten minutes since, C. Green was a Concentrated Blotter like the
rest of us. Ten minutes since, he, too, might hurry in and out of the
subway, thrust and scurry on the pavement, go hurtling past with whited
blur in one of our beetles of machinery, a nameless atom, cypher, cinder,
swarming with the rest of us, just another "guy" like a hundred million
other "guys". But now, observe him! No longer is he just "another
guy"--already he has become a "special guy"--has become "_The_ Guy".
C. Green at last has turned into a--_Man_!

Four hundred years ago, brave Admiral Drake, if we had seen you lying on
your deck, your bronze gone pale and cold, imbrued in your own blood, and
hewn to the middle by the Spaniards' steel, we could have understood
that, for there was _blood_ in you. But Green--this Concentrated
Blotter of ten minutes since--made in our own image, shaped in our own
dust, compacted of the same grey stuff of which our own lives are
compacted, and filled, we thought, with the same Standard Concentration
of embalming fluid that fills _our_ veins--oh, Drake, we did not
know the fellow had such _blood_ in him! We could not have thought
it was so red, so rich, and so abundant!

Poor, shabby, and corrupted cypher! Poor, nameless, and exploded atom!
Poor little guy! He fills us Concentrated Blotters of the Universe with
fear, with shame, with awe, with pity, and with terror--for we see
ourselves in him. If he was a man with blood in him, then so are we! If
he, in the midst of his always-driven life, could at last be driven to
this final and defiant gesture of refusal to remain a Concentrated
Blotter, then we, too, might be driven to a point of equal desperation!
And there are other methods of defiance, other ways of ultimate refusal,
other means of exercising one's last-remaining right of manhood--and some
of them are no less terrifying to contemplate than this! So our
fascinated eyes go up and up, past floor after floor of Standard
Concentrated brick, and fasten on the open window where he stood--and
suddenly we crane our necks along the ridges of our collars, look away
with constricted faces, and taste the acrid bitterness of steel upon our
lips!

It is too hard, and not to be endured--to know that little Green,
speaking our own tongue and stuffed with our own stuffing, had yet
concealed in him some secret, dark, and frightful thing more terrible
than anything that we have ever known--that he bore within him some black
and hideous horror, some depth of madness or of courage, and could stand
_there_--upon the sheer and nauseating verge of that grey
window-ledge for five full minutes--and know the thing he was about to
do--and tell himself he _must_ now!--that he _had_ to!--that
the compulsion of every horror-fascinated eye down in the gulf below had
_now_ made escape impossible--and then, horror-sick past all
regeneration, see, too, before he jumped, his fall, the downward-hurtling
plunge, and his own exploded body--feel the bones crack and fly apart,
and the brutal obliteration of the instant when his brains would shoot
out against the lamp-post--and even while his soul drew back from that
sheer verge of imagined terror, shame, and unutterable self-loathing,
crying: "I cannot do it!"--then jumped!

And _we_, brave Drake? We try to see it, but we cannot see. We try
to fathom it, but we cannot plunge. We try to comprehend the hell of
hells, the hundred lives of horror, madness, anguish, and despair that
were exhausted _in five minutes_ by that shabby creature crouched
there on the window-ledge. But we cannot understand, or look at it any
longer. It is too hard, too hard, and not to be endured. We turn away
with nausea, hollowness, blind fear, and unbelief within us.

One man stares, cranes his neck, wets his lips, and whispers: "Jesus! To
do a thing like that takes _guts!_"

Another, harshly: "Nah! It don't take guts! A guy who'd do a thing like
that is crazy! He don't know what he's doin' to begin with!"

And others, doubtfully, half-whispering, with eyes focused on the ledge:
"But Jesus!"

A taxi-driver, turning away and moving towards his cab, with an attempt
at casual indifference that does not ring entirely true: "Oh, well! Just
another guy, I guess!"

Then one man, turning to his companion with a little puckered smile:
"Well, what about it, Al? You still feel like eating?"

And his companion, quietly: "Eating, hell! I feel like two or three stiff
shots of rye! Come on, let's go round to Steve's!"

They go. The Concentrated Blotters of the World cannot abide it. They
must somehow blot it out.

So a policeman comes round the corner now with an old tarpaulin, with
which he covers the No-Head. The crowd remains. Then the green wagon from
the morgue. The Thing, tarpaulin and all, is pushed into it. It drives
away. A policeman with thick-soled boots scuffs and pushes skull-pieces
and brain-fragments into the gutter. Someone comes with sawdust, strews
it. Someone from the drugstore with formaldehyde. Later, someone with a
hose and water. From the subway come an adolescent boy and girl with the
hard, tough faces of the city; they walk past it, deliberately and
arrogantly step among it, look at the lamp-post, then at each other, and
laugh!

All's over now, all's gone, the crowd's departed. Something else remains.
It cannot be forgotten. There's a sick, humid smell upon the air, what
was light and clear and crystal has gone out of day, and something thick
and glutinous--half taste, half smell, and all impalpable--remains upon
your tongue.

There would have been a time and place for such a thing, brave Admiral
Drake, if he, our fellow Green, had only fallen as a hollow man and
landed dryly, or if he had opened to disperse a grey embalming fluid in
the gutter. It would have been all right if he had just been blown away
like an old paper, or if he had been swept aside like remnants of
familiar litter, and then subsumed into the Standard Concentrated stuff
from which he came. But C. Green would not have it so. He exploded to
drench our common substance of viscous grey with the bright indecency of
blood, to resume himself from number, to become before our eyes a Man,
and to identify a single spot of all our general Nothingness with the
unique passion, the awful terror, and the dignity of Death.

So, Admiral Drake--"an unidentified man fell 'or jumped yesterday at
noon" from a window of your own hotel. That was the news. Now you've had
the story.

We are "the hollow men, the hollow men"? Brave Admiral, do not be too
sure.



30. The Anodyne


Fox read it instantly, the proud nose sniffing upwards sharply--"man fell
or jumped...Admiral Francis Drake Hotel...Brooklyn." The sea-pale eyes
took it in at once, and went on to more important things.

Fox was cold, then? Hard? Selfish? Lacking in understanding?
Unsympathetic? Unimaginative? By no means.

Could not have known Green, then? Was too much the patrician to know
Green? Was too high, too rare, too subtle, too fine-fibred to know Green?
None of these.

Fox knew everything, or almost everything. (If there's a lack here, we
will smell it out.) Fox had been born with everything, and had learned
much, yet his learning had not made him mad, or ever blunted the keen
blade of knowing. He saw all things as they were: had never (in his mind
and heart) called man a "white man" yet, because Fox saw man was not
"white man"--man was pink man tinged with sallow, man was sallow tinged
with grey, man was pink-brown, red-bronze, or white-red-sallow, but not
white.

So Fox (in mind and heart) would call it as it was. This was the boy's
straight eye. Yet his clarities were obscured for other men. His
straightness was thought cunning by crude-cunning rogues, his warmth
seemed ice to all the hearty-false, and to the false-sincere Fox was a
twister. Not one of these things was true of him.

Fox knew Green all right--knew him better than we, the Concentrated
Blotters of Green's ilk. For, being of the ilk, we grow confused,
struggle with Green (so with ourselves), argue, debate, deny, are tarred
with the same brush, and so lose judgment.

Not so, Fox. Not of Green's ilk, yet was he still of the whole family of
earth. Fox knew at once that Green had blood in him. Fox placed him
instantly: saw sky above him, Admiral Drake Hotel behind him, lamp-post,
pavement, people, Brooklyn corner, cops, rouged Jewesses, the motor-cars,
the subway entrance, and exploded brains--and, had he been there, would
have said in a low, somewhat puzzled, and abstracted tone:

"Oh...I see."

_Would_ have seen, too, my mad masters; never doubt it. Would have
seen clearly and seen whole, without our agony, without confusion,
without struggling with the surface of each brick, each square inch of
concrete pavement, each scale of rust upon the fire-escapes, the
raw-green paint of the lamp-post, the sterile red-front brightness of the
cigar store, the shapes of windows, ledges, cornices, and doorways, the
way the shops were set into old houses along the street, all the
heart-sick ugliness exploded into the nothingness of Brooklyn. Fox would
have seen it instantly, without having to struggle to see all, know all,
hold all clearly, singly, permanently, in the burning crystal of the
brain.

And if Fox had lived in Brooklyn, he would have got much else as
well--got it clear and straight--while we were trying to make our
maddened ears spread out like funnels to absorb it--every whispered word
in Flatbush, every rhythmic-creaking spring in the back bedrooms of
whore's Sand Street (by old yellow shades concealed), every barker's cry
in Coney, all the jargons of each tenement from Red Hook to Brownsville.
Yes, while we wrestled with our five senses there in Jungletown, our
tormented brain caught in the brutal chaos of "Gewirr! Gewirr!"--Fox
would have got it all, without madness, agony, or the fevered eye, and
would have murmured:

"Oh...I see."

Wherever he was, Fox was one to get the little things--the little, most
important things that tell you everything. He never picked a little thing
because it was a little thing, to show he was a devilish cunning, subtle,
rare, and most aesthetic fellow: he picked a little thing because it was
the _right_ thing--and he never missed.

Fox was a great fox, and a genius. He was no little Pixy of the
Aesthetes. He did not write nine-page reviews on "How Chaplin Uses Hands
in Latest Picture"--how it really was not slap-stick, but the tragedy of
Lear in modern clothes; or on how Enters enters; or on how Crane's poetry
can only be defined, reviewed, and generally exposited in terms of
mathematical formulae--ahem! ahem, now!--as:

  _____________________
\/an pxt = n-F3(B18+ 11)
--------   ------------
   237           2

(Bring on the Revolution, Comrades; it is Time!)

Fox did not go round making discoveries nine years after Boob McNutt had
made them. He didn't find out that Groucho was funny seven years too
late, and then inform the public _why_ he was. He did not write:
"The opening _Volte_ of the Ballet is the historic method amplified
in history, the production of historic fullness without the literary
cliché of the historic spate." He had no part in any of the fine
horse-manure with which we have allowed ourselves to be bored, maddened,
whiff-sniffed, hound-and-hornered, nationed, new-republicked, dialled,
spectatored, mercuried, storied, anvilled, new-massed, new-yorkered,
vogued, vanity-faired, timed, broomed, transitioned, and generally shat
upon by the elegant, refined, and snobified Concentrated Blotters of the
Arts. He had nothing to do with any of the doltish gibberings, obscene
quackeries, phoney passions, and six-months-long religions of fools,
joiners, and fashion-apes a trifle brighter and quicker on the uptake
than the fools, joiners, and fashion-apes they prey upon. He was none of
your little frankypanky, seldesey-weldesey, cowley-wowley, tatesy-watesy,
hicksy-picksy, wilsony-pilsony, jolasy-wolasy, steiny-weiny,
goldy-woldly, sneer-puss fellows. Neither, in more conventional guise,
was he one of your groupy-croupy, cliquey-triquey, meachy-teachy
devotobloato wire-pullers and back-scratchers of the world.

No, Fox was none of these. He looked at the whole thing, whatever it was,
and got it straight, said slowly: "Oh...I see," then like a fox would
begin to pick up things round the edges. An eye here, a nose there, a
cleft of lip, a length of chin elsewhere--and suddenly, with the frame of
a waiter's face, he would see the grave, thought-lonely visage of
Erasmus. Fox would turn away reflectively and drink his drink, glance
casually from time to time as the man approached him, catch his coat
lapels and turn, stare fixedly at the waiter's face again, turn back to
the table, turn again and stare, bend over, staring right up into the
waiter's face:

The waiter, troubled now, and smiling doubtfully: "Sir?...Is there
anything wrong, sir?"

Fox, slowly, almost in a whisper: "Did you ever hear of--Erasmus?"

And the waiter, still smiling, but more doubtfully than ever: "No sir."

And Fox, turning away and whispering hoarsely with astounded conviction:
"Simply _astonishing!_"

Or, again, it will be a hat-check girl at the place where he has lunch--a
little tough-voiced, pert, hard-boiled girl. Fox will suddenly stop one
day and look at her keenly with his sea-pale eyes, and will give her a
dollar as he goes out.

"But Fox," friends will protest, "in God's name, why did you give that
girl a dollar?"

"But _isn't_ she the _nicest_ person?" Fox will say, in a low
and earnest whisper.

And they will stare at him in blank amazement. _That_ girl! That
little tough, gold-digging, hard-boiled--oh, well, what's the use? They
give it up! Rather than shatter the illusions and wound the innocence of
this trusting child, they'll hold their tongues and leave him to his
dream.

And she, the little hard-boiled hat-check girl, in a hoarse, confiding
tone to the other hat-check girl, excitedly: "Say! Do you know that guy
that comes in here every day for lunch--the queer one that always orders
guinea-hen--an' that didn't usta wanna let us have his hat at all?"

The other, nodding: "Sure, _I_ know! He usta try to wear it w'ile
he's eatin'! You awmost had to throw 'im down an' take it from 'im befoeh
he'd letcha have it."

She, rapidly, nodding: "Yeah! That's him!" Then, lowering her voice to an
excited whisper: "Well, y'know, he's been givin' me a dollah tip every
day for the last mont'!"

The other, staring, stunned: "G'wan!"

She: "Honest t' Gawd!"

The other: "Has he made any passes atcha yet?--any wisecracks?--any funny
tawk?"

She, with a puzzled look in her eye: "That's the funny paht of it--I
can't make 'im out! He 'tawks funny awright--but--he don't mean what I
thought he did. The first time he said somethin' I thought he was goin'
t' be fresh. He comes up t' get his hat one day, an' stands lookin' at me
with that funny look until I got the willies. So I says: 'So what!'
'Married?' he says--just like that. Just stands lookin' at me an' says:
'Married?'"

The other: "Gee! That _was_ fresh!" Eagerly: "Well, go on--w'atcha
say to 'im? W'atcha tell 'im?"

She: "Well, I says to myse'f: 'Oh, ho! I knew _this_ was comin'!
This dollah-a-day stuff can't keep up for ever! Well,' I thinks, 'you
can't hang onto a good thing all yoeh life!'--so I decides to let 'im
have it befoeh he has the chanct to staht gettin' funny. So I lies to
'im: 'Surer I says, an' looks 'im right in the eye--'I'm _good_ an'
married! Ain't _you?_' I thought that ought to hold 'im."

The other: "An' w'at did he say t' _that?_"

She: "He just stood lookin' at me with that funny look. Then he shook
his head at me--as if I'd _done_ somep'n--as if it was _my_
fault--as if he was _disgusted_ wit' me. 'Yes,' he says, an' gets
his hat, an' leaves his dollah, an' walks out. Tie _that_ one down!
Well, I gets to thinkin' it oveh, an' I figure that next day he's goin'
t' spring itstaht givin' me the old oil about how his wife don't
undehstand 'im, or how he's not livin' wit' her an' how lonesome he
is--an' how about it?--can't we get togetheh some night for dinneh?"

And number two, rapt: "So w'at happens?"

And she: "When he comes to get his hat next day he just stands there
lookin' at me for a long time in that funny way of his that used to get
me noivous--as if I'd _done_ somep'n--so I says again: 'So what?'
An' he says in that funny voice--it's so low sometimes you can't handly
hear it--he says: 'Any children?'--just like _that!_ Gee, it was
funny! It wasn't what I expected 'im t' say at all! I didn't know what t'
say, so fine'ly I says: 'No.' So, wit' that, he just stands there lookin'
at me, an' he shakes his head at me like he was disgusted wit' me for not
havin' any. So then I gets sore, I forget I'm pot married--the way he
shakes his head at me as if it was _my_ fault for not havin' any
children gets me good an' sore--an' I says to 'im: 'So _what?_ What
if I _haven't_? Have _you?_"

Number two, now fascinated: "So w'at happens? W'at does he tell yah?"

She: "He stands lookin' at me an' says: 'Fiver--just like that. An' then
he shakes his head again--'All _women_,' he says, as if he was
disgusted wit' me--Like _yourself_,' he says. An' then he takes his
hat, an' leaves his dollah, an' walks out!"

Number two, in an aggrieved tone: "_Say-y!_ Who does he think he is,
anyway? How does he get that way? That guy's pretty fresh, _I'd_
say!"

She: "Well, I get to thinkin' about it an' I get sore. The _noive_
of 'im, tawkin' about women like that! So the next day when he comes to
get his hat I says: 'Listen,' I says, 'what's eatin' on you, anyway? What
are yah--a woman-hatah or somep'n? Whatcha got against women, anyway?
What'd they eveh do to _you?_' 'Nothing,' he says, 'nothing--except
_act like women_!' Gee! The way he said that! An' stood there
shakin' his head at me in that disgusted way like I'd done somep'n! He
takes his hat then, leaves his dollah, an' goes out...So afteh that I
decide t' kid 'im along a little, seein' he's not tryin' t' get funny
wit' me. So every day afteh that I make some wisecrack about women,
tryin' to get a rise out of 'im, but I neveh do! Say! You _can't_
get a rise outa that guy! I've tried an' I know! He don't even
_know_ when you're tryin' t' get a rise out of 'im!...So then he
stahts t' ast me questions about my husband--an' gee!--was I embarrassed?
He ast me all kinds of questions about 'im--what did he do, an' how old
was he, an' where did he come from, an' was his mother livin', an' what
did _he_ think about women? Gee! It usta keep me busy from one day
to anotheh wonderin' what he was goin' to ast me next, an' what t' say to
'im...Then he stahted astin' me about my mother, an' my sisters an'
brothers, an' what did _they_ do, an' how old were they--an' I could
tell 'im those because I knew the answers."

Number two: "An' you told 'im?"

She: "Sure. W'y not?"

Number two: "Gee, Mary, y' shouldn't do _that!_ You don't know th'
guy! How do you know _who_ he is?"

She, abstracted, in a softer tone: "Oh, I don't know. _That_ guy's
all right!" With a little shrug: "_You_ know! You can always tell."

Number two: "Yeah, but all the same, y' neveh can tell! You don't know
anything about th' guy! I kid 'em along, but I neveh tell 'em anything."

She: "Oh, sure. I know. I do the same. Only, it's diff'rent wit' this
guy. Gee, it's funny! I musta told 'im awmost everything--all about mama,
an' Pat, an' Tim, an' Helen--I guess he knows the history of the whole
damn fam'ly now! I neveh tawked so much to a stranger befoeh in my whole
life. But it's funny, he neveh seems to say anything himse'f. He just
stands there an' looks at you, an' turns his head to one side as if he's
listenin'--an' you spill the beans. When he's gone you realise you've
done _all_ the tawkin'. 'Listen,' I says to 'im the otheh day, 'you
know everything else now, I've told you the truth about everything else,
so I'll come clean on this, too--that wasn't true about me bein'
married.' Gee! He was about to drive me nuts astin' a new question every
day about my husband! 'I lied to you about that,' I says. 'I neveh was
married. I haven't got a husband.'"

Number two, hungrily: "So w'at does he say to that?"

She: "Just looks at me an' says: 'So--_what?_'" Laughing: "Gee, it
was funny to hear 'im say _that!_ I guess I taught it to 'im. He
says it all the time now. But it's funny the way he says it--like he
don't know exactly what it means. 'So--_what?_' he says. So I says:
'What d'you mean, so what? I'm tellin' you that I'm not married, like I
said I was.' 'I knew that all the time,' he says. '_How_ did you
know?' I says. 'How could you _tell?_' 'Because,' he says, an'
shakes his head at me in that disgusted way--'because you're a
_woman!_'"

Number two: "Can you imagine _that?_ The _noive_ of 'im! I hope
you told 'im somep'n!"

She: "Oh, sure! I always come right back at 'im! But _still_, you
neveh can be sure he means it! I think he's kiddin' half the time. He may
be kiddin' when he shakes his head at you in that disgusted way. Anyway,
that guy's all right! I don't know, but somehow you can tell." A pause,
then with a sigh: "But gee! If only he'd go an' get himse'f a-----"

Number two: "_Hat!_"

She: "Can yah _beat_ it?"

Number two: "Ain't it a _scream?_"

They regard each other silently, shaking their heads.

Fox gets at all things round the edges in this way--sees the whole thing,
whole, clear, instant, unperplexed, then all the little things as well.
Will see a man in the crowd, notice the way his ear sticks out, his
length of chin, his short upper lip, the way his face is formed,
something about the cheek-bones--a man well dressed and well behaved,
conventional in appearance, no one but the Fox would look a second time
at him--and suddenly the Fox will find himself looking into the naked
eyes of a wild animal. Fox will see the cruel and savage tiger prowling
in that man, let loose in the great jungle of the city, sheathed in
harmless and deceptive grey--a wild beast, bloody, rending, fierce, and
murderous--and stalking free and unsuspected on the sheep of life! And
Fox will turn away appalled and fascinated, look at the people all
round him with astonishment--"Can't _they_ see? Don't they
_know?_"--then will return again and walk past the tiger with hands
clutching coat lapels, will bend, crane his head, and stare fixedly into
tiger's eye until tiger's eye, discovered and unguarded now, blazes back
at Fox--and all the people, puzzled and perturbed, are staring at Fox,
too. Like children, they don't know what to make of it: "_What_ does
that guy see?" And Fox, astounded: "_Can't_ they see?"

Sees all life foxwise, really: has acute animal perceptions--does not let
concrete, brick, stone, skyscrapers, motor-cars, or clothes obscure the
thing itself. Finds the tiger looking out at life, and then sees all the
people who are lions, bulls, mastiffs, terriers, bulldogs, greyhounds,
wolves, owls, eagles, hawks, rabbits, reptiles, monkeys, apes,
and--foxes. Fox knows the world is full of them. He sees them every day.
He might have found one in C. Green, too--cat, rabbit, terrier, or
snipe--could he have seen him.

He reads the news in this way, sniffing sharply, with keen relish, at the
crisp, ink-pungent pages. He also reads the paper with a kind of eager
hopelessness. Fox has no hope, really; he is beyond despair. (If there's
a lack, we'll smell it out. Is this not one? Is this not a lack-American?
Can Fox be wholly of us if he has no hope?) Fox really has no hope that
men will change, that life will ever get much better. He knows the forms
will change: perhaps new changes will bring better forms. The shifting
forms of change absorb him--this is why he loves the news. Fox would give
his life to keep or increase virtue--to save the savable, to grow the
growable, to cure the curable, to keep the good. But for the thing
unsavable, for life ungrowable, for the ill incurable, he has no care.
Things lost in nature hold no interest for him.

Thus will grow grey at the temples, haggard-eyed, and thin if one of his
children has an ailment. One daughter has been in a motor wreck, escapes
unhurt apparently, days later has a slight convulsion. It comes a second
time, returns weeks later, goes away, and comes again--not much, not
long, just a little thing, but Fox grows grey with worry. He takes the
girl from college, gets doctors, specialists, the best people in the
world, tries everything, can find nothing wrong, yet the attacks
continue; at length comes through it, finds out the trouble, pulls the
girl out, and sees her married. His eyes are clear again. Yet if the girl
had had a cureless ailment, Fox would not have worried much.

He goes home, sleeps soundly, seems indifferent, shows no worry, the
night the daughter has a child. Next morning, when informed he is a
grandfather, looks blank, puzzled, finally says: "Oh"--then, turning away
with a disdainful sniffing of the nose, says scornfully:

"Another _woman_, I suppose?"

Informed it is a man-child, says: "Oh," dubiously, then whispers
contemptuously:

"I had supposed such a phenomenon was impossible in _this_ family."

And for some weeks thereafter persists in referring to his grandson as
"She", to the indignation, resentment, excited protest of
the--_Women!_

(A cunning Fox--knows slyly how to tease.)

So, then, unhoping hopefulness, and resigned acceptance; patient
fatality, and unflagging effort and unflinching will. Has no hope,
really, for the end, the whole amount of things; has hope incessant for
the individual things themselves. Knows we lose out all along the line,
but won't give in. Knows how and when we win, too, and never gives up
trying for a victory. Considers it disgraceful to stop trying--will try
everything--will lay subtle, ramified, and deep-delved plans to save
people from avertible defeat; a man of talent drowning in his own
despair, some strong and vital force exploding without purpose, some
precious, misused thing gone wickedly to ruin. These things can be
helped, they _must_ be helped and saved, to see them lost, to see
them thrown away, is not to be endured--Fox will move mountains to
prevent them. But gone? Lost? Destroyed? Irretrievably thrown away? The
grave face will be touched with sadness, the sea-pale eyes filled with
regret, the low voice hoarse and indignant:

"It was a shame! A _shame!_ Everything would have come out all
right...he had it in his grasp...and he just let it go! He _just gave
in_!"

Yes, for failure such as this, a deep, indignant sadness, a profound
regret. But for other things foreordained and inevitable, not savable by
any means, then a little sadness--"Too bad"--but in the end a tranquil
fatality of calm acceptance: the thing had to be, it couldn't be helped.

Is therefore like Ecclesiastes: has the tragic sense of life, knows that
the day of birth is man's misfortune--but, knowing this, will then "lay
hold". Has never, like the Fool, folded his hands together and consumed
his flesh, but, seeing work to be done, has taken hold with all his might
and done it. Knows that the end of all is vanity, but says: "Don't whine,
and don't repine, but _get work done_."

Is, therefore, not afraid to die; does not court death, but knows death
is a friend. Does not hate life, is rather passionately involved with
life, yet does not hug it like a lover--it would not be torn bitterly
from reluctant fingers. There is no desperate hug of mortality in
Fox--rather, the sense of mystery and strangeness in the hearts of men,
the thrilling interest of the human adventure, the unending fascination
of the whole tangled, grieved, vexed, and unfathomed pattern. As he reads
the _Times_ now, he sniffs sharply, shakes his head, smiles, scans
the crowded columns of the earth, and whispers to himself:

"What a world! And what a life! Will we ever get to the bottom of it
all?...And what a _time_ we live in! I don't dare go to sleep at
night without the paper. I cannot wait until the next one has come
out--things change so fast, the whole world's in such a state of flux,
the course of history may change from one edition to another. The whole
thing's so fascinating, I wish I could live a hundred years to see what's
going to happen! If it weren't for that--and for the children----"

A slow perplexity deepens in his eyes. What will become of them? Five
tender lambs to be turned loose out of the fold into the howling tumults
of this dangerous and changeful earth. Five fledglings to be sent forth,
bewildered and defenceless, to meet the storms of fury, peril, adversity,
and savage violence that beat across the whole vexed surface of the
earth--unsheltered, ignorant, unprepared, and----

"Women." Scorn, touched now deeply with compassion; trouble, with a
tender care.

Is there a way out, then? Yes, if only he can live to see each of them
married to--to--to a _good_ husband (the sense of trouble deepens in
the sea-pale eyes--the world in printed columns there before him seethes
with torment--no easy business)...But to find _good_ husbands, foxes
all of them--to see his fleecelings safely folded, shielded from the
storms--each--each with fleecelings of her own--yeslthat's the thing! Fox
clears his throat and rattles the pages with decision. That's the thing
for----

--Women!

--To be folded, sheltered, guarded, kept from all the danger, violence,
and savagery, the grimed pollution of this earth's coarse thumb, each to
ply her needle, learn to keep her house, do a woman's work, be wifely,
and--and--"lead the sort of life a woman ought to lead," Fox whispers to
himself--"the kind of life she was intended for."

Which is to say, produce more fleecelings for the fold, Fox? Who will, in
turn, find "good" husbands, and a fold, learn sewing, housewifery, and
"lead the sort of life a woman ought to lead," produce still other
fleecelings, and so on, _ad infinitum_, to world's end for ever, or
until----

--The day of wrath, the huge storm howling through the earth again--again
the Terror and Jemappes I--again November and Moscow!--the whole flood
broke through, the mighty river re-arisen, the dark tide flowing in the
hearts of men, and a great wind howling through the earth, good Fox, that
tears off roof-tops like a sheet of paper, bends the strongest oak-trees
to the ground, knocks down the walls, and levels the warmest, strongest,
and most solid folds that ever sheltered fleecelings in security--leaving
fleecelings where?

O Fox, is there no answer?

Leaving fleecelings there to knit a pattern of fine needlework on the
hurricane? Leaving fleecelings there to ply housewifery on the flood?
Leaving fleecelings to temper the bleak storms of misery to the perfumed
tenderness of fleeceling hides? To find "good" husbands in the
maelstrom's whirl? To produce more fleecelings in order to be secure,
protected, in doing a woman's work, in leading "the kind of life she was
intended for"----

Oh, where, Fox, where?

--To draw compassion from the cobble-stones? Security from iron skies?
Solicitude from the subduer's bloody hand? Arthurian gallantries from the
brutal surge of the on-marching mass? Still no answer, subtle Fox?

What, then? Will not hoarse voices fogged with blood and triumph soften
to humility when they behold the fleeceling loveliness? And while the
blind mob fills the desolated streets, will not a single cloak be thrown
down for dainty fleeceling feet to tread upon? Will the shattered
masonries of all those (as we thought) impregnable securities, with which
the Foxes of the world have sheltered fleecelings, no longer give the
warmth and safety which once were so assured and certain? And must those
fountains so unfailing in the flow of milk and honey, on which
fleecelings feed, be withered at their source? Must they be fountains,
rather, dyed with blood--blood of the lamb, then? Fleeceling blood?

O Fox, we cannot think of it!

Fox reads on, intent, with the keen hunger of a fascinated interest, the
shade of a deep trouble in his eye. The sober, close-set columns of the
_Times_ give up their tortured facts, revealing a world in chaos,
man bewildered, life in chains. These substantial rages, so redolent of
morning and sobriety--of breakfast in America, the pungency of ham and
eggs, the homes of prosperous people--yield a bitter harvest of madness,
hatred, dissolution, misery, cruelty, oppression, injustice, despair, and
the bankruptcy of human faith. What have we here, mad masters?--for
surely if ye be masters of such hell-on-earth as sober _Times_
portrays, then ye be mad!

Well, here's a little item:

It is announced, my masters, that on Saturday next, in the Land of the
Enchanted Forest, land of legends and the magic of the elves, land of the
Venusberg and the haunting beauties of the Gothic towns, land of the
truth-lover and the truth-seeker, land of the plain, good, common,
vulgar, and all-daring Sense of Man, land where the great monk nailed his
blunt defiance to the doors at Wittenberg, and broke the combined powers,
splendours, pomps, and menaces of churchly Europe with the sledge-hammer
genius of his coarse and brutal speech--land from that time onwards of
man's common noble dignity, and of the strong truth of sense and courage,
shaking its thick fist into the face of folly--yes! land of Martin
Luther, land of Goethe, land of Faust, land of Mozart and Beethoven--land
where immortal music was created, glorious poetry written, and philosophy
cultivated--land of magic, mystery, matchless loveliness, and unending
treasure-hordes of noble art--land where the Man of Weimar, for the last
time in the modern world, dared to make the whole domain of art, culture,
and learning the province of his gigantic genius--land, too, of noble,
consecrated youth, where young men sang and wrote, loved truth, went
through apprenticeships devoted to the aspiration of a high and
passionate ideal--well, mad masters, it is announced that this same
enchanted land will consecrate the devotion of another band of youth
_this_ Saturday--when the young men of the nation will burn books
before the Town Halls, in all the public squares of Germany!

Well, then, Fox?

And elsewhere on this old tormented globe, goes it much better? Fire,
famine, flood, and pestilence--these trials we have always had. And
hatred--most firelike, faminelike, floodlike, and most pestilential of
all evils--yes, we have always had _that_, too. And yet, Great God!
When has our old unhappy earth been stricken with such universal
visitation? When has she ached in every joint as she aches now? When has
she had such a universal itch, been so spavined, gouty, poxy, so broken
out in sores all over?

The Chinese hate the Japanese, the Japanese the Russians, the Russians
also hate the Japanese, and the hordes of India the English. The Germans
hate the French, the French hate the Germans, and then look wildly round
to find other nations to help them hate the Germans; but find they hate
almost everyone as much as they hate Germans; they can't find enough to
hate outside of France, and so divide themselves into thirty-seven
different cliques and hate each other bitterly from Calais to Menton--the
Leftists hate Rightists, the Centrists hate Leftists, the Royalists hate
Socialists, the Socialists hate Communists, the Communists hate
Capitalists, and all unite in hatred of one another. In Russia, the
Stalinites hate Trotskyites, the Trotskyites hate Stalinites, and both
hate Republicans and Democrats. Everywhere the Communists (so they say)
hate their cousin Fascists, and the Fascists hate the Jews.

In this year of Our Gentle Lord 1934, "expert" observers say, Japan is
preparing to go to war again with China within two years, Russia will
join in with China, Japan will ally herself with Germany, Germany will
make a deal with Italy, and then make war on France and England, America
will try to stick her head into the sand, and so keep out of it, but will
find it cannot be done and will be drawn in. And in the end, after
everybody has fought everybody else up and down the globe, the whole
Capitalistic world will join up finally against Russia in an effort to
crush Communism--which eventually must win--will lose--is bound to
triumph--will be wiped out--will supplant Capitalism, which is on its
last legs--which is only suffering a temporary relapse--which grows more
dropsical, greedy, avaricious, bloated, and monopolistic all the
time--which is mending its ways and growing better all the time--which
must be preserved at all costs if the "American System" is to
endure--which must be destroyed at all costs if America is to
endure--which is just beginning--which is ending--which is gone
already--which will never go----

And so it goes--round, round, round the tortured circumference of this
aching globe--round, round, and back again, and up and down, with stitch
and counterstitch until this whole earth and all the people in it are
caught up in one gigantic web of hatred,' greed, tyranny, injustice, war,
theft, murder, lying, treachery, hunger, suffering, and devilish error!

And we, old Fox? How goes it in our own fair land--our great America?

Fox winces quickly, cranes his neck into his collar, and mutters hoarsely
a passionate regret:

"Too _bad!_ Too _bad!_ We should have _had_ it! We were
just beginning--we should have had it fifty years ago, as Rome had it,
and as England had it! But all this turmoil came too soon--we didn't have
it long enough! Too _bad!_ Too _bad!_"

Yes, Fox, it is too bad. Too bad, indeed, that in our pride, our
self-respect, and our taut horror the Medusa-visage of the whole
tormented earth may be an anodyne for us, lest we have to look too
closely at the honour of our own America.



31. The Promise of America


For four years George Webber lived and wrote in Brooklyn, and during all
this time his life was about as solitary as any that a modern man can
know. Loneliness, far from being a rare and curious circumstance, is and
always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man. Not
only has this been true of the greatest poets, as evidenced by the huge
unhappiness of their published grief, but now it seemed to George to
apply with equal force to all the nameless cyphers who swarmed about him
in the streets. As he saw them in their strident encounters with each
other, and overheard their never-varying exchanges of abuse, contempt,
distrust, and hatred, it became increasingly clear to him that one of the
contributing causes of their complaint was loneliness.

To live alone as George was living, a man should have the confidence of
God, the tranquil faith of a monastic saint, the stern impregnability of
Gibraltar. Lacking these, he finds that there are times when anything,
everything, all and nothing, the most trivial incidents, the most casual
words, can in an instant strip him of his armour, palsy his hand,
constrict his heart with frozen horror, and fill his bowels with the grey
substance of shuddering impotence and desolation. Sometimes it would be a
sly remark dropped by some all-knowing literary soothsayer in the columns
of one of the more leftish reviews, such as:

"Whatever has become of our autobiographical and volcanic friend, George
Webber? Remember him? Remember the splash he made with that so-called
'novel' of his a few years back? Some of our esteemed colleagues thought
they detected signs of promise there. We ourselves should have welcomed
another book from him, just to prove that the first was not an accident.
But _tempus fugit_, and where is Webber? Calling Mr. Webber! No
answer? Well, a pity, perhaps; but then, who can count the number of
one-book authors? They shoot their bolt, and after that they go into the
silence and no more is heard from them. Some of us who were more than a
little doubtful about that book of Webber's, but whose voices were
drowned out by the Oh's and Ah's of those who rused headlong to proclaim
a new star rising in the literary firmament, could now come forward, if
we weren't too kindly disposed towards our more emotional brethren of the
critical fraternity, and modestly say: 'We told you so!'"

Sometimes it would be nothing but a shadow passing on the sun, sometimes
nothing but the gelid light of March falling on the limitless, naked,
sprawling ugliness and squalid decencies of Brooklyn streets. Whatever it
was, at such a time all joy and singing would go instantly out of day,
Webber's heart would drop out of him like a leaden plummet, hope,
confidence, and conviction would seem lost for ever to him, and all the
high and shining truth that he had ever found and lived and known would
now turn false to mock him. Then he would feel like one who walked among
the dead, and it would be as if the only things that were not false on
earth were the creatures of the death-in-life who moved for ever in the
changeless lights and weathers of red, waning, weary March and Sunday
afternoon.

These hideous doubts, despairs, and dark confusions of the soul would
come and go, and George knew them as every lonely man must know them. For
he was united to no image save that image which he himself created. He
was bolstered by no knowledge save that which he gathered for himself out
of his own life. He saw life with no other vision save the vision of his
own eyes and brain and senses. He was sustained and cheered and aided by
no party, was given comfort by no creed, and had no faith in him except
his own.

That faith, though it was made up of many articles, was at bottom a faith
in himself, a faith that if he could only succeed in capturing a fragment
of the truth about the life he knew, and make it known and felt by
others, it would be a more glorious accomplishment than anything else he
could imagine. And through it all, animating this faith and sustaining it
with a promise of rewards to come, was a belief--be it now
confessed--that if he could only do this, the world would thank him for
it, and would crown him with the laurel of its fame.

The desire for fame is tooted in the hearts of men. It is one of the most
powerful of all human desires, and perhaps for that very reason, and
because it is so deep and secret, it is the desire that men are most
unwilling to admit, particularly those who feel most sharply its keen and
piercing spur.

The politician, for example, would never have us think that it is love of
office, the desire for the notorious elevation of public place, that
drives him on. No, the thing that governs him is his pure devotion to the
common weal, his selfless and high-minded statesmanship, his love of his
fellow-man, and his burning idealism to turn out the rascal who usurps
the office and betrays the public trust which he himself, as he assures
us, would so gloriously and devotedly maintain.

So, too, the soldier. It is never love of glory that inspires him to his
profession. It is never love of battle, love of war, love of all the
resounding titles and the proud emoluments of the heroic conqueror. Oh,
no. It is devotion to duty that makes him a soldier. There is no personal
motive in it. He is inspired simply by the selfless ardour of his
patriotic abnegation. He regrets that he has but one life to give for his
country.

So it goes through every walk of life. The lawyer assures us that he is
the defender of the weak, the guardian of the oppressed, the champion of
the rights of defrauded widows and beleaguered orphans, the upholder of
justice, the unrelenting enemy, at no matter what cost to himself, of all
forms of chicanery, fraud, theft, violence, and crime. Even the business
man will not admit a selfish motive in his money-getting. On the
contrary, he is the developer of the nation's resources. He is the
benevolent employer of thousands of working men who would be lost and on
the dole without the organising genius of his great intelligence. He is
the defender of the American ideal of rugged individualism, the shining
exemplar to youth of what a poor country boy may achieve in this nation
through a devotion to the national virtues of thrift, industry, obedience
to duty, and business integrity. He is, he assures us, the backbone of
the country, the man who makes the wheels go round, the leading citizen,
Public Friend No. 1.

All these people lie, of course. They know they lie, and everyone who
hears them also knows they lie. The lie, however, has become a part of
the convention of American life. People listen to it patiently, and if
they smile at it, the smile is weary, touched with resignation and the
indifferent dismissals of fatigue.

Curiously enough, the lie has also invaded the world of creation--the one
place where it has no right at all to exist. There was a time when the
poet, the painter, the musician, the artist of whatever sort, was not
ashamed to confess that the desire for fame was one of the driving forces
of his life and labour. But what a transformation from that time to this!
Nowadays one will travel far and come back fruitless if he hopes to find
an artist who will admit that he is devoted to anything except the
service of some ideal--political, social, economic, religious, or
aesthetic--which is outside himself, and to which his own humble
fame-forsaking person is reverently and selflessly consigned.

Striplings of twenty assure us that the desire for fame is naively
childish, the fruit of an outworn cult of "romantic individualism". From
all the falseness and self-deception of this cult these young gentlemen
tell us they are free--without troubling to explain, however, by what
process of miraculous purgation they achieved their freedom. It took
Goethe, the strongest soul of modern times, some three and eighty years
to free his mighty spirit of this last infirmity. Milton, old and blind,
forsaken, and past fifty, is said to have won free of it by the end of
Cromwell's revolution, in whose employment he destroyed his sight. And
yet, can we be sure that even he was ever wholly clear, for what is the
tremendous edifice of _Paradise Lost_ except a man's final and
triumphant suit against eternity?

Poor, blind Milton!

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. But not the praise,
Phoebus repli'd, and touch'd my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th'world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav'n expect thy meed.

Deluded man! Poor vassal of corrupted time! How fair a thing for us to
know that we are not such men as he and Goethe were! We live in more
stirring times, and our very striplings are secure in their collective
selflessness. We have freed ourselves of all degrading vanities, choked
off the ravening desire for individual immortality, and now, having risen
out of the ashes of our father's earth into the untainted ethers of
collective consecration, we are clear at last of all that vexed,
corrupted earth--clear of the sweat and blood and sorrow, clear of the
grief and joy, clear of the hope and fear and human agony of which our
father's flesh and that of every other man alive before us was ever
wrought.

And yet, having achieved this glorious emancipation; having laid all
petty dreams aside; having learned to think of life, not in terms of
ourselves, but in terms of the whole mass; having learned to think of
life, not as it is to-day, but as it is going to be five hundred years
from now, when all the revolutions have been made, and all the blood has
been shed, and all the hundreds of millions of vain and selfish little
lives, each concerned with its own individual and romantic breath, have
been ruthlessly wiped out in order to usher in the collective glory that
such will be--having become marvellously and, as it were, overnight such
paragons of collective selflessness and such scorners of the vanity of
personal fame, is it not strange that though we have new phrases, yet
their meaning is still the same? Is it not strange that, feeling only an
amused and pitying contempt for those who are still naive enough to long
for glory, we should yet lacerate our souls, poison our minds and hearts,
and crucify our spirits with bitter and rancorous hatred against those
who are fortunate enough to achieve fame?

Or do we err? Are we mistaken in assuming that these words we read so
often are really words of hatred, malice, envy, ridicule, and jeering
mockery? Are we mistaken in assuming that the whole vocabulary of abuse
which is exhausted every week in the journals of our red and
pink-complexioned comrades--the sneers against a man's talent, the bitter
denials that his work has any substance, sincerity, truth, or reality
whatever--is really what it seems to be? No doubt we _are_ mistaken.
It would be more charitable to believe that these pure spirits of the
present day are what they say they are--collective, selfless,
consecrated--and that the words they use do not mean what they seem to
mean, and do not betray the romantic and deluded passions that seem to
animate them, but are really words used coldly, without passion, for the
purposes of collective propaganda--in operations completely surgical,
whereby the language of the present day, with all its overtones of
superstition, prejudice, and false knowledge, is employed clinically,
scientifically, simply to further the Idea of the Future State!

No more, no more! Of what avail to crush these vermin beneath our heavy
boot? The locusts have no king, and lice will multiply for ever. The poet
must be born, and live, and sweat, and suffer, and change, and grow, yet
somehow maintain the changeless selfhood of his soul's integrity among
all the crawling fashions of this world of lice. The poet lives, and
dies, and is immortal; but the eternal trifler of all complexions never
dies. The eternal trifler comes and goes, sucks blood of living men, is
filled and emptied with the surfeit of each changing fashion. He gorges
and disgorges, and is never fed. There is no nurture in him, and he draws
no nurture from the food he feeds on. There is no heart, no soul, no
blood, no living faith in him: the eternal trifler simply swallows and
remains.

And we? Made of our father's earth, blood of his blood, bone of his bone,
flesh of his flesh--born like our father here to live and strive, here to
win through or be defeated--here, like all the other men who went before
us, not too nice or dainty for the uses of this earth--here to live, to
suffer, and to die-O brothers, like our fathers in their time, we are
burning, burning, burning in the night.

Go, seeker, if you will, throughout the land and you will find us burning
in the night.

There where the hackles of the Rocky Mountains blaze in the blank and
naked radiance of the moon, go make your resting stool upon the highest
peak. Can you not see us now? The continental wall juts sheer and flat,
its huge black shadow on the plain, and the plain sweeps out against the
East, two thousand miles away. The great snake that you see there is the
Mississippi River.

Behold the gem-strung towns and cities of the good, green East, flung
like star-dust through the field of night. That spreading constellation
to the north is called Chicago, and that giant wink that blazes in the
moon is the pendant lake that it is built upon. Beyond, close-set and
dense as a clenched fist, are all the jewelled cities of the eastern
seaboard. There's Boston, ringed with the bracelet of its shining little
towns, and all the lights that sparkle on the rocky indentations of New
England. Here, southward and a little to the west, and yet still coasted
to the sea, is our intensest ray, the splintered firmament of the towered
island of Manhattan. Round about her, sown thick as grain, is the glitter
of a hundred towns and cities. The long chain of lights there is the
necklace of Long Island and the Jersey shore. Southward and inland, by a
foot or two, behold the duller glare of Philadelphia. Southward farther
still, the twin constellations--Baltimore and Washington. Westward, but
still within the borders of the good, green East, that night-time glow
and smoulder of hell-fire is Pittsburgh. Here, St. Louis, hot and humid
in the cornfield belly of the land, and bedded on the mid-length coil and
fringes of the snake. There at the snake's mouth, southward six hundred
miles or so, you see the jewelled crescent of old New Orleans. Here, west
and south again, you see the gemmy glitter of the cities on the Texas
border.

Turn now, seeker, on your resting stool atop the Rocky Mountains, and
look another thousand miles or so across moon-blazing fiend-worlds of the
Painted Desert and beyond Sierras' ridge. That magic congeries of lights
there to the west, ringed like a studded belt round the magic setting of
its lovely harbour, is the fabled town of San Francisco. Below it, Los
Angeles and all the cities of the California shore. A thousand miles to
north and west, the sparkling towns of Oregon and Washington.

Observe the whole of it, survey it as you might survey a field. Make it
your garden, seeker, or your backyard patch. Be at ease in it. It's your
oyster--yours to open if you will. Don't be frightened, it's not so big
now, when your footstool is the Rocky Mountains. Reach out and dip a
hatful of cold water from Lake Michigan. Drink it--we've tried it--you'll
not find it bad. Take your shoes off and work your toes down in the river
oozes of the Mississippi bottom--it's very refreshing on a hot night in
the summer-time. Help yourself to a bunch of Concord grapes up there in
northern New York State--they're getting good now. Or raid that
water-melon patch down there in Georgia. Or, if you like, you can try the
Rockyfords here at your elbow, in Colorado. Just make yourself at home,
refresh yourself, get the feel of things, adjust your sights, and get the
scale. It's your pasture now, and it's not so big--only three thousand
miles from east to west, only two thousand miles from north to south--but
all between, where ten thousand points of light prick out the cities,
towns, and villages, there, seeker, you will find us burning in the
night.

Here, as you pass through the brutal sprawl, the twenty miles of rails
and rickets, of the South Chicago slums--here, in an unpainted shack, is
a Negro boy, and, seeker, he is burning in the night. Behind him is a
memory of the cotton-fields, the flat and mournful pineland barrens of
the lost and buried South, and at the fringes of the pine another nigger
shack, with mammy and eleven little niggers. Farther still behind, the
slave-driver's whip, the slave ship, and, far off, the jungle dirge of
Africa. And before him, what? A roped-in ring, a blaze of lights, across
from him a white champion; the bell, the opening, and all round the vast
sea-roaring of the crowd. Then the lightning feint and stroke, the black
panther's paw--the hot, rotating presses, and the rivers of sheeted
print! 0 seeker, where is the slave ship now?

Or there, in the clay-baked piedmont of the South, that lean and
tan-faced boy who sprawls there in the creaking chair among admiring
cronies before the open doorways of the fire department, and tells them
how he pitched the team to shut-out victory to-day. What visions burn,
what dreams possess him, seeker of the night? The packed stands of the
stadium, the bleachers sweltering with their unshaded hordes, the
faultless velvet of the diamond, unlike the clay-balked outfields down in
Georgia. The mounting roar of eighty thousand voices and Gehrig coming up
to bat, the boy himself upon the pitching mound, the lean face steady as
a hound's; then the nod, the signal, and the wind-up, the rawhide arm
that snaps and crackles like a whip, the small white bullet of the
blazing ball, its loud report in the oiled pocket of the catcher's mitt,
the umpire's thumb jerked upwards, the clean strike.

Or there again, in the East-Side Ghetto of Manhattan, two blocks away
from the East River, a block away from the gas-house district and its
thuggery, there in the swarming tenement, shut in its sweltering cell,
breathing the sun-baked air through opened window at the fire-escape,
celled there away into a little semblance of privacy and solitude from
all the brawling and vociferous life and argument of his family and the
seething hive round him, the Jew boy sits and pores upon his book. In
shirt-sleeves, bent above his table to meet the hard glare of a naked
bulb, he sits with gaunt, starved face converging to his huge beaked
nose, the weak eyes squinting painfully through his thick-lens glasses,
his greasy hair roached back in oily scrolls above the slanting cage of
his painful and constricted brow. And for what? For what this agony of
concentration? For what this hell of effort? For what this intense
withdrawal from the poverty and squalor of dirty brick and rusty
fire-escapes, from the raucous cries and violence and never-ending noise?
For what? Because, brother, he is burning in the night. He sees the
class, the lecture room, the shining apparatus of gigantic laboratories,
the open field of scholarship and pure research, certain knowledge, and
the world distinction of an Einstein name.

So, then, to every man his chance--to every man, regardless of his birth,
his shining, golden opportunity--to every man the right to live, to work
to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision
can combine to make him--this seeker, is the promise of America.




BOOK V. EXILE AND DISCOVERY



_After four longyears in Brooklyn, George Webber came out of the
wilderness, looked round him, and concluded he had had enough of it.
During this period he had learned much, both about himself and about
America, but now he was seized again with wanderlust. His life had always
seemed to shift between the poles of anchored loneliness and foot-loose
voyagings--between wandering for ever, and then the earth again--and now
the old and restless urgings of "Where shall we go? And what shall we
do?" again became insistent, would not down, and demanded of him a new
answer.

Ever since his first book bad been published be had been looking for a
way to form and shape his next. Now he thought that he had found it. It
was not the way, perhaps, but it was a way. The hundreds and thousands of
separate and disjointed notes that he had written down had fallen at last
into a pattern in his mind. He needed only to weave them all together,
and fill in the blanks, and he would have a book. He felt that be could
do this final job of organisation and revision better if he made a clean
break in the monotony 'of his life. New scenes, new faces, and new
atmospheres might clear his head and sharpen his perspective.

It would be a good thing, too, to get away from America for a while. Too
much was happening here--it was too exciting and disturbing. The whole
thing was in such a state of flux, in such a prophetic condition of
becoming, that the sheer exhilaration of watching it made it hard to
concentrate upon the immediate job he had to do. Perhaps in the older
civilisation of Europe, where life was fixed and certain, moulded by the
heritage of centuries, there would be fewer distractions to keep him from
his work. He decided to go abroad, to England, and there drop anchor,
there find even keel in placid waters--there complete his book.

So in the late summer of 1934 he sailed from New York, went straight to
London, took a flat, and settled down to hard, intensive labour. All
through the autumn and winter of that year he lived in London in his
self-imposed exile. It was a memorable time for him, a time during which,
as he was later to realise, he discovered an entire new world. All the
events, the experiences, and the people that he met became engraved
indelibly upon his life.

And the event which exercised the most profound influence upon him in
that alien air was his meeting with the great American author, Mr. Lloyd
McHarg. Everything seemed to lead up to that. And what made his meeting
with Mr. McHarg so important to him was that now, for the first time, he
met a living embodiment of his own dearest and most secret dream. For
when Mr. Lloyd McHarg swept like a cyclone through his life, George knew
that he was having his first encounter in the flesh with that fair
Medusa, Fame herself Never before had he beheld the lady, or witnessed
the effects of her sweet blandishments. Now he saw the whole thing for
himself._



32. The Universe of Daisy Purvis


On arriving in London, George had the good fortune to sublet a flat in
Ebury Street. The young military gentleman who condescended to let him
have the place possessed one of those resounding double-jointed names
that one comes across so often among the members of the upper or
would-be-upper branches of English society. George was never able to get
all the mouth-filling syllables of that grand name quite straight, but
suffice it to say that his landlord was a Major Somebody Somebody
Somebody Bixley-Dunton.

He was a good-looking man, tall, young, ruddy, with the lean and
well-conditioned figure of a cavalryman. He was an engaging kind of
fellow, too--so engaging that when he made the arrangements which
permitted George to take over the premises, he managed to insinuate into
his bill for rent a thumping sum that covered all the electricity and gas
he had used in the preceding two quarters. And electricity and gas, as
George was to discover, came high in London. You read and worked by one,
sometimes not only through the night, but also through the pea-soup
opacity of a so-called day. And you bathed and shaved and cooked and
feebly warmed yourself by the other. George never did figure out just
exactly how the engaging Major Bixley-Dunton did it, but he managed it so
adroitly that George was half-way back to America some six months later
before it dawned on his unsuspecting mind that he had occupied the modest
dwelling only two quarters but had paid four whacking assessments for the
whole year's gas and electricity.

George thought he was getting a bargain at the time, and perhaps he was.
He paid Major Bixley-Dunton in quarterly instalments--in advance, of
course--at the rate of two pounds ten shillings a week, and for this sum
he had the advantage of being the sole occupant, at night at least, of a
very small but distinctly authentic London house. It was really a rather
tiny house, and certainly a very inconspicuous one, in a section noted
for the fashionable spaciousness and magnificence of its dwellings. The
building was three storeys tall, and George had the top floor. Below him
a doctor had his offices, and the ground floor was occupied by a small
tailor shop. These other tenants both lived elsewhere and were present
only during the day, so at night George had the whole house to himself.

He had a good deal of respect for the little tailor shop. The venerable
and celebrated Irish writer, Mr. James Burke, had his pants pressed
there, and George had the honour of being present in the shop one night
when the great man called for them. It was a considerable moment in
Webber's life. He felt that he was assisting at an impressive and
distinguished ceremony. It was the first time he had ever been in such
intimate contact with such exalted literary greatness, and most
fairminded people will agree that there are few things in the world more
intimate than a pair of pants. Also, even at the moment that Mr. Burke
entered the shop and demanded his trousers, George was requesting the
return of his own. This homely coincidence gave him a feeling of
perfectly delightful understanding and identity of purpose with a
gentleman whose talents had for so many years been an object of his
veneration. It gave him an easy and casual sense of belonging to the
inner circle, and he could imagine someone saying to him:

"Oh, by the way, have you seen anything of James Burke lately?"

"Oh yes," he could nonchalantly reply, "I ran into him the other day in
the place where we both go to have our pants pressed."

And night after night as he worked in his sitting-room on the third
floor, at that hour the solitary lord and master of that little house,
toiling on the composition of a work which he hoped, but did not dare
believe, might rival in celebrity some of James Burke's own, he would get
at times the most curious and moving sense of companionship, as if a
beneficent and approving spirit were there beneath that roof with him;
and through the watches of the night it would speak to him with the
eloquence of silence, saying:

"Toil on, son, and do not lose heart or hope. Let nothing you dismay. You
are not utterly forsaken. I, too, am here--here in the darkness waiting,
here attentive, here approving of your labour and your dream."

Ever sincerely yours,

James Burke's Pants

One of the most memorable experiences of George Webber's six months in
London was his relationship with Daisy Purvis.

Mrs. Purvis was a charwoman who lived at Hammersmith and for years had
worked for "unmarried gentlemen" in the fashionable districts known as
Mayfair and Belgravia. George had inherited her, so to speak, from Major
Bixley-Dunton, and when he went away he gave her back to him, to be
passed on to the next young bachelor gentleman--a man, George hoped, who
would be worthy of her loyalty, devotion, idolatry, and humble slavery.
He had never had a servant in his life before. He had known Negro
servants during his boyhood in the South; since then he had had people
come in once or twice a week to clean up the various places where he had
lived; but never before had he owned a servant body and soul, to the
degree that her interests became his interests and her life his life;
never before had he had anyone whose whole concern was the preservation
of his comfort and welfare.

In appearance, Mrs. Purvis might have been the prototype of a whole
class. She was not one of those comic figures so often pictured in the
drawings of Belcher and Phil May, those pudgy old women who wear shawls
and little Queen Victoria bonnets perched upon their heads, whose most
appropriate locale seems to be the pub, and whom one actually does see in
London pubs, sodden with beer and viciousness. Mrs. Purvis was a
self-respecting female of the working class. She was somewhere in her
forties, a woman inclined to plumpness, of middling height, fair-haired,
blue-eyed, and pink-complexioned, with a pleasant, modest face, and a
naturally friendly nature, but inclined to be somewhat do her dignity
with strangers. At first, although she was at all times courteous, her
manner towards her new employer was a little distant. She would come in
in the morning and they would formally discuss the business of the
day--what they were going to have for lunch, the supplies they were going
to "git in", the amount of money it would be necessary to "lay out".

"What would you like for lunch to-day, sir?" Mrs. Purvis would say. "'Ave
you decided?"

"No, Mrs. Purvis. What would you suggest? Let's see. We had the chump
chop yesterday, didn't we, and the sprouts?"

"Yes, sir," Mrs. Purvis would reply, "and the day before--Monday, you may
recall--we 'ad rump steak with potato chips."

"Yes, and it was good, too. Well, then, suppose we have rump steak
again?"

"Very good, sir," Mrs. Purvis would say, with perfect courtesy, but with
a rising intonation of the voice which somehow suggested, delicately and
yet unmistakably, that he could do as he pleased, but mat she rather
thought his choice was not the best.

Feeling this, George would immediately have doubts. He would say:

"Oh, wait a minute. We've been having steak quite often, haven't we?"

"You 'ave 'ad it quite a bit, sir," she would say quietly, not with
reproof, but with just a trace of confirmation. "Still, of course----"
She would not finish, but would pause and wait.

"Well, rump steak is good. All that we've had was first-rate. Still,
maybe we could have something else to-day, for a change. What do you
think?"

"Should think so, sir, if you feel that way," she said quietly. "After
all, one does like a bit of variety now and then, _doesn't_ one?"

"Of course. Well, then, what shall it be? What would you suggest, Mrs.
Purvis?"

"Well, sir, if I may say so, a bit of gammon and peas is rather nice
sometimes," with just a trace of shyness and diffidence, mixed with an
engaging tinge of warmth as she relented into the informality of mild
enthusiasm. "I 'ad a look in at the butcher's as I came by this mornin',
and the gammon was nice, sir. It _was_ a prime bit, sir," she said
now with genuine warmth. "Prime."

After this, of course, he could not tell her that he had not the faintest
notion what gammon was. He could only look delighted and respond:

"Then, by all means, let's have gammon and peas. I think it's just the
thing to-day."

"Very good, sir." She had drawn herself up again; the formal intonation
of the words had put her back within the fortress of aloofness, and had
put him back upon his heels.

It was a curious and disquieting experience, one that he was often to
have with English people. Just when he thought that finally the bars were
down and the last barriers of reserve broken through, just when they had
begun to talk with mutual warmth and enthusiasm, these English would be
back behind the barricade, leaving him to feel that it was all to do over
again.

"Now for your breakfast to-morrow mornin'," Mrs. Purvis would continue.
"'Ave you decided what you'd like?"

"No, Mrs. Purvis. Have we anything on hand? How are our supplies holding
out?"

"They _are_ a bit low, sir," she admitted. "We 'ave eggs. There is
still butter left, and 'arf a loaf of bread. We're gittin' low on tea,
sir. But you could 'ave eggs, sir, if you like."

Something in the faint formality of the tone informed him that even
though he might like to have eggs, Mrs. Purvis would not approve, so he
said quickly:

"Oh, no, Mrs. Purvis. Get the tea, of course, but no more eggs. I think
we've had too many eggs, don't you?"

"You _'ave_, sir, you know," she said gently--"for the last three
mornin's, at any rate. Still--" Again she paused, as if to say that if he
was determined to go on having eggs, he should have them.

"Oh, no. We mustn't have eggs again. If we keep on at this rate, we'll
get to the point where we can't look an egg in the face again, won't we?"

She laughed suddenly, a jolly and full-throated laugh. "We will, sir,
won't we?" said Mrs. Purvis, and laughed again. "Excuse me for larfin',
sir, but the way you put it, I 'ad to larf. It was quite amusin',
really."

"Well, then, Mrs. Purvis, maybe you've got some ideas. It's not going to
be eggs, that's one thing sure."

"Well, sir, 'ave you tried kippers yet? Kippers are quite nice, sir," she
went on, with another momentary mellowing into warmth. "If you're lookin'
for a change, you could do worse than kippers. Really you could, sir."

"Well, then, we'll have kippers. They're the very thing."

"Very good, sir," She hesitated a moment and then said: "About your
supper, sir--I was thinkin'----"

"Yes, Mrs. Purvis?"

"It just occurred to me, sir, that, seein' as I'm not here at night to
cook you a 'ot meal, we might lay in somethin' you could prepare for
yourself. I was thinkin' the other day, sir, workin' as you do, you must
get 'ungry in the middle of the night, so it wouldn't be a bad idea,
would it, sir, if you could have somethin' on 'and?"

"I think it would be a wonderful idea, Mrs. Purvis. What do you have in
mind?"

"Well, sir," she paused briefly again, reflecting quietly, "we might git
in a bit of tongue, you know. A bit of cold tongue is very tasty. I
should think you'd find it most welcome in the middle of the night. Or a
bit of 'am. Then, sir, you would 'ave your bread and butter and your
mustard pickle, and I could even git in a jar of chutney, if youlike, and
you know 'ow to make tea yourself, don't you, sir?"

"Of course. It's a good idea. By all means, get in tongue or ham and
chutney. Is that all, now?"

"Well, sir," she reflected a moment longer, went to the buffet sideboard,
opened it, and looked in. "I was just wonderin' 'ow you are for beer,
sir...Ah-h," she exclaimed, nodding with satisfaction, "it _is_
gittin' a bit low, sir. You 'ave only two bottles left. Shall we lay in a
'arf-dozen bottles?"

"Yes. No--wait a minute. Better make it a dozen, then you won't have to
be running out to order it again so soon."

"Very good, sir." Again the formal rising intonation, this time, he
thought, with approval. "And what do you prefer, the Worthington or
Bass?"

"Oh, I don't know. Which is better?"

"They're both first-rate, sir. Some people prefer one kind and some
another. The Worthington, perhaps is a trifle lighter, but you won't go
wrong, sir, whichever one you order."

"All right, then, I'll tell you what you do--suppose you order half a
dozen of each."

"Very good, sir." She turned to go.

"Thank you, Mrs. Purvis."

"'Kew," she said, most formally and distantly now, and went out quietly,
closing the door gently but very firmly after her.

As the weeks went by, her excessive formality towards George began to
thaw out and drop away. She became more and more free in communicating to
him whatever was on her mind. Not that she ever forgot her "place". Quite
the contrary. But, while always maintaining the instinctive manner of an
English servant towards her master, she also became increasingly
assiduous to her slavish attentions, until at last one would almost have
thought that her duty towards him was her very life.

Her devotion, however, was not quite as whole and absolute as it appeared
to be. For three or four hours of the day she had another master, who
shared with George her service and her expense. This was the
extraordinary little man who kept doctor's offices on the floor below. In
truth, therefore, Mrs. Purvis had a divided loyalty, and yet, in a
curious way, she also managed to convey to each of her employers a sense
that her whole-souled obligation belonged to him, and to him alone.

The little doctor was a Russian of the old regime, who had been a
physician at the court of the Czar, and had accumulated a large fortune,
which of course had been confiscated when he fled the country during the
revolution. Penniless, he had come to England, and had made another
fortune by a practice about which Mrs. Purvis, with a kind of haughty
aloofness mixed with loyalty, had invented a soothing little fiction, but
concerning which the doctor himself became in time quite candid. From one
o'clock in the afternoon until four or thereabouts, the door-bell tinkled
almost constantly, and Mrs. Purvis was kept busy padding up and down the
narrow stairs, admitting or ushering out an incessant stream of patients.

George had not been long in the place before he made a surprising
discovery concerning this thriving practice. He and the little doctor had
the same telephone, by a plug-in arrangement which permitted each to use
the instrument in his own quarters while sharing the same number and the
same bill. Sometimes the telephone would ring at night, after the doctor
had departed for his home in Surrey, and George observed that the callers
were always women. They would demand the doctor in voices that varied
from accents of desperate entreaty to tones that fairly crooned with
voluptuous and sensual complaint. Where _was_ the doctor? When
George informed them that he was at his home, some twenty miles away,
they would moan that it couldn't be true, that it wasn't possible, that
fate could assuredly not play them so cruel a joke. When told that it was
indeed so, they would then sometimes suggest that perhaps George himself
could render them some assistance on his own account. To these requests
he was forced to reply, often with reluctance, that he was not a
physician, and that they would have to seek help in some other quarter.

These calls sharpened his curiosity, and he began to keep his eye peeled
during the doctor's office hours in the afternoon. He would go to the
window and look out each time the door-bell rang, and in a little while
he became convinced of what he had already begun to suspect, "that the
doctor's practice was devoted exclusively to women". Their ages ranged
from young womanhood to elderly haghood, they were of all kinds and
conditions, but the one thing that was true of these patients was that
they all wore skirts. No man ever rang that door-bell.

George would sometimes tease Mrs. Purvis about this unending procession
of female visitors, and would openly speculate on the nature of the
doctor's practice. She had a capacity for self-deception which one often
encounters among people of her class, although the phenomenon is by no
means confined to it. No doubt she guessed some of the things that went
on below stairs, but her loyalty to anyone she served was so
unquestioning that when Geprge pressed her for information her manner
would instantly become vague, and she would confess that, although she
was not familiar with the technical details of the doctor's practice, it
was, she believed, devoted to "the treatment of nervous diseases".

"Yes, but what kind of nervous diseases?" George would ask. "Don't the
gentlemen ever get nervous, too?"

"Ah-h," said Mrs. Purvis, nodding her head with an air of knowing
profundity that was very characteristic of her. "Ah-h, _there_ you
'ave it!"

"Have what, Mrs. Purvis?"

"'Ave the hanswer," she said. "It's this Moddun Tempo. That's what Doctor
says," she went on loftily, in that tone of unimpeachable authority with
which she always referred to him and quoted his opinions. "It's the pace
of Moddun Life--cocktail parties, stayin' up to all hours, and all of
that. In America, I believe, conditions are even worse," said Mrs.
Purvis. "Not, of course, that they _really_ are," she added quickly,
as if fearing that her remark might inadvertently have wounded the
patriotic sensibilities of her employer. "I mean, after all, not 'avin'
been there myself, I wouldn't know, would I?"

Her picture of America, derived largely from the pages of the tabloid
newspapers, of which she was a devoted reader, was so delightfully
fantastic that George could never find it in his heart to disillusion
her. So he dutifully agreed that she was right, and even managed, with a
few skilful suggestions, to confirm her belief that almost all American
women spent their time going from one cocktail party to another--in fact,
practically never got to bed.

"Ah, then," said Mrs. Purvis, nodding her head wisely with an air of
satisfaction, "then you know what this Moddun Tempo means!" And, after a
just perceptible pause: "Shockin' I calls it!"

She called a great many things shocking. In fact, no choleric Tory in
London's most exclusive club could have been more vehemently and
indignantly concerned with the state of the nation than was Daisy Purvis.
To listen to her talk one might have thought she was the heir to enormous
estates that had been chief treasures of her country's history since the
days of the Norman conquerors, but which were now being sold out of her
hands, cut up piece-meal, ravaged and destroyed because she could no
longer pay the ruinous taxes which the government had imposed. She would
discuss these matters long and earnestly, with dire forebodings, windy
sighs, and grave shakings of the head.

George would sometimes work the whole night through and finally get to
bed at six or seven o'clock in the dismal fog of a London morning. Mrs.
Purvis would arrive at seven-thirty. If he was not already asleep he
would hear her creep softly up the stairs and go into the kitchen. A
little later she would rap at his door and come in with an enormous cup,
smoking with a beverage in whose soporific qualities she had the utmost
faith.

"'Ere's a nice 'ot cup of Ovaltine," said Mrs. Purvis, "to git you off to
sleep."

He was probably nearly "off to sleep" already, but this made no
difference. If he was not "off to sleep", she had the Ovaltine to "git
him off". And if he was "off to sleep", she woke him up and gave him the
Ovaltine to "git him off" again.

The real truth of the matter was that she wanted to talk with him, to
exchange gossip, and especially to go over the delectable proceedings of
the day's news. She would bring him fresh copies of _The Times_ and
the _Daily Mail_, and she would have, of course, her own tabloid
paper. Then, while he propped himself up in bed and drank his Ovaltine,
Mrs. Purvis would stand in the doorway, rattle her tabloid with a
premonitory gesture, and thus begin:

"Shockin', I calls it!"

"What's shocking this morning, Mrs. Purvis?"

"Why, 'ere now, listen to this, if you please!" she would say
indignantly, and read as follows: "'It was announced yesterday, through
the offices of the Messrs. Merigrew & Raspe, solicitors to 'Is Grace, the
Duke of Basingstoke, that 'Is Grace 'as announced for sale 'is estate at
Chipping Cudlington in Gloucestershire. The estate, comprisin' sixteen
thousand acres, of which eight thousand are in 'untin' preserve, and
includin' Basingstoke Hall, one of the finest examples of early Tudor
architecture in the kingdom, 'as been in the possession of 'Is Grace's
family since the fifteenth century. Representatives of the Messrs.
Merigrew & Raspe stated, 'owever, that because of the enormous increase
in the estate and income taxes since the war, 'Is Grace feels that it is
no longer possible for 'im to maintain the estate, and 'e is accordingly
puttin' it up for sale. This means, of course, that the number of 'Is
Grace's private estates 'as now been reduced to three, Fothergill 'All in
Devonshire, Wintringham in Yawkshire, and the Castle of Loch McTash, 'is
'untin' preserve in Scotland. 'Is Grace, it is said, 'as stated recently
to friends that if somethin' is not done to check the present ruinous
trend towards 'igher taxation, there will not be a single great estate in
England remainin' in the 'ands of its original owners within a 'undred
years...

"Ah-h," said Mrs. Purvis, nodding with an air of knowing confirmation as
she finished reading this dolorous item. "There you 'ave it! Just as 'Is
Grace says, we're losin' all our great estates. And what's the reason?
Why the owners can no longer afford to pay the taxes. Ruinous 'e calls
'em, and 'e's, right. If it keeps up, you mark my words, the nobility'll
'ave no place left to live. A lot of 'em are migratin' already," she said
darkly.

"Migrating where, Mrs. Purvis?"

"Why," she said, "to France, to Italy, places on the Continent. There is
Lord Cricklewood, livin' somewhere in the south of France. And why?
Because the taxes got too 'igh for 'im. Let all 'is places go 'ere. Ah-h,
lovely places they were, too," she said, with appetising tenderness. "And
the Earl of Pentateuch, Lady Cynthia Wormwood, and 'Er Ladyship, the
Dowager Countess of Throttlemarsh--where are they all? They've all left,
that's where they are. Packed up and got out. Let their estates go.
They've gone abroad to live. And why? Because the taxes are too 'igh.
Shockin', I calls it!"

By this time Mrs. Purvis's pleasant face would be pink with indignation.
It was one of the most astonishing demonstrations of concern George had
ever seen. Again and again he would try to get to the bottom of it. He
would bang down his cup of Ovaltine and burst out:

"Yes, but good Lord, Mrs. Purvis, why should _you_ worry so much
about it. Those people aren't going to starve. Here you get ten shillings
a week from me and eight shillings more from the doctor. He says he's
retiring and going abroad to live at the end of this year. I'll be going
back to America pretty soon after that. You don't even know where you'll
be or what you'll be doing this time next year. Yet you come in here day
after day and read me this stuff about the Duke of Basingstoke or the
Earl of Pentateuch having to give up one of his half-dozen estates, as if
you were afraid the whole lot of them would have to go on the dole.
You're the one who will have to go on the dole if you get out of work.
Those people are not going to suffer, not really, not the way you'll have
to."

"Ah-h yes," she answered quietly, in a tone that was soft and gentle, as
if she were speaking of the welfare of a group of helpless children, "but
then, we're used to it, aren't we? And _they_, poor things, they're
not."

It was appalling. He couldn't fathom it. He just felt as if he'd come up
smack against an impregnable wall. You could call it what you
liked--servile snobbishness, blind ignorance, imbecilic stupidity--but
there it was. You couldn't shatter it, you couldn't even shake it. It was
the most formidable example of devotion and loyalty he had ever known.

These conversations would go on morning after morning until there was
scarcely an impoverished young viscount whose grandeurs and miseries had
not undergone the reverent investigation of Mrs. Purvis's anguished and
encyclopaedic care. But always at the end--after the whole huge hierarchy
of saints, angels, captains of the host, guardians of the inner gate, and
chief lieutenants of the right hand had been tenderly inspected down to
the minutest multicoloured feather that blazed in their heraldic
wings--silence would fall. It was as if some great and unseen presence
had entered the room. Then Mrs. Purvis would rattle her crisp paper,
clear her throat, and with holy quietness pronounce the sainted name of
"'E".

Sometimes this moment would come as a sequel to her fascinated discussion
of America and the Moddun Tempo, as, after enlarging for the hundredth
time upon the shocking and unfortunate lot of the female population in
the United States, she would add:

"I must say, though," tactfully, after a brief pause, "that the American
ladies _are_ very smart, aren't they, sir? They're all so
well-turned out. You can always tell one when you see one. And then
they're _very_ clever, aren't they, sir? I mean, quite a number of
'em 'ave been received at court, 'aven't they, sir? And some of 'em 'ave
married into the nobility, too. And of course"--her voice would fall to
just the subtlest shade of unction, and George would know what was
coming--"of course, sir, 'E..."

Ah, there it was! Immortal "'E", who lived and moved and loved and had
his being there at the centre of Daisy Purvis's heaven! Immortal "'E",
the idol of all the Purvises everywhere, who, for _their_ uses,
_their_ devotions, had no other name and needed none but "'E".

"Of course, sir," Mrs. Purvis said, "'E likes 'em, doesn't 'E? I'm told
'E's very fond of 'em. The American ladies _must_ be very clever,
sir, because 'E finds 'em so amusin'. There was a picture of 'Im in the
news just recently with a party of 'Is friends, and a new American lady
was among 'em. At least I'd never seen _'er_ face before. And very
smart she was, too--a Mrs. Somebody-or-other--I can't recall the name."

Again, something in the day's news would bring the reverent tone to her
voice and the glow of tenderness to her face, as:

"Well, I see by the paper 'ere that 'E's got back from the Continent. I
wonder what 'E's up to now." And suddenly she laughed, a jolly and
involuntary laugh that flushed her pink cheeks almost crimson and brought
a mist to her blue eyes. "Ah! I tell you what," she said, "'E _is_ a
deep one. You never know what 'E's been up to. You pick the paper up one
day and read where 'E's visitin' some friends in Yawkshire. The next day,
before you know it, 'E turns up in Vienna. This time they say 'E's been
in Scandinavia--it wouldn't surprise me if 'E's been over there visitin'
one of them young princesses. Of course"--her tone was now tinged with
the somewhat pompous loftiness with which she divulged her profounder
revelations to the incondite Mr. Webber--"of course there's been talk
about _that_ for some time past. Not that 'E would care! Not
_'Im_! 'E's too independent, _'E_ is! 'Is mother found that out
long ago. She tried to manage 'Im the way she does the others. Not
_'Im_! That chap's got a will of 'Is own. 'E'll do what 'E wants to
do, and no one will stop 'Im--that's 'ow independent 'E is."

She was silent a moment, reflecting with misty eyes upon the object of
her idolatry. Then suddenly her pleasant face again suffused with ruddy
colour, and a short, rich, almost explosive laugh burst from her as she
cried:

"The dev-_ill_! You know, they do say 'E was comin' 'ome one night
not long ago, and"--her voice lowered confidingly--"they do say 'E'd 'ad
a bit too much, and"--her voice sank still lower, and in a tone in which
a shade of hesitancy was mixed with laughter, she went on--"well, sir,
they do say 'E was 'avin' 'Is troubles in gittin' 'ome. They say that
really 'E was 'avin' to support 'Imself, sir, by the fence round St.
James's Palace. But they do say, sir, that--ooh! ha-ha-ha!"--she laughed
suddenly and throatily. "You must excuse me, sir, but I 'ave to larf when
I think of it!" And then, slowly, emphatically, with an ecstasy of
adoration, Mrs. Purvis whispered: "They say, sir, that the bobby on duty
just outside the palace saw 'Im, and came up to 'Im and said: 'Can I 'elp
you, sir?' But not _'Im!_ 'E wouldn't be 'elped! 'E's too proud,
_'E_ is! That's the way 'E's always been. I'll tell you what--'E
_is_ a dev-_ill!_" And, still smiling, her strong hands held
before her in a worn clasp, she leaned against the door and lapsed into
the silence of misty contemplation.

"But, Mrs. Purvis," George remarked presently, "do you think he'll ever
get married? I mean, do you really, now? After all, he's no chicken any
longer, is he? And he must have had lots of chances, and if he was going
to do anything about it----"

"Ah!" said Mrs. Purvis, in that tone of somewhat lofty recognition that
she always used at such a time. "_Ah!_ What I always say to
_that_ is, 'E _will!_ 'E'll make up 'Is mind to it when 'E 'as
to, but not before! 'E won't be driven into it, not 'Im! But 'E'll do it
when 'E knows it is the proper time."

"Yes, Mrs. Purvis, but what _is_ the proper time?"

"Well," she said, "after all, there _is_ 'Is father, isn't there?
And 'Is father is not as young as 'e used to be, _is_ 'e?" She was
silent for a moment, diplomatically allowing the tactful inference to
sink in by itself. "Well, sir," she concluded very quietly, "I mean to
say, sir, a time _will_ come, sir, won't it?"

"Yes, Mrs. Purvis," George persisted, "but _will_ it? I mean, can
you be sure? You know, you hear all sorts of things--even a stranger like
myself hears them. For one thing, you hear he doesn't want it very much,
and then, of course, there is his brother, isn't there?"

"Oh, _'im_," said Mrs. Purvis, "_'im!_" For a brief interval
she remained silent, but had she filled an entire dictionary with the
vocabulary of bitter and unyielding hostility, she could not have said
more than she managed to convey in the two letters of that mutilated
little pronoun "_'im_."

"Yes," George persisted somewhat cruelly, "but after all, he _wants_
it, doesn't he?"

"'E does," said Mrs. Purvis grimly.

"And he _is_ married, isn't he?"

"'E is," said Mrs. Purvis, if anything a trifle more grimly than before.

"And _he_ has children, hasn't he?"

"'E _'as_, yes," said Mrs. Purvis, somewhat more gently. In fact,
for a moment her face glowed with its look of former tenderness, but it
grew grim again very quickly as she went on: "But _'im_! Not
_'im_!" She was deeply stirred by this imagined threat to the
ascendancy of her idol. Her lips worked tremulously, then she shook her
head with a quick movement of inflexible denial and said: "Not
_'im_." She was silent for a moment more, as if a struggle were
going on between her desire to speak and the cool barrier of her natural
reserve. Then she burst out: "I tell you, sir, I never liked the look of
'im! Not that one--no!" She shook her head again in a half-convulsive
movement; then, in a tone of dark confidingness, she almost whispered:
"There's somethin' _sly_ about 'is face that I don't like! 'E's a
sly one, 'e is, but 'e don't fool _me!_" Her face was now deeply
flushed, and she nodded her head with the air of a person who had uttered
her grim and final judgment and would not budge from it. "That's my
opinion, if you ask me, sir! That's the way I've always felt about 'im.
And 'er. _'Er!_ _She_ wouldn't like it, _would_ she? Not
'arf she wouldn't!" She laughed suddenly, the bitter and falsetto laugh
of an angry woman. "Not _'er!_ Why, it's plain as clay, it's written
all over 'er! But a lot of good it'll do 'em," she said grimly.
"_We_ know what's what!" She shook her head again with grim
decision. "The _people_ know. They can't be fooled. So let 'em git
along with it!"

"You don't think, then, that they----"

"_Them!_" said Mrs. Purvis strongly. "_Them!_ Not in a million
years, sir! Never! Never!...'E"--her voice fairly soared to a cry of
powerful conviction--"'E's the one! 'E's _always_ been the one! And
when the time comes, sir, _'E--'E_ will be King!"

In the complete and unquestioning loyalty of her character, Mrs. Purvis
was like a large and gentle dog. Indeed, her whole relation to life was
curiously animal-like. She had an intense concern for every member of
brute creation, and when she saw dogs or horses in the streets she always
seemed to notice first the animal and then the human being that it
belonged to. She had come to know and recognise all the people in Ebury
Street through the dogs they owned. When George questioned her one clay
about a distinguished-looking old gentleman with a keen hawk's face whom
he had passed several times on the street, Mrs. Purvis answered
immediately, with an air of satisfaction:

"Ah-h, yes. 'E's the one that 'as the rascal in 27. Ah-h, and 'e
_is_ a rascal, too," she cried, shaking her head and laughing with
affectionate remembrance. "Big, shaggy fellow 'e is, you know, comin'
along, swingin' 'is big shoulders, and looking' as if butter wouldn't
melt in 'is mouth. 'E is a _rascal_."

George was a little bewildered by this time and asked her if she meant
the gentleman or the dog.

"Oh, the dog," cried Mrs. Purvis. "The dog! A big Scotch shepherd 'e is.
Belongs to the gentleman you were speakin' of. Gentleman's some sort of
scholar or writer or professor, I believe. Used to be up at Cambridge.
Retired now. Lives in 27."

Or again, looking out of the window one day into the pea-soup drizzle of
the street, George saw an astonishingly beautiful girl pass by upon the
other side. He called Mrs. Purvis quickly, pointed out the girl, and
excitedly demanded:

"Who is she? Do you know her? Does she live here on the street?"

"I can't say, sir," Mrs. Purvis answered, looking puzzled. "It seems I
must 'ave seen 'er before, but I can't be sure. But I will just keep my
eyes open and I'll let you know if I find out where she lives."

A few days later Mrs. Purvis came in from her morning's shopping tour,
beaming with satisfaction and full of news. "Ah-h," she said, "I 'ave
news for you. I found out about the girl."

"What girl?" he said, looking up startled from his work.

"The girl you asked about the other day," said Mrs. Purvis. "The one you
pointed out to me."

"Oh yes," he said, getting up. "And what about her? Does shelive here in
the street?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Purvis. "I've seen 'er a 'undred times. I should
'ave known 'er in a second the other day, only she didn't 'ave _'im_
with 'er."

"Him? Who?"

"Why, the rascal down at 46. That's who she is."

"That's who who is, Mrs. Purvis?"

"Why, the great Dane, of course. You must 'ave seen _'im_. 'E's big
as a Shetland pony," she laughed. "'E's always with 'er. The only time I
ever saw 'er without 'im was the other day, and that's why," she cried
triumphantly, "I didn't know 'er. But to-day, they were out takin' a walk
together and I saw 'em comin'...Then I knew who she was. They're the ones
in 46. And the rascal"--here shelaughed affectionately--"ah-h, what a
rascal 'e is! Oh, a fine fellow, you know. So big and strong 'e is. I
sometimes wonder where they keep 'im, 'ow they found a 'ouse big enough
to put 'im in."

Hardly a morning passed that she didn't return from her little tour of
the neighbourhood flushed with excitement over some new "rascal", some
"fine fellow", some dog or horse she had observed and watched. She would
go crimson with anger over any act of cruelty or indifference to an
animal. She would come in boiling with rage because she had passed a
horse that had been tightly bridled:

"...And I gave 'im a piece of my mind, too," she would cry, referring to
the driver. "I told 'im that a man as mistreated a hanimal in that way
wasn't fit to 'ave one. If there'd been a constable about, I'd 'ave 'ad
'im took in custody, that's what I'd 'ave done. I told 'im so, too.
Shockin', I calls it. The way some people can b'ave to some poor,
'elpless beast that 'as no tongue to tell what it goes through. Let 'em
'ave a bridle in _their_ mouth a bit! Let 'em go round for a while
with _their_ faces shut up in a muzzle! Ah-h," she would say grimly,
as if the idea afforded her a savage pleasure, "that'd teach 'em! They'd
know then, all right!"

There was something disturbing and unwholesome about the extravagance of
this feeling for animals. George observed Mrs. Purvis closely in her
relations with people and found out that she was by no means so agitated
at the spectacle of human suffering. Her attitude towards the poor, of
whom she was one, was remarkable for its philosophic acceptance. Her
feeling seemed to be that the poor are always with us, that they are
quite used to their poverty, and that this makes it unnecessary for
anybody to bother about it, least of all the miserable victims
themselves. It had certainly never entered her head that anything should
be done about it. The sufferings of the poor seemed to her as natural and
as inevitable as the London fog, and to her way of thinking it was just
as much a waste of honest emotion to get worked up about the one as about
the other.

Thus, on the same morning that she would come in blazing with indignation
over the mistreatment of a dog or horse, George would sometimes hear her
speak sharply, curtly, and without a trace of feeling to the dirty,
half-starved, and half-naked devil of a boy who always delivered the beer
from the liquor shop. This wretched child was like some creature out of
Dickens--a living specimen of that poverty which, at its worst, has
always seemed to be lower and more degraded in England than anywhere
else. The thing that gives it its special horror is that in England
people of this type appear to be stogged to their misery, sucked down in
a swamp of inherited wretchedness which is never going to be any better,
and from which they know they can never escape.

So it was with this God-forsaken boy. He was one of the Little
People--that race of dwarfs and gnomes which was suddenly and' terribly
revealed to George that winter in London. George discovered that there
arc really two different orders of humanity in England, and they are so
far apart that they hardly seem to belong to the same species. They are
the Big People and the Little People.

The Big People are fresh-skinned, ruddy, healthy, and alert; they show by
their appearance that they have always had enough to eat. At their
physical best, they look like great bulls of humanity. On the streets of
London one sees these proud and solid figures of men and women,
magnificently dressed and cared for, and one observes that their faces
wear the completely vacant and imperturbable expressions of highly bred
cattle. These are the British Lords of Creation. And among the people who
protect and serve them, and who are really a part of their own order, one
also sees some magnificent specimens--strapping Guardsmen, for example,
six feet five inches tall and as straight as lances, with the same
assured look in their faces, which says plainly that though they may not
be the Lords of Creation themselves, at any rate they are the agents and
instruments of the Lords.

But if one stays in England long enough, all of a sudden one day he is
going to discover the Little People. They are a race of gnomes who look
as if they have burrowed in tunnels and lived for so many centuries in
underground mines that they have all become pale and small and wizened.
Something in their faces and in the gnarled formations of their bodies
not only shows the buried lives they live, but also indicates that their
fathers and mothers and grandparents for generations before them were
similarly starved of food and sunlight and were bred like gnomes in the
dark and deep-delved earth.

One hardly notices them at first. But then, one day, the Little People
swarm up to the surface of the earth, and for the first time one sees
them. That is the way the revelation came to George Webber, and it was an
astounding discovery. It was like a kind of terrible magic to realise
suddenly that he had been living in this English world and seeing only
one part of it, thinking it was the whole. It was not that the Little
People were few in number. Once he saw them, they seemed to be almost the
whole population. They outnumbered the Big People ten to one. And after
he saw them, he knew that England could never look the same to him again,
and that nothing he might read or hear about the country thereafter would
make sense to him if it did not take the Little People into account.

The wretched boy from the liquor shop was one of them. Everything about
him proclaimed eloquently that he had been born dwarfed and stunted into
a world of hopeless poverty, and that he had never had enough to eat, or
enough clothes to warm him, or enough shelter to keep the cold fogs from
seeping through into the very marrow of his bones. It was not that he was
actually deformed, but merely that his body seemed to be shrivelled and
shrunk and squeezed of its juices like that of an old man. He may have
been fifteen or sixteen years old, though there were times when he seemed
younger. Always, however, his appearance was that of an under-grown man,
and one had the horrible feeling that his starved body had long since
given up the unequal struggle and would never grow any more.

He wore a greasy, threadbare little jacket, tightly buttoned, from the
sleeves of which his raw wrists and large, grimy, work-reddened hands
protruded with almost indecent nakedness. His trousers, tight as a couple
of sausage skins, were equally greasy and threadbare, and were inches too
short for him. His old and broken shoes were several sizes too big, and
from the battered look of them they must have helped to round the edges
of every cobble-stone in stony-hearted London. This costume was completed
by a shapeless old hulk of a cap, so large and baggy that it slopped over
on one side of his head and buried the ear.

What his features were like it was almost impossible to know, because he
was so dirty. His flesh, what one could see of it through the unwashed
grime, had a lifeless, opaque pallor. The whole face was curiously
blurred and blunted, as if it had been moulded hastily and roughly out of
tallow. The nose was wide and flat, and turned up at the end to produce
great, flaring nostrils. The mouth was thick and dull, a