G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1921
Copyright, 1921 by Ben Hecht
Printed in the United States of America
An old man sat in the shadows of the summer night. From a veranda chair he looked at the stars. He wore a white beard, and his eyes, grown small with age, watered continually as if he were weeping. Half-hidden under his beard his emaciated lips kept the monotonous grimace of a smile on his face.
He sat in the dark, a patient, trembling figure waiting for bedtime. His feet, though he rested them all day, grew heavy at night. Of late this weariness had increased. It reached like a caress into his mind. Thoughts no longer formed themselves in the silences of his hours. Instead, a gentle sleep, dreamless and dark, came upon him and left him sitting with his little eyes, open and moist, fastened without sight upon familiar objects.
As he sat, the withered body of this old man seemed to grow always more motionless, except for his hands. Resting on his thighs, his twig-like hands remained forever awake, their thin contorted fingers crawling vaguely about like the legs of 8 long-impaled spiders.
The sound of a piano from the room behind him dropped into the old man's sleep, and he found himself once more looking out of his eyes and occupying his clothes. His attitude remained unchanged except for a quickened movement of his fingers. Life returned to him as gently as it had left. The stars were still high over his head and the night, cool and murmuring, waited for him.
He lowered his eyes toward the street beyond the lawn. People were straying by, seeming to drift under the dark trees. He could not see them distinctly, but he stared at their flowing outlines and at moments was rewarded by a glimpse of a face—a featureless little glint of white in the shadows: dark shadows moving within a motionless darkness with little dying candle-flame faces. "Men and women," he thought, "men and women, mixed up in the night ... mixed up."
As he stared, thoughts as dim and fluid as the people in the street moved in his head. But he remembered things best not in words. His memories were little warmths that dropped into his heart. His cold thin fingers continued their fluttering. "Mixed up, mixed up," said the night. "Dark," said the shadows. And the years spoke their memories. "We have been; we are no more." Memories that had lost the bloom of words. The emaciated lips of the old man held a smile beneath the white beard.
This was Isaac Dorn, still alive after eighty years.
The music from the house ended and a woman's voice called through an open window.
"I'm afraid it's chilly outside, father."
He offered no answer. Then he heard Erik, his son, speak in an amused voice.
"Leave the old man be. He's making love to the stars."
"I'll get him a blanket," said Erik's wife. "I can't bear to think of him catching cold."
Isaac Dorn arose from his chair, shaking his head. He did not fancy being covered with a blanket and feeling Anna's kindly hands tucking its edges around his feet. They were too kindly, too solicitous. Their little pats and caressings presumed too much. One grew sad under their ministrations and murmured to oneself, "Poor child, poor child." Better a half-hour under the cold, amused eyes of his son, Erik. There was something between Erik and him, something like an unspoken argument. To Anna he was a pathetic little old man to be nursed, coddled, defended against chills and indigestions, "poor child, poor child." But Erik looked at him with cold, amused eyes that offered no quarter to age and asked for nothing. Good Erik, who asked for nothing, whose eyes smiled because they were too polite to sneer. Erik knew about the stars and the mixed-up things, the dim things old senses could feel in the night though he chose to laugh at them.
But one thing Erik didn't know, and the old man, turning from his chair, grew sad. What was that? What? His thought mumbled a question. Sitting motionless in a corner of the room he could smile at Erik and his smile under the white beard seemed to give an answer to the mumble—an answer that irritated his son. The answer said, "Wait, wait! it is too early for you to say you have lived." What a son, what a son! whose eyes made fun of his father's white hair.
The old man moved slowly as if his infirmities were no more than meditations, and entered the house.
The crowds moving through the streets gave Erik Dorn a picture. It was morning. Above the heads of the people the great spatula-topped buildings spread a zigzag of windows, a scribble of rooftops against the sky. A din as monotonous as a silence tumbled through the streets—an unvarying noise of which the towering rectangles of buildings tilted like great reeds out of a narrow bowl, seemed an audible part.
The city alive with signs, smoke, posters, windows; falling, rising, flinging its chimneys and its streets against the sun, wound itself up into crowds and burst with an endless bang under the far-away sky.
Moving toward his office Erik Dorn watched the swarming of men and women of which he was a part. Faces like a flight of paper scraps scattered about him. Bodies poured suddenly across his eyes as if emptied out of funnels. The ornamental entrances of buildings pumped figures in and out. Vague and blurred like the play of gusty rain, the crowds darkened the pavements.
Dorn saluted the spectacle with smiling eyes. As always, in the aimless din and multiplicity of streets he felt himself most securely at home. The smear of gestures, the elastic distortion of crowds winding and unwinding under the tumult of windows, gave him the feeling of a geometrical emptiness of life.
Here before him the meanings of faces vanished. The greedy little purposes of men and women tangled themselves into a generality. It was thus Dorn was most pleased to look upon the world, to observe it as one observes a pattern—involved but precise. Life as a whole lay in the streets—a little human procession that came toiling out of a yesterday into an interminable to-morrow. It presented itself to him as a picture—legs moving against the walls of buildings, diagonals of bodies, syncopating face lines.
Things that made pictures for his eyes alone diverted Dorn. Beyond this capacity for diversion he remained untouched. He walked smiling into crowds, oblivious of the lesser destinations of faces, pleased to dream of his life and the life of others as a movement of legs, a bobbing of heads.
His appreciation of crowds was typical. In the same manner he held an appreciation of all things in life and art which filled him with the emotion of symmetry. He had given himself freely to his tastes. A creed had resulted. Rhythm that was intricate pleased him more than the metronomic. In art, the latter was predominant. In life, the former. Out of these decisions he achieved almost a complete indifference to literature and especially toward painting. No drawn picture stirred him to the extent that did the tapestry of a city street. No music aroused the elation in him that did the curious beat upon his eyes of window rows, of vari-shaped building walls whose oblongs and squares translated themselves in his thought into a species of unmelodious but perfect sound.
The preoccupation with form had developed in him as complement of his nature. The nature of Erik Dorn was a shallows. Life did not live in him. He saw it as something eternally outside. To himself he seemed at times a perfect translation of his country and his day.
"I'm like men will all be years later," he said to his wife, "when their emotions are finally absorbed by the ingenious surfaces they've surrounded themselves with, and life lies forever buried behind the inventions of engineers, scientists, and business men."
Normal outwardly, a shrewd editor and journalist, functioning daily in his home and work as a cleverly conventional figure, Dorn had lived since boyhood in an unchanging vacuum. He had in his early youth become aware of himself. As a young man he had waited half consciously for something to happen to him. He thought of this something as a species of contact that would suddenly overtake him. He would step into the street and find himself a citizen absorbed by responsibilities, ideas, sympathies, prejudices. But the thing had never happened. At thirty he had explained to himself, "I am complete. This business of being empty is all there is to life. Intelligence is a faculty which enables man to peer through the muddle of ideas and arrive at a nowhere."
Private introspection had become a bore to him. What was the use of thinking if there was nothing to think about? And there was nothing. His violences of temper, his emotions, definite and at times compelling, had always seemed to him as words—pretences to which he loaned himself for diversion. He was aware that neither ideas nor prejudices—the residues of emotion—existed in his mind. His thinking, he knew, had been a shuffle of words which he followed to fantastic and inconsistent conclusions that left him always without convictions for the morrow.
There was a picture in the street for him on this summer morning. He was a part of it. Yet between himself and the rest of the picture he felt no contact.
Into this emptiness of spirit, life had poured its excitements as into a thing bottomless as a mirror. He gave it back an image of words. He was proud of his words. They were his experiences and sophistications. Out of them he achieved his keenest diversion. They were the excuse for his walking, his wearing a hat and embarking daily for his work, returning daily to his home. They enabled him to amuse himself with complexities of thought as one improvising difficult finger exercises on the piano.
At times it seemed to Dorn that he was even incapable of thinking, that he possessed a plastic vocabulary endowed with a life of its own. He often contemplated with astonishment his own verbal brilliancies, which his friends appeared to accept as irrefutable truths of the moment. Carried away in the heat of some intricate debate he would pause internally, as his voice continued without interruption, and exclaim to himself, "What in hell am I talking about?" And a momentary awe would overcome him—the awe of listening to himself give utterance to fantastic ideas that he knew had no existence in him—a cynical magician watching a white rabbit he had never seen before crawl naively out of his own sleeve. Thus his phrases assembled themselves on his tongue and pirouetted of their own energy about his listeners.
Smiling, garrulous, and impenetrable—garrulous even in his silences, he daily entered his office and proceeded skillfully about his work. He was, as always, delighted with himself. He felt himself a man ideally fitted to enjoy the little spectacle of life his day offered. Emotion in others invariably roused in him a sense of the ludicrous. His eyes seemed to travel through the griefs and torments of his fellows and to fasten helplessly upon their causes. And here lay the ludicrous—the clownish little mainspring of tragedy and drama. He moved through his day with a vivid understanding of its excitements. There was no mystery. One had only to look and see and words fitted themselves. A pattern twisted itself into precisions—precisions of men loving, hating, questing. The understanding swayed him between pity and contempt and left the balance of an amused smile in his eyes.
Intimacy with Erik Dorn had meant different things to different people, but all had derived from his friendship a fascinated feeling of loss. His wife, closest to him, had after seven years found herself drained, hollowed out as by some tenaciously devouring insect. Her mind had emptied itself of its normal furniture. Erik had eaten the ideas out of it. Under the continual impact of his irony her faiths and understandings had slowly deserted her. Her thought had become a shadow cast by his emptiness. Things were no longer good, no longer bad. People had become somehow non-existent for her since she could no longer think of them as symbols incarnate of ideas that she liked or ideas that she disliked. Thus emptied of its natural furniture, her mind had borrowed from her heart and become filled, wholly occupied with the emotion of her love for Erik Dorn. More than lover and husband, he was an obsession. He had replaced a world for her.
It was of his wife that Dorn was thinking when he arrived this summer morning at his desk in the editorial room. He had remembered suddenly that the day was the anniversary of their marriage. Time had passed rapidly. Seven years! Like seven yesterdays. He seemed able to remember them in their entirety with a single thought, as one can remember a column of figures without recalling either their meaning or their sum.
The employees of the editorial room—a loft-like chamber crazily crowded with desks, tables, cabinets, benches, files, typewriters; lighted by a smoke-darkened sun and the dim glow of electric bulbs—were already launched upon the nervous routine of their day. An excited jargon filled the place which, with the air of physical disorder as if the workers were haphazardly improvising their activities,—gave the room a vivid though seemingly impermanent life.
On the benches against a peeling wall sleepy-faced boys with precocious eyes kept up a lazy hair-pulling, surreptitious wrestling bout. They rose indifferently in response to furiously repeated bellows for their assistance—a business of carrying typewritten bits of paper between desks a few feet apart; or of sauntering with eleventh-hour orders to the perspiring men in the composing room.
In the forward part of the shop a cluster of men stood about the desk of an editor who in a disinterested voice sat issuing assignments for the day, forecasting to his innumerable assistants the amount of space needed for succeeding editions, the possible development in the local scandals. His eye unconsciously watched the clock over his head, his ear divided itself between a half-dozen conversations and a tireless telephone. With his hands he kept fumbling an assortment of clippings, memoranda, and copy.
Oldish young men and youngish old men gravitated about him, their faces curiously identical. These were the irresponsible-eyed, casual-mannered individuals, seemingly neither at work nor at play, who were to visit the courts, the police, the wrecks, the criminals, conventions, politicians, reformers, lovers, and haters, and bring back the news of the city's day. A common almost racial sophistication stamped their expression. They pawed over telephone books, argued with indifferent, emotionless profanity among themselves on items of amazing import; pounded nonchalantly upon typewriters, lolled with their feet upon desks, their noses buried in the humorous columns of the morning newspapers.
"Make-up" men and their assistants, everlastingly irritable as if the victims of pernicious conspiracies, badgered for information that seemed inevitably non-existent. They desired to know in what mysterious manner one could get ten columns of type into a page that held only seven and whether anyone thought the paper could go to press at half-past ten when the bulk of the copy for the edition arrived in the composing room at twenty minutes of eleven.
Proof-readers emerged from the bowels of somewhere waving smeared bits of printed paper and triumphantly demanded explanation of ambiguous passages.
Re-write men "helloed" indignantly into telephones, repeating with sudden listlessness the pregnant details of the news pouring in; and scribbling it down on sheets of paper ... "dead Grant park bullet unknown 26 yrs silk stockings refinement mystery."
Idlers lounged and discussed loudly against the dusty windows hung with torn grimy shades.
Copy-readers, concentrated under green eye-shades, sat isolated in a tiny world of sharpened pencils, paste pots, shears, and emitted sudden embittered oaths.
Editors from other departments, naively excited over items of vast indifference to their nervous listeners, came and went.
An occasional printer, face and forearms smeared with ink, sauntered in as if on a vacation, uttering some technical announcement and precipitating a brief panic.
Toward the center of the room, seated at desks jammed against one another in defiance of all convenience, telegraph editors, their hands fumbling cables and despatches from twenty ends of the earth, bellowed items of interest into the air—assassinations in China, probes, quizzes, scandals, accusations in far-away places. They varied their bellows with occasional shrieks of mysterious significance—usually a misplaced paste pot, a borrowed shears, a vanished copy-boy.
These folk and a sprinkling of apparently unemployed and undisturbed strangers spread themselves through the shop. Outside the opened windows in the rear of the room, the elevated trains stuffed with men and women roared into a station and squealed out again. In the streets below, the traffic raised an ear-splitting medley of sound which nobody heard.
Against this eternal and internal disorder, a strange pottering, apparently formless and without beginning or end, was guiding the latest confusions and intrigues of the human tangle into perfunctory groups of words called stories. A curious ritual—the scene, spreading through the four floors of the grimy building with a thousand men and women shrieking, hammering, cursing, writing, squeezing and juggling the monotonous convulsions of life into a scribble of words. Out of the cacophonies of the place issued, sausage fashion, a half-million papers daily, holding up from hour to hour to the city the blurred mirrors of the newspaper columns alive with the almost humorous images of an unending calamity.
"The press," Erik Dorn once remarked, "is a blind old cat yowling on a treadmill."
It was a quarter to nine when Dorn arrived at his desk. He seated himself with a complete unconsciousness of the scene. A litter of correspondence, propaganda, telegrams, and contributions from Constant Reader lay stuffed into the corners and pigeonholes of his desk. He sat for a moment thinking of his wife. Call her up ... spend the evening downtown ... some unusual evidence of affection ... the vaudeville wouldn't be bad.
The thought left him and his eyes fastened themselves upon a sheaf of proofs.... Watch out for libel ... look for hunches ... scribble suggestion for changes ... peer for items of information that might be expanded humorously or pathetically into Human Interest yarns.... These were functions he discharged mechanically. A perfect affinity toward his work characterized his attitude. Yet behind the automatic efficiency of his thought lay an ironical appreciation of his tasks. The sterile little chronicles of life still moist from the ink-roller were like smeared windows upon the grimacings of the world. Through these windows Dorn saw with a clarity that flattered him.
A tawdry pantomime was life, a pouring of blood, a grappling with shadows, a digging of graves. "Empty, empty," his intelligence whispered in its depths, "a make-believe of lusts. What else? Nothing, nothing. Laws, ambitions, conventions—froth in an empty glass. Tragedies, comedies—all a swarm of nothings. Dreams in the hearts of men—thin fever outlines to which they clung in hope. Nothing ... nothing...." His intelligence continued a murmur as he read—a murmur unconscious of itself yet coming from the depths of him. Equally unconscious was the amusement he felt, and that flew a fugitive smile in his eyes.
The perfunctory hysterics of the stories of crime, graft, scandal, with their garbled sentences and wooden phrases; the delicious sagacities of the editorial pages like the mumbling of some adenoidal moron in a gulf of high winds; headlines saying a pompous "amen" to asininity and a hopeful "My God!" to confusion—these caressed him, and brought the thought to him, "if there is anything worthy the absurdity of life it's a newspaper—gibbering, whining, strutting, sprawled in attitudes of worship before the nine-and-ninety lies of the moment—a caricature of absurdity itself."
His efficiency aloof from such moralizing moved like a separate consciousness through the day, as it had for the sixteen years of his service. His rise in his profession had been comparatively rapid. Thirty had found him enshrined as an editor. At thirty-four he had acquired the successful air which distinguishes men who have come to the end of their rope. He had become an editor and a fixture. The office observed an intent, gray-eyed man, straight nosed, firm lipped, correctly shaved down to the triangular trim of his mustache, his dark hair evenly parted—a normal-seeming, kindly individual who wore his linen and his features with a certain politely exotic air—the air of an identity.
The day's vacuous items in his life passed quickly, its frantic routine ebbing into a lull toward mid-afternoon. Returning from a final uproar in the composing room, Dorn looked good-humoredly about him. He was ready to go home. Arguments, reprimands, entreaties were over for a space. He walked leisurely down the length of the shop, pleased as always by its atmosphere. It was something like the streets, this newspaper shop, broken up, a bit intricate, haphazard.
A young man named Cross was painstakingly writing poetry on a typewriter. Another named Gardner was busy on a letter. "My dearest...." Dorn read over his shoulder as he passed. Promising young men, both, whose collars would grow slightly soiled as they advanced in their profession. He remembered one of his early observations: "There are two kinds of newspapermen—those who try to write poetry and those who try to drink themselves to death. Fortunately for the world, only one of them succeeds."
In a corner a young woman, dressed with a certain ease, sat partially absorbed in a book and partially in a half-devoured apple. "The Brothers Karamasov," Dorn read as he sauntered by. He thought "an emancipated creature who prides herself on being able to drink cocktails without losing caste. She'll marry the first drunken newspaperman who forgets himself in her presence and spend the rest of her life trying to induce him to go into the advertising business."
Turning down the room he passed the desk of Crowley, the telegraph editor. A face flabby and red with ancient drinking raised itself from a book and a voice spoke,
"Old Egan gets more of a fool every day." Old Egan was the make-up man. Dorn smiled. "The damned idiot crowded the Nancy story off page one in the Home. Best story of the day." Crowley ended with a vaguely conceived oath.
Dorn glimpsed the title of the book on his desk, L'Oblat. Crowley had been educated for the priesthood but emerged from the seminary with a heightened joy of life in his veins. A riotous twenty years in night saloons and bawdy houses had left him a kindly, choleric, and respected newspaper figure. Dorn caught his eye and wondered over his sensitive infatuation of exotic writing. In the pages of Huysmans, De Gourmont, Flaubert, Gautier, Symons, and Pater he seemed to have found a subtle incense for his deadened nerves. Inside the flabby, coarsened body with its red face munching out monosyllables, lived a recluse. "Too much living has driven him from life," Dorn thought, "and killed his lusts. So he sits and reads books—the last debauchery: strange, twisted phrases like idols, like totem poles, like Polynesian masks. He sits contemplating them as he once sat drunkenly watching the obscenities of black, white, and yellow bodied women. Thus, the mania for the rouge of life, for the grimace that lies beyond satiety, passes in him from bestiality to asceticism and esthetics. Yesterday a bacchanal of flesh, to-day a bacchanal of words ... the posturings of courtezans and the posturings of ornate phrases become the same." He heard Crowley repeating, "Damned idiot, Egan! No sense of human values. Crowded the best story of the day off page one." ... Some day he'd have a long talk with Crowley. But the man was so carefully hidden behind perfunctories it was hard to get at him. He resented intrusion.
Dorn passed on and looked around for Warren—a humorous and didactic creature who had with considerable effort destroyed his Boston accent and escaped the fact that he had once earned his living as professor of sociology in an eastern university. Dorn caught a memory of him sitting in a congenial saloon before a stein and pouring forth hoarsely oracular comments upon the activities of men known and unknown. The man had a gift for caricature—Rabelaisean exaggerations. Dorn was suddenly glad he had gone for the day. The office oppressed him and the people in it were too familiar. He walked to his desk thinking of the South Seas and new faces.
"I tell you what," a voice drawled behind him, "Nietzsche has it on the whole lot of them." Cochran, the head of the copy desk, was talking—a shriveled little man with a bald face and shoe-button eyes. "You've got to admit people are more dishonest in their virtues than in their vices. Of course, there's a lot of stuff he pulls that's impractical."
Dorn shrugged his shoulders, smiled and lifted his hat out of a locker. He remembered again to telephone his wife, but instead moved out of the office. A refreshing warmth in the street pleased his senses and he turned toward the lake. Walk down Michigan avenue, take a taxi home—what else was there to do? Nothing, unless talk. But to whom? He thought of his father. A tenacious old man. Probably hang on forever. God, the man had been married three times. If it wasn't for his damned infirmities he'd probably marry again. Looking for something. What was it the old man had kept looking for? As if there was in existence a concrete gift to be drawn from life. A blithering, water-eyed optimist to the end, he'd die with a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude.
Thus innocuously abstract, moving in the doldrum which sometimes surrounded him after his day's work, he turned into the boulevard along the lake. The day grew abruptly fresher here. An arc of blue sky rising from the east flung a great curve over the building tops. Dorn paused before the window of a Japanese art shop and stared at a bulbous wooden god stoically contemplating his navel.
During his walks through the streets he sometimes met people he knew. This time a young woman appeared at the window beside him. He recognized her with elation. His thought gave him an index of her ... Rachel Laskin, curious girl ... makes me talk well ... appreciative ... unusual eyes.
They walked together down the avenue. Dorn felt a return of interest in himself. Introspection bored him. His insincerity made self thought meaningless. Listeners, however, revived him. As they walked he caught occasional glimpses of his companion—vivid eyes, dark lips, a cool, shadow-tinted face that belonged under exotic trees; a morose little girl insanely sensitive and with a dream inside her. She admired him; or at least she admired his words, which amounted to the same thing. Once before she had said, "You are different." As usual he held his cynicism in abeyance before flattery. People who thought him different pleased him. It gave them a certain intellectual status in his eyes.
His thought, as he talked, busied itself with images of her. She gave him a sense of dark waters hidden from the moon—a tenuous fugitive figure in the pretty clamor of the bright street.
"You remind me," he was saying, "of a nymph among dowagers and frightened to death. There's really nothing to be frightened of, unless you prefer fear to other more tangible emotions."
She nodded her head. He recalled that the gesture had puzzled him at first. It gave an eager assent to his words that surprised him. It pretended that she had understood something he had not said, something that lay beneath his words. Dorn pointed at the women moving by them.
"Poems in shoe craft, tragedies in ankles and melodramas in legs," he announced. "Look at their clothes! Priestly caricatures of their sex. You're still drawing?"
"Yes. But you don't like my drawing."
"I saw one of your pictures—an abominable thing—in some needlework magazine. A woman with a spindly nose, picking flowers."
He glanced at her and caught an eager smile in her eyes. She was someone to whom he could talk at random. This pleased him; or perhaps it was the sense of flattery that pleased him. He wondered if she was intelligent. They had met several times, usually by accident. He had found himself able to talk at length to her and had come away feeling an intimacy between them.
"Look at the windows," he continued. "Corsets, stockings, lingerie. Shop windows remind me of neighbors' bathrooms before breakfast. There's something odiously impersonal about them. See, all the way down the street—silks, garments, ruffles, laces. A saturnalia of masks. It's the only art we've developed in America—over-dressing. Clothes are peculiarly American—a sort of underhanded female revenge against the degenerate puritanism of the nation. I've seen them even at revival meetings clothed in the seven tailored sins and denouncing the devil with their bustles. Only they don't wear bustles any more. But what's an anachronism between friends? Why don't you paint pictures of real Americans?—men hunting for bargains in chastity and triumphantly marrying a waistline. If that means anything."
He paused, and wondered vaguely what he was talking about. Vivid eyes and dark lips, a face that belonged elsewhere. He was feeding its poignancy words. And she admired him. Why? He was saying nothing. There was a sexlessness about her that inspired vulgarity.
"You remind me of poetry," she answered without looking at him. "I always can listen to you without thinking, but just understanding. I've remembered nearly everything you've said to me. I don't know why. But they always come back when I'm alone, and they always seem unfinished."
Her words jarred. She was too naive to coquette. Yet it was difficult to believe this. But she was an unusual creature, modestly asleep. A fugitive aloofness. Yes, what she said must be true. There was nothing unreasonable about its being true. She made an impression upon him. He undoubtedly did upon her. He would have preferred her applause, however, somewhat less blatant. But she was a child—an uncanny child who cooed frankly when interested.
"I can imagine the millennium of virtue in America," he went on. "A crowd of painted women; faces green and lavender, moving like a procession of bizarre automatons and chanting in Chinese, 'We are pure. We are chaste and pure.' A parade of psychopathic barbarians dressed in bells, metals, animal skins, astrologer hats and Scandinavian ornaments. A combination of Burmese dancer and Babylonian priest. I ask for nothing more."
He laughed. He had half consciously tried to give words to an image the girl had stirred in him. She interrupted,
He looked at her face in a momentary surprise.
"I hate people, too," she said. "I would like to be like one of those women."
"Or else a huntress riding on a black river in the moon. I was trying to draw a picture of you. And perhaps of myself. You have a faculty of ... of ... Funny, things I say are usually only reflections of the people I talk to. You don't mind being a psychopathic barbarian?"
"No," she laughed quietly, "because I understand what you mean."
"I don't mean anything."
"I know. You talk because you have nothing to say. And I like to listen to you because I understand."
This was somewhat less jarring, though still a bit crude. Her admiration would be more pleasant were it more difficult to discover. He became silent and aware of the street. There had been no street for several minutes—merely vivid eyes and dark lips. Now there were people—familiar unknowns to be found always in streets, their faces withholding something, like unfinished sentences. He had lost interest and felt piqued. His loss of interest in his talk was perhaps merely a reflection of her own.
"I remember hearing you were a socialist. That's hard to believe."
There was no relation between them now. He would have to work it up again.
"No, my parents are. I'm not."
"I'm curious about your ideals."
"I haven't any."
"Not even art?"
"A wingless little eagle on a barren tree," he smiled. "I advise you to complicate life with ideals. The more the better. They are more serviceable than a conscience, in which I presume you're likewise lacking, because you don't have to use them. A conscience is an immediate annoyance, whereas ideals are charming procrastinations. They excuse the inanity of the present. Good Lord, what do you think about all day without ideals to guide you?"
Dorn looked at her and felt again delight with himself. It was because her interest had returned. Her eyes were flatteries. He desired to be amusing, to cover the eager child face beside him with a caress of words.
"I don't think," she answered. "Do people ever think? I always imagine that people have ideas that they look at and that the ideas never move around."
"Yes," he agreed, "moving ideas around is what you might call thinking. And people don't do that. They think only of destinations and for purposes of forgetting something—drugging themselves to uncomfortable facts. I fancy, however, I'm wrong. It's only after telling a number of lies that one gets an idea of what might be true. Thus it occurs to me now that I can't conceive of an intelligent person thinking in silence. Intelligence is a faculty which enables people to boast. And it's difficult boasting in silence. And inasmuch as it's necessary to be intelligent to think, why, that sort of settles it. Ergo, people never think. Do you mind my chatter?"
A perfect applause this time. Her sincerity appealed to him as an exquisite mannerism. She said "Please" as if she were breathless.
"You're an entertaining listener," he smiled. "And very clever. Because it's ordinarily rather difficult to flatter me. I'm immensely delighted with your silence, whereas ..." Dorn stumbled. He felt his speech was degenerating into a compliment.
"Because you tell me things I've known," the girl spoke.
"Yet I tell you nothing."
He stared for an instant at the people in the street. "Nothing" was a word his thought tripped on. He was used to mumbling it to himself as he walked alone in streets. And at his desk it often came to him and repeated itself. Now his thought murmured, "Nothing, nothing," and a sadness drew itself into his heart. He laughed with a sense of treating himself to a theatricalism.
"We haven't talked about God," he announced.
"God is one of my beliefs."
She was an idiot for frowning.
"I dislike to think of man as the product of evolution. It throws an onus on the whole of nature. Whereas with a God to blame the thing is simple."
She nodded, which was doubly idiotic, inasmuch as there was nothing to nod to. He went on:
"Life is too short for brevities—for details. I save time by thinking, if you can call it thinking, en masse—in generalities. For instance, I think of people frequently but always as a species. I wonder about them. My wonder is concerned chiefly with the manner in which they adjust themselves to the vision of their futility. Do they shriek aloud with horror in lonely bedrooms? There's a question there. How do people who are important to themselves reconcile themselves to their unimportance to others? And how are they able to forget their imbecility?"
They were walking idly as if dreamily intent upon the spectacle of the avenue. The nervous unrest that came to Dorn in streets and fermented words in his thought seemed to have deserted him. Assured of the admiration of his companion, he felt a quiet as if his energies had been turned off and he were coasting. He recognized several faces and saluted them as if overcome with a desire to relate a jest.
"Notice the men and women together," he resumed easily, almost unconscious of talking. "Observing married couples is a post-graduate course in pessimism. There's a pair arm in arm. Corpses grown together. There's no intimacy like that of cadavers. Yet at this and all other moments they're unaware of death. They move by us without thought, emotion, or words in them."
"They look very proud," she interrupted.
"It's the set expression of vacuity. Just as skeletons always seem mysteriously elate. Their pride is an absence of everything else—a sort of rigid finery they put on in lieu of a shroud. Never mind staring after them, please. They are Mr. and Mrs. Jalonick who live across the street from my home. I dislike staring even after truths. Listen, I have something more to say about them if you'll not look so serious. Your emotions are obviously infantile. I can give you a picture of marriage: two little husks bowing metronomically in a vacuum and anointing each other with pompous adjectives. Draw them a little flattened in the rear from sitting down too much and you'll have a masterpiece. It's amusing to remember that Mr. and Mrs. Jalonick were once in love with each other!" Dorn laughed good-naturedly. "Fancy them on a June night ten years ago before their eyes had become cotton, holding hands and trying to give a meaning to the moon. Are you tired?"
"No, please. Let's walk, if you haven't anything else to do."
"Nothing." It was the seventh anniversary of his marriage. An annoying thought. "You're an antidote for inertia. I marvel, as always, at my garrulity. Women usually inspire me with a desire to talk. I suppose it's a defensive instinct. Talk confuses women and renders them helpless. But that isn't it. I talk to women because they make the best sounding-boards. Do you object to being reduced to an acoustic? Yes, sex is a sort of irritant to the vocabulary. It's amusing to converse profoundly with a pretty woman whose sole contributions to any dialogue are a bit of silk hose and an oscillation of the breasts."
"You make me forget I'm a woman and agree with you."
"Because you're another kind of woman. The reflector. Or acoustic. I prefer them. I sometimes feel that I live only in mirrors and that my thoughts exist only as they enter the heads of others. As now, I speak out of a most complete emptiness of emotion or idea; and my words seem to take body in your silence—and actually give me a character."
"I always think of you as someone hiding from himself," she answered. Dorn smiled. They were old friends—a union between them.
"There's no place of concealment in me," he said after a pause. He had been thinking of something else. "But perhaps I hide in others. After talking like this I come away with a sort of echo of what I've said. As if someone had told me things that almost impressed me. I talk so damned much I'm unaware of ever having heard anybody else but myself express an opinion. And I swear I've never had an opinion in my life." He became silent and resumed, in a lighter voice, "Look at that man with whiskers. He's a notorious Don Juan. Whiskers undoubtedly lend mystery to a man. It's a marvel women haven't cultivated them—instead of corsets. But tell me why you've disdained art as an ideal. You're curious. It's a confessional I should think would appeal to you. I'm almost interested in you, you see. Another hour with you and you would flatter me into a state of silence."
Dorn paused, somewhat startled. Her dark lips parted, her eyes glowing toward the end of the street, the girl was walking in a radiant abstraction. She appeared to be listening to him without hearing what he said. Dorn contemplated her confusedly. He frowned at the thought of having bored her, and an impulse to step abruptly from her side and leave became a part of his anger. He hesitated in his walking and her fingers, timorous and unconscious of themselves, reached for his arm. He wondered with a deeper confusion what she was dreaming about. Her hand as it lay on his forearm gave him a sense of companionship which his words sought clumsily to understand.
"I was saying something about art when you fell asleep," he smiled.
Rachel threw back her head as if she were shaking a dream out of her eyes.
"I wasn't asleep," she denied. They moved on in the increasing crowd.
"Men and women," Dorn muttered. "The street's full of men and women going somewhere."
"Except us," the girl cried. Her eyes, alight, were thrusting against the cold, amused smile of his face. He would be late. Anna would be waiting. An anniversary. Anniversaries were somehow important. They revived interest in events which had died. But it was nice to drift in a crowd beside a girl who admired him. What did he think of her? Nothing ... nothing. She seemed to warm him into a deeper sleep. It was a relief to be admired for one's silence. Admired, not loved. Love was a bore. Anna loved him, bored him. Her love was an applause that did not wait for him to perform—an unreasonable ovation.
He looked at the girl again. She was walking beside him, vivid eyes, dark lips—almost unaware of him, as if he had become a part of the dream that lived within her.
When she was a child she used to see a face in the dark as she was falling asleep. It was crude and misshapen, and leered at her, filling her heart with fear. Later, people had become like that to her.
When she was eighteen Rachel came to Chicago and studied art at an art school. She learned nothing and forgot nothing. She read books in English and in Russian—James, Conrad, Brusov, Tolstoi. Her reading failed to remove her repugnance to the touch of life. Instead, it lured her further from realities. She did not like to meet people or to hear them talk. At twenty she was able to earn her living by drawing posters for a commercial art firm and making occasional illustrations for magazines designed for female consumption.
As she matured, the repugnance to life that lay like a disease in her nerves, developed dangerously. She would sit in her room in the evening staring out of the window at the darkened city and thinking of people. There was an endless swathing of people, buildings, faces, words, that wound itself tightly about her. She would cover her face suddenly and whisper, "Oh, I must go away. I must."
She hurried through dragging days as if she were running away. But there were things she could not escape. Men smiled at her and established themselves as friends. Women were easy to get rid of. One had only to be frank and women vanished. But this same frankness, she found, had an opposite effect upon men. Insults likewise served only to interest men. They would become gradually more and more acquainted with her until it became impossible to talk to them. Then she would have to ignore them, turning quickly away when they addressed her and saying, "Good-bye, I must go."
At times she grew ashamed of her sensitiveness. She would sit alone in her room surrounded by a whimpering little silence. A melancholy would darken her heart. It wasn't because she was afraid of people. It was something else. She would try to think of it and would find herself whispering suddenly, "Oh, I must go away. I must."
To men, Rachel's beauty seemed always a doubtful quality. Her appeal itself was doubtful. The Indian symmetry of her face lay as behind a luminous shadow—an ill-mannered, nervous face that was likely to lure strangers and irritate familiars. In the streets and restaurants people looked at her with interest. But people who spoke to her often lost their interest. There was a silence about her like a night mist. She seemed in this silence preoccupied with something that did not concern them. Men found the recollection of her more pleasing than her presence. Something they remembered of her seemed always to be missing when they encountered her again. Lonely evening fields and weary peasants moving toward the distant lights of their homes spoke from her eyes. An exotic memory of simple things—of earth, sky, and sea—lay in her sudden gestures. A sense of these things men carried away with them. But when they came to talk to her they grew conscious only of the fact that she irritated them. These who persisted in their friendship grew to regard her solicitously and misunderstand their emotions toward her.
It was evening when Rachel came to her room after her walk with Erik Dorn. The long stroll had given her an aversion toward work. She glanced at several unfinished posters and moved to a chair near a window.
A glow of excitement brightened the dusk of her face. Her eyes, usually asleep in distances, had become alive. They gave themselves to the night.
Beyond the scratch of houses and the slant of home lights she watched the darkness lift against the sky. The city had dwindled into a huddle of streets. Noise had become silence. The great crowds were packed away in little rooms. Sitting before the window, unconscious of herself, she laughed softly. Her black hair felt tight and heavy. She shook her head till its loose coils dropped across her cheeks. She had felt confused when she entered the room, as if she had grown strange to herself.
"Who am I?" she whispered suddenly. She raised her hand and stared at it. Something intimate had left her. She remembered herself as in a dream. There had been another Rachel who used to sit in this chair looking out of the window. A memory came of people and days. But it was not her memory, because her mind felt free of the nausea it used to bring.
She stood up quickly and turned on a light. Her dexterous hands twisted her hair back into loose coils on her head. Strange, she did not know herself. That was because things seemed different. Here was her room, littered with books and canvasses and clothes, and the bed in which she slept, half hidden by the alcove curtains. But they were different. She began to hum a song. A tune had come back to her that men sang in Little Russia trudging home from the wheat fields. That was long ago when the world was a bad dream that frightened her at night. Now there was no world outside, but a darkness without faces or streets—a darkness with a deep meaning. It was something to be breathed in and felt.
She opened the window and stood wondering. She was lonely. Loneliness caressed her heart and drew dim fingers across her thought. She could never remember having been lonely before. But now there was a difference. She smiled. Of course, it was Erik Dorn. He had pleased her. The things he had said returned to her mind. They seemed very important, as if she had said them herself. She would go out and walk again—fast. It was pleasant to be lonely. Her throat shivered as she breathed. Bewildered in the lighted room she laughed and her lips said aloud, "I don't know. I don't know!"
* * * * * *
Among the men who had established themselves as friends of Rachel was a young attorney named George Hazlitt. He had gone to school with her in a small Wisconsin town. A year ago he had discovered her again in Chicago. The discovery had excited him. He was a young man with proprietary instincts. He had at once devoted them to Rachel. After several months he had begun to dream about her. They were correct and estimable dreams reflecting credit upon the correct and estimable stock from which he came.
He fell to courting Rachel tenaciously, torn between a certainty that she was insane and a conviction that a home, a husband's love, and the paraphernalia of what he termed clean, healthy living would restore her to sanity. Their meetings had been affairs of violence. In her presence he always felt a rage against what he called her neurasthenia—a word he frequently used in drawing up bills for divorce. He regarded neurasthenia not as a disease to be condoned like the mumps, but as a deliberate failing—particularly in Rachel. The neurasthenia of the defendants he pursued in courts annoyed him only slightly. In Rachel it outraged him. It was his habit to inform her that her sufferings were nothing more than affectations and that her moods were shams and that the whole was a part and parcel of neurasthenia.
This unhappy desire of his to browbeat her into a state which he defined as normal, Rachel had accepted in numb helplessness. She had given up commanding him to leave her alone. His presence frequently became a nausea. Her enfevered senses had come to perceive in the conventionally clothed and spoken figure of the young attorney, a concentration of the repugnant things before which she cowered. During his courtship he had grown familiar to her as a penalty and his visits had become climaxes of loathsomeness.
But a stability of purpose peculiar to unsensitive and egoistic young men kept Hazlitt to his quest. His steady rise in his profession, the growing respect of his fellows for his name, fired him with a sense of success. Rachel had become the victim of this sense. Of all the men she knew Hazlitt grew to be the most unnecessary. But his persistence seemed to increase with her aversion for him. In a sort of mental self-defense against the nervous disgust he brought her, she forced herself to think of him and even to argue with him. By thinking of him she was able to keep the memory of him an impersonal one, and to convert him from an emotionally unbearable influence into an intellectually insufferable type. A conversion by which Hazlitt profited, for she tolerated him more easily as a result of her ruse. She thought of him. His youth was fast entrenching itself in platitudes and acquiring the vigor and directness that come as a reward of conformity. Life was nothing to wonder at or feel. Life shaped itself into definite images and inelastic values before him. To these images and values he conformed, not submissively, but with a militant enthusiasm. On summer mornings he saw himself as a knight of virtue advancing clear-eyed upon a bedeviled world. When he was among his own kind he summed up the bedevilments in the word "bunk." The politer word, to be used chivalrously, was "neurasthenia." The victims of these bedevilments were "nuts." A dreadful species like herself, given to wrong hair cuts, insanities, outrages upon decency and above all, common sense.
Hazlitt's attraction to Rachel in the face of her neurasthenia did not confuse him. Confusion was a quality foreign to Hazlitt. He courted her as a lover and proselyter. His proselyting consisted of vigorous denunciations of the things which contributed to the neurasthenia of his beloved. He declaimed his notions in round, rosy-cheeked sentences. There was about Hazlitt's wooing of Rachel the pathos which might distinguish the love affair of a Baptist angel and the hamadryad daughter of a Babayaga.
Yet, though in her presence he denounced her art, taste, sufferings, books, friends, affectations, away from her she came to him—beautiful eyed and fragile—bringing a fear and a longing into his heart. Dreaming of her over a pipe in his home at night, he saw her as something bewilderingly clean, different—vividly different from other women, with a difference that choked and saddened him. There was a virginity about her that extended beyond her body. This and her fragility haunted him. His youth had caught the vision of the night mist of her, the lonely fields of her eyes, the shadow dreams toward whose solitudes she seemed to be flying. Beside Rachel all other women were to him somehow coarse and ungainly fibered, and somehow unvirginal.
Out of his dream of her arose his desire to have her as his own, to come home and find her waiting, to have her known as Mrs. George Hazlitt. The thought of the Rachel he knew—mysterious, fugitive, neurasthenic—established normally across a breakfast table, smiling a normal good-bye at him with her arms normally about his neck, was a contrast that sharpened his desire. It offered a transformation that would be a victory not only for his love but for the shining, militant platitudes behind which Rachel had correctly pointed out to herself, he lived.
* * * * * *
Bewildered in the lighted room, Rachel turned suddenly to the door. Someone was knocking—loud. She hurried eagerly forward, wondering at an unfinished thought ... "perhaps it is...." Hazlitt, smiling with steady, solicitous eyes confronted her.
"I've been knocking for five minutes," he announced. "I heard you or I'd have gone away."
Rachel nodded. Of course, it would be Hazlitt. He was always appearing when least expected. But it would be nice to talk to someone. She smiled. This was surprising and she shook her head as if she were carrying on a conversation with herself. George Hazlitt was always unbearable. But that was a memory. It no longer applied.
"I'm glad you came," she greeted him. "I was lonely."
Hazlitt looked at her in surprise. Visiting Rachel was a matter that required an extreme of determination. He had come prepared as usual for the sullen, uncomfortable hour she offered.
"I was going out," she continued, "but I won't now. If you'll sit down I'll do some work. You won't mind."
She looked at him eagerly as if to tell him he must forget she had always hated him and that she was different now. At least for the moment. He understood nothing and remained staring at her. His manner proclaimed frankly that he was bewildered.
"Yes, certainly," he answered at length, and sat down. She hurried about, securing her paints and setting up one of the unfinished posters. Drawing a deep breath Hazlitt lighted a pipe and watched her. She was beautiful. He admitted it with less belligerency than usual. He sat thinking, "what the deuce has happened to her. She said she was glad to see me." He was afraid to start an inquiry. She had never before smiled at him, let alone voiced pleasure over his presence. It was a mistake of some sort but he would enjoy it for awhile. But perhaps it was the beginning of something.
Hazlitt sighed. He smoked, waited, and struggled to avoid the thoughts that crowded upon him.
"That's rather nice," he said. He would follow her mood, whatever it was. Rachel's eyes laughed toward him.
"I hope it doesn't bore you. If you hadn't come I would never have thought of working."
The thing was unbelievable. Yet he contemplated it serenely. He would talk to her soon and find out what was the matter. There was undoubtedly something the matter. His eyes stared at her furtively as she returned to her work. "There's something the matter," his thought cautioned him. Rachel resumed her talking. A naivete and freshness were in her voice. She was letting her tongue speak for her and laughing at the sound of the curious remarks it made.
"Do you think that women are becoming barbarians? The way they mess up their hair and go in for savage colors! Sometimes I get to feeling that they will end up as—as psychopathic barbarians. With astrologer hats."
She regarded Hazlitt carelessly. Hazlitt, with fidgets in his thought, smiled. His eyes lost their solicitous air. They began to search shrewdly for some reason. The spectacle of a coquettish Rachel was beyond him, even as the sound of her laugh was an amazing music to his senses. But his shrewdness evaporated. It occurred to him that women were peculiar. Particularly Rachel. A direct and vigorous Hazlitt concluded that Rachel had succumbed to his superior guidance. There was nothing else to explain her tolerance. He called it tolerance, for he was still wary and her eyes shining eagerly, hungrily at him might be no more than a new kind of neurasthenia. He let her talk on without interruption. She would like to paint streets, houses, lights in the dark, city things. Blowing puffs of smoke carelessly toward the ceiling he answered finally, "If you didn't have to support yourself, perhaps you could." A fear whirled in his heart with the sentence. He had never asked her outright to marry him. The thought that he had almost asked her, now made him feel dizzy.
"There! I guess that can rest now."
Rachel put aside her painting. She sat down near him. Her eyes narrowed and she listened with a sleepy smile as he began carefully to recite to her incidents that had happened during his day. But he became silent. She didn't mind that. She desired to sit as she was, her emotion a dream that escaped her thought. Hazlitt fumbled with his pipe. It was out. He dropped it into a pocket. His shrewdness and his weariness had left him. He felt almost that he was alone.
"You're wonderful," he whispered; and he grew frightened of his voice. Rachel saw his face light with an unusual expression. He would be kind now and let her smile.
"I'm glad you came," she sighed. "I don't know why. I feel different to-night."
She had a habit of short, begrudging sentences delivered in a quick monotone—a habit of speech against which Hazlitt had often raged. But now her words—flurried, breathless, begrudging as always—stirred him. They could be believed. She was a child that way. She spoke quickly thoughts that were uppermost in her mind.
"I never thought I could be glad to see you. But I am."
Hazlitt felt suddenly weak. Her face before him was something in a dream. It was turned away and he could watch her breathing. Bewilderedly he remembered a thousand Rachels, different from this one, who was glad he had come. But the beauty of her burned away uncomfortable memories. She was the Rachel of his loneliness. Out of George Hazlitt vanished the vigor and directness of a young man who knows his own soul. There came a vision—a thing uncertain and awesome, and he sat humbled before it.
He reached her hand and closed his fingers over it. An awe squeezed at his throat. Her hand lay without protest within his. He had never touched her before. She had been a symbol and a dream. Now he felt the marvel of the fact that she was a woman. Her hand, warm and alive, astonished him with the news.
Rachel, during his speechlessness, looked at him unbelievingly. The grip of his fingers was bringing an ache into her heart. It was sad. The night and the room were sad. She could feel sadness opening little wounds in her breasts. And before she had been happy. She heard him whispering, "I can't talk to you. I can't. Oh, you are beautiful!"
His eyes made her think he was suffering. Then he was sad, too. She stood up because his hand drew her. Why did he want her to stand up? His body touched her and she heard him gasp. Her heart seemed adrift. She was unreal. There was another Rachel somewhere else. He was saying, but he was not talking to her, "Oh, Rachel, I love you. I love you, Rachel!"
Still she waited unbelievingly, the ache in her dragging at her senses. She had fallen asleep and was dreaming something that was sad. But his face was suddenly too close. His eyes were too near and bright. They awakened her.
"Let me go, quick."
His hands clung. For an instant she failed to understand his resistance. He was saying jerkily, "No ... no!"
She twisted out of his arms and stood breathless, as if she were choking. Hazlitt looked at her, a bit pensively. His heart lost in a dream and a rapture could only grimace a child's protest out of his stare. He hadn't kissed her. But that would come soon. Not everything at once. He must not be a brute. He smiled. His good-natured face glowed as if in a light. Then he heard her talking,
"Go away. At once. I never want to see you again. I'll die if I see you again."
Her hands were in her hair.
"Go away. Please.... Oh, God, I can't stand you. You—horrify me!"
The panic in Rachel's voice seemed to dull his ears to her words. He saw her for a vivid moment against the opened window and then he found himself alone, looking into a night that was haunted with an image of her. He remembered her going, but it seemed to him he still saw her against the window, his eyes bringing to him a vision of her face as she had looked.
He had grown white. In the memory of her face, as in an impossible mirror, he saw a loathsome image of himself. Her eyes had blazed with it. He sickened and his thought grew faint. Then the night came before him and the echo of the words Rachel had spoken beat in his head. He walked with his hat politely in his hand out of the door.
On the stairs his eyes grew weak and warm. Tears rushed from them. He stumbled and clutched at the banister. She had led him on. She had looked at him with love. Love ... but he had dreamed that. What was it, then? Her eyes burning toward him had told him he was loathsome. There was something wrong with him. He wept. He put his hat on mechanically. He dried his eyes. There was something wrong.
On her bed Rachel lay mumbling to herself, mumbling as if the words were a pain to her ears. "Erik Dorn ... Erik Dorn."
The world in which Erik Dorn lived was compounded of many surfaces. Of them Anna, his wife, was the most familiar. It was a familiarity of absorption. Weeks of intimacy passed between them, of lover-like attentiveness during which Dorn remained unconscious of her existence. Her unending talk of her love for him—words and murmurs that seemed an inexhaustible overflow of her heart—passed through his mind as a part of his own thought. Hers was a more definite contribution to the emptiness of the life through which he moved.
Yet in his unconsciousness of her there lived a shadowy affection. On occasions in which they had been separated there had always awakened in him an uneasiness. In his nights alone he lay sleepless, oppressed, a nostalgia for her presence growing in him. With his eyes opened at the darkness of a strange room he experienced then an incompleteness as if he himself were not enough. The emptiness in which he was living became suddenly real. He would feel a despair. Words unlike the sophisticated patter of his usual thought would come to him.... "What is there ... I would like something ... what?..." A sense of life as an unpeopled vastness would frighten him vaguely. Night sounds ... strange, shadow-hidden walls. They made him uneasy. Memories then; puzzling, mixed-up pictures that had lost their outlines. Things that had left no impression on his thought—sterile little incidents through which he had moved with automatic gestures—returned like sad little outcasts pleading with him. Faces he could not remember and that were yet familiar peered at him in his sleeplessness with poignant eyes that frightened.
There would come to him the memory of the time he had been a boy and had lain like this in his mother's home, startled with fears that sat like insanities in his throat. The memory of his being a boy seemed to restore him to the fears long forgotten. Words would come ... "I was a boy ..." and he would lie thinking of how people grew old; of how he had grown old without seeming to change, and yet changing—as if he had been gently vanishing from himself and even now was moving slowly away. He was like a house from which issued a dim procession of guests never pausing for farewells. He had been a boy, a youth, a man ... each containing days and thoughts. And they moved slowly away from him—completed figures fully dressed. Slowly, without farewells, with faces intensely familiar yet no longer known. Thus he would continue to vanish from himself, remaining unchanged but diminishing, until there were no more guests to forsake and he stood alone waiting a last farewell—a curious, unimaginable good-bye to himself. Nothing ... nothing. A long wait for a good-bye. And then nothing again. Already he was half shadow—half a procession of Erik Dorns walking away from him and growing dimmer.
In the dark of the strange room, his eyes staring and fearful, he would reach suddenly for Anna, embracing her almost as if she were beside him. Her smile that forever shone upon him like the light of lilies and candles from a sad, quiet altar; her words that forever flowed like a dream from her heart, the warmth of her body that she offered him as if it no longer existed for herself—to these his loneliness sought vainly to carry him. And he would find himself tormented by a desire for her, lying with her name on his lips and her image alone alive in the empty dread of his thought.
United again in their home, he lapsed into the unconsciousness of her, sometimes vaguely startled by the tears he felt on her cheeks as they lay together at night. Out of this unconsciousness he made continual love to her, giving her back her endearments and caresses. Of this he never tired. His kisses unaware of her, his tendernesses without meaning to him, he yet felt in her presence the shadow of a desire. The love that filled his wife seemed to animate his phrases with an amorous diction that echoed her own. He would hold her in his arms, bestowing kisses upon her, and watch as in wonder of some mysterious make-believe, the radiance that his meaningless gestures brought to her.
There were times, however, when Dorn became aware of his wife, when she thrust herself before him as a far-away-eyed and beautiful-faced stranger. He had frequently followed her in the street, watching her body sway as she walked, observing with quickening surprise her trim, lyre-like shoes, her silken ankles, the agile sensualism of her litheness under a stranger's dress. He had noticed that she had coils of red hair with bronze and gold lights slipping over it, that her face tilted itself with a hint of determination and her eyes walked proudly over the heads of the crowd. He watched other men glimpse her and turn for an instant to follow with their stares the promise of her body and lighted face. Dorn, walking out of her sight, got a confused sense of her as if she were speaking to the street, "I am a beautiful woman. In my head are thoughts. I am a stranger to you. You do not know what my body looks like or what dreams live in me. I have destinations and emotions that are mysterious to you. I am somebody different from yourselves."
On top of this sense of her had come each time a sudden vivid picture—Anna in their bedroom attaching her garters to the tops of her stockings; Anna tautening her body as she slipped out of her nightgown ... or a picture of her pressing his head against her breasts and whispering passionately, "Erik, I adore you." The strangeness then would leave her and again she was something he had absorbed. When he looked for her she had vanished in the scribble of the crowd and he walked with the same curious unconsciousness of her existence as of his own.
There were times too in their home when Anna became a reality before his eyes—an external that startled him. This was such a time now. Rachel had come to visit them. She sat silent, fugitive-bodied amid overfed, perspiring-eyed guests. And he stood looking at Anna and listening to her.
He wondered why he looked at Anna and not at Rachel. But his wife in black velvet and silken pumps, like a well-limned character out of some work of stately fiction, held his attention. He desired to talk to her as if she were a stranger. She sat without surprise at his unusual verbal animation in her behalf, listening to his banter with an intent, almost preoccupied smile in her eyes. While he talked, asking her questions and pressing for answers, he thought. "She's not paying any attention to my words, but to me. Her love is like a robe about her, covering her completely." Yet she seemed strange. Behind this love lived a person capable of thinking and reasoning. Dorn, as sometimes happened, grew curious about her thoughts. He increased his efforts to rivet her attention, as if he were trying to coax a secret out of her. The easiest way to arouse her was to say things that frightened her, to make remarks that might give her the feeling he had some underlying idea in his head hostile to their happiness.
The company of faces in the room emitted laughter, uttered words of shocked contradiction, pressed themselves eagerly forward upon his phrases. A red-faced man whose vacuity startled from behind a pair of owlish glasses exclaimed, "That's all wrong, Dorn. Women don't want war. Your wife would rather cut off her arm than see you go to war. And mine, too."
The wife of the red-faced man giggled. A younger, unmarried woman posed carelessly on the black piano bench in an effort to exaggerate the charms of her body, spoke with a deliberate sigh.
"No, I don't agree with you, Mr. Harlan. Women are capable of sacrifice."
She thrust forward a lavender-stockinged leg and contemplated it with a far-away sacrificial light in her eyes. The red-faced one observed her with sudden owlish seriousness. His argument seemed routed.
"Of course that's true," he agreed. Mr. Harlan came of a race whose revolutionary notions expired apologetically before the first platitude to cross their path. "We must always bear in mind that women are capable of sacrifice; that women ..." The lavender stocking was withdrawing itself and Mr. Harlan stammered like an orator witnessing a sudden exodus of his audience, "that women are really capable of remarkable things," he concluded.
Dorn was an uncommonly clever fellow, but a bit radical. He'd like to think of something to say to him just to show him there was another side to it. Not that he gave a damn. Some other time would do. The red face turned with a great attentiveness toward the hoarsely oracular Mr. Warren, his eyes dropping a furtive curtsy in the direction of the vanished stocking.
"I never agree with Dorn," Warren was remarking, "for fear of displeasing him."
He gazed belligerently at Anna whose eyes were attracting attention. She was watching her husband in a manner unbecoming a hostess. A middle-aged youth toying politely with the blue sash of a girl in a white dress—he had recently concluded a tense examination of the two antique rings on her fingers—saw an occasion for laughter and embraced it. The girl glanced somewhat timidly toward Anna and addressed her softly, as if desiring to engage in some conversation beyond the superficial excitement of the moment.
"I'm just mad about blue sashes," she whispered. "I think the sash is coming back, don't you?"
Anna nodded her head. Erik had resumed his talk, his eyes still on her.
"Women are two things—theory and fact," he was saying. "The theory of them demands war. If we get into this squabble you'll find them cheering the loudest and waving the most flags. War is something that kills men; therefore, it is piquantly desirable to their subconscious hate of our sex." He smiled openly at Anna. "It's also something that plays up the valor and superiority of man and therefore offers a vindication for her submission to him."
"Oh," the lavender stocking was indignantly in evidence, "how awful!"
Dorn waited until the young woman had shifted her hips into a more protesting outline.
"I agree," the red face chimed in. "It's nonsense. Dorn's full of clever nonsense. I quite agree with you, Miss Dillingham." Miss Dillingham was the lavender stocking. The wife of the red face fidgeted, politely ominous. She announced pertly:
"I agree with what Mr. Dorn says." Which announcement her husband properly translated into a warning and a threat of future conversation on the theme, "You never pay any attention to me when there's anybody else around."
Dorn continued, "And it gives them a sense of generalities. Women live crowded between the narrow horizons of sex. They don't share in life. It's very sad, isn't it, Miss Williams?" Miss Williams removed her sash gently from the hands of the elderly youth and pouted. She was always indignant when men addressed her seriously. It gave her an uncomfortable feeling that they were making fun of her.
"Oh, I don't know," she answered. The elderly youth nodded his head enthusiastically and whispered close to her ear, "Exactly."
"The things that are an entirety to women," pursued Dorn, "milk bottles, butcher bills, babies, cleaning days, hello and good-bye kisses, are merely gestures to their husbands. So in a war they find themselves able to share what is known as the larger horizon of the male. One way is through sacrifice. They sacrifice their sons, lovers, husbands, uncles, and fathers with a high, firm spirit, announcing to the press that they are only sorry their supply of relatives is limited. The sacrificing brings them in contact with the world in which their males live. That's the theory of it."
Anna's smile continued to deny itself to his words. It said to him, "What does it matter what you say? I love you." And yet there was a thought behind it holding itself aloof.
"But the fact of woman is always denying her theory," he added. "That's what makes her confusing. The fact of her weeps at departures, shell shocks, amputations; grows timid and organizes pacifist societies. It's a case of sex instinct versus the personal complex."
The elderly young man straightened in his chair, removing his eyes from Miss Williams with the air of one returning to masculine worldliness.
"I don't know about that," he said. "It's all very well to talk about such things flippantly. But when the time comes, we must admit ..."
"That talk is foolish," interrupted Warren. He looked at Rachel and laughed. "As a matter of fact, if anybody else but Dorn said it, I'd believe it. But I never believe Dorn. Do you, Miss Laskin?"
Rachel answered, "Yes."
Dorn, piqued by the continual silence of his wife, felt a sudden discomfiture at the sound of Rachel's voice. Was Anna aware he was talking to her so as to avoid talking to Rachel? Perhaps. But Rachel's presence was diluted by the company. He caught a glimpse of her dark eyes opened towards him, and for a moment felt his words disintegrate. He continued hurriedly:
"War, in a way, is a noble business, in that it reduces us to a biological sanity—much the same as does Miss Dillingham's lavender stocking!"
The company swallowed this with an abrupt stiffening of necks. Isaac Dorn, who had been airing himself on the veranda, relieved a tension by appearing in the doorway and moving quietly toward an unoccupied chair. Anna reached her hand to the old man's and held it kindly. Miss Dillingham, surveying the stretch of hose which had been honored in her host's conversation, raised her eyes and replied quietly:
"Mr. Dorn is too clever to be really insulting."
The red-faced one clung to a sense of outrage. His cheeks had grown slightly distended, and with the grimace of indignant virtue bristling on his face, he turned the expression toward his wife for approval. She nodded her head and tightened the thin line of her lips.
"I only meant," laughed Dorn, "that it reduces us to the sort of sanity that wipes out the absurd, artificial notions of morality that keep cluttering up the thought of the race. War reminds us that civilization and murder are compatible. Lavender stockings, speaking in generalities, are reminders that good and evil walk on equally comely legs."
Mr. Harlan, having registered indignation, now struggled vainly against the preenings of his wit, and finally succumbed.
"In these days you can't tell Judy O'Grady and the Colonel's lady apart by their stockings, eh?" He hammered his point home with a laugh. Warren winked at Rachel as if to inform her of the mixed company they were in, and Mrs. Harlan endeavored to put an end to the isolated merriment of her husband with a "John, you're impossible!" The elderly youth, conscious of himself as the escort of a young virgin, lowered his eyes modestly to her ankles. Dorn, watching his wife's smile deepen, nodded his head at her. He knew her momentary thought. She labored under the pleasing conviction that his risque remarks were invariably inspired by memories of her.
"Barring, of course, the unembattled stay-at-homes," he continued. "The sanity of battlefields is in direct ratio to the insanity of the non-combatants. You can see it already in the press. We who stay at home endeavor to excuse the crime of war by attaching ludicrous ideals and purposes to its result. Thus every war is to its non-combatants a holy war. And we get a swivel-chair collection of nincompoops raving weirdly, as the casualty lists pour in, of humanity and democracy. It hasn't come yet, but it will."
"Then you don't believe in war?" said the red face, emerging triumphantly upon respectable ground.
"As a phenomenon inspired by ideals or resulting in anything more satisfactory than a wholesale loss of life, war is always a joke," Dorn answered. He wondered whether Rachel was considering him a pompous ass. "I have a whole-hearted respect for it, however, as a biological excitement."
The blue sash winced primly at the word biological, and appealed to her escort to protect her somehow from the indecencies of life. The elderly youth answered her appeal with a tightening of his features.
"War isn't biological," he retorted in her behalf.
Dorn, wearying of his talk, waited for some one of the company to relieve him of the burden. But the elderly youth had subsided, and fulfilling his functions as host—a business of diverting visitors from the fact that there was no reason for their presence in his home—Dorn was forced to continue:
"I can conceive of no better or saner way to die than crawling around in the mud, shrieking like a savage, and assisting blindly in the depopulation of an enemy. But unless a man is forced to fight, I can conceive of nothing more horrible than war. Don't you think that, Anna?"
"You know what I think, Erik," she answered. "I hate it."
He was startled by a sudden similarity between Rachel and Anna. She too was looking at him with the indignant aloofness of his wife—with a rapt attention seemingly beyond the sound of his words. He caught the two women turn and smile to each other with an understanding that left him a stranger to both. He thought quickly, "Anna is the only one in the room intelligent enough for Rachel to understand." He felt a momentary pride in his wife, and wondered.
As the conversation, playing with the theme of war, spread itself in spasmodic blurs about the room, bursting in little crescendoes of conviction, pronouncements, suddenly serious and inviolable truths, Dorn found himself listening excitedly. An unusual energy pumped notions into his thought. But it was impossible to give vent to ideas before this collection of comedians. He desired to look at Rachel, but kept his eyes away. If they were alone, he could talk. He permitted himself the luxury of an explosive silence.
He sat for a time thinking. "Curious! She knows I have things to say to her. They are unimportant but I can say them to no one else. She knows I avoid looking at her. There must be something—an attraction. She's a fool. I don't know. I should have put an end to our walks long ago."
His vocabulary, marshaling itself under a surprising force, charged with a rush through his thought. Sentences unrelated, bizarre combinations of words—a kaleidoscopic procession of astounding ideas—art, life, war, streets, people—he knew what they were all about. An illumination like a verbal ecstacy spread itself through him. Under it he continued to think as if with a separate set of words, "I don't know. She isn't beautiful. A stupid, nervous little girl. But it hasn't anything to do with her. It's something in me."
He stood up, his eyes unsmiling, and surveyed the animated faces as from a distance. Paper faces and paper eyes—fluttering masks suspended politely above fabrics that lounged in chairs. They were unreal—too unreal even to talk to. Beyond these figures in the room and the noises they made, lay something that was not unreal. It pulled at the sleep in him. He stood as if arrested by his own silence. The night outside the window came into his eyes, covering the words in his brain and leaving him alone.
He heard Anna speaking.
"What are you thinking about, Erik?"
Her eyes seemed to him laden with forebodings. Yet she was smiling. There was something that made her afraid. He turned toward Rachel and found her standing as if in imitation of himself, her face lifted toward the window, the taut line of her neck an attitude that brought him the image of a white bird's wing soaring. He felt himself unable to speak, as if a hand had been laid threateningly on his throat. Rachel was indiscreet to stand that way, to look that way. There was no mistaking. His thought, shaking itself free of words ... "In love with me. In love with me!" He paused. A bewildering sense of infidelity. But he had done nothing—only walk with her a few afternoons. And talk. "A stupid, nervous little girl." It was some sort of game, not serious necessarily. He stepped abstractedly toward his wife, aware that the conversation had flattened.
"I wasn't thinking," he answered, searching guiltily for an epigram. "Won't you play?"
Anna stood up and brought her eyes to a level with his own. Again the light of foreboding, of unrevealed shadows flashed at him out of her smile. She understood something not clear in his own head; nor in hers. He grasped her hand as she passed and with a dolorous grimace of his heart felt it unresponsive in his fingers.
Anna was playing from a piano score of Parsifal. The music dropped a curtain. Dorn became conscious of himself in an overheated room surrounded by a group of awed and saccharine faces. Rachel was smiling at him with a meaning that he seemed to have forgotten. He stared back, pleasantly aware that a familiar sneer had returned to his eyes. In a corner his father sat watching Anna and he noticed that the old man's watery eyes turned in, as if gazing at images in his own thought. His father's smile, as always, touched Dorn with an irritation, and he hurried from it.
The others were more amusing. The spectacle of the faces wilting into maudlin abstractions under the caress of the music brought a grin to him. The sounds had drugged the polite little masks and left them poised morosely in a sleepy dream. The lavender stocking crept tenderly into evidence. The owlish glasses focused with noncommittal stoicism in its direction. The blue sash looked worried and the raised eyebrows of the elderly youth asked unhappy questions. Music made people sad and caused sighs to trickle from their ludicrously inanimate features. Melting hearts under lacquered skins, dissolving little whimpers under perfunctory attitudes.
He remembered his own mood of a few moments ago, and explained to himself. Something had given him a dream. The night shining through the window, the curve of Rachel's neck. Rachel ... Rachel ... He grew suddenly sick with the refrain of her name. It said itself longingly in his thought as if there was a meaning beyond it.
The playing had stopped. The listeners appeared to be lingering dejectedly among its echoes. Rachel slipped quickly to her feet, her arms thrust back as if she were poised for running. She passed abruptly across the room. Her behavior startled him. The faces looked at her curiously. She was running away.
Anna followed her quietly into the vestibule and the company burst into an incongruous babble. Dorn listened to their voices, again firm and self-sufficient, chattering formalities. He watched Rachel adjusting her hat with over-eager gestures. Her eyes were avoiding him. She seemed breathless, her head squirming under the necessity of having to remain for another moment before the eyes of the people in the room.
"I must go," she said suddenly. Her hand extended itself to Anna. A frightened smile widened her mouth. Dorn felt her eyes center excitedly on him. A confused desire to speak kept him silent. He stood up and entered the hall to play his little part as host. But Rachel was gone. The door had closed behind her and he stared at the panels, feeling that the house had emptied itself. Things were normal again. Anna was speaking to her guests, smoothly garrulous. They were putting on hats and saying good-bye. They would have to hurry to escape the rain. He assisted with wraps, his eyes furtively watching the door as if he expected to see it open again, with Rachel returning.
"I've really had a wonderful time," the lavender stocking was shrilling. He became solicitous and followed her to the door, walking with her down the housesteps. A moist summer night, promising rain.
But the street was empty of Rachel, and he returned.
They were in their bedroom undressing. Outside, the night rustled with an approaching storm. On the closed windows the rain began a rattle of water. A wind filled the darkness.
"What makes you act so strangely to-night, Erik?"
She looked at him as she stood uncovering herself. She desired to speak with a disarming casualness. Instead, her words came with a sound of tears in them. He was always strange—always going away from her until she had to close her eyes and love in the dark without trying to see him. Now he might go to war and be killed. Something would happen. "Something ... something ..." kept murmuring itself in her thought.
"I love to hear you play to a crowd," he answered good-humoredly.
"Why?" She could not get the languor out of her voice.
"When people listen to music it always reminds me we are descended from fish. God, what dolts! Minds like soft-bodied sea growths. I can actually see them sometimes."
"You always dislike my friends."
She would argue with him, and in his anger his strangeness would go away.
"Your friends?" He seemed pleased at the chance of growing angry. "Allow me to point out to you that the assemblage to-night had the distinction of being my friends. I discovered the collection. I brought them to the house first."
"They think you're wonderful." She would get him angry that way.
"A virtue, I admit. But it doesn't excuse their other stupidities."
They seemed to have nothing to argue about. Anna loosened her hair. The sight of it rolling in glistening bronzes and reds from her head invariably gave her a desire to cover Erik's face in it. With his face buried in the disordered masses of her hair she would feel an exquisite fullness of love.
"You don't think Rachel stupid, do you?"
Dorn felt a relief at the sound of her name. His thought was full of her, but he had been afraid to talk.
"Miss Laskin," he replied, concealing his eagerness for the topic with a drawl, "is partially insane."
"Yes, you like insane people, though. I can always tell when you like people. You never pay any attention to them then, but sort of come hanging around me—as if you were apologizing to yourself for liking them, and doing penance. Or you call them names."
"Miss Laskin," Dorn answered, delighted to protract the conversation, "is a vivid sort of imbecile suffering from vacuous complexities. An hour alone in a room with her would drive even a philosopher to madness. She's one of the kind of people given to inappropriate silences. She reminds me of an emotion undergoing a major operation. Good Lord, Anna, don't tell me you're jealous of her?"
It was immaterial whether he denounced or upheld Rachel. To talk of her even with indignation was a delight.
Thunder rolled, and he became silent. Anna turned her nakedness to him. Her eyes, grown dark, beheld a yearning and a sorrow.
"Don't talk about people," she whispered. "I'm glad you hate them—all of them."
Her nudity always surprised Dorn. Her body seemed always to have grown more beautiful and impersonal. A shout of rain sounded in the night and a chill wind burst with a clatter in the darkness. He thought of Rachel as he darkened the room. There came to him a picture of her walking in the rain with her head raised and laughing.
Anna lay for a moment, awed by the suddenness of the storm. She turned quickly, her arms reaching hungrily about her husband.
"I love you," she whispered. "Oh, I love you so much. My own, my dearest!"
She felt his lips touch hers, and closed her eyes.
Dorn murmured back to her, "I adore you."
A little laugh came, and tears reached her cheeks.
"You're so wonderful," she whispered. "Think of it! It's been the same since the first night. You love me—just as you did."
She paused questioningly—an old question to which he gave an old answer.
"I love you more."
"I know it. I can feel it. You won't ever get tired of loving me?"
"Never—never as long as I live."
"Oh, you make me so happy!"
A sigh almost like a moan came from her heart.
"Oh, I'm a fool. I get frightened sometimes—when I hear you talk. Something takes you away. You mustn't ever go away. Promise me. Listen, Erik." She dropped into a panic. "Promise me you won't go to war."
"That was only talk," he whispered. "You should know my talk by this time."
"I'll never know you."
"Please, Anna, don't. You hurt me when you say that."
"And when you were silent," she went on softly, "I felt—I felt something had happened. Erik, darling Erik. Oh, you're my whole life!"
"I adore you, sweetest," he murmured.
"I don't live except in you, Erik. And, oh, I'm a fool. Such a fool!"
"You're wonderful," he interrupted. He was making responses in an old ritual.
"No, I'm not. I'll make you tired of me. Tell me, please. Tell me you love me. I feel you've never told me it."
"I love you more than everything else in life. More than everything."
"Oh, do you, Erik?"
She pressed herself closer to him, and he felt her body like the heat of a flame avidly caress him.
"I don't want you any different, though," she whispered. "When I see other men I get horrified to think that you might become like them—if you didn't love me. Dead, creepy things. Oh, men are horrible. Talk to me, Erik."
"I can't. I love you. What else is there to say?" His voice trembled and her mouth pressed upon his.
"I don't deserve such happiness," she said. Tears from her eyes fell like warm wax on his shoulder. Her hands were fumbling distractedly over him.
"Erik," she gasped, "my Erik! I worship you."
The storm pounded through the night, leaping and bellowing in a halloo of sounds. Dorn tightened his arms mechanically about her warm flesh. His lips were murmuring tensely, dramatically, "I love you. I love you." And a sadness made a little warmth in his heart. He was alone in the night. His arms and words were engaged in an old make-believe. But this time he felt himself further away. There was no meaning....
He tried vainly to think of Anna, but an emptiness crowded even her name out of his mind. His hands were returning her caresses, mimicking the eager distraction of her own. His mind, removed as if belonging elsewhere, was thinking aimless little words.
There was a storm outside. Lightning.... The war was taking up too much space in the paper. Crowding out important local news. The Germans would probably get to Paris soon and put an end to it.... Why did Rachel run away? Should he ask her? Sometime. When he saw her. Ask her. Ask her.... His thought drifted into a blank. Then it said ... "The thing is meaningless. Meaningless. Houses, faces, streets. Nothing, nothing. There's nothing...."
His wife lay silent, quivering with an ecstasy. Her arms were hungrily choking him. Dorn closed his eyes as if to hide himself. His lips still murmured in a monotone, vague as the voice of a stranger in his ears—responses in an old ritual—"I love you, I love you! Oh, I love you so much!..."
In the evening when women stand washing dishes in the kitchens of the city, men light their tobacco and open newspapers. Later, the women gather up the crumpled sheets and read.
The streets of the city spell easy words—poor, rich—neither.
Here in one part live the grimy-faced workers, their sagging, shapeless women and their litters of children. Their windows open upon broken little streets and bubbling alleys. Idiot-faced wooden houses sprawl over one another with their rumps in the mud. The years hammer away—digesting the paint from houses. The years grind away, yet life persists. Beneath the grinding of the years, life gropes, shrieks, sweats. And in the evening men light their tobacco and open newspapers.
Around a corner the boxes commence. One, two, three, four, and on into thousands stand houses made of stone, and their regimental masonry is like the ticking of a clock. Unvarying windows, doors identical—a stereotype of roofs and chimneys—these hold the homes of the crowds. Here the vague faces of the streets, the hurrying, enigmatic figures pumping in and out of offices and stores gather to sleep and breed. In the evening the crowds drift into boxes. The multiple destinations dwindle suddenly into a monotone. The confusions of the city's traffic; the winding and unwinding herds that made a picture for the eyes of Erik Dorn, individualize into little human solitudes. The stone houses stand ticking away the years, and within them men and women tick. Doors open and shut, lights go on and off, day and night drop a tick-tock across miles of roofs. And in the hour of the washing of dishes men kindle their tobacco and read the newspapers.
Slowly, timidly, the city moves away from the little stone boxes. Automobiles and trees appear. Here begin the ornaments. Marble, bronze, carved and painted brick—a filigree and a scrollwork—put forth claims. The lords of the city stand girthed in ornaments. Knight and satrap have changed somewhat. Moat and battlement grimace but faintly from behind their ornaments. The tick-tock sounds through the carouse. Sleek, suave men and languorous, desirable women sit amid elaborations, sleep and breed in ornamental beds. Power wears new masks. Leadership has improved its table manners, its plumbing, and its God.
Beautiful clocks, massive with griffiens and gargoyles, nymphs and scrollwork—they shelter heroes. But heroes have changed. Destiny no longer passes in the night—a masked horseman riding a lonely road. Instead, an old watchmaker winds up clocks, sleek men and desirable women. In the inner offices of the city the new heroes sit through the day, watchmakers themselves, winding and unwinding the immemorial crowds with new devices. But in the evening they too return to their ornamental boxes, and under Pompeian lamps, amid Renaissance tapestries, open newspapers.
Alley box and manor, the tick-tock of the city has them all. Paved streets and window-pitted walls beat out a monotone. Lust and dream turn sterile eyes to the night. The great multiple tick-tock of the city waits another hour to pass.
Wait, it reads a newspaper. On the west side of the city a man named Joseph Pryzalski has murdered a woman he loved, beating her head in with an ax, and subsequently cut his own throat with a razor. At the inquest there will be exhibited a note scribbled on a piece of wrapping-paper still redolent with herring ... "God in heaven, forgive me! She is dead. It is better. Oh, God, now my turn!" Deplorable incident.
In the next column the exploits of three young men armed with guns. Entering a bank, the three young men shot and killed Henry J. Sloane, cashier; held half a dozen other names at bay, loaded their pockets with money, and escaped in a black automobile. The police are, fortunately, combing the city for the three young men and the black automobile. Thank God for the police moving cautiously through the streets with a large, a magnificent comb that will soon pick the three young men, their three guns, and their symbolical black automobile out of the city.
Next, the daily report of excitements in Europe. The Austrian army has been annihilated. A part of the German army, seemingly the most important part, has also been annihilated. Day by day the armies of the Allies continue to devour, obliterate, grind into dust the armies of the Kaiser. Bulletin—black type demanding quick eye—twenty thousand unsuspecting Prussians walking across a bridge on the Meuse were blown up and completely annihilated. This occurred on a Monday. In the teeth of these persistent and vigorous annihilations, the Huns still continue their atrocities. Shame! In Liege, on a Tuesday, the blood-dripping Huns added another horror to their list of revolting crimes. Three citizens of Liege were executed. They died like heroes. There are other items on this general subject, including a message from the Pope.
Alongside the war, as if in a next room, a woman has shot her lover on learning he was a married man. "Beauty Slays Soul-Mate; Shoots Self." ... Annihilation on a smaller but more interesting scale, this.
A street-car has crashed into a brewery wagon and at the bottom of the column a taxi has run over a golden-haired little girl at play.
But why has Raymond S. Cotton, wealthy clubman and financier and prominent in north-shore society circles, disappeared? Society circles are agog. Sometimes society circles are merely disturbed. But they are always active. Society circles are always running around waving lorgnettes and exclaiming, "Dear me, and what do you think of this? I am all agog." The police are combing the city for a woman in black last seen with the prominent Mr. Cotton in a notorious cafe. But a man is to be hanged in the County Jail. "The doomed man ate a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs and seemed in good spirits." Fancy that!
"Flames Destroy Warehouse, Two Firemen Hurt." This, in small apologetic type like a footnote on a timetable. Inconsiderate firemen who take up important space on a crowded day!
Apology ceases. Here is something that requires no apology. It is extremely important. Wilbur Jennings, prominent architect, has defied the world and departed for a Love Bungalow in Minnesota with another man's wife. A picture of Wilbur in flowing bow tie and set jaws defying the world. Also of his inamorata in a ball gown, eyes lowered to a rose drooping from her hand. Various wives and chubby-faced children, and the inamorata's Siberian hound, "Jasper." What he said. What she said. What they said. Opinions of three ministers, roused on the telephone by inquiring reporters. The three divines are unanimous. But Wilbur's tie remains defiant.