The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Storm by McKnight Malmar
Haircut by Ring Lardner
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
A Clean, Well-lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway
Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby by Donald Barthelme
Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell
This one is Captain Waskow by Ernie Pyle
The Dead by James Joyce
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Excerpt from A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The Egg by Sherwood Anderson
By Shirley Jackson
The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.
The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix– the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”–eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys. and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.
Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother.
The lottery was conducted–as were the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program–by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to devote to civic activities. He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal business, and people were sorry for him. because he had no children and his wife was a scold. When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box, there was a murmur of conversation among the villagers, and he waved and called. “Little late today, folks.” The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him, carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers said, “Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?” there was a hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers inside it.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with his hand. Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr. Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers’ coal company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves’s barn and another year underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr. Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up–of heads of families. heads of households in each family. members of each household in each family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory. tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves and the Martins.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. “Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,” Mrs. Hutchinson went on. “and then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was the twenty-seventh and came a-running.” She dried her hands on her apron, and Mrs. Delacroix said, “You’re in time, though. They’re still talking away up there.”
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs. Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your, Missus, Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.” Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully. “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave m’dishes in the sink, now, would you. Joe?,” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson’s arrival.
“Well, now.” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work. Anybody ain’t here?”
“Dunbar.” several people said. “Dunbar. Dunbar.”
Mr. Summers consulted his list. “Clyde Dunbar.” he said. “That’s right. He’s broke his leg, hasn’t he? Who’s drawing for him?”
“Me. I guess,” a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
“Horace’s not but sixteen vet.” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.”
“Right.” Sr. Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he asked, “Watson boy drawing this year?”
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. “Here,” he said. “I m drawing for my mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said thin#s like “Good fellow, lack.” and “Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it.”
“Well,” Mr. Summers said, “guess that’s everyone. Old Man Warner make it?”
“Here,” a voice said. and Mr. Summers nodded.
A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his throat and looked at the list. “All ready?” he called. “Now, I’ll read the names–heads of families first–and the men come up and take a paper out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?”
The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions: most of them were quiet. wetting their lips. not looking around. Then Mr. Summers raised one hand high and said, “Adams.” A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward. “Hi. Steve.” Mr. Summers said. and Mr. Adams said. “Hi. Joe.” They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd. where he stood a little apart from his family. not looking down at his hand.
“Allen.” Mr. Summers said. “Anderson…. Bentham.”
“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more.” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row.
“Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”
“Time sure goes fast.– Mrs. Graves said.
“There goes my old man.” Mrs. Delacroix said. She held her breath while her husband went forward.
“Dunbar,” Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went steadily to the box while one of the women said. “Go on. Janey,” and another said, “There she goes.”
“We’re next.” Mrs. Graves said. She watched while Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hand. turning them over and over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
“Get up there, Bill,” Mrs. Hutchinson said. and the people near her laughed.
“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”
Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”
“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.
“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”
“Martin.” And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. “Overdyke…. Percy.”
“I wish they’d hurry,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. “I wish they’d hurry.”
“They’re almost through,” her son said.
“You get ready to run tell Dad,” Mrs. Dunbar said.
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward precisely and selected a slip from the box. Then he called, “Warner.”
“Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery,” Old Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. “Seventy-seventh time.”
“Watson” The tall boy came awkwardly through the crowd. Someone said, “Don’t be nervous, Jack,” and Mr. Summers said, “Take your time, son.”
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”
“Go tell your father,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”
“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”
“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“Well, everyone,” Mr. Summers said, “that was done pretty fast, and now we’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.” He consulted his next list. “Bill,” he said, “you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?”
“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their chance!”
“Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”
“It wasn’t fair,” Tessie said.
“I guess not, Joe.” Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. “My daughter draws with her husband’s family; that’s only fair. And I’ve got no other family except the kids.”
“Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned, it’s you,” Mr. Summers said in explanation, “and as far as drawing for households is concerned, that’s you, too. Right?”
“Right,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“How many kids, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked formally.
“Three,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“There’s Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And Tessie and me.”
“All right, then,” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you got their tickets back?”
Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. “Put them in the box, then,” Mr. Summers directed. “Take Bill’s and put it in.”
“I think we ought to start over,” Mrs. Hutchinson said, as quietly as she could. “I tell you it wasn’t fair. You didn’t give him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that.”
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box. and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.
“Listen, everybody,” Mrs. Hutchinson was saying to the people around her.
“Ready, Bill?” Mr. Summers asked. and Bill Hutchinson, with one quick glance around at his wife and children. nodded.
“Remember,” Mr. Summers said. “take the slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave.” Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. “Take a paper out of the box, Davy.” Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. “Take just one paper.” Mr. Summers said. “Harry, you hold it for him.” Mr. Graves took the child’s hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.
“Nancy next,” Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the box “Bill, Jr.,” Mr. Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he got a paper out. “Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly. and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
“Bill,” Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson reached into the box and felt around, bringing his hand out at last with the slip of paper in it.
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, “I hope it’s not Nancy,” and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
“It’s not the way it used to be.” Old Man Warner said clearly. “People ain’t the way they used to be.”
“All right,” Mr. Summers said. “Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave’s.”
Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and laughed. turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
“Tessie,” Mr. Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.
“It’s Tessie,” Mr. Summers said, and his voice was hushed. “Show us her paper. Bill.”
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.
“All right, folks.” Mr. Summers said. “Let’s finish quickly.”
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”
Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said. gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”
The children had stones already. And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.
By McKnight Malmar
She inserted her key in the lock and turned the knob. The March wind snatched the door out of her hand and slammed it against the wall. It took strength to close it against the pressure of the gale, and she had no sooner closed it than the rain came in a pounding downpour, beating noisily against the windows as if trying to follow her in. She could not hear the taxi as it started up and went back down the road.
She breathed a sigh of thankfulness at being home again and in time.
In rain like this, the crossroads always were flooded. Half an hour later her cab could not have got through the rising water, and there was no alternative route.
There was no light anywhere in the house. Ben was not home, then. As she turned on the lamp by the sofa she had a sense of anticlimax. All the way home-she had been visiting her sister-she had seen herself going into a lighted house, to Ben, who would be sitting by the fire with his paper. She had taken delight in picturing his happy surprise at seeing her, home a week earlier than he had expected her. She had known just how his round face would light up, how his eyes would twinkle behind his glasses, how he would catch her by the shoulders and look down into her face to see the changes a month had made in her, and then kiss her resoundingly on both cheeks, like a French general bestowing a decoration. Then she would make coffee and find a piece of cake, and they would sit together by the fire and talk.
But Ben wasn’t here. She looked at the clock on the mantel and saw it was nearly ten. Perhaps he had not planned to come home tonight, as he was not expecting her; even before she had left he frequently was in the city all night because business kept him too late to catch the last train. If he did not come soon, he would not be able to make it at all.
She did not like the thought. The storm was growing worse. She could hear the wild lash of the trees, the whistle of the wind around the corners of the little house. For the first time she regretted this move to the far suburbs. There had been neighbors at first, a quarter-mile down the road; but they moved away several months ago, and now their house stood empty.
She had thought nothing of the lonesomeness. It was perfect here–for two. She had taken such pleasure in fixing up her house–her very own house–and caring for it that she had not missed company other than Ben. But now, alone and with the storm trying to batter its way in, she found it frightening to be so far away from other people. There was no one this side of the crossroads; the road that passed the house wandered past farmland into nothingness in the thick woods a mile farther on.
She hung her hat and her coat in the closet and went to stand before the hall mirror to pin up the soft strands of hair that the wind had loosened.She did not really see the pale face with its blunt nose, the slender, almost childish figure in its grown-up black dress, or the big brown eyes that looked back at her.
She fastened the last strands into the pompadour and turned away from the mirror. Her shoulders drooped a little. There was something childlike about her, like a small girl craving protection, something immature and yet appealing, in spite of her plainness. She was thirty-one and had been married for fifteen months. The fact that she had married at all still seemed a miracle to her.
Now she began to walk through the house, turning on lights as she went.
Ben had left it in fairly good order. There was very little trace of an untidy masculine presence; but then, he was a tidy man. She began to realize that the house was cold. Of course, Ben would have lowered the thermostat. He was very careful about things like that. He would not tolerate waste.
No wonder it was cold; the thermostat was set at fifty-eight. She pushed the little needle up to seventy, and the motor in the cellar starred so suddenly and noisily that it frightened her for a moment.
She went into the kitchen and made some coffee. While she waited for it to drip she began to prowl around the lower floor. She was curiously restless and could not relax. Yet it was good to be back again among her own things, in her own home. She studied the living-room with fresh eyes. Yes, it was a pleasant room even though it was small. The bright, flowered chintzes on the furniture and at the windows were cheerful and pretty, and the lowboy she had bought three months ago was just right for the middle of the long wall. But her plants, set so bravely along the window sill, had died. Ben had forgotten to water them, in spite of all her admonitions and now they added to the depression that was beginning to blur out all the pleasure of homecoming.
She returned to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee, wishing that Ben would come home to share it with her. She carried her cup into the living-room and set it on the small, round table beside Ben’s special big chair. The furnace was still mumbling busily, sending up heat, but she was colder than ever. She shivered and got an old jacket of Ben’s from the closet and wrapped it around her before she sat down.
The wind hammered at the door and the windows, and the air was full of the sound of water, racing in the gutters, pouring from the leaders, thudding on the roof. Listening, she wished for Ben almost feverishly. She never had felt so alone. And he was such a comfort. He had been so good about her going for this long visit, made because her sister was ill. He had seen to everything and had put her on the train with her arms loaded with books and candy and fruit. She knew those farewell gifts had meant a lot to him–he didn’t spend money easily. To be quite honest, he was a little close.
But he was a good husband. She sighed unconsciously, not knowing it was because of youth and romance missed. She repeated it to herself, firmly, as she sipped her coffee. He was a good husband. Suppose he was ten years older than she, and a little set in his ways; a little–perhaps–dictatorial at times, and moody. He had given her what she thought she wanted, security and a home of her own; if security were not enough, she could not blame him for it.
Her eye caught a shred of white protruding under a magazine on the table beside her. She put out a hand toward it, yet her fingers were almost reluctant to grasp it. She pulled it out nevertheless and saw that it was, as she had known instinctively, another of the white envelopes. It was empty, and it bore, as usual, the neat, typewritten address: Benj. T. Willsom, Esq., Wildwood Road, Fairport, Conn. The postmark was New York City. It never varied.
She felt the familiar constriction about the heart as she held it in her hands. What these envelopes contained she never had known. What she did know was their effect on Ben. After receiving one–one came every month or two–he was irritable, at times almost ugly. Their peaceful life together fell apart. At first she had questioned him, had striven to soothe and comfort him; but she soon had learned that this only made him angry, and of late she had avoided any mention of them. For a week after one came they shared the same room and the same table like two strangers, in a silence that was morose on his part and a little frightened on hers.
This one was postmarked three days before. If Ben got home tonight he would probably be cross, and the storm would not help his mood. Just the same she wished he would come.
She tore the envelope into tiny pieces and tossed them into the fireplace.
The wind shook the house in its giant grip, and a branch crashed on the roof. As she straightened, a movement at the window caught her eye.
She froze there, not breathing, still half-bent toward the cold fireplace, her hand still extended. The glimmer of white at the window behind the sheeting blur of rain had been–she was sure of it–a human face. There had been eyes. She was certain there had been eyes staring in at her.
The wind’s shout took on a personal, threatening note. She was rigid for a long time, never taking her eyes from the window. Bur nothing moved there now except the water on the windowpane; beyond it there was blackness, and that was all. The only sounds were the thrashing of the trees, the roar of water, and the ominous howl of the wind.
She began to breathe again, at last found courage to turn out the light and go to the window. The darkness was a wall, impenetrable and secret, and the blackness within the house made the storm close in, as if it were a pack of wolves besieging the house. She hastened to put on the light again.
She must have imagined those staring eyes. Nobody could be out on a night like this. Nobody. Yet she found herself terribly shaken.
If only Ben would come home. If only she were not so alone.
She shivered and pulled Ben’s coat tighter about her and told herself she was becoming a morbid fool. Nevertheless, she found the aloneness intolerable. Her ears strained to hear prowling footsteps outside the windows. She became convinced that she did hear them, slow and heavy.
Perhaps Ben could be reached at the hotel where he sometimes stayed. She no longer cared whether her homecoming was a surprise to him. She wanted to hear his voice. She went to the telephone and lifted the receiver.
The line was quite dead.
The wires were down, of course.
She fought panic. The face at the window had been an illusion, a trick of the light reflected on the sluicing pane; and the sound of footsteps was an illusion, too. Actual ones would be inaudible in the noise made by the wild storm. Nobody would be out tonight. Nothing threatened her, really. The storm was held at bay beyond these walls, and in the morning the sun would shine again.
The thing to do was to make herself as comfortable as possible and settle down with a book. There was no use going to bed–she couldn’t possibly sleep. She would only lie there wide awake and think of that face at the window, hear the footsteps.
She would get some wood for a fire in the fireplace. She hesitated at the top of the cellar stairs. The light, as she switched it on, seemed insufficient; the concrete wall at the foot of the stairs was dank with moisture and somehow gruesome. And wind was chilling her ankles. Rain was beating in through the outside door to the cellar, because that door was standing open.
The inner bolt sometimes did not hold, she knew very well. If it had not been carefully closed, the wind could have loosened it. Yet the open door increased her panic. It seemed to argue the presence of something less impersonal than the gale. It took her a long minute to nerve herself to go down the steps and reach out into the darkness for the doorknob.
In just that instant she was soaked; but her darting eyes could find nothing outdoors but the black, wavering shapes of the maples at the side of the house. The wind helped her and slammed the door resoundingly. She jammed the bolt home with all her strength and then tested it to make sure it would hold. She almost sobbed with the relief of knowing it to be firm against any intruder.
She stood with her wet clothes clinging to her while the thought came that turned her bones to water. Suppose–suppose the face at the window had been real, after all. Suppose its owner had found shelter in the only shelter to be had within a quarter-mile–this cellar.
She almost flew up the stairs again, but then she took herself firmly in hand. She must not let herself go. There had been many storms before; just because she was alone in this one, she must not let morbid fancy run away with her. But she could not throw off the reasonless fear that oppressed her, although she forced it back a little. She began to hear again the tread of the prowler outside the house. Although she knew it to be imagination, it was fearfully real-the crunch of feet on gravel, slow, persistent, heavy, like the patrol of a sentinel.
She had only to get an armful of wood. Then she could have a fire, she could have light and warmth and comfort. She would forget these terrors.
The cellar smelled of dust and old moisture. The beams were fuzzed with cobwebs. There was only one light, a dim one in the corner. A little rivulet was running darkly down the wall and already had formed a foot-square pool on the floor.
The woodpile was in the far corner away from the light. She stopped and peered around. Nobody could hide here. The cellar was too open, the supporting stanchions too slender to hide a man.
The oil burner went off with a sharp click. Its mutter, she suddenly realized, had had something human and companionable about it. Nothing was down here with her now but the snarl of the storm.
She almost ran to the woodpile. Then something made her pause and turn before she bent to gather the logs.
What was it? Not a noise. Something she had seen as she hurried across that dusty floor. Something odd.
She searched with her eyes. It was a spark of light she had seen, where no spark should be.
An inexplicable dread clutched at her heart. Her eyes widened, round and dark as a frightened deer’s. Her old trunk that stood against the wall was open just a crack; from the crack came this tiny pinpoint of reflected light to prick the cellar’s gloom.
She went toward it like a woman hypnotized. It was only one more insignificant thing, like the envelope on the table, the vision of the face at the window, the open door. There was no reason for her to feel smothered in terror.
Yet she was sure she had not only closed, but clamped the lid on the trunk; she was sure because she kept two or three old coats in it, wrapped in newspapers and tightly shut away from moths.
Now the lid was raised perhaps an inch. And the twinkle of light was still there.
She threw back the lid.
For a long moment she stood looking down into the trunk, while each detail of its contents imprinted itself on her brain like an image on a film. Each tiny detail was indelibly clear and never to be forgotten.
She could not have stirred a muscle in that moment. Horror was a black cloak thrown around her, stopping her breath, hobbling her limbs.
Then her face dissolved into formlessness. She slammed down the lid and ran up the stairs like a mad thing. She was breathing again, in deep, sobbing breaths that tore at her lungs. She shut the door at the top of the stairs with a crash that shook the house; then she turned the key. Gasping she clutched one of the sturdy maple chairs by the kitchen table and wedged it under the knob with hands she could barely control.
The wind rook the house in its teeth and shook it as a dog shakes a rat.
Her first impulse was to get out of the house. But in the time it took to get to the front door she remembered the face at the window.
Perhaps she had not imagined it. Perhaps it was the face of a murderer–a murderer waiting for her out there in the storm; ready to spring on her out of the dark.
She fell into the big chair, her huddled body shaken by great tremors.
She could not stay here–not with that thing in her trunk. Yet she dared nor leave. Her whole being cried out for Ben. He would know what to do. She closed her eyes, opened them again, rubbed them hard. The picture still burned into her brain as if it had been etched with acid. Her hair, loosened, fell in soft straight wisps about her forehead, and her mouth was slack with terror.
Her old trunk had held the curled-up body of a woman.
She had not seen the face; the head had been tucked down into the hollow of the shoulder, and a shower of fair hair had fallen over it. The woman had worn a red dress. One hand had rested near the edge of the trunk, and on its third finger there had been a man’s ring, a signet bearing the raised figure of a rampant lion with a small diamond between its paws. It had been the diamond that caught the light. The little bulb in the corner of the cellar had picked out this ring from the semidarkness and made it stand out like a beacon.
She never would be able to forget it. Never forget how the woman looked: the pale, luminous flesh of her arms; her doubled-up knees against the side of the trunk, with their silken covering shining softly in the gloom; the strands of hair that covered her face. . .
Shudders continued to shake her. She bit her tongue and pressed her hand against her jaw to stop the chattering of her teeth. The salty taste of blood in her mouth steadied her. She tried to force herself to be rational, to plan; yet all the time the knowledge that she was imprisoned with the body of a murdered woman kept beating at her nerves like a flail.
She drew the coat closer about her, trying to dispel the mortal cold that held her. Slowly something beyond the mere fact of murder, of death, began to penetrate her mind. Slowly she realized that beyond this ‘fact there would be consequences. That body in the cellar was not an isolated phenomenon; some train of events had led to its being there and would follow its discovery there.
There would be policemen.
At first the thought of policemen was a comforting one; big, brawny men in blue, who would take the thing out of her cellar, take it away so she never need think of it again.
Then she realized it was her cellar–hers and Ben’s; and policemen are suspicious and prying. Would they think she killed the woman? Could they be made to believe she never had seen her before?
Or would they think Ben had done it? Would they take the letters in the white envelopes, and Ben’s absences on business, and her own visit to her sister, about which Ben was so helpful, and out of them build a double life for him? Would they insist that the woman had been a discarded mistress, who had hounded him with letters until out of desperation he had killed her?
That was a fantastic theory, really; but the police might do that.
Now a sudden new panic invaded her. The dead woman must be taken out of the cellar, must be hidden. The police must never connect her with this house.
Yet the dead woman was bigger than she herself was; she could never move her.
Her craving for Ben became a frantic need. If only he would come home!
Come home and take that body away, hide it somewhere so the police could not connect it with this house. He was strong enough to do it.
Even with the strength to move the body by herself she would not dare do it, because there was the prowler–real or imaginary–outside the house. Perhaps the cellar door had not been open by chance. Or perhaps it had been, and the murderer, seeing it so welcoming, had seized the opportunity to plant the evidence of his crime upon the Willsoms’ innocent shoulders.
She crouched there, shaking. It was as if the jaws of a great trap had closed on her: on one side the storm and the silence of the telephone, on the other the presence of the prowler and of that still, cramped figure in her trunk. She was caught between them, helpless.
As if to accent her helplessness, the wind stepped up its shriek and a tree crashed thunderously out in the road. She heard glass shatter.
Her quivering body stiffened like a drawn bow. Was it the prowler attempting to get in? She forced herself to her feet and made a round of the windows on the first floor and the one above. All the glass was intact, staunchly resisting the pounding of the rain.
Nothing could have made her go into the cellar to see if anything had happened there.
The voice of the storm drowned out all other sounds, yet she could not rid herself of the fancy that she heard footsteps going round and round the house, that eyes sought an opening and spied upon her.
She pulled the shades down over the shiny black windows. It helped a little to make her feel more secure, more sheltered; but only a very little. She told herself sternly that the crash of glass had been nothing more than a branch blown through a cellar window.
The thought brought her no comfort–just the knowledge that it would not disturb that other woman. Nothing could comfort her now but Ben’s plump shoulder and his arms around her and his neat, capable mind planning to remove the dead woman from this house.
A kind of numbness began to come over her, as if her capacity for fear were exhausted. She went back to the chair and curled up in it. She prayed mutely for Ben and for daylight.
The clock said half-past twelve.
She huddled there, not moving and not thinking, not even afraid, only numb for another hour. Then the storm held its breath for a moment, and in the brief space of silence she heard footsteps on the walk–actual footsteps, firm and quick and loud. A key turned in the lock. The door opened and Ben came in.
He was dripping, dirty, and white with exhaustion. But it was Ben. Once she was sure of it she flung herself on him, babbling incoherently of what she had found.
He kissed her lightly on the cheek and took her arms down from around his neck. “Here, here, my dear. You’ll get soaked. I’m drenched to the skin.” He removed his glasses and handed them to her, and she began to dry them for him. His eyes squinted at the light. “I had to walk in from the crossroads. What a night!” He began to strip off rubbers and coat and Shoes. “You’ll never know what a difference it made, finding the place lighted. Lord, but it’s good to be home.”
She tried again to tell him of the past hours, but again he cut her short.
“Now, wait a minute, my dear. I can see you’re bothered abbot something. Just wait until I get into some dry things; then I’ll come down and we’ll straighten it out. Suppose you rustle up some coffee and toast. I’m done up-the whole trip oUt was a nightmare, and I didn’t know if I’d ever make it from the crossing. I’ve been hours.”
He did look tired, she thought with concern. Now that he was back, she could wait. The past hours had taken on the quality of a nightmare, horrifying but curiously unreal. With Ben here, so solid and commonplace and cheerful, she began to wonder if the hours were nightmare. She even began to doubt the reality of the woman in the trunk, although she cou]d see her as vividly as ever. Perhaps only the storm was real.
She went to the kitchen and began to make fresh coffee. The chair, still wedged against the kitchen door, was a reminder of her terror. Now that Ben was home it seemed silly, and she put it back in its place by the table.
He came down very soon, before the coffee was ready. How good it was to see him in that old gray bathrobe of his, his hands thrust into its pockets. How normal and wholesome he looked with his round face rubbed pink by a rough towel and his hair standing up in damp little spikes around his bald spot. She was almost shamefaced when she told him of the face at the window, the open door, and finally of the body in the trunk. None of it, she saw quite clearly now, could possibly have happened.
Ben said so, without hesitation. But he came to put an arm around her, “You poor child, The storm scared you to death, and I don’t wonder. It’s given you the horrors.”
She smiled dubiously, “Yes, I’m almost beginning to think so, Now that you’re back, it seems so safe. But-but you will look in the trunk, Ben? I’ve got to know. I can see her so plainly, How could I imagine a thing like that?”
He said indulgently, “Of course I’ll look, if it will make you feel better, I’ll do it now, Then I can have my coffee in peace,”
He went to the cellar door and opened it and snapped on the light. Her heart began to pound once more, a deafening roar in her ears. The opening of the cellar door opened, again, the whole vista of fear: the body, the police, the suspicions that would cluster about her and Ben, The need to hide this evidence of somebody’s crime.
She could not have imagined it; it was incredible that she could have believed, for a minute, that her mind had played such tricks on her, In another moment Ben would know it, too.
She heard the thud as he threw back the lid of the trunk. She clutched at the back of a chair, waiting for his voice. It came in an instant.
She could not believe it. It was as cheerful and reassuring as before, He said, “There’s nothing here but a couple of bundles, Come take a look.”
Her knees were weak as she went down the stairs, down into the cellar again.
It was still musty and damp and draped with cobwebs. The rivulet was still running down the wall, but the pool was larger now. The light was still dim.
It was just as she remembered it except that the wind was whistling through a broken window and rain was splattering in on the bits of shattered glass on the floor. The branch lying across the sill had removed every scrap of glass from the frame and left not a single jagged edge.
Ben was standing by the open trunk, waiting for her, His stocky body was a bulwark, “See,” he said, “there’s nothing, Just some old clothes of yours, I guess.”
She went to stand beside him, Was she losing her mind? Would she, now, see that crushed figure in there, see the red dress and the smooth shining knees, when Ben could not? And the ring with the diamond between the lion’s paws?
Her eyes looked, almost reluctantly, into the trunk, “It is empty!”
There were the neat, newspaper-wrapped packages she had put away so carefully, just as she had left them deep in the bottom of the trunk, And nothing else.
She must have imagined the body. She was light with the relief the knowledge brought her, and yet confused and frightened, too. If her mind could play such tricks, if she could imagine anything so gruesome in the complete detail with which she had seen the dead woman in the trunk, the thought of the future was terrifying. When might she not have another such hallucination?
The actual, physical danger did not exist, however, and never existed, The threat of the law hanging over Ben had been based on a dream.
“I–dreamed it all, I must have,” she admitted, “Yet it was so horribly clear and I wasn’t asleep,” Her voice broke, “I thought–oh, Ben, I thought-”
“What did you think, my dear?” His voice was odd, not like Ben’s at all, It had a cold cunning edge to it.
He stood looking down at her with an immobility that chilled her more than the cold wind that swept in through the broken window. She tried to read his face, but the light from the little bulb was too weak. It left his features shadowed in broad, dark planes that made him look like a stranger, and somehow sinister.
She said, “I–” and faltered, He still did not move, but his voice hardened. “What was it you thought?”
She backed away from him.
He moved, then, It was only to take his hands from his pockets to stretch his arms toward her; but she stood for an instant staring at the thing that left her stricken, with a voiceless scream forming in her throat.
She was never to know whether his arms had been outstretched to take her within their shelter or to clutch at her white neck. For she turned and lied, stumbling up the stairs in a mad panic of escape.
He shouted, “Janet! Janet!” His steps were heavy behind her. He tripped on the bottom step and fell on one knee and cursed.
Terror lent her strength and speed. She could not be mistaken, Although she had seen it only once, she knew that on the little finger of his left hand there had been the same, the unmistakable ring the dead woman had worn.
The blessed wind snatched the front door from her and flung it wide, and she was out in the safe, dark shelter of the storm.
by Ring Lardner
I got another barber that comes over from Carterville and helps me out Saturdays, but the rest of the time I can get along all right alone. You can see for yourself that this ain’t no New York: City and besides that, the most of the boys works all day and don’t have no leisure to drop in here and get themselves prettied up.
You’re a newcomer, ain’t you? I thought I hadn’t seen you round before. I hope you like it good enough to stay. As I say, we ain’t no New York City or Chicago, but we have pretty good times. Not as good, though, since Jim Kendall got killed. When he was alive, him and Hod Meyers used to keep this town in an uproar. I bet they was more laughin’ done here than any town its size in America.
Jim was comical, and Hod was pretty near a match for him. Since Jim’s gone, Hod tries to hold his end up just the same as ever, but it’s tough goin’ when you ain’t got nobody to kind of work with.
They used to be plenty fun in here Saturdays. This place is jampacked Saturdays, from four o’clock on. Jim and Hod would show up right after their supper round six o’clock. Jim would set himself down in that big chair, nearest the blue spittoon. Whoever had been settin’ in that chair, why they’d get up when Jim come in and at” it to him.
You’d of thought it was a reserved seat like they have sometimes in a theaytre. Hod would generally always stand or walk up and down or some Saturdays, of course, he’d be settin’ in this chair part of the time, gettin’ a haircut.
Well, Jim would set there a w’ile without opening his mouth only to spit, and then finally he’d say to me, “Whitey,”–my right name, that is, my right first name, is Dick, but everybody round here calls me Whitey–Jim would say, “Whitey, your nose looks like a rosebud tonight. You must of been drinkin’ some of your aw de cologne.”
So I’d say, “No, Jim, but you look like you’d been drinkin’ something of that kind or somethin’ worse.”
Jim would have to laugh at that, but then he’d speak up and say, “No, I ain’t had nothin’ to drink, but that ain’t sayin’ I wouldn’t like somethin’. I wouldn’t even mind if it was wood alcohol.”
Then Hod Meyers would say, “Neither would your wife.” That would set everybody to laughin’ because Jim and his wife wasn’t on very good terms. She’d of divorced him only they wasn’t no chance to get alimony and she didn’t have no way to take care of herself and the kids. She couldn’t never understand Jim. He was kind of rough, but a good fella at heart.
Him and Hod had all kinds of sport with Milt Sheppard. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Milt. Well, he’s got an Adam’s apple that looks more like a mush-melon. So I’d be shavin’ Milt and when I’d start to shave down here on his neck, Hod would holler, “Hey, Whitey, wait a minute! Before you cut into it, let’s make up a pool and see who can guess closest to the number of seeds.”
And Jim would say, “If Milt hadn’t of been so hoggish, he’d of ordered a half a cantaloupe instead of a whole one and it might not of stuck in his throat.”
All the boys would roar at this and Milt himself would force a smile, though the joke was on him. Jim certainly was a card!
There’s his shavin’ mug, setting on the shelf, right next to Charley Vail’s. “Charles M. Vail.” That’s the druggist. He comes in regular for his shave, three times a week. And Jim’s is the cup next to Charley’s. “dames H. Kendall.” Jim won’t need no shavin’ mug no more, but I’ll leave it there just the same for old time’s sake. Jim certainly was a character!
Years ago, Jim used to travel for a canned goods concern over in Carterville. They sold canned goods. Jim had the whole northern half of the State and was on the road five days out of every week. He’d drop in here Saturdays and tell his experiences for that week. It was rich.
I guess he paid more attention to playin’ jokes than makin’ sales. Finally the concern let him out and he come right home here and told everybody he’d been fired instead of sayin’ he’d resigned like most fellas would of.
It was a Saturday and the shop was full and Jim got up out of that chair and says, “Gentlemen, I got an important announcement to make. I been fired from my job.”
Well, they asked him if he was in earnest and he said he was and nobody could think of nothin’ to say till Jim finally broke the ice himself. He says, “I been sellin’ canned goods and now I’m canned goods myself.
You see, the concern he’d been workin’ for was a factory that made canned goods. Over in Carterville. And now Jim said he was canned himself. He was certainly a card!
Jim had a great trick that he used to play w’ile he was travelin’. For instance, he’d be ridin’ on a train and they’d come to some little town like, well, like, well, like, we’ll say, like Benton. Jim would look out the train window and read the signs of the stores.
For instance, they’d be a sign, “Henry Smith, Dry Goods.” Well, Jim would write down the name and the name of the town and when he got to wherever he was goin’ he’d mail back a postal card to Henry Smith at Benton and not sign no name to it, but he’d write on the card, well somethin’ like “Ask your wife about that book agent that spent the afternoon last week,” or “Ask your Missus who kept her from gettin’ lonesome the last time you was in Carterville.” And he’d sign the card, “A Friend.”
Of course, he never knew what really come of none of these jokes, but he could picture what probably happened and that was enough.
Jim didn’t work very steady after he lost his position with the Carterville people. What he did earn, coin’ odd jobs round town why he spent pretty near all of it on gin, and his family might of starved if the stores hadn’t of carried them along. Jim’s wife tried her hand at dressmakin’, but they ain’t nobody goin’ to get rich makin’ dresses in this town.
As I say, she’d of divorced Jim, only she seen that she couldn’t support herself and the kids and she was always hopin’ that some day Jim would cut out his habits and give her more than two or three dollars a week.
They was a time when she would go to whoever he was workin’ for and ask them to give her his wages, but after she done this once or twice, he beat her to it by borrowin’ most of his pay in advance. He told it all round town, how he had outfoxed his Missus. He certainly was a caution!
But he wasn’t satisfied with just outwittin’ her. He was sore the way she had acted, tryin’ to grab off his pay. And he made up his mind he’d get even. Well, he waited till Evans’s Circus was advertised to come to town. Then he told his wife and two kiddies that he was goin’ to take them to the circus. The day of the circus, he told them he would get the tickets and meet them outside the entrance to the tent.
Well, he didn’t have no intentions of bein’ there or buyin’ tickets or nothin’. He got full of gin and laid round Wright’s poolroom all day. His wife and the kids waited and waited and of course he didn’t show up. His wife didn’t have a dime with her, or nowhere else, I guess. So she finally had to tell the kids it was all off and they cried like they wasn’t never goin’ to stop.
Well, it seems, w’ile they was cryin’, Doc Stair come along and he asked what was the matter, but Mrs. Kendall was stubborn and wouldn’t tell him, but the kids told him and he insisted on takin’ them and their mother in the show. Jim found this out afterwards and it was one reason why he had it in for Doc Stair.
Doc Stair come here about a year and a half ago. He’s a mighty handsome young fella and his clothes always look like he has them made to order. He goes to Detroit two or three times a year and w’ile he’s there must have a tailor take his measure and then make him a suit to order. They cost pretty near twice as much, but they fit a whole lot better than if you just bought them in a store.
For a w’ile everybody was wonderin’ why a young doctor like Doc Stair should come to a town like this where we already got old Doc Gamble and Doc Foote that’s both been here for years and all the practice in town was always divided between the two of them.
Then they was a story got round that Doc Stair’s gal had thronged him over, a gal up in the Northern Peninsula somewhere, and the reason he come here was to hide himself away and forget it. He said himself that he thought they wasn’t nothin’ like general practice in a place like ours to fit a man to be a good all round doctor. And that’s why he’d came.
Anyways, it wasn’t long before he was makin’ enough to live on, though they tell me that he never dunned nobody for what they owed him, and the folks here certainly has got the owin’ habit, even in my business. If I had all that was comin’ to me for just shaves alone, I could go to Carterville and put up at the Mercer for a week and see a different picture every night. For instance, they’s old George Purdy–but I guess I shouldn’t ought to be gossipin’.
Well, last year, our coroner died, died of the flu. Ken Beatty, that was his name. He was the coroner. So they had to choose another man to be coroner in his place and they picked Doc Stair. He laughed at first and said he didn’t want it, but they made him take it. It ain’t no job that anybody would fight for and what a man makes out of it in a year would just about buy seeds for their garden. Doc’s the kind, though, that can’t say no to nothin’ if you keep at him long enough.
But I was goin’ to tell you about a poor boy we got here in town-Paul Dickson. He fell out of a tree when he was about ten years old. Lit on his head and it done somethin’ to him and he ain’t never been right. No harm in him, but just silly. Jim Kendall used to call him cuckoo; that’s a name Jim had for anybody that was off their head, only he called people’s head their bean. That was another of his gags, callin’ head bean and callin’ crazy people cuckoo. Only poor Paul ain’t crazy, but just silly.
You can imagine that Jim used to have all kinds of fun with Paul. He’d send him to the White Front Garage for a left-handed monkey wrench. Of course they ain’t no such thing as a left-handed monkey wrench.
And once we had a kind of a fair here and they was a baseball game between the fats and the leans and before the game started Jim called Paul over and sent him way down to Schrader’s hardware store to get a key for the pitcher’s box.
They wasn’t nothin’ in the way of gags that Jim couldn’t think up, when he put his mind to it.
Poor Paul was always kind of suspicious of people, maybe on account of how Jim had kept foolin’ him. Paul wouldn’t have much to do with anybody only his own mother and Doc Stair and a girl here in town named Julie Gregg. That is, she ain’t a girl no more, but pretty near thirty or over.
When Doc first come to town, Paul seemed to feel like here was a real friend and he hung round Doc’s office most of the w’ile; the only time he wasn’t there was when he’d go home to eat or sleep or when he seen Julie Gregg coin’ her shoppin’.
When he looked out Doc’s window and seen her, he’d run downstairs and join her and tag along with her to the different stores. The poor boy was crazy about Julie and she always treated him mighty nice and made him feel like he was welcome, though of course it wasn’t nothin’ but pity on her side.
Doc done all he could to improve Paul’s mind and he told me once that he really thought the boy was getting better, that they was times when he was as bright and sensible as anybody else.
But I was goin’ to tell you about Julie Gregg. Old man Gregg was in the lumber business, but got to drinkin’ and lost the most of his money and when he died, he didn’t leave nothin’ but the house and just enough insurance for the girl to skimp along on.
Her mother was a kind of a half invalid and didn’t hardly ever leave the house. Julie wanted to sell the place and move somewhere else after the old man died, but the mother said she was born here and would die here. It was tough on Julie as the young people round this town–well, she’s too good for them.
She’d been away to school and Chicago and New York and different places and they ain’t no subject she can’t talk on, where you take the rest of the young folks here and you mention anything to them outside of Gloria Swanson or Tommy Meighan and they think you’re delirious. Did you see Gloria in Wages of Virtue? You missed somethin’!
Well, Doc Stair hadn’t been here more than a week when he came in one day to get shaved and I recognized who he was, as he had been pointed out to me, so I told him about my old lady. She’s been ailin’ for a couple years and either Doc Gamble or Doc Foote, neither one, seemed to be helpin’ her. So he said he would come out and see her, but if she was able to get out herself, it would be better to bring her to his office where he could make a completer examination.
So I took her to his office and w’ile I was waitin’ for her in the reception room, in come Julie Gregg. When somebody comes in Doc Stair’s office, they’s a bell that rings in his inside office so he can tell they’s somebody to see him.
So he left my old lady inside and come out to the front office and that’s the first time him and Julie met and I guess it was what they call love at first sight. But it wasn’t fifty-fifty. This young fella was the slickest lookin’ fella she’d ever seen in this town and she went wild over him. To him she was just a young lady that wanted to see the doctor.
She’d came on about the same business I had. Her mother had been doctorin’ for years with Doc Gamble and Doc Foote and with” out no results. So she’d heard they was a new doc in town and decided to give him a try. He promised to call and see her mother that same day.
I said a minute ago that it was love at first sight on her part. I’m not only judgin’ by how she acted afterwards but how she looked at him that first day in his office. I ain’t no mind reader, but it was wrote all over her face that she was gone.
Now Jim Kendall, besides bein’ a jokesmith and a pretty good drinker, well Jim was quite a lady-killer. I guess he run pretty wild durin’ the time he was on the road for them Carterville people, and besides that, he’d had a couple little affairs of the heart right here in town. As I say, his wife would have divorced him, only she couldn’t.
But Jim was like the majority of men, and women, too, I guess. He wanted what he couldn’t get. He wanted Julie Gregg and worked his head off tryin’ to land her. Only he’d of said bean instead of head.
Well, Jim’s habits and his jokes didn’t appeal to Julie and of course he was a married man, so he didn’t have no more chance than, well, than a rabbit. That’s an expression of Jim’s himself. When somebody didn’t have no chance to get elected or somethin’, Jim would always say they didn’t have no more chance than a rabbit.
He didn’t make no bones about how he felt. Right in here, more than once, in front of the whole crowd, he said he was stuck on Julie and anybody that could get her for him was welcome to his house and his wife and kids included. But she wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with him; wouldn’t even speak to him on the street. He finally seen he wasn’t gettin’ nowheres with his usual line so he decided to try the rough stuff. He went right up to her house one evenin’ and when she opened the door he forced his way in and grabbed her. But she broke loose and before he could stop her, she run in the next room and locked the door and phoned to Joe Barnes. Joe’s the marshal. Jim could hear who she was phonin’ to and he beat it before Joe got there.
Joe was an old friend of Julie’s pa. Joe went to Jim the next day and told him what would happen if he ever done it again.
I don’t know how the news of this little affair leaked out. Chances is that Joe Barnes told his wife and she told somebody else’s wife and they told their husband. Anyways, it did leak out and Hod Meyers had the nerve to kid Jim about it, right here in this shop. Jim didn’t deny nothin’ and kind of laughed it off and said for us all to wait; that lots of people had tried to make a monkey out of him, but he always got even.
Meanw’ile everybody in town was wise to Julie’s bein’ wild mad over the Doc. I don’t suppose she had any idea how her face changed when him and her was together; of course she couldn’t of, or she’d of kept away from him. And she didn’t know that we was all noticin’ how many times she made excuses to go up to his office or pass it on the other side of the street and look up in his window to see if he was there. I felt sorry for her and so did most other people.
Hod Meyers kept rubbin’ it into Jim about how the Doc had cut him out. Jim didn’t pay no attention to the kiddie’ and you could see he was plannin’ one of his jokes.
One trick Jim had was the knack of changin’ his voice. He could make you think he was a girl talkie’ and he could mimic any man’s voice. To show you how good he was along this line, I’ll tell you the joke he played on me once.
You know, in most towns of any size, when a man is dead and needs a shave, why the barber that shaves him soaks him five dollars for the job; that is, he don’t soak him, but whoever ordered the shave. I just charge three dollars because personally I don’t mind much shavin’ a dead person. They lay a whole lot stiller than live customers. The only thing is that you don’t feel like talkie’ to them and you get kind of lonesome.
Well, about the coldest day we ever had here, two years ago last winter, the phone rung at the house w’ile I was home to dinner and I answered the phone and it was a woman’s voice and she said she was Mrs. John Scott and her husband was dead and would I come out and shave him.
Old John had always been a good customer of mine. But they live seven miles out in the country, on the Streeter road. Still I didn’t see how I could say no.
So I said I would be there, but would have to come in a jitney and it might cost three or four dollars besides the price of the shave. So she, or the voice, it said that was all right, so I got Frank Abbott to drive me out to the place and when I got there, who should open the door but old John himself! He wasn’t no more dead than, well, than a rabbit.
It didn’t take no private detective to figure out who had played me this little joke. Nobody could of thought it up but Jim Kendall. He certainly was a card!
I tell you this incident just to show you how he could disguise his voice and make you believe it was somebody else talkie’. I’d of swore it was Mrs. Scott had called me. Anyways, some woman.
Well, Jim waited till he had Doc Stair’s voice down pat; then he went after revenge.
He called Julie up on a night when he knew Doc was over in Carterville. She never questioned but what it was Doc’s voice. Jim said he must see her that night; he couldn’t wait no longer to tell her somethin’. She was all excited and told him to come to the house. But he said he was expectin’ an important long distance call and wouldn’t she please forget her manners for once and come to his office. He said they couldn’t nothin’ hurt her and nobody would see her and he just must talk to her a little w’ile. Well, poor Julie fell for it.
Doc always keeps a night light in his office, so it looked to Julie like they was somebody there.
Meanw’ile Jim Kendall had went to Wright’s poolroom, where they was a whole gang amusin’ themselves. The most of them had drank plenty of gin, and they was a rough bunch even when sober. They was always strong for Jim’s jokes and when he told them to come with him and see some fun they give up their card games and pool games and followed along.
Doc’s office is on the second floor. Right outside his door they’s a flight of stairs leadin’ to the floor above. Jim and his gang hid in the dark behind these stairs.
Well, tulle come up to Doc’s door and rung the bell and they was nothin’ coin’. She rung it again and she rung it seven or eight times. Then she tried the door and found it locked. Then Jim made some kind of a noise and she heard it and waited a minute, and then she says, “Is that you, Ralph?” Ralph is Doc’s first name.
They was no answer and it must of came to her all of a sudden that she’d been bunked. She pretty near fell downstairs and the whole gang after her. They chased her all the way home, hollerin’, “Is that you, Ralph?” and “Oh, Ralphie, dear, is that you?” Jim says he couldn’t holler it himself, as he was laughin’ too hard.
Poor Julie! She didn’t show up here on Main Street for a long, long time afterward.
And of course Jim and his gang told everybody in town, everybody but Doc Stair. They was scared to tell him, and he might of never knowed only for Paul Dickson. The poor cuckoo, as Jim called him, he was here in the shop one night when Jim was still gloatin’ yet over what he’d done to Julie. And Paul took in as much of it as he could understand and he run to Doc with the story.
It’s a cinch Doc went up in the air and swore he’d make Jim suffer. But it was a kind of a delicate thing, because if it got out that he had beat Jim up, Julie was bound to hear of it and then she’d know that Doc knew and of course knowin’ that he knew would make it worse for her than ever. He was goin’ to do somethin’, but it took a lot of figurin’.
Well, it was a couple days later when Jim was here in the shop again, and so was the cuckoo. Jim was goin’ duck-shootin’ the next day and had come in lookin’ for Hod Meyers to go with him. I happened to know that Hod had went over to Carterville and wouldn’t be home till the end of the week. So Jim said he hated to go alone and he guessed he would call it off. Then poor Paul spoke up and said if Jim would take him he would go along. Jim thought a w’ile and then he said, well, he guessed a half-wit was better than nothin’.
I suppose he was plottin’ to get Paul out in the boat and play some joke on him, like pushin’ him in the water. Anyways, he said Paul could go. He asked him had he ever shot a duck and Paul said no, he’d never even had a gun in his hands. So Jim said he could set in the boat and watch him and if he behaved himself, he might lend him his gun for a couple of shots. They made a date to meet in the mornin’ and that’s the last I seen of Jim alive.
Next mornin’, I hadn’t been open more than ten minutes when Doc Stair come in. He looked kind of nervous. He asked me had I seen Paul Dickson. I said no, but I knew where he was, out duckshootin’ with Jim Kendall. So Doc says that’s what he had heard, and he couldn’t understand it because Paul had told him he wouldn’t never have no more to do with Jim as long as he lived.
He said Paul had told him about the joke Jim had played on Julie. He said Paul had asked him what he thought of the joke and the Doc told him that anybody that would do a thing like that ought not to be let live. I said it had been a kind of a raw thing, but Jim just couldn’t resist no kind of a joke, no matter how raw. I said I thought he was all right at heart, but just bubblin’ over with mischief. Doc turned and walked out.
At noon he got a phone call from old John Scott. The lake where Jim and Paul had went shootin’ is on John’s place. Paul had came runnin’ up to the house a few minutes before and said they’d been an accident. Jim had shot a few ducks and then give the gun to Paul and told him to try his luck. Paul hadn’t never handled a gun and he was nervous. He was shakin’ so hard that he couldn’t control the gun. He let fire and Jim sunk back in the boat, dead.
Doc Stair, bein’ the coroner, jumped in Frank Abbott’s flivver and rushed out to Scott’s farm. Paul and old John was down on the shore of the lake. Paul had rowed the boat to shore, but they’d left the body in it, waiting for Doc to come.
Doc examined the body and said they might as well fetch it back to town. They was no use leavin’ it there or callin’ a jury, as it was a plain case of accidental shootin’.
Personally I wouldn’t never leave a person shoot a gun in the same boat I was in unless I was sure they knew somethin’ about guns. Jim was a sucker to leave a new beginner have his gun, let alone a half-wit. It probably served Jim right, what he got. But still we miss him round here. He certainly was a card! Comb it wet or dry?
by Ernest Hemingway
The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.
‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.
‘Let’s drink beer.’
‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.
‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.
‘Yes. Two big ones.’
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.
‘No, you wouldn’t have.’
‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’
The girl looked at the bead curtain. ‘They’ve painted something on it,’ she said. ‘What does it say?’
‘Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.’
‘Could we try it?’
The man called ‘Listen’ through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.
‘Four reales.’ ‘We want two Anis del Toro.’
‘Do you want it with water?’
‘I don’t know,’ the girl said. ‘Is it good with water?’
‘It’s all right.’
‘You want them with water?’ asked the woman.
‘Yes, with water.’
‘It tastes like liquorice,’ the girl said and put the glass down.
‘That’s the way with everything.’
‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.’
‘Oh, cut it out.’
‘You started it,’ the girl said. ‘I was being amused. I was having a fine time.’
‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’
‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’
‘That was bright.’
‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’
‘I guess so.’
The girl looked across at the hills.
‘They’re lovely hills,’ she said. ‘They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees.’
‘Should we have another drink?’
The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.
‘The beer’s nice and cool,’ the man said.
‘It’s lovely,’ the girl said.
‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’
The girl did not say anything.
‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’
‘Then what will we do afterwards?’
‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’
‘What makes you think so?’
‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’
The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.
‘And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.’
‘I know we will. Yon don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.’
‘So have I,’ said the girl. ‘And afterwards they were all so happy.’
‘Well,’ the man said, ‘if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.’
‘And you really want to?’
‘I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.’
‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’
‘I love you now. You know I love you.’
‘I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’
‘I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.’
‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’
‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’
‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t care about me.’
‘Well, I care about you.’
‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.’
‘I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.’
The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.
‘And we could have all this,’ she said. ‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I said we could have everything.’
‘We can have everything.’
‘No, we can’t.’
‘We can have the whole world.’
‘No, we can’t.’
‘We can go everywhere.’
‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’
‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.’
‘But they haven’t taken it away.’
‘We’ll wait and see.’
‘Come on back in the shade,’ he said. ‘You mustn’t feel that way.’
‘I don’t feel any way,’ the girl said. ‘I just know things.’
‘I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do -’
‘Nor that isn’t good for me,’ she said. ‘I know. Could we have another beer?’
‘All right. But you’ve got to realize – ‘
‘I realize,’ the girl said. ‘Can’t we maybe stop talking?’
They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.
‘You’ve got to realize,’ he said, ‘ that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.’
‘Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.’
‘Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.’
‘Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.’
‘It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.’
‘Would you do something for me now?’
‘I’d do anything for you.’
‘Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?’
He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.
‘But I don’t want you to,’ he said, ‘I don’t care anything about it.’
‘I’ll scream,’ the girl siad.
The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. ‘The train comes in five minutes,’ she said.
‘What did she say?’ asked the girl.
‘That the train is coming in five minutes.’
The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.
‘I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,’ the man said. She smiled at him.
‘All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.’
He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.
‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.
‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’
by Virginia Woolf
Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure—a ghostly couple.
“Here we left it,” she said. And he added, “Oh, but here too!” “It’s upstairs,” she murmured. “And in the garden,” he whispered. “Quietly,” they said, “or we shall wake them.”
But it wasn’t that you woke us. Oh, no. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.
But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat softly. “The treasure buried; the room …” the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?
A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. “Safe, safe, safe,” the pulse of the house beat gladly. “The Treasure yours.”
The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.
“Here we slept,” she says. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning—” “Silver between the trees—” “Upstairs—” “In the garden—” “When summer came—” “In winter snowtime—” The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.
Nearer they come; cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. “Look,” he breathes. “Sound asleep. Love upon their lips.”
Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.
“Safe, safe, safe,” the heart of the house beats proudly. “Long years—” he sighs. “Again you found me.” “Here,” she murmurs, “sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure—” Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.”
by Ernest Hemingway
It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the day time the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.
“Last week he tried to commit suicide,” one waiter said.
“He was in despair.”
“How do you know it was nothing?”
“He has plenty of money.”
They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the cafe and looked at the terrace where the tables were all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him.
“The guard will pick him up,” one waiter said.
“What does it matter if he gets what he’s after?”
“He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago.”
The old man sitting in the shadow rapped on his saucer with his glass. The younger waiter went over to him.
“What do you want?”
The old man looked at him. “Another brandy,” he said.
“You’ll be drunk,” the waiter said. The old man looked at him. The waiter went away.
“He’ll stay all night,” he said to his colleague. “I’m sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o’clock. He should have killed himself last week.”
The waiter took the brandy bottle and another saucer from the counter inside the cafe and marched out to the old man’s table. He put down the saucer and poured the glass full of brandy.
“You should have killed yourself last week,” he said to the deaf man. The old man motioned with his finger. “A little more,” he said. The waiter poured on into the glass so that the brandy slopped over and ran down the stem into the top saucer of the pile.”Thank you,” the old man said. The waiter took the bottle back inside the cafe. He sat down at the table with his colleague again.
“He’s drunk now,” he said.
“He’s drunk every night.”
“What did he want to kill himself for?”
“How should I know.”
“How did he do it?”
“He hung himself with a rope.”
“Who cut him down?”
“Why did they do it?”
“Fear for his soul.”
“How much money has he got?”
“He’s got plenty.”
“He must be eighty years old.”
“Anyway I should say he was eighty.”
“I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock.What kind of hour is that to go to bed?”
“He stays up because he likes it.”
“He’s lonely. I’m not lonely. I have a wife waiting in bed for me.”
“He had a wife once too.”
“A wife would be no good to him now.”
“You can’t tell. He might be better with a wife.”
“His niece looks after him. You said she cut him down.”
“I wouldn’t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing.”
“Not always. This old man is clean. He drinks without spilling. Even now, drunk. Look at him.”
“I don’t want to look at him. I wish he would go home. He has no regard for those who must work.”
The old man looked from his glass across the square, then over at the waiters.
“Another brandy,” he said, pointing to his glass. The waiter who was in a hurry came over.
“Finished,” he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. “No more tonight. Close now.”
“Another,” said the old man.
“No. Finished.” The waiter wiped the edge of the table with a towel and shook his head.
The old man stood up, slowly counted the saucers, took a leather coin purse from his pocket and paid for the drinks, leaving half a peseta tip. The waiter watched him go down the street, a very old man walking unsteadily but with dignity.
“Why didn’t you let him stay and drink?” the unhurried waiter asked. They were putting up the shutters. “It is not half-past two.”
“I want to go home to bed.”
“What is an hour?”
“More to me than to him.”
“An hour is the same.”
“You talk like an old man yourself. He can buy a bottle and drink at home.”
“It’s not the same.”
“No, it is not,” agreed the waiter with a wife. He did not wish to be unjust. He was only in a hurry.
“And you? You have no fear of going home before your usual hour?”
“Are you trying to insult me?”
“No, hombre, only to make a joke.”
“No,” the waiter who was in a hurry said, rising from pulling down the metal shutters. “I have confidence. I am all confidence.”
“You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older waiter said.”You have everything.”
“And what do you lack?”
“Everything but work.”
“You have everything I have.”
“No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.”
“Come on. Stop talking nonsense and lock up.”
“I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe,” the older waiter said.
“With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.”
“I want to go home and into bed.”
“We are of two different kinds,” the older waiter said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the cafe.”
“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”
“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”
“Good night,” said the younger waiter.
“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y naday pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.
“What’s yours?” asked the barman.
“Otro loco mas,” said the barman and turned away.
“A little cup,” said the waiter.
The barman poured it for him.
“The light is very bright and pleasant but the bar is unpolished,”the waiter said.
The barman looked at him but did not answer. It was too late at night for conversation.
“You want another copita?” the barman asked.
“No, thank you,” said the waiter and went out. He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted cafe was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it’s probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
by Donald Barthelme
Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him. Colby argued that just because he had gone too far (he did not deny that he had gone too far) did not mean that he should be subjected to hanging. Going too far, he said, was something everybody did sometimes. We didn’t pay much attention to this argument. We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he’d think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we’d have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn’t begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he’d always been fond of Ives’s Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a “delaying tactic” and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget. “Be reasonable,” he said to Colby. Colby said he’d try to think of something a little less exacting.
Hugh was worried about the wording of the invitations. What if one of them fell into the hands of the authorities? Hanging Colby was doubtless against the law, and if the authorities learned in advance what the plan was they would very likely come in and try to mess everything up. I said that although hanging Colby was almost certainly against the law, we had a perfect moral right to do so because he was our friend, belonged to us in various important senses, and he had after all gone too far. We agreed that the invitations would be worded in such a way that the person invited could not know for sure what he was being invited to. We decided to refer to the event as “An Event Involving Mr. Colby Williams.” A handsome script was selected from a catalogue and we picked a cream-colored paper. Magnus said he’d see to having the invitations printed, and wondered whether we should serve drinks. Colby said he thought drinks would be nice but was worried about the expense. We told him kindly that the expense didn’t matter, that we were after all his dear friends and if a group of his dear friends couldn’t get together and do the thing with a little bit of eclat, why, what was the world coming to? Colby asked if he would be able to have drinks, too, before the event. We said,”Certainly.”
The next item of business was the gibbet. None of us knew too much about gibbet design, but Tomas, who is an architect, said he’d look it up in old books and draw the plans. The important thing, as far as he recollected, was that the trapdoor function perfectly. He said that just roughly, counting labor and materials, it shouldn’t run us more than four hundred dollars. “Good God!” Howard said. He said what was Tomas figuring on, rosewood? No, just a good grade of pine, Tomas said. Victor asked if unpainted pine wouldn’t look kind of “raw,” and Tomas replied that he thought it could be stained a dark walnut without too much trouble.
I said that although I thought the whole thing ought to be done really well and all, I also thought four hundred dollars for a gibbet, on top of the expense for the drinks, invitations, musicians, and everything, was a bit steep, and why didn’t we just use a tree — a nice-looking oak, or something? I pointed out that since it was going to be a June hanging the trees would be in glorious leaf and that not only would a tree add a kind of “natural” feeling but it was also strictly traditional, especially in the West. Tomas, who had been sketching gibbets on the backs of envelopes, reminded us that an outdoor hanging always had to contend with the threat of rain. Victor said he liked the idea of doing it outdoors, possibly on the bank of a river but noted that we would have to hold it some distance from the city, which presented the problem of getting the guests, musicians, etc., to the site and then back to town.
At this point everybody looked at Harry, who runs a car-and-truck-rental business. Harry said he thought he could round up enough limousines to take care of that end but that the drivers would have to be paid. The drivers, he pointed out, wouldn’t be friends of Colby’s and couldn’t be expected to donate their services, any more than the bartender or the musicians. He said that he had about ten limousines, which he used mostly for funerals, and that he could probably obtain another dozen by calling around to friends of his in the trade. He said also that if we did it outside, in the open air, we’d better figure on a tent or awning of some kind to cover at least the principals and the orchestra, because if the hanging was being rained on he thought it would look kind of dismal. As between gibbet and tree, he said, he had no particular preferences and he really thought that the choice ought to be left up to Colby, since it was his hanging. Colby said that everybody went too far, sometimes, and weren’t we being a little Draconian? Howard said rather sharply that all that had already been discussed, and which did he want, gibbet or tree? Colby asked if he could have a firing squad. No, Howard said, he could not. Howard said a firing squad would just be an ego trip for Colby, the blindfold and last-cigarette bit, and that Colby was in enough hot water already without trying to “upstage” everyone with unnecessary theatrics. Colby said he was sorry, he hadn’t meant it that way, he’d take the tree. Tomas crumpled up the gibbet sketches he’d been making, in disgust.
Then the question of the hangman came up. Pete said did we really need a hangman? Because if we used a tree, the noose could be adjusted to the appropriate level and Colby could just jump off something — a chair or stool or something. Besides, Pete said, he very much doubted if there were any free-lance hangmen wandering around the country, now that capital punishment has been done away with absolutely, temporarily, and that we’d probably have to fly one in from England or Spain or one of the South American countries, and even if we did that how could we know in advance that the man was a professional, a real hangman, and not just some money-hungry amateur who might bungle the job and shame us all, in front of every body? We all agreed then that Colby should just jump off something and that a chair was not what he should jump off of, because that would look, we felt, extremely tacky — some old kitchen chair sitting out there under our beautiful tree. Tomas, who is quite modern in outlook and not afraid of innovation, proposed that Colby be standing on a large round rubber ball ten feet in diameter. This, he said, would afford a sufficient “drop” and would also roll out of the way if Colby suddenly changed his mind after jumping off. He reminded us that by not using a regular hangman we were placing an awful lot of the responsibility for the success of the affair on Colby himself, and that although he was sure Colby would perform creditably and not disgrace his friends at the last minute, still, men have been known to get a little irresolute at times like that, and the ten-foot-round rubber ball, which could probably be fabricated rather cheaply, would insure a “bang-up” production right down to the wire.
At the mention of “wire,” Hank, who had been silent all this time, suddenly spoke up and said he wondered if it wouldn’t be better if we used wire instead of rope — more efficient and in the end kinder to Colby, he suggested. Colby began looking a little green, and I didn’t blame him, because there is something extremely distasteful in think ing about being hanged with wire instead of rope — it gives you sort of a revulsion, when you think about it. I thought it was really quite unpleasant of Hank to be sitting there talking about wire, just when we had solved the problem of what Colby was going to jump off of so neatly, with Tomas’s idea about the rubber ball, so I hastily said that wire was out of the question, because it would injure the tree — cut into the branch it was tied to when Colby’s full weight hit it — and that in these days of increased respect for the environment, we didn’t want that, did we? Colby gave me a grateful look, and the meeting broke up. Everything went off very smoothly on the day of the event (the music Colby finally picked was standard stuff, Elgar, and it was played very well by Howard and his boys). It didn’t rain, the event was well attended, and we didn’t run out of Scotch, or anything. The ten-foot rubber ball had been painted a deep green and blended in well with the bucolic setting. The two things I remember best about the whole episode are the grateful look Colby gave me when I said what I said about the wire, and the fact that nobody has ever gone too far again.
by George Orwell
In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.
All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically – and secretly, of course – I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.
One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful in terrorem. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant’s doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone “must.” It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of “must” is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours’ journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.
The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of “Go away, child! Go away this instant!” and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend’s house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.
The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant – I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary – and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd’s approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.
I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant – it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery – and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.
But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.
But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast’s owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.
It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.
There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.
When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick – one never does when a shot goes home – but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time – it might have been five seconds, I dare say – he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.
I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open – I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.
In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dash and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.
Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.
by Ernie Pyle
At the front lines in Italy, January 10, 1944 – In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.
Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
“After my own father, he came next,” a sergeant told me.
“He always looked after us,” a soldier said. “He’d go to bat for us every time.”
“I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair,” another one said.
I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.
Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.
The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help.
The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.
I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.
We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.
Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall.
Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. “This one is Captain Waskow,” one of them said quietly.
Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.
The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.
One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, “God damn it.” That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, “God damn it to hell anyway.” He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.
Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: “I’m sorry, old man.”
Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:
“I sure am sorry, sir.”
Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.
After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.
– Scripps-Howard wire copy, January 10, 1944
by James Joyce
LILY, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also. But Miss Kate and Miss Julia had thought of that and had converted the bathroom upstairs into a ladies’ dressing-room. Miss Kate and Miss Julia were there, gossiping and laughing and fussing, walking after each other to the head of the stairs, peering down over the banisters and calling down to Lily to ask her who had come.
It was always a great affair, the Misses Morkan’s annual dance. Everybody who knew them came to it, members of the family, old friends of the family, the members of Julia’s choir, any of Kate’s pupils that were grown up enough, and even some of Mary Jane’s pupils too. Never once had it fallen flat. For years and years it had gone off in splendid style, as long as anyone could remember; ever since Kate and Julia, after the death of their brother Pat, had left the house in Stoney Batter and taken Mary Jane, their only niece, to live with them in the dark, gaunt house on Usher’s Island, the upper part of which they had rented from Mr. Fulham, the corn-factor on the ground floor. That was a good thirty years ago if it was a day. Mary Jane, who was then a little girl in short clothes, was now the main prop of the household, for she had the organ in Haddington Road. She had been through the Academy and gave a pupils’ concert every year in the upper room of the Antient Concert Rooms. Many of her pupils belonged to the better-class families on the Kingstown and Dalkey line. Old as they were, her aunts also did their share. Julia, though she was quite grey, was still the leading soprano in Adam and Eve’s, and Kate, being too feeble to go about much, gave music lessons to beginners on the old square piano in the back room. Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, did housemaid’s work for them. Though their life was modest, they believed in eating well; the best of everything: diamond-bone sirloins, three-shilling tea and the best bottled stout. But Lily seldom made a mistake in the orders, so that she got on well with her three mistresses. They were fussy, that was all. But the only thing they would not stand was back answers.
Of course, they had good reason to be fussy on such a night. And then it was long after ten o’clock and yet there was no sign of Gabriel and his wife. Besides they were dreadfully afraid that Freddy Malins might turn up screwed. They would not wish for worlds that any of Mary Jane’s pupils should see him under the influence; and when he was like that it was sometimes very hard to manage him. Freddy Malins always came late, but they wondered what could be keeping Gabriel: and that was what brought them every two minutes to the banisters to ask Lily had Gabriel or Freddy come.
“O, Mr. Conroy,” said Lily to Gabriel when she opened the door for him, “Miss Kate and Miss Julia thought you were never coming. Good-night, Mrs. Conroy.”
“I’ll engage they did,” said Gabriel, “but they forget that my wife here takes three mortal hours to dress herself.”
He stood on the mat, scraping the snow from his goloshes, while Lily led his wife to the foot of the stairs and called out:
“Miss Kate, here’s Mrs. Conroy.”
Kate and Julia came toddling down the dark stairs at once. Both of them kissed Gabriel’s wife, said she must be perished alive, and asked was Gabriel with her.
“Here I am as right as the mail, Aunt Kate! Go on up. I’ll follow,” called out Gabriel from the dark.
He continued scraping his feet vigorously while the three women went upstairs, laughing, to the ladies’ dressing-room. A light fringe of snow lay like a cape on the shoulders of his overcoat and like toecaps on the toes of his goloshes; and, as the buttons of his overcoat slipped with a squeaking noise through the snow-stiffened frieze, a cold, fragrant air from out-of-doors escaped from crevices and folds.
“Is it snowing again, Mr. Conroy?” asked Lily.
She had preceded him into the pantry to help him off with his overcoat. Gabriel smiled at the three syllables she had given his surname and glanced at her. She was a slim; growing girl, pale in complexion and with hay-coloured hair. The gas in the pantry made her look still paler. Gabriel had known her when she was a child and used to sit on the lowest step nursing a rag doll.
“Yes, Lily,” he answered, “and I think we’re in for a night of it.”
He looked up at the pantry ceiling, which was shaking with the stamping and shuffling of feet on the floor above, listened for a moment to the piano and then glanced at the girl, who was folding his overcoat carefully at the end of a shelf.
“Tell me. Lily,” he said in a friendly tone, “do you still go to school?”
“O no, sir,” she answered. “I’m done schooling this year and more.”
“O, then,” said Gabriel gaily, “I suppose we’ll be going to your wedding one of these fine days with your young man, eh? ”
The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness:
“The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you.”
Gabriel coloured, as if he felt he had made a mistake and, without looking at her, kicked off his goloshes and flicked actively with his muffler at his patent-leather shoes.
He was a stout, tallish young man. The high colour of his cheeks pushed upwards even to his forehead, where it scattered itself in a few formless patches of pale red; and on his hairless face there scintillated restlessly the polished lenses and the bright gilt rims of the glasses which screened his delicate and restless eyes. His glossy black hair was parted in the middle and brushed in a long curve behind his ears where it curled slightly beneath the groove left by his hat.
When he had flicked lustre into his shoes he stood up and pulled his waistcoat down more tightly on his plump body. Then he took a coin rapidly from his pocket.
“O Lily,” he said, thrusting it into her hands, “it’s Christmastime, isn’t it? Just… here’s a little….”
He walked rapidly towards the door.
“O no, sir!” cried the girl, following him. “Really, sir, I wouldn’t take it.”
“Christmas-time! Christmas-time!” said Gabriel, almost trotting to the stairs and waving his hand to her in deprecation.
The girl, seeing that he had gained the stairs, called out after him:
“Well, thank you, sir.”
He waited outside the drawing-room door until the waltz should finish, listening to the skirts that swept against it and to the shuffling of feet. He was still discomposed by the girl’s bitter and sudden retort. It had cast a gloom over him which he tried to dispel by arranging his cuffs and the bows of his tie. He then took from his waistcoat pocket a little paper and glanced at the headings he had made for his speech. He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognise from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men’s heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education. He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.
Just then his aunts and his wife came out of the ladies’ dressing-room. His aunts were two small, plainly dressed old women. Aunt Julia was an inch or so the taller. Her hair, drawn low over the tops of her ears, was grey; and grey also, with darker shadows, was her large flaccid face. Though she was stout in build and stood erect, her slow eyes and parted lips gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going. Aunt Kate was more vivacious. Her face, healthier than her sister’s, was all puckers and creases, like a shrivelled red apple, and her hair, braided in the same old-fashioned way, had not lost its ripe nut colour.
They both kissed Gabriel frankly. He was their favourite nephew the son of their dead elder sister, Ellen, who had married T. J. Conroy of the Port and Docks.
“Gretta tells me you’re not going to take a cab back to Monkstown tonight, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate.
“No,” said Gabriel, turning to his wife, “we had quite enough of that last year, hadn’t we? Don’t you remember, Aunt Kate, what a cold Gretta got out of it? Cab windows rattling all the way, and the east wind blowing in after we passed Merrion. Very jolly it was. Gretta caught a dreadful cold.”
Aunt Kate frowned severely and nodded her head at every word.
“Quite right, Gabriel, quite right,” she said. “You can’t be too careful.”
“But as for Gretta there,” said Gabriel, “she’d walk home in the snow if she were let.”
Mrs. Conroy laughed.
“Don’t mind him, Aunt Kate,” she said. “He’s really an awful bother, what with green shades for Tom’s eyes at night and making him do the dumb-bells, and forcing Eva to eat the stirabout. The poor child! And she simply hates the sight of it!… O, but you’ll never guess what he makes me wear now!”
She broke out into a peal of laughter and glanced at her husband, whose admiring and happy eyes had been wandering from her dress to her face and hair. The two aunts laughed heartily, too, for Gabriel’s solicitude was a standing joke with them.
“Goloshes!” said Mrs. Conroy. “That’s the latest. Whenever it’s wet underfoot I must put on my galoshes. Tonight even, he wanted me to put them on, but I wouldn’t. The next thing he’ll buy me will be a diving suit.”
Gabriel laughed nervously and patted his tie reassuringly, while Aunt Kate nearly doubled herself, so heartily did she enjoy the joke. The smile soon faded from Aunt Julia’s face and her mirthless eyes were directed towards her nephew’s face. After a pause she asked:
“And what are goloshes, Gabriel?”
“Goloshes, Julia!” exclaimed her sister “Goodness me, don’t you know what goloshes are? You wear them over your… over your boots, Gretta, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Conroy. “Guttapercha things. We both have a pair now. Gabriel says everyone wears them on the Continent.”
“O, on the Continent,” murmured Aunt Julia, nodding her head slowly.
Gabriel knitted his brows and said, as if he were slightly angered:
“It’s nothing very wonderful, but Gretta thinks it very funny because she says the word reminds her of Christy Minstrels.”
“But tell me, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate, with brisk tact. “Of course, you’ve seen about the room. Gretta was saying…”
“0, the room is all right,” replied Gabriel. “I’ve taken one in the Gresham.”
“To be sure,” said Aunt Kate, “by far the best thing to do. And the children, Gretta, you’re not anxious about them?”
“0, for one night,” said Mrs. Conroy. “Besides, Bessie will look after them.”
“To be sure,” said Aunt Kate again. “What a comfort it is to have a girl like that, one you can depend on! There’s that Lily, I’m sure I don’t know what has come over her lately. She’s not the girl she was at all.”
Gabriel was about to ask his aunt some questions on this point, but she broke off suddenly to gaze after her sister, who had wandered down the stairs and was craning her neck over the banisters.
“Now, I ask you,” she said almost testily, “where is Julia going? Julia! Julia! Where are you going?”
Julia, who had gone half way down one flight, came back and announced blandly:
At the same moment a clapping of hands and a final flourish of the pianist told that the waltz had ended. The drawing-room door was opened from within and some couples came out. Aunt Kate drew Gabriel aside hurriedly and whispered into his ear:
“Slip down, Gabriel, like a good fellow and see if he’s all right, and don’t let him up if he’s screwed. I’m sure he’s screwed. I’m sure he is.”
Gabriel went to the stairs and listened over the banisters. He could hear two persons talking in the pantry. Then he recognised Freddy Malins’ laugh. He went down the stairs noisily.
“It’s such a relief,” said Aunt Kate to Mrs. Conroy, “that Gabriel is here. I always feel easier in my mind when he’s here…. Julia, there’s Miss Daly and Miss Power will take some refreshment. Thanks for your beautiful waltz, Miss Daly. It made lovely time.”
A tall wizen-faced man, with a stiff grizzled moustache and swarthy skin, who was passing out with his partner, said:
“And may we have some refreshment, too, Miss Morkan?”
“Julia,” said Aunt Kate summarily, “and here’s Mr. Browne and Miss Furlong. Take them in, Julia, with Miss Daly and Miss Power.”
“I’m the man for the ladies,” said Mr. Browne, pursing his lips until his moustache bristled and smiling in all his wrinkles. “You know, Miss Morkan, the reason they are so fond of me is—-”
He did not finish his sentence, but, seeing that Aunt Kate was out of earshot, at once led the three young ladies into the back room. The middle of the room was occupied by two square tables placed end to end, and on these Aunt Julia and the caretaker were straightening and smoothing a large cloth. On the sideboard were arrayed dishes and plates, and glasses and bundles of knives and forks and spoons. The top of the closed square piano served also as a sideboard for viands and sweets. At a smaller sideboard in one corner two young men were standing, drinking hop-bitters.
Mr. Browne led his charges thither and invited them all, in jest, to some ladies’ punch, hot, strong and sweet. As they said they never took anything strong, he opened three bottles of lemonade for them. Then he asked one of the young men to move aside, and, taking hold of the decanter, filled out for himself a goodly measure of whisky. The young men eyed him respectfully while he took a trial sip.
“God help me,” he said, smiling, “it’s the doctor’s orders.”
His wizened face broke into a broader smile, and the three young ladies laughed in musical echo to his pleasantry, swaying their bodies to and fro, with nervous jerks of their shoulders. The boldest said:
“O, now, Mr. Browne, I’m sure the doctor never ordered anything of the kind.”
Mr. Browne took another sip of his whisky and said, with sidling mimicry:
“Well, you see, I’m like the famous Mrs. Cassidy, who is reported to have said: ‘Now, Mary Grimes, if I don’t take it, make me take it, for I feel I want it.'”
His hot face had leaned forward a little too confidentially and he had assumed a very low Dublin accent so that the young ladies, with one instinct, received his speech in silence. Miss Furlong, who was one of Mary Jane’s pupils, asked Miss Daly what was the name of the pretty waltz she had played; and Mr. Browne, seeing that he was ignored, turned promptly to the two young men who were more appreciative.
A red-faced young woman, dressed in pansy, came into the room, excitedly clapping her hands and crying:
Close on her heels came Aunt Kate, crying:
“Two gentlemen and three ladies, Mary Jane!”
“O, here’s Mr. Bergin and Mr. Kerrigan,” said Mary Jane. “Mr. Kerrigan, will you take Miss Power? Miss Furlong, may I get you a partner, Mr. Bergin. O, that’ll just do now.”
“Three ladies, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate.
The two young gentlemen asked the ladies if they might have the pleasure, and Mary Jane turned to Miss Daly.
“O, Miss Daly, you’re really awfully good, after playing for the last two dances, but really we’re so short of ladies tonight.”
“I don’t mind in the least, Miss Morkan.”
“But I’ve a nice partner for you, Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, the tenor. I’ll get him to sing later on. All Dublin is raving about him.”
“Lovely voice, lovely voice!” said Aunt Kate.
As the piano had twice begun the prelude to the first figure Mary Jane led her recruits quickly from the room. They had hardly gone when Aunt Julia wandered slowly into the room, looking behind her at something.
“What is the matter, Julia?” asked Aunt Kate anxiously. “Who is it?”
Julia, who was carrying in a column of table-napkins, turned to her sister and said, simply, as if the question had surprised her:
“It’s only Freddy, Kate, and Gabriel with him.”
In fact right behind her Gabriel could be seen piloting Freddy Malins across the landing. The latter, a young man of about forty, was of Gabriel’s size and build, with very round shoulders. His face was fleshy and pallid, touched with colour only at the thick hanging lobes of his ears and at the wide wings of his nose. He had coarse features, a blunt nose, a convex and receding brow, tumid and protruded lips. His heavy-lidded eyes and the disorder of his scanty hair made him look sleepy. He was laughing heartily in a high key at a story which he had been telling Gabriel on the stairs and at the same time rubbing the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye.
“Good-evening, Freddy,” said Aunt Julia.
Freddy Malins bade the Misses Morkan good-evening in what seemed an offhand fashion by reason of the habitual catch in his voice and then, seeing that Mr. Browne was grinning at him from the sideboard, crossed the room on rather shaky legs and began to repeat in an undertone the story he had just told to Gabriel.
“He’s not so bad, is he?” said Aunt Kate to Gabriel.
Gabriel’s brows were dark but he raised them quickly and answered:
“O, no, hardly noticeable.”
“Now, isn’t he a terrible fellow!” she said. “And his poor mother made him take the pledge on New Year’s Eve. But come on, Gabriel, into the drawing-room.”
Before leaving the room with Gabriel she signalled to Mr. Browne by frowning and shaking her forefinger in warning to and fro. Mr. Browne nodded in answer and, when she had gone, said to Freddy Malins:
“Now, then, Teddy, I’m going to fill you out a good glass of lemonade just to buck you up.”
Freddy Malins, who was nearing the climax of his story, waved the offer aside impatiently but Mr. Browne, having first called Freddy Malins’ attention to a disarray in his dress, filled out and handed him a full glass of lemonade. Freddy Malins’ left hand accepted the glass mechanically, his right hand being engaged in the mechanical readjustment of his dress. Mr. Browne, whose face was once more wrinkling with mirth, poured out for himself a glass of whisky while Freddy Malins exploded, before he had well reached the climax of his story, in a kink of high-pitched bronchitic laughter and, setting down his untasted and overflowing glass, began to rub the knuckles of his left fist backwards and forwards into his left eye, repeating words of his last phrase as well as his fit of laughter would allow him.
Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece, full of runs and difficult passages, to the hushed drawing-room. He liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners, though they had begged Mary Jane to play something. Four young men, who had come from the refreshment-room to stand in the doorway at the sound of the piano, had gone away quietly in couples after a few minutes. The only persons who seemed to follow the music were Mary Jane herself, her hands racing along the key-board or lifted from it at the pauses like those of a priestess in momentary imprecation, and Aunt Kate standing at her elbow to turn the page.
Gabriel’s eyes, irritated by the floor, which glittered with beeswax under the heavy chandelier, wandered to the wall above the piano. A picture of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet hung there and beside it was a picture of the two murdered princes in the Tower which Aunt Julia had worked in red, blue and brown wools when she was a girl. Probably in the school they had gone to as girls that kind of work had been taught for one year. His mother had worked for him as a birthday present a waistcoat of purple tabinet, with little foxes’ heads upon it, lined with brown satin and having round mulberry buttons. It was strange that his mother had had no musical talent though Aunt Kate used to call her the brains carrier of the Morkan family. Both she and Julia had always seemed a little proud of their serious and matronly sister. Her photograph stood before the pierglass. She held an open book on her knees and was pointing out something in it to Constantine who, dressed in a man-o-war suit, lay at her feet. It was she who had chosen the name of her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family life. Thanks to her, Constantine was now senior curate in Balbrigan and, thanks to her, Gabriel himself had taken his degree in the Royal University. A shadow passed over his face as he remembered her sullen opposition to his marriage. Some slighting phrases she had used still rankled in his memory; she had once spoken of Gretta as being country cute and that was not true of Gretta at all. It was Gretta who had nursed her during all her last long illness in their house at Monkstown.
He knew that Mary Jane must be near the end of her piece for she was playing again the opening melody with runs of scales after every bar and while he waited for the end the resentment died down in his heart. The piece ended with a trill of octaves in the treble and a final deep octave in the bass. Great applause greeted Mary Jane as, blushing and rolling up her music nervously, she escaped from the room. The most vigorous clapping came from the four young men in the doorway who had gone away to the refreshment-room at the beginning of the piece but had come back when the piano had stopped.
Lancers were arranged. Gabriel found himself partnered with Miss Ivors. She was a frank-mannered talkative young lady, with a freckled face and prominent brown eyes. She did not wear a low-cut bodice and the large brooch which was fixed in the front of her collar bore on it an Irish device and motto.
When they had taken their places she said abruptly:
“I have a crow to pluck with you.”
“With me?” said Gabriel.
She nodded her head gravely.
“What is it?” asked Gabriel, smiling at her solemn manner.
“Who is G. C.?” answered Miss Ivors, turning her eyes upon him.
Gabriel coloured and was about to knit his brows, as if he did not understand, when she said bluntly:
“O, innocent Amy! I have found out that you write for The Daily Express. Now, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
“Why should I be ashamed of myself?” asked Gabriel, blinking his eyes and trying to smile.
“Well, I’m ashamed of you,” said Miss Ivors frankly. “To say you’d write for a paper like that. I didn’t think you were a West Briton.”
A look of perplexity appeared on Gabriel’s face. It was true that he wrote a literary column every Wednesday in The Daily Express, for which he was paid fifteen shillings. But that did not make him a West Briton surely. The books he received for review were almost more welcome than the paltry cheque. He loved to feel the covers and turn over the pages of newly printed books. Nearly every day when his teaching in the college was ended he used to wander down the quays to the second-hand booksellers, to Hickey’s on Bachelor’s Walk, to Web’s or Massey’s on Aston’s Quay, or to O’Clohissey’s in the bystreet. He did not know how to meet her charge. He wanted to say that literature was above politics. But they were friends of many years’ standing and their careers had been parallel, first at the University and then as teachers: he could not risk a grandiose phrase with her. He continued blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw nothing political in writing reviews of books.
When their turn to cross had come he was still perplexed and inattentive. Miss Ivors promptly took his hand in a warm grasp and said in a soft friendly tone:
“Of course, I was only joking. Come, we cross now.”
When they were together again she spoke of the University question and Gabriel felt more at ease. A friend of hers had shown her his review of Browning’s poems. That was how she had found out the secret: but she liked the review immensely. Then she said suddenly:
“O, Mr. Conroy, will you come for an excursion to the Aran Isles this summer? We’re going to stay there a whole month. It will be splendid out in the Atlantic. You ought to come. Mr. Clancy is coming, and Mr. Kilkelly and Kathleen Kearney. It would be splendid for Gretta too if she’d come. She’s from Connacht, isn’t she?”
“Her people are,” said Gabriel shortly.
“But you will come, won’t you?” said Miss Ivors, laying her arm hand eagerly on his arm.
“The fact is,” said Gabriel, “I have just arranged to go—-”
“Go where?” asked Miss Ivors.
“Well, you know, every year I go for a cycling tour with some fellows and so—-”
“But where?” asked Miss Ivors.
“Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany,” said Gabriel awkwardly.
“And why do you go to France and Belgium,” said Miss Ivors, “instead of visiting your own land?”
“Well,” said Gabriel, “it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.”
“And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with — Irish?” asked Miss Ivors.
“Well,” said Gabriel, “if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my language.”
Their neighbours had turned to listen to the cross- examination. Gabriel glanced right and left nervously and tried to keep his good humour under the ordeal which was making a blush invade his forehead.
“And haven’t you your own land to visit,” continued Miss Ivors, “that you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?”
“0, to tell you the truth,” retorted Gabriel suddenly, “I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!”
“Why?” asked Miss Ivors.
Gabriel did not answer for his retort had heated him.
“Why?” repeated Miss Ivors.
They had to go visiting together and, as he had not answered her, Miss Ivors said warmly:
“Of course, you’ve no answer.”
Gabriel tried to cover his agitation by taking part in the dance with great energy. He avoided her eyes for he had seen a sour expression on her face. But when they met in the long chain he was surprised to feel his hand firmly pressed. She looked at him from under her brows for a moment quizzically until he smiled. Then, just as the chain was about to start again, she stood on tiptoe and whispered into his ear:
When the lancers were over Gabriel went away to a remote corner of the room where Freddy Malins’ mother was sitting. She was a stout feeble old woman with white hair. Her voice had a catch in it like her son’s and she stuttered slightly. She had been told that Freddy had come and that he was nearly all right. Gabriel asked her whether she had had a good crossing. She lived with her married daughter in Glasgow and came to Dublin on a visit once a year. She answered placidly that she had had a beautiful crossing and that the captain had been most attentive to her. She spoke also of the beautiful house her daughter kept in Glasgow, and of all the friends they had there. While her tongue rambled on Gabriel tried to banish from his mind all memory of the unpleasant incident with Miss Ivors. Of course the girl or woman, or whatever she was, was an enthusiast but there was a time for all things. Perhaps he ought not to have answered her like that. But she had no right to call him a West Briton before people, even in joke. She had tried to make him ridiculous before people, heckling him and staring at him with her rabbit’s eyes.
He saw his wife making her way towards him through the waltzing couples. When she reached him she said into his ear:
“Gabriel. Aunt Kate wants to know won’t you carve the goose as usual. Miss Daly will carve the ham and I’ll do the pudding.”
“All right,” said Gabriel.
“She’s sending in the younger ones first as soon as this waltz is over so that we’ll have the table to ourselves.”
“Were you dancing?” asked Gabriel.
“Of course I was. Didn’t you see me? What row had you with Molly Ivors?”
“No row. Why? Did she say so?”
“Something like that. I’m trying to get that Mr. D’Arcy to sing. He’s full of conceit, I think.”
“There was no row,” said Gabriel moodily, “only she wanted me to go for a trip to the west of Ireland and I said I wouldn’t.”
His wife clasped her hands excitedly and gave a little jump.
“O, do go, Gabriel,” she cried. “I’d love to see Galway again.”
“You can go if you like,” said Gabriel coldly.
She looked at him for a moment, then turned to Mrs. Malins and said:
“There’s a nice husband for you, Mrs. Malins.”
While she was threading her way back across the room Mrs. Malins, without adverting to the interruption, went on to tell Gabriel what beautiful places there were in Scotland and beautiful scenery. Her son-in-law brought them every year to the lakes and they used to go fishing. Her son-in-law was a splendid fisher. One day he caught a beautiful big fish and the man in the hotel cooked it for their dinner.
Gabriel hardly heard what she said. Now that supper was coming near he began to think again about his speech and about the quotation. When he saw Freddy Malins coming across the room to visit his mother Gabriel left the chair free for him and retired into the embrasure of the window. The room had already cleared and from the back room came the clatter of plates and knives. Those who still remained in the drawing room seemed tired of dancing and were conversing quietly in little groups. Gabriel’s warm trembling fingers tapped the cold pane of the window. How cool it must be outside! How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!
He ran over the headings of his speech: Irish hospitality, sad memories, the Three Graces, Paris, the quotation from Browning. He repeated to himself a phrase he had written in his review: “One feels that one is listening to a thought- tormented music.” Miss Ivors had praised the review. Was she sincere? Had she really any life of her own behind all her propagandism? There had never been any ill-feeling between them until that night. It unnerved him to think that she would be at the supper-table, looking up at him while he spoke with her critical quizzing eyes. Perhaps she would not be sorry to see him fail in his speech. An idea came into his mind and gave him courage. He would say, alluding to Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality, of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to lack.” Very good: that was one for Miss Ivors. What did he care that his aunts were only two ignorant old women?
A murmur in the room attracted his attention. Mr. Browne was advancing from the door, gallantly escorting Aunt Julia, who leaned upon his arm, smiling and hanging her head. An irregular musketry of applause escorted her also as far as the piano and then, as Mary Jane seated herself on the stool, and Aunt Julia, no longer smiling, half turned so as to pitch her voice fairly into the room, gradually ceased. Gabriel recognised the prelude. It was that of an old song of Aunt Julia’s — Arrayed for the Bridal. Her voice, strong and clear in tone, attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and though she sang very rapidly she did not miss even the smallest of the grace notes. To follow the voice, without looking at the singer’s face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. Gabriel applauded loudly with all the others at the close of the song and loud applause was borne in from the invisible supper-table. It sounded so genuine that a little colour struggled into Aunt Julia’s face as she bent to replace in the music-stand the old leather-bound songbook that had her initials on the cover. Freddy Malins, who had listened with his head perched sideways to hear her better, was still applauding when everyone else had ceased and talking animatedly to his mother who nodded her head gravely and slowly in acquiescence. At last, when he could clap no more, he stood up suddenly and hurried across the room to Aunt Julia whose hand he seized and held in both his hands, shaking it when words failed him or the catch in his voice proved too much for him.
“I was just telling my mother,” he said, “I never heard you sing so well, never. No, I never heard your voice so good as it is tonight. Now! Would you believe that now? That’s the truth. Upon my word and honour that’s the truth. I never heard your voice sound so fresh and so… so clear and fresh, never.”
Aunt Julia smiled broadly and murmured something about compliments as she released her hand from his grasp. Mr. Browne extended his open hand towards her and said to those who were near him in the manner of a showman introducing a prodigy to an audience:
“Miss Julia Morkan, my latest discovery!”
He was laughing very heartily at this himself when Freddy Malins turned to him and said:
“Well, Browne, if you’re serious you might make a worse discovery. All I can say is I never heard her sing half so well as long as I am coming here. And that’s the honest truth.”
“Neither did I,” said Mr. Browne. “I think her voice has greatly improved.”
Aunt Julia shrugged her shoulders and said with meek pride:
“Thirty years ago I hadn’t a bad voice as voices go.”
“I often told Julia,” said Aunt Kate emphatically, “that she was simply thrown away in that choir. But she never would be said by me.”
She turned as if to appeal to the good sense of the others against a refractory child while Aunt Julia gazed in front of her, a vague smile of reminiscence playing on her face.
“No,” continued Aunt Kate, “she wouldn’t be said or led by anyone, slaving there in that choir night and day, night and day. Six o’clock on Christmas morning! And all for what?”
“Well, isn’t it for the honour of God, Aunt Kate?” asked Mary Jane, twisting round on the piano-stool and smiling.
Aunt Kate turned fiercely on her niece and said:
“I know all about the honour of God, Mary Jane, but I think it’s not at all honourable for the pope to turn out the women out of the choirs that have slaved there all their lives and put little whipper-snappers of boys over their heads. I suppose it is for the good of the Church if the pope does it. But it’s not just, Mary Jane, and it’s not right.”
She had worked herself into a passion and would have continued in defence of her sister for it was a sore subject with her but Mary Jane, seeing that all the dancers had come back, intervened pacifically:
“Now, Aunt Kate, you’re giving scandal to Mr. Browne who is of the other persuasion.”
Aunt Kate turned to Mr. Browne, who was grinning at this allusion to his religion, and said hastily:
“O, I don’t question the pope’s being right. I’m only a stupid old woman and I wouldn’t presume to do such a thing. But there’s such a thing as common everyday politeness and gratitude. And if I were in Julia’s place I’d tell that Father Healey straight up to his face…”
“And besides, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane, “we really are all hungry and when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome.”
“And when we are thirsty we are also quarrelsome,” added Mr. Browne.
“So that we had better go to supper,” said Mary Jane, “and finish the discussion afterwards.”
On the landing outside the drawing-room Gabriel found his wife and Mary Jane trying to persuade Miss Ivors to stay for supper. But Miss Ivors, who had put on her hat and was buttoning her cloak, would not stay. She did not feel in the least hungry and she had already overstayed her time.
“But only for ten minutes, Molly,” said Mrs. Conroy. “That won’t delay you.”
“To take a pick itself,” said Mary Jane, “after all your dancing.”
“I really couldn’t,” said Miss Ivors.
“I am afraid you didn’t enjoy yourself at all,” said Mary Jane hopelessly.
“Ever so much, I assure you,” said Miss Ivors, “but you really must let me run off now.”
“But how can you get home?” asked Mrs. Conroy.
“O, it’s only two steps up the quay.”
Gabriel hesitated a moment and said:
“If you will allow me, Miss Ivors, I’ll see you home if you are really obliged to go.”
But Miss Ivors broke away from them.
“I won’t hear of it,” she cried. “For goodness’ sake go in to your suppers and don’t mind me. I’m quite well able to take care of myself.”
“Well, you’re the comical girl, Molly,” said Mrs. Conroy frankly.
“Beannacht libh,” cried Miss Ivors, with a laugh, as she ran down the staircase.
Mary Jane gazed after her, a moody puzzled expression on her face, while Mrs. Conroy leaned over the banisters to listen for the hall-door. Gabriel asked himself was he the cause of her abrupt departure. But she did not seem to be in ill humour: she had gone away laughing. He stared blankly down the staircase.
At the moment Aunt Kate came toddling out of the supper-room, almost wringing her hands in despair.
“Where is Gabriel?” she cried. “Where on earth is Gabriel? There’s everyone waiting in there, stage to let, and nobody to carve the goose!”
“Here I am, Aunt Kate!” cried Gabriel, with sudden animation, “ready to carve a flock of geese, if necessary.”
A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes.
Gabriel took his seat boldly at the head of the table and, having looked to the edge of the carver, plunged his fork firmly into the goose. He felt quite at ease now for he was an expert carver and liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table.
“Miss Furlong, what shall I send you?” he asked. “A wing or a slice of the breast?”
“Just a small slice of the breast.”
“Miss Higgins, what for you?”
“O, anything at all, Mr. Conroy.”
While Gabriel and Miss Daly exchanged plates of goose and plates of ham and spiced beef Lily went from guest to guest with a dish of hot floury potatoes wrapped in a white napkin. This was Mary Jane’s idea and she had also suggested apple sauce for the goose but Aunt Kate had said that plain roast goose without any apple sauce had always been good enough for her and she hoped she might never eat worse. Mary Jane waited on her pupils and saw that they got the best slices and Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia opened and carried across from the piano bottles of stout and ale for the gentlemen and bottles of minerals for the ladies. There was a great deal of confusion and laughter and noise, the noise of orders and counter-orders, of knives and forks, of corks and glass-stoppers. Gabriel began to carve second helpings as soon as he had finished the first round without serving himself. Everyone protested loudly so that he compromised by taking a long draught of stout for he had found the carving hot work. Mary Jane settled down quietly to her supper but Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia were still toddling round the table, walking on each other’s heels, getting in each other’s way and giving each other unheeded orders. Mr. Browne begged of them to sit down and eat their suppers and so did Gabriel but they said there was time enough, so that, at last, Freddy Malins stood up and, capturing Aunt Kate, plumped her down on her chair amid general laughter.
When everyone had been well served Gabriel said, smiling:
“Now, if anyone wants a little more of what vulgar people call stuffing let him or her speak.”
A chorus of voices invited him to begin his own supper and Lily came forward with three potatoes which she had reserved for him.
“Very well,” said Gabriel amiably, as he took another preparatory draught, “kindly forget my existence, ladies and gentlemen, for a few minutes.”
He set to his supper and took no part in the conversation with which the table covered Lily’s removal of the plates. The subject of talk was the opera company which was then at the Theatre Royal. Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, the tenor, a dark- complexioned young man with a smart moustache, praised very highly the leading contralto of the company but Miss Furlong thought she had a rather vulgar style of production. Freddy Malins said there was a Negro chieftain singing in the second part of the Gaiety pantomime who had one of the finest tenor voices he had ever heard.
“Have you heard him?” he asked Mr. Bartell D’Arcy across the table.
“No,” answered Mr. Bartell D’Arcy carelessly.
“Because,” Freddy Malins explained, “now I’d be curious to hear your opinion of him. I think he has a grand voice.”
“It takes Teddy to find out the really good things,” said Mr. Browne familiarly to the table.
“And why couldn’t he have a voice too?” asked Freddy Malins sharply. “Is it because he’s only a black?”
Nobody answered this question and Mary Jane led the table back to the legitimate opera. One of her pupils had given her a pass for Mignon. Of course it was very fine, she said, but it made her think of poor Georgina Burns. Mr. Browne could go back farther still, to the old Italian companies that used to come to Dublin — Tietjens, Ilma de Murzka, Campanini, the great Trebelli, Giuglini, Ravelli, Aramburo. Those were the days, he said, when there was something like singing to be heard in Dublin. He told too of how the top gallery of the old Royal used to be packed night after night, of how one night an Italian tenor had sung five encores to Let me like a Soldier fall, introducing a high C every time, and of how the gallery boys would sometimes in their enthusiasm unyoke the horses from the carriage of some great prima donna and pull her themselves through the streets to her hotel. Why did they never play the grand old operas now, he asked, Dinorah, Lucrezia Borgia? Because they could not get the voices to sing them: that was why.
“Oh, well,” said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, “I presume there are as good singers today as there were then.”
“Where are they?” asked Mr. Browne defiantly.
“In London, Paris, Milan,” said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy warmly. “I suppose Caruso, for example, is quite as good, if not better than any of the men you have mentioned.”
“Maybe so,” said Mr. Browne. “But I may tell you I doubt it strongly.”
“O, I’d give anything to hear Caruso sing,” said Mary Jane.
“For me,” said Aunt Kate, who had been picking a bone, “there was only one tenor. To please me, I mean. But I suppose none of you ever heard of him.”
“Who was he, Miss Morkan?” asked Mr. Bartell D’Arcy politely.
“His name,” said Aunt Kate, “was Parkinson. I heard him when he was in his prime and I think he had then the purest tenor voice that was ever put into a man’s throat.”
“Strange,” said Mr. Bartell D’Arcy. “I never even heard of him.”
“Yes, yes, Miss Morkan is right,” said Mr. Browne. “I remember hearing of old Parkinson but he’s too far back for me.”
“A beautiful, pure, sweet, mellow English tenor,” said Aunt Kate with enthusiasm.
Gabriel having finished, the huge pudding was transferred to the table. The clatter of forks and spoons began again. Gabriel’s wife served out spoonfuls of the pudding and passed the plates down the table. Midway down they were held up by Mary Jane, who replenished them with raspberry or orange jelly or with blancmange and jam. The pudding was of Aunt Julia’s making and she received praises for it from all quarters She herself said that it was not quite brown enough.
“Well, I hope, Miss Morkan,” said Mr. Browne, “that I’m brown enough for you because, you know, I’m all brown.”
All the gentlemen, except Gabriel, ate some of the pudding out of compliment to Aunt Julia. As Gabriel never ate sweets the celery had been left for him. Freddy Malins also took a stalk of celery and ate it with his pudding. He had been told that celery was a capital thing for the blood and he was just then under doctor’s care. Mrs. Malins, who had been silent all through the supper, said that her son was going down to Mount Melleray in a week or so. The table then spoke of Mount Melleray, how bracing the air was down there, how hospitable the monks were and how they never asked for a penny-piece from their guests.
“And do you mean to say,” asked Mr. Browne incredulously, “that a chap can go down there and put up there as if it were a hotel and live on the fat of the land and then come away without paying anything?”
“O, most people give some donation to the monastery when they leave.” said Mary Jane.
“I wish we had an institution like that in our Church,” said Mr. Browne candidly.
He was astonished to hear that the monks never spoke, got up at two in the morning and slept in their coffins. He asked what they did it for.
“That’s the rule of the order,” said Aunt Kate firmly.
“Yes, but why?” asked Mr. Browne.
Aunt Kate repeated that it was the rule, that was all. Mr. Browne still seemed not to understand. Freddy Malins explained to him, as best he could, that the monks were trying to make up for the sins committed by all the sinners in the outside world. The explanation was not very clear for Mr. Browne grinned and said:
“I like that idea very much but wouldn’t a comfortable spring bed do them as well as a coffin?”
“The coffin,” said Mary Jane, “is to remind them of their last end.”
As the subject had grown lugubrious it was buried in a silence of the table during which Mrs. Malins could be heard saying to her neighbour in an indistinct undertone:
“They are very good men, the monks, very pious men.”
The raisins and almonds and figs and apples and oranges and chocolates and sweets were now passed about the table and Aunt Julia invited all the guests to have either port or sherry. At first Mr. Bartell D’Arcy refused to take either but one of his neighbours nudged him and whispered something to him upon which he allowed his glass to be filled. Gradually as the last glasses were being filled the conversation ceased. A pause followed, broken only by the noise of the wine and by unsettlings of chairs. The Misses Morkan, all three, looked down at the tablecloth. Someone coughed once or twice and then a few gentlemen patted the table gently as a signal for silence. The silence came and Gabriel pushed back his chair
The patting at once grew louder in encouragement and then ceased altogether. Gabriel leaned his ten trembling fingers on the tablecloth and smiled nervously at the company. Meeting a row of upturned faces he raised his eyes to the chandelier. The piano was playing a waltz tune and he could hear the skirts sweeping against the drawing-room door. People, perhaps, were standing in the snow on the quay outside, gazing up at the lighted windows and listening to the waltz music. The air was pure there. In the distance lay the park where the trees were weighted with snow. The Wellington Monument wore a gleaming cap of snow that flashed westward over the white field of Fifteen Acres.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“It has fallen to my lot this evening, as in years past, to perform a very pleasing task but a task for which I am afraid my poor powers as a speaker are all too inadequate.”
“No, no!” said Mr. Browne.
“But, however that may be, I can only ask you tonight to take the will for the deed and to lend me your attention for a few moments while I endeavour to express to you in words what my feelings are on this occasion.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not the first time that we have gathered together under this hospitable roof, around this hospitable board. It is not the first time that we have been the recipients — or perhaps, I had better say, the victims — of the hospitality of certain good ladies.”
He made a circle in the air with his arm and paused. Everyone laughed or smiled at Aunt Kate and Aunt Julia and Mary Jane who all turned crimson with pleasure. Gabriel went on more boldly:
“I feel more strongly with every recurring year that our country has no tradition which does it so much honour and which it should guard so jealously as that of its hospitality. It is a tradition that is unique as far as my experience goes (and I have visited not a few places abroad) among the modern nations. Some would say, perhaps, that with us it is rather a failing than anything to be boasted of. But granted even that, it is, to my mind, a princely failing, and one that I trust will long be cultivated among us. Of one thing, at least, I am sure. As long as this one roof shelters the good ladies aforesaid — and I wish from my heart it may do so for many and many a long year to come — the tradition of genuine warm-hearted courteous Irish hospitality, which our forefathers have handed down to us and which we in turn must hand down to our descendants, is still alive among us.”
A hearty murmur of assent ran round the table. It shot through Gabriel’s mind that Miss Ivors was not there and that she had gone away discourteously: and he said with confidence in himself:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“A new generation is growing up in our midst, a generation actuated by new ideas and new principles. It is serious and enthusiastic for these new ideas and its enthusiasm, even when it is misdirected, is, I believe, in the main sincere. But we are living in a sceptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generation, educated or hypereducated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belonged to an older day. Listening tonight to the names of all those great singers of the past it seemed to me, I must confess, that we were living in a less spacious age. Those days might, without exaggeration, be called spacious days: and if they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.”
“Hear, hear!” said Mr. Browne loudly.
“But yet,” continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, “there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth, of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.
“Therefore, I will not linger on the past. I will not let any gloomy moralising intrude upon us here tonight. Here we are gathered together for a brief moment from the bustle and rush of our everyday routine. We are met here as friends, in the spirit of good-fellowship, as colleagues, also to a certain extent, in the true spirit of camaraderie, and as the guests of — what shall I call them? — the Three Graces of the Dublin musical world.”
The table burst into applause and laughter at this allusion. Aunt Julia vainly asked each of her neighbours in turn to tell her what Gabriel had said.
“He says we are the Three Graces, Aunt Julia,” said Mary Jane.
Aunt Julia did not understand but she looked up, smiling, at Gabriel, who continued in the same vein:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
“I will not attempt to play tonight the part that Paris played on another occasion. I will not attempt to choose between them. The task would be an invidious one and one beyond my poor powers. For when I view them in turn, whether it be our chief hostess herself, whose good heart, whose too good heart, has become a byword with all who know her, or her sister, who seems to be gifted with perennial youth and whose singing must have been a surprise and a revelation to us all tonight, or, last but not least, when I consider our youngest hostess, talented, cheerful, hard-working and the best of nieces, I confess, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I do not know to which of them I should award the prize.”
Gabriel glanced down at his aunts and, seeing the large smile on Aunt Julia’s face and the tears which had risen to Aunt Kate’s eyes, hastened to his close. He raised his glass of port gallantly, while every member of the company fingered a glass expectantly, and said loudly:
“Let us toast them all three together. Let us drink to their health, wealth, long life, happiness and prosperity and may they long continue to hold the proud and self-won position which they hold in their profession and the position of honour and affection which they hold in our hearts.”
All the guests stood up, glass in hand, and turning towards the three seated ladies, sang in unison, with Mr. Browne as leader:
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
Which nobody can deny.
Aunt Kate was making frank use of her handkerchief and even Aunt Julia seemed moved. Freddy Malins beat time with his pudding-fork and the singers turned towards one another, as if in melodious conference, while they sang with emphasis:
Unless he tells a lie,
Unless he tells a lie,
Then, turning once more towards their hostesses, they sang:
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
For they are jolly gay fellows,
Which nobody can deny.
The acclamation which followed was taken up beyond the door of the supper-room by many of the other guests and renewed time after time, Freddy Malins acting as officer with his fork on high.
The piercing morning air came into the hall where they were standing so that Aunt Kate said:
“Close the door, somebody. Mrs. Malins will get her death of cold.”
“Browne is out there, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane.
“Browne is everywhere,” said Aunt Kate, lowering her voice.
Mary Jane laughed at her tone.
“Really,” she said archly, “he is very attentive.”
“He has been laid on here like the gas,” said Aunt Kate in the same tone, “all during the Christmas.”
She laughed herself this time good-humouredly and then added quickly:
“But tell him to come in, Mary Jane, and close the door. I hope to goodness he didn’t hear me.”
At that moment the hall-door was opened and Mr. Browne came in from the doorstep, laughing as if his heart would break. He was dressed in a long green overcoat with mock astrakhan cuffs and collar and wore on his head an oval fur cap. He pointed down the snow-covered quay from where the sound of shrill prolonged whistling was borne in.
“Teddy will have all the cabs in Dublin out,” he said.
Gabriel advanced from the little pantry behind the office, struggling into his overcoat and, looking round the hall, said:
“Gretta not down yet?”
“She’s getting on her things, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate.
“Who’s playing up there?” asked Gabriel.
“Nobody. They’re all gone.”
“O no, Aunt Kate,” said Mary Jane. “Bartell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan aren’t gone yet.”
“Someone is fooling at the piano anyhow,” said Gabriel.
Mary Jane glanced at Gabriel and Mr. Browne and said with a shiver:
“It makes me feel cold to look at you two gentlemen muffled up like that. I wouldn’t like to face your journey home at this hour.”
“I’d like nothing better this minute,” said Mr. Browne stoutly, “than a rattling fine walk in the country or a fast drive with a good spanking goer between the shafts.”
“We used to have a very good horse and trap at home,” said Aunt Julia sadly.
“The never-to-be-forgotten Johnny,” said Mary Jane, laughing.
Aunt Kate and Gabriel laughed too.
“Why, what was wonderful about Johnny?” asked Mr. Browne.
“The late lamented Patrick Morkan, our grandfather, that is,” explained Gabriel, “commonly known in his later years as the old gentleman, was a glue-boiler.”
“O, now, Gabriel,” said Aunt Kate, laughing, “he had a starch mill.”
“Well, glue or starch,” said Gabriel, “the old gentleman had a horse by the name of Johnny. And Johnny used to work in the old gentleman’s mill, walking round and round in order to drive the mill. That was all very well; but now comes the tragic part about Johnny. One fine day the old gentleman thought he’d like to drive out with the quality to a military review in the park.”
“The Lord have mercy on his soul,” said Aunt Kate compassionately.
“Amen,” said Gabriel. “So the old gentleman, as I said, harnessed Johnny and put on his very best tall hat and his very best stock collar and drove out in grand style from his ancestral mansion somewhere near Back Lane, I think.”
Everyone laughed, even Mrs. Malins, at Gabriel’s manner and Aunt Kate said:
“O, now, Gabriel, he didn’t live in Back Lane, really. Only the mill was there.”
“Out from the mansion of his forefathers,” continued Gabriel, “he drove with Johnny. And everything went on beautifully until Johnny came in sight of King Billy’s statue: and whether he fell in love with the horse King Billy sits on or whether he thought he was back again in the mill, anyhow he began to walk round the statue.”
Gabriel paced in a circle round the hall in his goloshes amid the laughter of the others.
“Round and round he went,” said Gabriel, “and the old gentleman, who was a very pompous old gentleman, was highly indignant. ‘Go on, sir! What do you mean, sir? Johnny! Johnny! Most extraordinary conduct! Can’t understand the horse!”
The peal of laughter which followed Gabriel’s imitation of the incident was interrupted by a resounding knock at the hall door. Mary Jane ran to open it and let in Freddy Malins. Freddy Malins, with his hat well back on his head and his shoulders humped with cold, was puffing and steaming after his exertions.
“I could only get one cab,” he said.
“O, we’ll find another along the quay,” said Gabriel.
“Yes,” said Aunt Kate. “Better not keep Mrs. Malins standing in the draught.”
Mrs. Malins was helped down the front steps by her son and Mr. Browne and, after many manoeuvres, hoisted into the cab. Freddy Malins clambered in after her and spent a long time settling her on the seat, Mr. Browne helping him with advice. At last she was settled comfortably and Freddy Malins invited Mr. Browne into the cab. There was a good deal of confused talk, and then Mr. Browne got into the cab. The cabman settled his rug over his knees, and bent down for the address. The confusion grew greater and the cabman was directed differently by Freddy Malins and Mr. Browne, each of whom had his head out through a window of the cab. The difficulty was to know where to drop Mr. Browne along the route, and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane helped the discussion from the doorstep with cross-directions and contradictions and abundance of laughter. As for Freddy Malins he was speechless with laughter. He popped his head in and out of the window every moment to the great danger of his hat, and told his mother how the discussion was progressing, till at last Mr. Browne shouted to the bewildered cabman above the din of everybody’s laughter:
“Do you know Trinity College?”
“Yes, sir,” said the cabman.
“Well, drive bang up against Trinity College gates,” said Mr. Browne, “and then we’ll tell you where to go. You understand now?”
“Yes, sir,” said the cabman.
“Make like a bird for Trinity College.”
“Right, sir,” said the cabman.
The horse was whipped up and the cab rattled off along the quay amid a chorus of laughter and adieus.
Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terra-cotta and salmon-pink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also. But he could hear little save the noise of laughter and dispute on the front steps, a few chords struck on the piano and a few notes of a man’s voice singing.
He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter.
The hall-door was closed; and Aunt Kate, Aunt Julia and Mary Jane came down the hall, still laughing.
“Well, isn’t Freddy terrible?” said Mary Jane. “He’s really terrible.”
Gabriel said nothing but pointed up the stairs towards where his wife was standing. Now that the hall-door was closed the voice and the piano could be heard more clearly. Gabriel held up his hand for them to be silent. The song seemed to be in the old Irish tonality and the singer seemed uncertain both of his words and of his voice. The voice, made plaintive by distance and by the singer’s hoarseness, faintly illuminated the cadence of the air with words expressing grief:
O, the rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew wets my skin,
My babe lies cold…
“O,” exclaimed Mary Jane. “It’s Bartell D’Arcy singing and he wouldn’t sing all the night. O, I’ll get him to sing a song before he goes.”
“O, do, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate.
Mary Jane brushed past the others and ran to the staircase, but before she reached it the singing stopped and the piano was closed abruptly.
“O, what a pity!” she cried. “Is he coming down, Gretta?”
Gabriel heard his wife answer yes and saw her come down towards them. A few steps behind her were Mr. Bartell D’Arcy and Miss O’Callaghan.
“O, Mr. D’Arcy,” cried Mary Jane, “it’s downright mean of you to break off like that when we were all in raptures listening to you.”
“I have been at him all the evening,” said Miss O’Callaghan, “and Mrs. Conroy, too, and he told us he had a dreadful cold and couldn’t sing.”
“O, Mr. D’Arcy,” said Aunt Kate, “now that was a great fib to tell.”
“Can’t you see that I’m as hoarse as a crow?” said Mr. D’Arcy roughly.
He went into the pantry hastily and put on his overcoat. The others, taken aback by his rude speech, could find nothing to say. Aunt Kate wrinkled her brows and made signs to the others to drop the subject. Mr. D’Arcy stood swathing his neck carefully and frowning.
“It’s the weather,” said Aunt Julia, after a pause.
“Yes, everybody has colds,” said Aunt Kate readily, “everybody.”
“They say,” said Mary Jane, “we haven’t had snow like it for thirty years; and I read this morning in the newspapers that the snow is general all over Ireland.”
“I love the look of snow,” said Aunt Julia sadly.
“So do I,” said Miss O’Callaghan. “I think Christmas is never really Christmas unless we have the snow on the ground.”
“But poor Mr. D’Arcy doesn’t like the snow,” said Aunt Kate, smiling.
Mr. D’Arcy came from the pantry, fully swathed and buttoned, and in a repentant tone told them the history of his cold. Everyone gave him advice and said it was a great pity and urged him to be very careful of his throat in the night air. Gabriel watched his wife, who did not join in the conversation. She was standing right under the dusty fanlight and the flame of the gas lit up the rich bronze of her hair, which he had seen her drying at the fire a few days before. She was in the same attitude and seemed unaware of the talk about her At last she turned towards them and Gabriel saw that there was colour on her cheeks and that her eyes were shining. A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.
“Mr. D’Arcy,” she said, “what is the name of that song you were singing?”
“It’s called The Lass of Aughrim,” said Mr. D’Arcy, “but I couldn’t remember it properly. Why? Do you know it?”
“The Lass of Aughrim,” she repeated. “I couldn’t think of the name.”
“It’s a very nice air,” said Mary Jane. “I’m sorry you were not in voice tonight.”
“Now, Mary Jane,” said Aunt Kate, “don’t annoy Mr. D’Arcy. I won’t have him annoyed.”
Seeing that all were ready to start she shepherded them to the door, where good-night was said:
“Well, good-night, Aunt Kate, and thanks for the pleasant evening.”
“Good-night, Gabriel. Good-night, Gretta!”
“Good-night, Aunt Kate, and thanks ever so much. Goodnight, Aunt Julia.”
“O, good-night, Gretta, I didn’t see you.”
“Good-night, Mr. D’Arcy. Good-night, Miss O’Callaghan.”
“Good-night, Miss Morkan.”
“Good-night, all. Safe home.”
“Good-night. Good night.”
The morning was still dark. A dull, yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending. It was slushy underfoot; and only streaks and patches of snow lay on the roofs, on the parapets of the quay and on the area railings. The lamps were still burning redly in the murky air and, across the river, the palace of the Four Courts stood out menacingly against the heavy sky.
She was walking on before him with Mr. Bartell D’Arcy, her shoes in a brown parcel tucked under one arm and her hands holding her skirt up from the slush. She had no longer any grace of attitude, but Gabriel’s eyes were still bright with happiness. The blood went bounding along his veins; and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valorous.
She was walking on before him so lightly and so erect that he longed to run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something foolish and affectionate into her ear. She seemed to him so frail that he longed to defend her against something and then to be alone with her. Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory. A heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he was caressing it with his hand. Birds were twittering in the ivy and the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could not eat for happiness. They were standing on the crowded platform and he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. He was standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. It was very cold. Her face, fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his; and suddenly he called out to the man at the furnace:
“Is the fire hot, sir?”
But the man could not hear with the noise of the furnace. It was just as well. He might have answered rudely.
A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy. For the years, he felt, had not quenched his soul or hers. Their children, his writing, her household cares had not quenched all their souls’ tender fire. In one letter that he had written to her then he had said: “Why is it that words like these seem to me so dull and cold? Is it because there is no word tender enough to be your name?”
Like distant music these words that he had written years before were borne towards him from the past. He longed to be alone with her. When the others had gone away, when he and she were in the room in the hotel, then they would be alone together. He would call her softly:
Perhaps she would not hear at once: she would be undressing. Then something in his voice would strike her. She would turn and look at him….
At the corner of Winetavern Street they met a cab. He was glad of its rattling noise as it saved him from conversation. She was looking out of the window and seemed tired. The others spoke only a few words, pointing out some building or street. The horse galloped along wearily under the murky morning sky, dragging his old rattling box after his heels, and Gabriel was again in a cab with her, galloping to catch the boat, galloping to their honeymoon.
As the cab drove across O’Connell Bridge Miss O’Callaghan said:
“They say you never cross O’Connell Bridge without seeing a white horse.”
“I see a white man this time,” said Gabriel.
“Where?” asked Mr. Bartell D’Arcy.
Gabriel pointed to the statue, on which lay patches of snow. Then he nodded familiarly to it and waved his hand.
“Good-night, Dan,” he said gaily.
When the cab drew up before the hotel, Gabriel jumped out and, in spite of Mr. Bartell D’Arcy’s protest, paid the driver. He gave the man a shilling over his fare. The man saluted and said:
“A prosperous New Year to you, sir.”
“The same to you,” said Gabriel cordially.
She leaned for a moment on his arm in getting out of the cab and while standing at the curbstone, bidding the others good- night. She leaned lightly on his arm, as lightly as when she had danced with him a few hours before. He had felt proud and happy then, happy that she was his, proud of her grace and wifely carriage. But now, after the kindling again of so many memories, the first touch of her body, musical and strange and perfumed, sent through him a keen pang of lust. Under cover of her silence he pressed her arm closely to his side; and, as they stood at the hotel door, he felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure.
An old man was dozing in a great hooded chair in the hall. He lit a candle in the office and went before them to the stairs. They followed him in silence, their feet falling in soft thuds on the thickly carpeted stairs. She mounted the stairs behind the porter, her head bowed in the ascent, her frail shoulders curved as with a burden, her skirt girt tightly about her. He could have flung his arms about her hips and held her still, for his arms were trembling with desire to seize her and only the stress of his nails against the palms of his hands held the wild impulse of his body in check. The porter halted on the stairs to settle his guttering candle. They halted, too, on the steps below him. In the silence Gabriel could hear the falling of the molten wax into the tray and the thumping of his own heart against his ribs.
The porter led them along a corridor and opened a door. Then he set his unstable candle down on a toilet-table and asked at what hour they were to be called in the morning.
“Eight,” said Gabriel.
The porter pointed to the tap of the electric-light and began a muttered apology, but Gabriel cut him short.
“We don’t want any light. We have light enough from the street. And I say,” he added, pointing to the candle, “you might remove that handsome article, like a good man.”
The porter took up his candle again, but slowly, for he was surprised by such a novel idea. Then he mumbled good-night and went out. Gabriel shot the lock to.
A ghastly light from the street lamp lay in a long shaft from one window to the door. Gabriel threw his overcoat and hat on a couch and crossed the room towards the window. He looked down into the street in order that his emotion might calm a little. Then he turned and leaned against a chest of drawers with his back to the light. She had taken off her hat and cloak and was standing before a large swinging mirror, unhooking her waist. Gabriel paused for a few moments, watching her, and then said:
She turned away from the mirror slowly and walked along the shaft of light towards him. Her face looked so serious and weary that the words would not pass Gabriel’s lips. No, it was not the moment yet.
“You looked tired,” he said.
“I am a little,” she answered.
“You don’t feel ill or weak?”
“No, tired: that’s all.”
She went on to the window and stood there, looking out. Gabriel waited again and then, fearing that diffidence was about to conquer him, he said abruptly:
“By the way, Gretta!”
“What is it?”
“You know that poor fellow Malins?” he said quickly.
“Yes. What about him?”
“Well, poor fellow, he’s a decent sort of chap, after all,” continued Gabriel in a false voice. “He gave me back that sovereign I lent him, and I didn’t expect it, really. It’s a pity he wouldn’t keep away from that Browne, because he’s not a bad fellow, really.”
He was trembling now with annoyance. Why did she seem so abstracted? He did not know how he could begin. Was she annoyed, too, about something? If she would only turn to him or come to him of her own accord! To take her as she was would be brutal. No, he must see some ardour in her eyes first. He longed to be master of her strange mood.
“When did you lend him the pound?” she asked, after a pause.
Gabriel strove to restrain himself from breaking out into brutal language about the sottish Malins and his pound. He longed to cry to her from his soul, to crush her body against his, to overmaster her. But he said:
“O, at Christmas, when he opened that little Christmas-card shop in Henry Street.”
He was in such a fever of rage and desire that he did not hear her come from the window. She stood before him for an instant, looking at him strangely. Then, suddenly raising herself on tiptoe and resting her hands lightly on his shoulders, she kissed him.
“You are a very generous person, Gabriel,” she said.
Gabriel, trembling with delight at her sudden kiss and at the quaintness of her phrase, put his hands on her hair and began smoothing it back, scarcely touching it with his fingers. The washing had made it fine and brilliant. His heart was brimming over with happiness. Just when he was wishing for it she had come to him of her own accord. Perhaps her thoughts had been running with his. Perhaps she had felt the impetuous desire that was in him, and then the yielding mood had come upon her. Now that she had fallen to him so easily, he wondered why he had been so diffident.
He stood, holding her head between his hands. Then, slipping one arm swiftly about her body and drawing her towards him, he said softly:
“Gretta, dear, what are you thinking about?”
She did not answer nor yield wholly to his arm. He said again, softly:
“Tell me what it is, Gretta. I think I know what is the matter. Do I know?”
She did not answer at once. Then she said in an outburst of tears:
“O, I am thinking about that song, The Lass of Aughrim.”
She broke loose from him and ran to the bed and, throwing her arms across the bed-rail, hid her face. Gabriel stood stockstill for a moment in astonishment and then followed her. As he passed in the way of the cheval-glass he caught sight of himself in full length, his broad, well-filled shirt-front, the face whose expression always puzzled him when he saw it in a mirror, and his glimmering gilt-rimmed eyeglasses. He halted a few paces from her and said:
“What about the song? Why does that make you cry?”
She raised her head from her arms and dried her eyes with the back of her hand like a child. A kinder note than he had intended went into his voice.
“Why, Gretta?” he asked.
“I am thinking about a person long ago who used to sing that song.”
“And who was the person long ago?” asked Gabriel, smiling.
“It was a person I used to know in Galway when I was living with my grandmother,” she said.
The smile passed away from Gabriel’s face. A dull anger began to gather again at the back of his mind and the dull fires of his lust began to glow angrily in his veins.
“Someone you were in love with?” he asked ironically.
“It was a young boy I used to know,” she answered, “named Michael Furey. He used to sing that song, The Lass of Aughrim. He was very delicate.”
Gabriel was silent. He did not wish her to think that he was interested in this delicate boy.
“I can see him so plainly,” she said, after a moment. “Such eyes as he had: big, dark eyes! And such an expression in them — an expression!”
“O, then, you are in love with him?” said Gabriel.
“I used to go out walking with him,” she said, “when I was in Galway.”
A thought flew across Gabriel’s mind.
“Perhaps that was why you wanted to go to Galway with that Ivors girl?” he said coldly.
She looked at him and asked in surprise:
Her eyes made Gabriel feel awkward. He shrugged his shoulders and said:
“How do I know? To see him, perhaps.”
She looked away from him along the shaft of light towards the window in silence.
“He is dead,” she said at length. “He died when he was only seventeen. Isn’t it a terrible thing to die so young as that?”
“What was he?” asked Gabriel, still ironically.
“He was in the gasworks,” she said.
Gabriel felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead, a boy in the gasworks. While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another. A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, acting as a pennyboy for his aunts, a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealising his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror. Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead.
He tried to keep up his tone of cold interrogation, but his voice when he spoke was humble and indifferent.
“I suppose you were in love with this Michael Furey, Gretta,” he said.
“I was great with him at that time,” she said.
Her voice was veiled and sad. Gabriel, feeling now how vain it would be to try to lead her whither he had purposed, caressed one of her hands and said, also sadly:
“And what did he die of so young, Gretta? Consumption, was it?”
“I think he died for me,” she answered.
A vague terror seized Gabriel at this answer, as if, at that hour when he had hoped to triumph, some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against him in its vague world. But he shook himself free of it with an effort of reason and continued to caress her hand. He did not question her again, for he felt that she would tell him of herself. Her hand was warm and moist: it did not respond to his touch, but he continued to caress it just as he had caressed her first letter to him that spring morning.
“It was in the winter,” she said, “about the beginning of the winter when I was going to leave my grandmother’s and come up here to the convent. And he was ill at the time in his lodgings in Galway and wouldn’t be let out, and his people in Oughterard were written to. He was in decline, they said, or something like that. I never knew rightly.”
She paused for a moment and sighed.
“Poor fellow,” she said. “He was very fond of me and he was such a gentle boy. We used to go out together, walking, you know, Gabriel, like the way they do in the country. He was going to study singing only for his health. He had a very good voice, poor Michael Furey.”
“Well; and then?” asked Gabriel.
“And then when it came to the time for me to leave Galway and come up to the convent he was much worse and I wouldn’t be let see him so I wrote him a letter saying I was going up to Dublin and would be back in the summer, and hoping he would be better then.”
She paused for a moment to get her voice under control, and then went on:
“Then the night before I left, I was in my grandmother’s house in Nuns’ Island, packing up, and I heard gravel thrown up against the window. The window was so wet I couldn’t see, so I ran downstairs as I was and slipped out the back into the garden and there was the poor fellow at the end of the garden, shivering.”
“And did you not tell him to go back?” asked Gabriel.
“I implored of him to go home at once and told him he would get his death in the rain. But he said he did not want to live. I can see his eyes as well as well! He was standing at the end of the wall where there was a tree.”
“And did he go home?” asked Gabriel.
“Yes, he went home. And when I was only a week in the convent he died and he was buried in Oughterard, where his people came from. O, the day I heard that, that he was dead!”
She stopped, choking with sobs, and, overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel held her hand for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window.
She was fast asleep.
Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.
Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.
The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
by Kate Chopin
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will–as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under hte breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhold, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door–you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills.
By Roald Dahl
DOWN below there was only a vast white undulating sea of cloud. Above there was the sun, and the sun was white like the clouds, because it is never yellow when one looks at it from high in the air.
He was still flying the Spitfire. His right hand was on the stick, and he was working the rudder bar with his left leg alone. It was quite easy. The machine was flying well, and he knew what he was doing.
Everything is fine, he thought. I’m doing all right. I’m doing nicely. I know my way home. I’ll be there in half an hour. When I land I shall taxi in and switch off my engine and I shall say, help me to get out, will you. I shall make my voice sound ordinary and natural and none of them will take any notice. Then I shall say, someone help me to get out. I can’t do it alone because I’ve lost one of my legs. They’ll all laugh and think that I’m joking, and I shall say, all right, come and have a look, you unbelieving bastards. Then Yorky will climb up onto the wing and look inside. He’ll probably be sick because of all the blood and the mess. I shall laugh and say, for God’s sake, help me out.
He glanced down again at his right leg. There was not much of it left. The cannon shell had taken him on the thigh, just above the knee, and now there was nothing but a great mess and a lot of blood. But there was no pain. When he looked down, he felt as though he were seeing something that did not belong to him. It had nothing to do with him. It was just a mess which happened to be there in the cockpit; something strange and unusual and rather interesting. It was like finding a dead cat on the sofa.
He really felt fine, and because he still felt fine, he felt excited and unafraid.
I won’t even bother to call up on the radio for the blood wagon, he thought. It isn’t necessary. And when I land I’ll sit there quite normally and say, some of you fellows come and help me out, will you, because I’ve lost one of my legs. That will be funny. I’ll laugh a little while I’m saying it; I’ll say it calmly and slowly, and they’ll think I’m joking. When Yorky comes up onto the wing and gets sick, I’ll say, Yorky, you old son of a bitch, have you fixed my car yet? Then when I get out I’ll make my report and later I’ll go up to London. I’ll take that half bottle of whisky with me and I’ll give it to Bluey. We’ll sit in her room and drink it. I’ll get the water out of the bathroom tap. I won’t say much until it’s time to go to bed, then Ill say, Bluey, I’ve got a surprise for you. I lost a leg today. But I don’t mind so long as you don’t. It doesn’t even hurt. We’ll go everywhere in cars. I always hated walking, except when I walked down the street of the coppersmiths in Bagdad, but I could go in a rickshaw. I could go home and chop wood, but the head always flies off the ax. Hot water, that’s what it needs; put it in the bath and make the handle swell. I chopped lots of wood last time I went home, and I put the ax in the bath. . . .
Then he saw the sun shining on the engine cowling of his machine. He saw the rivets in the metal, and he remembered where he was. He realized that he was no longer feeling good; that he was sick and giddy. His head kept falling forward onto his chest because his neck seemed no longer to have- any strength. But he knew that he was flying the Spitfire, and he could feel the handle of the stick between the fingers of his right hand.
I’m going to pass out, he thought. Any moment now I’m going to pass out.
He looked at his altimeter. Twenty-one thousand. To test himself he tried to read the hundreds as well as the thousands. Twenty-one thousand and what? As he looked the dial became blurred, and he could not even see the needle. He knew then that he must bail out; that there was not a second to lose, otherwise he would become unconscious. Quickly, frantically, he tried to slide back the hood with his left hand, but he had not the strength. For a second he took his right hand off the stick, and with both hands he managed to push the hood back. The rush of cold air on his face seemed to help. He had a moment of great clearness, and his actions became orderly and precise. That is what happens with a good pilot. He took some quick deep breaths from his oxygen mask, and as he did so, he looked out over the side of the cockpit. Down below there was only a vast white sea of cloud, and he realized that he did not know where he was.
It’ll be the Channel, he thought. I’m sure to fall in the drink.
He throttled back, pulled off his helmet, undid his straps, and pushed the stick hard over to the left. The Spitfire dripped its port wing, and turned smoothly over onto its back. The pilot fell out.
As he fell he opened his eyes, because he knew that he must not pass out before he had pulled the cord. On one side he saw the sun; on the other he saw the whiteness of the clouds, and as he fell, as he somersaulted in the air, the white clouds chased the sun and the sun chased the clouds. They chased each other in a small circle; they ran faster and faster, and there was the sun and the clouds and the clouds and the sun, and the clouds came nearer until suddenly there was no longer any sun, but only a great whiteness. The whole world was white, and there was nothing in it. It was so white that sometimes it looked black, and after a time it was either white or black, but mostly it was white. He watched it as it turned from white to black, and then back to white again, and the white stayed for a long time, but the black lasted only for a few seconds. He got into the habit of going to sleep during the white periods, and of waking up just in time to see the world when it was black. But the black was very quick. Sometimes it was only a flash, like someone switching off the light, and switching it on again at once, and so whenever it was white, he dozed off.
One day, when it was white, he put out a hand and he touched something. He took it between his fingers and crumpled it. For a time he~lay there, idly letting the tips of his fingers play with the thing which they had touched. Then slowly he opened his eyes, looked down at his hand, and saw that he was holding something which was white. It was the edge of a sheet. He knew it was a sheet because he could see the texture of the material and the stitchings on the hem. He screwed up his eyes, and opened them again quickly. This time he saw the room. He saw the bed in which he was lying; he saw the grey walls and the door and the green curtains over the window. There were some roses on the table by his bed.
Then he saw the basin on the table near the roses. It was a white enamel basin, and beside it there was a small medicine glass.
This is a hospital, he thought. I am in a hospital. But he could remember nothing. He lay back on his pillow, looking at the ceiling and wondering what had happened. He was gazing at the smooth greyness of the ceiling which was so clean and gray, and then suddenly he saw a fly walking upon it. The sight of this fly, the suddenness of seeing this small black speck on a sea of gray, brushed the surface of his brain, and quickly, in that second, he remembered everything. He remembered the Spitfire and he remembered the altimeter showing twenty-one thousand feet. He remembered the pushing back of the hood with both hands, and he remembered the bailing out. He remembered his leg.
It seemed all right now. He looked down at the end of the bed, but he could not tell. He put one hand underneath the bedclothes and felt for his knees. He found one of them, but when he felt for the other, his hand touched something which was soft and covered in bandages.
Just then the door opened and a nurse came in.
“Hello,” she said. “So you’ve waked up at last.”
She was not good-looking, but she was large and clean. She was between thirty and forty and she had fair hair. More than that he did not notice.
“Where am I?”
“You’re a lucky fellow. You landed in a wood near the beach. You’re in Brighton. They brought you in two days ago, and now you’re all fixed up. You look fine.”
“I’ve lost a leg,” he said.
“That’s nothing. We’ll get you another one. Now you must go to sleep. The doctor will be coming to see you in about an hour.” She picked up the basin and the medicine glass and went out.
But he did not sleep. He wanted to keep his eyes open because he was frightened that if he shut them again everything would go away. He lay looking at the ceiling. The fly was still there. It was very energetic. It would run forward very fast for a few inches, then it would stop. Then it would run forward again, stop, run forward, stop, and every now and then it would take off and buzz around viciously in small circles. It always landed back in the same place on the ceiling and started running and stopping all over again. He watched it for so long that after a while it was no longer a fly, but only a black speck upon a sea of gray, and he was still watching it when the nurse opened the door, and stood aside while the doctor came in. He was an Army doctor, a major, and he had some last war ribbons on his chest. He was bald and small, but he had a cheerful face and kind eyes.
“Well, well,” he said. “So you’ve decided to wake up at last. How are you feeling?”
“I feel all right.”
“That’s the stuff. You’ll be up and about in no time.”
The doctor took his wrist to feel his pulse.
“By the way,” he said, “some of the lads from your squadron were ringing up and asking about you. They wanted to come along and see you, but I said that they’d better wait a day or two. Told them you were all right, and that they could come and see you a little later on. Just lie quiet and take it easy for a bit. Got something to read?” He glanced at the table with the roses. “No. Well, nurse will look after you. She’ll get you anything you want.” With that he waved his hand and went out, followed by the large clean nurse.
When they had gone, he lay back and looked at the ceiling again. The fly was still there and as he lay watching it he heard the noise of an airplane in the distance. He lay listening to the sound of its engines. It was a long way away. I wonder what it is, he thought. Let me see if I can place it. Suddenly he jerked his head sharply to one side. Anyone who has been bombed can tell the noise of a Junkers 88. They can tell most other German bombers for that matter, but especially a Junkers 88. The engines seem to sing a duet. There is a deep vibrating bass voice and with it there is a high pitched tenor. It is the singing of the tenor which makes the sound of a JU-88 something which one cannot mistake.
He lay listening to the noise, and he felt quite certain about what it was. But where were the sirens, and where the guns? That German pilot certainly had a nerve coming near Brighton alone in daylight.
The aircraft was always far away, and soon the noise faded away into the distance. Later on there was another. This one, too, was far away, but there was the same deep undulating bass and the high singing tenor, and there was no mistaking it. He had heard that noise every day during the battle.
He was puzzled. There was a bell on the table by the bed. He reached out his hand and rang it. He heard the noise of footsteps down the corridor, and the nurse came in.
“Nurse, what were those airplanes?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I didn’t hear them. Probably fighters or bombers. I expect they were returning from France. Why, what’s the matter?”
“They were JU-88’s. I’m sure they were JU-88’s. I know the sound of the engines. There were two of them. What were they doing over here?”
The nurse came up to the side of his bed and began to straighten out the sheets and tuck them in under the mattress.
“Gracious me, what things you imagine. You mustn’t worry about a thing like that. Would you like me to get you something to read?”
“No, thank you.”
She patted his pillow and brushed back the hair from his forehead with her hand.
“They never come over in daylight any longer. You know that. They were probably Lancasters or Flying Fortresses.”
“Could I have a cigarette?”
“Why certainly you can.”
She went out and came back almost at once with a packet of Players and some matches. She handed one to him and when he had put it in his mouth, she struck a match and lit it.
“If you want me again,” she said, “just ring the bell,” and she went out.
Once toward evening he heard the noise of another aircraft. It was far away, but even so he knew that it was a single-engined machine. But he could not place it. It was going fast; he could tell that. But it wasn’t a Spit, and it wasn’t a Hurricane. It did not sound like an American engine either. They make more noise. He did not know what it was, and it worried him greatly. Perhaps I am very ill, he thought. Perhaps I am imagining things. Perhaps I am a little delirious. I simply do not know what to think.
That evening the nurse came in with a basin of hot water and began to wash him.
“Well,” she said, “I hope you don’t still think that we’re being bombed.”
She had taken off his pajama top and was soaping his right arm with a flannel. He did not answer.
She rinsed the flannel in the water, rubbed more soap on it, and began to wash his chest.
“You’re looking fine this evening,” she said. “They operated on you as soon as you came in. They did a marvelous job. You’ll be all right. I’ve got a brother in the RAF,” she added. “Flying bombers.”
He said, “I went to school in Brighton.”
She looked up quickly. “Well, that’s fine,” she said. “I expect you’ll know some people in the town.”
“Yes,” he said, “I know quite a few.”
She had finished washing his chest and arms, and now she turned back the bedclothes, so that his left leg was uncovered. She did it in such a way that his bandaged stump remained under the sheets. She undid the cord of his pajama trousers and took them off. There was no trouble because they had cut off the right trouser leg, so that it could not interfere with the bandages. She began to wash his left leg and the rest of his body. This was the first time he had had a bed bath, and he was embarrassed. She laid a towel under his leg, and she was washing his foot with the flannel. She said, “This wretched soap won’t lather at all. It’s the water. It’s as hard as nails.”
He said, “None of the soap is very good now and, of course, with hard water it’s hopeless.” As he said it he remembered something. He remembered the baths which he used to take at school in Brighton, in the long stone-floored bathroom which had four baths in a room. He remembered how the water was so soft that you had to take a shower afterwards to get all the soap off your body, and he remembered how the foam used to float on the surface of the water, so that you could not see your legs underneath. He remembered that sometimes they were given calcium tablets because the school doctor used to say that soft water was bad for the teeth.
“In Brighton,” he said, “the water isn’t . . .”
He did not finish the sentence. Something had occurred to him; something so fantastic and absurd that for a moment he felt like telling the nurse about it and having a good laugh.
She looked up. “The water isn’t what?” she said.
“Nothing,” he answered. “I was dreaming.
She rinsed the flannel in the basin, wiped the soap off his leg, and dried him with a towel.
“It’s nice to be washed,” he said. “I feel better.” He was feeling his face with his hands. “I need a shave.”
“We’ll do that tomorrow,” she said. “Perhaps you can do it yourself then.”
That night he could not sleep. He lay awake thinking of the Junkers 88’s and of the hardness of the water. He could think of nothing else. They were JU-88’s, he said to himself. I know they were. And yet it is not possible, because they would not be flying around so low over here in broad daylight. I know that it is true, and yet I know that it is impossible. Perhaps I am ill. Perhaps I am behaving like a fool and do not know what I am doing or saying. Perhaps I am delirious. For a long time he lay awake thinking these things, and once he sat up in bed and said aloud, “I will prove that I am not crazy. I will make a little speech about something complicated and intellectual. I will talk about what to do with Germany after the war.” But before he had time to begin, he was asleep.
He woke just as the first light of day was showing through the slit in the curtains over the window. The room was still dark, but he could tell that it was already beginning to get light outside. He lay looking at the grey light which was showing through the slit in the curtain, and as he lay there he remembered the day before. He remembered the Junkers 88’s and the hardness of the water; he remembered the large pleasant nurse and the kind doctor, and now the small grain of doubt took root in his mind and it began to grow.
He looked around the room. The nurse had taken the roses out the night before, and there was nothing except the table with a packet of cigarettes, a box of matches and an ash tray. Otherwise, it was bare. It was no longer warm or friendly. It was not even comfortable. It was cold and empty and very quiet.
Slowly the grain of doubt grew, and with it came fear, a light, dancing fear that warned but did not frighten; the kind of fear that one gets not because one is afraid, but because one feels that there is something wrong. Quickly the doubt and the fear grew so that he became restless and angry, and when he touched his forehead with his hand, he found that it was damp with sweat. He knew then that he must do something; that he must find some way of proving to himself that he was either right or wrong, and he looked up and saw again the window and the green curtains. From where he lay, that window was right in front of him, but it was fully ten yards away. Somehow he must reach it and look out. The idea became an obsession with him, and soon he could think of nothing except the window. But what about his leg? He put his hand underneath the bedclothes and felt the thick bandaged stump which was all that was left on the right-hand side. It seemed all right. It didn’t hurt. But it would not be easy.
He sat up. Then he pushed the bedclothes aside and put his left leg on the floor. Slowly, carefully, he swung his body over until he had both hands on the floor as well; and then he was out of bed, kneeling on the carpet. He looked at the stump. It was very short and thick, covered with bandages. It was beginning to hurt and he could feel it throbbing. He wanted to collapse, lie down on the carpet and do nothing, but he knew that he must go on.
With two arms and one leg, he crawled over towards the window. He would reach forward as far as he could with his arms, then he would give a little jump and slide his left leg along after them. Each time he did, it jarred his wound so that he gave a soft grunt of pain, but he continued to crawl across the floor on two hands and one knee. When he got to the window he reached up, and one at a time he placed both hands on the sill. Slowly he raised himself up until he was standing on his left leg. Then quickly he pushed aside the curtains and looked out.
He saw a small house with a gray tiled roof standing alone beside a narrow lane, and immediately behind it there was a plowed field. In front of the house there was an untidy gar- den, and there was a green hedge separating the garden from the lane. He was looking at the hedge when he saw the sign. It was just a piece of board nailed to the top of a short pole, and because the hedge had not been trimmed for a long time, the branches had grown out around the sign so that it seemed almost as though it had been placed in the middle of the hedge. There was something written on the board with white paint, and he pressed his head against the glass of the window, trying to read what it said. The first letter was a G, he could see that. The second was an A, and the third was an R. One after another he man- aged to see what the letters were. There were three words, and slowly he spelled the letters out aloud to himself as he managed to read them. G-A-R-D-E A-U C-H-I-E-N. Garde au chien. That is what it said.
He stood there balancing on one leg and holding tightly to the edges of the window sill with his hands, staring at the sign and at the whitewashed lettering of the words. For a moment he could think of nothing at all. He stood there looking at the sign, repeating the words over and over to himself, and then slowly he began to realize the full meaning of the thing. He looked up at the cottage and at the plowed field. He looked at the small orchard on the left of the cottage and he looked at the green countryside beyond. “So this is France,” he said. “I am France.”
Now the throbbing in his right thigh was very great. It felt as though someone was pounding the end of his stump with a hammer, and suddenly the pain became so intense that it affected his head and for a moment he thought he was going to fall. Quickly he knelt down again, crawled back to the bed and hoisted himself in. He pulled the bedclothes over himself and lay back on the pillow, exhausted. He could still think of nothing at all except the small sign by the hedge, and the plowed field and the orchard. It was the words on the sign that he could not forget.
It was some time before the nurse came in. She came carrying a basin of hot water and she said, “Good morning, how are you today?”
He said, “Good morning, nurse.”
The pain was still great under the bandages, but he did not wish to tell this woman anything. He looked at her as she busied herself with getting the washing things ready. He looked at her more carefully now. Her hair was very fair. She was tall and big-boned, end her face seemed pleasant. But there was something a little uneasy about her eyes. They were never still. They never looked at anything for more than a moment and they moved too quickly from one place to another in the room. There was something about her movements also. They were too sharp and nervous to go well with the casual manner in which she spoke.
She set down the basin, took off his pajama top and began to wash him.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Good,” she said. She was washing his arms and his chest.
“I believe there’s someone coming down to see you from the Air Ministry after breakfast,” she went on. “They want a report or something. I expect you know all about it. How you got shot down and all that. I won’t let him stay long, so don’t worry.”
He did not answer. She finished washing him, and gave him a toothbrush and some tooth powder. He brushed his teeth, rinsed his mouth and spat the water out into the basin.
Later she brought him his breakfast on a tray, but he did not want to eat. He was still feeling weak and sick, and he wished only to lie still and think about what had happened. And there was a sentence running through his head. It was a sentence which Johnny, the Intelligence Officer of his squadron, always repeated to the pilots every day before they went out. He could see Johnny now, leaning against the wall of the dispersal hut with his pipe in his hand, saying, “And if they get you, don’t forget, just your name, rank and number. Nothing else. For God’s sake, say nothing else.”
“There you are,” she said as she put the tray on his lap. “I’ve got you an egg. Can you manage all right?”
She stood beside the bed. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Good. If you want another egg I might be able to get you one.”
“This is all right.”
“Well, just ring the bell if you want any more.” And she went out.
He had just finished eating, when the nurse came in again.
She said, “Wing Commander Roberts is here. I’ve told him that he can only stay for a few minutes.”
She beckoned with her hand and the Wing Commander came in.
“Sorry to bother you like this,” he said.
He was an ordinary RAF officer, dressed in a uniform which was a little shabby, and he wore wings and a DFC. He was fairly tall and thin with plenty of black hair. His teeth, which were irregular and widely spaced, stuck out a little even when he closed his mouth. As he spoke he took a printed form and a pencil from his pocket, and he pulled up a chair and sat down.
“How are you feeling?”
There was no answer.
“Tough luck about your leg. I know how you feel. I hear you put up a fine show before they got you.”
The man in the bed was lying quite still, watching the man in the chair.
The man in the chair said, “Well, let’s get this stuff over. I’m afraid you’ll have to answer a few questions so that I can fill in this combat report. Let me see now, first of all, what was your squadron?”
The man in the bed did not move. He looked straight at the Wing Commander and he said, “My name is Peter Williamson. My rank is Squadron Leader and my number is nine seven two four five seven.”
By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity–but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and PERHAPS–(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)–PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression–a slight hysterical tendency–what is one to do?
My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.
So I take phosphates or phosphites–whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
I did write for a while in spite of them; but it DOES exhaust me a good deal–having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
I sometimes fancy that my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus–but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.
So I will let it alone and talk about the house.
The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.
There is a DELICIOUS garden! I never saw such a garden–large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.
There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.
There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years.
That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don’t care–there is something strange about the house–I can feel it.
I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a DRAUGHT, and shut the window.
I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself–before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.
I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it.
He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.
He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.
I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. “Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear,” said he, “and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time.” So we took the nursery at the top of the house.
It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.
The paint and paper look as if a boys’ school had used it. It is stripped off–the paper–in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.
One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide–plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.
The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.
It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.
There comes John, and I must put this away,–he hates to have me write a word.
We have been here two weeks, and I haven’t felt like writing before, since that first day.
I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.
John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no REASON to suffer, and that satisfies him.
Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way!
I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!
Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able,–to dress and entertain, and other things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!
And yet I CANNOT be with him, it makes me so nervous.
I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper!
At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.
He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.
“You know the place is doing you good,” he said, “and really, dear, I don’t care to renovate the house just for a three months’ rental.”
“Then do let us go downstairs,” I said, “there are such pretty rooms there.”
Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.
But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.
It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.
I’m really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.
Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.
Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.
I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.
But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.
I wish I could get well faster.
But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it KNEW what a vicious influence it had!
There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.
I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store.
I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.
I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe.
The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.
The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother–they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.
Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.
But I don’t mind it a bit–only the paper.
There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing.
She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!
But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.
There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.
This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.
But in the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so–I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.
There’s sister on the stairs!
Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.
Of course I didn’t do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.
But it tired me all the same.
John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don’t want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!
Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don’t feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I’m getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.
Of course I don’t when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.
And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.
So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.
I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps BECAUSE of the wall-paper.
It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed–it is nailed down, I believe–and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we’ll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I WILL follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.
Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes–a kind of “debased Romanesque” with delirium tremens–go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.
The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion.
There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all,–the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.
It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.
I don’t know why I should write this.
I don’t want to.
I don’t feel able.
And I know John would think it absurd. But I MUST say what I feel and think in some way–it is such a relief!
But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.
Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.
John says I musn’t lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn’t able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.
It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose.
And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.
He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.
He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wall-paper.
If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn’t have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.
Of course I never mention it to them any more–I am too wise,–but I keep watch of it all the same.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.
It is always the same shape, only very numerous.
And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder–I begin to think–I wish John would take me away from here!
It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.
But I tried it last night.
It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does.
I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another.
John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy.
The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.
I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper DID move, and when I came back John was awake.
“What is it, little girl?” he said. “Don’t go walking about like that–you’ll get cold.”
I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.
“Why darling!” said he, “our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can’t see how to leave before.
“The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you.”
“I don’t weigh a bit more,” said I, “nor as much; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!”
“Bless her little heart!” said he with a big hug, “she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let’s improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!”
“And you won’t go away?” I asked gloomily.
“Why, how can I, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!”
“Better in body perhaps–” I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.
“My darling,” said he, “I beg of you, for my sake and for our child’s sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”
So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.
On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.
The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.
You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back-somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions–why, that is something like it.
That is, sometimes!
There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes.
When the sun shoots in through the east window–I always watch for that first long, straight ray–it changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it.
That is why I watch it always.
By moonlight–the moon shines in all night when there is a moon–I wouldn’t know it was the same paper.
At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.
I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.
By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.
I lie down ever so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can.
Indeed he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal.
It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don’t sleep.
And that cultivates deceit, for I don’t tell them I’m awake–O no!
The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John.
He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.
It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis,–that perhaps it is the paper!
I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I’ve caught him several times LOOKING AT THE PAPER! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.
She didn’t know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the paper–she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry–asked me why I should frighten her so!
Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John’s, and she wished we would be more careful!
Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!
Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.
John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper.
I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was BECAUSE of the wall-paper–he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away.
I don’t want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.
I’m feeling ever so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime.
In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing.
There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously.
It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw–not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.
But there is something else about that paper–the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here.
It creeps all over the house.
I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs.
It gets into my hair.
Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it–there is that smell!
Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like.
It is not bad–at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met.
In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me.
It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house–to reach the smell.
But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.
There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over.
I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round–round and round and round–it makes me dizzy!
I really have discovered something at last.
Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.
The front pattern DOES move–and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!
Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.
And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern–it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.
They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!
If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.
I think that woman gets out in the daytime!
And I’ll tell you why–privately–I’ve seen her!
I can see her out of every one of my windows!
It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.
I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.
I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight!
I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.
And John is so queer now, that I don’t want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don’t want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.
I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.
But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at a time.
And though I always see her, she MAY be able to creep faster than I can turn!
I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.
If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little.
I have found out another funny thing, but I shan’t tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much.
There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don’t like the look in his eyes.
And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give.
She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.
John knows I don’t sleep very well at night, for all I’m so quiet!
He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind.
As if I couldn’t see through him!
Still, I don’t wonder he acts so, sleeping under this paper for three months.
It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.
Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough. John is to stay in town over night, and won’t be out until this evening.
Jennie wanted to sleep with me–the sly thing! but I told her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.
That was clever, for really I wasn’t alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her.
I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.
A strip about as high as my head and half around the room.
And then when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it to-day!
We go away to-morrow, and they are moving all my furniture down again to leave things as they were before.
Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I told her merrily that I did it out of pure spite at the vicious thing.
She laughed and said she wouldn’t mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired.
How she betrayed herself that time!
But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me–not ALIVE!
She tried to get me out of the room–it was too patent! But I said it was so quiet and empty and clean now that I believed I would lie down again and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner–I would call when I woke.
So now she is gone, and the servants are gone, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that great bedstead nailed down, with the canvas mattress we found on it.
We shall sleep downstairs to-night, and take the boat home to-morrow.
I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again.
How those children did tear about here!
This bedstead is fairly gnawed!
But I must get to work.
I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path.
I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want to have anybody come in, till John comes.
I want to astonish him.
I’ve got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her!
But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!
This bed will NOT move!
I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner–but it hurt my teeth.
Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!
I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued.
I don’t like to LOOK out of the windows even–there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast.
I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?
But I am securely fastened now by my well-hidden rope–you don’t get ME out in the road there!
I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!
I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.
Why there’s John at the door!
It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!
How he does call and pound!
Now he’s crying for an axe.
It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!
“John dear!” said I in the gentlest voice, “the key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!”
That silenced him for a few moments.
Then he said–very quietly indeed, “Open the door, my darling!”
“I can’t,” said I. “The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!”
And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.
“What is the matter?” he cried. “For God’s sake, what are you doing!”
I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.
“I’ve got out at last,” said I, “in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!
By Ernest Hemingway
With the fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with their smokestacks that folded back to pass under the bridges, pulling a tow of barges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be lonely along the river. With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.
In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.
By Ring Lardner
MOTHER says that when I start talking I never know when to stop. But I tell her the only time I get a chance is when she ain’t around, so I have to make the most of it. I guess the fact is neither one of us would be welcome in a Quaker meeting, but as I tell Mother, what did God give us tongues for if He didn’t want we should use them? Only she says He didn’t give them to us to say the same thing over and over again, like I do, and repeat myself. But I say:
“Well, Mother,” I say, “when people is like you and I and been married fifty years, do you expect everything I say will be something you ain’t heard me say before? But it may be new to others, as they ain’t nobody else lived with me as long as you have.”
So she says:
“You can bet they ain’t, as they couldn’t nobody else stand you that long.”
“Well,” I tell her, “you look pretty healthy.”
“Maybe I do,” she will say, “but I looked even healthier before I married you.”
You can’t get ahead of Mother.
Yes, sir, we was married just fifty years ago the seventeenth day of last December and my daughter and son-in-law was over from Trenton to help us celebrate the Golden Wedding. My son-in-law is John H. Kramer, the real estate man. He made $12,000 one year and is pretty well thought of around Trenton; a good, steady, hard worker. The Rotarians was after him a long time to join, but he kept telling them his home was his club. But Edie fnally made him join. That’s my daughter.
Well, anyway, they come over to help us celebrate the Golden Wedding and it was pretty crimpy weather and the furnace don’t seem to heat up no more like it used to and Mother made the remark that she hoped this winter wouldn’t be as cold as the last, referring to the winter previous. So Edie said if she was us, and nothing to keep us home, she certainly wouldn’t spend no more winters up here and why didn’t we just shut off the water and close up the house and go down to Tampa, Florida? You know we was there four winters ago and staid five weeks, but it cost us over three hundred and fifty dollars for hotel bill alone. So Mother said we wasn’t going no place to be robbed. So my son-in-law spoke up and said that Tampa wasn’t the only place in the South, and besides we didn’t have to stop at no high price hotel but could rent us a couple rooms and board out somewheres, and he had heard that St. Petersburg, Florida, was the spot and if we said the word he would write down there and make inquiries.
Well, to make a long story short, we decided to do it and Edie said it would be our Golden Honeymoon and for a present my son-in-law paid the difference between a section and a compartment so as we could have a compartment and have more privatecy. In a compartment you have an upper and lower berth just like the regular sleeper, but it is a shut in room by itself and got a wash bowl. The car we went in was all compartments and no regular berths at all. It was all compartments.
We went to Trenton the night before and staid at my daughter and son-in-law and we left Trenton the next afternoon at 3.23 P.M.
This was the twelfth day of January. Mother set facing the front of the train, as it makes her giddy to ride backwards. I set facing her, which does not affect me. We reached North Philadelphia at 4.03 P.M. and we reached West Philadelphia at 4.14, but did not go into Broad Street. We reached Baltimore at 6.30 and Washington, D.C., at 7.25. Our train laid over in Washington two hours till another train come along to pick us up and I got out and strolled up the platform and into the Union Station. When I come back, our car had been switched on to another track, but I remembered the name of it, the La Belle, as I had once visited my aunt out in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where there was a lake of that name, so I had no difficulty in getting located. But Mother had nearly fretted herself sick for fear I would be left.
“Well,” I said, “I would of followed you on the next train.”
“You could of,” said Mother, and she pointed out that she had the money.
“Well,” I said, “we are in Washington and I could of borrowed from the United States Treasury. I would of pretended I was an Englishman.”
Mother caught the point and laughed heartily.
Our train pulled out of Washington at 9.40 P.M. and Mother and I turned in early, I taking the upper. During the night we passed through the green fields of old Virginia, though it was too dark to tell if they was green or what color. When we got up in the morning, we was at Fayetteville, North Carolina. We had breakfast in the dining car and after breakfast I got in conversation with the man in the next compartment to ours. He was from Lebanon, New Hampshire, and a man about eighty years of age. His wife was with him, and two unmarried daughters and I made the remark that I should think the four of them would be crowded in one compartment, but he said they had made the trip every winter for fifteen years and knowed how to keep out of each other’s way. He said they was bound for Tarpon Springs.
We reached Charleston, South Carolina, at 12.50 P.M. and arrived at Savannah, Georgia, at 4.20. We reached Jacksonville, Florida, at 8.45 P.M. and had an hour and a quarter to lay over there, but Mother made a fuss about me getting off the train, so we had the darky make up our berths and retired before we left Jacksonville. I didn’t sleep good as the train done a lot of hemming and hawing, and Mother never sleeps good on a train as she says she is always worrying that I will fall out. She says she would rather have the upper herself, as then she would not have to worry about me, but I tell her I can’t take the risk of having it get out that I allowed my wife to sleep in an upper berth. It would make talk.
We was up in the morning in time to see our friends from New Hampshire get off at Tarpon Springs, which we reached at 6.53 A.M.
Several of our fellow passengers got off at Clearwater and some at Belleair, where the train backs right up to the door of the mammoth hotel. Belleair is the winter headquarters for the golf dudes and everybody that got off there had their bag of sticks, as many as ten and twelve in a bag. Women and all. When I was a young man we called it shinny and only needed one club to play with and about one game of it would of been a-plenty for some of these dudes, the way we played it.
The train pulled into St. Petersburg at 8.20 and when we got off the train you would think they was a riot, what with all the darkies barking for the different hotels.
I said to Mother, I said:
“It is a good thing we have got a place picked out to go to and don’t have to choose a hotel, as it would be hard to choose amongst them if every one of them is the best.”
We found a jitney and I give him the address of the room my son-in-law had got for us and soon we was there and introduced ourselves to the lady that owns the house, a young widow about forty-eight years of age. She showed us our room, which was light and airy with a comfortable bed and bureau and washstand. It was twelve dollars a week, but the location was good, only three blocks from Williams Park.
St. Pete is what folks calls the town, though they also call it the Sunshine City, as they claim they’s no other place in the country where they’s fewer days when Old Sol don’t smile down on Mother Earth, and one of the newspapers gives away all their copies free every day when the sun don’t shine. They claim to of only give them away some sixty-odd times in the last eleven years. Another nickname they have got for the town is “the Poor Man’s Palm Beach,” but I guess they’s men that comes there that could borrow as much from the bank as some of the Willie boys over to the other Palm Beach.
During our stay we paid a visit to the Lewis Tent City, which is the headquarters for the Tin Can Tourists. But maybe you ain’t heard about them. Well, they are an organization that takes their vacation trips by auto and carries everything with them. That is, they bring along their tents to sleep in and cook in and they don’t patronize no hotels or cafeterias, but they have got to be bona fide auto campers or they can’t belong to the organization.
They tell me they’s over 200,000 members to it and they call themselves the Tin Canners on account of most of their food being put up in tin cans. One couple we seen in the Tent City was a couple from Brady, Texas, named Mr. and Mrs. Pence, which the old man is over eighty years of age and they had come in their auto all the way from home, a distance of 1,641 miles. They took five weeks for the trip, Mr. Pence driving the entire distance.
The Tin Canners hails from every State in the Union and in the summer time they visit places like New England and the Great Lakes region, but in the winter the most of them comes to Florida and scatters all over the State. While we was down there, they was a national convention of them at Gainesville, Florida, and they elected a Fredonia, New York, man as their president. His title is Royal Tin Can Opener of the World. They have got a song wrote up which everybody has got to learn it before they are a member:
“The tin can forever! Hurrah, boys! Hurrah! Up with the tin can! Down with the foe! We will rally round the campfire, we’ll rally once again, Shouting, ‘We auto camp forever!'”
That is something like it. And the members has also got to have a tin can fastened on to the front of their machine.
I asked Mother how she would like to travel around that way and she said:
“Fine, but not with an old rattle brain like you driving.”
“Well,” I said, “I am eight years younger than this Mr. Pence who drove here from Texas.”
“Yes,” she said, “but he is old enough to not be skittish.”
You can’t get ahead of Mother.
Well, one of the first things we done in St. Petersburg was to go to the Chamber of Commerce and register our names and where we was from as they’s great rivalry amongst the different States in regards to the number of their citizens visiting in town and of course our little State don’t stand much of a show, but still every little bit helps, as the fella says. All and all, the man told us, they was eleven thousand names registered, Ohio leading with some fifteen hundred-odd and New York State next with twelve hundred. Then come Michigan, Pennsylvania and so on down, with one man each from Cuba and Nevada.
The first night we was there, they was a meeting of the New York-New Jersey Society at the Congregational Church and a man from Ogdensburg, New York State, made the talk. His subject was Rainbow Chasing. He is a Rotarian and a very convicting speaker, though I forget his name.
Our first business, of course, was to find a place to eat and after trying several places we run on to a cafeteria on Central Avenue that suited us up and down. We eat pretty near all our meals there and it averaged about two dollars per day for the two of us, but the food was well cooked and everything nice and clean. A man don’t mind paying the price if things is clean and well cooked.
On the third day of February, which is Mother’s birthday, we spread ourselves and eat supper at the Poinsettia Hotel and they charged us seventy-five cents for a sirloin steak that wasn’t hardly big enough for one.
I said to Mother: “Well,” I said, “I guess it’s a good thing every day ain’t your birthday or we would be in the poorhouse.”
“No,” says Mother, “because if every day was my birthday, I would be old enough by this time to of been in my grave long ago.”
You can’t get ahead of Mother.
In the hotel they had a card-room where they was several men and ladies playing five hundred and this new fangled whist bridge. We also seen a place where they was dancing, so I asked Mother would she like to trip tne light fantastic toe and she said no, she was too old to squirm like you have got to do now days. We watched some of the young folks at it awhile till Mother got disgusted and said we would have to see a good movie to take the taste out of our mouth. Mother is a great movie heroyne and we go twice a week here at home.
But I want to tell you about the Park. The second day we was there we visited the Park, which is a good deal like the one in Tampa, only bigger, and they’s more fun goes on here every day than you could shake a stick at. In the middle they’s a big bandstand and chairs for the folks to set and listen to the concerts, which they give you music for all tastes, from Dixie up to classical pieces like Hearts and Flowers.
Then all around they’s places marked off for different sports and games–chess and checkers and dominoes for folks that enjoys those kind of games, and roque and horse-shoes for the nimbler ones. I used to pitch a pretty fair shoe myself, but ain’t done much of it in the last twenty years.
Well, anyway, we bought a membership ticket in the club which costs one dollar for the season, and they tell me that up to a couple years ago it was fifty cents, but they had to raise it to keep out the riffraff.
Well, Mother and I put in a great day watching the pitchers and she wanted I should get in the game, but I told her I was all out of practice and would make a fool of myself, though I seen several men pitching who I guess I could take their measure without no practice. However, they was some good pitchers, too, and one boy from Akron, Ohio, who could certainly throw a pretty shoe. They told me it looked like he would win them championship of the United States in the February tournament. We come away a few days before they held that and I never did hear if he win. I forget his name, but he was a clean cut young fella and he has got a brother in Cleveland that’s a Rotarian.
Well, we just stood around and watched the different games for two or three days and finally I set down in a checker game with a man named Weaver from Danville, Illinois. He was a pretty fair checker player, but he wasn’t no match for me, and I hope that don’t sound like bragging. But I always could hold my own on a checker-board and the folks around here will tell you the same thing. I played with this Weaver pretty near all morning for two or three mornings and he beat me one game and the only other time it looked like he had a chance, the noon whistle blowed and we had to quit and go to dinner.
While I was playing checkers, Mother would set and listen to the band, as she loves music, classical or no matter what kind, but anyway she was setting there one day and between selections the woman next to her opened up a conversation. She was a woman about Mother’s own age, seventy or seventy-one, and finally she asked Mother’s name and Mother told her her name and where she was from and Mother asked her the same question, and who do you think the woman was?
Well, sir, it was the wife of Frank M. Hartsell, the man who was engaged to Mother till I stepped in and cut him out, fifty-two years ago!
You can imagine Mother’s surprise! And Mrs. Hartsell was surprised, too, when Mother told her she had once been friends with her husband, though Mother didn’t say how close friends they had been, or that Mother and I was the cause of Hartsell going out West. But that’s what we was. Hartsell left his town a month after the engagement was broke off and ain’t never been back since. He had went out to Michigan and become a veterinary, and that is where he had settled down, in Hillsdale, Michigan, and finally married his wife.
Well, Mother screwed up her courage to ask if Frank was still living and Mrs. Hartsell took her over to where they was pitching horse-shoes and there was old Frank, waiting his turn. And he knowed Mother as soon as he seen her, though it was over fifty years. He said he knowed her by her eyes.
“Why, it’s Lucy Frost!” he says, and he throwed down his shoes and quit the game.
Then they come over and hunted me up and I will confess I wouldn’t of knowed him. Him and I is the same age to the month, but he seems to show it more, some way. He is balder for one thing. And his beard is all white, where mine has still got a streak of brown in it. The very first thing I said to him, I said:
“Well, Frank, that beard of yours makes me feel like I was back north. It looks like a regular blizzard.”
“Well,” he said, “I guess yourn would be just as white if you had it dry cleaned.”
But Mother wouldn’t stand that.
“Is that so!” she said to Frank. “Well, Chancy ain’t had no tobacco in his mouth for over ten years!”
And I ain’t!
Well, I excused myself from the checker game and it was pretty close to noon, so we decided to all have dinner together and they was nothing for it only we must try their cafeteria on Third Avenue. It was a little more expensive than ours and not near as good, I thought. I and Mother had about the same dinner we had been having every day and our bill was $1.10. Frank’s check was $1.20 for he and his wife. The same meal wouldn’t of cost them more than a dollar at our place.
After dinner we made them come up to our house and we all set in the parlor, which the young woman had give us the use of to entertain company. We begun talking over old times and Mother said she was a-scared Mrs. Hartsell would find it tiresome listening to we three talk over old times, but as it turned out they wasn’t much chance for nobody else to talk with Mrs. Hartsell in the company. I have heard lots of women that could go it, but Hartsell’s wife takes the cake of all the women I ever seen. She told us the family history of everybody in the State of Michigan and bragged for a half hour about her son, who she said is in the drug business in Grand Rapids, and a Rotarian.
When I and Hartsell could get a word in edgeways we joked one another back and forth and I chafed him about being a horse doctor.
“Well, Frank,” I said, ” you look pretty prosperous, so I suppose they’s been plenty of glanders around Hillsdale.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve managed to make more than a fair living. But I’ve worked pretty hard.”
“Yes,” I said, “and I suppose you get called out all hours of the night to attend births and so on.”
Mother made me shut up.
Well, I thought they wouldn’t never go home and I and Mother was in misery trying to keep awake, as the both of us generally always takes a nap after dinner. Finally they went, after we had made an engagement to meet them in the Park the next morning, and Mrs. Hartsell also invited us to come to their place the next night and play five hundred. But she had forgot that they was a meeting of the Michigan Society that evening, so it was not till two evenings later that we had our first card game.
Hartsell and his wife lived in a house on Third Avenue North and had a private setting room besides their bedroom. Mrs. Hartsell couldn’t quit talking about their private setting room like it was something wonderful. We played cards with them, with Mother and Hartsell partners against his wife and I. Mrs. Hartsell is a miserable card player and we certainly got the worst of it.
After the game she brought out a dish of oranges and we had to pretend it was just what we wanted, though oranges down there is like a young man’s whiskers; you enjoy them at first, but they get to be a pesky nuisance.
We played cards again the next night at our place with the same partners and I and Mrs. Hartsell was beat again. Mother and Hartsell was full of compliments for each other on what a good team they made, but the both of them knowed well enough where the secret of their success laid. I guess all and all we must of played ten different evenings and they was only one night when Mrs. Hartsell and I come out ahead. And that one night wasn’t no fault of hern.
When we had been down there about two weeks, we spent one evening as their guest in the Congregational Church, at a social give by the Michigan Society. A talk was made by a man named Bitting of Detroit, Michigan, on How I was Cured of Story Telling. He is a big man in the Rotarians and give a witty talk.
A woman named Mrs. Oxford rendered some selections which Mrs. Hartsell said was grand opera music, but whatever they was my daughter Edie could of give her cards and spades and not made such a hullaballoo about it neither.
Then they was a ventriloquist from Grand Rapids and a young woman about forty-five years of age that mimicked different kinds of birds. I whispered to Mother that they all sounded like a chicken, but she nudged me to shut up.
After the show we stopped in a drug store and I set up the refreshments and it was pretty close to ten o’clock before we finally turned in. Mother and I would of preferred tending the movies, but Mother said we mustn’t offend Mrs. Hartsell, though I asked her had we came to Florida to enjoy ourselves or to just not offend an old chatter-box from Michigan.
I felt sorry for Hartsell one morning. The women folks both had an engagement down to the chiropodist’s and I run across Hartsell in the Park and he foolishly offered to play me checkers.
It was him that suggested it, not me, and I guess he repented himself before we had played one game. But he was too stubborn to give up and set there while I beat him game after game and the worst part of it was that a crowd of folks had got in the habit of watching me play and there they all was, hooking on, and finally they seen what a fool Frank was making of himself, and they began to chafe him and pass remarks. Like one of them said:
“Who ever told you you was a checker player!”
“You might maybe be good for tiddle-de-winks, but not checkers!
I almost felt like letting him beat me a couple games. But the crowd would of knowed it was a put up job.
Well, the women folks joined us in the Park and I wasn’t going to mention our little game, but Hartsell told about it himself and admitted he wasn’t no match for me.
“Well,” said Mrs. Hartsell, “checkers ain’t much of a game anyway, is it?” She said: “It’s more of a children’s game, ain’t it? At least, I know my boy’s children used to play it a good deal.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “It’s a children’s game the way your husband plays it, too.”
Mother wanted to smooth things over, so she said:
“Maybe they’s other games where Frank can beat you.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Hartsell, “and I bet he could beat you pitching horse-shoes.”
“Well,” I said, “I would give him a chance to try, only I ain’t pitched a shoe in over sixteen years.”
“Well,” said Hartsell, “I ain’t played checkers in twenty years.”
“You ain’t never played it,” I said.
“Anyway,” says Frank, “Lucy and I is your master at five hundred.”
Well, I could of told him why that was, but had decency enough to hold my tongue.
It had got so now that he wanted to play cards every night and when I or Mother wanted to go to a movie, any one of us would have to pretend we had a headache and then trust to goodness that they wouldn’t see us sneak into the theater. I don’t mind playing cards when my partner keeps their mind on the game, but you take a woman like Hartsell’s wife and how can they play cards when they have got to stop every couple seconds and brag about their son in Grand Rapids?
Well, the New York-New Jersey Society announced that they was goin’ to give a social evening too and I said to Mother, I said:
“Well, that is one evening when we will have an excuse not to play five hundred.”
“Yes,” she said, “but we will have to ask Frank and his wife to go to the social with us as they asked us to go to the Michigan social.”
“Well,” I said, “I had rather stay home than drag that chatterbox everywheres we go.”
So Mother said:
“You are getting too cranky. Maybe she does talk a little too much but she is good hearted. And Frank is always good company.”
So I said:
“I suppose if he is such good company you wished you had of married him.”
Mother laughed and said I sounded like I was jealous. Jealous of a cow doctor!
Anyway we had to drag them along to the social and I will say that we give them a much better entertainment than they had given us.
Judge Lane of Paterson made a fine talk on business conditions and a Mrs. Newell of Westfield imitated birds, only you could really tell what they was the way she done it. Two young women from Red Bank sung a choral selection and we clapped them back and they gave us Home to Our Mountains and Mother and Mrs. Hartsell both had tears in their eyes. And Hartsell, too.
Well, some way or another the chairman got wind that I was there and asked me to make a talk and I wasn’t even going to get up, but Mother made me, so I got up and said:
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said. “I didn’t expect to be called on for a speech on an occasion like this or no other occasion as I do not set myself up as a speech maker, so will have to do the best I can, which I often say is the best anybody can do.”
Then I told them the story about Pat and the motorcycle, using the brogue, and it seemed to tickle them and I told them one or two other stories, hut altogether I wasn’t on my feet more than twenty or twenty-five minutes and you ought to of heard the clapping and hollering when I set down. Even Mrs. Hartsell admitted that I am quite a speechifier and said if I ever went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, her son would make me talk to the Rotarians.
When it was over, Hartsell wanted we should go to their house and play cards, but his wife reminded him that it was after 9.30 P.M., rather a late hour to start a card game, but he had went crazy on the subject of cards, probably because he didn’t have to play partners with his wife. Anyway, we got rid of them and went home to bed.
It was the next morning, when we met over to the Park, that Mrs. Hartsell made the remark that she wasn’t getting no exercise so I suggested that why didn’t she take part in the roque game.
She said she had not played a game of roque in twenty years, but if Mother would play she would play. Well, at first Mother wouldn’t hear of it, but finally consented, more to please Mrs. Hartsell than anything else.
Well, they had a game with a Mrs. Ryan from Eagle, Nebraska, and a young Mrs. Morse from Rutland, Vermont, who Mother had met down to the chiropodist’s. Well, Mother couldn’t hit a flea and they all laughed at her and I couldn’t help from laughing at her myself and finally she quit and said her back was too lame to stoop over. So they got another lady and kept on playing and soon Mrs. Hartsell was the one everybody was laughing at, as she had a long shot to hit the black ball, and as she made the effort her teeth fell out on to the court. I never seen a woman so flustered in my life. And I never heard so much laughing, only Mrs. Hartsell didn’t join in and she was madder than a hornet and wouldn’t play no more, so the game broke up.
Mrs. Hartsell went home without speaking to nobody, but Hartsell stayed around and finally he said to me, he said:
“Well, I played you checkers the other day and you beat me bad and now what do you say if you and me play a game of horseshoes?”
I told him I hadn’t pitched a shoe in sixteen years, but Mother said:
“Go ahead and play. You used to be good at it and maybe it will come back to you.”
Well, to make a long story short, I give in. I oughtn’t to of never tried it, as I hadn’t pitched a shoe in sixteen years, and I only done it to humor Hartsell.
Before we started, Mother patted me on the back and told me to do my best, so we started in and I seen right off that I was in for it, as I hadn’t pitched a shoe in sixteen years and didn’t have my distance. And besides, the plating had wore off the shoes so that they was points right where they stuck into my thumb and I hadn’t throwed more than two or three times when my thumb was raw and it pretty near killed me to hang on to the shoe, let alone pitch it.
Well, Hartsell throws the awkwardest shoe I ever seen pitched and to see him pitch you wouldn’t think he would ever come nowheres near, but he is also the luckiest pitcher I ever seen and he made some pitches where the shoe lit five and six feet short and then schoonered up and was a ringer. They’s no use trying to beat that kind of luck.
They was a pretty fair size crowd watching us and four or five other ladies besides Mother, and it seems like, when Hartsell pitches, he has got to chew and it kept the ladies on the anxious seat as he don’t seem to care which way he is facing when he leaves go.
You would think a man as old as him would of learnt more manners.
Well, to make a long story short, I was just beginning to get my distance when I had to give up on account of my thumb, which I showed it to Hartsell and he seen I couldn’t go on, as it was raw and bleeding. Even if I could of stood it to go on myself, Mother wouldn’t of allowed it after she seen my thumb. So anyway I quit and Hartsell said the score was nineteen to six, but I don’t know what it was. Or don’t care, neither.
Well, Mother and I went home and I said I hoped we was through with the Hartsells as I was sick and tired of them, but it seemed like she had promised we would go over to their house that evening for another game of their everlasting cards.
Well, my thumb was giving me considerable pain and I felt kind of out of sorts and I guess maybe I forgot myself, but anyway, when we was about through playing Hartsell made the remark that he wouldn’t never lose a game of cards if he could always have Mother for a partner.
So I said:
“Well, you had a chance fifty years ago to always have her for a partner, but you wasn’t man enough to keep her.”
I was sorry the minute I had said it and Hartsell didn’t know what to say and for once his wife couldn’t say nothing. Mother tried to smooth things over by making the remark that I must of had something stronger than tea or I wouldn’t talk so silly. But Mrs. Hartsell had froze up like an iceberg and hardly said good night to us and I bet her and Frank put in a pleasant hour after we was gone.
As we was leaving, Mother said to him: “Never mind Charley’s nonsense, Frank. He is just mad because you beat him all hollow pitching horseshoes and playing cards.”
She said that to make up for my slip, but at the same time she certainly riled me. I tried to keep ahold of myself, but as soon as we was out of the house she had to open up the subject and begun to scold me for the break I had made.
Well, I wasn’t in no mood to be scolded. So I said:
“I guess he is such a wonderful pitcher and card player that you wished you had married him.”
“Well,” she said, “at least he ain’t a baby to give up pitching because his thumb has got a few scratches.”
“And how about you,” I said, “making a fool of yourself on the roque court and then pretemiding your back is lame and you can’t play no more!”
“Yes,” she said, “but when you hurt your thumb I didn’t laugh at you, and why did you laugh at me when I sprained my back?”
“Who could help from laughing!” I said.
“Well,” she said, “Frank Hartsell didn’t laugh.”
“Well,” I said, “why didn’t you marry him?”
“Well,” said Mother, “I almost wished I had!”
“And I wished so, too!” I said.
“I’ll remember that!” said Mother, and that’s the last word she said to me for two days.
We seen the Hartsells the next day in the Park and I was willing to apologize, but they just nodded to us. And a couple days later we heard they had left for Orlando, where they have got relatives.
I wished they had went there in the first place.
Mother and I made it up setting on a bench.
“Listen, Charley,” she said. “This is our Golden Honeymoon and we don’t want the whole thing spoilt with a silly old quarrel.”
“Well,” I said, “did you mean that about wishing you had married Hartsell?”
“Of course not,” she said, “that is, if you didn’t mean that you wished I had, too.” So I said:
“I was just tired and all wrought up. I thank God you chose me instead of him as they’s no other woman in the world who I could of lived with all these years.”
“How about Mrs. Hartsell?” says Mother.
“Good gracious!” I said. “Imagine being married to a woman that plays five hundred like she does and drops her teeth on the roque court!”
“Well,” said Mother, “it wouldn’t be no worse than being married to a man that expectorates towards ladies and is such a fool in a checker game.”
So I put my arm around her shoulder and she stroked my hand and I guess we got kind of spoony.
They was two days left of our stay in St. Petersburg and the next to the last day Mother introduced me to a Mrs. Kendall from Kingston, Rhode Island, who she had met at the chiropodist’s.
Mrs. Kendall made us acquainted with her husband, who is in the grocery business. They have got two sons and five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. One of their sons lives in Providence and is way up in the Elks as well as a Rotarian.
We found them very congenial people and we played cards with them the last two nights we was there. They was both experts and I only wished we had met them sooner instead of running into the Hartsells. But the Kendalls will be there again next winter and we will see more of them, that is, if we decide to make the trip again.
We left the Sunshine City on the eleventh day of February, at 11 A.M. This give us a day trip through Florida and we seen all the country we had passed through at night on the way down.
We reached Jacksonville at 7 P.M. and pulled out of there at 8.10 P.M. We reached Fayetteville, North Carolina, at nine o’clock the following morning, and reached Washington, D. C., at 6.30 P.M., laying over there half an hour.
We reached Trenton at 11.01 P.M. and had wired ahead to my daughter and son-in-law and they met us at the train and we went to their house and they put us up for the night. John would of made us stay up all night, telling about our trip, but Edie said we must be tired and made us go to bed. That’s my daughter.
The next day we took our train for home and arrived safe and sound, having been gone just one month and a day.
Here comes Mother, so I guess I better shut up.
By Sherwood Anderson
MY FATHER was, I am sure, intended by nature to be a cheerful, kindly man. Until he was thirty-four years old he worked as a farmhand for a man named Thomas Butterworth whose place lay near the town of Bidwell, Ohio. He had then a horse of his own and on Saturday evenings drove into town to spend a few hours in social intercourse with other farmhands. In town he drank several glasses of beer and stood about in Ben Head’s saloon–crowded on Saturday evenings with visiting farmhands. Songs were sung and glasses thumped on the bar. At ten o’clock father drove home along a lonely country road, made his horse comfortable for the night and himself went to bed, quite happy in his position in life. He had at that time no notion of trying to rise in the world.
It was in the spring of his thirty-fifth year that father married my mother, then a country schoolteacher, and in the following spring I came wriggling and crying into the world. Something happened to the two people. They became ambitious. The American passion for getting up in the world took possession of them.
It may have been that mother was responsible. Being a schoolteacher she had no doubt read books and magazines. She had, I presume, read of how Garfield, Lincoln, and other Americans rose from poverty to fame and greatness and as I lay beside her–in the days of her lying-in–she may have dreamed that I would someday rule men and cities. At any rate she induced father to give up his place as a farmhand, sell his horse and embark on an independent enterprise of his own. She was a tall silent woman with a long nose and troubled grey eyes. For herself she wanted nothing. For father and myself she was incurably ambitious.
The first venture into which the two people went turned out badly. They rented ten acres of poor stony land on Griggs’s Road, eight miles from Bidwell, and launched into chicken raising. I grew into boyhood on the place and got my first impressions of life there. From the beginning they were impressions of disaster and if, in my turn, I am a gloomy man inclined to see the darker side of life, I attribute it to the fact that what should have been for me the happy joyous days of childhood were spent on a chicken farm.
One unversed in such matters can have no notion of the many and tragic things that can happen to a chicken. It is born out of an egg, lives for a few weeks as a tiny fluffy thing such as you will see pictured on Easter cards, then becomes hideously naked, eats quantities of corn and meal bought by the sweat of your father’s brow, gets diseases called pip, cholera, and other names, stands looking with stupid eyes at the sun, becomes sick and dies. A few hens and now and then a rooster, intended to serve God’s mysterious ends, struggle through to maturity. The hens lay eggs out of which come other chickens and the dreadful cycle is thus made complete. It is all unbelievably complex. Most philosophers must have been raised on chicken farms. One hopes for so much from a chicken and is so dreadfully disillusioned. Small chickens, just setting out on the journey of life, look so bright and alert and they are in fact so dreadfully stupid. They are so much like people they mix one up in one’s judgments of life. If disease does not kill them they wait until your expectations are thoroughly aroused and then walk under the wheels of a wagon–to go squashed and dead back to their maker. Vermin infest their youth, and fortunes must be spent for curative powders. In later life I have seen how a literature has been built up on the subject of fortunes to be made out of the raising of chickens. It is intended to be read by the gods who have just eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a hopeful literature and declares that much may be done by simple ambitious people who own a few hens. Do not be led astray by it. It was not written for you. Go hunt for gold on the frozen hills of Alaska, put your faith in the honesty of a politician, believe if you will that the world is daily growing better and that good will triumph over evil, but do not read and believe the literature that is written concerning the hen. It was not written for you.
I, however, digress. My tale does not primarily concern itself with the hen. If correctly told it will center on the egg. For ten years my father and mother struggled to make our chicken farm pay and then they gave up that struggle and began another. They moved into the town of Bidwell, Ohio and embarked in the restaurant business. After ten years of worry with incubators that did not hatch, and with tiny–and in their own way lovely–balls of fluff that passed on into semi-naked pullerhood and from that into dead henhood, we threw all aside and packing our belongings on a wagon drove down Griggs’s Road toward Bidwell, a tiny caravan of hope looking for a new place from which to start on our upward journey through life.
We must have been a sad looking lot, not, I fancy, unlike refugees fleeing from a battlefield. Mother and I walked in the road. The wagon that contained our goods had been borrowed for the day from Mr. Albert Griggs, a neighbor. Out of its sides stuck the legs of cheap chairs and at the back of the pile of beds, tables, and boxes filled with kitchen utensils was a crate of live chickens, and on top of that the baby carriage in which I had been wheeled about in my infancy. Why we stuck to the baby carriage I don’t know. It was unlikely other children would be born and the wheels were broken. People who have few possessions cling tightly to those they have. That is one of the facts that make life so discouraging.
Father rode on top of the wagon. He was then a bald-headed man of forty-five, a little fat and from long association with mother and the chickens he had become habitually silent and discouraged. All during our ten years on the chicken farm he had worked as a laborer on neighboring farms and most of the money he had earned had been spent for remedies to cure chicken diseases, on Wilmer’s White Wonder Cholera Cure or Professor Bidlow’s Egg Producer or some other preparations that mother found advertised in the poultry papers. There were two little patches of hair on father’s head just above his ears. I remember that as a child I used to sit looking at him when he had gone to sleep in a chair before the stove on Sunday afternoons in the winter. I had at that rime already begun to read books and have notions of my own and the bald path that led over the top of his head was, I fancied, something like a broad road, such a road as Caesar might have made on which to lead his legions out of Rome and into the wonders of an unknown world. The tufts of hair that grew above father’s ears were, I thought, like forests. I fell into a half-sleeping, half-waking state and dreamed I was a tiny thing going along the road into a far beautiful place where there were no chicken farms and where life was a happy eggless affair.
One might write a book concerning our flight from the chicken farm into town. Mother and I walked the entire eight miles–she to be sure that nothing fell from the wagon and I to see the wonders of the world. On the seat of the wagon beside father was his greatest treasure. I will tell you of that.
On a chicken farm where hundreds and even thousands of chickens come out of eggs, surprising things sometimes happen. Grotesques are born out of eggs as out of people. The accident does not often occur–perhaps once in a thousand births. A chicken is, you see, born that has four legs, two pairs of wings, two heads or what not. The things do not live. They go quickiy back to the hand of their maker that has for a moment trembled. The fact that the poor little things could not live was one of the tragedies of life to father. He had some sort of notion that if he could but bring into henhood or roosterhood a five-legged hen or a two-headed rooster his fortune would be made. He dreamed of taking the wonder about to county fairs and of growing rich by exhibiting it to other farmhands.
At any rate he saved all the little monstrous things that had been born on our chicken farm. They were preserved in alcohol and put each in its own glass bottle. These he had carefully put into a box and on our journey into town it was carried on the wagon seat beside him. He drove the horses with one hand and with the other clung to the box. When we got to our destination the box was taken down at once and the bottles removed. All during our days as keepers of a restaurant in the town of Bidwell, Ohio, the grotesques in their little glass bottles sat on a shelf back of the counter. Mother sometimes protested but father was a rock on the subject of his treasure. The grotesques were, he declared, valuable. People, he said, liked to look at strange and wonderful things.
Did I say that we embarked in the restaurant business in the town of Bidwell, Ohio? I exaggerated a little. The town itself lay at the foot of a low hill and on the shore of a small river. The railroad did not run through the town and the station was a mile away to the north at a place called Pickleville. There had been a cider mill and pickle factory at the station, but before the time of our coming they had both gone out of business. In the morning and in the evening busses came down to the station along a road called Turner’s Pike from the hotel on the main street of Bidwell. Our going to the out-of-the-way place to embark in the restaurant business was mother’s idea. She talked of it for a year and then one day went off and rented an empty store building opposite the railroad station. It was her idea that the restaurant would be profitable. Travelling men, she said, would be always waiting around to take trains out of town and town people would come to the station to await incoming trains. They would come to the restaurant to buy pieces of pie and drink coffee. Now that I am older I know that she had another motive in going. She was ambitious for me. She wanted me to rise in the world, to get into a town school and become a man of the towns.
At Pickleville father and mother worked hard as they always had done. At first there was the necessity of putting our place into shape to be a restaurant. That took a month. Father built a shelf on which he put tins of vegetables. He painted a sign on which he put his name in large red letters. Below his name was the sharp command–“EAT HERE”–that was so seldom obeyed. A showcase was bought and filled with cigars and tobacco. Mother scrubbed the floor and the walls of the room. I went to school in the town and was glad to be away from the farm and from the presence of the discouraged, sad-looking chickens. Still I was not very joyous. In the evening I walked home from school along Turner’s Pike and remembered the children I had seen playing in the town school yard. A troop of little girls had gone hopping about and singing. I tried that. Down along the frozen road I went hopping solemnly on one leg. “Hippity hop to the barber shop,” I sang shrilly. Then I stopped and looked doubtfully about. I was afraid of being seen in my gay mood. It must have seemed to me that I was doing a thing that should not be done by one who, like myself, had been raised on a chicken farm where death was a daily visitor.
Mother decided that our restaurant should remain open at night. At ten in the evening a passenger train went north past our door followed by a local freight. The freight crew had switching to do in Pickleville and when the work was done they came to our restaurant for hot coffee and food. Sometimes one of them ordered a fried egg. In the morning at four they returned northbound and again visited us. A little trade began to grow up. Mother slept at night and during the day tended the restaurant and fed our boarders while father slept. He slept in the same bed mother had occupied during the night and I went off to the town of Bidwell and to school. During the long nights, while mother and I slept, father cooked meats that were to go into sandwiches for the lunch baskets of our boarders. Then an idea in regard to getting up in the world came into his head. The American spirit took hold of him. He also became ambitious.
In the long nights when there was little to do father had time to think. That was his undoing. He decided that he had in the past been an unsuccessful man because he had not been cheerful enough and that in the future he would adopt a cheerful outlook on life. In the early morning he came upstairs and got into bed with mother. She woke and the two talked. From my bed in the corner I listened.
It was father’s idea that both he and mother should try to entertain the people who came to eat at our restaurant. I cannot now remember his words, but he gave the impression of one about to become in some obscure way a kind of public entertainer. When people, particularly young people from the town of Bidwell, came into our place, as on very rare occasions they did, bright entertaining conversation was to be made. From father’s words I gathered that something of the jolly innkeeper effect was to be sought. Mother must have been doubtful from the first, but she said nothing discouraging. It was father’s notion that a passion for the company of himself and mother would spring up in the breasts of the younger people of the town of Bidwell. In the evening bright happy groups would come singing down Turner’s Pike. They would troop shouting with joy and laughter into our place. There would be song and festivity. I do not mean to give the impression that father spoke so elaborately of the matter. He was as I have said an uncommunicative man. “They want some place to go. I tell you they want some place to go,” he said over and over. That was as far as he got. My own imagination has filled in the blanks.
For two or three weeks this notion of father’s invaded our house. We did not talk much but in our daily lives tried earnestly to make smiles take the place of glum looks. Mother smiled at the boarders and I, catching the infection, smiled at our cat. Father became a little feverish in his anxiety to please. There was no doubt lurking somewhere in him a touch of the spirit of the showman. He did not waste much of his ammunition on the railroad men he served at night but seemed to be waiting for a young man or woman from Bidwell to come in to show what he could do. On the counter in the restaurant there was a wire basket kept always filled with eggs, and it must have been before his eyes when the idea of being entertaining was born in his brain. There was something pre-natal about the way eggs kept themselves connected with the development of his idea. At any rate an egg ruined his new impulse in life. Late one night I was awakened by a roar of anger coming from father’s throat. Both mother and I sat upright in our beds. With trembling hands she lighted a lamp that stood on a table by her head. Downstairs the front door of our restaurant went shut with a bang and in a few minutes father tramped up the stairs. He held an egg in his hand and his hand trembled as though he were having a chill. There was a half insane light in his eyes. As he stood glaring at us I was sure he intended throwing the egg at either mother or me. Then he laid it gently on the table beside the lamp and dropped on his knees beside mother’s bed. He began to cry like a boy and I, carried away by his grief, cried with him. The two of us filled the little upstairs room with our wailing voices. It is ridiculous, but of the picture we made I can remember only the fact that mother’s hand continually stroked the bald path that ran across the top of his head. I have forgotten what mother said to him and how she induced him to tell her of what had happened downstairs. His explanation also has gone out of my mind. I remember only my own grief and fright and the shiny path over father’s head glowing in the lamplight as he knelt by the bed.
As to what happened downstairs. For some unexplainable reason I know the story as well as though I had been a witness to my father’s discomfiture. One in time gets to know many unexplainable things. On that evening young Joe Kane, son of a merchant of Bidwell, came to Pickleville to meet his father, who was expected on the ten o’clock evening train from the south. The train was three hours late and Joe came into our place to loaf about and to wait for its arrival. The local freight train came in and the freight crew were fed. Joe was left alone in the restaurant with father.
From the moment he came into our place the Bidwell young man must have been puzzled by my father’s actions. It was his notion that father was angry at him for hanging around. He noticed that the restaurant keeper was apparently disturbed by his presence and he thought of going out. However, it began to rain and he did not fancy the long walk to town and back. He bought a five-cent cigar and ordered a cup of coffee. He had a newspaper in his pocket and took it out and began to read. “I’m waiting for the evening train. It’s late,” he said apologetically.
For a long time father, whom Joe Kane had never seen before, remained silently gazing at his visitor. He was no doubt suffering from an attack of stage fright. As so often happens in life he had thought so much and so often of the situation that now confronted him that he was somewhat nervous in its presence.
For one thing, he did not know what to do with his hands. He thrust one of them nervously over the counter and shook hands with Joe Kane. “How-de-do,” he said. Joe Kane put his newspaper down and stared at him. Father’s eye lighted on the basket of eggs that sat on the counter and he began to talk. “Well,” he began hesitatingly, “well, you have heard of Christopher Columbus, eh?” He seemed to be angry. “That Christopher Columbus was a cheat,” he declared emphatically. “He talked of making an egg stand on its end. He talked, he did, and then he went and broke the end of the egg.”
My father seemed to his visitor to be beside himself at the duplicity of Christopher Columbus. He muttered and swore. He declared it was wrong to teach children that Christopher Columbus was a great man when, after all, he cheated at the critical moment. He had declared he would make an egg stand on end and then when his bluff had been called he had done a trick. Still grumbling at Columbus, father took an egg from the basket on the counter and began to walk up and down. He rolled the egg between the palms of his hands. He smiled genially. He began to mumble words regarding the effect to be produced on an egg by the electricity that comes out of the human body. He declared that without breaking its shell and by virtue of rolling it back and forth in his hands he could stand the egg on its end. He explained that the warmth of his hands and the gentle rolling movement he gave the egg created a new center of gravity, and Joe Kane was mildly interested. “I have handled thousands of eggs,” father said. “No one knows more about eggs than I do.”
He stood the egg on the counter and it fell on its side. He tried the trick again and again, each time rolling the egg between the palms of his hands and saying the words regarding the wonders of electricity and the laws of gravity. When after a half hour’s effort he did succeed in making the egg stand for a moment, he looked up to find that his visitor was no longer watching. By the time he had succeeded in calling Joe Kane’s attention to the success of his effort, the egg had again rolled over and lay on its side.
Afire with the showman’s passion and at the same time a good deal disconcerted by the failure of his first effort, father now took the bottles containing the poultry monstrosities down from their place on the shelf and began to show them to his visitor. “How would you like to have seven legs and two heads like this fellow?” he asked, exhibiting the most remarkable of his treasures. A cheerful smile played over his face. He reached over the counter and tried to slap Joe Kane on the shoulder as he had seen men do in Ben Head’s saloon when he was a young farmhand and drove to town on Saturday evenings. His visitor was made a little ill by the sight of the body of the terribly deformed bird floating in the alcohol in the bottle and got up to go. Coming from behind the counter, father took hold of the young man’s arm and led him back to his seat. He grew a little angry and for a moment had to turn his face away and force himself to smile. Then he put the bottles back on the shelf. In an outburst of generosity he fairly compelled Joe Kane to have a fresh cup of coffee and another cigar at his expense. Then he took a pan and filling it with vinegar, taken from a jug that sat beneath the counter, he declared himself about to do a new trick. “I will heat this egg in this pan of vinegar,” he said. “Then I will put it through the neck of a bottle without breaking the shell. When the egg is inside the bottle it will resume its normal shape and the shell will become hard again. Then I will give the bottle with the egg in it to you. You can take it about with you wherever you go. People will want to know how you got the egg in the bottle. Don’t tell them. Keep them guessing. That is the way to have fun with this trick.”
Father grinned and winked at his visitor. Joe Kane decided that the man who confronted him was mildly insane but harmless. He drank the cup of coffee that had been given him and began to read his paper again. When the egg had been heated in vinegar, father carried it on a spoon to the counter and going into a back room got an empty bottle. He was angry because his visitor did not watch him as he began to do his trick, but nevertheless went cheerfully to work. For a long time he struggled, trying to get the egg to go through the neck of the bottle. He put the pan of vinegar back on the stove, intending to reheat the egg, then picked it up and burned his fingers. After a second bath in the hot vinegar, the shell of the egg had been softened a little but not enough for his purpose. He worked and worked and a spirit of desperate determination took possession of him. When he thought that at last the trick was about to be consummated, the delayed train came in at the station and Joe Kane started to go nonchalantly out at the door. Father made a last desperate effort to conquer the egg and make it do the thing that would establish his reputation as one who knew how to entertain guests who came into his restaurant. He worried the egg. He attempted to be somewhat rough with it. He swore and the sweat stood out on his forehead. The egg broke under his hand. When the contents spurted over his clothes, Joe Kane, who had stopped at the door, turned and laughed.
A roar of anger rose from my father’s throat. He danced and shouted a string of inarticulate words. Grabbing another egg from the basket on the counter, he threw it, just missing the head of the young man as he dodged through the door and escaped.
Father came upstairs to mother and me with an egg in his hand. I do not know what he intended to do. I imagine he had some idea of destroying it, of destroying all eggs, and that he intended to let mother and me see him begin. When, however, he got into the presence of mother something happened to him. He laid the egg gently on the table and dropped on his knees by the bed as I have already explained. He later decided to close the restaurant for the night and to come upstairs and get into bed. When he did so he blew out the light and after much muttered conversation both he and mother went to sleep. I suppose I went to sleep also, but my sleep was troubled. I awoke at dawn and for a long time looked at the egg that lay on the table. I wondered why eggs had to be and why from the egg came the hen who again laid the egg. The question got into my blood. It has stayed there, I imagine, because I am the son of my father. At any rate, the problem remains unsolved in my mind. And that, I conclude, is but another evidence of the complete and final triumph of the egg–at least as far as my family is concerned.