Arm in arm with Wilbur, his tie and his troubles, his epigrams and his Love Bungalow, sits an epidemic of clairvoyants. There is an epidemic of clairvoyants in the city. Five widows have been swindled. The police are combing the city for ... a prominent professor of sociology on the faculty of the local university interrupts. The prominent professor has been captured in a leading Loop hotel whither he had gone to divert himself with a suitcase, a handbook on sex hygiene, and an admiring co-ed.
This, waiting for an hour to pass, the city reads. Crimes, scandals, horrors, holocausts, burglaries, arsons, murders, deceptions. The city reads with a vague, dull skepticism. Who are these people of the newspaper columns? Lusting scoundrels, bandits, heroes, wild lovers, madmen? Not in the streets or the houses that tick-tock through the night.... Somewhere else. A troupe of mummers wandering unseen behind the great clock face of the city—an always unknown troupe of rascally mummers for whom the police are continually combing and setting large dragnets.
In the evening men light their tobacco and read the little wooden phrases of the press that squeal and mumble the sagas of the lawbreakers. Women come from the washing of dishes and eating of food and pick up the crumpled pages.... A scavenger digging for the disgusts and abnormalities of life, is the press. A yellow journal of lies, idiocies, filth. Ignoring the wholesome, splendid things of life—the fine, edifying beat of the tick-tock. Yet they read, glancing dully at headlines, devouring monotonously the luridness beneath headlines. They read with an irritation and a vague wonder. Tick, say the streets, and tock, say the houses; and within them men and women tick. To work and home again. Home again and to work. New shoes grow old. New seasons vanish. Years grind. Life sinks slowly away with a tick-tock on its lips.
Yet each evening comes the ragged twopenny minstrel—a blear-eyed, croaking minstrel, and the good folk give him ear. No pretty words in rhythms from his tongue. No mystic cadences quaver in his voice. Yet he comes squealing out his song of an endless "Extra! All about the mysteries and the torments of life. All about the raptures, lusts, and adventures that the day has spilled. Read 'em and weep! Read 'em and laugh! Here's the latest, hot off the presses, from dreamers and lawbreakers. Extra!"
Thus the city sits, baffled by itself, looking out upon a tick-tock of windows and reading with a wonder in its thought, "Who are these people?..."
At ten o'clock the courts of the city crowd up. The important gentlemen who devote themselves to sending people to jail and to preventing them from being sent to jail, appear with fat books under their arms and brief-cases in their hands. They have slept well and eaten well and have arrived at their tasks with clear heads containing arguments. These are arguments vastly more important than poems that writers make or histories that dreamers invent. For they are arrangements of words which function in the absence of God. God is not exactly absent, to be sure, since the memory of Him lingers in the hearts of men. But it is a vague memory and at times unreliable. It would appear that He was on earth only for a short interval and failed to make any decided impression.
Therefore, at ten o'clock, the courts crowd up and the important gentlemen bristling with substitute arrangements of words, address themselves to the daily business of demonstrating whether people have done right or wrong, and proving, or disproving also, how extensive are the sins which have been committed. Arrangements of words palaver with arrangements of words. There ensues a vast shuffling of words, a drone and a gurgle of syllables. The Case of the State of Illinois Versus Man. Order in the Court Room. "No talking, please...." "If it Please Your Honor, the Issue involved in this case is identical with the Issue as explicitly set forth in the Case of Matthews Versus Matthews, Illinois Sixth, Chapter Eight, Page ninety two, in which in the Third Paragraph the Supreme Court decided." The Court Instructs the Jury, "You are to be Guided by the Law as given You in these instructions and by the Facts as admitted in Evidence of the Case; the court Instructs the jury they are the judges of the law as well as of the fact but the Court further instructs the Jury before You decide for Yourselves that the Law is Otherwise than as given you by the Court, you are to exercise great Care and Caution in arriving at your decision...." "Gentlemen, have you arrived at your verdict?" "We have." "Let the clerk be handed the verdict." "We the Jury find the Defendant...."
Thus the tick-tock of the great city grown stern and audible, grown verbose and insistent, speaks aloud in the courts. And here huddled on benches are the little troupes of mummers who have committed crimes. The mysterious sprinkling of marionettes not wound up by the watchmaker. Names that solidify for a moment into the ink headlines. Lusts, dreams, greeds, and manias sitting sad-faced and dolorous-eyed listening to a drone and a gurgle of words. Alas! The evil-doers and the doers of good bear a fatuous resemblance to each other. God Himself might well be confused by this curious fact. But fortunately there are arrangements of words capable of adjusting themselves to confusion, capable of tick-tocking in the midst of disorder. Tick, say the words and tock say the juries. Tick-tock, the cell door and the scaffold drop. Streets and windows, paintings of the Virgin Mary, beds of the fifty-cent prostitutes, cannon at Verdun and police whistles on crossings; the Pope in Rome, the President in Washington, the man hunting the alleys for a handout, the languorous women breeding in ornamental beds—all say a tick-tock. Behind the arrangements of words, confusion strikes a posture of guilt, strikes a posture of innocence. God Himself were a dolt to interfere. For if the song of the angels is somehow other than the tick-tock of men, the song of the angels is a music for heaven and the tick-tock of men is a restful drone in which the city hides the mysteries non-essential to the progress and pattern of its streets.
In and out of the crowded courtrooms of the city George Hazlitt pursued his career. Buried in the babble of words, his voice sounded from day to day with a firm, self-conscious vigor. To the thousand and one droners about him, the law was a remunerative game in which one matched platitude with bromide, legal precedent of the State of Illinois with legal precedent of the State of Indiana; in which right and wrong were a shuffle of words and the wages of sin dependent upon the depth of a counselor's wits.
There was in Hazlitt, however, a puritanical fervor which withstood the lure of expediency. He entered the courts not to juggle with words, fence for loopholes out of which to drag dubious acquittals for his clients. His profession was a part of his nature. He saw it as a battle ground on which, under the babbling and droning, good and evil stood at unending grips. Good always triumphing. Evil always going to jail despite habeas corpuses, writs, and duces tecums.
To question the nobility of the Hazlitt soul would be a sidestepping. There were among his friends, men of dubious integrity with elastic scruples and pliable consciences. But skepticism thrust in vain at the Hazlitt armor. In him had been authentically born the mania for conformity. He was a prosecutor by birth. Against that which did not conform, against all that squirmed for some expression beyond the tick-tock of life, he was a force—an apostle with a sword. Men pretending virtues as relentless as his own were often inclined to eye him askance. Virtue breeds skepticism among the virtuous. But there was a difference about Hazlitt.
The basis of his philosophy was twofold. It embraced a rage against dreamers and a rage against lawbreakers. Lawbreakers were men and women who sacrificed the welfare and safety of the many for the sating of their individual greeds and lusts. He viewed the activities of lawbreakers with a sense of personal outrage. He, Hazlitt, was a part of society—a conscious unit of a state of mind, which state of mind was carefully written out in text-book editorials, and on tablets handed down by God from a mountaintop. Men who robbed, cheated, beat their wives, deserted their families, seduced women, shirked responsibilities, were enemies on his own threshold. They must be punished, mentally, by him; physically by the society to which he belonged.
The punishing of evil-doers did more than eliminate them from his threshold. It vindicated his own virtue. Virtue increases in direct proportion with its ability to distinguish evil. The denunciation of evil-doers was the boasting of George Hazlitt, "I am not one of them." The more vigorous the denunciation, the more vigorous the boast. The hanging of a man for the crime of murder was a reward paid to George Hazlitt for his abstinence from bloodshed. The jailing of a seducer offered a tangible recompense for the self-denial which he, as a non-seducer, practiced.
Apart from the satisfactions his virtue derived in establishing its superiority by assisting spiritually in the punishment of the unvirtuous, his rage against lawbreakers found itself equally on his devotion to law. He perceived in the orderly streets, in the miles of houses, in the smoothly functioning commerce and government of his day, a triumph of man over his baser selves. The baser selves of man were instincts that yearned for disorder. Of this triumph Hazlitt felt himself a part.
Disorder he thought not only illegal, but debasing. The same virtue which prevented him from promenading in his pajamas in the boulevard stirred with a feeling of outrage against the confusion attending a street-car strike. His intelligence, clinging like some militant parasite to the stability of life, resented all agitations, material or spiritual, all violators who violated the equilibrium to which he was fastened.
Against dreamers his rage was even deeper and more a part of his fiber. In the tick-tock of life Hazlitt saw a perfection—an evolution out of centuries of mania and disorder. The tick-tock was a perfection whose basic principle was a respect for others. This respect evolved out of man's fear of man and insuring a mutual protection against his predatory habits, was to Hazlitt a religion. He denied himself pleasures and convenient expressions for his impulses in order to spare others displeasure and inconvenience. And his nature demanded a similar sacrifice of his fellows—as a reward and a symbol of his own correctness. Such explanation of his conduct as, it is easier to follow the desires of others than to give expression to the desires of one's self, would have been, to Hazlitt, spiritual and legal sacrilege.
In dreamers, the rising young attorney sensed a poorly concealed effort to evade this primal responsibility toward him and the society of which he was an inseparable part. Men who walked with their heads in the clouds were certain to step on one's feet. Dreamers were scoundrels or lunatics who sought to justify their unfitness for society by ridiculing it as unworthy and by phantasizing over new values and standards which would be more amiable to their weaknesses. There were political dreamers and dreamers in morals and art. Hazlitt bunched them together, branded them with an identical rage, and spat them out in one word, "nuts."
Dreamers challenged his sense of superiority by hinting at soul states and social states superior to those he already occupied. Dreamers disturbed him. For this he perhaps hated them most. Their phantasies sometimes lifted him into moments of disorder, moments of doubt as revolting to his spirit as were sores revolting to his skin. Then also, dreamers had their champions—men and women who applauded their lunatic writings and cheered their lunatic theories.
The punishment of lawbreakers vindicated his own virtue. But his rage against dreamers was such that their punishing offered him no sense of satisfactory vindication. His railing and ridicule against creatures who yearned, grimaced—neurasthenics, in short—left him with no fine feeling of the victorious sufficiency of himself. Thus to conceal himself from doubts always threatening an appearance, it was necessary for him to assume a viciousness of attitude not entirely sincere. So he read with unction political speeches and art reviews denouncing the phantasts of his day, and from them he borrowed elaborate invective. Yet his invective seemed like a vague defense of himself who should need no defense and thus again doubt raised a dim triumph in his heart.
"Yes, I'm a reactionary," he would say. "I'm for the good old things of life. Things that mean something." And even this definition of faith would leave him unsatisfied.
The paradox of George Hazlitt lay in the fact that he was himself a dreamer. Champions of order and champions of disorder share somewhat in a similarity of imaginative impulses.
Six months had passed since Hazlitt had wept on the stairs as he left Rachel's room. Dry-eyed now and clear-headed, he sat one winter afternoon against his chosen background—the swarm and clutter of a law court. His brief-cases were packed. His law books had been bundled back to his office.
He was waiting beside a vivid-faced young woman who sat twisting a tear-damp handkerchief in her hands. The jury that had listened for three weeks to the tale of the young woman's murder of a hospital interne who had seduced and subsequently refused to marry her, had sauntered out of the jury-box to determine now whether the young woman should be hanged, imprisoned, or liberated. The excitements attending the trial had brought a reaction to Hazlitt. He seemed suddenly to have lost interest in the business of his defense of the wronged young woman. This despite that he had for three weeks maintained a high pitch of rage against the scoundrel who had violated his client and subsequently driven her insane by even more abominable cruelties.
Hazlitt's concluding remarks to the jury on the subject of dishonored womanhood and the merciless bestiality of certain male types had been more than a legal oration. He had expressed himself in it and had spent two full days lost in admiration of the echoes of his bombast.... "Men who follow the vile dictates of their lower natures, who sow the whirlwind and expect to reap the roses thereby; cynical, soulless men who take a woman as one takes a glove, to wear, admire, and discard; depraved men who prowl like demons at the heels of virtue, fawning their ways into the pure heart of innocence and glutting their beastly hungers upon the finest fruits of life—the beauty and sacrifice of a maiden's first love—are such creatures men or fiends, gentlemen of the jury?" And then ... "spurned, taunted by the sneers of one of these vipers, her pleadings answered with laughter and blows of a fist, the soul of Pauline Pollard grew suddenly dark. Where had been sanity, innocence, and love, now came insanity. Her girl's mind—like sweet bells jangled out of tune—brought no longer the high message of reason into her heart. We sitting here in this sunny courtroom, gentlemen, can think and reason. But Pauline Pollard, struggling in the embrace of a leering savage, listening to his fiendish mockeries of her virtue—the virtue he had stolen from her—ah! the soul and brain of Pauline Pollard vanished in a darkness. The law is the law, gentlemen. There is no one respects it more than I. If this girl killed a man coldly and with reason functioning in her mind, she is guilty. Hang her, gentlemen of the jury! But, gentlemen, the law under which we live, you and I and all of us, also says, and says wisely, that a mind not responsible for its acts, a soul whose balance has been destroyed by the shrieking voices of mania, shall not be held guilty...."
The jury that had listened with ill-concealed envy to the recital of the amorous interne's promiscuous exploits, listened to Hazlitt and experienced suddenly a fine rage against the deceased. Out of the young attorney's florid utterings a question fired itself into the minds of the jurors. The deceased had done what they all desired to do, but dared not. This grinning, unscrupulous fiend of a hospital interne had blithely taken what he desired and blithely discarded what he did not desire. The twelve good men and true bethought them of their wives whom they did not desire and yet kept. And of the young women and the things of flesh and spirit they desired with every life-beat in them and yet did not take. Was this terrible denial which, for reasons beyond their incomplete brains, they imposed upon themselves, a meaningless, profitless business? The bland interne was dead and unfortunately beyond their punishment. Yet the fact that he had lived at all called for a protest—some definitely framed expression which would throw a halo about their own submission to women they did not desire, and their own denial to women they did desire. The law, whose arrangements of words are omniscient, provided such a halo.
Dr. Hamel, the interne under discussion, was dead and buried, and therefore, properly speaking, not on trial. Nor yet was Pauline Pollard on trial. The persons on trial were twelve good men and true who were being called upon to decide, somewhat dramatically, whether they were right in living in a manner persistently repugnant to them; whether somebody else could get away with something which they themselves, not daring to attempt, bitterly identified as sin.
In thirty minutes the still outraged jury was to file in and utter its dignified protest. Pauline Pollard would again be free. And twelve men would return to their homes with a high sense of having meted out justice, not to Pauline or her amorous interne, but to themselves.
Enticing speculation, the yes or no of these twelve men, three days ago. But now Hazlitt sat with an odd indifference in his thought. The crowd waiting avidly for the dramatic moment of the verdict; living vicariously the suspense of the defendant—depressed him. The newspaper reporters buzzing around, forming themselves into relays between the press table and the door, further depressed him. He felt himself somewhere else, and the scene was a reality which intruded.
There was a dream in Hazlitt which sometimes turned itself on like a light and revealed the emptiness of life without Rachel, the emptiness of courtrooms, verdicts, crowds. Yes, even the emptiness of the struggle between good and evil. He sat thinking of her now, contrasting the virginal figure of her with the coarseness of the thing in which he had been engaged. There was something about her ... something ... something. And the old refrain of his dream like a haunting popular ballad, started again here in the crowded courtroom.
He remembered the eyes of Rachel, the quick gestures of her full-grown hands that moved always as in sudden afterthoughts. Virginal was the word that came most often to his thought. Not the virginity that spells a piquant preface to sensualism. She would always be virginal, even after they were married. In his arms she would remain virginal, because there was something in her, something beyond flesh. His heart choked at the memory of it, and his face saddened. Something he could not see or place in a circle of words, that did not exist for his eyes or his thought, and yet that he must follow. Even after he had won her there would be this thing he could not see; that trailed a dream song in his heart and kept him groping toward the far lips of the singer. Yes, they would marry. She had refused to see him twice since the night he had wept on the stair, leaving her. But the memories of that night had adjusted themselves. He had seen love in the eyes of Rachel as he held her hand. She had laughed love to him, given him for an instant the vision of beauty-lighted places waiting for him. The rest had been ... neurasthenia. Thus he had forgotten her words and his tears and the vivid moment when he had seen himself reflected in her eyes as a horror. He had tried twice to see her. He would continue trying, and some day she would again open the door to him, laughing, whispering ... "I'm so lonely. I'm glad you've come." In the meantime he would continue sending her letters. Once each week he had been writing her, saying he loved her. No answers had come. But this, curiously, did not anger him. He wrote not so much to Rachel as to a dream of her. She remained intact in her silence ... as he knew her ... an aloof, virginal being whose presence in the world was its own song.
There was a commotion. Hazlitt looked about him and saw strange faces light up, strange eyes gleam out of the electric-glowing dusk. Snow was falling outside. Pauline's hand gripped his forearm. Her fingers burned. Raps of a gavel for silence. The judge spoke. A sad-faced man, with a heavy mustache combating his words, stood up in the jury-box and spoke. In a vast silence a clerk beside the judge's bench cleared his voice, moistened his lips, and spoke.
So he had won another case. Pauline was free. Snow outside and rows of lighted windows. She was overwrought. Let her weep for a spell. Snow outside. Three weeks and one day. Everybody seemed happy with the verdict. People were good at heart. A triumph for decency cheered them. People were not revengeful at heart, only decent. Congratulations ... "Thank you, thank you! No, Miss Pollard has nothing to say now. She is too overcome. To-morrow...." The persistent press! What did they expect her to say? Absurd the way they kept interviewing her. The snow would probably tie up traffic. Eat downtown....
"If you're ready, Miss Pollard."
"Oh, I must thank the jurors."
Handshakes. Twelve good men with relaxed faces. "There, there, little woman. Start over. We only did our duty and what was right by you."
Everybody stretched his legs. Mrs. Hamel was sobbing. Well, she was his mother. It would only have satisfied her lower instincts of vengeance to have jailed Pauline.
"All right, Miss Pollard." He took her arm. Curious, what a difference the verdict had made in her. She was a woman like any other woman now.... His overcoat might do for another season.... Pretty girl. Hard to get used to the idea she wasn't a defendant.
"This way, Miss Pollard".... Take her to a cab and send her home. If she'd ever get started. What satisfaction did women find in kissing and hugging each other? "Thank God, Pauline. Oh, I'm so glad".... Girl friends. Well, she'd be back among them in a few days, and in a month or so the thing would be over.
At last! Hazlitt blinked. The whirl of snow and crowds emptying out of buildings gave him a sense for an instant of having stepped into a strange world. The sharp cold restored his wandering energies and a realization of his victory in the courtroom brought him a belated glow. He was young, on an upgrade, able to command success.
Hazlitt felt a sudden lusty kinship toward the swarm of bodies unwinding itself through the snowfall. A contact with other ... a pleasant, comforting contact. What more was life, anyway? A warmth in the heart that came from the knowledge of work well and honestly done. Look the world squarely in the eyes and say, "You have no secrets and I have no secrets. We're friends."
"Shall we go to your office, Mr. Hazlitt?"
Why there? Hazlitt smiled at the young woman. She was free. He patted the gloved hand on his arm and was surprised to see her eyes grow alive with tears.
"I would like to talk to you—now that it's over. I feel lost. Really." She returned his smile as one determined to be brave, though lost.
The snow hid the buildings and left their window lights drifting. Faces passing smiled as if saying, "Hello, we're all together in the same snow with no secrets from each other.... All friends".... Hazlitt walked with the girl through the streets. The traffic and the crowds were intimate friends and he spoke to them by patting Pauline's hand. An all's-well-with-the-world pat.
"Eighth floor, please...."
The elevator jiggled to a stop and they stepped into the corridor. Scrawny-faced women were crawling patiently down the floor. They slopped wet brushes before them, wrung mops out over pails, and crawled an inch farther down the floor. Hazlitt smiled. This, too, was a part of life—keeping the floors of the building scrubbed. He won law cases. Old women scrubbed floors. It fitted into an orderly pattern with a great meaning to its order. He paused for a moment to admire the cleanliness of the washed surface. Homage to the work of others—of old women on their knees scrubbing floors.
"Well, it's all over, Miss Pollard."
She was sitting beside the desk where she had sat the first time they had discussed her defense. Hazlitt, unloading his brief-case, looked at her. Uncommonly pretty. Trusting eyes. What a rotten fellow, the interne!
"I don't know why I wanted to come here." Pauline's eyes stared sadly about the room. "I'm free, but ..." She covered her face and wept.
"Now, now, Miss Pollard!"
"Oh, it's still awful."
"You'll forget soon."
"I'll go away. Somewhere. Alone." A louder sob.
"Please don't cry."
Hazlitt watched her tenderly. The weeping increased. A lonesomeness and a vagueness were in the girl's heart. The tick-tock of the city had a foreign sound. She was a stranger in its streets. There had been something else, and now it was gone. A wilderness, a tension, the familiar face of Frankie Hamel telling her to go to hell one night and stop bothering him with her damned wailing ... and Frankie dying at her feet whispering, "What the devil, Pauline?" Then the trial. Hot and cold hours. A roomful of silent, open-mouthed faces listening to her weep, watching her squirm with proper shame and anguish as she told her story to the jurors ... the details of the abortion. "And then I couldn't stand it. I don't remember what happened. Oh, I loved him! I don't remember. He cursed me. He called me a ... Oh, God, names. Awful names! I told him I was going to kill myself. I couldn't live, disgraced ... without his love. I'd bought a gun to kill myself. And he laughed. I don't remember after that; except that somehow he was ... he was dead. And I wasn't...."
These things were gone. The trial was over and done. Now there was nothing left but the city with its street-cars and offices.
"Oh, everything's so changed," she murmured. Hazlitt stood behind her chair, hand on her shoulder. Poor child! The law could not free her from the remorse for her crime and mistake. Lawlessness carried its own punishment. Virtue its own rewards, sin its own torments.
"You'll forget," he answered softly. The law sometimes punished. But after all this was the real punishment ... beyond the power of the law to mete out. Punishment of sin. Conscience. Poor child! Inexorable fruit of evil. Despair, remorse....
"You must forget. You're young. You can begin over. Please don't cry."
Thus Hazlitt comforted her who was weeping not with remorse for what had been, but that it had gone. No word consciousness stirred her grief. An unintelligible sorrow, it swelled in her heart and filled her with helplessness. Life had gone from her. She was mourning for it. Mourning for a murderess and a sinner who had gone, abandoned her and left her a naked, uninteresting Pauline Pollard again—a nobody surrounded by nobodies. And once it had been different. Lighted faces listening to her in a room. Frankie whispering, "What the devil, Pauline?"
A fresh burst of tears brought Hazlitt in front of her. Gently he moved her hands from her face.
"You mustn't," he began over again.
"Oh, I won't ever be able to...."
"Yes you will, little girl."
She was standing. Snow outside. Rows of lighted windows drifting. Thoughts slipped out of his head. Traffic probably tied up.
"Please don't cry."
She dropped her head against his shoulder and wept anew. It was nice to have somebody asking her not to cry. It made it easier and more purposeful to weep.
Hazlitt sighed. Tears ... tears ... the live odor of hair. Arms that felt soft. She was mumbling close to him, "I can't help it. Please forgive me."
"Yes, yes! There, there!" Of course he would forgive her. Forgiveness made him glow. But as he spoke his voice depressed him. What should he do? Could he help her? What was life, anyway? Snow outside and rows of lighted windows drifting. Her body close, warm, and saddening. The firmness of his nerves dissolved. He had his sorrow too ... Rachel. Far away. Drifting like the snow outside. Rachel ... the odor of hair brought her back. Should he cry? Her knees had touched him once like this. She had held her arm about his shoulder once, like this. But, oh, so different!... The girl seemed to come closer to him.
He had been holding a stranger politely. Now the stranger relaxed. Soft, warm, familiar body. He grew frightened. Somehow the clinging of the girl's body, the murmur of her tears, brought a sorrow into his heart. I am not Rachel, but I am like her.... What made him think that? Yes, she was like her, warm, soft, and woman. Like her—like her. Why had they kissed? And her hands clasping nervously at his shoulders? She was not in love? Not Rachel. But she wanted something. And he too. Something that was a dream song. Here were the lips of the singer, eager, reaching to his own. Pressing, asking more. How had this happened? Should he speak? But what? Nothing to say. Had he forgotten Rachel? Remembering Rachel? Who was this? The questions blurred. Rachel, sang his heart. For a moment he embraced the warm shadow of a dream. And then a woman was offering herself to him. No dream now. Her thighs riveted themselves against him. Under her clothes her body seemed to be moving, coming to him.
Hazlitt grew dizzy. He had been consoling her. No more. Now what? He threw his strength into his embrace. Their bodies moved together.
"Oh ..." A moan as if she were still weeping. Her lips parted in desperate surrender. Her kiss took the breath out of him.
"Dearest!" His voice carried him out of her arms. He knew suddenly that but for the word and the familiar sound of his voice he would have possessed her. But the word rang an alarm in his ears. Fright, nausea, relaxed muscles. A wiliness in his thought.... "Do you feel better now?"
She failed to hear. Her fingers still clutched.
"There ... there, don't cry!" He felt cold. His hands on her arms pressed them gently away, his fingers patting them with a fatherly diapason. George Hazlitt, attorney-at-law.
"Better now, Pauline?" An error to have called her Pauline. Look bad in the record. Committed him to "Pauline."
The thought of Rachel listened in amazement ... George ... Pauline. Dearest! He must be careful. She had grown numb against him. A numb woman sewed to his lapels. He lowered her as if she were lifeless and he fearful of disturbing her. She looked harmless in a chair. Was it possible to talk now? Not yet. Take her hand; careful not to squeeze it. Pat it as he'd done in the street. An all's-well-with-the-world pat.
Somebody rattled the doorknob. Hazlitt started eagerly. Relief. But, good God, no lights in the office. The cleaners would come in and think things. Her hair in disorder and her face smeared with weeping would make them think things. An oath disentangled itself from his confusion. The door opened. Two scrawny-faced women with mops and brooms....
"It's all right. Go ahead. We're just leaving. Are you ready, Miss Pollard?"
The Miss Pollard was a masterpiece. But did it deceive the mops and brooms? Damn them! They walked arm in arm down the corridor.
"I think the elevators have stopped. Wouldn't it be a joke if we had to walk down?"
She refused to answer. Witness remains silent. Why couldn't she be interested in jokes?... the woman of it. Nothing had happened. She had nothing to think about. Why not jokes? He frowned at the grilling of the elevator door. An elevator bobbed up.
In the street, "I'll get a cab, Miss Pollard." Take a firm stand and not call her Pauline again. But she was silent. Nothing had happened. He grew frightened. She was trying to bulldoze him by pretending. Bundle her into a cab and get rid of her.
Suddenly, as if he'd been thinking it out when he hadn't, "You must forgive me for—that. I didn't mean to, please."
Anything rather than her silence. Even an apology. Nothing had happened, but he would apologize anyway to be on the safe side. She looked at him and said, "Oh!"
"Please, Miss Pollard, you make me feel like a cur."
A chauffeur leaned forward from his seat and thrust open the cab door. Pauline entered without hesitation. She might have the decency to hesitate when he was apologizing for nothing. Hazlitt stuck his head in after her. The thing was ludicrously unfinished and he was making an ass of himself. She should have hesitated.
"Tell your mother I hope she'll be better soon."
"Where to, mister?"
He gave an address and added, "Just a minute, please."
Hazlitt reentered the cab with his head. The thing was still unfinished. Wishing good health to her mother made it worse—as if he were trying to cover up something. He must be frank. Drag everything into the open and show he wasn't afraid. But she was weeping again. He paused in consternation. Her hand reached toward him. A voice, vibrant and soft with tears, whispered in the gloom of the cab. A love voice. "Good-by, George!"
He watched the tail light dart through the traffic and then began his defense. Gentleman of the jury ... jury ... he had done nothing. It was she who had suggested the office. A low, vulgar ruse to trap him. The evidence was plain on that point. Overruled. But he had attempted only to console her. Irrelevant and immaterial to the facts at issue in the case. But she had flung her arms around him. Not he! Never he! The woman was mad. Yes, a mad woman. Dangerous. She had done the same to the interne. Overruled. Overruled. What? Frank Hamel, gentleman of the jury, glutting his beastly hungers on the finest fruit of life—the innocence and sacrifice of a maiden's first love. No, not Hamel. Hazlitt. Are such creatures men or fiends? What was he thinking about Oh, yes, the interne. Dead, buried ... we, the jury, find the defendant not guilty.... But the dead interne was saying something.
For moments George Hazlitt looked out upon a new world—a miserable world—vast, blurred, upside down. People were moving in it. Dead internes. They passed with faces intent upon their own solitudes. Buildings were in it. They burst a skyrocket of windows into the night. There was snow. It fell twisting itself out of the darkness. Familiar faces, buildings, snow. Theater facades making a jangle of light through the storm. Entrances, exits, cars clanging, figures hurrying, signs sputtering confusion in the snow. All familiar, all a part of the great tick-tock of the city.
Hazlitt stopped and stared at the familiar night of the streets. A gleam and a flurry were sweeping his eyes. Snow. But faces and buildings and lights were a part of it. They swarmed and danced about him, sending a shout to his heart. "We're upside down ... we're upside down ... heels in air.... She made love to the interne as she did to you ... and the fiend is dead. Lies ... lies ... but who gives a damn?"
The horn of a motor screeched. A woman and a man pattered by on a run, leaving a trail of laughter. From afar came the sound of voices—of street evangels singing hymns on a corner. The soul of George Hazlitt grew sick. Night hands fastened themselves about his throat. Upside down ... heels in air. The things he had said to the jury were lies. Lies and disorder. Right and wrong. God in heaven, what were they, if not right and wrong?
The thing came to Hazlitt without words, with a gleam and a flurry as of snow. He stood blind—a little snow-covered figure shivering and lost in a lighted, crowded street. All because a woman, warm and clinging, had kissed him on the mouth and moved her body. But once she had kissed another man thus—on the mouth, with her body moving, and therein lay a new world—a world of flying-haired Maenads and growling satyrs that lived behind the tick-tock of windows. Standing in the snowstorm an insane notion took possession of Hazlitt. It had to do with Evil. Order was an accident. Men and women were evil. The tick-tock was a pretense.
The notion passed. Doubt needs thought to feed upon, and Hazlitt gave it none. Or he would have ended as Hazlitt and become someone else. He walked again with a silence in his head. Another block, and life had again focused itself into tableaux. The moment of doubt had shaken him as if rough hands had reached from an alley and clutched wildly at his throat. But it had gone, and the memory of it too was gone. Hands that had nobody behind them; emotion that came without the stabilizing outline of words. So the world stood again on its feet. Tick-tock, said the world to George Hazlitt; and his brain gave an answer, "Tick-tock!"
For the paradox of Hazlitt was not that he was a thinker, but a dreamer. His puritanism had put an end to his brain. Like his fellows for whose respect and admiration he worked, he had bartered his intelligence for a thing he proudly called Americanism, and thought for him had become a placid agitation of platitudes. But he could still dream. His emotions avenged his stupidity. Walking in the street—he felt a desire to walk—he shut himself in. It seemed to him now that his love had become a part of the snow and the far-away dark of the sky. Rachel ... Rachel, his thought called as if summoning something back.
It came to him slowly—the image of the virginal one—doubly sweet and beautiful now that he was unclean. How had it happened? She had been weeping; he comforting her. Two strangers, they had sat in his office. One a murderess weeping for her sins; the other a kindly hearted, clean-minded attorney consoling her, pointing to her the way of hope. And then like two animals they had stood sucking at each other's breath. God, what could he do? Nothing. He was unclean. He recalled with a dread the thought that had come to him in the embrace ... was she Rachel? Yes, she had been Rachel and he had lowered his dream to her lips, as if in the lust of a strange woman's kiss there lay the image of Rachel, the virginal mystery of Rachel. If he had been man enough not to drag the memory of Rachel into it, it would be easy now. But he would look squarely at the facts, anyway. That must be his punishment and his penance. Yes, say it ... it was with his love for Rachel he had embraced and almost possessed the body of a stranger.
Hazlitt quickened his walking. He was confronted with the intricate business of forgiving himself. He felt shame, but shame was something that could be walked off. Faster ... with an amorous mumble soothing him and the hurt. After all, was it so important? Yes ... no. Forgive himself, but not too quickly. He walked.... Words made circles in his head—abject and sorrowful circles about the dream of the virginal one.
A man with a curious smile stopped in front of him to light a pipe. Hazlitt paused and looked at the street. He would take a car. His legs were tired. The wind and snow put out the match of the man who was lighting a pipe. Hazlitt looked at him. What was he smiling about? We're all in the snow ... all without secrets in the snow. Hail fellows of the street ... Curious, he should feel sad for a man who was smiling on a street corner. Tiredness. The man was cursing the snow good-humoredly. Suddenly the pipe was lighted and the man seemed to have forgotten it. His eyes gleamed for an instant across Hazlitt's face, and with an abrupt nod of recognition the man passed on. Walking swiftly, bent forward, vanishing behind a flurry of snow.
Hazlitt peered down the track for his car. He wondered how the man knew him. It pleased his vanity to be recognized by people he couldn't place. It showed he was somebody. Yes, George Hazlitt, attorney-at-law. He recalled ... they had met once in an office. A newspaperman—editor or something. Probably looking for news. Hazlitt was glad he had been recognized. The man would think of him as he walked on in the snow—of his victory in the courtroom and his future. That was part of life, to be thought of and envied by others.
Beside him a newsboy raised a shout ... "Extra! Pauline Pollard acquitted!..." People would read about it in their homes. His name. Wonder who he was. A voice across the street answered, "Extra! Germans bombard Paris!..." The damned Huns! Why didn't America put an end to their dirty business by rushing in?
He stepped into the warm street-car and sat staring moodily out of the window. He was a part of life, but there was something beyond—a—mystery. "Extra!..." He should have bought a paper. There was the newspaper fellow again, still walking swiftly, bent forward, staring into the snow.... Oh, yes, Erik Dorn. He had met him once.... The car passed on.
Erik Dorn laughed as he walked swiftly through the snow in the street. It seemed to him he had been laughing incessantly for a week, and that he would continue to laugh forever. His thought played delightedly with his emotions ... a precocious child with new fantastic toys. He was in love. A laughable business!
Five months of uncertainty had preceded the laugh. An irritated, inexplicable moodiness as if the shadow of a disease had come into his blood. On top of this moodiness a violence of temper, a stewing, cursing, fuming about. A five months' quarrel with his wife....
His love-making had been somewhat curious. Walks with Rachel—a whirligig of streets, faces, words. A dance and a flash of words, as if he were exploding into phrases. As if his vocabulary desired to empty itself before Rachel. His garrulity amazed him. Everything had to be talked about. There was a desperate need for talk. And when there was nothing to talk about for the moment, his words abhorring idleness, fell to inventing emotions—a complete set of emotions for himself and for Rachel. These were discussed, explained, and forgotten.
Finally the strange talk that had ended a week ago—a last desperate concealment of emotion and desire in a burst of glittering phrases. Phrases that whirled like the exotic decorations about the wild body of a dancer, becoming a dance in themselves, deriving a movement and a meaning beyond themselves. Then the end of concealment. An exhausted vocabulary sighed, collapsed. A frantic discarding of ornaments and the nude body of the dancer stood posturing naively, timidly. Therewith an end to mystery. The thing was known.
It had happened during one of their walks. Leaden clouds over day-dark pavements. Warehouses, railroad tracks, factories—a street toiling through a dismantled world. Their hands together, they paused and remained staring as if at a third person. He had reached out rather impersonally and taken her hand. The contact had shocked him into silence. It was difficult to breathe.
"Rachel, do you love me?"
She nodded her head and pressed his hand against her cheek. They walked on in silence. This brought an end to talk. Talk concealed. There was nothing more to conceal. His vocabulary sighed as if admitting defeat and uselessness. At a corner grown noisy with wagons and trucks Rachel stopped. Her eyes opened to him. He looked at her and said, as if he had fallen asleep "I too am in love." He laughed dreamily. "Yes, I've been since the beginning. Curious!"
She might laugh at him. It was evident he had avoided making love to her during the five months in fear of that. The only reason he hadn't embraced, kissed, and protested affection five months ago was the possibility that she would laugh—and perhaps go away.
Even now, despite the absence of laughter, a part of the fear he had still lingered. He was no longer Erik Dorn, man of words and mirror of nothings. He had said he loved her. Avoiding, of course, the direct remark. But he had indicated it rather definitely. It would undoubtedly lessen him to her, make him human. She had admired him because he was different. Now he was like everybody else saying an "I love you" to a woman. Perhaps he should unsay it. Again, a dreamy laugh. But it made him happy. A drifting, childish happiness. He looked at her. Her eyes struck him as marvelously large and bright. Yet in a curious way he seemed unaware of her. No excitement came to him. Decidedly there was something unsensual about his love—if it was love. It might be something else. It is difficult for an extremely married man to distinguish offhand. He desired nothing more than to stand still and close his eyes and permit himself to shine. Vague words traced his emotions. A fullness. A completion. An end of nothing. Thrills in his fingers. Remarkable disturbance of the diaphragm. To be likened to the languorous effects of some almost stimulating drug.
In a great calm he slowly forgot himself, his words, and Rachel. Standing thus he heard her murmur something and felt his hand once more against her cheek. A pretty gesture. Then she was walking down the dark street, running from him. She had said good-bye. He awoke and cursed. A bewildering sensation of being still at her side as if he had gone out of himself and were following her. He remained thus watching the figure of Rachel until it disappeared and the street grew suddenly cold and empty. A strange scene mocked him. Strange smoke, strange warehouses, strange railroad tracks. Cupid awaking in a cinder patch.
He walked on, still bewildered. Nothing had happened to him. Instead, something had happened to the streets. The city had suffered an amputation. There was something incomplete about its streets and crowds. His eye felt annoyed by it. He was not thinking of Rachel. He felt as if she had suddenly ceased to exist and left behind her an unexistence. It was this emptiness outside that for the moment annoyed and then frightened him. An emptiness that had something to give him now. His senses reached eagerly toward the figures of people and buildings and received nothing. What did he want of them? They were a pattern, intricate and precise, with nothing to give. Yet he wanted. Good God, he wanted something out of the streets of the city. Then he remembered, as if recalling some algebraic formula, "I'm in love." His laughter had started at that moment.
At home it continued in him. Anna had gone to visit relatives in Wisconsin. He spent an hour writing her a long amorous letter. He was in love with Rachel, but a new notion had planted itself in him. Whatever happened, Anna must not be made unhappy. Love was not a reality. Anna and her happiness were the realities that must be carefully considered. This thing that had popped into life in the cinder patch was a mood—comparable to the mood of a thirsty man taking his first sip of water.
" ... the memory of you comes before me," he scribbled to his wife, "and I feel sad. I am incomplete without you. Dear one, I love you. The streets seem empty and the hours drag...."
In writing to his wife he seemed to recover a sense of virtue. He smiled as he sealed the envelope. "It must be an old instinct," he thought. "People are kindest to those they deceive. Thus good and evil balance."
His father, sitting before a grate fire, desired to talk. He would talk to him in circles that would irritate the old man and make his eyes water more.
"People don't live," he began. "To live is to have a dream behind the hours. To have the world offering something."
"Yes, my son. Something ..."
"Then the people outside one take on meaningful outlines. There comes a contact. One is a part of something—of a force that moves the stars, eh?"
The old man nodded, and mumbled in his beard. Dorn felt a warmth toward his father. His stupidity delighted him. He would be able henceforth to talk to the old man and say, "I love Rachel," and the old man would think he was coining phrases for a profitless amusement. It would be the same with Anna. He would be able to make love to Anna differently hereafter. A rather cynical idea. He laughed and beamed at Isaac Dorn. Did it matter much whom one kissed as long as one had a desire for kissing? In fact, his desire for Rachel seemed at an end, now that he had mentioned it to her. A handclasp, a silence trembling with emotion, a sudden light in the heart—properly speaking, this was all there was to love. The rest was undoubtedly a make-believe. As he walked out to post the letter he tried to recall the emotions or ideas that had inspired him to marry Anna. There had undoubtedly been something of the sort then. But it had left no memory. Their honeymoon, of which she was always speaking, even after seven years, with a mist in her eyes—good Lord, had there been a honeymoon?
He spent the next afternoon with Rachel. A silence of familiarity had fallen upon them. There was a totality in silence. Walking through the streets beside her, Dorn mused, "Undoubtedly the thing is over. It begins even to bore a bit." He noted curiously that he was unconscious of the streets. No tracing their pictures with phrases. They were streets, and that was an end of it. They belonged where they were.
His eyes dropped to his companion. A face with moonlight grown upon it. Beautiful, yes. Sometime he would tell her. Pour it out in words. There was a paradox about the situation. He was obviously somewhat bored. Yet to leave her, to put an end to their strolling through the strange moments, would hurt. Had he ever lived before? Banal question. "No, I've never lived before. Living is somewhat of a bore, a beautiful bore."
When they parted she stood looking at him as one transfixed.
She made his name mean something—a world, a heaven. For an instant his laughter ended and a sadness engulfed him. Then once more he was alone and laughing. Rachel was walking away, something rather ridiculously normal about her step. Yes, he would laugh forever. Lord, what a jest! Like water coming out of a stone. Laugh at the crowds and buildings that desired to annoy him by sweeping toward him the memory of Rachel saying "Erik!" He diverted himself, as he hurried to his home, by staring into people's eyes and saying, "This one has a dream. That one hasn't. This one loves. The streets hurt him. That one is dead. The streets bury him."
On the third day the bombardment of Paris interfered with his plans. He remained too late in the office to walk with Rachel. As he sauntered about the shop, assisting and directing at the extras and replates, he vaguely forgot her. Word had come from the chief to hold the paper open until nine o'clock. If Paris failed to fall by nine everybody could go home and spend the rest of the night wrangling with his wife or looking at a movie. If it fell by nine there would be a final extra.
"I hope the damned town falls five minutes after nine," growled Warren, "if it's got to fall. Let it fall for the morning papers. What the hell are they for, anyway? I've got a rotten headache."
Dorn told him to run along. "I'll handle the copy, if there is any. A history of Paris out of the almanac will answer the purpose, I guess."
Warren folded his newspapers and left. Dorn sat scribbling possible headlines for the next re-plate: "Germans Bombard Paris ..." and then a bank in smaller type: "French Capital Silent. Communication Cut Off." He paused and added with a sudden elation, "Civilization on Its Knees."
The hum and suspense of the night-watch pleased him. He liked the idea of sitting in a noisy place waiting to flash the news of the fall of Paris to the city. And the next day the four afternoon papers would carry a small box on the front page announcing to the public that, as usual, each of them had been first on the street with the important announcement. The fall of Paris! His thought mused. Babylon Falls.... Civilization on Its Knees. The City Wall of Jericho Collapses. Carthage Reduced to Ashes. Rome Sacked by Huns. Yes, there had been magnificent headlines in the past. Now a new headline—Paris. There would be a sudden flurry; boys running between desks; Crowley trying to shout and achieving a frightful whisper; a smeared printer announcing some ghastly mistake in the composing room; and Paris would be down—fallen. Nothing left to do except grin at the idea of the morning papers cursing their luck. He sat, vaguely hoping there might be tidal waves, earthquakes, cataclysms. On this night his energies seemed to demand more work than the mere fall of Paris would occasion. "Might as well do the thing up brown and put an end to the world—all in one extra," he smiled.
A messenger boy brought a telegram. He opened it and read,
"I am going away. RACHEL."
All a part of the night's work. Killing off Paris. Answering telegrams to vanishing sweethearts. He stuffed the message into his pocket. On second thought he tore it up. Anna was coming home the next day. "Wife Finds Tell-tale Telegram...." Another headline.
"Wait a minute, boy."
The messenger lounged into an editor's chair. Dorn scribbled on a telegraph blank:
"Wait till Friday. I must see you once more. I will call for you at seven o'clock Thursday. We have never been together in the night. ERIK."
The messenger boy and the telegram disappeared. Still the laughter persisted. There was a jest in the world. Paris seemed a part of it. Everything belonged to it.
"I wonder what the writers of Paris are saying," Crowley inquired.
"Enjoying themselves, as usual," Dorn answered. "I'll tell you a secret. We live in a mad and inspiring world."
There was no final headline that night. Wednesday brought problems of conduct. It was obvious that Rachel was going away because of Anna. Her departure was a fact which presented itself with no finality. It resembled an insincere thought of suicide. Rachel, having gone, would still remain. The emotional prospects of the farewell closed his thought to the future. He spent Wednesday waiting for a seven o'clock on Thursday. An hour had detached itself from hours that went before and that followed. At home in the evening he endeavored to avoid his wife. His letters to her during her visit in Wisconsin had brought her back violently joyous. She desired love-making. He listened to her pour out ardent phrases and wondered why he felt no sense of betrayal toward her. "Conscience," he thought, "seems to be a vastly over-advertised commodity." He sat beside Anna, caressing her hand, smiling back into her passion-filled eyes, and gently checking an impulse in him to confide to her that he was in love with Rachel. It would be pleasant to tell her that, provided she would nod her head understandingly, smile, and stroke his hair; and answer something like, "You mean Rachel is in love with you. Well, I can't blame her. I'm horribly jealous, but it doesn't matter." An incongruous sanity warned him to avoid confessions, so he contented himself by rolling the situation over on his tongue, tasting the jealousy of his wife, the drama of the denouement, and remaining peacefully smiling in his leather chair.
Thursday arrived. The afternoon dragged. He sat at his desk wondering whether he was sorrowful or not. The thought of meeting Rachel elated him. The thought that she was leaving and that he would not see her again seemed a vague thing. He put it out of his mind with ease and devoted himself to dreaming what he would say, the manner in which he would bid farewell.
Walking now swiftly in the street toward Rachel's home his thought still played with his emotions. It was this that partially caused his laughter. Also, now that he was going to see her, there was again the sense of fullness. An unthinking calm, complete and vibrant, wrapped him in an embrace. The fullness and the calm brought laughter. His thought amused him with the words, "There's a flaming absurdity about everything."
He delighted in dressing his emotions in absurd phrases, in words that grimaced behind the rouge of tawdry ballads. Thinking of Rachel and feeling the sudden lift of sadness and bewilderment in his blood, he murmured aloud: "You never know you have a heart till it begins to break." The words amused him. There were other song titles that seemed to fit. He tried them all. "I don't know why I love you, but I do-o-o." Delightful diversion—airing the mystic desires of his soul in the tattered words of the cabaret yodelers. "Just a smile, a sigh, a kiss...." A sort of revenge, as if his vocabulary with its intricate verbal sophistications were avenging itself upon interloping emotions. And, too, because of a vague shame which inspired him to taunt his surrender; to combat it with an irony such as lay in the ridiculous phrases. This irony gave him a sense of being still outside his emotions and not a submissive part of them. "I am still Erik Dorn, master of my fate and captain of my soul," he smiled. But perhaps it was most of all the reaction of a verbal vanity. His love was not yet pumping rhapsodies into his thought. Instead, the words that came seemed to him somehow banal and commonplace. "I love you. I want to be with you all the time. When we are together things grow strange and desirable." Amorous mediocrities! So he edited them into a further banality and thus concealed his inability to give lofty utterance to his emotions by amusing himself with deliberately cheapened insincerities. "Saving my linguistic face," he thought suddenly, and laughed again.
Rachel was sad. They left her home in silence.
"We'll go toward the park," he announced. It irritated him to utter matter-of-fact directions. Why when he had had nothing to talk about had he been able to talk? And now when there was something, there seemed little to say? Words were obviously the delicate fruit of insincerity. Silence, the dark flower of emotion.
"I must go away." Rachel slipped her arm into his. He stared at her. She seemed more sorrowful than tears. This annoyed. It was ungrateful for her to look like weeping. But she was going from him. He tried to think of her and himself after they had parted, and succeeded only in remembering she was at his side. So he laughed quietly.
"Yes, to-morrow the guillotine falls," he answered. "To-night we dance in each other's arms. Immemorial tableau. Laughter, love, and song against the perfect background—death. Let's not cheat ourselves by being sad. To-morrow will be time enough."
He realized he was collapsing into a pluck-ye-the-roses-while-ye-may strain, and stopped, irritated. There was something he should talk to her about—the causes of her departure. Plans. Their future. Was there a future? Undoubtedly something would have to be arranged. But his mind eluded responsibilities.
"I'm happy," he whispered. "I talk like a fool because I feel like one. Heedless. Irresponsible. You've given me something and I can only look at it almost without thought."
"It seems so strange that you should love me," she answered. "Because I've loved you always and never dreamed of you loving." She had become melting, as if her sadness were dissolving into caresses. "Let's just walk and I'll remember we're together and be happy, too."
Thoughts vanished from him. He released her hand and they walked in silence with their arms together. A sleep descended. Their faces, tranquil and lighted by the snow, offered solitudes to each other.
It was now snowing heavily. A thick white lattice raised itself from the streets against the darkness. The little black hectagonals of night danced between its spaces. Long white curtains painted themselves on the shadows of the city. The lovers walked unaware of the street. The snow crowded gently about them, moving patiently like a white and silent dream over their heads. Phantom houses stared after them. Slanting rooftops spread wings of silver in the night and drifted toward the moon. The half-closed leaden eyes of windows watched from another world.
The snow grew heavier, winding itself about the yellow lights of street lamps and crawling with sudden life through the blur of window rays. Beneath, the pavements opened like white and narrow fans in a far-away hand. Black figures leaning forward emerged for an instant from behind the falling snow and disappeared again.
Still the lovers moved without words—two black figures themselves, arms together, leaning forward, staring with burning hearts and tranquil faces out of a dream, as if they did not exist, had never existed; as if in the snow and night they had become an unreality, walking deeper into mists—yet never quite vanishing but growing only more unreal. Snow and two lovers walking together with the world like a dream over their heads, with life lingering in their eyes like a delicately absent-minded guest—the thought drifted like a memory through their hearts.
Then slowly consciousness of themselves returned, bringing with it no relief of words. Their hearts seemed to have grown weak with tears, and in their minds existed nothing but the dark vagueness of despair—the despair of things that die with their eyes open and questing. Faces drifting like circles of light in the storm. At the end of the street a park. Here they would vanish from each other. The snow would continue falling gently, patiently, upon an empty world.
The cold of Rachel's fingers pressed upon his hand. Her face turned itself to him. A moment of happiness halted them both as if they had been embraced. A wonder—the why and where of her leaving. But an indifference deprived him of words.
"This is all of life," he muttered. Rachel staring at him nodded her head in echo. They were standing motionless as if they had forgotten how to live. Beyond this there were no gestures to make, nowhere to go. They had come to a horizon—an end. Here was ecstasy. What else? Nothing. Everything, here. Sky and night and snow had fallen about their heads in an ending. They stood as if clinging to themselves. Dorn heard a soft laugh from her.
"I thought I had died," Rachel was murmuring. He nodded his head in echo.
A lighted window lost in the snow drew their eyes. People sat in a room—warm, stiff figures. The lovers stood smiling toward it. Words, soft and mocking, formed themselves in Dorn. A pain was pulling his heart away. The ecstasy that had raised him beyond his emotions seemed suddenly to have cast him into the fury of them. He would say mocking things—absurd phrases to which he might cling. Or else he must weep because of the pain in him. "Two waifs adrift in a storm, peering into a bakery window at the cookies." That was the key. A laugh at the dolorous asininity of life. "Face to face with the Roman Pop U Lace. We who are about to die salute you." Laugh, a phrase of laughter or he would stand blubbering like an imbecile.
He struggled for the theatric gesture and found himself shivering at Rachel's side, his arm clinging about her shoulders. Lord, what a jest! After the moment they had lived through, to stand round-eyed and blubbering before the gingerbread vision of joys behind a lighted window. The whine of a barrel-organ. The sentimental whimpering of a street-corner Miserere. And he must weep because of it—he who had stood with his head thrust through the sky. His thought, like an indignant monitor, collapsed with scoldings. Let it come, then! With a sigh he gave himself to tears, and they stood together weeping.
The little lighted room seemed an enchantment floating in the scurry of the storm. It reached with warm fingers into their hearts, whispering a broken barrel-organ lullaby to them. Life shone upon them out of the lighted window and behind it the world of rocking-chairs and fireplaces, wall pictures and table lamps, lay like a haven smiling a good-by to them. Their hearts become tombs, closed slowly and forever upon a vision.
"The world will be a black sky and the memory of you like a shining star that I watch endlessly." He listened to his words. They brought a dim gladness. His phrases had finally capitulated to his love. He could talk now without the artifice of banality to hide behind. Talk, say the unsayable, bring his love in misty word lines before his eyes; look and forget a moment.
Rachel's voice at his side said, "I love you so. Oh, I love you so!"
Yes, he could talk now. His heart wagged a tongue. The pain in him had found words. The mystic desires and torments—words, words.
"We'll remember, years later, and be grateful we didn't bury our love behind lighted windows, but left it to wander forever and remain forever alive. Rachel, my dear one."
"I love you so!" she wept.
More words ... "it would have been always the same. We've lived one moment and in all of life there's nothing more than what we've had. Lovers who grow old together live only in their yesterdays. And their yesterdays are only a moment—till the time comes when their yesterdays die. Then they become little, half-dead people, who wait in lighted rooms, empty handed, fumbling greedily with trifles...."
"I love you!" She made a refrain for him. "I don't know the things you do. I only love you."
"Rachel ..." He had no belief in what he was saying. The things he knew? What? Nothing but pain and torment. Yet his heart went on wagging out words: "All life is a parting—a continual and monotonous parting. And most hideous of all, a parting with dead things. A saying good-by to things that no longer exist. We part with living things, and so keep them, somehow. Your face makes life for the moment familiar. Visions bloom like sad flowers in my heart. Your body against mine brings a torment even into my words. Oh, your weeping's the sound of my own heart dying. Rachel, you are more wonderful than life. I love you! I feel as if I must die when you go away. Crowds, streets, buildings—all empty outlines. Empty before you came, emptier when you have gone."
He paused. His thought whispered: "I'll remember things I say. I mustn't say too much. I'm sad. Oh, God, what a mess!"
They walked into the park. A sudden matter-of-factness came into Dorn's mind. He had sung something from his heart. Yet he remembered with astonishment it had been a wary song. He had not asked her to stay. Had he asked her she would have remained. Curious, how he acquiesced in her going. A sense of drama seemed to demand it. When he had received her message the night in the office he had agreed at once. Why? Because he was not in love? This too, a make-believe, more colored, more persuasive than the others? Wrong. Something else. Anna. Anna was sending her away. The figure of Anna loomed behind their ecstasies. It stood nodding its head sorrowfully at a good-by in the snow.
They were deep in the park. Trees made still gestures about them. The ivory silhouettes of trees haunted the distance. A spectral summer painted itself upon the barren lilac bushes. Beneath, the lawn slopes raised moon faces to the night. Deep in the storm the ghost of a bronze fountain emerged and remained staring at the scene.
It was cold. The wind had died and the snow hung without motion, like a cloud of ribbons in the air. The white park gleamed as if under the swinging light of blue and silver lanterns. The night, lost in a dream wandered away among strange sculptures. In the distance a curtain of porphyry and bisque drew its shadow across the moon.
Rachel pointed suddenly with her finger.
"Look!" she whispered. She remained as if in terror, pointing.
Three figures were converging toward them—black figures out of the distant snow. Figures of men, without faces, like three bundles of clothes, they came toiling across the unbroken white of the park, an air of intense destinations about them. Above the desolate field of white the three figures seemed suddenly to loom into heroic sizes. They reared to a height and zigzagged across a nowhere.
"See, see!" Rachel cried. She was still pointing. Her voice rang brokenly. "They're coming for me, Erik. Erik, don't you see? People wandering toward me. Horrible strangers. Oh, I know, I know!" She laughed. "My grandmother was a gypsy and she's telling my fortune in the snow. Things that will jump out of space and come at me, after you're gone."
The three men, puffing with exertion, converged upon the walk and passed on with a morose stare at the lovers. Dorn sighed, relieved. He had caught a strange foreboding sense out of the tableau of the white field and the three converging black figures.... If he loved her why was he letting her go? If he loved her....
He walked on suddenly wearied, saddened, uncertain. It was no more than a dream that had touched his senses, a breath of a dream that lingered for a moment upon his mirror. It would pass, as all things pass. And he would fall back into the pattern of streets and faces, watching as before the emptiness of life make geometrical figures of itself. Yes, it was better to have her go—simpler. Perhaps a desire would remain, a breath, a moonlit memory of her loveliness to mumble over now and then, like a line of poetry always unwritten. Let her go. Beautiful ... wonderful.... These were words. Was he even sad? She was—what? Another woman.
In the shadow of a snow-covered wall he paused. The snow had ended.
"Come closer," he whispered. She remained silent as he removed her overcoat. He dropped it in the snow and threw his own beside it.
"We'll be warm for a minute against each other."
She was a flower in his arms. She seemed to vanish and become mist. Slowly he became aware of her touch, of her arms holding him and her lips. She was saying:
"I am yours—always—everywhere. I will be a shrine to you. And whenever you want me I will come crawling on my knees to you."
Dying, dying! She was dying. Another moment and the mist of her would be gone. "Rachel.... Rachel. I love you. I send you away. Oh, God, why do I send you away?"
She was out of his arms. Undressed, naked, emptied, he stood unknown to himself. No words. Her kiss alone lived on his lips. She was looking at him with burning wild eyes. Expression seemed to have left her. There was something else in her face.
"I must look at you. To remember, to remember!" she gasped. "Oh, to remember you! I have never looked at you. I have never seen you. It's a dream. Who is Erik Dorn? Who am I? Oh, let me look at you...."
The eyes of Rachel grew marvelously bright. Burned ... burned.
Dorn stared into an empty park. Gone! Her coat still in the snow. His own beside it. He stood smiling, confused. His lips made an apology. He walked off. Oh, yes, their coats together in the snow. A symbol. He stumbled and a sudden terror engulfed him. "Her face," he mumbled, "like a mirror of stars." He felt himself sicken. What had her eyes said? Eyes that burned and devoured him and vanished. "Rachel," he wept, "forever!" He wondered why he spoke.
The park, white, gleaming, desolate, gave him back her face. Out of the empty night, her face. In the trees it drifted, haunting him. The print of a face was upon the world. He went stumbling toward it in the snow. He covered his eyes with his hands as he walked.
"Her face," he mumbled, "her face was beautiful...."
In a dining-room of the city known as the Blue Inn, Anna Dorn sat waiting for her husband. Opposite her a laughing-eyed man was talking. She listened without intelligence. He was part of old memories—crowded rooms in which lights had been turned off. They had danced together in their youth. She had worn his fraternity pin and walked with him one night under a moon and kissed him, saying: "I will always love you. The other boys are different. You are so nice and kind, Eddie." And Eddie had gone away east to continue a complacent quest for erudition in a university. Almost forgotten days and places when there had been no Erik Dorn, and when one debated which pumps to wear to the dance. Erik had blotted them out. A whimsical, moody young Mr. Dorn, laughing and carousing about the city and singling her out one night at a party.... "We must get out of here or we'll choke to death. Come, we'll go down to the lake and laugh at the stars. They're the only laughable things in the world."
She looked sadly at the man whose kindly voice sought to rally her out of a gloom. Before the laughing stars there had been another day—other stars, another Anna. All part of another world. Eddie Meredith and another world sat dimly apparent across the white linen of the table. Anecdotes of old friends they had shared, forgotten names and incidents reached through the shadows of her thought and stirred an alien memory. He hadn't changed. Ten years—and he was still Eddie Meredith, with eyes that looked for simple pleasures and seemed to find them. He had always found something to laugh about. Not the way Erik laughed. Erik's laugh was something that had never ceased to hurt. Strange that Eddie's voice had never grown tired of laughing during the ten years.
The ache in her heart lightened and she listened with almost a smile—the ghost of another Anna smiling. It was the other Anna who had walked through youth with a joyous indifference to life, to everything but youth. Buried now deep under years, Eddie warmed it back. Eddie sat talking to the ghost that had been Anna Winthrop and that could not answer him.
He was a poor talker. She was too used to Erik. Simple, threadbare phrases, yet she had once thought him brilliant. Perhaps he was—a different kind of brilliance. She noted how his words seemed stimulated with an enthusiasm beyond their sense. Trifles assumed an importance. For moments she felt herself looking at the joyousness of an old friend and forgetting. Then as always through the day and night.... "Erik, Erik," murmured itself in her mind ... "he doesn't love me. Erik, dear Erik!" Over and over, weaving itself into all she said and saw. Sometimes it started a panic in her. She would feel herself grow dark, wild. Often it seemed to bring death. Things would become vague and she would move through the hours unaware of them.
The joyousness of Eddie drifted away. She remained smiling blankly at him. His words slipped past her ear. Inside, she was wandering—disheveled thoughts were wandering through a darkness. At night she lay beside him as he slept, with her eyes wide open and her lips praying, "Dear Jesus, sweet brother Jesus, give Erik back to me!" ... Or she would crawl out of bed and walk into a deserted room to weep. Here she could mumble his name till the anguish of her tears choked her. As the cold streets grew gray she would hurry to bathe her face, even rouging her cheeks, and return to their bed to wait for Erik to awake, that she might caress him, warm something back in him with her kisses, and perhaps hear him whisper her name as he used to do. But he drew himself away, his eyes sometimes filling with tears. "It's nothing, Anna, nothing. Please don't ask. I don't know what it is. My head or something. I feel black inside...." And he would hurry to work, not waiting for her to join him at breakfast.
Then there had been nights when he held her in his arms thinking she was asleep, and she felt his tears dropping over her face—tears of silence. She would lie trembling with a wild joy, yet not daring to open her eyes or speak, knowing he would move away. These moments, feigning sleep and listening to Erik weeping softly against her cheek, had been her only happiness in the four black months since the change had come to him. He still loved her. Yes.... Oh, God, it was something else. Perhaps madness. She would drift to sleep as his weeping ceased, long after it ceased, and half dreams would come to her of nursing him through terrible darknesses, of warming him with her life, of magically driving away the things that were tormenting him out of his mind—great black things. Through the day she hungered for his return from work, that she might look at him again, even though the sight of him, dark and aloof, tore at her heart till she grew faint.
She had never thought of questioning him calmly. There had been no suspicion of "someone else." That was a thing beyond even the wildest disorder of her imaginings. It was only that Erik was restless, perhaps tired of his home, of her too much loving and longing to go somewhere—away. Her awe of his brain, of his strange, always impenetrable character, adjusted itself to the change in him. There were mysterious things in Erik—things she couldn't hope to understand. Now these unknown things had grown too big in him. He was different from other men, not to be questioned as one might question other men. So she must wander about blindly, carefully, and drive things away.
She came out of her sorrow reveries and smiled. Eddie was still talking. The music of a violin, harp, and piano was playing with a rollicking wistfulness through the clatter and laughter of the cafe. Eddie was saying, "There, that's better. That makes you look like Anna. You were looking like somebody else."
His jolly eyes had a keenness. She must dissemble better. Erik would come in a moment and Eddie must never think....
"I've heard about your husband, the lucky dog!" Eddie beamed at her impudently. "Think," he exploded, "of meeting you accidentally after ten years. Wow! Ten years! They say themselves quickly, don't they? By the way, there's a curious fellow coming to meet me here. I'll drag him in. If your Erik don't like it I'll sit on him till he does. His name's Tesla—Emil Tesla. Bomb-thrower or something. I don't know exactly. He's helped me with my collection. Oh, I forgot. You don't know about that. I keep thinking that you know me. You see nothing has changed in me. I'm still the same Eddie—richer, balder, foolisher, perhaps. It seems you ought to know all about the ten years without being told. But I'll tell you. I'm an art collector on the sly. Pictures—horrible things that don't look like anything. I don't know why I collect them, honestly. Pictures mean nothing to me. Never did. Particularly the kind I pick up. But it's a habit that keeps me cheerful. Better than collecting stamps. Cubist, futurist, expressionist. Ever see the damn things? I gobble them up. I guess because they're cheap. Here he is—the young fellow with the soft face."
Meredith rose and jubilantly waved a napkin. A stocky man in loose clothes nodded at him and approached.
"Not Mrs. Erik Dorn," he repeated. Anna nodded. The sound of her husband's name on others' lips always elated her, even now. She lost for a moment the aversion she felt at the touch of Tesla's hand. It seemed boneless.... They would all eat together. Anna was an old school friend. Years ago, ah! many years.
Tesla fastened a repugnantly appreciative eye upon her, as if he were becoming privy to an exclusive secret. She frowned inwardly. An ugly man with something bubbly about him.
"I was telling Mrs. Dorn you were a bomb-thrower or something," Meredith announced. His good spirits frisked about the table like a troupe of frolicsome puppies.
"Only an apprentice," Tesla's soft voice—a voice like his hands—answered. "But why talk of such things in the presence of a beautiful lady." He bowed his head at her. She thought, "An unbearable man, completely out of place. How in the world could Eddie...."
The music had changed. Muted cornets, banjos and saxophones were wailing out a tom-tom adagio. People were rising from tables and moving toward a dancing space. Eddie stood beside her bowing with elaborate stiffness.
"My next dance, Miss Winthrop."
Anna looked up blankly.
"Good Lord, have you forgotten your own name? Come on. You know Dorn, don't you, Emil? Well, throw a fork at him when he shows up. Come, we haven't danced together for ten years. The last time was...."
"The last time was the senior prom," Anna interrupted quickly. "You see I haven't forgotten." She stood mechanically.
As they walked between tables and diners, he said, "I sure feel like a boy again seeing you."
"I'm afraid I've almost forgotten how to dance, Eddie. My husband doesn't dance much."
"Here we are! Like old days, eh? Remember Jimmie Goodland, my deadly rival for your hand?"
They were dancing.
"Well, he's married. Three kids."
"And how many children have you, Eddie?"
"Me?" He laughed. "Have I forgotten to tell you that? Well, I'm still at large, untrammeled, free. There've been women, but not the woman."
His voice put on a pleasing facetiousness.
"Mustn't mind an old friend getting sentimental. But after you they had to measure up to something—and didn't."
Since the night Erik had singled her out at the party no man had spoken to her that way. She listened slightly amazed. It confused her. His eyes, as they danced, were jolly and polite. But they watched her too keenly. Erik might misunderstand. Her love somehow resented being looked at and spoken to like that. She hurried back to their first topic.
"What became of Millie Pugh, Eddie?"
"Married. A Spaniard or something. Two kids and an automobile. Saw them in Brazil somewhere."
"And Arthur Stearns?"
"Fatter than an alderman. Runs a gas works or something in Detroit. Married. One kid."
Anna laughed. "You sound like an almanac of dooms."
"Well, all married but me—little Eddie, the boy bachelor, faithful unto death to the memories of his childhood. Do you remember the night we ran Mazurine's out of ice-cream?"
This was another world, another Anna. She closed her eyes dreamily to the movement of the dance and music—delicious drugs.
"Faster," she whispered.
They broke into quicker steps. "Erik.... Erik.... my own. Love me again. Come back to me...." Still in her thought, but fainter, deeper down. Not words but a sigh that moved to the rhythm of the music.
"And how may children have you?"
She answered without emotion, as if she were talking with a distant part of herself. "There was a little boy. He died as a baby. We haven't any."
Deep, kindly eyes looking at her as they danced. "I'm so sorry, Anna."
She whispered again, "Faster!" A shadow over his face. She must be careful of his eyes—eyes that laughed, but keen, almost as keen as Erik's. "My Erik ... my own...." It was all a dream, a nightmare of her own inventing. Nothing had happened. Imaginings. Erik loved her. Why else should he weep and kiss her when he thought her asleep? He loved her, he loved her!
Her face grew bright. Faster. Always to dance and dream of Erik. She must tell Eddie....
"Erik is wonderful. I'm dying to have you meet him. Oh, Eddie, he's wonderful!"
Now she could laugh and enjoy herself. Something had emptied out of her breasts—cold iron, warm lead. She was lighter, easy to bend and glide to the music. Everything was easy. Her face lighted by something deeper than a smile, she danced in silence. Eddie was far away—ten years away. His eyes that were smiling at her were no eyes at all. They were part of the music and movement that caressed her with the sweetness of life, of being loved by Erik....
Tesla watched his friend lead the red-haired lady away to dance. For a while there lingered about him the air of unctious submission that had revolted Anna. Then it vanished. His face as he sat alone seemed to tighten. The flabbiness of his eyes became something else. Diners at other tables caught glimpses of him while they ate. A commanding figure, rugged, youthful-faced. Features that made definite lines, compelling lines, in the blur of other features. A man of certainties, yet with something weak about him. His eyes were like a child's. They did not quite belong in his face. There, eyes should have gleamed, stared with intensities. Instead, eyes purred—abstract, tender eyes; the kind that attracted women sometimes because they were almost like a women's eyes dreaming of lovers.
Again the fawning lights, smiles, bowings. This was Dorn—a Somebody. Somebodies always changed Tesla. There was a thing in him that smirked before Somebodies, as if he were a timorous puppy wagging its tail and leaping about on flabby legs.
"Mrs. Dorn is sitting here with a friend. They're dancing. We're all at this table, Mr. Dorn."
Dorn caught the eager innuendo of his voice. He knew Tesla vaguely as a radical, an author of pamphlets. Tesla continued to talk, a sycophantic purr in his words.... The war was financed by international bankers. Didn't he think so? America was being drawn in by Wall Street—to make the loans to the Allies stand up. But something was going to happen. The eyes of the workers were opening slowly all over the world. In Russia already a beginning of realities. Ah, think of the millions dying for nothing, advancing or improving nothing by their death. Soldiers, heroes, workingmen, all blind acrobats in another man's circus. But something was happening. Revolution. This grewsome horseplay in Europe's front yard would start it. And then—watch out!
The voice of Emil Tesla, eager, fawning, had yet another quality in it. It promised, as if it could not do justice to the things it was saying and must be careful, soft, polite. Dorn felt the man and his power. Not a puppy on flabby legs but a brute mastiff with a wild bay that must come out in little whines, because the music was playing, because he was talking to Somebody. A man physically beaten by life, his body scraping, bowing; his words mumbling confusedly in the presence of other words. Yet a powerful man with a tremendous urge that might some day hurl him against the stars. He had something....
To Tesla's sentences Dorn dropped a yes or no. Tesla needed no replies. He purred on eagerly before his listener, seeming to whine for his appreciation and good will, yet unconscious of him. A waiter brought wine. Dorn stared at the topaz tint in his glass. His eyes had changed. They no longer smiled. A heaviness gleamed from them. The thing in his heart would not go. Heavy hands turning him over and over, as if life were tearing him, crowds and streets pulling at him. There had been no rest since Rachel had gone.
He sat almost oblivious of Tesla. In the back of his brain the city tumbled—an elephantine grimace, a wilderness of angles, a swarm of gestures that beat at his thought. But before his eyes there were no longer the precise patterns of another day. He was no longer outside. He had been sucked into something, the something that he had been used to refer to condescendingly as life. People sitting in a room like this had been furniture that amused him. Now they were alive, repulsive, with a meaning to them that sickened him. Streets had once been stone and gesture. Now they, too, were meanings that sickened. A sanity in which he alone was insane, surrounded him; a completion in which he alone seemed incomplete. Men and women together—tired faces, lighted faces—all with destinations that satisfied them. And he wandering, knocked from place to place by heavy hands, pushed through crowds, dropped into chairs. Time itself a torment into which he kept thrusting himself deeper.
The change in Erik Dorn had come to him with a cynicism of its own. It laughed with its own laughter. A mind foreign to him spoke to him through the day.... "You would smile at life, Erik; well, here it is. Easy for a sleeper to smile. But smile now. Life is a surface, eh? shifting about into designs for the delectation of your eyes. Watch it shifting then. Darkness and emptiness in a can-can. Watch the tumbling streets that have no meanings. No meanings? Yet there's a torment in them that can hoist you up by your placid little heels and swing you round ... round, and send you flying. A witch's flight with the scream of stars whistling through it. Flight that has no ending and no direction ... no face of Rachel at its ending. Burning eyes, devouring eyes ... face like a mirror of stars. There's a face in the world and you go after it, heels in air, tongue frozen, breathing always an emptiness that chokes. Easy for sleepers to dawdle with words and say carelessly life is this, life is that. What the hell's the difference what life is? It means nothing to me. People and their posturings mean nothing. But what about now? A contact, a tying up with posturings, and the streets and crowds tearing you into gestures not your own...."