Aloud he would say, "My love for her has given me a soul and I've become a fool along with other fools."
He did not think of Rachel in words. There were moments of dream when he made plans—a fantastic amorous rigmarole of Rachel and himself walking together over the heads of the world; child dreams that substituted themselves for the realities he demanded. But these were infrequent. He was learning to avoid them as one avoids a drug that soothes and then doubles the hunger of the nerves.
As now in the cafe, listening to Tesla, watching with dark eyes the scene, there was a turning of heavy hands in him to which he must not give thought. Watch the cafe, listen to Tesla, talk, eat and spit out a disgust for the things of which he was a part—things from which he demanded Rachel and a surcease to the pain in him. And that only stifled with the emptiness of her.
Out of the wretchedness of garbled emotions that had become the whole of Erik Dorn, his vocabulary arose with a facile paint brush and painted upon his thought. His phrases wandered about looking for subjects as if he must taunt himself with details that forever brought him loathing.
Before he had seen pictures complete, rhythmic pictures of streets and crowds, pleasantly blurred and in motion. Now he saw them as if life was in a state of continual pause—an arrested cinematograph; grotesquely detailed and with the meaning of motion out of it. A picture waiting something to set it moving. This something he could not give it. Helplessly his words continued to trace themselves over the outlines of scenes about him, as if trying to stir them into a life.
This scene consciousness had become almost a mania in the four months. But in the mechanical, phraseological movement of his thought he was able to hide himself. Thus he listened to Tesla and looked at the cafe. The inn was filled with people—elaborately dressed women and shiningly groomed men—grouped about white-linened, silver-laden tables; an ornamental grimacing little multitude come to the cafe as to some grave rite, moving to the tables with an unctious nonchalance. Women dressed in effulgent silks, their flesh gleaming among the spaces of exotic plumage, gleaming through the flares of luxurious satin distortions. A company that gestured, grimaced with the charm of lustful marionettes. Flesh reduced to secrecy. Lust, dream in hiding. From the secret world they inhabited, moist bodies beckoned with a luscious, perverse denial of artifice.
The picture of it shot into his eyes, arousing a hate in his thought. He heard Tesla ... "life has changed with the industrialization of society. It is no longer a question of who shall run the court. The court is an atrophied institution, a circus surviving in the backyard of history. It's a question of who shall run the factory. Democracy is a thing that touches only politicians. The factory touches people. Democracy cleared the way but it's not a way in itself. It's still the court idea of government. Steam, gas, and electricity made the French revolution obsolete even before it was ended. This war ... good God, Dorn, blood pouring over toys we've outgrown!..."
Still fawning voiced, but with a bay underneath. Dorn listened and remained elsewhere—among a turning of heavy hands. Yet he thought of Tesla, "He makes an impression on me. I'll remember his words. A man of power, rooted in visions." He replied suddenly, "I'm convinced the weak will rule some day, if that's what you're driving at. The race can survive only as long as its weakest survive. Christianity started it. Socialism will carry it a step further. The fight against the individual. What else is any institutionalism? A struggle to circumvent the biological destiny of man, which is the same as the biological destiny of fish—extinction. That's what we're primarily engaged in. The race must protect its weak, so it invents laws to curb the instincts and power of its strong. And we obey the laws—a matter of adjusting ourselves ludicrously to our weaknesses and endowing these adjustments with high names. Bolshevism will be the law of to-morrow and wear even a higher name than Christianity. Yesterday it was, 'only the poor shall inherit heaven, only crippled brains and weaker visions shall see God.' To-morrow the slogan will have been brought down to earth. Yes, they'll run the factories—your masses. There's the strength in them of logic—a logic opposed to evolution. They'll run the factories as they now run heaven—an Institution nicely accommodated to their fears and weaknesses."
Dorn paused. He was not thinking. People said things. An automatic box of phrases in him released answers. Tesla was replying, not so fawningly, the bay beneath his soft words mastering his sycophantic tones. Let him talk. He had something to talk about. He saw something. There was a new tableau in Tesla's brain. Let him keep murmuring things about it—suavely, unctuously letting off steam.
Like a man returning drearily to his game of solitaire, Dorn fastened his eyes again upon the scene. Looking at things would keep him from thinking. To think was to cry out. He had learned this. His eyes, dark and heavy, fastened themselves upon the walls of the inn lost in shadows, painted with nymphs and satyrs sprawling over tapestried landscapes. He devoured their details, his heart searching in them for the mystery of Rachel and finding only a deeper emptiness—insistently naked bodies of nymphs lying like newly bathed housemaids amid stiff park sceneries. Miracles of photographic lechery. Would people about him look like that naked? Thank God they were dressed! An ankle in silk was better than a thigh in sunlight. An old saw ... beauty lay in the imagination. Women removed their beauty with their clothes. The nymphs on the wall reminded one chiefly that they were careful to scrub their legs all the way up.
He sighed and watched the eyes of diners look at the walls. Her face—a mirror of stars. What else was there but her face? Other faces, of course. A revulsion of other strange faces. Men studying the naked figures on the walls with profound but aloof interest, eyeing the women near them shrewdly as they turned away. Women with serious, unconcentrated eyes upon the paintings, turning tenderly towards their escorts. He would die of looking at faces that were not hers. A love-sick schoolboy. God, what an ass! Tesla was becoming an insufferable bore. What in God's name did he have to do with masses raising their skinny arms from a smoking field and crying aloud, "Bread!" Tesla had a lot to do with it. The skinny arms, the smoking field, and the balloon with the word "bread" in it were Tesla's soul. But his soul was different—heavy hands turning.
Dorn drank wine from his glass. Anna, dancing with a plump, laughing stranger, flitted through the distance. A deeper turning over of iron in his heart at the glimpse of her. The scene no longer could divert him. The thought of Anna dropped like a curtain upon a picture. What could he do? What? At night he grew sick lying beside her. It wasn't conscience. There was nothing wrong about loving someone else. But there was an uncanniness about it. Lying beside a woman who didn't know what was in his mind. He would lie thinking, "Oh, Rachel, I love Rachel," repeating almost idiotic love words for Rachel in his mind. And Anna would smile patiently at him, unaware. That was the most intolerable thing. The fact she didn't know. And also the fact that he must remain inarticulate. He must sit with his heart choking him and his head in a blaze, and keep stuffing words back down his throat. Through the day he tormented himself with the thought, "I must tell her. I can't keep this thing up any longer." But when he saw her it was impossible to tell her. A single phrase would end it. He held the phrase on his lips—as if it were a knife balanced over Anna's heart. "I love Rachel." That would end it. But it was impossible. He couldn't say it. Why? He sat, trying to get a glimpse of her dancing again and tried to avoid answering himself. It was something he mustn't answer. He must get away from his damned thought. His eyes fastened themselves upon the fountain in the center of the room. It was Anna that tormented him, not Rachel. Anna ... Anna.... The tension broke. He was looking at the fountain surmounted by a marble nude crouched in a posture of surprise; probably disturbed by her nudity. It was necessary for nudity to be disturbed by itself. Did virgins eyeing themselves in mirrors blush with shame? Unquestionably. The nude peered into the water of a large tiled basin. A gush of water over her managed to veil her unsuccessfully in an endless spray. Water filled the air with an odorless spice.
" ... the first blow will come out of Russia, Dorn. The Russians have not been side-tracked into the phantasms of democracy. They still think straight. Civilization hasn't crippled them with phrases. They are still what you would call biological. And dreams live in them. Yes, I know what you'll say ... heavy dreams. But here in America there are no dreams—yet. Nothing but paper. Paper thoughts. Paper morals. Everything paper. Russia will send out fire to burn up this paper. Destroy it. Leave nothing behind—not even ashes."
True enough. Why answer it? But what difference did it make if paper burned? Was man after all a creature consecrated to institutions, doomed to expend himself upon institutions? A hundred million nervous systems, each capable of ecstasies and torments, devoting themselves to the business of political brick-laying. Always yowling about new bricks. Politics—a deformity of the imagination; a game of tiddledy-winks played with guns and souls.
He breathed with relief. Abstractions were a drug. But his thinking ended. Blue electric lights cast an amorous glow—an artificial moonlight—upon tables surrounding the fountain. Beneath the cobalt water of the basin, colored fish gliding like a weaving procession of little fat Mandarins. The remainder of the room also blue from shaded lights. That was why they dubbed it the Blue Inn. Blue lights made the Blue Inn. The air was heavy with the uncoiling lavender tinsel of tobacco smoke. A luxurious suppression as about some priapic altar ... artificial shadows, painted lights, forlorn fountain ripplings.
"Oh, Erik, I've been dancing. This is Mr. Meredith. I once told you about him. The music is simply wonderful here."
Tesla, flabby-eyed and almost maliciously polite, as if he would expose the innate absurdity of politeness, tipped over a water glass in his floppings. Anna, still alive with the joyousness that had come to her, seated herself beside her husband. Her hand rested eagerly on his arm. He must love her ... must. Must. It had been only a nightmare she'd invented. Oh, God, did anything matter as long as they loved each other?
He looked at her and tried to lighten his eyes.
"Yes, a little. The damned war."
"I'm so sorry."
She mustn't ask him to dance. He was tired. She would coddle him. He was only a baby—tired, sleepy, sad. She must ask no questions. Only love. Before her love the darkness of his face would clear away as before sunshine.
"I'm so happy, Erik darling!"
Her fingers quivered on his arm. He looked at her and smiled out of misty eyes. Of all the unbearable things in an unbearable world her happiness was the most unbearable. She nodded, as if she understood. Her pretense of understanding was a ghastly business. But Anna smiled. Poor Erik, he was only a boy. If only they were alone! If Eddie and Tesla and the whole world would go away and leave her with him, to kiss his eyes and stroke his hair. Sleep, baby, sleep.... What a crazy, wild thing, thinking that Erik no longer loved her. No longer loved her! Dear God, she was only a part of him. He must love her.... Must!
The talk kept on—words bubbling from Tesla, Eddie frisking with laughter.
"You must dance with me, Erik. It's been so long since we danced." There—she shouldn't have asked. She didn't mean to. Her eyes apologized. When he answered, "No, I'm tired," there was wine from a glass that warmed the little coldness his words dropped into her.
Listening to her, answering with words he tried to soften and make alive, Dorn tried to occupy himself with the details of the scene again. Could he keep on living as two persons—one of them turning over and over in a fire that consumed him—and the other making phrases, gestures, as if there were no fire consuming him? If he kept his eyes working, perhaps. He hated Anna. But that was because he couldn't bear the thought of her suffering. He hated her because he must be kind to her.
Meredith was ordering the dinner. Dorn stared out over the room.
Anna was watching him with her senses. Why didn't he speak to her as Eddie did? Perhaps he was going mad. His eyes suffered. He looked at things and seemed to hurt himself with looking. She kept her voice vibrant with a hope of joyousness. "I mustn't give in to the nightmare. It's only imagining...."
"Erik, dearest, do eat something. Let me order for you."
Talk, talk! Dorn listened. Anna was saying, "Eddie thinks as you do about the war, Erik. Isn't that odd?" Yes, that anybody should be able to think as he did. He was a God. A super-God. If only she hated him. A moment of hate in her eyes would be heaven.
"A plain case of accepting an evil and making the best of it," laughed Meredith. "If we go in all I ask is for God's sake let's keep our eyes open and not slobber around."
Soft remonstrances from Tesla with polite references to Wall Street. Food on platters. An air of slight excitement with Anna directing the talk and serving. What made her so vivacious? The sight of an old friend, Meredith? Meredith ... oh, yes, school days, long ago. A wild hope unfolded itself in Dorn. He looked at the man anew. Fantastic notion. But throw them together, day and night. Cafes, dancing, music, propinquity. He was her type—kindly, unselfish, prosperously elate over life. He'd help her on with her wraps and be polite over doorways. Perhaps. He turned to his wife and laughed softly. A way out. Give her to the man. Give her away. End her love for him—her damned, torturing love that made him turn over inside and weep at night when she was asleep; that hounded him like an unclean memory. It was only her love that made him unclean. He looked at her with his eyes lighted.
"Dancing makes a difference, doesn't it, dear? I'd dance myself, only my legs are tired."
He smiled as he spoke with the unctuousness of a villain administering poison in a bouquet of roses. But a way to get rid of her love. He didn't mind her, but the thing in her. That was the whole of it. Why hide from it? God, if he could only kill it he'd be free. Otherwise he'd never be free. Even if he went away there'd be the thought of her love.... Anna's face bloomed with joy at his words.
"We'll come here another night when you're not tired, honey."
"Yes," he answered, "make a party of it. How about that, Mr. Meredith?"
They forgot Tesla.
"Oh, Erik!" She embraced his arm with both her hands. Under the table she pressed her thigh trembling against him.
The music from the platform had changed. Cornets, banjos, saxophones, again. The boom and jerk of voices arose as if in greeting. Foreheads of diners glistening with a fine sweat. Sweat on the backs of women's necks, on their chins, under their raised arms; gleaming on the cool intervals of breasts, white and bulbous breasts peeping out of a secret world.
"If I may, Anna...."
Eddie was taking her away. The plot was working. Dorn's heart warmed toward the man. A rescuer, a savior. He nodded his head at his wife. He must make it look as if he were sorry it wasn't he going to dance with her; smile with proper wistfulness; shake his head sadly.
Anna, suddenly beside herself, laughed, and, leaning over touched his hair quickly with her lips. Damned idiot, he'd overdone it! No. Perhaps she was guilty. Apologizing for impulses away from him toward Meredith? He sat hoping feverishly, caressing a diagnosis as if he could establish it by repeating it over and over.
Tesla again, this time on art. Art of the proletaire. Damn the proletaire and Tesla both! He had a plot working out. Would their hands touch, linger, sigh against each other? Of course. They were human—at least their hands were. And then, dances every night. What a miserable banal plot! Another day-dream. Forget. Beyond Tesla's soft voice ... an opening and shutting of mouths swollen in delicious discomforts. Look at them. Identify mouths. Tell himself the angles they made. People ... people ... a wriggling of bodies in a growing satiety of tepid lusts.
"True art, Dorn, is something beyond decoration. Dreams made real. But the right kind of dreams—things that touch people. The other art was for sick men. That is—men sickened of life. The new art will be for healthy men, men reaching out of everything about them. And we must give them bread, soup, and art."
Yes, that might as well be true as anything else. Anything was truth. Anything and everything. Here he was in a scene that had no relation to him. Yet he wasn't detached.
"Speaking of art, Dorn, we've found a new artist, a wonder. She's going to do some things for The Cry. I got her interested. I must tell Meredith about her. Maybe you know her—Rachel Laskin. One of her things is coming out in the next issue. I'll send you a copy."
Coolly, amazedly, Dorn thought, "What preposterous thing makes it possible for this man to talk of Rachel as if she were a reality ... like the people in the cafe? To him she's like the people in the cafe. He knows her like the people in the cafe."
He answered carelessly, "Oh, yes; Miss Laskin. I remember her well. That reminds me: you don't happen to have her address? I've got some things she left at the office we can't use."
Tesla dug an address out of a soiled stack of papers. His pockets seemed alive with soiled papers. Rachel's address was a piece of soiled paper like any other piece of soiled paper. Mumbling silently, Dorn sighed. Just in time. Anna again, and Meredith. He looked at them, recalling his plot. Were they in love? Tesla—the blundering idiot—"I was telling Dorn of a new artist I've found, Eddie. Rachel Laskin, a sort of Blake and Beardsley and something else. Thin lines, screechy things. You'll like them."
"Oh, yes, I always like them," Meredith smiled.
And Anna, "Oh, I know Rachel Laskin well. We're old friends. She's a charming, wonderful girl. I liked her so much. Where is she?"
"In New York."
"I'll have to look at her work," Meredith added. "That's me. Always looking at other people's work and saying, fine, great, and never knowing a thing about it. Ye true art collector, eh, Emil?"
Anna went on, "Erik was amused with her. She is rather odd, you know, and sort of wearing on the nerves. But you can't help liking her."
An amazing description of a face of stars. Dorn smiled.
Tesla said, "I only saw her once. A nervous girl, and she seemed upset."
More from Anna: "I hope she'll come back to Chicago. She was such fun. I really miss her...."
All mad. Babbling of Rachel. Dorn stared cautiously about him. The torment in him became a secret swollen beyond its proper dimensions. They would look at him now and understand that he was not Erik Dorn, but somebody else huddled up, burning and flopping around inside. Love was a virulent form of idiocy. It meant nothing to people outside. Everything inside. Anna talking about Rachel started a panic in him. She was playing with memories of Rachel. Do you remember this? and that? As if he, of course, had forgotten her. Yes, there was an "of course" about it. A gruesome "of course." Gruesome—an excellent word. It meant Anna petting and laughing over a knife that was to plunge itself into her heart. When? Soon ... soon. He had an address copied from a soiled piece of paper.
They bundled out of the cafe. Waiters, wraps. Eddie helped with the wraps. Alien streets, dark waiting buildings, lights, and then good-nights. The moments whirled mysteriously away. What did the moments matter? He was going to Rachel. Ah! When had he decided that? He didn't remember reaching any decision in the matter.
They entered a cab alone. The cab rolled away over snow-packed streets. But he couldn't leave Anna. Yes he could. Why not? No. Impossible. A faint thought like a storm packed into a nutshell.... "I will."
"You were wonderful to-night, Erik. When I see you with other men I just thank God for you."
That was the intolerable thing—his wonderfulness, his damned wonderfulness. It existed in her. He couldn't leave it behind.
Her hand lay warm in his.
"Kiss me, dearest!"
He kissed her and laughed. He was happy, then? Oh, yes, he was going to Rachel. Simple. Four months of misery, making a weeping idiot out of himself. And now, a decision had been reached. His head on her shoulder, she wanted it so, she was whispering caresses to him. This was Anna. But it would soon be Rachel. What difference did such things make? One woman, another woman....
"You're like Jimmie was."
Happy tears filled her eyes, to be noted and remembered now that he was going to Rachel. Jimmie was a baby who had died—his baby. Offspring was a more humorous word. To be noted and remembered. What a dream!
"I'm so happy, Erik. Everything seems wonderful again when you smile and laugh like this. Your cheeks make such a nice little curve and your head on my shoulder, where it belongs ... for always and ever...."
Let her sing. He could stand it. What did it matter? But would she die when he left. He would have to say something outright. God, what a thing to say outright. Kill not only her but the wonderful selves of him that lived in her. That didn't mean anything. Anyway, it was rather silly to waste time thinking.... To-night, after the ride ... going to Rachel. He had her address. He would walk up, ring the bell. She would answer and her face would look in surprise at him.
"My Erik, my own sweet little one!"
Dreaming of Jimmie, of him and Jimmie together.... "I don't ever want to move. I want us to keep on riding like this forever and ever...."
Quite exquisite tragedy. A bit crude. But reality was always rather crude. Crude or not, what was more exquisite than happiness laughing with an unseen knife moving toward its heart? At least he was an appreciative audience. With his head on her shoulder. Why not? Life demanded that one be an audience sometimes ... sit back and listen to the fates whispering. What a ride! Dark waiting houses moving by. Seven years together, growing closer and more subtly together—yet not together at all. Anyway, he was sick of living that way. Even without Rachel ... a mess. Night lies. Passion lies. A dirty business. No, not that. She was beautiful. Anna, not Rachel. He was the unclean one.
"Are you happy, beloved?"
Lord, what an answer to give her. A prayer! Insufferably exquisite gods of drama—she was praying. Tears rushing from her eyes.
"Sweet Jesus ... sweet brother Jesus ... thanks for everything. Oh, I've been so unfaithful. Not to believe. Thanks for my wonderful Erik."
He must kill her, swiftly, before she could know that prayers were vain. Easier to kill her body than to listen to this. How, though? With his hands about her throat. Murder was an old business. It would be mercy to her. But he was too much a coward. A cowardly audience listening to words ... far away from him.
"Beloved ... darling. Oh, it's so good to have you back again."
"Don't talk." He put his arm tightly around her, his fingers fumbling at her bare neck. But that was only a pretense, a bit of insipid melodrama—his fingers. He was an actor frightened by his part.
The taxi driver was demanding $4.50—an outrage.
"That's too much, Erik."
But he paid. Should he tell him to wait? He would need him in a few minutes. No, too cold-blooded to tell him to wait. And anyway, Anna was listening. He was still an audience. He would jump on the stage and begin acting later. Soon.
"Keep the change."
An insane world ... a polite and jovial taxi-cab driver carrying lunatics about the streets.
"Oh, dear, look! Father's sitting up." She was disappointed. "And I wanted to kiss and hug you before we went upstairs."
Dorn unlocked the door of his house. He still had a house and could unlock its door without its meaning anything. To-morrow he would have no house. That was the difference between to-day and to-morrow. The old man would be there. That would make it easier. He shivered. "I'm going to do something then".... This was alarming.
Anna's arms were around him before he could remove his coat. She clung, laughing, kissing. Let her.... "The doomed man ate a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs and seemed in good spirits." Reporters, with a sense of the dramatic, usually wrote it that way. Ham and eggs were a symbol. Should he mull around for extenuating epigrams—a fervid rigmarole on the mysteries and ethics of life? Or strike swift, short?... "Death was instantaneous. The drop fell at 10:08 A.M. sharp." Always sharp. Damn his reporters!
She bloomed at the sound of her name.
"I want to talk, Anna."
"No, let's not talk. I'm so happy.... Aren't you up rather late, father?"
Thank God she was getting nervous. One can't kill a smile.
"Anna, come to me."
An old phrase of their love-making. He hadn't meant to use it. But phrases that have been used for seven years get so they say themselves. She moved quickly toward him. His father—smiling beyond her shoulder. Now for the slaughter....
"Do you love me enough to make me happy, Anna?"
"I would give my life for you."
He was deplorably calm—too calm. His eyes were looking at books on shelves, at chairs, at pictures on the walls, as if everything was of an identical importance.
"I know, but that isn't it."
"What then, Erik?"
He couldn't say it. Particularly with his father smiling—an irritating old man who would never die. Should he fall at her feet and whimper? He couldn't. Her face was his, her eyes his. It wasn't leaving Anna. Himself, though. Yes, he was confronting himself. Seven years of selves. All wonderful. Everything he had said and done for seven years lived in Anna. So he must kill seven years of himself with a phrase. No. Yet he was talking on. It soothed him, untightened the agony in him.
"Listen, Anna. I can't tell you, but I must. My words circle away from me. They run away from what I want to tell you. Anna ... I must go away—leave you."
Tears in his eyes, over his face. His voice, warm, blurring with tears. He choked, paused.
A white sound. Something bursting.
"If I stay, I'll go mad."
"No ... no ... Erik ..."
Still white sounds, only whiter. Blank sounds, caused by speechlessness. Sounds of speechlessness.
"I may come back, if you'll take me back sometime...."
A man was always an imbecile. Imbecility is a trademark. But there were no sounds now. His eyes tried to turn away from her. A face had ceased to live and give forth sounds. He remained looking at it. A cold, emptied face, like a picture frame with a picture recently torn out of it.
"Anna, for God's sake, hate me. Hate me. Loathe me the rest of your life. I've lied and lied to you—nothing but lies.... No, that's not true. But now it is. Think of me as vile when I go away.... Otherwise..."
Tears blubbered out of him.
... "otherwise I'll die thinking of you. Don't look at me that way. Yell at me.... You've known it. I can't help it.... It's something. I can't help it."
Behind this voice he thought: "It's not me alone. Nights of love ... kisses ... Jimmie ... seven years.... Little things. Oh, God, little things. We're all leaving her—pulling ourselves out of her."
"Where are you going, my son?"
Could he lie now? Yes, anything that made it easier.
"Nowhere. Anywhere. I must go. Otherwise I'll choke to death. Take care of her. There's money. All hers. I'll write later about it. Anna ... don't please."
The thing was a botch. Wrong, all wrong. But that didn't matter. His coat and hat mattered more than phrases. Looking for a coat and hat when he should be winding up the scene properly. These were preposterous banalities that distinguished life, unedited, from melodrama. Where was his hat? His hat ... hat ... Life, Fate, Tragedy had mislaid his insufferable hat. Ah ... on the floor.
She was standing staring at him. Would she die on her feet? Quick, before the shriek. It was coming ... a madness that would frighten him forever if he heard it. What a scoundrel he was! Why deny it? But in a few years he would be dead and no longer a scoundrel, and all this so much forgotten dust.
"Write to us, my son. And come back soon."
He closed the door softly behind him and started to walk. But his legs ran. It had been easy ... easy. He stumbled, sprawled upon the iced pavement, bruising his face. He picked himself up unaware that he had stopped running. Night, houses, streets, what matter? In a few years—dust. But he had left in time. That was the important thing. Another minute and he would have heard her. A terrible unheard sound. He had left it behind. He had left her unfinished. Why was he running? Oh, yes—Anna.
He paused and held his eyes from staring back at his house. His eyes would pull him back to the door. Little things—oh, the little things made hurts. He must turn a corner. Light does not travel around corners.
Gone. The house was gone with all its little things. One jerk and he had ripped away....
He walked slowly. A coldness suddenly fell into him. Rachel. He had forgotten about Rachel. Never a thought for Rachel. Disloyal. Where was she—the mirror of stars? Nowhere. He didn't love her. Was he insane? He loved Anna, not Rachel. He must go back. The thing was lopsided—pretense. He'd been pretending he was in love with Rachel. Love ... schoolboy business. Mirror of stars! Something scribbled on a valentine. That was love. Rachel. No.... There was another face. Cold, emptied—a circle of deaths. Anna's face. But he must remember Rachel because he was going to Rachel—remember something about her. Say her name over and over. But that wasn't Rachel. That was a word like ... like pocketbook. Something about her....
Ah! yes. Her coat lying in the snow. He sighed with a determined effort at sadness ... her little coat in the snow!
"Boom, boom," said the city of New York, "we have gone to war!"
And all the other cities, big and little, said a boom-boom of their own. A mighty nation had gone to war.
A time of singing. Songs on the lips of crowds. Lights in their eyes. High-pitched, garbled words, brass bands, flags, speeches.... Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord but we don't want the Bacon, All we Want is a Piece of the Rhine(d).... A brass monkey playing "Nearer, My God, to Thee" on a red banjo.... Allons, les enfants ... le jour de gloire est arrive! You tell 'em, kid! Store fronts, cabarets, hotel lobbies, sign-boards, office buildings all become shining citadels of righteousness beleaguered by the powers of darkness. Newspaper headlines exploding like firecrackers on the corners. A bonfire of faces in the streets. A bonfire of flags above the streets.
Boom, boom!... societies for the relief of martyred Belgium. Societies for Rolling Cigarettes, Bandages, Exterminating Hun Spies, Exterminating Yellow Dogs and Slackers.... Wah, don't let anybody be a slacker! A slacker is a dirty dog who does what I wanna do but am afraid to do. Who lies down. Who won't stand up on his hind legs and cheer when he's supposed to.... Societies for Knitting Sweaters, Giving Bazaars, Spotting Hun Propaganda. A bonfire of committees, communes, Jabberwocks, clubs, Green Walruses, False Whiskers, Snickersnees, War Boards, and Eagles Shrieking from their Mountain Heights with an obligato by the Avon Comedy Four—I'm a Jazz Baby....
A mighty nation had gone to war. Humpty Dumpty and the March Hare wheeled out the Home Guards. Said the Debutante to her Soldier Boy in the moonlight, "To Hell with the chaperone, War is War...." Somebody lost Eighty Hundred Billion Dollars trying to build aeroplanes out of Flypaper and a new kind of Cement. And the Press, slapping Fright Wig No. 7 on its bald head, announced to the Four Winds, " ... once more glory, common cause, sacrifice, welded peoples of America, invincible host, lay common blood, altar liberty, sacred principle, government of the people by the people for the people perish earth" ... And the Pulpits obliged with an "O God who art in Heaven girthed in shining armor before Thee Thy cause Liberty Humanity Democracy Thy blessing inspire light of sacrifice brave women and hero men give us strength O Lord not falter see way of Righteousness stern hearts bear great burden Thou has given us carry on till powers of darkness routed virtue again triumphant. Thy will done on earth as it is in Heaven...."
And the soldiers entraining for the cantonments—clerks and salesmen, rail-splitters and window-washers with the curve of youth on their faces—the soldiers said, "Whasamatter with Uncle Sam? Rah ... Wow ... Good-bye ... We'll treat 'em rough ... ashes to ashes and dust to dust if the Camels don't get you the Fatimas must...." And in the cantonments the soldiers said, " ... this lousy son of a badwoman of a shavetail can't put nothin' over on me ... say ... oh, I hate to get up in the morning, oh, how I long to remain in bed...." And in France the soldiers sang " ... there are smiles that make you happy there are smiles that make you sad.... The Knights of Columbus are all right but the Y. M. C. A. is a son of a badwoman of a grafting mess...."
"Yanks Land in France ... Yanks in Big Battle ... Yanks Sink Submarines" ... bang banged the headlines. Don't eat meat on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Help the Red Cross buy Doughnuts for the Salvation Army and keep an eye on Your Austrian Janitor.... Elephants, tom-cats, and chorus-girls; a hallelujah with a red putty nose, Seventy-six Thousand Press Agents Walking on their Hands, Jabberwocks, Horned Toads, and Prima Donnas ... here comes the Liberty Loan Drive ...
A mighty nation had gone to war. Boom! Boom!
And in a moon-lighted room overlooking a fanfare of roofs, Erik Dorn whispered one night to Rachel,
"You have given me wings!"
Time to get up. An oblong of sunlight squeezing through beneath the drawn blind and slapping itself boldly on the gloomy carpet ... "shame on all sleepy heads. Here's another day...."
Rachel smiled as she opened her eyes. She lay quietly, smiling. It was as it was yesterday—as the day before. One opened one's eyes and life came quickly back with a "Hello, here I am—where you left me." So one lay, fearful to move, like a cup of wine that is too full and mustn't be joggled with even a kick at the bed sheets.
One lay and smiled. Thoughts and stockings side by side somewhere on the floor. Put on stockings in a minute. Put on thoughts in a minute. Dress oneself up in phrases, hats, skyscrapers, and become somebody.
Rachel's eyes livened slowly. Pleasant to be nobody—a bodyless, meaningless smile awake in the morning. Opened eyes on a pillow. A deep, deep sigh on a pillow. An oblong of sunshine on the floor. A happy bed. A happy ceiling. A happy door. Nothing else. Nobody else.
But a hat, a blue straw hat with a jauntily curved brim, sat on a candlestick and winked. Which reminded one that one was alive. After all, one was somebody. Time to get up. All the king's horses and all the king's men demanded of one to arise and get dressed and go out and be somebody. Rachel kicked at the sheets. Protest against the Decrees of Destiny. " ... those are my feet kicking. Hello, here I am."
There was a note on the pillow adjacent. It read: "At eight o'clock to-night I'll return. Please don't get run over in the streets. ERIK."
Well, why not kiss the note, embrace the pillow and sigh? Why try to be anything but an idiot?... "Yes, Mr. Erik Dorn, I will be very careful and not let myself get run over in the streets."
Rachel's head fell on the adjacent pillow and she lay whispering, "I love you," until the sound of her voice caused her to laugh.... Time to get up. Dear me! She closed her eyes and rolled herself out of bed.... "Ouch!..." She sat up on the floor, legs extended, and stared at a shoe. Alas! a shoe is a crestfallen memory. A crestfallen yesterday lurks in old shoes. Shoes are always crestfallen. Even the shoes of lovers waiting under the bed weep and snivel all night. But why sit naked on the floor, stark, idiotically naked on the floor with legs thrust out like a surprised illustration in La Vie Parisienne and toes curling philosophically toward a shoe?... "I'll do as I please. Very well."
Sanity demanded clothes. But a sudden memory started her to her feet. She stood up lightly and hurried toward the large oval mirror.... "Your breasts are white birds dreaming under the stars. Your body is like the Queens of China parading through the moon...."
She looked at herself in the mirror. Yes. But why not the Emperors of Afghanistan Walking on Their Hands? Thus ... "my Body is like the Presidents of the United States Riding Horseback...."
She placed her hands on her slim hips and tautened her figure. When Erik was away all one could do was play with the things he had said. Was she as beautiful as he thought? A joyousness flowed through her. The mirror gave her back a memory of Erik. She was a memory of Erik.
When she looked at herself in the mirror she saw only something that lived in the admiring eyes of Erik. Beautiful legs, beautiful body and "eyes like the courts of Solomon at night, like circles of incense." ... All were memories of Erik.
She whispered softly to the figure in the mirror, "Erik knows your eyes. They are the beckoning hands of dreams." Thus Erik spoke of them. "I mustn't laugh at myself. I am more beautiful than anything or anybody in the whole world. There is nobody as beautiful as the woman Erik Dorn loves."
If she were only in a forest now where she could run, jump in the air, scream at birds, and end by hurling herself into dim, cool water. Instead, an absurd business of fastening her silk slip.
She seated herself on the bed, her stockings hanging from her hand, and fell again to listening to Erik. His word made an endless echo in her head.... "Perins a droll species. A sort of indomitable ass. Refuses to succumb to his intelligence. If you think he's in love with your Mary you're a downright imbecile. The man adjusts his passions to his phrases as neatly as a pretty woman pulling on her stockings...." She didn't like Erik to refer to pretty women pulling on their stockings. What an idiot! If Erik wanted to he could go out and help all the pretty women in New York pull on their stockings. As if that had anything to do with their love. Somebody else's stockings! A scornful exclamation point. Now her skirt, waist, shoes, and hat, and she was somebody.
Somebody walking out of a house, in a street, looking, smiling, swinging along. The beautiful one, the desired one out for a promenade, embarrassed somehow by the fact that she was alive, that people looked at her and street-cars made frowning overtures to her. This was not her world. Yet she must move around in it as if she were a fatuous part of its grimacings and artifices. Shop windows that snickered into her eyes ... "shoes $8 to-day. Hats, $10.50.... Traveling-cases only $19...." She must be polite and recognize its existence by composing her features, wearing a hat, saying "pardon me" when she trod on anyone's feet or bumped an elbow into a stomach. A stranger's world—gentlemen in straw hats; gentlemen in proud uniforms marching off to war; a fretwork of gentlemen, signs, windows, hats, and automobiles and a lot of other things, all continually tangling themselves up in front of her nose. A city pouring itself out of the morning sky and landing with a splash and a leap of windows around her feet. Thus the beautiful one, out for a promenade and moving excitedly through a superfluous world.
She plunged into a perilous traffic knot and emerged unscathed. But that was wasting time. Time—another superfluous element, a tick-tock for the little wingless ones to crawl by. Then she remembered—a moon-lighted room ... "you have given me wings!" Her thought traced itself excitedly about the memory. This had happened. That had been said. Yesterday, to-day and to-morrow—all the same. Memories mixing with dreams. Wings! Yes, wings that beat, beat on the air and left one moving behind a blue dress, under a jaunty hat like all other jaunty hats. But something else moved elsewhere. There were two worlds for her. But not for Erik. One world for Erik. Where would his wings take him? Beyond life there was still life. A wall of life that never came to an end or a top. That was the one world for Erik. Hurl himself against it, higher, higher. Soar till the superfluous ones became little dots on a ribbon of streets.
Tears came into her eyes. The strange world drifted away—a flutter of faces. A silence seemed to descend upon the streets as if their roaring were not a noise but the opened mouth of a dumb man. Erik had come to her. Arm in arm, smiling tears at him she walked through the spinning crowd in a path hidden from all snickering windows and revolving faces. A dream walk. These were her wings.
Consciousness returned. She rubbed her eyes with the knuckles of her hands and laughed softly. She must not excite herself with hysterical worries. Wondering about Erik. There had been days when she had moved like a corpse through the streets, a corpse always finding new and further deaths. Death days with her heart tearing at empty hours, with time like a disease in her veins. Days before he had come. Now all life was in her. Why invent new causes of grief? She must talk sane words to herself. But the sane words bowed a polite adieu and putting on their hats walked away and sat down behind the snickering windows.... Other words arrived quickly, breathlessly.... There was something in his eyes that frightened, something that did not rest with her but seemed to reach on further. In the midst of their ecstasies his eyes, burning, unsatisfied, making her suddenly chill with fear, would whisper to her, "There is something more." In each other's arms it was she who came to an ending, not he. His kisses, his "I love you," were the clawing of fingers high up on the wall. For her they were the obliteration, the ending beyond life.
The street unraveled itself about her with a bang of crowds and a whirl of flags, a zigzag of eyes like innumerable little tongues licking at the air. The tension of her thought relaxed. She remembered that when he walked in streets he was always making pictures. She thought of his words.... "It's a part of me that love hasn't changed, except to increase. A pestiferous sanity keeps demanding of me that I translate incoherent things into words. The city keeps handing itself to me like a blank piece of paper to write on. And I scribble away."
She would do as he did, scribble words over faces and buildings as she walked. The city was a ... a swarm of humanity. Swarm of humanity. My God, had she lost the power of thought? Imagine telling Erik, "A crowd of people I saw to-day reminded me of a swarm of humanity." There was no sanity in her demanding words. Because there was no incoherence outside. Things weren't incoherent but non-existent. The city was no mystery. There was nothing to translate. It was an alien, superfluous world. That was the difference between them. To Erik it was not alien or superfluous. Even in their ecstasies there was still a world for him, like some mocking rival laughing at him, saying, "You can embrace Rachel. But what can you do to me? See if you can embrace me and swallow me with a kiss...."
That's why he stayed away till eight o'clock, moving among men, writing, talking, doing work on the magazine. But there was nothing for her to do. She inhabited a world named Erik Dorn, a perfect world in which there was no room even for thought.
Erik had written her a note from the office once ... "my heart is a dancing star above the graves of your absence...." But that was almost a lie because it was true only for one moment. Things occupied him that could not occupy her.
Another block. Four more blocks. Noisy aliveness of streets that meant nothing. She thought, "People look at me and envy me because I'm in a hurry as if I had somewhere important to go. People envy everybody who is in a hurry to get somewhere. Because for them there are no destinations—only halting places for their drifting. Perhaps I should go home and paint something so as to have it to show him when he comes; or sit down somewhere and think up words to give him. I won't be able to talk to-night. I must just be ... without thinking ... of anything but him. Why doesn't he sometimes mention Anna? Is he afraid it might offend me to remind me of Anna? Would it? No. Many people live in the world. Another woman lived in Erik Dorn and he was unaware of her as the sky is unaware of me. And she died. But she isn't dead. Only her world died. Her sky fell down...."
Tears came to Rachel's eyes. Her hands clenched.... "Anna, Anna, forgive me! I'm so happy. You must understand...."
She felt a revulsion. She had thought something weak, silly. "Who is Anna that I must apologize to her? A woman. A woman Erik never loved. Do I ask apologies of her for having lived with him—kissed him?"
There was a luncheon appointment with Mary James. Mary would bring a man. Perrin, maybe. Mary always brought a man. Without a man, Mary was incomplete. With a man she was even more incomplete. Mary insisted on lunching. Rachel hurried toward the rendezvous. She thought, "People can make me do anything now. Mary or anybody else. I was able once to walk over them. Now they lead me around. Because nothing matters. And people don't sicken me with their faces and talk. They're like noises in another room that one hears, sometimes sees, but never listens to or looks at. They ask questions. And you sit in a secret world beyond them with your hat and dress, properly attentive."
Here was the hotel for the rendezvous. Mary out of breath,
"Rachel! Hello! Wait a minute. Whee! What do you think you're doing? Pulling off a track meet or something? Been tryin' to catch up to you for an hour."
Rachel looked at her. She was a golden-haired monkey full of words.
"Charlie's at the Red Cat." A man. "We're going to lunch there. What in God's name's the matter with you?" A pause in the thick of the crowd. "Heavens, Rachel, are you well? I mean...."
Rachel laughed. If you laughed people thought you were making answers.
They arrived at the Red Cat. Small red circular tables. Black walls. A painstaking non-conformity about the decoration. A sprinkling of diners saying, "We eat, but not amid normal surroundings. We are emancipated from normal surroundings. It is extremely important that we eat off little red circular tables instead of big brown square tables in order to conform with our mission, which is that of non-conformity."
Mary led the way to a table occupied by a tall, broad-shouldered youth with a crooked nose and humorously indignant eyes. He resembled a football player who has gone into the advertising business and remained a football player. Mary referred to him with a possessive "Charlie."
Charlie said, "Why do you always pick out these joints to eat in, Mary? Been sittin' here for ten minutes scared to death one of these females would begin crawlin' around on the walls. There's a waiter here with long hair and two teeth missin' that I'm goin' to bust in the nose if he doesn't stop."
"Stop what, Charlie?'
"Oh, lookin' at me...."
The luncheon progressed. Olives, watery soup, delicate sandwiches....
An air of breathlessness about Rachel seemed to discommode her friends. Charlie, piqued at her inattentiveness, essayed a volubility foreign to his words. He was not so "nice a young man" as Hazlitt. But he boasted among friends that girls had had a chance with him. They could stay decent if they insisted but he let them understand it wouldn't do them any good so far as marrying them was concerned because he wasn't out for matrimony. There was too much to see.
Mary interspersed her eating with quotations from advanced literature, omitting the quotation marks. A slim, shining-haired girl—men adored her hair—pretty-faced, silken-ankled, Mary had a mission in life. It was the utilizing of vivacious arguments on art, God, morals, economics, as exciting preliminaries for hand-holding and kissing with eyes closed, lips murmuring, "Ah, what is life?" Technically a virgin, but devoted exclusively to the satisfying of her sex—a satisfying that did not demand the completion of intercourse but the stimulus of its suggestion, Mary utilized the arts among which she dabbled as a bed for artificial immoralities. In this bed she had managed for several years to remain an adroitly chaste courtesan. Her pride was almost concentrated in her chastity. She guarded it with a precocious skill, parading it through conversation, hinting slyly of it when its existence seemed for the moment to have become unimportant. Her chastity, in fact, had become under skillful management the most immoral thing about her. She had learned the trick of exciting men with her virginity.
The thing had become for her an unconscious business. After several years of it she evolved into a flushed, nervous victim of her own technique. She managed, however, to preserve her self-esteem by looking upon the perversion of her normal sexual instincts into a species of verbal nymphomania as an indication of a superior soul state. Radical books excited her mind as ordinarily her body might have been excited by radical caresses. Amateur theatricals, publicity work for charitable organizations, an allowance from her home in Des Moines, provided her with a practical background.
Charlie was her latest catch. Later he would hold her hand, slip an arm around her, press her breasts gently and with a proper unconsciousness of what he was doing, and she would let him kiss her ... while music played somewhere ... preferably on a pier. Then she would murmur as he paused, out of breath, "Ah, what is life, Charlie?" And if instead of playing the game decently Charlie abandoned pretense and made an adventurous sortie, there would ensue the usual denouement ... "Charlie ... Oh, how could you? I'm ... I'm so disappointed. I thought you were different and that love to you meant something deeper and finer than—just that." And she would stand before him, her body alive with a sexual ardor that seemed to find its satisfaction in the discomfiture of the man, in his apologetic stammers, in her own virtuous words; and reach its climax in the contrite embrace which usually followed and the words, "Forgive me, dearest. I didn't mean.... Oh, will you marry me?"
These were things in store for Charlie. But he must listen first. There were essential preliminaries—a routine of the chase. Her trimly shod foot crawled carefully against his ankle. There were really two types of men. Men who blushed when you touched their ankle under the table, and men who pretended not to blush. Charlie blushed with a soup-spoon at his lips. He glanced nervously at Rachel but she seemed breathlessly asleep with her eyes open—a paradoxical condition which baffled Charlie and caused him to withdraw disdainfully from further consideration of her.
Rachel, eating without hunger, was remembering an actress in vaudeville making a preliminary curtain announcement to her "Moments from Great Plays" ... "Lady Godiva accordingly rode na-aked through the streets of Coventry, but, howevah, retained her vuhtue...."
"Oh, but Charlie, you're not listening," explained Mary. "I was saying that chastity in woman is something man has insisted upon in order to show his capacity for waste. He likes the world to know that all his possessions are new and that he can command the purchase of new things because it shows his capacity for waste by which his standard of respectability is gauged in the eyes of his fellows...."
Charlie lent an ear to the garbled veblenisms and gave it up. The mutterings and verbal excitements of women in general were mysteries beyond Charlie's desire to comprehend. They had, for Charlie, nothing to do with the case. It was pleasing, though, to have her talk of chastity. Chastity had a connection with the case. It was closely related to unchastity. He nodded his head vaguely and focused his attention on questing for the foot under the table that had withdrawn itself. The long-haired waiter with the missing teeth was an annoyance. He turned and glowered at him.
"Don't you think so, Rachel?" Mary pursued.
A monkey chattering. Another monkey kicking at her toes under the table. A room full of monkeys and all the monkeys looking at her, talking to her, kicking her foot, inspired by the curious hallucination that she was a part of their monkey world. Rachel laughed and eyes turned to her. People were always startled by laughter that sounded so sudden. There must be preliminaries to laughter so as to get the atmosphere prepared for it.
"Rachel, I'm talking to you, if you please."
Mary, puckering her forehead very importantly, was informing her that Mary existed and was demanding proof of the fact. That was the secret of people. They didn't really exist to themselves until somebody recognized them and proved they were alive—by answering their questions. People lived only when somebody talked to them—anybody. The rest of the time they went along with nothing inside them except stomachs that grew hungry.
She answered Mary, "Oh, there are lots of things you don't know." And laughed, this time careful of not sounding too sudden. She meant there was something that lived behind hours, there was a dream world in which the words and faces of people were ridiculously non-existent. But Mary was a literal-minded monkey and thought she was referring to quotations from books superior to the ones she used.
"Oh, is that so?" said Mary.
Charlie, also literal-minded and still after the foot, echoed Rachel, "You bet your life it is."
"And I suppose you know all about them, Miss Laskin." Very sarcastic. An inflection that had made her a conversational terror in the Des Moines High School.
Mary was always conscious of not having read enough and of therefore being secretly inferior to more omnivorous readers. She did not think Rachel read much, but Rachel was different. Rachel was an artist and had ideas. Mary respected artists and was always sarcastic toward them. It usually made them talk a lot—particularly male artists—and thus enabled her to find out what their ideas were and use them as her own. Nevertheless, despite her most careful parrotings the artists always managed to have other ideas always different from the ones she stole from them. Fearing some devastating rejoinder from Rachel—Rachel was the kind of person who could blurt out things that landed on you like a ton of bricks—she sought to fortify Charlie's opinion of her by replacing her foot against his ankle.
"Well, what are they, Rachel?"
What were the things Mary knew nothing about? A large order. Rachel's tongue began to wag in her mind. Stand up and make a speech. Fling her arms about. High-sailing words. Absurd! A laugh would answer. Laughs always answered. Rachel laughed. She would suffocate among such people, exasperating strangers with inquisitive faces and nervous feet.
At the conclusion of the luncheon Charlie had reached a new stage in his amorous maneuverings. He had paid no further attention to Rachel, although vividly conscious of her. But Mary offered definite horizons. A bird in the hand. There was something exciting about Mary not to be encountered in the Junos and Aphrodites of his cabaret quests. Mary appeared virtuous—and yet promised otherwise. She used frank words—lust, chastity, virginity, sexuality. Charlie quivered. The words sticking out of long, twisted sentences, detached themselves and came to him like furtively indecent caresses. Mary promised. So he agreed to go with her to the Players' Studio where she was rehearsing in some kind of nut show.
"You must come too, Rachel. Frank Brander has done some gorgeous settings for the next bill."
Long hours before eight o'clock.
"I've got some important things on at the office," Charlie hesitated.
"Yes, I'll go," Rachel answered. This, mysteriously, seemed to decide Charlie. He would go too.
In the buzzing little auditorium of the Players' Studio, Charlie endeavored to further his quest. But the atmosphere seemed, paradoxically enough, a handicap. A free-and-easy atmosphere with men and women in odd-looking rigs sauntering about. The place was as immoral as a honky-tonk. Charlie stared at the young women in smocks and bobbed hair, smoking cigarettes, sitting with their legs showing. They should have been prostitutes but they weren't. Or maybe they were, only he wasn't used to that kind. Too damn gabby. Mary had jumped up on the small stage and was talking with a group of young men and women. He moved to follow, but hesitated. He didn't have the hang of this kind of thing. The sick-looking youths loitering around, casually embracing the gals and rubbing their arms, seemed to know the lingo. Charlie sat down in disgust and yielded himself to a feeling of stiffly superior virtue.
In a corner Rachel listened to Frank Brander.
"We've got quite a promising outfit here, Miss Laskin. Why don't you come around and help with the drops or something? The more the merrier. We're putting on a thing by Chekov next week and a strong thing by Elvenah Jack. Lives down the street. Know her? Oh, it isn't much." He smiled good-naturedly at the miniature theater. "But it's fun. I'll show you around."
Rachel submitted. Brander was a friend of Emil Tesla. He drew things for The Cry. He had a wide mouth and ugly eyes that took things for granted—that took her for granted. She was a woman and therefore interested in talking to a man. He held her arm too much and kept saying in her thought, "We've got to pretend we're decent, but we're not. We're a man and woman." But what did that matter? Long hours before eight o'clock.
On the stage Brander became a personality. A group of nondescript faces deferred to him. A woman with stringy hair and an elocutionist's mouth, grew dramatic as he passed. They paused before Mary. Brander had stopped abruptly in his talk. He turned toward Mary and stared at her until she began to grow pink. Rachel wondered. Mary wanted to run away, but couldn't. Brander finally said shortly, "Hello, you!" His eyes blazed for an instant and then grew angry.
"Come on, Miss Laskin." He jerked her and she followed. In the wings half hidden from the group that crowded the tiny stage Brander said, "Do you know that girl?"
"She's no good," he grinned. "I like women one thing or the other. She's both. And no good. I got her number."
Rachel noticed that he had moved his hand up on her arm and was gently pressing the flesh under her shoulder. He kept saying to her now in her thought, "I've got a man's body and you've got a woman's body. There's that difference between us. Why hide it?" His voice became soft and he said aloud, "Don't you like men to be one kind or the other? And not both?"
Rachel looked at him blankly. She must pretend she didn't know what he was talking about. Otherwise she would begin to talk. He was a man to whom one talked because he demanded it. His face, ugly and boyish, seemed to have rid itself of many expressions and retained a certainty. The certainty said, "I'm a man looking for women."
"Oh, you're one of the other kind," he said. "Beg pardon. No harm done. Let's go out front."
Out front in the half-lighted auditorium Brander suddenly left her. She saw him a few minutes later standing close to a nervous-voiced woman who was saying, "Oh, dear! Dear me! I'll never get this part. I won't! I just know it!"
Brander was toying idly with a chain that hung about the woman's neck. He was looking at her intently. Mary approached, bearing Charlie along. She began whispering to Rachel, "That man's a beast. I hate him. He thinks he's an artist, but he's a beast. You'll find out if you're not careful."
Rachel asked, "Who?"
"Brander," Mary answered.
Charlie interrupted, indignation rumbling in his voice,
"A bunch of freaks, all of them. I don't see why a decent girl wants to hang around in a dump like this."
He was more grieved than indignant. A woman with dark hair and long gypsy earrings had suddenly laughed at him when he sat down beside her. Mary patted his arm.
"I know, Charlie. But you don't understand. My turn in a few minutes, Rachel. We'll wait here till the Chekov thing comes on. Do you know Felixson? He's got a wonderful thing for the bill after this. A religious play. Awfully strong. That's him with the bushy hair. You must know him."
"You don't mean you act in this damn joint?"
"Oh, I'm just helping out for next week. It's lots of fun, Charlie."
Rachel stood up suddenly from the uncomfortable bench seat.
"I must go," she murmured. "I'm sorry."
Turning quickly she walked out of the place. Behind her Charlie laughed. "A wild little thing."
Mary with her body pressed closely against him combated an influence that seemed at work upon Charlie.
"She's changed a great deal, poor girl," said Mary.
"What is she?"
"An artist. She says wonderful things sometimes. Awfully strong things and just hates people."
"A nut," agreed Charlie.
"Oh, she's sort of strange. Puts on a lot, of course." Mary felt uncomfortable. Rachel had managed to leave behind a feeling of the unimportance of everybody but Rachel. She was leaning against Charlie for vindication. His body, trembling at the contact, provided it; but his words annoyed her.
"Well, she's different from the gang in here—I'll say that for her."
"Oh, let's forget her," Mary whispered. "I don't like this place. Really, I ..." She hesitated and thought, "Rachel thinks she's mysterious and enigmatic and everything, but she's an awful fool. She can't put it over on me." Yet she sat, despite the vindication of Charlie's amorous embarrassment, and wondered, parrot fashion, "Ah, what is life?"
Outside Rachel was walking again. The memory of her meeting with Mary, of Brander's ugly appealing face that whispered frankly of his sex, was dead in her. Little toy people playing at games. Erik hated them. Erik said ... well, it was something too indecent to repeat. She couldn't get used to Erik's indecent comparisons. But they were like that—the toy people in the little toy village. She didn't hate them the way Erik did. Some of them were just playing. But there were others. Why think of them? Walk, walk. Just be. A perfect circle.... "There's nothing to do. I don't want anything. To-night he'll talk to me. And I'll make real answers." Why did she want to be kissed? Kisses were for people like Mary. "Oh, he'll kiss me and I'll become alive."
It was late afternoon. Still, long hours before eight o'clock. It pleased Erik when she told him how empty the day had been. But she mustn't harp too much on that. It would sound as if she were making demands on him. No demands. He was free. They weren't married. A crowd was solidifying in 10th Street. She walked slowly, watching the people gathering at the corner. The office of The Cry was there. She remembered this and hurried forward.
Something was happening. An excitement was jerking people out of their silences. Blank, silent faces around her suddenly opened and dropped masks. Bodies drifting carelessly up and down the street broke into runnings.
Around the corner people were shouting, pressed into a ball of wild faces and waving arms. It was in front of the office of The Cry that something was happening.
"Kill the dirty rascal! Make the son-of-a——kiss the flag!"
Words screeched out of a bay of sound.
"Kill him! Kill the son-of-a—— String him up!"
On the edge of the ball that was growing larger and seeming about to burst into some wild activity, Rachel stood tip-toed. She could see two burly-looking men dragging a bloody figure out of a doorway. Blood dropped from him, leaving stains on the top step. The two men were twisting his wrists as if they wanted them to come off. Yet they didn't act as if they were twisting anybody's wrists off. They seemed to be just waiting.
It was Tesla between them. His face was cut. One of his arms hung limp. Blood began to spurt from his wrists and drop from his fingers as if he were writing something on the top step in a foolish way. At the sight of him the noises increased. The ball of faces grew angrier. Policemen swung sticks. They yelled, "Back, there! Everybody back!" Runners were coming from all directions as if the city had suddenly found a place to go and was pouring itself into 10th Street.
"Hey ... hey ... they've got him!"
Nobody asked who, but came running with a shout.
The street broke over Rachel. Tesla vanished. Roaring in her ears, faces tumbling, lifting in a wildness about her. A make-believe of horror. Her thought gasped, "Where am I? What is this?" Her feet were carrying her into the boiling center of a vat of bodies. Then she saw Tesla again, standing above them. A blood-smeared man with a broken arm, his head raised. But he was somebody else.
Caught in the pack she became far away, seeing things move as with an almost lifeless deliberateness. Tesla's face was the center. His swollen eyes were trying to open. His paralyzed mouth was trying to form itself back into a mouth. A mist covered him as if the raging street and the many voices focused into a film and hid him. Behind this film he was doing something slowly. Then he became vivid. He was shouting,
"Comrades ... workers ..."
A roar from the street concealed him and his voice. But the vividness of him lingered and emerged again.
A fist struck against his mouth. His head wabbled. Another fist struck against his eye. The two men holding his wrists were striking into his uncovered face with their fists. A gleeful, joyous sound went up. Rachel stared at the wabbling head of Tesla. The street laughed. Fists hammered at an uncovered face. People were coming on a run to see. A bell clanged. Beside her a man shrieked, "Make him kiss the flag, the dirty anarchist!"
Things slowed again. A film was over the scene. Tesla was being dragged down the steps. His head kept falling back as if he wanted to go to sleep. Then something happened. A laugh, high like a scream, lit the air. It made her cold. The men dragging Tesla down the steps paused, and their fists moving with a leisureliness struck into his face, making no sound and not doing anything. It was Tesla who had laughed. The fists kept moving through a film. But he laughed again—a high laugh like a scream that lit the air with mystery.
When the pack began to sift and sweep her into strange directions she felt that Tesla was still laughing, though she could no longer hear him. The street became shapeless. Something had ended. A bell clanged away. People were again walking. They had dull faces and were quiet. She caught a glimpse of the step on which Tesla had stood behind a mist and cried, "Comrades!" She remembered often having stood on the step herself in coming to the office of The Cry. This made her sicken. It was her wrists that had been twisted, her uncovered face that had been struck by fists.
The emotion left her as a hand tugged eagerly at her arm. It pulled her up on the crowded curbing.
"Good God, Rachel, what are you doing here?"
She looked up and saw Hazlitt in uniform. He kept pulling her. Why should Hazlitt be pulling her out of a crowd in 10th Street? She tried to jerk away. She must run from Hazlitt before he began talking. He would make her scream.
Turning to him with a quiet in her voice she said carefully:
"Please let me go. You hurt my arm."
But his hand remained. His eyes, shining and indignant, prodded at her.... The street was quiet. Nothing had happened. Unconscious buildings, unconscious traffic, faces wrapped in solitudes—these were in the streets again. She turned and looked with amazement at her companion. People do not fall out of the sky and seize you by the arm. There was something stark about Hazlitt pulling her out of the street mob and holding her arm. He was an amputation. You pulled yourself out of a filth of faces and sprawled suddenly into a quiet, cheerful street holding an arm in your hand, as if it had come loose from the pack. It seemed part of some arrangement—Tesla, the pack, Hazlitt's arm. Her amazement died. Hazlitt was saying:
"I knew you'd be in that mob. I thought when I saw them haul that dirty beggar out ..."
He halted, pained by a memory. Rachel nodded. The curious sense of having been Tesla came again to her. He had laughed in a way that reminded her of herself. She would laugh like that if they struck at her face. Her eyes turned frightenedly toward Hazlitt. What was he going to do? Arrest her? He was in uniform. But why should he arrest her? His eyes had the fixed light of somebody performing a duty. He was arresting her, and Erik would come home and not find her. Her lithe body became possessed of an astounding strength. With a vicious grimace she tore herself from his grip and confronted him, her eyes on fire.
"Please, Rachel. Come with me till I can talk. You must ..."
A white-faced Hazlitt, with suffering eyes. Then he was not arresting her. The street bobbed along indifferently.
"I'm going away in an hour. You'll maybe never see me again. But I can't go away till I've talked to you. Please."
It didn't matter then. She would be home in time. And it was easier to obey the desperate whine of his voice then run into the crowd. He would chase after her, whining louder and louder. They entered a hotel lobby. Hazlitt picked out a secluded corner as if arranging for some rite. He was going to do something. Rachel walked after him, annoyed, indifferent. What did it matter? This was George Hazlitt—a name that meant nothing and yet could talk to her.
Sitting opposite her the name began, "Now you must promise me you won't get up and run away till I'm through—no matter what I say."
She promised with a nod. She must be polite. Being polite was part of the idiotic penalties attached to adventuring outside her real world, in unreal superfluous streets. What had made Tesla laugh? His laugh had not been unreal. Almost as if it were a part of her. Blood dropping from his fingers. A bleeding man.
"I'm leaving for France, Rachel. I couldn't go away without seeing you. I've spent a week trying to find you and this morning they told me to inquire at The Cry."
Was he apologizing for Tesla? She remembered the faces that had swept by in 10th Street. His had been one of them. Hazlitt had twisted Tesla's wrists and struck into his uncovered face.
Rachel slipped to her feet and stared about her. A hand caught at her arm and pulled her into the chair.
"You promised. You can't leave till you hear me."
She sank back.
"Give me five minutes. I'm unworthy of them. But I've found you and must talk now. I can't go across without telling you."
She looked up. Tears almost in his eyes. His voice grown low. He seemed to be whispering something that didn't belong to the sanity of the hotel lobby and the two large potted palms in the corner.
"I'm unclean. I've been looking for you to ask you to forgive me."
Hazlitt's hands crept over his knees.
"Oh, God, you must listen and forgive me."
This was a mad monkey uttering noises too unintelligible for even an attentive hat, dress, and pair of shoes to make anything of.
"Rachel, I love you. I don't know how to say it. There's something I've got to say. Because ... otherwise I can't love you. I can't love you with the thing unsaid."
He looked bewilderedly about him and gulped, his face red, his eyes tortured.
"It's about a woman."
"Perhaps," she thought, "he's going to boast. No, he's going to cry. What does he want?"
The sound of his voice made her ill. If he were going to make love why didn't he start instead of gulping and covering his face and choking with tears in a hotel lobby as if he were an actor?
"I was drawn into it. I couldn't help it. One afternoon in my office after the trial. Then she kept after me. The thought of you has been like knives in me. I've loved you all through it and hated myself for thinking of you, dragging you into it. I dragged the thought of you down with me. But she wouldn't let me go. God, I could kill her now. I broke away after weeks. She got somebody else. I've been living in hell ever since—on account of you. I'm unclean and can't love you any more. If it hadn't been for my going across I'd not have come to you. But the war's given me my chance. I can't explain it. I went in to—to wipe it out. But I had to find you and tell you. I didn't want to think of dying and having insulted you and not ..."
He stopped, overcome. Rachel was nodding her head. She must make an answer to this. It was a riddle asking an answer.
"For God's sake, Rachel, don't look like that. Oh, you're so clean and pure. I can't tell you. You're like a star shining and me in the mud. You've always hated me. But it's different now. I'm going to France to die. I don't want to live. If you forgive me it'll be easier. That's why I had to talk, Rachel, forgive me. And then it won't matter what happens."
She let him take her hand. It was an easy way to make an answer. A desire to giggle had to be overruled. The words he had spoken became absurd little manikins of words, bowing at each other, striking idiotic postures before her. But he had done something and for some astounding reason wanted her to forgive him for what he had done. He was a fool. An impossible fool. He sat and looked like a fool. Not even a man.
Hazlitt raised her hand to his face. Tears fell on it. Rachel felt them crawling warmly over her fingers. They were too intimate.
"You make me feel almost clean again. Your hand's like something clean and pure. If I come back...."
He stared at her in desperation. He seemed suddenly to have forgotten his intention to die in France. He recalled Pauline. Was he sorry? No. It was over. Not his fault. All this to Rachel was a ruse. Clever way to get her sympathy. Not quite. But he felt better.
He became incomprehensible to Rachel. The things he had said—his weeping, gulping—all part of an incomprehensible business. She nodded her head and looked serious. It was something that had to do with a far-away world.
"Good-bye. Remember, I love you. And I'll come through clean because of you...."
She held out her hand and said, "Good-bye."
But he didn't go. Now he was completely a fool. Now there was something so completely foolish about him that she must laugh. The light in his face detained her laughter.
"You forgive me ... for ..."
She nodded her head again. It seemed to produce a magical effect—this nodding of her head up and down. His eyes brightened and he appeared to grow taller.
"Then if I die, I'll go to heaven."
She winced at this. An unbearable stupidity. But Hazlitt stood looking at her for an instant quite serious, as if he had said something noble. He saluted her, his hand to his cap, his heels together, and went away.
The memory lingered. Hazlitt had always been incomprehensible. His stupidity was easy enough to understand. But something under it was a mess. Now he was a fool. Stiff and idiotic and making her feel ashamed as if she were sorry for him.... Tesla came back and stood on a step dropping blood from his fingers. Brander came back and whispered with his ugly face. Hazlitt, Tesla, Brander—three men that jumped out at her from the superfluous streets. Like the three men in the park walking horribly across the white park in the night.... An idiot, a bleeding man, and an ugly face. But they had passed her and gone. They were things seen outside a window.
Her eyes looking at a clock said to her, "Two hours more. Oh, in two hours, in two hours!"
She sat motionless until the clock said, "One hour more, one more hour!"
Then she stood up and walked slowly out of the hotel. Things had changed since she had left the streets. The strange world full of Marys, Hazlitts, and Teslas had added further superfluities. A band of music. Soldiers marching. Buildings waving flags and crying, "Boom, boom! we have gone to war!..."
She came to her home. A red-brick house like other red-brick houses. But her home. What a fool she had been to leave it. It would have been easier waiting here. She walked into the two familiar rooms filled with the memory of Erik—two rooms that embraced her. Her hat fell on the bed. She would have to eat. Downstairs in the dining-room. Other boarders to look at. But Erik would have eaten when he came. He preferred eating alone.
Rachel took her place at one of the smaller tables and dabbled through a series of uninteresting dishes. An admiring waitress rebuked her ... "Dearie, you ain't eating hardly anything."
She smiled at the waitress and watched her later bringing dishes to a purple-faced fat man at an adjoining table. The fat man was futilely endeavoring to tell secrets to the waitress by contorting his features and screwing up his eyes. He reminded Rachel of Brander, only Brander told secrets without trying. She finished and hurried out. She would be hungry later, but it didn't matter. Erik would be there then.
In the hallway Mrs. McGuire called, "Oh, Mrs. Dorn!"
Being called Mrs. Dorn always frightened her and made her dizzy. She paused. Some day Mrs. McGuire would look at her shrewdly and say, "You're not Mrs. Dorn. I called you Mrs. Dorn but I know better. Don't think you're fooling anybody. Mrs. Dorn, indeed!"
But Mrs. McGuire held out her hand.
"A letter for your husband. Do you want to sit in the parlor, Mrs. Dorn? You know I want all my boarders to make themselves entirely at home."
"Thank you," said Rachel. "You're so nice. But I have some work to do upstairs."
Escaping Mrs. McGuire was one of the difficult things of the day. A buxom, round-faced woman in black with friendly eyes, Mrs. McGuire had a son in the army and a sainted husband dead and buried, and a childish faith in the friendliness and interest of people. Rachel hurried up the stairs. In her room she looked at the letter. For Erik. Readdressed twice. From Chicago. She stood holding it. It said to her, "I am from Anna. I am from Anna. Words of Anna. I am the wife of Erik Dorn."
Anna was a reality. Long ago Anna had been a reality. A background against which the dream of Erik Dorn raised itself. She remembered sitting close to Anna and smiling at her the first time she had visited Erik's home. Why had she gone? If only she had never seen Anna! Her tired, sad eyes that smiled at Erik. Rachel's fingers tightened over the envelope. She laughed nervously and tore the letter. He was hers. Anna couldn't write to him.
A pain came into her heart as the paper separated itself into bits in her fingers. She felt herself tearing something that was alive. It was cruel to tear the letter. But it would save Erik pain. ... To read Anna's words, to hear her cries, see her sad tired eyes staring in anguish out of the writing—that would hurt Erik.
She dropped the bits into the waste-paper basket and stood wide-eyed over them. She had dared. As if he had belonged to her. What would he say? But he wouldn't know. Unless Mrs. McGuire said, "There was a letter for you, Mr. Dorn." Why hadn't she read the letter before tearing it up? Perhaps it was important, saying Anna had died. When Anna died Erik would marry her. She would have children and live in a house of her own. Mrs. Rachel Dorn, people would call her. This was a dream.... Mrs. Rachel Dorn. He would laugh if he knew; or worse, be angry. But ... "Oh, God, I want him. Like that. Complete." Anna had had him like that. The other thing. Not respectability. But the possession of little things.
She would have to tell him about the letter. She couldn't lie to him, even silently. The clock on the dresser, ticking as it had always ticked, said, "In a half-hour ... a half-hour more."
She sprang from the bed and stood listening.
Someone was coming down the hall. Strange hours fell from her. Now Erik was coming. Now life commenced. The empty circle of the day was over.
Her body grew wild as if she must leap out of herself. Her eyes hung devouringly upon the blank door—a door opening and Erik standing, smiling at her. It was still a dream. It would never become real. She would always feel frightened. Though he came home a hundred thousand times she would always wait like now for the door to open with a fear and a dream in her heart. But why did he knock?
She opened the door with a feverish jerk. Not Erik. A messenger-boy blinking surprised eyes.
"Sign here, second line."
A blank door again. The message read:
"I'll be home late. Don't worry. ERIK."
Warren Lockwood was a man who wrote novels. He had lived in the Middle West until he was thirty-five and begun his writing at his desk in a real-estate office of which he had been until then a somewhat bored half owner.
During the months Erik Dorn had been working on the staff of "the New Opinion—an Organ of Liberal Thought," he had encountered Lockwood frequently—a dark-haired, rugged-faced man with a drawling, high-pitched masculine voice. Dorn liked him. He talked in the manner of a man carefully focusing objects into range. Lockwood was aware he had gotten under the skin of things. He talked that way.
The change from the newspaper to the magazine continued, after several months, to irritate Dorn. The leisureliness of his new work aggravated. There was an intruding sterility about it. The New Opinion was a weekly. From week to week it offered a growing clientele finalities. There were finalities on the war, finalities on the social unrest; finalities on art, life, religion, the past, present, and future. A cock-sure magazine, gently, tolerantly elbowing aside the mysteries of existence and holding up between carefully manicured thumb and forefinger the Gist of the Thing. The Irrefutable Truth. The Perfect Deduction.
There were a number of intelligent men engaged in the work of writing and editing the periodical. They seemed all to have graduated from an identical strata. Dorn, becoming acquainted with them, found them intolerable. They appealed to him as a group of carefully tailored Abstractions bombinating mellifluously in a void. The precision of logic was in them. The precision of even tempers. The precision of aloof eyes fastened upon finalities. Theoretical radicals. Theoretical conservatives. Theoretical philosophers. Any appellation preceded by the adjective theoretical fitted them snugly. Of contact with the hurdy-gurdy of existence which he as a journalist felt under the ideas of the day, there was none. Life in the minds of the intellectual staff of the New Opinion smoothed itself out into intellectual paragraphs. And from week to week these paragraphs made their bow to the public. Mannerly admonitions, courteous disapprovals. A style borrowed from the memory of the professor informing a backward class in economics what the exact date of the signing of the Magna Charta really was.
Lockwood was the exception. He wrote occasional fictional sketches for the magazine. Dorn had been attracted to him at first because of the curious intonations of his voice. He had not read the man's novels—there were four of them dealing with the Middle West—but in the repressed sing-song of his voice Dorn had sensed an unusual character.
"He's a good writer, an artist," he thought, hearing him talking to Edwards, one of the editors. "He talks like a lover arguing patiently and gently with his own thoughts."
After that they had walked and eaten together. The idea of Warren Lockwood being a lover grew upon Dorn. Of little things, of things seemingly unimportant and impersonal, the novelist talked as he would have liked to talk to Rachel—with a slow simplicity that caressed his subjects and said, "These are little things but we must be careful in handling them, for they're a part of life." And life was important. People were tremendously existent. Dorn, listening to the novelist, would watch his eyes that seemed to be always adventuring among secrets.
Once he thought, "A sort of mother love is in him. He keeps trying to say something that's never in his words. His thoughts are like a lover's fingers stroking a girl's hair. That's because he's found himself. He feels strong and lets his strength come out in gentleness. He's found himself and is trying to shape secrets into words."
In comparing Lockwood with the others on the staff of the magazine he explained, "There's the difference between a man and an intellect. Warren's a man. The others are a group of schoolboys reducing life to lessons."
There grew up in Dorn a curious envy of the novelist. He would think of him frequently when alone, "The fellow's content to write. I'm not. He's found his way of saying what's in him, getting rid of his energies and love. I haven't. He feels toward the world as I do toward Rachel. An overpowering reality and mystery are always before him; but it gives him a mental perspective. What does Rachel give me? Desires, ambitions—a sort of laughing madness that I can't translate into anything but kisses. I'm cleverer than I was before. I talk and write better. There's a certain wildness about things as if I were living in a storm. Yes, I have wings, but there's no place to fly with them. Except into her arms. There must be something else."
And he would rush through the day, outwardly a man of inexhaustible energies, stamping himself upon the consciousness of people as a brilliant, dominating personality. Edwards, with whom he discussed matter for editorials and articles, had grown to regard him with awe.
"I've never felt genius so keenly before," Edwards explained him to Lockwood. "The man seems burning up. Did you read his thing on Russia and Kerensky? Lord, it was absolutely prophetic."
Lockwood shook his head.
"Dorn's too damn clever," he drawled. "Things come too easily to him. He's got an eye but—I can't put my finger on it. You see a fella's got to have something inside him. The things Erik says cleverly and prophetically don't mean anything much, because they don't mean anything to him. He makes 'em up as he goes along."
Edwards disagreed. He was a younger man than Lockwood, with an impressionable erudition. Like his co-workers he had been somewhat stampeded by Dorn's imitative faculties, faculties which enabled the former journalist to bombinate twice as loud in a void three times as great as any of his colleagues.
"Well, I've met a lot of writing men since I came East," he said. "And Dorn's the best of them. He's more than a man of promise. He's opened up. Look what he's done in the new number. Absolutely revolutionized the liberal thought of the country. You've got to admit that. He's a man incapable of fanaticism."
"That's just it," smiled Lockwood. "You've hit it. You've put your finger on it. He's the kind of man who knows too damn much and don't believe anything."
The friendship between Lockwood and Dorn matured quickly. The two men, profoundly dissimilar in their natures, found themselves launched upon a growing intimacy. To Lockwood, heavy spoken, delicate sensed, naive despite the shrewdness of his forty-five years, Erik Dorn appealed as some exotic mechanical contrivance might for a day fascinate and bewilder the intelligence of a rustic. And the other, in the midst of magnificent bombinations that amazed his friend, thought, "If I only had this man's simplicity. If on top of my ability to unravel mysteries into words I could feel these mysteries as he does, I might do something."
At other times, carried away by the strength of his own nature, he would find himself looking down upon Lockwood. "I'm alive. He's static. I live above him. There's nothing beyond me. I can't feel the things out of which he makes his novels, because I'm beyond them."
He would think then of Lockwood as an eagle of a rustic painstakingly hoeing a field. On such days the disquiet would vanish from Dorn's thought. He would feel himself propelled through the hours as if by some irresistible wind of which he had become a part. To live was enough. To live was to give expression to the clamoring forces in him. To sweep over Edwards, hurl himself through crowds, pulverize Warren, bang out astounding fictions on the typewriter, watch the faces of acquaintances light up with admiration as he spoke—this sufficed. The world galvanized itself about him. He could do anything. He could give vision to people, create new life around him. This consciousness sufficed. Then to rush home from a triumphant day, a glorious contempt for his fellows lingering like wine in his head—and find Rachel—an eagle waiting in a nest.
Joy, then, become a mania. Desires feeding upon themselves, devouring his body and his senses and hurling him into an exhausted sleep as if death alone could climax the madness of his spirit—these Dorn knew in the days of his strength.
But the days of disquiet came, confronting him like skeletons in the midst of his feastings upon life. The ecstasy he felt seemed suddenly to turn itself inward and demand of him new destinations. On such days he had fallen into the habit of going upon swift walks through the less crowded streets of the city. During his walking he would mutter, "What can I do? What? Nothing. Not a thing." As if secret voices were debating his destiny.
Restless, vicious spoken, venting his strainings in a skyrocket burst of phrases upon the inanity and stupidity of his fellow creatures for which he seemed to possess an almost uncanny vision, he fled through these days like the victim of some spiritual satyriasis. No longer a wind at his heels riding him into easy heights, he found himself weighted down with his love, and strangely inanimate.
The direction in which he was moving loomed sterilely before him. His love itself seemed a feverishly sterile thing. His work upon the magazine, his incessant exchange of intolerant adjectives with admiring strangers—these became absurdly petty gestures, absurdly insufficient. There was something else to do. As he had longed for Rachel in the black days before their coming together, he longed now for this something else. Without name or outline, it haunted him. Another face of stars, but this time beyond his power to understand. Yet it demanded him, as Rachel had demanded him, and towards it he turned in his days of disquiet, inanimate and bewildered.
"I must find something to do," he explained to himself, "that will give me direction. People must have a monomania as a track for their living, or else there is no living."