Then, as was his custom, he would begin an unraveling of the notion.
"Men with energies in them wed themselves quickly to some consuming project, even if it's nothing more than the developing of a fish market. Rachel isn't a destination. She's a force that fills me with violence and I have no direction in which to live to use this violence. I don't know what to do with myself. So I'm compelled to live in the violence itself. In a storm. A kind of Walkyrie on a broomstick. But, good God, what else is there? Sit and scribble words about fictitious characters. Bleat out rhapsodies. Art is something I can spit out in conversation. If I do anything it's got to be something too difficult for me to do. My damned cleverness puts me beyond artists who find a destination for their energies in the struggle to achieve the thing with which I begin. If not art, then what? War, politics, finance. All surfaces meaning nothing. If I did them all there'd still be something I hadn't done. I want something that's not in life. Life's too damned insufficient. I want something out of it."
Rachel had thought at first that his fits of brooding restlessness came from a memory of Anna. But phrases he had blurted cut half-consciously had given her a sense of their causes. The thought of Anna had died in him. Neither consciousness of her suffering nor memory of the years they had lived together had yet awakened in him. He had been moving since the night he had walked out of his home and there had been no looking back.
Undergoing a seeming expansion of his powers, Erik Dorn had become a startling, fascinating figure in the new world he had entered. The flattery of men almost as clever as himself, the respect, appreciation of political, literary, and vaguely social circles, of stolid men and eccentric acquaintances, were continually visited upon him. He was a personality, a figure to enliven dinner parties, throw a glamour and a fever into the enervated routine of sets, cliques, and circles.
He had made occasional journeyings alone and sometimes with Rachel into the homes of chance acquaintances, and had put in fitful appearances at the various excitements pursued by the city's more radical intelligentsia—little-theater premiers, private assemblings of shrewd, bored men and women, precious concerts, electric discussions of political unrest. From all such adventurings he came away with a sense of distaste. Friendships, always foreign to his nature, had become now almost an impossibility. He felt himself a procession of adjectives exploding in the ears of strangers.
With Warren Lockwood alone he had been able to achieve a contact. In the presence of the novelist there was a complement of himself both in the days of his disquiet and strength. Together they took to frequenting odd parts of the city, visiting lonely cafes and calling upon strangers known to the novelist. The man's virile gentleness soothed him. He was never tired of watching the turns of his naivete, delighting as much in his friend's unsophisticated appreciation of the arts as in the vivid simplicity of his understanding of people and events.
He had finished a stormy conference with the directors of the magazine on the subject of a new editorial policy toward Russia—new editorial policies toward Russia had become almost the sole preoccupation of the New Opinion—when Lockwood arrived at the office, resplendent in the atrocities of a new green hat and lavender necktie.
"There's a fella over on the east side you ought to meet," Lockwood explained. "I was going over there and thought you'd like to come along."
He leaned over, seriously confidential.
"If you can lay off a while in this business of revolutionizing the liberal thought of the whole country, Erik, I'll tell you something. Between you and me, this man we're going to see is the greatest artist in America. I know."
Lockwood waved his hand casually as if dismissing once and for all an avalanche of contradictions. Dorn hesitated. It was one of his days of disquiet; and he had left a note with Rachel saying he would be home at eight. It was now six.
"If you've got a date," went on Lockwood, "call it off. Lord, man, you can't afford missing the greatest artist in the world."
Dorn frowned. He might telephone. But that would mean explanations and the pleading sound of a voice saying, "Of course, Erik." He would send a message, and scribbled it on a telegraph blank:
"I'll be home late. Don't worry.
"We'll make a night of it," he laughed.
Lockwood looked at him, shrewdly affectionate.
"What you need," he spoke, "is a good drink and some fat street woman to shake you out of it. You look kind of tied up."
"I am," grinned Dorn. "Wound up and ready to bust."
Lockwood nodded his head slowly.
"Uh-huh," he said, as if turning the matter over carefully in his thought. "Why don't you buy a new hat like I do when I get feeling sort of upside down? Buying a new hat or tie straightens a man out. Come on!" He laughed suddenly. "This artist's name is Tony. He's an old man—seventy years old."
They entered the street, Lockwood watching his companion with dark, fixed eyes as if he were slowly arriving at some impersonal diagnosis.
"A lot of fools," he announced abruptly, waving his hand at the crowds. "They don't know that something important's happening in Russia." He pronounced it Rooshia. Dorn saw his eyes kindle with a kindliness as he denounced the rabble about them.
"What do you figure is happening in Rooshia?" he inquired of the novelist.
"I don't figure," smiled Lockwood. "I feel it. Something important that these newspaper Neds around this town haven't got any conception of. It's what old Carl calls the rising of the proletaire." He chuckled. "Old Carl's sure gone daft on this proletaire thing." His face abruptly hardened, the rugged features becoming set, the swart eyes paying a far-away homage. "But old Carl's a great poet—the greatest in America. God, but that old boy can write!"
Dorn nodded. In the presence of the novelist the unrest that had held him by the throat through the day seemed to ebb. There was companionship in the figure beside him. They walked in silence for several blocks. The day was growing dark quickly and despite the crowds in the streets, there seemed an inactivity in the air—the wait of a storm.
Into a ramshackle building on the corner of a vivaciously ugly street Lockwood led his friend in quest of the greatest artist. An old man in a skull cap, woolen shirt, baggy trousers and carpet slippers appeared in a darkened doorway. With his long white beard he stood bent and rheumatic before them, making a question mark in the gloom of the hall.
"Hello, Tony," Lockwood greeted him. "I've brought a friend of mine along to look at your works."
The old man extended thin fingers and nodded his head. Dorn entered a large room that reminded him of a tombstone factory. Figures in clay, some broken and cracked, cluttered up its floor and walls. In a corner partly hidden behind topsy-turvy busts and more figures was a cot with a blanket over it. Dorn after several minutes of silence, looked inquiringly at his friend. The works of art, despite an obvious vigor of execution, were openly banal.
"He's got some more in the basement," announced Lockwood with an air of triumph. "And there's some stuck away with the family upstairs. The whole street here's full of his works."
The old man nodded.
"He doesn't talk much English," went on Lockwood. "But I'll tell you about him. I got the story from him. He's the greatest artist in the world."
As Dorn moved politely from figure to figure, the old man like a museum monitor at his heels, Lockwood went on explaining in a caressing sing-song:
"This old boy came to New York when he was in his twenties. And he's been living here ever since and making statues. He's working right now on a statue of some general. Been working for fifty years without stopping, and there's nobody in this town ever heard of him or come near him. Get this picture of this old boy, Erik, buried in this hole for fifty years making statues. Working away day after day without anybody coming near him. I brought a sculptor friend of mine who kept squinting at some of the things the old boy did when he first came over and saying, 'By God, this fella was an artist at one time.' Get the picture of this smart-aleck sculptor friend of mine saying this old boy was an artist."
The eyes of Warren Lockwood grew hard and seemed to challenge. He extended his arm and waved his hand gently in a further challenge.
"The fools in this town let this old boy stay buried," he whispered, "but he fooled them. He kept right on making statues and giving them away to the folks that live around here and hiding them in the basement when there wasn't anybody to take them."
Lockwood grasped the arm of his friend excitedly and his voice became high-pitched.
"Don't you get this old man?" he argued. "Don't you get the figure of him as an artist? Lord, man, he's the greatest artist in the world, I tell you!"
Dorn nodded his head, amused and disturbed by the novelist's excitement. The old sculptor was standing in the shadow of the figures piled on top of each other against the wall. He wore the air of a man just awakened and struggling politely to grasp his surroundings.
"A sort of altruistic carpenter," thought Dorn. "That's what Warren calls an artist. Works diligently for nothing."
The respect and awe in the eyes of his friend halted him.
"Yes, I get him," he added aloud. "Living with a dream for fifty years."
Lockwood snorted and then with a quiet laugh answered: "No, that isn't it. You're not an artist yourself so you can't quite get the sense of it." He seemed petulent and defeated.
They left the old man's studio without further talk. It had started to rain. Large spaced drops plumbed a gleaming hypotenuse between the rooftops and the streets. They paused before a basement restaurant.
"It looks dirty," said Lockwood, "but let's go in."
Here they ordered dinner. During their eating the noise of thunder sounded and the splash of the storm drifted in through the dusty basement windows. A thick-wristed, red-fingered waitress slopped back and forth between their table and an odorous kitchen door. Lockwood kept his eyes fastened steadily upon the nervous features of his friend. He thought as the silence increased between them: "This man's got something the matter with him."
Gradually an uneasiness came over the novelist, his sensitive nerves responding to the disquiet in the smiling eyes opposite.
"You're kind of crazy," he leaned forward and whispered as if confiding an ominous, impersonal secret. "You've got the eyes of a man kind of crazy, Erik."
He sat back in his chair, his hands holding the edge of the table, his chin tucked down, as if he were ruminating, narrow-eyed, upon some involved business proposition.
"I get you now," he added slowly. "I'll put you in a book—a crazy man who kept fooling himself by imitating sane people."
"Insanity would be a relief," he answered. "Come on."
He stood up quickly and looked down at his friend.
"Let's keep going. I've got something in me I want to get rid of."
In the doorway the friends halted. The grave, melodious shout of the rain filled the night. The streets had become dark, attenuated pools. The rain falling illuminated the hidden faces of the buildings and silvered the air with whirling lines.
As they stood facing the downpour Dorn thought, "Rachel's waiting for me. Why don't I go to her? But I'd only make her sad. Better let it get out of me in the rain."
Holding his friend's arm he stood staring at the storm over the city. Through the sparkle and fume of the rain-colored night the lights of cafe signs burned like golden-lettered banners flung stiffly into the downpour. About the lights floated patches of yellow mist through which the rain swarmed in flurries of gleaming moths. There were lights of doors and windows beneath the burning signs. The remainder of the street was lost in a wilderness of rain that bubbled and raced over the pavements in an endless detonation.
He spoke with a sudden softness: "I didn't get your artist, Warren, but you don't get this storm. It's noise and water to you."
The novelist answered with a sagacious nod.
"There's something alive in a night like this," Dorn went on, "something that isn't a part of life."
He pulled his friend out of the doorway. They walked swiftly, their shoes spurting water and the rain dripping from their clothes. Dorn felt an untightening. His eyes hailed the scene as if in greeting of a friend. He became aware of its detail. He smiled, remembering the way in which he had been used to hide his longing for Rachel in the desperate consciousness of scenes about him. Now it was something else he was hiding. Beneath his feet he watched the silver-tipped pool of the pavement. Gleaming in its depths swam reflections of burning lamps, like the yellow script of another and wraith-like world staring up at him out of a nowhere. The rest was darkness and billowy stripes of water. People had vanished. Later a sound of thunder crawled out of the sky. A vein of lightning opened the night. Against its blue pallor the street and its buildings etched themselves.
"Stiff, unreal, like a stage scene," murmured Dorn. "Another world."
The rain flung itself for an instant in great ghostly sheets out of the lighted spaces. He caught a glimpse in the distance of a hunched, moving figure like some tiny wanderer through tortuous fields. Then darkness resumed, seizing the street. A wind entered the night outlining itself in the wild undulations of the rain reaching for the pavements.
Dorn forgot his companion, as they pressed on. Disheveled rain ghosts crowded around him. The fever that had burned in him during the day seemed to have become a part of the storm. The leap and hollow blaze of the lightnings gave him a companionship. His eyes stared into the inanimate bursts of pale violet outlines in the dark. His breath drank in the spice of water-laden winds. The stumble of thunder, the lash and churn of rain were companions. The something else that haunted him was in the storm. He turned to Lockwood, who seemed to be lagging, and shouted in his ear:
"Great, eh? Altar fires and the racket of unknown gods."
Lockwood, his face filmed with water, grunted indignantly:
"Let's get out of this."
The night was growing wilder. Dorn's eyes bored into the vapors and steam of the rain.
"We're in a good street," he cried again. "A nigger street."
A blinding gust of light brought them to a halt. Thunder burst a horror of sound through its dead glare. Dorn stiffened and stared as in a dream at a face floating behind the glass of a door. A woman's face contorted into a stark grimace of rapture. Its teeth stood out white and skull-like against the red of an open mouth.
Silence and darkness seized the street. Rain poured. The sound of a laugh like some miniature echo of the tumult that had torn the night drifted to them. Lockwood had started for the door.
"Come on," he called, "this is crazy."
Dorn followed him. The streaming door opened as they approached and two figures darted out. They were gone in an instant and in pursuit of them rushed a rollicking lurch of sound. Dorn caught again the shrill staccato of the laugh, and the door closed behind them.
Dancing bodies were spinning among the tables. Shouting, swinging noises and a bray of music spurted unintelligibly against the ears of the newcomers. A chlorinated mist, acrid to the eye, and burning to the nose, crawled about the room. Dorn, followed by Lockwood, groped his way through the confusion toward a small vacant table against a wall. From here they watched in silence.
A can-can was in progress. The dancers, black and white faces glued together, arms twined about each other's bodies, tumbled through the smoke. Waiters balancing black trays laden with colored glasses sifted through the scene. At the tables men and women with faces out of focus sat drinking and shouting. Niggers, prostitutes, louts. The slant of red mouths opened laughters. Hands and throats drifted in violent fragments through the mist. The reek of wine and steaming clothes, the sting of perspiring perfumes and the odors of women's bodies fumed over the tumble of heads. Against the scene a jazz band flung a whine and a stumble of tinny sounds. Nigger musicians with silver instruments glued to their lips sat on a platform at the far end of the room. They danced in their chairs as they played, swinging their instruments in crazy circles. A broken, lurching music came from them, a nasal melody that moaned among the laughters.
Dorn's fingers lay gripped about the arm of his friend. His senses caught the rhythm of the scene. His eyes stared at the dancing figures, blond heads riveted against black satin cheeks; bodies gesturing their lusts to the quick whine and stumble of the music; eyes opening like mouths.
"God, what an orgie!" he whispered. "Look at the thing. It's insane. A nigger hammering a scarlet phallus against a cymbal moon."
His words vanished in the din and Lockwood remained with eyes drawn in and hard. When he turned to his friend he found him excitedly pounding his fist on the table and bawling for a waiter. A man, seemingly asleep amid confusions, appeared and took his order.
"There's a woman in here I've got to find," Dorn shouted.
"You're crazy, man."
"I saw her," he persisted, talking close to his friend's ear. "I saw her face in the door. You wait here."
Lockwood seized his arm and tried to hold him, but he jerked away and was lost in a pattern of dancing bodies. Lockwood watching him disappear, frowned. He felt a sudden uncertainty toward his friend, a fear as if he had launched himself into a dark night with a murderer for a companion.
"He's crazy," he thought. "I ought to get him out of here before anything happens."
He sat fumbling nervously with the stem of a wine-glass. Outside, the rain chattered in the darkness and the alto of the wind came in long organ notes into the din of the cafe. He caught sight of Dorn pulling an unholy-looking woman through the pack of the room.
"Here she is—our lady of pain!"
Dorn thrust the creature viciously into a seat beside Lockwood. She dropped with a scream of laughter. The music of the nigger orchestra had stopped and an emptiness flooded the place. Dorn bellowed for another glass. Lockwood looked slowly at the creature beside him. She was watching Dorn. In the swarthy depths of her eyes moved threads of scarlet. Beneath their lashes her skin was darkened as if by bruises. An odd sultry light glowed over the discolorations. Her mouth had shut and her cheeks were without curves, following the triangular corpse-like lines of her skull. Her lips, like bits of vermilion paper, stared as from an idol's face. She was regarding Dorn with a smile.
He had grown erratic in his gestures. His eyes seemed incapable of focusing themselves. They darted about the room, running away from him. The woman's smile persisted and he turned his glance abruptly at her. The red flesh of her opened mouth and throat confronted him as another of her screaming laughs burst. The laugh ended and her gleaming eyes swimming in a gelatinous mist held him.
"A reptilian sorcery," he whispered to Lockwood, and smiled. "The face of a malignant Pierrette. A diabolic clown. Look at it. I saw it in the lightning outside. She wears a mask. Do you get her?" He paused mockingly. Lockwood shifted away from the woman. Erik was drunk. Or crazy. But the woman, thank God, had eyes only for him. She remained, as he talked, with her sulphurous eyes unwaveringly upon his face.
"She's not a woman," he went on in a purring voice. "She's a lust. No brain. No heart. A stark unhuman piece of flesh with a shark's hunger inside it."
He leaned forward and took one of her hands as Lockwood whispered,
"Christ, man, let's get out of here."
The woman's fingers, dry and quivering, scratched against Dorn's palm. He felt them as a hot breath in his blood.
"What's the matter, Warren?" he laughed, emptying a wine-glass. "I like this gal. She suits me. A devourer of men. Look at her!"
He laughed and glared at his friend. Lockwood closed his eyes nervously.
"I've got a headache in this damned place," he muttered.
"Wait a minute." Dorn seized his arm. "I want to talk. I feel gabby. My lady friend doesn't understand words." The sulphurous eyes glowed caresses over him. "You remember the thing in Rabelais about women—insatiable, devouring, hungering in their satieties. The prowling animal. Well, here it is. Alive. Not in print. She's alive with something deeper than life. Wheels of flesh grinding her blood into a hunger for ecstasies. She's a mate for me. Come on, little one."
He sprang from the table, pulling the woman after him.
"Wait here, Warren," he called, moving toward the door. It opened, letting in a shout and sweep of rain, and they were gone.
"A crazy man," muttered the novelist, and remained fumbling with the stem of his glass.
Outside Dorn held the body of the woman against him as they hurried through the storm. Her flesh, like the touch of a third person, struck through his wet clothes.
"Where we going?" he yelled at her.
She thrust out an arm.
They came breathless up a flight of stairs into a reeking room lighted by a gas jet.
* * * * * *
In the cafe, Lockwood waited till the music started again. Then he rose and, slapping his soggy hat on his head, walked out of the place. The rain, sweeping steadily against the earth, held him prisoner in the doorway. He stood muttering to himself of his friend and his craziness. Gone wild! Crazy wild with a mad woman in the rain. Long ago he might have done it himself. Yes, he knew the why of it. The rain fuming before him made him sleepy. He leaned against the place and waited. The storm faded slowly into a quiet patter. Starting for the pavement, Lockwood paused. A hatless figure had jumped out of a doorway across the street and was running toward him.
"It's Erik," he muttered, and hurried to meet him.
Dorn, laughing, his clothes torn and his face smeared with blood under his eye, drew near. He took his friend's arm and walked him swiftly away. At the corner Dorn stopped and regarded the novelist.
"I've had a look at hell," he whispered, and with a laugh hurried off alone. Lockwood watched him moving swiftly down the street, and yawned.
It was near midnight. Rachel's eyes, brightened with tears, watched her lover bathing his face.
"It seemed so long," she murmured, "till you came."
"That damned Warren Lockwood led me astray," he smiled. He dried his face and came toward her. She dropped to the floor beside him as he sat down and pressed her cheeks against his knees. His hands moved tenderly through her loosened hair.
"You told me to be careful about getting run over," she smiled sadly, "and you go out and get all cut up in a brawl. Oh, Erik, please—something might have happened."
"Nothing happened, dearest."
She asked no further questions but remained with her face against his knees. This was Rachel whose hair he was stroking. Dorn smiled at the thought. After a silence she resumed, her voice softened with emotion:
"Erik, I've been lying to you—about my love. It's different than I said it was. I've said always what you've wanted me to say. You've always wanted me to be something else than a woman—something like a dream. But I can't. I love you as—as Anna loved you. Oh, I want to be with you forever and have children. I'm nothing else. You are. I can't be like you. For me there's only love for you and nothing beyond."
"Dear one," he answered, "there's nothing else for me."
"Now you're telling me lies," she wept. "There is something I can't give you; and that you must go looking for somewhere else."
"No, Rachel. I love you."
"As you loved Anna—once."
"Don't! I never loved Anna—or anyone. Or anything."
"I can't help it, Erik. Forgive me, please. I love you so. Don't you see how I love you. I keep trying to be something besides myself and to give other names to the things I feel. But they're only sentimental things. My dreams are only sentimental dreams—of your kissing me, holding me, being my husband. Oh, go way from me, Erik, before I make you hate me! You thought I was different. And I did too. I was different. But you've changed me. Women are all the same when they love. Differences go away."
She looked up at him with tear-running eyes.
"Different than other people! But now I'm the same. I love you as any other woman would. Only perhaps a little more. With my whole soul and life."
"Foolish to talk," he whispered back to her. "Words only scratch at things. I love you as if I had never seen you or kissed you."
"But I'm not a dream, Erik. Oh, it sounds silly. But I want you."
He raised her and held her lithe body close to him. The feeling that he was unreal, that Rachel was unreal, rested in his thought. There was a mist about things that clung to them, that clung about the joyousness in his heart.
"There's nothing else," he whispered. "Love is enough. It burns up everything else and leaves a mist."
His arms tightened.
"Erik dear, I'm afraid."
His kiss brought a peace over her face. She had waited for it. She looked up and laughed.
"You love me? Yes, Erik loves me. Loves me. I know."
She watched his eyes as he spoke. The eyes of God. They remained open to her. She began to tremble and her naked arms moved blindly toward his shoulders.
"This is my world," she whispered. "I know, Erik. I know everything. You are too big for love to hold. The sun doesn't fill the whole world. There are always dark places. I know. Don't hide from me, lover."
She smiled and closed her eyes as her lips reached toward him.
The eyes of Erik Dorn remained open and staring out of the window. There was still rain in the night.
Erik Dorn to Rachel, September, 1918:
" ... and to-night I remember you are beautiful, and I desire you. My arms are empty and there is nothing for my eyes to look at. Are you still afraid. Look, more than a year has gone and nothing has changed. You are the far-away one, the dream figure, and my heart comes on wings to you.... I write with difficulty. What language is there to talk to you? How does one converse with a dream? Idiot phrases rant across the paper like little fat actors flourishing tin swords. I've come to distrust words. There are too many of them. Yet I keep fermenting with words. Interlopers. Busybody strangers. I can't think ... because of them.... Alas! if I could keep my vocabulary out of our love we would both be better off. Foolish chatter. I thought when I sat down to write to you that the sadness of your absence would overcome me. Instead, I am amused. Vaguely joyous. And at the thought of you I have an impulse to laugh. You are like that. A day like a thousand years has passed. Dead-born hours that did not end. Chill, empty streets and the memory of you like a solitude in which I sat mumbling to phantoms. And now in the darkness my heart sickens with desire for you and the night sharpens its claws upon my heart. Yet there is laughter. Words laugh in my head. The torment I feel is somehow a part of joyousness. The claws of the night bring somehow a caress. Even to weep for you is like some dark happiness whose lips are too fragile to smile. Dear one, the dream of you still lives—an old friend now, a familiar star that I watch endlessly. You see there are even no new words. For once before I told you that. It was night—snowing. We walked together. I remember you always as vanishing and leaving the light of your face burning before my eyes. I shall always love you. Why are you afraid? Why do you write vague doubts into your letters? I will be with you soon. You are a world, and the rest of life is a mist that surrounds you.... I have nothing to write. I discover this as I sit staring at the paper. I remember that a year has passed, that many years remain to pass. Dear one, I know only that I love you, and words are strangers between us."
* * * * * *
Rachel to Erik, September end, 1918:
" ... when I went away you were unhappy and restless. Now that I have gone you are again happy and calm. Oh, you're so cruel! Your love is so cruel to me. I sit here all day, a foolishly humble exile, waiting for you. I keep watching the sea and sometimes I try to feel pain. When your letter comes I spend the day reading it.... I am beautiful and you desire me. Oh, to think me beautiful and to desire me, suffices. You do not come where I am. Nothing has changed, you write with a joyous cruelty. In your lonely nights your dream of me still brings you torments and I am a star that you watch endlessly. I laugh too, but out of bitterness. Because what you write is no longer true and we both have known it for long. I am no longer a dream or a star, but a woman who loves you. Yes, nothing has changed, except me. And you remedy that by sending me away. When you send me away I too become unchanged in your thought. I am again like I was on the night we parted in the white park and you can love me—a memory of me—that remains like a star....
"But here I am in this lonely little sea village. There is no dream for me. I am empty without you and I lie at night and weep till my heart breaks, wondering when you will come. It were better if I were dead. I whisper to myself, 'you must not write him to come to you, because he is too busy loving you. He weeps before the ghost of you. He sits beside an old dream. You must not interrupt him. Oh, my lover, do you find me so much less than the dream of me, that you must send me away in order to love me? My doubts? Are they doubts? We have grown apart in the year. On the night it snowed and I went away from you you said, 'people bury their love behind lighted windows....' Dearest, dearest, of what do I complain? Of your ecstasies and torments of which I am not a part, but a cause? Forgive me. I adore you. I am so lonely and such a nobody without you. And I want you to write to me that you long for me, to be with me, to caress me and talk to me. And instead you send phrases analyzing your joyousness. Oh, things have changed. I am no longer Rachel, but a woman. I feel so little and helpless when I think of you. Strangers can talk to you and look at you but I must sit here in exile while you entertain yourself with memories of me. You are cruel, dear one, and I have become too cowardly not to mind. This is because I have found happiness—all the happiness I desire—and hold it tremblingly. And you have not found happiness but are still in flight toward your far-away one, your dream figure. I cannot write more. I worship you and my heart is full of tears. I will sit humbly and look at the sea until you come."
* * * * * *
Rachel to Frank Brander, September:
" ... I answer your letter only because I am afraid you would misunderstand my silence. I send your letter back because I cannot throw it away. It would make the sea unclean. As you point out, I am the mistress of Erik Dorn and he may some day grow tired of me, at which time you are prepared to be my friend and protect me from the world. I will put your application on file, Mr. Brander, if there is a part of my mind filthy enough to remember it."
* * * * * *
Rachel to Emil Tesla:
" ... I was glad to hear from you. But please do not write any more. I am too happy to read your letters. I never want to draw pictures for The Cry again. I hope you will be freed soon. I can think of nothing to write to you."
* * * * * *
Erik Dorn to Rachel, November, 1918:
"Beneath my window the gentle Jabberwock has twined colored tissue-paper about his ears and gone mad. He shrieks, he whistles, he blows a horn. The war, beloved, appears to have ended this noon and the Jabberwock is endeavoring to disgorge four and a half years in a single shriek. 'The war,' says the Jabberwock, in his own way, 'is over. It was a rotten war, nasty and hateful, as all wars are rotten and hateful, and everything I've said and done hinting at the contrary has been a lie and I'm so full of lies I must shriek.'
"Anybody but a Jabberwock, dear one, would have died of apoplexy hours ago. But the Jabberwock is immortal. Alas! there is something of pathos in the spectacle. Our gentle friend with tissue-paper around his ears prostrates himself before another illusion—peace. Says the shriek of the Jabberwock beneath my window, 'The Hun is destroyed. The menace to humanity is laid low. The powers of darkness are dispelled by the breath of God and the machine-guns of our brave soldats. The war that is to end war is over. Hail, blessed peace!'
"Why do I write such arid absurdities to you? But I feel an impulse to scribble wordly words, to stand in a silk hat beside the statue of Liberty and gaze out upon the Atlantic with a Carlylian pensiveness. Idle political tears flow from my brain. For it is obvious that the war the Jabberwock has so nobly waged has been a waste of steel and powder. Standing now on his eight million graves with the tissue-paper of Victory twined about his ears, the Jabberwock is a somewhat ghastly, humorous figure. He has, alas! shot the wrong man. To-morrow there will be an inquest in Paris and the Jabberwock will rub his eyes and discover that the corpse, God forgive him, is that of a brother and friend and that the Powers of Darkness threatening humanity are advancing upon him ... out of Moscow. I muse ... yes, it was a good war. War is never pathetic, never wholly a waste. Maturity no less than childhood must have its circuses. But the Jabberwock ... Ah! the Jabberwock ... the soul of man celebrating the immortal triumph of righteousness ... the good Don Quixote has valiantly slain another windmill and your Sancho Panza shakes his head in wistful amusement.
"I did not send you this letter yesterday and many things have happened since I wrote it. I will see you in a few days. It has been decided that I go to Germany for the magazine. Edwards insists. So do the directors, trusting gentlemen. I will stop at Washington and try to get two passports and then come on to you, and we will wait together until the passports are issued. Another week of imbecile political maneuverings in behalf of the passports and I will again be your lover,
"We've been separated almost three months," he thought, looking out of the train window. "I'll see her soon."
There were four men in the smoking-compartment. They were discussing the end of the war. Dorn listened inattentively. He was remembering another ride to Rachel. Looking out of a train window as now. Whirling through space. A locomotive whistle wailing in the prairies at night like the sound of winds against his heart.
The memories of the ride drifted through his mind. He saw himself again with the tumult of another day sweeping toward Rachel. What had he felt then? Whatever it was, it was gone. For he felt nothing now but a sadness. He had telegraphed. She would be waiting, her face alight, her hands trembling. He had started from Washington elatedly enough. But now in the smoking-compartment where the men were discussing the end of the war he felt no elation. He was thinking, "It'll be difficult when we see each other." He became aware that he was actually shrinking from the meeting. The voices of the men about him began to annoy and he returned to his seat in the train.
Early evening. Another two hours and the train would stop to let him off. Dear, dear Rachel! He had wept tormented by a loneliness for her. Now he was coming to her with sadness. There had been another ride when he had come to her in a halloo of storms. Things change.
The porter brushed him and removed his grips to the platform. The far lights of a village sprinkled themselves feebly in the darkness. This was where Rachel was waiting.
Dorn stepped from the train. It became another world, lighted and human. He looked about the dingy little station. Rachel was walking toward him.
"She looks strange and out of place," he thought.
They embraced. Her kisses covering his lips delighted him unexpectedly. He found himself walking close to her in the night and feeling happy. They entered a darkened wooden house and Rachel led the way upstairs.
"I can't talk, Erik."
She held his hand against her cheek.
"No, don't kiss me. Let me look at you. Sit over here. I must look at you."
She laughed softly, but her eyes, unsmiling, stared at him. He remained silent. The sadness that had fallen upon him in the train returned now like a hurt in his heart. He had expected it to vanish at the sight of her. But her kisses had only hidden it. She came to his side after a pause and whispered gently,
"Perhaps it would have been better if you hadn't come, dearest. I've become almost used to being alone."
He embraced her and for the moment the sadness was hidden again. Rachel's hands crept avidly to his face, holding his cheeks with hot fingers.
"Erik, oh, Erik, do you love me? I'm not afraid to hear. Tell me."
"Yes, dear one. You are everything."
"What makes you cry?"
He kissed her lips.
"I don't know," he whispered. "Only it's been so long."
"Oh, you are so sad."
Her voice had grown thin. Her eyes, dry, burning, haunted the dark room. She removed herself from his arms and stood with her hand in her hair. She looked at the dark sea that mirrored the night outside the window. Turning to him after a pause she murmured:
"I had forgotten Erik Dorn was here."
A sudden stride, the gesture of another Rachel, and she had thrown herself on the bed.
"Oh, God!" she sobbed. "I knew, I knew!"
Dorn, kneeling on the floor, pulled her head toward him. He whispered her name. Why was he sad, frightened? A thought was murmuring in him, "You must love her."
"Rachel, I love you. Please. Your tears. Dearest, what has happened? Tell me."
"Don't ask that." Her tears came anew. "But you come to me sad, as if I were no longer Rachel to you."
The thought kept murmuring, "You must love her...."
"Beautiful one," he said softly, "you're weeping because something has happened to you."
The thought murmured, "because something has happened to you, not her."
"No, no, Erik!"
"Then why? If you loved me you would be happy."
Absurd sentences. They would deceive no one.
A belated emotion overcame him. Now he was happy. His arms grew strong about her. He would say nothing, but lie beside her kissing her until the tears ended. This was happiness. He watched her lips begin to smile faintly. Her face touched him as if she had sighed. She whispered after a long silence, "Oh, I thought you had changed."
He laughed and pulled her to her feet. His head thrown back, his eyes amused and warm, he asked, "Do I seem changed now?"
He waited while she regarded him. Why was he nervous? Must he answer the question too?
"No," she said, "you are the same."
Her face shining before him. Her head quickly lifted.
"I was a fool. Look, Erik, I am happy—happier than anybody on earth."
She dropped to her knees, kissing his hand.
"I am so happy, I kneel...."
They stood together in the window and laughed.
"There's a wonderful old woman here. We've talked a great deal, about everything, and you. You don't mind? To-morrow we'll lie all day on the shore. Oh, Erik. Erik!"
"We'll never be alone again, Rachel."
"Never!" she echoed.
A calm had fallen upon Erik Dorn, an unconsciousness of self. He sprawled through the sunny days, staring at the sea with Rachel or walking alone to the fishing-boats at the other end of the village, or sitting with Mama Turpin, the old woman in whose cottage they lived. With Mama Turpin he held interminable talks that rambled on through the night at times. Religion was Mama Turpin's favored topic. Her round body in a rocking-chair, her seamed, vigorous face raised toward the sky, the old woman would fall into a dream and talk quietly of her God. She would begin, her voice coming out of the dark reminding Dorn of a girl.
"Yes, I have always known this here one thing. Everybody must have a religion. Because there's something in everybody that's way beyond their selves to understand. And there's nobody to give it to excepting God. Some God, anyways...."
Rachel, sitting in the shadows, would listen with her eyes upon Erik. The fear that he had brought her was growing in her heart, making her thought heavy and her gestures slow. She would listen, almost asleep, to his words.
" ... Yes, Mama Turpin, religion comes to all people. But not for long. We all get a flame in us at some time and it burns until it burns itself out, and then we sit and forget to wonder about things...."
Talk perhaps for her to understand. But why should he hint when words outright were easier? Rachel carried questions in her heart.
Among the fishermen Dorn listened sometimes to stories of great catches and storms. He was usually silent watching them empty their nets on the shore and remove the catch into basins and pails. The men accepted his interest in their work with a pleased indifference.
Rachel sometimes walked with him or stretched beside him on the sand. But he felt an uneasiness in her presence. Her eyes questioned him silently and seemed to answer their own questions.
Since the evening of his coming there had been no scenes. He was grateful for this. But the eyes of Rachel sometimes haunted him at night as she lay asleep beside him. What spoke in her eyes? He felt calm when alone, at peace with himself. But at night while she slept he would become sleepless and a sadness would enter him. Thoughts he did not seem to be thinking would move through his head. "Things pass. Years pass. The sea and the stars remain the same. But men and women change. Life eats into men and women—eats things away from them...."
In his sadness there would come to him a memory of Anna. Thoughts of Anna and Rachel would mingle themselves.... Anna had once lain beside him like this. He remembered now. Her body was different from Rachel's—softer, warmer ... a woman named Anna had lived with him. Now a woman named Rachel. And to-morrow, what? There were yesterdays. These were not sad. Things already dead were not so sad. But things that are to die....
His heart would grow weak, seeming to dissolve. Something unspoken in the night. Tears in his heart. Calm in his thought. He would figure it out sometime. His words were alert little busy-bodies. They could follow things into difficult crevices. But was there anything to figure out? He was growing old and a to-morrow was haunting him. Some day he would close his eyes slowly and in the slow closing of his eyes the world would end. Erik Dorn would have ended. Was there such a thing as ending? Yes, things were always ending. Now he was different than the night he had lain beside Rachel and whispered, "You have given me wings." But how? He felt the same. Change came like that. Leaving one the same. He would write things from Europe that would startle. He could write.... But, something unspoken in the night. He must say it to himself.... "You must love her...." Then that was it. He no longer loved her.
He lay listening to her breathing. An end to his love. Preposterous notion! How, since the thought of parting from her wrenched at his heart? "If I went away from Rachel I would die." Unquestionably sincere.... "I'd die." Not, of course, die. But feel death. Yet, there was something changed. But a man doesn't remain an ecstatic lover. There comes a time. Well, he loved her like this—quietly, happily, and if he went away from her he would feel an end had come to his life. The other love had been words flying in his head. Nice to have felt as he had. But life—practical, material rush of hours. Words had flown in his head once. He smiled. "Wings, what are they?" He remembered having spoken and thought a great deal about wings. Now the idea seemed somewhat absurd. They were not a part of life. Inventions. An invention. A phrase to explain an unusual state of physical and mental excitement.... Sleep intruded and the sadness melted out of him. As he closed his eyes his hand reached dreamily for Rachel and lay upon her shoulder.
A week of silence followed. Dorn talked. Politics, economics, the coming peace treaty. Rachel listened and made replies. Yet their words seemed only the part of a silence between them. A letter from Washington interrupted them. A passport was being issued for Erik Dorn, but the bureau was not issuing passports for women and would have to deny Mrs. Rachel Dorn ... "enclosed please find $1 deposit made for Mrs. Dorn at this office."
"Well, that ends it," he laughed. "Perhaps I shouldn't have lied about your being Mrs. Dorn. God is a jealous God and punishes liars."
"You must go on," Rachel said. "Perhaps I'll get one later."
"No, we'll both wait. I couldn't go without you."
Rachel regarded him tenderly. They were sitting on Mama Turpin's porch.
"Yes, you will," she said.
He shook his head, pleased at the opportunity for sacrifice. He hoped as he smiled that Rachel would plead with him to go alone. In her pleading she would point out all the things he was giving up by not going. She might even say, "You must go, Erik. You can't sacrifice your career."
Then he could shrug his shoulders, remain silent for a moment as if weighing his career beside his love for her, and smile suddenly and say, gently, "No. It's ended. Please, it's ended and forgotten." A laugh, a bit too casual, would leave the thing on the proper plane. Later there would be times when he could grow thoughtful and abstract and Rachel, looking at him, would know that he had sacrificed—his career.
On Mama Turpin's porch Dorn's thoughts rambled in silence. Rachel had said nothing. He looked at her and grew confused before the straightness of her eyes, as if she knew the tawdry little plot moving through his mind. Then an irritation ... why didn't she plead? Did she think it was nothing to give up his plans? Was it anything? No. He endeavored to evade his own questioning, but his thoughts mocked him with answers.... "I'm playing a game with her. I want her to feel sorry and grateful for my not going and to feel that I've made a sacrifice for her. Because I could cherish it against her ... later. Have something I could pretend to be sad about. It would give me an excuse to scold her.... Merely by looking at her I could remind her that she is indebted to me for a sacrifice. Make-believe sacrifice gives one the unconsciousness of virtue without any of its discomforts. I'm irritated because she refuses to play her part in the farce and so makes me seem cheap. She knows I'm lying but she can't figure out how or what about. So she looks at me and says to herself, 'Erik has changed. He's different.' She means that I've become an actor and able to offer her cheap things. But she doesn't know that in words."
As he sat thinking, an understanding of himself played beneath his thoughts. He was irritated with her. The passport business was something he could hang his irritation on. It offered an opportunity to make the petulant, indefinable aversion he sometimes felt toward her into a noble, self-laudatory emotion.
He stood up abruptly. Make amends by being truthful and putting an end to the theatrics.... "Listen, Rachel, it's foolish for us to take this seriously. I don't give a damn about going, and I never did. It would bore me. It means nothing to me, and it's no sacrifice or even inconvenience. Please, I mean it. Put it out of your head."
He leaned over and took her hands.
"I love you...."
Despite himself there was a note of sacrifice. He frowned. His "I love you" had startled him. He had said it as one pats a woman reassuringly on the shoulder. More, as one turns the other cheek in a forgiving Christian spirit. He was not an actor. He had become naturally cheap.
Rachel smiled wanly at him and kissed his hands. He noticed that she looked thin about the face and that her eyes seemed ill with too much weeping. He wondered when it was she wept. When she was alone, of course. For a moment the thought of her flung across the bed and weeping stirred him sensually. Then ... what made her cry so much? Good God, what did she want of him? He was giving up.... Again he frowned. "I've become a cad," he thought. "I can't think honestly any more. Thoughts act themselves in my head. I've gotten to thinking lies and thinking them naturally without trying to lie...."
"I'm going for a walk," he announced, and went off toward the shore where the fishing-boats were drifting in becalmed.
Mama Turpin came out on the porch. Rachel smiled at the old woman.
"It's peaceful here, Mama Turpin."
"Yes, honey. My work's all done for the day now."
"Nothing ever changes here," Rachel murmured. "The sea is just the same as when I came. I think I'll be leaving soon, Mama Turpin. Mr. Dorn will stay on for a little while. I have some work I must get back to."
She paused and shaded her eyes from the setting sun.
"It's been wonderful down here. I'll never forget it. Perhaps some day I'll come back to visit again."
She arose and sighed.
"What's the matter, honey?" the old woman asked, watching her.
Rachel waited till her lips could smile again. Then she said:
"Oh, I hate to leave it here. But I have so much work to do."
She entered the house swiftly. In her room she lay on the bed, her face in the pillow as if she were waiting for tears. But none came. She lay in silence until it grew dark and she heard Erik outside asking Mama Turpin where she was.
It was dawn when they awoke. Rachel opened her eyes first. A lassitude filled her. She remained quiet for moments and then sat up and stared at Erik. His face was flushed and he was sleeping lightly, his eyes almost open.
"Erik," she whispered. When he looked at her she leaned over and kissed him.
"Last night was wonderful," she murmured.
He smiled sleepily.
"I want to lie in your arms for just a minute. And then we'll get up, Erik."
Her head sank against his shoulder and she remained with her eyes closed. He murmured her name. Over Rachel's face a curious light spread itself. She sat up and turned her eyes to him.
"My dear one, my lover!"
Dorn regarded her with a sudden confusion. Her eyes and voice were confusing. Women were strange. Her eyes were large, burning, devouring ... "I will be a shrine to you always. Let me look at you. I have never looked at you...." Why was he remembering that? He felt himself grow frightened. Her eyes were saying something that must not be said. His arms reached out. Crush her to him. Hold her tightly. Sing his love to her....
She had slipped from the bed and was standing on the floor, shaking her head at him. Her face seemed blank. Dorn sat up and blinked ludicrously. She had jumped out of his arms. He laughed. Coquetting. But her eyes had been strange....
"Listen, Erik, do you mind if I spend the morning alone? I have some letters to write and things. Then I'll meet you on the beach and we'll go swimming and lie on the sand together. Will you?"
He nodded cheerfully and swung himself out of bed. His calm had returned. The memories of the curiously abandoned, shameless Rachel of the night lingered for a moment questioningly and then left him.
They ate breakfast together and Dorn strode off alone. He felt surprised at himself. He had forgotten all about his trip to Europe.
"The sun and the rest here are doing me good," he thought. "I'm getting normal. But a little stupidity won't hurt."
The morning slipped away and he returned to the beach from a walk through the village. It was early afternoon and the sands were deserted. The sea lay like a great Easter egg under the hot sun, a vast and inanimate daub of glittering blue, green, and gold. He seated himself on the burning sand and stared at it. Years could pass this way and he could sit dreaming lifeless words, the sea like a painted beetle's back, the sea like a shell of water resting on a stenciled horizon. A wind was dying among the clouds. It had blown them into large shapeless virgins. Puffy white solitudes over his head. He looked down and saw Rachel coming toward him. She was carrying a woolen blanket over her arms.
She approached and appeared excited. Her face flushed.
"Shall we go in?"
He nodded. Her voice disturbed him. He would have preferred her calm, gentle. Particularly after last night. She unloosened her clothes quickly and hurried nude toward the water. Dorn, after an uneasy survey of the empty beach, watched her. In the glare of the sun and sand her body seemed insistently unfamiliar. He would have preferred her familiar. He joined her and they pushed into the water together. Her excited manner depressed him.
"Let's swim," he called.
A blue, singing moment under the water and they were up, swimming slowly into the unbroken sheet of the sea. Rachel came nearer to him, the water sparkling from her moving arms.
"Do you like it, Erik?"
He laughed in answer. Her head was turned toward him and he could see her dark eyes smiling against the water.
"Wouldn't it be nice," she said softly, "to swim out together like lovers in a poem? Out and out! And never come back!"
Her voice, slipping across the water, became unfamiliar. They continued moving.
"Yes," he answered at length, smiling back at her. "It would be easy. And I'm willing."
They swam in silence. He began to wonder. Were they going out and out and never coming back? Perhaps they were doing that. One might become involved in a suicide like that. He closed his eyes and his head moved through the coldness of the water. What matter? What was there to come back to? All hours were the same. He might wait until a thousand more had dragged themselves to an ending. Or swim out and out. When he grew tired he would kiss her and say, "It is easier to make our own endings than to wait for them." The sun would be shining and her eyes would sing to him for an instant over the water.
"We'd better turn now, Erik."
"No," he smiled. "We're lovers in a poem."
She came nearer.
"Come, we must go back, Erik."
He answered firmly. It pleased him to say "no." He felt a superiority. He could say "no" and then she would plead with him and perhaps finally persuade him.
"Not now, Erik. Some other time, maybe...."
"But it would be a proper ending," he argued. "What else is there? You are unhappy. And perhaps I am too. Come, it will be easy."
For a moment a fright came into him. She was not pleading. She was silent and looking at him as they drifted. What if she should remain silent? "I don't want to die," he thought, "but does it matter?" He wondered at himself. He had spoken of dying. Sincerely? No. But if she remained silent they would keep swimming until there was nothing left to do but die. Then he was sincere? No. He would drown as a sort of casual argument. Good God! Her silence was asking his life. What matter? He cared neither to live nor to die. He looked at her with an amused smile in his eyes. His heart had begun to beat violently.
A sudden relief. She had turned and was swimming toward the shore. He hesitated. Absurd to turn back too hurriedly. He waited till she looked behind her to see if he were coming. Her looking back was a vindication. She had believed then that he might go on, out and out.... He could follow her to the shore now....
The swim had exhausted them. Rachel threw herself on the sand, Dorn covering her with the blanket. They lay together, the whiteness and the blaze of the sky tearing at their eyes. Her hair had spread itself like a black fan under her head.
The oven heat of the day dried the burn of the sun into a chalked and hammering glare—an unremitting roar of light that seemed to beat the world into a metallic sleep. The sea had stiffened itself into a dead flame. Molten, staring sweeps of color burst upon their eyes with a massive intimacy. The etched horizon, the stagnant gleaming arch of the water, and the acetylene burn of the sand gave the scene the appearance of a monstrous lithograph.
The figures of the lovers lay without life. Rachel had turned her head from the glare. Through veiling fingers Dorn remained staring at the veneer of isolation about them. Waves of heat crept like ghost fires across the nakedness of the scene. He thought of the sun as a pilgrim walking over the barren floor of an empty cathedral. Over him the motionless smoke-bellied clouds hung gleaming in the dead fanfare of the sky. He thought of them as swollen white blooms stamped upon a board. As the moments slipped, he became conscious that Rachel was talking. Her voice made a tiny noise in the grave torpitude of the day.
"It's like listening to singing, Erik. What are you thinking of?"
"Nothing. I like the way the heat tightens my skin and pinches."
"Do you remember," she asked softly, "once you said beauty is an external emotion?"
He answered drowsily, "Did I? I'm tired, dearest. Let's nap awhile."
"No. I want to hear you talk just a little."
He pressed his face into his arm, drawing his clothes carelessly over him for protection.
"I can't think of anything to say, Rachel, except that I'm content. The sun brings a luxurious pain into one's blood...."
"Yes, a luxurious pain," she repeated quietly. "Please let's talk."
"Too damn hot."
"I always expect you to say things. As if you knew things I didn't, Erik. I've always thought of you as knowing everything."
"Ordinarily I do," he mumbled.
Flattery was annoying. There were times for being wonderful and times for grunting at the sand.
"My vocabulary," he mumbled again, "has curled up its toes and gone to sleep."
His eyes grew heavy.
Drowsily, "I'm an old man and need my sleep."
He felt Rachel's hand reaching gently for his head.
A cool gloom squatted on the sand about him when he opened his eyes. The scene was a stranger. The sea and sand, dark strangers. His body felt stiffened and his skin hurt. He sat up and stared about with parched eyes.
The sun had gone down. A hollow light lingered in the sky, an echo of light. He turned toward the blanket beside him. Rachel was gone. She had left the blanket in a little heap, unfolded. Why hadn't she wakened him? She must be on the beach somewhere, waiting.
In the distance he saw the shapeless figures of the fishermen moving from their grounded boats. Staring about at the deserted scene he felt unaccountably sad. It would have been pleasant to have wakened and found Rachel sitting beside him.
A sheet of paper was pinned on the blanket. He noticed it as he slipped painfully into his shirt. He continued to dress himself, his eyes regarding the bit of paper. His heart had grown heavy at the sight of it.
When he was dressed he folded the blanket carefully and removed the note. A pallor in his thought. Something had happened. He had fallen asleep under a glaring sun. Rachel stretched beside him. Now the glare of the sun was gone and the sea and the sand were vaguely unreal, dark, and unfriendly. The little blanket was empty.
He sat wondering why he didn't read the note. But he was reading it. He knew what it said. It said Rachel had gone and would never come back. A very tragic business.... "You do not love me any more as you did. You have changed. And if I stayed it would mean that in a little while longer you would forget all about me. Now perhaps you will remember."
Quite true. He had taught her such paradoxes. He would remember. That was logical ... "to remember how you loved me makes it impossible to remain with you. Oh, I die when I look at you and see nothing in your eyes. It is too much pain. I am going away.... Dearest, I have known for a long time."
His eyes skipped part of the words. Unimportant words. Why read any further? The thing was over, ended. Rachel gone. More words on the other side of the paper. His eyes skimmed ... "you have been God to me. I am not afraid. Oh, I am strong. Good-bye."
Still more words. A postscript. Women always wrote postscripts—the gesture of femininity immortalized by Lot's wife. Never mind the postscript. Tear the paper into bits. It offended his fingers. Walk over to the water's edge and scatter it on the sea.
He had lain too long in the sun. Probably burn like hell to-night. "Here goes Rachel into the sea." Soft music and a falling curtain.
He read from one of the scraps.... "Erik, you will be grateful later...." Let the sea take that. And the "good-bye, my dear one...." A patch of white on the darkened water, too tiny to follow. Would she be waiting when he came back to the room? No, the room would be empty. A comb and brush and tray of hairpins would be missing from the dressing-table.
A smile played over Dorn's face. His movements had grown abstract as if he were intensely preoccupied with his thoughts. Yet there were no thoughts. He walked for moments lazily along the water's edge kicking at the sand, his eyes following the last of the paper bits still afloat. They vanished and he sighed with relief.... "It's all a make-believe. The sea, Rachel, the war. Things don't mean anything. Last night there was someone to kiss. To-night, no one. But where's the difference. Nothing ... nothing.... Will I cave in or keep on smiling? Probably cave in. One must be polite to one's emotions. The sea says she's gone," his thought rambled, "dark empty waters say she's gone. Rachel's gone. Well, what of it? Like losing a hat. Does anything matter much? An ending. Leave the theater. Draw a new breath. Remember vaguely what the actors said or what they should have said. All the same. What was in the postscript? Not fair to throw it away without reading it. Should have read carefully. Took her hours to pick the right words. Night ... night. It'll be night soon."
His words left him and he walked faster. He began to run. She would be waiting in their room. On the bed ... crying ... "I couldn't leave you, Erik. Oh, I couldn't." And later they would laugh about it.
Mama Turpin was on the porch. He slowed his run. To rush breathless past the old woman would make a bad impression, if nothing had happened.
"Good evening, Mr. Dorn."
Of course she was upstairs. Or would Mama Turpin say good-evening?
"Hello," he called back casually, and walked on, his legs jumping ahead of him.
The room was empty. More than empty, for the comb and brush and tray of hairpins were missing. His eyes had swept the dressing-table as he came in. They were gone.
There would be another note. Why didn't she leave it some place where he could find it at a glance, instead of making him hunt around? Hunt around. Under the bed. On the chairs. No note. Good God, she was insane! Going away—why should she go away?... "we'll have a long talk about it and straighten it out, of course, but ..." The insanity of the thing remained. Gone!
He stopped and felt his head aching. The sun ... "you won't find me if you look for me. Please don't try. One good-bye is easier and better than two. Erik, Erik, something has died for always...."
Then he had read it. That had been in the postscript. He had given it a glance, not intending to follow the words. Unimportant words.
"Died for always," he mumbled suddenly.
... His head pressed against the pillow in the dark room, he began to weep. The odor of her hair was still in the pillow. Yes, the dream had died. And she had run from its corpse, leaving behind the faint odor of her hair on a pillow. How, died? Better to have her gone.... Tears burned in his eyes. He repeated aloud, "better...."
An agony was twisting itself about his heart. His face moved as if he were in pain. With his fists he began to beat the bed. It had gone away. It had come and smiled at him for a moment, lifted him for a moment, and then gone away as if it had never been. But it would come back. He would weep and pound on the bed with his fists and bring it back. The face of stars, eyes burning, devouring, eyes kindling his soul into ecstasies.
"Rachel!" he cried aloud.
Silence. His tears had ended. He lay motionless on the bed, his body suddenly weak, his thought tired. Someone had shouted a name in his ears. A dead man had shouted the name of Rachel. It was the cry of an Erik Dorn who was dead. He'd heard it in the dark room. An old, already forgotten Erik Dorn who had laughed in a halloo of storms, heels up, head down. Madness and a dream. Wings and a face of stars. They had vanished with an old and almost forgotten Erik Dorn who had called their name out of a grave. So things whirled away.
He arose and stood looking out of the window. Night had come ... "dark rendezvous of sorrows. Silent Madonna of the spaces...." He whispered to see if there were still phrases in him. His lips smiled against the window. Phrases ... words ... and the rest was a make-believe once more. A pattern precise and meaningless. His little flight over. Now it was time to walk again.
Anna had stood one night staring at him. He remembered. Oh, yes, he'd run away quickly for fear he might hear her shriek. And then, Rachel. But these things were passed. It was time to walk. Did he still love her? Yes. It would have been easier to walk with her—calmly, placidly, their hands sometimes touching. Forgetting other days and other kisses together. But he would not lie to himself. An end to that now. Love made a liar of a man. At the beginning and at the end—lies. The ache now was one of memory, not of loss. The pain was one of death. Dead things hurt inside him. Afterward his heart would carry them about unknowingly. The dead things would end their hurt. But now, leaden heavy, they kept slipping deeper into him as if seeking graves that did not yet exist.
Standing before the window, Dorn's smile grew cold.
"A make-believe," he whispered, "but not quite the same as it was before. A loneliness and an emptiness. Ruins in which once there was feasting. And now, nothing ... nothing...."
Long days. Short days. Outside the window was an ant-hill street. And an ant-hill of days. In the stores they were already selling calendars for the next year. Outside the window was a flat roof. By looking at the flat roof you remembered that Mary James was married. Unexpectedly. You came out of the ant-hill street, climbed the stairs, and sat down and looked at the flat roof. Long days, short days turned themselves over on the flat roof, and turned themselves over in your heart.
Occasionally an event. Events were things that differed from putting on your shoes or buying butter in the grocery store. There was an event now. It challenged the importance of the flat roof. Hazlitt was sitting in the room and talking. Rachel listened.
An eloquent event. But words jumbled into sound. Loud sounds. Soft sounds. They made her sleepy, as rain pattering on a window made her sleepy, or snow sinking out of the sky. There were sleepy words in her mind that had nothing to do with the event. Then the event came and mingled itself, mixed itself into the words ... "no sorrow. No remorse. The dead are dead. Oh, most extremely dead! So I'll sit by my sad little window and listen to this unbearable creature make love. The idiot'll go 'way in an hour and I'll be able to draw. Funny, my thoughts keep moving on, despite everything. Like John Brown's soul, or something. Words get to be separate, like the snickers of dead people. You think as one adds figures. Thoughts add, and draw pictures the same way. A line here. A line there. And you have a face. Curve a line up and the face laughs. Curve it down and the face weeps. You lie dead. Always dead. You lie dead in the street. The day tears your heart out. The night tears your eyes out. And when somebody passes, even a banana peddler, your eyes jump back, your heart jumps back, and you look up and snicker and say, 'It's all right. I'm just lying here for fun. I'm dead for fun.... He still loves me. I must answer him.'"
She spoke aloud:
"No, George, I hear you. But I don't love you. I can't say it more plainly, can I?"
Her thoughts resumed. "Dear me. He talks almost as well as Erik. Lord, he thinks I'm a virgin. His pure and unfaltering star. Well, well! Why am I amused? Is life amusing, after all? Am I really happy? Alas! my heart is broken. I must not forget my heart is broken. You forget sometimes and begin snickering and somebody rings the bell and hands you a telegram reading, 'Your heart is broken.' Rachel of the broken heart! It was all very beautiful. This talk of his somehow brings it back ... Oh, God. That was a line curved down. What eloquence! There, now, I must speak. I'll have to tell him again."
Aloud she went on, "You're mistaken in me, George."
A flurry of silent words halted her.... "Ye gods, what a speech; she is not all his fancy painted him. Indeed! Not mistaken. His heart tells him. Poor boy! Poor little clowns who pay attention to what their hearts say! I mustn't be rude."
She interrupted him, "If you'll listen to me, George ..."
Then, "What'll I say? If only he inspired something by his eloquence—a phrase, at least. But my heart snickers at him. Ah! the dead are wonderfully dead. I'll tell him I'm not a virgin. That'll be surprising news. But how? Like a medical report? The woman was found not to be a virgin. The thing seems to hinge on that. Why in God's name does he keep virgining?"
"No, George," she answered aloud, "I'm sorry. I don't believe in love...." Listen to her! "You see, I've been in love myself. Indeed I have. That's why you find me changed."
He protested and her words followed silently. "My laughing makes him angry. But I must laugh. Love is something to laugh over, isn't it? Oh, God, why doesn't he go 'way?" The flat roof vanished. There was a rising event in the room and the flat roof bowed good-bye and walked away.
"Yes, I was in love for quite a while with a man," she answered him. "And I'm in love with him yet—in a way. But we've parted. He had to go to Europe." Nevertheless he still thought she was a virgin. He'd started another virgining speech. There would have to be a medical report. "We lived together for over a year. We weren't married, of course, because he had a wife. You see, you're terribly mistaken." He must be impressed by her calm. "Because what I really am is a vampire. I lured a man from his wife, lived with him, and cast him aside."
The event jumped to its feet. No room to talk for a moment, so her thought resumed, "I'm lying. He thinks I'm lying. I should have confessed in tears. With a few 'Oh, Gods.' Amusing! Amusing! That was Erik's favorite word. I'm beginning to understand it now. But there's nothing to be amused about ... in itself an amusing circumstance ... but you look at the banana peddler and snicker. Will he hit me? Oh, very red-faced. Speechless. I'd better talk. If he hit me.... He'll start in a minute...."
"Yes, you know him, George," she cried suddenly. "And if you doubt me you can ask a lot of people. Ask Tesla or Mary James or Brander or New York." She'd make him believe. God, what an idiot! She'd claw his eyes out with words. Throw roofs on him. But it was a good thing Erik was in Europe, or he'd be killed.
"Yes. I've told you in order to get rid of you. I'd rather be rid of you than keep my good name in your estimation. So now, run along and do your yelling outside. I'm sick of you."
She paused on a high gesture.... "He's going to hit me. Strike a woman. War has brutalized him. Dear me!" But he asked a question ominously and she answered,
"Erik Dorn. Yes. Erik Dorn."
This made it worse. It was bad enough without a name. But a name made it realler. And very ominous. She moved toward a chair.
"I'll sit still and then he won't hit me. If I'm calm, serene like a nun facing the wrath of God. This is melodrama. He can squeeze my shoulders all he wants. What good will it do him? If I giggled now he'd kill me. Sorry? Oh, so I must be sorry. Because I've offended him. Dear God, what a mess!"
She twisted out of his grasp and cried.
"No, I'm not sorry. You fool! I'm glad I was his woman. I'll always be glad, as long as I live. Leave me alone. You're a fool. I've always thought of you as a fool. You make me want to laugh now. You're a clown. I'll give myself to men. But not to you. I gave myself to Erik Dorn because I love him. If he wants me again I'll come to him not as a lover, because he doesn't love me any more—but as a prostitute. Now do you know me? Well, I want you to. So you'll go way and never bother me again...."
That was a good speech. She stood dramatically silent as hands seized her shoulder again. "He hurts me. Why this? Oh, my shoulder! Does he want to? Oh, God, this is me! He'll let me go in a minute if I don't move. Very still. Silent ... I don't want him to cry. Can't he see it's amusing? If he'd only look at me and wink, I'd kiss him. No, he's a fool. I'll not say anything more. Let him cry! His life is ruined. Dear me, I have ruined his life. His love. I was his dream. Through the war ... rose of no-man's land. Amusing, amusing! He looks different. Contempt. He has contempt for me. And horror. Oh, get out, get out, you fool! You sniveling nincompoop, get out! I want to draw pictures, and forget. Console him ... for what? I don't know, I don't know. He's going. Thank God! Oh, I don't know anything. Poor man, he should know better than to have dreams. Dreams are for devils, not for men or women. Dreams ... dreams ... I don't know ... I'll draw a picture. But I don't want to. He'll never come back. I'm sad again. The flat roof says something. Is it Erik? Dear Erik! Poor Erik! I love you. But I'll begin crying. Pretty tears, amusing tears. Erik mine, dead for always. But it's not as bad as it was. Another month, year, ten years. Oh, it chokes me. I can't help it. Your eyes are the beckoning hands of dream. Whose eyes? Mine ... mine.... Mine ... I know. I know. I must keep on dying, keep on dying. But I'm not afraid. Look, I can laugh! Amusing that I can laugh ... Oh, God ... God...."
Beside her window looking out on the ant-hill street Rachel covered her face with her hands. When she removed them she caught a glimpse of the figure of Hazlitt walking as if it were a blind man in zig-zags down the pavement.
The thing that had been buried in Emil Tesla and that used to rumble under his fawning words, had come to life one day with two men twisting his wrists and hammering at his uncovered face. He had laughed.
The two men came into his office to seize him. When he started to protest they walked up to him slowly as if to shake hands. Instead, they began beating him. For a moment he wondered why the two men hated him so violently. He stood looking into their faces and thinking, "They're like me."
The visitors, however, saw no resemblance. They twisted his arm till it broke. Then they kept on battering at him with their fists till he fell to the floor. While he lay on the floor they kicked him, and his muscles grew paralyzed.
He never remembered the walk downstairs. But in the open he saw a crowd of faces drifting excitedly beneath him. This was a scene he remembered later.
It was while looking at the faces that he had grown strong. He laughed because it occurred to him at the moment he was unconquerable. Later, in prison, he often thought, "I have only my life to lose. I'm not afraid of that. When they hit me they were hitting at an idea. But they could only hit me. They couldn't touch the idea. I'll remember when I come out—they can only hit me. If they end by shooting me they'll not touch the idea even then. That's something beyond their fists and guns. I'll remember I'm only a shadow."
A year passed and Tesla came out. He returned to the office of The Cry. His friends noticed a change. He had grown quiet. He no longer bubbled with words. His eyes looked straight at people who spoke to him. His manner whispered, "I'm nothing—a shadow thrown by an idea. I don't argue, and I'm not afraid. I'm part of masses of people all over the world and cannot be destroyed."
The new Tesla became a leader. Among the radicals whose intellects were groping noisily with the idea of a new justice he often inspired a fear. His smile disquieted them and their arguments. His smile said, "Here, what's the use of arguing? There is no argument. It isn't words we must give the revolution, but lives. I'm ready. Here's mine."
When he looked at men and women who vociferated in the councils of radical pamphleteers, workers, organizers, theorists, new party politicians, Tesla thought, "That one's afraid. He's only a logician. His mind has led him into revolution. If he changed his mind he would become a conservative.... There's one that isn't afraid. He's like me. His mind helps him. But no matter what his mind told him he would always be in the revolution. Something in him drives him...."
For the rabble of artists and near-artists drifting by the scores into radical centers, Tesla held a respectful dislike.
"He's in revolt because he must find something different than other people," he thought of most of them. "The revolution to him means only himself. It's something he can use to make himself felt more by people. And also he's a revolutionist because of the contrariness in him that artists usually have. Especially artists who, when they can't create new things, make themselves think they're creating new things by destroying old things."
Of himself Tesla thought, "I'll fight and not mind if I'm killed. Because people will still be left alive, and so the idea of which I'm a part will continue to live."
In the days before his going to prison Tesla had felt the need of writing and talking his revolution. This was because of an impatience and intolerance toward the enemy. Now that was gone. The enemy had become a blatant, trivial thing. The things it said and did were unimportant. He read with amusement the rabid denunciations of the radicals in the press of the day. The grotesque hate hymns against the new Russia, the garbled shriekings and pompous anathemas that fell hourly upon the heads of all suspects, inspired no argument in him.
Tesla's days were busy with organization. He had almost ceased his activities as pamphleteer, although still editor of The Cry. With a group of men, silent as himself, he worked at the radicalization of the factories and labor unions. Each day men left Tesla to seek employment in shops throughout the country, in mines and mills. Their duties were simple. Tesla measured them carefully before sending them on.... This one could be relied upon to work intelligently, to talk to workingmen at their benches and during noon hours without antagonizing, or, worse, frightening them. Another was dubious. His eyes were too bright. He would be discovered and arrested by the company. But he might do some good. The arrest of a radical always did some good to the cause. Where would Christianity have been without the incompetent agitators who blundered into the clutches of the Roman law and the amphitheater?
Aloud he would say, "Work carefully. Remember that the revolution is for all; that the workers, no matter what they say to you, are comrades. Remember that strikes are better than fights. The time hasn't come yet for fighting. What we must do is put into the hearts of the workers the knowledge that there is nothing in common between them and their bosses. The workers are the producers. They work and make no money. The bosses are the exploiters. They don't work and make all the money. If you get the workers to thinking this they'll want more money themselves and declare strikes. By strikes we can paralyze industry and give the workers consciousness of their power. This is only a step; but the first and most important step. Make strikes. Make dissatisfaction. But don't argue about fighting and revolution."
Over and over Tesla repeated his instructions through the days. He spoke simply. Men listened to him and nodded without questioning. They saw that his eyes were unafraid and that if he was sending them upon dangerous missions, he would some day reserve a greater mission for himself. Tesla had become a leader since he had laughed on the step overlooking the pack of faces.
At his desk in The Cry office Tesla was preparing the April issue of the magazine for the printer. It was night. A garrulous political poet named Myers was revising proofs at a smaller desk. Brander and a tall, thin woman stood talking quietly to each other in a gloomy corner of the office. Rachel, who had returned to the place after a hurried supper with Tesla, waited listlessly. He had promised to finish up in a half-hour, but there was more work than he had figured.
"We're reprinting a part of the article on the White Terror in Germany that Erik Dorn has in the New Opinion," Tesla said. Rachel nodded her head. Later Tesla asked her, "This Dorn, what is he? His writing is amusing, sometimes violent, but always empty. He doesn't like life much, eh?"
"I don't know," said Rachel.
"Yes," Tesla smiled. "He hates us all—reds and whites, radicals and bourgeoisie. Yet he can write in a big way. But he isn't a big man. He has no faith. I remember him once in Chicago. He hasn't changed."
Rachel's eyes remained steadily upon the socialist as he cleared his desk. He stood up finally and came to where she was sitting.
"It's necessary to have something besides self," he said softly. "I was born in a room that smelled bad. Perhaps that's why the world smells bad to me now. I still live there. It's good to live where there are smells. Our radicals sit too much in hotel lobbies that other people keep clean for them."
Brander thrust his large figure between them, the tall, thin woman moving vaguely about the room.
"Sometimes I think you're a fake, Emil," he said. "You're too good to be true."
He grinned at Rachel.
"By the way," he went on, looking at her, "I brought something to show you." His hands dug a paper out of his coat pocket. "You see, I've preserved our correspondence."
He held out a letter. Rachel's eyes darkened.
"Oh, there's no hurry," Brander laughed. "So long as you keep the application on file, you know."
Tesla, listening blankly, interrupted:
"It's late. We should go home. I'll go home with you, Rachel, and talk."
The thin woman, watching Brander anxiously, approached and seized his arm.
"All right," the artist whispered. "We'll go now."
Rachel felt a relief as Brander passed out of the door with the woman.
"He disturbs you," Tesla commented. She nodded her head. Words seemed to have abandoned her. There was almost a necessity for silence. They walked out, leaving Myers still at his desk.
In the deserted streets Rachel walked beside Tesla. She felt tired. "He's never tired," she thought, her eyes glancing at the stocky figure. He wasn't talking as he said he would.
The night felt sad and cold. A dead March night. If not for Emil, what? "Perhaps I'll kill myself. There's nothing now. I'm always alone. No to-morrows."
In the evenings she came to the office to meet Emil for supper because there was nothing else to do. Emil seemed like an old man, always preoccupied, his eyes always burning with preoccupations. After supper he usually walked home with her, talking to her of poor people. There seemed no hatred in him, no argument. Poor people in broken houses. Christ came and gave them a God. Now the revolution would come with flaming embittered eyes but wearing a gentle smile for the poor people in broken houses, and give them rest and happiness.
But to-night he was silent. When they had walked several blocks he began to talk without looking at her.
"Come with me," he asked. "I live alone in a little house. We can be happy there. You have nobody."
Rachel repeated "Nobody."
She looked at him but his eyes avoided her.
"My mother died long ago," he went on. "She was an old woman. She used to live in this house where I live. We were always poor. I had brothers and sisters. They've all gone somewhere. Things happened to them. I have only my work now. Nobody else. But I'm alone too much. Since we have seen each other I have been thinking of you. Brander has told me something but that doesn't matter. I would like to marry you."
He paused and seemed to grow bewildered.
"Excuse me," he mumbled. Rachel took his hand and held it as they walked. Tears in her whispered "Nobody ... nobody." The homely face of Tesla was looking at her and saying something with its silence: "I am not for you as Erik was. But that is gone. Dead for always...."
He was kind. It would be easy to live with him. But not married. A chill drifted through her. It didn't matter what she did. Life had ended one afternoon months ago. She remembered the sun shining on the sand, the burning sea, and Erik asleep. The memory said "I am the last picture of life."
It would be easy with Tesla. He loved elsewhere ... a wild gentle thing—people. Poor people in broken houses. He would give her only kindness and companionship. And if he would let her cry to-night and make believe she was a child crying....
They had taken a different direction. This was the neighborhood where Tesla lived. Rachel looked about her in fear. She remembered the district. Now she was coming to live here in these streets where people begin to give forth an odor.
As she walked beside Tesla his silence became dark like the scene itself. She had always thought of him as somewhat strange. Now she understood why he had seemed strange to her. Because he carried an underworld in his heart. In his nose there was always the odor of the streets from which he had sprung, and in his mind there was always the picture of them. Other things did not fool him.
"Is it far?" she asked.
He looked at her, smiling.
"No," he said. "Do you want to go?"
She pressed his hand. It would be better. But her heart hurt. That was foolish. Emil was somebody different. Not like a man, but an old man—or an old background. There would be things to think about—Revolution. Before, revolution was people arguing and being dragged to jail. Sometimes people fighting. But it was something else—a thing hidden and spreading—and here in the dark street about them where Emil lived.
Emil seemed to vanish into a background. She walked and thought of the streets in which Emil lived. Here in the daytime the rows of sagging little houses were like teeth in an old man's mouth. From them arose exhalations of stagnant wood, decaying stairways; of bodies from which the sweats of lust and work were never washed. Soft bubbling alleys under a stiff sun. The stench like a grime leadened the air. Something to think about in places like this. Revolution crawling up and down soft alleys ... something in the mud waiting to be hatched.
In this street lived men and women whose hungers were not complicated by trifles. In this way they were, as they moved thick-faced and unsmiling, different from the people who lived in other streets and who had civilized their odors and made ethics of their hungers. The people who lived here walked as if they were being pushed in and out of the sagging houses. Shrieking children appeared during the daytime and sprawled about. They rolled over one another, their faces contorted with a miniature senility. They urinated in gutters, threw stones at one another in the soft alleys, ran after each other, cursing and gesturing with idiot violence. They brought an awkward fever into the street. Oblivious of them and the debris about them, barrel-shaped women strutted behind their protuberant bellies, great flapping shoes over the pavements. They moved as if unaccustomed to walking in streets.
When it grew dark the men coming home from the factories began to crowd the street. They walked in silence, a broken string of shuffling figures like letters against the red of the sky. Their knees bent, their jaws shoved forward, their heads wagged from side to side. They vanished into the sagging houses, and the night came ... an unwavering gloom picked with little yellow glows from windows. The houses lay like bundles of carefully piled rags in the darkness. The shrieking of the children died, and with it the pale fever of the day passed out of the air. There were left only the odors.