V. Went to the Animals' Fair
Red light. Bell.
A block deep four ranks of cars wait at the grade crossing, fenders in taillights, mudguards scraping mudguards, motors purring hot, exhausts reeking, cars from Babylon and Jamaica, cars from Montauk, Port Jefferson, Patchogue, limousines from Long Beach, Far Rockaway, roadsters from Great Neck . . . cars full of asters and wet bathingsuits, sunsinged necks, mouths sticky from sodas and hotdawgs . . . cars dusted with pollen of ragweed and goldenrod.
Green light. Motors race, gears screech into first. The cars space out, flow in a long ribbon along the ghostly cement road, between blackwindowed blocks of concrete factories, between bright slabbed colors of signboards towards the glow over the city that stands up incredibly into the night sky like the glow of a great lit tent, like the yellow tall bulk of a tentshow.
Sarajevo, the word stuck in her throat when she tried to say it. . . .
"It's terrible to think of, terrible," George Baldwin was groaning. "The Street'll go plumb to hell. . . . They'll close the Stock Exchange, only thing to do."
"And I've never been to Europe either. . . . A war must be an extraordinary thing to see." Ellen in her blue velvet dress with a buff cloak over it leaned back against the cushions of the taxi that whirred smoothly under them. "I always think of history as lithographs in a schoolbook, generals making proclamations, little tiny figures running across fields with their arms spread out, facsimiles of signatures." Cones of light cutting into cones of light along the hot humming roadside, headlights splashing trees, houses, billboards, telegraph poles with broad brushes of whitewash. The taxi made a half turn and stopped in front of a roadhouse that oozed pink light and ragtime through every chink.
"Big crowd tonight," said the taximan to Baldwin when he paid him.
"I wonder why," asked Ellen.
"De Canarsie moider has sumpen to do wid it I guess."
"Sumpen terrible. I seen it."
"You saw the murder?"
"I didn't see him do it. I seen de bodies laid out stiff before dey took em to de morgue. Us kids used to call de guy Santa Claus cause he had white whiskers. . . . Knowed him since I was a little feller." The cars behind were honking and rasping their klaxons. "I better git a move on. . . . Good night lady."
The red hallway smelt of lobster and steamed clams and cocktails.
"Why hello Gus! . . . Elaine let me introduce Mr. and Mrs. McNiel. . . . This is Miss Oglethorpe." Ellen shook the big hand of a rednecked snubnosed man and the small precisely gloved hand of his wife. "Gus I'll see you before we go. . . ."
Ellen was following the headwaiter's swallowtails along the edge of the dancefloor. They sat at a table beside the wall. The music was playing Everybody's Doing It. Baldwin hummed it as he hung over her a second arranging the wrap on the back of her chair.
"Elaine you are the loveliest person . . ." he began as he sat down opposite her. "It seems so horrible. I dont see how it's possible."
"This war. I cant think of anything else."
"I can . . ." She kept her eyes on the menu. "Did you notice those two people I introduced to you?"
"Yes. Is that the McNiel whose name is in the paper all the time? Some row about a builders' strike and the Interborough bond issue."
"It's all politics. I bet he's glad of the war, poor old Gus. It'll do one thing, it'll keep that row off the front page. . . . I'll tell you about him in a minute. . . . I dont suppose you like steamed clams do you? They are very good here."
"George I adore steamed clams."
"Then we'll have a regular old fashioned Long Island shore dinner. What do you think of that?" Laying her gloves away on the edge of the table her hand brushed against the vase of rusty red and yellow roses. A shower of faded petals fluttered onto her hand, her gloves, the table. She shook them off her hands.
"And do have him take these wretched roses away George. . . . I hate faded flowers."
Steam from the plated bowl of clams uncoiled in the rosy glow from the lampshade. Baldwin watched her fingers, pink and limber, pulling the clams by their long necks out of their shells, dipping them in melted butter, and popping them dripping in her mouth. She was deep in eating clams. He sighed. "Elaine . . . I'm a very unhappy man. . . . Seeing Gus McNiel's wife. It's the first time in years. Think of it I was crazy in love with her and now I cant remember what her first name was . . . Funny isn't it? Things had been extremely slow ever since I had set up in practice for myself. It was a rash thing to do, as I was only two years out of lawschool and had no money to run on. I was rash in those days. I'd decided that if I didn't get a case that day I'd chuck everything and go back to a clerkship. I went out for a walk to clear my head and saw a freightcar shunting down Eleventh Avenue run into a milkwagon. It was a horrid mess and when we'd picked the fellow up I said to myself I'd get him his rightful damages or bankrupt myself in the attempt. I won his case and that brought me to the notice of various people downtown, and that started him on his career and me on mine."
"So he drove a milkwagon did he? I think milkmen are the nicest people in the world. Mine's the cutest thing."
"Elaine you wont repeat this to anyone. . . . I feel the completest confidence in you."
"That's very nice of you George. Isn't it amazing the way girls are getting to look more like Mrs. Castle every day? Just look round this room."
"She was like a wild rose Elaine, fresh and pink and full of the Irish, and now she's a rather stumpy businesslike looking little woman."
"And you're as fit as you ever were. That's the way it goes,"
"I wonder. . . . You dont know how empty and hollow everything was before I met you. All Cecily and I can do is make each other miserable."
"Where is she now?"
"She's up at Bar Harbor. . . . I had luck and all sorts of success when I was still a young man. . . . I'm not forty yet."
"But I should think it would be fascinating. You must enjoy the law or you wouldn't be such a success at it."
"Oh success . . . success . . . what does it mean?"
"I'd like a little of it."
"But my dear girl you have it."
"Oh not what I mean."
"But it isn't any fun any more. All I do is sit in the office and let the young fellows do the work. My future's all cut out for me. I suppose I could get solemn and pompous and practice little private vices . . . but there's more in me than that."
"Why dont you go into politics?"
"Why should I go up to Washington into that greasy backwater when I'm right on the spot where they give the orders? The terrible thing about having New York go stale on you is that there's nowhere else. It's the top of the world. All we can do is go round and round in a squirrel cage."
Ellen was watching the people in light summer clothes dancing on the waxed square of floor in the center; she caught sight of Tony Hunter's oval pink and white face at a table on the far side of the room. Oglethorpe was not with him. Stan's friend Herf sat with his back to her. She watched him laughing, his long rumpled black head poised a little askew on a scraggly neck. The other two men she didn't know.
"Who are you looking at?"
"Just some friends of Jojo's. . . . I wonder how on earth they got way out here. It's not exactly on that gang's beat."
"Always the way when I try to get away with something," said Baldwin with a wry smile.
"I should say you'd done exactly what you wanted to all your life."
"Oh Elaine if you'd only let me do what I want to now. I want you to let me make you happy. You're such a brave little girl making your way all alone the way you do. By gad you are so full of love and mystery and glitter . . ." He faltered, took a deep swallow of wine, went on with flushing face. "I feel like a schoolboy . . . I'm making a fool of myself. Elaine I'd do anything in the world for you."
"Well all I'm going to ask you to do is to send away this lobster. I dont think it's terribly good."
"The devil . . . maybe it isn't. . . . Here waiter! . . . I was so rattled I didn't know I was eating it."
"You can get me some supreme of chicken instead."
"Surely you poor child you must be starved."
". . . And a little corn on the cob. . . . I understand now why you make such a good lawyer, George. Any jury would have burst out sobbing long ago at such an impassioned plea.
"How about you Elaine?"
"George please dont ask me."
At the table where Jimmy Herf sat they were drinking whiskey and soda. A yellowskinned man with light hair and a thin nose standing out crooked between childish blue eyes was talking in a confidential singsong: "Honest I had em lashed to the mast. The police department is cookoo, absolutely cookoo treating it as a rape and suicide case. That old man and his lovely innocent daughter were murdered, foully murdered. And do you know who by . . .?" He pointed a chubby cigarettestained finger at Tony Hunter.
"Dont give me the third degree judge I dont know anything about it" he said dropping his long lashes over his eyes.
"By the Black Hand."
"You tell em Bullock," said Jimmy Herf laughing. Bullock brought his fist down on the table so that the plates and glasses jingled. "Canarsie's full of the Black Hand, full of anarchists and kidnappers and undesirable citizens. It's our business to ferret em out and vindicate the honor of this poor old man and his beloved daughter. We are going to vindicate the honor of poor old monkeyface, what's his name?"
"Mackintosh," said Jimmy. "And the people round here used to call him Santa Claus. Of course everybody admits he's been crazy for years."
"We admit nothing but the majesty of American citizenhood. . . . But hell's bells what's the use when this goddam war takes the whole front page? I was going to have a fullpage spread and they've cut me down to half a column. Aint it the life?"
"You might work up something about how he was a lost heir to the Austrian throne and had been murdered for political reasons."
"Not such a bad idear Jimmy."
"But it's such a horrible thing," said Tony Hunter.
"You think we're a lot of callous brutes, dont you Tony?"
"No I just dont see the pleasure people get out of reading about it."
"Oh it's all in the day's work," said Jimmy. "What gives me gooseflesh is the armies mobilizing, Belgrade bombarded, Belgium invaded . . . all that stuff. I just cant imagine it. . . . They've killed Jaures." "Who's he?"
"A French Socialist."
"Those goddam French are so goddam degenerate all they can do is fight duels and sleep with each other's wives. I bet the Germans are in Paris in two weeks."
"It couldn't last long," said Framingham, a tall ceremonious man with a whispy blond moustache who sat beside Hunter.
"Well I'd like to get an assignment as warcorrespondent."
"Say Jimmy do you know this French guy who's barkeep here?"
"Congo Jake? Sure I know him."
"Is he a good guy?"
"Let's go out and talk to him. He might give us some dope about this here murder. God I'd like it if I could hitch it on to the World Conflict."
"I have the greatest confidence," had begun Framingham, "that the British will patch it up somehow." Jimmy followed Bullock towards the bar.
Crossing the room he caught sight of Ellen. Her hair was very red in the glow from the lamp beside her. Baldwin was leaning towards her across the table with moist lips and bright eyes. Jimmy felt something glittering go off in his chest like a released spring. He turned his head away suddenly for fear she should see him.
Bullock turned and nudged him in the ribs. "Say Jimmy who the hell are those two guys came out with us?"
"They are friends of Ruth's. I dont know them particularly well. Framingham's an interior decorator I think."
At the bar under a picture of the Lusitania stood a dark man in a white coat distended by a deep gorilla chest. He was vibrating a shaker between his very hairy hands. A waiter stood in front of the bar with a tray of cocktail glasses. The cocktail foamed into them greenishwhite.
"Hello Congo," said Jimmy.
"Ah bonsoir monsieur 'Erf, ça biche?"
"Pretty good . . . Say Congo I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Grant Bullock of the American."
"Very please. You an Mr. 'Erf ave someting on the 'ouse sir."
The waiter raised the clinking tray of glasses to shoulder height and carried them out on the flat of his hand.
"I suppose a gin fizz'll ruin all that whiskey but I'd like one. . . . Drink something with us wont you Congo?" Bullock put a foot up on the brass rail and took a sip. "I was wondering," he said slowly, "if there was any dope going round about this murder down the road."
"Everybody ave his teyorie . . ."
Jimmy caught a faint wink from one of Congo's deepset black eyes. "Do you live out here?" he asked to keep from giggling.
"In the middle of the night I hear an automobile go by very fast wid de cutout open. I tink maybe it run into someting because it stopped very quick and come back much faster, licketysplit."
"Did you hear a shot?"
Congo shook his head mysteriously. "I ear voices, very angree voices."
"Gosh I'm going to look into this," said Bullock tossing off the end of his drink. "Let's go back to the girls."
Ellen was looking at the face wrinkled like a walnut and the dead codfish eyes of the waiter pouring coffee. Baldwin was leaning back in his chair staring at her through his eyelashes. He was talking in a low monotone:
"Cant you see that I'll go mad if I cant have you. You are the only thing in the world I ever wanted."
"George I dont want to be had by anybody. . . . Cant you understand that a woman wants some freedom? Do be a sport about it. I'll have to go home if you talk like that."
"Why have you kept me dangling then? I'm not the sort of man you can play like a trout. You know that perfectly well."
She looked straight at him with wide gray eyes; the light gave a sheen of gold to the little brown specks in the iris.
"It's not so easy never to be able to have friends." She looked down at her fingers on the edge of the table. His eyes were on the glint of copper along her eyelashes. Suddenly he snapped the silence that was tightening between them.
"Anyway let's dance."
J'ai fait trois fois le tour du monde
Dans mes voyages,
hummed Congo Jake as the big shining shaker quivered between his hairy hands. The narrow greenpapered bar was swelled and warped with bubbling voices, spiral exhalations of drinks, sharp clink of ice and glasses, an occasional strain of music from the other room. Jimmy Herf stood alone in the corner sipping a gin fizz. Next him Gus McNiel was slapping Bullock on the back and roaring in his ear:
"Why if they dont close the Stock Exchange . . . godamighty . . . before the blowup comes there'll be an opportunity. . . . Well begorry dont you forget it. A panic's the time for a man with a cool head to make money."
"There have been some big failures already and this is just the first whiff. . . ."
"Opportunity knocks but once at a young man's door. . . . You listen to me when there's a big failure of one o them brokerage firms honest men can bless themselves. . . . But you're not putting everythin I'm tellin ye in the paper, are you? There's a good guy. . . . Most of you fellers go around puttin words in a man's mouth. Cant trust one of you. I'll tell you one thing though the lockout is a wonderful thing for the contractors. Wont be no housebuildin with a war on anyway." "It wont last more'n two weeks and I dont see what it has to do with us anyway."
"But conditions'll be affected all over the world. . . . Conditions. . . . Hello Joey what the hell do you want?"
"T'd like to talk to you private for a minute sir. There's some big news. . . ."
The bar emptied gradually. Jimmy Herf was still standing at the end against the wall.
"You never get drunk, Mr. 'Erf." Congo Jake sat down back of the bar to drink a cup of coffee.
"I'd rather watch the other fellows."
"Very good. No use spend a lot o money ave a eadache next day."
"That's no way for a barkeep to talk."
"I say what I tink."
"Say I've always wanted to ask you. . . . Do you mind telling me? . . . How did you get the name of Congo Jake?"
Congo laughed deep in his chest. "I dunno. . . . When I very leetle I first go to sea dey call me Congo because I have curly hair an dark like a nigger. Den when I work in America, on American ship an all zat, guy ask me How you feel Congo? and I say Jake . . . so dey call me Congo Jake."
"It's some nickname. . . . I thought you'd followed the sea."
"It's a 'ard life. . . . I tell you Mr. 'Erf, there's someting about me unlucky. When I first remember on a peniche, you know what I mean . . . in canal, a big man not my fader beat me up every day. Then I run away and work on sailboats in and out of Bordeaux, you know?"
"I was there when I was a kid I think. . . ."
"Sure. . . . You understand them things Mr. 'Erf. But a feller like you, good education, all 'at, you dont know what life is. When I was seventeen I come to New York . . . no good. I tink of notten but raising Cain. Den I shipped out again and went everywhere to hell an gone. In Shanghai I learned spik American an tend bar. I come back te Frisco an got married. Now I want to be American. But unlucky again see? Before I marry zat girl her and me lived togedder a year sweet as pie, but when we get married no good. She make fun of me and call me Frenchy because I no spik American good and den she kick no out of the house an I tell her go to hell. Funny ting a man's life."
J'ai fait trois fois le tour du monde
Dans mes voyages. . . .
he started in his growling baritone.
There was a hand on Jimmy's arm. He turned. "Why Ellie what's the matter?"
"I'm with a crazy man you've got to help me get away."
"Took this is Congo Jake. . . . You ought to know him Ellie, he's a fine man. . . . This is une tres grande artiste, Congo."
"Wont the lady have a leetle anizette?"
"Have a little drink with us. . . . It's awfully cozy in here now that everybody's gone."
"No thanks I'm going home."
"But it's just the neck of the evening."
"Well you'll have to take the consequences of my crazy man. . . . Look Herf, have you seen Stan today?"
"No I haven't."
"He didn't turn up when I expected him."
"I wish you'd keep him from drinking so much, Ellie. I'm getting worried about him."
"I'm not his keeper."
"I know, but you know what I mean."
"What does our friend here think about all this wartalk?"
"I wont go. . . . A workingman has no country. I'm going to be American citizen. . . . I was in the marine once but. . . ." He slapped his jerking bent forearm with one hand, and a deep laugh rattled in his throat. . . . "Twentee tree. Moi je suis anarchiste vous comprennez monsieur."
"But then you cant be an American citizen."
Congo shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh I love him, he's wonderful," whispered Ellen in Jimmy's ear.
"You know why they have this here war. . . . So that workingmen all over wont make big revolution. . . . Too busy fighting. So Guillaume and Viviani and l'Empereur d'Autriche and Krupp and Rothschild and Morgan they say let's have a war. . . . You know the first thing they do? They shoot Jaures, because he socialiste. The socialists are traitors to the International but all de samee. . . ."
"But how can they make people fight if they dont want to?"
"In Europe people are slaves for thousands of years. Not like 'ere. . . . But I've seen war. Very funny. I tended bar in Port Arthur, nutten but a kid den. It was very funny."
"Gee I wish I could get a job as warcorrespondent."
"I might go as a Red Cross nurse."
"Correspondent very good ting. . . . Always drunk in American bar very far from battlefield."
"But arent we rather far from the battlefield, Herf?"
"All right let's dance. You must forgive me if I dance very badly."
"I'll kick you if you do anything wrong."
His arm was like plaster when he put it round her to dance with her. High ashy walls broke and crackled within him. He was soaring like a fireballoon on the smell of her hair.
"Get up on your toes and walk in time to the music. . . . Move in straight lines that's the whole trick." Her voice cut the quick coldly like a tiny flexible sharp metalsaw. Elbows joggling, faces set, gollywog eyes, fat men and thin women, thin women and fat men rotated densely about them. He was crumbling plaster with something that rattled achingly in his chest, she was an intricate machine of sawtooth steel whitebright bluebright copperbright in his arms. When they stopped her breast and the side of her body and her thigh came against him. He was suddenly full of blood steaming with sweat like a runaway horse. A breeze through an open door hustled the tobaccosmoke and the clotted pink air of the restaurant.
"Herf I want to go down to see the murder cottage; please take me."
"As if I hadn't seen enough of X's marking the spot where the crime was committed."
In the hall George Baldwin stepped in front of them. He was pale as chalk, his black tie was crooked, the nostrils of his thin nose were dilated and marked with little veins of red.
His voice croaked tartly like a klaxon. "Elaine I've been looking for you. I must speak to you. . . . Maybe you think I'm joking. I never joke."
"Herf excuse me a minute. . . . Now what is the matter George? Come back to the table."
"George I was not joking either. . . . Herf do you mind ordering me a taxi?"
Baldwin grabbed hold of her wrist. "You've been playing with me long enough, do you hear me? Some day some man's going to take a gun and shoot you. You think you can play me like all the other little sniveling fools. . . . You're no better than a common prostitute."
"Herf I told you to go get me a taxi."
Jimmy bit his lip and went out the front door.
"Elaine what are you going to do?"
"George I will not be bullied."
Something nickel flashed in Baldwin's hand. Gus McNiel stepped forward and gripped his wrist with a big red hand.
"Gimme that George. . . . For God's sake man pull yourself together." He shoved the revolver into his pocket. Baldwin tottered to the wall in front of him. The trigger finger of his right hand was bleeding.
"Here's a taxi," said Herf looking from one to another of the taut white faces.
"All right you take the girl home. . . . No harm done, just a little nervous attack, see? No cause for alarm," McNiel was shouting in the voice of a man speaking from a soapbox. The headwaiter and the coatgirl were looking at each other uneasily. "Didn't nutten happen. . . . Gentleman's a little nervous . . . overwork you understand," McNiel brought his voice down to a reassuring purr. "You just forget it."
As they were getting into the taxi Ellen suddenly said in a little child's voice: "I forgot we were going down to see the murder cottage. . . . Let's make him wait. I'd like to walk up and down in the air for a minute." There was a smell of saltmarshes. The night was marbled with clouds and moonlight. The toads in the ditches sounded like sleighbells.
"Is it far?" she asked.
"No it's right down at the corner."
Their feet crackled on gravel then ground softly on macadam. A headlight blinded them, they stopped to let the car whir by; the exhaust filled their nostrils, faded into the smell of saltmarshes again.
It was a peaked gray house with a small porch facing the road screened with broken lattice. A big locust shaded it from behind. A policeman walked to and fro in front of it whistling gently to himself. A mildewed scrap of moon came out from behind the clouds for a minute, made tinfoil of a bit of broken glass in a gaping window, picked out the little rounded leaves of the locust and rolled like a lost dime into a crack in the clouds.
Neither of them said anything. They walked back towards the roadhouse.
"Honestly Herf havent you seen Stan?"
"No I havent an idea where he could be hiding himself."
"If you see him tell him I want him to call me up at once. . . . Herf what were those women called who followed the armies in the French Revolution?"
"Let's think. Was it cantonnières?"
"Something like that . . . I'd like to do that."
An electric train whistled far to the right of them, rattled nearer and faded into whining distance.
Dripping with a tango the roadhouse melted pink like a block of icecream. Jimmy was following her into the taxicab.
"No I want to be alone, Herf."
"But I'd like very much to take you home. . . . I dont like the idea of letting you go all alone."
"Please as a friend I ask you."
They didnt shake hands. The taxi kicked dust and a rasp of burnt gasoline in his face. He stood on the steps reluctant to go back into the noise and fume.
Nellie McNiel was alone at the table. In front of her was the chair pushed back with his napkin on the back of it where her husband had sat. She was staring straight ahead of her; the dancers passed like shadows across her eyes. At the other end of the room she saw George Baldwin, pale and lean, walk slowly like a sick man to his table. He stood beside the table examining his check carefully, paid it and stood looking distractedly round the room. He was going to look at her. The waiter brought the change on a plate and bowed low. Baldwin swept the faces of the dancers with a black glance, turned his back square and walked out. Remembering the insupportable sweetness of Chinese lilies, she felt her eyes filling with tears. She took her engagement book out of her silver mesh bag and went through it hurriedly, marking carets with a silver pencil. She looked up after a little while, the tired skin of her face in a pucker of spite, and beckoned to a waiter. "Will you please tell Mr. McNiel that Mrs. McNiel wants to speak to him? He's in the bar."
"Sarajevo, Sarajevo; that's the place that set the wires on fire," Bullock was shouting at the frieze of faces and glasses along the bar.
"Say bo," said Joe O'Keefe confidentially to no one in particular, "a guy works in a telegraph office told me there'd been a big seabattle off St. John's, Newfoundland and the Britishers had sunk the German fleet of forty battleships."
"Jiminy that'd stop the war right there."
"But they aint declared war yet."
"How do you know? The cables are so choked up you cant get any news through."
"Did you see there were four more failures on Wall Street?"
"Tell me Chicago wheat pit's gone crazy."
"They ought to close all the exchanges till this blows over."
"Well maybe when the Germans have licked the pants off her England'll give Ireland her freedom."
"But they are. . . . Stock market wont be open tomorrow."
"If a man's got the capital to cover and could keep his head this here would be the time to clean up."
"Well Bullock old man I'm going home," said Jimmy. "This is my night of rest and I ought to be getting after it."
Bullock winked one eye and waved a drunken hand. The voices in Jimmy's ears were throbbing elastic roar, near, far, near, far. Dies like a dog, march on he said. He'd spent all his money but a quarter. Shot at sunrise. Declaration of war. Commencement of hostilities. And they left him alone in his glory. Leipzig, the Wilderness, Waterloo, where the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round . . . Cant take a taxi, want to walk anyway. Ultimatum. Trooptrains singing to the shambles with flowers on their ears. And shame on the false Etruscan who lingers in his home when . . .
As he was walking down the gravel drive to the road an arm hooked in his.
"Do you mind if I come along? I dont want to stay here."
"Sure come ahead Tony I'm going to walk."
Herf walked with a long stride, looking straight ahead of him. Clouds had darkened the sky where remained the faintest milkiness of moonlight. To the right and left there was outside of the violetgray cones of occasional arclights black pricked by few lights, ahead the glare of streets rose in blurred cliffs yellow and ruddy.
"You dont like me do you?" said Tony Hunter breathlessly after a few minutes.
Herf slowed his pace. "Why I dont know you very well. You seem to me a very pleasant person. . . ."
"Dont lie; there's no reason why you should. . . . I think I'm going to kill myself tonight."
"Heavens! dont do that. . . . What's the matter?"'
"You have no right to tell me not to kill myself. You dont know anything about me. If I was a woman you wouldnt be so indifferent."
"What's eating you anyway?"
"I'm going crazy that's all, everything's so horrible. When I first met you with Ruth one evening I thought we were going to be friends, Herf. You seemed so sympathetic and understanding. . . . I thought you were like me, but now you're getting so callous."
"I guess it's the Times. . . . I'll get fired soon, don't worry."
"I'm tired of being poor; I want to make a hit."
"Well you're young yet; you must be younger than I am." Tony didnt answer.
They were walking down a broad avenue between two rows of blackened frame houses. A streetcar long and yellow hissed rasping past.
"Why we must be in Flatbush."
"Herf I used to think you were like me, but now I never see you except with some woman."
"What do you mean?"
"I've never told anybody in the world. . . . By God if you tell anybody. . . . When I was a child I was horribly oversexed, when I was about ten or eleven or thirteen." He was sobbing. As they passed under an arclight, Jimmy caught the glisten of the tears on his cheeks. "I wouldn't tell you this if I wasnt drunk."
"But things like that happened to almost everybody when they were kids. . . . You oughtnt to worry about that."
"But I'm that way now, that's what's so horrible. I cant like women. I've tried and tried. . . . You see I was caught. I was so ashamed I wouldn't go to school for weeks. My mother cried and cried. I'm so ashamed. I'm so afraid people will find out about it. I'm always fighting to keep it hidden, to hide my feelings."
"But it all may be an idea. You may be able to get over it. Go to a psychoanalyist."
"I cant talk to anybody. It's just that tonight I'm drunk. I've tried to look it up in the encyclopedia. . . . It's not even in the dictionary." He stopped and leaned against a lamppost with his face in his hands. "It's not even in the dictionary."
Jimmy Herf patted him on the back. "Buck up for Heaven's sake. They're lots of people in the same boat. The stage is full of them."
"I hate them all. . . . It's not people like that I fall in love with. I hate myself. I suppose you'll hate me after tonight."
"What nonsense. It's no business of mine."
"Now you know why I want to kill myself. . . . Oh it's not fair Herf, it's not fair. . . . I've had no luck in my life. I started earning my living as soon as I got out of highschool. I used to be bellhop in summer hotels. My mother lived in Lakewood and I used to send her everything I earned. I've worked so hard to get where I am. If it were known, if there were a scandal and it all came out I'd be ruined."
"But everybody says that of all juveniles and nobody lets it worry them."
"Whenever I fail to get a part I think it's on account of that. I hate and despise all that kind of men. . . . I dont want to be a juvenile. I want to act. Oh it's hell. . . . It's hell."
"But you're rehearsing now aren't you?"
"A fool show that'll never get beyond Stamford. Now when you hear that I've done it you wont be surprised."
They walked without speaking. It had started to rain. Down the street behind the low greenblack shoebox houses there was an occasional mothpink flutter of lightning. A wet dusty smell came up from the asphalt beaten by the big plunking drops.
"There ought to be a subway station near. . . . Isn't that a blue light down there? Let's hurry or we'll get soaked."
"Oh hell Tony I'd just as soon get soaked as not." Jimmy took off his felt hat and swung it in one hand. The raindrops were cool on his forehead, the smell of the rain, of roofs and mud and asphalt, took the biting taste of whiskey and cigarettes out of his mouth.
"Gosh it's horrible," he shouted suddenly.
"All the hushdope about sex. I'd never realized it before tonight, the full extent of the agony. God you must have a rotten time. . . . We all of us have a rotten time. In your case it's just luck, hellish bad luck. Martin used to say: Everything would be so much better if suddenly a bell rang and everybody told everybody else honestly what they did about it, how they lived, how they loved. It's hiding things makes them putrefy. By God it's horrible. As if life wasn't difficult enough without that."
"Well I'm going down into this subway station."
"You'll have to wait hours for a train."
"I cant help it I'm tired and I dont want to get wet."
"Well good night."
"Good night Herf."There was a long rolling thunderclap. It began to rain hard. Jimmy rammed his hat down on his head and yanked his coatcollar up. He wanted to run along yelling sonsobitches at the top of his lungs. Lightning flickered along the staring rows of dead windows. The rain seethed along the pavements, against storewindows, on brownstone steps. His knees were wet, a slow trickle started down his back, there were chilly cascades off his sleeves onto his wrists, his whole body itched and tingled. He walked on through Brooklyn. Obsession of all the beds in all the pigeonhole bedrooms, tangled sleepers twisted and strangled like the roots of potbound plants. Obsession of feet creaking on the stairs of lodginghouses, hands fumbling at doorknobs. Obsession of pounding temples and solitary bodies rigid on their beds.
J'ai fait trois fois le tour du monde
Vive le sang, vive le sang. . . .
Moi monsieur je suis anarchiste. . . . And three times round went our gallant ship, and three times round went . . . goddam it between that and money . . . and she sank to the bottom of the sea . . . we're in a treadmill for fair.
J'ai fait trois fois le tour du monde
Dans mes voy . . . ages.
Declaration of war . . . rumble of drums . . . beefeaters march in red after the flashing baton of a drummajor in a hat like a longhaired muff, silver knob spins flashing grump, grump, grump . . . in the face of revolution mondiale. Commencement of hostilities in a long parade through the empty rainlashed streets. Extra, extra, extra. Santa Claus shoots daughter he has tried to attack. Slays Self With Shotgun . . . put the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger with his big toe. The stars look down on Fredericktown. Workers of the world, unite. Vive le sang, vive le sang.
"Golly I'm wet," Jimmy Herf said aloud. As far as he could see the street stretched empty in the rain between ranks of dead windows studded here and there with violet knobs of arclights. Desperately he walked on.