Manhattan Transfer/Chapter 14

Manhattan Transfer by John Roderigo Dos Passos
I. Rejoicing City That Dwelt Carelessly

Third Section

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I. Rejoicing City That Dwelt Carelessly

There are flags on all the flagpoles up Fifth Avenue. In the shrill wind of history the great flags flap and tug at their lashings on the creaking goldknobbed poles up Fifth Avenue. The stars jiggle sedately against the slate sky, the red and white stripes writhe against the clouds.

In the gale of brassbands and trampling horses and rumbling clatter of cannon, shadows like the shadows of claws grasp at the taut flags, the flags are hungry tongues licking twisting curling.

Oh it's a long way to Tipperary . . . Over there! Over there!

The harbor is packed with zebrastriped skunk-striped piebald steamboats, the Narrows are choked with bullion, they're piling gold sovereigns up to the ceilings in the Subtreasury. Dollars whine on the radio, all the cables tap out dollars.

There's a long long trail awinding . . . Over there! Over there!

In the subway their eyes pop as they spell out Apocalypse, typhus, cholera, shrapnel, insurrection, death in fire, death in water, death in hunger, death in mud.

Oh it's a long way to Madymosell from Armenteers, over there! The Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming. Down Fifth Avenue the bands blare for the Liberty Loan drive, for the Red Cross drive. Hospital ships sneak up the harbor and unload furtively at night in old docks in Jersey. Up Fifth Avenue the flags of the seventeen nations are flaring curling in the shrill hungry wind.

O the oak and the ash and the weeping willow tree
And green grows the grass in God's country.

The great flags flap and tug at their lashings on the creaking goldknobbed poles up Fifth Avenue.

CAPTAIN JAMES MERIVALE D.S.C. lay with his eyes closed while the barber's padded fingers gently stroked his chin. The lather tickled his nostrils; he could smell bay rum, hear the drone of an electric vibrator, the snipping of scissors.

"A little face massage sir, get rid of a few of those blackheads sir," burred the barber in his ear. The barber was bald and had a round blue chin.

"All right," drawled Merivale, "go as far as you like. This is the first decent shave I've had since war was declared."

"Just in from overseas, Captain?"

"Yare . . . been making the world safe for democracy."

The barber smothered his words under a hot towel. "A little lilac water Captain?"

"No dont put any of your damn lotions on me, just a little witchhazel or something antiseptic."

The blond manicure girl had faintly beaded lashes; she looked up at him bewitchingly, her rosebud lips parted. "I guess you've just landed Captain. . . . My you've got a good tan." He gave up his hand to her on the little white table. "It's a long time Captain since anybody took care of these hands."

"How can you tell?"

"Look how the cuticle's grown."

"We were too busy for anything like that. I'm a free man since eight o'clock that's all."

"Oh it must have been terr . . . ible."

"Oh it was a great little war while it lasted."

"I'll say it was . . . And now you're all through Captain?"

"Of course I keep my commission in the reserve corps."

She gave his hand a last playful tap and he got to his feet.

He put tips into the soft palm of the barber and the hard palm of the colored boy who handed him his hat, and walked slowly up the white marble steps. On the landing was a mirror. Captain James Merivale stopped to look at Captain James Merivale. He was a tall straightfeatured young man with a slight heaviness under the chin. He wore a neatfitting whipcord uniform picked out by the insignia of the Rainbow Division, well furnished with ribbons and service-stripes. The light of the mirror was reflected silvery on either calf of his puttees. He cleared his throat as he looked himself up and down. A young man in civilian clothes came up behind him.

"Hello James, all cleaned up?"

"You betcher. . . . Say isnt it a damn fool rule not letting us wear Sam Browne belts? Spoils the whole uniform. . . ."

"They can take all their Sam Browne's belts and hang them on the Commanding General's fanny for all I care. . . . I'm a civilian."

"You're still an officer in the reserve corps, dont forget that."

"They can take their reserve corps and shove it ten thousand miles up the creek. Let's go have a drink."

"I've got to go up and see the folks." They had come out on Fortysecond Street. "Well so long James, I'm going to get so drunk . . . Just imagine being free." "So long Jerry, dont do anything I wouldnt do."

Merivale walked west along Fortysecond. There were still flags out, drooping from windows, waggling lazily from poles in the September breeze. He looked in the shops as he walked along; flowers, women's stockings, candy, shirts and neckties, dresses, colored draperies through glinting plateglass, beyond a stream of faces, men's razorscraped faces, girls' faces with rouged lips and powdered noses. It made him feel flushed and excited. He fidgeted when he got in the subway. "Look at the stripes that one has. . . . He's a D.S.C.," he heard a girl say to another. He got out at Seventysecond and walked with his chest stuck out down the too familiar brownstone street towards the river.

"How do you do. Captain Merivale," said the elevator man.

"Well, are you out James?" cried his mother running into his arms.

He nodded and kissed her. She looked pale and wilted in her black dress. Maisie, also in black, came rustling tall and rosycheeked behind her. "It's wonderful to find you both looking so well."

"Of course we are . . . as well as could be expected. My dear we've had a terrible time. . . . You're the head of the family now, James."

"Poor daddy . . . to go off like that."

"That was something you missed. . . . Thousands of people died of it in New York alone."

He hugged Maisie with one arm and his mother with the other. Nobody spoke.

"Well," said Merivale walking into the living room, "it was a great war while it lasted." His mother and sister followed on his heels. He sat down in the leather chair and stretched out his polished legs. "You dont know how wonderful it is to get home."

Mrs. Merivale drew up her chair close to his. "Now dear you just tell us all about it."

In the dark of the stoop in front of the tenement door, he reaches for her and drags her to him. "Dont Bouy, dont; dont be rough." His arms tighten like knotted cords round her back; her knees are trembling. His mouth is groping for her mouth along one cheekbone, down the side of her nose. She cant breathe with his lips probing her lips. "Oh I cant stand it." He holds her away from him. She is staggering panting against the wall held up by his big hands.

"Nutten to worry about," he whispers gently.

"I've got to go, it's late. . . . I have to get up at six."

"Well what time do you think I get up?"

"It's mommer who might catch me. . . ."

"Tell her to go to hell."

"I will some day . . . worse'n that . . . if she dont quit pickin on me." She takes hold of his stubbly cheeks and kisses him quickly on the mouth and has broken away from him and run up the four flights of grimy stairs.

The door is still on the latch. She strips off her dancing pumps and walks carefully through the kitchenette on aching feet. From the next room comes the wheezy doublebarreled snoring of her uncle and aunt. Somebody loves me, I wonder who. . . . The tune is all through her body, in the throb of her feet, in the tingling place on her back where he held her tight dancing with her. Anna you've got to forget it or you wont sleep. Anna you got to forget. Dishes on the tables set for breakfast jingle tingle hideously when she bumps against it.

"That you Anna?" comes a sleepy querulous voice from her mother's bed.

"Went to get a drink o water mommer." The old woman lets the breath out in a groan through her teeth, the bedsprings creak as she turns over. Asleep all the time.

Somebody loves me, I wonder who. She slips off her party dress and gets into her nightgown. Then she tiptoes to the closet to hang up the dress and at last slides between the covers little by little so the slats wont creak. I wonder who. Shuffle shuffle, bright lights, pink blobbing faces, grabbing arms, tense thighs, bouncing feet. I wonder who. Shuffle, droning saxophone tease, shuffle in time to the drum, trombone, clarinet. Feet, thighs, cheek to cheek, Somebody loves me. . . . Shuffle shuffle. I wonder who.

The baby with tiny shut purplishpink face and fists lay asleep on the berth. Ellen was leaning over a black leather suitcase. Jimmy Herf in his shirtsleeves was looking out the porthole.

"Well there's the statue of Liberty. . . . Ellie we ought to be out on deck."

"It'll be ages before we dock. . . . Go ahead up. I'll come up with Martin in a minute."

"Oh come ahead; we'll put the baby's stuff in the bag while we're warping into the slip,"

They came out on deck into a dazzling September afternoon. The water was greenindigo. A steady wind kept sweeping coils of brown smoke and blobs of whitecotton steam off the high enormous blueindigo arch of sky. Against a sootsmudged horizon, tangled with barges, steamers, chimneys of powerplants, covered wharves, bridges, lower New York was a pink and white tapering pyramid cut slenderly out of cardboard.

"Ellie we ought to have Martin out so he can see."

"And start yelling like a tugboat. . . . He's better off where he is."

They ducked under some ropes, slipped past the rattling steamwinch and out to the bow.

"God Ellie it's the greatest sight in the world. . . . I never thought I'd ever come back, did you?"

"I had every intention of coming back."

"Not like this."

"No I dont suppose I did."

"S'il vous plait madame . . ."

A sailor was motioning them back. Ellen turned her face into the wind to get the coppery whisps of hair out of her eyes. "C'est beau, n'est-ce pas?" She smiled into the wind into the sailor's red face.

"J'aime mieux le Havre . . . S'il vous plait madame."

"Well I'll go down and pack Martin up."

The hard chug, chug of the tugboat coming alongside beat Jimmy's answer out of her ears. She slipped away from him and went down to the cabin again.

They were wedged in the jam of people at the end of the gangplank.

"Look we could wait for a porter," said Ellen.

"No dear I've got them." Jimmy was sweating and staggering with a suitcase in each hand and packages under his arms. In Ellen's arms the baby was cooing stretching tiny spread hands towards the faces all round.

"D'you know it?" said Jimmy as they crossed the gangplank, "I kinder wish we were just going on board. . . . I hate getting home."

"I dont hate it. . . . There's H . . . I'll follow right along. . . . I wanted to look for Frances and Bob. Hello. . . ." "Well I'll be . . ." "Helena you've gained, you're looking wonderfully. Where's Jimps?" Jimmy was rubbing his hands together, stiff and chafed from handles of the heavy suitcases.

"Hello Herf. Hello Frances. Isn't this swell?"

"Gosh I'm glad to see you. . . ."

"Jimps the thing for me to do is go right on to the Brevoort with the baby . . ."

"Isn't he sweet."

". . . Have you got five dollars?"

"I've only got a dollar in change. That hundred is in express checks."

"I've got plenty of money. Helena and I'll go to the hotel and you boys can come along with the baggage."

"Inspector is it all right if I go through with the baby? My husband will look after the trunks."

"Why surely madam, go right ahead."

"Isnt he nice? Oh Frances this is lots of fun."

"Go ahead Bob I can finish this up alone quicker. . . . You convoy the ladies to the Brevoort."

"Well we hate to leave you."

"Oh go ahead. . . . I'll be right along."

"Mr. James Herf and wife and infant . . . is that it?"

"Yes that's right."

"I'll be right with you, Mr. Herf. . . . Is all the baggage there?"

"Yes everything's there."

"Isnt he good?" clucked Frances as she and Hildebrand followed Ellen into the cab.

"Who?"

"The baby of course. . . ."

"Oh you ought to see him sometimes. . . . He seems to like traveling."

A plainclothesman opened the door of the cab and looked in as they went out the gate. "Want to smell our breaths?" asked Hildebrand. The man had a face like a block of wood. He closed the door. "Helena doesn't know prohibition yet, does she?"

"He gave me a scare . . . Look."

"Good gracious!" From under the blanket that was wrapped round the baby she produced a brownpaper package. . . . "Two quarts of our special cognac . . . gout famille 'Erf . . . and I've got another quart in a hotwaterbottle under my waistband. . . . That's why I look as if I was going to have another baby."

The Hildebrands began hooting with laughter.

"Jimp's got a hotwaterbottle round his middle too and chartreuse in a flask on his hip. . . . We'll probably have to go and bail him out of jail."

They were still laughing so that tears were streaming down their faces when they drew up at the hotel. In the elevator the baby began to wail.

As soon as she had closed the door of the big sunny room she fished the hotwaterbottle from under her dress. "Look Bob phone down for some cracked ice and seltzer. . . . We'll all have a cognac a l'eau de selz. . . ."

"Hadn't we better wait for Jimps?"

"Oh he'll be right here. . . . We haven't anything dutiable. . . . Much too broke to have anything. . . . Frances what do you do about milk in New York?"

"How should I know, Helena?" Frances Hildebrand flushed and walked to the window.

"Oh well we'll give him his food again. . . . He's done fairly well on it on the trip." Ellen had laid the baby on the bed. He lay kicking, looking about with dark round goldstone eyes.

"Isnt he fat?"

"He's so healthy I'm sure he must be halfwitted. . . . Oh Heavens and I've got to call up my father. . . . Isnt family life just too desperately complicated?"

Ellen was setting up her little alcohol stove on the washstand. The bellboy came with glasses and a bowl of clinking ice and White Rock on a tray.

"You fix us a drink out of the hotwaterbottle. We've got to use that up or it'll eat the rubber. . . . And we'll drink to the Cafe d'Harcourt."

"Of course what you kids dont realize," said Hildebrand, "is that the difficulty under prohibition is keeping sober."

Ellen laughed; she stood over the little lamp that gave out a quiet domestic smell of hot nickel and burned alcohol.

George Baldwin was walking up Madison Avenue with his light overcoat on his arm. His fagged spirits were reviving in the sparkling autumn twilight of the streets. From block to block through the taxiwhirring gasoline gloaming two lawyers in black frock coats and stiff wing collars argued in his head. If you go home it will be cozy in the library. The apartment will be gloomy and quiet and you can sit in your slippers under the bust of Scipio Africanus in the leather chair and read and have dinner sent in to you. . . . Nevada would be jolly and coarse and tell you funny stories. . . . She would have all the City Hall gossip . . . good to know. . . . But you're not going to see Nevada any more . . . too dangerous; she gets you all wrought up. . . . And Cecily sitting faded and elegant and slender biting her lips and hating me, hating life. . . . Good God how am I going to get my existence straightened out? He stopped in front of a flowerstore. A moist warm honied expensive smell came from the door, densely out into the keen steelblue street. If I could at least make my financial position impregnable. . . . In the window was a minature Japanese garden with brokenback bridges and ponds where the goldfish looked big as whales. Proportion, that's it. To lay out your life like a prudent gardener, plowing and sowing. No I wont go to see Nevada tonight. I might send her some flowers though. Yellow roses, those coppery roses . . . it's Elaine who ought to wear those. Imagine her married again and with a baby. He went into the store. "What's that rose?"

"It's Gold of Ophir sir."

"All right I want two dozen sent down to the Brevoort immediately. . . . Miss Elaine . . . No Mr. and Mrs. James Herf. . . . I'll write a card."

He sat down at the desk with a pen in his hand. Incense of roses, incense out of the dark fire of her hair. . . . No nonsense for Heaven's sake . . .

Dear Elaine,

I hope you will allow an old friend to call on you and your husband one of these days. And please remember that I am always sincerely anxious—you know me too well to take this for an empty offer of politeness—to serve you and him in any way that could possibly contribute to your happiness. Forgive me if I subscribe myself your lifelong slave and admirer

George Baldwin

The letter covered three of the florists' white cards. He read it over with pursed lips, carefully crossing the t's and dotting the i's. Then he paid the florist from the roll of bills he took from his back pocket and went out into the street again. It was already night, going on to seven o'clock. Still hesitating he stood at the corner watching the taxis pass, yellow, red, green, tangerinecolored.

The snubnosed transport sludges slowly through the Narrows in the rain. Sergeant-Major O'Keefe and Private 1st Class Dutch Robertson stand in the lee of the deckhouse looking at the liners at anchor in quarantine and the low wharfcluttered shores.

"Look some of em still got their warpaint—Shippin Board boats. . . . Not worth the powder to blow em up."

"The hell they aint," said Joey O'Keefe vaguely.

"Gosh little old New York's goin to look good to me. . . ."

"Me too Sarge, rain or shine I dont care."

They are passing close to a mass of steamers anchored in a block, some of them listing to one side or the other, lanky ships with short funnels, stumpy ships with tall funnels red with rust, some of them striped and splashed and dotted with puttycolor and blue and green of camouflage paint. A man in a motorboat waved his arms. The men in khaki slickers huddled on the gray dripping deck of the transport begin to sing

Oh the infantry, the infantry,
With the dirt behind their ears . . .

Through the brightbeaded mist behind the low buildings of Governors Island they can make out the tall pylons, the curving cables, the airy lace of Brooklyn Bridge. Robertson pulls a package out of his pocket and pitches it overboard.

"What was that?"

"Just my propho kit. . . . Wont need it no more."

"How's that?"

"Oh I'm goin to live clean an get a good job and maybe get married."

"I guess that's not such a bad idear. I'm tired o playin round myself. Jez somebody must a cleaned up good on them Shippin Board boats." "That's where the dollar a year men get theirs I guess."

"I'll tell the world they do."

Up forward they are singing

Oh she works in a jam factoree
And that may be all right . . .

"Jez we're goin up the East River Sarge. Where the devil do they think they're goin to land us?"

"God, I'd be willin to swim ashore myself. An just think of all the guys been here all this time cleanin up on us. . . . Ten dollars a day workin in a shipyard mind you . . ."

"Hell Sarge we got the experience."

"Experience . . ."

Apres la guerre finee
Back to the States for me. . . .

"I bet the skipper's been drinkin beaucoup highballs an thinks Brooklyn's Hoboken."

"Well there's Wall Street, bo."

They are passing under Brooklyn Bridge. There is a humming whine of electric trains over their heads, an occasional violet flash from the wet rails. Behind them beyond barges tugboats carferries the tall buildings, streaked white with whisps of steam and mist, tower gray into sagged clouds.

Nobody said anything while they ate the soup. Mrs. Merivale sat in black at the head of the oval table looking out through the half drawn portieres and the drawingroom window beyond at a column of white smoke that uncoiled in the sunlight above the trainyards, remembering her husband and how they had come years ago to look at the apartment in the unfinished house that smelled of plaster and paint. At last when she had finished her soup she roused herself and said: "Well Jimmy, are you going back to newspaper work?"

"I guess so."

"James has had three jobs offered him already. I think it's remarkable."

"I guess I'll go in with the Major though," said James Merivale to Ellen who sat next to him. "Major Goodyear you know. Cousin Helena. . . . One of the Buffalo Goodyears. He's head of the foreign exchange department of the Banker's Trust. . . . He says he can work me up quickly. We were friends overseas."

"That'll be wonderful," said Maisie in a cooing voice, "wont it Jimmy?" She sat opposite slender and rosy in her black dress.

"He's putting me up for Piping Rock," went on Merivale.

"What's that?"

"Why Jimmy you must know. . . . I'm sure Cousin Helena has been out there to tea many a time."

"You know Jimps," said Ellen with her eyes in her plate.

"That's where Stan Emery's father used to go every Sunday."

"Oh did you know that unfortunate young man? That was a horrible thing," said Mrs. Merivale. "So many horrible things have been happening these years. . . . I'd almost forgotten about it."

"Yes I knew him," said Ellen.

The leg of lamb came in accompanied by fried eggplant, late corn, and sweet potatoes. "Do you know I think it is just terrible," said Mrs. Merivale when she had done carving, "the way you fellows wont tell us any of your experiences over there. . . . Lots of them must have been remarkably interesting. Jimmy I should think you'd write a book about your experiences."

"I have tried a few articles."

"When are they coming out?"

"Nobody seems to want to print them. . . . You see I differ radically in certain matters of opinion . . ."

"Mrs. Merivale it's years since I've eaten such delicious sweet potatoes. . . . These taste like yams."

"They are good. . . . It's just the way I have them cooked."

"Well it was a great war while it lasted," said Merivale.

"Where were you Armistice night, Jimmy?"

"I was in Jerusalem with the Red Cross. Isn't that absurd?"

"I was in Paris."

"So was I," said Ellen.

"And so you were over there too Helena? I'm going to call you Helena eventually, so I might as well begin now. . . . Isn't that interesting? Did you and Jimmy meet over there?"

"Oh no we were old friends. . . . But we were thrown together a lot. . . . We were in the same department of the Red Cross—the Publicity Department."

"A real war romance," chanted Mrs. Merivale. "Isn't that interesting?"

"Now fellers it's this way," shouted Joe O'Keefe, the sweat breaking out on his red face. "Are we going to put over this bonus proposition or aint we? . . . We fought for em didnt we, we cleaned up the squareheads, didnt we? And now when we come home we get the dirty end of the stick. No jobs. . . . Our girls have gone and married other fellers. . . . Treat us like a bunch o dirty bums and loafers when we ask for our just and legal and lawful compensation. . . . the bonus. Are we goin to stand for it? . . . No. Are we goin to stand for a bunch of politicians treatin us like we was goin round to the back door to ask for a handout? . . . I ask you fellers. . . ."

Feet stamped on the floor. "No." "To hell wid em," shouted voices. . . . "Now I say to hell wid de politicians. . . . We'll carry our campaign to the country . . . to the great big generous bighearted American people we fought and bled and laid down our lives for."

The long armory room roared with applause. The wounded men in the front row banged the floor with their crutches. "Joey's a good guy," said a man without arms to a man with one eye and an artificial leg who sat beside him. "He is that Buddy." While they were filing out offering each other cigarettes, a man stood in the door calling out, "Committee meeting. Committee on Bonus."

The four of them sat round a table in the room the Colonel had lent them. "Well fellers let's have a cigar." Joe hopped over to the Colonel's desk and brought out four Romeo and Juliets. "He'll never miss em."

"Some little grafter I'll say," said Sid Garnett stretching out his long legs.

"Havent got a case of Scotch in there, have you Joey?" said Bill Dougan.

"Naw I'm not drinkin myself jus for the moment."

"I know where you kin get guaranteed Haig and Haig," put in Segal cockily—"before the war stuff for six dollars a quart."

"An where are we goin to get the six dollars for crissake?"

"Now look here fellers," said Joe, sitting on the edge of the table, "let's get down to brass tacks. . . . What we've got to do is raise a fund from the gang and anywhere else we can. . . . Are we agreed about that?"

"Sure we are, you tell em," said Dougan.

"I know lot of old fellers even, thinks the boys are gettin a raw deal. . . . We'll call it the Brooklyn Bonus Agitation Committee associated with the Sheamus O'Rielly Post of the A. L. . . . No use doin anythin unless you do it up right. . . . Now are yous guys wid me or aint yer?"

"Sure we are Joey. . . . You tell em an we'll mark time."

"Well Dougan's got to be president cause he's the best lookin."

Dougan went crimson and began to stammer.

"Oh you seabeach Apollo," jeered Gamett.

"And I think I can do best as treasurer because I've had more experience."

"Cause you're the crookedest you mean," said Segal under his breath.

Joe stuck out his jaw. "Look here Segal are you wid us or aint yer? You'd better come right out wid it now if you're not."

"Sure, cut de comedy," said Dougan. "Joey's de guy to put dis ting trough an you know it. . . . Cut de comedy. . . . If you dont like it you kin git out."

Segal rubbed his thin hooked nose. "I was juss jokin gents, I didn't mean no harm."

"Look here," went on Joe angrily, "what do you think I'm givin up my time for? . . . Why I turned down fifty dollars a week only yesterday, aint that so, Sid? You seen me talkin to de guy."

"Sure I did Joey."

"Oh pipe down fellers," said Segal. "I was just stringin Joey along."

"Well I think Segal you ought to be secretary, cause you know about office work. . . ."

"Office work?"

"Sure," said Joe puffing his chest out. "We're goin to have desk space in the office of a guy I know. . . . It's all fixed. He's goin to let us have it free till we get a start. An we're goin to have office stationery. Cant get nowhere in this world without presentin things right."

"An where do I come in?" asked Sid Garnett.

"You're the committee, you big stiff."

After the meeting Joe O'Keefe walked whistling down Atlantic Avenue. It was a crisp night; he was walking on springs. There was a light in Dr. Gordon's office. He rang. A white faced man in a white jacket opened the door.

"Hello Doc."

"Is that you O'Keefe? Come on in my boy." Something in the doctor's voice clutched like a cold hand at his spine.

"Well did your test come out all right doc?"

"All right . . . positive all right."

"Christ."

"Dont worry too much about it, my boy, we'll fix you up in a few months."

"Months."

"Why at a conservative estimate fiftyfive percent of the people you meet on the street have a syphilitic taint."

"It's not as if I'd been a damn fool. I was careful over there."

"Inevitable in wartime. . . ."

"Now I wish I'd let loose. . . . Oh the chances I passed up.

The doctor laughed. "You probably wont even have any symptoms. . . . It's just a question of injections. I'll have you sound as a dollar in no time. . . . Do you want to take a shot now? I've got it all ready."

O'Keefe's hands went cold. "Well I guess so," he forced a laugh. "I guess I'll be a goddam thermometer by the time you're through with me." The doctor laughed creakily. "Full up of arsenic and mercury eh. . . . That's it."

The wind was blowing up colder. His teeth were chattering. Through the rasping castiron night he walked home. Fool to pass out that way when he stuck me. He could still feel the sickening lunge of the needle. He gritted his teeth. After this I got to have some luck. . . . I got to have some luck.

Two stout men and a lean man sit at a table by a window. The light of a zinc sky catches brightedged glints off glasses, silverware, oystershells, eyes, George Baldwin has his back to the window. Gus McNiel sits on his right, and Densch on his left. When the waiter leans over to take away the empty oystershells he can see through the window, beyond the graystone parapet, the tops of a few buildings jutting like the last trees at the edge of a cliff and the tinfoil reaches of the harbor littered with ships. "I'm lecturin you this time, George. . . . Lord knows you used to lecture me enough in the old days. Honest it's rank foolishness," Gus McNiel is saying. ". . . It's rank foolishness to pass up the chance of a political career at your time of life. . . . There's no man in New York better fitted to hold office . . ."

"Looks to me as if it were your duty, Baldwin," says Densch in a deep voice, taking his tortoiseshell glasses out of a case and applying them hurriedly to his nose.

The waiter has brought a large planked steak surrounded by bulwarks of mushrooms and chopped carrots and peas and frilled browned mashed potatoes. Densch straightens his glasses and stares attentively at the planked steak.

"A very handsome dish Ben, a very handsome dish I must say. . . . It's just this Baldwin . . . as I look at it . . . the country is going through a dangerous period of reconstruction . . . the confusion attendant on the winding up of a great conflict . . . the bankruptcy of a continent . . . bolshevism and subversive doctrines rife . . . America . . ." he says, cutting with the sharp polished steel knife into the thick steak, rare and well peppered. He chews a mouthful slowly. "America," he begins again, "is in the position of taking over the receivership of the world. The great principles of democracy, of that commercial freedom upon which our whole civilization depends are more than ever at stake. Now as at no other time we need men of established ability and unblemished integrity in public office, particularly in the offices requiring expert judicial and legal knowledge."

"That's what I was tryin to tell ye the other day George."

"But that's all very well Gus, but how do you know I'd be elected. . . . After all it would mean giving up my law practice for a number of years, it would mean . . ."

"You just leave that to me. . . . George you're elected already."

"An extraordinarily good steak," says Densch, "I must say. . . . No but newspaper talk aside . . . I happen to know from a secret and reliable source that there is a subversive plot among undesirable elements in this country. . . . Good God think of the Wall Street bomb outrage. . . . I must say that the attitude of the press has been gratifying in one respect . . . in fact we're approaching a national unity undreamed of before the war."

"No but George," breaks in Gus, "put it this way. . . . The publicity value of a political career'd kinder bolster up your law practice."

"It would and it wouldn't Gus."

Densch is unrolling the tinfoil off a cigar. "At any rate it's a grand sight." He takes off his glasses and cranes his thick neck to look out into the bright expanse of harbor that stretches full of masts, smoke, blobs of steam, dark oblongs of barges, to the hazeblurred hills of Staten Island.

Bright flakes of cloud were scaling off a sky of crushing indigo over the Battery where groups of dingy darkdressed people stood round the Ellis Island landing station and the small boat dock waiting silently for something. Frayed smoke of tugs and steamers hung low and trailed along the opaque glassgreen water. A threemasted schooner was being towed down the North River. A newhoisted jib flopped awkwardly in the wind. Down the harbor loomed taller, taller a steamer head on, four red stacks packed into one, creamy superstructure gleaming. "Mauretania just acomin in twentyfour hours lyte," yelled the man with the telescope and fieldglasses. . . . "Tyke a look at the Mauretania, farstest ocean greyhound, twentyfour hours lyte." The Mauretania stalked like a skyscraper through the harbor shipping. A rift of sunlight sharpened the shadow under the broad bridge, along the white stripes of upper decks, glinted in the rows of portholes. The smokestacks stood apart, the hull lengthened. The black relentless hull of the Mauretania pushing puffing tugs ahead of it cut like a long knife into the North River.

A ferry was leaving the immigrant station, a murmur rustled through the crowd that packed the edges of the wharf. "Deportees. . . . It's the communists the Department of Justice is having deported . . . deportees . . . Reds. . . . It's the Reds they are deporting." The ferry was out of the slip. In the stern a group of men stood still tiny like tin soldiers. "They are sending the Reds back to Russia." A handkerchief waved on the ferry, a red handkerchief. People tiptoed gently to the edge of the walk, tiptoeing, quiet like in a sickroom.

Behind the backs of the men and women crowding to the edge of the water, gorillafaced chipontheshoulder policemen walked back and forth nervously swinging their billies.

"They are sending the Reds back to Russia. . . . Deportees. . . . Agitators. . . . Undesirables." . . . Gulls wheeled crying. A catsupbottle bobbed gravely in the little ground-glass waves. A sound of singing came from the ferryboat getting small, slipping away across the water.

C'est la lutte finale, groupons-nous et demain
L'Internationale sera le genre humain.

"Take a look at the deportees. . . . Take a look at the undesirable aliens," shouted the man with the telescopes and fieldglasses. A girl's voice burst out suddenly, "Arise prisoners of starvation," "Sh. . . . They could pull you for that."

The singing trailed away across the water. At the end of a marbled wake the ferryboat was shrinking into haze. International . . . shall be the human race. The singing died. From up the river came the longdrawn rattling throb of a steamer leaving dock. Gulls wheeled above the dark dingydressed crowd that stood silently looking down the bay.