The young man without legs has stopped still in the middle of the south sidewalk of Fourteenth Street. He wears a blue knitted sweater and a blue stocking cap. His eyes staring up widen until they fill the paperwhite face. Drifts across the sky a dirigible, bright tinfoil cigar misted with height, gently prodding the rainwashed sky and the soft clouds. The young man without legs stops still propped on his arms in the middle of the south sidewalk of Fourteenth Street. Among striding legs, lean legs, waddling legs, legs in skirts and pants and knickerbockers, he stops perfectly still, propped on his arms, looking up at the dirigible.
JOBLESS, Jimmy Herf came out of the Pulizter Building. He stood beside a pile of pink newspapers on the curb, taking deep breaths, looking up the glistening shaft of the Woolworth. It was a sunny day, the sky was a robin's egg blue. He turned north and began to walk uptown. As he got away from it the Woolworth pulled out like a telescope. He walked north through the city of shiny windows, through the city of scrambled alphabets, through the city of gilt letter signs.
Spring rich in gluten. . . . Chockful of golden richness, delight in every bite, the daddy of them all, spring rich in gluten. Nobody can buy better bread than prince albert. Wrought steel, monel, copper, nickel, wrought iron. All the world loves natural beauty. Love's bargain that suit at Gumpel's best value in town. Keep that schoolgirl complexion. . . . Joe kiss, starting, lightning, ignition and generators.
Everything made him bubble with repressed giggles. It was eleven o'clock. He hadnt been to bed. Life was upside down, he was a fly walking on the ceiling of a topsy-turvy city. He'd thrown up his job, he had nothing to do today, tomorrow, next day, day after. Whatever goes up comes down, but not for weeks, months. Spring rich in gluten.
He went into a lunchroom, ordered bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, sat eating them happily, tasting thoroughly every mouthful. His thoughts ran wild like a pasture full of yearling colts crazy with sundown. At the next table a voice was expounding monotonously:
"Jilted . . . and I tell you we had to do some cleaning. They were all members of your church you know. We knew the whole story. He was advised to put her away. He said, *No I'm going to see it through'."
Herf got to his feet. He must be walking again. He went out with a taste of bacon in his teeth.
Express service meets the demands of spring. O God to meet the demands of spring. No tins, no sir, but there's rich quality in every mellow pipeful. . . . Socony. One taste tells more than a million words. The yellow pencil with the red band. Than a million words, than a million words. "All right hand over that million. . . . Keep him covered Ben." The Yonkers gang left him for dead on a bench in the park. They stuck him up, but all they got was a million words. . . . "But Jimps I'm so tired of book-talk and the proletariat, cant you understand?"
Chockful of golden richness, spring.
Dick Snow's mother owned a shoebox factory. She failed and he came out of school and took to standing on streetcorners. The guy in the softdrink stand put him wise. He'd made two payments on pearl earings for a blackhaired Jewish girl with a shape like a mandolin. They waited for the bankmessenger in the L station. He pitched over the turnstile and hung there. They went off with the satchel in a Ford sedan. Dick Snow stayed behind emptying his gun into the dead man. In the deathhouse he met the demands of spring by writing a poem to his mother that they published in the Evening Graphic.
With every deep breath Herf breathed in rumble and grind and painted phrases until he began to swell, felt himself stumbling big and vague, staggering like a pillar of smoke above the April streets, looking into the windows of machineshops, buttonfactories, tenementhouses, felt of the grime of bedlinen and the smooth whir of lathes, wrote cusswords on typewriters between the stenographer's fingers, mixed up the pricetags in departmentstores. Inside he fizzled like sodawater into sweet April syrups, strawberry, sarsaparilla, chocolate, cherry, vanilla dripping foam through the mild gasolineblue air. He dropped sickeningly fortyfour stories, crashed. And suppose I bought a gun and killed Ellie, would I meet the demands of April sitting in the deathhouse writing a poem about my mother to be published in the Evening Graphic?
He shrank until he was of the smallness of dust, picking his way over crags and bowlders in the roaring gutter, climbing straws, skirting motoroil lakes.
He sat in Washington Square, pink with noon, looking up Fifth Avenue through the arch. The fever had seeped out of him. He felt cool and tired. Another spring, God how many springs ago, walking from the cemetery up the blue macadam road where fieldsparrows sang and the sign said: Yonkers. In Yonkers I buried my boyhood, in Marseilles with the wind in my face I dumped my calf years into the harbor. Where in New York shall I bury my twenties? Maybe they were deported and went out to sea on the Ellis Island ferry singing the International. The growl of the International over the water, fading sighing into the mist.
James Herf young newspaper man of 190 West 12th Street recently lost his twenties. Appearing before Judge Merivale they were remanded to Ellis Island for deportation as undesirable aliens. The younger four Sasha Michael Nicholas and Vladimir had been held for some time on a charge of criminal anarchy. The fifth and sixth were held on a technical charge of vagrancy. The later ones Bill Tony and Joe were held under various indictments including wife-beating, arson, assault, and prostitution. All were convicted on counts of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance.
Oyez oyez oyez prisoner at the bar. . . . I find the evidence dubious said the judge pouring himself out a snifter. The clerk of the court who was stirring an oldfashioned cocktail became overgrown with vineleaves and the courtroom reeked with the smell of flowering grapes and the Shining Bootlegger took the bulls by the horns and led them lowing gently down the courthouse steps. "Court is adjourned by hicky," shouted the judge when he found gin in his waterbottle. The reporters discovered the mayor dressed in a leopard skin posing as Civic Virtue with his foot on the back of Princess Fifi the oriental dancer. Your correspondent was leaning out of the window of the Banker's Club in the company of his uncle, Jefferson T. Merivale, wellknown clubman of this city and two lamb chops well peppered. Meanwhile the waiters were hastily organizing an orchestra, using the potbellies of the Gausenheimers for snaredrums. The head waiter gave a truly delightful rendition of My Old Kentucky Home, utilizing for the first time the resonant bald heads of the seven directors of the Well Watered Gasoline Company of Delaware as a xylophone. And all the while the Shining Bootlegger in purple running drawers and a blue-ribbon silk hat was leading the bulls up Broadway to the number of two million, threehundred and fortytwo thousand, five hundred and one. As they reached the Spuyten Duyvil, they were incontinently drowned, rank after rank, in an attempt to swim to Yonkers.
And as I sit here, thought Jimmy Herf, print itches like a rash inside me. I sit here pockmarked with print. He got to his feet. A little yellow dog was curled up asleep under the bench. The little yellow dog looked very happy. "What I need's a good sleep," Jimmy said aloud.
"What are you goin to do with it, Dutch, are you goin to hock it?"
"Francie I wouldnt take a million dollars for that little gun."
"For Gawd's sake dont start talkin about money, now. . . . Next thing some cop'll see it on your hip and arrest you for the Sullivan law."
"The cop who's goin to arrest me's not born yet. . . . Just you forget that stuff."
Francie began to whimper. "But Dutch what are we goin to do, what are we goin to do?"
Dutch suddenly rammed the pistol into his pocket and jumped to his feet. He walked jerkily back and forth on the asphalt path. It was a foggy evening, raw; automobiles moving along the slushy road made an endless interweaving flicker of cobwebby light among the skeleton shrubberies.
"Jez you make me nervous with your whimperin an cryin. . . . Cant you shut up?" He sat down beside her sullenly again. "I thought I heard somebody movin in the bushes. . . . This goddam park's full of plainclothes men. . . . There's nowhere you can go in the whole crummy city without people watchin you."
"I wouldnt mind it if I didnt feel so rotten, I cant eat any thin without throwin up an I'm so scared all the time the other girls'll notice something."
"But I've told you I had a way o fixin everythin, aint I? I promise you I'll fix everythin fine in a couple of days. . . . We'll go away an git married. We'll go down South. . . . I bet there's lots of jobs in other places. . . . I'm gettin cold, let's get the hell outa here."
"Oh Dutch," said Francie in a tired voice as they walked down the muddyglistening asphalt path, "do you think we're ever goin to have a good time again like we used to?"
"We're S.O.L. now but that dont mean we're always goin to be. I lived through those gas attacks in the Oregon forest didnt I? I been dopin out a lot of things these last few days."
"Dutch if you go and get arrested there'll be nothin left for me to do but jump in the river."
"Didnt I tell you I wasnt goin to get arrested?"
Mrs. Cohen, a bent old woman with a face brown and blotched like a russet apple, stands beside the kitchen table with her gnarled hands folded over her belly. She sways from the hips as she scolds in an endless querulous stream of Yiddish at Anna sitting blearyeyed with sleep over a cup of coffee: "If you had been blasted in the cradle it would have been better, if you had been born dead. . . . Oy what for have I raised four children that they should all of them be no good, agitators and streetwalkers and bums . . .? Benny in jail twice, and Sol God knows where making trouble, and Sarah accursed given up to sin kicking up her legs at Minski's, and now you, may you wither in your chair, picketing for the garment workers, walking along the street shameless with a sign on your back."
Anna dipped a piece of bread in the coffee and put it in her mouth. "Aw mommer you dont understand," she said with her mouth full.
"Understand, understand harlotry and sinfulness . . .? Oy why dont you attend to your work and keep your mouth shut, and draw your pay quietly? You used to make good money and could have got married decent before you took to running wild in dance halls with a goy. Oy oy that I've raised daughters in my old age no decent man'd want to take to his house and marry. . . ."
Anna got to her feet shrieking "It's no business of yours. . . . I've always paid my part of the rent regular. You think a girl's worth nothin but for a slave and to grind her fingers off workin all her life. . . . I think different, do you hear? Dont you dare scold at me. . . ."
"Oy you will talk back to your old mother. If Solomon was alive he'd take a stick to you. Better to have been born dead than talk back to your mother like a goy. Get out of the house and quick before I blast you."
"All right I will." Anna ran through the narrow trunk-obstructed hallway to the bedroom and threw herself on her bed. Her cheeks were burning. She lay quiet trying to think. From the kitchen came the old woman's fierce monotonous sobbing.
Anna raised herself to a sitting posture on the bed. She caught sight in the mirror opposite of a strained teardabbled face and rumpled stringy hair. "My Gawd I'm a sight," she sighed. As she got to her feet her heel caught on the braid of her dress. The dress tore sharply. Anna sat on the edge of the bed and cried and cried. Then she sewed the rent in the dress up carefully with tiny meticulous stitches. Sewing made her feel calmer. She put on her hat, powdered her nose copiously, put a little rouge on her lips, got into her coat and went out. April was coaxing unexpected colors out of the East Side streets. Sweet voluptuous freshness came from a pushcart full of pineapples. At the corner she found Rose Segal and Lillian Diamond drinking coca-cola at the softdrink stand.
"Anna have a coke with us," they chimed.
"I will if you'll blow me. . . . I'm broke,"
"Vy, didnt you get your strike pay?"
"I gave it all to the old woman. . . . Dont do no good though. She goes on scoldin all day long. She's too old."
"Did you hear how gunmen broke in and busted up Ike Goldstein's shop? Busted up everythin wid hammers an left him unconscious on top of a lot of dressgoods."
"Oh that's terrible."
"Soive him right I say."
"But they oughtnt to destroy property like that. We make our livin by it as much as he does."
"A pretty fine livin. . . . I'm near dead wid it," said Anna banging her empty glass down on the counter.
"Easy easy," said the man in the stand. "Look out for the crockery."
"But the worst thing was," went on Rose Segal, "that while they was fightin up in Goldstein's a rivet flew out the winder an fell nine stories an killed a fireman passin on a truck so's he dropped dead in the street."
"What for did they do that?"
"Some guy must have slung it at some other guy and it pitched out of the winder,"
"And killed a fireman."
Anna saw Elmer coming towards them down the avenue, his thin face stuck forward, his hands hidden in the pockets of his frayed overcoat. She left the two girls and walked towards him, "Was you goin down to the house? Dont lets go, cause the old woman's scoldin somethin terrible. . . . I wish I could get her into the Daughters of Israel. I cant stand her no more."
"Then let's walk over and sit in the square," said Elmer.
"Dont you feel the spring?"
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Dont I? Oh Elmer I wish this strike was over. . . . It gets me crazy doin nothin all day."
"But Anna the strike is the worker's great opportunity, the worker's university. It gives you a chance to study and read and go to the Public Library."
"But you always think it'll be over in a day or two, an what's the use anyway?"
"The more educated a feller is the more use he is to his class."
They sat down on a bench with their backs to the playground. The sky overhead was glittering with motherofpearl flakes of sunset. Dirty children yelled and racketed about the asphalt paths.
"Oh," said Anna looking up at the sky, "I'd like to have a Paris evening dress an you have a dress suit and go out to dinner at a swell restaurant an go to the theater an everything."
"If we lived in a decent society we might be able to. . . . There'd be gayety for the workers then, after the revolution."
"But Elmer what's the use if we're old and scoldin like the old woman?"
"Our children will have those things,"
Anna sat bolt upright on the seat. "I aint never goin to have any children," she said between her teeth, "never, never, never."
Alice touched his arm as they turned to look in the window of an Italian pastryshop. On each cake ornamented with bright analin flowers and flutings stood a sugar lamb for Easter and the resurrection banner. "Jimmy," she said turning up to him her little oval face with her lips too red like the roses on the cakes, "you've got to do something about Roy. . . . He's got to get to work. I'll go crazy if I have him sitting round the house any more reading the papers wearing that dreadful adenoid expression. . . . You know what I mean. . . . He respects you."
"But he's trying to get a job."
"He doesnt really try, you know it."
"He thinks he does. I guess he's got a funny idea about himself. . . . But I'm a fine person to talk about jobs . . ."
"Oh I know, I think it's wonderful. Everybody says you've given up newspaper work and are going to write."
Jimmy found himself looking down into her widening brown eyes, that had a glimmer at the bottom like the glimmer of water in a well. He turned his head away; there was a catch in his throat; he coughed. They walked on along the lilting brightcolored street.
At the door of the restaurant they found Roy and Martin Schiff waiting for them. They went through an outer room into a long hall crowded with tables packed between two greenish bluish paintings of the Bay of Naples. The air was heavy with a smell of parmesan cheese and cigarettesmoke and tomato sauce. Alice made a little face as she settled herself in a chair.
"Ou I want a cocktail right away quick."
"I must be kinder simpleminded," said Herf, "but these boats coquetting in front of Vesuvius always make me feel like getting a move on somewhere. . . . I think I'll be getting along out of here in a couple of weeks."
"But Jimmy where are you going?" asked Roy. "Isnt this something new?"
"Hasnt Helena got something to say about that?" put in Alice.
Herf turned red. "Why should she?" he said sharply.
"I just found there was nothing in it for me," he found himself saying a little later.
"Oh we none of us know what we want," burst out Martin. "That's why we're such a peewee generation."
"I'm beginning to learn a few of the things I dont want," said Herf quietly. "At least I'm beginning to have the nerve to admit to myself how much I dislike all the things I dont want."
"But it's wonderful," cried Alice, "throwing away a career for an ideal."
"Excuse me," said Herf pushing back his chair. In the toilet he looked himself in the eye in the wavy lookingglass.
"Dont talk," he whispered. "What you talk about you never do. . . ." His face had a drunken look. He filled the hollow of his two hands with water and washed it. At the table they cheered when he sat down.
"Yea for the wanderer," said Roy.
Alice was eating cheese on long slices of pear. "I think it's thrilling," she said.
"Roy is bored," shouted Martin Schiff after a silence. His face with its big eyes and bone glasses swam through the smoke of the restaurant like a fish in a murky aquarium.
"I was just thinking of all the places I had to go to look for a job tomorrow."
"You want a job?" Martin went on melodramatically. "You want to sell your soul to the highest bidder?"
"Jez if that's all you had to sell. . . ." moaned Roy.
"It's my morning sleep that worries me. . . . Still it is lousy putting over your personality and all that stuff. It's not your ability to do the work it's your personality."
"Prostitutes are the only honest . . ."
"But good Lord a prostitute sells her personality."
"She only rents it."
"But Roy is bored. . . . You are all bored. . . . I'm boring you all."
"We're having the time of our lives," insisted Alice. "Now Martin we wouldn't be sitting here if we were bored, would we? . . . I wish Jimmy would tell us where he expected to go on his mysterious travels."
"No, you are saying to yourselves what a bore he is, what use is he to society? He has no money, he has no pretty wife, no good conversation, no tips on the stockmarket. He's a useless fardel on society. . . . The artist is a fardel."
"That's not so Martin. . . . You're talking through your hat."
Martin waved an arm across the table. Two wineglasses upset. A scaredlooking waiter laid a napkin over the red streams. Without noticing, Martin went on, "It's all pretense. . . . When you talk you talk with the little lying tips of your tongues. You dont dare lay bare your real souls. . . . But now you must listen to me for the last time. . . . For the last time I say. . . . Come here waiter you too, lean over and look into the black pit of the soul of man. And Herf is bored. You are all bored, bored flies buzzing on the windowpane. You think the windowpane is the room. You dont know what there is deep black inside. . . . I am very drunk. Waiter another bottle."
"Say hold your horses Martin. . . . I dont know if we can pay the bill as it is. . . . We dont need any more."
"Waiter another bottle of wine and four grappas."
"Well it looks as if we were in for a rough night," groaned Roy.
"If there is need my body can pay. . . . Alice take off your mask. . . . You are a beautiful little child behind your mask. . . . Come with me to the edge of the pit. . . . O I am too drunk to tell you what I feel." He brushed off his tortoiseshell glasses and crumpled them in his hand, the lenses shot glittering across the floor. The gaping waiter ducked among the tables after them.
For a moment Martin sat blinking. The rest of them looked at each other. Then he shot to his feet. "I see your little smirking supercil-superciliosity. No wonder we can no longer have decent dinners, decent conversations. . . . I must prove my atavistic sincerity, prove. . . ." He started pulling at his necktie.
"Say Martin old man, pipe down," Roy was reiterating.
"Nobody shall stop me. . . . I must run into the sincerity of black. . . . I must run to the end of the black wharf on the East River and throw myself off."
Herf ran after him through the restaurant to the street. At the door he threw off his coat, at the corner his vest.
"Gosh he runs like a deer," panted Roy staggering against Herf's shoulder. Herf picked up the coat and vest, folded them under his arm and went back to the restaurant. They were pale when they sat down on either side of Alice.
"Will he really do it? Will he really do it?" she kept asking.
"No of course not," said Roy. "He'll go home; he was making fools of us because we played up to him."
"Suppose he really did it?"
"I'd hate to see him. . . . I like him very much. We named our kid after him," said Jimmy gloomily. "But if he really feels so terribly unhappy what right have we to stop him?"
"Oh Jimmy," sighed Alice, "do order some coffee."
Outside a fire engine moaned throbbed roared down the street. Their hands were cold. They sipped the coffee without speaking.
Francie came out of the side door of the Five and Ten into the six o'clock goinghome end of the day crowd. Dutch Robertson was waiting for her. He was smiling; there was color in his face.
"Why Dutch what's . . ." The words stuck in her throat.
"Dont you like it . . .?" They walked on down Fourteenth, a blur of faces streamed by on either side of them. "Everything's jake Francie," he was saying quietly. He wore a light gray spring overcoat and a light felt hat to match. New red pointed Oxfords glowed on his feet. "How do you like the outfit? I said to myself it wasnt no use tryin to do anythin without a tony outside."
"But Dutch how did you get it?"
"Stuck up a guy in a cigar store. Jez it was a cinch."
"Ssh dont talk so loud; somebody might hear ye."
"They wouldnt know what I was talkin about."
Mr. Densch sat in the corner of Mrs. Densch's Louis XIV boudoir. He sat all hunched up on a little gilt pinkbacked chair with his potbelly resting on his knees. In his green sagging face the pudgy nose and the folds that led from the flanges of the nostrils to the corners of the wide mouth made two triangles. He had a pile of telegrams in his hand, on top a decoded message on a blue slip that read: Deficit Hamburg branch approximately $500,000; signed Heintz. Everywhere he looked about the little room crowded with fluffy glittery objects he saw the purple letters of approximately jiggling in the air. Then he noticed that the maid, a pale mulatto in a ruflfled cap, had come into the room and was staring at him. His eye lit on a large flat cardboard box she held in her hand.
"Somethin for the misses sir."
"Bring it here. . . . Hickson's . . . and what does she want to be buying more dresses for will you tell me that. . . . Hickson's. . . . Open it up. If it looks expensive I'll send it back."
The maid gingerly pulled off a layer of tissuepaper, uncovering a peach and peagreen evening dress.
Mr. Densch got to his feet spluttering, "She must think the war's still on. . . . Tell em we will not receive it. Tell em there's no such party livin here."
The maid picked up the box with a toss of the head and went out with her nose in the air. Mr. Densch sat down in the little chair and began looking over the telegrams again.
"Ann-ee, Ann-ee," came a shrill voice from the inner room; this was followed by a head in a lace cap shaped like a libertycap and a big body in a shapeless ruffled negligee. "Why J. D. what are you doing here at this time of the morning? I'm waiting for my hairdresser."
"It's very important. . . . I just had a cable from Heintz. Serena my dear, Blackhead and Densch is in a very bad way on both sides of the water."
"Yes ma'am," came the maid's voice from behind him. He gave his shoulders a shrug and walked to the window. He felt tired and sick and heavy with flesh. An errand boy on a bicycle passed along the street; he was laughing and his cheeks were pink. Densch saw himself, felt himself for a second hot and slender running bareheaded down Pine Street years ago catching the girls' ankles in the corner of his eye. He turned back into the room. The maid had gone.
"Serena," he began, "cant you understand the seriousness . . .? It's this slump. And on top of it all the bean market has gone to hell. It's ruin I tell you. . . ."
"Well my dear I dont see what you expect me to do about it."
"Economize . . . economize. Look where the price of rubber's gone to. . . . That dress from Hickson's. . . ."
"Well you wouldnt have me going to the Blackhead's party looking like a country schoolteacher, would you?"
Mr. Densch groaned and shook his head. "O you wont understand; probably there wont be any party. . . . Look Serena there's no nonsense about this. . . . I want you to have a trunk packed so that we can sail any day. . . . I need a rest. I'm thinking of going to Marienbad for the cure. . . . It'll do you good too."
Her eye suddenly caught his. All the little wrinkles on her face deepened; the skin under her eyes was like the skin of a shrunken toy balloon. He went over to her and put his hand on her shoulder and was puckering his lips to kiss her when suddenly she flared up.
"I wont have you meddling between me and my dressmakers. . . . I wont have it . . . I wont have it. . . ."
"Oh have it your own way." He left the room with his head hunched between his thick sloping shoulders.
"Yes ma'am." The maid came back into the room.
Mrs. Densch had sunk down in the middle of a little spindlelegged sofa. Her face was green. "Annie please get me that bottle of sweet spirits of ammonia and a little water. . . . And Annie you can call up Hickson's and tell them that that dress was sent back through a mistake of . . . of the butler's and please to send it right back as I've got to wear it tonight."
Pursuit of happiness, unalienable pursuit . . . right to life liberty and. . . . A black moonless night; Jimmy Herf is walking alone up South Street. Behind the wharfhouses ships raise shadowy skeletons against the night. "By Jesus I admit that I'm stumped," he says aloud. All these April nights combing the streets alone a skyscraper has obsessed him, a grooved building jutting up with uncountable bright windows falling onto him out of a scudding sky. Typewriters rain continual nickelplated confetti in his ears. Faces of Follies girls, glorified by Ziegfeld, smile and beckon to him from the windows. Ellie in a gold dress, Ellie made of thin gold foil absolutely lifelike beckoning from every window. And he walks round blocks and blocks looking for the door of the humming tinsel windowed skyscraper, round blocks and blocks and still no door. Every time he closes his eyes the dream has hold of him, every time he stops arguing audibly with himself in pompous reasonable phrases the dream has hold of him. Young man to save your sanity you've got to do one of two things. . . . Please mister where's the door to this building? Round the block? Just round the block . . . one of two unalienable alternatives: go away in a dirty soft shirt or stay in a clean Arrow collar. But what's the use of spending your whole life fleeing the City of Destruction? What about your unalienable right, Thirteen Provinces? His mind unreeling phrases, he walks on doggedly. There's nowhere in particular he wants to go. If only I still had faith in words.
"How do you do Mr. Goldstein?" the reporter breezily chanted as he squeezed the thick flipper held out to him over the counter of the cigar store. "My name's Brewster. . . . I'm writing up the crime wave for the News."
Mr. Goldstein was a larvashaped man with a hooked nose a little crooked in a gray face, behind which pink attentive ears stood out unexpectedly. He looked at the reporter out of suspicious screwedup eyes.
"If you'd be so good I'd like to have your story of last night's little . . . misadventure . . ."
"Vont get no story from me young man. Vat vill you do but print it so that other boys and goils vill get the same idear."
"It's too bad you feel that way Mr. Goldstein . . . Will you give me a Robert Burns please . . .? Publicity it seems to me is as necessary as ventilation. . . . It lets in fresh air." The reporter bit off the end of the cigar, lit it, and stood looking thoughtfully at Mr. Goldstein through a swirling ring of blue smoke. "You see Mr. Goldstein it's this way," he began impressively. "We are handling this matter from the human interest angle . . . pity and tears . . . you understand. A photographer was on his way out here to get your photograph. . . . I bet you it would increase your volume of business for the next couple of weeks. . . . I suppose I'll have to phone him not to come now."
"Well this guy," began Mr. Goldstein abruptly, "he's a welldressed lookin feller, new spring overcoat an all that and he comes in to buy a package o Camels. . . . 'A nice night,' he says openin the package an takin out a cigarette to smoke it. Then I notices the goil with him had a veil on."
"Then she didnt have bobbed hair?"
"All I seen was a kind o mournin veil. The foist thing I knew she was behind the counter an had a gun stuck in my ribs an began talkin . . . you know kinder kiddin like . . . and afore I knew what to think the guy'd cleaned out the cashregister an says to me, 'Got any cash in your jeans Buddy?' I'll tell ye I was sweatin some . . ."
"And that's all?"
"Sure by the time I'd got hold of a cop they vere off to hell an gone."
"How much did they get?"
"Oh about fifty berries an six dollars off me."
"Was the girl pretty?"
"I dunno, maybe she was. I'd like to smashed her face in. They ought to make it the electric chair for those babies. . . . Aint no security nowhere. Vy should anybody voirk if all you've got to do is get a gun an stick up your neighbors?"
"You say they were welldressed . . . like welltodo people?"
"I'm working on the theory that he's a college boy and that she's a society girl and that they do it for sport."
"The feller vas a hardlookin bastard."
"Well there are hardlooking college men. . . . You wait for the story called 'The Gilded Bandits' in next Sunday's paper Mr. Goldstein. . . . You take the News dont you?"
Mr. Goldstein shook his head.
"I'll send you a copy anyway."
"I want to see those babies convicted, do you understand? If there's anythin I can do I sure vill do it . . . Aint no security no more. . . . I dont care about no Sunday supplement publicity."
"Well the photographer'll be right along. I'm sure you'll consent to pose Mr. Goldstein. . . . Well thank you very much. . . . Good day Mr. Goldstein."
Mr. Goldstein suddenly produced a shiny new revolver from under the counter and pointed it at the reporter.
"Hay go easy with that."
Mr. Goldstein laughed a sardonic laugh. "I'm ready for em next time they come," he shouted after the reporter who was already making for the Subway.
"Our business, my dear Mrs. Herf," declaimed Mr. Harpsicourt, looking sweetly in her eyes and smiling his gray Cheshire cat smile, "is to roll ashore on the wave of fashion the second before it breaks, like riding a surfboard."
Ellen was delicately digging with her spoon into half an alligator pear; she kept her eyes on her plate, her lips a little parted; she felt cool and slender in the tightfitting darkblue dress, shyly alert in the middle of the tangle of sideways glances and the singsong modish talk of the restaurant.
"It's a knack that I can prophesy in you more than in any girl, and more charmingly than any girl I've ever known."
"Prophesy?" asked Ellen, looking up at him laughing.
"You shouldnt pick up an old man's word. . . . I'm expressing myself badly. . . . That's always a dangerous sign. No, you understand so perfectly, though you disdain it a little . . . admit that. . . . What we need on such a periodical, that I'm sure you could explain it to me far better."
"Of course what you want to do is make every reader feel Johnny on the spot in the center of things."
"As if she were having lunch right here at the Algonquin."
"Not today but tomorrow," added Ellen.
Mr. Harpsicourt laughed his creaky little laugh and tried to look deep among the laughing gold specs in her gray eyes. Blushing she looked down into the gutted half of an alligator pear in her plate. Like the sense of a mirror behind her she felt the smart probing glances of men and women at the tables round about.
The pancakes were comfortably furry against his ginbitten tongue. Jimmy Herf sat in Child's in the middle of a noisy drunken company. Eyes, lips, evening dresses, the smell of bacon and coffee blurred and throbbed about him. He ate the pancakes painstakingly, called for more coffee. He felt better. He had been afraid he was going to feel sick. He began reading the paper. The print swam and spread like Japanese flowers. Then it was sharp again, orderly, running in a smooth black and white paste over his orderly black and white brain:
Misguided youth again took its toll of tragedy amid the tinsel gayeties of Coney Island fresh painted for the season when plain-clothes men arrested "Dutch" Robinson and a girl companion alleged to be the Flapper Bandit. The pair are accused of committing more than a score of holdups in Brooklyn and Queens. The police had been watching the couple for some days. They had rented a small kitchenette apartment at 7356 Seacroft Avenue. Suspicion was first aroused when the girl, about to become a mother, was taken in an ambulance to the Canarsie Presbyterian Hospital. Hospital attendants were surprised by Robinson's seemingly endless supply of money. The girl had a private room, expensive flowers and fruit were sent in to her daily, and a well-known physician was called into consultation at the man's request. When it came to the point of registering the name of the baby girl the young man admitted to the physician that they were not married. One of the hospital attendants, noticing that the woman answered to the description published in the Evening Times of the flapper bandit and her pal, telephoned the police. Plain-clothes men sleuthed the couple for some days after they had returned to the apartment on Seacroft Avenue and this afternoon made the arrests.
The arrest of the flapper bandit . . .
A hot biscuit landed on Herf's paper. He looked up with a start; a darkeyed Jewish girl at the next table was making a face at him. He nodded and took off an imaginary hat. "I thank thee lovely nymph," he said thickly and began eating the biscuit.
"Quit dat djer hear?" the young man who sat beside her, who looked like a prizefighter's trainer, bellowed in her ear.
The people at Herf's table all had their mouths open laughing. He picked up his check, vaguely said good night and walked out. The clock over the cashier's desk said three o'clock. Outside a rowdy scattering of people still milled about Columbus Circle. A smell of rainy pavements mingled with the exhausts of cars and occasionally there was a whiff of wet earth and sprouting grass from the Park. He stood a long time on the corner not knowing which way to go. These nights he hated to go home. He felt vaguely sorry that the Flapper Bandit and her pal had been arrested. He wished they could have escaped. He had looked forward to reading their exploits every day in the papers. Poor devils, he thought. And with a newborn baby too.
Meanwhile a rumpus had started behind him in Child's. He went back and looked through the window across the griddle where sizzled three abandoned buttercakes. The waiters were struggling to eject a tall man in a dress suit. The thick jawed friend of the Jewish girl who had thrown the biscuit was being held back by his friends. Then the bouncer elbowed his way through the crowd. He was a small broadshouldered man with deepset tired monkey eyes. Calmly and without enthusiasm he took hold of the tall man. In a flash he had him shooting through the door. Out on the pavement the tall man looked about him dazedly and tried to straighten his collar. At that moment a policewagon drove up jingling. Two policemen jumped out and quickly arrested three Italians who stood chatting quietly on the corner. Herf and the tall man in the dress suit looked at each other, almost spoke and walked off greatly sobered in opposite directions.