There were Babylon and Nineveh: they were built of brick. Athens was gold marble . Rome was held up on broad arches of rubble. In Constantinople the minarets flame like great candles round the Golden Horn . . . Steel, glass, tile, concrete will be the materials of the skyscrapers. Crammed on the narrow island the millionwindowed buildings will jut glittering, pyramid on pyramid like the white cloudhead above a thunderstorm.
WHEN the door of the room closed behind him, Ed Thatcher felt very lonely, full of prickly restlessness. If Susie were only here he'd tell her about the big money he was going to make and how he'd deposit ten dollars a week in the savings bank just for little Ellen; that would make five hundred and twenty dollars a year. . . . Why in ten years without the interest that'd come to more than five thousand dollars. I must compute the compound interest on five hundred and twenty dollars at four per cent. He walked excitedly about the narrow room. The gas jet purred comfortably like a cat. His eyes fell on the headline on a Journal that lay on the floor by the coalscuttle where he had dropped it to run for the hack to take Susie to the hospital.
MORTON SIGNS THE GREATER NEW YORK BILL
Completes the Act Making New York World's Second Metropolis
Breathing deep he folded the paper and laid it on the table. The world's second metropolis. . . . And dad wanted me to stay in his ole fool store in Onteora. Might have if it hadnt been for Susie. . . . Gentlemen tonight that you do me the signal honor of offering me the junior partnership in your firm I want to present to you my little girl, my wife. I owe everything to her.
In the bow he made towards the grate his coat-tails flicked a piece of china off the console beside the bookcase. He made a little clicking noise with his tongue against his teeth as he stooped to pick it up. The head of the blue porcelain Dutch girl had broken off from her body. "And poor Susie's so fond of her knicknacks. I'd better go to bed."
He pushed up the window and leaned out. An L train was rumbling past the end of the street. A whiff of coal smoke stung his nostrils. He hung out of the window a long while looking up and down the street. The world's second metropolis. In the brick houses and the dingy lamplight and the voices of a group of boys kidding and quarreling on the steps of a house opposite, in the regular firm tread of a policeman, he felt a marching like soldiers, like a sidewheeler going up the Hudson under the Palisades, like an election parade, through long streets towards something tall white full of colonnades and stately. Metropolis.
The street was suddenly full of running. Somebody out of breath let out the word Fire.
The group of boys melted off the stoop across the way. Thatcher turned back into the room. It was stifling hot. He was all tingling to be out. I ought to go to bed. Down the street he heard the splattering hoof beats and the frenzied bell of a fire engine. Just take a look. He ran down the stairs with his hat in his hand.
"Which way is it?"
"Down on the next block."
"It's a tenement house."
It was a narrowwindowed sixstory tenement. The hookandladder had just drawn up. Brown smoke, with here and there a little trail of sparks was pouring fast out of the lower windows. Three policemen were swinging their clubs as they packed the crowd back against the steps and railings of the houses opposite. In the empty space in the middle of the street the fire engine and the red hosewagon shone with bright brass. People watched silent staring at the upper windows where shadows moved and occasional light flickered. A thin pillar of flame began to flare above the house like a romancandle.
"The airshaft," whispered a man in Thatcher's ear. A gust of wind filled the street with smoke and a smell of burning rags. Thatcher felt suddenly sick. When the smoke cleared he saw people hanging in a kicking cluster, hanging by their hands from a windowledge. The other side firemen were helping women down a ladder. The flame in the center of the house flared brighter. Something black had dropped from a window and lay on the pavement shrieking. The policemen were shoving the crowd back to the ends of the block. New fire engines were arriving.
"Theyve got five alarms in," a man said. "What do you think of that? Everyone of 'em on the two top floors was trapped. It's an incendiary done it. Some goddam firebug."
A young man sat huddled on the curb beside the gas lamp. Thatcher found himself standing over him pushed by the crowd from behind.
"He's an Italian."
"His wife's in that buildin."
"Cops wont let him get by." "His wife's in a family way. He cant talk English to ask the cops."
The man wore blue suspenders tied up with a piece of string in back. His back was heaving and now and then he left out a string of groaning words nobody understood. Thatcher was working his way out of the crowd. At the corner a man was looking into the fire alarm box. As Thatcher brushed past him he caught a smell of coaloil from the man's clothes. The man looked up into his face with a smile. He had tallowy sagging cheeks and bright popeyes. Thatcher's hands and feet went suddenly cold. The firebug. The papers say they hang round like that to watch it. He walked home fast, ran up the stairs, and locked the room door behind him. The room was quiet and empty. He'd forgotten that Susie wouldnt be there waiting for him. He began to undress. He couldnt forget the smell of coaloil on the man's clothes.
Mr. Perry flicked at the burdock leaves with his cane. The real-estate agent was pleading in a singsong voice:
"I dont mind telling you, Mr. Ferry, it's an opportunity not to be missed. You know the old saying sir . . . opportunity knocks but once on a young man's door. In six months I can virtually guarantee that these lots will have doubled in value. Now that we are a part of New York, the second city in the world, sir, dont forget that. . . . Why the time will come, and I firmly believe that you and I will see it, when bridge after bridge spanning the East River have made Long Island and Manhattan one, when the Borough of Queens will be as much the heart and throbbing center of the great metropolis as is Astor Place today."
"I know, I know, but I'm looking for something dead safe. And besides I want to build. My wife hasnt been very well these last few years. . . ."
"But what could be safer than my proposition? Do you realize Mr. Perry, that at considerable personal loss I'm letting you in on the ground floor of one of the greatest real-estate certainties of modern times. I'm putting at your disposal not only security, but ease, comfort, luxury. We are caught up Mr. Perry on a great wave whether we will or no, a great wave of expansion and progress. A great deal is going to happen in the next few years. All these mechanical inventions — telephones, electricity, steel bridges, horseless vehicles—they are all leading somewhere. It's up to us to be on the inside, in the forefront of progress. . . . My God! I cant begin to tell you what it will mean. . . ." Poking amid the dry grass and the burdock leaves Mr. Perry had moved something with his stick. He stooped and picked up a triangular skull with a pair of spiralfluted horns. "By gad!" he said. "That must have been a fine ram."
Drowsy from the smell of lather and bayrum and singed hair that weighed down the close air of the barbershop, Bud sat nodding, his hands dangling big and red between his knees. In his eardrums he could still feel through the snipping of scissors the pounding of his feet on the hungry road down from Nyack.
"Whassat? . . . All right I just want a shave an a haircut."
The barber's pudgy hands moved through his hair, the scissors whirred like a hornet behind his ears. His eyes kept closing; he jerked them open fighting sleep. He could see beyond the striped sheet littered with sandy hair the bobbing hammerhead of the colored boy shining his shoes.
"Yessir" a deepvoiced man droned from the next chair, "it's time the Democratic party nominated a strong ..."
"Want a neckshave as well?" The barber's greasyskinned moonface poked into his.
When the barber threw back the chair to shave him he wanted to crane his neck like a mudturtle turned over on its back. The lather spread drowsily on his face, prickling his nose, filling up his ears. Drowning in featherbeds of lather, blue lather, black, slit by the faraway glint of the razor, glint of the grubbing hoe through blueblack lather clouds. The old man on his back in the potatofield, his beard sticking up lathery white full of blood. Full of blood his socks from those blisters on his heels. His hands gripped each other cold and horny like a dead man's hands under the sheet. Lemme git up. . . . He opened his eyes. Padded fingertips were stroking his chin. He stared up at the ceiling where four flies made figure eights round a red crepe-paper bell. His tongue was dry leather in his mouth. The barber righted the chair again. Bud looked about blinking. "Four bits, and a nickel for the shine."
ADMITS KILLING CRIPPLED MOTHER . . .
"D'yous mind if I set here a minute an read that paper?" he hears his voice drawling in his pounding ears.
"Go right ahead."
PARKER'S FRIENDS PROTECT. . .
The black print squirms before his eyes. Russians. . . MOB STONES. . . (Special Dispatch to the Herald) Trenton, N.J.
Nathan Sibbetts, fourteen years old, broke down today after two weeks of steady denial of guilt and confessed to the police that he was responsible for the death of his aged and crippled mother, Hannah Sibbetts, after a quarrel in their home at Jacob's Creek, six miles above this city. Tonight he was committed to await the action of the Grand Jury.
RELIEVE PORT ARTHUR IN FACE OF ENEMY . . . Mrs. Rix Loses Husband's Ashes.
On Tuesday May 24 at about half past eight o'clock I came home after sleeping on the steam roller all night, he said, and went upstairs to sleep some more. I had only gotten to sleep when my mother came upstairs and told me to get up and if I didn't get up she would throw me downstairs. My mother grabbed hold of me to throw me downstairs. I threw her first and she fell to the bottom. I went downstairs and found that her head was twisted to one side. I then saw that she was dead and then I straightened her neck and covered her up with the cover from my bed.
Bud folds the paper carefully, lays it on the chair and leaves the barbershop. Outside the air smells of crowds, is full of noise and sunlight. No more'n a needle in a haystack. . . "An I'm twentyfive years old," he muttered aloud. Think of a kid fourteen. . . . He walks faster along roaring pavements where the sun shines through the Elevated striping the blue street with warm seething yellow stripes. No more'n a needle in a haystack.
Ed Thatcher sat hunched over the pianokeys picking out the Mosquito Parade. Sunday afternoon sunlight streamed dustily through the heavy lace curtains of the window, squirmed in the red roses of the carpet, filled the cluttered parlor with specks and splinters of light. Susie Thatcher sat limp by the window watching him out of eyes too blue for her sallow face. Between them, stepping carefully among the roses on the sunny field of the carpet, little Ellen danced. Two small hands held up the pinkfrilled dress and now and then an emphatic little voice said, "Mummy watch my expression."
"Just look at the child," said Thatcher, still playing. "She's a regular little balletdancer."
Sheets of the Sunday paper lay where they had fallen from the table; Ellen started dancing on them, tearing the sheets under her nimble tiny feet.
"Dont do that Ellen dear," whined Susie from the pink plush chair.
"But mummy I can do it while I dance."
"Dont do that mother said." Ed Thatcher had slid into the Barcarole. Ellen was dancing to it, her arms swaying to it, her feet nimbly tearing the paper.
"Ed for Heaven's sake pick the child up; she's tearing the paper."
He brought his fingers down in a lingering chord. "Deary you mustnt do that. Daddy's not finished reading it."
Ellen went right on. Thatcher swooped down on her from the pianostool and set her squirming and laughing on his knee. "Ellen you should always mind when mummy speaks to you, and dear you shouldnt be destructive. It costs money to make that paper and people worked on it and daddy went out to buy it and he hasnt finished reading it yet. Ellie understands dont she now? We need con-struction and not de-struction in this world." Then he went on with the Barcarole and Ellen went on dancing, stepping carefully among the roses on the sunny field of the carpet.
There were six men at the table in the lunch room eating fast with their hats on the backs of their heads.
"Jiminy crickets!" cried the young man at the end of the table who was holding a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. "Kin you beat it?"
"Beat what?" growled a longfaced man with a toothpick in the corner of his mouth.
"Big snake appears on Fifth Avenue. . . . Ladies screamed and ran in all directions this morning at eleven thirty when a big snake crawled out of a crack in the masonry of the retaining wall of the reservoir at Fifth Avenue and Fortysecond Street and started to cross the sidewalk. . . ."
"Some fish story. . . ."
"That aint nothin," said an old man. "When I was a boy we used to go snipeshootin on Brooklyn Flats. . . ."
"Holy Moses! it's quarter of nine," muttered the young man folding his paper and hurrying out into Hudson Street that was full of men and girls walking briskly through the ruddy morning. The scrape of the shoes of hairyhoofed drayhorses and the grind of the wheels of producewagons made a deafening clatter and filled the air with sharp dust. A girl in a flowered bonnet with a big lavender bow under her pert tilted chin was waiting for him in the door of M. Sullivan & Co., Storage and Warehousing. The young man felt all fizzy inside, like a freshly uncorked bottle of pop.
"Hello Emily! . . . Say Emily I've got a raise."
"You're pretty near late, d'you know that?"
"But honest injun I've got a two-dollar raise."
She tilted her chin first to oneside and then to the other.
"I dont give a rap."
"You know what you said if I got a raise." She looked in his eyes giggling.
"An this is just the beginnin . . ."
"But what good's fifteen dollars a week?"
"Why it's sixty dollars a month, an I'm learning the import business."
"Silly boy you'll be late." She suddenly turned and ran up the littered stairs, her pleated bellshaped skirt swishing from side to side.
"God! I hate her. I hate her." Sniffing up the tears that were hot in his eyes, he walked fast down Hudson Street to the office of Winkle & Gulick, West India Importers.
The deck beside the forward winch was warm and briny damp. They were sprawled side by side in greasy denims talking drowsily in whispers, their ears full of the seethe of broken water as the bow shoved bluntly through the long grassgray swells of the Gulf Stream.
"J'te dis mon vieux, moi j'fou l'camp a New York. . . . The minute we tie up I go ashore and I stay ashore. I'm through with this dog's life." The cabinboy had fair hair and an oval pink-and-cream face; a dead cigarette butt fell from between his lips as he spoke. "Merde!" He reached for it as it rolled down the deck. It escaped his hand and bounced into the scuppers.
"Let it go. I've got plenty," said the other boy who lay on his belly kicking a pair of dirty feet up into the hazy sunlight. "The consul will just have you shipped back."
"He wont catch me."
"And your military service?"
"To hell with it. And with France too for that matter."
"You want to make yourself an American citizen?"
"Why not? A man has a right to choose his country."
The other rubbed his nose meditatively with his fist and then let his breath out in a long whistle. "Emile you're a wise guy," he said.
"But Congo, why dont you come too? You dont want to shovel crap in a stinking ship's galley all your life."
Congo rolled himself round and sat up crosslegged, scratching his head that was thick with kinky black hair.
"Say how much does a woman cost in New York?"
"I dunno, expensive I guess. . . . I'm not going ashore to raise hell; I'm going to get a good job and work. Cant you think of nothing but women?"
"What's the use? Why not?" said Congo and settled himself flat on the deck again, burying his dark sootsmudged face in his crossed arms.
"I want to get somewhere in the world, that's what I mean. Europe's rotten and stinking. In America a fellow can get ahead. Birth dont matter, education dont matter. It's all getting ahead."
"And if there was a nice passionate little woman right here now where the deck's warm, you wouldn't like to love her up?"
"After we're rich, we'll have plenty, plenty of everything."
"And they dont have any military service?"
"Why should they? Its the coin they're after. They dont want to fight people; they want to do business with them."
Congo did not answer.
The cabin boy lay on his back looking at the clouds. They floated from the west, great piled edifices with the sunlight crashing through between, bright and white like tinfoil. He was walking through tall white highpiled streets, stalking in a frock coat with a tall white collar up tinfoil stairs, broad, cleanswept, through blue portals into streaky marble halls where money rustled and clinked on long tinfoil tables, banknotes, silver, gold.
"Merde v'là l'heure." The paired strokes of the bell in the crowsnest came faintly to their ears. "But dont forget, Congo, the first night we get ashore. . ." He made a popping noise with his lips. "We're gone."
"I was asleep. I dreamed of a little blonde girl. I'd have had her if you hadnt waked me." The cabinboy got to his feet with a grunt and stood a moment looking west to where the swells ended in a sharp wavy line against a sky hard and abrupt as nickel. Then he pushed Congo's face down against the deck and ran aft, the wooden clogs clattering on his bare feet as he went.
Outside, the hot June Saturday was dragging its frazzled ends down 110th Street. Susie Thatcher lay uneasily in bed, her hands spread blue and bony on the coverlet before her. Voices came through the thin partition. A young girl was crying through her nose:
"I tell yer mommer I aint agoin back to him."
Then came expostulating an old staid Jewish woman's voice: "But Rosie, married life aint all beer and skittles. A vife must submit and vork for her husband."
"I wont. I cant help it. I wont go back to the dirty brute."
Susie sat up in bed, but she couldn't hear the next thing the old woman said.
"But I aint a Jew no more," suddenly screeched the young girl. "This aint Russia; it's little old New York. A girl's got some rights here." Then a door slammed and everything was quiet.
Susie Thatcher stirred in bed moaning fretfully. Those awful people never give me a moment's peace. From below came the jingle of a pianola playing the Merry Widow Waltz. O Lord! why dont Ed come home? It's cruel of them to leave a sick woman alone like this. Selfish. She twisted up her mouth and began to cry. Then she lay quiet again, staring at the ceiling watching the flies buzz teasingly round the electriclight fixture. A wagon clattered by down the street. She could hear children's voices screeching. A boy passed yelling an extra. Suppose there'd been a fire. That terrible Chicago theater fire. Oh I'll go mad! She tossed about in the bed, her pointed nails digging into the palms of her hands. I'll take another tablet. Maybe I can get some sleep. She raised herself on her elbow and took the last tablet out of a little tin box. The gulp of water that washed the tablet down was soothing to her throat. She closed her eyes and lay quiet.
She woke with a start. Ellen was jumping round the room, her green tam falling off the back of her head, her coppery curls wild.
"Oh mummy I want to be a little boy."
"Quieter dear. Mother's not feeling a bit well."
"I want to be a little boy."
"Why Ed what have you done to the child? She's all wrought up."
"We're just excited, Susie. We've been to the most wonderful play. You'd have loved it, it's so poetic and all that sort of thing. And Maude Adams was fine. Ellie loved every minute of it."
"It seems silly, as I said before, to take such a young child . . ."
"Oh daddy I want to be a boy."
"I like my little girl the way she is. We'll have to go again Susie and take you."
"Ed you know very well I wont be well enough." She sat bolt upright, her hair hanging a straight faded yellow down her back. "Oh, I wish I'd die . . . I wish I'd die, and not be a burden to you any more. . . . You hate me both of you. If you didnt hate me you wouldnt leave me alone like this." She choked and put her face in her hands.
"Oh I wish I'd die," she sobbed through her fingers.
"Now Susie for Heaven's sakes, it's wicked to talk like that." He put his arm round her and sat on the bed beside her.
Crying quietly she dropped her head on his shoulder. Ellen stood staring at them out of round gray eyes. Then she started jumping up and down, chanting to herself, "Ellie's goin to be a boy, Ellie's goin to be a boy."
With a long slow stride, limping a little from his blistered feet, Bud walked down Broadway, past empty lots where tin cans glittered among grass and sumach bushes and ragweed, between ranks of billboards and Bull Durham signs, past shanties and abandoned squatters' shacks, past gulches heaped with wheelscarred rubbishpiles where dumpcarts were dumping ashes and clinkers, past knobs of gray outcrop where steamdrills continually tapped and nibbled, past excavations out of which wagons full of rock and clay toiled up plank roads to the street, until he was walking on new sidewalks along a row of yellow brick apartment houses, looking in the windows of grocery stores, Chinese laundries, lunchrooms, flower and vegetable shops, tailors', delicatessens. Passing under a scaffolding in front of a new building, he caught the eye of an old man who sat on the edge of the sidewalk trimming oil lamps. Bud stood beside him, hitching up his pants; cleared his throat:
"Say mister you couldnt tell a feller where a good place was to look for a job?"
"Aint no good place to look for a job, young feller. . . .
There's jobs all right. . . . I'll be sixty-five years old in a month and four days an I've worked sence I was five I reckon, an I aint found a good job yet."
"Anything that's a job'll do me."
"Got a union card?"
"I aint got nothin."
"Cant git no job in the buildin trades without a union card," said the old man. He rubbed the gray bristles of his chin with the back of his hand and leaned over the lamps again. Bud stood staring into the dustreeking girder forest of the new building until he found the eyes of a man in a derby hat fixed on him through the window of the watchman's shelter. He shuffled his feet uneasily and walked on. If I could git more into the center of things. . . .
At the next corner a crowd was collecting round a high-slung white automobile. Clouds of steam poured out of its rear end. A policeman was holding up a small boy by the armpits. From the car a redfaced man with white walrus whiskers was talking angrily.
"I tell you officer he threw a stone. . . . This sort of thing has got to stop. For an officer to countenance hoodlums and rowdies. . . ."
A woman with her hair done up in a tight bunch on top of her head was screaming, shaking her fist at the man in the car, "Officer he near run me down he did, he near run me down."
Bud edged up next to a young man in a butcher's apron who had a baseball cap on backwards.
"Hell I dunno. . . . One o them automoebile riots I guess. Aint you read the paper? I dont blame em do you? What right have those golblamed automoebiles got racin round the city knockin down wimen an children?"
"Gosh do they do that?"
"Sure they do."
"Say . . . er . . . kin you tell me about where's a good place to find out about gettin a job?" The butcherboy threw back head and laughed.
"Kerist I thought you was goin to ask for a handout. . . . I guess you aint a Newyorker. . . . I'll tell you what to do. You keep right on down Broadway till you get to City Hall. . . ."
"Is that kinder the center of things?"
"Sure it is. . . . An then you go upstairs and ask the Mayor. . . . Tell me there are some seats on the board of aldermen . . ."
"Like hell they are," growled Bud and walked away fast.
"Roll ye babies . . . roll ye lobsided sons o bitches."
"That's it talk to em Slats."
"Come seven!" Slats shot the bones out of his hand, brought the thumb along his sweaty fingers with a snap. "Aw hell."
"You're some great crapshooter I'll say, Slats."
Dirty hands added each a nickel to the pile in the center of the circle of patched knees stuck forward. The five boys were sitting on their heels under a lamp on South Street.
"Come on girlies we're waitin for it. . . . Roll ye little bastards, goddam ye, roll."
"Cheeze it fellers! There's Big Leonard an his gang acomin down the block."
"I'd knock his block off for a . . ."
Four of them were already slouching off along the wharf, gradually scattering without looking back. The smallest boy with a chinless face shaped like a beak stayed behind quietly picking up the coins. Then he ran along the wall and vanished into the dark passageway between two houses. He flattened himself behind a chimney and waited. The confused voices of the gang broke into the passageway; then they had gone on down the street. The boy was counting the nickels in his hand. Ten. "Jez, that's fifty cents. . . . I'll tell 'em Big Leonard scooped up the dough." His pockets had no bottoms, so he tied the nickels into one of his shirt tails.
A goblet for Rhine wine hobnobbed with a champagne glass at each place along the glittering white oval table. On eight glossy white plates eight canapés of caviar were like rounds of black beads on the lettuceleaves, flanked by sections of lemon, sprinkled with a sparse chopping of onion and white of egg. "Beaucoup de soing and dont you forget it," said the old waiter puckering up his knobbly forehead. He was a short waddling man with a few black strands of hair plastered tight across a domed skull.
"Awright." Emile nodded his head gravely. His collar was too tight for him. He was shaking a last bottle of champagne into the nickelbound bucket of ice on the servingtable.
"Beaucoup de soing, sporca madonna. . . . Thisa guy trows money about lika confetti, see. . . . Gives tips, see. He's a verra rich gentleman. He dont care how much he spend." Emile patted the crease of the tablecloth to flatten it. "Fais pas, como, ça. . . . Your hand's dirty, maybe leava mark."
Resting first on one foot then on the other they stood waiting, their napkins under their arms. From the restaurant below among the buttery smells of food and the tinkle of knives and forks and plates, came the softly gyrating sound of a waltz.
When he saw the headwaiter bow outside the door Emile compressed his lips into a deferential smile. There was a longtoothed blond woman in a salmon operacloak swishing on the arm of a moonfaced man who carried his top hat ahead of him like a bumper; there was a little curlyhaired girl in blue who was showing her teeth and laughing, a stout woman in a tiara with a black velvet ribbon round her neck, a bottlenose, a long cigarcolored face . . . shirt fronts, hands straightening white ties, black gleams on top hats and patent leather shoes; there was a weazlish man with gold teeth who kept waving his arms spitting out greetings in a voice like a crow's and wore a diamond the size of a nickel in his shirtfront. The redhaired 'cloakroom girl was collecting the wraps. The old waiter nudged Emile. "He's de big boss," he said out of the corner of his mouth as he bowed. Emile flattened himself against the wall as they shuffled rustled into the room. A whiff of patchouli when he drew his breath made him go suddenly hot to the roots of his hair.
"But where's Fifi Waters?" shouted the man with the diamond stud.
"She said she couldnt get here for a half an hour. I guess the Johnnies wont let her get by the stage door."
"Well we cant wait for her even if it is her birthday; never waited for anyone in my life." He stood a second running a roving eye over the women round the table, then shot his cuffs out a little further from the sleeves of his swallowtail coat, and abruptly sat down. The caviar vanished in a twinkling. "And waiter what about that Rhine wine coupe?" he croaked huskily. "De suite monsieur. . . ." Emile holding his breath and sucking in his cheeks, was taking away the plates. A frost came on the goblets as the old waiter poured out the coupe from a cut glass pitcher where floated mint and ice and lemon rind and long of cucumber.
"Aha, this'll do the trick." The man with the diamond stud raised his glass to his lips, smacked them and set it down with a slanting look at the woman next him. She was putting dabs of butter on bits of bread and popping them into her mouth, muttering all the while:
"I can only eat the merest snack, only the merest snack."
"That dont keep you from drinkin Mary does it?"
She let out a cackling laugh and tapped him on the shoulder with her closed fan, "O Lord, you're a card, you are."
"Allume moi ça, sporca madonna," hissed the old waiter in Emile's ear.
When he lit the lamps under the two chafing dishes on the serving table a smell of hot sherry and cream and lobster began to seep into the room. The air was hot, full of tinkle and perfume and smoke. After he had helped serve the lobster Newburg and refilled the glasses Emile leaned against the wall and ran his hand over his wet hair. His eyes slid along the plump shoulders of the woman in front of him and down the powdered back to where a tiny silver hook had come undone under the lace rushing. The baldheaded man next to her had his leg locked with hers. She was young, Emile's age, and kept looking up into the man's face with moist parted lips. It made Emile dizzy, but he couldn't stop looking.
"But what's happened to the fair Fifi?" creaked the man with the diamond stud through a mouthful of lobster. "I suppose that she made such a hit again this evening that our simple little party dont appeal to her."
"It's enough to turn any girl's head."
"Well she'll get the surprise of her young life if she expected us to wait. Haw, haw, haw," laughed the man with the diamond stud. "I never waited for anybody in my life and I'm not going to begin now."
Down the table the moonfaced man had pushed back his plate and was playing with the bracelet on the wrist of the woman beside him. "You're the perfect Gibson girl tonight, Olga."
"I'm sitting for my portrait now," she said holding up her goblet against the light.
"No to a real painter."
"By Gad I'll buy it."
"Maybe you wont have a chance."
She nodded her blond pompadour at him.
"You're a wicked little tease, Olga."
She laughed keeping her lips tight over her long teeth.
A man was leaning towards the man with the diamond stud, tapping with a stubby finger on the table.
"No sir as a real estate proposition, Twentythird Street has crashed. . . . That's generally admitted. . . . But what I want to talk to you about privately sometime Mr. Godalming, is this. . . . How's all the big money in New York been made? Astor, Vanderbilt, Fish. . . . In real estate of course. Now it's up to us to get in on the next great cleanup. . . . It's almost here. . . . Buy Forty. . . ."
The man with the diamond stud raised one eyebrow and shook his head. "For one night on Beauty's lap, O put gross care away . . . or something of the sort. . . . Waiter why in holy hell are you so long with the champagne?" He got to his feet, coughed in his hand and began to sing in his croaking voice:
O would the Atlantic were all champagne
Bright billows of champagne.
Everybody clapped. The old waiter had just divided a baked Alaska and, his face like a beet, was prying out a stiff champagnecork. When the cork popped the lady in the tiara let out a yell. They toasted the man in the diamond stud.
For he's a jolly good fellow . . .
"Now what kind of a dish d'ye call this?" the man with the bottlenose leaned over and asked the girl next to him. Her black hair parted in the middle; she wore a palegreen dress with puffy sleeves. He winked slowly and then stared hard into her black eyes.
"This here's the fanciest cookin I ever put in my mouth. . . . D'ye know young leddy, I dont come to this town often. . . . He gulped down the rest of his glass. An when I do I usually go away kinder disgusted. . . ." His look bright and feverish from the champagne explored the contours of her neck and shoulders and roamed down a bare arm. "But this time I kinder think. . . ."
"It must be a great life prospecting," she interrupted flushing.
"It was a great life in the old days, a rough life but a man's life. . . . I'm glad I made my pile in the old days. . . . Wouldnt have the same luck now."
She looked up at him. "How modest you are to call it luck."
Emile was standing outside the door of the private room. There was nothing more to serve. The redhaired girl from the cloakroom walked by with a big flounced cape on her arm. He smiled, tried to catch her eye. She sniffed and tossed her nose in the air. Wont look at me because I'm a waiter. When I make some money I'll show 'em.
"Dis; tella Charlie two more bottle Moet and Chandon, Gout Americain," came the old waiter's hissing voice in his ear.
The moonfaced man was on his feet. "Ladies and Gentlemen. . . ."
"Silence in the pigsty . . ." piped up a voice.
"The big sow wants to talk," said Olga under her breath.
"Ladies and gentlemen owing to the unfortunate absence of our star of Bethlehem and fulltime act. . . ."
"Gilly dont blaspheme," said the lady with the tiara.
"Ladies and gentlemen, unaccustomed as I am. . . ."
"Gilly you're drunk."
". . . Whether the tide . . . I mean whether the waters be with us or against us. . ."
Somebody yanked at his coat-tails and the moonfaced man sat down suddenly in his chair.
"It's terrible," said the lady in the tiara addressing herself to a man with a long face the color of tobacco who sat at the end of the table . . . "It's terrible, Colonel, the way Gilly gets blasphemous when he's been drinking. . ."
The Colonel was meticulously rolling the tinfoil off a cigar. "Dear me, you dont say?" he drawled. Above the bristly gray mustache his face was expressionless. "There's a most dreadful story about poor old Atkins, Elliott Atkins who used to be with Mansfield. . ."
"Indeed?" said the Colonel icily as he slit the end of the cigar with a small pearlhandled penknife.
"Say Chester did you hear that Mabie Evans was making a hit?"
"Honestly Olga I dont see how she does it. She has no figure. . ."
"Well he made a speech, drunk as a lord you understand, one night when they were barnstorming in Kansas. . ."
"She cant sing. . ."
"The poor fellow never did go very strong in the bright lights. . ."
"She hasnt the slightest particle of figure. . ."
"And made a sort of Bob Ingersoll speech. . ."
"The dear old feller. . . . Ah I knew him well out in Chicago in the old days. . ."
"You dont say." The Colonel held a lighted match carefully to the end of his cigar. . .
"And there was a terrible flash of lightning and a ball of fire came in one window and went out the other."
"Was he . . . er . . . killed?" The Colonel sent a blue puff of smoke towards the ceiling.
"What, did you say Bob Ingersoll had been struck by lightning?" cried Olga shrilly. "Serve him right the horrid atheist."
"No not exactly, but it scared him into a realization of the important things of life and now he's joined the Methodist church."
"Funny how many actors get to be ministers."
"Cant get an audience any other way," creaked the man with the diamond stud.
The two waiters hovered outside the door listening to the racket inside, "Tas de sacrés cochons . . . sporca madonna!" hissed the old waiter. Emile shrugged his shoulders. "That brunette girl make eyes at you all night. . ."
He brought his face near Emile's and winked. "Sure, maybe you pick up somethin good."
"I dont want any of them or their dirty diseases either."
The old waiter slapped his thigh. "No young men nowadays. . . . When I was young man I take heap o chances."
"They dont even look at you. . ." said Emile through clenched teeth. "An animated dress suit that's all."
"Wait a minute, you learn by and by."
The door opened. They bowed respectfully towards the diamond stud. Somebody had drawn a pair of woman's legs on his shirtfront. There was a bright flush on each of his cheeks. The lower lid of one eye sagged, giving his weasle face a quizzical lobsided look.
"Wazzahell, Marco wazzahell?" he was muttering. "We aint got a thing to drink. . . . Bring the Atlantic Ozz-shen and two quarts."
"De suite monsieur. . . ." The old waiter bowed. "Emile tell Auguste, immediatement et bien frappé."
As Emile went down the corridor he could hear singing.
O would the Atlantic were all champagne
Bright bi-i-i. . . .
The moonface and the bottlenose were coming back from the lavatory reeling arm in arm among the palms in the hall.
"These damn fools make me sick."
"Yessir these aint the champagne suppers we used to have in Frisco in the ole days."
"Ah those were great days those."
"By the way," the moonfaced man steadied himself against the wall, "Holyoke ole fella, did you shee that very nobby little article on the rubber trade I got into the morning papers. . . . That'll make the investors nibble . . . like lil mishe."
"Whash you know about rubber? . . . The stuff aint no good."
"You wait an shee, Holyoke ole fella or you looshmg opportunity of your life. . . . Drunk or sober I can smell money . . . on the wind."
"Why aint you got any then?" The bottlenosed man's beef red face went purple; he doubled up letting out great hoots of laughter.
"Because I always let my friends in on my tips," said the other man soberly. "Hay boy where's zis here private dinin room?"
"Par ici monsieur."
A red accordionpleated dress swirled past them, a little oval face framed by brown flat curls, pearly teeth in an openmouthed laugh.
"Fifi Waters," everyone shouted. "Why my darlin lil Fifi, come to my arms."
She was lifted onto a chair where she stood jiggling from one foot to the other, champagne dripping out of a tipped glass.
"Happy New Year."
"Many returns of the day. . . ."
A fair young man who had followed her in was reeling intricately round the table singing:
O we went to the animals' fair
And the birds and the beasts were there
And the big baboon
By the light of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair.
"Hoopla," cried Fifi Waters and mussed the gray hair of the man with the diamond stud. "Hoopla." She jumped down with a kick, pranced round the room, kicking high with her skirts fluffed up round her knees.
"Oh la la ze French high kicker!"
"Look out for the Pony Ballet."
Her slender legs, shiny black silk stockings tapering to red rosetted slippers flashed in the men's faces.
"She's a mad thing," cried the lady in the tiara.
Hoopla. Holyoke was swaying in the doorway with his top hat tilted over the glowing bulb of his nose. She let out a whoop and kicked it off.
"It's a goal," everyone cried.
"For crissake you kicked me in the eye."
She stared at him a second with round eyes and then burst into tears on the broad shirtfront of the diamond stud. "I wont be insulted like that," she sobbed.
"Rub the other eye."
"Get a bandage someone."
"Goddam it she may have put his eye out."
"Call a cab there waiter."
"Where's a doctor?"
"That's hell to pay ole fella."
A handkerchief full of tears and blood pressed to his eye the bottlenosed man stumbled out. The men and women crowded through the door after him; last went the blond young man, reeling and singing:
An the big baboon by the Hght of the moon
Was combing his auburn hair.
Fifi Waters was sobbing with her head on the table.
"Dont cry Fifi," said the Colonel who was still sitting where he had sat all the evening. "Here's something I rather fancy might do you good." He pushed a glass of champagne towards her down the table.
She sniffled and began drinking it in little sips. "Hullo Roger, how's the boy?"
"The boy's quite well thank you. . . . Rather bored, dont you know? An evening with such infernal bounders. . . ."
"There doesnt seem to be anything left to eat."
"I didnt know you'd be here or I'd have come earlier, honest."
"Would you indeed? . . . Now that's very nice."
The long ash dropped from the Colonel's cigar; he got to his feet. "Now Fifi, I'll call a cab and we'll go for a ride in the Park. . . ."
She drank down her champagne and nodded brightly. "Dear me it's four o'clock. . . ." "You have the proper wraps haven't you?"
She nodded again.
"Splendid Fifi . . . I say you are in form." The Colonel's cigarcolored face was unraveling in smiles. "Well, come along."
She looked about her in a dazed way. "Didnt I come with somebody?"
In the hall they came upon the fair young man quietly vomiting into a firebucket under an artificial palm.
"Oh let's leave him," she said wrinkling up her nose.
"Quite unnecessary," said the Colonel.
Emile brought their wraps. The redhaired girl had gone home.
"Look here, boy." The Colonel waved his cane. "Call me a cab please. . . . Be sure the horse is decent and the driver is sober."
"De suite monsieur."
The sky beyond roofs and chimneys was the blue of a sapphire. The Colonel took three or four deep sniffs of the dawnsmelling air and threw his cigar into the gutter. "Suppose we have a bit of breakfast at Cleremont. I haven't had anything fit to eat all night. That beastly sweet champagne, ugh!"
Fifi giggled. After the Colonel had examined the horse's fetlocks and patted his head, they climbed into the cab. The Colonel fitted in Fifi carefully under his arm and they drove off. Emile stood a second in the door of the restaurant uncrumpling a five dollar bill. He was tired and his insteps ached.
When Emile came out of the back door of the restaurant he found Congo waiting for him sitting on the doorstep. Congo's skin had a green chilly look under the frayed turned up coatcollar.
"This is my friend," Emile said to Marco. "Came over on the same boat."
"You havent a bottle of fine under your coat have you? Sapristi I've seen some chickens not half bad come out of this place."
"But what's the matter?"
"Lost my job that's all. . . . I wont have to take any more off that guy. Come over and drink a coffee."
They ordered coffee and doughnuts in a lunchwagon on a vacant lot.
"Eh bien you like it this sacred pig of a country?" asked Marco.
"Why not? I like it anywhere. It's all the same, in France you are paid badly and live well; here you are paid well and live badly."
"Questo paese e completamente soto sopra."
"I think I'll go to sea again. . . ."
"Say why de hell doan yous guys loin English?" said the man with a cauliflower face who slapped the three mugs of coffee down on the counter.
"If we talk Engleesh," snapped Marco "maybe you no lika what we say."
"Why did they fire you?"
"Merde. I dont know. I had an argument with the old camel who runs the place. . . . He lived next door to the stables; as well as washing the carriages he made me scrub the floors in his house. . . . His wife, she had a face like this." Congo sucked in his lips and tried to look crosseyed.
Marco laughed. "Santissima Maria putana!"
"How did you talk to them?"
"They pointed to things; then I nodded my head and said Awright. I went there at eight and worked till six and they gave me every day more filthy things to do. . . . Last night they tell me to clean out the toilet in the bathroom. I shook my head. . . . That's woman's work. . . . She got very angry and started screeching. Then I began to learn Angleesh. . . . Go awright to 'ell, I says to her. . . . Then the old man comes and chases me out into a street with a carriage whip and says he wont pay me my week. . . . While we were arguing he got a policeman, and when I try to explain to the policeman that the old man owed me ten dollars for the week, he says Beat it you lousy wop, and cracks me on the coco with his nightstick. . . . Merde alors. . ."
Marco was red in the face. "He call you lousy wop?"
Congo nodded his mouth full of doughnut.
"Notten but shanty Irish himself," muttered Marco in English. "I'm fed up with this rotten town. . . .
"It's the same all over the world, the police beating us up, rich people cheating us out of their starvation wages, and who's fault? . . . Dio cane! Your fault, my fault, Emile's fault. . . ."
"We didn't make the world. . . . They did or maybe God did."
"God's on their side, like a policeman. . . . When the day comes we'll kill God. . . . I am an anarchist."
Congo hummed "les bourgeois à la lanterne nom de dieu."
"Are you one of us?"
Congo shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not a catholic or a protestant; I haven't any money and I haven't any work. Look at that." Congo pointed with a dirty finger to a long rip on his trouserknee. "That's anarchist. . . . Hell I'm going out to Senegal and get to be a nigger."
"You look like one already," laughed Emile.
"That's why they call me Congo."
"But that's all silly," went on Emile. "People are all the same. It's only that some people get ahead and others dont. . . . That's why I came to New York."
"Dio cane I think that too twentyfive years ago. . . . When you're old like me you know better. Doesnt the shame of it get you sometimes? Here" . . . he tapped with his knuckles on his stiff shirtfront. . . "I feel it hot and like choking me here. . . . Then I say to myself Courage our day is coming, our day of blood."
"I say to myself," said Emile "When you have some money old kid."
"Listen, before I leave Torino when I go last time to see the mama I go to a meetin of comrades. . . . A fellow from Capua got up to speak . . . a very handsome man, tall and very thin. . . . He said that there would be no more force when after the revolution nobody lived off another man's work. . . . Police, governments, armies, presidents, kings . . . all that is force. Force is not real; it is illusion. The working man makes all that himself because he believes it. The day that we stop believing in money and property it will be like a dream when we wake up. We will not need bombs or barricades. . . . Religion, politics, democracy all that is to keep us asleep. . . . Everybody must go round telling people: Wake up!"
"When you go down into the street I'll be with you," said Congo.
"You know that man I tell about? . . . That man Errico Malatesta, in Italy greatest man after Garibaldi. . . . He give his whole life in jail and exile, in Egypt, in England, in South America, everywhere. . . . If I could be a man like that, I dont care what they do; they can string me up, shoot me . . . I dont care. . . I am very happy."
"But he must be crazy a feller like that," said Emile slowly. "He must be crazy."
Marco gulped down the last of his coffee. "Wait a minute. You are too young. You will understand. . . . One by one they make us understand. . . . And remember what I say. . . . Maybe I'm too old, maybe I'm dead, but it will come when the working people awake from slavery. . . . You will walk out in the street and the police will run away, you will go into a bank and there will be money poured out on the floor and you wont stoop to pick it up, no more good. . . . All over the world we are preparing. There are comrades even in China. . . . Your Commune in France was the beginning . . . socialism failed. It's for the anarchists to strike the next blow. . . . If we fail there will be others. . . ."
Congo yawned, "I am sleepy as a dog."
Outside the lemoncolored dawn was drenching the empty streets, dripping from cornices, from the rails of fire escapes, from the rims of ashcans, shattering the blocks of shadow between buildings. The streetlights were out. At a corner they looked up Broadway that was narrow and scorched as if a fire had gutted it.
"I never see the dawn," said Marco, his voice rattling in his throat, "that I dont say to myself perhaps . . . perhaps today." He cleared his throat and spat against the base of a lamppost; then he moved away from them with his waddling step, taking hard short sniffs of the cool air.
"Is that true, Congo, about shipping again?"
"Why not? Got to see the world a bit. . ."
"I'll miss you. . . . I'll have to find another room."
"You'll find another friend to bunk with."
"But if you do that you'll stay a sailor all your life."
"What does it matter? When you are rich and married I'll come and visit you."
They were walking down Sixth Avenue. An L train roared above their heads leaving a humming rattle to fade among the girders after it had passed.
"Why dont you get another job and stay on a while?"
Congo produced two bent cigarettes out of the breast pocket of his coat, handed one to Emile, struck a match on the seat of his trousers, and let the smoke out slowly through his nose. "I'm fed up with it here I tell you. . . ." He brought his flat hand up across his Adam's apple, "up to here. . . . Maybe I'll go home an visit the little girls of Bordeaux. . . . At least they are not all made of whalebone. . . . I'll engage myself as a volunteer in the navy and wear a red pompom. . . . The girls like that. That's the only life. . . . Get drunk and raise cain payday and see the extreme orient."
"And die of the syph in a hospital at thirty. . . ."
"What's it matter? . . . Your body renews itself every seven years."
The steps of their rooming house smelled of cabbage and stale beer. They stumbled up yawning.
"Waiting's a rotton tiring job. . . . Makes the soles of your feet ache. . . . Look it's going to be a fine day; I can see the sun on the watertank opposite."
Congo pulled off his shoes and socks and trousers and curled up in bed like a cat.
"Those dirty shades let in all the light," muttered Emile as he stretched himself on the outer edge of the bed. He lay tossing uneasily on the rumpled sheets. Congo's breathing beside him was low and regular. If I was only like that, thought Emile, never worrying about a thing. . . . But it's not that way you get along in the world. My God it's stupid. . . . Marco's gaga the old fool.
And he lay on his back looking up at the rusty stains on the ceiling, shuddering every time an elevated train shook the room. Sacred name of God I must save up my money. When he turned over the knob on the bedstead rattled and he remembered Marco's hissing husky voice: I never see the dawn that I dont say to myself perhaps.
"If you'll excuse me just a moment Mr. Olafson," said the houseagent. "While you and the madam are deciding about the apartment. . ." They stood side by side in the empty room, looking out the window at the slatecolored Hudson and the warships at anchor and a schooner tacking upstream.
Suddenly she turned to him with glistening eyes; "O Billy, just think of it."
He took hold of her shoulders and drew her to him slowly. "You can smell the sea, almost."
"Just think Billy that we are going to live here, on Riverside Drive. I'll have to have a day at home . . . Mrs. William C. Olafson, 218 Riverside Drive. . . . I wonder if it is all right to put the address on our visiting cards." She took his hand and led him through the empty cleanswept rooms that no one had ever lived in. He was a big shambling man with eyes of a washed out blue deepset in a white infantile head.
"It's a lot of money Bertha."
"We can afford it now, of course we can. We must live up to our income. . . . Your position demands it. . . . And think how happy we'll be."
The house agent came back down the hall rubbing his hands. "Well, well, well . . . Ah I see that we've come to a favorable decision. . . . You are very wise too, not a finer location in the city of New York and in a few months you wont be able to get anything out this way for love or money. . . ."
"Yes we'll take it from the first of the month."
"Very good. . . . You wont regret your decision, Mr. Olafson."
"I'll send you a check for the amount in the morning."
"At your own convenience. . . . And what is your present address please. . . ." The houseagent took out a notebook and moistened a stub of pencil with his tongue.
"You had better put Hotel Astor." She stepped in front of her husband.
"Our things are stored just at the moment."
Mr. Olafson turned red.
"And . . . er . . . we'd like the names of two references please in the city of New York."
"I'm with Keating and Bradley, Sanitary Engineers, 43 Park Avenue. . ."
"He's just been made assistant general manager," added Mrs. Olafson.
When they got out on the Drive walking downtown against a tussling wind she cried out: "Darling I'm so happy. . . . It's really going to be worth living now."
"But why did you tell him we lived at the Astor?"
"I couldnt tell him we lived in the Bronx could I? He'd have thought we were Jews and wouldnt have rented us the apartment."
"But you know I dont like that sort of thing."
"Well we'll just move down to the Astor for the rest of the week, if you're feeling so truthful. . . . I've never in my life stopped in a big downtown hotel."
"Oh Bertha it's the principle of the thing. . . . I don't like you to be like that."
She turned and looked at him with twitching nostrils. "You're so nambypamby, Billy. . . . I wish to heavens I'd married a man for a husband."
He took her by the arm. "Let's go up here," he said gruffly with his face turned away.
They walked up a cross street between buildinglots. At a corner the rickety half of a weatherboarded farmhouse was still standing. There was half a room with blueflowered paper eaten by brown stains on the walls, a smoked fireplace, a shattered builtin cupboard, and an iron bedstead bent double.
Plates slip endlessly through Bud's greasy fingers. Smell of swill and hot soapsuds. Twice round with the little mop, dip, rinse and pile in the rack for the longnosed Jewish boy to wipe. Knees wet from spillings, grease creeping up his forearms, elbows cramped.
"Hell this aint no job for a white man."
"I dont care so long as I eat," said the Jewish boy above the rattle of dishes and the clatter and seething of the range where three sweating cooks fried eggs and ham and hamburger steak and browned potatoes and cornedbeef hash.
"Sure I et all right," said Bud and ran his tongue round his teeth dislodging a sliver of salt meat that he mashed against his palate with his tongue. Twice round with the little mop, dip, rinse and pile in the rack for the longnosed Jewish boy to wipe. There was a lull. The Jewish boy handed Bud a cigarette. They stood leaning against the sink.
"Aint no way to make money dishwashing." The cigarette wabbled on the Jewish boy's heavy lip as he spoke.
"Aint no job for a white man nohow," said Bud. "Waitin's better, they's the tips."
A man in a brown derby came in through the swinging door from the lunchroom. He was a bigjawed man with pigeyes and a long cigar sticking straight out of the middle of his mouth. Bud caught his eye and felt the cold glint twisting his bowels.
"Whosat?" he whispered.
"Dunno. . . . Customer I guess."
"Dont he look to you like one o them detectives?"
"How de hell should I know? I aint never been in jail." The Jewish boy turned red and stuck out his jaw.
The busboy set down a new pile of dirty dishes. Twice round with the little mop, dip, rinse and pile in the rack. When the man in the brown derby passed back through the kitchen. Bud kept his eyes on his red greasy hands. What the hell even if he is a detective. . . . When Bud had finished the batch, he strolled to the door wiping his hands, took his coat and hat from the hook and slipped out the side door past the garbage cans out into the street. Fool to jump two hours pay. In an optician's window the clock was at twentyfive past two. He walked down Broadway, past Lincoln Square, across Columbus Circle, further downtown towards the center of things where it'd be more crowded.
She lay with her knees doubled up to her chin, the nightgown pulled tight under her toes.
"Now straighten out and go to sleep dear. . . . Promise mother you'll go to sleep."
"Wont daddy come and kiss me good night?"
"He will when he comes in; he's gone back down to the office and mother's going to Mrs. Spingarn's to play euchre."
"When'll daddy be home?"
"Ellie I said go to sleep. . . . I'll leave the light."
"Dont mummy, it makes shadows. . . . When'll daddy be home?"
"When he gets good and ready." She was turning down the gaslight. Shadows out of the corners joined wings and rushed together. "Good night Ellen." The streak of light of the door narrowed behind mummy, slowly narrowed to a thread up and along the top. The knob clicked; the steps went away down the hall; the front door slammed. A clock ticked somewhere in the silent room; outside the apartment, outside the house, wheels and gallumping of hoofs, trailing voices; the roar grew. It was black except for the two strings of light that made an upside down L in the corner of the door.
Ellie wanted to stretch out her feet but she was afraid to. She didnt dare take her eyes from the upside down L in the corner of the door. If she closed her eyes the light would go out. Behind the bed, out of the window-curtains, out of the closet, from under the table shadows nudged creakily towards her. She held on tight to her ankles, pressed her chin in between her knees. The pillow bulged with shadow, rummaging shadows were slipping into the bed. If she closed her eyes the light would go out.
Black spiraling roar outside was melting through the walls making the cuddled shadows throb. Her tongue clicked against her teeth like the ticking of the clock. Her arms and legs were stiff; her neck was stiff; she was going to yell. Yell above the roaring and the rattat outside, yell to make daddy hear, daddy come home. She drew in her breath and shrieked again. Make daddy come home. The roaring shadows staggered and danced, the shadows lurched round and round. Then she was crying, her eyes were full of safe warm tears, they were running over her cheeks and into her ears. She turned over and lay crying with her face in the pillow.
The gaslamps tremble a while down the purplecold streets and then go out under the lurid dawn. Gus McNiel, the sleep still gumming his eyes, walks beside his wagon swinging a wire basket of milkbottles, stopping at doors, collecting the empties, climbing chilly stairs, remembering grades A and B and pints of cream and buttermilk, while the sky behind cornices, tanks, roof peaks, chimneys becomes rosy and yellow. Hoarfrost glistens on doorsteps and curbs. The horse with dangling head lurches jerkily from door to door. There begin to be dark footprints on the frosty pavement. A heavy brewers' dray rumbles down the street.
"Howdy Moike, a little chilled are ye?" shouts Gus McNiel at a cop threshing his arms on the corner of Eighth Avenue.
"Howdy Gus. Cows still milkin'?"
It's broad daylight when he finally slaps the reins down on the gelding's threadbare rump and starts back to the dairy, empties bouncing and jiggling in the cart behind him. At Ninth Avenue a train shoots overhead clattering downtown behind a little green engine that emits blobs of smoke white and dense as cottonwool to melt in the raw air between the stiff blackwindowed houses. The first rays of the sun pick out the gilt lettering of DANIEL McGILLYCUDDY'S WINES AND LIQUORS at the corner of Tenth Avenue. Gus McNiel's tongue is dry and the dawn has a salty taste in his mouth. A can o beer'd be the makin of a guy a cold mornin like this. He takes a turn with the reins round the whip and jumps over the wheel. His numb feet sting when they hit the pavement. Stamping to get the blood back into his toes he shoves through the swinging doors.
"Well I'll be damned if it aint the milkman bringin us a pint o cream for our coffee." Gus spits into the newly polished cuspidor beside the bar.
"Boy, I got a thoist on me. . . ."
"Been drinkin too much milk again, Gus, I'll warrant," roars the barkeep out of a square steak face.
The saloon smells of brasspolish and fresh sawdust. Through an open window a streak of ruddy sunlight caresses the rump of a naked lady who reclines calm as a hardboiled egg on a bed of spinach in a giltframed picture behind the bar.
"Well Gus what's yer pleasure a foine cold mornin loike this?"
"I guess beer'll do, Mac."
The foam rises in the glass, trembles up, slops over. The barkeep cuts across the top with a wooden scoop, lets the foam settle a second, then puts the glass under the faintly wheezing spigot again. Gus is settling his heel comfortably against the brass rail.
"Well how's the job?"
Gus gulps the glass of beer and makes a mark on his neck with his flat hand before wiping his mouth with it. "Full up to the neck wid it. . . . I tell yer what I'm goin to do, I'm goin to go out West, take up free land in North Dakota or somewhere an raise wheat. . . . I'm pretty handy round a farm. . . . This here livin in the city's no good."
"How'll Nellie take that?"
"She wont cotton to it much at foist, loikes her comforts of home an all that she's been used to, but I think she'll loike it foine onct she's out there an all. This aint no loife for her nor me neyther."
"You're right there. This town's goin to hell. . . . Me and the misses'll sell out here some day soon I guess. If we could buy a noice genteel restaurant uptown or a roadhouse, that's what'd suit us. Got me eye on a little property out Bronxville way, within easy drivin distance." He lifts a malletshaped fist meditatively to his chin. "I'm sick o bouncin these goddam drunks every night. Whade hell did I get outen the ring for xep to stop fightin? Jus last night two guys starts asluggin an I has to mix it up with both of em to clear the place out. . . . I'm sick o fighten every drunk on Tenth Avenoo. . . . Have somethin on the house?"
"Jez I'm afraid Nellie'll smell it on me."
"Oh, niver moind that. Nellie ought to be used to a bit o drinkin. Her ole man loikes it well enough."
"But honest Mac I aint been slopped once since me weddinday."
"I dont blame ye. She's a real sweet girl Nellie is. Those little spitcurls o hers'd near drive a feller crazy."
The second beer sends a foamy acrid flush to Gus's fingertips. Laughing he slaps his thigh.
"She's a pippin, that's what she is Gus, so ladylike an all."
"Well I reckon I'll be gettin back to her."
"You lucky young divil to be goin home to bed wid your wife when we're all startin to go to work."
Gus's red face gets redder. His ears tingle. "Sometimes she's abed yet. . . . So long Mac." He stamps out into the street again.
The morning has grown bleak. Leaden clouds have settled down over the city. "Git up old skin an bones," shouts Gus jerking at the gelding's head. Eleventh Avenue is full of icy dust, of grinding rattle of wheels and scrape of hoofs on the cobblestones. Down the railroad tracks comes the clang of a locomotive bell and the clatter of shunting freightcars. Gus is in bed with his wife talking gently to her: Look here Nellie, you wouldn't moind movin West would yez? I've filed application for free farmin land in the state o North Dakota, black soil land where we can make a pile o money in wheat; some fellers git rich in foive good crops. . . . Healthier for the kids anyway. . . . "Hello Moike!" There's poor old Moike still on his beat. Cold work bein a cop. Better be a wheatfarmer an have a big farmhouse an barns an pigs an horses an cows an chickens. . . . Pretty curlyheaded Nellie feedin the chickens at the kitchen door. . . .
"Hay dere for crissake. . . ." a man is yelling at Gus from the curb. "Look out for de cars!"
A yelling mouth gaping under a visored cap, a green flag waving. "Godamighty I'm on the tracks." He yanks the horse's head round. A crash rips the wagon behind him. Cars, the gelding, a green flag, red houses whirl and crumble into blackness.