Page:Manhattan Transfer (John Dos Passos, 1925).djvu/385

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The Burthen of Nineveh


faces, typewritten sheets. She felt very tired; she must have rings under her eyes. The taxi had stopped. There was a red light in the traffic tower ahead. Fifth Avenue was jammed to the curbs with taxis, limousines, motorbusses. She was late; she had left her watch at home. The minutes hung about her neck leaden as hours. She sat up on the edge of the seat, her fists so tightly clenched that she could feel through her gloves her sharp nails digging into the palms of her hands. At last the taxi jerked forward, there was a gust of exhausts and whir of motors, the clot of traffic began moving up Murray Hill. At a corner she caught sight of a clock. Quarter of eight. The traffic stopped again, the brakes of the taxi shrieked, she was thrown forward on the seat. She leaned back with her eyes closed, the blood throbbing in her temples. All her nerves were sharp steel jangled wires cutting into her. "What does it matter?" she kept asking herself. "He'll wait. I'm in no hurry to see him. Let's see, how many blocks? . . . Less than twenty, eighteen." It must have been to keep from going crazy people invented numbers. The multiplication table better than Coué as a cure for jangled nerves. Probably that's what old Peter Stuyvesant thought, or whoever laid the city out in numbers. She was smiling to herself. The taxi had started moving again.

George Baldwin was walking back and forth in the lobby of the hotel, taking short puffs of a cigarette. Now and then he glanced at the clock. His whole body was screwed up taut like a high violinstring. He was hungry and full up with things he wanted to say; he hated waiting for people. When she walked in, cool and silky and smiling, he wanted to go up to her and hit her in the face.

"George do you realize that it's only because numbers are so cold and emotionless that we're not all crazy?" she said giving him a little pat on the arm.

"Fortyfive minutes waiting is enough to drive anybody crazy, that's all I know."

"I must explain it. It's a system. I thought it all up coming up in the taxi. . . . You go in and order anything you