THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Within another year Anthony and Gloria had become like players who had lost their costumes, lacking the pride to continue on the note of tragedy—so that when Mrs. and Miss Hulme of Kansas City cut them dead in the Plaza one evening, it was only that Mrs. and Miss Hulme, like most people, abominated mirrors of their atavistic selves.
Their new apartment, for which they paid eighty-five dollars a month, was situated on Claremont Avenue, which is two blocks from the Hudson in the dim hundreds. They had lived there a month when Muriel Kane came to see them late one afternoon.
It was a reproachless twilight on the summer side of spring. Anthony lay upon the lounge looking up One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Street toward the river, near which he could just see a single patch of vivid green trees that guaranteed the brummagem umbrageousness of Riverside Drive. Across the water were the Palisades, crowned by the ugly framework of the amusement park—yet soon it would be dusk and those same iron cobwebs would be a glory against the heavens, an enchanted palace set over the smooth radiance of a tropical canal.
The streets near the apartment, Anthony had found, were streets where children played—streets a little nicer than those he had been used to pass on his way to Marietta, but of the same general sort, with an occasional hand organ or hurdy-gurdy, and in the cool of the evening many pairs of young girls walking down to the corner drug-store for ice cream soda and dreaming unlimited dreams under the low heavens.
Dusk in the streets now, and children playing, shouting up incoherent ecstatic words that faded out close to the open window—and Muriel, who had come to find Gloria, chattering to him from an opaque gloom over across the room.
“Light the lamp, why don’t we?” she suggested. “It’s getting ghostly in here.”
With a tired movement he arose and obeyed; the gray window-panes vanished. He stretched himself. He was heavier now, his stomach was a limp weight against his belt; his flesh had softened and expanded. He was thirty-two and his mind was a bleak and disordered wreck.
“Have a little drink, Muriel?”
“Not me, thanks. I don’t use it anymore. What’re you doing these days, Anthony?” she asked curiously.
“Well, I’ve been pretty busy with this lawsuit,” he answered indifferently. “It’s gone to the Court of Appeals—ought to be settled up one way or another by autumn. There’s been some objection as to whether the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the matter.”
Muriel made a clicking sound with her tongue and cocked her head on one side.
“Well, you tell’em! I never heard of anything taking so long.”
“Oh, they all do,” he replied listlessly; “all will cases. They say it’s exceptional to have one settled under four or five years.”
“Oh ...” Muriel daringly changed her tack, “why don’t you go to work, you la-azy!”
“At what?” he demanded abruptly.
“Why, at anything, I suppose. You’re still a young man.”
“If that’s encouragement, I’m much obliged,” he answered dryly—and then with sudden weariness: “Does it bother you particularly that I don’t want to work?”
“It doesn’t bother me—but, it does bother a lot of people who claim—”
“Oh, God!” he said brokenly, “it seems to me that for three years I’ve heard nothing about myself but wild stories and virtuous admonitions. I’m tired of it. If you don’t want to see us, let us alone. I don’t bother my former friends.’ But I need no charity calls, and no criticism disguised as good advice—” Then he added apologetically: “I’m sorry—but really, Muriel, you mustn’t talk like a lady slum-worker even if you are visiting the lower middle classes.” He turned his bloodshot eyes on her reproachfully—eyes that had once been a deep, clear blue, that were weak now, strained, and half-ruined from reading when he was drunk.
“Why do you say such awful things?” she protested. You talk as if you and Gloria were in the middle classes.”
“Why pretend we’re not? I hate people who claim to be great aristocrats when they can’t even keep up the appearances of it.”
“Do you think a person has to have money to be aristocratic?”
Muriel ... the horrified democrat ...!
“Why, of course. Aristocracy’s only an admission that certain traits which we call fine—courage and honor and beauty and all that sort of thing—can best be developed in a favorable environment, where you don’t have the warpings of ignorance and necessity.”
Muriel bit her lower lip and waved her head from side to side.
“Well, all I say is that if a person comes from a good family they’re always nice people. That’s the trouble with you and Gloria. You think that just because things aren’t going your way right now all your old friends are trying to avoid you. You’re too sensitive—”
“As a matter of fact,” said Anthony, “you know nothing at all about it. With me it’s simply a matter of pride, and for once Gloria’s reasonable enough to agree that we oughtn’t go where we’re not wanted. And people don’t want us. We’re too much the ideal bad examples.”
“Nonsense! You can’t park your pessimism in my little sun parlor. I think you ought to forget all those morbid speculations and go to work.”
“Here I am, thirty-two. Suppose I did start in at some idiotic business. Perhaps in two years I might rise to fifty dollars a week—with luck. That’s if I could get a job at all; there’s an awful lot of unemployment. Well, suppose I made fifty a week. Do you think I’d be any happier? Do you think that if I don’t get this money of my grandfather’s life will be endurable?”
Muriel smiled complacently.
“Well,” she said, “that may be clever but it isn’t common sense.”
A few minutes later Gloria came in seeming to bring with her into the room some dark color, indeterminate and rare. In a taciturn way she was happy to see Muriel. She greeted Anthony with a casual “Hi!”
“I’ve been talking philosophy with your husband,” cried the irrepressible Miss Kane.
“We took up some fundamental concepts,” said Anthony, a faint smile disturbing his pale cheeks, paler still under two days’ growth of beard.
Oblivious to his irony Muriel rehashed her contention. When she had done, Gloria said quietly:
“Anthony’s right. It’s no fun to go around when you have the sense that people are looking at you in a certain way.”
He broke in plaintively:
“Don’t you think that when even Maury Noble, who was my best friend, won’t come to see us it’s high time to stop calling people up?” Tears were standing in his eyes.
“That was your fault about Maury Noble,” said Gloria coolly.
“It most certainly was.”
Muriel intervened quickly:
“I met a girl who knew Maury, the other day, and she says he doesn’t drink any more. He’s getting pretty cagey.”
“Practically not at all. He’s making piles of money. He’s sort of changed since the war. He’s going to marry a girl in Philadelphia who has millions, Ceci Larrabee—anyhow, that’s what Town Tattle said.”
“He’s thirty-three,” said Anthony, thinking aloud. But it’s odd to imagine his getting married. I used to think he was so brilliant.”
“He was,” murmured Gloria, “in a way.”
“But brilliant people don’t settle down in business—or do they? Or what do they do? Or what becomes of everybody you used to know and have so much in common with?”
“You drift apart,” suggested Muriel with the appropriate dreamy look.
“They change,” said Gloria. “All the qualities that they don’t use in their daily lives get cobwebbed up.”
“The last thing he said to me,” recollected Anthony, “was that he was going to work so as to forget that there was nothing worth working for.”
Muriel caught at this quickly.
“That’s what you ought to do,” she exclaimed triumphantly. “Of course I shouldn’t think anybody would want to work for nothing. But it’d give you something to do. What do you do with yourselves, anyway? Nobody ever sees you at Montmartre or—or anywhere. Are you economizing?”
Gloria laughed scornfully, glancing at Anthony from the corners of her eyes.
“Well,” he demanded, “what are you laughing at?” “You know what I’m laughing at,” she answered coldly.
“At that case of whiskey?”
“Yes”—she turned to Muriel—“he paid seventy-five dollars for a case of whiskey yesterday.”
“What if I did? It’s cheaper that way than if you get it by the bottle. You needn’t pretend that you won’t drink any of it.”
“At least I don’t drink in the daytime.”
“That’s a fine distinction!” he cried, springing to his feet in a weak rage. “What’s more, I’ll be damned if you can hurl that at me every few minutes!”
“It is not! And I’m getting sick of this eternal business of criticising me before visitors!” He had worked himself up to such a state that his arms and shoulders were visibly trembling. “You’d think everything was my fault. You’d think you hadn’t encouraged me to spend money—and spent a lot more on yourself than I ever did by a long shot.”
Now Gloria rose to her feet.
“I won’t let you talk to me that way!”
“All right, then; by Heaven, you don’t have to!”
In a sort of rush he left the room. The two women heard his steps in the hall and then the front door banged. Gloria sank back into her chair. Her face was lovely in the lamplight, composed, inscrutable.
“Oh—!” cried Muriel in distress. “Oh, what is the matter?”
“Nothing particularly. He’s just drunk.”
“Drunk? Why, he’s perfectly sober. He talked—”
Gloria shook her head.
“Oh, no, he doesn’t show it any more unless he can hardly stand up, and he talks all right until he gets excited. He talks much better than he does when he’s sober. But he’s been sitting here all day drinking—except for the time it took him to walk to the corner for a newspaper.”
“Oh, how terrible!” Muriel was sincerely moved. Her eyes filled with tears. “Has this happened much?”
“Drinking, you mean?”
“No, this—leaving you?”
“Oh, yes. Frequently. He’ll come in about midnight—and weep and ask me to forgive him.”
“And do you?”
“I don’t know. We just go on.”
The two women sat there in the lamplight and looked at each other, each in a different way helpless before this thing. Gloria was still pretty, as pretty as she would ever be again—her cheeks were flushed and she was wearing a new dress that she had bought—imprudently—for fifty dollars. She had hoped she could persuade Anthony to take her out to-night, to a restaurant or even to one of the great, gorgeous moving picture palaces where there would be a few people to look at her, at whom she could bear to look in turn. She wanted this because she knew her cheeks were flushed and because her dress was new and becomingly fragile. Only very occasionally, now, did they receive any invitations. But she did not tell these things to Muriel.
“Gloria, dear, I wish we could have dinner together, but I promised a man and it’s seven-thirty already. I’ve got to tear.”
“Oh, I couldn’t, anyway. In the first place I’ve been ill all day. I couldn’t eat a thing.”
After she had walked with Muriel to the door, Gloria came back into the room, turned out the lamp, and leaning her elbows on the window sill looked out at Palisades Park, where the brilliant revolving circle of the Ferris wheel was like a trembling mirror catching the yellow reflection of the moon. The street was quiet now; the children had gone in—over the way she could see a family at dinner. Pointlessly, ridiculously, they rose and walked about the table; seen thus, all that they did appeared incongruous—it was as though they were being jiggled carelessly and to no purpose by invisible overhead wires.
She looked at her watch—it was eight o’clock. She had been pleased for a part of the day—the early afternoon—in walking along that Broadway of Harlem, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, with her nostrils alert to many odors, and her mind excited by the extraordinary beauty of some Italian children. It affected her curiously—as Fifth Avenue had affected her once, in the days when, with the placid confidence of beauty, she had known that it was all hers, every shop and all it held, every adult toy glittering in a window, all hers for the asking. Here on One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street there were Salvation Army bands and spectrum-shawled old ladies on door-steps and sugary, sticky candy in the grimy hands of shiny-haired children—and the late sun striking down on the sides of the tall tenements. All very rich and racy and savory, like a dish by a provident French chef that one could not help enjoying, even though one knew that the ingredients were probably left-overs....
Gloria shuddered suddenly as a river siren came moaning over the dusky roofs, and leaning back in till the ghostly curtains fell from her shoulder, she turned on the electric lamp. It was growing late. She knew there was some change in her purse, and she considered whether she would go down and have some coffee and rolls where the liberated subway made a roaring cave of Manhattan Street or eat the devilled ham and bread in the kitchen. Her purse decided for her. It contained a nickel and two pennies.
After an hour the silence of the room had grown unbearable, and she found that her eyes were wandering from her magazine to the ceiling, toward which she stared without thought. Suddenly she stood up, hesitated for a moment, biting at her finger—then she went to the pantry, took down a bottle of whiskey from the shelf and poured herself a drink. She filled up the glass with ginger ale, and returning to her chair finished an article in the magazine. It concerned the last revolutionary widow, who, when a young girl, had married an ancient veteran of the Continental Army and who had died in 1906. It seemed strange and oddly romantic to Gloria that she and this woman had been contemporaries.
She turned a page and learned that a candidate for Congress was being accused of atheism by an opponent. Gloria’s surprise vanished when she found that the charges were false. The candidate had merely denied the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He admitted, under pressure, that he gave full credence to the stroll upon the water.
Finishing her first drink, Gloria got herself a second. After slipping on a negligée and making herself comfortable on the lounge, she became conscious that she was miserable and that the tears were rolling down her cheeks. She wondered if they were tears of self-pity, and tried resolutely not to cry, but this existence without hope, without happiness, oppressed her, and she kept shaking her head from side to side, her mouth drawn down tremulously in the corners, as though she were denying an assertion made by some one, somewhere. She did not know that this gesture of hers was years older than history, that, for a hundred generations of men, intolerable and persistent grief has offered that gesture, of denial, of protest, of bewilderment, to something more profound, more powerful than the God made in the image of man, and before which that God, did he exist, would be equally impotent. It is a truth set at the heart of tragedy that this force never explains, never answers—this force intangible as air, more definite than death.
Early in the summer Anthony resigned from his last club, the Amsterdam. He had come to visit it hardly twice a year, and the dues were a recurrent burden. He had joined it on his return from Italy because it had been his grandfather’s club and his father’s, and because it was a club that, given the opportunity, one indisputably joined—but as a matter of fact he had preferred the Harvard Club, largely because of Dick and Maury. However, with the decline of his fortunes, it had seemed an increasingly desirable bauble to cling to.... It was relinquished at the last, with some regret....
His companions numbered now a curious dozen. Several of them he had met in a place called “Sammy’s,” on Forty-third Street, where, if one knocked on the door and were favorably passed on from behind a grating, one could sit around a great round table drinking fairly good whiskey. It was here that he encountered a man named Parker Allison, who had been exactly the wrong sort of rounder at Harvard, and who was running through a large “yeast” fortune as rapidly as possible. Parker Allison’s notion of distinction consisted in driving a noisy red-and-yellow racing-car up Broadway with two glittering, hard-eyed girls beside him. He was the sort who dined with two girls rather than with one—his imagination was almost incapable of sustaining a dialogue.
Besides Allison there was Pete Lytell, who wore a gray derby on the side of his head. He always had money and he was customarily cheerful, so Anthony held aimless, long-winded conversation with him through many afternoons of the summer and fall. Lytell, he found, not only talked but reasoned in phrases. His philosophy was a series of them, assimilated here and there through an active, thoughtless life. He had phrases about Socialism—the immemorial ones; he had phrases pertaining to the existence of a personal deity—something about one time when he had been in a railroad accident; and he had phrases about the Irish problem, the sort of woman he respected, and the futility of prohibition. The only time his conversation ever rose superior to these muddled clauses, with which he interpreted the most rococo happenings in a life that had been more than usually eventful, was when he got down to the detailed discussion of his most animal existence: he knew, to a subtlety, the foods, the liquor, and the women that he preferred.
He was at once the commonest and the most remarkable product of civilization. He was nine out of ten people that one passes on a city street—and he was a hairless ape with two dozen tricks. He was the hero of a thousand romances of life and art—and he was a virtual moron, performing staidly yet absurdly a series of complicated and infinitely astounding epics over a span of threescore years.
With such men as these two Anthony Patch drank and discussed and drank and argued. He liked them because they knew nothing about him, because they lived in the obvious and had not the faintest conception of the inevitable continuity of life. They sat not before a motion picture with consecutive reels, but at a musty old-fashioned travelogue with all values stark and hence all implications confused. Yet they themselves were not confused, because there was nothing in them to be confused—they changed phrases from month to month as they changed neckties.
Anthony, the courteous, the subtle, the perspicacious, was drunk each day—in Sammy’s with these men, in the apartment over a book, some book he knew, and, very rarely, with Gloria, who, in his eyes, had begun to develop the unmistakable outlines of a quarrelsome and unreasonable woman. She was not the Gloria of old, certainly—the Gloria who, had she been sick, would have preferred to inflict misery upon every one around her, rather than confess that she needed sympathy or assistance. She was not above whining now; she was not above being sorry for herself. Each night when she prepared for bed she smeared her face with some new unguent which she hoped illogically would give back the glow and freshness to her vanishing beauty. When Anthony was drunk he taunted her about this. When he was sober he was polite to her, on occasions even tender; he seemed to show for short hours a trace of that old quality of understanding too well to blame—that quality which was the best of him and had worked swiftly and ceaselessly toward his ruin.
But he hated to be sober. It made him conscious of the people around him, of that air of struggle, of greedy ambition, of hope more sordid than despair, of incessant passage up or down, which in every metropolis is most in evidence through the unstable middle class. Unable to live with the rich he thought that his next choice would have been to live with the very poor. Anything was better than this cup of perspiration and tears.
The sense of the enormous panorama of life, never strong in Anthony, had become dim almost to extinction. At long intervals now some incident, some gesture of Gloria’s, would take his fancy—but the gray veils had come down in earnest upon him. As he grew older those things faded—after that there was wine.
There was a kindliness about intoxication—there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings. After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building—its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal—again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars....
... The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness—the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.
As he stood in front of Delmonico’s lighting a cigarette one night he saw two hansoms drawn up close to the curb, waiting for a chance drunken fare. The outmoded cabs were worn and dirty—the cracked patent leather wrinkled like an old man’s face, the cushions faded to a brownish lavender; the very horses were ancient and weary, and so were the white-haired men who sat aloft, cracking their whips with a grotesque affectation of gallantry. A relic of vanished gaiety!
Anthony Patch walked away in a sudden fit of depression, pondering the bitterness of such survivals. There was nothing, it seemed, that grew stale so soon as pleasure.
On Forty-second Street one afternoon he met Richard Caramel for the first time in many months, a prosperous, fattening Richard Caramel, whose face was filling out to match the Bostonian brow.
“Just got in this week from the coast. Was going to call you up, but I didn’t know your new address.”
Richard Caramel noticed that Anthony was wearing a soiled shirt, that his cuffs were slightly but perceptibly frayed, that his eyes were set in half-moons the color of cigar smoke.
“So I gathered,” he said, fixing his friend with his bright-yellow eye. “But where and how is Gloria? My God, Anthony, I’ve been hearing the dog-gonedest stories about you two even out in California—and when I get back to New York I find you’ve sunk absolutely out of sight. Why don’t you pull yourself together?”
“Now, listen,” chattered Anthony unsteadily, “I can’t stand a long lecture. We’ve lost money in a dozen ways, and naturally people have talked—on account of the lawsuit, but the thing’s coming to a final decision this winter, surely—”
“You’re talking so fast that I can’t understand you,” interrupted Dick calmly.
“Well, I’ve said all I’m going to say,” snapped Anthony. “Come and see us if you like—or don’t!”
With this he turned and started to walk off in the crowd, but Dick overtook him immediately and grasped his arm.
“Say, Anthony, don’t fly off the handle so easily! You know Gloria’s my cousin, and you’re one of my oldest friends, so it’s natural for me to be interested when I hear that you’re going to the dogs—and taking her with you.”
“I don’t want to be preached to.”
“Well, then, all right—How about coming up to my apartment and having a drink? I’ve just got settled. I’ve bought three cases of Gordon gin from a revenue officer.”
As they walked along he continued in a burst of exasperation:
“And how about your grandfather’s money—you going to get it?”
“Well,” answered Anthony resentfully, “that old fool Haight seems hopeful, especially because people are tired of reformers right now—you know it might make a slight difference, for instance, if some judge thought that Adam Patch made it harder for him to get liquor.”
“You can’t do without money,” said Dick sententiously. “Have you tried to write any—lately?”
Anthony shook his head silently.
“That’s funny,” said Dick. “I always thought that you and Maury would write some day, and now he’s grown to be a sort of tight-fisted aristocrat, and you’re—”
“I’m the bad example.”
“I wonder why?”
“You probably think you know,” suggested Anthony, with an effort at concentration. “The failure and the success both believe in their hearts that they have accurately balanced points of view, the success because he’s succeeded, and the failure because he’s failed. The successful man tells his son to profit by his father’s good fortune, and the failure tells his son to profit by his father’s mistakes.”
“I don’t agree with you,” said the author of “A Shave-tail in France.” “I used to listen to you and Maury when we were young, and I used to be impressed because you were so consistently cynical, but now—well, after all, by God, which of us three has taken to the—to the intellectual life? I don’t want to sound vainglorious, but—it’s me, and I’ve always believed that moral values existed, and I always will.”
“Well,” objected Anthony, who was rather enjoying himself, “even granting that, you know that in practice life never presents problems as clear cut, does it?”
“It does to me. There’s nothing I’d violate certain principles for.”
“But how do you know when you’re violating them? You have to guess at things just like most people do. You have to apportion the values when you look back. You finish up the portrait then—paint in the details and shadows.”
Dick shook his head with a lofty stubbornness. “Same old futile cynic,” he said. “It’s just a mode of being sorry for yourself. You don’t do anything—so nothing matters.”
“Oh, I’m quite capable of self-pity,” admitted Anthony, “nor am I claiming that I’m getting as much fun out of life as you are.”
“You say—at least you used to—that happiness is the only thing worth while in life. Do you think you’re any happier for being a pessimist?”
Anthony grunted savagely. His pleasure in the conversation began to wane. He was nervous and craving for a drink.
“My golly!” he cried, “where do you live? I can’t keep walking forever.”
“Your endurance is all mental, eh?” returned Dick sharply. “Well, I live right here.”
He turned in at the apartment house on Forty-ninth Street, and a few minutes later they were in a large new room with an open fireplace and four walls lined with books. A colored butler served them gin rickeys, and an hour vanished politely with the mellow shortening of their drinks and the glow of a light mid-autumn fire.
“The arts are very old,” said Anthony after a while. With a few glasses the tension of his nerves relaxed and he found that he could think again.
“All of them. Poetry is dying first. It’ll be absorbed into prose sooner or later. For instance, the beautiful word, the colored and glittering word, and the beautiful simile belong in prose now. To get attention poetry has got to strain for the unusual word, the harsh, earthy word that’s never been beautiful before. Beauty, as the sum of several beautiful parts, reached its apotheosis in Swinburne. It can’t go any further—except in the novel, perhaps.”
Dick interrupted him impatiently:
“You know these new novels make me tired. My God! Everywhere I go some silly girl asks me if I’ve read ‘This Side of Paradise.’ Are our girls really like that? If it’s true to life, which I don’t believe, the next generation is going to the dogs. I’m sick of all this shoddy realism. I think there’s a place for the romanticist in literature.”
Anthony tried to remember what he had read lately of Richard Caramel’s. There was “A Shave-tail in France,” a novel called “The Land of Strong Men,” and several dozen short stories, which were even worse. It had become the custom among young and clever reviewers to mention Richard Caramel with a smile of scorn. “Mr.” Richard Caramel, they called him. His corpse was dragged obscenely through every literary supplement. He was accused of making a great fortune by writing trash for the movies. As the fashion in books shifted he was becoming almost a byword of contempt.
While Anthony was thinking this, Dick had got to his feet and seemed to be hesitating at an avowal.
“I’ve gathered quite a few books,” he said suddenly.
“So I see.”
“I’ve made an exhaustive collection of good American stuff, old and new. I don’t mean the usual Longfellow-Whittier thing—in fact, most of it’s modern.”
He stepped to one of the walls and, seeing that it was expected of him, Anthony arose and followed.
Under a printed tag Americana he displayed six long rows of books, beautifully bound and, obviously, carefully chosen.
“And here are the contemporary novelists.”
Then Anthony saw the joker. Wedged in between Mark Twain and Dreiser were eight strange and inappropriate volumes, the works of Richard Caramel—“The Demon Lover,” true enough ... but also seven others that were execrably awful, without sincerity or grace.
Unwillingly Anthony glanced at Dick’s face and caught a slight uncertainty there.
“I’ve put my own books in, of course,” said Richard Caramel hastily, “though one or two of them are uneven—I’m afraid I wrote a little too fast when I had that magazine contract. But I don’t believe in false modesty. Of course some of the critics haven’t paid so much attention to me since I’ve been established—but, after all, it’s not the critics that count. They’re just sheep.”
For the first time in so long that he could scarcely remember, Anthony felt a touch of the old pleasant contempt for his friend. Richard Caramel continued:
“My publishers, you know, have been advertising me as the Thackeray of America—because of my New York novel.”
“Yes,” Anthony managed to muster, “I suppose there’s a good deal in what you say.”
He knew that his contempt was unreasonable. He, knew that he would have changed places with Dick unhesitatingly. He himself had tried his best to write with his tongue in his cheek. Ah, well, then—can a man disparage his life-work so readily? ...
—And that night while Richard Caramel was hard at toil, with great hittings of the wrong keys and screwings up of his weary, unmatched eyes, laboring over his trash far into those cheerless hours when the fire dies down, and the head is swimming from the effect of prolonged concentration—Anthony, abominably drunk, was sprawled across the back seat of a taxi on his way to the flat on Claremont Avenue.
As winter approached it seemed that a sort of madness seized upon Anthony. He awoke in the morning so nervous that Gloria could feel him trembling in the bed before he could muster enough vitality to stumble into the pantry for a drink. He was intolerable now except under the influence of liquor, and as he seemed to decay and coarsen under her eyes, Gloria’s soul and body shrank away from him; when he stayed out all night, as he did several times, she not only failed to be sorry but even felt a measure of relief. Next day he would be faintly repentant, and would remark in a gruff, hang-dog fashion that he guessed he was drinking a little too much.
For hours at a time he would sit in the great armchair that had been in his apartment, lost in a sort of stupor—even his interest in reading his favorite books seemed to have departed, and though an incessant bickering went on between husband and wife, the one subject upon which they ever really conversed was the progress of the will case. What Gloria hoped in the tenebrous depths of her soul, what she expected that great gift of money to bring about, is difficult to imagine. She was being bent by her environment into a grotesque similitude of a housewife. She who until three years before had never made coffee, prepared sometimes three meals a day. She walked a great deal in the afternoons, and in the evenings she read—books, magazines, anything she found at hand. If now she wished for a child, even a child of the Anthony who sought her bed blind drunk, she neither said so nor gave any show or sign of interest in children. It is doubtful if she could have made it clear to any one what it was she wanted, or indeed what there was to want—a lonely, lovely woman, thirty now, retrenched behind some impregnable inhibition born and coexistent with her beauty.
One afternoon when the snow was dirty again along Riverside Drive, Gloria, who had been to the grocer’s, entered the apartment to find Anthony pacing the floor in a state of aggravated nervousness. The feverish eyes he turned on her were traced with tiny pink lines that reminded her of rivers on a map. For a moment she received the impression that he was suddenly and definitely old.
“Have you any money?” he inquired of her precipitately.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Just what I said. Money! Money! Can’t you speak English?”
She paid no attention but brushed by him and into the pantry to put the bacon and eggs in the ice-box. When his drinking had been unusually excessive he was invariably in a whining mood. This time he followed her and, standing in the pantry door, persisted in his question.
“You heard what I said. Have you any money?”
She turned about from the ice-box and faced him.
“Why, Anthony, you must be crazy! You know I haven’t any money—except a dollar in change.”
He executed an abrupt about-face and returned to the living room, where he renewed his pacing. It was evident that he had something portentous on his mind—he quite obviously wanted to be asked what was the matter. Joining him a moment later she sat upon the long lounge and began taking down her hair. It was no longer bobbed, and it had changed in the last year from a rich gold dusted with red to an unresplendent light brown. She had bought some shampoo soap and meant to wash it now; she had considered putting a bottle of peroxide into the rinsing water.
“—Well?” she implied silently.
“That darn bank!” he quavered. “They’ve had my account for over ten years—ten years. Well, it seems they’ve got some autocratic rule that you have to keep over five hundred dollars there or they won’t carry you. They wrote me a letter a few months ago and told me I’d been running too low. Once I gave out two bum checks—remember? that night in Reisenweber’s?—but I made them good the very next day. Well, I promised old Halloran—he’s the manager, the greedy Mick—that I’d watch out. And I thought I was going all right; I kept up the stubs in my check-book pretty regular. Well, I went in there to-day to cash a check, and Halloran came up and told me they’d have to close my account. Too many bad checks, he said, and I never had more than five hundred to my credit—and that only for a day or so at a time. And by God! What do you think he said then?”
“He said this was a good time to do it because I didn’t have a damn penny in there!”
“That’s what he told me. Seems I’d given these Bedros people a check for sixty for that last case of liquor—and I only had forty-five dollars in the bank. Well, the Bedros people deposited fifteen dollars to my account and drew the whole thing out.”
In her ignorance Gloria conjured up a spectre of imprisonment and disgrace.
“Oh, they won’t do anything,” he assured her. “Bootlegging’s too risky a business. They’ll send me a bill for fifteen dollars and I’ll pay it.”
“Oh.” She considered a moment. “—Well, we can sell another bond.”
He laughed sarcastically.
“Oh, yes, that’s always easy. When the few bonds we have that are paying any interest at all are only worth between fifty and eighty cents on the dollar. We lose about half the bond every time we sell.”
“What else can we do?”
“Oh, we’ll sell something—as usual. We’ve got paper worth eighty thousand dollars at par.” Again he laughed unpleasantly. “Bring about thirty thousand on the open market.”
“I distrusted those ten per cent investments.”
“The deuce you did!” he said. “You pretended you did, so you could claw at me if they went to pieces, but you wanted to take a chance as much as I did.”
She was silent for a moment as if considering, then:
“Anthony,” she cried suddenly, “two hundred a month is worse than nothing. Let’s sell all the bonds and put the thirty thousand dollars in the bank—and if we lose the case we can live in Italy for three years, and then just die.” In her excitement as she talked she was aware of a faint flush of sentiment, the first she had felt in many days.
“Three years,” he said nervously, “three years! You’re crazy. Mr. Haight’ll take more than that if we lose. Do you think he’s working for charity?”
“I forgot that.”
“—And here it is Saturday,” he continued, “and I’ve only got a dollar and some change, and we’ve got to live till Monday, when I can get to my broker’s.... And not a drink in the house,” he added as a significant afterthought.
“Can’t you call up Dick?”
“I did. His man says he’s gone down to Princeton to address a literary club or some such thing. Won’t be back till Monday.”
“Well, let’s see—Don’t you know some friend you might go to?”
“I tried a couple of fellows. Couldn’t find anybody in. I wish I’d sold that Keats letter like I started to last week.”
“How about those men you play cards with in that Sammy place?”
“Do you think I’d ask them?“ His voice rang with righteous horror. Gloria winced. He would rather contemplate her active discomfort than feel his own skin crawl at asking an inappropriate favor. “I thought of Muriel,” he suggested.
“She’s in California.”
“Well, how about some of those men who gave you such a good time while I was in the army? You’d think they might be glad to do a little favor for you.”
She looked at him contemptuously, but he took no notice.
“Or how about your old friend Rachael—or Constance Merriam?”
“Constance Merriam’s been dead a year, and I wouldn’t ask Rachael.”
“Well, how about that gentleman who was so anxious to help you once that he could hardly restrain himself, Bloeckman?”
“Oh—!” He had hurt her at last, and he was not too obtuse or too careless to perceive it.
“Why not him?” he insisted callously.
“Because—he doesn’t like me any more,” she said with difficulty, and then as he did not answer but only regarded her cynically: “If you want to know why, I’ll tell you. A year ago I went to Bloeckman—he’s changed his name to Black—and asked him to put me into pictures.”
“You went to Bloeckman?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded incredulously, the smile fading from his face.
“Because you were probably off drinking somewhere. He had them give me a test, and they decided that I wasn’t young enough for anything except a character part.”
“A character part?”
“The ‘woman of thirty’ sort of thing. I wasn’t thirty, and I didn’t think I—looked thirty.”
“Why, damn him!” cried Anthony, championing her violently with a curious perverseness of emotion, “why—”
“Well, that’s why I can’t go to him.”
“Why, the insolence!” insisted Anthony nervously, “the insolence!”
“Anthony, that doesn’t matter now; the thing is we’ve got to live over Sunday and there’s nothing in the house but a loaf of bread and a half-pound of bacon and two eggs for breakfast.” She handed him the contents of her purse. “There’s seventy, eighty, a dollar fifteen. With what you have that makes about two and a half altogether, doesn’t it? Anthony, we can get along on that. We can buy lots of food with that—more than we can possibly eat.”
Jingling the change in his hand he shook his head. “No. I’ve got to have a drink. I’m so darn nervous that I’m shivering.” A thought struck him. “Perhaps Sammy’d cash a check. And then Monday I could rush down to the bank with the money.” “But they’ve closed your account.”
“That’s right, that’s right—I’d forgotten. I’ll tell you what: I’ll go down to Sammy’s and I’ll find somebody there who’ll lend me something. I hate like the devil to ask them, though....” He snapped his fingers suddenly. “I know what I’ll do. I’ll hock my watch. I can get twenty dollars on it, and get it back Monday for sixty cents extra. It’s been hocked before—when I was at Cambridge.”
He had put on his overcoat, and with a brief good-by he started down the hall toward the outer door.
Gloria got to her feet. It had suddenly occurred to her where he would probably go first.
“Anthony!” she called after him, “hadn’t you better leave two dollars with me? You’ll only need car-fare.”
The outer door slammed—he had pretended not to hear her. She stood for a moment looking after him; then she went into the bathroom among her tragic unguents and began preparations for washing her hair.
Down at Sammy’s he found Parker Allison and Pete Lytell sitting alone at a table, drinking whiskey sours. It was just after six o’clock, and Sammy, or Samuele Bendiri, as he had been christened, was sweeping an accumulation of cigarette butts and broken glass into a corner.
“Hi, Tony!” called Parker Allison to Anthony. Sometimes he addressed him as Tony, at other times it was Dan. To him all Anthonys must sail under one of these diminutives.
“Sit down. What’ll you have?”
On the subway Anthony had counted his money and found that he had almost four dollars. He could pay for two rounds at fifty cents a drink—which meant that he would have six drinks. Then he would go over to Sixth Avenue and get twenty dollars and a pawn ticket in exchange for his watch.
“Well, roughnecks,” he said jovially, “how’s the life of crime?”
“Pretty good,” said Allison. He winked at Pete Lytell. “Too bad you’re a married man. We’ve got some pretty good stuff lined up for about eleven o’clock, when the shows let out. Oh, boy! Yes, sir—too bad he’s married—isn’t it, Pete?”
At half past seven, when they had completed the six rounds, Anthony found that his intentions were giving audience to his desires. He was happy and cheerful now—thoroughly enjoying himself. It seemed to him that the story which Pete had just finished telling was unusually and profoundly humorous—and he decided, as he did every day at about this point, that they were “damn good fellows, by golly!” who would do a lot more for him than any one else he knew. The pawnshops would remain open until late Saturday nights, and he felt that if he took just one more drink he would attain a gorgeous rose-colored exhilaration.
Artfully, he fished in his vest pockets, brought up his two quarters, and stared at them as though in surprise.
“Well, I’ll be darned,” he protested in an aggrieved tone, “here I’ve come out without my pocketbook.”
“Need some cash?” asked Lytell easily.
“I left my money on the dresser at home. And I wanted to buy you another drink.”
“Oh—knock it.” Lytell waved the suggestion away disparagingly. “I guess we can blow a good fella to all the drinks he wants. What’ll you have—same?”
“I tell you,” suggested Parker Allison, “suppose we send Sammy across the street for some sandwiches and eat dinner here.”
The other two agreed.
“Hey, Sammy, wantcha do somep’m for us....”
Just after nine o’clock Anthony staggered to his feet and, bidding them a thick good night, walked unsteadily to the door, handing Sammy one of his two quarters as he passed out. Once in the street he hesitated uncertainly and then started in the direction of Sixth Avenue, where he remembered to have frequently passed several loan offices. He went by a news-stand and two drug-stores—and then he realized that he was standing in front of the place which he sought, and that it was shut and barred. Unperturbed he continued; another one, half a block down, was also closed—so were two more across the street, and a fifth in the square below. Seeing a faint light in the last one, he began to knock on the glass door; he desisted only when a watchman appeared in the back of the shop and motioned him angrily to move on. With growing discouragement, with growing befuddlement, he crossed the street and walked back toward Forty-third. On the corner near Sammy’s he paused undecided—if he went back to the apartment, as he felt his body required, he would lay himself open to bitter reproach; yet, now that the pawnshops were closed, he had no notion where to get the money. He decided finally that he might ask Parker Allison, after all—but he approached Sammy’s only to find the door locked and the lights out. He looked at his watch; nine-thirty. He began walking.
Ten minutes later he stopped aimlessly at the corner of Forty-third Street and Madison Avenue, diagonally across from the bright but nearly deserted entrance to the Biltmore Hotel. Here he stood for a moment, and then sat down heavily on a damp board amid some debris of construction work. He rested there for almost half an hour, his mind a shifting pattern of surface thoughts, chiefest among which were that he must obtain some money and get home before he became too sodden to find his way.
Then, glancing over toward the Biltmore, he saw a man standing directly under the overhead glow of the porte-cochère lamps beside a woman in an ermine coat. As Anthony watched, the couple moved forward and signalled to a taxi. Anthony perceived by the infallible identification that lurks in the walk of a friend that it was Maury Noble.
He rose to his feet.
“Maury!” he shouted.
Maury looked in his direction, then turned back to the girl just as the taxi came up into place. With the chaotic idea of borrowing ten dollars, Anthony began to run as fast as he could across Madison Avenue and along Forty-third Street.
As he came up Maury was standing beside the yawning door of the taxicab. His companion turned and looked curiously at Anthony.
“Hello, Maury!” he said, holding out his hand. “How are you?”
“Fine, thank you.”
Their hands dropped and Anthony hesitated. Maury made no move to introduce him, but only stood there regarding him with an inscrutable feline silence.
“I wanted to see you—” began Anthony uncertainly. He did not feel that he could ask for a loan with the girl not four feet away, so he broke off and made a perceptible motion of his head as if to beckon Maury to one side.
“I’m in rather a big hurry, Anthony.”
“I know—but can you, can you—” Again he hesitated.
“I’ll see you some other time,” said Maury. “It’s important.”
“I’m sorry, Anthony.”
Before Anthony could make up his mind to blurt out his request, Maury had turned coolly to the girl, helped her into the car and, with a polite “good evening,” stepped in after her. As he nodded from the window it seemed to Anthony that his expression had not changed by a shade or a hair. Then with a fretful clatter the taxi moved off, and Anthony was left standing there alone under the lights.
Anthony went on into the Biltmore, for no reason in particular except that the entrance was at hand, and ascending the wide stair found a seat in an alcove. He was furiously aware that he had been snubbed; he was as hurt and angry as it was possible for him to be when in that condition. Nevertheless, he was stubbornly preoccupied with the necessity of obtaining some money before he went home, and once again he told over on his fingers the acquaintances he might conceivably call on in this emergency. He thought, eventually, that he might approach Mr. Howland, his broker, at his home.
After a long wait he found that Mr. Howland was out. He returned to the operator, leaning over her desk and fingering his quarter as though loath to leave unsatisfied.
“Call Mr. Bloeckman,” he said suddenly. His own words surprised him. The name had come from some crossing of two suggestions in his mind.
“What’s the number, please?”
Scarcely conscious of what he did, Anthony looked up Joseph Bloeckman in the telephone directory. He could find no such person, and was about to close the book when it flashed into his mind that Gloria had mentioned a change of name. It was the matter of a minute to find Joseph Black—then he waited in the booth while central called the number.
“Hello-o. Mr. Bloeckman—I mean Mr. Black in?”
“No, he’s out this evening. Is there any message?” The intonation was cockney; it reminded him of the rich vocal deferences of Bounds.
“Where is he?”
“Why, ah, who is this, please, sir?”
“This Mr. Patch. Matter of vi’al importance.” “Why, he’s with a party at the Boul’ Mich’, sir.” “Thanks.”
Anthony got his five cents change and started for the Boul’ Mich’, a popular dancing resort on Forty-fifth Street. It was nearly ten but the streets were dark and sparsely peopled until the theatres should eject their spawn an hour later. Anthony knew the Boul’ Mich’, for he had been there with Gloria during the year before, and he remembered the existence of a rule that patrons must be in evening dress. Well, he would not go up-stairs—he would send a boy up for Bloeckman and wait for him in the lower hall. For a moment he did not doubt that the whole project was entirely natural and graceful. To his distorted imagination Bloeckman had become simply one of his old friends.
The entrance hall of the Boul’ Mich’ was warm. There were high yellow lights over a thick green carpet, from the centre of which a white stairway rose to the dancing floor.
Anthony spoke to the hallboy:
“I want to see Mr. Bloeckman—Mr. Black,” he said. “He’s up-stairs—have him paged.”
The boy shook his head.
“‘Sagainsa rules to have him paged. You know what table he’s at?”
“No. But I’ve got see him.”
“Wait an’ I’ll getcha waiter.”
After a short interval a head waiter appeared, bearing a card on which were charted the table reservations. He darted a cynical look at Anthony—which, however, failed of its target. Together they bent over the cardboard and found the table without difficulty—a party of eight, Mr. Black’s own.
“Tell him Mr. Patch. Very, very important.”
Again he waited, leaning against the banister and listening to the confused harmonies of “Jazz-mad” which came floating down the stairs. A check-girl near him was singing:
“Out in—the shimmee sanitarium The jazz-mad nuts reside. Out in—the shimmee sanitarium I left my blushing bride. She went and shook herself insane, So let her shiver back again—”
Then he saw Bloeckman descending the staircase, and took a step forward to meet him and shake hands.
“You wanted to see me?” said the older man coolly.
“Yes,” answered Anthony, nodding, “personal matter. Can you jus’ step over here?”
Regarding him narrowly Bloeckman followed Anthony to a half bend made by the staircase where they were beyond observation or earshot of any one entering or leaving the restaurant.
“Well?” he inquired.
“Wanted talk to you.”
Anthony only laughed—a silly laugh; he intended it to sound casual.
“What do you want to talk to me about?” repeated Bloeckman.
“Wha’s hurry, old man?” He tried to lay his hand in a friendly gesture upon Bloeckman’s shoulder, but the latter drew away slightly. “How’ve been?”
“Very well, thanks.... See here, Mr. Patch, I’ve got a party up-stairs. They’ll think it’s rude if I stay away too long. What was it you wanted to see me about?”
For the second time that evening Anthony’s mind made an abrupt jump, and what he said was not at all what he had intended to say.
“Un’erstand you kep’ my wife out of the movies.” “What?” Bloeckman’s ruddy face darkened in parallel planes of shadows.
“You heard me.”
“Look here, Mr. Patch,” said Bloeckman, evenly and without changing his expression, “you’re drunk. You’re disgustingly and insultingly drunk.”
“Not too drunk talk to you,” insisted Anthony with a leer. “Firs’ place, my wife wants nothin’ whatever do with you. Never did. Un’erstand me?”
“Be quiet!” said the older man angrily. “I should think you’d respect your wife enough not to bring her into the conversation under these circumstances.”
“Never you min’ how I expect my wife. One thing—you leave her alone. You go to hell!”
“See here—I think you’re a little crazy!” exclaimed Bloeckman. He took two paces forward as though to pass by, but Anthony stepped in his way.
“Not so fas’, you Goddam Jew.”
For a moment they stood regarding each other, Anthony swaying gently from side to side, Bloeckman almost trembling with fury.
“Be careful!” he cried in a strained voice.
Anthony might have remembered then a certain look Bloeckman had given him in the Biltmore Hotel years before. But he remembered nothing, nothing—
“I’ll say it again, you God—”
Then Bloeckman struck out, with all the strength in the arm of a well-conditioned man of forty-five, struck out and caught Anthony squarely in the mouth. Anthony cracked up against the staircase, recovered himself and made a wild drunken swing at his opponent, but Bloeckman, who took exercise every day and knew something of sparring, blocked it with ease and struck him twice in the face with two swift smashing jabs. Anthony gave a little grunt and toppled over onto the green plush carpet, finding, as he fell, that his mouth was full of blood and seemed oddly loose in front. He struggled to his feet, panting and spitting, and then as he started toward Bloeckman, who stood a few feet away, his fists clenched but not up, two waiters who had appeared from nowhere seized his arms and held him, helpless. In back of them a dozen people had miraculously gathered.
“I’ll kill him,” cried Anthony, pitching and straining from side to side. “Let me kill—”
“Throw him out!” ordered Bloeckman excitedly, just as a small man with a pockmarked face pushed his way hurriedly through the spectators.
“Any trouble, Mr. Black?”
“This bum tried to blackmail me!” said Bloeckman, and then, his voice rising to a faintly shrill note of pride: “He got what was coming to him!”
The little man turned to a waiter.
“Call a policeman!” he commanded.
“Oh, no,” said Bloeckman quickly. “I can’t be bothered. Just throw him out in the street.... Ugh! What an outrage!” He turned and with conscious dignity walked toward the wash-room just as six brawny hands seized upon Anthony and dragged him toward the door. The “bum” was propelled violently to the sidewalk, where he landed on his hands and knees with a grotesque slapping sound and rolled over slowly onto his side.
The shock stunned him. He lay there for a moment in acute distributed pain. Then his discomfort became centralized in his stomach, and he regained consciousness to discover that a large foot was prodding him.
“You’ve got to move on, y’ bum! Move on!”
It was the bulky doorman speaking. A town car had stopped at the curb and its occupants had disembarked—that is, two of the women were standing on the dashboard, waiting in offended delicacy until this obscene obstacle should be removed from their path.
“Move on! Or else I’ll throw y’on!”
“Here—I’ll get him.”
This was a new voice; Anthony imagined that it was somehow more tolerant, better disposed than the first. Again arms were about him, half lifting, half dragging him into a welcome shadow four doors up the street and propping him against the stone front of a millinery shop.
“Much obliged,” muttered Anthony feebly. Some one pushed his soft hat down upon his head and he winced.
“Just sit still, buddy, and you’ll feel better. Those guys sure give you a bump.”
“I’m going back and kill that dirty—” He tried to get to his feet but collapsed backward against the wall.
“You can’t do nothin’ now,” came the voice. “Get ’em some other time. I’m tellin’ you straight, ain’t I? I’m helpin’ you.”
“An’ you better go home. You dropped a tooth to-night, buddy. You know that?”
Anthony explored his mouth with his tongue, verifying the statement. Then with an effort he raised his hand and located the gap.
“I’m agoin’ to get you home, friend. Whereabouts do you live—”
“Oh, by God! By God!” interrupted Anthony, clenching his fists passionately. “I’ll show the dirty bunch. You help me show ’em and I’ll fix it with you. My grandfather’s Adam Patch, of Tarrytown”—
“Adam Patch, by God!”
“You wanna go all the way to Tarrytown?”
“Well, you tell me where to go, friend, and I’ll get a cab.”
Anthony made out that his Samaritan was a short, broad-shouldered individual, somewhat the worse for wear.
“Where d’you live, hey?”
Sodden and shaken as he was, Anthony felt that his address would be poor collateral for his wild boast about his grandfather.
“Get me a cab,” he commanded, feeling in his pockets.
A taxi drove up. Again Anthony essayed to rise, but his ankle swung loose, as though it were in two sections. The Samaritan must needs help him in—and climb in after him.
“See here, fella,” said he, “you’re soused and you’re bunged up, and you won’t be able to get in your house ‘less somebody carries you in, so I’m going with you, and I know you’ll make it all right with me. Where d’you live?”
With some reluctance Anthony gave his address. Then, as the cab moved off, he leaned his head against the man’s shoulder and went into a shadowy, painful torpor. When he awoke, the man had lifted him from the cab in front of the apartment on Claremont Avenue and was trying to set him on his feet.
“Can y’ walk?”
“Yes—sort of. You better not come in with me.” Again he felt helplessly in his pockets. “Say,” he continued, apologetically, swaying dangerously on his feet, “I’m afraid I haven’t got a cent.”
“I’m cleaned out.”
“Sa-a-ay! Didn’t I hear you promise you’d fix it with me? Who’s goin’ to pay the taxi bill?” He turned to the driver for confirmation. “Didn’t you hear him say he’d fix it? All that about his grandfather?”
“Matter of fact,” muttered Anthony imprudently, “it was you did all the talking; however, if you come round, to-morrow—”
At this point the taxi-driver leaned from his cab and said ferociously:
“Ah, poke him one, the dirty cheap skate. If he wasn’t a bum they wouldn’ta throwed him out.”
In answer to this suggestion the fist of the Samaritan shot out like a battering-ram and sent Anthony crashing down against the stone steps of the apartment-house, where he lay without movement, while the tall buildings rocked to and fro above him....
After a long while he awoke and was conscious that it had grown much colder. He tried to move himself but his muscles refused to function. He was curiously anxious to know the time, but he reached for his watch, only to find the pocket empty. Involuntarily his lips formed an immemorial phrase:
“What a night!”
Strangely enough, he was almost sober. Without moving his head he looked up to where the moon was anchored in mid-sky, shedding light down into Claremont Avenue as into the bottom of a deep and uncharted abyss. There was no sign or sound of life save for the continuous buzzing in his own ears, but after a moment Anthony himself broke the silence with a distinct and peculiar murmur. It was the sound that he had consistently attempted to make back there in the Boul’ Mich’, when he had been face to face with Bloeckman—the unmistakable sound of ironic laughter. And on his torn and bleeding lips it was like a pitiful retching of the soul.
Three weeks later the trial came to an end. The seemingly endless spool of legal red tape having unrolled over a period of four and a half years, suddenly snapped off. Anthony and Gloria and, on the other side, Edward Shuttleworth and a platoon of beneficiaries testified and lied and ill-behaved generally in varying degrees of greed and desperation. Anthony awoke one morning in March realizing that the verdict was to be given at four that afternoon, and at the thought he got up out of his bed and began to dress. With his extreme nervousness there was mingled an unjustified optimism as to the outcome. He believed that the decision of the lower court would be reversed, if only because of the reaction, due to excessive prohibition, that had recently set in against reforms and reformers. He counted more on the personal attacks that they had levelled at Shuttleworth than on the more sheerly legal aspects of the proceedings.
Dressed, he poured himself a drink of whiskey and then went into Gloria’s room, where he found her already wide awake. She had been in bed for a week, humoring herself, Anthony fancied, though the doctor had said that she had best not be disturbed.
“Good morning,” she murmured, without smiling. Her eyes seemed unusually large and dark.
“How do you feel?” he asked grudgingly. “Better?”
“Do you feel well enough to go down to court with me this afternoon?”
“Yes. I want to. Dick said yesterday that if the weather was nice he was coming up in his car and take me for a ride in Central Park—and look, the room’s all full of sunshine.”
Anthony glanced mechanically out the window and then sat down upon the bed.
“God, I’m nervous!” he exclaimed.
“Please don’t sit there,” she said quickly.
“You smell of whiskey. I can’t stand it.”
He got up absent-mindedly and left the room. A little later she called to him and he went out and brought her some potato salad and cold chicken from the delicatessen.
At two o’clock Richard Caramel’s car arrived at the door and, when he phoned up, Anthony took Gloria down in the elevator and walked with her to the curb.
She told her cousin that it was sweet of him to take her riding. “Don’t be simple,” Dick replied disparagingly. “It’s nothing.”
But he did not mean that it was nothing and this was a curious thing. Richard Caramel had forgiven many people for many offenses. But he had never forgiven his cousin, Gloria Gilbert, for a statement she had made just prior to her wedding, seven years before. She had said that she did not intend to read his book.
Richard Caramel remembered this—he had remembered it well for seven years.
“What time will I expect you back?” asked Anthony.
“We won’t come back,” she answered, “we’ll meet you down there at four.”
“All right,” he muttered, “I’ll meet you.”
Up-stairs he found a letter waiting for him. It was a mimeographed notice urging “the boys” in condescendingly colloquial language to pay the dues of the American Legion. He threw it impatiently into the waste-basket and sat down with his elbows on the window sill, looking down blindly into the sunny street.
Italy—if the verdict was in their favor it meant Italy. The word had become a sort of talisman to him, a land where the intolerable anxieties of life would fall away like an old garment. They would go to the watering-places first and among the bright and colorful crowds forget the gray appendages of despair. Marvellously renewed, he would walk again in the Piazza di Spanga at twilight, moving in that drifting flotsam of dark women and ragged beggars, of austere, barefooted friars. The thought of Italian women stirred him faintly—when his purse hung heavy again even romance might fly back to perch upon it—the romance of blue canals in Venice, of the golden green hills of Fiesole after rain, and of women, women who changed, dissolved, melted into other women and receded from his life, but who were always beautiful and always young.
But it seemed to him that there should be a difference in his attitude. All the distress that he had ever known, the sorrow and the pain, had been because of women. It was something that in different ways they did to him, unconsciously, almost casually—perhaps finding him tender-minded and afraid, they killed the things in him that menaced their absolute sway.
Turning about from the window he faced his reflection in the mirror, contemplating dejectedly the wan, pasty face, the eyes with their crisscross of lines like shreds of dried blood, the stooped and flabby figure whose very sag was a document in lethargy. He was thirty three—he looked forty. Well, things would be different.
The door-bell rang abruptly and he started as though he had been dealt a blow. Recovering himself, he went into the hall and opened the outer dour. It was Dot.
He retreated before her into the living room, comprehending only a word here and there in the slow flood of sentences that poured from her steadily, one after the other, in a persistent monotone. She was decently and shabbily dressed—a somehow pitiable little hat adorned with pink and blue flowers covered and hid her dark hair. He gathered from her words that several days before she had seen an item in the paper concerning the lawsuit, and had obtained his address from the clerk of the Appellate Division. She had called up the apartment and had been told that Anthony was out by a woman to whom she had refused to give her name.
In a living room he stood by the door regarding her with a sort of stupefied horror as she rattled on.... His predominant sensation was that all the civilization and convention around him was curiously unreal.... She was in a milliner’s shop on Sixth Avenue, she said. It was a lonesome life. She had been sick for a long while after he left for Camp Mills; her mother had come down and taken her home again to Carolina.... She had come to New York with the idea of finding Anthony.
She was appallingly in earnest. Her violet eyes were red with tears; her soft intonation was ragged with little gasping sobs.
That was all. She had never changed. She wanted him now, and if she couldn’t have him she must die....
“You’ll have to get out,” he said at length, speaking with tortuous intensity. “Haven’t I enough to worry me now without you coming here? My God! You’ll have to get out!”
Sobbing, she sat down in a chair.
“I love you,” she cried; “I don’t care what you say to me! I love you.”
“I don’t care!” he almost shrieked; “get out—oh, get out! Haven’t you done me harm enough? Haven’t—you—done—enough?”
“Hit me!” she implored him—wildly, stupidly. “Oh, hit me, and I’ll kiss the hand you hit me with!”
His voice rose until it was pitched almost at a scream. “I’ll kill you!” he cried. “If you don’t get out I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you!”
There was madness in his eyes now, but, unintimidated, Dot rose and took a step toward him.
He made a little clicking sound with his teeth and drew back as though to spring at her—then, changing his purpose, he looked wildly about him on the floor and wall.
“I’ll kill you!” he was muttering in short, broken gasps. “I’ll kill you!” He seemed to bite at the word as though to force it into materialization. Alarmed at last she made no further movement forward, but meeting his frantic eyes took a step back toward the door. Anthony began to race here and there on his side of the room, still giving out his single cursing cry. Then he found what he had been seeking—a stiff oaken chair that stood beside the table. Uttering a harsh, broken shout, he seized it, swung it above his head and let it go with all his raging strength straight at the white, frightened face across the room ... then a thick, impenetrable darkness came down upon him and blotted out thought, rage, and madness together—with almost a tangible snapping sound the face of the world changed before his eyes....
Gloria and Dick came in at five and called his name. There was no answer—they went into the living room and found a chair with its back smashed lying in the doorway, and they noticed that all about the room there was a sort of disorder—the rugs had slid, the pictures and bric-à-brac were upset upon the centre table. The air was sickly sweet with cheap perfume.
They found Anthony sitting in a patch of sunshine on the floor of his bedroom. Before him, open, were spread his three big stamp-books, and when they entered he was running his hands through a great pile of stamps that he had dumped from the back of one of them. Looking up and seeing Dick and Gloria he put his head critically on one side and motioned them back.
“Anthony!” cried Gloria tensely, “we’ve won! They reversed the decision!”
“Don’t come in,” he murmured wanly, “you’ll muss them. I’m sorting, and I know you’ll step in them. Everything always gets mussed.”
“What are you doing?” demanded Dick in astonishment. “Going back to childhood? Don’t you realize you’ve won the suit? They’ve reversed the decision of the lower courts. You’re worth thirty millions!”
Anthony only looked at him reproachfully.
“Shut the door when you go out.” He spoke like a pert child.
With a faint horror dawning in her eyes, Gloria gazed at him—
“Anthony!” she cried, “what is it? What’s the matter? Why didn’t you come—why, what is it?”
“See here,” said Anthony softly, “you two get out—now, both of you. Or else I’ll tell my grandfather.”
He held up a handful of stamps and let them come drifting down about him like leaves, varicolored and bright, turning and fluttering gaudily upon the sunny air: stamps of England and Ecuador, Venezuela and Spain—Italy....
TOGETHER WITH THE SPARROWS
That exquisite heavenly irony which has tabulated the demise of so many generations of sparrows doubtless records the subtlest verbal inflections of the passengers of such ships as The Berengaria. And doubtless it was listening when the young man in the plaid cap crossed the deck quickly and spoke to the pretty girl in yellow.
“That’s him,” he said, pointing to a bundled figure seated in a wheel chair near the rail. “That’s Anthony Patch. First time he’s been on deck.”
“Yes. He’s been a little crazy, they say, ever since he got his money, four or five months ago. You see, the other fellow, Shuttleworth, the religious fellow, the one that didn’t get the money, he locked himself up in a room in a hotel and shot himself—
“Oh, he did—”
“But I guess Anthony Patch don’t care much. He got his thirty million. And he’s got his private physician along in case he doesn’t feel just right about it. Has she been on deck?” he asked.
The pretty girl in yellow looked around cautiously.
“She was here a minute ago. She had on a Russian-sable coat that must have cost a small fortune.” She frowned and then added decisively: “I can’t stand her, you know. She seems sort of—sort of dyed and unclean, if you know what I mean. Some people just have that look about them whether they are or not.”
“Sure, I know,” agreed the man with the plaid cap. “She’s not bad-looking, though.” He paused. “Wonder what he’s thinking about—his money, I guess, or maybe he’s got remorse about that fellow Shuttleworth.”
But the man in the plaid cap was quite wrong. Anthony Patch, sitting near the rail and looking out at the sea, was not thinking of his money, for he had seldom in his life been really preoccupied with material vainglory, nor of Edward Shuttleworth, for it is best to look on the sunny side of these things. No—he was concerned with a series of reminiscences, much as a general might look back upon a successful campaign and analyze his victories. He was thinking of the hardships, the insufferable tribulations he had gone through. They had tried to penalize him for the mistakes of his youth. He had been exposed to ruthless misery, his very craving for romance had been punished, his friends had deserted him—even Gloria had turned against him. He had been alone, alone—facing it all.
Only a few months before people had been urging him to give in, to submit to mediocrity, to go to work. But he had known that he was justified in his way of life—and he had stuck it out stanchly. Why, the very friends who had been most unkind had come to respect him, to know he had been right all along. Had not the Lacys and the Merediths and the Cartwright-Smiths called on Gloria and him at the Ritz-Carlton just a week before they sailed?
Great tears stood in his eyes, and his voice was tremulous as he whispered to himself.
“I showed them,” he was saying. “It was a hard fight, but I didn’t give up and I came through!”