The time is February. The place is a large, dainty bedroom in the Connage house on Sixty-eighth Street, New York. A girl's room: pink walls and curtains and a pink bedspread on a cream-colored bed. Pink and cream are the motifs of the room, but the only article of furniture in full view is a luxurious dressing-table with a glass top and a threesided mirror. On the walls there is an expensive print of "Cherry Ripe," a few polite dogs by Landseer, and the "King of the Black Isles," by Maxfield Parrish.
Great disorder consisting of the following items: (1) seven or eight empty cardboard boxes, with tissue-paper tongues hanging panting from their mouths; (2) an assortment of street dresses mingled with their sisters of the evening, all upon the table, all evidently new; (3) a roll of tulle, which has lost its dignity and wound itself tortuously around everything in sight, and (4) upon the two small chairs, a collection of lingerie that beggars description. One would enjoy seeing the bill called forth by the finery displayed and one is possessed by a desire to see the princess for whose benefit-- Look! There's some one! Disappointment! This is only a maid hunting for something--she lifts a heap from a chair--Not there; another heap, the dressing-table, the chiffonier drawers. She brings to light several beautiful chemises and an amazing pajama but this does not satisfy her--she goes out.
An indistinguishable mumble from the next room.
Now, we are getting warm. This is Alec's mother, Mrs. Connage, ample, dignified, rouged to the dowager point and quite worn out. Her lips move significantly as she looks for IT. Her search is less thorough than the maid's but there is a touch of fury in it, that quite makes up for its sketchiness. She stumbles on the tulle and her "damn" is quite audible. She retires, empty-handed.
More chatter outside and a girl's voice, a very spoiled voice, says: "Of all the stupid people--"
After a pause a third seeker enters, not she of the spoiled voice, but a younger edition. This is Cecelia Connage, sixteen, pretty, shrewd, and constitutionally good-humored. She is dressed for the evening in a gown the obvious simplicity of which probably bores her. She goes to the nearest pile, selects a small pink garment and holds it up appraisingly.
ROSALIND: (Outside) Yes!
CECELIA: Very snappy?
CECELIA: I've got it!
(She sees herself in the mirror of the dressing-table and commences to shimmy enthusiastically.)
ROSALIND: (Outside) What are you doing--trying it on?
(CECELIA ceases and goes out carrying the garment at the right shoulder.
From the other door, enters ALEC CONNAGE. He looks around quickly and in a huge voice shouts: Mama! There is a chorus of protest from next door and encouraged he starts toward it, but is repelled by another chorus.)
ALEC: So that's where you all are! Amory Blaine is here.
CECELIA: (Quickly) Take him down-stairs.
ALEC: Oh, he is down-stairs.
MRS. CONNAGE: Well, you can show him where his room is. Tell him I'm sorry that I can't meet him now.
ALEC: He's heard a lot about you all. I wish you'd hurry. Father's telling him all about the war and he's restless. He's sort of temperamental.
(This last suffices to draw CECELIA into the room.)
CECELIA: (Seating herself high upon lingerie) How do you mean-- temperamental? You used to say that about him in letters.
ALEC: Oh, he writes stuff.
CECELIA: Does he play the piano?
ALEC: Don't think so.
CECELIA: (Speculatively) Drink?
ALEC: Yes--nothing queer about him.
ALEC: Good Lord--ask him, he used to have a lot, and he's got some income now.
(MRS. CONNAGE appears.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Alec, of course we're glad to have any friend of yours--
ALEC: You certainly ought to meet Amory.
MRS. CONNAGE: Of course, I want to. But I think it's so childish of you to leave a perfectly good home to go and live with two other boys in some impossible apartment. I hope it isn't in order that you can all drink as much as you want. (She pauses.) He'll be a little neglected to-night. This is Rosalind's week, you see. When a girl comes out, she needs all the attention.
ROSALIND: (Outside) Well, then, prove it by coming here and hooking me.
(MRS. CONNAGE goes.)
ALEC: Rosalind hasn't changed a bit.
CECELIA: (In a lower tone) She's awfully spoiled.
ALEC: She'll meet her match to-night.
CECELIA: Who--Mr. Amory Blaine?
CECELIA: Well, Rosalind has still to meet the man she can't outdistance. Honestly, Alec, she treats men terribly. She abuses them and cuts them and breaks dates with them and yawns in their faces--and they come back for more.
ALEC: They love it.
CECELIA: They hate it. She's a--she's a sort of vampire, I think-- and she can make girls do what she wants usually--only she hates girls.
ALEC: Personality runs in our family.
CECELIA: (Resignedly) I guess it ran out before it got to me.
ALEC: Does Rosalind behave herself?
CECELIA: Not particularly well. Oh, she's average--smokes sometimes, drinks punch, frequently kissed--Oh, yes--common knowledge--one of the effects of the war, you know.
(Emerges MRS. CONNAGE.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Rosalind's almost finished so I can go down and meet your friend.
(ALEC and his mother go out.)
ROSALIND: (Outside) Oh, mother--
CECELIA: Mother's gone down.
(And now ROSALIND enters. ROSALIND is--utterly ROSALIND. She is one of those girls who need never make the slightest effort to have men fall in love with them. Two types of men seldom do: dull men are usually afraid of her cleverness and intellectual men are usually afraid of her beauty. All others are hers by natural prerogative.
If ROSALIND could be spoiled the process would have been complete by this time, and as a matter of fact, her disposition is not all it should be; she wants what she wants when she wants it and she is prone to make every one around her pretty miserable when she doesn't get it--but in the true sense she is not spoiled. Her fresh enthusiasm, her will to grow and learn, her endless faith in the inexhaustibility of romance, her courage and fundamental honesty--these things are not spoiled.
There are long periods when she cordially loathes her whole family. She is quite unprincipled; her philosophy is carpe diem for herself and laissez faire for others. She loves shocking stories: she has that coarse streak that usually goes with natures that are both fine and big. She wants people to like her, but if they do not it never worries her or changes her. She is by no means a model character.
The education of all beautiful women is the knowledge of men. ROSALIND had been disappointed in man after man as individuals, but she had great faith in man as a sex. Women she detested. They represented qualities that she felt and despised in herself--incipient meanness, conceit, cowardice, and petty dishonesty. She once told a roomful of her mother's friends that the only excuse for women was the necessity for a disturbing element among men. She danced exceptionally well, drew cleverly but hastily, and had a startling facility with words, which she used only in love-letters.
But all criticism of ROSALIND ends in her beauty. There was that shade of glorious yellow hair, the desire to imitate which supports the dye industry. There was the eternal kissable mouth, small, slightly sensual, and utterly disturbing. There were gray eyes and an unimpeachable skin with two spots of vanishing color. She was slender and athletic, without underdevelopment, and it was a delight to watch her move about a room, walk along a street, swing a golf club, or turn a "cartwheel."
A last qualification--her vivid, instant personality escaped that conscious, theatrical quality that AMORY had found in ISABELLE. MONSIGNOR DARCY would have been quite up a tree whether to call her a personality or a personage. She was perhaps the delicious, inexpressible, once-in-a-century blend.
On the night of her debut she is, for all her strange, stray wisdom, quite like a happy little girl. Her mother's maid has just done her hair, but she has decided impatiently that she can do a better job herself. She is too nervous just now to stay in one place. To that we owe her presence in this littered room. She is going to speak. ISABELLE'S alto tones had been like a violin, but if you could hear ROSALIND, you would say her voice was musical as a waterfall.)
ROSALIND: Honestly, there are only two costumes in the world that I really enjoy being in-- (Combing her hair at the dressing-table.) One's a hoop skirt with pantaloons; the other's a one-piece bathing-suit. I'm quite charming in both of them.
CECELIA: Glad you're coming out?
ROSALIND: Yes; aren't you?
CECELIA: (Cynically) You're glad so you can get married and live on Long Island with the fast younger married set. You want life to be a chain of flirtation with a man for every link.
ROSALIND: Want it to be one! You mean I've found it one.
ROSALIND: Cecelia, darling, you don't know what a trial it is to be-- like me. I've got to keep my face like steel in the street to keep men from winking at me. If I laugh hard from a front row in the theatre, the comedian plays to me for the rest of the evening. If I drop my voice, my eyes, my handkerchief at a dance, my partner calls me up on the 'phone every day for a week.
CECELIA: It must be an awful strain.
ROSALIND: The unfortunate part is that the only men who interest me at all are the totally ineligible ones. Now--if I were poor I'd go on the stage.
CECELIA: Yes, you might as well get paid for the amount of acting you do.
ROSALIND: Sometimes when I've felt particularly radiant I've thought, why should this be wasted on one man?
CECELIA: Often when you're particularly sulky, I've wondered why it should all be wasted on just one family. (Getting up.) I think I'll go down and meet Mr. Amory Blaine. I like temperamental men.
ROSALIND: There aren't any. Men don't know how to be really angry or really happy--and the ones that do, go to pieces.
CECELIA: Well, I'm glad I don't have all your worries. I'm engaged.
ROSALIND: (With a scornful smile) Engaged? Why, you little lunatic! If mother heard you talking like that she'd send you off to boardingschool, where you belong.
CECELIA: You won't tell her, though, because I know things I could tell-- and you're too selfish!
ROSALIND: (A little annoyed) Run along, little girl! Who are you engaged to, the iceman? the man that keeps the candy-store?
CECELIA: Cheap wit--good-by, darling, I'll see you later.
ROSALIND: Oh, be sure and do that--you're such a help.
(Exit CECELIA. ROSALIND finished her hair and rises, humming. She goes up to the mirror and starts to dance in front of it on the soft carpet. She watches not her feet, but her eyes--never casually but always intently, even when she smiles. The door suddenly opens and then slams behind AMORY, very cool and handsome as usual. He melts into instant confusion.)
HE: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought--
SHE: (Smiling radiantly) Oh, you're Amory Blaine, aren't you?
HE: (Regarding her closely) And you're Rosalind?
SHE: I'm going to call you Amory--oh, come in--it's all right--mother'll be right in--(under her breath) unfortunately.
HE: (Gazing around) This is sort of a new wrinkle for me.
SHE: This is No Man's Land.
HE: This is where you--you--(pause)
SHE: Yes--all those things. (She crosses to the bureau.) See, here's my rouge--eye pencils.
HE: I didn't know you were that way.
SHE: What did you expect?
HE: I thought you'd be sort of--sort of--sexless, you know, swim and play golf.
SHE: Oh, I do--but not in business hours.
SHE: Six to two--strictly.
HE: I'd like to have some stock in the corporation.
SHE: Oh, it's not a corporation--it's just "Rosalind, Unlimited." Fifty-one shares, name, good-will, and everything goes at $25,000 a year.
HE: (Disapprovingly) Sort of a chilly proposition.
SHE: Well, Amory, you don't mind--do you? When I meet a man that doesn't bore me to death after two weeks, perhaps it'll be different.
HE: Odd, you have the same point of view on men that I have on women.
SHE: I'm not really feminine, you know--in my mind.
HE: (Interested) Go on.
SHE: No, you--you go on--you've made me talk about myself. That's against the rules.
SHE: My own rules--but you-- Oh, Amory, I hear you're brilliant. The family expects so much of you.
HE: How encouraging!
SHE: Alec said you'd taught him to think. Did you? I didn't believe any one could.
HE: No. I'm really quite dull.
(He evidently doesn't intend this to be taken seriously.)
HE: I'm--I'm religious--I'm literary. I've--I've even written poems.
SHE: Vers libre--splendid! (She declaims.)
HE: (Laughing) No, not that kind.
SHE: (Suddenly) I like you.
SHE: Modest too--
HE: I'm afraid of you. I'm always afraid of a girl--until I've kissed her.
SHE: (Emphatically) My dear boy, the war is over.
HE: So I'll always be afraid of you.
SHE: (Rather sadly) I suppose you will.
(A slight hesitation on both their parts.)
HE: (After due consideration) Listen. This is a frightful thing to ask.
SHE: (Knowing what's coming) After five minutes.
HE: But will you--kiss me? Or are you afraid?
SHE: I'm never afraid--but your reasons are so poor.
HE: Rosalind, I really want to kiss you.
SHE: So do I.
(They kiss-- definitely and thoroughly.)
HE: (After a breathless second) Well, is your curiosity satisfied?
SHE: Is yours?
HE: No, it's only aroused.
(He looks it.)
SHE: (Dreamily) I've kissed dozens of men. I suppose I'll kiss dozens more.
HE: (Abstractedly) Yes, I suppose you could--like that.
SHE: Most people like the way I kiss.
HE: (Remembering himself) Good Lord, yes. Kiss me once more, Rosalind.
SHE: No--my curiosity is generally satisfied at one.
HE: (Discouraged) Is that a rule?
SHE: I make rules to fit the cases.
HE: You and I are somewhat alike--except that I'm years older in experience.
SHE: How old are you?
HE: Almost twenty-three. You?
HE: I suppose you're the product of a fashionable school.
SHE: No--I'm fairly raw material. I was expelled from Spence--I've forgotten why.
HE: What's your general trend?
SHE: Oh, I'm bright, quite selfish, emotional when aroused, fond of admiration--
HE: (Suddenly) I don't want to fall in love with you--
SHE: (Raising her eyebrows) Nobody asked you to.
HE: (Continuing coldly) But I probably will. I love your mouth.
SHE: Hush! Please don't fall in love with my mouth--hair, eyes, shoulders, slippers--but not my mouth. Everybody falls in love with my mouth.
HE: It's quite beautiful.
SHE: It's too small.
HE: No it isn't--let's see.
(He kisses her again with the same thoroughness.)
SHE: (Rather moved) Say something sweet.
HE: (Frightened) Lord help me.
SHE: (Drawing away) Well, don't--if it's so hard.
HE: Shall we pretend? So soon?
SHE: We haven't the same standards of time as other people.
HE: Already it's--other people.
SHE: Let's pretend.
HE: No--I can't--it's sentiment.
SHE: You're not sentimental?
HE: No, I'm romantic--a sentimental person thinks things will last-- a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't. Sentiment is emotional.
SHE: And you're not? (With her eyes half-closed.) You probably flatter yourself that that's a superior attitude.
HE: Well--Rosalind, Rosalind, don't argue--kiss me again.
SHE: (Quite chilly now) No--I have no desire to kiss you.
HE: (Openly taken aback) You wanted to kiss me a minute ago.
SHE: This is now.
HE: I'd better go.
SHE: I suppose so.
(He goes toward the door.)
SHE: (Laughing) Score--Home Team: One hundred--Opponents: Zero.
(He starts back.)
SHE: (Quickly) Rain--no game.
(He goes out.)
(She goes quietly to the chiffonier, takes out a cigarette-case and hides it in the side drawer of a desk. Her mother enters, note-book in hand.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Good--I've been wanting to speak to you alone before we go down-stairs.
ROSALIND: Heavens! you frighten me!
MRS. CONNAGE: Rosalind, you've been a very expensive proposition.
ROSALIND: (Resignedly) Yes.
MRS. CONNAGE: And you know your father hasn't what he once had.
ROSALIND: (Making a wry face) Oh, please don't talk about money.
MRS. CONNAGE: You can't do anything without it. This is our last year in this house--and unless things change Cecelia won't have the advantages you've had.
ROSALIND: (Impatiently) Well--what is it?
MRS. CONNAGE: So I ask you to please mind me in several things I've put down in my note-book. The first one is: don't disappear with young men. There may be a time when it's valuable, but at present I want you on the dance-floor where I can find you. There are certain men I want to have you meet and I don't like finding you in some corner of the conservatory exchanging silliness with any one--or listening to it.
ROSALIND: (Sarcastically) Yes, listening to it is better.
MRS. CONNAGE: And don't waste a lot of time with the college set-- little boys nineteen and twenty years old. I don't mind a prom or a football game, but staying away from advantageous parties to eat in little cafes down-town with Tom, Dick, and Harry--
ROSALIND: (Offering her code, which is, in its way, quite as high as her mother's) Mother, it's done--you can't run everything now the way you did in the early nineties.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Paying no attention) There are several bachelor friends of your father's that I want you to meet to-night--youngish men.
ROSALIND: (Nodding wisely) About forty-five?
MRS. CONNAGE: (Sharply) Why not?
ROSALIND: Oh, quite all right--they know life and are so adorably tired looking (shakes her head)--but they will dance.
MRS. CONNAGE: I haven't met Mr. Blaine--but I don't think you'll care for him. He doesn't sound like a money-maker.
ROSALIND: Mother, I never think about money.
MRS. CONNAGE: You never keep it long enough to think about it.
ROSALIND: (Sighs) Yes, I suppose some day I'll marry a ton of it--out of sheer boredom.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Referring to note-book) I had a wire from Hartford. Dawson Ryder is coming up. Now there's a young man I like, and he's floating in money. It seems to me that since you seem tired of Howard Gillespie you might give Mr. Ryder some encouragement. This is the third time he's been up in a month.
ROSALIND: How did you know I was tired of Howard Gillespie?
MRS. CONNAGE: The poor boy looks so miserable every time he comes.
ROSALIND: That was one of those romantic, pre-battle affairs. They're all wrong.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Her say said) At any rate, make us proud of you to-night.
ROSALIND: Don't you think I'm beautiful?
MRS. CONNAGE: You know you are.
(From down-stairs is heard the moan of a violin being tuned, the roll of a drum. MRS. CONNAGE turns quickly to her daughter.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Come!
ROSALIND: One minute!
(Her mother leaves. ROSALIND goes to the glass where she gazes at herself with great satisfaction. She kisses her hand and touches her mirrored mouth with it. Then she turns out the lights and leaves the room. Silence for a moment. A few chords from the piano, the discreet patter of faint drums, the rustle of new silk, all blend on the staircase outside and drift in through the partly opened door. Bundled figures pass in the lighted hall. The laughter heard below becomes doubled and multiplied. Then some one comes in, closes the door, and switches on the lights. It is CECELIA. She goes to the chiffonier, looks in the drawers, hesitates--then to the desk whence she takes the cigarette-case and extracts one. She lights it and then, puffing and blowing, walks toward the mirror.)
CECELIA: (In tremendously sophisticated accents) Oh, yes, coming out is such a farce nowadays, you know. One really plays around so much before one is seventeen, that it's positively anticlimax. (Shaking hands with a visionary middle-aged nobleman.) Yes, your grace--I b'lieve I've heard my sister speak of you. Have a puff--they're very good. They're-- they're Coronas. You don't smoke? What a pity! The king doesn't allow it, I suppose. Yes, I'll dance.
(So she dances around the room to a tune from down-stairs, her arms outstretched to an imaginary partner, the cigarette waving in her hand.)
* * * *
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
The corner of a den down-stairs, filled by a very comfortable leather lounge. A small light is on each side above, and in the middle, over the couch hangs a painting of a very old, very dignified gentleman, period 1860. Outside the music is heard in a fox-trot.
ROSALIND is seated on the lounge and on her left is HOWARD GILLESPIE, a vapid youth of about twenty-four. He is obviously very unhappy, and she is quite bored.
GILLESPIE: (Feebly) What do you mean I've changed. I feel the same toward you.
ROSALIND: But you don't look the same to me.
GILLESPIE: Three weeks ago you used to say that you liked me because I was so blasé, so indifferent--I still am.
ROSALIND: But not about me. I used to like you because you had brown eyes and thin legs.
GILLESPIE: (Helplessly) They're still thin and brown. You're a vampire, that's all.
ROSALIND: The only thing I know about vamping is what's on the piano score. What confuses men is that I'm perfectly natural. I used to think you were never jealous. Now you follow me with your eyes wherever I go.
GILLESPIE: I love you.
ROSALIND: (Coldly) I know it.
GILLESPIE: And you haven't kissed me for two weeks. I had an idea that after a girl was kissed she was--was--won.
ROSALIND: Those days are over. I have to be won all over again every time you see me.
GILLESPIE: Are you serious?
ROSALIND: About as usual. There used to be two kinds of kisses: First when girls were kissed and deserted; second, when they were engaged. Now there's a third kind, where the man is kissed and deserted. If Mr. Jones of the nineties bragged he'd kissed a girl, every one knew he was through with her. If Mr. Jones of 1919 brags the same every one knows it's because he can't kiss her any more. Given a decent start any girl can beat a man nowadays.
GILLESPIE: Then why do you play with men?
ROSALIND: (Leaning forward confidentially) For that first moment, when he's interested. There is a moment--Oh, just before the first kiss, a whispered word--something that makes it worth while.
GILLESPIE: And then?
ROSALIND: Then after that you make him talk about himself. Pretty soon he thinks of nothing but being alone with you--he sulks, he won't fight, he doesn't want to play-- Victory!
(Enter DAWSON RYDER, twenty-six, handsome, wealthy, faithful to his own, a bore perhaps, but steady and sure of success.)
RYDER: I believe this is my dance, Rosalind.
ROSALIND: Well, Dawson, so you recognize me. Now I know I haven't got too much paint on. Mr. Ryder, this is Mr. Gillespie.
(They shake hands and GILLESPIE leaves, tremendously downcast.)
RYDER: Your party is certainly a success.
ROSALIND: Is it-- I haven't seen it lately. I'm weary-- Do you mind sitting out a minute?
RYDER: Mind--I'm delighted. You know I loathe this "rushing" idea. See a girl yesterday, to-day, to-morrow.
ROSALIND: I wonder if you know you love me.
RYDER: (Startled) What-- Oh--you know you're remarkable!
ROSALIND: Because you know I'm an awful proposition. Any one who marries me will have his hands full. I'm mean--mighty mean.
RYDER: Oh, I wouldn't say that.
ROSALIND: Oh, yes, I am--especially to the people nearest to me. (She rises.) Come, let's go. I've changed my mind and I want to dance. Mother is probably having a fit.
(Exeunt. Enter ALEC and CECELIA.)
CECELIA: Just my luck to get my own brother for an intermission.
ALEC: (Gloomily) I'll go if you want me to.
CECELIA: Good heavens, no--with whom would I begin the next dance? (Sighs.) There's no color in a dance since the French officers went back.
ALEC: (Thoughtfully) I don't want Amory to fall in love with Rosalind.
CECELIA: Why, I had an idea that that was just what you did want.
ALEC: I did, but since seeing these girls--I don't know. I'm awfully attached to Amory. He's sensitive and I don't want him to break his heart over somebody who doesn't care about him.
CECELIA: He's very good looking.
ALEC: (Still thoughtfully) She won't marry him, but a girl doesn't have to marry a man to break his heart.
CECELIA: What does it? I wish I knew the secret.
ALEC: Why, you cold-blooded little kitty. It's lucky for some that the Lord gave you a pug nose.
(Enter MRS. CONNAGE.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Where on earth is Rosalind?
ALEC: (Brilliantly) Of course you've come to the best people to find out. She'd naturally be with us.
MRS. CONNAGE: Her father has marshalled eight bachelor millionaires to meet her.
ALEC: You might form a squad and march through the halls.
MRS. CONNAGE: I'm perfectly serious--for all I know she may be at the Cocoanut Grove with some football player on the night of her debut. You look left and I'll--
ALEC: (Flippantly) Hadn't you better send the butler through the cellar?
MRS. CONNAGE: (Perfectly serious) Oh, you don't think she'd be there?
CECELIA: He's only joking, mother.
ALEC: Mother had a picture of her tapping a keg of beer with some high hurdler.
MRS. CONNAGE: Let's look right away.
(They go out. ROSALIND comes in with GILLESPIE.)
GILLESPIE: Rosalind-- Once more I ask you. Don't you care a blessed thing about me?
(AMORY walks in briskly.)
AMORY: My dance.
ROSALIND: Mr. Gillespie, this is Mr. Blaine.
GILLESPIE: I've met Mr. Blaine. From Lake Geneva, aren't you?
GILLESPIE: (Desperately) I've been there. It's in the--the Middle West, isn't it?
AMORY: (Spicily) Approximately. But I always felt that I'd rather be provincial hot-tamale than soup without seasoning.
AMORY: Oh, no offense.
(GILLESPIE bows and leaves.)
ROSALIND: He's too much people.
AMORY: I was in love with a people once.
AMORY: Oh, yes--her name was Isabelle--nothing at all to her except what I read into her.
ROSALIND: What happened?
AMORY: Finally I convinced her that she was smarter than I was--then she threw me over. Said I was critical and impractical, you know.
ROSALIND: What do you mean impractical?
AMORY: Oh--drive a car, but can't change a tire.
ROSALIND: What are you going to do?
AMORY: Can't say--run for President, write--
ROSALIND: Greenwich Village?
AMORY: Good heavens, no--I said write--not drink.
ROSALIND: I like business men. Clever men are usually so homely.
AMORY: I feel as if I'd known you for ages.
ROSALIND: Oh, are you going to commence the "pyramid" story?
AMORY: No--I was going to make it French. I was Louis XIV and you were one of my--my-- (Changing his tone.) Suppose--we fell in love.
ROSALIND: I've suggested pretending.
AMORY: If we did it would be very big.
AMORY: Because selfish people are in a way terribly capable of great loves.
ROSALIND: (Turning her lips up) Pretend.
(Very deliberately they kiss.)
AMORY: I can't say sweet things. But you are beautiful.
ROSALIND: Not that.
AMORY: What then?
ROSALIND: (Sadly) Oh, nothing--only I want sentiment, real sentiment-- and I never find it.
AMORY: I never find anything else in the world--and I loathe it.
ROSALIND: It's so hard to find a male to gratify one's artistic taste.
(Some one has opened a door and the music of a waltz surges into the room. ROSALIND rises.)
ROSALIND: Listen! they're playing "Kiss Me Again."
(He looks at her.)
AMORY: (Softly--the battle lost) I love you.
ROSALIND: I love you--now.
AMORY: Oh, God, what have I done?
ROSALIND: Nothing. Oh, don't talk. Kiss me again.
AMORY: I don't know why or how, but I love you--from the moment I saw you.
ROSALIND: Me too--I--I--oh, to-night's to-night.
(Her brother strolls in, starts and then in a loud voice says: "Oh, excuse me," and goes.)
ROSALIND: (Her lips scarcely stirring) Don't let me go--I don't care who knows what I do.
AMORY: Say it!
ROSALIND: I love you--now. (They part.) Oh--I am very youthful, thank God--and rather beautiful, thank God--and happy, thank God, thank God-- (She pauses and then, in an odd burst of prophecy, adds) Poor Amory!
(He kisses her again.)
* * * *
Within two weeks Amory and Rosalind were deeply and passionately in love. The critical qualities which had spoiled for each of them a dozen romances were dulled by the great wave of emotion that washed over them.
"It may be an insane love-affair," she told her anxious mother, "but it's not inane."
The wave swept Amory into an advertising agency early in March, where he alternated between astonishing bursts of rather exceptional work and wild dreams of becoming suddenly rich and touring Italy with Rosalind.
They were together constantly, for lunch, for dinner, and nearly every evening--always in a sort of breathless hush, as if they feared that any minute the spell would break and drop them out of this paradise of rose and flame. But the spell became a trance, seemed to increase from day to day; they began to talk of marrying in July--in June. All life was transmitted into terms of their love, all experience, all desires, all ambitions, were nullified--their senses of humor crawled into corners to sleep; their former love-affairs seemed faintly laughable and scarcely regretted juvenalia.
For the second time in his life Amory had had a complete bouleversement and was hurrying into line with his generation.
* * * *
A LITTLE INTERLUDE
Amory wandered slowly up the avenue and thought of the night as inevitably his--the pageantry and carnival of rich dusk and dim streets . . . it seemed that he had closed the book of fading harmonies at last and stepped into the sensuous vibrant walks of life. Everywhere these countless lights, this promise of a night of streets and singing--he moved in a half-dream through the crowd as if expecting to meet Rosalind hurrying toward him with eager feet from every corner. . . . How the unforgettable faces of dusk would blend to her, the myriad footsteps, a thousand overtures, would blend to her footsteps; and there would be more drunkenness than wine in the softness of her eyes on his. Even his dreams now were faint violins drifting like summer sounds upon the summer air.
The room was in darkness except for the faint glow of Tom's cigarette where he lounged by the open window. As the door shut behind him, Amory stood a moment with his back against it.
"Hello, Benvenuto Blaine. How went the advertising business to-day?"
Amory sprawled on a couch.
"I loathed it as usual!" The momentary vision of the bustling agency was displaced quickly by another picture.
"My God! She's wonderful!"
"I can't tell you," repeated Amory, "just how wonderful she is. I don't want you to know. I don't want any one to know."
Another sigh came from the window--quite a resigned sigh.
"She's life and hope and happiness, my whole world now."
He felt the quiver of a tear on his eyelid.
"Oh, Golly, Tom!"
* * * *
"Sit like we do," she whispered.
He sat in the big chair and held out his arms so that she could nestle inside them.
"I knew you'd come to-night," she said softly, "like summer, just when I needed you most . . . darling . . . darling . . ."
His lips moved lazily over her face.
"You taste so good," he sighed.
"How do you mean, lover?"
"Oh, just sweet, just sweet . . ." he held her closer.
"Amory," she whispered, "when you're ready for me I'll marry you."
"We won't have much at first."
"Don't!" she cried. "It hurts when you reproach yourself for what you can't give me. I've got your precious self--and that's enough for me."
"Tell me . . ."
"You know, don't you? Oh, you know."
"Yes, but I want to hear you say it."
"I love you, Amory, with all my heart."
"Always, will you?"
"All my life--Oh, Amory--"
"I want to belong to you. I want your people to be my people. I want to have your babies."
"But I haven't any people."
"Don't laugh at me, Amory. Just kiss me."
"I'll do what you want," he said.
"No, I'll do what you want. We're you--not me. Oh, you're so much a part, so much all of me . . ."
He closed his eyes.
"I'm so happy that I'm frightened. Wouldn't it be awful if this was-- was the high point? . . ."
She looked at him dreamily.
"Beauty and love pass, I know. . . . Oh, there's sadness, too. I suppose all great happiness is a little sad. Beauty means the scent of roses and then the death of roses--"
"Beauty means the agony of sacrifice and the end of agony. . . ."
"And, Amory, we're beautiful, I know. I'm sure God loves us--"
"He loves you. You're his most precious possession."
"I'm not his, I'm yours. Amory, I belong to you. For the first time I regret all the other kisses; now I know how much a kiss can mean."
Then they would smoke and he would tell her about his day at the office-- and where they might live. Sometimes, when he was particularly loquacious, she went to sleep in his arms, but he loved that Rosalind-- all Rosalinds--as he had never in the world loved any one else. Intangibly fleeting, unrememberable hours.
* * * *
One day Amory and Howard Gillespie meeting by accident down-town took lunch together, and Amory heard a story that delighted him. Gillespie after several cocktails was in a talkative mood; he began by telling Amory that he was sure Rosalind was slightly eccentric.
He had gone with her on a swimming party up in Westchester County, and some one mentioned that Annette Kellerman had been there one day on a visit and had dived from the top of a rickety, thirty-foot summer-house. Immediately Rosalind insisted that Howard should climb up with her to see what it looked like.
A minute later, as he sat and dangled his feet on the edge, a form shot by him; Rosalind, her arms spread in a beautiful swan dive, had sailed through the air into the clear water.
"Of course I had to go, after that--and I nearly killed myself. I thought I was pretty good to even try it. Nobody else in the party tried it. Well, afterward Rosalind had the nerve to ask me why I stooped over when I dove. 'It didn't make it any easier,' she said, 'it just took all the courage out of it.' I ask you, what can a man do with a girl like that? Unnecessary, I call it."
Gillespie failed to understand why Amory was smiling delightedly all through lunch. He thought perhaps he was one of these hollow optimists.
* * * *
FIVE WEEKS LATER
Again the library of the Connage house. ROSALIND is alone, sitting on the lounge staring very moodily and unhappily at nothing. She has changed perceptibly--she is a trifle thinner for one thing; the light in her eyes is not so bright; she looks easily a year older.
Her mother comes in, muffled in an opera-cloak. She takes in ROSALIND with a nervous glance.
MRS. CONNAGE: Who is coming to-night?
(ROSALIND fails to hear her, at least takes no notice.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Alec is coming up to take me to this Barrie play, "Et tu, Brutus." (She perceives that she is talking to herself.) Rosalind! I asked you who is coming to-night?
ROSALIND: (Starting) Oh--what--oh--Amory--
MRS. CONNAGE: (Sarcastically) You have so many admirers lately that I couldn't imagine which one. (ROSALIND doesn't answer.) Dawson Ryder is more patient than I thought he'd be. You haven't given him an evening this week.
ROSALIND: (With a very weary expression that is quite new to her face.) Mother--please--
MRS. CONNAGE: Oh, I won't interfere. You've already wasted over two months on a theoretical genius who hasn't a penny to his name, but go ahead, waste your life on him. I won't interfere.
ROSALIND: (As if repeating a tiresome lesson) You know he has a little income--and you know he's earning thirty-five dollars a week in advertising--
MRS. CONNAGE: And it wouldn't buy your clothes. (She pauses but ROSALIND makes no reply.) I have your best interests at heart when I tell you not to take a step you'll spend your days regretting. It's not as if your father could help you. Things have been hard for him lately and he's an old man. You'd be dependent absolutely on a dreamer, a nice, well-born boy, but a dreamer--merely clever. (She implies that this quality in itself is rather vicious.)
ROSALIND: For heaven's sake, mother--
(A maid appears, announces Mr. Blaine who follows immediately. AMORY'S friends have been telling him for ten days that he "looks like the wrath of God," and he does. As a matter of fact he has not been able to eat a mouthful in the last thirty-six hours.)
AMORY: Good evening, Mrs. Connage.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Not unkindly) Good evening, Amory.
(AMORY and ROSALIND exchange glances--and ALEC comes in. ALEC'S attitude throughout has been neutral. He believes in his heart that the marriage would make AMORY mediocre and ROSALIND miserable, but he feels a great sympathy for both of them.)
ALEC: Hi, Amory!
AMORY: Hi, Alec! Tom said he'd meet you at the theatre.
ALEC: Yeah, just saw him. How's the advertising to-day? Write some brilliant copy?
AMORY: Oh, it's about the same. I got a raise--(Every one looks at him rather eagerly)--of two dollars a week. (General collapse.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Come, Alec, I hear the car.
(A good night, rather chilly in sections. After MRS. CONNAGE and ALEC go out there is a pause. ROSALIND still stares moodily at the fireplace. AMORY goes to her and puts his arm around her.)
AMORY: Darling girl.
(They kiss. Another pause and then she seizes his hand, covers it with kisses and holds it to her breast.)
ROSALIND: (Sadly) I love your hands, more than anything. I see them often when you're away from me--so tired; I know every line of them. Dear hands!
(Their eyes meet for a second and then she begins to cry--a tearless sobbing.)
ROSALIND: Oh, we're so darned pitiful!
ROSALIND: Oh, I want to die!
AMORY: Rosalind, another night of this and I'll go to pieces. You've been this way four days now. You've got to be more encouraging or I can't work or eat or sleep. (He looks around helplessly as if searching for new words to clothe an old, shopworn phrase.) We'll have to make a start. I like having to make a start together. (His forced hopefulness fades as he sees her unresponsive.) What's the matter? (He gets up suddenly and starts to pace the floor.) It's Dawson Ryder, that's what it is. He's been working on your nerves. You've been with him every afternoon for a week. People come and tell me they've seen you together, and I have to smile and nod and pretend it hasn't the slightest significance for me. And you won't tell me anything as it develops.
ROSALIND: Amory, if you don't sit down I'll scream.
AMORY: (Sitting down suddenly beside her) Oh, Lord.
ROSALIND: (Taking his hand gently) You know I love you, don't you?
ROSALIND: You know I'll always love you--
AMORY: Don't talk that way; you frighten me. It sounds as if we weren't going to have each other. (She cries a little and rising from the couch goes to the armchair.) I've felt all afternoon that things were worse. I nearly went wild down at the office--couldn't write a line. Tell me everything.
ROSALIND: There's nothing to tell, I say. I'm just nervous.
AMORY: Rosalind, you're playing with the idea of marrying Dawson Ryder.
ROSALIND: (After a pause) He's been asking me to all day.
AMORY: Well, he's got his nerve!
ROSALIND: (After another pause) I like him.
AMORY: Don't say that. It hurts me.
ROSALIND: Don't be a silly idiot. You know you're the only man I've ever loved, ever will love.
AMORY: (Quickly) Rosalind, let's get married--next week.
ROSALIND: We can't.
AMORY: Why not?
ROSALIND: Oh, we can't. I'd be your squaw--in some horrible place.
AMORY: We'll have two hundred and seventy-five dollars a month all told.
ROSALIND: Darling, I don't even do my own hair, usually.
AMORY: I'll do it for you.
ROSALIND: (Between a laugh and a sob) Thanks.
AMORY: Rosalind, you can't be thinking of marrying some one else. Tell me! You leave me in the dark. I can help you fight it out if you'll only tell me.
ROSALIND: It's just--us. We're pitiful, that's all. The very qualities I love you for are the ones that will always make you a failure.
AMORY: (Grimly) Go on.
ROSALIND: Oh--it is Dawson Ryder. He's so reliable, I almost feel that he'd be a--a background.
AMORY: You don't love him.
ROSALIND: I know, but I respect him, and he's a good man and a strong one.
AMORY: (Grudgingly) Yes--he's that.
ROSALIND: Well--here's one little thing. There was a little poor boy we met in Rye Tuesday afternoon--and, oh, Dawson took him on his lap and talked to him and promised him an Indian suit--and next day he remembered and bought it--and, oh, it was so sweet and I couldn't help thinking he'd be so nice to--to our children--take care of them--and I wouldn't have to worry.
AMORY: (In despair) Rosalind! Rosalind!
ROSALIND: (With a faint roguishness) Don't look so consciously suffering.
AMORY: What power we have of hurting each other!
ROSALIND: (Commencing to sob again) It's been so perfect--you and I. So like a dream that I'd longed for and never thought I'd find. The first real unselfishness I've ever felt in my life. And I can't see it fade out in a colorless atmosphere!
AMORY: It won't--it won't!
ROSALIND: I'd rather keep it as a beautiful memory--tucked away in my heart.
AMORY: Yes, women can do that--but not men. I'd remember always, not the beauty of it while it lasted, but just the bitterness, the long bitterness.
AMORY: All the years never to see you, never to kiss you, just a gate shut and barred--you don't dare be my wife.
ROSALIND: No--no--I'm taking the hardest course, the strongest course. Marrying you would be a failure and I never fail--if you don't stop walking up and down I'll scream!
(Again he sinks despairingly onto the lounge.)
AMORY: Come over here and kiss me.
AMORY: Don't you want to kiss me?
ROSALIND: To-night I want you to love me calmly and coolly.
AMORY: The beginning of the end.
ROSALIND: (With a burst of insight) Amory, you're young. I'm young. People excuse us now for our poses and vanities, for treating people like Sancho and yet getting away with it. They excuse us now. But you've got a lot of knocks coming to you--
AMORY: And you're afraid to take them with me.
ROSALIND: No, not that. There was a poem I read somewhere--you'll say Ella Wheeler Wilcox and laugh--but listen:
AMORY: But we haven't had.
ROSALIND: Amory, I'm yours--you know it. There have been times in the last month I'd have been completely yours if you'd said so. But I can't marry you and ruin both our lives.
AMORY: We've got to take our chance for happiness.
ROSALIND: Dawson says I'd learn to love him.
(AMORY with his head sunk in his hands does not move. The life seems suddenly gone out of him.)
ROSALIND: Lover! Lover! I can't do with you, and I can't imagine life without you.
AMORY: Rosalind, we're on each other's nerves. It's just that we're both high-strung, and this week--
(His voice is curiously old. She crosses to him and taking his face in her hands, kisses him.)
ROSALIND: I can't, Amory. I can't be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You'd hate me in a narrow atmosphere. I'd make you hate me.
(Again she is blinded by sudden uncontrolled tears.)
ROSALIND: Oh, darling, go-- Don't make it harder! I can't stand it--
AMORY: (His face drawn, his voice strained) Do you know what you're saying? Do you mean forever?
(There is a difference somehow in the quality of their suffering.)
ROSALIND: Can't you see--
AMORY: I'm afraid I can't if you love me. You're afraid of taking two years' knocks with me.
ROSALIND: I wouldn't be the Rosalind you love.
AMORY: (A little hysterically) I can't give you up! I can't, that's all! I've got to have you!
ROSALIND: (A hard note in her voice) You're being a baby now.
AMORY: (Wildly) I don't care! You're spoiling our lives!
ROSALIND: I'm doing the wise thing, the only thing.
AMORY: Are you going to marry Dawson Ryder?
ROSALIND: Oh, don't ask me. You know I'm old in some ways--in others-- well, I'm just a little girl. I like sunshine and pretty things and cheerfulness--and I dread responsibility. I don't want to think about pots and kitchens and brooms. I want to worry whether my legs will get slick and brown when I swim in the summer.
AMORY: And you love me.
ROSALIND: That's just why it has to end. Drifting hurts too much. We can't have any more scenes like this.
(She draws his ring from her finger and hands it to him. Their eyes blind again with tears.)
AMORY: (His lips against her wet cheek) Don't! Keep it, please--oh, don't break my heart!
(She presses the ring softly into his hand.)
ROSALIND: (Brokenly) You'd better go.
(She looks at him once more, with infinite longing, infinite sadness.)
ROSALIND: Don't ever forget me, Amory--
(He goes to the door, fumbles for the knob, finds it--she sees him throw back his head--and he is gone. Gone--she half starts from the lounge and then sinks forward on her face into the pillows.)
ROSALIND: Oh, God, I want to die! (After a moment she rises and with her eyes closed feels her way to the door. Then she turns and looks once more at the room. Here they had sat and dreamed: that tray she had so often filled with matches for him; that shade that they had discreetly lowered one long Sunday afternoon. Misty-eyed she stands and remembers; she speaks aloud.) Oh, Amory, what have I done to you?
(And deep under the aching sadness that will pass in time, Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what, she knows not why.)
"The trees are green,
The birds are singing in the trees,
The girl sips her poison
The bird flies away the girl dies."
"For this is wisdom--to love and live,
To take what fate or the gods may give,
To ask no question, to make no prayer,
To kiss the lips and caress the hair,
Speed passion's ebb as we greet its flow,
To have and to hold, and, in time--let go."
The Knickerbocker Bar, beamed upon by Maxfield Parrish's jovial, colorful "Old King Cole," was well crowded. Amory stopped in the entrance and looked at his wrist-watch; he wanted particularly to know the time, for something in his mind that catalogued and classified liked to chip things off cleanly. Later it would satisfy him in a vague way to be able to think "that thing ended at exactly twenty minutes after eight on Thursday, June 10, 1919." This was allowing for the walk from her house-- a walk concerning which he had afterward not the faintest recollection.
He was in rather grotesque condition: two days of worry and nervousness, of sleepless nights, of untouched meals, culminating in the emotional crisis and Rosalind's abrupt decision--the strain of it had drugged the foreground of his mind into a merciful coma. As he fumbled clumsily with the olives at the free-lunch table, a man approached and spoke to him, and the olives dropped from his nervous hands.
"Well, Amory . . ."
It was some one he had known at Princeton; he had no idea of the name.
"Hello, old boy--" he heard himself saying.
"Name's Jim Wilson--you've forgotten."
"Sure, you bet, Jim. I remember."
"Going to reunion?"
"You know!" Simultaneously he realized that he was not going to reunion.
Amory nodded, his eyes staring oddly. Stepping back to let some one pass, he knocked the dish of olives to a crash on the floor.
"Too bad," he muttered. "Have a drink?"
Wilson, ponderously diplomatic, reached over and slapped him on the back.
"You've had plenty, old boy."
Amory eyed him dumbly until Wilson grew embarrassed under the scrutiny.
"Plenty, hell!" said Amory finally. "I haven't had a drink to-day."
Wilson looked incredulous.
"Have a drink or not?" cried Amory rudely.
Together they sought the bar.
"I'll just take a Bronx."
Wilson had another; Amory had several more. They decided to sit down. At ten o'clock Wilson was displaced by Carling, class of '15. Amory, his head spinning gorgeously, layer upon layer of soft satisfaction setting over the bruised spots of his spirit, was discoursing volubly on the war.
"'S a mental was'e," he insisted with owl-like wisdom. "Two years my life spent inalleshual vacuity. Los' idealism, got be physcal anmal," he shook his fist expressively at Old King Cole, "got be Prussian 'bout ev'thing, women 'specially. Use' be straight 'bout women college. Now don'givadam." He expressed his lack of principle by sweeping a seltzer bottle with a broad gesture to noisy extinction on the floor, but this did not interrupt his speech. "Seek pleasure where find it for to-morrow die. 'At's philos'phy for me now on."
Carling yawned, but Amory, waxing brilliant, continued:
"Use' wonder 'bout things--people satisfied compromise, fif'y-fif'y att'tude on life. Now don' wonder, don' wonder--" He became so emphatic in impressing on Carling the fact that he didn't wonder that he lost the thread of his discourse and concluded by announcing to the bar at large that he was a "physcal anmal."
"What are you celebrating, Amory?"
Amory leaned forward confidentially.
"Cel'brating blowmylife. Great moment blow my life. Can't tell you 'bout it--"
He heard Carling addressing a remark to the bartender:
"Give him a bromo-seltzer."
Amory shook his head indignantly.
"None that stuff!"
"But listen, Amory, you're making yourself sick. You're white as a ghost."
Amory considered the question. He tried to look at himself in the mirror but even by squinting up one eye could only see as far as the row of bottles behind the bar.
"Like som'n solid. We go get some--some salad."
He settled his coat with an attempt at nonchalance, but letting go of the bar was too much for him, and he slumped against a chair.
"We'll go over to Shanley's," suggested Carling, offering an elbow.
With this assistance Amory managed to get his legs in motion enough to propel him across Forty-second Street.
Shanley's was very dim. He was conscious that he was talking in a loud voice, very succinctly and convincingly, he thought, about a desire to crush people under his heel. He consumed three club sandwiches, devouring each as though it were no larger than a chocolate-drop. Then Rosalind began popping into his mind again, and he found his lips forming her name over and over. Next he was sleepy, and he had a hazy, listless sense of people in dress suits, probably waiters, gathering around the table. . . .
. . . He was in a room and Carling was saying something about a knot in his shoe-lace.
"Nemmine," he managed to articulate drowsily. "Sleep in 'em. . . ."
* * * *
He awoke laughing and his eyes lazily roamed his surroundings, evidently a bedroom and bath in a good hotel. His head was whirring and picture after picture was forming and blurring and melting before his eyes, but beyond the desire to laugh he had no entirely conscious reaction. He reached for the 'phone beside his bed.
"Hello--what hotel is this--?
"Knickerbocker? All right, send up two rye high-balls--"
He lay for a moment and wondered idly whether they'd send up a bottle or just two of those little glass containers. Then, with an effort, he struggled out of bed and ambled into the bathroom.
When he emerged, rubbing himself lazily with a towel, he found the bar boy with the drinks and had a sudden desire to kid him. On reflection he decided that this would be undignified, so he waved him away.
As the new alcohol tumbled into his stomach and warmed him, the isolated pictures began slowly to form a cinema reel of the day before. Again he saw Rosalind curled weeping among the pillows, again he felt her tears against his cheek. Her words began ringing in his ears: "Don't ever forget me, Amory--don't ever forget me--"
"Hell!" he faltered aloud, and then he choked and collapsed on the bed in a shaken spasm of grief. After a minute he opened his eyes and regarded the ceiling.
"Damned fool!" he exclaimed in disgust, and with a voluminous sigh rose and approached the bottle. After another glass he gave way loosely to the luxury of tears. Purposely he called up into his mind little incidents of the vanished spring, phrased to himself emotions that would make him react even more strongly to sorrow.
"We were so happy," he intoned dramatically, "so very happy." Then he gave way again and knelt beside the bed, his head half-buried in the pillow.
"My own girl--my own-- Oh--"
He clinched his teeth so that the tears streamed in a flood from his eyes.
"Oh . . . my baby girl, all I had, all I wanted! . . . Oh, my girl, come back, come back! I need you . . . need you . . . we're so pitiful . . . just misery we brought each other. . . . She'll be shut away from me. . . . I can't see her; I can't be her friend. It's got to be that way--it's got to be--"
And then again:
"We've been so happy, so very happy. . . ."
He rose to his feet and threw himself on the bed in an ecstasy of sentiment, and then lay exhausted while he realized slowly that he had been very drunk the night before, and that his head was spinning again wildly. He laughed, rose, and crossed again to Lethe. . . .
At noon he ran into a crowd in the Biltmore bar, and the riot began again. He had a vague recollection afterward of discussing French poetry with a British officer who was introduced to him as "Captain Corn, of his Majesty's Foot," and he remembered attempting to recite "Clair de Lune" at luncheon; then he slept in a big, soft chair until almost five o'clock when another crowd found and woke him; there followed an alcoholic dressing of several temperaments for the ordeal of dinner. They selected theatre tickets at Tyson's for a play that had a four-drink programme--a play with two monotonous voices, with turbid, gloomy scenes, and lighting effects that were hard to follow when his eyes behaved so amazingly. He imagined afterward that it must have been "The Jest." . . .
. . . Then the Cocoanut Grove, where Amory slept again on a little balcony outside. Out in Shanley's, Yonkers, he became almost logical, and by a careful control of the number of high-balls he drank, grew quite lucid and garrulous. He found that the party consisted of five men, two of whom he knew slightly; he became righteous about paying his share of the expense and insisted in a loud voice on arranging everything then and there to the amusement of the tables around him. . . .
Some one mentioned that a famous cabaret star was at the next table, so Amory rose and, approaching gallantly, introduced himself . . . this involved him in an argument, first with her escort and then with the headwaiter--Amory's attitude being a lofty and exaggerated courtesy . . . he consented, after being confronted with irrefutable logic, to being led back to his own table.
"Decided to commit suicide," he announced suddenly.
"When? Next year?"
"Now. To-morrow morning. Going to take a room at the Commodore, get into a hot bath and open a vein."
"He's getting morbid!"
"You need another rye, old boy!"
"We'll all talk it over to-morrow."
But Amory was not to be dissuaded, from argument at least.
"Did you ever get that way?" he demanded confidentially fortaccio.
"My chronic state."
This provoked discussion. One man said that he got so depressed sometimes that he seriously considered it. Another agreed that there was nothing to live for. "Captain Corn," who had somehow rejoined the party, said that in his opinion it was when one's health was bad that one felt that way most. Amory's suggestion was that they should each order a Bronx, mix broken glass in it, and drink it off. To his relief no one applauded the idea, so having finished his high-ball, he balanced his chin in his hand and his elbow on the table--a most delicate, scarcely noticeable sleeping position, he assured himself--and went into a deep stupor. . . .
He was awakened by a woman clinging to him, a pretty woman, with brown, disarranged hair and dark blue eyes.
"Take me home!" she cried.
"Hello!" said Amory, blinking.
"I like you," she announced tenderly.
"I like you too."
He noticed that there was a noisy man in the background and that one of his party was arguing with him.
"Fella I was with's a damn fool," confided the blue-eyed woman. "I hate him. I want to go home with you."
"You drunk?" queried Amory with intense wisdom.
She nodded coyly.
"Go home with him," he advised gravely. "He brought you."
At this point the noisy man in the background broke away from his detainers and approached.
"Say!" he said fiercely. "I brought this girl out here and you're butting in!"
Amory regarded him coldly, while the girl clung to him closer.
"You let go that girl!" cried the noisy man.
Amory tried to make his eyes threatening.
"You go to hell!" he directed finally, and turned his attention to the girl.
"Love first sight," he suggested.
"I love you," she breathed and nestled close to him. She did have beautiful eyes.
Some one leaned over and spoke in Amory's ear.
"That's just Margaret Diamond. She's drunk and this fellow here brought her. Better let her go."
"Let him take care of her, then!" shouted Amory furiously. "I'm no W. Y. C. A. worker, am I?--am I?"
"Let her go!"
"It's her hanging on, damn it! Let her hang!"
The crowd around the table thickened. For an instant a brawl threatened, but a sleek waiter bent back Margaret Diamond's fingers until she released her hold on Amory, whereupon she slapped the waiter furiously in the face and flung her arms about her raging original escort.
"Oh, Lord!" cried Amory.
"Come on, the taxis are getting scarce!"
"C'mon, Amory. Your romance is over."
"You don't know how true you spoke. No idea. 'At's the whole trouble."
* * * *
AMORY ON THE LABOR QUESTION
Two mornings later he knocked at the president's door at Bascome and Barlow's advertising agency.
Amory entered unsteadily.
"'Morning, Mr. Barlow."
Mr. Barlow brought his glasses to the inspection and set his mouth slightly ajar that he might better listen.
"Well, Mr. Blaine. We haven't seen you for several days."
"No," said Amory. "I'm quitting."
"I don't like it here."
"I'm sorry. I thought our relations had been quite--ah--pleasant. You seemed to be a hard worker--a little inclined perhaps to write fancy copy--"
"I just got tired of it," interrupted Amory rudely. "It didn't matter a damn to me whether Harebell's flour was any better than any one else's. In fact, I never ate any of it. So I got tired of telling people about it--oh, I know I've been drinking--"
Mr. Barlow's face steeled by several ingots of expression.
"You asked for a position--"
Amory waved him to silence.
"And I think I was rottenly underpaid. Thirty-five dollars a week-- less than a good carpenter."
"You had just started. You'd never worked before," said Mr. Barlow coolly.
"But it took about ten thousand dollars to educate me where I could write your darned stuff for you. Anyway, as far as length of service goes, you've got stenographers here you've paid fifteen a week for five years."
"I'm not going to argue with you, sir," said Mr. Barlow rising.
"Neither am I. I just wanted to tell you I'm quitting."
They stood for a moment looking at each other impassively and then Amory turned and left the office.
* * * *
A LITTLE LULL
Four days after that he returned at last to the apartment. Tom was engaged on a book review for The New Democracy on the staff of which he was employed. They regarded each other for a moment in silence.
"Good Lord, Amory, where'd you get the black eye--and the jaw?"
"That's a mere nothing."
He peeled off his coat and bared his shoulders.
Tom emitted a low whistle.
"What hit you?"
Amory laughed again.
"Oh, a lot of people. I got beaten up. Fact." He slowly replaced his shirt. "It was bound to come sooner or later and I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
"Who was it?"
"Well, there were some waiters and a couple of sailors and a few stray pedestrians, I guess. It's the strangest feeling. You ought to get beaten up just for the experience of it. You fall down after a while and everybody sort of slashes in at you before you hit the ground--then they kick you."
Tom lighted a cigarette.
"I spent a day chasing you all over town, Amory. But you always kept a little ahead of me. I'd say you've been on some party."
Amory tumbled into a chair and asked for a cigarette.
"You sober now?" asked Tom quizzically.
"Pretty sober. Why?"
"Well, Alec has left. His family had been after him to go home and live, so he--"
A spasm of pain shook Amory.
"Yes, it is too bad. We'll have to get some one else if we're going to stay here. The rent's going up."
"Sure. Get anybody. I'll leave it to you, Tom."
Amory walked into his bedroom. The first thing that met his glance was a photograph of Rosalind that he had intended to have framed, propped up against a mirror on his dresser. He looked at it unmoved. After the vivid mental pictures of her that were his portion at present, the portrait was curiously unreal. He went back into the study.
"Got a cardboard box?"
"No," answered Tom, puzzled. "Why should I have? Oh, yes--there may be one in Alec's room."
Eventually Amory found what he was looking for and, returning to his dresser, opened a drawer full of letters, notes, part of a chain, two little handkerchiefs, and some snap-shots. As he transferred them carefully to the box his mind wandered to some place in a book where the hero, after preserving for a year a cake of his lost love's soap, finally washed his hands with it. He laughed and began to hum "After you've gone" . . . ceased abruptly . . .
The string broke twice, and then he managed to secure it, dropped the package into the bottom of his trunk, and having slammed the lid returned to the study.
"Going out?" Tom's voice held an undertone of anxiety.
"Couldn't say, old keed."
"Let's have dinner together."
"Sorry. I told Sukey Brett I'd eat with him."
Amory crossed the street and had a high-ball; then he walked to Washington Square and found a top seat on a bus. He disembarked at Forty-third Street and strolled to the Biltmore bar.
"What'll you have?"
* * * *
The advent of prohibition with the "thirsty-first" put a sudden stop to the submerging of Amory's sorrows, and when he awoke one morning to find that the old bar-to-bar days were over, he had neither remorse for the past three weeks nor regret that their repetition was impossible. He had taken the most violent, if the weakest, method to shield himself from the stabs of memory, and while it was not a course he would have prescribed for others, he found in the end that it had done its business: he was over the first flush of pain.
Don't misunderstand! Amory had loved Rosalind as he would never love another living person. She had taken the first flush of his youth and brought from his unplumbed depths tenderness that had surprised him, gentleness and unselfishness that he had never given to another creature. He had later love-affairs, but of a different sort: in those he went back to that, perhaps, more typical frame of mind, in which the girl became the mirror of a mood in him. Rosalind had drawn out what was more than passionate admiration; he had a deep, undying affection for Rosalind.
But there had been, near the end, so much dramatic tragedy, culminating in the arabesque nightmare of his three weeks' spree, that he was emotionally worn out. The people and surroundings that he remembered as being cool or delicately artificial, seemed to promise him a refuge. He wrote a cynical story which featured his father's funeral and despatched it to a magazine, receiving in return a check for sixty dollars and a request for more of the same tone. This tickled his vanity, but inspired him to no further effort.
He read enormously. He was puzzled and depressed by "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"; intensely interested by "Joan and Peter" and "The Undying Fire," and rather surprised by his discovery through a critic named Mencken of several excellent American novels: "Vandover and the Brute," "The Damnation of Theron Ware," and "Jennie Gerhardt." Mackenzie, Chesterton, Galsworthy, Bennett, had sunk in his appreciation from sagacious, life-saturated geniuses to merely diverting contemporaries. Shaw's aloof clarity and brilliant consistency and the gloriously intoxicated efforts of H. G. Wells to fit the key of romantic symmetry into the elusive lock of truth, alone won his rapt attention.
He wanted to see Monsignor Darcy, to whom he had written when he landed, but he had not heard from him; besides he knew that a visit to Monsignor would entail the story of Rosalind, and the thought of repeating it turned him cold with horror.
In his search for cool people he remembered Mrs. Lawrence, a very intelligent, very dignified lady, a convert to the church, and a great devotee of Monsignor's.
He called her on the 'phone one day. Yes, she remembered him perfectly; no, Monsignor wasn't in town, was in Boston she thought; he'd promised to come to dinner when he returned. Couldn't Amory take luncheon with her?
"I thought I'd better catch up, Mrs. Lawrence," he said rather ambiguously when he arrived.
"Monsignor was here just last week," said Mrs. Lawrence regretfully. "He was very anxious to see you, but he'd left your address at home."
"Did he think I'd plunged into Bolshevism?" asked Amory, interested.
"Oh, he's having a frightful time."
"About the Irish Republic. He thinks it lacks dignity."
"He went to Boston when the Irish President arrived and he was greatly distressed because the receiving committee, when they rode in an automobile, would put their arms around the President."
"I don't blame him."
"Well, what impressed you more than anything while you were in the army? You look a great deal older."
"That's from another, more disastrous battle," he answered, smiling in spite of himself. "But the army--let me see--well, I discovered that physical courage depends to a great extent on the physical shape a man is in. I found that I was as brave as the next man--it used to worry me before."
"Well, the idea that men can stand anything if they get used to it, and the fact that I got a high mark in the psychological examination."
Mrs. Lawrence laughed. Amory was finding it a great relief to be in this cool house on Riverside Drive, away from more condensed New York and the sense of people expelling great quantities of breath into a little space. Mrs. Lawrence reminded him vaguely of Beatrice, not in temperament, but in her perfect grace and dignity. The house, its furnishings, the manner in which dinner was served, were in immense contrast to what he had met in the great places on Long Island, where the servants were so obtrusive that they had positively to be bumped out of the way, or even in the houses of more conservative "Union Club" families. He wondered if this air of symmetrical restraint, this grace, which he felt was continental, was distilled through Mrs. Lawrence's New England ancestry or acquired in long residence in Italy and Spain.
Two glasses of sauterne at luncheon loosened his tongue, and he talked, with what he felt was something of his old charm, of religion and literature and the menacing phenomena of the social order. Mrs. Lawrence was ostensibly pleased with him, and her interest was especially in his mind; he wanted people to like his mind again--after a while it might be such a nice place in which to live.
"Monsignor Darcy still thinks that you're his reincarnation, that your faith will eventually clarify."
"Perhaps," he assented. "I'm rather pagan at present. It's just that religion doesn't seem to have the slightest bearing on life at my age."
When he left her house he walked down Riverside Drive with a feeling of satisfaction. It was amusing to discuss again such subjects as this young poet, Stephen Vincent Benet, or the Irish Republic. Between the rancid accusations of Edward Carson and Justice Cohalan he had completely tired of the Irish question; yet there had been a time when his own Celtic traits were pillars of his personal philosophy.
There seemed suddenly to be much left in life, if only this revival of old interests did not mean that he was backing away from it again-- backing away from life itself.
* * * *
"I'm tres old and tres bored, Tom," said Amory one day, stretching himself at ease in the comfortable window-seat. He always felt most natural in a recumbent position.
"You used to be entertaining before you started to write," he continued. "Now you save any idea that you think would do to print."
Existence had settled back to an ambitionless normality. They had decided that with economy they could still afford the apartment, which Tom, with the domesticity of an elderly cat, had grown fond of. The old English hunting prints on the wall were Tom's, and the large tapestry by courtesy, a relic of decadent days in college, and the great profusion of orphaned candlesticks and the carved Louis XV chair in which no one could sit more than a minute without acute spinal disorders--Tom claimed that this was because one was sitting in the lap of Montespan's wraith-- at any rate, it was Tom's furniture that decided them to stay.
They went out very little: to an occasional play, or to dinner at the Ritz or the Princeton Club. With prohibition the great rendezvous had received their death wounds; no longer could one wander to the Biltmore bar at twelve or five and find congenial spirits, and both Tom and Amory had outgrown the passion for dancing with mid-Western or New Jersey debbies at the Club-de-Vingt (surnamed the "Club de Gink") or the Plaza Rose Room--besides even that required several cocktails "to come down to the intellectual level of the women present," as Amory had once put it to a horrified matron.
Amory had lately received several alarming letters from Mr. Barton-- the Lake Geneva house was too large to be easily rented; the best rent obtainable at present would serve this year to little more than pay for the taxes and necessary improvements; in fact, the lawyer suggested that the whole property was simply a white elephant on Amory's hands. Nevertheless, even though it might not yield a cent for the next three years, Amory decided with a vague sentimentality that for the present, at any rate, he would not sell the house.
This particular day on which he announced his ennui to Tom had been quite typical. He had risen at noon, lunched with Mrs. Lawrence, and then ridden abstractedly homeward atop one of his beloved buses.
"Why shouldn't you be bored," yawned Tom. "Isn't that the conventional frame of mind for the young man of your age and condition?"
"Yes," said Amory speculatively, "but I'm more than bored; I am restless."
"Love and war did for you."
"Well," Amory considered, "I'm not sure that the war itself had any great effect on either you or me--but it certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation."
Tom looked up in surprise.
"Yes it did," insisted Amory. "I'm not sure it didn't kill it out of the whole world. Oh, Lord, what a pleasure it used to be to dream I might be a really great dictator or writer or religious or political leader-- and now even a Leonardo da Vinci or Lorenzo de Medici couldn't be a real old-fashioned bolt in the world. Life is too huge and complex. The world is so overgrown that it can't lift its own fingers, and I was planning to be such an important finger--"
"I don't agree with you," Tom interrupted. "There never were men placed in such egotistic positions since--oh, since the French Revolution."
Amory disagreed violently.
"You're mistaking this period when every nut is an individualist for a period of individualism. Wilson has only been powerful when he has represented; he's had to compromise over and over again. Just as soon as Trotsky and Lenin take a definite, consistent stand they'll become merely two-minute figures like Kerensky. Even Foch hasn't half the significance of Stonewall Jackson. War used to be the most individualistic pursuit of man, and yet the popular heroes of the war had neither authority nor responsibility: Guynemer and Sergeant York. How could a schoolboy make a hero of Pershing? A big man has no time really to do anything but just sit and be big."
"Then you don't think there will be any more permanent world heroes?"
"Yes--in history--not in life. Carlyle would have difficulty getting material for a new chapter on 'The Hero as a Big Man.'"
"Go on. I'm a good listener to-day."
"People try so hard to believe in leaders now, pitifully hard. But we no sooner get a popular reformer or politician or soldier or writer or philosopher--a Roosevelt, a Tolstoi, a Wood, a Shaw, a Nietzsche, than the cross-currents of criticism wash him away. My Lord, no man can stand prominence these days. It's the surest path to obscurity. People get sick of hearing the same name over and over."
"Then you blame it on the press?"
"Absolutely. Look at you; you're on The New Democracy, considered the most brilliant weekly in the country, read by the men who do things and all that. What's your business? Why, to be as clever, as interesting, and as brilliantly cynical as possible about every man, doctrine, book, or policy that is assigned you to deal with. The more strong lights, the more spiritual scandal you can throw on the matter, the more money they pay you, the more the people buy the issue. You, Tom d'Invilliers, a blighted Shelley, changing, shifting, clever, unscrupulous, represent the critical consciousness of the race--Oh, don't protest, I know the stuff. I used to write book reviews in college; I considered it rare sport to refer to the latest honest, conscientious effort to propound a theory or a remedy as a 'welcome addition to our light summer reading.' Come on now, admit it."
Tom laughed, and Amory continued triumphantly.
"We want to believe. Young students try to believe in older authors, constituents try to believe in their Congressmen, countries try to believe in their statesmen, but they can't. Too many voices, too much scattered, illogical, ill-considered criticism. It's worse in the case of newspapers. Any rich, unprogressive old party with that particularly grasping, acquisitive form of mentality known as financial genius can own a paper that is the intellectual meat and drink of thousands of tired, hurried men, men too involved in the business of modern living to swallow anything but predigested food. For two cents the voter buys his politics, prejudices, and philosophy. A year later there is a new political ring or a change in the paper's ownership, consequence: more confusion, more contradiction, a sudden inrush of new ideas, their tempering, their distillation, the reaction against them--"
He paused only to get his breath.
"And that is why I have sworn not to put pen to paper until my ideas either clarify or depart entirely; I have quite enough sins on my soul without putting dangerous, shallow epigrams into people's heads; I might cause a poor, inoffensive capitalist to have a vulgar liaison with a bomb, or get some innocent little Bolshevik tangled up with a machine-gun bullet--"
Tom was growing restless under this lampooning of his connection with The New Democracy.
"What's all this got to do with your being bored?"
Amory considered that it had much to do with it.
"How'll I fit in?" he demanded. "What am I for? To propagate the race? According to the American novels we are led to believe that the 'healthy American boy' from nineteen to twenty-five is an entirely sexless animal. As a matter of fact, the healthier he is the less that's true. The only alternative to letting it get you is some violent interest. Well, the war is over; I believe too much in the responsibilities of authorship to write just now; and business, well, business speaks for itself. It has no connection with anything in the world that I've ever been interested in, except a slim, utilitarian connection with economics. What I'd see of it, lost in a clerkship, for the next and best ten years of my life would have the intellectual content of an industrial movie."
"Try fiction," suggested Tom.
"Trouble is I get distracted when I start to write stories--get afraid I'm doing it instead of living--get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or at Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.
"Anyway," he continued, "I haven't the vital urge. I wanted to be a regular human being but the girl couldn't see it that way."
"You'll find another."
"God! Banish the thought. Why don't you tell me that 'if the girl had been worth having she'd have waited for you'? No, sir, the girl really worth having won't wait for anybody. If I thought there'd be another I'd lose my remaining faith in human nature. Maybe I'll play--but Rosalind was the only girl in the wide world that could have held me."
"Well," yawned Tom, "I've played confidant a good hour by the clock. Still, I'm glad to see you're beginning to have violent views again on something."
"I am," agreed Amory reluctantly. "Yet when I see a happy family it makes me sick at my stomach--"
"Happy families try to make people feel that way," said Tom cynically.
* * * *
TOM THE CENSOR
There were days when Amory listened. These were when Tom, wreathed in smoke, indulged in the slaughter of American literature. Words failed him.
"Fifty thousand dollars a year," he would cry. "My God! Look at them, look at them--Edna Ferber, Gouverneur Morris, Fanny Hurst, Mary Roberts Rinehart--not producing among 'em one story or novel that will last ten years. This man Cobb--I don't tink he's either clever or amusing-- and what's more, I don't think very many people do, except the editors. He's just groggy with advertising. And--oh Harold Bell Wright oh Zane Grey--"
"No, they don't even try. Some of them can write, but they won't sit down and do one honest novel. Most of them can't write, I'll admit. I believe Rupert Hughes tries to give a real, comprehensive picture of American life, but his style and perspective are barbarous. Ernest Poole and Dorothy Canfield try but they're hindered by their absolute lack of any sense of humor; but at least they crowd their work instead of spreading it thin. Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it."
"Is that double entente?"
"Don't slow me up! Now there's a few of 'em that seem to have some cultural background, some intelligence and a good deal of literary felicity but they just simply won't write honestly; they'd all claim there was no public for good stuff. Then why the devil is it that Wells, Conrad, Galsworthy, Shaw, Bennett, and the rest depend on America for over half their sales?"
"How does little Tommy like the poets?"
Tom was overcome. He dropped his arms until they swung loosely beside the chair and emitted faint grunts.
"I'm writing a satire on 'em now, calling it 'Boston Bards and Hearst Reviewers.'"
"Let's hear it," said Amory eagerly.
"I've only got the last few lines done."
"That's very modern. Let's hear 'em, if they're funny."
Tom produced a folded paper from his pocket and read aloud, pausing at intervals so that Amory could see that it was free verse:
"You win the iron pansy. I'll buy you a meal on the arrogance of the last two lines."
Amory did not entirely agree with Tom's sweeping damnation of American novelists and poets. He enjoyed both Vachel Lindsay and Booth Tarkington, and admired the conscientious, if slender, artistry of Edgar Lee Masters.
"What I hate is this idiotic drivel about 'I am God--I am man--I ride the winds--I look through the smoke--I am the life sense.'"
"And I wish American novelists would give up trying to make business romantically interesting. Nobody wants to read about it, unless it's crooked business. If it was an entertaining subject they'd buy the life of James J. Hill and not one of these long office tragedies that harp along on the significance of smoke--"
"And gloom," said Tom. That's another favorite, though I'll admit the Russians have the monopoly. Our specialty is stories about little girls who break their spines and get adopted by grouchy old men because they smile so much. You'd think we were a race of cheerful cripples and that the common end of the Russian peasant was suicide--"
"Six o'clock," said Amory, glancing at his wrist-watch. "I'll buy you a grea' big dinner on the strength of the Juvenalia of your collected editions."
* * * *
July sweltered out with a last hot week, and Amory in another surge of unrest realized that it was just five months since he and Rosalind had met. Yet it was already hard for him to visualize the heart-whole boy who had stepped off the transport, passionately desiring the adventure of life. One night while the heat, overpowering and enervating, poured into the windows of his room he struggled for several hours in a vague effort to immortalize the poignancy of that time.
* * * *
In mid-August came a letter from Monsignor Darcy, who had evidently just stumbled on his address:
MY DEAR BOY:--
Your last letter was quite enough to make me worry about you. It was not a bit like yourself. Reading between the lines I should imagine that your engagement to this girl is making you rather unhappy, and I see you have lost all the feeling of romance that you had before the war. You make a great mistake if you think you can be romantic without religion. Sometimes I think that with both of us the secret of success, when we find it, is the mystical element in us: something flows into us that enlarges our personalities, and when it ebbs out our personalities shrink; I should call your last two letters rather shrivelled. Beware of losing yourself in the personality of another being, man or woman.
His Eminence Cardinal O'Neill and the Bishop of Boston are staying with me at present, so it is hard for me to get a moment to write, but I wish you would come up here later if only for a week-end. I go to Washington this week.
What I shall do in the future is hanging in the balance. Absolutely between ourselves I should not be surprised to see the red hat of a cardinal descend upon my unworthy head within the next eight months. In any event, I should like to have a house in New York or Washington where you could drop in for week-ends.
Amory, I'm very glad we're both alive; this war could easily have been the end of a brilliant family. But in regard to matrimony, you are now at the most dangerous period of your life. You might marry in haste and repent at leisure, but I think you won't. From what you write me about the present calamitous state of your finances, what you want is naturally impossible. However, if I judge you by the means I usually choose, I should say that there will be something of an emotional crisis within the next year.
Within a week after the receipt of this letter their little household fell precipitously to pieces. The immediate cause was the serious and probably chronic illness of Tom's mother. So they stored the furniture, gave instructions to sublet and shook hands gloomily in the Pennsylvania Station. Amory and Tom seemed always to be saying good-by.
Feeling very much alone, Amory yielded to an impulse and set off southward, intending to join Monsignor in Washington. They missed connections by two hours, and, deciding to spend a few days with an ancient, remembered uncle, Amory journeyed up through the luxuriant fields of Maryland into Ramilly County. But instead of two days his stay lasted from mid-August nearly through September, for in Maryland he met Eleanor.
I place your names here
So that you may live
If only as names,
Sinuous, mauve-colored names,
In the Juvenalia
Of my collected editions."
The February streets, wind-washed by night, blow full of strange
half-intermittent damps, bearing on wasted walks in shining sight
wet snow plashed into gleams under the lamps, like golden oil
from some divine machine, in an hour of thaw and stars.
Strange damps--full of the eyes of many men, crowded with life
borne in upon a lull. . . . Oh, I was young, for I could turn
again to you, most finite and most beautiful, and taste the stuff
of half-remembered dreams, sweet and new on your mouth.
. . . There was a tanging in the midnight air--silence was dead and
sound not yet awoken--Life cracked like ice!--one brilliant note
and there, radiant and pale, you stood . . . and spring had broken.
(The icicles were short upon the roofs and the changeling city
Our thoughts were frosty mist along the eaves; our two ghosts
kissed, high on the long, mazed wires--eerie half-laughter echoes
here and leaves only a fatuous sigh for young desires; regret has
followed after things she loved, leaving the great husk.
Do write me. I feel annoyingly out of date on you.
With greatest affection,
For years afterward when Amory thought of Eleanor he seemed still to hear the wind sobbing around him and sending little chills into the places beside his heart. The night when they rode up the slope and watched the cold moon float through the clouds, he lost a further part of him that nothing could restore; and when he lost it he lost also the power of regretting it. Eleanor was, say, the last time that evil crept close to Amory under the mask of beauty, the last weird mystery that held him with wild fascination and pounded his soul to flakes.
With her his imagination ran riot and that is why they rode to the highest hill and watched an evil moon ride high, for they knew then that they could see the devil in each other. But Eleanor--did Amory dream her? Afterward their ghosts played, yet both of them hoped from their souls never to meet. Was it the infinite sadness of her eyes that drew him or the mirror of himself that he found in the gorgeous clarity of her mind? She will have no other adventure like Amory, and if she reads this she will say:
"And Amory will have no other adventure like me."
Nor will she sigh, any more than he would sigh.
Eleanor tried to put it on paper once:
They quarrelled dangerously because Amory maintained that sea and see couldn't possibly be used as a rhyme. And then Eleanor had part of another verse that she couldn't find a beginning for:
Eleanor hated Maryland passionately. She belonged to the oldest of the old families of Ramilly County and lived in a big, gloomy house with her grandfather. She had been born and brought up in France. . . . I see I am starting wrong. Let me begin again.
Amory was bored, as he usually was in the country. He used to go for far walks by himself--and wander along reciting "Ulalume" to the corn-fields, and congratulating Poe for drinking himself to death in that atmosphere of smiling complacency. One afternoon he had strolled for several miles along a road that was new to him, and then through a wood on bad advice from a colored woman . . . losing himself entirely. A passing storm decided to break out, and to his great impatience the sky grew black as pitch and the rain began to splatter down through the trees, become suddenly furtive and ghostly. Thunder rolled with menacing crashes up the valley and scattered through the woods in intermittent batteries. He stumbled blindly on, hunting for a way out, and finally, through webs of twisted branches, caught sight of a rift in the trees where the unbroken lightning showed open country. He rushed to the edge of the woods and then hesitated whether or not to cross the fields and try to reach the shelter of the little house marked by a light far down the valley. It was only half past five, but he could see scarcely ten steps before him, except when the lightning made everything vivid and grotesque for great sweeps around.
Suddenly a strange sound fell on his ears. It was a song, in a low, husky voice, a girl's voice, and whoever was singing was very close to him. A year before he might have laughed, or trembled; but in his restless mood he only stood and listened while the words sank into his consciousness:
The lightning split the sky, but the song went on without a quaver. The girl was evidently in the field and the voice seemed to come vaguely from a haystack about twenty feet in front of him.
Then it ceased: ceased and began again in a weird chant that soared and hung and fell and blended with the rain:
"Who the devil is there in Ramilly County," muttered Amory aloud, "who would deliver Verlaine in an extemporaneous tune to a soaking haystack?"
"Somebody's there!" cried the voice unalarmed. "Who are you?--Manfred, St. Christopher, or Queen Victoria?"
"I'm Don Juan!" Amory shouted on impulse, raising his voice above the noise of the rain and the wind.
A delighted shriek came from the haystack.
"I know who you are--you're the blond boy that likes 'Ulalume'--I recognize your voice."
"How do I get up?" he cried from the foot of the haystack, whither he had arrived, dripping wet. A head appeared over the edge--it was so dark that Amory could just make out a patch of damp hair and two eyes that gleamed like a cat's.
"Run back!" came the voice, "and jump and I'll catch your hand--no, not there--on the other side."
He followed directions and as he sprawled up the side, knee-deep in hay, a small, white hand reached out, gripped his, and helped him onto the top.
"Here you are, Juan," cried she of the damp hair. "Do you mind if I drop the Don?"
"You've got a thumb like mine!" he exclaimed.
"And you're holding my hand, which is dangerous without seeing my face." He dropped it quickly.
As if in answer to his prayers came a flash of lightning and he looked eagerly at her who stood beside him on the soggy haystack, ten feet above the ground. But she had covered her face and he saw nothing but a slender figure, dark, damp, bobbed hair, and the small white hands with the thumbs that bent back like his.
"Sit down," she suggested politely, as the dark closed in on them. "If you'll sit opposite me in this hollow you can have half of the raincoat, which I was using as a water-proof tent until you so rudely interrupted me."
"I was asked," Amory said joyfully; "you asked me--you know you did."
"Don Juan always manages that," she said, laughing, "but I shan't call you that any more, because you've got reddish hair. Instead you can recite 'Ulalume' and I'll be Psyche, your soul."
Amory flushed, happily invisible under the curtain of wind and rain. They were sitting opposite each other in a slight hollow in the hay with the raincoat spread over most of them, and the rain doing for the rest. Amory was trying desperately to see Psyche, but the lightning refused to flash again, and he waited impatiently. Good Lord! supposing she wasn't beautiful--supposing she was forty and pedantic--heavens! Suppose, only suppose, she was mad. But he knew the last was unworthy. Here had Providence sent a girl to amuse him just as it sent Benvenuto Cellini men to murder, and he was wondering if she was mad, just because she exactly filled his mood.
"I'm not," she said.
"Not mad. I didn't think you were mad when I first saw you, so it isn't fair that you should think so of me."
"How on earth--"
As long as they knew each other Eleanor and Amory could be "on a subject" and stop talking with the definite thought of it in their heads, yet ten minutes later speak aloud and find that their minds had followed the same channels and led them each to a parallel idea, an idea that others would have found absolutely unconnected with the first.
"Tell me," he demanded, leaning forward eagerly, "how do you know about 'Ulalume'--how did you know the color of my hair? What's your name? What were you doing here? Tell me all at once!"
Suddenly the lightning flashed in with a leap of overreaching light and he saw Eleanor, and looked for the first time into those eyes of hers. Oh, she was magnificent--pale skin, the color of marble in starlight, slender brows, and eyes that glittered green as emeralds in the blinding glare. She was a witch, of perhaps nineteen, he judged, alert and dreamy and with the tell-tale white line over her upper lip that was a weakness and a delight. He sank back with a gasp against the wall of hay.
"Now you've seen me," she said calmly, "and I suppose you're about to say that my green eyes are burning into your brain."
"What color is your hair?" he asked intently. "It's bobbed, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's bobbed. I don't know what color it is," she answered, musing, "so many men have asked me. It's medium, I suppose-- No one ever looks long at my hair. I've got beautiful eyes, though, haven't I. I don't care what you say, I have beautiful eyes."
"Answer my question, Madeline."
"Don't remember them all--besides my name isn't Madeline, it's Eleanor."
"I might have guessed it. You look like Eleanor--you have that Eleanor look. You know what I mean."
There was a silence as they listened to the rain.
"It's going down my neck, fellow lunatic," she offered finally.
"Answer my questions."
"Well--name of Savage, Eleanor; live in big old house mile down road; nearest living relation to be notified, grandfather--Ramilly Savage; height, five feet four inches; number on watch-case, 3077 W; nose, delicate aquiline; temperament, uncanny--"
"And me," Amory interrupted, "where did you see me?"
"Oh, you're one of those men," she answered haughtily, "must lug old self into conversation. Well, my boy, I was behind a hedge sunning myself one day last week, and along comes a man saying in a pleasant, conceited way of talking:
"So I poked my eyes up over the hedge, but you had started to run, for some unknown reason, and so I saw but the back of your beautiful head. 'Oh!' says I, 'there's a man for whom many of us might sigh,' and I continued in my best Irish--"
"All right," Amory interrupted. "Now go back to yourself."
"Well, I will. I'm one of those people who go through the world giving other people thrills, but getting few myself except those I read into men on such nights as these. I have the social courage to go on the stage, but not the energy; I haven't the patience to write books; and I never met a man I'd marry. However, I'm only eighteen."
The storm was dying down softly and only the wind kept up its ghostly surge and made the stack lean and gravely settle from side to side. Amory was in a trance. He felt that every moment was precious. He had never met a girl like this before--she would never seem quite the same again. He didn't at all feel like a character in a play, the appropriate feeling in an unconventional situation--instead, he had a sense of coming home.
"I have just made a great decision," said Eleanor after another pause, "and that is why I'm here, to answer another of your questions. I have just decided that I don't believe in immortality."
"Really! how banal!"
"Frightfully so," she answered, "but depressing with a stale, sickly depression, nevertheless. I came out here to get wet--like a wet hen; wet hens always have great clarity of mind," she concluded.
"Go on," Amory said politely.
"Well--I'm not afraid of the dark, so I put on my slicker and rubber boots and came out. You see I was always afraid, before, to say I didn't believe in God--because the lightning might strike me--but here I am and it hasn't, of course, but the main point is that this time I wasn't any more afraid of it than I had been when I was a Christian Scientist, like I was last year. So now I know I'm a materialist and I was fraternizing with the hay when you came out and stood by the woods, scared to death."
"Why, you little wretch--" cried Amory indignantly. "Scared of what?"
"Yourself!" she shouted, and he jumped. She clapped her hands and laughed. "See--see! Conscience--kill it like me! Eleanor Savage, materiologist--no jumping, no starting, come early--"
"But I have to have a soul," he objected. "I can't be rational-- and I won't be molecular."
She leaned toward him, her burning eyes never leaving his own and whispered with a sort of romantic finality:
"I thought so, Juan, I feared so--you're sentimental. You're not like me. I'm a romantic little materialist."
"I'm not sentimental--I'm as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last--the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won't." (This was an ancient distinction of Amory's.)
"Epigrams. I'm going home," she said sadly. "Let's get off the haystack and walk to the cross-roads."
They slowly descended from their perch. She would not let him help her down and motioning him away arrived in a graceful lump in the soft mud where she sat for an instant, laughing at herself. Then she jumped to her feet and slipped her hand into his, and they tiptoed across the fields, jumping and swinging from dry spot to dry spot. A transcendent delight seemed to sparkle in every pool of water, for the moon had risen and the storm had scurried away into western Maryland. When Eleanor's arm touched his he felt his hands grow cold with deadly fear lest he should lose the shadow brush with which his imagination was painting wonders of her. He watched her from the corners of his eyes as ever he did when he walked with her--she was a feast and a folly and he wished it had been his destiny to sit forever on a haystack and see life through her green eyes. His paganism soared that night and when she faded out like a gray ghost down the road, a deep singing came out of the fields and filled his way homeward. All night the summer moths flitted in and out of Amory's window; all night large looming sounds swayed in mystic revery through the silver grain--and he lay awake in the clear darkness.
* * * *
Amory selected a blade of grass and nibbled at it scientifically.
"I never fall in love in August or September," he proffered.
"Christmas or Easter. I'm a liturgist."
"Easter!" She turned up her nose. "Huh! Spring in corsets!"
"Easter would bore spring, wouldn't she? Easter has her hair braided, wears a tailored suit."
quoted Eleanor softly, and then added: "I suppose Hallowe'en is a better day for autumn than Thanksgiving."
"Much better--and Christmas eve does very well for winter, but summer . . ."
"Summer has no day," she said. "We can't possibly have a summer love. So many people have tried that the name's become proverbial. Summer is only the unfulfilled promise of spring, a charlatan in place of the warm balmy nights I dream of in April. It's a sad season of life without growth. . . . It has no day."
"Fourth of July," Amory suggested facetiously.
"Don't be funny!" she said, raking him with her eyes.
"Well, what could fulfil the promise of spring?"
She thought a moment.
"Oh, I suppose heaven would, if there was one," she said finally, "a sort of pagan heaven--you ought to be a materialist," she continued irrelevantly.
"Because you look a good deal like the pictures of Rupert Brooke."
To some extent Amory tried to play Rupert Brooke as long as he knew Eleanor. What he said, his attitude toward life, toward her, toward himself, were all reflexes of the dead Englishman's literary moods. Often she sat in the grass, a lazy wind playing with her short hair, her voice husky as she ran up and down the scale from Grantchester to Waikiki. There was something most passionate in Eleanor's reading aloud. They seemed nearer, not only mentally, but physically, when they read, than when she was in his arms, and this was often, for they fell half into love almost from the first. Yet was Amory capable of love now? He could, as always, run through the emotions in a half hour, but even while they revelled in their imaginations, he knew that neither of them could care as he had cared once before--I suppose that was why they turned to Brooke, and Swinburne, and Shelley. Their chance was to make everything fine and finished and rich and imaginative; they must bend tiny golden tentacles from his imagination to hers, that would take the place of the great, deep love that was never so near, yet never so much of a dream.
One poem they read over and over; Swinburne's "Triumph of Time," and four lines of it rang in his memory afterward on warm nights when he saw the fireflies among dusky tree trunks and heard the low drone of many frogs. Then Eleanor seemed to come out of the night and stand by him, and he heard her throaty voice, with its tone of a fleecy-headed drum, repeating:
They were formally introduced two days later, and his aunt told him her history. The Ramillys were two: old Mr. Ramilly and his granddaughter, Eleanor. She had lived in France with a restless mother whom Amory imagined to have been very like his own, on whose death she had come to America, to live in Maryland. She had gone to Baltimore first to stay with a bachelor uncle, and there she insisted on being a debutante at the age of seventeen. She had a wild winter and arrived in the country in March, having quarrelled frantically with all her Baltimore relatives, and shocked them into fiery protest. A rather fast crowd had come out, who drank cocktails in limousines and were promiscuously condescending and patronizing toward older people, and Eleanor with an esprit that hinted strongly of the boulevards, led many innocents still redolent of St. Timothy's and Farmington, into paths of Bohemian naughtiness. When the story came to her uncle, a forgetful cavalier of a more hypocritical era, there was a scene, from which Eleanor emerged, subdued but rebellious and indignant, to seek haven with her grandfather who hovered in the country on the near side of senility. That's as far as her story went; she told him the rest herself, but that was later.
Often they swam and as Amory floated lazily in the water he shut his mind to all thoughts except those of hazy soap-bubble lands where the sun splattered through wind-drunk trees. How could any one possibly think or worry, or do anything except splash and dive and loll there on the edge of time while the flower months failed. Let the days move over--sadness and memory and pain recurred outside, and here, once more, before he went on to meet them he wanted to drift and be young.
There were days when Amory resented that life had changed from an even progress along a road stretching ever in sight, with the scenery merging and blending, into a succession of quick, unrelated scenes--two years of sweat and blood, that sudden absurd instinct for paternity that Rosalind had stirred; the half-sensual, half-neurotic quality of this autumn with Eleanor. He felt that it would take all time, more than he could ever spare, to glue these strange cumbersome pictures into the scrap-book of his life. It was all like a banquet where he sat for this half-hour of his youth and tried to enjoy brilliant epicurean courses.
Dimly he promised himself a time where all should be welded together. For months it seemed that he had alternated between being borne along a stream of love or fascination, or left in an eddy, and in the eddies he had not desired to think, rather to be picked up on a wave's top and swept along again.
"The despairing, dying autumn and our love--how well they harmonize!" said Eleanor sadly one day as they lay dripping by the water.
"The Indian summer of our hearts--" he ceased.
"Tell me," she said finally, "was she light or dark?"
"Was she more beautiful than I am?"
"I don't know," said Amory shortly.
One night they walked while the moon rose and poured a great burden of glory over the garden until it seemed fairyland with Amory and Eleanor, dim phantasmal shapes, expressing eternal beauty in curious elfin love moods. Then they turned out of the moonlight into the trellised darkness of a vine-hung pagoda, where there were scents so plaintive as to be nearly musical.
"Light a match," she whispered. "I want to see you."
The night and the scarred trees were like scenery in a play, and to be there with Eleanor, shadowy and unreal, seemed somehow oddly familiar. Amory thought how it was only the past that ever seemed strange and unbelievable. The match went out.
"It's black as pitch."
"We're just voices now," murmured Eleanor, "little lonesome voices. Light another."
"That was my last match."
Suddenly he caught her in his arms.
"You are mine--you know you're mine!" he cried wildly . . . the moonlight twisted in through the vines and listened . . . the fireflies hung upon their whispers as if to win his glance from the glory of their eyes.
* * * *
THE END OF SUMMER
"No wind is stirring in the grass; not one wind stirs . . . the water in the hidden pools, as glass, fronts the full moon and so inters the golden token in its icy mass," chanted Eleanor to the trees that skeletoned the body of the night. "Isn't it ghostly here? If you can hold your horse's feet up, let's cut through the woods and find the hidden pools."
"It's after one, and you'll get the devil," he objected, "and I don't know enough about horses to put one away in the pitch dark."
"Shut up, you old fool," she whispered irrelevantly, and, leaning over, she patted him lazily with her riding-crop. "You can leave your old plug in our stable and I'll send him over to-morrow."
"But my uncle has got to drive me to the station with this old plug at seven o'clock."
"Don't be a spoil-sport--remember, you have a tendency toward wavering that prevents you from being the entire light of my life."
Amory drew his horse up close beside, and, leaning toward her, grasped her hand.
"Say I am--quick, or I'll pull you over and make you ride behind me."
She looked up and smiled and shook her head excitedly.
"Oh, do!--or rather, don't! Why are all the exciting things so uncomfortable, like fighting and exploring and ski-ing in Canada? By the way, we're going to ride up Harper's Hill. I think that comes in our programme about five o'clock."
"You little devil," Amory growled. "You're going to make me stay up all night and sleep in the train like an immigrant all day to-morrow, going back to New York."
"Hush! some one's coming along the road--let's go! Whoo-ee-oop!" And with a shout that probably gave the belated traveller a series of shivers, she turned her horse into the woods and Amory followed slowly, as he had followed her all day for three weeks.
The summer was over, but he had spent the days in watching Eleanor, a graceful, facile Manfred, build herself intellectual and imaginative pyramids while she revelled in the artificialities of the temperamental teens and they wrote poetry at the dinner-table.
So he wrote one day, when he pondered how coldly we thought of the "Dark Lady of the Sonnets," and how little we remembered her as the great man wanted her remembered. For what Shakespeare must have desired, to have been able to write with such divine despair, was that the lady should live . . . and now we have no real interest in her. . . . The irony of it is that if he had cared more for the poem than for the lady the sonnet would be only obvious, imitative rhetoric and no one would ever have read it after twenty years. . . .
This was the last night Amory ever saw Eleanor. He was leaving in the morning and they had agreed to take a long farewell trot by the cold moonlight. She wanted to talk, she said--perhaps the last time in her life that she could be rational (she meant pose with comfort). So they had turned into the woods and rode for half an hour with scarcely a word, except when she whispered "Damn!" at a bothersome branch--whispered it as no other girl was ever able to whisper it. Then they started up Harper's Hill, walking their tired horses.
"Good Lord! It's quiet here!" whispered Eleanor; "much more lonesome than the woods."
"I hate woods," Amory said, shuddering. "Any kind of foliage or underbrush at night. Out here it's so broad and easy on the spirit."
"The long slope of a long hill."
"And the cold moon rolling moonlight down it."
"And thee and me, last and most important."
It was quiet that night--the straight road they followed up to the edge of the cliff knew few footsteps at any time. Only an occasional negro cabin, silver-gray in the rock-ribbed moonlight, broke the long line of bare ground; behind lay the black edge of the woods like a dark frosting on white cake, and ahead the sharp, high horizon. It was much colder-- so cold that it settled on them and drove all the warm nights from their minds.
"The end of summer," said Eleanor softly. "Listen to the beat of our horses' hoofs--'tump-tump-tump-a-tump.' Have you ever been feverish and had all noises divide into 'tump-tump-tump' until you could swear eternity was divisible into so many tumps? That's the way I feel-- old horses go tump-tump. . . . I guess that's the only thing that separates horses and clocks from us. Human beings can't go 'tump-tumptump' without going crazy."
The breeze freshened and Eleanor pulled her cape around her and shivered.
"Are you very cold?" asked Amory.
"No, I'm thinking about myself--my black old inside self, the real one, with the fundamental honesty that keeps me from being absolutely wicked by making me realize my own sins."
They were riding up close by the cliff and Amory gazed over. Where the fall met the ground a hundred feet below, a black stream made a sharp line, broken by tiny glints in the swift water.
"Rotten, rotten old world," broke out Eleanor suddenly, "and the wretchedest thing of all is me--oh, why am I a girl? Why am I not a stupid--? Look at you; you're stupider than I am, not much, but some, and you can lope about and get bored and then lope somewhere else, and you can play around with girls without being involved in meshes of sentiment, and you can do anything and be justified--and here am I with the brains to do everything, yet tied to the sinking ship of future matrimony. If I were born a hundred years from now, well and good, but now what's in store for me--I have to marry, that goes without saying. Who? I'm too bright for most men, and yet I have to descend to their level and let them patronize my intellect in order to get their attention. Every year that I don't marry I've got less chance for a first-class man. At the best I can have my choice from one or two cities and, of course, I have to marry into a dinner-coat.
"Listen," she leaned close again, "I like clever men and good-looking men, and, of course, no one cares more for personality than I do. Oh, just one person in fifty has any glimmer of what sex is. I'm hipped on Freud and all that, but it's rotten that every bit of real love in the world is ninety-nine per cent passion and one little soupcon of jealousy." She finished as suddenly as she began.
"Of course, you're right," Amory agreed. "It's a rather unpleasant overpowering force that's part of the machinery under everything. It's like an actor that lets you see his mechanics! Wait a minute till I think this out. . . ."
He paused and tried to get a metaphor. They had turned the cliff and were riding along the road about fifty feet to the left.
"You see every one's got to have some cloak to throw around it. The mediocre intellects, Plato's second class, use the remnants of romantic chivalry diluted with Victorian sentiment--and we who consider ourselves the intellectuals cover it up by pretending that it's another side of us, has nothing to do with our shining brains; we pretend that the fact that we realize it is really absolving us from being a prey to it. But the truth is that sex is right in the middle of our purest abstractions, so close that it obscures vision. . . . I can kiss you now and will. . . ." He leaned toward her in his saddle, but she drew away.
"I can't--I can't kiss you now--I'm more sensitive."
"You're more stupid then," he declared rather impatiently. "Intellect is no protection from sex any more than convention is . . ."
"What is?" she fired up. "The Catholic Church or the maxims of Confucius?"
Amory looked up, rather taken aback.
"That's your panacea, isn't it?" she cried. "Oh, you're just an old hypocrite, too. Thousands of scowling priests keeping the degenerate Italians and illiterate Irish repentant with gabble-gabble about the sixth and ninth commandments. It's just all cloaks, sentiment and spiritual rouge and panaceas. I'll tell you there is no God, not even a definite abstract goodness; so it's all got to be worked out for the individual by the individual here in high white foreheads like mine, and you're too much the prig to admit it." She let go her reins and shook her little fists at the stars.
"If there's a God let him strike me--strike me!"
"Talking about God again after the manner of atheists," Amory said sharply. His materialism, always a thin cloak, was torn to shreds by Eleanor's blasphemy. . . . She knew it and it angered him that she knew it.
"And like most intellectuals who don't find faith convenient," he continued coldly, "like Napoleon and Oscar Wilde and the rest of your type, you'll yell loudly for a priest on your death-bed."
Eleanor drew her horse up sharply and he reined in beside her.
"Will I?" she said in a queer voice that scared him. "Will I? Watch! I'm going over the cliff!" And before he could interfere she had turned and was riding breakneck for the end of the plateau.
He wheeled and started after her, his body like ice, his nerves in a vast clangor. There was no chance of stopping her. The moon was under a cloud and her horse would step blindly over. Then some ten feet from the edge of the cliff she gave a sudden shriek and flung herself sideways-- plunged from her horse and, rolling over twice, landed in a pile of brush five feet from the edge. The horse went over with a frantic whinny. In a minute he was by Eleanor's side and saw that her eyes were open.
"Eleanor!" he cried.
She did not answer, but her lips moved and her eyes filled with sudden tears.
"Eleanor, are you hurt?"
"No; I don't think so," she said faintly, and then began weeping.
"My horse dead?"
"Good God-- Yes!"
"Oh!" she wailed. "I thought I was going over. I didn't know--"
He helped her gently to her feet and boosted her onto his saddle. So they started homeward; Amory walking and she bent forward on the pommel, sobbing bitterly.
"I've got a crazy streak," she faltered, "twice before I've done things like that. When I was eleven mother went--went mad--stark raving crazy. We were in Vienna--"
All the way back she talked haltingly about herself, and Amory's love waned slowly with the moon. At her door they started from habit to kiss good night, but she could not run into his arms, nor were they stretched to meet her as in the week before. For a minute they stood there, hating each other with a bitter sadness. But as Amory had loved himself in Eleanor, so now what he hated was only a mirror. Their poses were strewn about the pale dawn like broken glass. The stars were long gone and there were left only the little sighing gusts of wind and the silences between . . . but naked souls are poor things ever, and soon he turned homeward and let new lights come in with the sun.
* * * *
A POEM THAT ELEANOR SENT AMORY SEVERAL YEARS LATER
* * * *
A POEM AMORY SENT TO ELEANOR AND WHICH HE CALLED "SUMMER STORM"
"The fading things we only know
We'll have forgotten . . .
Put away . . .
Desires that melted with the snow,
And dreams begotten
The sudden dawns we laughed to greet,
That all could see, that none could share,
Will be but dawns . . . and if we meet
We shall not care.
Dear . . . not one tear will rise for this . . .
A little while hence
Will stir for a remembered kiss--
Not even silence,
When we've met,
Will give old ghosts a waste to roam,
Or stir the surface of the sea . . .
If gray shapes drift beneath the foam
We shall not see."
". . . But wisdom passes . . . still the years
Will feed us wisdom. . . . Age will go
Back to the old-- For all our tears
We shall not know."
"Les sanglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Et bleme quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure. . . ."
"'And now when the night was senescent'
'And the star dials pointed to morn
At the end of the path a liquescent'
'And nebulous lustre was born.'
"Bind on thy sandals, oh, thou most fleet.
Over the splendor and speed of thy feet--"
"Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
To think of things that are well outworn;
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
The dream foregone and the deed foreborne?"
When Vanity kissed Vanity, a hundred happy Junes ago, he pondered o'er her breathlessly, and, that all men might ever know, he rhymed her eyes with life and death:
"Thru Time I'll save my love!" he said . . . yet Beauty vanished with his breath, and, with her lovers, she was dead . . .
--Ever his wit and not her eyes, ever his art and not her hair:
"Who'd learn a trick in rhyme, be wise and pause before his sonnet there" . . . So all my words, however true, might sing you to a thousandth June, and no one ever know that you were
Beauty for an afternoon.
"Here, Earth-born, over the lilt of the water, Lisping its music and bearing a burden of light, Bosoming day as a laughing and radiant daughter . . . Here we may whisper unheard, unafraid of the night. Walking alone . . . was it splendor, or what, we were bound with, Deep in the time when summer lets down her hair? Shadows we loved and the patterns they covered the ground with Tapestries, mystical, faint in the breathless air.
That was the day . . . and the night for another story, Pale as a dream and shadowed with pencilled trees-- Ghosts of the stars came by who had sought for glory, Whispered to us of peace in the plaintive breeze, Whispered of old dead faiths that the day had shattered, Youth the penny that bought delight of the moon; That was the urge that we knew and the language that mattered That was the debt that we paid to the usurer June.
Here, deepest of dreams, by the waters that bring not Anything back of the past that we need not know, What if the light is but sun and the little streams sing not, We are together, it seems . . . I have loved you so . . . What did the last night hold, with the summer over, Drawing us back to the home in the changing glade? What leered out of the dark in the ghostly clover?
God! . . . till you stirred in your sleep . . . and were wild
afraid . . .
Well . . . we have passed . . . we are chronicle now to the eerie.
Curious metal from meteors that failed in the sky;
Earth-born the tireless is stretched by the water, quite weary,
Close to this ununderstandable changeling that's I . . .
Fear is an echo we traced to Security's daughter;
Now we are faces and voices . . . and less, too soon,
Whispering half-love over the lilt of the water . . .
Youth the penny that bought delight of the moon."
"Faint winds, and a song fading and leaves falling,
Faint winds, and far away a fading laughter . . .
And the rain and over the fields a voice calling . . .
Our gray blown cloud scurries and lifts above,
Slides on the sun and flutters there to waft her
Sisters on. The shadow of a dove
Falls on the cote, the trees are filled with wings;
And down the valley through the crying trees
The body of the darker storm flies; brings
With its new air the breath of sunken seas
And slender tenuous thunder . . .
But I wait . . .
Wait for the mists and for the blacker rain--
Heavier winds that stir the veil of fate,
Happier winds that pile her hair;
They tear me, teach me, strew the heavy air
Upon me, winds that I know, and storm.
There was a summer every rain was rare;
There was a season every wind was warm. . . .
And now you pass me in the mist . . . your hair
Rain-blown about you, damp lips curved once more
In that wild irony, that gay despair
That made you old when we have met before;
Wraith-like you drift on out before the rain,
Across the fields, blown with the stemless flowers,
With your old hopes, dead leaves and loves again--
Dim as a dream and wan with all old hours
(Whispers will creep into the growing dark . . .
Tumult will die over the trees)
Tears from her wetted breast the splattered blouse
Of day, glides down the dreaming hills, tear-bright,
To cover with her hair the eerie green . . .
Love for the dusk . . . Love for the glistening after;
Quiet the trees to their last tops . . . serene . . .
Faint winds, and far away a fading laughter . . ."
Atlantic City. Amory paced the board walk at day's end, lulled by the everlasting surge of changing waves, smelling the half-mournful odor of the salt breeze. The sea, he thought, had treasured its memories deeper than the faithless land. It seemed still to whisper of Norse galleys ploughing the water world under raven-figured flags, of the British dreadnoughts, gray bulwarks of civilization steaming up through the fog of one dark July into the North Sea.
Amory looked down into the street below. A low racing car had drawn to a stop and a familiar cheerful face protruded from the driver's seat.
"Come on down, goopher!" cried Alec.
Amory called a greeting and descending a flight of wooden steps approached the car. He and Alec had been meeting intermittently, but the barrier of Rosalind lay always between them. He was sorry for this; he hated to lose Alec.
"Mr. Blaine, this is Miss Waterson, Miss Wayne, and Mr. Tully."
"How d'y do?"
"Amory," said Alec exuberantly, "if you'll jump in we'll take you to some secluded nook and give you a wee jolt of Bourbon."
"That's an idea."
"Step in--move over, Jill, and Amory will smile very handsomely at you."
Amory squeezed into the back seat beside a gaudy, vermilion-lipped blonde.
"Hello, Doug Fairbanks," she said flippantly. "Walking for exercise or hunting for company?"
"I was counting the waves," replied Amory gravely. "I'm going in for statistics."
"Don't kid me, Doug."
When they reached an unfrequented side street Alec stopped the car among deep shadows.
"What you doing down here these cold days, Amory?" he demanded, as he produced a quart of Bourbon from under the fur rug.
Amory avoided the question. Indeed, he had had no definite reason for coming to the coast.
"Do you remember that party of ours, sophomore year?" he asked instead.
"Do I? When we slept in the pavilions up in Asbury Park--"
"Lord, Alec! It's hard to think that Jesse and Dick and Kerry are all three dead."
"Don't talk about it. These dreary fall days depress me enough."
Jill seemed to agree.
"Doug here is sorta gloomy anyways," she commented. "Tell him to drink deep--it's good and scarce these days."
"What I really want to ask you, Amory, is where you are--"
"Why, New York, I suppose--"
"I mean to-night, because if you haven't got a room yet you'd better help me out."
"You see, Tully and I have two rooms with bath between at the Ranier, and he's got to go back to New York. I don't want to have to move. Question is, will you occupy one of the rooms?"
Amory was willing, if he could get in right away.
"You'll find the key in the office; the rooms are in my name."
Declining further locomotion or further stimulation, Amory left the car and sauntered back along the board walk to the hotel.
He was in an eddy again, a deep, lethargic gulf, without desire to work or write, love or dissipate. For the first time in his life he rather longed for death to roll over his generation, obliterating their petty fevers and struggles and exultations. His youth seemed never so vanished as now in the contrast between the utter loneliness of this visit and that riotous, joyful party of four years before. Things that had been the merest commonplaces of his life then, deep sleep, the sense of beauty around him, all desire, had flown away and the gaps they left were filled only with the great listlessness of his disillusion.
"To hold a man a woman has to appeal to the worst in him." This sentence was the thesis of most of his bad nights, of which he felt this was to be one. His mind had already started to play variations on the subject. Tireless passion, fierce jealousy, longing to possess and crush--these alone were left of all his love for Rosalind; these remained to him as payment for the loss of his youth--bitter calomel under the thin sugar of love's exaltation.
In his room he undressed and wrapping himself in blankets to keep out the chill October air drowsed in an armchair by the open window.
He remembered a poem he had read months before:
Yet he had no sense of waste, no sense of the present hope that waste implied. He felt that life had rejected him.
"Rosalind! Rosalind!" He poured the words softly into the half-darkness until she seemed to permeate the room; the wet salt breeze filled his hair with moisture, the rim of a moon seared the sky and made the curtains dim and ghostly. He fell asleep.
When he awoke it was very late and quiet. The blanket had slipped partly off his shoulders and he touched his skin to find it damp and cold.
Then he became aware of a tense whispering not ten feet away.
He became rigid.
"Don't make a sound!" It was Alec's voice. "Jill--do you hear me?"
"Yes--" breathed very low, very frightened. They were in the bathroom.
Then his ears caught a louder sound from somewhere along the corridor outside. It was a mumbling of men's voices and a repeated muffled rapping. Amory threw off the blankets and moved close to the bathroom door.
"My God!" came the girl's voice again. "You'll have to let them in."
Suddenly a steady, insistent knocking began at Amory's hall door and simultaneously out of the bathroom came Alec, followed by the vermilionlipped girl. They were both clad in pajamas.
"Amory!" an anxious whisper.
"What's the trouble?"
"It's house detectives. My God, Amory--they're just looking for a test-case--"
"Well, better let them in."
"You don't understand. They can get me under the Mann Act."
The girl followed him slowly, a rather miserable, pathetic figure in the darkness.
Amory tried to plan quickly.
"You make a racket and let them in your room," he suggested anxiously, "and I'll get her out by this door."
"They're here too, though. They'll watch this door."
"Can't you give a wrong name?"
"No chance. I registered under my own name; besides, they'd trail the auto license number."
"Say you're married."
"Jill says one of the house detectives knows her."
The girl had stolen to the bed and tumbled upon it; lay there listening wretchedly to the knocking which had grown gradually to a pounding. Then came a man's voice, angry and imperative:
"Open up or we'll break the door in!"
In the silence when this voice ceased Amory realized that there were other things in the room besides people . . . over and around the figure crouched on the bed there hung an aura, gossamer as a moonbeam, tainted as stale, weak wine, yet a horror, diffusively brooding already over the three of them . . . and over by the window among the stirring curtains stood something else, featureless and indistinguishable, yet strangely familiar. . . . Simultaneously two great cases presented themselves side by side to Amory; all that took place in his mind, then, occupied in actual time less than ten seconds.
The first fact that flashed radiantly on his comprehension was the great impersonality of sacrifice--he perceived that what we call love and hate, reward and punishment, had no more to do with it than the date of the month. He quickly recapitulated the story of a sacrifice he had heard of in college: a man had cheated in an examination; his roommate in a gust of sentiment had taken the entire blame--due to the shame of it the innocent one's entire future seemed shrouded in regret and failure, capped by the ingratitude of the real culprit. He had finally taken his own life--years afterward the facts had come out. At the time the story had both puzzled and worried Amory. Now he realized the truth; that sacrifice was no purchase of freedom. It was like a great elective office, it was like an inheritance of power--to certain people at certain times an essential luxury, carrying with it not a guarantee but a responsibility, not a security but an infinite risk. Its very momentum might drag him down to ruin--the passing of the emotional wave that made it possible might leave the one who made it high and dry forever on an island of despair.
. . . Amory knew that afterward Alec would secretly hate him for having done so much for him. . . .
. . . All this was flung before Amory like an opened scroll, while ulterior to him and speculating upon him were those two breathless, listening forces: the gossamer aura that hung over and about the girl and that familiar thing by the window.
Sacrifice by its very nature was arrogant and impersonal; sacrifice should be eternally supercilious.
Weep not for me but for thy children.
That--thought Amory--would be somehow the way God would talk to me.
Amory felt a sudden surge of joy and then like a face in a motion-picture the aura over the bed faded out; the dynamic shadow by the window, that was as near as he could name it, remained for the fraction of a moment and then the breeze seemed to lift it swiftly out of the room. He clinched his hands in quick ecstatic excitement . . . the ten seconds were up. . . .
"Do what I say, Alec--do what I say. Do you understand?"
Alec looked at him dumbly--his face a tableau of anguish.
"You have a family," continued Amory slowly. "You have a family and it's important that you should get out of this. Do you hear me?" He repeated clearly what he had said. "Do you hear me?"
"I hear you." The voice was curiously strained, the eyes never for a second left Amory's.
"Alec, you're going to lie down here. If any one comes in you act drunk. You do what I say--if you don't I'll probably kill you."
There was another moment while they stared at each other. Then Amory went briskly to the bureau and, taking his pocket-book, beckoned peremptorily to the girl. He heard one word from Alec that sounded like "penitentiary," then he and Jill were in the bathroom with the door bolted behind them.
"You're here with me," he said sternly. "You've been with me all evening."
She nodded, gave a little half cry.
In a second he had the door of the other room open and three men entered. There was an immediate flood of electric light and he stood there blinking.
"You've been playing a little too dangerous a game, young man!"
The leader of the trio nodded authoritatively at a burly man in a check suit.
"All right, Olson."
"I got you, Mr. O'May," said Olson, nodding. The other two took a curious glance at their quarry and then withdrew, closing the door angrily behind them.
The burly man regarded Amory contemptuously.
"Didn't you ever hear of the Mann Act? Coming down here with her," he indicated the girl with his thumb, "with a New York license on your car--to a hotel like this." He shook his head implying that he had struggled over Amory but now gave him up.
"Well," said Amory rather impatiently, "what do you want us to do?"
"Get dressed, quick--and tell your friend not to make such a racket." Jill was sobbing noisily on the bed, but at these words she subsided sulkily and, gathering up her clothes, retired to the bathroom. As Amory slipped into Alec's B. V. D.'s he found that his attitude toward the situation was agreeably humorous. The aggrieved virtue of the burly man made him want to laugh.
"Anybody else here?" demanded Olson, trying to look keen and ferret-like.
"Fellow who had the rooms," said Amory carelessly. "He's drunk as an owl, though. Been in there asleep since six o'clock."
"I'll take a look at him presently."
"How did you find out?" asked Amory curiously.
"Night clerk saw you go up-stairs with this woman."
Amory nodded; Jill reappeared from the bathroom, completely if rather untidily arrayed.
"Now then," began Olson, producing a note-book, "I want your real names-- no damn John Smith or Mary Brown."
"Wait a minute," said Amory quietly. "Just drop that big-bully stuff. We merely got caught, that's all."
Olson glared at him.
"Name?" he snapped.
Amory gave his name and New York address.
"And the lady?"
"Say," cried Olson indignantly, "just ease up on the nursery rhymes. What's your name? Sarah Murphy? Minnie Jackson?"
"Oh, my God!" cried the girl cupping her tear-stained face in her hands. "I don't want my mother to know. I don't want my mother to know."
"Come on now!"
"Shut up!" cried Amory at Olson.
An instant's pause.
"Stella Robbins," she faltered finally. "General Delivery, Rugway, New Hampshire."
Olson snapped his note-book shut and looked at them very ponderously.
"By rights the hotel could turn the evidence over to the police and you'd go to penitentiary, you would, for bringin' a girl from one State to 'nother f'r immoral purp'ses--" He paused to let the majesty of his words sink in. "But--the hotel is going to let you off."
"It doesn't want to get in the papers," cried Jill fiercely. "Let us off! Huh!"
A great lightness surrounded Amory. He realized that he was safe and only then did he appreciate the full enormity of what he might have incurred.
"However," continued Olson, "there's a protective association among the hotels. There's been too much of this stuff, and we got a 'rangement with the newspapers so that you get a little free publicity. Not the name of the hotel, but just a line sayin' that you had a little trouble in 'lantic City. See?"
"You're gettin' off light--damn light--but--"
"Come on," said Amory briskly. "Let's get out of here. We don't need a valedictory."
Olson walked through the bathroom and took a cursory glance at Alec's still form. Then he extinguished the lights and motioned them to follow him. As they walked into the elevator Amory considered a piece of bravado--yielded finally. He reached out and tapped Olson on the arm.
"Would you mind taking off your hat? There's a lady in the elevator."
Olson's hat came off slowly. There was a rather embarrassing two minutes under the lights of the lobby while the night clerk and a few belated guests stared at them curiously; the loudly dressed girl with bent head, the handsome young man with his chin several points aloft; the inference was quite obvious. Then the chill outdoors--where the salt air was fresher and keener still with the first hints of morning.
"You can get one of those taxis and beat it," said Olson, pointing to the blurred outline of two machines whose drivers were presumably asleep inside.
"Good-by," said Olson. He reached in his pocket suggestively, but Amory snorted, and, taking the girl's arm, turned away.
"Where did you tell the driver to go?" she asked as they whirled along the dim street.
"If that guy writes my mother--"
"He won't. Nobody'll ever know about this--except our friends and enemies."
Dawn was breaking over the sea.
"It's getting blue," she said.
"It does very well," agreed Amory critically, and then as an afterthought: "It's almost breakfast-time--do you want something to eat?"
"Food--" she said with a cheerful laugh. "Food is what queered the party. We ordered a big supper to be sent up to the room about two o'clock. Alec didn't give the waiter a tip, so I guess the little bastard snitched."
Jill's low spirits seemed to have gone faster than the scattering night. "Let me tell you," she said emphatically, "when you want to stage that sorta party stay away from liquor, and when you want to get tight stay away from bedrooms."
He tapped suddenly at the glass and they drew up at the door of an all-night restaurant.
"Is Alec a great friend of yours?" asked Jill as they perched themselves on high stools inside, and set their elbows on the dingy counter.
"He used to be. He probably won't want to be any more--and never understand why."
"It was sorta crazy you takin' all that blame. Is he pretty important? Kinda more important than you are?"
"That remains to be seen," he answered. "That's the question."
* * * *
THE COLLAPSE OF SEVERAL PILLARS
Two days later back in New York Amory found in a newspaper what he had been searching for--a dozen lines which announced to whom it might concern that Mr. Amory Blaine, who "gave his address" as, etc., had been requested to leave his hotel in Atlantic City because of entertaining in his room a lady not his wife.
Then he started, and his fingers trembled, for directly above was a longer paragraph of which the first words were:
"Mr. and Mrs. Leland R. Connage are announcing the engagement of their daughter, Rosalind, to Mr. J. Dawson Ryder, of Hartford, Connecticut--"
He dropped the paper and lay down on his bed with a frightened, sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. She was gone, definitely, finally gone. Until now he had half unconsciously cherished the hope deep in his heart that some day she would need him and send for him, cry that it had been a mistake, that her heart ached only for the pain she had caused him. Never again could he find even the sombre luxury of wanting her-- not this Rosalind, harder, older--nor any beaten, broken woman that his imagination brought to the door of his forties--Amory had wanted her youth, the fresh radiance of her mind and body, the stuff that she was selling now once and for all. So far as he was concerned, young Rosalind was dead.
A day later came a crisp, terse letter from Mr. Barton in Chicago, which informed him that as three more street-car companies had gone into the hands of receivers he could expect for the present no further remittances. Last of all, on a dazed Sunday night, a telegram told him of Monsignor Darcy's sudden death in Philadelphia five days before.
He knew then what it was that he had perceived among the curtains of the room in Atlantic City.
"Oh staunch old heart who toiled so long for me,
I waste my years sailing along the sea--"
Under the glass portcullis of a theatre Amory stood, watching the first great drops of rain splatter down and flatten to dark stains on the sidewalk. The air became gray and opalescent; a solitary light suddenly outlined a window over the way; then another light; then a hundred more danced and glimmered into vision. Under his feet a thick, iron-studded skylight turned yellow; in the street the lamps of the taxi-cabs sent out glistening sheens along the already black pavement. The unwelcome November rain had perversely stolen the day's last hour and pawned it with that ancient fence, the night.
The silence of the theatre behind him ended with a curious snapping sound, followed by the heavy roaring of a rising crowd and the interlaced clatter of many voices. The matinee was over.
He stood aside, edged a little into the rain to let the throng pass. A small boy rushed out, sniffed in the damp, fresh air and turned up the collar of his coat; came three or four couples in a great hurry; came a further scattering of people whose eyes as they emerged glanced invariably, first at the wet street, then at the rain-filled air, finally at the dismal sky; last a dense, strolling mass that depressed him with its heavy odor compounded of the tobacco smell of the men and the fetid sensuousness of stale powder on women. After the thick crowd came another scattering; a stray half-dozen; a man on crutches; finally the rattling bang of folding seats inside announced that the ushers were at work.
New York seemed not so much awakening as turning over in its bed. Pallid men rushed by, pinching together their coat-collars; a great swarm of tired, magpie girls from a department-store crowded along with shrieks of strident laughter, three to an umbrella; a squad of marching policemen passed, already miraculously protected by oilskin capes.
The rain gave Amory a feeling of detachment, and the numerous unpleasant aspects of city life without money occurred to him in threatening procession. There was the ghastly, stinking crush of the subway--the car cards thrusting themselves at one, leering out like dull bores who grab your arm with another story; the querulous worry as to whether some one isn't leaning on you; a man deciding not to give his seat to a woman, hating her for it; the woman hating him for not doing it; at worst a squalid phantasmagoria of breath, and old cloth on human bodies and the smells of the food men ate--at best just people--too hot or too cold, tired, worried.
He pictured the rooms where these people lived--where the patterns of the blistered wall-papers were heavy reiterated sunflowers on green and yellow backgrounds, where there were tin bathtubs and gloomy hallways and verdureless, unnamable spaces in back of the buildings; where even love dressed as seduction--a sordid murder around the corner, illicit motherhood in the flat above. And always there was the economical stuffiness of indoor winter, and the long summers, nightmares of perspiration between sticky enveloping walls . . . dirty restaurants where careless, tired people helped themselves to sugar with their own used coffee-spoons, leaving hard brown deposits in the bowl.
It was not so bad where there were only men or else only women; it was when they were vilely herded that it all seemed so rotten. It was some shame that women gave off at having men see them tired and poor--it was some disgust that men had for women who were tired and poor. It was dirtier than any battle-field he had seen, harder to contemplate than any actual hardship moulded of mire and sweat and danger, it was an atmosphere wherein birth and marriage and death were loathsome, secret things.
He remembered one day in the subway when a delivery boy had brought in a great funeral wreath of fresh flowers, how the smell of it had suddenly cleared the air and given every one in the car a momentary glow.
"I detest poor people," thought Amory suddenly. "I hate them for being poor. Poverty may have been beautiful once, but it's rotten now. It's the ugliest thing in the world. It's essentially cleaner to be corrupt and rich than it is to be innocent and poor." He seemed to see again a figure whose significance had once impressed him--a well-dressed young man gazing from a club window on Fifth Avenue and saying something to his companion with a look of utter disgust. Probably, thought Amory, what he said was: "My God! Aren't people horrible!"
Never before in his life had Amory considered poor people. He thought cynically how completely he was lacking in all human sympathy. O. Henry had found in these people romance, pathos, love, hate--Amory saw only coarseness, physical filth, and stupidity. He made no self-accusations: never any more did he reproach himself for feelings that were natural and sincere. He accepted all his reactions as a part of him, unchangeable, unmoral. This problem of poverty transformed, magnified, attached to some grander, more dignified attitude might some day even be his problem; at present it roused only his profound distaste.
He walked over to Fifth Avenue, dodging the blind, black menace of umbrellas, and standing in front of Delmonico's hailed an auto-bus. Buttoning his coat closely around him he climbed to the roof, where he rode in solitary state through the thin, persistent rain, stung into alertness by the cool moisture perpetually reborn on his cheek. Somewhere in his mind a conversation began, rather resumed its place in his attention. It was composed not of two voices, but of one, which acted alike as questioner and answerer:
Question.--Well--what's the situation?
Answer.--That I have about twenty-four dollars to my name.
Q.--You have the Lake Geneva estate.
A.--But I intend to keep it.
Q.--Can you live?
A.--I can't imagine not being able to. People make money in books and I've found that I can always do the things that people do in books. Really they are the only things I can do.
A.--I don't know what I'll do--nor have I much curiosity. To-morrow I'm going to leave New York for good. It's a bad town unless you're on top of it.
Q.--Do you want a lot of money?
A.--No. I am merely afraid of being poor.
A.--Just passively afraid.
Q.--Where are you drifting?
A.--Don't ask me!
Q.--Don't you care?
A.--Rather. I don't want to commit moral suicide.
Q.--Have you no interests left?
A.--None. I've no more virtue to lose. Just as a cooling pot gives off heat, so all through youth and adolescence we give off calories of virtue. That's what's called ingenuousness.
Q.--An interesting idea.
A.--That's why a "good man going wrong" attracts people. They stand around and literally warm themselves at the calories of virtue he gives off. Sarah makes an unsophisticated remark and the faces simper in delight--"How innocent the poor child is!" They're warming themselves at her virtue. But Sarah sees the simper and never makes that remark again. Only she feels a little colder after that.
Q.--All your calories gone?
A.--All of them. I'm beginning to warm myself at other people's virtue.
Q.--Are you corrupt?
A.--I think so. I'm not sure. I'm not sure about good and evil at all any more.
Q.--Is that a bad sign in itself?
Q.--What would be the test of corruption?
A.--Becoming really insincere--calling myself "not such a bad fellow," thinking I regretted my lost youth when I only envy the delights of losing it. Youth is like having a big plate of candy. Sentimentalists think they want to be in the pure, simple state they were in before they ate the candy. They don't. They just want the fun of eating it all over again. The matron doesn't want to repeat her girlhood--she wants to repeat her honeymoon. I don't want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.
Q.--Where are you drifting?
This dialogue merged grotesquely into his mind's most familiar state-- a grotesque blending of desires, worries, exterior impressions and physical reactions.
One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Street--or One Hundred and Thirty-seventh Street. . . . Two and three look alike--no, not much. Seat damp . . . are clothes absorbing wetness from seat, or seat absorbing dryness from clothes? . . . Sitting on wet substance gave appendicitis, so Froggy Parker's mother said. Well, he'd had it--I'll sue the steamboat company, Beatrice said, and my uncle has a quarter interest--did Beatrice go to heaven? . . . probably not-- He represented Beatrice's immortality, also love-affairs of numerous dead men who surely had never thought of him . . . if it wasn't appendicitis, influenza maybe. What? One Hundred and Twentieth Street? That must have been One Hundred and Twelfth back there. One O Two instead of One Two Seven. Rosalind not like Beatrice, Eleanor like Beatrice, only wilder and brainier. Apartments along here expensive--probably hundred and fifty a month--maybe two hundred. Uncle had only paid hundred a month for whole great big house in Minneapolis. Question--were the stairs on the left or right as you came in? Anyway, in 12 Univee they were straight back and to the left. What a dirty river--want to go down there and see if it's dirty--French rivers all brown or black, so were Southern rivers. Twenty-four dollars meant four hundred and eighty doughnuts. He could live on it three months and sleep in the park. Wonder where Jill was--Jill Bayne, Fayne, Sayne--what the devil--neck hurts, darned uncomfortable seat. No desire to sleep with Jill, what could Alec see in her? Alec had a coarse taste in women. Own taste the best; Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor, were all-American. Eleanor would pitch, probably southpaw. Rosalind was outfield, wonderful hitter, Clara first base, maybe. Wonder what Humbird's body looked like now. If he himself hadn't been bayonet instructor he'd have gone up to line three months sooner, probably been killed. Where's the darned bell--
The street numbers of Riverside Drive were obscured by the mist and dripping trees from anything but the swiftest scrutiny, but Amory had finally caught sight of one--One Hundred and Twenty-seventh Street. He got off and with no distinct destination followed a winding, descending sidewalk and came out facing the river, in particular a long pier and a partitioned litter of shipyards for miniature craft: small launches, canoes, rowboats, and catboats. He turned northward and followed the shore, jumped a small wire fence and found himself in a great disorderly yard adjoining a dock. The hulls of many boats in various stages of repair were around him; he smelled sawdust and paint and the scarcely distinguishable fiat odor of the Hudson. A man approached through the heavy gloom.
"Hello," said Amory.
"Got a pass?"
"No. Is this private?"
"This is the Hudson River Sporting and Yacht Club."
"Oh! I didn't know. I'm just resting."
"Well--" began the man dubiously.
"I'll go if you want me to."
The man made non-committal noises in his throat and passed on. Amory seated himself on an overturned boat and leaned forward thoughtfully until his chin rested in his hand.
"Misfortune is liable to make me a damn bad man," he said slowly.
* * * *
IN THE DROOPING HOURS
While the rain drizzled on Amory looked futilely back at the stream of his life, all its glitterings and dirty shallows. To begin with, he was still afraid--not physically afraid any more, but afraid of people and prejudice and misery and monotony. Yet, deep in his bitter heart, he wondered if he was after all worse than this man or the next. He knew that he could sophisticate himself finally into saying that his own weakness was just the result of circumstances and environment; that often when he raged at himself as an egotist something would whisper ingratiatingly: "No. Genius!" That was one manifestation of fear, that voice which whispered that he could not be both great and good, that genius was the exact combination of those inexplicable grooves and twists in his mind, that any discipline would curb it to mediocrity. Probably more than any concrete vice or failing Amory despised his own personality--he loathed knowing that to-morrow and the thousand days after he would swell pompously at a compliment and sulk at an ill word like a third-rate musician or a first-class actor. He was ashamed of the fact that very simple and honest people usually distrusted him; that he had been cruel, often, to those who had sunk their personalities in him-- several girls, and a man here and there through college, that he had been an evil influence on; people who had followed him here and there into mental adventures from which he alone rebounded unscathed.
Usually, on nights like this, for there had been many lately, he could escape from this consuming introspection by thinking of children and the infinite possibilities of children--he leaned and listened and he heard a startled baby awake in a house across the street and lend a tiny whimper to the still night. Quick as a flash he turned away, wondering with a touch of panic whether something in the brooding despair of his mood had made a darkness in its tiny soul. He shivered. What if some day the balance was overturned, and he became a thing that frightened children and crept into rooms in the dark, approached dim communion with those phantoms who whispered shadowy secrets to the mad of that dark continent upon the moon. . . .
* * * *
Amory smiled a bit.
"You're too much wrapped up in yourself," he heard some one say. And again--
"Get out and do some real work--"
He fancied a possible future comment of his own.
"Yes--I was perhaps an egotist in youth, but I soon found it made me morbid to think too much about myself."
* * * *
Suddenly he felt an overwhelming desire to let himself go to the devil-- not to go violently as a gentleman should, but to sink safely and sensuously out of sight. He pictured himself in an adobe house in Mexico, half-reclining on a rug-covered couch, his slender, artistic fingers closed on a cigarette while he listened to guitars strumming melancholy undertones to an age-old dirge of Castile and an olive-skinned, carmine-lipped girl caressed his hair. Here he might live a strange litany, delivered from right and wrong and from the hound of heaven and from every God (except the exotic Mexican one who was pretty slack himself and rather addicted to Oriental scents)--delivered from success and hope and poverty into that long chute of indulgence which led, after all, only to the artificial lake of death.
There were so many places where one might deteriorate pleasantly: Port Said, Shanghai, parts of Turkestan, Constantinople, the South Seas-- all lands of sad, haunting music and many odors, where lust could be a mode and expression of life, where the shades of night skies and sunsets would seem to reflect only moods of passion: the colors of lips and poppies.
* * * *
Once he had been miraculously able to scent evil as a horse detects a broken bridge at night, but the man with the queer feet in Phoebe's room had diminished to the aura over Jill. His instinct perceived the fetidness of poverty, but no longer ferreted out the deeper evils in pride and sensuality.
There were no more wise men; there were no more heroes; Burne Holiday was sunk from sight as though he had never lived; Monsignor was dead. Amory had grown up to a thousand books, a thousand lies; he had listened eagerly to people who pretended to know, who knew nothing. The mystical reveries of saints that had once filled him with awe in the still hours of night, now vaguely repelled him. The Byrons and Brookes who had defied life from mountain tops were in the end but flaneurs and poseurs, at best mistaking the shadow of courage for the substance of wisdom. The pageantry of his disillusion took shape in a world-old procession of Prophets, Athenians, Martyrs, Saints, Scientists, Don Juans, Jesuits, Puritans, Fausts, Poets, Pacifists; like costumed alumni at a college reunion they streamed before him as their dreams, personalities, and creeds had in turn thrown colored lights on his soul; each had tried to express the glory of life and the tremendous significance of man; each had boasted of synchronizing what had gone before into his own rickety generalities; each had depended after all on the set stage and the convention of the theatre, which is that man in his hunger for faith will feed his mind with the nearest and most convenient food.
Women--of whom he had expected so much; whose beauty he had hoped to transmute into modes of art; whose unfathomable instincts, marvellously incoherent and inarticulate, he had thought to perpetuate in terms of experience--had become merely consecrations to their own posterity. Isabelle, Clara, Rosalind, Eleanor, were all removed by their very beauty, around which men had swarmed, from the possibility of contributing anything but a sick heart and a page of puzzled words to write.
Amory based his loss of faith in help from others on several sweeping syllogisms. Granted that his generation, however bruised and decimated from this Victorian war, were the heirs of progress. Waving aside petty differences of conclusions which, although they might occasionally cause the deaths of several millions of young men, might be explained away-- supposing that after all Bernard Shaw and Bernhardi, Bonar Law and Bethmann-Hollweg were mutual heirs of progress if only in agreeing against the ducking of witches--waiving the antitheses and approaching individually these men who seemed to be the leaders, he was repelled by the discrepancies and contradictions in the men themselves.
There was, for example, Thornton Hancock, respected by half the intellectual world as an authority on life, a man who had verified and believed the code he lived by, an educator of educators, an adviser to Presidents--yet Amory knew that this man had, in his heart, leaned on the priest of another religion.
And Monsignor, upon whom a cardinal rested, had moments of strange and horrible insecurity--inexplicable in a religion that explained even disbelief in terms of its own faith: if you doubted the devil it was the devil that made you doubt him. Amory had seen Monsignor go to the houses of stolid philistines, read popular novels furiously, saturate himself in routine, to escape from that horror.
And this priest, a little wiser, somewhat purer, had been, Amory knew, not essentially older than he.
Amory was alone--he had escaped from a small enclosure into a great labyrinth. He was where Goethe was when he began "Faust"; he was where Conrad was when he wrote "Almayer's Folly."
Amory said to himself that there were essentially two sorts of people who through natural clarity or disillusion left the enclosure and sought the labyrinth. There were men like Wells and Plato, who had, half unconsciously, a strange, hidden orthodoxy, who would accept for themselves only what could be accepted for all men--incurable romanticists who never, for all their efforts, could enter the labyrinth as stark souls; there were on the other hand sword-like pioneering personalities, Samuel Butler, Renan, Voltaire, who progressed much slower, yet eventually much further, not in the direct pessimistic line of speculative philosophy but concerned in the eternal attempt to attach a positive value to life. . . .
Amory stopped. He began for the first time in his life to have a strong distrust of all generalities and epigrams. They were too easy, too dangerous to the public mind. Yet all thought usually reached the public after thirty years in some such form: Benson and Chesterton had popularized Huysmans and Newman; Shaw had sugar-coated Nietzsche and Ibsen and Schopenhauer. The man in the street heard the conclusions of dead genius through some one else's clever paradoxes and didactic epigrams.
Life was a damned muddle . . . a football game with every one off-side and the referee gotten rid of--every one claiming the referee would have been on his side. . . .
Progress was a labyrinth . . . people plunging blindly in and then rushing wildly back, shouting that they had found it . . . the invisible king--the elan vital--the principle of evolution . . . writing a book, starting a war, founding a school. . . .
Amory, even had he not been a selfish man, would have started all inquiries with himself. He was his own best example--sitting in the rain, a human creature of sex and pride, foiled by chance and his own temperament of the balm of love and children, preserved to help in building up the living consciousness of the race.
In self-reproach and loneliness and disillusion he came to the entrance of the labyrinth.
* * * *
Another dawn flung itself across the river, a belated taxi hurried along the street, its lamps still shining like burning eyes in a face white from a night's carouse. A melancholy siren sounded far down the river.
* * * *
Amory kept thinking how Monsignor would have enjoyed his own funeral. It was magnificently Catholic and liturgical. Bishop O'Neill sang solemn high mass and the cardinal gave the final absolutions. Thornton Hancock, Mrs. Lawrence, the British and Italian ambassadors, the papal delegate, and a host of friends and priests were there--yet the inexorable shears had cut through all these threads that Monsignor had gathered into his hands. To Amory it was a haunting grief to see him lying in his coffin, with closed hands upon his purple vestments. His face had not changed, and, as he never knew he was dying, it showed no pain or fear. It was Amory's dear old friend, his and the others'--for the church was full of people with daft, staring faces, the most exalted seeming the most stricken.
The cardinal, like an archangel in cope and mitre, sprinkled the holy water; the organ broke into sound; the choir began to sing the Requiem Eternam.
All these people grieved because they had to some extent depended upon Monsignor. Their grief was more than sentiment for the "crack in his voice or a certain break in his walk," as Wells put it. These people had leaned on Monsignor's faith, his way of finding cheer, of making religion a thing of lights and shadows, making all light and shadow merely aspects of God. People felt safe when he was near.
Of Amory's attempted sacrifice had been born merely the full realization of his disillusion, but of Monsignor's funeral was born the romantic elf who was to enter the labyrinth with him. He found something that he wanted, had always wanted and always would want--not to be admired, as he had feared; not to be loved, as he had made himself believe; but to be necessary to people, to be indispensable; he remembered the sense of security he had found in Burne.
Life opened up in one of its amazing bursts of radiance and Amory suddenly and permanently rejected an old epigram that had been playing listlessly in his mind: "Very few things matter and nothing matters very much."
On the contrary, Amory felt an immense desire to give people a sense of security.
* * * *
THE BIG MAN WITH GOGGLES
On the day that Amory started on his walk to Princeton the sky was a colorless vault, cool, high and barren of the threat of rain. It was a gray day, that least fleshly of all weathers; a day of dreams and far hopes and clear visions. It was a day easily associated with those abstract truths and purities that dissolve in the sunshine or fade out in mocking laughter by the light of the moon. The trees and clouds were carved in classical severity; the sounds of the countryside had harmonized to a monotone, metallic as a trumpet, breathless as the Grecian urn.
The day had put Amory in such a contemplative mood that he caused much annoyance to several motorists who were forced to slow up considerably or else run him down. So engrossed in his thoughts was he that he was scarcely surprised at that strange phenomenon--cordiality manifested within fifty miles of Manhattan--when a passing car slowed down beside him and a voice hailed him. He looked up and saw a magnificent Locomobile in which sat two middle-aged men, one of them small and anxious looking, apparently an artificial growth on the other who was large and begoggled and imposing.
"Do you want a lift?" asked the apparently artificial growth, glancing from the corner of his eye at the imposing man as if for some habitual, silent corroboration.
"You bet I do. Thanks."
The chauffeur swung open the door, and, climbing in, Amory settled himself in the middle of the back seat. He took in his companions curiously. The chief characteristic of the big man seemed to be a great confidence in himself set off against a tremendous boredom with everything around him. That part of his face which protruded under the goggles was what is generally termed "strong"; rolls of not undignified fat had collected near his chin; somewhere above was a wide thin mouth and the rough model for a Roman nose, and, below, his shoulders collapsed without a struggle into the powerful bulk of his chest and belly. He was excellently and quietly dressed. Amory noticed that he was inclined to stare straight at the back of the chauffeur's head as if speculating steadily but hopelessly some baffling hirsute problem.
The smaller man was remarkable only for his complete submersion in the personality of the other. He was of that lower secretarial type who at forty have engraved upon their business cards: "Assistant to the President," and without a sigh consecrate the rest of their lives to second-hand mannerisms.
"Going far?" asked the smaller man in a pleasant disinterested way.
"Quite a stretch."
"Hiking for exercise?"
"No," responded Amory succinctly, "I'm walking because I can't afford to ride."
"Are you looking for work? Because there's lots of work," he continued rather testily. "All this talk of lack of work. The West is especially short of labor." He expressed the West with a sweeping, lateral gesture. Amory nodded politely.
"Have you a trade?"
No--Amory had no trade.
No--Amory was not a clerk.
"Whatever your line is," said the little man, seeming to agree wisely with something Amory had said, "now is the time of opportunity and business openings." He glanced again toward the big man, as a lawyer grilling a witness glances involuntarily at the jury.
Amory decided that he must say something and for the life of him could think of only one thing to say.
"Of course I want a great lot of money--"
The little man laughed mirthlessly but conscientiously.
"That's what every one wants nowadays, but they don't want to work for it."
"A very natural, healthy desire. Almost all normal people want to be rich without great effort--except the financiers in problem plays, who want to 'crash their way through.' Don't you want easy money?"
"Of course not," said the secretary indignantly.
"But," continued Amory disregarding him, "being very poor at present I am contemplating socialism as possibly my forte."
Both men glanced at him curiously.
"These bomb throwers--" The little man ceased as words lurched ponderously from the big man's chest.
"If I thought you were a bomb thrower I'd run you over to the Newark jail. That's what I think of Socialists."
"What are you," asked the big man, "one of these parlor Bolsheviks, one of these idealists? I must say I fail to see the difference. The idealists loaf around and write the stuff that stirs up the poor immigrants."
"Well," said Amory, "if being an idealist is both safe and lucrative, I might try it."
"What's your difficulty? Lost your job?"
"Not exactly, but--well, call it that."
"What was it?"
"Writing copy for an advertising agency."
"Lots of money in advertising."
Amory smiled discreetly.
"Oh, I'll admit there's money in it eventually. Talent doesn't starve any more. Even art gets enough to eat these days. Artists draw your magazine covers, write your advertisements, hash out rag-time for your theatres. By the great commercializing of printing you've found a harmless, polite occupation for every genius who might have carved his own niche. But beware the artist who's an intellectual also. The artist who doesn't fit--the Rousseau, the Tolstoi, the Samuel Butler, the Amory Blaine--"
"Who's he?" demanded the little man suspiciously.
"Well," said Amory, "he's a--he's an intellectual personage not very well known at present."
The little man laughed his conscientious laugh, and stopped rather suddenly as Amory's burning eyes turned on him.
"What are you laughing at?"
"These intellectual people--"
"Do you know what it means?"
The little man's eyes twitched nervously.
"Why, it usually means--"
"It always means brainy and well-educated," interrupted Amory. "It means having an active knowledge of the race's experience." Amory decided to be very rude. He turned to the big man. "The young man," he indicated the secretary with his thumb, and said young man as one says bell-boy, with no implication of youth, "has the usual muddled connotation of all popular words."
"You object to the fact that capital controls printing?" said the big man, fixing him with his goggles.
"Yes--and I object to doing their mental work for them. It seemed to me that the root of all the business I saw around me consisted in overworking and underpaying a bunch of dubs who submitted to it."
"Here now," said the big man, "you'll have to admit that the laboring man is certainly highly paid--five and six hour days--it's ridiculous. You can't buy an honest day's work from a man in the trades-unions."
"You've brought it on yourselves," insisted Amory. "You people never make concessions until they're wrung out of you."
"Your class; the class I belonged to until recently; those who by inheritance or industry or brains or dishonesty have become the moneyed class."
"Do you imagine that if that road-mender over there had the money he'd be any more willing to give it up?"
"No, but what's that got to do with it?"
The older man considered.
"No, I'll admit it hasn't. It rather sounds as if it had though."
"In fact," continued Amory, "he'd be worse. The lower classes are narrower, less pleasant and personally more selfish--certainly more stupid. But all that has nothing to do with the question."
"Just exactly what is the question?"
Here Amory had to pause to consider exactly what the question was.
* * * *
AMORY COINS A PHRASE
"When life gets hold of a brainy man of fair education," began Amory slowly, "that is, when he marries he becomes, nine times out of ten, a conservative as far as existing social conditions are concerned. He may be unselfish, kind-hearted, even just in his own way, but his first job is to provide and to hold fast. His wife shoos him on, from ten thousand a year to twenty thousand a year, on and on, in an enclosed treadmill that hasn't any windows. He's done! Life's got him! He's no help! He's a spiritually married man."
Amory paused and decided that it wasn't such a bad phrase.
"Some men," he continued, "escape the grip. Maybe their wives have no social ambitions; maybe they've hit a sentence or two in a 'dangerous book' that pleased them; maybe they started on the treadmill as I did and were knocked off. Anyway, they're the congressmen you can't bribe, the Presidents who aren't politicians, the writers, speakers, scientists, statesmen who aren't just popular grab-bags for a half-dozen women and children."
"He's the natural radical?"
"Yes," said Amory. "He may vary from the disillusioned critic like old Thornton Hancock, all the way to Trotsky. Now this spiritually unmarried man hasn't direct power, for unfortunately the spiritually married man, as a by-product of his money chase, has garnered in the great newspaper, the popular magazine, the influential weekly--so that Mrs. Newspaper, Mrs. Magazine, Mrs. Weekly can have a better limousine than those oil people across the street or those cement people 'round the corner."
"It makes wealthy men the keepers of the world's intellectual conscience and, of course, a man who has money under one set of social institutions quite naturally can't risk his family's happiness by letting the clamor for another appear in his newspaper."
"But it appears," said the big man.
"Where?--in the discredited mediums. Rotten cheap-papered weeklies."
"All right--go on."
"Well, my first point is that through a mixture of conditions of which the family is the first, there are these two sorts of brains. One sort takes human nature as it finds it, uses its timidity, its weakness, and its strength for its own ends. Opposed is the man who, being spiritually unmarried, continually seeks for new systems that will control or counteract human nature. His problem is harder. It is not life that's complicated, it's the struggle to guide and control life. That is his struggle. He is a part of progress--the spiritually married man is not."
The big man produced three big cigars, and proffered them on his huge palm. The little man took one, Amory shook his head and reached for a cigarette.
"Go on talking," said the big man. "I've been wanting to hear one of you fellows."
* * * *
"Modern life," began Amory again, "changes no longer century by century, but year by year, ten times faster than it ever has before--populations doubling, civilizations unified more closely with other civilizations, economic interdependence, racial questions, and--we're dawdling along. My idea is that we've got to go very much faster." He slightly emphasized the last words and the chauffeur unconsciously increased the speed of the car. Amory and the big man laughed; the little man laughed, too, after a pause.
"Every child," said Amory, "should have an equal start. If his father can endow him with a good physique and his mother with some common sense in his early education, that should be his heritage. If the father can't give him a good physique, if the mother has spent in chasing men the years in which she should have been preparing herself to educate her children, so much the worse for the child. He shouldn't be artificially bolstered up with money, sent to these horrible tutoring schools, dragged through college . . . Every boy ought to have an equal start."
"All right," said the big man, his goggles indicating neither approval nor objection.
"Next I'd have a fair trial of government ownership of all industries."
"That's been proven a failure."
"No--it merely failed. If we had government ownership we'd have the best analytical business minds in the government working for something besides themselves. We'd have Mackays instead of Burlesons; we'd have Morgans in the Treasury Department; we'd have Hills running interstate commerce. We'd have the best lawyers in the Senate."
"They wouldn't give their best efforts for nothing. McAdoo--"
"No," said Amory, shaking his head. "Money isn't the only stimulus that brings out the best that's in a man, even in America."
"You said a while ago that it was."
"It is, right now. But if it were made illegal to have more than a certain amount the best men would all flock for the one other reward which attracts humanity--honor."
The big man made a sound that was very like boo.
"That's the silliest thing you've said yet."
"No, it isn't silly. It's quite plausible. If you'd gone to college you'd have been struck by the fact that the men there would work twice as hard for any one of a hundred petty honors as those other men did who were earning their way through."
"Kids--child's play!" scoffed his antagonist.
"Not by a darned sight--unless we're all children. Did you ever see a grown man when he's trying for a secret society--or a rising family whose name is up at some club? They'll jump when they hear the sound of the word. The idea that to make a man work you've got to hold gold in front of his eyes is a growth, not an axiom. We've done that for so long that we've forgotten there's any other way. We've made a world where that's necessary. Let me tell you"--Amory became emphatic--"if there were ten men insured against either wealth or starvation, and offered a green ribbon for five hours' work a day and a blue ribbon for ten hours' work a day, nine out of ten of them would be trying for the blue ribbon. That competitive instinct only wants a badge. If the size of their house is the badge they'll sweat their heads off for that. If it's only a blue ribbon, I damn near believe they'll work just as hard. They have in other ages."
"I don't agree with you."
"I know it," said Amory nodding sadly. "It doesn't matter any more though. I think these people are going to come and take what they want pretty soon."
A fierce hiss came from the little man.
"Ah, but you've taught them their use."
The big man shook his head.
"In this country there are enough property owners not to permit that sort of thing."
Amory wished he knew the statistics of property owners and non-property owners; he decided to change the subject.
But the big man was aroused.
"When you talk of 'taking things away,' you're on dangerous ground."
"How can they get it without taking it? For years people have been stalled off with promises. Socialism may not be progress, but the threat of the red flag is certainly the inspiring force of all reform. You've got to be sensational to get attention."
"Russia is your example of a beneficent violence, I suppose?"
"Quite possibly," admitted Amory. "Of course, it's overflowing just as the French Revolution did, but I've no doubt that it's really a great experiment and well worth while."
"Don't you believe in moderation?"
"You won't listen to the moderates, and it's almost too late. The truth is that the public has done one of those startling and amazing things that they do about once in a hundred years. They've seized an idea."
"What is it?"
"That however the brains and abilities of men may differ, their stomachs are essentially the same."
* * * *
THE LITTLE MAN GETS HIS
"If you took all the money in the world," said the little man with much profundity, "and divided it up in equ--"
"Oh, shut up!" said Amory briskly and, paying no attention to the little man's enraged stare, he went on with his argument.
"The human stomach--" he began; but the big man interrupted rather impatiently.
"I'm letting you talk, you know," he said, "but please avoid stomachs. I've been feeling mine all day. Anyway, I don't agree with one-half you've said. Government ownership is the basis of your whole argument, and it's invariably a beehive of corruption. Men won't work for blue ribbons, that's all rot."
When he ceased the little man spoke up with a determined nod, as if resolved this time to have his say out.
"There are certain things which are human nature," he asserted with an owl-like look, "which always have been and always will be, which can't be changed."
Amory looked from the small man to the big man helplessly.
"Listen to that! That's what makes me discouraged with progress. Listen to that! I can name offhand over one hundred natural phenomena that have been changed by the will of man--a hundred instincts in man that have been wiped out or are now held in check by civilization. What this man here just said has been for thousands of years the last refuge of the associated mutton-heads of the world. It negates the efforts of every scientist, statesman, moralist, reformer, doctor, and philosopher that ever gave his life to humanity's service. It's a flat impeachment of all that's worth while in human nature. Every person over twenty-five years old who makes that statement in cold blood ought to be deprived of the franchise."
The little man leaned back against the seat, his face purple with rage. Amory continued, addressing his remarks to the big man.
"These quarter-educated, stale-minded men such as your friend here, who think they think, every question that comes up, you'll find his type in the usual ghastly muddle. One minute it's 'the brutality and inhumanity of these Prussians'--the next it's 'we ought to exterminate the whole German people.' They always believe that 'things are in a bad way now,' but they 'haven't any faith in these idealists.' One minute they call Wilson 'just a dreamer, not practical'--a year later they rail at him for making his dreams realities. They haven't clear logical ideas on one single subject except a sturdy, stolid opposition to all change. They don't think uneducated people should be highly paid, but they won't see that if they don't pay the uneducated people their children are going to be uneducated too, and we're going round and round in a circle. That--is the great middle class!"
The big man with a broad grin on his face leaned over and smiled at the little man.
"You're catching it pretty heavy, Garvin; how do you feel?"
The little man made an attempt to smile and act as if the whole matter were so ridiculous as to be beneath notice. But Amory was not through.
"The theory that people are fit to govern themselves rests on this man. If he can be educated to think clearly, concisely, and logically, freed of his habit of taking refuge in platitudes and prejudices and sentimentalisms, then I'm a militant Socialist. If he can't, then I don't think it matters much what happens to man or his systems, now or hereafter."
"I am both interested and amused," said the big man. "You are very young."
"Which may only mean that I have neither been corrupted nor made timid by contemporary experience. I possess the most valuable experience, the experience of the race, for in spite of going to college I've managed to pick up a good education."
"You talk glibly."
"It's not all rubbish," cried Amory passionately. "This is the first time in my life I've argued Socialism. It's the only panacea I know. I'm restless. My whole generation is restless. I'm sick of a system where the richest man gets the most beautiful girl if he wants her, where the artist without an income has to sell his talents to a button manufacturer. Even if I had no talents I'd not be content to work ten years, condemned either to celibacy or a furtive indulgence, to give some man's son an automobile."
"But, if you're not sure--"
"That doesn't matter," exclaimed Amory. "My position couldn't be worse. A social revolution might land me on top. Of course I'm selfish. It seems to me I've been a fish out of water in too many outworn systems. I was probably one of the two dozen men in my class at college who got a decent education; still they'd let any well-tutored flathead play football and I was ineligible, because some silly old men thought we should all profit by conic sections. I loathed the army. I loathed business. I'm in love with change and I've killed my conscience--"
"So you'll go along crying that we must go faster."
"That, at least, is true," Amory insisted. "Reform won't catch up to the needs of civilization unless it's made to. A laissez-faire policy is like spoiling a child by saying he'll turn out all right in the end. He will--if he's made to."
"But you don't believe all this Socialist patter you talk."
"I don't know. Until I talked to you I hadn't thought seriously about it. I wasn't sure of half of what I said."
"You puzzle me," said the big man, "but you're all alike. They say Bernard Shaw, in spite of his doctrines, is the most exacting of all dramatists about his royalties. To the last farthing."
"Well," said Amory, "I simply state that I'm a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation--with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones. I've thought I was right about life at various times, but faith is difficult. One thing I know. If living isn't a seeking for the grail it may be a damned amusing game."
For a minute neither spoke and then the big man asked:
"What was your university?"
The big man became suddenly interested; the expression of his goggles altered slightly.
"I sent my son to Princeton."
"Perhaps you knew him. His name was Jesse Ferrenby. He was killed last year in France."
"I knew him very well. In fact, he was one of my particular friends."
"He was--a--quite a fine boy. We were very close."
Amory began to perceive a resemblance between the father and the dead son and he told himself that there had been all along a sense of familiarity. Jesse Ferrenby, the man who in college had borne off the crown that he had aspired to. It was all so far away. What little boys they had been, working for blue ribbons--
The car slowed up at the entrance to a great estate, ringed around by a huge hedge and a tall iron fence.
"Won't you come in for lunch?"
Amory shook his head.
"Thank you, Mr. Ferrenby, but I've got to get on."
The big man held out his hand. Amory saw that the fact that he had known Jesse more than outweighed any disfavor he had created by his opinions. What ghosts were people with which to work! Even the little man insisted on shaking hands.
"Good-by!" shouted Mr. Ferrenby, as the car turned the corner and started up the drive. "Good luck to you and bad luck to your theories."
"Same to you, sir," cried Amory, smiling and waving his hand.
* * * *
"OUT OF THE FIRE, OUT OF THE LITTLE ROOM"
Eight hours from Princeton Amory sat down by the Jersey roadside and looked at the frost-bitten country. Nature as a rather coarse phenomenon composed largely of flowers that, when closely inspected, appeared moth-eaten, and of ants that endlessly traversed blades of grass, was always disillusioning; nature represented by skies and waters and far horizons was more likable. Frost and the promise of winter thrilled him now, made him think of a wild battle between St. Regis and Groton, ages ago, seven years ago--and of an autumn day in France twelve months before when he had lain in tall grass, his platoon flattened down close around him, waiting to tap the shoulders of a Lewis gunner. He saw the two pictures together with somewhat the same primitive exaltation-- two games he had played, differing in quality of acerbity, linked in a way that differed them from Rosalind or the subject of labyrinths which were, after all, the business of life.
"I am selfish," he thought.
"This is not a quality that will change when I 'see human suffering' or 'lose my parents' or 'help others.'
"This selfishness is not only part of me. It is the most living part.
"It is by somehow transcending rather than by avoiding that selfishness that I can bring poise and balance into my life.
"There is no virtue of unselfishness that I cannot use. I can make sacrifices, be charitable, give to a friend, endure for a friend, lay down my life for a friend--all because these things may be the best possible expression of myself; yet I have not one drop of the milk of human kindness."
The problem of evil had solidified for Amory into the problem of sex. He was beginning to identify evil with the strong phallic worship in Brooke and the early Wells. Inseparably linked with evil was beauty-- beauty, still a constant rising tumult; soft in Eleanor's voice, in an old song at night, rioting deliriously through life like superimposed waterfalls, half rhythm, half darkness. Amory knew that every time he had reached toward it longingly it had leered out at him with the grotesque face of evil. Beauty of great art, beauty of all joy, most of all the beauty of women.
After all, it had too many associations with license and indulgence. Weak things were often beautiful, weak things were never good. And in this new loneness of his that had been selected for what greatness he might achieve, beauty must be relative or, itself a harmony, it would make only a discord.
In a sense this gradual renunciation of beauty was the second step after his disillusion had been made complete. He felt that he was leaving behind him his chance of being a certain type of artist. It seemed so much more important to be a certain sort of man.
His mind turned a corner suddenly and he found himself thinking of the Catholic Church. The idea was strong in him that there was a certain intrinsic lack in those to whom orthodox religion was necessary, and religion to Amory meant the Church of Rome. Quite conceivably it was an empty ritual but it was seemingly the only assimilative, traditionary bulwark against the decay of morals. Until the great mobs could be educated into a moral sense some one must cry: "Thou shalt not!" Yet any acceptance was, for the present, impossible. He wanted time and the absence of ulterior pressure. He wanted to keep the tree without ornaments, realize fully the direction and momentum of this new start.
* * * *
The afternoon waned from the purging good of three o'clock to the golden beauty of four. Afterward he walked through the dull ache of a setting sun when even the clouds seemed bleeding and at twilight he came to a graveyard. There was a dusky, dreamy smell of flowers and the ghost of a new moon in the sky and shadows everywhere. On an impulse he considered trying to open the door of a rusty iron vault built into the side of a hill; a vault washed clean and covered with late-blooming, weepy watery-blue flowers that might have grown from dead eyes, sticky to the touch with a sickening odor.
Amory wanted to feel "William Dayfield, 1864."
He wondered that graves ever made people consider life in vain. Somehow he could find nothing hopeless in having lived. All the broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels meant romances. He fancied that in a hundred years he would like having young people speculate as to whether his eyes were brown or blue, and he hoped quite passionately that his grave would have about it an air of many, many years ago. It seemed strange that out of a row of Union soldiers two or three made him think of dead loves and dead lovers, when they were exactly like the rest, even to the yellowish moss.
* * * *
Long after midnight the towers and spires of Princeton were visible, with here and there a late-burning light--and suddenly out of the clear darkness the sound of bells. As an endless dream it went on; the spirit of the past brooding over a new generation, the chosen youth from the muddled, unchastened world, still fed romantically on the mistakes and half-forgotten dreams of dead statesmen and poets. Here was a new generation, shouting the old cries, learning the old creeds, through a revery of long days and nights; destined finally to go out into that dirty gray turmoil to follow love and pride; a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken. . . .
Amory, sorry for them, was still not sorry for himself--art, politics, religion, whatever his medium should be, he knew he was safe now, free from all hysteria--he could accept what was acceptable, roam, grow, rebel, sleep deep through many nights. . . .
There was no God in his heart, he knew; his ideas were still in riot; there was ever the pain of memory; the regret for his lost youth--yet the waters of disillusion had left a deposit on his soul, responsibility and a love of life, the faint stirring of old ambitions and unrealized dreams. But--oh, Rosalind! Rosalind! . . .
"It's all a poor substitute at best," he said sadly.
And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself and his heritage from the personalities he had passed. . . .
He stretched out his arms to the crystalline, radiant sky.
"I know myself," he cried, "but that is all."
"A fathom deep in sleep I lie
With old desires, restrained before,
To clamor lifeward with a cry,
As dark flies out the greying door;
And so in quest of creeds to share
I seek assertive day again . . .
But old monotony is there:
Endless avenues of rain.
Oh, might I rise again! Might I
Throw off the heat of that old wine,
See the new morning mass the sky
With fairy towers, line on line;
Find each mirage in the high air
A symbol, not a dream again . . .
But old monotony is there:
Endless avenues of rain."