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Title: Gargoyles
Author: Hecht, Ben, 1894-1964
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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GARGOYLES



_GARGOYLES_


_By_
BEN HECHT

[Illustration]

BONI AND LIVERIGHT
Publishers New York



Copyright, 1922, by
Boni and Liveright, Inc.
New York



To My Friend
the
Chicago Daily News



1


The calendars said--1900. It was growing warm. George Cornelius Basine
emerged from Madam Minnie's house of ill fame at five o'clock on a
Sabbath May morning. He was twenty-five years old, neatly dressed, a bit
unshaven and whistling valiantly, "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey,
won't you come home?"

Considering the high estate which was to be his, as the estimable
Senator Basine, the introduction savors of malice. But, it must be
remembered, this was twenty-two years ago, and moreover, in a day before
the forces of decency had triumphed. The soul of man was still
unregenerate. Prostitutes, saloons, hell-holes still flourished
unchallenged in the city's heart. And Basine even at twenty-five was not
one of those aggravating anomalies who pride themselves upon being ahead
of their time; or behind their time. Basine was of his time.

And on this day which witnessed him whistling on the doorstep of Madam
Minnie's, the Devil was still a gentlemen, albeit a gentleman in bad
standing. But, being a gentleman, he was tolerated. Tradition, in a
manner, still clothed him in the guise of a Rabelaisian clown, high born
but fallen. He walked abroad in his true character, flaunting his red
tights, his cloven hoof, his spiked tail and his mysterious horns. A
Mid-Victorian Devil innocent of further disguise, his face still
undisfigured by the Kaiser's mustachio or the Bolshevist's whiskers. A
naive, unctuous lout of a Devil with straightforward Tempter's
proclivities. An antagonist not for Dr. Wilsons and M. Clemenceaus and
the Societies for the Spread of True Americanization, but an
unpolitical, highly orthodox, leering, pitchfork-brandishing _vis â vis_
for simple men of God. In short, the Devil was still a Devil and not a
Complex.

It was growing warm and the calendars said--a new century ... a new
century. And the great men of the day pointed with stern, pregnant
fingers at the calendars and proclaimed--a new century ... a new
century.

Beautiful phrase. The soul of man, in its struggle toward God knows
what, paused elatedly to contemplate the new milestone. Elated as all
youth is elated for no other reason than that there is a tomorrow, a
tomorrow of unknown and multiple milestones. Elated with the knowledge
of progress--that sage and flattering word by which the soul of man
explains the baffling phenomenon of its survival.

The great men of the day stood staring through half-closed eyes at the
calendars. To anticipate by a single day! But the future no less than
the past remains a current mystery. And the great men--the
prophets--confined themselves with stentorian caution to the prophecy--a
new century has dawned.

Basine, whistling and waiting for his companion to emerge on Madam
Minnie's doorstep, regarded the scene about him with the hardened moral
indifference of youth. It was growing warm. The May sun was striding, an
incongruous, provincial virgin, through a litter of blowzy streets.
Under its mocking light the rows of bawdy-houses and saloons suffered
an architectural collapse. Walls, windows, roofs and chimneys leered
tiredly at each other. The district seemed indeed an illustration for a
parable of Vice and Virtue drawn by the venomously partial pen of some
unusually half-witted cleric--dirty-faced brothels, tousled café signs,
bleery sidewalks, toothless storefronts all cowering before the rebuke
of God's sun.

A few mysterious solitaries lent a vague life to the scene. The figure
of a drunk, unchastened, zigzagging humorously down the pavement like
some nocturnal clown prowling after a vanished Bacchanal. A hastily
dressed prostitute carrying her night's earnings as an offering to early
devotion. A few unseasoned revellers overcome with a nostalgia for clean
bathrooms and Sunday morning waffles at the family board, sleepily
fleeing the scenes of their carouse.

All this formed no part of the preoccupations of the whistling one. He
was waiting for his companion and for the fifteenth time the tune of
"Bill Bailey" came softly from his lips. The companion appeared, a
crestfallen young man of twenty-three, Hugh Keegan by name. An idiotic
wistfulness marked the blond vacuity of his face. They said nothing and
walked to the street car track.

Here they must wait. There was no car in sight. Basine employed the
wait, jumping out from the curbing and peering with a great show of
interest down the deserted tracks. The night's dissipation had left him
perversely elate. His vanity demanded that he confound the scenes of his
recent moral collapse by exhibitions of undiminished vigor of body and
gayety of mind. So he capered back and forth between the curb and the
deserted tracks, ostentatiously unbuttoning his coat to the chill of the
dawn and addressing brisk, cheerful sallies to his penitent friend.

It was this way with Basine. He had spent the night in sin. Now he must
act as if he had not spent the night in sin. It was a matter of
deceiving his conscience, and Basine's conscience did not live in
Basine. It was, to the contrary, a mysterious external force, something
quite outside him.

He eyed the virtuous hallelujahs of the sunrise with a somewhat
over-emphasized aplomb. Dimly he felt that a God was articulating in
dawns and sunbeams. As long as he had continued his whistling, these
facts had remained concealed. But now he had grown tired of "Bill
Bailey" and at once God, peering out of his beautiful rosy heaven was
saying, "Shame on you." Everything seemed to be waiting to repeat this
banal reproof.

This was the conscience of George Basine--a reproof that came from
without. He felt an inclination to defiance before this reproof.... He
was young and given to evil. This was only natural, considering the time
in which he lived and the biological impulses of youth.

But to do evil was one thing. To defend it after it was done was
another. Thus Basine, having sinned lustily through the night, avoided
the more unspeakable sin of defending his action. The reproof arrived,
he faced it with candor and intelligence, prepared to admit that he had
done wrong.

He did not want God mumbling around inside him as was the case with his
friend Keegan. God mumbled around inside of Keegan and made him feel
like the devil. But Basine--there was no occasion for God to argue His
point. He, Basine, surrendered gracefully and forthwith. That was the
way to handle situations of the soul.

To Basine, situations of the soul were a species of external discomforts
he identified as God. They were the regulations and taboos of a
civilization to which he was prepared at all times to submit, providing
such submission did not compromise him. One got rid of taboos by looking
them squarely in the eye and simulating respect or remorse. Taboos were
good manners. One had to be polite to good manners. Basine laughed, not
defiantly. He had already made his apologies to the dawn. The dawn was
God's good manners. It entered the world as precisely and as perfectly
as the saintly wife of a great financier might enter her grandmother's
drawing room.

Waiting beside the car track, Basine was already a reformed and forgiven
man. The sun was like a huge Salvation Army marching through the
highways of Evil, beating great drums and singing, "Are you washed, are
you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?" He was glad of it. He was glad to
be once more a part of a virtuous world, a citizen of an ideal republic
given to the great causes of progress.

This adjustment completed, memories of the night came to him as they
waited for the car. These memories failed, naturally, to conflict with
his character as a citizen of virtue. For they were memories which he
was prepared at any moment to repudiate and denounce. Thus prepared he
could of course enjoy them.

The memories brought an elation, the elation which usually fills the
healthy male of twenty-five upon discovering or rediscovering that the
Devil is as alluring as he is painted and that the wages of sin are
neither death nor disillusion. He had enjoyed himself. Sin was wrong.
But if one knew it was wrong one could go ahead and enjoy it. The great
thing was to know it was wrong, to admit it frankly and share in the
general indignation of it and not to go around like a vicious-minded
freak defending it, like some people he knew were in the habit of doing.

Thus on this May morning Basine was able to grasp the enormity of his
offense and to apologize whole-heartedly for its commission and
simultaneously to enjoy the memory of it. He had come away from Madam
Minnie's with an egoistic impression of his prowess and with the
self-satisfaction which comes of the knowledge of having cheated the
devil out of his due by his careful method. He remembered with a warmth
in his throat as if he were recalling something beautiful how the
creature had looked at the first moment she stood before him.

He had spent the earlier part of the night getting creditably drunk.
Lured into a brothel by a woman with a hard, childish face, he had
devoted himself for several hours to the despicable business of sin. The
sordid make-believe of passion had pleased him vastly. He had managed in
fact to achieve an observation on life. As the night waned he had grown
philosophical and thought, how with good women one began with personal
talk, with an exchange of confidences. One began with emotions, with
gentle lacerations, wistfulness, sadness. And one progressed from these
toward the intimacy of physical contact. But with bad women one began
with the intimacy of physical contact. Only the abrupt matter-of-fact
tone of the thing robbed the contact of all intimacy. And one progressed
from this contact toward a wistfulness, a gentle shyness and finally an
exchange of confidences and personal talk. This last contained in it the
thrill of intimacy. A good woman surrendered her body and inspired
thereby a sense of possession. A bad woman surrendered the secret of her
birthplace and of her real name and inspired a similar sense. There was
also obvious the fact that the same sense of dramatic coquetry,
idealism, modesty or whatever it was that induced the good woman to
withhold her body induced the bad woman to withhold her confidence.

Under the influence of this knowledge, Basine had pursued the usual
tactics of the predatory male and, as a fillip to the unimaginative
excitements of the night, obtained from his accomplice in sin the story
of her life.

"The mystery of a bad woman is that she was once virtuous," he thought
as he fell asleep. "Just as the mystery of a virtuous woman is that she
could be bad."

An hour later he awoke and with a thrill of quixotic honesty placed five
dollars in the moist hand of the sleeping houri, gathered his friend
Keegan out of an adjoining room and emerged once more into the world
with a clear head, a body full of elated memories and a laudable
conviction that he had done wrong, but that what happened yesterday was
not a part of today and that a man can grant himself absolution from
sin as easily as he can lay aside virtue.

As for Keegan, he stared with mild eyes at the dawn, at the beggarly
alleys and the negro porter dreamily sweeping cigar stubs out of a
lopsided doorway. He listened patiently to his friend's enthusiasms. To
Keegan there was something inexplicable about Basine's morning-after
pose. Keegan had not found a place for God. Platitudes were not a
background against which he might posture to his convenience. Instead
they were terrible intimates. They operated his thought for him.

After committing a sin one should be repentent. The commission of sin
was, of course, an outrage. But somehow the platitudes did not quite
reach into the bedroom of evil. They remained hovering outside the door
marking time, as it were, and whispering through the keyhole, "just wait
... just wait...."

And as soon as he had emerged from the room, in fact even before that,
they had taken possession of him again. They demanded now repentance,
thorough repentance which included thorough repudiation of all joyous
memories, all pleasurable moments. And Keegan, surrendering himself as a
matter of necessity to their demands presented the exterior of a
sorrowing victim to the dawn. He offered a nod or a surprised stare as
punctuation for his friend's discourse, chewing the while on an
unsuccessfully lighted cigar which tasted sour.

"There was something different about her from the usual girl of that
kind," Basine was explaining. "Wouldn't talk for a while but finally got
confidential and began to cry a bit."

This was a lie, reflecting credit, however, on the youth's dramatic
sense and vanity. The knowledge that the creature under discussion had
been actually no different from the six other ladies of her profession
with whom he had experienced moral collapses since leaving the
university in no way interfered with his opinion of the recent episode.

It was his opinion that things he touched were somehow different from
things other young men dallied with; that events which befell him were
of a certain mysterious fiber lacking in the events which befell others.
Thus he was reduced to the necessity of continual lying in order to
vindicate this conviction, more powerful than reality. Lying to himself
as much as to anyone else. By his lies Basine accomplished the dual
purpose of adjusting inferior incidents to the superiority of his nature
and of impressing this superiority upon his friends. A way of rewriting
life so as to fit himself with the heroic part, as yet denied him in the
manuscript and which he sincerely felt was his due.

"Yes, she cried a bit. They usually do, you know."

Keegan was innocent of this phenomenon, but nodded. He felt mysteriously
saddened by the fact that they never wept for him. Life denied him many
things. The creature he had spent the night with had treated him
somewhat brutally. She had laughed several times. He sought, however, to
make up for the indifference with which he felt himself treated by
heightening his contempt for her as a sinner. This necessitated an
increase of his contempt for himself as having been a partner in evil.
But that was a spiritual gesture made bearable by the wave of remorse
it aroused and by the knowledge that remorse was a laudable emotion.
Nevertheless, despite the remorse and the rehabilitation it offered his
vanity, he continued to feel--life denied him many things.

Basine continued, "You could take a girl like that and make something of
her. Give her a month." By which he meant give George Cornelius Basine a
month and see the miracle he would work.

Keegan sighed. He admired George, and his admiration of others always
depressed him. He was intelligent enough to know that he admired things
he lacked. And yet, he assured himself, he would despise the things in
himself that he admired in others. Therefore, it was very probable that
he despised them in others, or would at some later day, unless he
managed to conceal the fact or lose track of it in the confusion of
platitudes which served him for a brain. He looked enviously at his
friend, before whom hardened trollops dissolved in tears.

"She's only been in the game a little while, you know, Hugh. A convent
girl, too. She told me her story. How she got started, you know. A love
affair with a Spaniard. A highly connected fellow."

Basine prattled on, improvising a melodrama of virtue led astray,
editing the vaguely worded generalities of the creature he had left
asleep. Eventually he tired of the game and announced abruptly.

"Not a car in sight. What do you say we walk, Hugh?"

The idea of walking four miles home after a wild night engaged his
vanity. Things by which he proved the dubious superiority of his body
pleased him.

"I think I'll run along," said Keegan.

"Nothing doing, Hughie. You come with me. We'll have breakfast at my
house."

Keegan frowned. There were two sisters and a mother in Basine's home.

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Oh, because."

Basine persisted, gently malicious. It amused him to inconvenience his
friend's scruples. It also gave him a feeling of moral supremacy. Keegan
was ashamed to go to his home with him. He pitied him for this and yet
enjoyed the fact. It was because Keegan didn't feel sure of himself, of
his being a man of virtue. And he, Basine, did. There was no question
about it in his mind.

"Ashamed?" he asked with a smile.

"No," Keegan grunted.

"Well, you haven't done anything worse than me," by which he meant "We
do things differently and I am above things that knock you out."

Keegan stared at his friend furtively. There were things inexplicable in
George Basine. He must admire them. There was nothing inexplicable in
himself.

He hesitated about going, however. A combination of platitudes was
involved. He felt the necessity of repentance. And then he felt the
necessity of hiding his shame. And finally platitude cautioned him
indignantly against affronting three good women--a mother and two
daughters--with the presence of one lately come from the flesh pots of
Satan. This was a superior platitude because it came also under the
index of good manners.

But Basine, taking him by the elbow, swept him along, platitudes and
all. An inexplicable Basine whom he admired, envied, despised, and who
was his best friend and his model. They walked together, Basine briskly
to hide the sudden heaviness of his legs; Keegan yielding to the less
pronounced physical drain he had undergone and falling into a weary,
protesting gait.



2


The death of Howard Basine had precipitated a creditable outburst of
grief on the part of his widow and two daughters. The event had brought
his son George home from college.

They had shared a bed for twenty-six years, Basine _père_ and Basine
_mère_, achieving an utter disregard of each other which both took pride
in identifying as domestic happiness. In their youth love had brought
them together while comparative strangers. And after twenty-six years
death had parted them still strangers. But now complete and total
strangers--Siamese twins who had never been introduced to each other.

Each had grown old by the side of the other, subscribing to the same
thoughts, worries, ambitions. It was as if a thin shell had grown around
each of them. This shell was their home, their mutual interest in bank
balances, diversions and tomorrows. It was the product of their
practical energies--their standing in the eyes of their friends, their
success and their solidity as a social unit. It was their pride in new
rugs, in invitations to functions, in their children.

There were two shells. One was Basine _père_. One was Basine _mère_.
For twenty-six years these two shells cohabited together. But inside
each of them there had been a world of things that had never connected
and that remained forever part of a mutually preserved secret. Little
daydreams, absurdities, the swaggering, pensive, impractical rigmarole
of thought-life to which the world of reality--the shell-world--had
remained almost to the last no more than a vaguely sensed exterior.

Each of them had lived almost continually apart from this shell. They
had given but a fraction of their energies toward its creation. It had
required only a little part of themselves to become two placidly
successful conventionally happy people with a home and family. The rest
of themselves they had allowed to evaporate.

A pleasing process--evaporation. Dreams, ambitions, longings--all these
had evaporated slowly and secretively during the twenty-six years,
vanished into thin air. And each had been preoccupied with this process
of evaporation. It had been their real life--the life which diverted
them and which they mutually concealed from each other as they sat
together reading of evenings, or rode in cars or waited in offices or
lay in bed.

Here in this real life were success and beauty and marvelous activities.
Here Basine _père_ planned Herculean enterprise and triumphed with
magnificent gestures, became a leader of finance, of armies; became a
lover of queens and odalisques. Caressing from day to day phantasms
which had no existence, it was in them that he chiefly existed. He
confined himself not only to illusions of grandeur. There were also
little things, charming minor victories which delighted his ego almost
as much as the greater ones. He was able to trick out the minor
victories with the illusion of reality. They were things that might
happen, that one could dream about almost as actually happening. Things
that he fancied people might be saying about him; admissions that he
fancied people might make to him; dreams that he fancied he inspired in
women who passed him and whom he never saw again.

This illusory existence preoccupying Basine had fitted him ideally for
the companionship of orderly, placid-minded folk preoccupied like
himself with similar processes of evaporation. These folk were his
friends with whom he went to the theater, played cards, transacted
business, discussed issues. They were known as normal, practical
persons. The vast, illusory worlds in which they lived during the
greater part of their hours in no way encroached upon the realities of
their day.

They were proud of having a grip on themselves, by which they meant of
being able to allow their energies to evaporate secretively instead of
feeling inspired to harness them to realities and run the risk of being
hoisted body and soul out of their shells into a maelstrom of
uncertainties and hullabaloos. In order to rationalize the disparity
between their actual estates and the fantastic estates of their illusory
lives, they devoted a part of their energies to the practical business
of glorifying their shells. They subscribed with indignation, sometimes
with fanaticism, to all social, spiritual and political ideas which had
for their objective the glorification of their shells. They became
champions of systems of thought and conduct which excused on one hand
and deified on the other their devitalized modes of existence.

In fact as they grew older they developed a curious egoism which took
the form of a pride in their suppressions. They thought of themselves as
men who had achieved a superior sanity. This sanity lay in being able to
recognize the real from the unreal. The real was their shell. The unreal
consisted of the fantasies produced by the process of evaporation. This
sanity, too, enabled them to regard their imaginings and dreamings with
an amused condescension and to mature into unruffled
effigies--practical, hard-headed business men.

The evaporation, however, influenced them in one vital respect. It
effected what they called their taste in the arts. They desired things
they read or listened to in the theater to be authentic interpretations
not of the realities about them but of the illusions in which they
secretly exhausted themselves. They desired the heroes and heroines of
literature and drama to be like the creatures and excitements of the
soap-bubble worlds bursting conveniently about their hard heads. And so
in their reading and theater going they enjoyed only those things which
afforded a few hours of vicarious reality to the grotesqueries, to the
fairy tale expansions of their departing dreams.

During the last years of his life Basine had experienced the fullest
rewards of a virtuous, practical life. At fifty he had become empty. The
rigmarole of day dreams grew vaguer and finally ceased. He had become
bored with his grandiose and illusory selves. Don Juan, Napoleon,
Croesus, no longer wore the features of Basine. There was no longer any
thrill in idly decorating his tomorrows with kaleidoscopic
make-believes.

There was no great tragedy in this. He was bored with his imagination
because he had run through the repertoire of his fancies too often and
so, slowly, his days grew more and more void of unrealities. Slowly also
he turned to the tangible things around him. He contemplated proudly the
details of his shell. It was a comforting shell. It fitted him snugly.
It consisted of his friends, his home, his children, his borrowed ideas,
his wife.

No outward change was to be noticed in Basine _père_ when this happened.
There was nothing to say that the process of evaporation had ended and
that there was left an animate husk called Howard Basine; a husk that
did not mourn at the knowledge of its emptiness but that accepted
instead with piety and gratitude the presence of other husks, pleased
and warmed to move among their empty companionships.

It was at this time that Basine proudly felt himself a worthwhile member
of society and grew to smile with tolerant disdain upon all persons who
busied themselves with the illusions he had overcome by the simple
process of denying them life. He called them fools, scoundrels, lunatics
and dreamers and he agreed with his friends that they were creatures
engaged in filling the world with discomfort and error. His dislike for
them did not make him unhappy for he was content in the flattering
knowledge that most people, everybody he knew and whose opinion he
valued, were like himself. His thoughts were nearly everybody's thoughts
and his life was like everybody's life. There was a sense of strength,
even satisfaction in this. He relapsed gracefully into a quiet emptiness
out of which he was able to derive final embalming fluid for his vanity
by pitying the distractions and unrest of others.

Then he died. The sight of her husband lying under the glass of the
coffin had reminded Mrs. Basine of the curious fact that in their youth
love had brought them together. A memory burrowed its way from under the
débris of twenty-six years and confronted her. A memory of wild nights,
flushed cheeks, shining eyes, hope and careless words. And the dim
yesterday, the long-forgotten yesterday that lay in the coffin with the
paunchy figure of the bald-headed silk-merchant became suddenly real
again.

When she was alone that night Mrs. Basine wept miserably for a love that
had died twenty-five years ago and lain buried and unmourned under the
débris of these years. A tardy exhibition of grief, sincere but
enfeebled by its own age, it spent itself in a few hours. The tears for
the memory of vanished youth and vanished love of which the body waiting
in the coffin had become for a space of grotesque symbol, were followed
by the inarticulate sense of an anti-climax.

Howard Basine's dying was somehow not a tragedy to the woman who had
lived with him for twenty-six years. When she had wept at first, the
idea of death came like a panic to her heart. Things had died. Days,
nights, hopes had died. But she had been unaware of their dying. The
figure of her husband leaving for his day's work, returning from his
day's work, sitting at the head of the table, retiring to bed with
her--this had been a mask behind which the dying of things remained
concealed.

Now that he had closed his eyes and vanished it was as if a mask had
been removed. One could see all at once all the things that had died.
And she saw not only Howard lying dead, but most of herself. In her mind
she had no memory of the illusory selves she had lived, like her
husband, alone. These illusory selves whose successes and romances she
had caressed in secret had of late abandoned her. Like her husband she
had turned to the shells they had created about themselves as the
comforting reward of her life's negation.

Now it struck her that these shells were full of dead things. While he
lived they had seemed alive. The fact that the man with whom she had
survived twenty-six years continued to talk and to move had given her
the vague feeling that these years were also still alive, still existent
somewhere. Now the man was dead and the years were dead with him. They
had been dead all the while but they had not lain in a coffin for one to
look at like this.

Dead years. And she, a survivor. Her sense of contact with the past
deserted her. She was alone. Everything that had been was no more and it
seemed during her grief as if it had never existed.

She lay and wept, feeling that something had been terribly wasted. Once
there had been youth. Now there was age. She had already lived but how,
where? Look, she was already old but how had it happened? She who could
remember so many things about youth--her pretty face, her careless
hopes, bright, happy excitements; and most of all, the feeling that
things lay ahead--that a store of mysterious things waited for her--she
who could remember it so plainly was an old woman. It had seemed natural
before he died but now it seemed unnatural. She would die soon, too. Her
youth--something she thought of as youth, arose and stretched out
far-away arms to her. It came to her in the night and stood smiling at
her like a ghost of herself. Yes, she was already dead and she could lie
in bed weeping for her husband and staring with tired eyes at memories.
Thoughts did not disturb her. Her emotions, grown too involved for the
shallows of her mind, gave her the consciousness merely of a panic.

But the panic left. It receded slowly and the death of her husband
stirred in her during the first weeks of mourning a gentle affection for
the man. She closeted herself with the memories that had terrified
her--sensual memories of an impetuous lover, an idealization of a
long-forgotten Howard. And her sorrow became like a vague honeymoon
shared with slowly dissolving erotic shadows.

This too went. As it went away the widow became curiously younger in her
features, her black clothes, her mannerisms. She grew to find the
loneliness of her bed desirable. She would snuggle kittenishly between
the empty sheets, an unintelligible sense of immorality--as if it were
immoral to sleep alone--lending a luxury to her weariness.

Yes, it was somehow nicer to sleep alone, to have the bedroom all to
herself. In her mind things that were different from the routine of her
life and that belonged to the secret imaginings that had once filled her
days were immoral. And this was different--being alone. So her living
on without her husband became an odd sort of infidelity, pleasant,
diverting.

The year and a half passed bringing a rejuvenation to her body. Her
youth and its decline were buried in a coffin. Now at fifty-two she was
living again and creating out of the remains of her figure, coiffure and
complexion a new youth--at least a new exterior.

The dreams of her earlier days returned to her and she no longer found
it necessary to deny them all reality. It had been necessary before in
order to keep herself fitted into the shell. And as a result her dreams,
denied any possibility of realization, had become like his, more and
more fantastic, more and more warmly improbable. Now there was no need
for a shell. There was no need to preserve an easily recognizable and
never failing characterization. She had done that before so as to avoid
confusing her husband and herself and she had been rewarded by a similar
ruse employed by him.

Now that he was gone she found herself changing. She found herself
approaching the romantic conception of herself. And since she was able
to carry into reality her rejuvenated fancies, to devote herself to
looking stunning, to making a somewhat exotic impression upon people, to
arousing interest--her imaginings did not expand as before into
distorted and improbable pictures. She began to busy herself, to
actively give them outlet, to have time or surplus energies for the
evolution of fancies beyond her.

She had no plans for the future and she was not interested in any. An
amazing fact had come into her life--the present. She abandoned herself
to it. She had harnessed what was left of the energies allowed so long
to evaporate and the process of evaporation was at an end. She would
become, if there was time, a keenly alive, egoistic woman gorging
herself upon the desserts remaining at the banquet board before which
she had sat for twenty-six years with closed eyes and listless hands.

She felt these things only dimly. There was a freedom to life, like a
new taste in her senses. Of this she was confusedly aware. And her
sorrow for her dead husband became a pleasant thing, a thing inseparable
from the gratitude she unknowingly felt for the new existence his death
had given her.

She referred to him with a pensively magnanimous air, inventing
perfections in his character and endowing his departed intelligence with
a wisdom far beyond her own. This enabled her to utilize his memory in
an odd way. When she argued with her friends or children, when she was
doubtful concerning the extravagance or selfishness of her actions, or
the newly born radicalism of her views, she would quote mercilessly from
her dead husband. The fact that he was dead lent a sanctity to whatever
views he may have held. Not in her own eyes but, as she shrewdly sensed,
in the eyes of others. And she grew to play unscrupulously upon this
thing she perceived in her children and friends--that they respected the
words and opinions of a dead man infinitely more than those of one
alive.

Thus she was able to indulge herself in ways which would have astounded
and perhaps horrified the departed Basine and to bring her immediate
circle to accept these ways as conventionally desirable by making her
dead husband their spiritual sponsor. Her friends chafed under this
ruse, but felt themselves powerless to combat it. They were men and
women who lived on the opinions of the dead, who subscribed fanatically
to all ideas sanctified by the length of their interment. Themselves,
they practised the ruse of editing the wisdoms of the past as well as
prophecies of the future into vindications of the present. They felt
indignant but powerless before the treachery of Mrs. Basine, who raided
the mausoleum for private articles of faith.

Mrs. Basine was aware at first of lying but this feeling gave way to a
conviction that if her husband had not thought and said the things she
attributed to him while he was alive he would have done so had he
continued to live.

"Because," she said to herself, "we were always alike and thought and
said the same things always."

Her son George was proud of his mother but inclined to be dubious about
the change that had come over her. He was irritated particularly one
evening to hear his mother advocate equal suffrage rights for women to a
group of surprised friends gathered at their home.

"I think such ideas foolish and dangerous," George explained politely.

"Why?" his mother inquired.

Basine shook his head. He had given the subject no thought. But a
militant defense of the status quo inspired him always with a
comfortable feeling of rectitude.

"I see no reason," pursued Mrs. Basine, "why women shouldn't vote as
well as men. I remember your father was very much interested in the
issue of women's suffrage. He said the day would come when women voted
shoulder to shoulder with men and that the country would be improved by
it."

Basine stared at his mother. He had grown to realize that she had
discovered the trick of lending weight and irrefutable wisdoms to her
own notions by surrounding them with the sanctity of death. For it was
almost impossible to fly in the face of a quotation from his father. The
fact that the man was dead seemed to make contradiction of any ideas or
prophecies attributed to him a sacrilege. There was also the fact
becoming daily more obvious that his mother was turning into an
unscrupulous administrator of the dead man's opinions.

"I never heard father say anything of the kind," he exclaimed suddenly.
And then feeling that a loss of temper was the only way in which he
could cover the affront he had offered his mother, he added with
indignation, "You keep backing up your arguments by dragging dad's
corpse into them all the time."

Mrs. Basine looked at him in amazement, and he reddened. He apologized
quickly. Mrs. Basine, shocked by her son's unexpected penetration, bit
her lip and became silent. She let the argument pass, not without
observing that her friends present appeared for a moment to rally around
her son's exposè--as if he had given words to their own attitude. She
decided when she was alone again to be more careful. She loved her son
and felt a dread of sacrificing his respect. There was a dread also of
sacrificing the respect of these others who had looked at her for a
moment with an accusing understanding.

There had been present a Mrs. Gilchrist, an old creature of oracular
senilities whom she had grown secretly to detest. But the detestation
she felt was accompanied by a vivid desire to keep in with the woman.
Mrs. Gilchrist was a person of position, decided position. Her son
Aubrey was a novelist. This alone endowed the Gilchrist tribe with an
aura of culture. They lived in Evanston and were active, mother and son,
in the social life of the town.

Mrs. Basine was unable as yet to determine the reasons that made her
dislike her. In her secret mind she called Mrs. Gilchrist a domineering
old fool. But she stopped with that. There was the Gilchrist social
position.

Society had always interested Mrs. Basine. But since her widowhood this
interest had become active. She had read the society columns of the
newspapers regularly and through the twenty-six years of her married
life retained the singular idea that the people whose names appeared in
these columns belonged to a closely knit organization similar to the
Masons--only of course, infinitely superior.

The appearance of a new name among the list of socially known always
stirred an indignation in her. She was not a bounder herself. The
closely knit organization whose members poured tea, gave bazaars,
occupied boxes at the theater had been, in her mind, a fixed and
invulnerable institution neither to be taken by storm nor won by
strategy. Thus she had excused her lack of social ambition and success
by investing Society with an almost magical aloofness, a sort of
superhuman cotorie of tea pourers and benefit givers that kept itself
intact and beyond intrusion by the exercise of incredible diligence.

Among her day dreams during these years had been those of magnificent
social successes, of long newspaper articles describing with awe her
splendor and prestige. But in reality she would as soon have thought of
breaking into society as of attacking twelve policemen with a carving
knife. She resented therefore the appearance of new names in the society
columns.

"Bounders," she would murmur to herself, half expecting that the
Organization into which they had bounded would issue some outraged and
withering excommunication upon the new tea pourer. But the name would
appear again and again and after such innumerable appearances Mrs.
Basine would automatically accept its presence within the Organization
and rally quixotically to its defense against the other bounders
struggling to invade the sanctity it had achieved.

And although during this period of her life Mrs. Basine had felt none of
the low instincts which inspired the bounders to bound, she had
endeavored to the best of her abilities to mimic as much as a humble
outsider could the spiritual elegancies which distinguished the
Organization. She succeeded in creating a formal atmosphere about her
home, a dignity about her table of which she was modestly proud. She had
felt in secret that any member of the Organization entering her
house--an event of which she dreamed as a waveringly sophisticated child
might dream of a fairy's visit--would have experienced no dismay.

Now this attitude which had characterized her married life was changing.
Society was no longer an impregnable Organization. Mrs. Basine was, in
fact, engaged determinedly upon its conquest and her attitude toward
the detestable Mrs. Gilchrist was colored by that fact. An
acquaintanceship with the Gilchrists had been achieved through
manoeuverings of her daughters as workers in charity bazaars managed
by the woman.

Until the death of her husband Mrs. Basine had ignored her two
daughters. A proprietory feeling in them which exhausted itself in
dictating the surface details of their lives had been the extent of her
interest. She had presumed during their childhood and adolescence that
they were Basines--and nothing else. This had guided her parenthood.
Being Basines, they must conform to Basinism which meant that they must
be like their mother or their father and she struggled carelessly to see
that their youth did not assert itself in ways inimical to her own
characterization. Doris the younger was inclined to be beautiful. Fanny,
however, had always seemed to her a more substantial person.

But her widowhood had brought a belated curiosity concerning these young
women. She wondered at times what their dreams were. She understood that
they were strangers and this began to interest her. She was proud of
them and although undemonstrative would sometimes put her arms around
both of them as they walked to a neighbor's after dinner.

They did not inspire the pride in her, however, that her son did. George
had finished his law and she felt as she listened to him talk or watched
his face at the table that he was somebody. There was an assurance and
health about him. His keen-featured face, the straight black hair parted
in the center, the movements of his lithe body, always quick and
definite--and particularly his hands--these made her think of him
vaguely as an artist, somebody different. She knew in her heart that
although he seemed to differ in his ideas from none of their friends, he
was not like other young men.



3


It was Sunday morning. Mrs Basine and her two daughters were sitting
down to breakfast. Hugh Keegan followed Basine embarrassedly into the
dining room. The two young men had been renovating themselves for an
hour in the bathroom.

The meal started casually. Fanny Basine studied their guest with what
was meant to be a provoking carelessness. She was a facile virgin who
wooed men persistently and slapped their faces for misunderstanding her.

"You've been quite a stranger, Mr. Keegan," she said. Her eyes smiled.
Keegan felt wretched. He was conscious of being unclean. The fresh,
virginal face of the girl smiling at him filled him with rage. He
accepted a waffle from Mrs. Basine with exaggerated formality.

He was not enraged with himself. This was too difficult. It was easier,
simpler to be repentant. His repentance did not accuse him as a man who
had sinned but denounced the things which had caused him to sin and made
him unclean. To himself he was essentially perfect. There were forces,
however, which infringed upon his perfection, which soiled his fine
qualities.

Eating his waffle, he thought of the creature with whom he had spent
the night, of the dismal bedroom, the frowsy smelling hallway, the
coarse talk and viciousness of the entire business. And he began to feel
a rage against them. He would like to wipe such things out of the world.
He managed to answer Miss Basine politely.

"I've been out of town a great deal," he said.

"George always said you were a gadfly," Fanny replied.

Mrs. Basine spoke.

"You look rather tired, George." She gazed pensively at her son. "I
don't like you to stay out all night like that."

Basine frowned. What did his mother mean by that? Did she suppose he had
spent the night in debauchery? It sounded that way from the way she
looked and talked. Basine grew angry. He did not want his mother to
accuse him.

"You don't expect a man to remain cooped up night and day, do you?"

"Oh, I don't mind your going out. But not the way you did last night."

She looked at him and then, as if realizing for the first time the
presence of her daughters, changed her manner.

"Won't you have some syrup, Mr. Keegan."

Keegan thanked her and lowered his eyes. He had understood her
accusation and accepted it as authentic. He had no mother of his own and
this inspired in him a curious sense of obedience toward all mothers he
encountered. Mrs. Basine's accusation embarrassed him. The embarrassment
increased his disgust for the memory of the night. He would like to
wipe out such obscene and vulgar things. He would like to burn them up,
forbid them. Someday he would.

Basine, however regarded his mother with a sense of outrage. The fact
that her surmise of what he had done during the night was correct was a
matter of minor importance. She didn't know what he had done and
therefore she had no right to guess. He answered her angrily.

"I did nothing at all last night that I wouldn't have my sisters do."

His mother looked at him in surprise. Keegan blushed.

"You're always hinting around, mother, about things and you're
absolutely wrong. Absolutely," he added for a clincher. His eyes
remained unflinchingly on his mother.

There was a convincing air of virtue about him and a doubt entered her
mind. Perhaps she had suspected him unjustly. But he had been away all
night. She had heard him come in around six. Where could he have been if
not--in such places? Yet she felt like apologizing.

Basine fiddled with his food. He was acting out the part of injured
innocence. He was an unprotesting martyr to the low suspicions of his
family. The fact that he was guilty in no way interfered with the
sincerity of his injured feelings. His mother's accusation had sincerely
hurt him, even more than it would had he been actually innocent of wrong
doing. He transferred whatever emotional guilt he had into indignation
toward his accuser.

This was an old trick of his, developed early in childhood--a faculty
of committing crimes without becoming a criminal. More than Keegan, he
was above self-accusation. But unlike Keegan the doing of a thing he
knew to be wrong did not inspire him with the adroit remorse which took
the form of hating the thing he had done instead of himself.

The crimes Basine committed--usually no greater than normal violations
of the ethical code to which he subscribed--were things that had nothing
to do with the real Basine. The real Basine was the Basine whom people
knew. The real Basine was a characterization he maintained for the
benefit of others. The crimes were his own secret. People didn't know
them. Therefor they did not exist. They remained locked away. He did not
say to himself, "Hypocrite! Liar!"

When he denied his mother's accusation he did not of course forget the
things he had done during the night. In fact even while he spoke there
came to him a vivid memory of the prostitute.

In disproving the existence of this memory he was not disproving it for
himself but for his mother. His energy as usual was bent toward
presenting a certain Basine for the admiration of another. The Basine he
sought to create for the admiration of his family was a moral and honest
man. When they seemed inclined to challenge this creation, their
suspicions angered him.

His attitude was that of a creator toward a hostile critic. He
frequently lost his temper and denounced their suspicions as unjust,
unfair. And in his mind, conveniently clouded by indignation, they were.
Not to himself as he was, but to the self he insisted upon pretending at
the moment he was.

This self was the Basine he was continually creating--a Basine that was
not based upon deeds or truths or facts but upon ideals. It was an ideal
Basine--a nobly edited version of his character. He believed in this
ideal Basine with a curious passion. This ideal Basine was a mixture of
lies, shams, perversions of fact. But that was only when you considered
him in relation to his creator--to its original. In his own mind it was
as absurd to consider this ideal Basine in relation to its creator as it
would have been for a critic of æsthetics to consider the merits of
Oscar Wilde's poetry in relation to the degeneracy of the man.

Considered by himself, the ideal Basine was a person of inspiring
virtues. He was proud of the things he pretended to be, vicious in their
defense, unswerving in his efforts to inspire others with an
appreciation of these pretenses.

His anger toward his mother ebbed as he noticed the doubt come into her
manner. She had hesitated for a moment in face of significant facts, in
accepting the ideal Basine. But her son's sincerity had convinced her as
it convinced most people who knew him. The sincerity with which he
defended the idealization of himself was easily to be mistaken for a
sincerity inspired by an innocence of actual wrong-doing.

As soon as he felt certain he had re-established the ideal Basine in his
mother's eyes, all thoughts of the facts passed from him. The admiring
opinion of others was what his nature desired and what his energies
worked for. Once obtained this admiration was a mirror in which he saw
himself only as he had argued others into seeing him.

He looked at his friend Keegan with a smile. Keegan was still blushing.
Keegan knew that he had lied and that the entire pose was a sham. But
this only added another thrill to the fleeting self-satisfaction of
having re-established himself in his family's eyes. He enjoyed the
knowledge that Keegan was able to see what a successful liar he was and
how adroitly he managed to deceive people. This enjoyment was not a part
of the emotion of the ideal Basine. It was a purely human sensation felt
by Basine, the creator.

There was a single flaw in his little triumph. This was, as usual, the
attitude of his sister Doris. While the others were chattering Doris
kept silent. She had dark eyes and black hair. She was entirely unlike
anybody in the Basine family. Fanny was blonde and vivacious with a pout
and full red lips. Before the death of her husband Mrs. Basine had
summed up her daughter Doris as being aristocratic.

At fifteen Doris had been painfully shy. People smiled encouragingly at
her because she seemed afraid of them. Four years later people ceased to
smile at her. They looked at her out of the corners of their eyes and
wondered what she was thinking about. Her silence was like a confusing
argument. Had it not been for her beauty her silence could easily have
been dismissed. But her dark eyes and dark hair, the slightly lowered
pose of her oval face and the unvarying line of her fresh lips with the
little sensual bulges at their corners, drew the attention of people.
And their attention drawn, they waited to be told something. So merely
because she told nothing they fancied she had a great deal to tell. They
attributed to her silence all the doubts they had concerning
themselves. Silence was to them always accusation.

Her brother's attitude toward Doris was typical. He detested her and yet
was more pleased when she nodded at something he said than when others
were loud with acclaim. He detested her because she made him feel she
was his superior. In what way she was superior he didn't know and why he
felt it he couldn't understand. But he sensed she was someone who had no
respect for the ideal Basine and no particular love for his creator.

She had also a way of deflating him. He felt sometimes as a toy balloon
might feel in the presence of a child with a pin. He never ignored her.
He watched her always and studied her carefully. He did not desire to
please her but he felt that until he had perfected the ideal Basine to a
point where he would be acceptable to Doris, admired by Doris, his
creation would be lacking in something vital.

As the breakfast came to an end her brother focused upon Doris. This was
invariably the effect of her silence. She was as yet unconscious of it.
Had you asked her why she spoke so little and why she neither smiled nor
frowned at people she would have thought a while and then with a shrug
replied, "Why, I hadn't noticed." Later when she was alone she would
have continued thinking of the question and perhaps said to herself, "It
must be because they don't interest me. They seem so silly and unreal."

"What are you doing today?" Basine asked her.

She answered, "Nothing." He noticed she failed to add, "Why?" He
resented her lack of curiosity. Fanny would have said, "Nothing. Why do
you ask?" But Fanny was a good fellow, a lively, amusing child.

"Mrs. Gilchrist and Aubrey are coming over later," Mrs. Basine
announced.

"She makes me tired," Fanny smiled. "And somebody ought to pull dear
Aubrey's nose just to see if he's really alive. He's too dignified."

Her brother nodded.

"Do you know him?" Fanny asked Keegan.

"Slightly," said Keegan. "I've read one or two of his books. They're
very interesting." He paused, hoping that everyone agreed with him.
Everyone did except Doris.

"What's the matter, Dorie? Don't you like Aubrey's works?" her brother
asked. Doris smiled vaguely.

"I've never read anything he's written," she said. "I don't know."

Keegan looked at her uncomfortably. He felt he disliked her and he would
have been pleased to ignore her. But the fact that she seemed to have
anticipated him in this respect and to have ignored him first, piqued
him.

"I think Judge Smith and Henrietta will be over later," Basine addressed
his mother. Judge Smith was the august and senior partner of the law
firm that had taken young Basine into its office.

"Yes, Aubrey told me," Mrs. Basine said casually. "I think they're
engaged."

"Who, Henrietta?" from Fanny.

Her mother nodded. She stood up and the group sauntered into the living
room. Keegan approached Fanny. Her freshness made him feel sad.

"Let's sit here," Fanny whispered as he drew near her. She employed the
whisper frequently. It usually brought a gleam into the eyes of her _vis
â vis_ as if she had promised something.

To appear to promise something was Fanny's chief object in life. It was
the basis of her growing popularity. The two sat down in a corner of the
room secluded from the others. Keegan had interested her. At least his
far-away, unappraising look had interested her. She preferred men more
appraising and less far-away. Her object now was to reduce her brother's
friend to an admirer. Admirers bored her. But the process of converting
strangers, particularly far-away and unappraising strangers, into
admirers was diverting.

Keegan had other plans. A desire to repent aloud had been growing in
Keegan. The girl's bright face and virginal air had been inspiring him.
He wanted to tell her how unclean he was and how ashamed of the things
he had done. He wanted to denounce sin.

He felt tired. Fanny talked and he listened. He wanted to weep. He
thought her fingers were beautiful and white. He would have liked to
kneel beside her weeping, his head against her and her cool white
fingers running over his face. It would be a sort of absolution--a
maternal absolution. In the meantime his silence piqued her.

"You don't seem very interested in what I'm saying," she interrupted
herself. She looked at him and instinct supplied her with a new attack.

"Where were you and George last night?" she asked. "Mother was furious
about it."

Keegan looked sad. His blond face collapsed.

"Men are awful rotters," he answered, lowering his voice.

"Oh I don't know. Not all men."

"Yes. All men." Savagely.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because--" Keegan hesitated. Mysterious impulses were operating behind
his talk. The night's debauch had sickened him. He was experiencing that
depressing type of virtue which usually comes as a reaction from an
orgy. His indignation at the bestiality of the male and the moral
rotteness of life was a vindication of the temporary weakened state the
night had induced in him. By denouncing sex he excused the disturbing
absence of it in himself.

He was however not content to vindicate the absence in himself of
sensual excitement. He would also make use of his lassitude by
translating the enervation it produced into self-ennobling emotions,
into purity, innate and triumphant. He experienced high-minded ideas and
an exaltation of spirit.

"Because," he repeated, finding it difficult to choose words
sufficiently emasculated to reflect the phenomenal purity of his mind,
"well, if women knew, they would never talk to men. But women are so
good, that is, decent women, that they simply don't understand and can't
understand ... what it is."

"About bad men?" Fanny whispered. Keegan nodded.

"And are all men bad?" she asked.

Again Keegan nodded, this time more sadly. It was a nod of confession
and purity. In it he felt his obscene past and his pious future embrace
each other, one whispering "forgive" and the other whispering "yes,
yes. All is forgiven."

Tears warmed his throat. Fanny's eyes looked at him with an odd
excitement. Her mind was as always conveniently blank of thought.
Thoughts would have served only to embarrass and handicap her. She was
able to enjoy herself more easily without thinking. It was a ruse which
enabled her to regard herself as a clean-minded girl.

Young men had frequently taken advantage of her kindness and grown bold.
They would during a tender embrace sometimes take liberties or draw her
close and press themselves against her. It was at this point that her
mind would awake like a burglar alarm suddenly set off. It rang and
clanged--an outraged and intimidating ding-dong of virtuous platitudes
which she had incongruously rigged up in the sensual warmth of her
nature. But lately the mechanism by which she routed her would-be
seducers did not quite satisfy her.

At twenty she had grown fearful. When she was younger the men she led on
were no more than boys. The mechanism had sufficed for them. But the
last two years had witnessed a change in her would-be seducers. They had
grown up, these males. She remembered always uncomfortably a young man
who had burst into laughter during her outraged denunciation of him. He
had said to her.

"Listen, girl. If I wanted you, all I would have to do is tell you to
shut up and slap your face. And you would. Your 'how dare you?' don't go
with me. I've known too many girls like you. But I don't want you. Not
after this. If it'll do you any good I'll tell you now that I won't
forget you for a long time. Whenever I want a good laugh I'll think of
you. There's a name for your kind...."

And he had used a phrase that nauseated her. The incident had occurred
on a Sunday evening in the hallway. He had reached up, taken his hat
from the rack and without further comment walked out.

Fanny had spent the night weeping with shame. The memory of the young
man's words made spooning impossible for a month. She was essentially an
honest person and unable to do a thing she knew was wrong. Her only hope
of pleasing herself and indulging her growing sensuality lay in
remaining sincerely oblivious to what she was doing. As long as the
man's words stuck in her memory it was impossible to remain oblivious.
They had awakened no line of reasoning or self-accusation in her mind.
Her mind was still conveniently blank. The youth's denunciation lay like
a foreign substance in it, a substance which fortunately time was able
to dissolve.

After a month of embittered virtue Fanny returned warily to her former
tactics. She was cautious enough to begin with men as young as herself.

One night in April she gave her lips again. They had been making candy
in the kitchen. She turned the light out as they were leaving. The young
man stood in front of her in the dark. His arms went shyly around her.
With a satisfied thrill, she shut her eyes and allowed the boy to kiss
her. A languor overcame her. She ran her fingers through his hair and
gently pressed closer to him.

The warning sounded sooner than usual, and in a surprising way. It came
from within this time. The boy had not grown bold. He was enjoying her
lips shyly and his embrace was almost that of a dancing partner.
Nevertheless the burglar alarm clang-clanged. Her body had grown hot.
The impulse to crush herself against the boy, to open her mouth, to
embrace him fiercely, throbbed in her, and bewildering sensations were
bursting unsatisfactory warmths in her blood.

She hesitated. She might secretly yield to these demands. He would
remain unaware of it and there would be no danger. But the alarm finally
penetrated the fog of her senses. She was unable this time to shut off
the current of her passion by the burst of sudden virtuous anger. The
mechanism of her retreat had always been simple--a trick of turning her
sensual excitement into indignation, of energizing the virtuous
platitudes rigged up in her mind by the passion the caresses had
stirred. The greater this passion, the more violently her pulse beat,
the more violently the platitudes would clang and the more outraged her
"how dare you?" would sound.

But it was impossible to say anything this time. Her hands pushed
suddenly at the politely amorous youth. His embrace skipped from her as
if it had been waiting for such a remonstrance. She stood with her head
whirling. She felt limp and ill at ease.

"Don't you love me?" the young man whispered. The lameness of his voice
would ordinarily have made her smile. But now the words seemed to draw
her. She wanted to answer them, to say, "yes." For the moment it seemed
as if she must confess she loved this impossible young man. She walked
quickly out of the dark hallway. In the lighted room she was ashamed of
herself. Her body tingled with unaccountable pains. She managed to
survive the evening without revealing herself. She was grateful for the
youth's stupidity.

When she lay in bed she closed her eyes firmly and tried to sleep. But
her body disturbed her. Sensations that lured and frightened played
furtively throughout it. She lay stretching and sighing. Later, overcome
with a nervous weariness, she fell asleep.

On awaking she remembered her triumph and felt proud. In retrospect the
sensations she had felt and the temptations that had urged her seemed
distasteful.

Years before she had rationalized her behavior toward young men by
inventing a code. The code was based on the fact that hugging and
kissing and the pleasure these inspired were in no way connected with
"the other." When she thought of more intimate relations it was always
in some such phrase. She was completely ignorant of the physiological
mechanics of marriage. But her ignorance inspired no curiosity. She did
not think of it as a logical culmination of the feeling embraces gave
her. She had a definite attitude toward "the other." It was a thing
separated from her numerous experiences by a gulf. There was only one
bridge across--marriage.

Keegan interested her. Since the incident of the embarrassed young man
with whom she had made candy in the kitchen, she had been secretly on
the lookout for someone like him. She wanted someone with whom she could
repeat the startling experience of that other evening without letting
herself into danger. Someone who would remain oblivious to the passion
his caresses aroused and so allow her to enjoy slyly the sensations
whose memory had never left her.

She looked around the room. Doris had gone upstairs and George was not
to be seen. Her mother was reading behind a large table.

"Tell me, why are men bad?" she asked in a whisper. Her blue eyes were
wide. An air of altruistic sorrow surrounded her. She grieved for men.
The question appealed to Keegan. His eyes grew moist. He was unable to
understand this impulse to weep. But somehow it was pleasant.

"They're not bad," he answered softly. "It's only that they don't
realize till too late. If all women were like you, there would be no bad
men."

"Oh, then it's the woman's fault?"

Keegan nodded but said, "Not exactly. It's like figuring which came
first into the world, the egg or the chicken that laid it. It's hard
telling whether women are bad because men have made them so or whether
men are bad because women give them chances to be. That is, that kind of
women, you know."

He felt elated at his tolerance. A few minutes ago he had been
denouncing bad women in his mind. But now it pleased him to be broader.
Fanny was looking at him with cheeks flushed. Her mother had risen.

"I think I'll go to church," Mrs. Basine said. "Do you want to come
along."

"Not today, mother dear," Fanny answered. Keegan was on his feet.

"If you want to," he offered gallantly to the girl.

"I usually love to," Fanny sighed. "But I don't feel quite like it
today. You go along, mother."

Mrs. Basine smiled and left the room. Fanny heard her brother talking
in the hall.... "I think I'll go with you, mother." She listened to
Keegan in silence, waiting for the outer door to close. Now they were
alone except for Doris, upstairs.

"I know how you must feel about it," she said. "But I don't understand
how a man like you or George can do such things. It must be awful." She
paused, blushing and added in a whisper, "Horrible!"

Keegan nodded and felt overcome as he watched her shudder and draw her
shoulders nervously together. He covered his face with his hands. This
was, he felt, being almost too dramatic--to hide his face. But his
virtue demanded dramatics. He wanted to talk facts now, confess facts.
By denouncing what he had done during the night he would increase his
present emotion of chastity.

"Don't," he said, "lets talk of it."

His eyes grew wet again. He was tired. If only life were as clean as
this girl he was talking to.... If only life were beautiful and chaste.
And there were no sex. No sin. Men and women just sweet friends. But
life was different. It was full of unclean things. He couldn't help it,
what he did. He didn't want to do it. But life surrounded him that way
with things unclean. He wept.

Fanny hesitated. Her face had grown colored and her nerves were alive.
She must do something. Her fingers desired to caress Keegan's hair and
she thought how nice it would be to be kissed by him. But she resolutely
barred further thoughts from her mind. It was wrong to think about such
things. Fanny's code would allow her to do nothing wrong--if she knew
it. She leaned forward impulsively. He was sitting on a window seat.
Her hands touched his covered face.

"You mustn't," she said.

He was sorry for life, for its uncleanliness. He would like to go
somewhere far away where clean clouds and a beautiful sea were just as
God had made them. And there he would like to sit with this girl, their
hearts beautifully sad.

She stroked his hair shyly with maternal fingers. He felt the caress and
his heart melted. Its sin poured out leaving him exaltedly cleansed.
Yes, she understood him, the ache of repentance in his soul, the
nostalgia for cleanliness that hurt him so. She understood and she was
telling him so with her fingers.

"Poor boy," she whispered because he was weeping. "I'm so sorry. You
won't, again? Ever? Will you?"

"No," Keegan mumbled tremulously.

It was easy and exalting to confess and promise in this way, without
mentioning anything by name. Just by sound.

"I'm so glad," she whispered, as if they were in church, "if I have done
that for you...."

"You have," he agreed. "I feel like a ... like a dog."

"Don't...."

Her fingers were playing over his cheek. She could be bold. A man in
tears was harmless. She stood up with determination and sat down close
beside him. She took his head in her hands and looking with clear
understanding eyes into his, shook her head sadly.

"You need a rest," she whispered. "Here ... rest like this."

She placed his head as if he were a child on her shoulder. Keegan's
heart contracted with remorse at the innocence of the gesture. Her
purity was something poignant. He closed his eyes and drifted into an
innocuous satisfaction. This was a realization of his hopes for purity.
He recalled with bitterness the filthy embraces of the night. How
superior this was, how much cleaner.

"Wait a minute," Fanny murmured, a wholesome matter-of-fact maternalism
in her voice, "you lie down and rest ... like this."

She assumed the proprietory gestures remembered from her childhood when
she had "played house" with little boys and girls, and guided Keegan to
stretch his legs on the window seat. He grinned apologetically. Fanny
sat down and placed his head in her lap, her hands gently caressing his
hair.

"Now sleep," she murmured. "There's nobody in the house and you can get
a good long rest."

Keegan shut his eyes. A blissful enervation stole over him. His heart
felt grateful. She was like a mother might be. Everyone had a mother
except him.

"You're so kind," he sighed.

He had known Fanny for several months only and had never talked to her
alone before. But now it seemed to him she was his oldest and most
intimate friend. Because she understood. He thought of her as a
companion of his better self. The warmth of her lap soothed him.
Unaware, he dropped into a half doze.

The man's head lying heavily against her body began to stir her senses.
She made certain first that he was not pressing himself against her. No,
he was merely lying naturally. A tenderness grew in her heart. She
murmured to herself, "Poor boy, poor boy."

This wasn't quite as it had been in the kitchen that evening. The murmur
continued as her face grew flushed and she breathed unevenly. She wanted
to stretch and sigh.

Keegan stirred. A fear came that he realized her sensations. He was
playing possum. No. She watched his eyes open and noted their stare of
filmy tenderness.

"You're so sweet," he whispered.

She smiled pitifully at him and said, "Rest. Just rest. I feel so sorry
for you."

In fact, imposed upon the excitement which the pressure of his head
against her aroused, was a feeling of Samaritan pity. However, she
wondered without displacing this emotion of altruistic concern for the
young man, how far she dared go. She wished that his hands would touch
her but they would have to stand up for that.

"Oh!"

She moved Keegan's head gently away.

"I thought I heard someone."

Slipping to her feet she stared eagerly toward the door. Keegan
straightened himself. He looked at her drowsily.

"It's no one," she smiled. Her eyes covered him with tender interest. He
thought of some picture of a saint--Saint Cecelia or someone like that.

"Why don't you go up in George's room?" she asked.

She gave him her hand as if to assist him in a comradely way to rise. He
stood up slowly.

"You don't know what you've done for me," he began, "you're so different
... so good."

She smiled and made a pretense of assisting him further by passing her
arm gently around him.

"I don't know what it is," he murmured. He stopped. His heart was
hurting him with longing. He was unclean. But this beautiful saint would
cleanse him, purify him. She was a part of life he desired--the clean
things. But he was afraid. How could he after last night, how could he
dare? She would certainly misunderstand if he touched her. She would
think he was a scoundrel.

"Fanny," he whispered.

She looked at him with intensely tender eyes as a mother might regard a
forgiven child. He embraced her, his hands resting only lightly on her
back.

"Forgive me," he mumbled. "But everything's so rotten. I feel like such
a cad after what I've done. You ... you make me almost happy again."

His mind was pleasantly fogged. He was thinking of himself as a
despicable sinner receiving mysterious absolution.

She said nothing but let herself come closer. She was adroit and he
remained unaware that she had pressed herself tautly against him. He was
concerned entirely with the purity of his caress. He read in her eyes
and flushed face a forgiveness, an absolution. Her grip on him that had
grown firm was the grip of a woman raising him out of the Hell in which
he had wallowed. His senses, deadened by debauch, failed to detect the
pressure of her clinging.

She could dare. An intensity came slowly into her nerves. She would like
to move, to crush herself against him. But she managed to restrain
herself. She began to weep.

"Don't," he whispered. "You mustn't. I'm ... I'm not as bad as all
that."

She managed to say, "Oh ... I feel so sorry for you. It just hurts me to
... to think of you like that. Promise me you'll never again....
Please.... Promise me.... Promise me...."

Her words, despite her, grew wild. She raised her eyes feverishly and,
tightening her arms, pressed herself to him. The man's harmlessness had
betrayed her. She continued to weep, "Promise me ... you'll never ... be
bad like that again...."

Her emotion reaching its depth sent a delicious sense through her. She
embraced him for a moment. In the receding fog of her satisfied impulse
she heard him answering, tears in his voice.

"You're so sweet.... So wonderful. Oh, forgive me.... I'll never be bad
again.... Forgive me...."



4


Judge Percival Smith was a fastidious gentleman who boasted of his age
as a contrast to his virility.

"Sixty-two," he pronounced impressively. And he would wait for people to
look at him in amazement, fortunately unaware of the fact that they had
thought him at least seventy.

His wife had died when he was forty-six. She had never managed to
understand him, chiefly because he had remained polite to her through
eighteen years of marriage. She had grown to regard him with awe.

Her friends always referred to him as a gentleman--a gentleman of the
old school. This was because he had a deep voice and enunciated clearly
and professed a consistent preference for the days when men were men and
women were women.

His friends mistook the clarity of his enunciation for a clarity of
thought--an error which found social vindication in the fact that he had
been on the bench nine years. Aside from his consistent preference, his
views on current issues were also those of a gentleman. Why, it was
difficult to determine. But he supplied their identity himself by
clinching his arguments with the question, "I don't see, sir, how a
gentleman can think otherwise."

He was often considered old fashioned. But he was admired for this. In
discussing religion he would say:

"I am not one to quibble with my Maker or with any of His holy
decisions. I believe absolutely in the gospel of infant damnation. A
religion with loopholes is not a religion. Either there is a God or
there isn't. If there is and you accept Him then you accept Him. You do
not argue with Him. I don't see, sir, how a gentleman can think
otherwise."

Concerning women he would say:

"Women represent the finer things of life. Not for them the turmoil and
strife of economic battle. Their function in the scheme of things is
obvious, sir. They were placed in the world by a wise Maker in order to
bring sweetness, purity and light to bear upon the strivings of man. A
woman's hearthstone is her altar. No, they are not the equal of man.
They are his complement. Man is gross. Woman is fine and sweet. I do not
believe in any of these disgusting ideas which seek to lower her from
the altar she now occupies in the eyes of all gentlemen."

When he delivered himself of these utterances he managed always to give
to them the certainty of a man who was pronouncing judgments. He was
admired for this certainty. People who felt doubts in their minds were
always pleased to hear the Judge make pronouncements. They felt that it
was impossible that a man who spoke so clearly, whose eye looked so
unflinchingly at one and whose manners were so perfect, could be wrong.

He might not be quite as modern as some folks but he knew what he was
talking about. He was the stentorian and impressive interpreter to them
of a world they understood. The ideas which flourished in this world
were in the main dead or dying. But this fact only lent a further
impressiveness to them and to him.

People who sought to argue with Judge Smith usually ended by stuttering
and growing red-faced. They felt as they talked and watched his blue
eyes narrowing and his lips tightening, that they were talking
themselves outside of the pale. His silence became an excommunication.
They read ostracism in his frown and began to fumble for words, trying
to propitiate him in one breath while presenting their side of the case
to him in another. But he was not to be deceived by this ruse. He would
sit poised and grimly attentive like a man judiciously enduring the
presence of blasphemy but under great emotional strain. When they
concluded, it was frequently unnecessary for him to offer counter
arguments. His opponents felt their defeat in the knowledge of his
superiority, not as a thinker, but his superiority as a man of
inviolable standards, his superiority as a gentleman.

In eighteen years of close contact his wife had never penetrated the
shell of certitude and personal elegance within which the judge moved.
During their hours of intimacy he revealed himself as a man of normal
passions. But even during these he was solicitous, unbending and a
gentleman.

In the morning, dressed, his white napkin tucked under his ruddy face he
would be again--Judge Smith.

She had tried several times early in their marriage to carry the
intimacy of the bedroom to the breakfast table. He had listened to her
endearments and furtive reminiscences at such moments with eyes
seemingly incapable of comprehending and she had felt each time that her
talk was obscene, and grown frightened.

Her death brought no perceptible change in Judge Smith's life. He
continued a gentleman. His name appeared at intervals in the newspapers
as having gone to Washington to argue a case before the Supreme Court.
His friends felt on reading this that the Supreme Court was an
institution perfectly fitted to him. It was hard to imagine anybody but
a man who looked and acted like Judge Smith arguing a case in the
Supreme Court.

The Smith home, a brownstone house in Prairie Avenue, was occupied by
the Judge, his daughter Henrietta and a housekeeper. Henrietta had
finished boarding school at nineteen. She had since then busied herself
as an assistant housekeeper. At twenty-one she impressed people with
being as naive and fresh as a girl of seventeen. It was hard to think
of her as in her twenties.

She was a round-eyed, round-faced child with fluffy blonde hair, a
small-boned body and a general air of juvenile fragility. She talked
very little but bubbled with exclamations of delight, excitement,
enthusiasm, astonishment. These she was continually employing,
regardless of their incongruity. She greeted people with delight,
saying.

"Oh! I'm so glad to see you! Isn't it wonderful?" And managed to scatter
a dozen exclamation marks through the sentences. If one said to her,
"Did you see Sothern and Marlowe last week?" she replied excitedly, "Oh
no! I missed them! I'm so sorry! Aren't they wonderful?"

Asked for an opinion of a new hat she would exude the same exclamation
marks in, "Oh! It's simply too adorable for words! I'm just mad about
it!"

And to such a remark as, "I read in the paper the other day that
President Roosevelt went fishing," she would offer a wide-eyed stare and
exclaim, overcome with astonishment, "Why! Gracious! Is that so! Isn't
that awfully funny!" And incomprehensibly, she would laugh as if
overcome with mirth.

People regarded her as a charmingly vivacious, well-mannered girl. Her
exclamations pleased them by lending an importance to their small
talk--a small talk which constituted nearly the whole of their
conversational lives. Her explosive banalities invigorated them. They
said of her:

"Judge Smith's daughter is so alive. She's so fresh and young and so
enthusiastic."

Henrietta thought her father the greatest and most important man in the
world. She called him "FATHer," stressing the first syllable in a manner
that distinguished him from all other fathers. Her admiration satisfied
the judge. He demanded of her only obedience, respect and chastity.
Since she gave him these he looked upon her as a shining example of true
womanhood.

To have searched for an inner life in Henrietta would have been
difficult. She was unaware of any other Henrietta than the surface she
presented. There was no secret calculation behind her manner. Her body
at twenty-one was still as undisturbed by desires as her mind was by
thought.

She was physically and mentally vacuous and the words that sometimes ran
in her mind were parrotings of things she had heard. Her days passed in
a pleasant maze of trifles in which she exhausted her energies. Her
manner of enthusiasm and astonishment was sincere. In her exaggerated
exclamations the energies of her youth merely found a necessary and
utterly respectable outlet. Her banalities were too vigorous to be aught
but authentic and original. They were the enviably correct flower of her
personality.

The judge, however, had a side to his nature generally unsuspected among
his friends. He was a drinker. He owed the resonant slowness of his
speech, in fact, to the ravages of drink. His poise, his intimidating
deliberateness were likewise the result of drink. His mind had been
somewhat enervated and the spontaneity of his nerves somewhat impaired
by thirty years of intensive drinking.

His words followed his thoughts slowly and his gestures were moments
behind the commands of his brain centers. This general slowing up, the
result of nerve exhaustion induced by his orgies, was readily accepted
by his friends as an impressiveness of manner.

In arguments he found himself frequently unable to follow the nimble
phrases of an opponent. His resort to silence--a silence made seemingly
pregnant by certain mannerisms such as a tightening of his lips, a
drawing down of his nose, and a narrowing of his eyes, which were
actually an effort to ward off a sleepiness continually hovering over
him--this silence was a successful substitute.

Mainly the judge kept his orgies to himself. During his married life he
had adroitly covered them up as business trips--cases in other cities.
His habit was to start off at his club, to sit among a half dozen men
whose type he found agreeable and drink slowly during the early part of
the evening. The talk would gradually veer from politics and legal
discussions to women and anecdotes. In these the judge excelled. His
fund of obscene stories was amazing. He related them with relish and was
proud of an ability to talk several dialects such as German, Irish,
Yiddish, Scotch and Swedish.

Among his club cronies his drinking and alcoholic waggery in no way
reflected upon his status as a gentleman of absolute respectability and
discretion. In fact they enhanced it. Among the judge's friends were
lawyers of repute, financiers, and owners of large manufacturing plants.
They were men usually past fifty. Their comradeship was based chiefly on
their recognition of each other's prestige.

The publicity that had attended their lives gave them all an identical
stamp, a self-consciousness. They felt themselves instinct with power,
and bent the greater part of their social energies to appearing
democratic. They desired, as much as they desired anything, the flattery
which lay in the comment, "Oh, he's very democratic. Just plain ordinary
folks." They felt an exciting inference in this criticism. The inference
was that, considering their power and superiority, one had to marvel at
the fact of their dissimulation--their democracy. Thus they relished
always lending themselves to projects, to situations which earned for
them the awed avowal of inferiors that they were "just folks."

A certain shrewdness as well as flattery which inspired them. They were
aware that people often preferred confessing the superiority of their
betters by admitting in awe that "after all, he's just like us, in many
respects."

On occasions when a group of them gathered at their club they stepped
partly out of the characterizations of great men which they affected
during most of their day. Drinking, taking their turns telling stories
or pointing up incidents by the "did you ever hear the one about the
Swede who went to a picnic with his best girl" method, they always
welcomed Judge Smith. They were inclined to overlook a few things in his
favor. If he did seem to have an unnecessary fund of smutty tales, there
was on the other hand the fact that he was a judge and therefore above
the anecdotes he told. Like the judge, they too were men with firmly
rooted convictions on the subject of morality and if they laughed at
stories over their highballs that flouted decency and made a mock of
virtue there was this exonerating factor to be considered. Men sure of
themselves and subscribing unflinchingly to the uncompromising standards
of conduct necessary to maintain the morale of the community, such men
could without danger unbend among themselves. For morality was in its
deepest sense, the protection of others and not of one's self.

As the group thinned out on such occasions Judge Smith would rise and in
the manner of a man returning to the higher and more important duties of
life bid his fellows good-night.

"A very pleasant evening, gentlemen," he would pronounce, "but duty
calls."

He would bow stiffly. Long drinking had made him master to an
astonishing point of his physical being while under the influence of
drink. Bowing, he would walk with dignity from the room, emerge into the
street and enter one of the cabs.

A half-hour later would find him disporting himself in one of his
favorite disorderly houses. Here with the aid of further drink the judge
became a curious spectacle. He was generally hailed in the places that
knew him as "the wild old boy". And his arrival although greeted with
enthusiasm was a matter of secret chagrin to the landladies of his
acquaintance.

It was his habit to indulge in filthy insults, hurling astounding
obscenities at the half-drunken inmates. He would frequently become
violent and throw bottles around, break mirrors and electric bulbs and
smash chairs. It was difficult to grow angry with him at such times
because he covered his violences and insults with a continuous roar of
laughter as if they were actually the product of a vast Rabelaisian good
humor.

His insults, the obscene invective he hurled at the partners in his
orgy, were a curious phase. They were the product of a process of
projection. His normal mind, still alive under the paralysis of alcohol,
pronounced these outraged denunciations of his behavior against himself.
His virtue and decency cried a savage disgust and he must rid himself of
these cries, find an outlet for his self-revulsions, if he desired to
continue the debauch which was also an outlet for things inside
him--things that slept too violently under the repressions of his shell.

Thus he rationalized his two selves by giving voice to the terrific
protests of his virtue. Simultaneously he hid himself from their object
by fastening the insults that poured into his thought upon those around
him. The women explained among each other in their own words that he was
a filthy old man and ought to be ashamed of himself.



5


It was afternoon. Mrs. Basine listened to Judge Smith explaining the new
moving pictures that were being shown at the vaudeville theaters.

"It's all part of the craze for new things," he was saying, "and these
awful pictures are merely a fad. There is nothing of basic appeal for
Americans in them and they'll die out in a year or so."

Mrs. Basine was always impressed by the judge. He had three days before
been on one of his debauches. His manner as a result was heavier and his
words slower. After one of his wild nights the judge sought to efface
the memory of the uncleanliness by heightening his personal appearance.
He would indulge himself in Turkish baths, facial massages, hair
shampoos, manicures and changes of linen during the day.

The sight of himself immaculately dressed, spotless, his face, collar,
nails and shoes shining, gave him a feeling of reassurance. Clothes and
appearance had more and more become a fetish with him until he had
developed into a fop. There was a certain passion in his demand for
cleanliness. A disordered tie would mysteriously depress him. A spot on
his trousers or shoes would preoccupy him until its removal. Once while
on his way from the theater he had been splashed by a horse. Unaware of
the accident at the time he had gone to a restaurant. There he had
noticed the condition of his clothes. The mud had reached as high as his
shoulder. A nausea overcome him. He hurried to the lavatory and cleaned
his clothes.

His daughter admired her father for his fastidiousness. She looked upon
all other men as somewhat sloppy in comparison.

"It isn't just that father dresses well," she said, "but he's so
particular about everything. About his plates and forks, and his bedroom
must be bright as a new pin. Oh, it's just wonderful for a man to be
thoroughly clean like that."

Although the judge had spoken to Mrs. Basine it was her son who
answered.

"I saw the pictures at the vaudeville the other evening," he said, "and
I quite agree with you, Judge."

The judge nodded pleasantly. He liked Basine and had already prophesied
a future for him. Henrietta was informing Doris of the trouble they were
having with the church choir.

"Dr. Blossom," she was saying, "is just absolutely at his wits' end. We
can't get anybody ... anybody at all that's at all suitable."

"Mrs. Gilchrist and Aubrey are coming over," Mrs. Basine remarked to the
judge. She was unable to keep a sound of pride out of her voice.

"A very fine woman. An exceptionally fine woman," he answered. Mrs.
Basine nodded.

Basine sat down beside his sister Doris. He was interested in Henrietta.
The news of her approaching engagement had exhilarated this interest. He
had been a half-hearted wooer himself when he first came out of college.
As she rattled on he was thinking, "She has nice eyes. She probably
doesn't love Aubrey." He thought of Aubrey. A putty-faced, swell-headed
fool. He could put it all over him, even as a writer, if he wanted to.

"I hear," he said aloud, "that you and Aubrey are engaged or almost
engaged."

"Why the idea! Gracious!" A disturbed giggle. "Where on earth did you
hear that! Father hasn't announced it yet."

"A little bird," smiled Basine. Doris looked at him and frowned.

"What do you say we pop some corn," he announced.

One of Basine's most engaging facilities was an ability to reflect in
his own words and actions the character of those to whom he talked.
Judge Smith regarded him as a young man of stable ideas and profound
seriousness. Henrietta looked upon him as a charming, light-hearted
youth who was able "to play." There were others to whom he appealed
separately as a young man of culture, modern to his finger tips; as a
man of pious kindliness; as a man interested exclusively in politics, in
economics, in literature, in women. His pose was seemingly at the mercy
of his audience. He did not deliberately seek to make himself agreeable
by presenting exteriors acceptable to his friends. His proteanism was in
the main unconscious. It was the result of an underlying desire to
impress men and women he knew with his superiority.

He had found instinctively that a short cut to such impression was not
contradictions but agreement. But he would not merely say "yes" and
please his listener by subscribing whole-heartedly to the ideas or
points of view under discussion. He would take these ideas and points of
view and develop them, show with a sincere creative enthusiasm why they
were correct and how astoundingly correct they were.

He was usually cleverer than the people with whom he agreed. This made
it possible for him to develop their ideas, to add to them, supply them
with nuances and far-reaching overtones of which their originators had
had no inkling. When he had finished they would find themselves warmly
applauding what he had said, admiring his sanity and intelligence.

It was no longer Basine who agreed with them. They agreed with Basine
and each of them went away saying, "A remarkable young man. Full of very
fine, worthwhile ideas and able to express himself."

They were conscious while praising him that they were also praising
themselves. Although they were unaware of the adroit theft committed by
Basine and unable to follow the way in which he filched their little
prejudices and inflated them to noble proportions with his cleverness,
they felt a kinship with the young man. Their inferior egoism did not
demand recognition as collaborator. They were warmed with the emotion of
being _en rapport_ with someone whom they admired. So often clever
people were people with whom, somehow, one had little or nothing in
common. But Basine was a clever person with whom everyone seemingly had
everything in common. And they were delighted to have things in common
with a clever man.

There were occasions on which Basine's cleverness was put to a difficult
test. These came when a number of people, each of whom knew him
differently, to each of whom he had identified himself as a champion of
divergent opinions, assembled in his presence. Basine, it usually
happened, was the friend in common and therefore the pivot of the vague
debates which sometimes started--the awkward exchange of half-remembered
arguments which constituted the intellectual life of his friends, as the
make-believe of "playing house" had constituted their adult life when
they were children.

But at such times Basine revealed his interesting talents as a
compromiser, fence straddler, pacifier. Without espousing any of the
sides presented, without denial or affirmation, he managed to convince
the assembledge that he was a champion of all and detractor of none. He
pretended a worldly tolerance, saying such things as:

"Well now, there are always two sides to a question. And a man who
closes his mind to either side is likely as not to find himself in the
dark. What Henning says is interesting. I can entirely understand it
and see the reasons for it. He sees the thing in a clear, definite
manner. Yet what Stoefel says is also interesting and, of course,
entertaining. I don't mean that I believe two sides to a question can
both be the right sides. But it's my experience that there's an element
of truth as well as of error in both sides. And I'm not so convinced
that Henning and Stoefel actually differ. Often people meaning the same
thing get into violent arguments because they misunderstand each other."

In this way he would convince both his friends that they were both men
of intelligence, which is more flattering than being merely men of
intelligent views. And, what was more important, he would give the
listeners the impression of a calm, deliberative Basine, not to be taken
in by the tricks of prejudice and speech which caused men to knock their
heads together in endless argument.

Henrietta accompanied him into the kitchen in quest of corn to pop.
Doris remained behind, staring disinterestedly at the judge who was
talking to her mother. She had noticed something about the man that
displeased her. She kept it, however, to herself. When he shook hands
with her he assumed a paternal manner. He said to her:

"Well, my dear child, and how are you today? Serious as ever, I see. I
understand that you and my little girl had quite an interesting time at
the choir practice Saturday evening. Dear me, you will both soon be
grown up and young ladies before I'm aware of it."

He talked with a kittenish banter in his voice as if he were patting a
child of five on the head. But he held her hand during his entire
speech and his soft finger tips pressed moistly into her palm. It was
hard at first to detect but after a long time Doris understood. Fanny
had told her in an unsolicited confession that young men did that when
they wanted to be familiar with a girl. It was a familiarity which only
bad girls understood. Fanny added that a number of nice men whom she
never would have suspected of such a low thing had done that to her hand
but that the way to get the better of them was merely to pretend you
didn't know anything about it.

Doris, disgusted by her sister's chatter, had remembered Judge Smith.
The judge always did that, ... moving his finger tips as if he were
unaware of the fact. This afternoon he had done it again. She had never
been able to see the judge as her mother and brother saw him. To Doris
there was something intangibly repulsive about his flabby, smooth-shaven
face, about his shining linen and deliberate manner that impressed
everybody. She did not resent the things he said. To these she was, in
fact, indifferent. But the man's personality awakened a revulsion in
her. She did not explain it to herself. She was aware only that she felt
uncomfortable when he looked at her and that when he beamed his
kindliest or boomed most virtuously, she felt like sinking lower in her
chair and contorting her face with shame, not for herself but for him.

Basine and Henrietta had returned to the room. A grate fire was burning
wanly. Basine, squatting down like an elated boy, arranged a cushion for
her.

"Oh, we've forgotten the thingumabob," he exclaimed, "come help me find
that."

Henrietta skipped excitedly after him. Moments like this were dear to
Henrietta. Looking for thingumabobs, planning popcorn feasts, having
lots of fun and in a way that was intelligent. In the kitchen Basine
searched for a minute and then turned to the girl with a laugh.

"I wanted to ask you something," he said. "That's why I lured you out
again."

"For heaven's sake! Gracious! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, George
Basine!"

She laughed with him. The thought had secured to him that it would be
interesting to take Henrietta away from Aubrey. He didn't want her
himself for any particular purpose. She was not a girl one could seduce,
or even desired to seduce. And marriage was miles from his head.

Yet he had once held her hand while sitting on her father's porch and
whispered idiotic things to her. He had made love to her, said to her,
"Henny dear, I'm wild about you." It annoyed him to think that Aubrey
Gilchrist would marry her, would appropriate her as if the things he,
Basine, had said and done were of no possible consequence. In addition
he had always disliked Aubrey.

"Henny," he said quickly, he had called her Henny two years before, "are
you really in love with Aubrey?"

Henrietta made a face and swung her shoulders like a child embarrassed.

Like Keegan, he was physically tired from his night's debauch. But in
Basine there was no impulse to repent. As he stood looking at the girl
he grew curiously sensual in his thought.

The consciousness of his deadened nerves was an irritant to his vanity.
He was always doing things he felt disinclined to do, as a result of his
constant work of idealization. Also, to follow one's impulse and act
logically was what everyone did in a way. If Hugh Keegan was tired he
sighed and said so. But Basine, if he was tired, would laugh and suggest
adventures. If Keegan or the others he knew were elated over something,
they announced it, naively, like children. But Basine edited his elation
and often pretended to be bored. And when he was actually bored he often
pretended enthusiasm.

Such odd perversions had become a habit with Basine. Behind the
confusion of purpose that inspired them was a certainty that in acting
the way he did he distinguished himself from other people. Often no one
was aware, of course, that he was acting, that his enthusiasm was the
heroic mask of weariness. But Basine was enough of an egoist to enjoy
secretly the emotion of superiority.

Because he was tired and because he would have preferred ignoring the
trim figure laughing beside him, he deliberately took her hand and
allowed his smile to grow serious. Now as he looked at her and saw her
eyes soften, his vanity clamored for satisfaction. It was one of the
moments in his life when his vanity most desired satisfaction, proof of
the high opinions he held of himself. He was tired, bored and without
impulses.

To dominate others, to possess himself of their regard and homage was
the goal toward which he always built. Now the desire to possess himself
of the regard and homage of the girl whose hand he was holding came
acutely into his thought.

"Henny," he whispered, "I'm sorry about you and Aubrey."

"Why?"

This was the sort of boy and girl scene at which she was almost adept.
People held hands and even kissed without altering the correct social
tone or content of their talk.

"Because," said Basine, "Oh well, because I love you."

The phrase stirred, as it always did, a faint emotion in his heart. He
had used it frequently, even with prostitutes, and it had always given
him a fugitive sense of exaltation. Walking alone in the street at night
he would sometimes whisper aloud, "I love you, George. Oh, I love you
so." He would have no one in mind whom he might be quoting at the
moment. The words would come and utter themselves and give him a sudden
lift of spirit. It was like his other self-conversation when walking
along swiftly in the street he would begin exclaiming under his breath,
"Wonderful ... wonderful ... wonderful...." The word like his
mysterious, "I love you, George" came without cause or relation to his
thoughts and repeated itself on his lips.

Henrietta was staring at him. It was chiefly because she was surprised.
She remembered that they had been friends once and held hands and that
he had said things. But all that had been a part of a pretty game one
played with boys, because they liked it and because it was rather
likable in itself. She was surprised now because he looked sad. Sadness
in her mind was synonymous with seriousness. People were never serious
unless they were sad. When she wanted to be serious she would always
lower her eyes and arrange her expression as if she were going to weep.
Then people understood that what she said was really truly serious and
not just part of the game people were always playing among themselves. A
game in which nothing was serious or funny or anything--but just was.
Because that was the way it should be.

Basine was pulling her slowly toward him.

"Don't you love me?" he asked. "Don't you love me at all?"

He was talking aloud to conceal the fact that he had drawn her to him
and was placing his arms around her. To do anything like that in silence
would have frightened Henrietta. But to talk while one was doing it,
that made it seem less definite. One could ignore what one was doing,
ignore the hands pressing one's shoulders and the touching of bodies by
pretending to interest one's self entirely in the conversation.

Basine knew this because he had made love to girls and taken liberties.
As long as he kept talking and asking questions the girl would pretend
she was so occupied in answering the questions and keeping up socially
her end of the talk that she was oblivious to the liberties that were
being taken with her.

Henrietta answered, "Why do you ask that? Do you really think you ought
to ask me questions like that, George Basine?"

"Yes I do," he said, "why shouldn't I?"

"Oh because. Because you're engaged to Marion."

"Who told you that?"

"I know. Anybody could know that. Aren't you?"

"No more than you are to Aubrey."

"Gracious! Aren't you the clever boy. I declare! Engaged to Aubrey!
Heavens, I'd like to know where you heard that."

"A little bird told me."

"It did not."

"Yes it did."

"You know better than that, George Basine. I wish you'd tell me really."

"Why should I."

"I'd like to know, that's why. I think I have a right to know."

"Oh but I did tell you something. I told you I love you."

"Why, George Basine!"

During the talk Basine had moved her closer to him. His arms were
tightly around her and he had kissed her eyes and cheeks between his
questions and answers. The embrace had aroused no physical desire in
him. He was irritated by the coolness of his nerves. He was irritated at
his being unable to feel anything with his arms around a pretty girl.
Usually the incident would have reached its climax with the half kiss he
placed on her mouth. That was as far as good girls went. At this point
they ordinarily said something like, "Listen, I want to tell you
something. I almost forgot." And gently detaching themselves from one's
arms, continued to talk in the same tone they had used during the
embrace about some event that had occurred during the week.

And then one returned to the sitting room and went on talking casually
as if nothing had happened. It was the height of bad taste to remind a
good girl today that one had kissed her yesterday or to presume upon it
in any way. It was the height of bad taste also to resist when they
gently pushed one away and said, "Listen, I want to tell you something.
I almost forgot."

Basine knew the simple technique of these virginal intrigues.
Henrietta's hands were pressing him. This was the signal to release her
and pretend that nothing had happened. Ordinarily Basine would have
complied. He had no interest in the girl. His original impulse to take
her from Aubrey had slipped from his mind.

But he had grown sad. The mild sensual moment he would usually have
experienced in the embrace had been missing. His tired nerves had not
responded. Unable to exhilarate his senses he sought to make up for the
failure by treating his vanity to an exhilaration. This exhilaration
would come if the girl he was holding grew suddenly sad, raised wide
eyes to him and in a shamed voice murmured, "I love you, George. Oh, I
love you so."

He would make her do this.

"Oh, Henny. Why don't you love me? I want you so much all the time."

"Why George Basine!"

She had suspected something different about the game when it started.
And this was different. Even with Aubrey it had not been as different as
this. Aubrey's mother and her father had decided upon the engagement
after Aubrey had been fussing her for a few weeks.

But this was different. George Basine was in love with her! She had
always liked him because her father said he was a fine, promising young
man and because he knew how to play, and was really like herself in many
ways. She wondered what she should do. She felt worried because she was
afraid she would say something that wasn't right.

She couldn't ask him to let her go because he was only holding her
lightly and she could move away if she wanted to. She thought his eyes
were sad and she felt suddenly sorry for him. He had stopped talking and
his eyes were sad. They were looking at her and they made her feel sad,
too. Things were so different when one felt sad. Everything seemed to go
away then and nothing remained. Everything went away and left one a
little frightened. As if the world were unreal and everybody was unreal
and nothing really was.

She was frightened like that now. Or at least she thought it was fear.
Then she saw it was something else. Her heart had started to pound hard
and her throat fluttered inside. No one had ever looked at her like
this. So seriously. As if she were somebody very serious. It made her
feel strange. She grew dizzy and her arms felt weak. She whispered his
name and his hands crept over her cheeks. This thrilled her as if there
were electricity in his fingers. And frightened her again. But it was
nice. Like being a little girl, almost a baby, and falling into an older
man's arms--her father's arms. She could almost remember being a little
girl and lying in her father's arms.

"Do you love me?"

She would answer this time.

"Yes," she said. "Oh George."

She hid her face against his coat. Basine was careful not to embrace
her. Her "yes" had given him an inexplicable moment. He had felt himself
expand under it. In her unexpected submission--he had never dreamed of
such a thing ten minutes ago--she became suddenly someone who was very
rare and sweet. He was still utterly oblivious of her and had it turned
out to be Marion in his arms instead of Henrietta the difference would
have made no change in him. The thing that was rare and sweet was the
exhilaration in his senses--a purely spiritual exhilaration. He enjoyed
it as one might enjoy some unforeseen and startling gift.

He grew tender. He wanted to kiss the eyes and hair of her who had given
this gift to him--the thing which felt so warm in his heart and tingled
so pleasantly in his thought. He must reward her somehow for having
stirred in him this delicious excitement, reward her for the sweet
surfeit her surrender had given his vanity. For a moment bewildered by
this inner desire to express the gratitude he felt, he stood trembling.

"Oh, I love you so, my darling," he whispered. "You're so beautiful."

It was her reward for having surrendered to his unspoken demand. It was
an expression of the overwhelming generosity that choked him. He found
in the saying of the words a sweetness almost as keen as her surrender
had afforded him. To hear himself say to someone, "I love you," was
mysteriously exhilarating. The thrill that accompanied his bestowal of
largesse excited him to further experiment. He was not carried away but
he relished the emotions between them, the sense of having triumphed
and the provoking sense of bestowing grandiose reward.

"Darling, tell me ... please tell me--will you marry me?"

"Oh George!"

"Tell me ... tell me...."

He was acting now, making his voice dramatic, pretending uncontrollable
longings. She must say "Yes." He wanted her to and she must. He did not
want to marry her. The thought had never occured to him. But it would be
unbearable now unless she said "Yes." He must pretend and act and make
the thing end by her saying "Yes."

"Oh, I can't tell you, George dear."

"You must, please...."

He had decided now finally to make her. A contest of wills. If he wanted
a yes there must be a yes. Because he wanted it. His arms crushed her.
He fastened against her. He felt her resisting. There was still no
desire in him. His arms were still dead. But he could brook no
resistance. The fact of resistance was unimportant but the idea of being
resisted fired him with a passion entirely cerebral. He would warm her
into saying yes, stir her senses, make her yield and her head swim until
she said yes.

"I love you. Please say it. Say yes."

Yes to what? Henrietta for an instant awoke from the confusions of the
past few minutes. Her morality, training, code of life and all sat up
like a wary censor and surveyed the scene. The censor nodded an
affirmation. It was all right. Go ahead. With this affirmation her body
took fire. The weakness she had been struggling against became a
beautiful enervation--a lassitude that swept her unresistingly forward.

She had never done this before. She struggled for a moment to recall the
censor--the thing that had always directed her. But she seemed to have
been deserted. She was alone with sensations.

Her virginal mind was unable to identify the excitement rising in her.
She waited while his caresses grew bolder. Then in a panic, born of a
dim realization, she flung her arms passionately around Basine and
sobbed.

"Yes.... Yes.... Oh George.... I will...."

She felt at once that she had said it just in time--that it would have
been sinful to continue another moment without promising she would marry
him.

Basine released her slowly. The incident abruptly was over. He had in
fact lost interest in it immediately before she had spoken. The thrill
had come, developed and gone--a spiritual exaltation which he had
enjoyed to the utmost.

But now it was over. His vanity, surfeited, had withdrawn from the
situation. He was surprised to find himself looking at the girl with
utter dispassion, as if nothing had happened.

Inwardly he was amused. Such things were amusing, in a way. Moments in
which one saw oneself as an outrageous actor, doing something
ridiculous. It was like that now. Absurd. But it had been pleasant.
Curious, how pleasant. However, that was over. Henrietta would of course
forget about it. And he, he was prepared to return to the library and go
on popping corn as if nothing had happened, absolutely nothing.

But Henrietta leaned weakly against his arm.

"Oh George, darling. Do you really love me?"

He answered out of a social respect for consistency and nothing else. He
thought the question rather tactless. Of course he didn't love her and
she should have known better than to ask it. It had just been a game
they had played while looking for the thingumabob.

"Yes, Henny, of course."

Her eyes were wide and her lips quivered. She was looking at him as if
he were doing something remarkable and she overcome with astonishment.
For an instant Basine wondered why the deuce she looked that way. Then
he felt an unexpected chill that he dismissed promptly with an inwardly
reassuring smile as he heard her saying.

"Oh, we'll be so happy together when we're married. Isn't it wonderful,
just too wonderful for words to be married--together. Oh George! I'm so
happy.... I love you so much. And father will be so...."



6


They had not expected Mr. Gilchrist to come. Mr. Gilchrist was an
undersized, mild little man with greying sideburns. When he was alone he
read a great deal.

He had made money in the selling of expensive furniture. He was part
owner of a store in Wabash Avenue. It was generally understood that
people with taste patronized the Gilchrist-Warren establishment.

He arrived at the Basines' with his wife and his son Aubrey. Keegan and
Fanny had returned from a long walk. They and the judge, Henrietta,
Basine and his mother and sister Doris all expressed surprise at seeing
Mr. Gilchrist. There was always about Mr. Gilchrist the air of a museum
piece--a quaint museum piece such as a keen but sentimental collector
might delight in.

The exclamations of surprise embarrassed the little man and he stood
fingering his sideburns and trying to smile in just the correct way. Mr.
Gilchrist's arrival anywhere always precipitated this air of surprise.
People said, "Why, Mr. Gilchrist! Awfully glad to see you! Haven't seen
you for an age. Well! How are you?"

This was as if they were extremely surprised. But they weren't. They
were merely annoyed, upset, vaguely hostile and condescending. And these
emotions inspired by the innocent Mr. Gilchrist could be best concealed
by the feigning of a correct social astonishment.

To the queries shot at him Mr. Gilchrist answered, "Very well, thank
you. Thank you. Very well, thank you."

After greeting him with these exclamation points, people immediately
forgot he was present. Mr. Gilchrist would sit the rest of the evening
ignored by everybody and trying to the end to smile in just the correct
way.

Inside Mr. Gilchrist were many little lonelinesses. His head was full of
things he had read, of plots, of great characters, even of epigrams and
biting iconoclasms. When people talked he did his best to be attentive.
And if they talked about things that interested him--the Kings of
France, the Italian wars of the fifteenth century, the topography of
early London and kindred subjects--his face would tremble with
enthusiasms.

He would listen, his eyes questing eagerly for epigrams, for
illuminating sentences he might contribute. But his unegoistic love for
the subject would make him inarticulate. His eyes that had seemed about
to speak of themselves, that had seemed laden with excited informations
would close and a chuckle would come from his lips. The Caesars, the
Borgias, the Medicis, the Bourbons, the Valois, Savonarola, Richelieu,
the various Charles, Phillips, Williams, Henrys, the plumed headliners
of history around whom had centered the hurdy-gurdy intrigues, the
circus romances and wars of vanished centuries--these were the
hail-fellows of his imagination.

But people seldom talked of these names. People were more interested in
contemporary topics. He did his best to be attentive. But his thought
played truant and before he knew it he would be going over secretly
certain things in his head. Villon, Marlowe, Balzac, Dumas, Gautier,
Suetonius--there was a rabble of them continually arguing and declaiming
in Mr. Gilchrist's head.

He liked to half close his eyes and imagine what the great names used to
have for breakfast, what the great names would say if he were to enter
their presence or if they were to come into this room. He liked to bring
up in his mind pictures of old Paris, London, Florence, Avignon, Vienna
with their lopsided roofs, winding alleys, night watchmen and king's
guards. He could sit a whole evening this way thinking, "then he came to
an old Inn and there were lights inside. People drinking inside, telling
stories and laughing. The inn-keeper was a man named Simon. The curious
stranger looked about him with an imperious eye...."

These words murmuring in his head would conjure up the picture and there
would be no further need for words. He was content to sit in the old
inn, noticing its quaint decorations, its quaint but romantic inmates.
Adventures would follow, strange episodes, denouements, climaxes--all
without words as if he were watching a cinemategraph. His attempted
smile would remain--a smile that concealed the fact he was neither
smiling at those around him nor aware of what they were saying. For he
would only half hear the chatter of the room and now and then nod his
head vaguely at some question that people were answering--as if he too
were answering it.

He was almost sixty, and lonely because he knew of no one to whom he
could talk. His wife in particular was a person to whom he never dreamed
of talking. He had only a dim idea of what he wanted to say to someone.
But all his life he had been hoping to meet this one who would be like
himself. This someone would be a friend whom he could take with him into
places like the old inn and the crazily twisting streets of old London
or Paris.

His days and years passed however without bringing him this companion.
And outwardly he remained a mild little figure with sideburns, kindly
tolerant toward everyone.

When his dreams left him long enough to enable him to notice closely
those about him, a feeling of sadness would come. He would feel sorry
for the men and women he saw gesturing and heard talking and laughing.
He thought they must be like himself--looking for something. His faded
eyes would peer caressingly from behind his glasses and he would make
simple little remarks in an apologetic voice. He would ask what they had
been doing and when they answered in their careless, matter-of-fact ways
he would nod hopefully and appear pleased.

To see Mr. Gilchrist in the midst of his family was to be convinced of
the plausibility of immaculate conception. It was difficult imagining
Mr. Gilchrist ever having done anything which might have resulted in
fatherhood. But more than that, it was impossible even suggesting to
oneself that his wife had ever received the embraces of a man, had ever
so far forgotten the proprieties as to permit herself to be trapped
alone with a man.

Thus the presence of Aubrey, their son, became incongruous. And Aubrey
himself helped this illusion. He was a young man who looked incongruous.
He seemed like a hoax or at least a caricature. He had enormous feet and
ungainly legs, large hands and pipe-stem arms, hips like a woman and a
face capriciously modeled out of soft putty. His ugliness by itself
would have been whimsical--his protruding eyes, long pointed nose,
uneven cheeks and bulbous chin hinted at something waggish.

But Aubrey had triumphed over his physical self. He had with the aid of
a pair of large glasses from which dangled a black silk cord, and by
holding his head thrown back as if there were a crick in his neck,
acquired an air of dignity. It was his habit to glower with dignity, to
stare with dignity and to preserve a dignified inanimation when he was
silent. He was pigeon breasted and this helped. In fact his many slight
deformities seemed all to contribute somehow toward making him a man of
inspiring dignity.

People had little use for Mr. Gilchrist, his father. He was, of course,
wealthy but not wealthy enough to earn the regard of the poor. They
discussed him, saying, "He's not so simple as he pretends he is. Any man
who's made a pile like old Gilchrist in the furniture business has a
pretty smart head."

And they added that they wouldn't be surprised if something eventually
were found out about old man Gilchrist. He had a past. Of this people
were convinced. It was his wife's position and the fear of her
personality that protected Mr. Gilchrist from the downright attacks of
rumor. Any man who pretended to be as kindly as Mr. Gilchrist and who
talked so tolerantly about everybody and everything was, you could bank
on it, a sly rogue afraid to say what he thought because he himself was
guilty of worse sins than those under discussion.

Mr. Gilchrist, by seeming above the social agitations surrounding him
came to appear as one who looked down tolerantly upon inferiors--and
this annoyed people. Who was Mr. Gilchrist and what had he done that he
should be giving himself airs? Of course--there was Aubrey and....

Aubrey was aloof and dignified. But that was to be expected of a man who
worked with his brain all the time, inventing plots and characters--his
friends explained. In fact Aubrey's silences thrilled them even more
than his talk. They felt, when he sat silent, that they were witnessing
the birth in his head of some great idea which they would later read in
a book. Aubrey was a man of superior qualities and to bask in the
presence of a superior was to partake of his superiority.

Aubrey's superiority consisted, so far as Aubrey was concerned, of
wearing the proper kind of eye-glasses, keeping his neck stiff,
refraining from giving utterance to all the asininities which crowded
his tongue and writing romances containing heroes with whom a
half-million women readers had imaginary affairs every night and
heroines whom another half-million men ravished in their dreams. For
Aubrey was a celebrated popular fiction writer. To conceal the horrible
reasons which made for the celebrity of Aubrey's fiction, the army of
literary morons who succumbed to its influence grew louder and louder in
their protestations that Aubrey was a great moral writer. They pointed
out that here was a man whose heroines were pure, whose heroes were
noble and virtuous--neglecting to add that these were the only kind of
phantoms which could penetrate the guard of their own puritanism and
stir the erotic impulses beneath.

Aubrey's superiority was, for the most part, a state of mind that
existed among the people who knew him or had heard of him or read of
him. And this attitude toward him became part of Aubrey. He adopted it
as the major side of his character and lived chiefly in the opinions of
others. His introspection consisted of reading press notices about
himself and thinking of what other people thought of him. Thus to
understand Aubrey it was necessary to go outside him and to investigate
this external state of mind, the ready-made robes of purple in which his
little thoughts strutted through the day.

The people in whose acclaim Aubrey robed himself were varied and many
but they inhabited an identical psychological stratum. They believed
firmly that all artists and writers were poor, starving, unhappy
creatures.

This belief was borne out in their minds by history--such history as
they permitted themselves to know. History was continually telling of
geniuses who died in garrets, of great minds that could not make enough
money to feed or clothe their bodies. In fact one of the shrewdest ways
to tell whether a man was a genius--that is, had been a genius--was to
determine whether he had been neglected during his life and died of
malnutrition and disappointment.

The people who acclaimed Aubrey found a compensation in this. They liked
to assure themselves that geniuses starved to death. This compensated
them for the fact that they themselves were not geniuses. It made them
feel that it was actually a vital misfortune to be gifted, since being
gifted meant to suffer the neglect of one's fellows and the pangs of
hunger.

But the knowledge that genius was neglected and hungry in no way
inspired them to remedy the situation by recognizing its presence and
feeding it. To the contrary they were determined to see that it remained
neglected and hungry. The idea of struggling long-haired poets dressed
in rags pleased them. The idea of long-haired painters living on crumbs
in attics gave them peculiar satisfaction.

Geniuses were people different from themselves. They believed in
different things and pretended to be excited by different emotions and
lived different lives. And the people who acclaimed Aubrey were pleased
to know that there was a penalty attached to being different from
themselves and they were interested in seeing that this penalty was not
removed. By penalizing the different ones whom they sensed as superiors,
they increased the value of their own inferiorities.

Yet they acclaimed Aubrey and there was no malice in their acclaim. This
was a phenomenon that had once startled Aubrey. Long ago, when he had
first started to write, his family's friends had said, "Poor boy, he'll
starve to death. There's no money in being an author and you lead a
terrible life."

But Aubrey had gone ahead and remained an author. He had written, at the
beginning, rather biting if sophomoric things, inspired by the malice he
sensed toward his profession. But the inspiration had not been
sufficiently strong to handicap him. When success had come and his name
was emerging, the people who knew him and who had talked maliciously
about his trying to be an author, were the first to acclaim him. This
thing had confused Aubrey. He had felt that the public was a curious
institution and he had for a few months wondered about it.

People sneered at struggling writers and referred with withering humor
to art as "all bunk" and indignantly denounced its immorality. Then when
one put oneself over despite their sneers they turned around and
congratulated one as if one had done something of which they heartily
approved. It was as if they tried to make up for their previous
attitude, and for a few months Aubrey cherished a cynical image of the
public. It was a great bully that spat and snarled at genius, refusing
to recognize it and making it a laughing stock wherever it could. But as
soon as genius came through, this same bully of a public turned around
and prostrated itself and worshipped blindly at its feet.

Then Aubrey had spent the few months wondering why this was so. But he
had become too busy to do much thinking. His publishers were demanding
more work--so he let other matters drop. His curiosity had carried him
to the brink of an idea and he had somewhat impatiently turned his back
on it. He had felt that to think as he was thinking about people who
were praising him and buying his books, was to play the part of an
ungrateful cad.

The idea that had come dangerously close to Aubrey's consciousness was
the curious notion that people resented acclaiming anybody like
themselves. The lucky ones who secured their hurrah became in their eyes
no longer normal humans but super-persons about whom they were prepared
to believe all manner of mythical grandeurs. The more remarkable and
more superior people could make out their heroes to be, the less
humility they felt in worshipping them. And since their heroes were
creatures in whom they recognized a glorification of their own virtues,
the more self-flattering it was to increase this glorification. They
were able to worship themselves with abandon in the splendors they
attributed to their chosen superiors.

Thus when they started they went the limit, heaping honors and honors
upon a man until he became a glittering God-like person. The country at
the time of Aubrey's ascent was full of such glittering God-like
creatures whose names were continually in people's mouths and in their
newspapers. The instinct of inferiority demanding, as always, an outlet
in the invention of gods, had found a tireless medium for this
hocus-pocus in the press. Great reputations were continually springing
up--the newspapers like the half-cynical, half-superstitious priests of
the totem era busying themselves with creating towering effigies in clay
and smearing them with vermillion paints. These gods whom people busily
erected and before whom they busily prostrated themselves were, as
always, the awesome deities created in their own image.

There had been a crisis in Aubrey's life when he was caught between a
desire to be himself and the desire to be a great clay figure with
mysterious totems splashed over it. To be himself he had only to write
as he vaguely thought he wanted to write. And to be one of the great
figures he had merely to write what he definitely knew would win him the
respect of others.

The decision, however, had been taken out of his hands. Aubrey's talent
had not been of the sort that has for its parents a hatred of society
and a derision of its surfaces. He had, indeed, fancied himself for a
short time as desiring to adventure among the doubts and iconoclasms
which distinguished the literature he had encountered during his college
days. But the fancy had proved no more than an egoistic perversion of
the true impulse in him. This, it soon developed, was a desire to
impress himself upon people as their superior, not their antithesis.

As a result he fell to writing books which carefully avoided the revolt
which the dubious spectacle of manners and morality had stirred in him.
He concentrated upon crystalizing his day dreams. He turned out tales of
deftly virtuous Cinderellas who provokingly withheld their kisses for
three hundred pages; of débonnaire Galahads with hearts of gold who,
utilizing the current platitudes as an armor and a weapon, emerged in
grandiose triumphs with the stubborn virgins thawing deliriously around
their necks. Aubrey's tales were popular at once. They were the
technically arranged versions of the rigmarole of secret make-believes
that went on in his own as well as other people's heads. People read
them and quivered with delight. They were tales which like their own
daydreams served as an antidote for the puny, unimpressive realities of
their lives. Also they were moral, high-minded tales and thus they
served as a vindication of the codes, fears, taboos which contributed
the puniness to the realities of their lives.

Aubrey's success increased rapidly as he abandoned altogether the
pretence of plumbing souls and gave himself whole-heartedly to the
creative pleasantries of plumbing the soap-bubble worlds in whose
irridescence people found their compensations. At twenty-nine Aubrey was
becoming one of the glittering God-like personages in whose worship the
public finds outlet for its inferiority mania and simultaneous
concealment therefrom.

He had realized this in time and without conscious effort adjusted
himself toward the perfections demanded of a personage worthy of
receiving the masochistic and self-ennobling salute of the mob. These
perfections were simply and easily achieved. One had only to acquiesce,
to accept the acclaim of outsiders as a part of one's self and to live
one's inner life in a roseate contemplation of this acclaim. One had
only to "remember one's public" as he put it himself, and not to
disappoint them or antagonize them.

In his own family he was regarded with awe. His father always felt
bewildered when he spoke to him. And even Mrs. Gilchrist revealed a
slightly human nervousness in her contacts with her son.

Concerning Mrs. Gilchrist there was not much to be said, even by such
incipient iconoclasts as Mrs. Basine. She was too defined an exterior.
One was conscious in her presence not so much of a woman as of an
invincible battle-front of ideas. Nobody had ever heard Mrs. Gilchrist
give expression to anything which could remotely be identified as an
idea. Nevertheless she was a battle-front.

She was a woman with an intimidating coldness of manner. This manner
spoke without words of an incorruptible intolerance toward all
deviations from her code. Backsliders, moral culprits, unmannerly
persons and, in fact, everyone not actively under her domination were,
to Mrs. Gilchrist, suspect. She managed to give the impression that
people whom she did not know were creatures whose virtues as well as
social prestige were matters of sinister doubt. They were outside the
pale.

The secret of her domination was a psychological phenomenon that eluded
her antagonists and so left them powerless to combat it. The strength
Mrs. Gilchrist felt within her was the product of a complete repression.
She had managed since her youth to shut herself successfully within the
narrow limits of her consciousness, successfully divorcing all her
thoughts, desires and actions from any dictates of an inner self. She
had formed an ideal, basing it upon her social ambitions and her
childish prejudices of good and bad, desirable and undesirable. And she
had been able to perfect this ideal. Her mind was a tiny fortress
against which her own emotions and hence the emotions of others battled
in vain. It could neither think nor understand and this was its
strength.

The doubts which thinking sometimes stirred in the minds of her
antagonists, the knowledge of secret impulses and obscene imaginings
which they were able only imperfectly to keep from themselves and which
made it possible for them to appreciate dimly the sinners and
iconoclasts in the world--such knowledge never intruded upon Mrs.
Gilchrist.

Her indignation toward backsliders and moral culprits was not a
projected censure of similar weakness in herself. There were no windows
in the tiny fortress in which she lived. Protected from all human
disturbances of her spirit, she spent her days closeted within her
little fortress in grim contemplation of her rectitude.

Friendship was impossible to her. She was, however, a duchy, a
corporation in which one could buy stock. By subscribing unquestionably
to her rectitude, admitting its existence publicly and succumbing to its
strength, one earned the dividends of her social approval. One became to
her a very nice person in whose submission she grudgingly saw, as in an
imperfect mirror, the image of her own virtues.

Curiously enough, Mrs. Gilchrist was renowned for her activity as a
philanthropist and charity worker. Her social prestige, aside from her
strength of character, was based upon this. She was a perennial
patroness, a member of hospital boards, a chairman of bazaars, special
matinees, charity balls and money-raising campaigns. All these
activities were in the interest of the poor. The money raised by them
went toward bringing comfort to creatures whose moral obliquity and
human weaknesses Mrs. Gilchrist authentically despised. Yet she was
indefatigable in her work, darting in her unvarying black dress from
meeting to meeting, bristling with magnificent plans for further
philanthropies.

Her husband occasionally wondered. He was unable to reconcile the
coldness he knew in his wife with the character of her labors. At times
he dimly felt that it was her way of saying something--perhaps a way of
showing a hidden warmth toward people.

But in Mrs. Gilchrist's thought there was no such explanation.

To have admitted to herself a concern for the creatures in whose behalf
she devoted her energies would have been to open a door in the tiny
fortress, or at least to create a loophole out of which she might look
with sympathy upon the confusions and torments of her fellows.

Her inner humanism, divorced from the narrow limits of her
consciousness, was finding its outlet, as her husband suspected, in her
work. But during this work never for a moment did Mrs. Gilchrist think
of the creatures she was benefiting. She had rationalized her activities
and made them a part of the emotionless content of her mind.

All relation between the things she did and the people she did them for
was divorced in her thought. In bazaars she superintended, in balls,
fêtes, campaigns, auctions she energized with her presence, she saw only
bazaars, balls, fêtes, campaigns and auctions. She worked for their
success with an invulnerable preoccupation in the details which went to
make them socially proper and financially triumphant.

The altruism of her work inspired no altruism in her. She did not allow
herself to sympathise with the weakness and poverties she was aiding or
even to contemplate them for an instant. Yet her work accomplished, the
charity a success, she experienced the stern elation of "having done
good." This elation was inspired in no way by the thought of the solace
she had brought to others. It was entirely egoistic--a moment in which
her rectitude congratulated itself upon--its rectitude.



7


Fanny Basine smiled timidly at Aubrey. He was paying little attention to
her. He was listening to Judge Smith airing his views on the annexation
of the Philippines.

The judge was forcibly declaring that the thing was essential and that
no gentleman with his country's future at heart could possibly believe
otherwise. Aubrey, to the judge's secret discomfiture, somehow managed
to convey an assent to these views, but an assent based upon superior
motives. What these motives were Judge Smith was unable to fathom.
Aubrey, when it came his turn to expound, further irritated the judge by
revealing them. He, Aubrey, was for the annexation of the Philippines
but only because he was convinced such an annexation would be of
supreme benefit to the natives of the islands.

Mrs. Gilchrist nodded sternly in agreement with her son. The rest of the
company listening with vacuous attentiveness waited for the debaters to
continue talking for them. Basine who had been silent came to the
judge's rescue. He explained that the judge and Aubrey meant practically
the same thing but that they had chosen different ways to express
themselves.

"Judge Smith," Basine smiled, "sees in the annexation something which
will benefit his country. He knows as well as any of us that it will not
benefit it financially. It will be a source of expenditure and strife.
Then how will it benefit us? Because it will give us an opportunity to
aid a pack of uncivilized and benighted heathen and despite them to
bring peace and prosperity to their own country--not ours. Which is
exactly what you mean, Aubrey."

The judge beamed approval and Aubrey contented himself with a stare of
dignity. He did not relish psychological interpretations of his words.
As an author, he felt annoyed. But Basine continued to talk undeterred
by his stare. He disliked Aubrey. Not so much as Doris. And in a
somewhat different way. Further, the presence of Henrietta was a curious
inspiration. The girl's wide-eyed tenderness had irritated and
frightened him after the incident in the kitchen when they had gone
searching for the thingumabob. Now he had no interest in the Philippine
controversy. But he had entered the discussion in order to rid himself
of the uncomfortable memory the episode with Henrietta had left him. As
he talked the memory played hide and seek in his words.... "She thinks
I'm going to marry her ... but she's engaged to him ... she's crazy ...
what the Hell did I do it for?... Damn it ... damn it...."

Instinctively he took the judge's part, as if he must establish himself
firmly in the father's good graces in order to make premature amends for
the jilting of his daughter. The position he had taken pleased him
because it also involved an opposition to Aubrey.

Fanny continued to smile at the novelist. Keegan bored her. They had
been walking together and she had lost interest in the sensual game she
had been playing with him. Alone, she might have tried to repeat the
experience of the morning with Keegan. But her physical curiosity
partially gratified for the moment by the surreptitious excitement she
had derived from him, her interest transferred itself to Aubrey.

The man amused and impressed her. Her thought separated him into two
people. She resented his persistent dignity. Her perceptions, sharpened
by the practical sensuality of her nature, saw through the little ruses
by which Aubrey converted his slight deformities into a dignified whole.
As she listened to him she said to herself, "... he thinks it's smart to
wear a ribbon on his glasses ... he sticks his chest out ... he's got
skinny arms ... he looks funny...."

After a half hour she lost her resentment and the thing that had
inspired it came to amuse her. She could see through his funny manner so
it didn't anger her. But although now she smiled with amusement at the
man's impressiveness, a feeling of awe penetrated her. Aubrey was a
great man. People spoke his name everywhere. He was known.

A delicious tremble passed through her. She was careful not to translate
it into words. Had she inspected the tremble and its causes, it would
have outraged her. She was content always to accept her emotions blindly
for fear of having to forego them if she knew their causes. She kept
herself intact in her own mind as a good girl not by belligerently
repressing her impulses but by enjoying them secretly outside her mind.

She had thought of Aubrey as a great man and with it had come the inner
impulse to be embraced passionately by him. Not because he was Aubrey,
but because he was the famous Aubrey Gilchrist, whose name was known. To
be embraced by a famous man would be like being embraced somehow by all
the people who knew his name. She would be able to think while
satisfying her desire, "Everybody knows him. They know all about him.
It's almost as if they knew he was doing this ... I was doing this."

Then, too, there would be a feeling of intense secrecy about it, a sort
of blasphemous secrecy. When an ordinary man kissed her, that was of
course, a secret. But if a famous man should kiss her, a man like
Aubrey, that would be a super-secret. A violation of something
remarkable. It would be a thing concealed not merely from her family and
from the vague circle of friends who might be interested, but from
millions of people who knew Aubrey and who would be tremendously
interested in everything he did. She would be giving herself to a public
figure and yet the thing she was doing would be marvelously concealed
from the public. And so she would be able to enjoy the thrill of
demonstromania--of being taken by someone who was not an individual like
Keegan but a man who was part of other people's minds--and at the same
time she would be able to enjoy the thrill of defiant intimacy; the
knowledge that the people in whose minds the name Aubrey Gilchrist was
alive would be ignorant of what she was doing to the man they admired.
All this would be a sharpening of pleasure by the consciousness of
wholesale deceit, wholesale intimacy.

These intuitions whose articulation would have been entirely
unintelligable to Fanny sent the delicious tremble through her body.
Immediately the two separate Aubreys of her mind focussed into one and
she lost both her amusement and her awe of him. She sat regarding him
with a timid smile designed to arouse his curiosity. As yet he had
ignored her, his eyes seeking out Henrietta when the annexation debate
waned.

Basine had diverted the talk into literary channels by inquiring,
apropos of nothing, whether anyone had read a book by a man named
Meredith. He had found it in Doris' room one evening and glanced through
it. Seeking now for further material with which to discomfit Aubrey he
had remembered the volume. He took it for granted that since his sister
Doris had been reading it, the book was a very worthwhile book--the kind
he cared nothing about reading himself. This did not interfere with his
utilizing an exposition of its merits as a weapon against Aubrey.

"I was quite surprised," he explained. Doris listened with a frown. She
was certain her brother had not read the book and the knowledge he was
lying aggravated her. She knew he lied continually but was indifferent.
But to have him lie about something she admired, even in its defense,
made her uncomfortable as if he were trying to establish false claims
upon her regard.

"The book is altogether unlike most books," he went on, generalizing
carefully. His mind, totally ignorant of the subject he was discussing,
was shrewdly inventing a book diametrically opposite in style and
content to the books Aubrey wrote. By praising such a book he would
manage without reference to his antagonist to disparage his entire
literary output.

He was not clear in his mind why Aubrey had become an antagonist. The
memory reiterating itself behind his words "... she thinks I'm going to
marry her ... damn it...." was mysteriously finding outlet in an
indignation neither against himself nor Henrietta, but against the
unsuspecting Aubrey.

Fanny listened to the new conversation, but Meredith was soon dropped.
The sight of Mrs. Gilchrist grimly poised opposite her mother, became a
part of the lure Aubrey exercised over her. He was the son of this
hard-faced, domineering woman. To do something with him that was
intimate would be a deliciously concealed violation of the mother's
propriety. Fanny had always been intimidated by Mrs. Gilchrist's
propriety. Embracing her son would be a sort of revenge.

Without wasting time looking for reasons, Fanny felt Aubrey as an
attraction. Her attitude toward him grew more intimate. She did not try
to enter the talk but adjusted herself in the chair, placing her body
so that the curve of her hip and leg were effectively visible to Aubrey.

And while the others talked she assured herself of the plausibility of
her ambitions. Aubrey was a great man and very famous and distinguished.
But he was after all entirely human. He had written books and Fanny fell
to thinking about them, about the descriptions of love-making which
crowded the pages of his books. Aubrey was famous and therefore aloof.
But the things that had made him famous--the love passages in his books,
were not intimidating. She remembered them with gratitude. They were
love descriptions and Aubrey had written them.

Love passages were in fact all that Fanny usually remembered of her
reading. Plots and characters escaped her. After she had closed a book
there remained in her mind merely the scenes in which men had placed
their arms around women and whispered after a succession of exciting
adjectives, "I love you."

This was due to the manner in which Fanny read. As a girl she had
ploughed laboriously through a set of Shakespeare in quest of obscene
passages. Her girl's eyes would skip with irritation the speeches that
seemed to her extraneous until, caught by some "nasty" word, she would
become eagerly interested and carefully digest the sentences preceding
and following it. At fourteen she had discovered that the dictionary,
stuck away in a dusty corner of the book case, was filled with many such
words. Whenever occasion permitted she opened the big volume and poured
intently over its contents, digesting with excitement the definitions of
what she called to herself, the nasty words.

The result of this curious reading technique had gradually shown itself
as she matured. Literature became to her a secretly immoral and indecent
thing. She would blush when people mentioned _Shakespeare_ or any of the
books in which she had eagerly browsed. Observing that her blushes gave
people an impression of her sensitive chastity, she developed a habit of
seeming offended at the mention of any volume she suspected of
containing such words and passages as she was continually searching for
in secret.

She would say, "Oh, I don't like that kind of a book. I don't think
people should write like that--about such things. There are so many nice
things to write about I don't see why people must write about the
others."

Delivering herself of these sentiments on all occasions, she continued
her furtive hunt for books about "such things." One red-letter evening
she stumbled upon a pamphlet in her brother's room describing the
horrors of venereal diseases and outlining with verbal and pictorial
illustrations the ravages wrought by the disease germs. She had devoured
the information greedily, her sensuality editing the well-intentioned
brochure into a mass of erotic revelations.

Aubrey's books, although a bit too innocuous to exhilarate her as the
pamphlet had done or even the dictionary, properly read, was able to do,
contained innumerable passages she remembered. She treated his writing
as she did all writing, skimming hastily over irrelevant matters such as
dialogues between men, discussions of abstract problems, mother and
child scenes and coming to a pause only at the portions which began with
some such sentence as "He looked at her with burning eyes," or, "She
felt nervous because at last she was alone with him," or, "He tried to
draw her to him but she resisted, her virtue outraged by the light in
his eyes."

She recalled these passages now as the literary discussion grew warmer.
The knowledge that Aubrey had written them served to humanize him and
remove his aloofness in her eyes. He was a famous man. On the other hand
he was famous because he wrote such things as, "She yielded with a happy
sigh to the manly embrace."

Aubrey felt irritated with Basine. He stood up and seemingly without
intention walked to a vacant chair next to Fanny. The conversation had
been taken up by Mrs. Gilchrist who was explaining the real purpose of
her visit.

"We are giving a fête on Mrs. Channing's lawn," she was saying, "and I
would very much like you to be one of the members of the committee on
printing."

Mrs. Basine felt an elation at the words. She had read about the
Channing lawn fête. An affair of social magnificence designed to raise
funds for the Associated Charities. Great social names were involved.
Mrs. Basine's heart trembled gratefully.

"Oh, thank you," she said, her voice taking on a formal, artificial
tone. Mrs. Gilchrist nodded. The tone pleased her. She could count on
the Basine woman among the select who showed their gratitude openly at
the largesse of her favor. She would, in fact, deign to stay for supper
as a reward.

Mrs. Basine, urging her to remain for the light Sunday evening meal,
felt indignant with herself. She would have preferred to refuse the
committee on printing. Even as she accepted and experienced the elation
her thought bristled with revolt.

"The old fool ... the old fool," repeated itself with annoying clarity
in her mind. She detested Mrs. Gilchrist. Since her husband's death Mrs.
Basine had outgrown the snobbery which had inspired her during her life
to pour over the society columns. But a habit had been established, the
habit of a desire to become a member of the closely knit organization
known as Society. And now she was apparently powerless to overcome this
desire which no longer animated her but yet intruded out of the past.
She looked down upon herself for the elation over becoming a member of a
printing committee for a social charity fête.

"I hate it ... I just hate it," she would murmur for days at a time. But
the elation would persist, a thing beyond the control of her improved
outlook upon life. She was aware also of the simple process by which she
transferred her self-indictment into a detestation of Mrs. Gilchrist.
Mrs. Gilchrist was the one who appealed to what Mrs. Basine had grown to
regard as her "smaller nature." And her anger toward the imperturbable
dowager was the anger of a virtuous woman toward one whose temptations
she was unable to resist.

"You've been rather silent." Aubrey smiled patronizingly at Fanny. She
nodded.

"Oh, I've been so interested in what you've been saying," she answered.
She noticed with a feeling of sisterly gratitude that Basine had
occupied himself with Henrietta. Aubrey caught the direction of her
glance and frowned. He had developed a definite dislike of Basine during
the afternoon.

Keegan, listening uncomfortably to the judge who was ignoring him in his
talk but whose audience Keegan felt it a social necessity to remain,
tried vainly to capture Fanny's eyes. She had apparently forgotten his
existence. But now as Aubrey seated himself at her side, she smiled
intimately in the direction of the confused Keegan.

"Oh, Hugh," she said loud enough for him to hear.

The sound of his name from the girl gave Keegan an inexplicable
sensation. He felt himself break into happy smiles and the anxiety that
had been growing in his heart seemed abruptly to have vanished under her
voice. He came to her side and stood looking timidly at her. The
conviction came over Fanny that Keegan was in love. She felt pleased and
her heart warmed toward him. But her interests remained exclusively
preoccupied with the novelist.

"I was just going out to the kitchen and wondered if you wanted to help
cut sandwiches," she smiled at Keegan.

"Sure," he answered.

"I'm an excellent cook myself," Aubrey unbent gravely.

Fanny stood up and started toward the hall. The two men hesitated and
then followed her. Basine, frowning slightly toward the door, listened
to her voice chattering to cover the embarrassed silence of the two men
she had bagged.

"Don't you want to go out there and help," he turned to Henrietta.

She shook her head.

Keegan felt himself being slowly transported. His penitence had faded
into less satisfactory emotions toward the middle of the day. A gloom
had come over him and his heart had felt weighted. He had at first
identified this state of mind as a ghastly premonition of disease as a
result of last night's debauch and thought that the depression he felt
was his nervous system or something warning him of this fact.

The depression lifted. He sat around the Basine home listening to the
chatter of the arriving guests and feeling out of place. He felt that he
was wishing for something but couldn't make out what it was. His heart
hurt, his head felt heavy. There were aches in him and a feeling of
listlessness. More, he couldn't sit still. The room seemed a suffocating
place. He was unhappy.

Several hours later it dawned on him with a shock that he was in love
with Fanny. The sudden explanation frightened him. He attempted to deny
it to himself. The struggle endured a half hour. He surrendered.

When he looked at Fanny again she had undergone a complete change. There
was a startling intimacy in her features. Her contours were stamped with
an appeal he had never observed before in a woman. The rest of the
company sat behind a thin film of politeness and formality. But Fanny
sat with him outside this film. The others in the room were blurred as
if half hidden. Fanny was distinct. A light seemed to beat upon her. He
looked in amazement.

A few hours ago he had noticed nothing. Now he noticed everything ...
her dress, her hands, her hair, her eyes, her ankles. He was frightened
because it seemed as if someone had invaded the secret world in which
he alone lived. He remembered frightenedly that he had lain with his
head in her lap, that he had embraced her. There had been something
curious about the embrace but he was unable to identify it.

"She felt sorry for me, that's all," he thought and at once all hope
ebbed out of him. Yet he continued to look at her and watch her grow
more familiar, so familiar that her image seemed to have come into his
heart where he could feel it choking him.

A few minutes after entering the kitchen he grew hopeful. He found
himself in the position of an intimate--at least by comparison. She was
paying no attention to Aubrey. She laughed at his, Keegan's, clumsiness,
chided him good-naturedly. She held his hand and, his heart beating
wildly, directed him in slicing the bread. When he was drawing the water
from the sink faucet she leaned over resting her chin on his shoulder
and effected a humorous concern. He felt her body press warmly against
him and almost dropped the cut-glass pitcher he was holding. He was
being transported.

Out of the corner of his eye he watched the novelist. A sorry fellow
with gawky feet and a clumsy-looking face. Keegan vaguely pitied him as
he stood around doing his best to horn in on the intimacy between Fanny
and himself. He knew how the novelist felt. It seemed to Keegan even
that it was he, Keegan, feeling that way, and that the carefully
concealed embarassment, the futile chagrin and lameness were his own
emotions and not Aubrey Gilchrist's. In an effort to put the defeated
rival at his ease, so Keegan regarded him, he tried magnanimously to
include him in the little byplay between himself and Fanny.

"Here, you try your hand at this," he offered, handing Aubrey the knife.
Fanny pouted.

"Hm! Just as I was teaching you the art of bread cutting you run away
from school," she complained. Keegan resumed his operations on the
bread, a satisfied warmth in his heart. For her hand had returned to its
position and she was again going through the idiotic pretense of
teaching him how to move a knife. He was being transported. His vacuous
face had taken on a vivacity. He was fearful of presuming, of doing
something wrong, and he made no effort to caress her. No effort was
necessary for, somehow, despite his carefully edited behavior, their
fingers were always touching, their bodies coming together.

Still he was afraid to think that Fanny had fallen in love with him. He
was even afraid that Aubrey would go away and leave them alone in the
kitchen. If they were alone he would have to try to kiss her or
something and she would laugh and then say indignantly, "You idiot, I
was just playing. I see now that you think all women are like those you
told me about."

He would rather that Aubrey remained and that everything continued as it
was. The sandwiches were piling up on the large platters.

"Here," Fanny cried, holding one of them up for him to bite.

He looked apologetically at Aubrey as if asking to be forgiven for this
proof of her superior regard and with a blush ate from her fingers.
Fanny suddenly let go the sandwich and as it dropped to the floor,
patted him tenderly on his cheek and laughed.

"Um ... big man hungry," she whispered.

He turned to place the fallen pieces of bread in the sink. His hand
brushed hers and he felt her fingers close firmly around his palm with a
squeeze. He half shut his eyes at the shock that filled his heart.
Fanny's eyes, however, ignored him. She was engaged in watching Aubrey
for whose benefit the entire scene was being staged. Her instinct had
supplied her with a mode of attack. She would arouse desire in the
novelist by showing herself desired--although by another man. A desired
woman was an irritant. It aroused illogical jealousy.

The icebox was in the back hallway.

"The cream and things are in here," Fanny exclaimed.

Keegan followed her out of the kitchen into the rear vestibule. She had
squeezed his hand before starting and thrown him a glance as she passed
through the doorway. He felt embarrassed for Aubrey and was on the point
of inviting him to share the intimacy of the small vestibule. But Fanny
interrupted him.

"Oh Hugh," she called softly, "will you chop some ice, please, for the
water."

She handed him the ice pick and laughed nervously. The door was half
open and Keegan caught a glimpse of the novelist pretending a vast
interest in the arrangement of the sandwiches on the plates.

"What's the matter, Hugh? You seem so ... so funny," Fanny whispered
close to him.

His heart contracted. He was afraid. If he dared he would put his arms
around her. But after all the things he had confessed to her in their
walk.... A longing to weep almost brought tears out of his eyes. He
stood with his mouth open and stared as in a dream at a blurred vision.

"Fanny," he muttered, "I'm sorry...."

"About last night," she whispered. He nodded.

"But Hughie, you said you wouldn't ever again...."

He felt despair.

"If I only hadn't ... I would...." He stopped.

"Would what, Hughie?" Fear halted him definitely. He could go no
further. A misery clouded his thought. He felt her hand touching his
arm.

"You mustn't feel sorry, Hugh. Please promise me you won't feel
sorry...."

The sweetness of her voice overpowered him and his eyes grew wet. He
tried to talk but was ashamed of the quiver he felt in his throat. Fanny
pressed lightly against him. He stood with his head reeling and his
heart dancing crazily as her arms circled his neck. Her face was raised
to his.

"Just one ... Hughie. Please ... don't forget. Please hurry...."

He heard her words but they conveyed no meaning. He loved her ... he
loved her. He had never been happy like this. He couldn't tell her now
... the icebox, something, was in the way. But sometime he would tell
her. His arms and body felt alive.

"Oh," he thought, "Fanny, Fanny...."

Then he heard himself repeating the thought aloud. He was saying in a
voice he hardly recognized, "Oh, Fanny, Fanny."

He kissed her lips.

For a moment Fanny returned his kiss passionately. Her arms clutched
him tightly. She felt a curious lift in her heart, a thing she had never
experienced before. It made her almost close her eyes. But she kept them
open, watching furtively over Keegan's shoulder the figure of Aubrey.
Aubrey had remained bent over the plates of sandwiches. Despite the lift
in her heart this annoyed her. She wanted Aubrey's attention.

"Oh," she sighed aloud. Aubrey heard. He straightened and for a moment
stared at the tableau of the lovers. Fanny watching him behind Keegan's
kiss saw his face grow red. Then she lowered her eyes and abandoned
herself to the sensation of Keegan's arms. But the sensations faded. An
interest seemed to have gone out of the situation. She pushed Keegan
gently away and looked into the kitchen. Aubrey was gone.

"Oh," she whispered. Keegan looked at her dizzily. "He saw...."

"Who?"

"Aubrey Gilchrist saw you." Her face flushed.

"Did he?" Keegan leaned against the icebox. He felt weak.

"I'm sure he did," Fanny insisted, an elated note in her voice, "I'm
just positive."

"He couldn't have seen much if he did, from where he was standing,"
Keegan murmured.

"I don't care anyway," Fanny smiled. Keegan felt a thrill at the words.
She loved him and didn't care who knew!

"Neither do I," he agreed. He felt glad they had been seen. It made him
blush inside but he was glad.

"Oh, what do we care?" Fanny cried, "if the old stick-in-the-mud did
see." Keegan reached his hands to her but she eluded him and darted into
the kitchen.

"Hurry, chop the ice," she called. She was confused. For a moment she
had been surprised by an emotion--a curious, unsensual desire for the
awkward Keegan. She had felt her heart yield to his embrace as she
usually felt her body do. But the whole thing had been for Aubrey's
benefit. It had started with an intention of making Aubrey jealous by
flirting with Keegan. And when Aubrey had refused to show any signs of
jealousy she had carried the flirtation further until it had seemed
logical to kiss and embrace Keegan as a part of her original ambition to
stir Aubrey. But she had been stirred herself by the man's kiss. Yet now
that Aubrey was gone she had lost all interest in Hugh. She wanted to
hurry back where the novelist was.

She glanced apprehensively toward the door. Doris was standing looking
at her.

"What's the matter, Dorie?"

"Mr. Ramsey has come. Mother said to set another place."

"Good heavens! What a houseful."

Doris nodded. Keegan was standing in the center of the room smiling
inanely at the sink.

"I'll help you," said Doris.



8


Mrs. Basine was embarassed by the arrival of her friend Tom Ramsey. He
had been a friend of her husband and a rumor had become current that he
was now courting her. She denied this with indignation. To herself she
admitted she liked to be alone with him. He was a sour-minded man with
a liver-red face, a patrician nose and the look of a man of importance.
But he was too thin and too short to live up to this look.

In the presence of others he usually fell into a silence unless one of
the two or three subjects on which he felt himself an authority came up.
These subjects were things that had to do with advertising--effective
copy, effective display, prices, results. Mr. Ramsey was in the
advertising business.

Mrs. Basine's embarassment at his arrival was caused by her sympathy for
the man and her resentment of his weakness. She knew exactly what would
happen. Tom Ramsey would sit through the evening, scrupulously polite to
everyone, saying, "Yes, yes. Quite right. Oh, of course. That's
absolutely right.... Indeed, I agree with you...."

For the first few minutes he would impress everyone as a man of
character and intelligence. But gradually this impression would fade and
people would stop talking to him and eventually ignore him altogether in
the conversation.

Why this happened Mrs. Basine could never determine. But it did and it
always hurt her. Mr. Ramsey, smiling exuberantly through the
introduction, his thin body alive in the slightly overheated room, would
in an hour become Mr. Ramsey sitting glassy-eyed and polite in a corner,
his liver-red face holding with difficulty a grimace of enthusiastic
attentiveness. He would make sporadic starts trying to recover
something. When the talk grew boisterous and everyone was making puns
and delivering himself of bouncing sarcasms, Ramsey would try to become
part of the scene in a way that always startled the company. He would
come to life with mysterious suddeness and hurl a jest into the common
pot. His manner, however, focused attention on himself rather than his
words. In back of the drollery he offered would be a desperation, in
fact, sometimes a sense of fury. People would stare at him for an
instant thinking, "What an odd, impossible man." And in their
contemplation, forget to laugh at his remark, forget even to answer it.
And he would be left stranded in a silence--a conversational castaway. A
moment later he would collapse, sit glowering in his chair, looking
angrily at the carpet. This was painful to Mrs. Basine since she had
grown to understand him.

When they were alone Ramsey became a different man. He talked to her
usually about people he had met in her house. At such times he was
master of caricature. Their absurdities, pompousness, banalities,
hypocricies took grotesque outline in his words. His method was
unvarying. It was based upon a crude, vicious skepticism, inspired in
turn by a fanatic resentment of success in others. He seemed determined
always to prove to his own and her satisfaction that despite their
pretentions people were no more successful than he. His nature seemed
unable to tolerate the thought of superiors. At the same time people he
encountered, particularly in the Basine home, managed always to override
him, to reduce him to silence, to deflate him.

He would retire into himself, protesting viciously at the injustice of
this phenomenon. And while he sat in silence he would seek to wipe out
the consciousness of his own inferiority by attacking with contempt the
people around him. He would sit belittling and ridiculing the company to
himself until he had hypnotized himself with a conviction of their
general worthlessness and inferiority. Bolstered up by this treacherous
conviction, he would come suddenly to life with a grotesque sense of
magnitude in his mind. He was a giant among pigmies, a Socrates among
clowns! Who were these numbskulls and fourflushers that they thought
they were better than he was! He would show them! He would step forth
and by a single gesture, a scintillant phrase, reduce them to their
proper place.

And the company would find itself staring for an instant at a thin,
little man with a wild look in his eyes and a snarling quiver in his
voice, saying something not quite intelligible--usually an involved pun
or a tardy comment on some issue under discussion. The intensity of the
sullen-faced little man with the patrician nose embarrassed them for the
moment. Not as much as it did Mrs. Basine whose heart would almost break
at the spectacle, but enough to make them feel it were best to ignore
this curious Mr. Ramsey and not let on what a fool he somehow made of
himself.

Ramsey's indignation toward people, his sour skepticism of their values,
was his futile way of reassuring himself of his own worth. Futile,
because he had no conviction of this worth. When he sat denouncing in
silence the talkers around him, ridiculing and belittling them, it was
merely a less painful outlet for the contempt he had of himself.

He had been since his youth ridden by this inner feeling that he was a
fool, a weakling, not quite a man. It had started in his boyhood when
the nickname "Sissy" had been attached to him. His high-pitched voice,
his thin body and his unboyish modesty had earned him the name. As he
had grown older the fact that he did not care for girls as other youths
did, and that he sometimes played with them as if he were a girl
himself, had not escaped the keen, cruel eyes of his companions. The
name "Sis" Ramsey had stuck.

In order to convince these companions of his masculinity he had thrown
himself with violence into their roughest games. In high school he had
sought to establish himself as a hardened sinner--a drinker and tough
citizen. Despite his slight body he had developed into a creditable
athlete. More than that he had become known as a fellow who would fight
at the drop of a hat. His fiery temper became a byword.

But all these masculine, or seemingly masculine attributes were part of
his effort to prove that, despite his somewhat odd voice and his equally
odd indifference toward girls, he was a man. When he left high school
and started in the offices of the Mackay Advertising Company, the name
"Sissy" had dropped from him. He had no longer to contend with the keen,
cruel eyes of boy companions. Men were content to accept him at whatever
value he chose to place on himself, as far as his character was
concerned.

The struggle instead of abating, however, only increased. It removed
itself from the external combat of his boyhood to an internal
complication, and became the basis of the feeling of inferiority which
shaped his life.

This inner knowledge he cherished, that he was inferior to people, was
founded on the conviction that he was impotent; or at least nearly
impotent; that he could never marry and have children like other men.
His mind refused to acknowledge this fact and thus instead of finding
the comparatively harmless exit of regret, it permeated his entire
thought with the word--inferior ... inferior.

Ramsey kept himself desperately blind to the cause of this permeation.
He concentrated on the detached word "inferior" and belabored it with
untiring fury. There was another secret, one that went deeper than the
hidden conviction of impotency.

In the indignation which continually filled his mind, the hideous secret
that lived almost within grasp of his understanding was conveniently
clouded. It was the secret that his lack of vigor--a fact in itself that
he sometimes contemplated--was caused by a still deeper thing--a thing
that never reached any clearer articulation than a shudder.

They had called him "Sissy" as a boy and he had not changed with age. He
had been able to repress the impulses that sought to turn him toward men
instead of women for companionship. He had repressed them by the ruse of
convincing himself he was an ascetic.

It was, moreover, an attitude which could find outlet. He could devote
himself to the continual denunciation of others, developing into a sour,
cynical choleric man of fifty. A vindictive, unpleasing personality.

Mrs. Basine herded her guests into the dining room. Ramsey's presence
preoccupied her. She found herself watching him as a mother might look
after a sickly child.

The intimacy that had grown between her and her dead husband's friend
had been too gradual to trace. It had started when Mrs. Basine had sat
one evening in the midst of a company similar to this and thought, "Poor
man. He jumps around like that and acts queerly because he's ashamed of
himself. He's ashamed of not being what he wants to be."

She did not quite understand what this meant but she felt herself
suddenly close to the man after having thought it. He began to seek her
company alone and more and more to use her as an audience for his ruse
of transferring his self-rage into a critical indignation of others.

A realization of Ramsey's character had stirred a pity in her and out of
this pity she was careful not to let him see it. She went to the extreme
of pretending a blindness toward his shortcomings and of accepting him
for the thing he tried to make himself out to be--a giant among pygmies.

She would agree with him in his attacks upon others, second his vicious
caricaturing and appear always impressed by his desperate skepticism.
Ramsey as a result had come to regard her as the one person with whom he
had ever felt at ease during his life. Mrs Basine was a woman who
understood him, that is, one who was completely deceived by him. In her
presence the creature he struggled unsuccessfully to become, the
masquerade of magnificence which his inferiority sought futilely to
assume--in her presence these became realities. He would swagger before
her, deride her, browbeat her and the rage which bubbled everlastingly
in him would have respite. His mind seemed to uncloud and his talk would
grow actually clever, some of his caricatures bringing an authentic
laugh from her.

But the widow as a rule would sit listening to him, watching his
swagger, her heart lacerated by the poignant things it sensed. It was as
if he were a little boy dressed up in an Indian suit and emitting war
whoops and she must sit by and pretend real horror of his juvenile
make-believe; as if he were someone who would drop dead with anguish in
the midst of his laughter if she were to say aloud what was in her mind,
"Oh you poor man, I'm sorry for you. I'm so ashamed for you."

She did not understand why, despite these things, she felt a thrill of
pleasure when she found herself alone with him. Her pity for the man
seemed a pleasant excitement. It gave her a sense of intimacy toward
him. She admitted this to herself but wondered about it.

There had been one evening that remained confusedly in her mind. He had
seemed unusually buoyant, she recalled, after it was over. His
cleverness had actually diverted her--his caricatures of Judge Smith and
Mrs. Gilchrist and even her own son. She had felt a certain truth in the
distorted descriptions he gave of her friends.

Then without warning he had grown violently excited. She had watched him
with a fear in her heart--a warning to her that he was going to say
something. She remembered him walking up and down the room saying, "The
trouble with you, like with most people, my dear lady, is that you don't
understand things. You look at things through a fog. You don't see
through the pretences of people. Your brain isn't active. It's merely
receptive. It doesn't question. And what's the result?"

His voice had become high-pitched.

"You live your lives among lies. That's what you do. Lies, lies--you
thrive on lies. Your friends are lies. Your thoughts, everything. Take
me.... Now take me ... my case.... I'll tell you something you don't
understand ... just by the way of proof.... I'll tell you something...."

His voice had broken off, overcome by excitement. He was walking up and
down in front of her, his eyes staring wildly. He was going to say
something, something about himself. And for a moment she had sat
cringing inside. Why had she been afraid? Perhaps because he had looked
so wildly around him, like someone trying to escape. But he had grown
silent and dropped exhausted into a chair.

She tried not to look at him because he was trembling and he had gone
away ten minutes later. He had kept away for two weeks and then returned
and their relations had resumed as if nothing had happened. Her mind
tingled with curiosity but a fear restrained her. She somehow had not
dared ask the question, "What were you going to tell me about yourself."

But she remembered that it had seemed for a moment as if he were going
to escape, that he had looked like a man on the verge of ridding himself
of an incubus.

Her guests were getting along famously. Everyone seemed pleased, happy.
They were chattering and laughing for hardly no reason at all. Mrs.
Basine had no liking for the people at her table. She despised Mrs.
Gilchrist, resented Aubrey. The judge gave her a faint feeling of
repulsion. Henrietta was a simpleton. Fanny irritated her with her
continual blushes and sensitive innocence. Doris was too silent and
always brooding. And even George--he somehow failed to convince her
although she desired to be convinced.

But all of them together were nice, like a pleasing combination of
colors. People belonged together. Alone they had faults. But when they
came together and forgot themselves they were nice. She felt proud of
having them at her table, because there were so many of them. They were
nice people when they were like this--just talking, not arguing or
saying things that convinced her somehow that they were wrong things.

Under the table the little comedies of the day were playing a furtive
sequel. Henrietta sitting next to Basine was shyly pressing her knee
against his. Fanny had reached out her foot until it rested against an
ankle she fancied belonged to Aubrey. For a few minutes she failed to
connect the attentiveness of Judge Smith, his paternal banter, with her
activity under the table. But the suspicion slowly arrived. Her eyes
calculated the position of the judge's legs and, blushing, she withdrew
her foot. She noticed that Aubrey sought her face when she wasn't
looking and that Keegan was talking with a blurred politeness to Mrs.
Gilchrist.

Doris sitting next to Mr. Ramsey felt annoyed. He was continually asking
her what she wanted, passing her salt-shakers and bread-plates and
conducting himself as if she were a helpless child under his care. Mrs.
Gilchrist, as the first conversational flush inspired by the food
subsided, launched into a detailed description of the plans for the
coming fête, talking in a precise, emotionless voice.

"I was saying," Basine's voice emerged in a silence that followed Mrs.
Gilchrist's talk, "I was saying that people are easy to get along with
if you understand them and they understand you. I had a case in court
the other day where a woman was suing a man for breach of promise. He
had proposed marriage to her and then without reason broke his pledge.
The woman was my client."

Murmurs of "how awful"; "that must have been interesting" arose. Basine
nodded sagely. He had without knowing why started improvising the
narrative, inventing its details with a creditable dramatic and legal
talent. There had been no such case, client or denouement but he
continued unconscious of this fact in his desire to tell the story. "The
man of course was a rascal. An unscrupulous rascal. The girl--my
client--a charming, innocent young thing--had believed him. He had
courted her passionately,--er, I should say--assiduously. I couldn't
understand how any man after giving his word and asking a girl to marry
him could possibly be rogue enough to do what he had done. So during a
recess in the case I sought the fellow out. His name was Jones. We had
quite a talk."

Basine paused.

"What happened?" Fanny exclaimed. "I wish you'd tell us more about your
work than you do, George. It's so interesting."

"Yes, go on," Mrs. Gilchrist commanded.

Basine hesitated. His improvisation seemed to have come to an end. He
was, mysteriously, at a loss as to how to make the lie turn out. But
inspired by the attention of the table he resumed:

"Well, of course a lawyer must be first of all faithful to his client."

He paused again. He had almost decided to end the fiction by explaining
that on investigation he had found the man to be right and that the
defense the man had given him privately of his actions had caused him to
withdraw from the case. But this would sound quixotic, unreal. There
would have to be explanations. Why had he started the lie? To give it
that ending so that.... He smiled a sudden appreciation of what he was
doing--trying to excuse his jilting of Henrietta--an event not far off
if she persisted in holding him to the thingumabob foolishness. But he
went on:

"This sometimes prejudices an attorney against his opponent. But I found
this time that all prejudice was warranted. The man was a thorough
rascal. It had been his practise to propose marriage to girls--innocent
girls of course, and he had several times managed to take advantage of
their faith in him and--ruin them."

Fanny averted her eyes. Mrs. Gilchrist stared with an uncomprehending
frown at the talker. The judge permitted a grimace of distaste to pass
over his face as he murmured, "The cad. Yes sir, men are cads."

"My client won," resumed Basine with modesty, "and was awarded five
thousand dollars by the jury. But the law could not give her back the
happiness this scoundrel had snatched from her...."

"Had he ... had he accomplished his purpose with her?" Aubrey inquired,
aloofly interested in the plot details of the narrative.

"No, fortunately," Basine answered. "But look at him now. Free, although
found guilty, free to continue his tactics."

He paused confused. Henrietta was beaming at him, her eyes wide with
admiration. He felt he should have given it the other ending and cursed
himself silently for what he had done. He had only made it worse when he
had meant to tell a story that would help matters and make her
understand....

Mrs. Basine regarded her son unhappily. She was convinced he was lying
because he usually mentioned the big cases he had and he had never
before referred to any Jones suit. But she was unable to understand why
anyone should lie without cause and after a moment of doubt her son's
stern face and positive manner managed to convince her again. He wasn't
lying.

Basine, as the others took up the discussion of the narrative, dropped
his hand to his side and furtively pressed it against Henrietta's knee.
At this sensation of physical contact a feeling of relief came to him.
In the sensual thrill this contact aroused he buried the discomfort of
the words running through his head--"she thinks I'm going to marry her.
Damn it ... damn it...."

He was startled when, glancing at her in the midst of his daring
excursion under the table, he noticed her smiling coolly and primly at
Aubrey who was talking.

"Will you have some of this?" Mr. Ramsey's voice protruded through the
silence. Several eyes turned toward him as if he were about to take up
the burden of the talk. Mrs. Basine interrupted quickly.

"What was that book you told me about, Mr. Gilchrist, last month?" she
asked. Aubrey looked up inquiringly. "I mean your father."

The elder Gilchrist blinked and seemed to peer into the depths of his
memory.

"I don't remember," he said clearing his throat. They were the first
words he had spoken since he had said, "Thank you ... thank you...." and
sat down in a corner of the Basine library. His wife stared at him as if
he were a phenomenon unexpectedly revealed to her gaze.

"It must have been," stammered Mr. Gilchrist, "Suetonius, I think. Or
... or the Chevalier de Boufflers...."

"I'm sure that was it," Mrs. Basine agreed. "I must get that to read."

The judge frowned disapprovingly upon the elder Gilchrist. He resented
readers. Culture was a state of soul acquired by being a gentleman, not
by reading books. He resented also the impression Aubrey had left during
the Annexation discussion.

As a matter of fact he felt sleepy, the result of the food he had eaten.
And he was automatically seeking for some occasion which would warrant
an expression of dignity or resentment or anything in which he might
hide his heaviness of spirit.

The sight of his daughter regarding Aubrey with a sweet, prim
attentiveness supplied him with what he desired. The idea of Henrietta
marrying that fool was annoying. Old Gilchrist was a sly dog and his
wife a difficult woman. He would forbid the thing. It might hurt
Henrietta for a time but he knew what was good for her. A mere story
writer had no real standing in the community, no future.
Whereas--Basine.... He lowered his eyes and glowered at his plate....
Nice young man. Honorable. And full of promise ... promise....



9


"Love the stars. Love people's faces. Buildings and faces. What do I
know about 'em? God knows. Rotten streets.... Life's a great harlot that
men keep chasing. That gives herself to men--all men, everybody. I want
her. I want her."

He walked angrily, a cap on his head, a pipe clenched between his teeth.
He was thinking as he walked. Emotions came out of his heart and burst
crests of words in his mind. Angry emotions. There was an anger in him.
He was overcoming a feeling of futility as he walked.

The street was a carnival fringe. Cheap burlesque theatres, arcades,
museums, saloons. This was blurred. He saw no lithographs. One side of
the street followed along at his elbow--a slant of pinwheel lights. On
the other side across the street, pin points. But he saw nothing. Things
passed unresistingly through his eyes.

He remembered now a mile of walking. The business section asleep on
Sunday evening. He had walked through that. Darkened windows, ghastly
inanimations. Why was he angry?

"Aw huh!" he snarled. He was cursing something. He asked questions and
answered them. This got him nowhere. Stars, buildings, faces--he wanted
to knock them over. That was inside him, a wish to knock 'em over. More
than a wish. A necessity. But he could only walk. The world scratched at
his elbow. He could bite on his pipe. This thing hurt him.

People, rotten people. Crazy jellyfish with jellyfish hearts, jellyfish
brains. He could swear at 'em like that. But why? He didn't know. Only
this thing in him made him blow up.

It was easier when he worked. His father calmed him. His father stood
over the bench planning the fine-grained wood. A great man because he
loved the wood he cut and carved into pieces of furniture. But jellyfish
sat in the chairs they made in his father's shop. Damn 'em.

"Love people. Say something. What? Say something. Get it out. Aw, the
dirty, filthy swine."

That was the way he thought as he walked. A long furious mumble in him,
this man walked and saw nothing but light slants, spinning windows. He
was young and he wore a cap.

He would get it out of him ... Show 'em! Ah, a nip to the air. Spring
blowing his heart up like a balloon. All they wanted was women. And all
women wanted was to be wanted. No. That was wrong. Damn! Always wrong!
His feet talked better than his head. Clap, clap on the pavement. Where
were the others going?

He didn't hate them. Someday it would all come out like swans swimming.
Very majestic. He would talk easy and smooth. But now people kept him
from putting it over. They wrapped him up. Ideas wrapped up his words
and killed them. Streets, buildings, stars chewed at him. He must knock
'em over and get himself free. Put his hands on things and knock Hell
out of 'em.

"Love 'em. Love 'em. How the Hell ... why the Hell? Lindstrum!
Lindstrum! That's my name.... I got a name. I'm the greatest man in the
world. The world's greatest all-around individual on two legs walking,
smoking. Damn...."

But what could he do? Saw wood, smear varnish on wood, monkey around
with wood. That didn't get it out. When he wrote it came out. But
rotten. He wrote rotten, crazy rotten. If he was the greatest man why in
God's name! He'd show 'em.

A long breath brought the night into him like a sponge. It drained
something out of him. He could grin. A very evil grin at a saloon
window. He could look around and notice. That's what eyes were for.
Look--people walking. Poor, sad, broken people. So sad.... Ah, tired
eyes in the street that looked for lights outside themselves.

"I'm going nuts. That's what--nuts."

But the mumble went on. Questions and answers in a circle, biting their
own tails. God forgive them, all these people. He must do something.
Arms around them whispering to their hearts something that would say,
"Yes, yes. I know it all about you. How you think one way and feel
another. And how everything ends. How everything ends in a little cry
that goes up."

Love their faces. Damn it! Love 'em.... He'd show 'em. He'd talk to the
lights in the street. Why not?

"Do you know what? Do you know? It's all a humpty dumpty. Egg-heads
falling off a wall and smashing. But I know what. I got your number.
Wait...."

There was something to say. Why? Damn it ... not that way. Hit poor, sad
ones on the head. Better the dirty swine in the City Hall. Aw huh! Wring
their necks. What for? Wrong. Something else. They were like him.
Brothers, everybody. You could kill the whole of them and there would be
something left behind that was good--Life. But a better way than
that.... Don't hit. Arms around them, lips to their hearts and talk like
that. Make the hyenas sigh. Make the jellyfish weep softly. Make the
stars dance in their idiot thoughts. Sing them songs. If only the songs
came out.

It was evening, spring evening in a dirty lighted street, and he walked
biting his pipe. He said to himself, "What's there to this thing? Let us
study it. Many people in many houses and many streets. And each of them
a known thing. But when you take all of them together, that's an unknown
thing. If you know me, if you know one--what then? Nothing. It remains
only one known. There is still everything else to know. One man
multiplied by a million isn't a million men but an infinitude of
millions."

He would get the hang of them all though, all the millions. He would
think it out, get his fingers on something that didn't exist for fingers
to touch. That was art. It was easy when you figured it that way.

He walked along often figuring it that way and understanding something
that had no words, living with something that was like a strange phantom
in a great dark deep. This phantom was a stranger inside him. A phantom
like an insane companion that had a way of putting its arms around him,
inside him, and a way of holding him like a horrible mother. Then when
it did, he stopped calling himself nuts ... nuts. He became silent then
and vanished.

The phantom devoured him. All there was of him that everybody knew, that
even he knew, all that vanished. The phantom devoured him and it was
easy then. But the phantom let him go, took its arms off him, and he
came back, out of the deep. Then he felt himself leaping up with a choke
in his lungs, leaping through layers and layers with no surface to
reach. He must go up, up from the easy embrace of the phantom and keep
on raging, yelling out to himself that something had sent him shooting
up.

Now he walked and it was easy. The night blotted out his eyes and he
lived with himself down deep where the easy embrace waited. Such moments
came when he walked and he must be careful. That was writing, being
careful and watching the little words that danced high up and that he
could watch when he raised his eyes from the embrace. Skyrockets far
away, he watched them breaking in crazy spatters of light against the
top of things where the sky came to an end.

He was thinking like that now. Lucid thoughts that he later stared back
upon and wondered, "What the hell were they? I had something, what was
it?" Now he was thinking them with this deceptive lucidity as if they
were something. He was thinking how when he was younger, when he was a
boy, he used to run down country roads. Apples trees and rivers and
growing fields that sang at night were there. And yet, there was
nothing. What did that mean? That was easy to answer. There was nothing
because it was all outside him in a marvelous way. When he was a boy
long ago, so long ago, and he lay on his back and looked at the night
and the night was nothing in his head, the night was a song that chanted
itself to him. The stars were something he had spoken. Darkness was a
sentence echoing off his lips. And the world was marvelously outside and
it gave itself to him. The boy lying on his back handed the world to
himself as a gift. There was nothing to want, everything to have. Long
ago when he was a boy watching the day and night without thinking.

But it all went away. Now what was it? That was easy to answer. The
night that had been a song chanting itself, the stars that had been his
words dancing, the darkness, clouds, trees, river and roads, the fields
and the people crawling with tiny steps under the cornfield sky--these
went away all together and he couldn't find them any more. These things
he had said without speaking, these all went away. Beautiful familiars,
they misunderstood something in him and vanished from him.

That was long ago. Now he could remember them and his remembering them
was like hearing them again. That's what made him angry. He could hear
them as if they were calling, "Find us ... find us...." And he said
back, "All right, I'll find you. Wait. I'll come after you somehow.
You're my old friends. I'll get you back. Christ knows how--but,
wait...."

But this made him think he was laughing at himself, kidding himself. He
knew better. The things that had gone away were in the faces of people,
in buildings, in lights, in streets under his feet. Christ! why
couldn't he lay hands on them again since they came so close they choked
him and made him howl inside with choking.

He was letting go now again. The easy embrace was shooting him up and he
began to know again he was nuts. He hung on to himself a little by
saying words.... "Easy boy.... Easy...."

He stopped walking for a second and a happy smile came to his set mouth.
The smile said it was over. He was Lief Lindstrum again and nobody else.
He could become calm like this. It was like blowing a fire out with a
grin. His head was clear and he was happy. The street was like a
merry-go-round. The night had a smell of life in it. That came from the
lake. Whatever living might be and whatever the choke inside him was, a
man was a fool to forget this other--the calm, grinning strength of
muscles and the way his nose buzzed when he drew his breath in.

Now he was Lief Lindstrum walking to call on his girl. And he could
think of others, the poor little others, the superfluous others. Only he
didn't have to get angry at them. Or he didn't have to fall in love with
them. It was just thinking straight. Well, the way men talked to each
other was funny. The way they swapped lies was funny. Poor, rich, happy,
sad, broken, bawling ones--they all made the same lies to each other.
The government was a lie. God was a lie. And all the gabble about good
and bad and what-not-to-do and what-to-do, and all the laws and
everything beginning from the beginning and going ahead as far as you
wanted, it was all lies. So many of them that all the philosophers had
never been able to begin straightening things out. And if somebody
found out something true, what then? Well, they grabbed it and made it
into a lie, pronto! used it as a lie. The poor little crawling ones on
the earth made up lies to explain things but most of all they made up
lies to keep alive. If they didn't lie to each other they would all fall
apart and vanish because nature would have it that way. So they must go
contrary to nature and keep on surviving. Nature demanded the
elimination of the unfit. But it was the unfit that desired most to
live. So the unfit made laws and rules and institutions, and inside
them, protected by them, kept alive. So the will to live was the thing
that created lies.

But the worst lie the little people told was when they called themselves
life. That was the chief lie, the Grand Sachem and High God of all lies.
Because they were not life. They were part of something inexplicable
that altogether might be called life. But each of them separately was a
dead one, a dead one buried deep in life. That was the difference about
him, Lindstrum. He wasn't buried in life. There were moments when he
shot up like a man shooting through layers of graves. The others let the
thing called life pile up on them and it became a mystery of graves that
reached to the farthest star. But with him there was no piling up. He
would keep on shooting out of it till he had lifted himself up where
there were no graves.

"Shh, shh," he murmured to himself, "let's not be nuts tonight. Plenty
of nights for that. Let's talk about other things. About her."

Her face was beautiful. Dark eyes, dark hair, silent, that was like she
was. The thought of her made him grimace inside with pain. He wanted
her as much as that. But what did he want her for? God knows. What does
one want for? In order to get rid of wanting. Nothing else. Kiss her?
Bah! She was a victory. He wanted her like that.

When he was near her they didn't have to talk or hold hands. They came
together in a different way. She was so beautiful....

"I love her," he said quietly. He wanted to be quiet so he spoke
quietly. She was marvelous. He would like to cut himself up into bits
and give himself that way to her. He would like to die a thousand
different ways and say, "Here, I destroy everything I am in order to
become a gift for you." That was like placing oneself on a burning
altar--the ecstacy of the sacrificed one. That was it.

Some nights like this the world became too small to live in. The city
swept away from his senses and everything in the city seemed like a room
full of cheap little broken toys he had outgrown. He would sit in a room
within this bigger room, a lamp on his table and write. Or he would
strike out like this time and walk to her--miles across streets.

"I want her," he said. His thought paused. "But what do I want of her?"
he asked. "I don't know. But I want to give myself to something."

And he began thinking over how many ways there were to die as a gift.

This lighted window was her house. The curtains were down but light
spurted through the sides. The sight of the house with its light-fringed
windows depressed him. It was a disillusionment. She wasn't a woman then
like he was a man but she was a part of things. He saw her as he walked
up the stone steps, saw her talking to people. She had parents. In his
mind she lived as an entity. A beautiful one without background or
lighted windows or stone steps. Someone for him. Nobody else.

He rang. The door opened. A man like himself stood blinking in the
lighted hall.

"Good evening," said Lindstrum. His voice was deep for his age. He spoke
in a drawl that seemed edged with anger. "Is Doris in?"

"Oh, hello," Basine exclaimed. "Yes, she's in. Come right in."

People were talking in the next room.

"Company?" said Lindstrum. He didn't want to go in. But Basine was
leading the way. The supper had ended ten minutes ago. The company
looked up at him. They were all dressed well. Their faces were dressed
well, too. They wore carefully tailored satisfactions in their eyes.
When they smiled their mouths postured like ballet dancers in a finale.
They were rich people. Their hands were soft.

The room blurred before Lindstrum. There was no reason for it now
because he wasn't thinking or caring but a rage crept into his senses.
He breathed in deep with his mouth opened and the feel of the air on his
teeth and tongue made his jaw set. Because he would have to be careful
what he said. Because he was saying inside to himself, "Damn 'em. The
scum!"

His eyes brought pictures into his anger. They stared with deliberation
into other eyes and brought back messages. He was being introduced. He
was saying to himself deep down, "They're all alike. Like peas in a pod.
They smirk and talk alike. And they're all stuck on themselves alike.
And they're all liars--damn liars, all alike."

He would have to take care and not argue. He would sit down. Doris was
upstairs and she would appear in a minute. Then they would go for a walk
and shake this room out of their eyes.

They chattered like monkeys. Satisfied with themselves. Yes,
know-it-alls, tickled to death with themselves. An old man with a heavy
pink face and sleepy eyes, a well dressed old man they called Judge--if
he could punch this guy in the face, let his fist smash into his
jellyface, God! what a thrill! A flushed girl, Doris' sister, wiggling
her body in a chair. What she needed was somebody to grab hold of her
and say, "Come on kid." A square, hard-faced old woman talking of
society. What she needed was someone to walk up behind her and kick her
hard. And when she raised her glasses to look, laugh like Hell and spit
in her eye. That would make her human! And this smart-aleck Basine....
Hm! What he needed was somebody to tie him to a stake in a dark prairie
and let the wind and rain go over him till he got hungry and began to
whine. That's what they all needed--wind and rain to bring them back to
life.

But he must be careful and say nothing. There was Doris' mother. She
wasn't so bad. But this other guy, this writing guy, talking about
books! God! Why didn't somebody choke the life out of him! What did he
know about books? And he talked about writing! What was good writing? He
asked that, this guy did! He would have to be careful what he said to
this guy and keep himself from jumping up and murdering him. Hell take
all of them and make 'em burn. That's what they needed. He hated all of
them. They were rich. Damn 'em! He must sit and grin at them, these
jellyfish who wiggled in their graves and called their wiggles by great
names, who were dead ... dead.... How dead they were! And happy about
it! Happy.... Didn't they know how dead they were?

Doris was like them. He was a fool for coming to see her. As if she were
any different from them. She belonged with this filthy crew. She was a
filthy little tart like the rest of them. Let her go to Hell. He'd tell
her to go to Hell when he saw her. She was one he could talk to.

Uh huh, they were giving him the up and down. His shoes were dirty. His
collar soiled. His clothes weren't pressed. That was the way with these
dead ones, they made standards of their clothes because clothes were all
they had. And their idea was to make people feel inferior who were
inferior to their clothes or to their manners or to their other
artificialities. But he didn't have to feel inferior if he didn't want
to. He was the kind who could stand up in a graveyard like this and say
"Go to Hell" to the pack of them and grin and walk away and forget all
about it.

He noticed they looked at him not quite as they looked at each other.
That was right. They knew he had their number. Mrs. Basine, too, was
looking. She asked:

"I understand you write, Mr. Lindstrum?"

Books all bound and pretty standing in a row with your name in the
papers as a young writer of note and invitations to speak at women's
clubs--was what she meant. That was what writing was to people, to
jellyfish.

"I try to write," he answered, making the correction softly so that his
words purred.

"You should know Aubrey Gilchrist," said Basine. "Do you know his work?"

"I do not," said Lindstrum still purring. "What does he write?"

Basine chuckled inside. His unaccountable aversion for Aubrey was
growing.

"Novels," said Basine.

"Oh," said Lindstrum dragging the syllable out and placing a huge
granite period after it.

"What writers do you like?" Fanny inquired with a successful attempt at
social artlessness. She was looking for something in this friend of
Doris'. She was in awe of him because he was dirty looking and because
he swayed as he sat in his chair. He kept swaying as if he were on
secret springs and would jump up any minute. He frightened Fanny.

"I read good books," said Lindstrum, "books written by men."

Mrs. Gilchrist sat up stiffly. Her husband peered out of his glasses. He
liked Lindstrum. He wanted to talk to him. But he got no further than
clearing his throat several times. The judge interrupted with a glower.
He was given the floor, eyes turning to him. A defender. But he merely
glowered. That was his decision, that settled it. If he glowered this
moujik was done for. He glowered Lindstrum off the face of the earth.
But Lindstrum turned full on him and thrust his face forward as if he
were going to come closer.

"What kind of books do you read?" he asked the glowerer. The snap in his
voice startled Henrietta. She was afraid for a minute this strange
looking creature waiting for Doris would do something and she turned
appealingly to Basine.

"All kinds, sir," the judge answered in his most effective baritone.
Lindstrum nodded his head slowly and a grin came into his eyes. He kept
looking at the judge and grinning and nodding his head and just as the
judge was going to say something Lindstrum abandoned him. He had turned
to Aubrey. Aubrey had grown eager. A confusion inspired by an impulse
toward garrulity was in his eyes. He wanted to talk to this Lindstrum
and discuss things beyond everybody in the room. Lindstrum thought he
was a soda-water clerk. One of those radicals with unbalanced ideas. But
he wanted to talk to him. Perhaps they had something in common? Aubrey
felt himself growing angry. But it was not an anger of silences. An
anger of words. He wanted to talk, to reason with Lindstrum and put
himself over with Lindstrum. Lindstrum was like a conscience.

"Hello!" The arrival stood up and looked at Doris. He forgot about
calling her names. She was smiling at him like a fresh wind blowing
through his heart. The roomful dropped out of sight.

"Do you want to go for a walk?" he asked slowly. "It's nice and cold
outside."

She nodded and Lindstrum, with a long, deliberate stare at the company
spoke to them.

"Good night," he said. When he had said it he continued to stare as if
he were weighing the matter over carefully and should say something
more. The pause grew embarassing but not to him. Without nodding his
head he repeated the result of his deliberations.

"Good night," he said in the same voice. That was enough.

He left them sitting in their chairs--a general calmly marching off the
field of victory. He left behind a silence. The company was
uncomfortable.

Mrs. Gilchrist and the judge stared hard at the doorway through which
Lindstrum had passed. They wanted to insult the doorway. Lindstrum's
visit had had a curious effect upon Ramsey. He had sat silent and
avoided the young man's eyes. But he had felt himself becoming animated
as if something were exciting him. When the young man had glanced at him
for a moment he had blushed and an odd nervousness had made his thin
body tremble. Now that Lindstrum was gone he felt the room had become
empty and entirely lacking in interest.

"How do you like him?" Mrs. Basine whispered at his side. She was
worried.

"Him? Oh yes, the young man," Ramsey muttered. "He ... he has nice
eyes."



10


In the park Lindstrum sat on a bench with Doris and talked.

"All this," he said, "all this night and trees and things we feel more
than we see, are like what you're like. But why should we call that
love. Because love means to hold a woman in your arms. I don't care
about holding a woman. I want to hold something else. If you hold
something in your arms you haven't got it. It's what you can't get your
fingers on that you own most. Because you dream about it. It's what you
dream about that you own most."

He spoke disconnectedly. There were pauses during which he allowed the
night to punctuate his thoughts.

"Have you written any more things since last time?" Doris asked.

"No. I didn't bring anything with me."

He was silent. Doris wished he would sit closer to her. His silence
excited her. She could feel things moving in him. She became nervous.
Her dark eyes looked fully at his profile and a pride elated her. Other
men didn't stare like that into the night. They had fussy little eyes
and fussy little bodies. They fidgeted around. But Lief sat as if he
were turned to granite.

There was something ominous about him. The glint of his straight eyes
and the leather color of his face were ominous. She felt that he was
powerful, more powerful than the spaces he stared into. He could stand
up and swing the park around their heads. She wanted to come close to
him.

"Lief," she whispered, "why don't you come oftener. I get lonely for
you. I hardly talk to anybody else."

He nodded as if agreeing with her and saying silently, "That's right.
Don't talk to anybody else." But he said nothing aloud.

She wanted to be the thing he swung around his head. If he would take
her up and destroy her it would make her crazy with happiness. She
closed her fingers around his hand and trembled. Her body felt weak.
Her arms were as if she no longer directed them. They were being drawn.

"I'm so proud of you. You're so different from all of them, Lief. I
can't stand them sometimes. They're terrible."

He nodded his head with a ponderous air of sagacity.

"They make me sick," she went on. "All of them. They're not like people
but like something else. Like parts of people."

He nodded his head again. She was all right--this girl. She didn't
belong with the pack in the room he had left. She wasn't a little slut
... one of those lying, filthy ones. But he was afraid of her. He wanted
to keep things like they were. If you let down to a woman she started
climbing all over you and asking for this and for that. Anyway it was
time to walk back now. There was a lot of work in the shop. He got up at
six.

They walked out of the park together. The spring night called for
endings. The darkness hinted. The day with its houses and noises
lingered like an unnatural memory in the shadows. What were people for?
The darkness hinted. Doris felt a mist in her blood. So curious, the
day. Unreal, empty. Noises that circled, faces that went on forever.
People had been moving forever. They kept walking and walking. There was
no ending to people. The years passed under their feet like a treadmill
and they kept moving on.

Now it was quiet. Beside this man she felt there was no more moving on.
Her heart filled with impatience. It was hard to breathe. Her arms were
heavy, overcrowded. "Oh," she whispered to herself, "I'll die. I'll
die."

But they continued to walk. The man's silences, his ominous reserves,
his sagacious noddings had excited her. She felt angry with him. He had
called for her a half dozen times in the last two months. They had met
by accident in a book store. A clerk had introduced them. He called and
they went for walks. But he said nothing. Once he had told her she was
beautiful. Another time he had mentioned, as if it were a casual thing,
that she was the sort of girl to whom he would like to make a gift. But
of what, he didn't know. Some gift worthy, he said. She had been
frightened of him at first. But gradually as she grew accustomed to his
strange manners, his bristling silences, she became impatient, angry.

He stopped.

"I'll go this way," he announced. "Good-night."

He stood looking at her for a long minute and then turning, walked away.
She watched him but he didn't look back. She walked to the house alone.

Her thoughts now were clear. He was a man who didn't want her but was
looking for something of which she was a part. He never tried to touch
her. He never said, "I love you," to her. But he did love. She knew
that. He called it by other names and misunderstood himself. And he
might go on that way till he died, misunderstanding himself. To be near
her thrilled him. She remembered how he became taut, immobile, sitting
on the bench. His arms quivered. Yet he never tried to embrace her.

She thought about this as she walked to her home. Would he ever embrace
her? She knew about his silences. She could even feel how he suffered
inside because something was urging him that had no direction. It was
this life in him that lured her. It stirred her senses.

Nothing before had interested her. Days had passed with no difference in
them. Now he made a difference. When she remembered him a pain that was
like anger filled her.

She would go to bed and lie in the dark dreaming of him with her eyes
open. A languor made it difficult to walk. She smiled to herself. It was
pleasant, sweet to think of him. For a moment the image of his face
transfixed her. She whispered aloud, "Talk to me. Oh, please ...
please...."

Then images that disgusted her crowded her thought. They came of their
own volition. Her sister Fanny kissing men. Her brother George kissing
women. Keegan, the judge, Ramsey, Aubrey and Henrietta--they disgusted
her with their continual love-making, kissing, dirtiness. People like
that didn't understand anything else. Their bodies searched each other
out and clung to each other. Bodies clenched together--she began to rage
in silence against them. He called them the pack. They were like that--a
pack of animals with nothing else but animal bodies to live with. She
paused in her hating, a chill coming between her silent words. The
company of images in her mind had dissolved. Their faces came together
and blurred into a single face and she saw Lief Lindstrum holding her
wildly against him, his lips open and hot against her mouth....

The company had gone. Her family was left in the library. She had
intended going upstairs without speaking. But she came into the room and
sat down. Fanny looked at her with a questioning innocence that said,
"Dear me, I wonder what people do who walk in the park at night?" Her
brother was talking. He looked at her with a smile and went on.

"You mustn't think I'm a blockhead, mother, about these people here
tonight, for instance. Just because I get along with them. I'll give you
my theory of people. We were discussing our guests," he explained
turning to Doris. She nodded. "Never believe them," he grinned. "They're
all liars. The thing to do is to lie better than they. Honesty, purity,
nobility--bah! I know what I'm talking about. That's what people tell
each other they are. And they are, of course. Till they're found out.
You said a little while ago I was lying. Of course I was. But not the
way you mean. That breach of promise case really happened. I wasn't
lying about that. You wait, you'll understand what I mean after a few
years. I'm going to do things."

He stood up and yawned. Mrs. Basine smiled happily at him. The day had
tired her. She felt pleasantly responsible for her three children. Three
human beings that belonged to her. At least she could pretend they did.
And sometimes it was almost as nice dreaming of what they had in their
minds as planning her own tomorrows. Basine went to his bedroom.

He undressed and lay down. Sounds continued in the house. Doris coming
upstairs. Fanny chattering to his mother. Water running in the bathroom.
He turned the gas out and lay with his face toward the window.

His body was weary. But he felt young. He thought of the many years
ahead of him. Everything was new. Even the century had just begun. A new
century. Life was a gay unknown. He thought about things. Things filled
the future. They could not be seen or understood but their presence
could be felt. Unlived years stretched ahead, like a track without end.

He must be careful not to grow too serious. Lying was easy but he must
avoid getting tangled up. Say anything you want to, but look out how
hard you say it. People were easy. It would all come out beautifully.
Success, power, fame, money, happiness--they were all easy. They would
all come to him. People were fools and you could get ahead of them. He
yawned. He almost fell asleep. His mind mumbled with words. His day
dreams, his memories, his weariness jumbled dim pictures. Phantoms
drifted without outline over his head.

He fell asleep and dreamed he was in a brightly lighted hall. Men were
cheering. Music played and people were yelling his name. In the dream he
was going to make a speech. The brightly lighted hall grew larger and
the crowd reached as far as he could see. But he didn't come out to make
the speech. Instead a woman in a gaudy dress came out. Her face was
white with powder and heavily painted. Her eyes were sunken. In the
dream he shuddered because the great crowd would rave indignantly at the
substitute who had come out to make the speech for him. But instead, a
tremendous cheer went up at the sight of this woman and everybody
yelled, "Basine ... Basine.... There he is. Hooray for Basine!" They
mistook the woman for him. The woman began to make his speech. The one
he had prepared. She spoke in a tired, hollow voice but the crowd
continued to cheer. Where was he in the dream? There was no Basine in
the dream. He kept wondering about this. There was no Basine but the
crowd thought this woman in the gaudy dress with the painted face was
Basine and they cheered her for him, calling her, "Basine...." while he,
hiding somewhere, the dream didn't say where, listened to the woman and
the cheers and the shouts of his name. He was saying to himself with a
feeling of horror, "I know that woman they think is me. It's that woman
Keegan and I met once. Keegan and I met her, by God!" He was going to
stop something but the dream went away.



11


The city grows and keeps on growing. People vanish. Buildings spring up
to take their places. The streets become full of vast, intricate
activities. People have vanished but these activities keep on growing.

The city shakes with noises. A cloud of noises rises from the street and
bursts slowly into names. Everywhere one turns, doors and windows
chatter with names. Names run up and down the faces of buildings. Gilt
names slant downward, porcelain names curve like lopsided grins. Names
fly from banners, hang from long wires, lean down from rooftops.

The city is plastered with names. Tired men stop and blink. They mutter
to themselves in the street, "Lets see, where am I?" Their eyes stare at
an inanimate dance of names. Names fall out of the sky. An alphabet
face with eyebrows, nose, lips and hair made of names winks and sticks
out its tongue.

These are not the names of people but of activities. As the city grows
the names pile up and reach higher. Names of things to eat, wear, see,
feel, smell, dream of and die for--they become too many to see and far
too many to read. They drift up and down the faces of the buildings and
scamper over the pavements like a lunatic writing.

The vanished people no longer look at them. But the names continue to
pile up and spread out. They are a city apart. They no longer offer
clews to people. They are no longer advertisements yelping vividly out
of the air, but a decoration. Inscrutable hieroglyphs that salute each
other in the grave confusion of windows. They grimace with secret
meanings at each other and keep each other company in the night sky.
Like the people they too have become too many. As the city grows their
meanings and purposes also vanish, leaving behind a comet's tail and a
deaf and dumb good-bye.

The city grows and devours itself and ceases to become articulate in
names. It shakes and howls senselessly. No one understands where the
noises come from or why. Windows become too many to count. Activities
double on themselves and tangle themselves up in other activities until
each activity becomes a mystery to itself. Business men buried in
business pause to blink at their desks and mutter, "Let's see, where am
I?"

Underneath the activities and the comet's tail of names, the vanished
ones crawl about their business of destinations. They have remained
sedately unaware of their disappearance. They have barricaded themselves
behind activities and for the most part they are silent. Their
activities talk for them in a language easy to hear but difficult to
understand. Furnaces, engines, factories, traffic--these talk. Their
talk is very important. It is curious that for the simple business of
keeping alive there should be so many activities necessary. It is also
incomprehensible.

Among themselves people offer each other informations and
interpretations. But these informations and interpretations are not of
their souls but of their activities which have nothing to do with them
except to hide them. They talk of business enterprise, of success,
progress, civic development, industrial achievement, political ideals;
of money made and money spent. This talk sounds very important. It
becomes an important part of the confusion of activities.

Faces uncoiling in the streets, legs slanting against dark walls, suits
of clothes--these are the vanished people. Masses of rich and poor
moving on, everlastingly moving on through the whirl of years. Age like
a tenacious pestilence shovels them off a treadmill. Yet they remain and
increase and become hidden from each other by their too many selves,
hidden from themselves by their too many activities. They grow confused
and stop staring at each other. They walk listening to the shake of the
city, blinking at the alphabet face above them.

The city is a great bubble they have blown. It floats over their heads
and grows greater and more dazzling. Slowly it sinks down and engulfs
them.

This bubble talks for them. Activities talk for them. It is easier that
way. Activities say, "We, the people." This suffices. The vanished ones
point with relief to the glitter of activities and repeat, "There are
we."

But activities grow too fast and too intricate to understand. The burst
of names becomes too violent to grasp. Then the people lost in their
bubble become an insupportable mystery to themselves.

Buried beneath activities that grow by themselves, that seem to pulse
with mathematical passions and to multiply like a devouring fungus, the
vanished ones send up a clamor for whys and wherefores. An official
clamor. Life has become an enigma deeper than death. The cry is no
longer "Who is God? And where does He live?" But, "Who are We and what
are We?"

Surveying themselves they see nothing and demand explanations of this
phenomenon. Baffled by their anonymity they demand identifications. They
want to be assured that things are all right, that their burial is O. K.

And thus new explainers and identifiers leap daily into existence. These
are the bombinators, the dexterous geniuses able to translate the
insupportable mystery of life. Life is a mumble mumble, a pointless
delirium. People feel this and grow very serious. They feel life is a
little breath, a whimsical zephyr capering for a moment through space.

But these are insupportable feelings. It is easy for the fish in the sea
to feel like that but in people there is a mania for direction. Out of
this mania is born the necessity of illusion--the illusion of direction.
There must be illusion. Life is not a mumble mumble but a clear voice
teeming with precisions. Not a pointless delirium but a vast, orderly
activity that has names--too many names to count.

As children demand lights in the darkness, grown older they demand
illusions in life. Their reasoning is simple. "We are so puny," they
think. "There is hardly anything to us. We dare not dream or even think.
Look what would happen if we allowed ourselves to dream. We would begin
asking impossible questions of ourselves. Why are we? What lies under
our senses? So we must put away dreams and thought. They're dangerous.
But without them we become insufficient to ourselves. We become
incomplete. So make us a part of something outside ourselves that we may
remain unaware of our insufficiency. Make us a part of laws and ideas,
Gods, systems and activities. We are frightened by what we do not know.
And above the highest names on our buildings is a circle of unknowns.
Dispel this circle so that we may be rid of our fear. Give us paths to
traverse, goals to struggle toward and make these paths and goals
outside ourselves. We dare not adventure inside ourselves because that
way is inimical. Inspire us with great outward purposes so that the
inward purposelessness of our lives that would devour us in enigmas will
be obscured."

The illusion-bringers arise--dexterous craftsmen able to fashion
purposes, Gods, ideals. Their work is to create heroic destinations, to
invent objectivity. These are the geniuses. They provide the sanities
which are the vital solace for terror. They invent masters because
masters are necessary since to have a master is to have an
objective--servitude. The instinct for servitude is an old, unfailing
friend. It represents the clamor for an outward purpose to conceal the
inner purposelessness of the vanished ones. And the geniuses are those
in whom the instinct for servitude inspires new visions of lovelier
masters. Thus is progress made--by increasing and making more definite
the demands of masters.

Once the geniuses found their task simple. Now it grows difficult.
Famous masters, famous illusions, famous objectives lose their value.
Their capacity for solace dwindles. The illusion of God grows dim. The
illusions that bore the names Zeus, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohamet are
fading. The knees of the race have stiffened with vanity and prayer
grows difficult. The great Heavens overladen with their angel choirs and
hierarchies tumble about the ears of people. Slowly the reservoirs of
faith in consoling myths dry up. Epigrams have almost sponged away one
of the immemorial deeps of the soul.

The geniuses cast about inventing new masters, masters who will reward
and punish and establish paths to traverse and goals to achieve. As the
activities increase and as people vanish deeper under the self-growing
fungus of finance, industry, government, they develop a paradoxical
vanity. A vanity by which they seek to preserve themselves. A vanity
becomes necessary that will save them from the knowledge of their
inferiority to life.... Their age-old illusion of Gods on High drifts
away. The new illusion slowly unfolds. Again the reasoning is simple.

The race speaks.... "There is no longer a God or a Heaven of futures.
The words eternity and infinity are bottomless and no longer hold us or
guide us. But we must have a master, one who will enable us to dream of
His recompense since we still dare not adventure in dreams of our own.
And this master must assure us as our old master did--that there are
great purposes in life, great rewards. We will make a minor change in
our theology. Once it was our desire to think of ourselves as having
been created in the image of God--a Superior. This was when we were
strong, when we walked the earth and wore our destinies like gay
feathers in our caps. Now we have grown diffused and weak. The world is
no longer simple enough for us to understand and ignore. We dare not
ignore our disappearance from life. Therefore in order to compensate for
this disappearance we will create a God in our image and worship Him.
The deeper we sink, the further we vanish, the higher, nobler and more
powerful will we make our new God. Come, illusion mongers, we desire a
new God. We desire a new Heaven. Make us a Heaven of quicksilver in
which we may see not Jehovah who is a myth but our own image glorified,
which is closer to reality, and which our dawning intelligence may more
easily swallow. In this heaven let us see our civic virtues magnified.
We want for a master an idealization of ourselves, whom we may serve in
hope of rewards."

Thus the vanished ones stare aloft and slowly the heavenly mirror
spreads itself for them--a mirror of identifications and explanations.
It is all clear--or at least it grows clear--in this mirror; who we are
and what we are.... A beautiful image marches across its face. It is the
image of the vanished ones, ennobled and deified--become a new illusion,
become a God-like creature with flashing eyes. A marvelous,
unsurpassable creature whose every gesture is perfection, whose every
grimace is unsurpassable perfection. A reassuring God. Whatever their
moods, their despairs, their manias--they have only to look up and see
them ennobled and deified in the mirror-heaven.

Gazing aloft the vanished ones raise their voices in a cheer of triumph.

"We are confused. We have disappeared. Our activities have devoured us.
But we are not afraid. For behold, whatever we do, we remain God. See
our reflection. We are always and consistently perfect. Our stupidities,
hysterias, bewilderments shine back at us out of this new Heaven as
God-like attributes. Wisdom and victory smile at us eternally out of our
mirror. Let the city devour itself and become a jungle of names. Let
life lose itself in the labyrinth of activities. Let the buildings
devour life until it becomes less than a tiny warmth under huge ribs of
steel. These things are no longer insupportable. There is an answer
always to 'Who are we and what are we?' We are God. By worshipping
ourselves we may now dispel the dawning knowledge of our insufficiency.
The old God is dead. He was an illusion. The new God alone now has the
power to punish and reward. We will kneel with fanatical servitude
before the image of our virtues and punish ourselves with a terrible
justice in order to appear God-like in our own eyes."

Slowly the new heaven above the city grows and the vanished ones with
the eyes of Narcissus stare enchanted into its quicksilver depths.



12


In the days that followed her walk with Lindstrum in the park, Doris
Basine abandoned herself to her passion for the man. Her body desired
him. She dreamed of their coming together as of some transcendental
climax.

But the months passed and Lindstrum held himself aloof. She felt certain
of herself though. It was only necessary to wait. She could go on
dreaming of him and waiting too. To think of him, to remember he was
alive, this for the time was happiness enough.

After a number of months they saw each other oftener. He seemed to grow
more dependent on the fanatical admiration of her eyes and words. Her
flattery stirred an excitement in him that he was learning to utilize in
writing. The fact that he was loved made it easier to write. The memory
of the things she said, of the desire in her eyes was like music. It was
easier to write with music playing in his head. But the more he wrote
and dreamed of writing the less he desired her. So her passion became an
applause urging him from her.

He would listen trembling to her gradually shameless avowals.

"You're so wonderful. So remarkable. You're the only man in the world
that's alive. Your genius is something I can't even talk about. It must
be worshipped. I love you."

In the midst of such monologues she would suddenly vanish from
Lindstrum's thought. Her beauty and desire were powerless to hold his
attention. Her enfevered praise would become a lash that drove him into
himself. And, trembling with a passion that her love had aroused, he
would leave her. But it would be a passion which demanded possession not
of her but of himself.

He would walk excitedly to his room over his father's shop and sit down
to write.

After many months Doris began to understand. He brought her poems he had
written; poems like night music and passion music. She felt his heart
throbbing among their words. Even his body was in them. What she wanted
of him he gave to the poems he wrote.

She announced herself at home as tired of her surroundings and
dependence. Through the aid of a friend she secured a job as clerk in a
large bookstore. One evening she came home to tell her mother she was
going to move.

Basine entered the argument that followed. To her surprise he took her
side, agreeing with her that a modern young woman had a better chance of
realizing herself if she lived alone and made her own way.

Mrs. Basine refused to be convinced. Not about the theories, she
explained, but about Doris. When her two children argued with her she
felt herself the victim of a conspiracy. Why did Doris want to leave her
home? And why did George want her to? The answers didn't lie in the
arguments they gave. But because she was unable to determine what the
answers were, she assented. Later she thought,

"If I hadn't given my consent she would have done it anyway. This way
I've saved her from being disobedient."

Doris took up her life in a two-room apartment on the near north side of
the city. The district was alive with rooming-houses, little stores,
lovers who walked hand in hand at night, artists who tried to paint,
writers who worked as clerks and tried to write, workingmen, artisans,
derelicts. Everyone seemed alone in this district and on warm evenings
groups of strangers sat stiffly on the stone steps of the houses and
stared at the sky.

Doris was able to live on her salary. She made friends and her evenings
were devoted to conversations. But they were a curious type of friends.
They were men and women one got to know only by their ideas. One became
acquainted with their ideas, then familiar with them, then on terms of
intimacy with them.

It had been different at home. At home she knew men and women as they
were. They sat around and talked and if you listened to what they said
you came close to them. You understood them and when they said
good-night you knew where they were going. You knew all about them,
where they worked, their family, their homes. They grew into familiars
as uninteresting and unmysterious as your own relatives.

But here where Doris had come to live were men and women about whom you
never learned anything. They talked and talked but all the while you
wondered where they worked, what things were in their hearts. You
wondered how they lived and what they did all the time. But you never
found out. Such informations were not a part of the talk that went on.
It was all talk about outside things, about politics and women and art.
Everybody in the circle Doris entered became familiar in a short time.
But after they had become familiar there remained this mystery about
them. What sort of people were they under their poses and behind their
words?

The most curious change her freedom brought Doris was a garrulity that
surprised even herself. She became adept in arguments vindicating the
emancipation of her sex and proving that the ideals and standards by
which women lived were the rose-covered chains forged for their
enslavement by man.

But her garrulity did not deceive Doris. She grew more clearly aware of
herself. She knew that her entire upheaval, her taking up new ideas, her
repudiating conventions had been inspired by a single factor. She wanted
to live alone in a room so there would be no difficulty in giving
herself to Lindstrum when the opportunity came.

With this in mind she had deliberately converted herself into a "new
woman," since an expression of the new womanhood was independence of
family and since independence of family meant a room to herself. Of this
subterfuge Doris became tolerantly aware. Her hypocricies did not
concern her. In her desire for the man she loved the surfaces of her
life disappeared like straws in flame.

Lindstrum had visited her in her new quarters with misgivings. When he
was alone he often sat thinking of her and repeating her ardent phrases.
This helped him to make love to himself, to seduce the strange companion
who lived in the depths of his soul into embracing him. Out of this
embrace came words. Out of the ecstacy these hypnotisms induced, he was
able to create gigantic phrases, mystic sequences of words whose reading
often inspired people with an excitement similar to the emotion that had
produced them. Women in particular grew emotional at the contact of his
written words. When he read his poetry to some of them who were his
friends they closed their eyes and thought he was making love to them.

Lindstrum utilizing the adoration Doris gave him as a means of
self-seduction, remained aware of the danger this offered. The danger
was summed up in the word "marriage." At twenty-six his sexual impulses
found sublimated outlet in the orgies of self-seduction which he called
his creative work. Thus his physical nature clamored for no other mate
than his own genius, and the lure of marriage as a legalized debauch
failed to touch him. His egoism likewise found a more perfect surfeit in
his own self-admiration than in that of others. He saw in marriage
merely a forfeit of his privacy and an intruder upon his self-love.

Doris studying him carefully from behind her abandonment discovered the
barrier.

"I don't want ever to marry," she explained to him. This started talk in
which Lindstrum defended marriage as an institution. He grew eloquent on
the subject that society and civilization were dependent upon marriage
and that a man who sought to dispense with it was merely being
unfaithful to himself as a member of society.

Doris saw through the angry phrases of her friend that he was trying to
tell her how little he desired her. He was defending marriage and
proclaiming his belief in it, in order to excuse his physical
indifference toward her, both in his own eyes and hers. Since she had
said she thought marriage was an abomination, he could safely defend it
without compromising himself. He need have no fear that she would agree
with him. In this way his pose as a moralist was a convenient method of
concealing the fact that he had no impulse toward immorality. He could
even insist with impunity that she marry him and so use her rhetorical
stand against marriage in general as a personal refusal.

Doris allowed matters to drift through the year. One winter night
Lindstrum, invited innocently to occupy the sofa in the studio rather
than to tackle the storm-bound transportation outside, consented. He sat
reading things he had written until midnight came.

He did not see how it had happened but when he looked up after one of
his readings Doris was sitting before the small grate fire. Her face was
turned from him and he stared at her. She had undressed and slipped a
green silk robe over her body. Her black silk stockings gleamed like
exclamation points in the firelight. Her throat and breasts were visible
and the shadows mirrored themselves in her white arms.

As he looked at her the warmth of the room seemed to bring her closer.
He thought her beautiful and standing up went to her side. His hand
sought clumsily to caress the hair coiled on her head. He stood silent,
remembering how she loved him. Always the thought excited him. But now
he seemed to be thinking about it with a curious calm. There was
something about a woman who loved that was beyond words to figure out.

She looked up at him with a smile. A faint odor stirred from her. He
found himself drawing deep breaths and staring at her with a heavy pain
in his arms. The pain she had always brought to him and out of which he
had made his words. Now this was easier, simpler--to reach his arms
around her....

       *       *       *       *       *

... "I belong to you now," she whispered as the dawn lighted the room.
The fire in the grate still burned feebly. They had kept it alive
during the night.

"You see," she went on, "I was right about not marrying. We can love
each other like this without marrying ever. Oh I love you so. You make
me so happy."

"Yes," he murmured sleepily, intent upon the whitening room. "Dawn--the
white shadow of night," whispered itself through his mind. But he said
nothing. After an interval he repeated as if delivering himself of
innumerable ideas--"Yes."

       *       *       *       *       *

... Lindstrum slowly extricated himself from the lure of her passion.
For months her love, dissolving rapturously in his embrace, remained a
flattery too bewildering to resist. He allowed himself then to yield to
the slowly accumulating demands of his mistress. Nevertheless in a month
he had lost interest in his own sensations. The thought of impending
embraces in the studio failed to arouse him.... There was nothing Doris
had to give that was comparable to the delicious elation his own
self-seduction held for him.

But although the physiology of sex lost its attraction for him, he
remained interested in Doris' submission. Her delight in his caresses
and her exclamations of arduous love fascinated him as a species of
applause. He grew able to resist the contagion of her sensualism and to
make her happy, without essentially occupying himself.

In the second year of their association he gradually undermined her
passion. Aware of his complete coolness, Doris fought successfully to
suppress the ecstacies he was able to stir in her. Their relations by
degrees returned to a platonic basis.

Lindstrum was becoming known. His poetry printed in fugitive labor
gazettes was attracting a slight attention. He was being identified as a
poet of the masses. The masses, however, unable to understand, let alone
appreciate the mystic imagery and elusive passion of his vers libre
phrasings remained oblivious to him. They continued to read and swear by
the newspaper jinglers celebrating in rhyme the platitudes which kept
them in subjugation. His fame was beginning through the enthusiasm of a
few scattered dilletantes who abhorred the masses and saw in his work an
intense technique and high asthetic quality.

He remained loyal to Doris in one respect, still coming to her for the
adulation which somehow quickened his desire to write. But Doris, with
the repression of her own desires had grown silent. She appeared to
relapse into her former self--the enigmatic and disdainful virgin of the
Basine library.

But this simulation included only her mannerisms. As a girl of twenty
she had been without thought. Now a strange intellectualism preoccupied
her. It developed when she was twenty-three and when Lindstrum was
beginning to ignore her again. It began with the knowledge that there
were definite preoccupations luring her lover from her. Against one of
these she knew herself powerless. This was his desire to write. She had
understood this thing in Lindstrum from the first. It had been, in fact,
the lure of the man. But now it had taken entire possession of him and
had become her rival.

He had grown dumb. His grey eyes no longer smiled or roved. They gazed
without movement as if fixed on invisible objects. They seemed without
sight, yet there was life in them--an intensity like the anger of
blindness. He no longer looked at things. He avoided contact with the
visible and imposed a deliberate fog on his vision. He went through his
day unaware of details, yet absorbing them; unseeing, yet translating
the commonplaces around him into phenomena that tugged at the hearts of
his few readers.

Doris knew the futility of combating in her lover the habit of
self-seduction now became a vital necessity. She tried to establish a
harmony between them by turning to writing herself. The clarity of her
mind made poetry impossible. Her thoughts refused to dissolve into
magnificent blurs. Her emotions were too definite to find solacing
outline in ambiguous pirouettes.

She envied her lover his natural aptitude for poetry. It seemed to her a
comforting and satisfying evasion--to write poetry. There were no rules
of logic, coherence, technique. There was even no rule of
intelligibility.

There was a man named Levine with whom she discussed matters of this
sort, exchanging definitions with him of such things as life, love and
art. He was a Jew and worked on a newspaper. Lean, vicious-tongued and
unkempt, the fantastic skepticism of this man attracted her. He was a
man without principles, ideas, prejudices. His attitude toward life she
sensed to be a pose. But he had been completely consumed by this pose
and the pose was one of superiority. His brain was like a magician. It
waved words over ideas or problems and they turned inside out. Or they
vanished and reappeared again as their opposites. He appeared to devote
himself with a mysterious enthusiasm to proving everyone but himself in
the wrong. When he read editorials in the newspapers he would comment,
"They say this. But they mean this." And he grew elated explaining the
low, sordid motives which inspired the noble-phrased pronouncements in
the press and elsewhere.

When she talked to him about poetry one evening he knew her well enough
to understand she wanted to talk about Lindstrum. Doris had tried her
hand at poetry and the results had been in a measure satisfactory. Poems
had come out under her pencil. She compared them coldly with things Lief
had written. They were as good and better. She offered them to Levine to
read. He nodded after each one and smiled, "Very nice. Excellent.
Superb." Then he handed them back to her and added, "I've always known
this. Anybody can write poetry. This poetry is quite good. But it
remains, you're no poet."

And he recited from memory a few lines of Lindstrum's work.

"You see the difference," he said. "His rings truer. Although yours is
much more lucid and beautifully written. The difference isn't between
your work and his but between your work and yourself and his work and
himself. When Lindstrum wrote that he felt a thrill of satisfaction. He
had for a minute completed himself in the poem. Therefore the thing
represented a certain perfection. When you wrote you felt nothing after
writing it. In an hour the whole thing seemed rather senseless and
unworthy of you. You felt no thrill of completion. This shows that no
matter if you write a dozen times better than Lindstrum the fact
remains that you're not a poet and he is.

"But why write poetry. I have a friend who says that poetry is an impish
attempt to paint the color of the wind. He hasn't written any himself
yet but he will. But I've warned him. He'll never succeed. Lindstrum
will because Lindstrum has the faculty of rising above logic. He can
recreate his emotions in words. Emotion is unintelligent, banal,
wordless. The trick of being a great poet is to make your mind
subservient to your emotion--the triumph of matter over mind, in other
words."

He noticed an inattentiveness and stopped. He hoped some day to make
love to her but as long as she remained interested in his verbal
jugglings he was content with that.

When she was alone Doris took a morbid interest in unravelling ideas and
attenuations of ideas. Morbid, because the process seemed to bring a
melancholy to her. But she persisted. There was an elation. Thinking was
like a game in which one surprised oneself with denouements.

One day while walking she reasoned silently about her situation. Her
love for Lindstrum had grown. At times it fell on her like a despair.
She would lie in the dark of her room repeating to herself that she
would go mad unless he came back to her, unless he loved her.

Walking swiftly she began to think of her plans. Her plans centered upon
bringing him back to her arms.

"If I'm going to do this I must first of all be clear about myself," she
thought. "I've become interested in lots of things. I must find out why
and what's started me."

The answer that came to her was one of the denouements of the game. It
repeated, but clearly, that she was chiefly concerned with bringing Lief
back to her and that one way to do this was to become keener than he,
become brilliant enough to deflate him, to confuse him. And this could
best be done by attacking his subject matter, by turning his conceptions
of life and people upside down and so throwing him out of gear.

When she got home she was still thinking.

"What I must do, is make him think. He doesn't think. The pictures he
sees pass like blurs through his eyes and come out like blurs under his
pencil. If I can make him think he'll have to open his eyes. He'll have
to defend what he accepts without defenses now--the nobility of the
masses, the beauty of life. And if he starts thinking and doubting he
won't be able to write because he's not built to write that way. He's
built to write out of passion."

The idea became cruelly apparent in her mind. She must destroy Lindstrum
in order to possess him. She must beat down the passionate certitude of
the man, puncture his blind, roaring egomania, take away from him his
genius and then he would turn to her.

Her thought at this point gave itself over to the passion in her. Anger
filled her and a strange viciousness as though she had something under
her hands to tear to pieces. Her clear-thinking mind was a weapon--a
thing she could use to destroy a rival with. And if it destroyed Lief
along with the rival, what matter? Slowly the morbidity of her position
grew. Levine was an ally. His talk gave her ideas--directions in which
to think. She disliked his attitude. The man was an insincerity. There
was also something unctuous and cowardly about him. He never stood up
for his notions in the face of conservatively indignant people. He
capitulated and even denied his beliefs or lack of beliefs. Yet in the
nihilism to which he pretended she found a background for her own
thinking. Nihilism to Levine was a conversational pastime. To Doris it
became a despairing hope for salvation. She poured over books, carefully
questioned the secrets of life, not like a philosopher seeking answers
but like a Messalina questing for poisons.

Her debates with Lindstrum were at first casual and good-natured. A
humility before his genius made her unable to assert herself. He could
hurl his mystic word sequences at her and their beauty made her
incapable of appreciating their lack of psychologic content.

But her determination grew. She must destroy--what? The somber ecstasy
which the spectacle of people awoke in him. People ... people ... the
word contained the shape and soul of her rival. People ... workers,
toilers, underdogs ... he sang of their bruised hearts and their little
gropings. Songs of unfulfilled dreams, of moods like ashen baskets that
broke under the weight of life. Coal miners, farmers, stevedores,
vagrants, desperadoes, drowsy clerks and fumbling factory hands--the
dull faces of the immemorial crowd sweating for its living, grunting
under its burdens--his phrases hymned their loneliness and their
defeats. Beautiful phrases that seemed almost the work of a fantastic
word weaver. But she knew better. The little images, the patterns of
street scenes, the aloof fragments of idea--these might be to some only
decorations. The curve of a pick going through the air, the shake of a
great trestle with an overland train thundering across, the glint of a
night torch under the eyes of a section gang--these might be only
abstractions outlining bits of rhythm and color. But then Lindstrum
would not have been a poet.

There was beneath them, buoying them higher and higher like some
mysterious, invisible force, a passion. It escaped now and then from
between the lines of his work, shaking itself like a fist, holding its
arms out like a lost woman. Threats crept out of the placid little
images in which fragments of street scenes postured vividly for the eye.
A fury loomed suddenly behind the mumble of a hurdy-gurdy piece; a snarl
offered itself as invisible punctuation for a fol de rol of city life.

It was a passion that identified itself with, and seemed to fatten upon,
the injustices of life. It sought to champion the war of the crowd
against man and nature.

"The humble ones ... the humble ones...." it sang, "they are God. The
ones life walks upon. The working ones, the cheated ones--here is their
song. The oppressed ones, listen to their hearts beating."

It was a passion out of which a great propagandist might have been born.
But Lindstrum's mind was too simple to utilize it, even to understand
it. He was aware only of a torment that seemed to twist at his heart and
bring words like soothing whispers into his thought. A craftsman
obsession moulded it slightly. But always the inarticulate excitements
that had started him writing remained fugitive among his written words
saying neither "I hate," nor "I love," but affirming with a monotonous
crescendo, "I am. I am!"

Doris caught by the fanatic lyricism of his songs yielded her intellect
to them for a time. The shoemaker Wotans and hobo Christs startled her
into an acquiesence. But she was determined. She knew that her praise of
his poetry was like an admiration of his infidelity. Yes, he loved
people as he might have loved her, blindly with his heart, with his arms
around their bodies and his grey eyes looking hungrily through them.

The debates grew less casual. There were abrupt climaxes during which he
stared at her with anger. Then it was no longer a debate of ideas but of
wills. Here she knew herself powerless and yielded at once, making use
of her apology to caress his face or seize his hand.

Alone again she would study the things she had said as she studied from
day to day the social, political and spiritual history of her own and
other times. Her mind grew to master the phrases which outlined the
illusions of the crowd, which revealed the lusts and errors of the
crowd. Her thought inspired by the single desire to destroy for her
lover the beauty of her rival, rallied continually from its defeats
before his anger. Her cynicism became a mystic thing--her adoration of
her lover turning into a hatred of life, a contempt of people.

At night she sat in the window of her room overlooking the thinly
crowded street. The obsession held her now, occupying her energies
entirely. In its excitement, in the mental twistings, she found rest
from the desires that burned.

Alone ... she was alone. She would play langorously with this sense of
loneliness. She would repeat quietly, "He'll never come to me again.
Never hold me in his arms. How beautiful he is. His lips are not like
any man's lips could be. But he doesn't love me any more. He loves this
in the street below. Men and women in the street."

And here her thinking would begin, a sequel to the preface of sorrow.
Below her moved the face of her rival--the crowd. She must study the
thing out carefully so as to be clear in her words when she talked to
him. So as to make her words a poison in him that would destroy the
passion for her rival.

The night lifted itself far away. Little lights ran a line of yellow at
the foot of buildings. Men and women. What were men and women? The blur
of faces in the street, moving along every night, what was that?
Something to idealize and give one's soul to? No.

Individuals racing toward their secret destinations and tumbling with a
sigh into an inexhaustible supply of graves--that was a phenomenon to be
studied separately. Out of that one could locate plots, dramas, humor,
tragedy. But here below the window was another story--was a great
character that had no name but that her lover worshipped. The crowd ...
this thing in the street he sang of as the crowd was a single creature.
Its face was one, its voice one. It had one soul--the soul of man. A
dark thing, alive with inscrutable desires.

"They're not people," she whispered, her eyes staring down, "but
traditions walking the street. Accumulations of desires and impulses
taking the night air."

She watched it move in silence, buried beneath names and buildings.

The crowd.... It was blind to itself. Its many eyes peered bewilderedly
about. Its many legs moved in a thousand directions. And yet it was
identical. Faces, different shaped bodies, different colored
suits--these were part of a mask. Sentences that drifted in the night,
laughters, sighs--these were part of a mask. Under the clothes, faces,
names, talk of people, was a real one--the crowd. It had no brain.

And yet this creature that moved in the street below, in all streets
everywhere, made laws, made wars, and mumbled eternally the dark secrets
of its soul. The crowd ... a monstrous idiot that devoured men, reason
and beauty. Now it moved with a purr through the street. It was going
somewhere, making love, making plans, diverting itself with little
hopes. Its passions and its secrets slept. It moved like a great
somnambulist below her window, with a fatuous complacency in its dead
eyes. Its many masks disported themselves in the night air. But let
hunger or fear, let one of the inscrutable impulses awake it, and see
what happened. Ah! Communes, terrors, rivers of blood, heads on spikes,
torture and savagery!

She must tell this all clearly to him, explain lucidly to him how the
hero-crowd of his singing was a gruesome and stupid criminal blind to
itself and afraid of itself and inventing laws to protect it from
itself. How it was a formless thing with hungers and desires moulded in
the beginning of Time. How it demanded proofs of itself that the
darkness of its brain and the savagery of its heart were the twin Gods
from whom all wisdom and justice flowed. How the workers, the defeated
ones, the under dogs he sang of and loved were like the others--lesser
masks envying superior masks. And how the idealisms, Gods and hopes they
all worshipped were lies the beast whispered to itself, fairy tales by
which the beast consoled itself. Yes, a monster that devoured men who
threatened its consolations, a wild fanged beast purring eternally in
the path of progress. Reason was a little cap the masks wore that every
wind blew off. Her loneliness faded. Seated by her window Doris no
longer desired the lips of her lover. There was another elation ... a
knowledge of the thing in the street, a certainty that she could make
Lief Lindstrum understand.

One evening when he had returned to her after an absence of a month she
decided to talk calmly to him of the things she had been thinking. He
came in with an air of caution, that frightened her for an instant. She
studied him as he took off his coat and hat and sat down. It was autumn
outside. Dark winds seemed to have followed him in. This was an old
trick of his that had once thrilled her. He seemed always to have come
from far-away places, to have risen out of depths with secrets in his
eyes. Her heart yielded as she watched him. There was the quality about
him she could never resist, the thing her senses clamored for. Not that
he wrote poetry--but that he was a poet.

It was almost useless to argue with him, to destroy him. No matter what
he said or what he was doing she could see him always as he really
was--a silent figure walking blindly over men and buildings, over days
and nights; walking with its eyes snarling and its mouth tightened;
walking over days and nights after a phantom--a silent figure walking
after a phantom. The phantom whispered, "Come" ... and the silent figure
nodded its head and followed. That was how she saw him when her heart
yielded, when she desired again to throw herself before him, make
herself the phantom he was following.

But the obsession in her changed the picture slowly. Not a phantom but a
face she knew--the face of the crowd. A wild fanged monster that had
cast a spell over her lover and he went walking blindly after it calling
words to it, singing lullabys to it, when all these things should have
been for her.

Their talk began as she wished it. He was ill at ease. Why had he come?
He was afraid to stay away? Why? She wondered questions as he sat
uncertainly in the chair and offered vague gossip and information to
explain his presence. Then she said abruptly:

"I'm writing a story. I've decided not to do any more poetry but write a
story--a book, maybe."

He nodded.

"What about?" he asked.

"People. About people," she smiled. She noticed his body stiffen and his
eyes grow hard.

"Yes, about people," he repeated slowly.

He was cautious when he came to see her now. She had reason to make
demands of him. She had given herself to him and he didn't trust her.
And she was always trying to do something to him. He knew this. It was
hard to understand her lately but one thing was easy--she was not to be
trusted.

"How they come together in crowds," she continued evenly, "and lose
themselves in a common identity. How they become a hideous, unreasoning
savage--a single savage. I'm going to write a book making this savage
the ... the hero."

She paused to look at him. He was inattentive but she knew better.

"You should be interested," she smiled.

"Why should I be interested?" he asked slowly.

"Because you write about people, too."

"Yes."

"Or think you do," she went on. "I'm going to write about people as a
crowd--as one savage without a brain. That's the crowd. And this savage
is the hero of my story. Without a brain to think he creates out of his
savagery the Gods, laws and illusions under which you and I live, Lief.
Do you understand that?"

He looked at her without answer. Her heart grew alive with strength. She
knew he was incapable of any answer but anger. His anger could usually
defeat her but this time she felt she could laugh at him when he began
to scowl. She stood up.

"You," she said softly, "are like they are. Like the crowd. You do not
think or reason. You only feel. Words are accidents to you ... crazy
hats that rain down on your head. You write out of a hatred for things
superior to the beast. You're mad at life because it isn't as beautiful
as you'd like it to be. So when you get maddest you begin to sing lies
about it."

She laughed at the scowl on his face.

"Yes, I've figured it out, Lief. You're a terrible liar. When you say
you love people, the crowd, you're a terrible liar then. You don't love
the crowd at all. What is your love of people but a blind infatuation
with yourself? You hate them. Whose humanity are you all the time
writing about and singing about? Your own. But you're ashamed to admit
that. Sometimes people are ashamed to boast of themselves so they boast
of something else they've created in their own image--of their Gods.
That's the way you boast of your crowd. You're ashamed to boast of
yourself so you fix it up for yourself by giving the virtues you think
you've got to people and then singing about them as if you were an
altruist and a sympathetic human observer. You're a great liar, Lief.
And the thing you love is a lie you make up. Because people are foul.
And you know it. They're not like you or me. They can't think even as
much as a rat thinks. They're as rattle-brained as chickens, as greedy
as vultures. And they lie all the time--good God, how they lie. You hate
them too. You know all this better than I do. But you keep feeling
things and you imagine they're things people feel. You...."

She stopped and looked at him with a smile. She had started to insult
him and had ended by pleading with him. His jaws were working as if he
were chewing. This was his anger. But she felt no defeat, nothing but a
slight confusion. She was disappointed in herself because she could not
recapture the thoughts that had filled her during the month. They had
been clear at their inception but now they were mixed up with desires
for Lief, with a fear of him. They were mixed up so that out of what she
was saying there arose no clear image of Lief and his relation to life
or of the crowd and its foulness.

"Why don't you answer what I say?" she asked. "Are you afraid to discuss
things you are absorbed in? If people are so wonderful let's talk about
them."

She felt a triumph. She had destroyed something. She could tell by his
eyes. They were becoming wild and unfixed. If she could be certain of
destroying it forever, of killing in him the love for her rival ...
then....

"The little finger of one intelligent man is worth the whole of the
French revolution," she was saying excitedly. "You're no different from
the other cowards who devote themselves to flattering the monster. You
know what I mean. The monster rewards liars and flatterers. All you have
to do to be great in the eyes of the world is to celebrate the glories
of the monster. To make a lickspittle of your genius. It's an old and
easy formula. Why don't you think? You stand up with your eyes closed
and sing about things that never existed--about the beauty of people and
... and...."

Lindstrum thrust his face close to her. She paused. A desire to laugh
came as she stared at the too familiar features of the man. This was the
face she had held in her hands and covered with kisses. Nights of
passion and adoration had been shared with this face. Now it held itself
savagely before her and grew blurred. Something had been destroyed in
it. It was no longer familiar. It was somebody else's face....

"People," it said as if it were going to spit at her. "Yes, like you
say. Think about them! God damn...."

"Lief," she murmured.

"Don't call me Lief...." He glowered closer.

"Oh! Then you're angry. Well, I didn't expect you to agree." She made
her voice tender now. She did not want his face unfamiliar like this as
if she had never held it in her hands and covered it with kisses.

But he continued to thrust himself unfamiliarly before her.

"Yes, I agree about the crowd," he answered, his eyes swinging over her
head, his jaws still working. "I agree. You got 'em right. Down in the
mud of themselves. And me with them, do you hear that! Me singing with
'em. Get me, now. I'm going to tell you."

She moved away from this unfamiliar face but it came closer again.

"I don't want any of your brains. Not for mine. I want to be like I am.
This beast you talk about.... That's me. He can't talk or reason.... All
right. He won't then. But he'll do something else. He'll live. He'll go
on living. Yes," he raised his voice to a shout, "I agree with you.
Because I'm the crowd. Do you get that ... you dirty ... you dirty fool
... you...."

The oath brought his passion into his head. His hand clenched and his
fist shot into her face. She staggered away from him, calling his name.
He watched her fall against a couch. A rage cried in him. He was a liar,
was he? And a coward? All right. He was. Look out for all liars and
cowards then. He walked toward the couch and stood above her. What did
she want of him? She wanted something. Tears filled him. People ...
people that sweated and grunted and crawled around like beasts and
raised their eyes at night to the stars.... This monster she gabbed
about, this thing without hands or eyes. That was it.

She was crying on the couch. All right. Let her. But she was crying
because she wanted something.... His hands grabbed her head and
straightened her face until their eyes were looking into each other.

"Listen," he said. He was shaking her. "I'm going away."

Eyes watched each other. She looked until the face she had once kissed
became entirely strange. There was no Lief, no lover. But a face staring
murderously into hers. But there was something else. Tears behind the
stare. Why was he weeping? The question like a tiny visitor sat down in
her mind.

He let her go and walked from the room, grabbing his hat and coat into
his hands as he went.

Doris listened. Down the stairs. Outside. He was gone. She went to the
window. Her eye had swelled and her cheek pained. She sat down and
looked into the street.

"He hit me," she was whispering to herself. She began to weep with
shame. But her tears seemed to soften her heart toward him. He had cried
too. She arose and went to the bed. Here she had lain with him. Warm,
familiar hours. Here her arms had held him. She threw herself down and
wept aloud.



II.



13.


George Basine was going to see his sister Doris. In the nine years since
she had left her mother's home she had become a strange woman to Basine.
She had always been strange to him. But now it was as if she were
entirely unhuman.

He could talk to her without shame of things that were shameful. But
there was something more tangible in her presence than the joy of being
able to confess things to her. She was practical in her ideas. She gave
him hunches for his speeches sometimes and what she said about people
and how to make an impression on them was always of value. She
understood such things. How, he couldn't determine. It was probably an
instinct with her.

Basine walked along in the spring afternoon. It was Sunday and he should
have stayed home. Henrietta had been angry when he left. Sunday was his
day for her and the two children. There were two children now--one a boy
of seven, and a girl of five.

But he said, "I want to see Doris. She's been feeling rather off lately.
And if you don't believe I'm going there, why just call up in an hour.
And keep on calling every hour if you want to keep check on me."

He was always angry with his wife when he left her. She made him feel
that he was doing wrong, although she seldom said anything. But to go
away and leave her on Sunday was wrong. But not for the reasons she
sometimes hinted at.

He knew that she suspected his frequent absences from the house. He
accused her of hounding him with her jealousy, and the knowledge of his
innocence--he had never been unfaithful during the eight years of their
marriage--made him angry. The elation of righteous anger in which he
indulged himself on all occasions involving Henrietta, was a ruse which
obscured for both himself and his wife the actual reasons of his
absences. She bored him to a point of fury. His children and their
endless noises and questionings set his nerves on edge. He fled in order
to escape his home. But Henrietta hinted that he left her for someone
else. And he denied this hotly. And in the excitement which accusation
and denial aroused both of them managed to avoid facing the fact that he
stayed away for no other reason than to escape the boredom of her
presence and discomfort of his home.

Basine was careful to avoid this fact. It was incompatable with his
ideas. He had become a man of belligerent righteousness. He was slowly
emerging as a public figure. As an assistant in the state's attorney's
office his political activities were attracting more attention than his
legal work. He was in demand as a campaign orator. And the candidates in
whose behalf he addressed the public were men, he pointed out with an
air of fearlessness, who believed first of all that the home was the
cornerstone of civilization.

"He is a man worth while," he would declaim, "a capable administrator.
But first of all our candidate is like you and me. His heart is centered
in his home. The greatest rewards life holds for him are not the offices
we are able to bestow on him but the love of his wife and children."

Since his marriage which from the first had irritated him and then set
his teeth on edge, he had devoted himself seemingly to a public
idealization of his own predicament.

Nine years had brought changes in Basine. He had grown leaner. His face
had sharpened into hawk lines. There was about him at thirty-four, an
aristocratic pugnaciousness. Fearlessness was a word which was gradually
attaching itself to his name. He was fearless, people said. His lean
body and unphysical air contributed to their decision.

When he appeared publicly people saw a wiry-bodied man past thirty with
an amazing determination about him. His words snapped out, his eyes
flashed as he talked. And his talk was usually alive with denunciations.
He denounced enemies of the people and ideas that were enemies.

During the minor campaigns for aldermen, state's attorney and the
judiciary elections in which he had been employed by his party leaders,
he had created a slight newspaper stir. The public had quickly sensed in
him an interesting character.

And then, although he was years working toward this end, he had suddenly
leaped forward as a champion of their rights. He had become one of the
select group of indomitable Davids striding fearlessly forth to do
battle with the Goliaths that threatened. And there were always Goliaths
threatening. Insidious Goliaths; shrewd, merciless Goliaths continually
on the verge of opening their terrible maws and devouring the rights of
the public.

Basine was coming forward as a champion consecrated to the slaying of
Goliaths. Not only during campaigns, which, of course, was the open
season for Goliath-slaying, but between campaigns, behind closed doors
where nobody saw, in the bosom of his family. He never removed his armor
or rather, never laid aside his holy slingshot. He was always locked in
a death struggle with new and unsuspected Goliaths--this wiry, fearless
man who was beginning to cry out in the newspapers ... "The enemies of
the public must be overthrown. It matters not who they are or in what
camp they are. The city must be cleaned up."

Following the failure of several private banks in the cosmopolitan
district of the city, Basine had leaped forward against this new
Goliath. This had been his first major offensive.

Private banks were threatening the peace of the public. He had made
several speeches before business men's associations denouncing private
banks and private bankers. He had declared with utter disregard of
personal or political consequences that they were a menace--that they
were sharks swimming in the waters of finance--and that he would not
rest until the public had been made safe against their predatory,
merciless jaws.

He was on this Sunday morning in the midst of the fight against private
banks. The excitement had started with the failure of a small banking
institution on the west side. The newspapers had carried the usual
stories of weeping depositors and heartbroken working people whose
life-time savings had been swept away in the crash. Basine had
overlooked the stories in the papers. Doris had called them to his
attention. He had been sitting in her studio.... Here was something
worth while. Why didn't he start a campaign against private banks.
There was always agitation, but as yet not a big campaign.

When he left her the thing had already matured in his mind. He wondered
why she had laughed during the discussion of the possibilities of such a
campaign. He remembered her saying with a sneer, "That's the sort of
thing the crowd eats up. The trouble with you George, is that you
haven't learned the trick of frightening the mob. You can't be a leader
unless you frighten them first and then leap out to defend them. The
menace of private banks is something to frighten them with. Start a
crusade."

That was it--a crusade. Movements and reforms were all very well. But
they were slow work. In order to advance one had to attach oneself to
tidal waves. Doris was right about frightening them.

Within a week he had launched his attack. He had developed a technique
in his public utterances which was becoming more and more unconscious
and so more and more convincing. Once determined that a crusade against
private banks would be a step in his upward climb, his cynicism in the
matter vanished. He investigated the subject thoroughly, filling his
mind with statistics. Events played into his hands. A second private
bank collapsed at the end of the week and Basine knew that the ground
was ready for his crusade.

He began not with an attack against the institution of private banks,
but shelving the statistics he had carefully mastered, he concentrated
upon creating a sense of terror in the public mind. In statements given
out to the press and in speeches before business men's associations
which were also reported in the newspapers, he pounded on the note of
menace. They were a menace. They were something to be afraid of. They
jeopardized stability. They were wildcat institutions.

It was his first crusade and he waited nervously for the response. The
response came after a pause of a week like an answering shout. Down with
private banks! A conflagration of headlines flared up. The people were
against private banks. Editorials heralded the fact. The newspapers were
against private banks. A week ago private banks had been the furthest
topic from the public conversation. Now it became a matter of violent
discussion. Citizens committees were being formed for the purpose of
fighting private banks.

Feeling began to run high. Very high. A neighborhood Polish financier
who for years had conducted a small banking institution was mobbed on
his way to work and rescued from the violence of the crowd, which
threatened his life by the arrival of police. This incident was reported
by the newspapers as revealing the determination of the men seeking to
wipe out the menace of the private bank and also as revealing the
unscrupulous power of the men engaged in the private banking business.

The growing clamor against the institution resulted naturally in the
collapse of two more small banks whose depositors, terrified by reports
they themselves were circulating, rushed to withdraw their savings.

Basine contemplating the extent of the public indignation felt a pride
and a misgiving. He glowed with the thought that he, Basine, had started
the thing. His name had from the beginning figured prominently in
connection with the growing crusade.... "Basine Denounces Private
Banks...." had started it. And then a flood of headlines, "Banking
Sharks Prey on poor, says Basine."... And then "Basine Flays Private
Bankers at Mass Meeting...." "Private Bank Menace Growing...."

He had kept his head during the publicity and, unaccountably, his
thought had turned to his sister as the crusade gathered momentum, as
the "menace grew." Although alive with a powerful indignation against
the enemy, Basine remained mentally aloof in contemplating the
situation. His aloofness was not a cynicism but a guide.

He studied the fact that the clamor was in the main artificial. The
menace of the private bank was a thing that touched less than one
per-cent of the population. There were no more than thirty such minor
institutions in the city and more than two-thirds of these were as sound
as the banks under government supervision. His statistics had revealed
this.

Nevertheless in some mysterious way the phrase "private bank" had become
synonymous with ogre, villainy, menace, calamity. His original
denunciations published rather casually by the press had been a species
of newspaper feelers. The public had responded. Realizing then that the
subject was a live one, the papers had cut loose. The idea of a trusted
public institution being a danger and a menace to the community was
quick in awaking a sense of alarm. A sense of fear inspired by no facts
but by the reiterative rhetoric of the press swept the city.

Basine for several days sought futilely to understand the phenomenon of
this fear. It seemed almost as if people were filled with constant
though innate fear of the things they trusted. A man named Levine whom
he had met at Doris' explained it that way. He had listened to the man
talk: ... "The reason people turn on their trusted institutions with
such fury is simple. When a platitude they have blindly upheld seems
about to betray them they fall on it and tear it to pieces. This is
because a platitude is kept alive blindly and it must be destroyed
blindly. When a platitude commits the offense of becoming obviously, too
obviously, a lie or an incipient danger, people are of course overcome
with the horrible doubt that all platitudes are lies and dangers. This
general suspicion which overcomes them, this wholesale fear or panic
which sweeps over them, they let out, of course, on the one platitude.
By viciously denouncing the one platitude they manage to assure
themselves that all the others are all right. They sort of lose their
general terror in an unnatural but specific hysteria. And they always
turn themselves into an overfed elephant jumping furiously up and down
and trumpeting terribly--at a mouse."

Basine carried this explanation away. He allowed it to linger in his
mind without thinking of it. He knew that the fear was unwarranted and
yet the excitement had taken on the proportions of a public uprising.
The editorials of the press became couched more and more in
grandiloquent languages, reminiscent of Biblical passages. In fact a
religious fervor had entered the clamor. The overthrow of the private
bank was a mission of righteousness--an integral part of the higher
Christianity of the nation--to say nothing of the dreams of its
forefathers.

With this growing and exalted anger, a new phenomenon struck Basine. It
was the strange myth that had sprung up seemingly overnight of the power
of the private banks. He knew from his study of the facts that the
private bankers of the city were a handful of haphazard, third rate
financiers without prestige in the courts or pull in the politics of the
state. Their total holdings represented a slight fraction of the money
tied up in the banking business of the city. They had no standing
comparable with the standing of the supervised banks. The big interests
including the men of power in the city were against them and they were,
as a matter of fact, a puny by-product of the city's intricate finance.

Yet now they had become an insidiously entrenched monster. Public men of
affairs vied with each other in revealing the mysterious power of the
private bank. And Basine was left to marvel in silence over the fact
that the wilder the public frenzy against private bankers became, the
huger and more difficult to overthrow were the private bankers made out
to be.

His pride as author of the crusade began however to be colored with
misgivings. Others had risen to challenge him for the leadership of the
movement. Stern, fearless men, as stern and fearless as himself, were
offering to sacrifice themselves on the altars of freedom. The altars of
freedom, the press explained, were the battleground of the fight against
private banks.

The public's attention was being distracted from Basine. Men of greater
prestige than he had hurled themselves into the death struggle. These
great ones were more qualified than Basine for leadership. They were
older and of deeper experience in the slaying of Goliaths. Now it seemed
that perhaps one of them and not George Basine was the hero who would
be able to overthrow this latest menace to the public weal.

Basine's misgivings took the form of an irritation. He sensed the
fickleness of the public and understood that it could turn from him who
had started the whole thing and give its adulation to some other leader
who had jumped on the band-wagon and crowded Basine off the driver's
seat. His cynicism returned as he read the denunciations his rivals were
hurling at private banks.

"A pack of fools and fourflushers," he muttered to himself and their
words--paraphrases of his original denunciations for the most
part--nauseated him. The word "bunk" crept into his thought as he read
their speeches and interviews. He would like to stop the whole thing, to
stand up and say it was all a tempest in a teapot and that there was no
menace or ogre or Goliath; that the whole thing was made out of whole
cloth. Then the entire business would collapse and the men threatening
him for the leadership would be left high and dry.

... Doris looked up as he entered. She was a silent-looking woman. Her
face wore its pallor like a mask. She greeted her brother without
expression. Her luxurious body seemed without life, her hands gesturing
as if they were weighted. The sensuous outlines of her which brought to
mind the odalisques of Titian found a startling contrast in the
immobility of her manners. She was thirty and in the half-lighted room
she seemed like a beautiful, burning-eyed paralytic.

"Tired?" her brother asked as he sat down.

This was of late his usual greeting. She looked tired always, and until
she began to talk, she looked as if she were dumb or blind. But when she
talked her eyes lighted.

She shook her head to his question. He had come filled with troubles and
confessions but her black eyes, centered on him, disturbed him. He had
become used to the sardonic weariness of her face. But there were times
when he felt as if something were happening to her that he couldn't
understand. Her eyes would burn and seem to shut him out as if she could
look at him without seeing him.

Her complete inanimation startled him. He knew he could sit talking all
night and she would never move nor ask a question. Long ago she had been
a little like that. Never asking questions but sitting among others as
if she were alone. But now it was more marked. There was something wrong
with Doris. What she needed was to go out more. She was getting too
self-centered, brooding too much.

Basine, as he sat studying the window and the profile of his sister,
kept remembering how she used to be. That was years ago when they had
all lived at home. And this poet Lindstrum whom everybody was talking
about, used to call on her. She had been in love with him. But that was
long ago--eight, nine, ten years ago. It couldn't be that. And it
couldn't be that she was "in trouble," because she had been like this
for years now. He remembered her youth. Her silence then had been
different. It had been alive. And now she sat around like a corpse and
if it wasn't for her eyes moving occasionally you might think her
actually dead. Sometimes this thought did frighten him as he sat
watching her. She was dead! He would restrain himself from jumping up
to see and sit listening to hear her breathe.

He felt sorry for her. When he had married Henrietta she had been the
only one who had understood. He could always remember what she had said
at the wedding. It was the only thing he could recall of the event--what
Doris had said to him....

"You'll never be a great man if you let yourself get trapped like this
too often."

Surprising that she should know enough to say that. Because anyone who
could say that to him must know him thoroughly and understand him
thoroughly. It was what he had been saying to himself for months before
the wedding.

He felt sorry for his sister. They were good friends in a way. A curious
way because he felt she detested him somehow. Yet she understood him and
could help him. And she liked him to come to see her. He wondered why.
She had no love for him but there was something about him that appealed
to her and interested her. He had noticed how she acted toward others.
Their talk left her dead. Even when Levine talked she often remained
unaware he was around. Her eyes never opened to people. Even her mother.
And Fanny had said, "Doris is getting more and more of a pill. I think
she's going crazy. She doesn't even look at a person anymore."

He watched her and thought, "Poor girl. Something wrong. I wish I could
help her."

He kept remembering how beautiful and alive she had been and his heart
felt an odd laceration as if something he loved were dying. Was he so
fond of Doris, then? He said, "no." Yet he could never remember having
felt such sympathy as this toward anyone. It was because she was an
intimate. He felt toward her as he felt toward himself--forgiving,
appreciative, and a sense of pity. Why had he thought that? Pity. Did he
pity himself, he, George Basine, who was just beginning to ascend?
Henrietta and the kids--that was it. A man had to accumulate troubles if
he was to amount to anything.

The feeling of sympathy slipped from his thought. Doris had turned her
eyes to him. Basine was aware of her coming to life. The symmetrical
mask of her face became features and expressions.

"Will you stay for tea?" she asked.

He would. Doris stood up and regarded him with a malicious smile.

"The crusade seems to be running away from you," she said.

He nodded. The public-spirited leader in him did not relish the ironic
tilt of her words. But he was able to assume a dual attitude toward her
cynical intellectualism. He could frown on it with a sense of outrage.
And he could listen to it with an appreciative shrewdness. He could
despise her iconoclasm and still utilize its intelligence to aid him in
his climb.

He had always understood that to his sister his aspirations were
contemptible. And yet despite her sneering she seemed anxious to help
him realize them. He understood, too, that in his sister's mind there
was something queer about people. When she talked about people her eyes
lighted. There was about her talk of people a clarity of idea that
contrasted strangely with the passion one could feel behind her words.

Basine usually tried to dismiss the impression she made on him by
thinking, "Oh, she's a fanatic on the subject, that's all." But a
mystery worried him. Why should she be interested in his career? And why
should she try to help him if she despised him and his type of ambition?
And, moreover, despised people and politics in general?

It was a paradox and it made him uncomfortable. But he sought her out
all the more for this. Because there was something practical about her
fanaticism. Yes, and because she understood about him.

He had already told her secrets about himself, particularly about
himself in relation to Henrietta. That formed a bond between them. He
sometimes grew frightened at the thought of the things Doris knew about
him--things she might tell to anyone and ruin him; wreck his home and
his career. But always after worrying about such fears he would hurry to
his sister and unburden himself still further. As if by feeding her
further secrets he could make certain of her loyalty and reticence.

He watched her less openly as she poured tea. A bitterness filled him.
If Henrietta were only a woman like this instead of a stick. If only he
could sit home and talk things over with her, marriage would have some
sense to it. He frowned. He did not like to think this way.

Doris began to talk smoothly, her dark eyes growing more alive. He
listened nervously, wincing under the contempt of her phrases and
fascinated by the startling interpretations they offered him of his own
thoughts.

"If I were you," she said as she arranged the teacups, "I would let
myself be squeezed out of the crusade. It's served its purpose for you.
You've frightened about a million feeble-minded creatures into a fury
against private banks. You've done quite well. That's the secret, you
know. And you must always remember it. Create bogeymen to frighten
people with. The more unreal the bogeymen, the more terrified the
public. If you don't believe this figure out for yourself--of what are
people the most afraid? God, of course. The greatest of the bogeymen.
And remember too, George that people like to be terrified. There's a
reason for that. People like to be preoccupied by false terrors in order
not to have to face real frightening facts--facts such as death and age
and their own souls."

She sat down and looked at Basine with a pitying smile.

"What a fool you are, George. You don't believe a word I say, do you?"

"What you say and how you say it are two different things," he answered.
The thought was in his mind that Fanny was right. Doris was going crazy.
Her talk had an edge to it as if her voice were being carefully
repressed. He almost preferred her when she was silent, when her eyes
slept. Because now there was a hidden wildness to her. She was
suffering! The thought startled him. But that was it. The hate that
filled her voice came from a suffering inside. He wanted to reach over
and take her hand and whisper to her to be calm, but he continued to
listen without moving. There were things in what she said that always
held him. It was like learning secrets. She was still talking.

"Well, today they're shrieking and vomiting invective and you'd like
nothing better than to be the heroic leader of this pack of filthy
cowards. Would you? Well, it's not worth while this time. The whole
thing'll blow over. In a few weeks people will have forgotten about
private banks. And by the time you get the bill into the state
legislature the papers will be ignoring the whole business. Do you see?
There's nothing so tragic as the spectacle of a mob leader stranded high
and dry with a yesterday's crusade. And his mob off in another
direction. Remember, George, you're not dealing with people, with
reasoning men and women. You always forget this and you'll never get
ahead if you keep forgetting it. You're dealing with a single
creature--the crowd. A huge bellowing savage."

"I know, I know," Basine muttered. She was crazy. Something queer in her
head about people. "All people aren't like that, of course. But I
understand."

"You don't," she interrupted angrily. "All people are like that. Alone
people are one thing. They're alive and they reason a little. But when
they come together to overthrow governments or defend governments or
make laws or worship Gods, they vanish. A single creature takes their
place. And this single creature is a mysterious savage who howls and
spits and vomits and tears its hair and has orgasms of terror and
befouls itself."

Her eyes glared at Basine. With an effort she controlled her voice. She
continued in a passionate whisper.

"Don't you understand that yet? After all I've shown you. If you want to
get ahead, I can make you anything. Do you hear that? Anything.... I
can make you a leader ... a king. All you must learn is the way of
turning people into swine...."

"Please Doris, you get too excited. Please...."

"Into swine and swine crusades. We'll find ways of bringing them
together and the more swinish you can make people become, yes, the more
you can make them spew and shriek, the holier will become the cause of
this spewing and shrieking. These are elementals and you must trust me.
Do you hear?"

Her fingers were cold. They had closed on his hand. He shuddered. Crazy
... poor Doris. Gone queer with something. Yet he found himself
listening, her chill fingers startling his flesh. Out of her ravings
there might issue at any minute the thing he was always looking for ...
a way to get ahead.

"Little crusades like this," she went on, "are all right. But private
banks are only a detail. And besides the idea is too concrete to terrify
people and bring out the full hysteria of their cowardice. What we need
is something vague--that has no facts to handicap it. Something you can
lie about wildly and frighten them with so that their bowels weaken.
Please, drop the thing now. You must...."

"Doris, you get too excited. Let's talk sense instead of getting excited
like this."

He patted her hand and returned her stare uncomfortably. He wanted to
ask her why she was interested in his getting ahead, in making him a
leader. She had paused. Basine felt himself nauseated by the intensity
of her words that continued to ring in his ears. Her anger and the
viciousness of her phrases brought her too close to him. He could
almost see something behind the glare of her dark eyes.

"Oh, you're not interested in progress and civilization," she resumed
mockingly. Her words seemed more controlled. He noticed that she jerked
her hand away. "Because if you were you would see that progress and
civilization are the results of the terror of the mob. It's when they
get frightened of something and throw themselves at it with their eyes
shut and their hair on end, that institutions are born ... that new
platitudes are set up in heaven. And the secret is this--the worse swine
you can turn them into, the holier will be the things they do. Listen,
I'll tell you.... You must do as I say.... You must believe me...."

She had risen. Her hand was on his shoulder and her eyes burned over
him. He felt a bit fearful and impatient. To a point, her talk was
interesting. But after that it became like raving.

"You've told me that before," he murmured. "Please calm down." An
ecstatic light slowly left her.

"Oh yes. Sense," she whispered. "Well, the sense of it is for you to
become a symbol of their holiness. Be a leader. Isn't that it. But the
private bank crusade has fizzled. I've read the papers closely and
outside of the two attacks on the private bankers last week, there've
been no great gestures of righteousness. If they'd hamstrung a few
hundred private bankers, cut off their heads and burned down their
houses, I'd advise you to stick. That's sense isn't it?"

Basine, listening to the uncomfortable distortions of his sister, made
up his mind. He translated her vicious suggestions into the less
inconveniencing idea.... "The biggest part of the work in the fight
against the banks has been done already, Doris. And the rest anybody can
do."

"Yes," she smiled, "if you're going to be of service to the public you
must be careful to devote yourself to worthwhile reforms. You always had
a clearer way of putting things, George."

She despised him. He could feel it now. He looked at her and wondered
again. She was beautiful. A complete change had come over her since he'd
come in. She seemed warm with emotion, alive, human. But she smiled in
an offensive way. He preferred her viciousness. That was
impersonal--something queer in her head. This other was a condescension
that angered him. He sat thinking; she was playing with him. It would be
better if he never saw her.

"How is Henrietta?" she asked.

The question had long ago became an invitation to confession. He avoided
her eyes.

"Fanny and Aubrey were over," he answered.

She interrupted. "Please don't talk about them."

"Oh, nothing in particular," he hastened. "Henrietta is the same as
ever."

Doris laughed.

"An ideal wife for a future public hero," she exclaimed. Basine frowned.

"I'd rather you didn't make a joke about such things, Doris."

"I'm not joking. But to be a great leader a man must have only one
love--the love of being a great leader."

"That's wrong," Basine blurted out. "A woman can help a man forward if
he loves her and she's clever and loves him."

"She can't," Doris said softly. "Because she doesn't want to. If she
loves him, she doesn't want him to be great. She may inspire him but
just as soon as she sees his inspiration takes him away from her, she
turns around and tries to ruin him. So she can have him to herself."

Basine listened impatiently. This was a child prattling. Doris was
laughing. He looked at her questioningly. Her laughter continued and
grew harsh.

"You fool," she sighed, controlling herself. "Oh you fool."

Basine shook his head. He was serious. There were hidden facts in his
mind. He knew something about what a woman might do to help a man
forward. These facts seemed to him allies--secret allies, as he
contradicted his sister.

"I insist you're wrong," he said. He was determined to prove her wrong.
But she went on, ignoring his intensity.

"Your wife is ideal, George. Colorless, stupid. Dead. Without desires or
egoism. An ideal wife for a man of ambition. The kind that will let you
alone."

"Nonsense. You're utterly wrong," he cried. He must prove to her how
utterly wrong she was. There was Ruth.

"Men owe most of their success to the impulse the right woman can give
them. Henrietta's all right. But she's so damn dead. She's interested in
nothing. Just a child with a child's mind and outlook. And she gets more
so every year. Good God, if I had somebody with life in her. Keen and
... who loved me. So that I wanted to be great in her eyes. It would be
easier. Somebody ... like you, Doris."

He paused, confused. "I mean," he added, "your type. The intellectual
and female combined."

He had long ago told her of his courtship, of the curious way he had
tricked himself into matrimony and she had always laughed at his
unhappiness and said this--only a fool tricked himself as he had done.
Nevertheless his marriage was ideal.

"Men instinctively pick out what they need," she would say. "And a man
like you needs a nonentity like Henrietta. You wait and see. Your
happiness isn't coming from emotion inside but from emotion outside--the
noise of praise the public will someday give you."

But there were facts now hidden in his head to disprove this. He started
as Doris announced casually,

"Ruth Davis may drop in this afternoon."

They finished their tea. A knock on the door frightened him. The girl!
No. Doris called, "Come in," and Levine entered. Basine nodded to him.

"I'll have to be going," he said as Levine sat down. He disliked the
man. Doris nodded. She appeared to have lost interest in him and, her
tea finished, she was sitting back in her chair with her eyes half shut
and her hands listless in her lap. Levine was talking quietly.... "You
look tired, Doris. Like to go hear Lindstrum lecture tonight? No? Very
well. I just dropped in to see if you would. Come on."

"No," she frowned at him.

"I'm sorry."

"Why?"

"I think it would be better for you to...."

Her eyes shut him off. They were blazing.

"Please," she cried. Then with a sigh she turned toward the window.

Basine stood up. He pretended a leisureliness, opening a few books and
staring with apparent interest at passages in them. Levine and his
sister were a strange pair. Doris queer and moody and going into
impossible tantrums. And this man with brown negro eyes and a
loose-lipped mouth that reeked with sarcasms. There were secrets between
them. Nothing wrong, but secrets. He remembered the girl was coming and
grew frightened.

"Well, good-bye," he said aloud. "And calm down, Doris."

He waited uncomfortably for her to say something. But she was silent. He
looked at his watch and exclaimed in a surprised, matter-of-fact voice,
"Oh my! It's almost four. Good-bye. I must run."

He hurried away as if some logical necessity were spurring him on. The
make-believe had been unnecessary for Doris had paid no attention to the
manner of his departure.

Outside he paused and looked up and down the street. He felt relieved.
He had left in time. Crossing from an opposite corner was Ruth Davis. He
would pretend he hadn't seen her and walk on in an opposite direction.
He knew she was watching him as she approached. He was frightened. A
sense of suffocation. He desired to run away.

She was young. Her eyes had a way of remaining in his thought. When he
talked to people, her eyes came before him and looked at him. They asked
questions.

The last time he had sat with her in his sister's studio he had gone
away with a feeling of panic. He was used to women. Invariably he
disliked them. They seemed to him variants of his wife. They reminded
him of Henrietta and he was able to say to himself, "They look
attractive and mysterious. But underneath, they're all alike."

He meant they were all like Henrietta. In this way his distaste for his
wife had kept him faithful to her because his imagination balked at the
idea of embracing another Henrietta.

But Ruth Davis after he had met her a few times, always in his sister's
presence, had impressed him differently. Perhaps it was because he had
always seen her with his sister. In many ways she reminded him of Doris.
She was dark like Doris and had many of her mannerisms.

He had not thought of her as a variant of Henrietta. Rather as a variant
of Doris. He had never tested his immunity to her by imagining an
embrace. When he talked to her he grew eager to impress her. He wanted
her to understand him, not quite as Doris understood him. She was
cynical but not in the way Doris was. Her mind was kindlier.

Because he felt frightened now at her approach and a desire to run away
without speaking to her, he held himself to the spot. He would get the
better of this thing, he told himself quickly, by facing whatever it was
and fighting it down. He would overcome the curious effect she had on
him by confronting her. In this way, a very high-minded way, he
persuaded himself to wait for her and to talk to her. Which was what he
wanted to do above everything else.

She was pleased. They shook hands. The confusion left him. He was quite
master of himself. Her dark eyes were not dangerous like his sister's.
She was a bright, pretty girl.

"I'm sorry I can't visit with you and Doris," he said. "But I have an
engagement."

"Oh." She seemed disappointed. Her eyes betrayed almost a hurt. This
made him even more master of himself. He had been foolishly worried
about the girl. Just a bright, pretty girl and a friend of his sister.

"By the way," he said, "you were saying the other day that you'd like a
job in the state attorney's office. My secretary's quit. Would you like
that?"

"Oh, Mr. Basine. That's awfully kind of you. But I ... I don't know
shorthand and I suppose that...."

"That makes no difference," he smiled tolerantly. "I need somebody able
to look after things in general. If you want the job, why come down and
see me tomorrow morning about ten and we'll start work."

"I'd be delighted," she answered. She was about to say more but he grew
curt.

"You'll excuse me, won't you. I have to run," he said. "See you at ten
tomorrow, eh?" He wanted to make the thing certain because otherwise he
would have to hire someone else. "At ten then," he repeated.

"If you really want me."

"I think you'll get along all right. And I need somebody at once."

He walked away with a feeling of mastery. He had overcome the confusion
the sight of her had started in him. He was sincerely glad of that. He
disliked the idea of entanglements. Politics was a glass house and
entanglements were dangerous. Then besides, there was Henrietta.

His fidelity to his wife was a habit that had become almost an
obsession. His distaste and frequent revulsion toward her made him
concentrate excitedly upon the idea of fidelity.

By assuring himself of the nobility of faithfulness and of its necessity
as a matter of high decency, he vindicated in a measure the fact that he
seemed too cowardly to philander. He had felt this cowardliness and was
continually trying to distort it into more self-ennobling emotions. This
was what made him so excited a champion of domestic felicity, marital
fidelity and kindred ideas. He was able to convert himself into a man
whose ideals prevented him from succumbing to his lower instincts. Thus
instead of feeling ashamed of the cowardliness which kept him from doing
what he desired, he felt on the contrary, proud of his capacity for
living up to his high ideals, which meant--of doing what he didn't want
to do.

This cowardliness was an involved emotion. It was inspired by a fear of
detection, if he philandered, a fear of physical and social
consequences. But more than that and too curious for his thought to
unravel, it was inspired by a fear of hurting Henrietta. This fear was
the predominant factor in his life.

He sought at times to understand it but its understanding eluded him. He
had been tempted at times to talk to Doris about it. But as yet it was a
confession withheld.

The greater his distaste for his wife became and the more the thought of
her grew obnoxious, the deeper did this fear of hurting her take form in
him. Often when driven to anger by her increasing stupidity he would
lie awake at night by her side thinking of her in accidents which might
kill her. He would lie awake picturing her brought home dying--and going
over in his fancy the details of her death scene.

And then as if the thing were too sweet to relinquish, he would go over
in his mind the details of the funeral, picturing himself beside the
grave weeping, picturing her father and the numerous mourners; giving
them words to say and assigning them little parts in the drama of the
burial. The thing would become a completely worked out scene--like a
careful description in a novel.

Then he would picture himself returning home with his children. He would
close his eyes and play with the fancy impersonally, as if he were
dictating it for writing. Back from the grave with his children.... The
house empty of Henrietta. The chair in which she always sat and sewed,
empty. And she would never sit there again. The chair would always be
empty.

At this point his fancy would grow sad. At first the sadness would be as
if it were part of the make-believe--as if this fiction figure of
himself were mourning the death of his wife. But gradually the sadness
would change and become real. It would become a sadness inspired by the
thought of her dying ... sometime. Someday she would be dead and he
would be alone. And this idea would grow unbearable. Just as it had been
deliciously desirable a few minutes before.

The sadness that came to him then was no more than a remorse he felt for
having in his fancy planned and executed her death. A remorse inspired
by his feeling of guilt. But to Basine it seemed a sadness inspired by
some inner love for his wife. It would surprise him, that there was an
inner love, and he would lie and think, "Oh, I don't want her dead. I
love her. Poor, dear Henrietta." And he would reach over and caress her
tenderly, tears filling his eyes.

It was at such moments while doing penance for the imaginative murder of
his wife, that a physical passion for her would come to him. His
caresses would grow warmer and in the possession of her which followed,
he would be able to blot out of his memory the unbearable
self-accusation aroused by his desire for her death. Thus his fear of
hurting her, even of contradicting her in any way which would make her
unhappy, was a device which guarded him against contemplating the
impulse concealed in him--to get rid of her even by murdering her.

His fidelity to his wife, inspired more by this fear of hurting her than
by the social cowardice which involved the idea of detection, had become
a fetish with him. The less he desired her and the more repugnant she
grew for him, the more desperately he defended to himself and to others
the virtues of marital faithfulness.

He had advanced in eight years into an intolerant champion of morality.
Even his political orations bristled with panegyrics on the sanctity of
the home and the high duty men owed their wives. The thing repeated
itself over and over in his day, haunted his night and filtered through
all his public and private actions. It had formed the basis of a new
Basine--the moral champion. It had colored his ambitions and determined
his direction of thought. It hammered--a hidden psychological refrain
through the fibers of his thought.... In order to reconcile himself to
the distasteful role he had foisted upon himself by accidentally
embracing Henrietta in his mother's kitchen nine years ago, he must
eulogize his predicament and convince himself and others that all
deviations were a vicious and dishonorable matter. Held by neither love
nor desire to the side of a woman he had tricked himself into marrying,
he managed to bind himself to her by the stern worship of a code which
proclaimed fidelity the highest manifestation of the soul.

As he walked toward a street car he was proud of his self-conquest. He
was thinking about the girl, Ruth. He had taken himself in hand and
overcome the dangerous confusion that the sight of her started. His
sense of honor preened itself on the victory. That was the way to handle
oneself--always face the facts. It was better than hiding one's head in
the sand. Look, it had happened this way. By being matter-of-fact, by
converting the girl from a luring, enigmatic figure into an employee, he
had established an immunity in himself. Was he certain of this? Yes, she
would be merely another of the young women employed in his office. And
he was in love with none of them. Or even interested. So their relation
would be that of employee and employer. Which was harmless and
honorable.

He walked along, piling up assurances. As he entered the car he was
going over in his mind with an imaginative eagerness the details of the
situation he had created. He would be very stern, aloof. He would
acquaint her with his secret files and gradually educate her into an
efficient assistant. She was a university girl. Of course her running
around with freaks, the way she did--artists and talky women, was a
handicap. But she would get over that and become entirely sensible.

It was a pleasant day dream that wiled away the tedium of the ride home.
An unaccountable happiness played around the fancies in his mind. He
gave himself to its warmth with a certain defiance--as if he were
denying unbidden doubts underlying his dreams.

He had hired Ruth Davis in order that he might be near her. And
underlying the enthusiastic assurances which he crowded into his mind as
a stop gap for the elation this fact inspired, was the knowledge that,
as his secretary, she would come to perceive what a great man he was.
His files, his secret memoranda, his intricate activities all of which
she would come to know as his private secretary--would be a boast.

Yes, his very curtness, sternness, preoccupation would all be part of
this boast. She would see him as a man of importance, a man of rising
power. He would have to ignore her in order to confer with well-known
men-politicians, police officials, party leaders. And this ignoring of
her would be a boast--all a boast of his prestige and of the fact that
he was a man of fascinating activities and that these activities made it
impossible for him to devote himself as other lesser men might, to
paying her any attention.

Yes, the thought of her being in his office where he might look at her,
but more especially where she might look at him--for he did not intend
to pay any attention to her--thrilled him. And gradually the cause of
his elation protruded and he was forced to face it. He alighted from
the car thinking as he walked toward his apartment.

"I'll have to be careful though. I don't want her to fall in love. That
would be embarassing. Girls are susceptible. I'll not encourage her in
anything like that. Be businesslike and aloof. Treat her absolutely as a
stranger."

This idea thrilled him further. It would be sweet to ignore her, even to
be strict with her and carping at times, to scold for some error. Yes,
that was the right way to handle the situation.

And he walked on with a childish smile over his face. He had determined
upon a high-minded course which absolved him from all blame in anything
that might happen. Aloofness, sternness. Now that they were going to be
together every day, he already looked upon her position as his secretary
as an inevitable predicament not brought on by any action of his; now
that they were to be that close, he would rigorously observe all the
conventions.

At the same time he was inwardly aware that such a course as he had
mapped for himself would unquestionably have a certain effect upon the
girl. It must. It would cause her to respect and admire him and finally
to fall in love with him. Tremendously in love since there would be no
outlet for her passion. Oh yes, that would certainly happen. But it
wouldn't be his fault and nothing would come of it. Because he would
remain sternly aloof.

The thought of being worshipped from afar, of being looked upon all day
by eyes that adored him, brought an excitement into his step. And he ran
up the stairs to his apartment. He was eager to enter his home and greet
his wife. She had become suddenly a tolerable person, one whose
presence he might even enjoy. He felt happy and he wanted her to share
his happiness.



14


Fanny listened carelessly to her husband. After eight years, listening
to what Aubrey had to say had become unnecessary. Because his talk never
changed. What he said yesterday he would say tomorrow. He prided himself
on this. He explained that it revealed him a man of unswerving
principles. Fanny, who had become a rather sarcastic person, kept her
answer to herself. A man of unswerving principles was a great asset to
the community. But a terrible bore to his home.

She sat watching Henrietta sew. There was a placidity about Henrietta
that always irritated her. Henrietta was still pretty although beginning
to fade. Her eyes were colorless and her lips were getting thinner. But
she seemed happy and Fanny wondered about this.

Mr. Mackay seemed very attentive to Henrietta. Of course, Mr. Mackay was
Aubrey's partner and a friend of her brother, George. But it was odd to
call on Henrietta unexpectedly and find her talking alone to a man in
her library. Even to Mr. Mackay.

Fanny was suspicious about such things. She had been utterly faithful to
Aubrey during their married life and this fidelity, somehow, had
developed in her an attitude of chronic suspicion concerning the
fidelity of other women. It was her habit when visiting her friends to
sit and speculate upon their possible immoralities. She had frequently
got herself into trouble by setting scandalous rumors afloat.

"Henry Thorpe and Gwendolyn see quite a great deal of each other," she
would say. "More than we know, I think. I wonder what Mrs. Thorpe thinks
about it. You know Gwendolyn, for all her pretenses, is an out and out
sensual type."

No one was immune from Fanny's speculations. In fact the more
incongruous the idea of any one's sinfulness seemed, the more
enthusiastically Fanny embraced it.

She was more than half aware that thinking about others in immoral
situations seemed to excite herself. She would endeavor to introduce a
note of indignation into her speculations. But the note was too forced
to deceive her, although it deceived others. And she finally abandoned
herself to the thrill which thinking evilly of others stirred in her.

She would often allow her suspicions to become detailed. Merely to
suspect a woman of being immoral was not as satisfying as to figure the
manner of her sin, the play by play, word by word drama of her
seduction. She relished such fancied details. Suspecting others of
immorality enabled Fanny to enjoy vicariously situations which she had
as a matter of course denied herself.

Her love for Aubrey had not changed. It had, in fact, grown or at least
become inflated by habit. At the beginning of their union she had
suspected him of being a hypocrite. She had immediately resented his
virtue. Then for a short time she had figured out that he must be
unfaithful to her, that this accounted for his virtue.

But her resentment had remained mute. The years had proved to her, as
much as proof was possible, that Aubrey was no hypocrite and that his
attitude toward such things was due to his being a high-minded, decent
man. He loved her. But in his own way. He explained to her, "Most
marriages are ruined because people are lead astray by sex. Sex is a
duty. I don't think it's any more moral for married people to wallow in
sex than it is for unmarried people. Sex has an object beyond itself
which people ignore. It is a means to an end--children." And they had
gone on for eight years living up to these standards. But they had no
children. Fanny was willing to acquiesce in her husband's ideals, since
she had to, in everything except about children. She didn't want any.

Fanny had accepted his version of the thing and lived by it. There were
some rewards. She managed to derive a dubious satisfaction during their
infrequent hours of passion from the knowledge that he was a famous man.
She also found a source of secret excitement in his austerity and
virtue. The fact that he was so high-minded and aloof from any thought
of sex offered a piquant contrast to occasions when he condescended to
be her lover. Such occasions were for Fanny far from austere and
high-minded. She allowed the keen sensuality of her nature free reign.
Aubrey's noble attitude served to inspire her with a sense of guilt, as
if their relations were really as indecent and immoral as he contended
sex to be. And the idea of their being indecent and immoral heightened
her enjoyment of them.

She wondered at many things about Aubrey. Despite his aversion to sex,
(she did not think of it as an aversion but as a high-mindedness,) he
was yet very attentive to women. Not in the way that most men were
attentive. But chivalrously. He had become during their married life a
veritable Chesterfield and Sir Raleigh. It was not only his manner--his
observation of little rules of conduct such as rising when a woman
entered or helping her on with her wraps, or assisting her to pull up
her chair at the table or opening doors or any of the thousand
niceties--that marked his attitude toward women. It was also his ideas.
He frequently discussed women and his point of view was more chivalrous
than most men's. He said that he believed in the fineness of women. That
a woman was a pure, beautiful soul. And he was quick to resent insults
to women, even general insults which sought to reflect upon woman's
purity as a whole or to make her out a scheming sexual animal.

Fanny was proud of his chivalrous tone. It distinguished him and she did
not resent the fact that it interested women. She had never been jealous
of Aubrey. And she had gradually accustomed herself to his
high-mindedness. She would have liked abandoned caresses and embraces.
But these had never been forthcoming, even on their honeymoon long ago.
And she had given up dreaming of them--for herself. She dreamed about
them now in connection with others and her mind, colored by unsatisfied
desires, indulged itself in the luxurious and lascivious details of her
suspicions of others.

She sat watching Henrietta as Mr. Mackay talked to her and despite an
effort to control her thought, she began to wonder what they had been
doing alone in the apartment before she and Aubrey came. He had probably
taken her hand and pulled her to him, put his arms around her and
Henrietta, overcome with a sudden passion, had probably flung her arms
about his shoulders and given him her lips wildly. And just as they were
standing deliriously embraced like that, the bell had probably rung and
Henrietta had jumped away and grabbed her sewing. She had come to the
door with her sewing in her hand and....

Fanny smiled at the colorless and unsuspecting Henrietta. Her sense of
humor had done for her what her sense of justice had failed to do. It
controlled her fancies. To imagine Henrietta giving her lips wildly to
anybody, particularly the red-faced Mr. Mackay, was ludicrous. Poor
Henrietta with her two noisy children and her interminable sewing. She
didn't envy her the children. Thank Heaven, despite Aubrey's high-minded
attitude toward sex as a distasteful mechanism through which the race
continued itself, they had had no children.

There was something pitiful about Henrietta. She was so dumb. And even
when she dressed up and powdered and frilled, she always seemed tired. A
stranger might think she was an invalid just recovered from some serious
illness.... Henrietta was probably like Aubrey about "those things".
Very high-minded and aloof.

Mr. Mackay and Aubrey were talking about advertising now. They always
did this soon or late. And they usually quarreled because Aubrey was
inclined to insist that his end of the business--the preparation of copy
and ad. material--was as important as Mr. Mackay's end. Mr. Mackay was
in charge of the salesmen.

She hadn't wanted to call on her brother. But Aubrey insisted. There was
a deal on. The city was going to do a lot of advertising and the firm of
Mackay-Gilchrist wanted the job. Basine could help them pull wires.

The bell rang and interrupted their talk.

"That must be George," Henrietta exclaimed. She grew nervous and began
to flutter. The maid was out for the afternoon and she went to the door
herself. A strange voice came from the hall as the door opened.

"Oh, come right in. George isn't home but I expect him any minute,"
Henrietta greeted the arrival. Paul Schroder, one of the attorneys who
worked in the mysterious place called the state attorney's office with
her husband, entered.

He was younger than her husband and of a type she disliked. She
didn't like George to have him as a friend. He was too brutal looking.
And too noisy. Her submission to George had developed a keen set of
prejudices in her. She liked only people who reminded her of her
husband--normal-sized, thin men with aristocratic manners, and quick
nervous eyes. And what she liked in such people was only the parts of
them that seemed like George. All other kinds of men annoyed her.
Particularly the kind Schroder was--rough, coarse and laughing too
loudly always. She thought of him as a vulgar animal and once or twice
hinted to George that she didn't like to have him visit the house.

Schroder entered, his blond, well shaped head tossing dramatically. The
exuberance of his manner gave him the air of being larger than he was.
Aubrey Gilchrist when he straightened up was taller than Schroder and
Mr. Mackay's shoulders were broader. But somehow the blond-headed man
dwarfed them both as he shook hands with them. He sat down next to
Fanny.

"Well," he said to her, "how you been? Bright-eyed as ever." He laughed
and Fanny smiled. "What's the matter with friend husband," he turned to
Henrietta. "Can't you keep His Nobs home like a God-fearing man on
Sundays?"

Henrietta winced.

"He went to see his sister who is ill," she said. "He'll be back any
minute."

"Oh, that's all right;" Schroder answered, as if Henrietta had
apologized and he was forgiving her. Then to Aubrey he added, "What are
you two pirates after from Basine?"

Aubrey raised his eyebrows. He was subject to quick dislikes. Schroder
was one of them. Schroder was the kind of person who had no respect for
merit or his superiors. The world, unfortunately, was full of such
people--boors lacking the intelligence to perceive their betters. Aubrey
always felt ill at ease in their presence.

Although he had written no novels for five years, in his own mind he was
still a literary figure of importance. He had gone into the advertising
business, but not permanently. He had intended at first remaining in it
only for a year and then returning to his writing. He wanted to do a
different sort of writing and a vacation was necessary. He wanted to do
something real. He had, as a matter of fact, lost interest in the
business of turning out narratives. Worried at the time by this loss of
interest in his work he had explained it as "an ambition for better
things."

But five years had passed and he was still an advertising man. The firm
of Mackay and Gilchrist had grown. He flattered himself that its success
had been due to his personal prestige. People said, "Oh, that's Aubrey
Gilchrist, the writer. Well, that's quite an asset for an advertising
concern." And so they brought their business to Mackay-Gilchrist.

He disliked Schroder because on the few occasions they had met, the man
had exuberantly ignored the fact he was Aubrey Gilchrist. Schroder was a
man who had no interest in anything outside himself--a noisy,
self-satisfied creature with no reason to be noisy or self-satisfied. He
had never done anything.

"I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Schroder," Aubrey answered
stiffly.

"Ho ho," Schroder exclaimed, "your husband is insulted, Mrs. Gilchrist.
Well, I apologize. There's George, I'll lay you dollars to doughnuts."

The bell had rung. Basine entered. Aubrey looked significantly at his
partner. The significance was due to the fact that Schroder seemed
likely to ruin the visit. Aubrey announced aloud after the greetings:

"Thought we'd drop in for a private discussion, George."

Henrietta was smiling tenderly at her husband.

"Where have you been?" she asked.

"Well, I've got great news for you," Basine exclaimed. The company
looked hopefully at him.

"What, dear?"

"Oh, I'll tell you tonight, little girl."

"If it's good news we'd all like to hear it," Fanny insisted.

Schroder regarded his friend askance. He suspected something. He had
left Basine yesterday night and there had been no hint of anything
happening. And today being Sunday.... He smiled to himself. "Covering
up," he thought. "Husbands are comical." He decided not to press Basine.
He had evidently been up to something ... "playing a matinee." He
noticed that his friend was trying to change the subject.

"Is it something personal?" Henrietta asked with a frown. "You frighten
me, George, when you don't tell me things."

Basine, sitting down, beamed with enthusiasm on the group, on his home.

"Where are the children?" he asked.

"Over at the Harveys," Henrietta answered.

"Well," said her husband with an explosive intonation, "I've made up my
mind to go after the circuit court. There's a chance next April."

"Going to run for Judge, eh?" Schroder asked with interest.

"Yes sir," Basine laughed. "I just had a session with some of the boys
this afternoon and we discussed it."

"Oh, I thought you were at Doris'," Henrietta interrupted.

"I did see her," Basine answered, "but only for a few seconds. I spent
most of the afternoon in conference."

"Congratulations," Aubrey spoke. "Mac and I were going to...."

Schroder stood up.

"What do you say if we take a walk, Mrs. Gilchrist," he whispered
loudly. "Your husband insists that I get out. And I won't unless you
come along."

He laughed good-naturedly until Aubrey smiled, and nodded to his wife.

"If you wish, Fanny."

"It's awfully nice outside," Fanny agreed after a pause during which she
looked carefully out of the window. Basine reached for his wife's hand
and drew her toward his chair.

"You're looking very well," he smiled at her. A pleasant light came to
her eyes. For a moment the youthfulness that people had once admired
when they had called her "such an enthusiastic girl" returned to her
manner.

"Oh now George!" she exclaimed. Basine felt a catch in his heart. A
remorse, as if he had done something, came over him. He patted her hand
tenderly. Henrietta repeated but in an almost colorless voice, "Oh,
George."

Schroder followed Fanny down the steps. As the door of the Basine
apartment closed behind them, his fingers clutched her elbow and he
leaned against her in a straightforward, jovial manner.

Her experience as a married woman had brought a directness into Fanny's
mind. She no longer found it necessary to conceal her thoughts from
herself. She was still inclined to be publicly innocent but her mental
life had taken on the proportions of an endless debauch. Marriage not
only legalized sex but removed the barriers to thinking about it. She
felt herself blushing childishly as Schroder, squeezing her arm, opened
the door with a flourish.



15


The Gilchrist home on Lake Shore drive was crowded with friends and
relatives. They had come to the funeral of William Gilchrist. Mr.
Gilchrist lay in a coffin in the drawing room, a waxen-faced figure
under a glass cover. Flowers filled the large room with a damp, sweet
odor.

It was a spring morning. The air was colored with rain. A sulphurous
glow lay on the pavements. It was chilly. Automobiles lined the curb
outside the Gilchrist stone house. Polite, sober-faced people arrived in
couples and groups and walked seriously up the stone steps of the
residence, a swarm of mummers striving awkwardly to register grief.

Dignitaries from different strata were assembling. The Gilchrists were a
family whose prestige was ramified by varied contacts. Celebrities of
the society columns arrived--famous tea pourers, tiara wearers, charity
patronesses. Professional men ranging from retired fuddy-duddies,
applying their waning financial talents to the diversion of
philanthropy, to corporation heads, prominent legal advisors and medical
geniuses renowned for their taciturnity--these came for Mrs. Gilchrist.
Bankers, merchants, industrial captains, hospital bigwigs--these came as
husbands and also as contemporaries of Mr. Gilchrist.

The leaders of the city's arts--a sprinkling of painters aping the
manners of dapper business men, of authors vastly superior to the
Bohemian nature of their calling, of advertising Napoleons, opera
followers, national advertisers--these came for Aubrey. Fanny, through
her brother who had a month before been elected a judge, drew a
formidable group of names--political factotums, powers behind thrones,
mystic local Cromwells. Also the Younger Set. Added to these were
relatives, business associates and finally the Press.

There was a dead man under a glass cover in the house and the
distinguished company, crowding the large somber rooms of the Gilchrist
home, eyed each other gravely and addressed each other in whispers. The
dead man could not hear, yet they spoke in whispers. Even the most
renowned of the dignitaries whose lives were a round of formalities
almost as impressive as this, spoke in whispers and seemed ill at ease.

They drifted about like nervous butlers and took up positions against
the walls, striking uncertain attitudes. They exchanged polite and sober
greetings and felt slightly strengthened in spirit at the sight of
people as distinguished as themselves. The camaraderie of prestige--the
social caress which celebrities alone are able to bestow upon each other
by basking in a mutual feeling of superiority--ran like an undercurrent
through the scene.

Yet this camaraderie which usually heightened the poise of such
gatherings was unable to remove the embarrassment of the company. They
spoke in whispers and remained outsiders, as if the Gilchrists were a
family of intimidating superiors in whose presence one didn't quite know
what to do with one's arms or feet or what to say or just how to make
one's features look.

The intimidating superiority was the body under the glass cover of the
coffin. It would have been easier in a church. Funerals were much less
of a strain in a church and there were several whispers to this effect.
Why had Mrs. Gilchrist insisted upon a home funeral? Wasn't it rather
old fashioned?

Here in a house death seemed uncomfortably personal. The stage was too
small and the mourners were too near something. A curious sympathy that
had nothing to do with Mr. Gilchrist took possession of them.

The damp, sweet odor of the flowers, the glimpse of the black coffin,
the sound of softly moving feet and whispering tongues were a
distressing ensemble. The mourners drifted around and nodded nervously
at each other as if they were doing all they could to make the best of a
faux pas. Death was a faux pas. A reality without adjectives. A stark,
mannerless lie. The family had done its best also. Flowers had been
heaped, furniture arranged, the body dressed, a luxurious coffin
purchased, great people invited. Nevertheless the waxen-faced one under
the glass cover refused to yield its reality. It lay stark and
mannerless in the large room--the immemorial skeleton at the
feast--repeating the dreadful word "death" with an almost humorous
persistency amid the heaped flowers, the carved furniture, the mourners
with raised eyebrows. They stood about nervously.

Gilchrist had been a man alive, one of those whose names were known to
the world. The name Gilchrist had meant a large building stored with
rugs, period furniture, innumerable clerks, departments, delivery
trucks, advertisements in newspapers and on fences. The man Gilchrist
had been one with whom the dignitaries of the city had shared the
intimacy of prestige.

They had said Gilchrist's was a fine store, Gilchrist's was marvelous
furniture, Gilchrist was a highly successful business man. Gilchrist was
this and that and the other. And here lay Gilchrist, waxen and
unscrupulously silent, under a glass cover--a little man with pale
sideburns that were now doubly useless, in a black suit and his hands
folded over his chest. Here lay Gilchrist dead, and yet the things that
had been called Gilchrist still lived. As if immortality was an
artifice, superior to life. The furniture store, the furniture, the
clerks, trucks, advertisements, the highly successful business--all
these still lived. And this was an uncomfortable fact. It embarrassed
the mourners. They drifted about with uncertainty.

Like Gilchrist they were men and women whose names were synonymous with
great activities. Like Gilchrist, they were considered as the
inspiration of these activities. In fact the activities were an
artificial symbol of themselves--a sort of photograph of themselves. Yet
like Gilchrist, all of them would lie under a glass cover some day and
nothing would be changed. The activities that everybody called by their
names would still live. As if they had had nothing to do with them. As
if these symbols were the life of the city and not the men and women
whom they symbolized. Yes, as if these activities which represented
their prestige were independent individualities--masks which loaned
themselves for a few years to them to wear. And which they took off when
they lay stretched under a glass cover. Which they would take off and
become anonymous.

For who was this waxen-faced man in the coffin? Nobody knew. They had
called him Gilchrist. But Gilchrist was clerks, advertisements,
furniture, and business. This man in the coffin was someone else, an
irritating impostor that reminded them they were all impostors. Death
was a confession everyone must make; an incongruous confession. An
ending to something that had no ending. Life and its activities, even
the activities that bore the name Gilchrist, went on. Yet Gilchrist had,
mysteriously, come to an end. He lay in a coffin while his name in large
letters talked to other names in the advertisements of the city.

The camaraderie of prestige was insufficient to remove this
embarrassment. A dead man under a glass cover spoke to them slyly.
Dinners, even very formal dinners with butlers; cliques, even powerful
cliques wielding financial destinies; ambitions, board of directors'
meetings, investments and reinvestments, hopes and successes--ah, these
were deceptive little excitements that were not a part of life--but an
artifice superior to life. For life ended and the little excitements
went on. They were the surface immortality in which one conveniently
forgot the underlying fact of death.

Alas, death. Alas, waxen-faced men lying silent and mannerless under
glass covers. A distasteful faux pas, death. Yet some of the company
must weep. Not friends who regretted the everlasting absence of William
Gilchrist, but men and women bewildered for a moment by the memory of
their own death. Death was a memory since it existed like a foregone
conclusion. It was sad to think of all the people who had died, laughing
ones, famous ones, adventurous ones whose laughter, fame and adventure
seemed somehow a lie now that they were dead.

It was so easy to be dead. Death had come to all who had been, even to
more dignified and celebrated ones than they. Alas, death. The sober men
and women in the Gilchrist home drifted about nervously. They must weep
because for the moment they lay in the coffin with Mr. Gilchrist and
because for the moment they walked sadly about mourning visions of their
own deaths. And for the moment their tears earned for themselves the
regard of their fellow mourners as kind-hearted, sensitive, unselfish
souls.

Yet there was something intimate among the company. Despite the
embarrassment, a curious spirit of friendliness underlay the scene. Men
and women who knew each other only as aloof symbols of prestige, stood
together and talked in whispers as if they were talking out of
character. Half strangers felt a familiarity toward each other.

Under the stamp of a common emotion and a common embarrassment, the
company became for the time a collection of intimates, looking at one
another and whispering among themselves as if the event were a truce.
This was a funeral. Here was reality. And it was polite to lay aside for
an hour the masks, the complexities of artifice by which they baffled
and impressed each other.

The Reverend Henry Peyton had arrived and the mourners moved into the
spacious library, grateful for a destination. The widow in black with
her son and daughter-in-law appeared. The company surveyed them with a
thrill of vicarious grief. Poor Mrs. Gilchrist, so strong and competent!
It seemed almost impossible that she should lose anything, even
something as mortal as a husband. She was so fixed and determined. Even
now there was something sternly competent about her grief. It was hidden
under a black veil. There was nothing to be seen of it but a black veil
and a black dress and a pair of wrinkled little hands fumbling with
themselves. Poor Mrs. Gilchrist. People had forgotten she was a woman.
They felt slightly ashamed as they glanced at her now, as if they were
intruding upon a secret. But she had invited them.

A suppressed "Ah!" of sympathy murmured through the room. The minister's
words began and a determined hush followed.

Basine sitting in a corner of the room with his mother had spent an
uncomfortable hour waiting for the services. He had looked at the body
and come away depressed. His quick eyes had observed the company and
noted with a concealed smile the manner in which lesser dignitaries were
making hay while the tears poured. They were utilizing the camaraderie
of prestige and the intimacy of a common emotion to impress themselves
upon the greater dignitaries. Women of dubious social standing
gravitated as if by general accident toward women of solid social
standing and exchanged whispered condolences with them. Men of lesser
financial ratings were edging toward leaders of finance and engaging
them in dolorous conversations.

Under the depression and gentle bewilderment, the everlasting business
of inferior pursuing superior and superior increasing his superiority by
resisting pursuit, was going on. The death of poor Gilchrist seemed to
Basine, for a few minutes, chiefly important as an opportunity by which
lesser mourners were introducing themselves to the attention of greater
mourners.

Basine's eyes noticed another undercurrent. He had himself influenced
Fanny to prevail upon Mrs. Gilchrist to invite a number of politicians
to the funeral. He had furnished the names carefully, telling Fanny that
these were men high in power who had been friends of Mr. Gilchrist. The
widow, through her secretary, had asked ten of the list to honor her
husband's funeral with their presence. She had chosen ten names most
familiar to her, among them men of wealth who were renowned as powers
behind the various political thrones of the day. The invitations had
served Basine to make a slight but important impression upon the
political party leaders.

He had at first felt nervous over Mrs. Gilchrist's selections from his
list. She had picked ten men, most of whom were engaged in tenacious
political antagonisms. He watched now with surprise as the antagonists
gravitated together forming, with a number of financiers, an amiable,
dignified group.

"In the presence of death they feel inclined to bury the hatchet," he
thought and the idea of large funerals as an asset for establishing
political harmony developed in his mind.

He noticed a change in his own attitude toward Aubrey. He had felt for
years a distaste for the man and although their relations had always
been amicable, this distaste had increased to a point where Basine would
have felt a relief at the man's death. He could never tell himself why
he disliked Aubrey. But the aversion was of long standing. "I don't like
his looks," he would grin to himself.

Now, watching him take his seat beside his mother, Aubrey became somehow
human and Basine felt he understood the man for the first time. Beneath
people whose looks you didn't like was always something human. People
were all alike, no matter how they strutted or posed. Underneath was a
loneliness--a little crippled likeness of themselves--that they carried
about with them all the time. Basine would have liked to talk to him and
say something like, "Sorry, old man. I didn't know. I'm sorry...."

The minister had begun. He stood beside the coffin that had been brought
in. His opening words startled Basine. A prayer! There was something
fantastic in the spectacle of this living man standing beside the dead
man and talking aloud to someone who was not in the room. Talking
solemnly, intensely to God. As if he had buttonholed Him.

Basine felt irritated by his own emotions. His face assumed a devout
air but the emotions and the thoughts which rose from them persisted
behind his determined piety. He wanted to immerse himself in the spirit
of the man praying. But his eyes played truant. They wandered furtively
and observed with uncomfortable precision the bowed head of Henrietta
and the spring hat on her head and the heavy-jowled face of her father,
belligerently reverent beside her.

The minister's voice shouted. "God, in Heaven ... his heavenly soul ...
his heavenly reward...."

Phrases like these detached themselves and lingered in Basine's ears. He
had heard them frequently in church. But for the moment they seemed
preposterously new. He found himself listening in surprise. Religion had
been always an accepted idea to him. Something you believed in as you
believed in the necessity of neckties. But though he accepted it and
felt a casual faith in an Episcopalian God, it remained an idea apart
from reality. He had never given either thought or emotion to religion.
Yet he had frequently expended a great deal of mental effort and emotion
denouncing people whom he sensed or observed were opposed to religion.

It struck him now as a childish farce--an absurd hocus-pocus. Poor
Gilchrist going to heaven and a long-faced man in a black coat speeding
his soul heavenward from the Gilchrist library! If there was a God, for
whom was all this necessary--the flowers, speeches, prayers? Not for
God. But for the people in the room, of course. People crowded in a tiny
room taking this opportunity to assure each other that the immensities
over their heads, the clouds, stars and spaces were their property.

His iconoclasm increased as if inspired by the length of the minister's
harangue. He grew angry with himself and thought of Doris and
immediately transferred his anger to her. It was she who was deriding
the solemnity of the scene. He had been paying too much attention to her
almost insane chatter and things were somewhat undermined in his own
soul. Her fault.

The prayer ended and four men came forward and began to sing. Their
voices, raised in a hymn, annoyed him instantly. This was too much. What
were they singing for? As if their songs would help poor Gilchrist mount
from the library into heaven. The entire scene, the bowed heads, sad
faces, elaborate coffin; the flowers, the worthy reverend and the
singers came to his mind as something terribly unconvincing. Futile,
that was it. Children making an unconvincing pretense.

He tried to blot out his thinking and fastened his will upon thoughts
that might make him sad, properly sad and believing. What if Henrietta
should die.... Henrietta dead. Henrietta gone forever. He seized the
thought eagerly. It was not what he wanted but there was a relish in
thinking it. Sad ... sad ... yes, if his mother should die or somebody
dear to him. Who? Ruth. Ah, what if it were Ruth in the coffin. Instead
of anybody else. He would feel differently then. Her beautiful face
white as Gilchrist's and her arms still. Her fingers rigid. Ruth
dead....

This made him sad but it took his mind entirely from the scene. He
forgot for moments that Gilchrist was dead and this was a funeral. The
reality returned, however, with an increased vividness to its absurdity.
The music of the hymn rose with embarrassing frankness.... Poor little
people gathered in a room going through a hocus-pocus to convince
themselves that there was a heaven where they would live forever after
the misfortune of death. Like children playing with dolls and
pretending.... But how did he happen to be thinking like that? Did he
believe there was no God, no heaven, no after life?

No, he believed in all that firmly. Of course, one must believe. The
self-questioning had shocked him back into a state of grace. Yes, he
believed firmly and bowed his head to the hymn that was ending.

During the rest of the services he was inwardly silent. The scene
appeared to have slipped into focus again. The minister seemed no longer
a symbol of some childish hocus-pocus but an ambassador of God--a stern
man, closely in touch with the Mysteries. And there was something
awesome in the room. There was something awesome about the coffin and
the flowers and the voices of the singers trailing into an Amen. It was
God. Yes, a great all powerful Being to whose hands mankind returned.

The discomfort of doubt left Basine and he felt himself again an
integral part of something vaster than himself. His thought re-entered
the idea of religion and a sense of peace filled him. He said Amen twice
and looked with mute, believing eyes at the black coffin.

The mourners were following the six silk-hatted pall bearers into the
street. A drizzle over the pavements. A long line of motors, chauffeurs
waiting, looking as aloof and aristocratic in their servitude as their
employers.

Basine found himself beside Milton Ware, one of the big traction
officials of the city. A grey-haired man with a well-preserved face
stamped with certainties and stern affabilities. Basine thought
casually that Ware had seemed rather friendly. He had come over to
exchange remarks several times while waiting for the services to begin.
On the curb Basine looked around for Henrietta. Judge Smith had brought
his machine and they were to drive to the cemetery together.

"Are you with anyone?" Ware asked quietly.

"Yes, I'm looking for my party," Basine answered. He spied the judge and
Henrietta crowded into their car. Several others had entered with them.
Ware followed his eye.

"That looks rather full," he suggested. "If you don't mind, would you
take a place in my machine."

Basine nodded. "Thank you. I'll just talk to them a minute then."

He returned from his father-in-law's automobile and entered with Ware.
The chauffeur started off and Basine leaned back in his seat. He
wondered at Ware's hospitality. The man was one of the outstanding
powers of the city, incredibly ramified through banks and corporations
and public utilities. He wondered what his connection with Gilchrist had
been. The traction baron--a title given him by the newspapers--sat in
silence beside him as the procession got under way. Basine's curiosity
began to answer itself. He found himself vaguely on his guard.

"I hadn't intended going to the cemetery," Ware announced after they had
been riding a few minutes. "I don't believe much in such
demonstrations."

"Neither do I," Basine answered. He was wondering if it were possible to
escape his duty to the family. There was such a crowd he might not be
missed at the grave.

"Would you mind if we turned out at one of these streets and drove to
the club," Ware asked deferentially.

Basine hesitated. He had noticed the invitation in the remark. Ware,
whom he had only met once before, was inviting him to the club. Why? A
desire to attach himself to Ware abruptly edited his doubts concerning
the propriety of his absence.

"I'd just as soon," he answered. The chauffeur was given directions. The
remainder of the ride was passed in silence.

"I thought we might have lunch here," Ware explained as they seated
themselves in front of a window overlooking the boulevard. It was
raining. The empty street gleamed and darkened with rain.

"Most of the forenoon is gone anyway," Ware added. "Have you an
engagement?"

"Thanks, I haven't," Basine answered. They sat sipping at highballs a
servant had brought. Basine watched the rain and a figure scurrying past
below the window. About this time they were lowering Gilchrist into the
ground. No one would ever see his face again.

"Pretty sad about Gilchrist," Ware murmured as if aware of his thought.

Basine's attention returned to the traction baron. The man wanted
something. Or why should he seek him out? An anger came into his mind.
Who was this man Ware that he could pick him up and cart him to a club
and buy him a highball--and expect to impress him, Basine? And for what
reason? The man wanted something.

The idea had become a conviction. He sensed it now through the memories
of the morning. Ware had led up to it dexterously. A nod at first. Later
a few remarks about the weather. Finally an invitation to ride with him
to the cemetery. Ware had never intended going there. That had been a
ruse to--kidnap him. Basine frowned. Well, he was kidnapped. And he
would find out why. Find out directly.

Ware was looking at him with a smile. Basine saw something in the smile
that increased his anger. A sudden wave of emotion, as if he were going
to strike the man, propelled his thoughts out of him. He heard himself
talking in a precise, indignant voice and regretted it at once. But the
words continued:

"You're a rather busy man, Mr. Ware. And so am I. What did you want to
ask me?"

Ware nodded slowly and thrust out his lower lip.

"Exactly," he murmured. "I wanted to speak to you about something."

"Well...." He paused on the word but Ware remained silent. He would have
liked to out-silence the traction official but after a pause, a
nervousness possessed him. "Well, let's begin now," he said. "What is it
you want?"

He felt the crudity of his question and winced inwardly. But ... the
thing was said. He would fellow through in that tone, then. He tightened
his features and leaned back in his chair, his eyes deliberately on the
face of his host. He had embarrassed Ware. He could sense that through
the man's poise. His poise was only a stall. Well and good. There was
nothing for him, Basine, to be embarrassed about. He felt elated after
all with the way he had handled the thing.

"I want to talk to you about a rather delicate matter," Ware began.
Basine nodded. He held the trumps. He had only to sit back and this
traction baron would begin to mumble, his celebrated poise would begin
to disintegrate.

"I'll be as direct as you, Judge," he continued. "I see that you don't
like beating around the bush. Neither do I. But I didn't know. As I
said, the thing is a rather delicate matter and I want you to take my
word for it, that whatever you say in way of reply will in no way change
my opinion of you. It's a thing to be said and then forgotten, if
necessary, by both of us. Do you agree?"

Basine nodded.

"It's about the Hill case," Ware lowered his voice.

"The Hill case?" Basine stared.

"On your calendar, Judge. The violinist suing for $50,000. Hurt by
falling off a street car. I thought you knew the case."

"I remember it now, Mr. Ware."

"Well, the man hasn't a case at all. But it's a jury trial and, of
course, juries sometimes think out things in an odd way. Now what I'm
getting at is this. This particular suit doesn't disturb us much. But
the anti-traction press is going to give it a great deal of publicity.
And what we're interested in is the effect of the suit. You understand?
The town is full of cranks and schemers always trying to get rich by
suing some big utility corporation. And if this man Hill wins his case,
why it'll mean another hundred cases all as preposterous as his on our
hands. Do you follow me?"

Basine nodded.

"I told you it was a rather delicate subject," Ware smiled. "And I would
never have thought of broaching it if I wasn't sure you would look at it
in the light it's offered, you understand? I don't mean I'm asking a
judge to do anything outside the facts or to go out of his way to hand
us anything. That's dishonest and absurd. The thing is, as you'll see
for yourself when the case starts, that this man Hill is an impostor
trying to hold us up. We'll prove that to your entire satisfaction. What
I'm getting at is that there's the jury and you know the attitude of
juries these days toward corporations. They hold against us regardless
of evidence. Now what I'm after is to see we get a fair trial and it
lies in your province to help us."

Basine leaned forward and spoke with difficulty. His anger had grown in
him.

"What is it you want me to do?" he asked.

Ware smiled disarmingly.

"Nothing at all, Judge, that you wouldn't have done of your own
volition. I want you, if you are convinced such a course is a just one,
to take the case from the jury and throw it out of court. Now, wait a
minute. I see you're angry and, as I said, the matter in a way is rather
delicate to talk about. But come, I'll say frankly, I'm interested in
you. We need men like you. Quick, intelligent and able to see their way.
The progress of the city depends upon such men. You know Jennings?"

"Your attorney."

"Yes, in full charge of our legal department. There's another case for
you of an intelligent, quick-witted man, scrupulously honest but not an
ass. Six years ago Jennings was a judge on the municipal bench. Wasted
... utterly wasted ... today--"

Basine interrupted, his voice harshened.

"An analogy. I see. Thanks."

He stood up. Ware reached out his hand.

"I don't think you quite understand me," he murmured.

"Perfectly," Basine answered. "And I've given my word that whatever I
understood would be forgotten."

Words welled into Basine's mind. An almost uncontrollable impulse to
confound his host with a violent denunciation struggled in him. He would
tell this traction baron what manner of man he, Basine, was. And what
the dignity of his position as judge was. He would throw the bribe back
into the man's teeth. He would declaim. Virtue. Outrage. Creatures who
sought to use their power to influence justice. Who thought themselves
able to drag men of honor to their level by the promise of favors.

Basine remained silent. His eyes, grown lustrous, stared at Ware.
Careful, he must be careful not to protest too violently. That would
sound as if he were uncertain. No protest at all. A contemptuous
silence. That was more effective. The sort of thing Ware would
understand, too. And remember. With a deep breath that sent a tremor
through his body, he nodded.

"Good day," he said and turning his back abruptly, walked out of the
club. He frowned at the unctuous bell boys and doorman.

Still raining. Basine walked swiftly, unaware of destination. His mind
was filled with emotions. Indignation grew in him. Ware had offered a
bribe. There was something in the thing that slowly infuriated him. It
was an affront, an attempt at domination. The man had said, "I'm better
than you. I can bribe you to do what I want." His spirit revolted. So
that was the way to power, eh? Listening to reason when the big wigs
spoke? Well, they could go on speaking till doomsday. But they couldn't
talk to him like that ... and get away with it.

The anger slipped from him. He had refused. An elation halted him. He
was an honest man! The fact surprised him. He stared with pride at the
street. The street held an honest man, a man able to say "no" to
temptation.

A tardy appreciation of his righteousness overpowered him. He had
something inside him now like a new strength. He could look at men
anywhere, anytime, and let his eyes tell them who he was and what sort
of man he was. Because he was sure of it himself. He was an honest man,
and sure of it.

It was not only inside him, this certainty, but he felt it like a mantle
over his shoulders. He walked on with a vigorous step. An unshaven face
paused before him and a beggar mumbled for a coin. Basine stopped full.
He stopped with deliberation and stared at the unshaven face, at the
shifty eyes and dirty linen. The beggar repeated his furtive mumble.

"No," Basine answered clearly. His voice was sharp. The man appeared to
wince. He slid away in the rain, his head down.

Basine walked on with an increased elation. He had never been able to do
that before, say "no" decisively to a beggar. He had usually said "no",
but hurriedly, furtively. That was because he was uncertain of himself.
Now he could say "no" or "yes" to anyone with decision. He had refused
a bribe and was an honest man and did not have to concern himself with
what others might think of what he said, because of this conviction in
him and because of this mantle in which he was wrapped.

He walked in the direction of the County Building. The rain felt fresh.
It was a moral rain, a virtuous comrade.

The incident in the club had, in fact, given Basine a character. He had
been unaware of his motives from the moment a sense of impending events
had come to him in the traction official's automobile. He had, when the
bribe came, acted as if following a lifelong code of ethics. Yet he had
surprised himself. His anger, his violent emotion of righteousness had
been inexplicable to him. He had never felt anything like that before.

Basine, in the car, had become aware vaguely of what awaited him. He had
recalled and repressed the recollection instantly, the Hill case pending
trial before him. And under the surface of his thought the entire drama
of the bribe had enacted itself in advance. Ware would offer him
something. Yes, and Ware was a man to know, one who could be of vital
use in his climb. If Ware asked him to do something it would be wise to
do it. He had been eager for the interview and a part of his eagerness
had been a desire to grant the traction baron the favor he was going to
ask.

But the incident had come during a curious crisis in Basine's life, a
crisis that had piled up since his youth. A consciousness had been
growing in him of his duplicity. He had been aware of it, but in a
different way, during his youth and the early years of his marriage. It
had not made him uncomfortable then. He had been able to lie with a
clear conscience. Ruses by which he established himself in the eyes of
others, not as he was but as he desired them to think him, had seemed to
him then the product of a practical, superior nature.

Slowly, however, his poise in the face of his own duplicities had begun
to crumble. He had begun to feel himself filled with the uncertainties
of a man forced to conceal too many things from himself. Fitting his
hypocricies and lies into worthy necessities had become too complex a
business, demanding too much of his energies.

The inner situation in which Basine found himself as he matured had in
no way changed his nature. He had gone ahead as always, stumbling
finally into a climax of deceits in his relation with the young woman he
had hired as his secretary.

In the five months she had worked for him he had been in love with her
but had managed to withhold the fact from both of them. He had invented
exhaustless explanations for his interest in her, for his desire to be
near her, for the increased aversion that had grown in him toward
Henrietta and his home.

The crisis had accumulated and reached a head during the services in the
Gilchrist home. Here his pent-up self-repugnance, his growing impulse to
expurgate the duplicities of his life, had found a minor outlet in the
sudden religious faith that had possessed him after his half-hour of
doubts. Ware's bribe had come opportunely. Basine's inexplicable anger
on sensing the impending bribe, had been his self answer to the eager
desire to comply that had struggled to assert itself in him.

And when the man had begun the actual words that meant bribe, he had
seized on the situation as a vindication. Opportunity to rehabilitate
himself, to wipe out with a single gesture the clutter of dishonesties
which were beginning to inconvenience him. He had embraced it and
emerged from the club a man, remade. No longer an inwardly shifty Basine
able to rise to righteousness only by avoiding his memories. But a
Basine with a platform inside him on which he might stand fearlessly.
The platform--I am honest. I refused a bribe--had erected itself over
the complex memories of himself. They were obliterated now.

He entered his chambers with a serious happiness in his heart. A miracle
had happened and he had been given absolution--by himself.



16


Ruth Davis was at her desk. She looked up eagerly as he entered. Basine,
hanging up his coat and hat, felt a businesslike desire to explain
matters to her. He was an honest man, done with subterfuges.

He would explain to her that it was no longer possible for her to
continue in his employ. Use correct but kindly words. He was an honest
man. He wanted to impress himself and everybody else with this fact.
Even Ruth. He had no thought of impressing it on Henrietta. Henrietta
would only be surprised to hear he was an honest man. Because she had
always believed it anyway.

But he would like to tell Ruth, because it would raise her opinion of
him; fill her with a great pride. A sad pride, of course, since it meant
their separation. But she would go away loving him even more because of
his honesty that had put an end to his love for her.

The course, however, was impossible. It involved a ludicrous situation.
Because he had never said he loved her and she had been as silent as he.
And so telling her all these very fine things would make it necessary
for him to say first, "I have loved you." And then to add, "But I don't
love you any more. I can't."

It was two o'clock. Time for the Judge to take his place on the bench.
Basine arose from behind his table with a sense of anti-climax. Nothing
had happened. He was going back to his place on the bench again. Poor
Gilchrist lay hidden forever and Ware had tried to bribe him and he had
proven himself a man of astounding integrity. And he had overcome a
growing infatuation for Ruth Davis. Yet nothing had happened.

"Shall I retype the Friday speech, Judge?" Ruth inquired as he hesitated
before her desk. He looked at her as if it were difficult to focus his
attention on her. He was preoccupied. A man of many preoccupations who
found it hard to notice little things around him.

"Oh yes, the speech," he agreed. "Type it. And if there are any mistakes
change them to suit yourself."

He walked out of chambers. Ruth turned to her typewriter and prepared to
set to work. But as the door closed behind Basine she stopped. She
removed a small mirror from a drawer and studied her face in it. She
leaned back in her seat and sighed. She felt too restless to work.

With her white brows frowning, she sat looking at the keys of her
machine. A miserable restlessness, this was, that never went away. At
night she lay awake in the room she had chosen since becoming
financially independent of her family. And a loneliness gnawed in her
heart. It was because she loved him.

"Yes, I love him," she repeated to the keys of her machine.

He was not like other men. There was something intimidating about him.
He had never spoken to her in a friendly tone. His eyes had never become
intimate.

During the five months she had been his secretary he had kept aloof. A
strange, unbending man consumed with ambition. His ambition was an
awesome thing. There was a directness to it. He worked day and night,
always planning for something. His engagements crowded each other. She
hardly knew the man. She knew only an ambition that kept pushing
tirelessly forward.

There had been no talk between them except business talk. And yet,
somehow he had given himself to her. Despite his aloofness and the
sternness of his manner, she had felt herself coming close to him,
closer than to anybody else she had ever known. And men were no exciting
novelty to her. They had held her hand and fumbled around with ambiguous
words. They talked art, politics, women, not because they were
interested in these things but because they wanted you to be interested
in what they thought of them. She had kept her virginity without
difficulty. The half-world of art and jobs enthused her. But it did not
stampede. A practical side of her remained dubious about the groping
ones she met in the studios. It was hard to pick out the real ones from
the fourflushers. She had discovered this. Because the real ones didn't
know they were real. Any more than the fourflushers knew they were
spurious. They all gabbled and wrote, painted and gabbled, and there was
no difference to them.

About the men she had noticed one thing. Their egoism was the egoism of
ideas. They were better than others, they thought, because of the ideas
in their heads. They were excitedly snobbish about these ideas as people
are snobbish about clothes. But they weren't better than others because
they were they. They were always leaning on things to make them feel
superior. Radicalism was a series of ideas that they picked up because
they felt a superior intellectualism in them.

Ruth had started thinking in this direction after listening to Levine,
Doris' friend. She had felt something of the sort before. But Levine,
with his almost oily pessimism, who talked always as if he were selling
something, had made it clear.

"The women who go in for revolt," Levine had said, "Hm, that's another
story. They're not interested in egoism. Because as yet there isn't a
highly developed caste system among women. They still kind of herd
together as a sex and they try to impress each other only with their
superior artificialities--as to who has the most doting husband, the
nicest times, the most accomplished servants.

"But men--there you have something else, don't you think? And the men we
know--the hangers-on around here, comical, eh? You can almost see them
bargain hunting for ideas. They don't stand up on their own feet and let
out yaps. They keep crawling inside of new ideas. They keep using ideas
as megaphones to proclaim their own superiorities. Little men playing
hide and seek inside of big ideas. Using ideas about art and life as
kids use pumpkin heads on Hallowe'en. To frighten and impress the
neighbors. Another simile--borrowed finery, eh? Ah, they're all fools.
It's hard to be much interested in people unless you're a poet. If
you're a poet then what you do is ignore people and go down like a
deep-sea diver to the bottoms of life. Down there it's interesting. Yes,
growths like on the ocean floor."

As a contrast to these men, gabbling in her ear and fumbling with her
hands, Basine had interested her at once. At first she had accepted the
way he ignored her as a natural attitude. Later, he would become
friendly and she looked forward to his friendship. It would be
interesting to know what an egoist like Basine thought about things. His
ideas were obviously rather stupid, but then--there was something else.
Strength, determination. He wasn't like the intellectuals, continually
losing themselves in new ideas and parading around like kids in their
big brothers' pants. She disliked that kind of men. The longer you knew
them the more unreal they became. Until finally, when you knew them
through and through it was like knowing an inferior edition of an
encyclopedia through and through. Everything was inside but it made no
sense. It had no direction. A jumble of ideas and informations--but they
formed no plot, no man. They weren't really egoists--the intellectuals.
Men like Basine were.

But his aloofness seemed to increase with time. There had been no
natural evolution of friendship. She thought then, "He acts artificially
toward me. It's because he doesn't want anything to sidetrack him. Not
even friendships. He isn't quite human. He's like a machine that's
wound up. And he must run till he breaks down."

This image of Basine fascinated her. A man without heart, a cool will
feeling its way tirelessly toward power, a thirst for power that
increased rather than stated itself with success. When he'd been elected
judge, he had surprised her by asking, "Would you like to come along
with me to the County Building? The office doesn't include a secretary,
but I need one on my own account."

During the months she had gained an almost embarrassing insight into the
activities engulfing Basine. The man himself remained hidden,
non-existent. But the world in which he had obliterated himself became
vividly outlined for her. The intrigues, counter intrigues, the
complexities of his climb, these were open secrets to her. He seemed
shameless about them. Often when she watched him furtively as he wrote
out political speeches should would think, "Is there a man there?"

It seemed to her there was not. Only an ambition tirelessly at work. An
ambition with a keen, nervous face, sharp eyes, thin hands and an
eloquent voice. But something more. A man who didn't hide inside ideas
but who remained outside them, giving himself to nothing except his
consuming desire to utilize ideas for his own end. He remained outside
manipulating. He manipulated life. All for what?

Fascinated, she fell in love. When he came in where she was, her heart
jumped. When he talked to her, something contracted in her throat, and
frightened her. She had her day dreams. As the spring opened sunny
mornings over the streets, she would sit gazing out of the tall windows
and think of Basine. Her thoughts took an odd turn. They built up
scenes in which Basine lay defeated. Accidents had maimed him. Political
reversals had taken the heart out of him. He was ruined, poor, without
employment. She pictured such situations with relish. In them she
appeared as an understanding one. She would fancy herself coming to him
and shaking her head sadly and saying, "Poor man. I'm so sorry. But you
see ... you see where it all led? to this."

And she would fancy him smiling back with a romantic tiredness and
reaching for her hand and answering as if he were an actor with a
speech:

"Yes, my dear? I've been wrong. Ambition is wrong. I'm ruined. And it is
only proof that I was wrong."

And then, in her fancies, he would look at her tenderly and raising her
hand to his lips murmur, "Forgive me, Ruth."

The door of the chambers opened and Ruth looked up, startled. Paul
Schroder strode in. He looked jaunty. She smiled. He was one of Basine's
friends, and she liked him for that. He had been of the hard-working
loyal ones during Basine's campaign.

"Oh, nothing in particular," he said. "Thought I'd just drop in for a
smoke. How's his Honor, these days?"

"He's very fine," Ruth answered. Schroder shook his head.

"I'm afraid he's drying up," he grinned. "That's the trouble with men of
his type. Get their noses down to a grindstone and never have time to
look up."

Ruth blushed. That didn't sound like a loyal speech. She saw Schroder
smiling broadly at her.

"You're quite a champion of his," he was saying. "Well, well. Maybe his
Honor isn't as slow as I've been giving him credit for being."

From anyone else this would have been offensive, she thought. But there
was something pleasing in the accusation. She hesitated and then
returned his smile.

"You know as well as I, what kind of a man Judge Basine is," she
answered. "He's the kind every woman respects at first sight."

"Loves, you mean," said Schroder.

"Oh no, I don't think a woman could really love Mr. Basine," she smiled.
"He's too much wrapped up in himself."

"Well, I don't know then," said Schroder, "his wife puts up a pretty
good bluff then."

Ruth's smile left her.

"Oh," she said, "of course."

Schroder laughed.

"Well, well," he went on, "so you'd forgotten he had a wife. That's a
sweet kettle of fish. Such memory lapses are dangerous. Watch your step,
young lady. Look out."

He stood up and approached her and wagged a finger mockingly. In a way
Schroder annoyed her. He always made her feel juvenile. She could never
use any of her sophisticated phrases on him. Because he laughed too
loudly and if you retorted cleverly he always guffawed as if he had
trapped you into having to be clever. His manner always seemed to say,
"You can't put it over me. I know. I know...."

Ruth turned with relief at the sound of a door opening. Basine. This was
one of his habits, to appear suddenly and for no reason at all and walk
up and down the large room as if immersed in grave thought. She had
often wondered why he did this. She thought it was because the work on
the bench made him too nervous or because there were so many things
weighing on his mind that he needed a few minutes now and then to
straighten himself out.

But while thinking this she had always felt that his sudden appearances
had something to do with her. It was perhaps only a part of her vanity,
she mused, but she always had this impression--that despite his
indifference and sternness he was curiously attentive. No matter how
busy he was he never absented himself long. He was always returning and
walking up and down. It was odd, but she felt at times that he walked up
and down for her, to be near her.

"Hello Paul," Basine's eyes slanted up at him, his head slightly
lowered. A pose which gave him a pugnaciously concentrated air such as a
schoolmaster looking over the top of his glasses at an erring pupil
might achieve. "What do you want?" A disconcerting directness he
reserved for the embarrassment of his friends. He asked straightforward
questions, point-blank questions. His questions always had the air of
troops unafraid, wheeling in manoeuver to face the enemy.

"Nothing much, Judge. But your office is kind of restful."

Schroder rolled a kittenish eye toward Ruth.

"Oh!" Basine stiffened. "Hm."

Schroder winked at the girl. He came forward, and added, "All the
comforts of home, eh?" And dropped into a chair beside her.

He had the faculty of boyishness, a talent for intimacies. His trick
was a conscious thrust beneath the guard of women. He chose to ignore
the delicate fol de rols of pursuit, the pretense of formality. He
refused to recognize the barriers of dignity, strangeness, social
poise--but stepped through them with an easy laugh as if perfectly aware
of what lay beyond, and seated himself beside his quarry in the guise of
a mischievous boy asking to be congratulated for his boldness.

Women succumbed to this gesture, disarmed by its frankness, its pretense
to innocent juvenility. In this manner Schroder achieved within an hour
intimacies which came to other men only after months of laborious toil.
He threw a noise of laughter over the bantering innuendoes of his talk,
disguising boldness in its own obviousness. His sallies seemed to say,
"You have nothing to fear from us since we are not secretive. We are
cards on the table."

Women thought of him, "He's lots of fun. You don't have to pretend with
him. You can play and talk without feeling he's laying traps for you."

But despite the straightforwardness of the man they soon located the
overtone in his conversation. It lay in his eyes. His eyes never gave
themselves to his laughter. They seemed to watch avidly from behind
something. It was as if they were independent of his characterization as
a frankly mischievous overgrown boy. They were able to ask amazingly
indecent questions in the midst of his frankest outbursts. Women
invariably grew embarrassed under their stare. There was no defense
against the inquisitive impudence with which they announced the male's
concentration. Their gleam was like an unmistakable whisper--an
invitation.

Basine admired the man. But he remained oblivious to this side of him.
Schroder's female conquests had never interested the Judge. He had heard
of them and forgotten immediately. Now, however, memories returned.
Schroder was an unscrupulous animal. Basine looked at him with a
hopeless misgiving.

He noticed as Schroder and Ruth talked that he seemed on far more
intimate terms with her than he. There was an _esprit_ between the two
as if they were comrades of long standing. His friend's familiarity was
a shock--as if he had caught him undressed, unexpectedly. Basine
listened to his talk with an aloof frown, as if he were unable to focus
his attention on the scene. He was thinking of something else--far-away
things, vast preoccupations.

"Loafing is an art. Don't you think so, Ruth?"

"I've never had time to find out."

"Hm. I'm teacher. Want me to be teacher?"

"Why yes, if you have time in your loafing."

"Time for you always, my dear." A contemplative stare at the girl. "What
would you say, Judge, if I fall in love with your charming secretary."
He laughed. Basine cleared his throat. He felt miserably out of this
sort of thing. He was shocked to hear Ruth giggle.

"Yes sir," Schroder continued. "And what are you doing this evening?"

"Nothing, Mr. Schroder."

"Well, why waste time? How about dinner and a show?"

"Really?" She glanced at Basine as if to declare him in on this give and
take. He was preoccupied, hardly observing what was happening. She
pouted.

"Cross my heart," said Schroder.

"Thanks very much. A very generous, if general invitation."

"Discovered!" Schroder laughed. "All right then. Six o'clock at the
Auditorium. Woman's entrance. I'll wear a red rose in my ear. Can't miss
me."

Ruth nodded.

"There you are, George," Schroder cried. "All done in a minute. And
tomorrow we'll be in love with each other. What'll you marry us for,
your Honor? Remember I helped elect you." A boisterous laugh that seemed
to mock the boastfulness and prophecies of the man and say of itself,
"I'm joshing all of you including me...."

Basine left them. His heart was heavy, uncomfortable. He sat on the
bench frowning at the scene. Eager lawyers whispering; a woman in a
green hat holding a handkerchief to her eyes; a bald-headed man on the
other side of the long mahogany table; faces for a background. A divorce
case. The woman weeping was a wife. The bald-headed one with the air of
a board of directors' meeting about him ogled his accusers with dignity.
He was a husband. The jury sat dolorously inattentive in the box. A
witness was testifying.

Other people's troubles. An interminable jawing back and forth--lawyers,
defendants, witnesses and more lawyers. Basine frowned. Other people's
troubles--and he had his own. This thing before him was an intrusion. At
best he had no sympathy for the interminable jawing that went on under
his eyes. He had grown passionately interested in what he called the
people. But when he thought of the people he thought of them as a
force, a group, an army standing with faces raised repeating certain
slogans--a vision that Doris had bequeathed him. The interminable
jawing, weeping, accusation and denial before him from day to day had
nothing to do with the people. About these individuals he was cynical.
And more, he was not interested.

The witness was testifying. The intimidating air of the judge seemed to
confuse her. Her confusion irritated Basine. He turned indignantly and
faced her with a bullying frown.

"What is it you're trying to say, madam? Did you see this man beat her?"

"Yes, your honor.... I.... I ... that is...."

Basine controlled his temper and grimaced humorously at the jurors whose
faces at once lighted with an appreciative smile. A fearless man, Judge
Basine, who couldn't tolerate the mumble mumble of legal technicalities
and who struck at the roots of things when he took charge of a witness.

... They were in the room behind him. Alone. An intolerable thought.
But, impossible to keep his thought away. His imagination like a
merciless flagellate, belabored him with fancies. Paul would teach her.
Lean over and kiss her. And she would kiss in return and whisper,
"Paul...." He was unmarried and good looking. Perhaps she was
heartbroken, too. He, Basine, had never spoken despite the light he had
recognized of late in her eyes. She was in love with him and filled with
despair because her love was useless. So now she would turn to Schroder
in desperation. She would try to forget him, Basine. It was logical.
Women forgot hurts in that way--by giving themselves to someone else.

The heaviness grew unbearable. Another man was touching Ruth. This was
unbearable. He couldn't stand it. But why? What difference? He
couldn't.... She was so beautiful. Another man's hands were desecration.

A weakness came to him. His heart darkened. What if she did, with
Schroder? They were probably kissing now. It had been hard to imagine
himself kissing her. To him she somehow seemed aloof, beyond possession.
But it was easy to imagine Schroder. Men and women put their arms around
each other and that was an end to aloofness.

He made an effort to pull himself together. Voices were droning around
him--other people's troubles. Faces thrust themselves tactlessly at his
eyes. He grew nauseated. He had never felt like this before. As if he
must do something despite his will. His will said, "Sit there. Don't
move. It's none of your business." But this other thing was pulling him
out of his seat and moving his body for him.

He clenched his teeth and muttered to himself, "She's no good. Wasting
my time on her!"

"That will be all for today," Basine muttered. He placed his hand
wearily over his forehead. This would make them think he was ill. His
clerk came forward.

"Anything wrong, Judge?" he asked with concern.

Basine shook his head with Spartan indifference to the mythical disease
consuming him.

"No," he said, belying his answer in its tone, "court is adjourned until
ten o'clock tomorrow."

He nodded briefly at the faces. The solicitous regard in the eyes of
attorneys and jurors reassured him. He was ill, very ill--that was it.
Of course, that was it. The eyes of the attorneys and jurors said, "You
are working too hard. You must be careful of a nervous breakdown. In
your prime too. Be careful."

He walked off the bench, his step unsteady. He was acting. But the fact
that his step was not authenticly unsteady was an accident--and
illogical. He felt it logical to walk unsteadily since everyone thought
him ill and on the verge of a breakdown.

"You'd better go home, Judge."

Basine nodded gratefully to his clerk. He opened the door to his
chambers. The sight of Schroder bewildered him. Schroder was still
there. He had his hat in his hand, though. Basine stared at his friend.
His heart contracted and his breath fluttered in his throat.

"What's wrong, George?"

"Nothing. Headache. Knocked off for the day."

Words were hard to speak. His eyes turned to Ruth. She was watching him.
Frightenedly, he thought. Had she done something? Kissed? They looked
guilty. He tried to find answers to the questions by staring at her. Was
she the same as she had been? Or had she given her lips? A vital
question. They were going out tonight together. Basine controlled
himself. He sat down at his desk and ran his hand wearily over his head.

"Well, so long," Schroder spoke. "Hope you feel better, George." A
pause. "See you later, Ruth."

See her later! They had no sympathy for his illness. They would go out
and laugh, hold hands, make love--despite his trouble. He sat brooding
over the cruelty of women. "Cruel. No finer feelings," he mumbled to
himself.

They were alone. Was he ill? What was it that had lifted him off the
bench? Nothing definite. A dark disorder in his mind, a heaviness in his
heart that had seemed part of the room. He wanted to moan. Yes, he was
sick.

"Can I do anything, Judge?"

He hated her. Her voice with its hypocritical concern. As if she cared
for him. After what had happened between her and Schroder ... see you
later ... and he called her Ruth.

"No, Miss Davis."

This was unbearable. He would insult her. There was relief in insulting
her, making her suffer for something, too. But she might go away if he
did. He couldn't go on with his work any more. Work was impossible. A
disease was active in him sending out dark clouds that choked his
thought and swelled his heart with pain. She might leave for good. Then
what could he do? Nothing. But why all this make-believe? He would tell
her he loved her. Simple. That would drain him of his pain. He stood up
and paced. She was at her desk, he noticed, eyes large and excited.

But he could do nothing, say nothing. He was impotent. Good God! he
must. How? No way he could think of. The thing was smothering him.
Before--days and weeks before--he had kept it down. But now it had slid
from underneath and was in his head. There was no outlet. He dared not
talk.

No thoughts were in his mind. Henrietta, his children, home, morality,
marriage, none of these was in his mind. But there was a restriction, a
wall he could not pass. There were things holding him with merciless
hands. They gripped at his body and thrust themselves like gags into his
mouth.

She had risen and was standing near the window. If he kept to his pacing
he must come near her. It was her fault. He was just pacing. She was in
his path. If he walked straight to the end of the room she would be in
his path. Why should he turn out for her?

He paused beside her. He must say nothing. It was talk that was
impossible. He stood looking at her until his eyes grew bewildered.
There was a moment in which he seemed to vanish from himself, as if he
had stepped bodily out of himself. His thought paralyzed with a curious
terror, he saw nothing. The moment of unconsciousness passed and he was
still alive and still on his feet. His voice lay under control in his
throat and the memory of his name sat like a perpetual visitor in his
thought.

But there was a change. A miraculous thing had happened. He was no
longer Basine. He was a stranger in a strange world. He was holding her
in his arms. An impossible sensation was in him. This was something he
couldn't believe. He wanted to look at himself. He had his arms around
her. But there was no woman in the circle of his arms. He was holding
something that let his delirium escape. Torments were emptying
themselves in the embrace. The miseries that had accumulated under the
surface of his months of resistance, were leaving him, flying from him.
His heart was growing unbearably light.

"Oh!" he murmured. Her arms had tightened and he saw her eyes approach
him. They were rapturous.

She was warm, intimate, close to him. Her lips, still piquantly
strange, were offering themselves. She was unlike everything he knew. A
startling vigor, as if he had been changed into a rampaging giant, swept
him as they kissed. He was great, strong. He could walk over the heads
of the world. He had no need for further embrace. He stepped away, his
face radiant.

Ruth looked at him in confusion. This was a new Basine. He frightened.
The mask was gone, the frown of preoccupation. She grew dizzy in the
light of his eyes. He was a stranger. What should she call him? But he
was talking to her in a voice that he seemed to have kept secret.... "I
love you, Ruth. I love you."

He laughed. She smiled uncertainly and felt that her face looked
awkward. She could see the lines of her cheeks bulging as she lowered
her eyes. This confused her and made her feel stiff. There had been
something of this sort a few minutes ago in Paul Schroder when he had
tried to take her hand. But now the thing she had noted calmly in
Schroder seemed a puny imitation. Here it was real. He was laughing,
softly, joyously. He was like a boy. Her heart filled with panic. She
put her arms quickly around his neck and pressed herself close to him.
The panic went out of her deliciously.

"George, I love you. I'm so happy."

They sat looking at each other, an excited smile in Basine's eyes. His
body was tingling. A new sense had come. It lived in his fingers. He was
holding her hand. His fingers were charged with an amazing energy. They
seemed to have become part of a different person. He was able to enjoy
the ecstasy that confused his fingers as if it were an external
emotion. The rest of him was clear, almost tranquil.

"Well," he said. It was still hard to talk. He was aware of
incongruities. He was not Basine talking, not the new Basine, not the
one whose fingers danced and throbbed. His voice belonged to other
Basines--other characterizations whose awkward ghosts fluttered
nervously in his thought. He would discuss this phenomenon. It was easy,
after all. Be honest. She was one with whom he could be astonishingly
honest. They were isolated. The world was a futility. There was an end
to make-believe now. It was all honest, tranquil, joyous. He began
again:

"Well, isn't it strange. I can hardly talk to you. I'm not used to us
yet. This way. I've loved you since I first saw you. But I've told so
many lies about that to both of us...." He paused to smile at her as if
asking her not to believe him a liar, or if she must--a liar in a high
cause--"that the things I want to say now seem like ... like the
contradictions of something. Of old lies ... in a way."

She nodded.

"Oh, I know," she whispered. A preposterous admiration of her
intelligence overcame him. Of course she understood! It was unnecessary
to talk to her. She had kissed and embraced him. She had felt the same
things he had. And now, their thoughts were alike. They were like one
person, having shared something that filled them. It was unnecessary to
talk. Because if he remained silent she knew he was thinking of her. A
charming sense of comradeship came to him.

"I feel," he said, "as if we were too intimate for words."

She nodded again and smiled.

"We'll make a holiday," he added. "Come, we'll go for a drive."

They embraced. This time he thought of Henrietta. Ruth was different
from his wife. Her shoulder blades felt different under his fingers. It
was impossible to think they were both women. His arms around Henrietta
meant nothing. His arms around Ruth now--he closed his eyes in order to
closet himself with indefinable sensations.

They emerged from the traffic of the loop. Basine at the wheel of his
newly purchased roadster dropped a hand on hers.

"I feel better like this," he said.

"Isn't it wonderful," she whispered.

He would have liked to tell her they were floating over buildings. But
he kept silent. Words were still self-conscious interlopers. The houses
moved away. A spring wind was in their faces. They were silent. The
pavements ended. Basine brought the car to a stop.

"I don't know what to do," he said. "I'm so happy."

He placed his arms around her. The touch of her body through his clothes
was a reminder of something. He gave it no words. They sat embraced,
their faces together and an unspoken laugh in their hearts. The sun was
high overhead. Basine tried to remember himself ... Henrietta, his home,
his position. Ah, banalities. He was proud. He was above remorse,
regret; above himself. There was nothing in the world as beautiful as
the moment he commanded.

Ruth leaned avidly against him as if seeking refuge in his arms. He sat
thinking. "It is right. Everything right. I've done nothing. No
compromise. Nothing. I'm happy. There's nothing to frighten me."

He felt released.



17


Summer lay like a Mandarin coat over the city. It was June. Warm,
sun-awninged streets glistened with ornamental colors. Women in gaudy
fabrics, men in violent hat bands, straws, panamas, striped shirts, sun
parasols like huge discs of confetti, freshly painted red and green
street cars, pastel tinted automobiles--all these tumbled like a swarm
of sprightly incoherent adjectives along the foot of the buildings.

The store windows like deaf and dumb hawkers grimaced at the crowds. Ice
creams, silks, swimming suits, and sport paraphernalia; jaunty frocks,
white trousers, candies, festive haberdashery, drugs, leather goods,
wicker furniture and assortments of lingerie like the symbols of
fastidious sins--all these grimaced behind plate glass.

The city was in bloom. People, perspiring and lightly dressed, sauntered
by the plate glass orchards. Summer filled the city with reminiscent
smells. Sky, water, grass scampered like merry ghosts through the
carnival of the shopping center. Warm, sun-awninged streets; ornamental
men and women--summer spread itself through the crowds, warmed the
bargain hunters, loiterers, clerks, stenographers, business men and
housewives into a half sleep.

They peered lazily at each other. Their mysterious preoccupations seemed
to have subsided. The sun made holiday in the streets and the high,
fluttering windows showered endless tiny suns on the air. The morning
held the unreal soul of some forgotten picnic.

Ten o'clock. Fanny Gilchrist turned with an inward sigh and walked out
of the crowded business street. This was LaSalle street and, concealed
in the buildings around her, were people who knew her and might see her.
Accidentally bump into her.

The crowds grew thinner and less familiar types of faces drifted by.
This was better. She wasn't exactly afraid. But what if someone did bump
into her accidentally? Then she would have to say where she was going
and, if she lied, perhaps they would insist upon coming along and
discover it. But that was foolishness. One never met people in streets
like that.

Men looked at her with casual interest, with insignificant enthusiasm,
as she walked by them. A bright-haired, shining-eyed young woman with a
body undulating softly under a grey and green trimmed dress; she seemed
to light up the dingy pavements. Other women passed lighting them up
also. Each new female illuminant was welcomed with thankful, greedy
eyes.

Her red sailor jauntily tilted and the silken gleam of her face were
like part of a luscious mask. She was a woman hurrying somewhere and
men, bored with other women, looked at her enthusiastically. She was one
of the many enigmatic ones, one of the many gaudy colored masks behind
which sex paraded its mystery through the sun-awninged streets. Eyes
ennuied with the memory of sex lighted eagerly in the presence of its
masks. The flash of ankles and the swell of thighs under pretty fabrics
were diversions even for moralists.

Schroder waiting patiently on a street corner watched the warm crowd.
She wouldn't come. Yes, she would. Well, another five minutes would
tell.

He saw her and his excitement changed. A leisurely smile came to his
face. His body relaxed. He was a connoisseur in rendezvous and his
enjoyment of the moment which witnessed her approach was deliberate.
Women in themselves did not interest him so much. Their
bodies--pleasant, yes. But after all--a finale. And one does not applaud
finales.

But now, watching her lithe figure hurrying toward him was a diversion
to be sipped at, contemplated in all its emotional detail, and enjoyed.
Later it would be this moment he remembered, if he remembered
anything--which was uncertain. For his memories which had in his younger
days glistened in his thought like a mosaic of eroticism, had of late
blurred to a monotone. He could remember women, liaisons, passion
phrases and great enthusiasms but, curiously, they seemed all identical.
To recall how one woman had sighed in his arms was to recall the whole
pack of them. As if the souls of his paramours and the manner of their
surrenders were contained completely in the recollection of any one
detail.

But despite his ennui, this moment of approach still delighted him. The
woman hurrying to his side was not yet a woman. She was still a mystery
whose inevitable and never varying sensualism was masked for a final
instant behind unfamiliar fabrics. There was a piquant unreality, a
diverting strangeness, as she smiled at him. She was somebody he did not
know. He was authentically bored with women. But for the moment it was
not a woman approaching--rather a new color of cloth, a new combination
of dress, a new species of social poise and gesture were presenting
themselves for ravishment. In these unfamiliar surfaces lay a tenuous
mystery as if it were these externals he was about to embrace. And in
the contemplation of this mystery, his interest revived itself. He
sighed. It was a mystery which would vanish shortly.

"Hello, dearest."

He greeted her softly, with regret. A quixotic impulse to turn and walk
away before she spoke had died in him.

Fanny was staring expectantly. He was familiar with the expression. Not
in her, but in others. This took away its charms. Married women were
nearly all alike. Full of distressing short cuts, with an irritating and
incongruous professionalism behind their bewilderment. What dolts
husbands must be to blunt women like that.

As he took her hand and felt her fingers clutch excitedly around his
palm he remembered in an instant the predecessors of her type. Full of
distressing short cuts. When they gave their hands they withheld
nothing. They denuded themselves with a look, with a handclasp. And the
subtlety of skirmishing seemed entirely foreign to them. When they
embraced it was with an appalling directness. Yes, in intrigue they were
all alike--all like precocious children; vague, bewildered children
mimicking the precisions of their elders and exclaiming with distressful
incongruity:

"Tut, tut. Let's come to the point. Let's get down to brass tacks and
stop beating around the bush."

Well, here she was and the scene was on.

"Am I late?"

"No, dearest. I was just a little early so as to enjoy the impatience of
waiting for you."

The nuance was lost upon her. Amorous women were a cold audience for
technique.

"I'm so upset. Do you mind?"

"Not at all, Fanny. Of course you're upset. But it only adds to your
charm."

He had long ago abandoned love-making tactics, sensing that women who
came to him were not particularly interested in tender pretenses. They
desired flattery, but direct and practical variants. This one was like
the others, flushed, eager, frightened and gay. He felt an exhilaration
as they walked toward the entrance of the unpretentious hotel around the
corner. A sense of conquest. It was nothing to be enjoyed in itself. But
if people knew, which they never could, alas, they would be awed by the
ease with which he accomplished such things. One, two, three meetings
and--here they were again. Paul Schroder entering a hotel with a woman
at his side.

"This isn't a bad place," he whispered. "I've already registered. Mr.
and Mrs. Paul Johnson. It's better if you know your name, of course."

Fanny stood tremblingly in front of the elevator cage as he walked to
the desk. She noticed his carelessness, the unselfconscious way in which
he smiled at the clerk and paused to buy some cigars. The fear that had
grown in her since she left her home appeared to be reaching a climax.
Her knees shivered under her dress and a catch in her throat made
breathing difficult.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," she repeated silently to herself, and
tried to understand the cause of her trembling. Even if there were
consequences--there was Aubrey. She smiled nervously. It was his fault.
He was a fool.

They entered the elevator. A sleepy boy shut the cage door after them.
Schroder gripped her arm and his fingers caressed the soft flesh. She
turned to him and smiled. She was no longer afraid. A shameless,
exultant light kindled in her eyes. She leaned against him with a shiver
as the elevator lifted slowly.

       *       *       *       *       *

... They had decided to check out in time for her to return home for
dinner.

"I don't have to go up to the desk with you, do I?" she asked.

Schroder smiled tiredly.

"Oh no," he said, "you wait at the entrance with the property suit case.
Then we'll both take a cab and drive a few blocks. I'll get out with the
bag and you drive on home. It's simple."

Nevertheless the fear she had experienced in the morning returned as she
watched him go to the desk. In another minute it would be all over and
everything would be all right. But now--what if someone saw them? Bumped
into her accidentally. The lassitude which had filled her when she
locked the tumbled hotel room behind her, gave way to a curious panic.
Her tired nerves became unhappily alive.

"Why--hello, Mrs. Gilchrist."

She was unable to see the man for an instant. Her mind had darkened. "I
mustn't faint," she murmured to herself. She was looking at an unshaven,
dissipated face that smiled. As she looked her world seemed to be
falling down. Everything gone--ruined. Because a face was smiling. Tom
Ramsey. The man's name popped into her thought.

"Hello," she muttered.

Schroder approached and frowned. He took her arm and led her away. She
began to cry in the cab.

"He saw us. He knows. He'll tell everybody. Oh my God! Why did you come
up when you saw him? If you'd only realized. Oh, why did I do it? Now
everything's ruined. I'm lost."

She wept, knowing the futility of tears. An accident that seemed
provokingly unreal and soothingly unimportant--Tom Ramsey. Yet the name
was like a guillotine block on which her head lay stretched.

Schroder, annoyed, tried to console her.

"Who was it? Listen, pull yourself together. People always imagine
themselves guiltier looking than they are. He probably thought nothing
wrong."

"Tom Ramsey. Didn't you see how he looked at me? Oh, God, I'm sick."

"Who is he?"

"He used to be my mother's friend. But he went to the dogs. He's just a
tramp now. He isn't a gentleman."

Schroder sighed.

"Oh well," he said, "there's no use worrying. Come, put it out of your
head."

"I can't. Oh, I can't. Why did I do it. I'll kill myself if ... if
anything happens. Aubrey will.... Oh Paul, I feel sick."

He stared glumly at the back of the chauffeur's head. A nuisance. A
damned nuisance. His mind played with contrasts. A few hours ago she had
been shameless. Now she sat weeping. He thought of her as ungrateful and
grew angry.

"I'll step out now," he whispered. "Call me up tomorrow at the office,
will you? Nothing will happen. Please, be calm. It's all imagination."

He halted the cab and stepped out with the suitcase. She would feel
better, he knew, as soon as he disappeared. She would be able to
convince herself then that nothing had happened--that she was coming
home from a shopping tour.

"Good-bye. Call me up, dearest."

Fanny sat weeping as the cab moved away. Ramsey had seen her. A misery
too heavy for thought brought another burst of tears. She hated
Schroder. And herself, too. But most of all the ragged looking, unshaven
Ramsey in the lobby. Why had he come at just that moment? If they had
left the room ten minutes earlier. It was Paul's fault. He insisted on
combing his hair, and reading a story in the newspaper. If he hadn't
sent down for the newspaper in the middle of the afternoon. He didn't
love her or he wouldn't have thought of sending for it. She had laughed
at the time but it was an insult. He was a brute. If he had loved her he
wouldn't have wanted to read a newspaper and they wouldn't have met
Ramsey. She sat conjuring up dozens of trifling incidents which, had
they occurred, would have prevented the fatal meeting with Ramsey.

Then she smiled convulsively through her tears. It was about the story.
They had laughed at it in the room. "Judge Basine Launches Vice Quiz.
State to Investigate Problem of Immorality Among Women Wage Earners...."

"Why girls go wrong ... why girls go wrong," rumbled through her head
now and she laughed hysterically. Oh, that tramp of a Ramsey had spoiled
it all. Otherwise it would have been wonderful. And next week, too. But
perhaps he hadn't noticed anything. Of course he hadn't. Paul was right.

She dried her tears and looked into the twilighted streets. She had
planned her homecoming days ago. She would be ill, overcome by the heat
and excuse herself from the dinner table. A final chill shot through her
heart as the cab stopped.

She found herself entering her home with complete poise. It was almost
as if nothing had happened. Here were the familiar things of life. Her
home, Aubrey, the rows of books, the walnut library table. Nothing had
happened. For a moment she was amazed at the complete unconsciousness of
the day. Then smiling delightedly at her husband in a chair, a familiar
husband in a familiar chair, she removed her hat and approached him.

Leaning over the back of his chair she kissed him tenderly on the cheek.
He was her protector. Good old Aubrey, so familiar, so placid and
unchanged. If it only hadn't been for Ramsey everything would be so nice
now. But anyway, it wasn't so bad. She had been a bit hysterical.

"Where've you been, Fanny?"

She felt no twinge at the question. Instead an enthusiasm for the
situation filled her.

"To the matinee," she laughed. "Oh, I saw the nicest show."

She leaned forward and took his hand. Aubrey regarded her with a
petulant stare. Despite their years of marriage, she was still an
animal, gross and irritating.

"And I'm just starved," she exclaimed. "I was never so hungry in my
life."

She laughed, overjoyed at the truth of the statement and hurried
upstairs to prepare for dinner.



18


The manuscript had been found in the drawer where William Gilchrist kept
his collars. It lay underneath a number of loose collars.

With the death of his father a curious love for the man had come to
Aubrey. He remembered from day to day things his father had said, or
seemed to say. A sad, elderly man who lived secretly in his thoughts.
That was his father.

Like him, Aubrey now had a secret life that he lived only in his
thoughts, and this was slowly making him kin to the man who had died. In
Aubrey's thoughts dwelt a dramatic, startling figure--a gleaming,
hawk-faced thunderer; a lean Isaiah of burning phrases with an
eagle-winged soul beating its way toward God. This was Aubrey Gilchrist.
Not the Aubrey whom life had mysteriously deformed into an advertising
man, but an Aubrey triumphant who had risen above the petty turns of
Fate and burst upon a world--a voice crying forth astounding phrases
against the evil of man's ways.

The inner characterization in which Aubrey was gradually immersing
himself remained a vague though warm generality. He was able to
visualize the Thunderer and able to enjoy the results of his genius. In
his day dreams he pictured this inner one bringing the world to his
feet. Books were being written about him, magazines and newspapers were
filled with his praises and interpretations, and men and women
everywhere discussed his ascent in awe. He was a conqueror--a bloodless
Napoleon and a martyrless Jesus. A prophet whose genius was lifting men
out of the mire.

What the message was which this inner Aubrey was spreading through the
world, what the phrases were that ignited the souls of men, were not
contained in his imaginings. He approached them from a critical and not
creative angle--his fancies presenting him with descriptive self
praises. He composed rambling articles in his mind celebrating his
triumphs. This inner Aubrey was eloquent, electrifying, unassailable;
men and women wept over his writings and repented; cities reared statues
to him, and all places sang his glories. The whole thing had begun as a
game, deliberately invented to occupy the leisure of his mind. But he
had elaborated on it and it had grown almost by itself. Now it
preoccupied him to an alarming degree.

The manuscript in his father's collar drawer had given him a shock. He
had kept it from his mother, assuring himself that such a course was for
the best. It was an odd document for his father to leave behind.

As he sat in his study a week after the funeral reading it for the first
time, Aubrey grew frightened. It seemed to him that he was looking at
his father--for the first time, that the man who had till now been a
half enigmatic figure to him, stood at last in the room, strong and
alive. The thing was a primitive type of novel--discoursive, gentle,
Rabelaisian. It recounted the mental and physical adventures of an
Elizabethan philosopher in a succession of unrelated episodes. There was
a caress in the sentences, a simplicity in the narrative that translated
itself into cunning realism.

When he had finished the reading, Aubrey stared at his father's portrait
hanging over one of the book cases. The reality of the manuscript held
him. He felt bewildered. It had for some three hours lifted him out of
the present and immersed him in scenes and amid a company of naive
ancients, starkly alive. A dormant literary sense awakened in him. The
thing was a work of art, as moving, as authentic as Apuleius or
Cervantes. But he would put it away. He hid it in a private drawer.

Its memory, however, grew in his mind. During his day at work the
thought of the thing his father had written came to haunt him, as if it
demanded something. He felt closer to it than he had ever felt to his
father. There was something distasteful, though, about the intimacy.

"That was his soul," he would explain over to himself. "He lived that
way inside. It was like writing a biography of secret dreams for him.
It's strange. We're all like that. Even I. There was something odd in
father. Funny we never guessed. It must have been written a paragraph at
a time over years and years. It was a sort of diary."

And he would recall excerpts from the book--gentle skepticisms, childish
animalisms. But the tone of the thing which he could never put into
words was what haunted him most. Over the naive acrobatics of plot and
lively preenings of idea, an unwritten smile spread itself, a pensive
tolerance that seemed to say, "Yes, yes, life has been. This tale is a
curious jest. An epitaph over an empty grave. Yesterday is unreal and
today is even less real. Yet here are fancies, the ghosts of sad and
happy folk who never lived. And among these ghosts I once found
life...."

The idea of publishing the manuscript came to Aubrey one evening when
his wife returned from the theater in a curious mood. She was late for
dinner and this irritated him. But her manner was even more irritating.
She was strident, flushed, gross. Her laugh as they ate made his mother
frown, he observed. He said little. When they left the table an
indignation toward Fanny had come to him.

He retired to his study. Fanny insisted on following him. She hovered
about his chair as he tried to read, caressing him in a curious way, as
if he were a child with whom she was amused. It occurred to him that she
thought him a failure, that there was something condescending in her
manner.

"Oh, leave me alone, please, Fanny."

"Hm! We're peevish. Dear me. Poor old Aubrey's working too hard."

"Please."

"But I want to talk to you. I want to tell you about the matinee."

"I'm not interested, Fanny. You know how I hate vaudeville."

"I love it."

"That's your privilege."

"Don't be sarcastic, Aubrey."

"I'm not. I'm just tired."

"Tired? What have you been doing?"

Despite herself she accented the you. The memory of Schroder and their
day together had left her. It persisted, however, as a curious elation.
The ambiguity of words exhilarated her. She felt a sense of mastery. She
wanted also to be tender toward Aubrey, to please and charm him. It was
necessary to do this in order to disarm him. But he had no suspicions.
She was certain of that. Nevertheless it was necessary to make sure he
had none. There were many paradoxical things necessary and most curious
of them all was the necessity of showing Aubrey that she loved him. Her
heart warmed toward him as it hadn't for years. She felt unaccountably
grateful to Aubrey. She would have liked to sit at his side whispering
love names and caressing his hair.

"Well, for one thing, I've been writing."

He looked at her calmly.

"Writing? You mean books? Why, I didn't know!"

Aubrey smiled, recovering a superiority toward her. But his heart grew
heavy almost simultaneously. She had thrown her arms about him and was
exclaiming, "Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so glad you're writing again, Aubrey
darling. I've wanted you to so much."

He pushed her away slowly. She stood pouting.

"Now I can see where I take a back seat," she sighed. "Yes sir, you
won't have time for me at all. But I don't care. As long as you're
happy, darling, I'm delighted. I want you to be happy and I know it
makes you happy to write."

When she left the room Aubrey remained frowning after her. He would
surprise her. He would surprise them all. He would publish the
manuscript under his own name. It would create a sensation. It would
bring him back in the public eye more glorified than he had been in his
literary heyday.

In a few days the idea had grown to obliterating proportions. For a
time he abandoned the contemplation of the inner Aubrey--the
gleaming-eyed Thunderer. This other was nearer reality--an Aubrey hymned
as a rejuvenated literary figure. But he hesitated. His indecision
resulted in a predicament. He had been boasting cautiously of his new
work, letting out hints as to its character. There was Cressy, a
literary critic and a member of the club where he lunched. He had talked
to him about it.

"I'm surprised myself," he explained. "I was rather uncertain whether I
could come back. But the rest was evidently just what I needed. The book
isn't at all in my old style. More direct, sincere and entirely simple.
You'll like it."

Cressy became important in Aubrey's predicament. Cressy was a man whom
Aubrey identified as "the more discriminating public." He yearned for
the approval of this public. And as his decision to have his father's
manuscript printed under his own name grew, Aubrey sought the critic
out. It was pleasant to boast to Cressy, to feel oneself part of the
superior literary world Cressy inhabited.

Cressy had left the university with the determination to write. He had,
however, developed into a scholar, using a knowledge of Greek and Latin
to acquire a baggage of classical erudition. For ten years he had been
contributing literary essays to magazines and newspapers. In these he
wagged his head sorrowfully over the decline of letters. He presented an
impregnable front to all new writers. The names of new novelists in the
book lists irritated him precisely as the names of new celebrities in
the society columns had once irritated Mrs. Basine. He resented them as
intruders and focused a pedantic wrath on them.

In his own mind he pictured himself as being in a continual state of
revolt against the inferiority of modern literature. His attacks,
however, were entirely a defensive gesture. His literary point of view
was inspired by a heroic desire to annihilate contemporary literature.
Contemporary books were an insult and a barrier to his egoism. He
battled against them. His struggle was the quixotic effort to assert the
superiority of his erudition. New novels, new poetries, new philosophies
were a conspiracy to minimize him and he went after them with the zeal
of one engaged in tracking criminals to their lair.

At forty-five he was a stern-faced man with a greying mustache, heavy
glasses behind which gleamed indignant eyes. He was impressive looking.
People who never read his fulminations still felt a high regard for his
scholarship. He was fearless in the pronunciation of French, Latin and
Greek names and invariably functioned as arbiter in all disputes
concerning classical quotations and allusions.

His friendship with Aubrey was based chiefly on the certainty he felt
that Aubrey was an inferior writer. He was not part of the conspiracy
aimed at the minimization of Cressy, the scholar.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that, Aubrey," he congratulated his friend.
"Very glad. Writing is a delight few people understand these days."

"I know. And I think you'll be interested particularly, John, because
the story is of Elizabethan England. I've modeled the technique on
Apuleius and the other later Roman tale-tellers."

"Indeed!" Cressy bristled. "That should be interesting."

"I'd like to have your opinion of it, John. I've always valued what you
say, but this time more than ever. Because I feel I've entered your
field and you're guarding the fences and all that."

Cressy's face relaxed. Quite right. His field. And if the book was any
good he could leap forward as its authentic champion and through it
denounce the base modernism of the day. But how did Aubrey who was a
superficial dabbler come by Elizabethan England?

Aubrey promised to produce the manuscript within a few days and left the
club. A July sun hammered at the streets. The heat added to his inward
discomfort. It was too hot to think. Yet it was necessary to think.
Something was piling up and unless he thought it out clearly, it would
fall on him.

He had made up his mind to publish his father's manuscript as his own.
But in the weeks that had passed he had become aware that he was not
going to carry out his intention. There were things that kept him from
it. A morbid sense that his father was watching him had grown in his
mind. He was afraid. At night in bed he conducted himself with a
scrupulous politeness toward his wife, certain that his every action was
being observed by his father.

There was another restriction. The appearance of the manuscript with his
name to it would be a distasteful anti-climax. He had lost himself so
long and so ardently in the creation of an inner Aubrey--the hawk-faced
Isaiah redeeming men--that the prospect of a frankly sensual volume
signed by Aubrey Gilchrist made him uncomfortable.

In the face of the realities that would ensue--the praise for instance,
of the healthy animalism of the book--he would have to abandon the
secret characterization that had grown almost an essential of his life.
He could not go ahead redeeming men and lifting them toward a life of
asceticism while people were talking and writing about the fact that
Aubrey Gilchrist was a sensual realist. And finally there was a feeling
of dishonesty, inseparable from his fear of his father, but adding its
weight to the restrictions.

As the feeling that he would never dare to publish the manuscript
approached a certainty, Aubrey sought to force his own hand by telling
his friends of the book, boasting of it and promising its early
appearance. In this way he dimly hoped to make it socially necessary for
him to produce the volume and that finally the social necessity of
living up to his announcements would overpower the inner restraints. He
was desperately throwing up bridges in the hope of being driven across
them.

The dilemma slipped out of his mind as he walked toward his home. It was
distasteful. The finding of the manuscript had, in fact, upset him more
than anything which had ever happened. As he neared his residence a
wilted sensation came into his thought. He had been trying eagerly to
recover the full image of the inner Aubrey and derive a few hours of
surcease in the easy contemplation of that great hero's triumphs. But
now it occurred to him that Judge Smith and John Mackay, his partner,
Fanny and her relatives and all his world were buzzing with gossip about
his return to literature. The dilemma crawled wearily back into his
mind.

Yes, they talked about it whenever they came together. There was
Basine, the judge. He had seized Aubrey's hand and pumped it heartily
when he heard of the book.

"That's the stuff. I like a man who can come back. Go to it, Aubrey."

Basine was a bounder. The way Fanny and the rest of them idolized him
was disgusting. His mother-in-law--"Oh, the judge told me the most
fascinating things about the situation in Washington." And then for an
hour, an idiotic mumble about what the judge did, what he said, what he
thought, what he hoped. Nobody ever mentioned Henrietta or the children.
As if their existence was not only unimportant but dubious. Basine was
an entity. He needed no background.

Aubrey wondered why his thought turned to his brother-in-law. Whenever
he felt uncomfortable, or found himself in a distressing situation, his
mind usually busied itself with comment on Basine. Anything distressful
that happened, no matter how remote from the judge, always seemed to
remind Aubrey of the man and recall to him the fact that he was a
bounder and an ass and entirely unlikeable.

He entered his home in a dejected mood. Voices attracted him. Fanny was
talking to a man. He paused before the opened door.

"Oh, hello Aubrey," Fanny greeted him. She stood up. Aubrey noticed she
looked pale. Her eyes seemed to follow his observation.

"Isn't it hot though? I'm almost dead. I'm awfully glad you came home.
You remember Mr. Ramsey, don't you?"

"How do you do," said Aubrey. "Yes, I think--"

"At mother's. Long ago. I'm sure you met him. He's an old friend of the
family."

"How do you do, sir," Ramsey echoed, rising. The men shook hands. Aubrey
stared at the dapper, high-strung figure with its flushed face and cool
attire and tried to remember the man.

"If you'll pardon me," he smiled.

"Certainly, Aubrey."

"See you again, I hope," said Aubrey. Ramsey assented with a curious
enthusiasm, accenting the situation uncomfortably. Fanny frowned and
watched her husband walk to the stairs. As his steps died the two
returned to their chairs.

"Oh it's hot," Fanny murmured. "Can't you go away till next month. I'm
almost beside myself."

Her voice was low. Ramsey listened with disdain.

"And besides," she continued in a whisper, "I've given you all I can
get. I haven't any more money."

"Money!" Ramsey snorted. "I'm not talking about money. I'm not asking
for any." He stood up and frowned indignantly at her.

"I know, but--"

"I just dropped in for a talk."

He said this with a meaning smile and lighted a cigarette. He was very
casual. She watched him helplessly.

"Oh, why beat around the bush. I'm sick of it. I can't stand it. How
much do you want? I've given you three thousand. Surely that's...."

"I don't want any, thank you," he answered with mysterious sarcasm. "Not
a nickle."

"Then what do you want?" Her voice was rising despite her fear of being
heard. "This is the fourth time you've ... you've hounded me."

"Oh, I hound you?" Again the mysterious sarcasm.

"If you'd only tell me what you want."

He smiled with the air of a man phenomenally at ease and returned to his
chair.

"Nothing. Not a thing. I just dropped in for a chat, that's all."

His eyes regarded her triumphantly. Fanny returned their gaze. He was
crazy. There was something crazy about him. He had called her on the
telephone the day after seeing her in the hotel with Schroder. She had
gone downtown to meet him. The whole business seemed like an impossible
dream in retrospect. He had whined and begged for money. He was down and
out, living from hand to mouth, his friends gone, his clothes in rags.
He had known her father. She could save him. And he had never once
referred to the incident in the hotel lobby. Neither had she. The
conversation had been purely a needy friend and a philanthropically
inclined woman. She had asked him how much he needed and he answered
$1,500 would start him. A week later he came to her completely
rehabilitated--an elderly looking fop swinging a cane and bristling with
enthusiasms.

Another $1,500 had increased his enthusiasm. He came a third time to
report that he had found employment. She barely listened. Something had
happened to Ramsey.

Now as he sat smiling sarcasms at her she realized what it was. Her
knowledge of the man was casual but the thing that had happened was
unmistakable. He no longer wanted money from her. He was blackmailing
her merely because it gave him a sense of power. They had never
mentioned Schroder or the lobby incident.

She regarded him in silence and the understanding of the man slowly
nauseated her. His polite and affable smiling, his cockiness and his
suavity--all these were part of a pose. He called merely to see her
wince and because her wincing filled him with this sense of power. And
he would go on like that. But she dared not challenge him. He knew about
the day with Schroder. He had never mentioned it and now he tried to
pretend this his dominance over her had nothing to do with blackmail or
Schroder. He tried to pretend it was because of something
else--something involved and mysterious.

"Are you going to stay forever," she murmured.

"Perhaps for dinner," he answered. Fanny sighed. There was her
mother-in-law--a stone faced woman with gimlet eyes. Old, ferreting
eyes. She would sense something. And if they found out. She shuddered.
Her eyes implored.

"Please, Tom," she whispered. "You ... you're torturing me."

"Oh no, not at all," he answered with an idiotic cheerfulness, raising
his eyebrows and pursing his lips in surprise. He was like a farce
actor. She stood up and came to his side. Her hands rested on his
shoulder.

"Won't you leave me alone?" she whispered again. "I feel ill."

He looked at her with concern.

"Indeed," he said. "I'm awfully sorry."

He would go on like this forever. It would always grow worse. He wanted
to make a victim of her. He was like a crazy man with an obsession. His
suavity and politeness almost made her scream. She covered her face and
wept.

"There, there," he consoled her. She had dropped into a chair and he was
patting her back. "It must be the heat. The heat, don't you think? Oh
well, I'll go way now. Are you going to be home Tuesday evening?"

She made no answer. Ramsey stood watching her, a smile in his eyes. As
she continued to weep he appeared to grow more and more elated. A
sternness entered his voice.

"Come now," he ordered her, "sit up."

She obeyed.

"It's ridiculous," he continued. She nodded helplessly. "I'll see you
Tuesday evening," he added. There was a pause. Then, "There's something
I'd like to discuss with you. Very important. Don't forget. Tuesday
evening."

He walked out. Fanny watched him to the door. A rage came to her. He was
play-acting. He was making fun of her, of her fear of exposure. Because
he was crazy. He didn't want money. He wanted to bulldoze and torture
her. He wanted her to think he was somebody--that's why he did it.

She stood up and watched him from the window as he walked down the
street. A dapper, good-natured figure smiling with mysterious
condescension upon the houses he passed. She rushed to her room and
locked the door. Something would have to happen. She had not talked to
Schroder about Ramsey since he left her in the cab that first day. She
would ask him what to do. No, that would make it worse. He might be like
Ramsey. She lay dry-eyed and pondering. The thought slowly grew in
her--she would tell her brother. George would be able to figure out
some way to rid her of this blackmailer. She would tell him everything
and explain to him how she couldn't stand it any longer.

She lay quietly improvising her conversation with her brother. This
brought a relief and she closed her eyes with a sigh.



19


The ballroom of the Hotel LaSalle had been carefully prepared for the
opening of the Vice Investigating Commission's sessions. A corps of
janitors had been active for two days introducing folding chairs,
cuspidors, tables and wastebaskets. Chairs of varying degrees of
importance had been assembled for the witnesses, attorneys,
distinguished visitors and members of the press.

The Vice Investigating Commission had been appointed by the governor of
the state. It was comprised of ten members including its chairman, Judge
Basine. The press with its instinctive dramaturgy had centered its
comment around the single figure of Basine. The nine state senators who,
as a result of political wire pulling, had wormed their way into the
Commission found themselves lost in the shadow of Basine.

It was the Basine Commission. As the time for its sessions approached,
the press, having by its own headline reiteration of the man's name
impressed itself with the prestige and popularity of Basine, abandoned
itself without further scruples to its convenient mania of
simplifications. Thus the preliminary deliberations of the Commission
were headlined, "Basine to Summon Department Store Heads." "Basine to
Plumb Vice Causes." "Basine Charges Dance Hall Evil."

The statements elaborately prepared by the nine senators were invariably
attributed in the newspaper columns to Basine. The hopes, plans, fears,
threats of the Vice Commission were blazoned to the world as the mingled
emotions of Basine. Photographs of Basine, his wife, children, and home,
illumined the papers and within a week the name Basine had, in the
public mind, become innately synonymous with an immemorial crusade
against vice.

The crusade itself remained as yet a vague but promising morsel in the
city's thought. The newspapers, enabled by the event to indulge
themselves more legitimately than usual in discussing the ever
fascinating problem of sex from the unimpeachable standpoint of reform,
leaped greedily to the bait.

Photographs of young women boarding street cars and revealing stretches
of leg were printed under the caption, "Indecent Way to Board Car, Says
Basine." Alongside were photographs, less interesting, but vital to the
moral of the layout, showing women boarding street cars without
revealing their legs. The caption over them read, "Correct Way to Board
Car, Says Basine." The text explained that the carelessness and
immodesty of young girls, according to Basine, frequently were the
devil's ally and that the Basine Commission called upon all young women
who had the welfare of the race at heart to board street cars in the
correct way.

Photographs of young women in Indecent Bathing Costumes appeared
accompanied by denunciations from prominent clergymen and contrasted,
with editorial indignation, to photographs of Decent Bathing Costumes
recommended by prominent clergymen. Photographs of abandoned young women
who effected garter purses, slit skirts; who crossed their legs when
they sat down were offered. These were accompanied by outraged
pronouncements against such immodesties from prominent statesmen and
clergymen.

A private auxiliary crusade started by another enterprising newspaper
resulted in a series of photographs of nude paintings to be seen in the
shop windows of the loop and Michigan avenue, and called for immediate
legislation designed to remove this source of moral danger.

Photographs of the deplorably scanty costumes worn by musical comedy,
choruses and dancers in general; photographs pointing out with mute
alarm the decline of modesty as instanced in the comparison of the
fashions of yesteryear with the fashions of today; photographs of
dance-hall scenes showing couples amorously embraced, cheeks together,
bodies riveted to each other--these and others too numerous to tabulate
cried for the reader's indignant attention out of the newspaper columns.

Every conceivable variant of denunciation which might be legitimately
accompanied by a photograph of a woman or a group of women, received
publication in interviews with pious divines, alarmed statesmen and
serious-minded welfare workers. The newspapers, convinced by the twenty
and thirty per cent increases in their week's circulation figures that
the crusade was a vital part of the awakened moral sense of the city,
devoted themselves with heroic disregard of party politics to acclaiming
the Basine commission.

Basine found himself troubled by his sky-rocketing prestige. He went to
bed the first night as a "judicial inquirer into the causes of vice."
He arose in the morning confronted with the fact that he was a "fearless
Galahad on Moral Quest." Before retiring again he found himself a "Vice
Solon Attacking Civic Corruption." And on the following morning he was
"Basine, Undaunted, Flays Vice Ring."

On the day before the opening session he occupied his chambers and tried
to dictate his way through a mass of correspondence that had
accumulated. There were thousands of letters from determined
church-goers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, all teeming with
excited advice, prayers for success and redundant congratulations. Ruth
waited with her pencil on her note book, her knee pressed warmly against
his thigh and her eyes looking pensively out of the window at the summer
day.

Basine had obtained a three weeks' vacation in order to devote himself
to the work of the commission. His words came unevenly as he dictated.
Newspaper headlines glared at him from the desk--"Modern Lincoln to Free
Vice Slaves." "Basine to Determine Why Girls Go Wrong." "Basine
Threatens Fearless Quiz Into Resorts."

His mind was alive with other headlines. Basine ... Basine ... the city
was throbbing with his name. He had managed to maintain a skepticism for
several days. Doris had kept his mind distressingly clear with her
comments. And her friend, Levine. Her words had continued in his thought
... "marvelous, George. The public is wallowing in an orgy of morbidity.
I confess, it's beyond my pleasantest expectations...."

He had protested. She was wrong. Indignation was being stirred. People
were realizing the menace of underpaid working girls and unlicensed
dance halls. His sister smiled wearily. "Don't be an ass, or you'll
spoil it all. Keep your head clear. Follow the newspapers and outwit
them in cynicism."

And then Levine. He recalled the man's words and edited them into a
rebuking essay--"The public is revelling in the salaciousness of nude
photographs, raw statements and your anti-vice propaganda. They're
utilizing virtue as a cloak for the sensually tantalizing discussion of
immorality. Their indignation is an excuse by which they apologize for
their individual erotic thrills by denouncing evil in others. Yes, the
mysterious others identified as vice rings, white slavers and immorality
in general. The whole business is a cunning debauch offered newspaper
readers, a debauch which enables them to appear to themselves and to
each other not as debauchees but as high crusaders behind the banners of
Basine. And the good clergymen and the statesmen and the welfare workers
rushing into print with revelations of immorality are inspired, by
nothing more intricate than a desire for publicity and an ambition to
pose before the public in the guise of fellow crusaders and civic
benefactors. Their benefactions, you see, consist of offering the public
lurid sex statistics over which it may gloat in secret. And in the
meantime, over these benefactions, over these exciting sex statistics
and sexy photos and over the people who discuss them and roll them over
on their tongue is thrown a protective fog of indignation."

Basine had derived from these talks in his sister's studio an
uncomfortable vision. But the vision had gradually dissolved in his
mind. On the day he had awakened to find himself a "Moral Champion
Promises Vice Clean-up" the dignity and high responsibility of his task
had overcome him. What appeared to him an authentic fervor mounted in
his veins. Hypnotized by the adulatory excitement surrounding his name,
he acquired forthwith the characterization foisted on him by the
headlines. Basine ... Basine ... the city throbbed with his name. The
hope of a great moral rejuvenation was centered upon him. Another St.
Patrick was to drive the snakes of evil out of the community. Another
Lincoln was to do something--something equally ennobling to himself and
his fellowmen.

The change effected his relations with Ruth. For a month he had been
engaged in a species of sinless amour. Long walks, long talks, long
embraces behind the locked doors of his chambers had resulted in nothing
more tangible than a series of headaches and sleepless nights or unusual
tenderness towards his piquantly startled wife.

He had excused his infidelity to Ruth while embracing Henrietta--he
regarded his exaggerated interest in his wife as a betrayal of the
girl--by assuring himself that it was for Ruth's own good. It lessened
his desire for her and thus decreased the moral danger into which their
love was leading her. In addition to this it was, of course, a
convenient substitute for the emotions Ruth's embraces aroused in him
and for the sense of guilt which invariably accompanied these embraces.

When he became a crusader Basine felt a further confusion in his
attitude toward Ruth. He sat now attempting to dictate letters. Despite
the amiable blur which fame had introduced into his thought and which
for the past two weeks had obscured the details of his day, he found
himself studying the situation before him. The situation was Ruth. He
would have preferred ignoring it. The scent which came from her summery
shirt waist and the coils of her black hair, thrilled him. Her clear
youthful face, the contours of her figure, the familiarity of her
eyes--all this was pleasing and satisfying.

But the new Basine--the crusader, felt ill at ease. He must explain
something to Ruth, explain to her that their love was no more than an
ennobling comradeship and must never be more than that, a comradeship
which would bring them together in this great cause of moral
rejuvenation. He didn't want it put that crudely. But the idea kept
repeating itself in his head. He kept thinking of what Doris and her
friend Levine would say if they ever found out that in the midst of the
Vice Investigation, its chairman had been carrying on with his
secretary. It was distasteful and needed immediate attention.

He took her hand and Ruth laid down her pencil. She smiled expectantly
at him. Since she had first kissed Basine a month ago she had been
trying to understand the situation. The thought of him preoccupied her
and this made her certain she loved him. His caresses aroused her senses
and left her wondering what was going to happen.

At times she reasoned coolly with herself. She was in love with a
married man and the most she could hope for was to become his mistress
and end up by making a fool of herself. Or perhaps of both of them. She
was, in a measure, grateful for the manner in which he respected her
virtue. But, with his arms around her and his keen face alive with
passion and his lips on hers, his reserve struck her as uncomplimentary
and illogical.

She resented the semi-abandonment of his senses because of the
unfulfillment--a physical and spiritual unfulfillment which left her
distracted. It appeared to her later, when the distraction ebbed, as an
affront to her vanity. She was uncertain when thinking of it coolly
whether she would give herself to him. But somehow the affair seemed
unreal, at times even a little like some school-girl flirtation, because
he failed to ask her. She had always prided herself upon her honesty and
spent hours now debating with herself just how much she loved him and if
she loved him at all and why she loved him. The idea of leaving his
employ, however, never occurred to her. The cautious sensualisms of
which she had become an excited victim, held her. There was in these
incompleted manoeuverings behind the locked doors a curious
fascination.

"What is it, George?"

He smiled and shook his head.

"Whew, I'm snowed under." His hands pushed the correspondence from him.

"You mustn't tire yourself, dear."

He nodded and his face assumed a serious air.

"I would like to talk over the work."

"The Commission?"

"Yes."

"Oh, I think it's going to be a wonderful success, George?"

"And you can help me."

He squeezed her hand. This was the note he had been searching for in his
mind. He hesitated a moment, nevertheless, feeling an irritating
incongruity in what he desired to say. But the headlines glaring at him
strengthened him. He was Basine the Moral Champion. The city was
throbbing with his name. A hope centered about his name.

"The work is going to be hard," he began. "I intend to go to the bottom
of the thing. The Commission after its hearings will be able to
recommend legislation that will ... that will...."

"Yes, I know George."

"Wipe out, or at least go a long way toward wiping out...."

His mind seemed to balk at the sentence. The word "immorality" withheld
itself from his lips.

"I'll be glad to help where I can, as you know, dear," she whispered.

"I've subpoenaed all the department store heads to bring their books
into court, I mean to the hearing, and reveal exactly what the wage
scale for shop girls is. I'm convinced it's impossible for a girl to
keep decent on $6 and $7 a week."

He thought of the fact that Ruth was receiving $30 a week and grew
confused.

"You can help me a lot, dear," he added hurriedly.

Ruth stood up. This standing up had become a habit between them. When
they were sitting holding hands, if she stood up, he would draw her to
him and she would lower herself into his lap. They had developed a
series of similar ruses to which they both adapted themselves like well
rehearsed actors and which had for their object the bringing them into
positions convenient for kisses and embraces.

As she sat down in his lap the unhappy thought crossed Basine's mind
that he was chairman of a commission sworn to wipe out just such
incidents as this from the city's life. He winced and her arm around
his neck felt uncomfortable. But he remembered that both doors were
locked and the image of himself as a crusader partially vanished. They
kissed and his hand slipped down to her side and toyed with the hem of
her skirt.

"Do you love me, George? Tell me."

"Yes. Why do you ask that?"

"Oh because. Sometimes I think you're so busy that you haven't time to
love."

He was pleased by this. Flattered, he answered: "I have time for nothing
else. Everything else is sort of part of it. My work, the
commission--it's all you, dearest."

His hand was on her, caressingly. He endeavored to remove the
significance of the gesture by patting her knee as one might pat the
head of a little child, and whispering with an involved frankness:

"You're so nice, darling."

They had sat like this before, sometimes for an hour, whispering to each
other. Their whispering would go on for a time, even their kisses. This
time, however, she murmured unexpectedly:

"Don't, George."

He was surprised.

"Why not?"

"Because, we mustn't."

"But why?"

"Oh please ... don't!"

Her objection seemed to inspire him in a way her previous silences had
failed to do. He grew indignant.

"Please, don't!"

"But why, dearest? I love you."

She paused and he looked at her, aloof arguments in his eyes as if he
were pleading not in his own behalf but in behalf of--a somebody else, a
client. His knees were trembling under her weight. The crusade had
disappeared. A memory of it lingered but in an amusing way. He caught a
glimpse of the headlines on his desk and grinned. There was something
maliciously unreal about life that one could enjoy.

Suddenly he felt her soften. Her lips brushed against his ear and her
arm tightened convulsively around him.

"Please no," she murmured.

Her alarm delighted him. It was a final barrier, this alarm. It enabled
him to enjoy the new conquest without having to be logical, without
having to go on. Her alarm now was a barrier to be played with for a
moment and then utilized. He would stop in a moment but now he could
play with her fear, as if he were intent upon overcoming it.

"Please," she whispered, "don't ... it's no use."

The final words irritated him. No use! He felt offended, as if he had
been trickily defeated in an argument. What was no use? What did she
mean?

"George, please, listen to me. Oh please...."

That was better. But it had come just in time. He could retreat now with
honor. For an instant a panic had filled him. Impossible to retreat on
the explanation "it's no use." Because--well, because the words were a
challenge, not an attack. But now it was easy. He stiffened in his
chair. Ruth slipped from his lap and stood up, flushed. She straightened
her hair and looked away. Basine felt annoyed with her. She had almost
taken him by surprise. She had almost surrendered when the tactics of
the game called for her to protest and thus cover his retreat by making
it the result of her protests. And not of his--well, of his
determination not to forget his position.

But he would restore the tactic she had momentarily abandoned.

"Excuse me," he muttered, a plea in his voice, "I didn't realize. I
didn't realize what I was doing. Forgive me, dearest."

He recovered his sense of self respect that, oddly enough, had deserted
him, in making this apology. The apology meant that he had ceased only
because she had protested too violently. And not because he had been
afraid.

Ruth listened with a faint smile on her moist lips. She wanted to laugh.

"I didn't mean anything--really," he was saying. "You must forgive me.
Come here--please." An air of soothing innocence rose from his voice and
manner. He was reassuring her that he wasn't dangerous, that he wouldn't
repeat these intimacies. The desire to laugh continued in her. Excuse
him! For what? The laugh almost left her throat. She had given herself
to him ... and he had solemnly retreated for no reason at all.

She continued to smile. For the first time the distraction his caresses
inspired in her was absent. Instead she felt quite normal. She was
becoming indignant but normal. And there was amusement in her anger. She
sat down and picked up her pencil. She was amused. She looked at a man
who had become almost a stranger and nodded--forgiveness.

"Of course, George," she said. "I know you didn't mean anything,
but...."

He frowned. Her tone angered him. She was mocking.

"Hadn't you better answer some of these?" she asked. Basine pursed up
his lips importantly.

"You will be a great help, dear," he answered. "Some day I want to talk
about something with you. But ... but matters are too rushed now. I'm
almost snowed under, I swear." This was putting it all on a different
basis. He was a busy man. That's why he had retreated. He was needed for
other things of vital interest to the community. He felt uncomfortable,
despite the dignity of his frown. She was regarding him with placid
eyes. He turned to one of the newspapers whose headlines were
proclaiming the plans, and threats of Basine. There was the real
Basine--in the headline. This other one, the one who had fumbled and
messed things up with a girl--he ended his thought with annoyance. He
despised himself. For a moment he glowered at her. He would stand up and
seize her. She would realize, then, what his forebearance for her sake
had been. His anger continued in his voice as he resumed the tedious
dictation:

     "Dear Governor:

     "Everything is prepared for the opening next Monday. I have
     arranged special seats for any of your friends who may desire to
     attend. We are ready to launch an efficient and systematic inquiry
     into the causes of the vice conditions in our city as well as
     state. Please...."



20


The excitedly heralded Vice Investigation which, after several thousand
centuries of criminal neglect, was to take up the question of
immorality, discover its causes, determine its remedies and put an end
to this blot upon civilization, opened to a crowded house. The folding
chairs introduced into the ball room by the corps of janitors were
occupied. But they were insufficient. The corps of janitors had
underestimated the extent of the public enthusiasm.

Men and women aflame with the ardor of crusade battled for place within
hearing distance of the witnesses who were to recount, under careful
examination, just why girls went wrong. The ball room was capable of
seating a thousand. Another thousand pried their ways through the doors
and stood six and seven deep against the ornamental walls. The somewhat
mythical portraits of French noblemen, Cupids, Watteau ladies of leisure
smiled urbanely out of the blue and white panels over their heads. The
corridor outside the large room was thronged with still a third thousand
pushing, prying, squeezing, and perspiring all in vain. The police had
been summoned.

The press in its first pen picture of the stirring scene drew a
significant distinction. Those within the ball room who had successfully
stormed the doors and clawed their way into the weltering pulp of
figures were identified as "a distinguished audience of society women,
welfare workers, civic leaders and citizens come to lend their moral
support to the great crusade."

Those who had failed in their efforts to gain entrance and who clung
with patient heroism to the corridor, the lobby downstairs and even the
boiling pavements outside, were dismissed scornfully as "a crowd of the
morbidly curious, hungry for the sensational details promised by the
investigators."

At ten o'clock the Commission itself arrived. The perspiring police
opened a passage through the throng and the commission filed to its
place at the table waiting at the end of the room. Newspaper
photographers immediately leaped into concerted action. The boom and
smoke of flashlights arose.

Delays and preliminaries followed. The room grew terrifically hot.
Collars began to wilt, faces to turn red, feet to burn. But the delays
continued. It was impossible to find out why there was delay. The crowd
grew impatient. A racket of voices stuffed the room. Something had gone
wrong ... why didn't they start ... they weren't doing anything ... what
were they waiting for ... the public was grumbling.

As a matter of fact the commissioners were playing for time. A species
of stage fright had overcome them. Each of them had arrived filled with
a sense of high purpose and benign power. They were men upon whom the
burden of lifting an age-old blot from the face of civilization had
fallen. They had felt no hesitancy in the matter. They were going to
tackle the situation like Americans--red-blooded Americans in whose
heart burned the unfaltering light of idealism. There was going to be no
shilly-shallying, no highfalutin theorizings. They were going to the
bottom of this matter without fear or favor. They were going to find out
just why girls went wrong and, having found this out, they were going to
remove the cause, or causes if there were more than one, and thus put an
end to immorality--at least in the great commonwealth of Illinois.

They were ten undaunted crusaders inspired with the unfaltering
consciousness of their country's power and rectitude. In fact, it was
not the Basine Commission which pushed through the throng but the
Tradition of the United States, the Revered Memory of Abraham Lincoln,
George Washington and Nathan Hale, the Army that had never been licked,
the Government of the People, by the People and for the People, that was
better than any other government on the face of the earth. These walked
behind the policemen through the throng.

But there was a human undertone to this Tradition about to grapple with
the problem of Vice. Like Basine, each of the nine had at the beginning
felt a slight discomfort. Their own pasts and even presents had risen in
their thought to deride them. They were, alas, not without sin
themselves. The dramatic coincidence was even possible that one of the
witnesses called might point to a commissioner as the author of her
ruin. This, in an oblique way, disturbed them. It lay like an
indigestible fear upon the stomach of incarnated Tradition. But as the
patriotic fervor mounted in them, they were able somewhat to master this
selfish fear. Debating the matter vaguely in the silence of their own
bedrooms they had achieved an identical triumph.

Yes, they were after all only men. They had sinned, were sinning
regularly in fact. But they would be fearless. They would strike out
with no reserve and if Vice turned an accusing forefinger upon them,
they would sacrifice themselves. The chances were, however, that this
would not happen. They experienced the inner elation which comes with
non-inconveniencing confession. Regardless of what they were in secret,
they would be able to reveal themselves publicly as men sitting in
judgment upon Vice, as executioners of Vice. In this manner their
material lives became unimportant accidents. They were able within two
weeks to enter the public concept of themselves. Their actual selves
became, in their own eyes, inferior and irrelevant. They had achieved an
idealization.

There was also another change. Once established in their own eyes as
Virgins, like Basine they were soon under the hypnosis of headlines. As
they walked to the hotel this morning they had entirely rid themselves
of their normal individualities. They were no longer even ordinary
virgins, embarked upon a vaguely scientific or social enterprise. They
were, above that, the spokesmen of an aroused public, the dignified
containers of the power of the People.

None of the ten with the exception of Basine had given the actual work
before him any thought. They had not prepared themselves for the task by
study. All of them were serenely, in fact belligerently, ignorant of the
scientific thought of the world on the subject. The involved disclosures
of psychologists, philosophers, economists and other specialists in race
ethics were part of a childish abracadabra beneath their consideration.
For they were the incarnated power of Tradition and of Public
Opinion--two grave forces which needed no guilding light from such
sources.

This power buoyed them and brought a stern light into their eyes. They
believed in the People, and therefore in themselves as Spokesmen. Ten
shrewd, wire-pulling politicians whose careers were identically darkened
with chicanery and crude cynicism, they were able by the magic of faith
to rise above themselves. They were able to feel the nobility of the
phrases which they had so often utilized as cloaks for their private
greeds and private spites. These were the phrases of Democracy which
proclaimed to an awed populace that it, the populace, was Master and
that its will was a holy and unassailable force for progress and piety.

As spokesmen of the people these commissioners were concerned with
furthering the great idealization of themselves which the people
worshipped as their god. Reason was at war with this idealization.
Reason was the species of morbid and inverted vanity which inspired man
to disembowel himself as proof of his stupidity. It grappled with his
illusions, crawled through his soul, hamstringing his complacency. It
raised insidious voices around him, wooing him. To denude himself of
hope, faith and charity--in short to become intolerable to himself.

The commissioners, as spokesmen, turned their back upon it. There was a
happier outlet for the energies of man than the repudiation of himself
as the glory of God. There was the unreasoning struggle for
idealization--the miracle by which man, seizing hold of his boot straps,
hoisted himself into Heaven. This struggle, arousing the guffaws and
sneers of reason, was its own reward. It was the virtue that rewarded
itself.

The perspiring little scene in the hotel ball room was a startling
visualization of this happier struggle. Regardless of their sins, their
greeds, hypocrisies, idiocies, the people desired to see themselves as
incarnations of an ideal. This ideal had been carefully elaborated. Of
late it had taken on a life of its own. It had grown like a fungus
feeding upon itself. Man staring at the heaven he had created was
becoming awed by its magnificence and extent. More than that this heaven
was threatening to escape him, to become incongruous by its very
vastness. There was danger that his idealization, fattening upon a logic
of its own, would become a bit too preposterous even for worship.
Already this idealization proclaimed him as an apostle of virtue, as a
moralist first and a biological product afterward; as believing in the
credo of right over might, in the equality of blacks, whites, poor and
rich; as a sort of animated sermon from the triple pen of a martyr
president, martyr husband and martyr Messiah. Lost in a difficult
admiration of this heaven, the people struggled in the double task of
keeping the idealization of themselves from becoming too preposterous
and of persuasively identifying themselves with their image.

The result of this struggle was apparent in the puritanizatron of idea
becoming popular in the country. A spirit of martyrdom was prevalent.
Men and women were enthusiastically martyring themselves--passing laws
and formulating conventions in opposition to their appetites and
desires--in an excited effort to overtake this idealization of
themselves. Righteousness was becoming a panic. The Christ image of the
crowd was slowly obliterating its reality. His halo was running away
with man. Overcome with the necessity of keeping pace with the
artificial virtues he had created as his God, he was converting himself,
to the best of his talents, into an outwardly epicene, eye-rolling
symbol of purity. There was this mirror alive with his own God-like
image. And he must now be careful not to give the lie to the
idealization of himself created partly by him and partly by the activity
of logic.

The members of the Vice Investigating Commission entered the crowded
room serene in the knowledge that reason was their enemy and that
God--that mysterious cross between public opinion and yesterday's
errors--would vouchsafe them the power and keenness to cope with the
problem before them.

They were innocent of intelligence but they had faith in the principles
of their country and the principles of their country were founded upon
the great truth that what the people willed must come to pass. Today the
people of the commonwealth of Illinois willed that vice and immorality
be abolished from their midst. Therefore it must come to pass that the
ten citizens lowering themselves into the seats behind the table were
ten irresistible instruments animated by the strength of public opinion.

For several minutes after they had seated themselves the commissioners
remained staring with dignity at the throng. A vague and pleasant
delirium occupied their minds. The Vice Investigating Commission had
assembled and the business of removing the blot from the face of
civilization would begin at once. The commissioners sat, pompously
inanimate, waiting for it to begin.

The spectacle before them, the thousands of eyes focussed upon their
little group at the long table, slowly awakened an uncomfortable
disillusion in the commissioners. In fact, a little panic swept their
minds. They had, of course, discussed the issues, passed resolutions and
laid plans for grappling with the situation. But all these efforts had
been part of the curious hypnosis which had overcome them. The sense of
their power hypnotized them into fancying that their star chamber
babblings were in themselves thunderblots. The sweeping promises, the
all-embracing statements and resolutions passed and issued for
publication had filled them with an exalted sense of success. They had
entered the ballroom under the naive conviction that the whole business
had been already successfully consummated. They were taking their seats
at the table not to launch upon a task but to receive the plaudits of
the public for great work already accomplished; in fact to reap reward
for the noble utterances attributed to them by the press.

But now with the pads of paper, the sharpened pencils, the businesslike
cuspidors at their feet, the ominous wastepaper baskets under their
hands, the commissioners faced the ghastly fact that the blot was still
on the face of civilization, untouched by their thunderbolts. And some
millions of people whose delegates were staring at them were waiting
excitedly for it to be removed.

It occurred as if for the first time to the commissioners that something
would have to be done about it. Their expressions underwent a change. A
pensiveness crept into their heavy faces. A bewilderment dulled the
dignity of their stares. The room was unbearably hot. It was impossible
to do any work in such a crowd. One could hardly hear oneself think
above the noise. The commissioners frowned and whispered among
themselves. Gradually a nervous jocularity came into their manner.

"Well, here we are. All set."

"Hm, I think we'd better call some witnesses."

"That's right. Call some witnesses. Where's Judge Basine?"

"Talking over there."

"Huh, why don't he do something?"

Yes, why didn't Judge Basine take charge of his flock. It was his
commission. The papers all said it was the Basine Commission. Then why
didn't he start something. Instead of gabbing around with reporters.

"Good God! What a heat! Hasn't the management provided any fans?"

"Where's a bellboy? We'll send him after some fans. Think a dozen'll be
enough?"

"Nothing doing. Three or four dozen at least. I'll wear out a dozen
myself before this day's over, believe me."

"Say, ain't that right!"

"Oh Judge ... Judge...."

"Yes, what is it, Senator?"

"What about the witnesses? Are we going to have any witnesses?"

"Of course. I'm just getting things ready."

"That's right. There's no rush. Open that window, won't you Jim?"

"God, what a mob. Well, we'd better do something, don't you think?"

"Leave it to Basine. Got a knife, Harry? This pencil's full of bum
lead."

The whisperings and delays continued. Basine, however, began to recover
himself. The eager, focussed eyes of the room were slowly electrifying
him. His gestures were becoming more dignified. His manner acquired a
definiteness.

The eyes regarding him saw a man with sharp features and an imperious
expression moving with what seemed significant deliberation, examining
papers, studying papers, opening papers, extracting papers, returning
papers. Instinctively they felt that here, centered in this cautiously
dynamic figure, was the celebrated Vice Investigation.

Basine arose, a gavel in his hand, and pounded the table. The noises
subsided as if a presence were being expelled from the room. The hush
served to illumine the figure of Basine. The eyes waited. His voice
arose, definite, impelling.

"Fellow Citizens, the Vice Investigating Commission appointed by the
State of Illinois to determine if possible the causes of immorality and
to remove, wherever possible, such causes, is now in session. The
purposes of this commission need no further explanation. We are
assembled here in the name of the people of this state to do all in our
power to grapple with the problem of vice and its many auxiliary
problems.

"This problem is today the outstanding menace to the welfare of our
community. Its dangers touch us all. The immoral man and the immoral
woman, the factors which contribute to their immorality, are our
responsibility. This is no sentimental outburst, no vague uprising but
an organized, official investigation with full powers to uncover facts.
We are not here to dabble in theories, but to deal with facts. And for
that purpose, and that purpose only, we are assembled under the laws of
our state and the constitution of our country. The first witness called
will be Mr. Arthur Core."

Applause thundered. Basine, flushed, sat down. The commissioners on each
side of him breathed with relief. Something had been started. To their
intense surprise Mr. Arthur Core actually arose from one of the witness
chairs and came forward. Mr. Core was head of the largest department
store in the city. Basine with an instinct in which he placed implicit
reliance had summoned him first, thus abandoning the plans the
commission had decided upon in star chamber. It had been decided upon to
save up the big guns for a climax. Basine's instinct warned him as he
stood on his feet talking, that a climax was necessary immediately--a
gesture which would at once reveal the power and fearlessness of the
commission.

Mr. Core was the medium for such a gesture. Venerated as one of the
wealthiest men of the city, the head of its most widely advertized and
magnificent retail establishment, to hail him before the commission and
belabor him with queries would be to capture the confidence of the
public forthwith.

As Mr. Core, accompanied by two lawyers and a secretary laden with
ledgers, advanced toward the table a sudden misgiving struck Basine. How
much would the newspapers dare print about Mr. Core, particularly if the
cross examination placed him and his establishment in an unfavorable
light? Mr. Core meant upwards of $3,000,000 a year in advertising
revenue. Perhaps he had made a mistake in calling him. The press would
turn and fly from the commission as from a plague. There would be no
headlines and the public would fall away.

Basine stood up as Mr. Core approached. He was a smartly dressed man
with a cream-colored handkerchief protruding against a smoothly pressed
blue coat; an affable, reserved face that reminded Basine of Milton Ware
and the Michigan Avenue Club. Poise, suavity, courtesy exuded from Mr.
Core.

"How do you do, Judge," he said with a bow, "and Gentlemen of the
Commission."

Basine extended his hand and promptly regretted the action. He had
caught the emotion of the crowd. He realized that his instinct had not
betrayed him.

Mr. Core was one of the most venerated citizens in the community,
venerated for his power, his success and his aloofness from his
venerators. The summoning of Mr. Core to take his place and be
cross-examined by the Commission had sent a thrill through the crowd.
They felt the elation of a pack of beagle dogs with a magnificent stag
brought to earth under their little jaws.

Mr. Core was rich, powerful, brilliant. But they, the people, were
greater than he. There he stood obedient to their delegated spokesman,
the fearless Basine, and gratitude filled them as they noted Basine was
a head taller than the great Mr. Core, and that the great Basine was not
at all confused by the presence of this famed personage.

Basine as he felt the emotion of the crowd knew simultaneously that the
newspapers, caught between their two vital functions--that of insuring
their revenue by respectful treatment of its source, the advertising
plutocracy,--and of insuring their popularity by the fearless advocacy
of any current crowd hysteria, must follow the less dangerous course.
And the less dangerous course now, as always, was with the beagle dogs
who had brought a stag to earth.

After the handshake Basine looked severely about him. He was pleased to
observe that his colleagues were non-existent. They sat coughing,
sharpening pencils and gazing with vacuous aplomb at objects about them.
He smiled with inward contempt. Little puppets under his hands. And the
crowd before him--a smear of little puppets. Even the all-powerful
newspapers, even the mighty Mr. Arthur Core--he could manipulate them
because there was something in him that was not in other people. A sense
of drama, perhaps. But more than that, an understanding--a vision that
enabled him to see clearly over the heads of people into the future. He
could tell in advance which way people were going to turn and he could
hurry forward and be there waiting for them--a leader waiting for them
when they caught up.

A curious question slipped into his mind. "Why am I like that?" And then
another question, "Why am I able to do things?"

The questions pleased him and as he followed Mr. Core into his chair he
knew that the crowd had noticed that Judge Basine was a man unimpressed
by the greatness of Mr. Core, that the eyes focussed on him had thrilled
with the knowledge that he, Basine, was dressed as well as Mr. Core and
that his own dignity and sternness were more impressive than the poise
of Mr. Core. The great Mr. Core was second fiddle in the show. Basine
was first fiddle and the crowd was thrilled by that. Because Basine was
their man, their leader. And Mr. Core, venerated to this moment, was now
their enemy. Basine was a man in whom the dignity of the people shone
out more powerfully than the prestige of any enviable individual. These
things whirled through Basine's thought as he turned to the witness.

"Mr. Stenographer," he announced, "you will please make accurate
transcription of all questions and answers that follow."

A naive pride filled the attentive commissioners. The Investigation was
after all a success. Regardless of what happened the mere fact that
Arthur Core was to be interrogated on the subject of immorality among
working girls, constituted an overwhelming success. The conviction which
now delighted them was shared by the thousands in the room and by the
newspaper men scribbling at an adjoining table. All present felt certain
that so dramatic a situation as the cross-examination of Mr. Arthur Core
by the chairman of the Vice Investigating Commission was bound to result
somehow in the instant removal of the blot from the face of
civilization. Basine, clearing his throat, began the questioning.

"Your name?"

"Arthur Core."

"Your position?"

"President of Core-Plain and Company."

"That is the retail merchandise establishment in this city?"

"It is."

A full five minutes was consumed in the exchange of profound
introductions. This concluded, Mr. Core was informed what the purposes
of the Vice Investigation Commission were. The information failed to
impress him. Whereupon he was informed that he, as an employer of
thousands of girls, had been called to throw light on a vital question.
First, what wages did his employes' receive. Mr. Core, raising his
eyebrows and looking aggrieved as if he had been asked a very crude and
tactless question, replied that the average wage was $10 a week for the
young women in his employ.

Did he think a young woman could keep virtuous on $10 a week? Alas, he
had never given that phase of the economic system any thought. But if
his opinion as an individual was worth anything, he would offer the
philosophical observation that wages had nothing to do with immorality.

A cynical observation. The crowd frowned. It didn't, eh? Lot he knew
about it. And on what did he base this cold-blooded point of view? Well,
on nothing in particular except his common sense. Indeed! His common
sense! Well, well. So he thought that a normal young woman could live on
$10 a week, feed, clothe and house herself on $10 a week and never feel
tempted to earn more money by sacrificing her virtue? Alas, he had not
thought of it in that way. He had merely thought that good young women
were good and bad young women were bad. And wages had nothing to do with
it. It was human nature. What! Human nature to be bad! Mr. Arthur Core
was inclined to a cynicism which, fortunately, the great minds of the
nation did not share. Had he ever sought to determine how many good
girls there were in his employ? No, but he presumed they were all good.
If they weren't he was sorry for them, but it was their own fault.

Thus the see-saw continued while the room grew hotter, while people
packed against each other listened with distended eyes and opened
mouths. Thus the commissioners, recovering from their panic, began to
frown with importances. And Basine, still following the instinct in
him--the sense of contact he felt with the crowd and situation, played
another trump card. The afternoon newspapers were blazoning the news of
Mr. Arthur Core. The morning papers would need an equally dramatic
morsel. Basine adjourned the session to reconvene at 3 o'clock. The
crowd remained. The heat increased. The session reconvened. It was
businesslike now. It was running like a machine. No more delays and
indecisions.

"Call Miss Winona Johnson."

Basine sat amid heaps of documents, ledgers and commissioners, in
charge. It was he who asked the questions, whose face was the
battle-front of the People versus Vice.

Your name? Winona Johnson. Your occupation? A pause. And then in a
lowered voice, a prostitute. What was that?--from Mr. Stenographer. A
prostitute, from Basine clearly and indignantly. Sensation. She was a
prostitute, this yellow-haired, gaudy creature in the witness chair. She
had her nerve. How long have you been a prostitute, Winona Johnson?
Well, two years, I guess. She guessed. As if she didn't know. And before
that what were you? She was a clerk. Where were you employed as a clerk,
Winona? Where? Oh, I worked for Core-Plain and Company. There it
was--the sort of thing that made climaxes. A new lead for the morning
papers--a new thrill for the tired breakfasters. "Tells Tragic Story of
Moral Downfall." And then in smaller headlines, "Former State Street
Clerk Uncovers Snares, Pitfalls of City." And then photographs;
comparisons between Mr. Core's statements and Miss Johnson's statements.
Mr. Core's picture and Miss Johnson's picture side by side so that one
might almost think, unless one read carefully (and who did that?) that
the venerated Mr. Arthur Core had been exposed by the all powerful
Basine Commission as the seducer of the pathetic Miss Winona Johnson.

Through the weltering afternoon the great investigation progressed,
Basine, unaided, carrying the fight. A Champion, an Undaunted One, his
voice growing hoarse, his eyes flashing tirelessly, his questions never
failing; incisive, compelling questions that seemed for all the world as
if they were slowly, tenaciously coming to grips with the Devil.

A great day for the commonwealth of Illinois. A day surfeited with
climaxes. Winona Johnson wept and the courteous voice of Basine pressed
for facts. Here was a mine of facts, here a witness who could reveal
something.... And she did....

That will be all, thank you, from Basine. Winona arose. Eyes devoured
her. A terrible curiosity played over her face and body. Civilization
had been stunned. Everyone knew, of course, that prostitutes sold
themselves to men. But to so many!!! Horrible! A revelation to make
thinking men think, thinking women, too.

If there had been any doubt in the public mind concerning the sincerity
of the Commission, this day had removed it. Two welfare workers and a
second department store owner concluded the bill. The newspapers spread
the questions and answers through the city. A determined light came
into the eyes of the millions who read. The commonwealth was at
grips with evil. Facts had been exhumed in a single session that were
intolerable to a civilized community. A hue and cry would be raised.
Things would be done. The millions reading felt this. Something would
have to be done. Resolutions would be passed. Thunderbolts would be
hurled by civic bodies, lodges, clubs. The thing called for action,
action and more action. But wait and see what the morning papers would
have to say. There would be remedies in the morning papers. Things would
be done overnight by the morning papers to put an end to this
iniquity--prostitution!!!! And there could be no question but that
underpaid workers were driven to lives of shame. And the dance halls,
they hadn't gotten around to them yet. And factories and hotels--wait
till it came their turn. They would all be grilled, quizzed, flayed.

Basine made his way slowly through the throng. Tomorrow's session would
begin at eleven o'clock. He was tired. The work had exhausted him. But
his head felt clear. Without raising his eyes he understood the
admiration of the crowds through which he was moving. They were
repeating his name among themselves saying, there he goes ... that's
him.... He had understood things in this manner all day, without giving
them words.

He felt at peace. He had gone through a test. Now he knew he was a
leader. The thing of which he had been afraid had turned out to be easy.
He smiled, remembering his colleagues. Simple, blundering men who had
floundered around trying to horn in. But this wasn't the private banks
crusade, not by a long shot. Ah, that was playing a long shot--calling
Core like that. But it had worked. Newsies were yelling around him.
Extra--all about! About Basine, of course. About him. Yes, there was
leadership in him. He was a man who could sweep people along with him.

The crowds were going home. All these people belonged to him.
Constituents. He smiled pleasantly at the hurrying figures. It was hot
and they were perspiring. Their eyes were filmed with preoccupations.
But what would happen if they were told suddenly that Judge Basine was
passing them, rubbing shoulders with them? Their eyes would brighten.
They would forget about the things that were worrying them. They would
look up and smile. Perhaps cheer.

Day dreams lifted his thought out of the present. This thing was only a
beginning. He would go on. There was a kinship in him with people. The
memory of the day lay like a love in his heart. He was still young.
Years ahead of him and he would end--where? High up.

He looked around and noticed he was walking toward Doris' studio. Odd,
he hadn't been aware where he was going. But he might as well. He
frowned. She would ridicule what had happened. Well, that was all right.
Her hatred of such things couldn't wipe out what was in his heart now.
He became practical. Think of tomorrow's session. But why? The details
were annoying. He had had enough details for one day. He would take care
of things when the proper time came. This was a sort of reward, to walk
and dream. As for the blot on the face of civilization, yes that would
all be taken care of at the proper time. But the important thing, the
most important thing was Basine--high up.



21


Schroder looked at his watch. Late, perhaps she wouldn't come.
Intellectual women were always the most uncertain. It was twilight.
Summer bloomed incongruously in the small city park.

"She probably didn't mean it, anyway," he thought.

Ruth appeared walking calmly down the broad pavement. He watched her.
She had come, but the business was still uncertain. Amorous affairs
were one thing. Seduction was another. He liked her, of course. But what
if she had notions about things? Love, fidelity, virtue, marriage,
decency. Oh well, he could always step away and say good-bye, I'm sorry.

"Hello," he said aloud. "You're late."

"I wasn't coming."

"I didn't think so, either."

She was one of the kind who made a pretense of frankness. If you let her
she would talk about sex till the cows came home, as if it were a
problem in algebra. He knew the kind. Full of theories....

"Where shall we go, Paul?"

"Let's sit here a while. How's his Honor."

"I don't know. I resigned last week."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, after the Commission adjourned for the summer."

The memory of the commission made him smile.

"Goofy," he said.

She nodded. "But Judge Basine is made, don't you think?"

He took her hand.

"So you left him," he smiled. They sat in silence. He would wait for her
to take the lead. She began talking as the park grew darker.

"I didn't intend coming," she said, "because I ... I know what you
want."

Her voice quivered and her fingers tightened over his hand.

"But I came to tell you ... I can't. I'm not being foolish or anything.
But--it isn't worth it."

He looked at her and wondered. The invitation was clear. He must begin
pleading now and making love. He hesitated because she had started
crying. Tears were on her cheeks.

She was remembering Basine.

"Don't," he whispered. "I wouldn't ask you to do anything like that.
We've talked, of course. But that was just talk. Ruth, I love you."

"But love doesn't mean anything to you," she answered.

And the answer to that was marriage. He hesitated. Tears always stirred
him. Now it was dark. He placed an arm around her. The stiffening of her
body decided him.

"We'll get married," he said.

The assurance did not delight her. Marriage was something foreign. But
she stood up when he asked her to and followed him. She walked along
thinking of herself as if there were two Ruths. One was walking with a
man--where? The other was thinking about things. But there was little to
think about. If it had been Basine instead of this other, it would have
been nicer. Basine was someone she knew. Paul was a stranger. But Basine
had played with her. He had said nothing when she went away. Merely
looked at her and nodded. His success had gone to his head. He didn't
want her, even to flirt with anymore. He was too busy....

She put her arms around the stranger and wept.

It was minor tragedy. There was nothing to weep about. Nobody cared what
happened to her. If there had been somebody who cared she would never
have met him.

Schroder watched her and sighed.

"If you don't love me," he said.

"It's not that," she answered. She was forgetting about her tears. Her
close presence to him was slowly preoccupying her. He loved her. And
they would be married. It didn't matter much. But the idea made it a
little easier. She kissed him, timidly at first. And then with passion.

Schroder grimaced inwardly. It was dark and she couldn't see his eyes.
They were worried. He had been in love for a few minutes in the park. He
would have liked to remain in love. He sat before the window thinking,
Why did women insist on climaxes. Their arguments made it necessary for
men to plead. The culmination was a sort of logical gesture.

He walked toward her. He would take her hand and make love. He felt sad
and making love out of sadness was always an interesting diversion.

"Ruth," he whispered, "do you love me?"

She answered by embracing him.

"Always the same," he murmured to himself, "it's no use."



22


The children were asleep and Henrietta was reading. Basine in his
slippers and smoking-jacket sat unoccupied. Their new house worried him.
He had not yet familiarized himself with its shadows.

He smiled as he watched his wife. He was going to run for Senator but
that made no difference to her. He was a husband to her, and everything
else was incidental. He thought of Ruth. Her name no longer depressed
him. During the first three or four months that followed her absence he
had felt as if his career had ended. There was nobody to succeed for any
more. Then through Doris he had learned that she was to marry Schroder.

The information had cured him. He had been despising himself for letting
her go. Now he was able to pretend that he had been forced by her virtue
to relinquish her. It would have been a dastardly thing to do--ruin her
and prevent her from marrying and living a decent life. Her marrying
vindicated his own virtue. He was able to think that he had done the
right thing. Not only that, but he had done the only thing possible. She
had fled from him because he was a married man. Then, too, she probably
didn't love Schroder. Not as she had loved him. She was marrying him
broken-heartedly. He sometimes played with this notion. It pleased him.
His sadness at the thought of her in another man's arms was mitigated by
the two-fold thought that her heart was broken and that she was in
reality embracing marriage and not a man.

He no longer desired her. He was too busy for one thing. Still, things
were different. She had been an inspiration. Now he went on with his
plans and his climb without feeling the excitement that had filled him
during their year together. There was no one in front of whom to pose.
This made posing a rather thankless business. And he became practical in
his thoughts, less dramatic in his lies.

Henrietta had put aside her paper and was looking at him.

"Are you tired?" she asked.

He shook his head. He began to think about her. What did she do all day?
Since Ruth had left, his desire to leave his wife had vanished. He
paused, confused. She was weeping.

"What's the matter?" he asked. She lowered her head.

"Nothing," she said.

A vivid memory hurt him. He remembered kissing her for a first time in
his mother's kitchen years ago. It seemed now that she had been alive
and beautiful that evening. That was gone.

"Has anything happened," he asked softly.

Her head shook. He came to her side and looked at her. He felt helpless.
What was there to make her cry?

"I don't know, George," she said as if answering his silent question.
"Please forgive me. I just started to cry for nothing."

"Worried about something?" he pressed. He felt guilty. She was crying
because of the things he had done. But what had he done? Nothing wrong.
He had put the wrong things out of his life. And for her sake. Why
should she weep about that, then? He was the one to weep. And she had
her children. Her father was alive. He remained silent, recounting what
he tried to consider anti-weeping reasons.

"Nothing, George," she answered. "I'm ... I'm just getting old."

He frowned and turned away.

Later when they lay in bed he took her in his arms. She had apparently
forgotten about her tears and their curious explanation. But he began to
talk to her.

"Old," he whispered, "you're not getting old. Don't be silly. At least
no more than I am. I'm older than you."

He held her close to him and his mind embraced a memory. This was not
his wife he held, but someone else. A vivacious, happy girl ten years
ago. No, more than that. Almost fourteen years ago. He lay remembering
another Henrietta--a charming, delightful child. He had never been in
love with her. This he knew. But the knowledge had slowly died. When he
embraced her at night a dream obscured his memory. The dream was that he
had once loved her, that she had once been beautiful, that his heart had
once sung with desire for her.

He played with this dream. It was a make-believe that saddened him. Yet
it made the moment more tolerable. Sometimes it even brought a curious
happiness. His dream would pretend that the scrawny figure he was
holding had once filled him with ecstasies. His dream would whisper to
him that he had once idolized her and that once ... once. He would lie
editing his sterile memories of her into glowing once-upon-a-times. And
when his kisses sought her cold lips it would be to this dream-Henrietta
they gave themselves, a Henrietta who had never been. It was sad to
pretend in this way that his great love had died and that his beautiful
one had faded. But it was not as sad as to remember when he kissed her
that there had never been anything.

He felt tired when he left the house the next morning. The business of
preening for the senatorial race annoyed him. The goal lured but the
details to be managed were aggravating.

He started as he opened the door of his chambers. Ruth! He stood looking
at her without words. She was pale and there was something curious about
her. She didn't look the same.

"You look surprised," she smiled. He noticed how spiritless she was.
"But ... you don't mind my coming here, do you. I've been trying to get
you."

She turned her eyes away. He had finally discovered the change, a
physical one.

"Well," he exclaimed, "I hadn't heard the good news. How's Paul."

So she was married. And had kept it secret. He smiled. He remembered
other scenes in the room. The doors locked. Her arms around him. All
that was over now. Before her motherhood, even the memory of it seemed
less certain.

"There is no good news," she was saying. "I've come to see if you can
help me."

They sat down. Basine nodded. Money. Poor girl. Schroder was always an
ass about things.

"He's gone away," she went on. "And ... and I'd like to locate him."

"Who?"

"Paul."

She covered her face. So he had deserted her. And she had come back to
him. A momentary excitement entered his thought. But he frowned
immediately. It was distasteful to think of what might have been if ...
not for this.

An amazement came into his eyes. He stared at her as she talked. She had
been ruined by Schroder and he had never married her. And when she had
refused medical interference he had calmly left the city. He listened
blankly and could think of nothing to say.

"Oh George, you must help me."

Help her! He must help her! After she had lived with this man for
months, giving herself to him! He stood up and walked down the room. It
was like he used to do, pace up and down in front of her.

He wanted to talk but he found it hard. A rage was coming into his mind
that obscured his words. The rage continued. Pausing in the center of
the room Basine began to swear. His voice had grown high pitched.

"Damn!" he shouted at her, "and you come to me. Me! You bring your
filthy sins to me! Damn his dirty soul! Yes, you're fine, you are!
Leaving me to go with that chippy-chaser. I thought ... I thought you
were somebody."

He stopped, his fist in the air. She was walking away.

"Ruth," he called after her, "listen, wait a minute."

The door closed after her. Basine stood watching the door. She would
open it and come back. But the door remained shut. He seated himself at
his desk. Moments passed and he was surprised to wake up and hear
himself mumbling. "The dirty skunk! I'll wring his neck!"

She had given herself to Schroder! Not married him.... The part he had
played in her ruin forced itself with a nauseating insistency into
Basine's mind. His memories seized him. He struggled, but the things he
knew leaped out of hiding-places and assaulted him. She had loved him.
And he had loved her. Life had seemed marvelous with her close to him.
His career, his day, its simplest detail, had been colored with
delicious excitement. But he had been afraid to reach out and take what
he wanted. It would have meant success, happiness and something
else--the word beauty withheld itself--it would have meant these things.
But he had feared possession. He had let her go away after kissing her
and telling her that he loved her. So she had gone walking in the
street and fallen into the arms of the first man she met. It was plain.

Basine writhed under triumphant accusations. A torment filled him. He
must escape from the accusations He pried himself away from his thoughts
and took his place on the bench. Other people's troubles again.
Disputes, wrangles, testimonies--his ears listened mechanically. Lawyers
were pleading with him. Witnesses were stammering. He sat with a scowl
and hunched forward in his chair. His lean face thrust itself at the
courtroom.

Thoughts too intolerable for his attention whirled sickeningly in a
background. Pictures of Ruth in the man's arms, of her surrender, of the
intimacies of their illicit affair forced themselves upon him. He loved
her. "Oh, damn him," sang itself darkly through his heart.

There was one mocking intruder that raised a vociferous head. "You might
have had her. Not he. She might have been yours if you hadn't been
afraid." It was this that nauseated most. Not Schroder's villainy, but
his own cowardice. He had lost through cowardice.

The day dragged itself along. He had recovered in part the rage which
protected him from the intolerable memories. When he left the courtroom
it was with a viciousness in his step. His feet stamped down as he
walked, as if they were attacking the pavements. He entered a saloon
several blocks from the City Hall.

The place was almost deserted. A few businesslike looking men were
grouped before the long bar. They were laughing. Basine passed them and
a voice called his name. He turned and saw a familiar face in one of
the small booths against the wall. It was Levine, the newspaperman.

"Hello, Judge. Come on over and sit down."

Basine narrowed his eyes. The man was partially drunk. His drawn face,
usually pale, was flushed and his sneering black eyes were bloodshot. He
sat down opposite Levine with a greeting. A waiter brought drinks.

"What's up, Judge, you seem rather low," Levine laughed quietly. "The
world been falling on your nose? Ha, have another. Here, waiter...."

They sat drinking, the newspaperman lost in a mysterious excitement that
gathered in his voice. The excitement soothed Basine. The drinks brought
a haze into his mind. He became aware that the man was talking about his
sister. He was leaning forward, a black forelock over his bloodshot eye,
his arm thrown out on the table, and talking in a languorous voice about
Doris.

"Drowning my troubles, judge," he was saying. "It's easier to drink
yourself into forgetfulness than to lie yourself into forgetfulness, eh?
And besides you grow sick of lying, eh. Nobody lies more than me, and I
know, I know. But it ain't my fault--she's gone mad about him. You know
him--Lindstrum, the poet. Been mad about him for years. And it gets
worse ... that's all that's the matter with her. He ran away years ago
and she's gotten a phobia about people. Because he's the people's poet.
Ha, she's told me about you, George. Got an idea of making this man
Lindstrum sick by showing him how rotten people are. And using you. See?
But where do I come in? Nowhere ... nowhere. Just gabbing for years and
I don't come in nowhere.... Get me? This damn newspaper drool has eaten
into me.... She's the only one I wanted. But I don't come in, see? She's
mad ... gone mad...."

Basine's thought avoided the man's words. He sat with a blissful
vacuity. They drank till it grew night. Basine, as if recalling himself,
walked out. The newspaperman lay across the table, his head asleep on
his arm.

The night was cool. A curious impulse to let go came to Basine. He would
go somewhere and find women and noise. He walked along thinking about
this. When he had walked for an hour the impulse was gone. The haze was
slipping from him. He recalled things Levine had said. Something about
Lindstrum, the poet. His mind played with Lindstrum. He had seen
him--where? Oh yes, long ago. That was before he'd become famous. Now he
was a great poet. Hell with everything.... Get the senatorship and let
things slide.

He walked along toward his home. Henrietta would be asleep. He sighed.
The night was cool. Everything all right in the morning. Now, everything
all wrong. But in the morning--

His stride quickened. He felt half asleep and as he moved over the
deserted pavement he began mumbling, "I love you, George, I love
you...."



23


Doris was ill. The doctor had telephoned her mother and Mrs. Basine was
sitting beside the bed holding Doris' hand. A man she remembered vaguely
was standing in a corner of the room smoking. It was the poet,
Lindstrum, who was once a friend of Doris. He had been there when she
arrived, standing by the window and smoking while the doctor was fixing
an ice pack on Doris' head.

The doctor had been unable to make a diagnosis. She had a fever but they
would have to wait for more definite symptoms.

As the twilight filled the studio, Mrs. Basine grew frightened. She
thought at moments Doris was dead, she lay so still. She watched the
half-closed eyes anxiously. Perhaps Doris would die. And George was in
Washington. She had telegraphed but he couldn't arrive till the next
day. She sat wondering about her daughter. She remembered her as a
child, then as a girl.

"Changes, changes," she sighed. Changes that excited one, but all they
did was bring one nearer to this. She was thinking of death.

"How do you feel now, Doris?"

No answer. The burning eyes continued to stare, the hand she held
remained limp and dry in her fingers. Perhaps it was nothing serious.
Merely a fever. She sat nodding her head at her thoughts. She thought of
how her children had grown up and gone away. Fanny, George, Doris,
Aubrey, Henrietta, Mrs. Gilchrist, Judge Smith and the grandchildren.
These were the names of her family. They were part of her. Yet while the
rest of the world grew more and more familiar they grew more and more
strange.

"Does it pain you anywhere, Doris?"

No answer. Poor little Doris. She stroked her face. Life had used her
differently. She felt this. She knew nothing of what Doris had done or
dreamed, but the staring eyes frightened her and she understood.

George frequently called her queer. Yet George was, in a way, proud of
her. He used to seek Doris out. And many people had talked of her as a
very unusual young woman. But life had used her curiously, not like
other girls. Perhaps it was a man. She turned toward the figure in the
corner. He was standing holding a pipe to his mouth. What if it was a
man? Scandal. Mrs. Basine sighed. What was scandal? It was only a way of
looking at facts. She would take her home with her. Poor little Doris
living alone in this place and sitting here night after night dreaming
of things. That was sad.

"Listen dear, do you want something?"

No answer. The doctor said he would be back after dinner and bring a
nurse. She would ask him if Doris could be moved and then take her home.
It was growing darker in the room. Someone was knocking. She opened the
door. It was another man. He came in and then paused.

"Is Doris ill?" he asked.

Mrs. Basine nodded.

"I am her mother," she said.

Levine looked at her and introduced himself.

"You know Mr. Lindstrum," she added. Levine stared at the poet in the
shadows and said, "Yes, I know him."

"How do you do," said Lindstrum slowly.

Doris reached her hand up as Levine approached the bed. He took it and
she whispered, "Don't go away." She tried to rise.

"You mustn't dear," her mother cautioned.

"Oh yes," Doris voice appeared to be growing stronger. "I want to sit
up. Help me, Max." He arranged the pillows. The ice-pack fell from her
head. She smiled.

"You haven't eaten anything, mother," she added. "Please, there's a
restaurant around the corner."

Mrs. Basine stood up. It might be better to go away for a while. Despite
her daughter's momentary recovery her fears had increased. She felt
something curious about Doris. But perhaps it was just the fever. She
left the room with a final glance at the flushed face. Doris had always
been strange, but there was something disturbing about her now. Her
daughter's eyes watching her opening the door, chilled her heart
suddenly. She held herself from rushing to her side and taking her in
her arms. She didn't know why, but she was certain there was something
strange about Doris. She walked into the hall. Yes, she was certain
something terrible was going to happen.

When the door closed Doris sat against the pillows, her white face
turned toward Lindstrum in the shadows.

"Did you hear we were going to war, Lief?" she asked. Behind his pipe in
the shadows the grey faced figure of Lindstrum nodded.

"George is a Senator," she added. "He's going to declare war, Lief. You
remember my brother George."

"Doris, you mustn't," Levine whispered. "Lie back, please."

She covered her face and her body shuddered.

"The filthy ones are going to war. Come closer, Lief. I want to see
you."

Lindstrum approached the bed. Doris turned to Levine.

"The pack is going to war. Did you see their eyes shining in the street,
and their mouths gloating? A new terror, eh?"

She threw her hands into her hair and her eyes centered suddenly on
Lindstrum. He was standing over her. Doris began to laugh and to climb
out of bed. She stood up barefooted in her night gown, her black hair
down and pointed out of the window.

"Don't." Levine took her hand. "You'll catch cold."

Her eyes were lustrous. Lindstrum caught her in his arms. She had leaned
toward him as if she were falling. Her body was vividly hot. He held her
and she began to laugh.

"Better lie down," he whispered.

The laugh grew louder. Her hand with its fingers extended and pointing,
wavered toward the window. She tried to talk but the laughter in her
throat prevented. She hung loosely in his arms, laughing and waving her
hands.

"The window," she gasped, "look out and see!"

"We had better get her into bed," Levine whispered. Lindstrum nodded.
But Doris pulled herself from his hold. She stumbled and fell to her
knees before the window. The room was dark and the street lights threw a
faint glare over her face. She knelt with her hands to her neck and her
eyes swinging.

"Look out!" cried Levine. Doris screamed.

"The beast ... the beast!"

She had thrown herself forward with the shriek but Lindstrum's hands
had caught her. The window glass broke.

The two men carried her into the bed. Her head fell back on the pillow.
She lay with her eyes open. Lindstrum sat leaning over her.

"Doris," he whispered. Her eyes regarded him without recognition.

"It's happened," muttered Levine. Lindstrum's hand passed over her
forehead and slipped down the loose hair.

"The fever's gone," he said softly. "Yes," he repeated, "the fever's
gone now."

Mrs. Basine returned. Doris, her eyes open, was lying as if dead. Her
mother rushed to the bed crying her name. She was breathing. The fever
was gone. Her body was almost cool.

"She was out of her head for a while," Lindstrum whispered.

"Talk to me please, dearest."

Doris sighed and looked around. They made no move as she sat up.

She left the bed and returned from a closet with a wrap over her
nightgown. They watched her until her eyes turned toward
them--expressionless, dead eyes. Mrs. Basine clasped her hands together
and trembled.

"We must call the doctor at once," she whispered. She went to the
telephone. Doris sat down in a chair near the window. Her head sank and
she gazed out. The expressionless eyes grew clouded. Tears were coming
out. She sat weeping without sound while her mother telephoned.

"Something has happened to Doris," Mrs. Basine whispered into the
telephone, "please hurry, something has happened to her...."

"Good-bye, Doris," Lindstrum spoke.

The white face of the girl remained without movement. She was staring
out the window, a lifeless figure, weeping. He approached her and
watched her tears.

Outside, he walked with his head down, through the streets.

"She knew it was going to happen," he murmured to himself, "and she
wanted to see me again before it did." His heart felt heavy. Doris with
her dead eyes weeping. Ah, a long sigh. Hard to remember things that had
been.

"Knock 'em over," he whispered aloud. "Make something ... make
something." Deep inside him were hands that pantomimed despair. People
in the streets. War was coming to them. "Huh," he said slowly, "they
tore her heart out." Everybody knew him. Everybody knew the name
Lindstrum. It was the name of a great poet. When he was dead Lindstrum
would stay alive. "Huh," he whispered, "I don't know.... Sing to them.
Yes...."

His teeth bit into the pipe stem. Tears came from his eyes. He walked
along in the night snarling with his lips parted, and weeping.



24


The war was a noisy guest. People shook hands with it. It sat down in
their little rooms. It's voice was a brass band that drowned their
troubles. Basine found a curious friend in the war.

Changes had come to him in the days that followed the scene with Ruth.
He grew cold. His heart was indifferent. His victory in the election
had sent him to bed without joy.

There was no longer an inner Basine and an outer Basine. He had fought
his way into the current of events and he was content to let them move
him. They made him Senator. They moved him to Washington, provided new
scenes for him, new faces. He heard of his sister's collapse without
sorrow. She had become crazy. To be expected, of course, to be expected,
he said to himself one evening as he sat writing a letter of sympathy to
his mother.

The thing that had happened to Basine had been the result of a
confusion. He found himself at forty robbed of life. Despair, hatred,
disgust--these things were left. He turned his back on them. They were a
company of emotions too difficult to play with. It was no longer
possible to lie. Ruth, Schroder, Henrietta, love, hope, intrigue grew
mixed up. He emerged from himself and walked away from himself like an
aggrieved and dignified guest.

He sometimes remembered himself--a distant Basine. A keen-faced one with
the feel of leadership in his heart. A mind that was alive behind its
words. He had done and thought many things. But now he had gone away. He
was silent. The day was no longer a challenge. The change carried its
reward. It seemed to bring him closer to people. At least he found a
certain charm in talking and listening that had not existed before.

He gave himself no thought. He was successful and that was enough. At
times he sat in his new quarters in Washington reading stray items in
the newspapers and reciting to himself his achievements. He found
pleasing identification in the honors he had achieved.

His political friends talked among themselves. They recalled that Basine
had once been a man of promise, a man alive with energies. And now he
was like the others in the party--an amiable fuddy-duddy. They recalled
the sensational figure he had made a few years ago in the Vice
Investigation. This seemed to have been the climax of Basine.

But the war arrived and the new Senator began to emerge. The country
became filled with mediocrities struggling to utilize the war as a
pedestal. The call had gone out for heroes and the elocutionists rushed
forward.

The psychology of the day, however, was a bit too involved for these
aspirants. The body politic of the nation found itself betrayed by its
own platitudes. A moral frenzy began to animate the horizon. But it was
the frenzy of an idea that had escaped control; an idea grown too huge
and luminous to direct any longer. The idealization of itself before
which the crowd had worshipped became now a Frankenstein. The virtues of
America had gone to war. And the nation looked on, aghast and
uncomprehending. The flattering and grandiose image of itself that the
_bête populaire_ had been creating in its law books, text books, and
hymnals had suddenly stepped from its complicated mirror and was
marching like a Mad Hatter to the front. A swarm of guides and
interpreters had leaped to its side. They danced around it chanting its
nobilities, proclaiming its grandeur. The spirit of Democracy, the
Rights of Man, the One and Only God--the Golden Rule, the Thou Shalt
Nots, the Seven Virtues, the Mann Act, the Hatred for All Variants of
Evil,--the mythical incarnation of these and kindred illusions--the
Idealization--was off for the front.

The confusion arose when the nation found itself attached as if by some
gruesome umbilical cord to this crazed Idealization, off with a Tin
Sword on its shoulder. And it must follow this Virtue-snorting monster.
It must lie down in trenches in behalf of a Fairy Tale with which it had
been shrewdly deceiving itself for a century.

But while the elocutionists fumbling for pedestals were exhorting the
nation to hoist itself by its boot-straps, to become overnight a
belligerent hierarchy around its God, there were others whose spirit
raised an authentic battle shout. One of these was Basine.

He appeared to return to himself. The Basine he had walked away from
raised itself amid the disgusts and hatreds in which it had lain
abandoned. A rage gathered in his voice. Eloquence and flashing eyes
were his. The amiable fuddy-duddy playing little politics in Washington
became a gentleman of war.

The horizon bristled with gentlemen of war. But the terrified crowd
casting about for leaders, as the draft shovelled it toward the
trenches, eyed them with suspicion. There must be authentic gentlemen of
war--men above suspicion. Men maddened with a desire to fight and
destroy were wanted. Basine was one of these. His tirades against the
enemy left nothing in doubt. They were not concerned with idealisms. The
enemy must be destroyed, he began to cry, or else it would destroy
civilization.

Huns, he cried, vandals and scoundrels. Gorillas, demons, soulless
monsters. His phrases drew frightful caricatures of the enemy. His
orations were among the few that stirred terror. The Germans were not
enemies of an ideal--not a rabble of Nietzsches at theological grips
with a rabble of Christs. They were Huns, said Basine, barbarians,
fiends, hacking children to pieces, pillaging, raping, destroying.

This was a language the nation understood. It contained in it the
inspiration to heroism and sacrifice. Out of it arose the grisly cartoon
which awakened fear. Terrified by the possibilities of Hun domination
and massacres, the crowd patriotically bared its bosom to the lesser
horror--war. It marched forth behind its idiot Idealization not to
defend that absurdity but to save itself from the clutches of massacring
savages.

The energies which came to life abruptly in Basine focused into a
strange passion against the Germans. He was vicious, intolerant,
unscrupulous in his denunciations. This established him instantly as a
leader.

The crowd, casting about for leaders, seized upon men more terrified
than themselves. And upon these abject ones who raved and howled from
the pulpit, stage and press, they heaped rewards and canonizations.

There was one phase of Basine's hatred that offered a curious
explanation. From the beginning he devoted himself to describing the
hideous immorality of the Huns. He loaned himself passionately to all
rumors celebrating the wholesale rape of women committed by the invaders
of Belgium. Deportations, well-poisonings, child-murders figured
extensively in his eloquence. But gradually he appeared to concentrate
upon what he called the ultimate horror--"fair Europe overrun by this
horde of seducers and immoral blackguards." Schroder was a German.

The war rehabilitated Basine. It enabled him to destroy Schroder. The
complicated underworld of hate, disgust, disillusion which his ludicrous
renunciation of Ruth and her subsequent betrayal by Schroder had created
in him, was the arsenal from which he armed himself for war.

He had lapsed into a sterile and amiable Basine in order to escape from
emotions become too intolerable and too dangerous to utilize. The murder
of Schroder would not have restored him. The return of the woman he
still loved would have been equally futile. Life had become too
intolerable for Basine to face and adjust. He had permitted himself
convenient burial.

On the night he had gotten drunk with the newspaperman, Basine saw
himself as he was--a creature misshapen and humorous--and he had buried
the vision and fled from it. To sit contemplating an inner self become a
grotesque cripple was intolerable. He sought for a brief space to
transfer his self-loathing to Schroder but Schroder, the man, was too
small to contain it. Schroder, the war, however, was another matter.

Basine unlocked himself, exhumed himself, and came forth with a yell in
his throat. The German army was five million Schroders. He hurled
himself at them. He was happy in his rage. A sincerity hypnotized him.

The Germans were not only five million Schroders. They were also the
incarnated nauseas and despairs of Basine. Schroder, the man, had become
for him, illogically but soothingly, the cause of everything that had
become misshapen and humorous inside him. Schroder, the man, was the
sand in which Basine, the ostrich, buried his head. Now Schroder, the
Germans, Schroder, the World War, Schroder, the rape of Belgium, the
devastation of France, offered a more hospitable grave for the misshapen
and humorous image of himself. To destroy the Germans became for Basine
synonymous with destroying the things inside himself from which he had
fled helplessly. The destruction of these things consisted of giving
them outlet, of giving them voice. His hatreds, despairs and
disillusions arose and spat themselves upon the Germans. The process
cleansed and invigorated him and launched him before the public as a
leader to be trusted, a hero to venerate during its dark hour.



25


The company assembled in his mother's home greeted Basine with
excitement. He had stopped over during a tour in behalf of the Liberty
Loan. Mrs. Basine had persuaded him to attend a function in his honor.
He was late. They were waiting dinner for him.

When he entered, a sense of great affairs, of world disturbances came
into the room with him. At the table the talk centered around him. He
was the superior patriot. Questions were fired at him--when would the
war end, what was the real secret of this and that and did he know what
was behind the latest note from the President, and when was the German
offensive due? He answered ambiguously, offering no information and
exciting his audience by his reticence.

Aubrey Gilchrist, who had held the floor before the Senator's arrival,
listened eagerly to his brother-in-law. Aubrey's patriotism was a bond
between them. But it was of a different quality. Aubrey's patriotism was
founded on the fact that America was the most virtuous nation in the
world. He devoted himself to a campaign among his friends and had even
spoken publicly a number of times. In his talk he grew eloquent over the
moral grandeur of his country and hailed the altruism and honesty of his
countrymen as a light that illumined the world.

Aubrey had overcome his impulse to publish his father's manuscript under
his own name. His fears had finally triumphed. He had utilized his
decision in a curious way. For months after determining not to commit
the imposture he had discussed the decision among his friends.

"I worked a number of years on it," he explained simply, "but on reading
it over I feel that it's not the thing to be given the public. It's a
bit too Rabelaisian and unrestrained. Among gentlemen, yes. But when one
thinks of young men and women reading such things one hesitates. I feel
too that I can do better. Perhaps in another year or so I'll finish
something more worthy."

This explanation had given him a pleasurable emotion. It had coincided
with the inner Aubrey--the Isaiah who thundered in secret. He had gone
about elated with the knowledge of his honesty--not only the honesty of
refraining from the imposture but the honesty of sparing the public a
work likely to undermine its morals. With the advent of the war Aubrey's
elation had expanded miraculously. The nation became a collection of
Aubrey Gilchrists. He found an outlet for his self admiration in
boasting tirelessly of the virtues of his countrymen. His interest in
the Germans was faint. He was chiefly concerned with having the moral
grandeur of his nation recognized and triumphant.

Seated opposite him was Fanny. She smiled when he looked at her. The war
had brought Fanny happiness. It had released her from the tormenting of
Ramsey. She turned occasionally toward Ramsey a few seats removed at the
table and spoke to him. He had changed. He sat flushed and elated and
took his turn at denouncing the enemy, at avowing vengeance and
prophesying terrible victories over the Hun. His anger rivalled
Basine's. The curious game he had played with Fanny had lost its
interest. He had emerged like Basine. Fanny was no longer necessary to
his desire for a sense of power--a power which convinced him of his
manliness and concealed from him the secret of his inferiority. He had
transferred his game from Fanny to the Germans. He was now tormenting
the Germans. The news of their defeats, the hope of their annihilation
inflated him. In addition, his belligerent air, his gory threats enabled
him to establish himself in his eyes and in the eyes of others as a
thorough man.

There were others in the company--Judge Smith, red-faced and glowering;
Aubrey's mother engaged in excommunicating the Germans as socially unfit
and outside the pale of her sympathy or support; a number of prominent
social and political lights. They discussed the war with animation,
fired questions at the senator and ate heartily.

Dishes clattered. Servants appeared and disappeared. Mrs. Basine,
sitting beside her son listened to him proudly and grew sad. Her son's
prestige pleased her. But the war saddened her. She noticed that Mrs.
Gilchrist was growing old--too old to share the enthusiasms of the day.
Yet there was a comradeship in the room that stirred Mrs. Basine. She
disliked most of the individuals around her. But when they came together
there was something charming in the way they talked and smiled and
exchanged confidences.

Mrs. Basine had secretly allied herself with a pacifist group of women
who labelled their minor timidity as intellectualism and argued with
violence against the major timidity identified as patriotism. She had a
horror of war, her imagination seeing herself continually suffering with
the soldiers of both sides. A similar sensitiveness had converted her
into a vague socialist. The misery of what she called the masses was a
mirror in which she saw a possible image of herself. She subscribed with
enthusiasm to doctrines which promised to establish justice and
tranquility in the world.

But now among the people in her home Mrs. Basine noticed an enviable
optimism. Some of them were old friends, others new friends. But all of
them were alike in one way. All of them seemed wonderfully excited over
the fact that this war was going to put an end to all wars. She would
have liked to share this optimism. But her intelligence deprived her of
the solace. Yet she was able to feel kindly toward the ideals she sensed
were false. They were somehow like her own ideals--inspired by similar
things.

The camaraderie in the room heightened. This was a war that was going to
put an end to all wars and everyone felt happy. They talked and
laughed. Their manner seemed to hint that the war was not only going to
put an end to all wars but to all troubles. Yes, the Germans vanquished,
victory achieved, and the world would be beautifully straightened out.

They identified themselves avidly with the world--these old and new
friends. The enemy who had dogged their monotonous little footsteps
through the years--the veiled Nemesis who had harassed them and filled
them with helpless, futile hatreds, tripped them up and robbed them at
every turn--this enemy was at last unmasked. He was identified now. He
was their troubles--their defeats. And they had him out in the open now
where they could shout battle cries and leap upon him. He was the
Germans.

Mrs. Basine, groping for an understanding of the elation among her
guests and desiring to share it, thought of her grandchildren. She
remembered George when he was no older than his son. This memory seemed
to give the lie to the excitement in the room. She wondered why. She
remembered Fanny when she was a girl. And Henrietta long ago. Henrietta
was smiling quietly at her husband--a faded matron, scrawny, silent. And
Doris was upstairs, weeping perhaps. She had taken Doris out of the
sanitarium to care for her at home. The doctor said melancholia. She
might be cured if something could be found to interest her. But there
was nothing. She sat wide-eyed and morose through the day, her hands
listless and waited till night came and sleep. Her skin was yellow and
there were little glints in her eyes as if they were peering out of the
dark.

Senator Basine laughed at the sally of a pretty woman. The table joined
his laughter. The senator was an inspiration. His manner was forceful,
his words direct. When he listened his head remained flung back. When he
talked he lowered his head and raised his eyes. There was an anger in
him that awed. It played behind his words.

"You're right, George." Aubrey answered a remark Basine had made. "I
agree with you entirely. But after all, the purposes of this war are
more than victory over an enemy. The victory over ourselves--"

Aubrey's words were lost in the racket of rising diners. The eating was
over. The guests filed into the library. Henrietta slipped her hand
through her husband's arm. She remembered vaguely the afternoon in the
Basine library when George Basine had asked her to marry him. No,--it
was in the kitchen. She would have liked to talk about it. But this was
no time to mention such things. She sat down and listened to the excited
remarks of the guests. There was an interruption. Aubrey, at the window,
raised his voice.

"Look here," he exclaimed, "soldiers."

The company crowded to the front of the room. Men in civilian clothes
carrying small bundles over their shoulders were marching four abreast
down the center of the street.

"Entraining for war, by God!" said Ramsey.

They watched in silence. Soldiers going to war! There was something
incongruous about that. A vague feeling of surprise and discomfort held
the watchers. Men who would in a short time be lying in trenches,
shooting with guns, killing other men. And they felt curiously out of
touch with the marchers, as if the enemy they had been denouncing at
the table and vilifying throughout their day were someone not so far
away as France. As if these marching men in the street were being sent
to the wrong address.



26


Basine hurried in the dark street. His mother and Henrietta stood in the
doorway watching him. He carried a suitcase and had promised to write
frequently. The Liberty Loan tour had cut short his visit. He was
walking to catch his train at the neighborhood station a few blocks
away.

As he turned the corner, Basine paused. Someone had called his name. He
looked around and saw a man standing under the street lamp.

"Hello George. How are you?"

The man held out his hand and Basine, taking it, studied him for a
moment. Keegan. Poor old Hugh Keegan. Basine smiled.

"Well, well," he exclaimed. "What are you doing around here, Hugh?"

They stood shaking hands. Basine noticed the furtive, shabby air of his
old friend. He hadn't seen or heard of Keegan or thought of him for
years. It was strange to meet him like this, walking in a street.

"I live down the street a ways," Keegan answered. An almost womanish
shyness was in his manner. "Been hearing and reading a lot about you,
George." He lowered his voice. "You sure made good."

Basine smiled deprecatingly.

"Walking my way, Hugh?" he inquired. "Going to the train." He felt
nervous. Keegan was like meeting yesterdays.

"Yes," said Keegan.

They walked along. Basine felt his exhuberance leaving him. A curious
desire to apologize to Keegan took hold of him. But for what? Because
Keegan looked shabby. Keegan acted frightened and ashamed of something.

"We used to have some good times together, George."

The man was impossibly wistful. Like a beggar asking
something--demanding something.

"Yes," said Basine. This Keegan ... this Keegan. He looked at him out of
the corners of his eyes. Shabby, furtive, blond-faced, tired.

"What have you been doing, Hugh?" he asked.

"Oh, didn't you hear," Keegan answered. His voice grew more deferential.
He began to talk in an apologetic murmur.

"My wife died," he apologized. "I got married, you know, four years ago.
Four years this coming November. We went to a picnic last June and Helen
ate something."

Keegan's voice sank to a confidential and still apologetic whisper.

"About two nights after," he added, "she died."

Basine looked at him and saw tears in his eyes. Keegan had married
somebody and she had died. This had happened to Keegan. Basine grew
nervous.

"Awf'ly glad to have seen you again, Hugh," he said after a pause. "Am
sorry to hear about it. We must get together sometime. I think I'll have
to run."

They shook hands and Basine hurried on. He was aware of Keegan looking
after him. A vacuous-faced Keegan with tears in his eyes. A Keegan who
had found something and lost it. What kind of a woman could have loved
Keegan? What kind ... what kind ... poor Hugh. He had been young once.
Now it was all over. Basine sighed. Keegan saddened. Keegan was like
yesterdays. He started to walk faster. He began to run, the suitcase
thumping against his leg.

"I'll miss the train," he assured himself furtively and ran.

But there was plenty of time for the train. Another fifteen minutes. He
was running for something else. Yes, he was running away from
Keegan--from the vacuous, shabby figure of Keegan that stood weeping
behind him. An oath throbbed in his mind.

"Damn...." he muttered. The word stopped him. He walked the rest of the
way to the station. A sadness darkened him. He was sad, impossibly sad,
as if his heart were breaking. Because Keegan had found something and
lost it. Because his old friend Hugh had started to cry.... "Poor
Hughie," he murmured.


THE END





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