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Tales of the jazz age cl.., p.10

Tales of the Jazz Age (Classic Reprint), page 10

 

Tales of the Jazz Age (Classic Reprint)
 


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  "You're well enough to come and play with your society friends here all right. You told me you'd meet me for dinner, and you said you'd have some money for me. You didn't even bother to ring me up."

  "I couldn't get any money."

  "Haven't I just been saying that doesn't matter? I wanted to see you, Gordon, but you seem to prefer your somebody else."

  He denied this bitterly.

  "Then get your hat and come along," she suggested. Gordon hesitated—and she came suddenly close to him and slipped her arms around his neck.

  "Come on with me, Gordon," she said in a half whisper. "We'll go over to Devineries' and have a drink, and then we can go up to my apartment."

  "I can't, Jewel,——"

  "You can," she said intensely.

  "I'm sick as a dog!"

  "Well, then, you oughtn't to stay here and dance."

  With a glance around him in which relief and despair were mingled, Gordon hesitated; then she suddenly pulled him to her and kissed him with soft, pulpy lips.

  "All right," he said heavily. "I'll get my hat."

  VIII

  When Edith came out into the clear blue of the May night she found the Avenue deserted. The windows of the big shops were dark; over their doors were drawn great iron masks until they were only shadowy tombs of the late day's splendor. Glancing down toward Forty–second Street she saw a commingled blur of lights from the all–night restaurants. Over on Sixth Avenue the elevated, a flare of fire, roared across the street between the glimmering parallels of light at the station and streaked along into the crisp dark. But at Forty–fourth Street it was very quiet.

  Pulling her cloak close about her Edith darted across the Avenue. She started nervously as a solitary man passed her and said in a hoarse whisper—"Where bound, kiddo?" She was reminded of a night in her childhood when she had walked around the block in her pajamas and a dog had howled at her from a mystery–big back yard.

  In a minute she had reached her destination, a two–story, comparatively old building on Forty–fourth, in the upper window of which she thankfully detected a wisp of light. It was bright enough outside for her to make out the sign beside the window—the New York Trumpet. She stepped inside a dark hall and after a second saw the stairs in the corner.

  Then she was in a long, low room furnished with many desks and hung on all sides with file copies of newspapers. There were only two occupants. They were sitting at different ends of the room, each wearing a green eye–shade and writing by a solitary desk light.

  For a moment she stood uncertainly in the doorway, and then both men turned around simultaneously and she recognized her brother.

  "Why, Edith!" He rose quickly and approached her in surprise, removing his eye–shade. He was tall, lean, and dark, with black, piercing eyes under very thick glasses. They were far–away eyes that seemed always fixed just over the head of the person to whom he was talking.

  He put his hands on her arms and kissed her cheek.

  "What is it?" he repeated in some alarm.

  "I was at a dance across at Delmonico's, Henry," she said excitedly, "and I couldn't resist tearing over to see you."

  "I'm glad you did." His alertness gave way quickly to a habitual vagueness. "You oughtn't to be out alone at night though, ought you?"

  The man at the other end of the room had been looking at them curiously, but at Henry's beckoning gesture he approached. He was loosely fat with little twinkling eyes, and, having removed his collar and tie, he gave the impression of a Middle–Western farmer on a Sunday afternoon.

  "This is my sister," said Henry. "She dropped in to see me."

  "How do you do?" said the fat man, smiling. "My name's Bartholomew, Miss Bradin. I know your brother has forgotten it long ago."

  Edith laughed politely.

  "Well," he continued, "not exactly gorgeous quarters we have here, are they?"

  Edith looked around the room.

  "They seem very nice," she replied. "Where do you keep the bombs?"

  "The bombs?" repeated Bartholomew, laughing. "That's pretty good—the bombs. Did you hear her, Henry? She wants to know where we keep the bombs. Say, that's pretty good."

  Edith swung herself onto a vacant desk and sat dangling her feet over the edge. Her brother took a seat beside her.

  "Well," he asked, absent–mindedly, "how do you like New York this trip?"

  "Not bad. I'll be over at the Biltmore with the Hoyts until Sunday. Can't you come to luncheon to–morrow?"

  He thought a moment.

  "I'm especially busy," he objected, "and I hate women in groups."

  "All right," she agreed, unruffled. "Let's you and me have luncheon together."

  "Very well."

  "I'll call for you at twelve."

  Bartholomew was obviously anxious to return to his desk, but apparently considered that it would be rude to leave without some parting pleasantry.

  "Well"—he began awkwardly.

  They both turned to him.

  "Well, we—we had an exciting time earlier in the evening."

  The two men exchanged glances.

  "You should have come earlier," continued Bartholomew, somewhat encouraged. "We had a regular vaudeville."

  "Did you really?"

  "A serenade," said Henry. "A lot of soldiers gathered down there in the street and began to yell at the sign."

  "Why?" she demanded.

  "Just a crowd," said Henry, abstractedly. "All crowds have to howl. They didn't have anybody with much initiative in the lead, or they'd probably have forced their way in here and smashed things up."

  "Yes," said Bartholomew, turning again to Edith, "you should have been here."

  He seemed to consider this a sufficient cue for withdrawal, for he turned abruptly and went back to his desk.

  "Are the soldiers all set against the Socialists?" demanded Edith of her brother. "I mean do they attack you violently and all that?"

  Henry replaced his eye–shade and yawned.

  "The human race has come a long way," he said casually, "but most of us are throw–backs; the soldiers don't know what they want, or what they hate, or what they like. They're used to acting in large bodies, and they seem to have to make demonstrations. So it happens to be against us. There've been riots all over the city to–night. It's May Day, you see."

  "Was the disturbance here pretty serious?"

  "Not a bit," he said scornfully. "About twenty–five of them stopped in the street about nine o'clock, and began to bellow at the moon."

  "Oh"—She changed the subject. "You're glad to see me, Henry?"

  "Why, sure."

  "You don't seem to be."

  "I am."

  "I suppose you think I'm a—a waster. Sort of the World's Worst Butterfly."

  Henry laughed.

  "Not at all. Have a good time while you're young. Why? Do I seem like the priggish and earnest youth?"

  "No—" she paused, "—but somehow I began thinking how absolutely different the party I'm on is from—from all your purposes. It seems sort of—of incongruous, doesn't it? —me being at a party like that, and you over here working for a thing that'll make that sort of party impossible ever any more, if your ideas work."

  "I don't think of it that way. You're young, and you're acting just as you were brought up to act. Go ahead—have a good time?"

  Her feet, which had been idly swinging, stopped and her voice dropped a note.

  "I wish you'd—you'd come back to Harrisburg and have a good time. Do you feel sure that you're on the right track——"

  "You're wearing beautiful stockings," he interrupted. "What on earth are they?"

  "They're embroidered," she replied, glancing down; "Aren't they cunning?" She raised her skirts and uncovered slim, silk–sheathed calves. "Or do you disapprove of silk stockings?"

  He seemed slightly exasperated, bent his dark eyes on her piercingly.

  "Are you trying to make me out as criticizing you in any way, Edith?"
<
br />   "Not at all——-"

  She paused. Bartholomew had uttered a grunt. She turned and saw that he had left his desk and was standing at the window.

  "What is it?" demanded Henry.

  "People," said Bartholomew, and then after an instant: "Whole jam of them. They're coming from Sixth Avenue."

  "People?"

  The fat man pressed his nose to the pane.

  "Soldiers, by God!" he said emphatically. "I had an idea they'd come back."

  Edith jumped to her feet, and running over joined Bartholomew at the window.

  "There's a lot of them!" she cried excitedly. "Come here, Henry!"

  Henry readjusted his shade, but kept his seat.

  "Hadn't we better turn out the lights?" suggested Bartholomew.

  "No. They'll go away in a minute."

  "They're not," said Edith, peering from the window. "They're not even thinking of going away. There's more of them coming. Look—there's a whole crowd turning the corner of Sixth Avenue,"

  By the yellow glow and blue shadows of the street lamp she could see that the sidewalk was crowded with men. They were mostly in uniform, some sober, some enthusiastically drunk, and over the whole swept an incoherent clamor and shouting.

  Henry rose, and going to the window exposed himself as a long silhouette against the office lights. Immediately the shouting became a steady yell, and a rattling fusillade of small missiles, corners of tobacco plugs, cigarette–boxes, and even pennies beat against the window. The sounds of the racket now began floating up the stairs as the folding doors revolved.

  "They're coming up!" cried Bartholomew.

  Edith turned anxiously to Henry.

  "They're coming up, Henry."

  From down–stairs in the lower hall their cries were now quite audible.

  "—God Damn Socialists!"

  "Pro–Germans! Boche–lovers!"

  "Second floor, front! Come on!"

  "We'll get the sons—"

  The next five minutes passed in a dream. Edith was conscious that the clamor burst suddenly upon the three of them like a cloud of rain, that there was a thunder of many feet on the stairs, that Henry had seized her arm and drawn her back toward the rear of the office. Then the door opened and an overflow of men were forced into the room—not the leaders, but simply those who happened to be in front.

  "Hello, Bo!"

  "Up late, ain't you!"

  "You an' your girl. Damn you!"

  She noticed that two very drunken soldiers had been forced to the front, where they wobbled fatuously—one of them was short and dark, the other was tall and weak of chin.

  Henry stepped forward and raised his hand.

  "Friends!" he said.

  The clamor faded into a momentary stillness, punctuated with mutterings.

  "Friends!" he repeated, his far–away eyes fixed over the heads of the crowd, "you're injuring no one but yourselves by breaking in here to–night. Do we look like rich men? Do we look like Germans? I ask you in all fairness—"

  "Pipe down!"

  "I'll say you do!"

  "Say, who's your lady friend, buddy?"

  A man in civilian clothes, who had been pawing over a table, suddenly held up a newspaper.

  "Here it is!" he shouted, "They wanted the Germans to win the war!"

  A new overflow from the stairs was shouldered in and of a sudden the room was full of men all closing around the pale little group at the back. Edith saw that the tall soldier with the weak chin was still in front. The short dark one had disappeared.

  She edged slightly backward, stood close to the open window, through which came a clear breath of cool night air.

  Then the room was a riot. She realized that the soldiers were surging forward, glimpsed the fat man swinging a chair over his head—instantly the lights went out and she felt the push of warm bodies under rough cloth, and her ears were full of shouting and trampling and hard breathing.

  A figure flashed by her out of nowhere, tottered, was edged sideways, and of a sudden disappeared helplessly out through the open window with a frightened, fragmentary cry that died staccato on the bosom of the clamor. By the faint light streaming from the building backing on the area Edith had a quick impression that it had been the tall soldier with tie weak chin.

  Anger rose astonishingly in her. She swung her arms wildly, edged blindly toward the thickest of the scuffling. She heard grunts, curses, the muffled impact of fists.

  "Henry!" she called frantically, "Henry!"

  Then, it was minutes later, she felt suddenly that there were other figures in the room. She heard a voice, deep, bullying, authoritative; she saw yellow rays of light sweeping here and there in the fracas. The cries became more scattered. The scuffling increased and then stopped.

  Suddenly the lights were on and the room was full of policemen, clubbing left and right. The deep voice boomed out:

  "Here now! Here now! Here now!"

  And then:

  "Quiet down and get out! Here now!"

  The room seemed to empty like a wash–bowl. A policeman fast–grappled in the corner released his hold on his soldier antagonist and started him with a shove toward the door. The deep voice continued. Edith perceived now that it came from a bull–necked police captain standing near the door.

  "Here now! This is no way! One of your own sojers got shoved out of the back window an' killed hisself!"

  "Henry!" called Edith, "Henry!"

  She beat wildly with her fists on the back of the man in front of her; she brushed between two others; fought, shrieked, and beat her way to a very pale figure sitting on the floor close to a desk.

  "Henry," she cried passionately, "what's the matter? What's the matter? Did they hurt you?"

  His eyes were shut. He groaned and then looking up said disgustedly—

  "They broke my leg. My God, the fools!"

  "Here now!" called the police captain. "Here now! Here now!"

  IX

  "Childs', Fifty–ninth Street," at eight o'clock of any morning differs from its sisters by less than the width of their marble tables or the degree of polish on the frying–pans. You will see there a crowd of poor people with sleep in the corners of their eyes, trying to look straight before them at their food so as not to see the other poor people. But Childs', Fifty–ninth, four hours earlier is quite unlike any Childs' restaurant from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. Within its pale but sanitary walls one finds a noisy medley of chorus girls, college boys, debutantes, rakes, filles de joie—a not unrepresentative mixture of the gayest of Broadway, and even of Fifth Avenue.

  In the early morning of May the second it was unusually full. Over the marble–topped tables were bent the excited faces of flappers whose fathers owned individual villages. They were eating buckwheat cakes and scrambled eggs with relish and gusto, an accomplishment that it would have been utterly impossible for them to repeat in the same place four hours later.

  Almost the entire crowd were from the Gamma Psi dance at Delmonico's except for several chorus girls from a midnight revue who sat at a side table and wished they'd taken off a little more make–up after the show. Here and there a drab, mouse–like figure, desperately out of place, watched the butterflies with a weary, puzzled curiosity. But the drab figure was the exception. This was the morning after May Day, and celebration was still in the air.

  Gus Rose, sober but a little dazed, must be classed as one of the drab figures. How he had got himself from Forty–fourth Street to Fifty–ninth Street after the riot was only a hazy half–memory. He had seen the body of Carrol Key put in an ambulance and driven off, and then he had started up town with two or three soldiers. Somewhere between Forty–fourth Street and Fifty–ninth Street the other soldiers had met some women and disappeared. Rose had wandered to Columbus Circle and chosen the gleaming lights of Childs' to minister to his craving for coffee and doughnuts. He walked in and sat down.

  All around him floated airy, inconsequential chatter and high–pitched lau
ghter. At first he failed to understand, but after a puzzled five minutes he realized that this was the aftermath of some gay party. Here and there a restless, hilarious young man wandered fraternally and familiarly between the tables, shaking hands indiscriminately and pausing occasionally for a facetious chat, while excited waiters, bearing cakes and eggs aloft, swore at him silently, and bumped him out of the way. To Rose, seated at the most inconspicuous and least crowded table, the whole scene was a colorful circus of beauty and riotous pleasure.

  He became gradually aware, after a few moments, that the couple seated diagonally across from him with their backs to the crowd, were not the least interesting pair in the room. The man was drunk. He wore a dinner coat with a dishevelled tie and shirt swollen by spillings of water and wine. His eyes, dim and blood–shot, roved unnaturally from side to side. His breath came short between his lips.

  "He's been on a spree!" thought Rose.

  The woman was almost if not quite sober. She was pretty, with dark eyes and feverish high color, and she kept her active eyes fixed on her companion with the alertness of a hawk. From time to time she would lean and whisper intently to him, and he would answer by inclining his head heavily or by a particularly ghoulish and repellent wink.

  Rose scrutinized them dumbly for some minutes until the woman gave him a quick, resentful look; then he shifted his gaze to two of the most conspicuously hilarious of the promenaders who were on a protracted circuit of the tables. To his surprise he recognized in one of them the young man by whom he had been so ludicrously entertained at Delmonico's. This started him thinking of Key with a vague sentimentality, not unmixed with awe. Key was dead. He had fallen thirty–five feet and split his skull like a cracked cocoa–nut.

  "He was a darn good guy," thought Rose mournfully. "He was a darn good guy, o'right. That was awful hard luck about him."

  The two promenaders approached and started down between Rose's table and the next, addressing friends and strangers alike with jovial familiarity. Suddenly Rose saw the fair–haired one with the prominent teeth stop, look unsteadily at the man and girl opposite, and then begin to move his head disapprovingly from side to side.

 
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