O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1921
Part 7 out of 8
little girl was better; that they were taking their meals at the
Clarendon pending the mobilization of their house-servants; that they
expected to dine with the Mortimer Trevelyans this evening; that food
for the dog may with propriety be brought home from a hotel, but not
from the Mortimer Trevelyans; that there was utterly nothing in the
icebox for poor Mudge's supper; that Mudge was a chow dog purchased by
a friend of Mr. Wilbram's in Hongkong at so much a pound, just as Mr.
Myers purchased live fowls; that Mudge now existed not to become chow,
but to consume chow, and would feel grateful in his dog heart if Mr.
Myers would, at this admittedly late hour, send him two pounds of
bologna and a good bone; and that Mrs. Wilbram would consider herself
under deep and lasting obligation to Mr. Myers for this act of
Mr. Myers assured Mrs. Wilbram that it would mean no trouble at all;
he would send up the order as soon as his boy came back from
delivering a beefsteak to the Mortimer Trevelyans.
He filled out a slip and stuck it on the hook.
"Now, Mr. Downey," he said briskly.
But Jacob Downey gave him one tremendous look and limped out of the
It was evening in the home of Miss Angelina Lance. Twenty-seven hours
had passed since Jacob Downey's exasperated exit from Myers's Meat
Shop. The eyes of Miss Angelina were bright behind her not-unbecoming
spectacles as she watched the face of the solemn young man in the
Morris chair near the reading lamp.
In his hand the solemn young man held three sheets of school
composition paper. As he read the pencil writing on page one he lost
his gravity. Over page two he smiled broadly. At the end of the last
page he said:
"D.K.T. couldn't have done better. May I show it to him?"
In the office of the Ashland (N.J.) _Bee_ the solemn young man was
known as Mr. Sloan. At Miss Lance's he was Sam. The mentioned D.K.T.
conducted the celebrated "Bee-Stings" column on the editorial page of
Mr. Sloan's journal, his levity being offset by the sobriety of Mr.
Sloan, who was assistant city-editor.
On two evenings a week Mr. Sloan fled the cares of the Fourth Estate
and became Sam in the soul-refreshing presence of Miss Angelina. He
was by no means her only male admirer. In the Sixth Grade at the
Hilldale Public School she had thirty others; among these Willie
Downey, whose name appeared on every page of the composition Mr. Sloan
With a host of other sixth-graders throughout the city Willie had
striven that day for a prize of ten dollars in gold offered by the
public-spirited A. Lincoln Wilbram, of Wilbram, Prescott & Co., for
the best schoolboy essay on Moral Principles.
"Moral principles, gentlemen; that is what we need in Ashland. How
many men do you know who stand up for their convictions--or have any
to stand up for?"
If the head of a department store is a bit thunderous at times, think
what a Jovian position he occupies. In his cloud-girt,
mahogany-panelled throne-room on the eighth floor he rules over a
thousand mortals, down to the little Jacob Downeys in the basement,
who, if they do not quite weep with delight when he gives them a
smile, tremble, at least, at his frown. When a large body of popular
opinion accords him greatness, were he not undemocratic to affect
humility and speak small?
"I speak of common men," said Mr. Wilbram (this was at a Chamber of
Commerce banquet); "of men whose living depends upon the pleasure of
their superiors. How few there are with fearless eye!"
He scarcely heard the laughter from a group of building contractors at
a side table, who had not seen a servile eye among their workmen in
many moons; for a worthy project had popped into his mind at that
instant. How was the moral backbone of our yeomanry to be stiffened
save through education? Why not a prize contest to stimulate the
interest of the rising generation in this obsolete subject?
In many an Ashland home where bicycles, roller-skates, wireless
outfits, and other such extravagances were strongly desired, the
question had since been asked: "Pa, what are Moral Principles?" While
some of the resulting essays indicated a haziness in paternal minds,
not so the production that Mr. Sloan read in Miss Lance's parlour.
"But I couldn't let you print it," said Miss Angelina. "I wouldn't
have Willie shamed for anything. He may be weak in grammar, but he is
captain of every athletic team in the school. He has told me in
confidence that he means to spend the prize money for a genuine
"If I cross out his name, or give him a _nom de plume_?"
On that condition Miss Lance consented.
At the office next morning Sloan found the essay in his pocket and
looked around the city-room for D.K.T. The staff poet-clown was no
daylight saver; professing to burn the midnight oil in the interest of
his employer, he seldom drifted in before half-past nine.
"See me. S.S." wrote Sloan, and dropped Willie's manuscript on
Then he jumped and gasped, and copy-readers and office-boys jumped and
gasped, and the religious editor dashed frantically for the stairs,
outrunning the entire staff down the hall, though he had farther to go
than any other man or woman there. A huge, heart-stopping shock had
rocked the building, set the windows to clattering and the lights to
swinging, and brought down in a cloud the accumulated dust of a
Within two minutes by the clock Sloan and five reporters had started
for the scene of the Rutland disaster, fifteen miles away, where
enough giant powder had gone up in one terrific blast to raze
Gibraltar. A thriving town lay in ruins; hundreds of families were
homeless; a steamship was sunk at her dock; a passenger train blown
from the rails.
At eleven o'clock on the night following that pitiful day Sloan
journeyed homeward to Ashland in an inter-urban trolley-car in company
with a crowd of refugees. A copy of the last edition of the _Bee_
comforted his weary soul.
The first page was a triumph. Count on the office to back up its men
in the field! There was the whole story, the whole horror and
heartbreak, finely displayed. There were his photographs of the
wreckage; there, in a "box" was his interview with the superintendent
of the Rutland Company; there was a map of the devastated area.
Perhaps someone had found time even to do an editorial; in that case
the clean-up would be complete.
Opening the paper to the sixth page, he groaned; for the first thing
that caught his eye was Willie Downey's essay, at the top of D.K.T.'s
column, with Willie's name below the headline.
BY WILLIE DOWNEY
Morel Prinsaples is when you have a nerve to stick up for some thing.
Like last night my Father went in Mires meet shop & stood in line 15
or twenty min. wateing his tirn & when his tirn come he says to mr.
Mires Ile have 6 porc chops.
at that inst. the telaphone wrang & mr. Mires slidd for it like it was
Hold on Mires says Pa, who got here 1st, me or that bell wringer.
Igscuse me just 1 min. says Mr. mires.
No I be ding if Ile igscuse you says Pa, 1st come 1st served is the
rool of bizness all over.
But Mr. mires wyped his hands on his apern & ansered the wring & it
was mrs. Will Brum, she was going to eat out at a frends so she wanted
2 lbs, bolony & a dog bone.
So then Pa give him hale columbus.
Here I bin wateing 1/2 an our he said, yet when some lazy lofer of a
woman who has been reading a novvle or a sleep all after noon pfhones
you to rush her up some dog meet in youre Autto with gass 36 cts. &
charge it to her acct. & may be you wont get youre munny for three 4
munths, wy you run to wate on her while I stand & shovle my feet in
youre saw dust like a ding mexican pea own or some thing.
What says Pa is there about a cusstamer who takes the trubble to come
for his meet & pay cash for it & deliwers it him self that maiks him
so Meen & Lo that he hass to be pushed one side for some body that has
not got Gumpshun enoughf to order her dog bones before the rush our?
Do you think that people with a telapfhone's munny is any better than
mine, do you think because I walk in here on my hine leggs that I am a
piker & a cheep skait, becuase if so I will bring along my telapfhone
contract nex time & show you & then may be you will reckonnize me as a
free born amerrican who dont haff to traid where I haff to play 2d
fiddle to a chow pupp. Its agenst my morel prinsaples says Pa.
With theas wirds he walks out in the rane althogh his feet hurt him
clear down to Washington St. to the nex meet store, but by that time
they were all cloased up so we had prinsaples for supper insted of
Pa says if he run a store & had a pfhone & no body to anser it & do
nothing else he would ring it's neck, becuase while the telaphone is
the gratest blesing of the aige, but a pfhone with out an opperater is
like a ham ommalet with the ham let out. He says the reazon the Chane
Stores have such a pull with the public is becuase the man behine the
counter is not all the time jilting you in the middle of your order &
chacing off to be sweet to some sosciety dame with a dog 4 miles away.
Ma says she dont kno why we have a pfhone any how becuase every time
she is youseing it a woman buts in & jiggles the hook & says will you
pleas hang up so I can call a Dr. & when Ma hangs up & then lissens in
to see who is sick, wy this woman calls up a lady f rend & they nock
Ma back & 4th over the wyre for ours & some times they say I bet she
is lisening in on us dont you.
So as I say let us all stick up for our Morel Prinsaples like my
Father come what may.
Bright were Miss Angelina's eyes but not with mirth. It was
unspeakable, this thing that Mr. Sloan had done. Thrice before bedtime
she called his lodgings. Mr. Sloan was not in.
Before the last call, she donned her wraps and went out to Plume
Street. Courageously she pulled the bell at Number Nine. Willie's
mother opened the door and cried, surprised, "Why! Miss Lance."
"Is Willie here? Have you seen the paper? Will you let me tell him how
it happened, and how sorry I am?"
Willie was not receiving callers this evening. He had been sent to bed
without supper. The explosion at Rutland had been as nothing, it
seemed, to the outburst in the Downey home.
Slowly the extent of the harm dawned upon Miss Angelina.
"It was Mrs. A. Lincoln Wilbram wanted the dog bone," said Mrs. Downey
tearfully. "Everybody will recognize her; and what Mr. Wilbram will do
to us we don't need to be told. Poor Jake is so upset he has gone out
to roam in the dark. He couldn't stay in the house."
New jobs were scarce for men at his time of life, and with his feet.
Dora and Jennie might have to leave high school.
"I'm sure you meant us no wrong, Miss Lance; I'm sure there was a
mistake. But think how dreadful it is, after twenty-two years of
having Mr. Wilbram's pay, then to turn around and backbite his wife
like that, right out in print!"
Doubly troubled now, Miss Lance departed. Attracted by a quick
gathering of loiterers in the avenue, she witnessed a controversy that
might easily have become a police matter.
"You're a liar if you say you said all that to me!" shouted the burly
Butcher Myers. "You never opened your head, you shrimp! Bawling me out
in the papers and losing me my best customers! Whaddye mean?"
Back came the retort from Jacob Downey with the snarl of a little
creature at bay.
"If I didn't say it to you then, you big lobster, I say it to you now.
All that the paper says I said I say. What'll you do about it?"
"Hah! You!" Myers snapped his fingers in Downey's fiery face and
Miss Lance's path to the Hilldale School next morning took her past
three post-boxes. Into the third she dropped a note that she had
carried from home. Mr. Sloan would find her message exceedingly brief,
although (or, perhaps, because) she had spent hours in composing it.
I regret to discover that you lack moral principles.
Just before the last bell the janitor brought in a prisoner for her
custody. Willie Downey's head was bloody but unbowed; three
seventh-graders he had vanquished in one round. "They guyed me," said
he. "They called me a Nawthour."
Morning prayer and song waited while teacher and pupil spoke earnestly
of many things; while the teacher's eyes filled with tears, and the
pupil's heart filled with high resolve to bring home the baseball
championship of the Ashland Public School League and lay it at Miss
Angelina's feet, or perish in the attempt.
The A. Lincoln Wilbram prize went to a small boy named Aaron Levinsky
whose English was 99 per cent. pure. Little Aaron's essay was printed
as the centre-piece in Wilbram, Prescott & Co.'s page in the _Bee_;
little Aaron invested his gold in thrift-stamps, and the tumult and
the shouting died.
Miss Angelina Lance sat alone every evening of the week. True, Mr.
Sloan had tried to right the wrong; he had called Miss Angelina on the
telephone, which he should have known was an inadequate thing to do;
he had also sent a ten-dollar bank-note to Willie, in care of Miss
Lance at the Hilldale School, together with his warm felicitations
upon Willie's success as a _litterateur_. Did Willie know that his
fine first effort had been reprinted, with proper credit, in the great
New York _Planet_?
True, too, the illustrious D.K.T. had written Miss Angelina an abject
apology, most witty and poetic, taking all the blame to himself and
more than exonerating his high-principled friend Mr. Sloan.
But the bank-note went back to its donor without even a rejection
slip; and D.K.T.'s humour was fatal to his client's cause. Ghastly are
they who jest in the shadow of tragedy. Mr. Sloan and D.K.T. did not
know, of course--Miss Angelina had not thought it of any use to tell
them--of the sword which they had hung up by a thread above the heads
of the Downeys.
As for Jacob Downey, he limped about amid his hardware in the basement
at Wilbram, Prescott & Co.s, careworn, haunted of eye, expecting the
house to crash about his ears at any moment. One does not with
impunity publish the wife of one's employer as a lazy loafer.
The A. Lincoln Wilbrams had servants again, and dined at home. To Mr.
Wilbram said Mrs. Wilbram one evening:
"It is the strangest thing. In the last month I've met scarcely a soul
who hasn't asked me silly questions about Mudge and his diet. Mrs.
Trevelyan and everybody. And they always look so queer."
Mr. Wilbram was reminded that while coming home that evening with a
package in his hand he had met Trevelyan, and Trevelyan had inquired:
"What's that? A bone for the dog?"
"To-morrow," said A. Lincoln, "I'll ask him what he was driving at."
"What was the package?" queried his wife.
He fetched it from the hall. It had come to him at the store that day
by registered mail.
"From Hildegarde," said Mrs. Wilbram, noting the Los Angeles postmark.
Hildegarde was honeymooning among the orange groves. Wrote the happy
Dear Aunt and Uncle:
Charles and I see by the paper that Mudge is hungry, so we are sending
him a little present.
"What can the child mean, Abe?"
"Don't ask me," he answered. "Undo the present and see."
They loosened blue ribbons and wrappings of soft paper, and disclosed
a link of bologna sausage.
Maddening? It might have been, if Hildegarde had not thought to
inclose a page from the _Daily Southern Californian_, upon which,
ringed with pencil marks, was a bit of miscellany headed, "Morel
They read it through to the conclusion:
So as I say let us all stick up for our Morel Prinsaples like my
Father come what may.--Willie Downey in Ashland (N.J.) _Bee_.
"Why!--why!--it's--it's me!" cried Mrs. Wilbram. "I did telephone to
Mr. Myers for two pounds of bologna and a dog bone--on the night we
dined at the Trevelyans'!"
"It comes mighty close to libel," fumed Wilbram.
"How do they dare! You must see Worthington Oakes about this, Abe."
"I certainly will," he vowed.
He certainly did, as Mr. Worthington Oakes, the publisher of the
_Bee_, will testify. In the front office on the editorial floor he saw
Mr. Oakes for a bad half-hour, and demanded a public retraction of the
At about the same time a dapper stranger who had come up in the
elevator with Mr. Wilbram held speech with Assistant City-Editor Sloan
in the local room at the other end of the hall.
"Yonder's your bird," said Mr. Sloan, pointing to a poetic-looking
young man at a desk in a corner.
Crossing to the poet, who was absorbed in his day' poesy and talking
to himself as he versified, the stranger smiled and spoke.
"Am I addressing the celebrated D.K.T.?"
"Am, cam, dam, damn, ham, jam, lamb----"
The far-away look of genius faded out of the poet's eyes.
"Not buying," said he. "My pay-envelope is mortgaged to you
book-agents for ten years to come. Ma'am, ram, Sam, cram, clam, gram,
"Books are not my line," said the dapper one briskly. "I represent the
Jones-Nonpareil Newspaper Syndicate. In fact, I am Jones. I have a
proposition to make to you, Mr. D.K.T., that may enable you to buy
more books than you can ever read. You know, of course, what the
Jones-Nonpareil service is. We reach the leading dailies of the United
States and Canada----"
"Have a chair, Mr. Jones."
"Thank you. We handle some very successful writers. Malcomb Hardy, you
may have heard, takes his little five hundred a week out of us; and
poor Larry Bonner pulled down eleven hundred as long as he had health.
His Chinese-laundryman sketches might be selling yet."
"Suspense is cruel," spoke D.K.T. eagerly. "Let the glad news come."
"Some time ago," said the syndicate man, "you printed in your column
an essay in imitation of a schoolboy's. You called it 'Moral
D.K.T. sank back with a low moan.
"If you can write six of those a week for a year," continued the
visitor, "you won't ever need to slave any more. You can burn your pen
and devote the rest of your life to golf and good works."
The poet closed his eyes. "Sham, swam, diagram," he murmured.
"Does a minimum guarantee of fifteen thousand a year look like
anything to you? There will, of course, be the book rights and the
movie rights in addition."
"Anagram, epigram, telegram, flimflam--aha!" cried D.K.T. "Siam!" He
wrote it down.
"That little skit of yours," pursued the caller, "has swept the
country. You have created a nation-wide demand. My ringer is on the
journalistic pulse, and I know. Can you repeat?"
He drew a paper from his pocketbook.
"Here is a list of subjects your imaginary Willie Downey might start
with: The Monetary System; the Cost of Living; the League of Nations;
Capital and Labour----"
Over the stranger's head an office-boy whispered significantly: "Front
"Excuse me," said the poet, and hurried away.
With the publisher, in the front office, sat A. Lincoln Wilbram, quite
purple in the cheeks. They had a file of the _Bee_ before them.
"Diedrick," said Mr. Oakes, "on March eighteenth you printed this
thing"--his finger on Willie's essay--"why did you do it?"
"What's the matter with it?" replied D.K.T.
"The matter with it," spoke Mr. Wilbram terribly, "is that it slanders
my wife. It makes her out to eat dog bones. Friends of ours as far
away as California have seen it and recognized her portrait, drawn by
your scurrilous pen. The worst of it is, the slander is founded on
fact. By what right do you air my domestic affairs before the public
in this outrageous fashion?"
With agonized eyes the funny-man read the essay as far as the fateful
line, "It was Mrs. Will Brum."
"My gosh!" he cried.
"How did you come to write such a thing?" Mr. Oakes demanded.
"Me write that thing? If I only had!"
The facts were recalled; the sending of Mr. Sloan and many reporters
to Rutland; the need of extra hands at the copy-table that day.
"I found this contribution on my desk. It looked safe. In the rush of
the morning I sent it up and never gave it another thought."
"So it is really a boy's essay, and not some of your own fooling?"
"A boy's essay, yes; entered in Mr. Wilbram's prize contest,
eliminated by the boy's teacher and shown by her to Mr. Sloan, who
brought it to the shop. I know now that Sloan meant me to change the
author's name to save the kid from ridicule. If there were actual
persons in it, I'm as amazed as Mrs. Wilbram."
"I wonder, Oakes," said Wilbram, "that a dignified newspaper like
yours would print such trash, in the first place."
Worthington Oakes looked down his nose. D.K.T. took up the challenge.
"Trash, sir? If it's trash, why has the Ashland Telephone asked
permission to reprint it on the front cover of their next directory?"
"Have they asked that?"
"They have; they say they will put a little moral principle into the
telephone hogs in this town. And didn't a Fifth Avenue minister preach
a sermon on it last Sunday? Doesn't the _Literary Review_ give it half
a page this week? Hasn't it been scissored by almost every exchange
editor in the land? Isn't there a man in the city-room now offering me
fifteen thousand a year to write a daily screed like it?"
"You can see, Wilbram," said Mr. Oakes, "that there was no intention
to injure or annoy. We are very sorry; but how can we print an apology
to Mrs. Wilbram without making the matter worse?"
"Who is this Willie Downey?" demanded Wilbram. "And who is the school
"I don't believe my moral principles will let me tell you," replied
D.K.T. "I'm positive Mr. Sloan's won't let him. We received the essay
"Enough said," Mr. Wilbram exclaimed, rising. "Good day to you. I
don't need your help, anyway. I'll find out from the butcher."
It seemed necessary that Mr. Sloan should call at the Lance home that
evening. Whatever Miss Angelina might think of him, it was his duty to
take counsel with her for the welfare of Willie.
He began with the least important of the grave matters upon his mind.
"Do you suppose your _protege_ could write some essays like the one we
"Why, Mr. Sloan?"
If Miss Angelina had responded, "Why, you hyena?" she would not have
cut him more deeply than with her simple, "Why, Mr. Sloan?"
"A newspaper syndicate," he explained, "has offered D.K.T. a fortune
for a series of them."
"Poor Willie!" she sighed. "He flunked his English exam, to-day. I'm
afraid I shall have him another year."
"He is a lucky boy," said Sloan.
"Do you think so?"
Clearly her meaning was, "Do you think he is lucky when a powerful
newspaper goes out of its way to crush him?"
"There is no use approaching him with a literary contract?"
"Not with the baseball season just opening. His team beat the
Watersides yesterday, sixteen nothing. He has more important business
on hand than writing for newspapers."
Since Sloan wrote for a newspaper, this was rather a dig.
Nevertheless, he persevered.
"A. Lincoln Wilbram is on his trail. Do you know that Willie libelled
"Oh! Sam. Surely I know about the libel. But is--is Mr. Wilbram
really----Has he discovered?"
"He came to the office to-day. We gave him no information; but he has
other sources. He is bound to identify his enemy before he quits."
"I didn't know about the so-called slander at first," said she, "when
"When I promised to change Willie's name?"
"I found out when I went to them, on the night it came out in the
paper. They were woefully frightened. They are frightened still. Mr.
Downey has worked for Mr. Wilbram since he was a boy. They think of
Mr. Wilbram almost as a god. It's--it's a tragedy, Sam, to them."
"Would it do any good to warn them?"
"They need no warning," said Miss Angelina. "Don't add to their
"I am more sorry than I can say. May I hope to be forgiven some day?"
"There's nothing to forgive, Sam. It was an accident. But don't you
see what a dangerous weapon a newspaper is?'
"Worse than a car or a gun," he agreed.
As he strolled homeward along a stately avenue, wondering what he
could do to avert the retribution that moved toward the Downeys, and
finding that his assistant city-editor's resourcefulness availed him
naught, he heard the scamper of feet behind him and whirled about with
cane upraised in time to bring a snarling chow dog to a stand.
"Beat it, you brute!" he growled.
"Yeowp!" responded the chow dog, and leaped in air.
"Don't be alarmed," spoke a voice out of the gloom of the nearest
lawn. "When he sees a man with a stick, he wants to play."
Sloan peered at the speaker's face. "Isn't this Mr. Wilbram? You were
at the _Bee_ office to-day, sir. May I have a word with you about the
Willie Downey matter?"
"Come in," said Mr. Wilbram.
On the first pay-day in May the impending sword cut its thread. Said a
messenger to Jacob Downey: "They want you on the eighth floor." Downey
set his jaws and followed.
In the mahogany-panelled room A. Lincoln Wilbram turned from the
window and transfixed his servitor with eyes that bored like steel
"Downey, I understand you have a literary son."
Jacob held his breath, eyed his accuser steadily, and assured himself
that it would soon be over now.
"How about it, Downey?"
"I know what you mean, sir."
"Did you say the things printed there?"
The little man wasted no time in examining the newspaper clipping.
"Yes, sir, I did. If it has come to your lady's ears what I called
her, I beg her pardon. But what I said I'll stick to. If I stand
fifteen minutes in line in a meat store or any other kind of store,
I've got a right to be waited on ahead of anybody that rings up, I
don't give a ding who she is."
"Good for you, Downey. Let me see, how long have you worked for us?"
"Twenty-three years next January, sir."
"Floor salesman all the while?"
"Since 1900. Before that I was a wrapper."
"How many men have been promoted over your head?"
"Four," Wilbram corrected. "First was Miggins."
"I don't count him, sir. Him and I started together."
"Miggins was a failure. Then Farisell; now in prison. Next, McCardy;
he ran off to Simonds & Co. the minute they crooked a finger at him.
Last, young Prescott, who is now to come up here with his father.
Could you run the department if you had it?"
"Between you and I," replied Jacob Downey, sick, dizzy, trembling, "I
been running the department these fifteen years."
"How'd you like to run it from now as manager? When I find a man with
convictions and courage I advance him. The man who stands up is the
man to sit down. That's evolution. If you could stand up to a big
butcher like Myers and talk Dutch to him the way you did, I guess we
need you at a desk. What do you say?"
A desk! A chance to rest his feet! Jacob Downey stiffened.
"Mr. Wilbram, I--I got to tell the truth. I never said those things to
Myers. I just walked out."
"But you said them. You acknowledge it."
"I said 'em, yes--after I got home. To the family I said 'em. When I
was in the meat shop I only thought 'em."
"So Myers has told me," said Jove, smiling. "Downey, my man, you've
got more than moral courage. You've got common sense to go with it.
Tell young Prescott to give you his keys."
THE MARRIAGE IN KAIRWAN
By WILBUR DANIEL STEELE
Kairwan the Holy lay asleep, pent in its thick walls. The moon had
sunk at midnight, but the chill light seemed scarcely to have
diminished; only the limewashed city had become a marble city, and all
the towers turned fabulous in the fierce, dry, needle rain of the
stars that burn over the desert of mid-Tunisia.
In the street Bab Djedid the nailed boots of the watch passed from
west to east. When their thin racket had turned out and died in the
dust of the market, Habib ben Habib emerged from the shadow of a door
arch and, putting a foot on the tiled ledge of Bou-Kedj's fry shop,
swung up by cranny and gutter till he stood on the plain of the
Now he looked about him, for on this dim tableland he walked with his
life in his hands. He looked to the west, toward the gate, to the
south, to the northeast through the ghostly wood of minarets. Then,
perceiving nothing that stirred, he went on moving without sound in
the camel-skin slippers he had taken from his father's court.
In the uncertain light, but for those slippers and the long-tasselled
_chechia_ on his head, one would not have taken him for anything but a
European and a stranger. And one would have been right, almost. In the
city of his birth and rearing, and of the birth and rearing of his
Arab fathers generations dead, Habib ben Habib bel-Kalfate looked upon
himself in the rebellious, romantic light of a prisoner in
exile--exile from the streets of Paris where, in his four years, he
had tasted the strange delights of the Christian--exile from the
university where he had dabbled with his keen, light-ballasted mind in
the learning of the conqueror.
Sometimes, in the month since he had come home, he had shaken himself
and wondered aloud, "Where am I?" with the least little hint, perhaps,
of melodrama. Sometimes in the French cafe outside the walls, among
the officers of the garrison, a bantering perversity drove him on to
chant the old glories of Islam, the poets of Andalusia, and the
bombastic histories of the saints; and in the midst of it, his face
pink with the Frenchmen's wine and his own bitter, half-frightened
mockery, he would break off suddenly, "_Voila, Messieurs!_ you will
see that I am the best of Mussulmans!" He would laugh then in a key so
high and restless that the commandant, shaking his head, would murmur
to the lieutenant beside him, "One day, Genet, we must be on the alert
for a dagger in that quarter there, eh?"
And Genet, who knew almost as much of the character of the university
Arab as the commandant himself, would nod his head.
When Habib had laughed for a moment he would grow silent. Presently he
would go out into the ugly dark of the foreign quarter, followed very
often by Raoul Genet. He had known Raoul most casually in Paris. Here
in the Tunisian _bled_, when Raoul held out his hand to say good-night
under the gate lamp at the Bab Djelladin, the troubled fellow clung to
it. The smell of the African city, coming under the great brick arch,
reached out and closed around him like a hand--a hand bigger than
"You are my brother: not they. I am not of these people, Raoul!"
But then he would go in, under the black arch and the black shade of
the false-pepper trees. In the darkness he felt the trees, centuries
old, and all the blank houses watching him....
To-night, stealing across the sleeping roofs, he felt the star-lit
mosque towers watching him in secret, the pale, silent espionage of
them who could wait. The hush of the desert troubled him. Youth
troubled him. His lips were dry.
He had come to an arbour covered with a vine. Whose it was, on what
house-holder's roof it was reared, he had never known. He entered.
"She is not here." He moistened his lips with his tongue.
He sat down on the stone divan to wait, watching toward the west
through the doorway across which hung a loop of vine, like a snake.
He saw her a long way off, approaching by swift darts and intervals of
immobility, when her whiteness grew a part of the whiteness of the
terrace. It was so he had seen her moving on that first night when,
half tipsy with wine and strangeness, he had pursued, caught her, and
uncovered her face.
To-night she uncovered it herself. She put back the hooded fold of her
_haik_, showing him her face, her scarlet mouth, her wide eyes, long
at the outer corners, her hair aflame with henna.
The hush of a thousand empty miles lay over the city. For an hour
nothing lived but the universe, the bright dust in the sky....
That hush was disrupted. The single long crash of a human throat!
Rolling down over the plain of the housetops!
"_La illah il Allah, Mohammed rassoul'lah! Allah Akbar!_ God is
One by one the dim towers took it up. The call to prayer rolled
between the stars and the town. It searched the white runways. It
penetrated the vine-bowered arbour. Little by little, tower by tower,
it died. In a _fondouk_ outside the gate a waking camel lifted a
gargling wail. A jackal dog barked in the Oued Zaroud two miles away.
And again the silence of the desert came up over the city walls.
Under the vine Habib whispered: "No, I don't care anything about thy
name. A name is such a little thing. I'll call thee 'Nedjma,' because
we are under the stars."
"_Ai, Nedjmetek_--'Thy Star'!" The girl's lips moved drowsily. In the
dark her eyes shone with a dull, steady lustre, unblinking,
unquestioning, always unquestioning.
That slumberous acquiescence, taken from all her Arab mothers, began
to touch his nerves with the old uneasiness. He took her shoulders
between his hands and shook her roughly, crying in a whisper:
"Why dost thou do nothing but repeat my words? Talk! Say things to me!
Thou art like the rest; thou wouldst try to make me seem like these
Arab men, who wish for nothing in a woman but the shadow of
themselves. And I am not like that!"
"No, _sidi_, no."
"But talk! Tell me things about thyself, thy life, thy world. Talk! In
Paris, now, a man and a woman can talk together--yes--as if they were
two friends met in a coffeehouse. And those women can talk! Ah! in
Paris I have known women--"
The girl stirred now. Her eyes narrowed; the dark line of her lips
thinned. At last something comprehensible had touched her mind.
"Thou hast known many women, then, _sidi_! Thou hast come here but to
tell me that? Me, who am of little beauty in a man's eyes!"
Habib laughed under his breath. He shook her again. He kissed her and
kissed her again on her red lips.
"Thou art jealous, then! But thou canst not comprehend. Canst thou
comprehend this, that thou art more beautiful by many times than any
other woman I have ever seen? Thou art a heaven of loveliness, and I
cannot live without thee. That is true ... Nedjma. I am going to take
thee for my wife, because I cannot live without thine eyes, thy lips,
the fragrance of thy hair.... Yes, I am going to marry thee, my star.
It is written! It is written!"
For the first time he could not see her eyes. She had turned them
away. Once again something had come in contact with the smooth, heavy
substance of her mind. He pulled at her.
"Say! Say, Nedjma!... It is written!"
"It is not written, _sidi_." The same ungroping acquiescence was in
her whisper. "I have been promised, _sidi_, to another than thee."
Habib's arms let go; her weight sank away in the dark under the vine.
The silence of the dead night crept in and lay between them.
"And in the night of thy marriage, then, thy husband--or thy father,
if thou hast a father--will kill thee."
"_In-cha-'llah_. If it be the will of God."
Again the silence came and lay heavy between them. A minute and
another minute went away. Habib's wrists were shaking. His breast
began to heave. With a sudden roughness he took her back, to devour
her lips and eyes and hair with the violence of his kisses.
"No, no! I'll not have it! No! Thou art too beautiful for any other
man than I even to look upon! No, no, no!"
* * * * *
Habib ben Habib walked out of the gate Djelladin. The day had come;
the dawn made a crimson flame in the false-pepper trees. The life of
the gate was already at full tide of sound and colour, braying,
gargling, quarrelling--nomads wading in their flocks, Djlass
countrymen, Singalese soldiers, Jewish pack-peddlers, Bedouin women
bent double under their stacks of desert fire-grass streaming inward,
dust white, dust yellow, and all red in the dawn under the red wall.
The flood ran against him. It tried to suck him back into the maw of
the city. He fought against it with his shoulders and his knees. He
tried now to run. It sucked him back. A wandering _Aissaoua_ plucked
at his sleeve and held under his nose a desert viper that gave off
metallic rose glints in its slow, pained constrictions.
"To the glory of Sidna Aissa, master, two sous."
He kept tugging at Habib's sleeve, holding him back, sucking him back
with his twisting reptile into the city of the faithful.
"In the name of Jesus, master, two copper sous!"
Habib's nerves snapped. He struck off the holy mendicant with his
fist. "That the devil grill thee!" he chattered. He ran. He bumped
into beasts. He bumped into a blue tunic. He halted, blinked, and
passed a hand over his hot-lidded eyes. He stammered:
"My friend! I have been looking for you! _Hamdou lillah! El
Raoul Genet, studying the flushed, bright-eyed, unsteady youth, put up
a hand to cover a little smile, half ironic, half pitying.
"So, Habib ben Habib, you revert! Camel-driver's talk in your mouth
and camel's-hide slippers on your feet. Already you revert! Eh?"
"No, that is not the truth. But I am in need of a friend."
"You look like a ghost, Habib." The faint smile still twisted Raoul's
lips. "Or a drunken angel. You have not slept."
"That's of no importance. I tell you I am in need--"
"You've not had coffee, Habib. When you've had coffee--"
"Coffee! My God! Raoul, that you go on talking of coffee when life and
death are in the balance! For I can't live without--Listen, now!
Strictly! I have need to-night--to-morrow night--one night when it is
dark--I have need of the garrison car."
The other made a blowing sound. "I'm the commandant, am I, overnight?
_Zut_! The garrison car!" Habib took hold of his arm and held it
tight. "If not the car, two horses, then. And I call you my friend."
"_Two_ horses! Ah! So! I begin to perceive. Youth! Youth!"
"Don't jibe, Raoul! I have need of two horses--two horses that are
fast and strong."
"Are the horses in thy father's stable, then, of no swiftness and of
It was said in the _patois_, the bastard Arabic of the Tunisian
_bled_. A shadow had fallen across them; the voice came from above.
From the height of his crimson saddle Si Habib bel-Kalfate awaited the
answer of his son. His brown, unlined, black-bearded face, shadowed in
the hood of his creamy burnoose, remained serene, benign, urbanely
attendant. But if an Arab knows when to wait, he knows also when not
to wait. And now it was as if nothing had been said before.
"Greeting, my son. I have been seeking thee. Thy couch was not slept
upon last night."
Habib's face was sullen to stupidity. "Last night, sire, I slept at
the _caserne_, at the invitation of my friend, Lieutenant Genet, whom
you see beside me."
The Arab, turning in his saddle, appeared to notice the Christian for
the first time. His lids drooped; his head inclined an inch.
"Greeting to thee, oh, master!"
"To thee, greeting!"
"Thou art in well-being?"
"There is no ill. And thou?"
"There is no ill. That the praise be to God, and the prayer!"
Bel-Kalfate cleared his throat and lifted the reins from the neck of
"Rest in well-being!" he pronounced.
Raoul shrugged his shoulders a little and murmured: "May God multiply
thy days!... And yours, too," he added to Habib in French. He bowed
and took his leave.
Bel-Kalfate watched him away through the thinning crowd, sitting his
saddle stolidly, in an attitude of rumination. When the blue cap had
vanished behind the blazing corner of the wool dyers, he threw the
reins to his Sudanese stirrup boy and got down to the ground. He took
his son's hand. So, palm in palm, at a grave pace, they walked back
under the arch into the city. The market-going stream was nearly done.
The tide, against which at its flood Habib had fought and won ground,
carried him down again with its last shallow wash--so easily!
His nerves had gone slack. He walked in a heavy white dream. The city
drew him deeper into its murmurous heart. The walls pressed closer and
hid him away. The _souks_ swallowed him under their shadowy arcades.
The breath of the bazaar, fetor of offal, stench of raw leather, and
all the creeping perfumes of Barbary, attar of roses, chypre and amber
and musk, clogged his senses like the drug of some abominable
seduction. He was weary, weary, weary. And in a strange, troubling way
he was at rest.
"_Mektoub_! It is written! It is written in the book of the destiny of
With a kind of hypnotic fascination, out of the corners of his eyes,
he took stock of the face beside him, the face of the strange being
that was his father--the broad, moist, unmarked brow; the large eyes,
heavy-lidded, serene; the full-fleshed cheeks from which the beard
sprang soft and rank, and against which a hyacinth, pendent over the
ear, showed with a startling purity of pallor; and the mobile,
deep-coloured, humid lips--the lips of the voluptuary, the eyes of the
dreamer, the brow of the man of never-troubled faith.
"Am I like that?" And then, "What can that one be to me?"
As if in answer, bel-Kalfate's gaze came to his son.
"I love thee," he said, and he kissed Habib's temple with his lips.
"Thou art my son," he went on, "and my eyes were thirsty to drink of
the sight of thee. It is _el jammaa_." [Friday, the Mohammedan
Sabbath.] "It is time we should go to the prayer. We shall go with
Hadji Daoud to-day, for afterward, there at the mosque, I have
rendezvous with his friends, in the matter of the dowry. It is the
day, thou rememberest, that he appointed."
Habib wanted to stop. He wanted to think. He wanted time. But the
serene, warm pressure of his father's hand carried him on.
Stammering words fell from his mouth.
"My mother--I remember--my mother, it is true, said something--but I
did not altogether comprehend--and--Oh! my sire ----"
"Thou shalt be content. Thou art a man now. The days of thy learning
are accomplished. Thou hast suffered exile; now is thy reward
prepared. And the daughter of the notary, thy betrothed, is as lovely
as a palm tree in the morning and as mild as sweet milk, beauteous as
a pearl, Habib, a milk-white pearl. See!"
Drawing from his burnoose a sack of Moroccan lambskin, he opened it
and lifted out a pearl. His fingers, even at rest, seemed to caress
it. They slid back among the treasure in the sack, the bargaining
price for the first wife of the only son of a man blessed by God. And
now they brought forth also a red stone, cut in the fashion of Tunis.
"A milk-white sea pearl, look thou; to wed in a jewel with the
blood-red ruby that is the son of my breast. Ah, Habib, my Habib, but
thou shalt be content!"
They stood in the sunlight before the green door of a mosque. As the
hand of the city had reached out for Habib through the city gate, so
now the prayer, throbbing like a tide across the pillared mystery of
the court, reached out through the doorway in the blaze.... And he
heard his own voice, strange in his mouth, shallow as a bleat:
"Why, then, sire--why, oh! why, then, hast thou allowed me to make of
those others the friends of my spirit, the companions of my mind?"
"They are neither companions nor friends of thine, for God is God!"
"And why hast thou sent me to learn the teaching of the French?"
"When thou settest thy horse against an enemy it is well to have two
lances to thy hand--thine own and his. And it is written, Habib, son
of Habib, that thou shalt be content.... Put off thy shoes now and
come. It is time we were at prayer."
Summer died. Autumn grew. With the approach of winter an obscure
nervousness spread over the land. In the dust of its eight months'
drought, from one day to another, from one glass-dry night to another,
the desert waited for the coming of the rains. The earth cracked. A
cloud sailing lone and high from the coast of Sousse passed under the
moon and everywhere men stirred in their sleep, woke, looked out--from
their tents on the cactus steppes, from _fondouks_ on the camel tracks
of the west, from marble courts of Kairwan.... The cloud passed on and
vanished in the sky. On the plain the earth cracks crept and ramified.
Gaunt beasts tugged at their heel ropes and would not be still. The
jackals came closer to the tents. The city slept again, but in its
sleep it seemed to mutter and twitch....
In the serpent-spotted light under the vine on the housetop Habib
muttered, too, and twitched a little. It was as if the arid months had
got in under his skin and peeled off the coverings of his nerves. The
girl's eyes widened with a gradual, phlegmatic wonder of pain under
the pinch of his blue fingers on her arms. His face was the colour of
"Am I a child of three years, that my father should lead me here or
lead me there by the hand? Am I that?"
"Nay, _sidi_, nay."
"Am I a sheep between two wells, that the herder's stick should tell
me, 'Here, and not there, thou shalt drink'? Am I a sheep?"
"Thou art neither child nor sheep, _sidi_, but a lion!"
"Yes, a lion!" A sudden thin exaltation shook him like a fever chill.
"I am more than a lion, Nedjma, I am a man--just as the _Roumi_"
[Romans--_i.e_., Christians.] "are men--men who decide--men who
undertake--agitate--accomplish ... and now, for the last time, I have
decided. A fate has given thy loveliness to me, and no man shall take
it away from me to enjoy. I will take it away from them instead! From
all the men of this Africa, conquered by the French. Hark! I will come
and take thee away in the night, to the land beyond the sea, where
thou mayest be always near me, and neither God nor man say yes or no!"
"And there, _sidi_, beyond the sea, I may talk unveiled with other
men? As thou hast told me, in France ----"
"Yes, yes, as I have told thee, there thou mayest--thou ----"
He broke off, lost in thought, staring down at the dim oval of her
face. Again he twitched a little. Again his fingers tightened on her
arms. He twisted her around with a kind of violence of confrontation.
"But wouldst thou rather talk with other men than with me? Dost thou
no longer love me, then?"
"_Ai_, master, I love thee. I wish to see no other man than thee."
"Ah, my star, I know!" He drew her close and covered her face with his
And in her ear he whispered: "And when I come for thee in the night,
thou wilt go with me? Say!"
"I will go, _sidi. In-cha-'llah_! If God will!"
At that he shook her again, even more roughly than before.
"Don't say that! Not, 'If God will!' Say to me, 'If _thou_ wilt.'"
There was a silence.
"But let it be quickly," he heard her whispering, after a while. Under
his hand he felt a slow shiver moving over her arms. "_Nekaf_!" she
breathed, so low that he could hardly hear. "I am afraid."
It was another night when the air was electric and men stirred in
their sleep. Lieutenant Genet turned over in bed and stared at the
moonlight streaming in through the window from the court of the
_caserne_. In the moonlight stood Habib.
"What do you want?" Genet demanded, gruff with sleep.
"I came to you because you are my friend."
The other rubbed his eyes and peered through the window to mark the
Sudanese sentry standing awake beside his box at the gate.
"How did you get in?"
"I got in as I shall get out, not only from here, but from Kairwan,
from Africa--because I am a man of decision."
"You are also, Habib, a skeleton. The moon shows through you. What
have you been doing these weeks, these months, that you should be so
shivery and so thin? Is it Old Africa gnawing at your bones? Or are
you, perhaps, in love?"
"I am in love. Yes.... _Ai, ai_, Raoul _habiby_, if but thou couldst
see her--the lotus bloom opening at dawn--the palm tree in a land of
"Talk French!" Genet got his legs over the side of the bed and sat up.
He passed a hand through his hair. "You are in love, then ... and
again I tell, you, for perhaps the twentieth time, Habib, that between
a man and a woman in Islam there is no such thing as love."
"But I am not in Islam. I am not in anything! And if you could but see
"What do you mean by 'lust'?"
"Lust is the thing you find where you don't find trust. Lust is a
priceless perfume that a man has in a crystal vial, and he is the
miser of its fragrance. He closes the windows when he takes the
stopper out of that bottle to drink its breath, and he puts the
stopper back quickly again, so that it will not evaporate--not too
"But that, Raoul, is love! All men know that for love. The priceless
perfume in a crystal beyond price."
"Yes, love, too, is the perfume in the vial. But the man who has that
vial opens the windows and throws the stopper away, and all the air is
sweet forever. The perfume evaporates, forever. And this, Habib, is
the miracle. The vial is never any emptier than when it began."
"Yes, yes--I know--perhaps--but to-night I have no time ----"
The moon _did_ shine through him. He was but a rag blown in the dark
wind. He had been torn to pieces too long.
"I have no time!" he repeated, with a feverish force. "Listen, Raoul,
my dear friend. To-day the price was paid in the presence of the
_cadi_, Ben Iskhar. Three days from now they lead me to marriage with
the daughter of the notary. What, to me, is the daughter of the
notary? They lead me like a sheep to kill at a tomb.... Raoul, for the
sake of our friendship, give me hold of your hand. To-morrow
night--the car! Or, if you say you haven't the disposal of the car,
bring me horses." And again the shaking of his nerves got the better
of him; again he tumbled back into the country tongue. "For the sake
of God, bring me two horses! By Sidna Aissa! by the Three Hairs from
the Head of the Prophet I swear it! My first-born shall be named for
thee, Raoul. Only bring thou horses! Raoul! Raoul!"
It was the whine of the beggar of Barbary. Genet lay back, his hands
behind his head, staring into shadows under the ceiling.
"Better the car. I'll manage it with some lies. To-morrow night at
moonset I'll have the car outside the gate Djedid." After a moment he
added, under his breath, "But I know your kind too well, Habib ben
Habib, and I know that you will not be there."
Habib was not there. From moonset till half-past three, well over two
hours, Genet waited, sitting on the stone in the shadow of the gate,
prowling the little square inside. He smoked twenty cigarettes. He
yawned three times twenty times. At last he went out got into the car
and drove away.
As the throb of the engine grew faint a figure in European clothes and
a long-tasselled _chechia_ crept out from the dark of a door arch
along the street. It advanced toward the gate. It started back at a
sound. It rallied again, a figure bedeviled by vacillation. It came as
far as the well in the centre of the little square.
On the horizon toward the coast of Sousse rested a low black wall of
cloud. Lightning came out of it from time to time and ran up the sky,
soundless, glimmering.... The cry of the morning muezzin rolled down
over the town. The lightning showed the figure sprawled face down on
the cool stone of the coping of the well....
The court of the house of bel-Kalfate swam in the glow of candles. A
striped awning shut out the night sky, heavy with clouds, and the
women, crowding for stolen peeps on the flat roof. A confusion of
voices, raillery, laughter, eddied around the arcaded walls, and thin
music bound it together with a monotonous count of notes.
Through the doorway from the marble _entresol_ where he stood Habib
could see his father, cross-legged on a dais, with the notary. They
sat hand in hand like big children, conversing gravely. With them was
the _caid_ of Kairwan, the _cadi_, ben Iskhar, and a dark-skinned
cousin from the oases of the Djerid in the south. Their garments
shone; there was perfume in their beards. On a rostrum beyond and
above the crowded heads the musicians swayed at their work--_tabouka_
players with strong, nervous thumbs; an oily, gross lutist; an
organist, watching everything with the lizard eyes of the hashish
taker. Among them, behind a taborette piled with bait of food and
drink, the Jewish dancing woman from Algiers lolled in her cushions, a
drift of white disdain....
He saw it all through a kind of mist. It was as if time had halted,
and he was still at the steaming _hammam_ of the afternoon, his spirit
and his flesh undone, and all about him in the perfumed vapour of the
bath the white bodies of his boyhood comrades glimmering luminous and
His flesh was still asleep, and so was his soul. The hand of his
father city had come closer about him, and for a moment it seemed that
he was too weary, or too lazy, to push it away. For a little while he
drifted with the warm and perfumed cloud of the hours.
Hands turned him around. It was Houseen Abdelkader, the _caid's_ son,
the comrade of long ago--Houseen in silk of wine and silver, hyacinths
pendent on his cheeks, a light of festival in his eyes.
"_Es-selam alekoum, ya Habib habiby_!" It was the salutation in the
plural--to Habib, and to the angels that walk, one at either shoulder
of every son of God. And as he spoke he threw a new white burnoose
over Habib's head, so that it hung down straight and covered him like
a bridal veil.
"_Alekoum selam, ya Seenou_!" It was the name of boyhood, Seenou, the
diminutive, that fell from Habib's lips. And he could not call it
"Come thou now." He felt the gentle push of Houseen's hands. He found
himself moving toward the door that stood open into the street. The
light of an outer conflagration was in his eyes. The thin music of
lute and tabouka in the court behind him grew thinner; the boom of
drums and voices in the street grew big. He had crossed the threshold.
A hundred candles, carried in horizontal banks on laths by little
boys, came around him on three sides, like footlights. And beyond the
glare, in the flaming mist, he saw the street Dar-el-Bey massed with
men. All their faces were toward him, hot yellow spots in which the
black spots of their mouths gaped and vanished.
"That the marriage of Habib be blessed! Blessed be the marriage of
The riot of sound began to take form. It began to emerge in a measure,
a _boom-boom-boom_ of tambours and big goatskin drums. A bamboo fife
struck into a high, quavering note. The singing club of Sidibou-Sa d
The footlights were moving forward toward the street of the market.
Habib moved with them a few slow paces without effort or will. Again
they had all stopped. It could not be more than two hundred yards to
the house of the notary and his waiting bride, but by the ancient
tradition of Kairwan an hour must be consumed on the way.
An hour! An eternity! Panic came over Habib. He turned his hooded eyes
for some path of escape. To the right, Houseen! To the left, close at
his shoulder, Mohammed Sherif--Mohammed the laughing and the
well-beloved--Mohammed, with whom in the long, white days he used to
chase lizards by the pool of the Aglabides ... in the long, white,
happy days, while beyond the veil of palms the swaying camel
palanquins of women, like huge bright blooms, went northward up the
What made him think of that?
"_Boom-boom-boom-boom_!" And around the drums beyond the candles he
heard them singing:
_On the day of the going away of my Love,
When the litters, carrying the women of the tribe,
Traversed the valley of Dad, like a sea, mirage,
They were like ships, great ships, the work of the children of
Or like the boats of Yamen's sons...._
"_Boom-boom_!" The monotonous pulse, the slow minor slide of sixteenth
tones, the stark rests--he felt the hypnotic pulse of the old music
tampering with the pulse of his blood. It gave him a queer creeping
fright. He shut his eyes, as if that would keep it out. And in the
glow of his lids he saw the tents on the naked desert; he saw the
forms of veiled women; he saw the horses of warriors coming like a
breaker over the sand--the horses of the warriors of God!
He pulled the burnoose over his lids to make them dark. And even in
the dark he could see. He saw two eyes gazing at his, untroubled,
untroubling, out of the desert night. And they were the eyes of any
woman--the eyes of his bride, of his sister, his mother, the eyes of
his mothers a thousand years dead.
"Master!" they said.
They were pushing him forward by the elbows, Mohammed and Houseen. He
opened his eyes. The crowd swam before him through the yellow glow.
Something had made an odd breach in his soul, and through the breach
Memories! There at his left was the smoky shelf of blind Moulay's
cafe--black-faced, white-eyed old Moulay. Moulay was dead now many
years, but the men still sat in the same attitudes, holding the same
cups, smoking the same _chibouk_ with the same gulping of bubbles as
in the happy days. And there between the cafe and the _souk_ gate was
the same whitewashed niche where three lads used to sit with their
feet tucked under their little _kashabias_, their _chechias_ awry on
their shaven polls, and their lips pursed to spit after the leather
legs of the infidel conquerors passing by. The _Roumi_, the French
blasphemers, the defilers of the mosque! Spit on the dogs! Spit!
Behind his reverie the drums boomed, the voices chanted. The lament of
drums and voices beat at the back of his brain--while he remembered
the three lads sitting in the niche, waiting from one white day to
another for the coming of Moulay Saa, the Messiah; watching for the
Holy War to begin.
"And I shall ride in the front rank of the horsemen, please God!"
"And I, I shall ride at Moulay Saa's right hand, please God, and I
shall cut the necks of _Roumi_ with my sword, like barley straw!"
Habib advanced in the spotlight of the candles. Under the burnoose his
face, half shadowed, looked green and white, as if he were sick to his
death. Or, perhaps, as if he were being born again.
The minutes passed, and they were hours. The music went on,
"_Boom-boom-boom-boom_ ----" But now Habib himself was the instrument,
and now the old song of his race played its will on him.
Pinkness began to creep over the green-white cheeks. The cadence of
the chanting had changed. It grew ardent, melting, voluptuous.
_... And conquests I have made among the fair ones, perfume inundated,
Beauties ravishing; that sway in an air of musk and saffron, Bearing
still on their white necks the traces of kisses...._
It hung under the pepper trees, drunk with the beauty of flesh,
fainting with passion. Above the trees mute lightning played in the
cloud. Habib ben Habib was born again. Again, after exile, he came
back into the heritage. He saw the heaven of the men of his race. He
saw Paradise in a walking dream. He saw women forever young and
forever lovely in a land of streams, women forever changing, forever
virgin, forever new; strangers intimate and tender. The angels of a
creed of love--or of lust!
"Lust is the thing you find where you don't find trust."
A thin echo of the Frenchman's diatribe flickered through his memory,
and he smiled. He smiled because his eyes were open now. He seemed to
see this Christian fellow sitting on his bed, bare-footed,
rumple-haired, talking dogmatically of perfumes and vials and stoppers
thrown away, talking of faith in women. And that was the jest. For he
seemed to see the women, over there in Paris, that the brothers of
that naive fellow trusted--trusted alone with a handsome young
university student from Tunisia. Ha-ha-ha! Now he remembered. He
wanted to laugh out loud at a race of men that could be as simple as
that. He wanted to laugh at the bursting of the iridescent bubble of
faith in the virtue of beautiful women. The Arab knew!
A colour of health was on his face; his step had grown confident. Of a
sudden, and very quietly, all the mixed past was blotted out. He heard
only the chanting voices and the beating drums.
_Once I came into the tent of a young beauty on a day of rain....
Beauty blinding.... Charms that ravished and made drunkards of the
His blood ran with the song, pulse and pulse. The mute lightning came
down through the trees and bathed his soul. And, shivering a little,
he let his thoughts go for the first time to the strange and virgin
creature that awaited his coming there, somewhere, behind some blind
house wall, so near.
"Thou hast suffered exile. Now is thy reward prepared."
What a fool! What a fool he had been!
He wanted to run now. The lassitude of months was gone from his limbs.
He wanted to fling aside that clogging crowd, run, leap, arrive. How
long was this hour? Where was he? He tried to see the housetops to
know, but the glow was in his eyes. He felt the hands of his comrades
on his arms.
But now there was another sound in the air. His ears, strained to the
alert, caught it above the drums and voices--a thin, high ululation.
It came from behind high walls and hung among the leaves of the trees,
a phantom yodeling, the welcoming "_you-you-you-you_" of the women of
Before him he saw that the crowd had vanished. Even the candles went
away. There was a door, and the door was open.
He entered, and no one followed. He penetrated alone into an empty
house of silence, and all around him the emptiness moved and the
He traversed a court and came into a chamber where there was a light.
He saw a negress, a Sudanese duenna, crouching in a corner and staring
at him with white eyes. He turned toward the other side of the room.
She sat on a high divan, like a throne, her hands palms together, her
legs crossed. In the completeness of her immobility she might have
been a doll or a corpse. After the strict fashion of brides, her
eyebrows were painted in thick black arches, her lips drawn in
scarlet, her cheeks splashed with rose. Her face was a mask, and
jewels in a crust hid the flame of her hair. Under the stiff kohl of
their lids her eyes turned neither to the left nor to the right. She
seemed not to breathe. It is a dishonour for a maid to look or to
breathe in the moment when her naked face suffers for the first time
the gaze of the lord whom she has never seen.
A minute passed away.
"This is the thing that is mine!" A blinding exultation ran through
his brain and flesh. "Better this than the 'trust' of fools and
infidels! No question here of 'faith.' _Here I know_! I know that this
thing that is mine has not been bandied about by the eyes of all the
men in the world. I know that this perfume has never been breathed by
the passers in the street. I know that it has been treasured from the
beginning in a secret place--against this moment--for me. This bud has
come to its opening in a hidden garden; no man has ever looked upon
it; no man will ever look upon it. None but I."
He roused himself. He moved nearer, consumed with the craving and
exquisite curiosity of the new. He stood before the dais and gazed
into the unwavering eyes. As he gazed, as his sight forgot the
grotesque doll painting of the face around those eyes, something queer
began to come over him. A confusion. Something bothering. A kind of
"Thou!" he breathed.
Her icy stillness endured. Not once did her dilated pupils waver from
the straight line. Not once did her bosom lift with breath.
"_Thou_! It is _thou_, then, O runner on the housetops by night!"
The fright of his soul grew deeper, and suddenly it went out. And in
its place there came a black calm. The eyes before him remained
transfixed in the space beyond his shoulder. But by and by the painted
lips stirred once.
"_Nekaf_!... I am afraid!"
Habib turned away and went out of the house.
In the house of bel-Kalfate the Jewess danced, still, even in
voluptuous motion, a white drift of disdain. The music eddied under
the rayed awning. Raillery and laughter were magnified. More than a
little _bokha_, the forbidden liquor distilled of figs, had been
consumed in secret. Eyes gleamed; lips hung.... Alone in the thronged
court on the dais, the host and the notary, the _caid_, the _cadi_,
and the cousin from the south continued to converse in measured tones,
holding their coffee cups in their palms.
"It comes to me, on thought," pronounced bel-Kalfate, inclining his
head toward the notary with an air of courtly deprecation--"it comes
to me that thou hast been defrauded. For what is a trifle of ten
thousand _douros_ of silver as against the rarest jewel (I am certain,
_sidi_) that has ever crowned the sex which thou mayest perhaps
forgive me for mentioning?"
And in the same tone, with the same gesture, Hadji Daoud replied:
"Nay, master and friend, by the Beard of the Prophet, but I should
repay thee the half. For that is a treasure for a sultan's daughter,
and this _fillette_ of mine (forgive me) is of no great beauty or
"In saying that, Sidi Hadji, thou sayest a thing which is at odds with
half the truth."
They were startled at the voice of Habib coming from behind their
"For thy daughter, Sidi Hadji, thy Zina, is surely as lovely as the
full moon sinking in the west in the hour before the dawn."
The words were fair. But bel-Kalfate was looking at his son's face.
"Where are thy comrades?" he asked, in a low voice. "How hast thou
come?" Then, with a hint of haste: "The dance is admirable. It would
be well that we should remain quiet, Habib, my son."
But the notary continued to face the young man. He set his cup down
and clasped his hands about his knee. The knuckles were a little
"May I beg thee, Habib ben Habib, that thou shouldst speak the thing
which is in thy mind?"
"There is only this, _sidi_, a little thing: When thou hast another
bird to vend in the market of hearts, it would perhaps be well to
examine with care the cage in which thou hast kept that bird.
"Thy daughter," he added, after a moment of silence--"thy daughter,
Sidi Hadji, is with child."
That was all that was said. Hadji Daoud lifted his cup and drained it,
sucking politely at the dregs. The _cadi_ coughed. The _cadi_ raised
his eyes to the awning and appeared to listen. Then he observed,
"To-night, _in-cha-'llah_, it will rain." The notary pulled his
burnoose over his shoulders, groped down with his toes for his
slippers, and got to his feet.
"Rest in well-being!" he said. Then, without haste, he went out.
Habib followed him tardily as far as the outer door. In the darkness
of the empty street he saw the loom of the man's figure moving off
toward his own house, still without any haste.
"And in the night of thy marriage thy husband, or thy father, if thou
hast a father ----"
Habib did not finish with the memory. He turned and walked a few steps
along the street. He could still hear the music and the clank of the
Jewess's silver in his father's court....
"_In-cha-'llah_!" she had said, that night.
And after all, it _had_ been the will of God....
A miracle had happened. All the dry pain had gone out of the air. Just
now the months of waiting for the winter rains were done. All about
him the big, cool drops were spattering on the invisible stones. The
rain bathed his face. His soul was washed with the waters of the
merciful God of Arab men.
For, after all, from the beginning, it had been written. All written!
By TRISTRAM TUPPER
From _Metropolitan Magazine_
Grit was dead. There was no mistake about that. And on the very day of
his burial temptation came to his widow.
Grit's widow was "Great" Taylor, whose inadequate first name was
Nell--a young, immaculate creature whose body was splendid even if her
vision and spirit were small. She never had understood Grit.
Returning from the long, wearisome ride, she climbed the circular iron
staircase--up through parallels of garlic-scented tenement gloom--to
her three-room flat, neat as a pin; but not even then did she give way
to tears. Tears! No man could make Great Taylor weep!
However, drawing the pins from her straw hat, dyed black for the
occasion, she admitted, "It ain't right." Grit had left her nothing,
absolutely nothing, but an unpleasant memory of himself--his grimy
face and hands, his crooked nose and baggy breeches.... And Great
Taylor was willing that every thought of him should leave her forever.
"Grit's gone," she told herself. "I ain't going to think of him any
Determinedly Great Taylor put some things to soak and, closing down
the top of the stationary washtubs, went to the window. The view was
not intriguing, and yet she hung there: roofs and more roofs, a
countless number reached out toward infinity, with pebbles and pieces
of broken glass glittering in the sunlight; chimneys sharply outlined
by shadow; and on every roof, except one, clothes-lines, from which
white cotton and linen flapped in the wind at the side of faded
overalls and red woollen shirts. They formed a kind of flag--these
red, white, and blue garments flying in the breeze high above a nation
of toilers. But Great Taylor's only thought was, "It's Monday."
One roof, unlike the rest, displayed no such flag--a somewhat
notorious "garden" and dance hall just around the corner.
And adjacent to this house was a vacant lot on which Great Taylor
could see a junk-cart waiting, and perhaps wondering what had become
of its master.
She turned her eyes away. "I ain't going to think of him." Steadying
her chin in the palms of her hands, elbows on the window-sill, Nell
peered down upon a triangular segment of chaotic street. Massed
humanity overflowed the sidewalks and seemed to bend beneath the
weight of sunlight upon their heads and shoulders. A truck ploughed a
furrow through push-carts that rolled back to the curb like a wave
crested with crude yellow, red, green, and orange merchandise. She
caught the hum of voices, many tongues mingling, while the odours of
vegetables and fruit and human beings came faintly to her nostrils.
She was looking down upon one of the busiest streets of the city that
people sometimes call the Devil's Own.
Grit had wrested an existence from the debris of this city. Others
have waded ankle-deep in the crowd; but he, a grimy, infinitesimal
molecule, had been at the bottom wholly submerged, where the light of
idealism is not supposed to penetrate. Grit had been a junkman; his
business address--a vacant lot; his only asset--a junk-cart across the
top of which he had strung a belt of jingling, jangling bells that had
called through the cavernous streets more plainly than Grit himself:
"Rags, old iron, bottles, and ra-ags."
This had been Grit's song; perhaps the only one he had known, for he
had shoved that blest cart of his since a boy of thirteen; he had worn
himself as threadbare as the clothes on his back, and at last the
threads had snapped. He had died of old age--in his thirties. And his
junk-cart, with its bells, stood, silent and unmanned, upon the vacant
lot just around the corner.
Great Taylor had seen Grit pass along this narrow segment of street,
visible from her window; but his flight had always been swift--pushing
steadily with head bent, never looking up. And so it was not during
his hours of toil that she had known him....
Nell closed the window. She was not going to think of him any more.
"Ain't worth a thought." But everything in the room reminded her of
the man. He had furnished it from his junk-pile. The drawer was
missing from the centre table, the door of the kitchen stove was wired
at the hinges; even the black marble clock, with its headless gilt
figure, and the brown tin boxes marked "Coffee," "Bread," and
"Sugar"--all were junk. And these were the things that Grit, not
without a show of pride, had brought home to her!
Nell sank into a large armchair (with one rung gone) and glowered at
an earthen jug on the shelf. Grit had loved molasses. Every night he
had spilt amber drops of it on the table, and his plate had always
been hard to wash. "Won't have that to do any more," sighed Nell. Back
of the molasses jug, just visible, were the tattered pages of a
coverless book. This had come to Grit together with fifty pounds of
waste paper in gunny-sacks; and though Nell had never undergone the
mental torture of informing herself as to its contents, she had dubbed
the book "Grit's Bible," for he had pawed over it, spelling out the
words, every night for years. It was one thing from which she could
not wash Grit's grimy fingermarks, and so she disliked it even more
than the sticky molasses jug. "Him and his book and his brown molasses
jug!" One was gone forever, and soon she would get rid of the other
And yet, even as she thought this, her eyes moved slowly to the door,
and she could not help visualizing Grit as he had appeared every
evening at dusk. His baggy breeches had seemed always to precede him
into the room. The rest of him would follow--his thin shoulders, from
which there hung a greenish coat, frayed at the sleeves; above this,
his long, collarless neck, his pointed chin and broken nose, that
leaned toward the hollow and smudges of his cheek.
He would lock the door quickly and stand there, looking at Nell.
"Why did he always lock the door?" mused Great Taylor. "Nothing here
to steal! Why'd he stand there like that?" Every night she had
expected him to say something, but he never did. Instead, he would
take a long breath, almost like a sigh, and, after closing his eyes
for a moment, he would move into the room and light the screeching
gas-jet. "Never thought of turning down the gas." This, particularly,
was a sore point with Great Taylor. "Never thought of anything. Just
dropped into the best chair."
"It's a good chair, Nell," he would say, "only one rung missing." And
he would remain silent, drooping there, wrists crossed in his lap,
palms turned upward, fingers curled, until supper had been placed
before him on the table. "Fingers bent like claws," muttered Great
Taylor, "and doing nothing while I set the table."
Sometimes he would eat enormously, which irritated Nell; sometimes he
would eat nothing except bread and molasses, which irritated Nell even
more. "A good molasses jug," he would say; "got it for a dime. Once I
set a price I'm a stone wall; never give in." This was his one boast,
his stock phrase. After using it he would look up at his wife for a
word of approval; and as the word of approval was never forthcoming,
he would repeat: "Nell, I'm a stone wall; never give in."
After supper he would ask what she had been doing all day. A weary,
almost voiceless, man, he had told her nothing. But Great Taylor while
washing the dishes would rattle off everything that had happened since
that morning. She seldom omitted any important detail, for she knew by
experience that Grit would sit there, silent, wrists crossed and palms
turned up, waiting. He had always seemed to know when she had left
anything out, and she always ended by telling him. Then he would take
a long breath, eyes closed, and, after fumbling back of the molasses
jug, would soon be seated again beneath the streaming gas-jet spelling
to himself the words of his coverless book.
So vivid was the picture, the personality and routine of Grit, that
Great Taylor felt the awe with which he, at times, had inspired her.
She had been afraid of Grit--afraid to do anything she could not tell
him about; afraid not to tell him about everything she had done. But
now she determined: "I'll do what I please." And the first thing it
pleased Great Taylor to do was to get rid of the odious molasses jug.
She plucked it from the shelf, holding the sticky handle between two
fingers, and dropped it into the peach crate that served as a
waste-basket. The noise when the jug struck the bottom of the crate
startled her. Great Taylor stood there--listening. Someone was slowly
ascending the circular staircase. The woman could hear a footfall on
the iron steps.
"Grit's gone," she reassured herself. "I'll do what I please."
She reached for the grimy book, "Grit's Bible," the most offensive
article in the room, and with sudden determination tore the book in
two, and was about to throw the defaced volume into the basket along
with the earthen jug when fear arrested the motion of her hands. Her
lips parted. She was afraid to turn her head. The door back of her had
Great Taylor was only ordinarily superstitious. She had buried Grit
that morning. It was still broad daylight--early afternoon. And yet
when she turned, clutching the torn book, she fully expected to see a
pair of baggy breeches preceding a collarless, long-necked man with a
broken nose, and smudges in the hollows of his cheeks.
Instead, she wheeled to see a pair of fastidiously pressed blue serge
trousers, an immaculate white collar, a straight nose and ruddy
complexion. In fact, the man seemed the exact opposite of Grit. Nell
glanced at the open door, back at the man, exhaled tremulously with
relief, and breathed: "Why didn't you knock?"
"Sorry if I startled you," puffed the man, entirely winded by the six
flights. "Must have pushed the wrong button in the vestibule. No great
"Who are you? What you want?"
"Junk. That's one of the things I came to see about--the junk in back
of my place. I suppose it's for sale." He thrust his white hands into
the side pockets of his coat, pulling the coat snugly around his waist
and hips, and smiled amiably at Great Taylor's patent surprise.
"You!.... Buy Grit's junk business!" What did _he_ want with junk? He
was clean! From head to foot he was clean! His hair was parted. It was
not only parted, it was brushed into a wave, with ends pointing
stiffly up over his temples (a coiffure affected by bartenders of that
day); and Nell even detected the pleasant fragrance of pomade. "You
ain't a junkman."
The man laughed. "I don't know about that."
He studied her a moment in silence. Nell was leaning back against the
washtubs, her sleeves rolled up, her head tilted quizzically, lips
parted, while tints of colour ebbed and flowed in her throat and
cheeks. She had attained the ripeness of womanhood and very nearly
animal perfection. The man's attitude might have told her this. One of
his eyes, beneath a permanently cocked eyebrow, blinked like the
shutter of a camera and seemed to take intimate photographs of all
parts of her person. The other eye looked at her steadily from under a
drooping lid. "No," he said, after the pause of a moment, "I'm not
going into the junk business." But he wanted to get the rubbish away
from the back of his place. "I'll buy it and have it carted away. It's
too near the 'Garden.'" He rocked up on his toes and clicked his heels
gently. "I own the house just around the corner."
"I knew it," Nell murmured fatuously. The man was vaguely familiar,
even though she could not remember having seen him before.
"Set your price." He turned away, and Nell imagined that his
camera-like eye was taking instantaneous photographs of all the broken
and mended things in the immaculate room. A wave of hot blood made her
back prickle and dyed her throat crimson.
"I don't like rubbish," said the man. "I don't like junk."
"Who does?" stammered Great Taylor.
"You dislike junk, and yet there was your husband, a junkman." He
watched her narrowly from beneath his drooping eyelid.
Great Taylor was not of the noblesse, nor did she know the meaning of
noblesse oblige; and had she been a man, perhaps she would have denied
her former lord and master--once, twice, or even thrice--it has been
done; but being a woman, she said: "Leave Grit out of it."
This seemed to please the man from around the corner. "I think we are
going to get on," he said significantly. "But you must remember that
Grit can't take care of you any longer."
"Grit's gone," assented Nell; "gone for good."
"Uhm." The man allowed his singular eyes to move over her. "I think we
can arrange something. I've seen you pass my place, looking in; and I
had something in mind when I started up here--something aside from
junk. I could make a place over there--matron or cashier. How would
you like that--cashier at the Garden?" He rocked up on his toes and
clicked his heels quite audibly.
"I don't know anything about it."
"You'll soon learn," he was confident. He mentioned the salary, and
that a former cashier was now half owner of an uptown place. And for
half an hour Great Taylor's saturnine mind followed in the wake of his
smoothly flowing words.
Why couldn't Grit have talked like that? she kept asking herself. Grit
never said anything. Why couldn't he been clean like that, with hair
brushed into a curl that sat up like that? ... The man's words
gradually slipped far beyond her, and only his pleasant voice
accompanied her own thoughts. No reason why she shouldn't be cashier
at the Garden. Only one reason, anyway, and that wasn't any reason at
On an afternoon more than a year ago she had gone to the place around
the corner. She had told Grit all about it, and Grit had said in his
weary voice, "Don't never go again, Nell." She had argued with Grit.
The Garden wasn't wicked; nothing the matter with it; other people
went there of an afternoon; she liked the music.... And Grit had
listened, drooping in his chair, wrists crossed and palms turned
upward. Finally, when Nell had finished, he had repeated, "Don't go
again." He had not argued, for Grit never argued; he was always too
weary. But this had been one of his longest speeches. He had ended:
"The Devil himself owns that place. I ought to know, my junkyard's
right back of it." And he had closed his eyes and taken a long, deep
breath. "When I say a thing, Nell, I'm a stone wall. You can't go
there again--now or never." And that had settled it, for Great Taylor
had been afraid of Grit. But now Grit was dead; gone for good. She
would do as she pleased....
When she looked up the man had stopped talking. He glanced at the
"What time?" murmured Great Taylor.
"Five," said the man from just around the corner.
Nell nodded her head and watched as the man's fastidiously pressed
trousers and polished shoes cleared the closing door. Nell immediately
went to the looking-glass--a cracked little mirror that hung by the
mantelpiece--and studied the reflection of herself with newly awakened
interest. She had never seemed so radiant--her smooth hair, her
lineless face, her large gray eyes and perfect throat. "I ain't so bad
looking," she admitted. Grit had never made her feel this way. And
again she asked herself why he could not have been clean like the man
from around the corner.
She rehearsed all that had been said. She thought of the salary the
man had mentioned, and made calculations. It was more than Grit had
averaged for the two of them to live on. With prodigal fancy she spent
the money and with new-born thrift she placed it in bank. Limited only
by her small knowledge of such things, she revelled in a dream of
affluence and luxury which was only dissipated when gradually she
became conscious that throughout the past hour she had been clinging
to a grimy, coverless book.
Damp finger-prints were upon the outer leaves, and the pages adhered
to her moistened hand. She loosened her grip, and the book opened to a
particularly soiled page on which a line had been underscored with a
thick red mark. Dully, Great Taylor read the line, spelling out the
words; but it conveyed nothing to her intellect. It was the fighting
phrase of a famous soldier: "_I have drawn the sword and thrown away
"What does that mean?" she mumbled. Her eyes wandered to the top of
the page, where in larger type was the title: "Life of 'STONEWALL'
JACKSON." "Stonewall," repeated Nell. "Stonewall!" The word had the
potency to bring vividly before her Grit's drooping, grimy form. Her
ears rang with his ridiculous boast. His voice seemed no longer low
and weary. "When I say a thing ... stone wall. Can't go there
again--now or never." Great Taylor mumbled disparagingly, "He got it
from a book!" And again she read the fighting phrase of Grit's hero:
"_I have drawn the sword and thrown away the scabbard_." "Can't mean
Grit," she mused. "He never threw away anything...." And she tossed
his desecrated Bible toward the peach crate; but missing its aim, the
book slid along the floor with a slight rustle, almost like a sigh,
and struck the chair-board behind the washtubs, where it lay limp and
Back of Nell the clock struck the half hour, and she turned quickly,
her heart thumping with the fear of being late. But the hour was only
three thirty. "Plenty time." She gazed at the broken clock. "A good
clock," Grit used to say; "keeps time and only cost a quarter." "Stone
Nell transformed the washtubs into a bath by the removal of the centre
partition, and within an hour was bathed and dressed. Sticking the
pins through her straw hat, dyed black, she took from the bottom
drawer of the cupboard a patent-leather hand-bag with colourful
worsted fruit embroidered upon its shining sides. She thought of the
night Grit had brought it home to her, his pride--he had bought it at
a store. But a glance around the room obliterated this memory, and she
mumbled, "Wish I warn't never, _never_ going to see this place again!
Wait till I get money...." She glared at the broken furniture, each
piece of which brought back some memory of the man. She could see him
drooping in the armchair, with his wrists crossed, fingers curled. She
glared at the shelf and imagined him fumbling for something that was
not there. She started for the door, then, turning back, reached into
the peach crate. "There! Keep your old molasses jug!" she said, in a
dry voice, and, replacing the jug on the shelf, she went out into the
Winding down through the tenement-house gloom, Great Taylor was not
without fear. Her footfall on the uncarpeted landings and iron treads
sounded hollow and strangely loud. The odours that in the past had
greeted her familiarly, making known absorbing domestic details of her
neighbours, caused her neither to pause nor to sniff. She reached the
narrow entrance hall, dark and deserted, and, hurrying down its
length, fumbled with the knob and pulled open the street door.
Dazzling sunlight, a blast of warm air and the confused clatter of the
sidewalk engulfed her. She stood vacillating in the doorway, thinly
panoplied for the struggle of existence. Her body was splendid, it is
true, but her spirit was small. Despite the sunlight and warmth she
was trembling. And yet, for years she had gone down into this street
confident of herself, mingling on equal terms with its wayfarers, her
ear catching and translating the sounds that, converging, caused this
babel. Now, suddenly, all of it was meaningless, the peddlers with
whom she had bickered and bargained in a loud voice with gestures,
breast to breast, were strangers and the street an alien land. Many
things seemed to have passed backward out of her life. She was no
longer Grit's wife, no longer the Great Taylor of yesterday. She was
something new-born, free of will; all the old ties had been clipped.
She could do as she pleased. No one could stop her. And she pleased to
become a denizen of a world which, though just around the corner, was
unrelated to the sphere in which she had moved.
"What's the matter with me?" she asked herself. "Nothing to be afraid
of. He's gone. I'll do as I please." With such assertions she
bolstered her courage, but nevertheless she was trembling....
Glossy-haired women jostled her with their baskets. Taller by a head,
Nell pushed her way oblivious of the crowd. At the corner she paused.
"I ain't going to be early." A clock across the avenue, visible
beneath the reverberating ironwork of the elevated, seemed to have
stopped at the half hour. It was four thirty. She watched the long
hand until it moved jerkily. A policeman, half dragging a shrieking
woman and followed by a jostling, silent crowd, swept Great Taylor
aside and put in a call for the wagon.
She hurriedly rounded the corner and passed a window that displayed a
pyramid of varnished kegs backed by a mirror with a ram's head painted
on it in colours. Beyond was the side entrance. Over the door hung a
glass sign, one word in large red letters: "DANCING." She caught the
odour of cheap wine and stale beer. Again she said, "I ain't going to
be early," and moved away aimlessly.
Beyond the end of this building was a vacant lot and Great Taylor
moved more swiftly with head averted. She had passed nearly to the
next building before she stopped and wheeled around defiantly. "I
ain't afraid to look," she said to herself and gazed across at Grit's
junk-cart, with its string of bells, partly concealed back against the
fence. It was standing in the shadow, silent, unmanned. She walked on
for a few steps and turned again. The cart was standing as before,
silent, unmanned. She stood there, hands on her hips, trying to
visualize Grit drooping over the handle--his collarless neck, his
grimy face and baggy breeches; but her imagination would not paint the
picture. "Grit's gone for good," she said. "Why couldn't he been clean
like other people, like the man that owns the Garden? No excuse for
being dirty and always tired like that. Anybody could push it and keep
clean, too--half clean, anyway." She slipped a glance at the clock. It
stood at twenty minutes before the hour of her appointment. "A baby
could push it...."
She picked her way across the vacant lot to the junk-cart and laid her
hand upon the grimy handle. The thing moved. The strings of bells set
up a familiar jingle. "Easy as a baby carriage!" And Great Taylor
laughed. The cart reached the sidewalk, bumped down over the curb and
pulling Great Taylor with it went beyond the centre of the street. She
tried to turn back but a clanging trolley car cut in between her and
the curb, a wheel of the junk-cart caught in the smooth steel track
and skidded as if it were alive with a stupid will of its own. "It
ain't so easy," she admitted. With a wrench she extracted the wheel,
narrowly avoided an elevated post and crashed head on into a
push-cart, laden with green bananas resting on straw. An Italian swore
in two languages and separated the locked wheels.
Hurriedly Great Taylor shoved away from the fruit man and became
pocketed in the traffic. Two heavy-hoofed horses straining against wet
leather collars crowded her toward the curb and shortly the traffic
became blocked. She looked for a means of escape and had succeeded in
getting one wheel over the curb when a man touched her on the arm.
"Someone is calling from the window up there," he said in a low weary
voice like Grit's. Nell swung around, gasping, but the man had moved
away down the sidewalk and a woman was calling to her from a
"How much?" called the woman, waving a tin object that glinted in the
sunlight. Great Taylor stared stupidly. "Clothes boiler," yelled the
woman. "Fifty cents.... Just needs soldering." "What?" stammered Nell.
"Fifty cents," shouted the woman in the window. And something prompted
Great Taylor to reply, "Give you a dime."
Back to Full Books