The Vertical City
Part 5 out of 5
vein in the crotch of her elbow. That swany arch.
Back somewhere, as the tidy morning wore in, the tranced, the maddening
repetition began to tick itself through:
"Six o'clock. Six o'clock."
He rushed out into the hallway and across to the parlor pinkly lit with
velours, even through the rainy day, and so inflexibly calm. Sara might
have measured the distance between the chairs, so regimental they
stood. The pink-velour curlicue divan with the two pink, gold-tasseled
cushions, carelessly exact. The onyx-topped table with the pink-velour
drape, also gold-tasseled. The pair of equidistant and immaculate china
cuspidors, rose-wreathed. The smell of Sunday.
"Nicky, that you?"
It was his mother, from the dining room.
"Yes, mother," and sauntered in.
There were two women sitting at the round table, shelling nuts. One of
them his mother, the other Miss Ada Berkowitz, who jumped up, spilling
Nicholas, in the velveteen dressing gown with the collar turned up,
started to back out, Mrs. Turkletaub spoiling that.
"You can come in, Nicky. Ada'll excuse you. I guess she's seen a man in
his dressing gown before; the magazine advertisements are full with
them in worse and in less. And on Sunday with a headache from all week
working so hard, a girl can forgive. He shouldn't think with his head so
much, I always tell him, Ada."
"I didn't know he was here," said Miss Berkowitz, already thinking in
terms of what she might have worn.
"I telephoned over for Ada, Nicky. They got an automobile and she don't
need to get her feet wet to come over to a lonesome old woman on a
rainy Sunday, to spend the day and learn me how to make those delicious
stuffed dates like she fixed for her mother's card party last week. Draw
up a chair, Nicky, and help."
She was casual, she was matter-of-fact, she was bent on the business
of nut cracking. They crashed softly, never so much as bruised by her
carefully even pressure.
"Thanks," said Nicholas, and sat down, not caring to, but with good
enough grace. He wanted his coat, somehow, and fell to strumming the
"Don't, Nicky; you make me nervous."
"Here," said Miss Berkowitz, and gave him a cracker and a handful of
nuts. The little crashings resumed.
Ada had very fair skin against dark hair, slightly too inclined to curl.
There was quite a creamy depth to her--a wee pinch could raise a bruise.
The kind of whiteness hers that challenged the string of tiny Oriental
pearls she wore at her throat. Her healthily pink cheeks and her little
round bosom were plump, and across the back of each of her hands were
four dimples that flashed in and out as she bore down on the cracker.
She was as clear as a mountain stream.
"A trifle too plumpy," he thought, but just the same wished he had wet
his military brushes.
"Ada has just been telling me, Nicky, about her ambition to be an
interior decorator for the insides of houses. I think it is grand
the way some girls that are used to the best of everything prepare
themselves for, God forbid, they should ever have to make their own
livings. I give them credit for it. Tell Nicky, Ada, about the drawing
you did last week that your teacher showed to the class."
"Oh," said Ada, blushing softly, "Mr. Turkletaub isn't interested in
"Yes, I am," said Nicholas, politely, eating one of the meats.
"You mean the Tudor dining room--"
No, no! You know, the blue-and-white one you said you liked best of
"It was a nursery," began Ada, softly. "Just one of those blue-and-white
darlingnesses for somebody's little darling."
"For somebody's little darling," repeated Mrs. Turkletaub, silently. She
had the habit, when moved, of mouthing people's words after them.
"My idea was--Oh, it's so silly to be telling it again, Mrs.
"Silly! I think it's grand that a girl brought up to the best should
want to make something of herself. Don't you, Nick?"
"Well, my little idea was white walls with little Delft-blue borders
of waddling duckies; white dotted Swiss curtains in the brace of sunny
southern-exposure windows, with little Delft-blue borders of more
waddling duckies; and dear little nursery rhymes painted in blue on the
headboard to keep baby's dreams sweet."
"--baby's dreams sweet! I ask you, is that cute, Nick? Baby's dreams she
even interior decorates."
"My--instructor liked that idea, too. He gave me 'A' on the drawing."
"He should have given you the whole alphabet. And tell him about the
chairs, Ada. Such originality."
"Oh, Mrs. Turkletaub, that was just a--a little--idea--"
"The modesty of her! Believe me, if it was mine, I'd call it a big one.
"Mummie and daddie chairs I call them."
Sara (mouthing): "Mummie and daddie--"
"Two white-enamel chairs to stand on either side of the crib so when
mummie and daddie run up in their evening clothes to kiss baby good
night--Oh, I just mean two pretty white chairs, one for mummie and one
for daddie." Little crash.
"I ask you, Nicky, is that poetical? 'So when mummie and daddie run up
to kiss baby good night.' I remember once in Russia, Nicky, all the
evening clothes we had was our nightgowns, but when you and your little
twin brother were two and a half years old, one night I--"
"Mrs. Turkletaub, did you have twins?"
"Did I have twins, Nicky, she asks me. She didn't know you were twins.
A red one I had, as red as my black one is black. You see my Nicky how
black and mad-looking he is even when he's glad; well, just so--"
"Just so beautiful and fierce and red was my other beautiful baby. You
didn't know, Ada, that a piece of my heart, the red of my blood, I left
lying out there. Nicky--she didn't know--"
She could be so blanched and so stricken when the saga of her motherhood
came out in her eyes, the pallor of her face jutting out her features
like lonely landmarks on waste land, that her husband and her son had
learned how to dread for her and spare her.
"Now, mother!" said Nicholas, and rose to stand behind her chair,
holding her poor, quavering chin in the cup of his hand. "Come, one
rainy Sunday is enough. Let's not have an indoor as well as an outdoor
storm. Come along. Didn't I hear Miss Ada play the piano one evening
over at Leo's? Up-see-la! Who said you weren't my favorite dancing
partner?" and waltzed her, half dragging back, toward the parlor. "Come,
There were the usual demurrings from Ada, rather prettily pink, and Mrs.
Turkletaub, with the threat of sobs swallowed, opening the upright piano
to dust the dustless keyboard with her apron, and Nicholas, his sagging
pipe quickly supplied with one of the rose-twined cuspidors for
ash receiver, hunched down in the pink-velour armchair of enormous
The "Turkish Patrol" was what Ada played, and then, "Who Is Sylvia?" and
sang it, as frailly as a bird.
At one o'clock there was dinner, that immemorial Sunday meal of roast
chicken with its supplicating legs up off the platter; dressing to be
gouged out; sweet potatoes in amber icing; a master stroke of Mrs.
Turkletaub's called "_matzos klose_," balls of unleavened bread,
sizzling, even as she served them, in a hot butter bath and light-brown
onions; a stuffed goose neck, bursting of flavor; cheese pie twice the
depth of the fork that cut in; coffee in large cups. More cracking
of nuts, interspersed with raisins. Ada, cunningly enveloped in a
much-too-large apron, helping Mrs. Turkletaub to clear it all away.
Smoking there in his chair beside the dining-room window, rain the
unrelenting threnody of the day, Nicholas, fed, closed his eyes to the
rhythm of their comings and goings through the swinging door that led to
the kitchen. Comings--and--goings--his mother who rustled so cleanly of
starch--Ada--clear--yes, that was it--clear as a mountain stream. Their
It was almost dusk when he awoke, the pink-shaded piano lamp already
lighted in the parlor beyond, the window shade at his side drawn and an
Afghan across his knees. It was snug there in the rosied dusk. The women
were in the kitchen yet, or was it again? Again, he supposed, looking
at his watch. He had slept three hours. Presently he rose and sauntered
out. There was coffee fragrance on the air of the large white kitchen,
his mother hunched to the attitude of wielding a can opener, and at the
snowy oilclothed table, Ada, slicing creamy slabs off the end of a cube
of Swiss cheese.
"Sleepyhead," she greeted, holding up a sliver for him to nibble.
And his mother: "That was a good rest for you, son? You feel better?"
"Immense," he said, hunching his shoulders and stretching his hands down
into his pockets in a yawny well-being.
"I wish, then, you would put another leaf in the table for me. There's
four besides your father coming over from Aunt Gussie's. I just wish you
would look at Ada. For a girl that don't have to turn her hand at home,
with two servants, and a laundress every other week, just look how handy
she is with everything she touches."
The litter of Sunday-night supper, awaiting its transfer to the
dining-room table, lay spread in the faithful geometry of the cold,
hebdomadal repast. A platter of ruddy sliced tongue; one of noonday
remnants of cold chicken; ovals of liverwurst; a mound of potato salad
crisscrossed with strips of pimento; a china basket of the stuffed
dates, all kissed with sugar; half of an enormously thick cheese cake;
two uncovered apple pies; a stack of delicious raisin-stuffed curlicues,
known as _"schneken,"_ pickles with a fern of dill across them (Ada's
touch, the dill); a dish of stuffed eggs with a toothpick stuck in each
half (also Ada's touch, the toothpicks).
She moved rather pussily, he thought, sometimes her fair cheeks
quivering slightly to the vibration of her walk, as if they had jelled.
And, too, there was something rather snug and plump in the way her
little hands with the eight dimples moved about things, laying the slabs
of Swiss cheese, unstacking cups.
"No, only seven cups, Ada. Nicky--ain't going to be home to supper."
"Oh," she said, "excuse me! I--I--thought--silly--" and looked up at him
to deny that it mattered.
"Isn't that what you said this morning, Nicky?" Poor Sara, she almost
failed herself then because her voice ended in quite a dry click in her
He stood watching the resumed unstacking of the cups, each with its
crisp little grate against its neighbor.
"One," said Ada, "two-three-four-five-six--seven!"
He looked very long and lean and his darkly nervous self, except that he
dilly-dallied on his heels like a much-too-tall boy not wanting to look
"If Miss Ada will provide another cup and saucer, I think I'll stay
"As you will," said Sara, disappearing into the dining room with the
mound of salad and the basket of sugar-kissed dates.
She put them down rather hastily when she got there, because, sillily
enough, she thought, for the merest instant, she was going to faint.
* * * * *
The week that Judge Turkletaub tried his first case in Court of General
Sessions--a murder case, toward which his criminal-law predilection
seemed so inevitably to lead him, his third child, a little daughter
with lovely creamy skin against slightly too curly hair, was lying, just
two days old, in a blue-and-white nursery with an absurd border of blue
ducks waddling across the wallpaper.
Ada, therefore, was not present at this inaugural occasion of his first
trial. But each of the two weeks of its duration, in a first-row bench
of the privileged, so that her gaze was almost on a dotted line with her
son's, sat Sara Turkletaub, her hands crossed over her waistline, her
bosom filling and waning and the little jet folderols on her bonnet
blinking. Tears had their way with her, prideful, joyful at her son's
new estate, sometimes bitterly salt at the life in the naked his eyes
must look upon.
Once, during the recital of the defendant, Sara almost seemed to bleed
her tears, so poignantly terrible they came, scorching her eyes of a
pain too exquisite to be analyzed, yet too excruciating to be endured.
Venture back, will you, to the ice and red of that Russian dawn when on
the snow the footsteps that led toward the horizon were the color of
blood, and one woman, who could not keep her eyes ahead, moaned as
she fled, prayed, and even screamed to return to her dead in the
bullet-riddled horse trough.
Toward the noon of that day, a gray one that smelled charred, a fugitive
group from a distant village that was still burning faltered, as it too
fled toward the horizon, in the blackened village of Vodna, because a
litter had to be fashioned for an old man whose feet were frozen, and a
mother, whose baby had perished at her breast, would bury her dead.
Huddled beside the horse trough, over a poor fire she had kindled of
charred wood, Hanscha, the midwife (Hanscha, the drunk, they called her,
fascinatedly, in the Pale of generations of sober women), spied Mosher's
flung coat and reached for it eagerly, with an eye to tearing it into
strips to wrap her tortured feet.
A child stirred as she snatched it, wailing lightly, and the instinct of
her calling, the predominant motive, Hanscha with her fumy breath warmed
it closer to life and trod the one hundred and eight miles to the port
with it strapped to her back like a pack.
Thus it was that Schmulka, the red twin, came to America and for the
first fourteen years of his life slept on a sour pallet in a sour
tenement he shared with Hanscha, who with filthy hands brought children
into the filthy slums.
Jason, she called him, because that was the name of the ship that
carried them over. A rolling tub that had been horrible with the cries
of cattle and seasickness.
At fourteen he was fierce and rebellious and down on the Juvenile Court
records for truancy, petty trafficking in burned-out opium, vandalism,
and gang vagrancy.
In Hanscha's sober hours he was her despair, and she could be horrible
in her anger, once the court reprimanding her and threatening to take
Jason from her because of welts found on his back.
It was in her cups that she was proud of him, and so it behooved Jason
to drink her down to her pallet, which he could, easily.
He was handsome. His red hair had darkened to the same bronze of the
samovar and he was straight as the drop of an apple from the branch. He
was reckless. Could turn a pretty penny easily, even dangerously, and
spend it with a flip for a pushcart bauble.
Once he brought home a plaster-of-Paris Venus--the Melos one with the
beautiful arch to her torso of a bow that instant after the arrow has
flown. Hanscha cuffed him for the expenditure, but secretly her old
heart, which since childhood had subjected her to strange, rather
epileptical, sinking spells, and had induced the drinking, warmed her
with pride in his choice.
Hanscha, with her veiny nose and the dreadful single hair growing out of
a mole on her chin, was not without her erudition. She had read for the
midwifery, and back in the old days could recite the bones in the body.
She let the boy read nights, sometimes even to dropping another coin
into the gas meter. Some of the books were the lewd penny ones of the
Bowery bookstands, old medical treatises, too, purchased three for a
quarter and none too nice reading for the growing boy. But there he had
also found a _Les Miserables_ and _The Confessions of St. Augustine_,
which last, if he had known it, was a rare edition, but destined for the
Once he read Hanscha a bit of poetry out of a furiously stained old
volume of verse, so fragrantly beautiful, to him, this bit, that it
wound around him like incense, the perfume of it going deeply and
stinging his eyes to tears:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting!
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
Shades of the prison house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows
He sees it in his joy;
The youth who daily farther, from the East
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
But Hanscha was drunk and threw some coffee-sopped bread at him, and so
his foray into poetry ended in the slops of disgust.
A Miss Manners, a society social worker who taught poverty
sweet forbearance every Tuesday from four until six, wore a
forty-eight-diamond bar pin on her under bodice (on Tuesday from
four until six), and whose gray-suede slippers were ever so slightly
blackened from the tripping trip from front door to motor and back, took
him up, as the saying is, and for two weeks Jason disported himself on
the shorn lawns of the Manners summer place at Great Neck, where the
surf creamed at the edge of the terrace and the smell of the sea set
something beating against his spirit as if it had a thousand imprisoned
There he developed quite a flair for the law books in Judge Manners's
laddered library. Miss Manners found him there, reading, on stomach and
elbows, his heels waving in the air.
Judge Manners talked with him and discovered a legal turn of mind, and
there followed some veranda talk of educating and removing him from his
environment. But that very afternoon Jason did a horrid thing. It was no
more than he had seen about him all his life. Not as much. He kissed the
little pig-tailed daughter of the laundress and pursued her as she ran
shrieking to her mother's apron. That was all, but his defiant head and
the laundress's chance knowledge of his Juvenile Court record did for
At six o'clock that evening, with a five-dollar bill of which he made a
spitball for the judge's departing figure down the station platform, he
was shipped back to Hanscha. Secretly he was relieved. Life was easier
in the tenement under the shadow of Brooklyn Bridge. The piece of its
arch which he could see from his window was even beautiful, a curve of a
stone into some beyond.
That night he fitted down into the mold his body had worn on the pallet,
sighing out satisfaction.
Environment had won him back.
On the other hand, in one of those red star-spangled passions of
rebellion against his fetid days, he blindly cut Hanscha with the edge
of a book which struck against her brow as he hurled it. She had been
drunk and had asked of him, at sixteen, because of the handsomeness
that women would easily love in him, to cadet the neighborhood of Grand
Street, using her tenement as his refuge of vice and herself as sharer
The corner of the book cut deeply and pride in her terror of him came
out redly in her bloodshot eyes.
In the short half term of his high-school training he had already forged
ahead of his class when he attained the maturity of working papers. He
was plunging eagerly--brilliantly, in fact--into a rapid translation
of the _Iliad_, fired from the very first line by the epic of the
hexametered anger of Achilles, and stubbornly he held out against the
But to Hanscha they came with the inevitability of a summons rather
than an alternative, and so for a year or two he brought home rather
precocious wages from his speed in a canning factory. Then he stoked his
way to Sydney and back, returning fiery with new and terrible oaths.
One night Hanscha died. He found her crumpled up in the huddle of her
skirts as if she had dropped in her tracks, which she had, in one of the
epileptic heart strictures.
It was hardly a grief to him. He had seen red with passion at her
atrociousness too often, and, somehow, everything that she stood for had
been part of the ache in him.
Yet it is doubtful if, released of her, he found better pasture. Bigger
pastures, it is true, in what might be called an upper stratum of the
lower East Side, although at no time was he ever to become party to any
of its underground system of crime.
Inevitably, the challenge of his personality cleared the way for him. At
nineteen he had won and lost the small fortune of thirty-three hundred
dollars at a third-class gambling resort where he came in time to be
He dressed flashily, wore soft collars, was constantly swapping sporty
scarfpins for sportier ones, and was inevitably the center, seldom part,
of a group.
Then one evening at Cooper Union, which stands at the head of the
Bowery, he enrolled for an evening course in law, but never entered the
Because the next night, in a Fourteenth Street cabaret with adjacent
gambling rooms, he met one who called herself Winnie Ross, the beginning
of a heart-sickening end.
There is so little about her to relate. She was the color of cloyed
honey when the sugar granules begin to show through. Pale, pimply in a
fashion the powder could cover up, the sag of her facial muscles showed
plainly through, as if weary of doling out to the years their hush
money, and she was quite obviously down at the heels. Literally so,
because when she took them off, her shoes lopped to the sides and could
not stand for tipsiness.
She was Jason's first woman. She exhaled a perfume, cheap, tickling,
chewed some advertised tablets that scented her kisses, and her throat,
when she threw up her head, had an arch and flex to it that were
Life had been swift and sheer with Winnie. She was very tired and,
paradoxically enough, it gave her one of her last remaining charms. Her
eyelids were freighted with weariness, were waxy white of it, and they
could flutter to her cheeks, like white butterflies against white, and
lay shadows there that maddened Jason.
She called him Red, although all that remained now were the lights
through his browning hair, almost like the flashings of a lantern down a
She pronounced it with a slight trilling of the R, and if it was left in
her of half a hundred loves to stir on this swift descent of her life
line, she did over Jason. Partly because he was his winged-Hermes self,
and partly because--because--it was difficult for her rather fagged
brain to rummage back.
Thus the rest may be told:
Entering her rooms one morning, a pair of furiously garish ones over a
musical-instrument store on the Bowery, he threw himself full length on
the red-cotton divan, arms locked under his always angry-looking head,
and watching her, through low lids, trail about the room at the business
of preparing him a surlily demanded cup of coffee. Her none too
immaculate pink robe trailed a cotton-lace tail irritatingly about her
heels, which slip-slopped as she walked, her stockings, without benefit
of support, twisting about her ankles.
She was barometer for his moods, which were elemental, and had learned
to tremble with a queer exaltation of fear before them.
"My Red-boy blue to-day," she said, stooping as she passed and wanting
to kiss him.
He let his lids drop and would have none of her. They were curiously
blue, she thought, as if of unutterable fatigue, and then quickly
appraised that his luck was still letting him in for the walloping now
of two weeks' duration. His diamond-and-opal scarfpin was gone, and the
gold cuff links replaced with mother-of-pearl.
She could be violently bitter about money, and when the flame of his
personality was not there to be reckoned with, ten times a day she
ejected him, with a venom that was a psychosis, out of her further
toleration. Not so far gone was Winnie but that she could count on the
twist of her body and the arch of her throat as revenue getters.
At first Jason had been lavish, almost with a smack of some of the old
days she had known, spending with the easy prodigality of the gambler in
luck. There was a near-seal coat from him in her cupboard of near-silks,
and the flimsy wooden walls of her rooms had been freshly papered in
Then his luck had turned, and to top his sparseness with her this new
sullenness which she feared and yet which could be so delicious to
She gave him coffee, and he drank it like medicine out of a thick-lipped
cup painted in roses.
"My Red-boy blue," she reiterated, trying to ingratiate her arms about
his neck. "Red-boy tells Winnie he won't be back for two whole days and
then brings her surprise party very next day. Red-boy can't stay away
"Red-boy bring Winnie nothing? Not little weeny, weeny nothing?" drawing
a design down his coat sleeve, her mouth bunched.
Suddenly he jerked her so that the breath jumped in a warm fan of it
against her face.
"You're the only thing I've got in the world, Win. My luck's gone, but
I've got you. Tell me I've got you."
He could be equally intense over which street car to take, and she knew
it, but somehow it lessened for her none of the lure of his nervosity,
and with her mind recoiling from his pennilessness her body inclined.
"Tell me, Winnie, that I have you."
"You know you have," she said, and smiled, with her head back so that
her face foreshortened.
"I'm going far for you Winnie. Gambling is too rotten--and too easy. I
want to build bridges for you. Practice law. Corner Wall Street."
This last clicked.
"Once," she said, lying back, with her pupils enlarging with the
fleeting memories she was not always alert enough to clutch--"once--once
when I lived around Central Park--a friend of mine--vice-president he
was--Well, never mind, he was my friend--it was nothing for him to turn
over a thousand or two a week for me in Wall Street."
This exaggeration was gross, but it could feed the flame of his passion
for her like oil.
"I'll work us up and out of this! I've got better stuff in me. I want to
wind you in pearls--diamonds--sapphires."
"I had a five-thousand-dollar string once--of star sapphires."
"Trust me, Winnie. Help me by having confidence in me. I'm glad my luck
is welching. It will be lean at first, until I get on my legs. But
it's not too late yet. Win, if only I have some one to stand by me. To
believe--to fight with and for me! Get me, girl? Believe in me."
"Sure. Always play strong with the cops, Red. It's the short cut to
ready money. Ready money, Red. That's what gets you there. Don't ask
any girl to hang on if it's shy. That's where I spun myself dirt many a
time, hanging on after it got shy. Ugh! That's what did for me--hanging
on--after it got shy."
"No. No. You don't understand. For God's sake try to get me, Winnie.
Fight up with me. It'll be lean, starting, but I'll finish strong for
"Don't lean on me. I'm no wailing wall. What's it to me all your
highfaluting talk. You've been as slab-sided in the pockets as a cat all
month. Don't have to stand it. I've got friends--spenders--"
There had been atrocious scenes, based on his jealousies of her, which
some imp in her would lead her to provoke, notwithstanding that even as
she spoke she regretted, and reached back for the words,
"I know what you mean," he said, quietly, permitting her to lie back
against him and baring his teeth down at her.
She actually thought he was smiling.
"I'm not a dead one by a long shot," she said, kindling with what was
probably her desire to excite him.
"No. I can still have the best. The very best. If you want to know it,
a political Indian with a car as long as this room, not mentioning any
names, is after me--"
She still harbored the unfortunate delusion that he was smiling.
"You thought I was up at Ossining this morning, didn't you?" he asked,
lazily for him. He went there occasionally to visit a friend in the
state prison who had once served him well in a gambling raid and was now
doing a short larceny term there.
"You said you were--"
"I _said_ I was. Yes. But I came back unexpectedly, didn't I?"
"Look at me!"
She raised round and ready-to-be-terrified eyes.
"Murphy was here last night!" he cracked at her,
bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, like so many pistol shots.
"Don't lie. Murphy was here last night! I saw him leave this morning as
I came in."
It was hazard, pure and simple. Not even a wild one, because all
too easily he could kiss down what would be sure to be only her
But there was a cigar stub on the table edge, and certain of her
adjustments of the room when he entered had been rather quick. He could
be like that with her, crazily the slave of who knows what beauty he
found in her; jealous of even an unaccountable inflection in her voice.
There had been unmentionable frenzies of elemental anger between them
and she feared and exulted in these strange poles of his nature.
"Murphy was here last night!"
It had happened, in spite of a caution worthy of a finer finesse than
hers, and suddenly she seemed to realize the quality of her fear for him
to whom she was everything and who to her was not all.
"Don't, Red," she said, all the bars of her pretense down and dodging
from his eyes rather than from any move he made toward her. "Don't, Red.
Don't!" And began to whimper in the unbeautifulness of fear, becoming
strangely smaller as her pallor mounted.
He was as terrible and as swarthy and as melodramatic as Othello.
"Don't, Red," she called still again, and it was as if her voice came to
him from across a bog.
He was standing with one knee dug into the couch, straining her head
back against the wall, his hand on her forehead and the beautiful
flexing arch of her neck rising ... swanlike.
"Watch out!" There was a raw nail in the wall where a picture had hung.
Murphy had kept knocking it awry and she had removed it. "Watch out,
Through the star-spangled red he glimpsed her once where the hair swept
off her brow, and for the moment, to his blurred craziness, it was as if
through the red her brow was shotted with little scars and pock marks
from glass, and a hot surge of unaccountable sickness fanned the
enormous silence of his rage.
With or without his knowing it, that raw nail drove slowly home to the
rear of Winnie's left ear, upward toward the cerebellum as he tilted and
tilted, and the convex curve of her neck mounted like a bow stretched
* * * * *
There was little about Jason's trial to entitle it to more than a
back-page paragraph in the dailies. He sat through those days, that
were crisscrossed with prison bars, much like those drowned figures
encountered by deep-sea divers, which, seated upright in death, are
pressed down by the waters of unreality.
It is doubtful if he spoke a hundred words during the lean, celled weeks
of his waiting, and then with a vacuous sort of apathy and solely upon
advice of counsel. Even when he took the stand, undramatically, his
voice, without even a plating of zest for life, was like some old drum
with the parchment too tired to vibrate.
Women, however, cried over him and the storm in his eyes and the
curiously downy back of his neck where the last of his youth still
To Sara, from her place in the first row, on those not infrequent
occasions when his eyes fumbled for hers, he seemed to drown in her
On a Friday at high noon the jury adjourned, the judge charging it with
a solemnity that rang up to wise old rafters and down into one woman's
thirsty soul like life-giving waters.
In part he told the twelve men about to file out, "If there has been
anything in my attitude during the recital of the defendant's story,
which has appeared to you to be in the slightest manner prejudiced one
way or another, I charge you to strike such mistaken impressions from
"I have tried honestly to wash the slate of my mind clean to take down
faithfully the aspects of this case which for two weeks has occupied
"If you believe the defendant guilty of the heinous crime in question,
do not falter in your use of the power with which the law has vested
"If, on the other hand and to the best of your judgment, there has been
in the defendant's life extenuating circumstances, er--a limitation
of environment, home influence, close not the avenues of your fair
"Did this man in the kind of er--a--frenzy he describes and to which
witnesses agree he was subject, deliberately strain back the Ross
woman's head until the nail penetrated?
"If so, remember the law takes knowledge only of self-defense.
"On the other hand, ask of yourselves well, did the defendant, in the
frenzy which he claims had hold of him when he committed this unusual
crime, know that the nail was there?
"_Would Winnie Ross have met her death if the nail had not been there?_
"Gentlemen, in the name of the law, solemnly and with a fear of God in
your hearts, I charge you."
It was a quick verdict. Three hours and forty minutes.
In the front row there, with the titillating folderols on her bonnet and
her hand at her throat as if she would tear it open for the mystery of
the pain of the heartbeat in it, Sara Turkletaub heard, and, hearing,
swooned into the pit of her pain and her joy.
Her son, with brackets of fatigue out about his mouth, was standing over
her when she opened her eyes, the look of crucifixion close to the front
"Mother," he said, pressing her head close to his robes of state and
holding a throat-straining quiver under his voice, "I--I shouldn't have
let you stay. It was too--much for you."
It took her a moment for the mist to clear.
"I--Son--did somebody strike? Hit? Strange. I--I must have been hurt.
Son, am I bleeding?" And looked down, clasping her hand to the bosom of
her decent black-silk basque.
"Son, I--It was a good verdict, not? I--couldn't have stood it--if--if
it wasn't. I--Something--It was good, not?"
"Yes, mother, yes."
"Don't--don't let that boy get away, son. I think--those tempers--I can
help--him. You see, I know--how to handle--Somehow I--"
"Yes, mother, only now you must sit quietly--"
"Promise me, son, you won't let him get away without I see him?"
"Yes, dear, only please now--a moment--quiet--"
You see, the judge was very tired, and, looking down at the spot where
her hand still lay at her bosom as if to press down a hurt, the red of
her same obsession shook and shook him.
Somehow it seemed to him, too, that her dear heart was bleeding.
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