CHAPTER 3. The Egotist Considers
"Ouch! Let me go!"
He dropped his arms to his sides.
"What's the matter?"
"Your shirt stud--it hurt me--look!" She was looking down at her neck,where a little blue spot about the size of a pea marred its pallor.
"Oh, Isabelle," he reproached himself, "I'm a goopher. Really, I'msorry--I shouldn't have held you so close."
She looked up impatiently.
"Oh, Amory, of course you couldn't help it, and it didn't hurt much; butwhat _are_ we going to do about it?"
"_Do_ about it?" he asked. "Oh--that spot; it'll disappear in a second."
"It isn't," she said, after a moment of concentrated gazing, "it's stillthere--and it looks like Old Nick--oh, Amory, what'll we do! It's _just_the height of your shoulder."
"Massage it," he suggested, repressing the faintest inclination tolaugh.
She rubbed it delicately with the tips of her fingers, and then a teargathered in the corner of her eye, and slid down her cheek.
"Oh, Amory," she said despairingly, lifting up a most pathetic face,"I'll just make my whole neck _flame_ if I rub it. What'll I do?"
A quotation sailed into his head and he couldn't resist repeating italoud.
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not whiten this little hand."
She looked up and the sparkle of the tear in her eye was like ice.
"You're not very sympathetic."
Amory mistook her meaning.
"Isabelle, darling, I think it'll--"
"Don't touch me!" she cried. "Haven't I enough on my mind and you standthere and _laugh!_"
Then he slipped again.
"Well, it _is_ funny, Isabelle, and we were talking the other day abouta sense of humor being--"
She was looking at him with something that was not a smile, rather thefaint, mirthless echo of a smile, in the corners of her mouth.
"Oh, shut up!" she cried suddenly, and fled down the hallway toward herroom. Amory stood there, covered with remorseful confusion.
When Isabelle reappeared she had thrown a light wrap about hershoulders, and they descended the stairs in a silence that enduredthrough dinner.
"Isabelle," he began rather testily, as they arranged themselves in thecar, bound for a dance at the Greenwich Country Club, "you're angry, andI'll be, too, in a minute. Let's kiss and make up."
Isabelle considered glumly.
"I hate to be laughed at," she said finally.
"I won't laugh any more. I'm not laughing now, am I?"
"Oh, don't be so darned feminine."
Her lips curled slightly.
"I'll be anything I want."
Amory kept his temper with difficulty. He became aware that he had notan ounce of real affection for Isabelle, but her coldness piqued him. Hewanted to kiss her, kiss her a lot, because then he knew he could leavein the morning and not care. On the contrary, if he didn't kiss her, itwould worry him.... It would interfere vaguely with his idea of himselfas a conqueror. It wasn't dignified to come off second best, _pleading_,with a doughty warrior like Isabelle.
Perhaps she suspected this. At any rate, Amory watched the night thatshould have been the consummation of romance glide by with great mothsoverhead and the heavy fragrance of roadside gardens, but without thosebroken words, those little sighs....
Afterward they suppered on ginger ale and devil's food in the pantry,and Amory announced a decision.
"I'm leaving early in the morning."
"Why not?" he countered.
"There's no need."
"However, I'm going."
"Well, if you insist on being ridiculous--"
"Oh, don't put it that way," he objected.
"--just because I won't let you kiss me. Do you think--"
"Now, Isabelle," he interrupted, "you know it's not that--evensuppose it is. We've reached the stage where we either ought tokiss--or--or--nothing. It isn't as if you were refusing on moralgrounds."
"I really don't know what to think about you," she began, in a feeble,perverse attempt at conciliation. "You're so funny."
"Well, I thought you had a lot of self-confidence and all that; rememberyou told me the other day that you could do anything you wanted, or getanything you wanted?"
Amory flushed. He _had_ told her a lot of things.
"Well, you didn't seem to feel so self-confident to-night. Maybe you'rejust plain conceited."
"No, I'm not," he hesitated. "At Princeton--"
"Oh, you and Princeton! You'd think that was the world, the way youtalk! Perhaps you _can_ write better than anybody else on your oldPrincetonian; maybe the freshmen _do_ think you're important--"
"You don't understand--"
"Yes, I do," she interrupted. "I _do_, because you're always talkingabout yourself and I used to like it; now I don't."
"Have I to-night?"
"That's just the point," insisted Isabelle. "You got all upset to-night.You just sat and watched my eyes. Besides, I have to think all the timeI'm talking to you--you're so critical."
"I make you think, do I?" Amory repeated with a touch of vanity.
"You're a nervous strain"--this emphatically--"and when you analyzeevery little emotion and instinct I just don't have 'em."
"I know." Amory admitted her point and shook his head helplessly.
"Let's go." She stood up.
He rose abstractedly and they walked to the foot of the stairs.
"What train can I get?"
"There's one about 9:11 if you really must go."
"Yes, I've got to go, really. Good night."
They were at the head of the stairs, and as Amory turned into his roomhe thought he caught just the faintest cloud of discontent in her face.He lay awake in the darkness and wondered how much he cared--how muchof his sudden unhappiness was hurt vanity--whether he was, after all,temperamentally unfitted for romance.
When he awoke, it was with a glad flood of consciousness. The early windstirred the chintz curtains at the windows and he was idly puzzled notto be in his room at Princeton with his school football picture overthe bureau and the Triangle Club on the wall opposite. Then thegrandfather's clock in the hall outside struck eight, and the memoryof the night before came to him. He was out of bed, dressing, like thewind; he must get out of the house before he saw Isabelle. What hadseemed a melancholy happening, now seemed a tiresome anticlimax. He wasdressed at half past, so he sat down by the window; felt that the sinewsof his heart were twisted somewhat more than he had thought. What anironic mockery the morning seemed!--bright and sunny, and full of thesmell of the garden; hearing Mrs. Borge's voice in the sun-parlor below,he wondered where was Isabelle.
There was a knock at the door.
"The car will be around at ten minutes of nine, sir."
He returned to his contemplation of the outdoors, and began repeatingover and over, mechanically, a verse from Browning, which he had oncequoted to Isabelle in a letter:
"Each life unfulfilled, you see, It hangs still, patchy and scrappy; We have not sighed deep, laughed free, Starved, feasted, despaired--been happy."
But his life would not be unfulfilled. He took a sombre satisfaction inthinking that perhaps all along she had been nothing except what he hadread into her; that this was her high point, that no one else would evermake her think. Yet that was what she had objected to in him; and Amorywas suddenly tired of thinking, thinking!
"Damn her!" he said bitterly, "she's spoiled my year!"
THE SUPERMAN GROWS CARELESS
On a dusty day in September Amory arrived in Princeton and joined thesweltering crowd of conditioned men who thronged the streets. It seemeda stupid way to commence his upper-class years, to spend four hours amorning in the stuffy room of a tutoring school
, imbibing the infiniteboredom of conic sections. Mr. Rooney, pander to the dull, conducted theclass and smoked innumerable Pall Malls as he drew diagrams and workedequations from six in the morning until midnight.
"Now, Langueduc, if I used that formula, where would my A point be?"
Langueduc lazily shifts his six-foot-three of football material andtries to concentrate.
"Oh--ah--I'm damned if I know, Mr. Rooney."
"Oh, why of course, of course you can't _use_ that formula. _That's_what I wanted you to say."
"Why, sure, of course."
"Do you see why?"
"You bet--I suppose so."
"If you don't see, tell me. I'm here to show you."
"Well, Mr. Rooney, if you don't mind, I wish you'd go over that again."
"Gladly. Now here's 'A'..."
The room was a study in stupidity--two huge stands for paper, Mr. Rooneyin his shirt-sleeves in front of them, and slouched around on chairs,a dozen men: Fred Sloane, the pitcher, who absolutely _had_ to geteligible; "Slim" Langueduc, who would beat Yale this fall, if only hecould master a poor fifty per cent; McDowell, gay young sophomore, whothought it was quite a sporting thing to be tutoring here with all theseprominent athletes.
"Those poor birds who haven't a cent to tutor, and have to study duringthe term are the ones I pity," he announced to Amory one day, with aflaccid camaraderie in the droop of the cigarette from his pale lips. "Ishould think it would be such a bore, there's so much else to do in NewYork during the term. I suppose they don't know what they miss, anyhow."There was such an air of "you and I" about Mr. McDowell that Amory verynearly pushed him out of the open window when he said this. ... NextFebruary his mother would wonder why he didn't make a club and increasehis allowance... simple little nut....
Through the smoke and the air of solemn, dense earnestness that filledthe room would come the inevitable helpless cry:
"I don't get it! Repeat that, Mr. Rooney!" Most of them were so stupidor careless that they wouldn't admit when they didn't understand, andAmory was of the latter. He found it impossible to study conic sections;something in their calm and tantalizing respectability breathingdefiantly through Mr. Rooney's fetid parlors distorted their equationsinto insoluble anagrams. He made a last night's effort with theproverbial wet towel, and then blissfully took the exam, wonderingunhappily why all the color and ambition of the spring before had fadedout. Somehow, with the defection of Isabelle the idea of undergraduatesuccess had loosed its grasp on his imagination, and he contemplated apossible failure to pass off his condition with equanimity, even thoughit would arbitrarily mean his removal from the Princetonian board andthe slaughter of his chances for the Senior Council.
There was always his luck.
He yawned, scribbled his honor pledge on the cover, and sauntered fromthe room.
"If you don't pass it," said the newly arrived Alec as they sat on thewindow-seat of Amory's room and mused upon a scheme of wall decoration,"you're the world's worst goopher. Your stock will go down like anelevator at the club and on the campus."
"Oh, hell, I know it. Why rub it in?"
"'Cause you deserve it. Anybody that'd risk what you were in line for_ought_ to be ineligible for Princetonian chairman."
"Oh, drop the subject," Amory protested. "Watch and wait and shut up.I don't want every one at the club asking me about it, as if I were aprize potato being fattened for a vegetable show." One evening a weeklater Amory stopped below his own window on the way to Renwick's, and,seeing a light, called up:
"Oh, Tom, any mail?"
Alec's head appeared against the yellow square of light.
"Yes, your result's here."
His heart clamored violently.
"What is it, blue or pink?"
"Don't know. Better come up."
He walked into the room and straight over to the table, and thensuddenly noticed that there were other people in the room.
"'Lo, Kerry." He was most polite. "Ah, men of Princeton." They seemedto be mostly friends, so he picked up the envelope marked "Registrar'sOffice," and weighed it nervously.
"We have here quite a slip of paper."
"Open it, Amory."
"Just to be dramatic, I'll let you know that if it's blue, my name iswithdrawn from the editorial board of the Prince, and my short career isover."
He paused, and then saw for the first time Ferrenby's eyes, wearing ahungry look and watching him eagerly. Amory returned the gaze pointedly.
"Watch my face, gentlemen, for the primitive emotions."
He tore it open and held the slip up to the light.
"Pink or blue?"
"Say what it is."
"We're all ears, Amory."
"Smile or swear--or something."
There was a pause... a small crowd of seconds swept by... then he lookedagain and another crowd went on into time.
"Blue as the sky, gentlemen...."
What Amory did that year from early September to late in the spring wasso purposeless and inconsecutive that it seems scarcely worth recording.He was, of course, immediately sorry for what he had lost. Hisphilosophy of success had tumbled down upon him, and he looked for thereasons.
"Your own laziness," said Alec later.
"No--something deeper than that. I've begun to feel that I was meant tolose this chance."
"They're rather off you at the club, you know; every man that doesn'tcome through makes our crowd just so much weaker."
"I hate that point of view."
"Of course, with a little effort you could still stage a comeback."
"No--I'm through--as far as ever being a power in college is concerned."
"But, Amory, honestly, what makes me the angriest isn't the fact thatyou won't be chairman of the Prince and on the Senior Council, but justthat you didn't get down and pass that exam."
"Not me," said Amory slowly; "I'm mad at the concrete thing. My ownidleness was quite in accord with my system, but the luck broke."
"Your system broke, you mean."
"Well, what are you going to do? Get a better one quick, or just bumaround for two more years as a has-been?"
"I don't know yet..."
"Oh, Amory, buck up!"
Amory's point of view, though dangerous, was not far from the true one.If his reactions to his environment could be tabulated, the chart wouldhave appeared like this, beginning with his earliest years:
1. The fundamental Amory.
2. Amory plus Beatrice.
3. Amory plus Beatrice plus Minneapolis.
Then St. Regis' had pulled him to pieces and started him over again:
4. Amory plus St. Regis'.
5. Amory plus St. Regis' plus Princeton.
That had been his nearest approach to success through conformity. Thefundamental Amory, idle, imaginative, rebellious, had been nearly snowedunder. He had conformed, he had succeeded, but as his imagination wasneither satisfied nor grasped by his own success, he had listlessly,half-accidentally chucked the whole thing and become again:
6. The fundamental Amory.
His father died quietly and inconspicuously at Thanksgiving. Theincongruity of death with either the beauties of Lake Geneva or with hismother's dignified, reticent attitude diverted him, and he looked at thefuneral with an amused tolerance. He decided that burial was after allpreferable to cremation, and he smiled at his old boyhood choice,slow oxidation in the top of a tree. The day after the ceremony hewas amusing himself in the great library by sinking back on a couch ingraceful mortuary attitudes, trying to determine whether he would, whenhis day came, be found with his arms crossed piously over his chest(Monsignor Darcy had once advocated this posture as being the mostdistinguished), or with his hands clasped behind his head, a more paganand Byronic attitude.
What interested him muc
h more than the final departure of his fatherfrom things mundane was a tri-cornered conversation between Beatrice,Mr. Barton, of Barton and Krogman, their lawyers, and himself, that tookplace several days after the funeral. For the first time he came intoactual cognizance of the family finances, and realized what a tidyfortune had once been under his father's management. He took aledger labelled "1906" and ran through it rather carefully. The totalexpenditure that year had come to something over one hundred and tenthousand dollars. Forty thousand of this had been Beatrice's own income,and there had been no attempt to account for it: it was all under theheading, "Drafts, checks, and letters of credit forwarded to BeatriceBlaine." The dispersal of the rest was rather minutely itemized: thetaxes and improvements on the Lake Geneva estate had come to almost ninethousand dollars; the general up-keep, including Beatrice's electric anda French car, bought that year, was over thirty-five thousand dollars.The rest was fully taken care of, and there were invariably items whichfailed to balance on the right side of the ledger.
In the volume for 1912 Amory was shocked to discover the decrease in thenumber of bond holdings and the great drop in the income. In the case ofBeatrice's money this was not so pronounced, but it was obvious that hisfather had devoted the previous year to several unfortunate gambles inoil. Very little of the oil had been burned, but Stephen Blaine hadbeen rather badly singed. The next year and the next and the next showedsimilar decreases, and Beatrice had for the first time begun using herown money for keeping up the house. Yet her doctor's bill for 1913 hadbeen over nine thousand dollars.
About the exact state of things Mr. Barton was quite vague and confused.There had been recent investments, the outcome of which was forthe present problematical, and he had an idea there were furtherspeculations and exchanges concerning which he had not been consulted.
It was not for several months that Beatrice wrote Amory the fullsituation. The entire residue of the Blaine and O'Hara fortunesconsisted of the place at Lake Geneva and approximately a half milliondollars, invested now in fairly conservative six-per-cent holdings. Infact, Beatrice wrote that she was putting the money into railroad andstreet-car bonds as fast as she could conveniently transfer it.
"I am quite sure," she wrote to Amory, "that if there is one thing we can be positive of, it is that people will not stay in one place. This Ford person has certainly made the most of that idea. So I am instructing Mr. Barton to specialize on such things as Northern Pacific and these Rapid Transit Companies, as they call the street-cars. I shall never forgive myself for not buying Bethlehem Steel. I've heard the most fascinating stories. You must go into finance, Amory. I'm sure you would revel in it. You start as a messenger or a teller, I believe, and from that you go up--almost indefinitely. I'm sure if I were a man I'd love the handling of money; it has become quite a senile passion with me. Before I get any farther I want to discuss something. A Mrs. Bispam, an overcordial little lady whom I met at a tea the other day, told me that her son, he is at Yale, wrote her that all the boys there wore their summer underwear all during the winter, and also went about with their heads wet and in low shoes on the coldest days. Now, Amory, I don't know whether that is a fad at Princeton too, but I don't want you to be so foolish. It not only inclines a young man to pneumonia and infantile paralysis, but to all forms of lung trouble, to which you are particularly inclined. You cannot experiment with your health. I have found that out. I will not make myself ridiculous as some mothers no doubt do, by insisting that you wear overshoes, though I remember one Christmas you wore them around constantly without a single buckle latched, making such a curious swishing sound, and you refused to buckle them because it was not the thing to do. The very next Christmas you would not wear even rubbers, though I begged you. You are nearly twenty years old now, dear, and I can't be with you constantly to find whether you are doing the sensible thing.
"This has been a very _practical_ letter. I warned you in my last that the lack of money to do the things one wants to makes one quite prosy and domestic, but there is still plenty for everything if we are not too extravagant. Take care of yourself, my dear boy, and do try to write at least _once_ a week, because I imagine all sorts of horrible things if I don't hear from you. Affectionately, MOTHER."
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE TERM "PERSONAGE"
Monsignor Darcy invited Amory up to the Stuart palace on the Hudson fora week at Christmas, and they had enormous conversations around the openfire. Monsignor was growing a trifle stouter and his personality hadexpanded even with that, and Amory felt both rest and security insinking into a squat, cushioned chair and joining him in the middle-agedsanity of a cigar.
"I've felt like leaving college, Monsignor."
"All my career's gone up in smoke; you think it's petty and all that,but--"
"Not at all petty. I think it's most important. I want to hear the wholething. Everything you've been doing since I saw you last."
Amory talked; he went thoroughly into the destruction of his egotistichighways, and in a half-hour the listless quality had left his voice.
"What would you do if you left college?" asked Monsignor.
"Don't know. I'd like to travel, but of course this tiresome warprevents that. Anyways, mother would hate not having me graduate. I'mjust at sea. Kerry Holiday wants me to go over with him and join theLafayette Esquadrille."
"You know you wouldn't like to go."
"Sometimes I would--to-night I'd go in a second."
"Well, you'd have to be very much more tired of life than I think youare. I know you."
"I'm afraid you do," agreed Amory reluctantly. "It just seemed an easyway out of everything--when I think of another useless, draggy year."
"Yes, I know; but to tell you the truth, I'm not worried about you; youseem to me to be progressing perfectly naturally."
"No," Amory objected. "I've lost half my personality in a year."
"Not a bit of it!" scoffed Monsignor. "You've lost a great amount ofvanity and that's all."
"Lordy! I feel, anyway, as if I'd gone through another fifth form at St.Regis's."
"No." Monsignor shook his head. "That was a misfortune; this has beena good thing. Whatever worth while comes to you, won't be through thechannels you were searching last year."
"What could be more unprofitable than my present lack of pep?"
"Perhaps in itself... but you're developing. This has given you time tothink and you're casting off a lot of your old luggage about success andthe superman and all. People like us can't adopt whole theories, as youdid. If we can do the next thing, and have an hour a day to think in,we can accomplish marvels, but as far as any high-handed scheme of blinddominance is concerned--we'd just make asses of ourselves."
"But, Monsignor, I can't do the next thing."
"Amory, between you and me, I have only just learned to do it myself. Ican do the one hundred things beyond the next thing, but I stub my toeon that, just as you stubbed your toe on mathematics this fall."
"Why do we have to do the next thing? It never seems the sort of thing Ishould do."
"We have to do it because we're not personalities, but personages."
"That's a good line--what do you mean?"
"A personality is what you thought you were, what this Kerry and Sloaneyou tell me of evidently are. Personality is a physical matter almostentirely; it lowers the people it acts on--I've seen it vanish in along sickness. But while a personality is active, it overrides 'the nextthing.' Now a personage, on the other hand, gathers. He is never thoughtof apart from what he's done. He's a bar on which a thousand things havebeen hung--glittering things sometimes, as ours are; but he uses thosethings with a cold mentality back of them."
"And several of my most glittering possessions had fallen off when Ineeded them." Amory continued the simile eagerly.
"Yes, that's it; when you feel that your garnered prestige and talentsand all th
at are hung out, you need never bother about anybody; you cancope with them without difficulty."
"But, on the other hand, if I haven't my possessions, I'm helpless!"
"That's certainly an idea."
"Now you've a clean start--a start Kerry or Sloane can constitutionallynever have. You brushed three or four ornaments down, and, in a fit ofpique, knocked off the rest of them. The thing now is to collect somenew ones, and the farther you look ahead in the collecting the better.But remember, do the next thing!"
"How clear you can make things!"
So they talked, often about themselves, sometimes of philosophy andreligion, and life as respectively a game or a mystery. The priestseemed to guess Amory's thoughts before they were clear in his own head,so closely related were their minds in form and groove.
"Why do I make lists?" Amory asked him one night. "Lists of all sorts ofthings?"
"Because you're a mediaevalist," Monsignor answered. "We both are. It'sthe passion for classifying and finding a type."
"It's a desire to get something definite."
"It's the nucleus of scholastic philosophy."
"I was beginning to think I was growing eccentric till I came up here.It was a pose, I guess."
"Don't worry about that; for you not posing may be the biggest pose ofall. Pose--"
"But do the next thing."
After Amory returned to college he received several letters fromMonsignor which gave him more egotistic food for consumption.
I am afraid that I gave you too much assurance of your inevitable safety, and you must remember that I did that through faith in your springs of effort; not in the silly conviction that you will arrive without struggle. Some nuances of character you will have to take for granted in yourself, though you must be careful in confessing them to others. You are unsentimental, almost incapable of affection, astute without being cunning and vain without being proud.
Don't let yourself feel worthless; often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself; and don't worry about losing your "personality," as you persist in calling it; at fifteen you had the radiance of early morning, at twenty you will begin to have the melancholy brilliance of the moon, and when you are my age you will give out, as I do, the genial golden warmth of 4 P.M.
If you write me letters, please let them be natural ones. Your last, that dissertation on architecture, was perfectly awful-- so "highbrow" that I picture you living in an intellectual and emotional vacuum; and beware of trying to classify people too definitely into types; you will find that all through their youth they will persist annoyingly in jumping from class to class, and by pasting a supercilious label on every one you meet you are merely packing a Jack-in-the-box that will spring up and leer at you when you begin to come into really antagonistic contact with the world. An idealization of some such a man as Leonardo da Vinci would be a more valuable beacon to you at present.
You are bound to go up and down, just as I did in my youth, but do keep your clarity of mind, and if fools or sages dare to criticise don't blame yourself too much.
You say that convention is all that really keeps you straight in this "woman proposition"; but it's more than that, Amory; it's the fear that what you begin you can't stop; you would run amuck, and I know whereof I speak; it's that half-miraculous sixth sense by which you detect evil, it's the half-realized fear of God in your heart.
Whatever your metier proves to be--religion, architecture, literature--I'm sure you would be much safer anchored to the Church, but I won't risk my influence by arguing with you even though I am secretly sure that the "black chasm of Romanism" yawns beneath you. Do write me soon.
With affectionate regards, THAYER DARCY.
Even Amory's reading paled during this period; he delved further intothe misty side streets of literature: Huysmans, Walter Pater, TheophileGautier, and the racier sections of Rabelais, Boccaccio, Petronius, andSuetonius. One week, through general curiosity, he inspected the privatelibraries of his classmates and found Sloane's as typical as any: setsof Kipling, O. Henry, John Fox, Jr., and Richard Harding Davis; "WhatEvery Middle-Aged Woman Ought to Know," "The Spell of the Yukon";a "gift" copy of James Whitcomb Riley, an assortment of battered,annotated schoolbooks, and, finally, to his surprise, one of his ownlate discoveries, the collected poems of Rupert Brooke.
Together with Tom D'Invilliers, he sought among the lights of Princetonfor some one who might found the Great American Poetic Tradition.
The undergraduate body itself was rather more interesting that year thanhad been the entirely Philistine Princeton of two years before. Thingshad livened surprisingly, though at the sacrifice of much of thespontaneous charm of freshman year. In the old Princeton they wouldnever have discovered Tanaduke Wylie. Tanaduke was a sophomore, withtremendous ears and a way of saying, "The earth swirls down throughthe ominous moons of preconsidered generations!" that made them vaguelywonder why it did not sound quite clear, but never question that it wasthe utterance of a supersoul. At least so Tom and Amory took him. Theytold him in all earnestness that he had a mind like Shelley's, andfeatured his ultrafree free verse and prose poetry in the NassauLiterary Magazine. But Tanaduke's genius absorbed the many colors of theage, and he took to the Bohemian life, to their great disappointment. Hetalked of Greenwich Village now instead of "noon-swirled moons," andmet winter muses, unacademic, and cloistered by Forty-second Streetand Broadway, instead of the Shelleyan dream-children with whom he hadregaled their expectant appreciation. So they surrendered Tanaduke tothe futurists, deciding that he and his flaming ties would do betterthere. Tom gave him the final advice that he should stop writing for twoyears and read the complete works of Alexander Pope four times, but onAmory's suggestion that Pope for Tanaduke was like foot-ease for stomachtrouble, they withdrew in laughter, and called it a coin's toss whetherthis genius was too big or too petty for them.
Amory rather scornfully avoided the popular professors who dispensedeasy epigrams and thimblefuls of Chartreuse to groups of admirers everynight. He was disappointed, too, at the air of general uncertainty onevery subject that seemed linked with the pedantic temperament; hisopinions took shape in a miniature satire called "In a Lecture-Room,"which he persuaded Tom to print in the Nassau Lit.
"Good-morning, Fool... Three times a week You hold us helpless while you speak, Teasing our thirsty souls with the Sleek 'yeas' of your philosophy... Well, here we are, your hundred sheep, Tune up, play on, pour forth... we sleep... You are a student, so they say; You hammered out the other day A syllabus, from what we know Of some forgotten folio; You'd sniffled through an era's must, Filling your nostrils up with dust, And then, arising from your knees, Published, in one gigantic sneeze... But here's a neighbor on my right, An Eager Ass, considered bright; Asker of questions.... How he'll stand, With earnest air and fidgy hand, After this hour, telling you He sat all night and burrowed through Your book.... Oh, you'll be coy and he Will simulate precosity, And pedants both, you'll smile and smirk, And leer, and hasten back to work....
'Twas this day week, sir, you returned A theme of mine, from which I learned (Through various comment on the side Which you had scrawled) that I defied The _highest rules of criticism_ For _cheap_ and _careless_ witticism.... 'Are you quite sure that this could be?' And 'Shaw is no authority!' But Eager Ass, with what he's sent, Plays havoc with your best per cent.
Still--still I meet you here and there... When Shakespeare's played you hold a chair, And some defunct, moth-eaten star Enchants the mental prig you are... A radical comes down and shocks The atheistic orthodox? You're representing Common Sense, Mouth open, in the audience. And, sometimes, even chapel lures That conscious tolerance of yours, That broad and beaming view of truth (Incl
uding Kant and General Booth...) And so from shock to shock you live, A hollow, pale affirmative...
The hour's up... and roused from rest One hundred children of the blest Cheat you a word or two with feet That down the noisy aisle-ways beat... Forget on _narrow-minded earth_ The Mighty Yawn that gave you birth."
In April, Kerry Holiday left college and sailed for France to enroll inthe Lafayette Esquadrille. Amory's envy and admiration of this stepwas drowned in an experience of his own to which he never succeeded ingiving an appropriate value, but which, nevertheless, haunted him forthree years afterward.
Healy's they left at twelve and taxied to Bistolary's. There were AxiaMarlowe and Phoebe Column, from the Summer Garden show, Fred Sloaneand Amory. The evening was so very young that they felt ridiculous withsurplus energy, and burst into the cafe like Dionysian revellers.
"Table for four in the middle of the floor," yelled Phoebe. "Hurry, olddear, tell 'em we're here!"
"Tell 'em to play 'Admiration'!" shouted Sloane. "You two order; Phoebeand I are going to shake a wicked calf," and they sailed off in themuddled crowd. Axia and Amory, acquaintances of an hour, jostled behinda waiter to a table at a point of vantage; there they took seats andwatched.
"There's Findle Margotson, from New Haven!" she cried above the uproar."'Lo, Findle! Whoo-ee!"
"Oh, Axia!" he shouted in salutation. "C'mon over to our table." "No!"Amory whispered.
"Can't do it, Findle; I'm with somebody else! Call me up to-morrow aboutone o'clock!"
Findle, a nondescript man-about-Bisty's, answered incoherently andturned back to the brilliant blonde whom he was endeavoring to steeraround the room.
"There's a natural damn fool," commented Amory.
"Oh, he's all right. Here's the old jitney waiter. If you ask me, I wanta double Daiquiri."
"Make it four."
The crowd whirled and changed and shifted. They were mostly from thecolleges, with a scattering of the male refuse of Broadway, and women oftwo types, the higher of which was the chorus girl. On the whole it wasa typical crowd, and their party as typical as any. About three-fourthsof the whole business was for effect and therefore harmless, ended atthe door of the cafe, soon enough for the five-o'clock train back toYale or Princeton; about one-fourth continued on into the dimmer hoursand gathered strange dust from strange places. Their party was scheduledto be one of the harmless kind. Fred Sloane and Phoebe Column were oldfriends; Axia and Amory new ones. But strange things are prepared evenin the dead of night, and the unusual, which lurks least in the cafe,home of the prosaic and inevitable, was preparing to spoil for himthe waning romance of Broadway. The way it took was so inexpressiblyterrible, so unbelievable, that afterward he never thought of it asexperience; but it was a scene from a misty tragedy, played far behindthe veil, and that it meant something definite he knew.
About one o'clock they moved to Maxim's, and two found them inDeviniere's. Sloane had been drinking consecutively and was in a stateof unsteady exhilaration, but Amory was quite tiresomely sober; theyhad run across none of those ancient, corrupt buyers of champagne whousually assisted their New York parties. They were just through dancingand were making their way back to their chairs when Amory became awarethat some one at a near-by table was looking at him. He turned andglanced casually... a middle-aged man dressed in a brown sack suit, itwas, sitting a little apart at a table by himself and watching theirparty intently. At Amory's glance he smiled faintly. Amory turned toFred, who was just sitting down.
"Who's that pale fool watching us?" he complained indignantly.
"Where?" cried Sloane. "We'll have him thrown out!" He rose to his feetand swayed back and forth, clinging to his chair. "Where is he?"
Axia and Phoebe suddenly leaned and whispered to each other across thetable, and before Amory realized it they found themselves on their wayto the door.
"Up to the flat," suggested Phoebe. "We've got brandy and fizz--andeverything's slow down here to-night."
Amory considered quickly. He hadn't been drinking, and decided that ifhe took no more, it would be reasonably discreet for him to trot alongin the party. In fact, it would be, perhaps, the thing to do in order tokeep an eye on Sloane, who was not in a state to do his own thinking. Sohe took Axia's arm and, piling intimately into a taxicab, they drove outover the hundreds and drew up at a tall, white-stone apartment-house.... Never would he forget that street.... It was a broad street, linedon both sides with just such tall, white-stone buildings, dotted withdark windows; they stretched along as far as the eye could see, floodedwith a bright moonlight that gave them a calcium pallor. He imaginedeach one to have an elevator and a colored hall-boy and a key-rack; eachone to be eight stories high and full of three and four room suites. Hewas rather glad to walk into the cheeriness of Phoebe's living-room andsink onto a sofa, while the girls went rummaging for food.
"Phoebe's great stuff," confided Sloane, sotto voce.
"I'm only going to stay half an hour," Amory said sternly. He wonderedif it sounded priggish.
"Hell y' say," protested Sloane. "We're here now--don't le's rush."
"I don't like this place," Amory said sulkily, "and I don't want anyfood."
Phoebe reappeared with sandwiches, brandy bottle, siphon, and fourglasses.
"Amory, pour 'em out," she said, "and we'll drink to Fred Sloane, whohas a rare, distinguished edge."
"Yes," said Axia, coming in, "and Amory. I like Amory." She sat downbeside him and laid her yellow head on his shoulder.
"I'll pour," said Sloane; "you use siphon, Phoebe."
They filled the tray with glasses.
"Ready, here she goes!"
Amory hesitated, glass in hand.
There was a minute while temptation crept over him like a warm wind,and his imagination turned to fire, and he took the glass from Phoebe'shand. That was all; for at the second that his decision came, he lookedup and saw, ten yards from him, the man who had been in the cafe, andwith his jump of astonishment the glass fell from his uplifted hand.There the man half sat, half leaned against a pile of pillows on thecorner divan. His face was cast in the same yellow wax as in the cafe,neither the dull, pasty color of a dead man--rather a sort of virilepallor--nor unhealthy, you'd have called it; but like a strong man who'dworked in a mine or done night shifts in a damp climate. Amory lookedhim over carefully and later he could have drawn him after a fashion,down to the merest details. His mouth was the kind that is called frank,and he had steady gray eyes that moved slowly from one to the otherof their group, with just the shade of a questioning expression. Amorynoticed his hands; they weren't fine at all, but they had versatilityand a tenuous strength... they were nervous hands that sat lightlyalong the cushions and moved constantly with little jerky openings andclosings. Then, suddenly, Amory perceived the feet, and with a rush ofblood to the head he realized he was afraid. The feet were all wrong ...with a sort of wrongness that he felt rather than knew.... It was likeweakness in a good woman, or blood on satin; one of those terribleincongruities that shake little things in the back of the brain. He woreno shoes, but, instead, a sort of half moccasin, pointed, though, likethe shoes they wore in the fourteenth century, and with the little endscurling up. They were a darkish brown and his toes seemed to fill themto the end.... They were unutterably terrible....
He must have said something, or looked something, for Axia's voice cameout of the void with a strange goodness.
"Well, look at Amory! Poor old Amory's sick--old head going 'round?"
"Look at that man!" cried Amory, pointing toward the corner divan.
"You mean that purple zebra!" shrieked Axia facetiously. "Ooo-ee!Amory's got a purple zebra watching him!"
Sloane laughed vacantly.
"Ole zebra gotcha, Amory?"
There was a silence.... The man regarded Amory quizzically.... Then thehuman voices fell faintly on his ear:
you weren't drinking," remarked Axia sardonically, but hervoice was good to hear; the whole divan that held the man was alive;alive like heat waves over asphalt, like wriggling worms....
"Come back! Come back!" Axia's arm fell on his. "Amory, dear, you aren'tgoing, Amory!" He was half-way to the door.
"Come on, Amory, stick 'th us!"
"Sick, are you?"
"Sit down a second!"
"Take some water."
"Take a little brandy...."
The elevator was close, and the colored boy was half asleep, paled toa livid bronze... Axia's beseeching voice floated down the shaft. Thosefeet... those feet...
As they settled to the lower floor the feet came into view in the sicklyelectric light of the paved hall.
IN THE ALLEY
Down the long street came the moon, and Amory turned his back on it andwalked. Ten, fifteen steps away sounded the footsteps. They were like aslow dripping, with just the slightest insistence in their fall.Amory's shadow lay, perhaps, ten feet ahead of him, and soft shoes waspresumably that far behind. With the instinct of a child Amory edged inunder the blue darkness of the white buildings, cleaving the moonlightfor haggard seconds, once bursting into a slow run with clumsystumblings. After that he stopped suddenly; he must keep hold, hethought. His lips were dry and he licked them.
If he met any one good--were there any good people left in the world ordid they all live in white apartment-houses now? Was every one followedin the moonlight? But if he met some one good who'd know what he meantand hear this damned scuffle... then the scuffling grew suddenly nearer,and a black cloud settled over the moon. When again the pale sheenskimmed the cornices, it was almost beside him, and Amory thought heheard a quiet breathing. Suddenly he realized that the footsteps werenot behind, had never been behind, they were ahead and he was noteluding but following... following. He began to run, blindly, his heartknocking heavily, his hands clinched. Far ahead a black dot showeditself, resolved slowly into a human shape. But Amory was beyond thatnow; he turned off the street and darted into an alley, narrow anddark and smelling of old rottenness. He twisted down a long, sinuousblackness, where the moonlight was shut away except for tiny glintsand patches... then suddenly sank panting into a corner by a fence,exhausted. The steps ahead stopped, and he could hear them shiftslightly with a continuous motion, like waves around a dock.
He put his face in his hands and covered eyes and ears as well ashe could. During all this time it never occurred to him that he wasdelirious or drunk. He had a sense of reality such as material thingscould never give him. His intellectual content seemed to submitpassively to it, and it fitted like a glove everything that had everpreceded it in his life. It did not muddle him. It was like a problemwhose answer he knew on paper, yet whose solution he was unable tograsp. He was far beyond horror. He had sunk through the thin surface ofthat, now moved in a region where the feet and the fear of white wallswere real, living things, things he must accept. Only far inside hissoul a little fire leaped and cried that something was pulling him down,trying to get him inside a door and slam it behind him. After that doorwas slammed there would be only footfalls and white buildings in themoonlight, and perhaps he would be one of the footfalls.
During the five or ten minutes he waited in the shadow of the fence,there was somehow this fire... that was as near as he could name itafterward. He remembered calling aloud:
"I want some one stupid. Oh, send some one stupid!" This to theblack fence opposite him, in whose shadows the footsteps shuffled... shuffled. He supposed "stupid" and "good" had become somehowintermingled through previous association. When he called thus it wasnot an act of will at all--will had turned him away from the movingfigure in the street; it was almost instinct that called, just the pileon pile of inherent tradition or some wild prayer from way over thenight. Then something clanged like a low gong struck at a distance,and before his eyes a face flashed over the two feet, a face pale anddistorted with a sort of infinite evil that twisted it like flame inthe wind; _but he knew, for the half instant that the gong tanged andhummed, that it was the face of Dick Humbird._
Minutes later he sprang to his feet, realizing dimly that there was nomore sound, and that he was alone in the graying alley. It was cold, andhe started on a steady run for the light that showed the street at theother end.
AT THE WINDOW
It was late morning when he woke and found the telephone beside his bedin the hotel tolling frantically, and remembered that he had left wordto be called at eleven. Sloane was snoring heavily, his clothes in apile by his bed. They dressed and ate breakfast in silence, and thensauntered out to get some air. Amory's mind was working slowly, tryingto assimilate what had happened and separate from the chaotic imagerythat stacked his memory the bare shreds of truth. If the morning hadbeen cold and gray he could have grasped the reins of the past in aninstant, but it was one of those days that New York gets sometimes inMay, when the air on Fifth Avenue is a soft, light wine. How much or howlittle Sloane remembered Amory did not care to know; he apparently hadnone of the nervous tension that was gripping Amory and forcing his mindback and forth like a shrieking saw.
Then Broadway broke upon them, and with the babel of noise and thepainted faces a sudden sickness rushed over Amory.
"For God's sake, let's go back! Let's get off of this--this place!"
Sloane looked at him in amazement.
"What do you mean?"
"This street, it's ghastly! Come on! let's get back to the Avenue!"
"Do you mean to say," said Sloane stolidly, "that 'cause you had somesort of indigestion that made you act like a maniac last night, you'renever coming on Broadway again?"
Simultaneously Amory classed him with the crowd, and he seemed no longerSloane of the debonair humor and the happy personality, but only one ofthe evil faces that whirled along the turbid stream.
"Man!" he shouted so loud that the people on the corner turned andfollowed them with their eyes, "it's filthy, and if you can't see it,you're filthy, too!"
"I can't help it," said Sloane doggedly. "What's the matter with you?Old remorse getting you? You'd be in a fine state if you'd gone throughwith our little party."
"I'm going, Fred," said Amory slowly. His knees were shaking under him,and he knew that if he stayed another minute on this street he wouldkeel over where he stood. "I'll be at the Vanderbilt for lunch." And hestrode rapidly off and turned over to Fifth Avenue. Back at the hotel hefelt better, but as he walked into the barber-shop, intending to get ahead massage, the smell of the powders and tonics brought back Axia'ssidelong, suggestive smile, and he left hurriedly. In the doorway of hisroom a sudden blackness flowed around him like a divided river.
When he came to himself he knew that several hours had passed. Hepitched onto the bed and rolled over on his face with a deadly fear thathe was going mad. He wanted people, people, some one sane and stupid andgood. He lay for he knew not how long without moving. He could feelthe little hot veins on his forehead standing out, and his terror hadhardened on him like plaster. He felt he was passing up again throughthe thin crust of horror, and now only could he distinguish the shadowytwilight he was leaving. He must have fallen asleep again, for when henext recollected himself he had paid the hotel bill and was steppinginto a taxi at the door. It was raining torrents.
On the train for Princeton he saw no one he knew, only a crowd offagged-looking Philadelphians. The presence of a painted woman acrossthe aisle filled him with a fresh burst of sickness and he changed toanother car, tried to concentrate on an article in a popular magazine.He found himself reading the same paragraphs over and over, so heabandoned this attempt and leaning over wearily pressed his hot foreheadagainst the damp window-pane. The car, a smoker, was hot and stuffy withmost of the smells of the state's alien population; he opened a windowand shivered against the cloud of fog that drifted in over him. The twohours' ride were like days, and he nearly cried aloud with joy when thet
owers of Princeton loomed up beside him and the yellow squares of lightfiltered through the blue rain.
Tom was standing in the centre of the room, pensively relighting acigar-stub. Amory fancied he looked rather relieved on seeing him.
"Had a hell of a dream about you last night," came in the cracked voicethrough the cigar smoke. "I had an idea you were in some trouble."
"Don't tell me about it!" Amory almost shrieked. "Don't say a word; I'mtired and pepped out."
Tom looked at him queerly and then sank into a chair and opened hisItalian note-book. Amory threw his coat and hat on the floor, loosenedhis collar, and took a Wells novel at random from the shelf. "Wells issane," he thought, "and if he won't do I'll read Rupert Brooke."
Half an hour passed. Outside the wind came up, and Amory started asthe wet branches moved and clawed with their finger-nails at thewindow-pane. Tom was deep in his work, and inside the room only theoccasional scratch of a match or the rustle of leather as they shiftedin their chairs broke the stillness. Then like a zigzag of lightningcame the change. Amory sat bolt upright, frozen cold in his chair. Tomwas looking at him with his mouth drooping, eyes fixed.
"God help us!" Amory cried.
"Oh, my heavens!" shouted Tom, "look behind!" Quick as a flash Amorywhirled around. He saw nothing but the dark window-pane. "It's gonenow," came Tom's voice after a second in a still terror. "Something waslooking at you."
Trembling violently, Amory dropped into his chair again.
"I've got to tell you," he said. "I've had one hell of an experience.I think I've--I've seen the devil or--something like him. What face didyou just see?--or no," he added quickly, "don't tell me!"
And he gave Tom the story. It was midnight when he finished, and afterthat, with all lights burning, two sleepy, shivering boys read to eachother from "The New Machiavelli," until dawn came up out of WitherspoonHall, and the Princetonian fell against the door, and the May birdshailed the sun on last night's rain.
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