Puslapio vaizdai

me last year. I don't yet quite understand why you did that."

gave me the absurd sense of having taken a liberty, confound him! He was evidently ill at ease while he talked. But it was n't for me to help him out of his difficulty, whatever that might be. It was for him to remove the strain imposed on myself.

Abruptly, after a long pause, he did now manage to say:

"It was very good of you to-to write me that letter." He told me he had only just got it, and he drifted away into otiose explanations of this fact. I thought he might at least say it was a remarkable letter; and you can imagine my annoyance when he said, after another interval, "I was very much touched indeed." I had wished to be convincing, not touching. I can't bear to be called touching.

"Don't you," I asked, "think it is quite possible that your brain invented all those memories of what-what happened before that accident?"

He drew a sharp sigh.

"You make me feel very guilty." "That's exactly what I tried to make you not feel!"

"I know, yes. That's why I feel so guilty."

We had paused in our walk. He stood nervously prodding the hard wet sand with his walking-stick.

"In a way," he said, "your theory was quite right. But-it did n't go far enough. It's not only possible, it's a fact, that I did n't see those signs in those hands. I never examined those hands. They were n't there. I was n't there. I have n't an

uncle in Hampshire, even. I never had.” I, too, prodded the sand.

"Well," I said at length, "I do feel rather a fool."

"I've no right even to beg your pardon, but-"

"Oh, I'm not vexed. Only-I rather wish you had n't told me this."

"I wish I had n't had to. It was your kindness, you see, that forced me. By trying to take an imaginary load off my conscience, you laid a very real one on it." "I'm sorry. But you, of your own free will, you know, exposed your conscience to

"No, of course not. I don't deserve that you should. But I think you will. May I explain? I'm afraid I 've talked a great deal already about my influenza, and I sha'n't be able to keep it out of my explanation. Well, my weakest point-I told you this last year, but it happens to be perfectly true that my weakest point— is my will. Influenza, as you know, fastens unerringly on one's weakest point. It does n't attempt to undermine my imagination. That would be a forlorn hope. I have, alas! a very strong imagination. At ordinary times my imagination allows itself to be governed by my will. My will keeps it in check by constant nagging. But when my will is n't strong enough even to nag, then my imagination stampedes. I become even as a little child. I tell myself the most preposterous fables, and the trouble is-I can't help telling them to my friends. Until I 've thoroughly shaken off influenza, I 'm not fit company for any one. I perfectly realize this, and I have the good sense to go right away till I'm quite well again. I come here usually. It seems absurd, but I must confess I was sorry last year when we fell into conversation. I knew I should very soon be letting myself go, or, rather, very soon be swept away. Perhaps I ought to have warned you; but-I 'm a rather shy man. And then you mentioned the subject of palmistry. You said you believed in it. I wondered at that. I had once read Desbarolles's book about it, but I am bound to say I thought the whole thing very great nonsense indeed."

"Then," I gasped, "it is n't even true that you believe in palmistry?"

"Oh, no. But I was n't able to tell you that. You had begun by saying that you believed in palmistry, and then you proceeded to scoff at it. While you scoffed I saw myself as a man with a terribly good reason for not scoffing; and in a flash I saw the terribly good reason; I had the whole story-at least I had the broad outlines of it-clear before me."

"You had n't ever thought of it be

fore?" He shook his head. My eyes beamed. "The whole thing was a sheer improvisation?"

"Yes," said Laider, humbly, "I am as bad as all that. I don't say that all the details of the story I told you that evening were filled in at the very instant of its conception. I was filling them in while we talked about palmistry in general, and while I was waiting for the moment when the story would come in most effectively. And I've no doubt I added some extra touches in the course of the actual telling. Don't imagine that I took the slightest pleasure in deceiving you. It's only my will, not my conscience, that is weakened after influenza. I simply can't help telling what I've made up, and telling it to the best of my ability. But I'm thoroughly ashamed all the time."

"Not of your ability, surely?"

"Yes, of that, too," he said, with his sad smile. "I always feel that I 'm not doing justice to my idea."

"You are too stern a critic, believe me." "It is very kind of you to say that. You are very kind altogether. Had I known that you were so essentially a man of the world, in the best sense of that term, I should n't have so much dreaded seeing you just now and having to confess to you. But I'm not going to take advantage of your urbanity and your easy-going ways. I hope that some day we may meet somewhere when I have n't had influenza and am a not wholly undesirable acquaintance. As it is, I refuse to let you associate with me. I am an older man than you, and so I may without impertinence warn you against having anything to do with me." I deprecated this advice, of course; but for a man of weakened will he showed great firmness.

"You," he said, "in your heart of hearts, don't want to have to walk and talk continually with a person who might at any moment try to bamboozle you with some ridiculous tale. And I, for my part, don't want to degrade myself by trying to bamboozle any one, especially one whom I have taught to see through me. Let the two talks we have had be as though they

had not been. Let us bow to each other, as last year, but let that be all. Let us follow in all things the precedent of last year."

With a smile that was almost gay he turned on his heel, and moved away with a step that was almost brisk. I was a little disconcerted. But I was also more than

a little glad. The restfulness of silence, the charm of liberty-these things were not, after all, forfeit. My heart thanked Laider for that; and throughout the week I lovally seconded him in the system he had laid down for us. All was as it had been last year. We did not smile to each other, we merely bowed, when we entered or left the dining-room or smoking-room, and when we met on the wide-spread sands or in that shop which had a small and faded but circulating library.

Once or twice in the course of the week it did occur to me that perhaps Laider had told the simple truth at our first interview and an ingenious lie at our second. I frowned at this possibility. The idea of any one wishing to be quit of me was most distasteful. However, I was to find reassurance. On the last evening of my stay I suggested, in the small smokingroom, that he and I should, as sticklers for precedent, converse. We did so very pleasantly. And after a while I happened to say that I had seen this afternoon a great number of sea-gulls flying close to the shore.

"Sea-gulls?" said Laider, turning in his


"Yes. And I don't think I had ever realized how extraordinarily beautiful they are when their wings catch the light."

Laider threw a quick glance at me and away from me.

"You think them beautiful?"

"Well, perhaps they are, yes; I suppose they are. But I don't like seeing them. They always remind me of something— rather an awful thing-that once happened to me."

It was a very awful thing indeed.

[graphic][merged small]


My Street


Author of "The Harbor "

Illustrations by Boardman Robinson

FEW years ago, when I came here to live, this street was to me as impersonal as any in New York; and this means quite impersonal. But now, as I turn into it, it seems almost as different from the other streets about it as I myself am different from other people. has made it so to me? What sights and sounds and incidents here have given me this feeling, have given every New-Yorker this feeling, despite himself, try as he will to keep himself decently deaf and blind?


Perhaps I have not been quite so blind. as the average New-Yorker, for I write here at the window the larger part of every day and I sit here often reading late in the evening. From such a point of vantage even a writer looks out now and then, and sees enough bits of life below to give him a hint of how much he has missed.

My street is on the lower West Side. On the block there are a few private homes and many boarding-houses and two or three apartment-buildings, one directly

across the way. There is a huge Catholic hospital at one corner. Often at night, on the drawn blind of one of its windows, I see the little dark shadow of a saint or of the Virgin, I cannot tell which. At the other corners are three saloons. Not far away to the south is the Night Court for Women, and a few blocks to the north is an immense department store, the red flag of which waves over the roofs of the houses; I can see it from my window. Trolleys clang past at one end of my street, and the "el" roars by at the other; wagons and trucks go clattering by, and carriages, cabs, and automobiles; they begin with the milkman's wagon at dawn, and end with the garbage-cart late in the night, all clanging or whizzing or thundering by the sign on the lamp-post facing my window, which reads: "HOSPITAL STREET. WALK YOUR HORSES. MAKE NO UNNECESSARY NOISE."

I hear the ambulance often here. It is so common an object both day and night that the slow gallop of the horse has be

come to me a part of my street. Often on certain afternoons I see groups of people about the door, men, women, and children; on Sundays nearly a hundred. Once there were thousands of people, and the whole front of the building was gay with flags, for Cardinal Farley had come home. Many funerals start from here, and once there was a wedding. The tobacco-store man across the way, who sells cigarettes to the interns, told me that one of the nurses had married.

steps. Then I saw that what he carried had a head and a shock of hair. It had come from the Triangle Fire.

Life brings its usual contrasts here. Down at the corner one day in Christmas week I met a detective from the big store, with his hand on the arm of a woman shoplifter, a big, stout woman with a fat, pudgy face and sly eyes. I heard her voice as she went by, and it sounded between a whine and a squeal. A crowd was laughing behind her. It made the street a

This place is a kind of barometer; the dreary place. But I was on my way just

city's disasters are registered here. There are little disasters. One rainy day while I was writing I chanced to look out and saw two men-foreigners I am certain they werewalking quickly westward. One held an umbrella low over the other, who carried over his shoulder a little chap, wrapped in a bright plaid shawl, whose head kept bobbing dismally. I went on writing, and then thought of something, and looked out again. And it was as I had thought: they were entering the hospital.

There are great disasters. One cold afternoon in March, while I sat here working, I heard first the gong of an ambulance, then another close behind it, then even taxis and automobiles, all rushing toward the hospital gates. I heard people running, and went out to see. Before the entrance there was a crowd, and as I came up, out of one of the taxis a man seized what appeared to be a huge bundle and flung it over his shoulder and ran up the

"They were entering the hospital "

then to the shop of a little Swiss cutler who hones my razors for me. I stayed on a few minutes that day, and we got talking of traveling. We opened bright vistas all over the world, the old Swiss was such a talker. It struck him as a wonderful thing that he could walk into a subway hole a block from his shop, "and when I come out of doors again I can be any place in America!"

Mine is a travelers' street, for we are close to the North River here. By walking one block north, one can look up a street and see the huge red funnels of a Cunarder rising at the end. In the three years I have been here thousands of carriages, motors, and cabs have hurried by on their way to the boats. I like the sight of the trunks and va

lises, I like to catch glimpses of faces inside. In warm weather, when my window is open wide, I hear excited voices of children and a peal of laughter now and then. At such times it is hard to write.

[graphic][merged small]
[blocks in formation]


But the most compelling sound of all is the voice that comes on a morning in spring, deep, strident, and impatient-the roar of a liner leaving her dock.

One day about a week before Christmas, as I sat writing here, I suddenly remembered "the Christmas boat" was due to start in half an hour's time. The wharf is not ten minutes' walk away, and I arrived there just in time. The immense. white ship of steel was all one intense well-ordered commotion, a scene of sharp orders and hurrying men. The smoke poured black from her funnels, several gang-planks were already up. But still, on a kind of a moving sidewalk, the last Christmas packages, large and small, were banging and crashing into her hold; and

still, from motors and cabs, or in on the run from trolleys outside, laughing, excited, all out of breath, came Christmas travelers homeward bound; and still, in a

« AnkstesnisTęsti »